economy


WGN Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling predicts the temperature will drop to -10 degrees in Chicago tonight, which means this will be the coldest night here since January 2009. That also means it’s time to think warm thoughts, so let’s talk baseball …

Let’s start in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are trying to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term contract before the superstar player’s self-imposed Feb. 16 deadline. I’m not sure if the Cardinals will convince Pujols not to test the waters of free agency, but today SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the two sides “are so far apart there is virtually no chance for a deal” by the Feb. 16 deadline — so right now I’m in the camp that thinks a deal WILL get done. But I hope I’m wrong and Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season, then signs with the Chicago Cubs.

Let’s transition from baseball’s best hitter to one of baseball’s worst starting pitchers. Last season Ross Ohlendorf went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA for the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates (whose record was a major league-worst 57-105 in 2010) — so naturally he won his arbitration case, netting a pay raise from $439,000 to $2,025,000. For winning one game in 21 starts last season, Ohlendorf will get more than four times his 2010 salary this year! I suppose if he wins more than four games this year, the Pirates can consider him a bargain.

If the average American worker earned pay raises based on similarly mediocre performances, our country’s economy would be tanking worse than it has the past few years. But we can’t end on that sour note …

Less than a week left before pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training! (If that doesn’t give you a warm feeling, you’re not a baseball fan.)

Since neither Ottawa Delivered nor The Times has U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s reaction to President Obama’s State of the Union address posted on their websites, and Kinzinger is the U.S.  congressman who represents Ottawa, I’m going to post the freshman Republican legislator’s response here, courtesy of The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal’s daily newspaper)*:

“In his State of the Union address tonight, President Obama made it clear that we must turn our focus squarely onto growing a competitive nation. The way to make our nation prosperous is by getting our neighbors back to work and ensuring our economy works for American families and businesses.

“The President made promising remarks about job creation, but the only action Americans have heard from Washington Democrats over the past two years is that more government spending and higher taxes are the only solutions to grow our economy and create jobs.

“The actions and decisions made by prior Congresses have led us to where we are today. Nearly one in 10 of our neighbors remain unemployed. Over the last two years unemployment has skyrocketed from 7.8 percent to 9.4 percent.

“In addition, our nation’s debt now exceeds $14 trillion. More than $3.3 trillion of this debt was piled on in just two years.

“We cannot continue down this slippery slope with the same failed policies that has led our nation to fewer jobs, more government spending and an intrusive expansion of government.

“As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘All great change in America begins at the dinner table.’

“This past November, American families, businesses, seniors and taxpayers sent a clear message to Washington. All across the nation, Americans chose the path toward limited government, reduced spending and a free-market system.

“We must quit spending more money than we take in and we must focus our efforts toward growing the private sector, where jobs are created. We have tough decisions to make but we can make them while living within our means.

“Earlier today, the House passed a budget resolution that would cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels. This, along with additional spending reforms, will ensure we continue to eliminate wasteful spending, and will force government to cut up their credit cards.

“House Republicans made a promise to the people to put our nation back on track towards fiscal responsibility, economic growth and accountable and transparent government, and this is a promise we intend to keep.

“We must promote and foster free enterprise here in America. Congress must work tirelessly to implement policies that encourage entrepreneurship, cultivate innovation and reward the hard work that will lead us toward prosperity.”

* I want to make clear that my posting of Kinzinger’s response doesn’t represent endorsement or rejection of his positions. It just bothers me that neither of Ottawa’s newspapers put the response on their websites, and I would have done so. It is important for constituents to know what their elected officials have to say about issues of the day.

The war of spin between Democrats and Republicans is getting ridiculous.

Opposing political parties have always argued and tried to take credit for everything good that happened in the country, even if another party was primarily responsible for the good things. But, once upon a time, those opposing parties put aside their differences to celebrate our country’s biggest victories.

There isn’t even a shadow of that behavior left now. Personally, I believe the new health-care reform law is not perfect but is a move in the right direction for our country — but I understand the opposition to it, even though I don’t agree.

But here’s what I don’t get: today we learned our economy added 162,000 jobs last month (including 48,000 temporary census workers) — the best job growth this country has experienced since the recession began three years ago. This sounds like cause for celebration for everyone, right? Apparently not to Republicans, who are dismissing the good news and criticizing President Obama for allegedly not doing enough to make the job growth even better.

This behavior by Republicans disgusts me. When it comes to recovery from the recession, we certainly aren’t out of the woods yet — surely much more work needs to be done to dig us out of the economic hole we’re in — but shouldn’t all Americans rally behind the fact that we’re finally seeing signs of the worst being over?

Sometimes I wonder how the purveyors of lightning-rod partisan politics sleep at night. For the good of this country, this ongoing political pissing match has to stop.

In case you missed President Obama’s health-care speech Wednesday evening, here it is in 140 characters or less, times 14, as I live-tweeted it:

Obama: “I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.”

Obama on health care reform: “I am not the first president to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.”

Obama: “Insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages.”

Obama: “Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.”

Obama: “The time for bickering is over. … Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together.”

Obama: “Nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have.”

O: “Under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance, just like most states require you to carry auto insurance.”

Obama says health care reform will not create so-called “death panels,” give insurance to illegal immigrants or fund abortions.

Obama: “I’ve insisted … the public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient and rely on the premiums it collects.”

Obama: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future.”

Obama: “To prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts …

… if the savings we promised don’t materialize.”

Obama: “If we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just 1/10th of 1% each year …

… it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.”

It was a pretty good week for the Obama administration:

1) The U.S. unemployment rate fell in July for the first time in 15  months as employers cut “only” 247,000 jobs, compared to 467,000 job losses in June. The unemployment rate dropped from 9.5 percent in June to 9.4 percent in July — not a big change percentage-wise, but still a move in the right direction. Hopefully this is not an aberration, but a sign that the economy is starting to recover from one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.

2) Former President Bill Clinton’s rescue mission to North Korea was successful in obtaining the release of two jailed American journalists. This is a good thing, no matter what John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says.

3) Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in Saturday as the first Hispanic and third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

4) Just one day after being only one of nine Republicans to vote to confirm Sotomayor as the newest Supreme Court justice, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida resigned Friday. Martinez previously announced he wouldn’t run for re-election next year, but his early exit drops the current number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to 39.

5) A top Taliban leader apparently was killed by a CIA missile strike in Pakistan this week. Three days later, his two most likely successors apparently killed each other at a meeting to determine the next commander of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Apparently Todd Stroger doesn’t like his job as Cook County Board president very much. How else — other than arrogance, possibly — can his decision to veto a repeal of the unpopular Cook County sales tax increase be explained?

Stroger already is unpopular for a variety of reasons (including nepotism and an IRS lien recently filed on his home for nearly $12,000 in unpaid taxes), and he is expected to face plenty of opposition from within his own political party when the Democrat runs for re-election next year. So I suppose he may just be thumbing his nose at everyone, figuring he would still be disliked whether or not he allowed repeal of the 1-percent sales tax increase he championed last year.

New taxes often are unpopular, but the wisdom of this particular penny-on-the-dollar tax is a bit more baffling than usual. The 1-percent tax increase raised the overall sales tax in Chicago to 10.25 percent — the highest among America’s major cities — and was done in the middle of a dreadful recession. That doesn’t exactly make you want to go shopping in downtown Chicago, does it?

Twelve of the 17 Cook County commissioners voted for the tax rollback earlier this month, but only 11 of them voted to override Stroger’s veto — three shy of the number needed for the motion to pass. Four commissioners — William Beavers, Jerry Butler, Joseph Mario Moreno and Deborah Sims — voted against overriding Stroger’s veto. I don’t agree with those four commissioners, but at least they took a position. Two other commissioners, Earlean Collins and Robert Steele, voted “present” because they were too chicken to take a stand on the matter.

Chicago Tribune reporter Hal Dardick covered the attempt to overturn Stroger’s veto. You can find two of his stories about it on the newspaper’s Clout Street blog by clicking here.

Interested in purchasing a landmark? You may get that chance in California.

Here’s the situation, as reported by The New York Times:

In yet another sign of California’s seemingly endless financial crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced Thursday that a growing budget deficit would lead to layoffs of 5,000 state employees; the elimination and consolidation of a raft of state boards, bureaus and committees; and the possible sale of some of the state’s best-known properties, including the Los Angeles Coliseum, San Quentin State Prison and the state fairgrounds.

“Every single thing that we’re doing here,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said, “is very tough.”

His remarks came five days before a special election on six budget-related measures, including a temporary increase in taxes, that could raise nearly $6 billion for the state. Polls have shown several of those measures failing, and the governor made little apology for using the dire budget news as a prod to persuade Californians to vote yes.

“I think it’s very important for people to know where we’re headed and what kind of cuts will come if these initiatives don’t pass,” said Mr. Schwarzenegger, who denied he was using scare tactics.

Even with the passage of the six measures, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, the budget gap for the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, would be $15.4 billion and would require a $3 billion cut to education money and possibly a shorter school year, as well as cuts to social and health care services. Without passage of the measures by the voters, the gap would be $21.3 billion, with a harsher hatchet taken to education, health and social services, he said.

California’s budget crisis seems dire, much more dire than the budget crisis here in Illinois. As a matter of fact, it has seemed that way for awhile, and I’m not sure how Schwarzenegger and company are going to save the fiscal solvency of the Golden State.

Maybe selling landmarks is a start, though I figure the California Preservation Foundation will put up a fight. Just in case you’re interested in making a bid, here is some additional information from The New York Times:

A report by the State and Consumer Services Agency listed seven state properties potentially for sale, several with the type of come-hither descriptions usually found in Manhattan real estate listings. The Cal Expo, for example, the site of the state fair, was described as being “minutes from downtown Sacramento” with “excellent commercial development potential.” (The asking price: $80 million to $150 million.) San Quentin, home to the state’s death row, was promoted for its “commanding view of the San Francisco Bay.” (Inmates not included.)

A developer should buy San Quentin and turn it into public housing. I’m sure there are people who think it would be cool to live on old prison grounds. The redevelopment could even include a park named after Johnny Cash since the country music icon recorded a live album at San Quentin.

As for Los Angeles Coliseum, this is an excellent opportunity for 400 million or so Dodgers fans and USC alumni to pool their money together to buy the stadium where some of their favorite sports memories took place. Better yet, the city of Brooklyn should buy the Coliseum and rename it Ebbets Field West just to stick it to the Dodgers for leaving after the 1957 baseball season. (Yes, I know the team plays at Dodger Stadium now, but the Dodgers called the Coliseum home when they first moved to L.A.)

I’m full of great ideas like these. California, if you need more help coming up with creative sales pitches, let me know. My services are available for a reasonable price.

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