On the first of February, the CEOs of corporations, small- and large-business owners, police chiefs, city leaders, pastors and priests, government and state workers, owners of trucking companies and convenience stores, and farmers participated in ...

Congratulations on the 900th issue of the River Cities' Reader. Keep up the great work on covering the arts and entertainment, news, and politics of the bi-state area, as you have for the last 22 years.

I was a contributing ed...


“Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.” – Professor Neil Postman

If there are two spectacles that are almost guaranteed to render Americans passive viewers, incapable of doing little more than cheering on their respective teams, it’s football and politics – specifically, the Super Bowl and the quadrennial presidential election.

Both football and politics encourage zealous devotion among their followers, both create manufactured divisions that alienate one group of devotees from another, and both result in a strange sort of tunnel vision that leaves the viewer oblivious to anything else going on around them apart from the “big game.”

Both football and politics are televised, big-money, advertising-driven exercises in how to cultivate a nation of armchair enthusiasts who are content to sit, watch, and be entertained, all the while convincing themselves that they are active contributors to the outcome. Even the season schedules are similar in football and politics: the weekly playoffs, the blow-by-blow recaps, the betting pools and speculation, the conferences, and then the final big championship game.

In the same way, both championship events are costly entertainment extravaganzas that feed the nation’s appetite for competition, consumerism, and carnival-esque stunts. In both scenarios, cities bid for the privilege of hosting key athletic and political events. For example, San Francisco had to raise close to $50 million just to host the 50th Super Bowl, with its deluxe stadium, Super Bowl City, free fan village, interactive theme park, and free Alicia Keys concert, not including the additional $5-million cost to taxpayers for extra security. Likewise, it costs cities more than $60 million to host the national presidential-nominating conventions for the Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the entertainment that is football or politics.

However, where we go wrong as a society is when we become armchair quarterbacks, so completely immersed in the Big Game or the Big Campaign that we are easily controlled by the powers-that-be – the mega-corporations that run both shows – and oblivious to what is really going on around us.

Every time Governor Bruce Rauner gives a major speech, social media (and even mass media) light him up over the way he drops his “g”s at the end of words.

He’s workin’ and doin’ his best and shakin’ up Springfield, or whatever.

Last year, after his first State of the State Address, Illinois Public Radio even interviewed a language expert about whether he was doin’ this on purpose.

It does seem contrived. Rauner was educated at Ivy League schools, after all, and worked in some of the highest echelons in business. If you listen to any of his speeches in the years before he ran for governor, you’ll notice that he talked back then like an educated Midwesterner.

Governor Bruce Rauner blew a perfect opportunity last week to finally drive a public wedge between Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, to clearly put Madigan on the defensive, and to maybe finally make progress on an important issue that might save the state a billion dollars a year.

But he badly bungled the rollout of a deal with Cullerton on pension reform. Instead of describing the agreement for what it really was, Rauner greatly exaggerated its scope and portrayed it as a big defeat for AFSCME and other unions.

In reality, the deal with Cullerton (and there is still a deal with Cullerton, despite what you might be reading elsewhere) is narrow in scope and elegantly designed to put Madigan in a truly tough position.

When a locally owned and operated independent newspaper publishes its 900th issue, it’s worth taking note. Remarkable as this 22nd-year milestone might be, given the Quad Cities’ over-saturated media market, what makes the Reader’s longevity truly extraordinary lies with its small staff. Our dedicated team has consistently infused the publication with original ideas, creative story angles, in-depth analysis, exhaustive inventorying of our area’s culture, self-deprecating humor, and mad skills in generating effective client advertising. And the Reader’s availability on the stands is ubiquitous (some say maybe taken for granted) thanks to a distribution force to be reckoned with. As a wordsmith, I can tell you there are none adequate to express the gratitude, admiration, respect, and undying affection we have for our team.

A mainstay for these 900 issues has been to cover topics under-reported in the mainstream media, informing readers about critical issues and perspectives otherwise absent in conventional coverage. Such topics that deserve deep scrutiny in 2016 are many and varied. Here are some to kick off the next 900 issues.

On February 2, national media and presidential campaigns will decamp from Iowa. The state’s citizens will be freed from the barrage of political advertising, and its media outlets will need to figure out how to fill their news holes.

Ted Cruz or Donald Trump will likely “win” the Republicans’ secret-ballot caucus, with Marco Rubio having an outside shot. Hillary Clinton is poised to “beat” Bernie Sanders in the Democrats’ preference-group caucus system.

And in the short term, those relatively clear results will matter about as much as their grand-scheme relationship to each party’s eventual presidential nominee – barely at all. Instead, the media, pundits, campaigns, and donors will all parse the outcomes against conventional-wisdom guesses about how the candidates were supposed to do.

This muddle partly explains why Iowa and other small early-voting states regularly have their prized positions at the front of the process called into question, criticized, and mocked. In September, for instance, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told the National Journal that Iowa and New Hampshire should watch their backs after 2016. “I don’t think anyone should get too comfortable,” he said. “I don’t think there should ever be any sacred cows as to the primary process or the order.”

The quadrennial arguments against Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina – the four pre-Super Tuesday states – are familiar: These states are small in population, are unrepresentative of the country as a whole, and exercise an outsize and undue influence over the process of selecting nominees and therefore the president. (See sidebar.)

The criticism of Iowa’s role is amplified because of its first-in-the-nation status and the fact that it’s a caucus state – meaning that poorly attended party meetings with weird (or “quirky” or “arcane”) processes set the table for the remainder of the campaign.

On the other hand, those same criticisms form the foundation of the case for Iowa’s role: The relatively sparsely populated state and its caucus meetings represent a small-scale proving ground for candidates – their organizations, their fundraising, their ability to connect with voters one-on-one, and their stomach for local cuisine. If you can’t do well in Iowa, the thinking goes, you’re not going to do well in the country as a whole.

Yet both sides of the argument ignore a fundamental truth of modern presidential politics: Even if Iowa remains the first contest in the presidential-selection process moving forward, the state’s voters are playing an ever-diminishing role. As much as the state sets in motion the story of the presidential campaign, its people don’t much matter.

A lot of folks have taken to calling Bruce Rauner “Governor 1 Percent” because of his immense personal wealth. Rauner himself told the Chicago Sun-Times during the 2014 campaign that he was in the top one-tenth of 1 percent of income earners.

But, right now anyway, he ought to be referred to as “Governor 1.4 Percent.”

Stay with me a bit and I’ll explain.

I sat down for an interview last week with Rauner. As he does with just about every reporter, the governor blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for stifling his beloved Turnaround Agenda. Rauner said he was “frustrated” with Madigan for saying that the anti-union, pro-business reforms were “unrelated to the budget.”

“For example,” Rauner said, “if we can get business regulatory change so I can recruit manufacturers here and more transportation companies here, and more businesses here, we can generate billions of new revenue without raising tax rates. That’s directly tied to the budget.”

“Billions?” I asked.

“Billions,” he replied, while promising to send me a detailed analysis.

A dog will move its ears to express what it is feeling. There are so many different shapes and types of ears on our canine friends. And let’s not forget: Man seems to think that ears should be altered for breeds, making it harder to tell what the dog is saying. Here are a few basic ear positions to consider when watching a dog.

“He has taught us how to deal with him,” explained one top official in Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration when asked why the governor has once again cranked up his public criticism of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

You may already know that the governor blasted both Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during an appearance on Dan Proft’s WIND radio program last week.

After accusing Emanuel of being “afraid” to take on Madigan, Rauner said the reason for this was self-evident: “The speaker has been the most powerful politician in the state of Illinois for decades. It’s the main reason we’re in such big trouble as a state.”

Rauner went on to essentially blame Illinois’ “long-term, slow death spiral” on Madigan and said the majority party “likes the status quo,” claiming the speaker is “not sensitive” to the real-world problems of the middle class. “He’s got a great system; he controls it. And right now they’re unwilling to change. And without change, we’ll never get a true balanced budget."

So what happened here? The governor seemed to mute his criticisms of Madigan in the closing weeks of 2015, even mostly holding his fire when Madigan skipped the last leaders’ meeting just before the holidays.

New year, new attitude, apparently.

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