President Obama and the Pope

This week in Rome, President Obama will meet with Pope Francis for the first time.

Since his election last year, Pope Francis has made numerous proclamations that many have found to be unusually liberal minded for the Church, both politically and even when it comes to social issues like gay marriage. During their closed door meeting on Thursday, President Obama and the Pope are expected to discuss an issue that's been of great concern to both of them: the problem of growing inequality and lack of opportunity among the poor. In the U.S., some in the right-wing media have gone so far as to label the Pope a communist or, even worse, a LIBERAL. They've come to expect such talk from the President, but when the leader of the Catholic Church starts talking about the failure of 'trickle-down economics', he's simply gone too far. According to Rush Limbaugh, "this pope makes it very clear he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism." God forbid that the Church voice an opinion on unchecked greed and the plight of the poor.

While it's true that President Obama and Pope Francis have plenty of common ground when it comes to helping the poor, there are also some areas where the two disagree. Obama's use of drones and the civilian casualties that sometimes result are one. Legalized abortion is another. Still, Pope Francis has made it clear in words and actions that world poverty is his overriding concern and that's what's expected to be the focus of tomorrow's meeting.

Change comes slow to government and even slower to the Church, but for progressives, it's encouraging to see the subjects of inequality and world poverty even being discussed at all.

Barack Obama: The Illustrated Man



When I started this illustration, I planned to show President Obama as "The Illustrated Man" from the Ray Bradbury stories, covered with tattoos representing the major events of his term thus far. For now, I've limited the focus to the two major environmental catastrophies which occurred this past year, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the nuclear radiation leak in Japan. Both continue to cause untold damage to the human, animal and plant life in ever-widening areas surrounding the disasters and are leading many to reconsider the safety of offshore oil drilling and nuclear energy.Not surprisingly, most of the damage control by the industries involved seem to be in the area of PR, with assurances that these are freak occurrences that couldn't happen again. BP has even requested permission to resume offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico less than a year after the explosion of the rig that lead to the largest spill in U.S. history. And nuclear power companies are continuing their push to expand plants here in the U.S. and worldwide. As of last week, Japan declared the Fukushima crisis a Level 7 event (the maximum) on the international system for rating nuclear accidents Tuesday, putting it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.

Does Chicago have "self-image" issues?

It doesn't seem that long ago. The night Barak Obama was elected President, Chicago enjoyed perhaps it's finest hour when all eyes were on Grant Park with the majestic skyline of the city in the background. Chicago was dazzling, and it seemed like the city was on an upward trajectory that saw no limits.

Now a couple of years later, some of that glow has worn off the Obama administration and for many, the memory of that night has faded along with it. Shortly after the election, the corruption trial of Gov. Blagojevich made headline news and wouldn't go away. At least then, all of Illinois, and not just Chicago, could share in the embarrassment.

Then there was the 2016 Summer Olympics host city bid. Even before the verdict, there was a divide between those who wanted to see Chicago once again put on the world stage and those who wanted to avoid the hassle and costs involved. But even its harshest critics' jaws dropped when Chicago was the first to be eliminated. Whatever the reasons, political of economic, many Chicagoans took it personally. Maybe they didn't really want it, but they sure didn't want to come in LAST.

And lastly, for a city that loves its sports, the Cubs, a team best known for its history as a jinxed and hapless ball club, is a bigger draw than other, better local teams, except during the occasional post-season play of the Sox, Bulls or Blackhawks. Sure, Wrigley Field is charming with those vines and all, but it's antiquated and you have to dodge the occasional falling brick. They even have a bar/cafe area behind the home plate stands, so you can drink and avoid actually watching the game.

So with all this, it's hard not to feel sometimes that Chicago may not even hold "Second City" status anymore. Does it really matter what perception the rest of the country, the world, or Chicagoans themselves hold of the city? Maybe. It rankles a bit when politicians or journalists use the term "Chicago politics as usual" as shorthand for corruption and sleaziness. Or when nation sportscasters refer to the Cubs as "lovable losers". I know that Chicago is truly a world class city, but sometimes I need to be remind myself of that and see the city from another perspective.

Chicago remains one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. The museums and restaurants and theater are second to none. Millennium Park and the new modern wing of the Art Institute are just a couple recent examples of Chicago's vibrancy and culture.Then there's Lake Michigan. This summer, I took part in my first "Bike the Drive", the annual event when Lake Shore Drive is closed to auto traffic for a morning and bicyclists can ride the entire length of the city from northside to southside and back. It was a perfect day and the skyline and the lake looked magnificent. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I know the winters can be harsh and the summers unbearably hot at times, but I also know that view along the lakefront is as beautiful a sight as you'll see anywhere.

When all is said and done, under "heir apparent" mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city probably won't shake it's political reputation anytime soon, and "manager apparent" Ryne Sandberg may not turn the Cub's World Series chances around. But maybe it's time to celebrate the outstanding things Chicago does have to offer and spread the word.

I'd be interested to hear what perceptions others have of Chicago; from native Chicagoans, those who have visited, and those who have never been.