Eminentoes

Fame and Infamy in Chicago

Dead meat in the heat doesn't smell pretty.

By 6.8.11

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We're stuck here in Chicago as I'm writing this, stranded for a few extra days because the CNN weather map yesterday projected some scary red tornado splotches scattered along the Capitol Limited tracks we take to Pittsburgh.

It looked even worse on holytornado.com, with a giant red rectangle directly over our pathway.

I didn't hear anything about our train blowing off the tracks. But Amtrak didn't have a bedroom on the Capitol for three days, so we're here for an extended stay in the land of Oprah, Obama, Al Capone and 48-ounce porterhouses. Last night, there was a Kobe beef hot dog on the menu at Rosebud's for $14.95.

Not far from our hotel, Rod Blagojevich was in court and heard U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. provide evidence that the former governor was a shakedown artist.

Ironically, Jesse Jr. was called by Blagojevich's defense team in order to say he didn't know anything about a prosecution claim that the former governor was maneuvering to pocket $1.5 million in exchange for installing Jackson in the U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by President Obama.

Jackson said he knew nothing about the alleged deal, thereby distancing himself from the supposed wrongdoing.

But then Jackson went on to explain that his soured relations with Blagojevich stemmed from his refusal to give the former governor a requested $25,000 payment in exchange for his help in getting Jackson's wife appointed as director of the Illinois lottery.

Mrs. Jackson didn't get the job. Jesse Jr. testified that he ran into Blagojevich months later, and the former governor, after doing his Elvis imitation by way of tilting his head and snapping his fingers, said, "You should've given me the $25,000."

"Dead Meat is a big Elvis fan," explained Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, referring to Blagojevich.

The story of the demand for $25,000 was supposed to make Blagojevich look like a crook, but I thought Jesse Jr. looked like the bigger thief, seeking to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars to his wife from the taxpayers by way of sticking her in a job for which she had zero qualifications.

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's new mayor, also was in court, called by Dead Meat's lawyers to swear he was never asked by the former governor to do anything crooked. Emanuel agreed, thereby distancing himself from anything improper.

There was also the grand finale here of Oprah's three-day farewell to Chicago and her TV show. Alessandra Stanley at the New York Times was a little snotty about it all, saying "there hadn't been such an over-the-top display of self-celebration since 2005, when Ms. Winfrey released a six-disc DVD collection of her greatest moments, timed to the 20th anniversary of her syndicated show -- unless it was her 50th birthday celebration in 2004, which featured 2,000 roses, a 400-pound cake and testimonials from the likes of John Travolta and Nelson Mandela."

I never saw Oprah's show, but I'd guess that the editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times got it more right than the Times: "The Oprah Winfrey Show was really about inspiring ordinary people, especially women, to be their best selves. Winfrey has been a cheerleader for hard work, for a healthy sense of self-esteem, for giving back, for good books. She has been a role model for millions of women and girls -- and most especially for African-American women and girls."

And in latest economic news here, the state treasurer announced that the free-spending pols in Illinois have now amassed nearly $200 billion in state debt -- $42,000 per household.

That includes $140 billion in unfunded pension and health benefits for public employees, $45 billion in bond debt and $8 billion in unpaid bills.

Just the late-payment penalties on those unpaid bills are now running $60 million a year.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.