URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Thursday, January 28, 2010

“YOU CAN’T KILL A MAN BORN TO HANG”*

“YOU CAN’T KILL A MAN BORN TO HANG”* Should an official portrait of former Governor Rod Blagojevich hang in the Hall of Governors, the public hallway on the south wing of the Capitol’s second floor? The jury is still out re the verdict, and while I doubt it will happen, I think it should. Because January 30th marks the one year anniversary of Blago’s removal from office, the topic seems timely.
Blagojevich might never get a portrait in the Capitol if lawmakers approve a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville. Black’s bill would prohibit display among the Capitol’s official portraits “any image of a governor who has been removed from office by impeachment and conviction.” Even if Black’s bill fails, the other problem would be to get the legislature to approve funds to pay for the portrait. The state’s budget does not currently have any funds earmarked for a portrait. (previous gubernatorial portraits cost between $15,000-$18,000.) One wonders what legislator would have the cojones to sponsor such a bill.
Maybe State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), who while he was one of Blago’s most outspoken critics, reminds us “Blago-style” that the man was twice elected by the people of Illinois to serve as governor. Franks also feels the portrait would be a reminder to the citizens of Illinois to be careful who they elect in the future.
“I would be happy to sponsor a bill looking to provide funds for an official portrait." Franks said. “A digital camera from Walgreen’s costs about $6.99 and add another $10 for Kinko’s to blow the photo up to poster size and I think we are covered. The big expense would be the gold frame because, of course, his portrait would be “F***ing golden,” Franks said with a chuckle. “But upon reflection, we won’t need any legislative action because I will be happy to pay for the picture out of my own pocket. Nothing would make me happier than to see Rod hanging.”
According to the State Journal Register, Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who was one of Blagojevich’s few supporters in the Illinois House, said he would “love to comment” about Blagojevich’s portrait -- on Feb. 3, the day after the primary election. Dunkin has two primary opponents.
The last ceremony to hang a Governor’s portrait was in 2003 when the official picture of George Ryan was put on display. At that time Ryan was under investigation, but had not been indicted or convicted of anything yet. Ryan said to then Governor Blagojevich that someday there would be an unveiling ceremony for a portrait of Blagojevich. “I hope somebody shows up,” Blagojevich quipped.

Hanging Blagojevich? The whole state will show up to witness the event. *THE OFFICIAL MOTTO OF Dick’s Last Resort Restaurant

CHECK PLEASE!

CHECK PLEASE! The City of Chicago has a vast number of volunteer opportunities for people who want to get involved. There are about 50 different “job” categories ranging from greeting visitors flying into the city as part of The Airport Ambassador Program (free parking and a uniform!) or being a docent at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park (you get 6 weeks of training from area experts on horticulture, the art of interpretation, the history of Lincoln Park, and landscape design.) In fact just last week, the city was awarded a two-year, $200,000 Rockefeller Foundation grant to hire a full-time "chief service officer" to develop a citywide volunteerism plan. Even though people will be performing these jobs for free, one cannot just show up and expect to be “hired.” There are certain requirements depending on the “job.” For one to become part of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers must not only complete orientation training, Core Disaster Life Support Training, attend Chicago department of Public Health sponsored events etc. In all cases of becoming a volunteer, one must submit to a background check of some sort; some more extensive than others depending on the department. It has just been discovered that the volunteers at Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC) have never undergone a criminal background check, been fingerprinted or provided their Social Security numbers. That should be fairly easy to rectify; NOT! The 250 unpaid volunteers are threatening to walk off the “job” if subjected to an investigation.
According to a story in the Sun Times, Human Resources spokesperson Constance Buscemi said “Animal Care should have been going through that same process. It was an oversight that they didn't. That oversight was identified and is being corrected. We understand the important work they do. We certainly don't want to inconvenience them. But in the interest of public safety, this is a practice that's important. We need to make sure that anybody who's acting on behalf of the city or has access to city facilities has been checked out. " There are only 68 full-time City workers for CACC, so if the 250 volunteers unleash themselves from the department there will be a lot of poop piling up. Other duties of the volunteers includes walking the strays; conducting public tours; assisting in adoptions; calling people to try and match micro-chipped strays with their owners and performing clerical work.
Refusing to submit to a background check is sort of like the taking the 5th. One cannot be presumed guilty; but why else would someone refuse? The City cannot risk that Michael Vick is volunteering; what a way to expend his community service hours!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two Scandals, One Politician

Two Scandals, One Politician While the title of this blog might actually refer to many different politicians (Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Illinois House Leader Michael Madigan, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, etc.), it is about Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis. Davis’s recent troubles have been covered extensively by the Chicago media, but they are so juicy, I had to do a re-cap. Davis’ first troubles surfaced last December when it was revealed that she owed more than $500,000 in back rent, taxes and fines to the Chicago Board of Education for the lease on her south- side district offices. Davis first rented the building in 1988 and for 14 years paid for it under the terms of a lease signed by the school board. She stopped paying rent in 2002 when her lease ran out. The school board asked her to vacate but did nothing when she did not leave.
Davis said the state, which pays rent for district offices, requires a lease agreement in order to make payments, and she was unable to obtain new lease papers from the school district despite numerous attempts. “I in no way attempted not to pay them rent,” said Davis. “But how are you going to pay rent without a lease?” Asked why she stayed in a building where she was not paying rent, Davis bristled. “Where would I go?” she said. “I looked for places to go. I’m not going to have a hole in the wall.”
Davis sent a letter to the school board in May 2002, requesting a lease extension. Davis was then sent a letter asking her to vacate the premises by July 1, 2002. Davis’ response was to send another letter asking the Board to sign a lease extension. The board did not respond. And for the next four years, nothing happened. Davis had no lease, had been requested to vacate but she did nothing and the Board did nothing. Imagine any other landlord allowing a tenant who was not paying rent to stay.
Then, in 2006, the school district again began sending letters to Davis. Letters in August and September requested that she enter into a new lease and pay the back-rent and taxes. In April 2008 and September 2008, the district sent letters stating the same issues. In July 2009, the Board of Education passed a resolution to retain a lawyer to handle the case. Three months later, the district sent a 20-day notice to Davis, terminating her tenancy. On Nov. 18, the district filed a lawsuit against Davis seeking the money and her eviction.
It is January 25, 2010 and Davis still occupies the offices. The scandal here is more the fault of the Chicago Bard of Education for allowing a tenant to occupy space that was not being paid for; but it is still astonishing that a legislator who is supposed to uphold the public trust would not leave when asked to. So one would think the defiant Davis, after being embarrassed about the stories of her refusal to vacate, would try to keep a low profile. Not so! She has become even more defiant about a “misappropriated” life-sized sculpture, ironically named, “Defiance.” And guess where that statue is now? At that very same south- side district office where she is not paying rent.
The sculpture, as described by Davis, depicts, "An African woman who had been enslaved. Her hands are in handcuffs. She's been disrobed to her waist. She has welts all over her back because she was constantly beaten. "See how black she is; that's how we came to America ... kissed by the sun. She refused to submit to rape, and because sex was had with her against her will, let me repeat that, because sex was had with her against her will, we are now all different colors. That's how we got to be light, beige, light brown."
The sculpture is owned by Chicago State University (CSU) and officials there contend that the statue, which was purchased with $25,000 of state funds intended for a student financial aid office, disappeared from a warehouse, and they want it back. Davis won’t give it back. The statute was art purchased for The Student Financial Outreach Center which was based at CSU. Davis funded the program through a state grant that then Governor Blagojevich ended in 2008.
As Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell wrote, “Just because a state legislator secures a grant for a program, that does not mean the legislator owns the desks, chairs, paper, computers or artwork if the program folds.”
If we delve deeper into the story we also discover that Davis' boyfriend was employed at CSU and worked for the very Student Financial Assistance Outreach Center that Davis obtained funding for. If this were a movie, no one would believe such a convoluted plot. But this is the State of Illinois located on the Daley Planet and machinations like this occur all the time.
Davis would not say how the statue ended up in her possession. "How do you think I got a 400- or 500-pound statue?" she stupidly asked. I think she had someone drive a truck up to the defunct Outreach Center and just load it up. Even with all her hubris, I don’t think she was strong enough to carry it off herself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SOME PAST STORIES UPDATED AND REWORKED

SOME PAST STORIES UPDATED AND REWORKED On November 24th I posted a blog, “Chicago Board of Education Expense Accounts,” where I questioned the use of the expense accounts and credit cards of the members of the Board. I wrote that “The Chicago Tribune requested records on board spending practices on November 2nd. The school board’s Inspector General James Sullivan began investigating board members' spending after the schools administration gave a copy of the Tribune's request for board spending records to him. How does that fit with the timing that school officials said Scott had begun paying back the money, writing a check on November 8th? Would Scott have written a check if the Tribune had not asked questions?” Well, today we learned that Ron Huberman, Chicago Public Schools CEO, cancelled 89 credit cards of employees on January 19th because of investigations into the spending of the last two Board presidents and their staff. According to the Sun Times, “If employees at board headquarters want their credit cards back, they will have to justify their expenses dating back to June 30, explain why they need a credit card, and receive training on how to use it, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Monique Bond said.” In my November blog I also wrote, “At Michael Scott’s first meeting as Board President on March 25th of this year, the expense accounts of the Board members were doubled from $12,000 a year to $24,000. Scott's allowance rose from $19,200 a year to $36,000. According to the Chicago Tribune, the allowable expenses include telephone charges, transportation to and from board events, purchase of newspapers and journals, and miscellaneous supplies. The Board members are not paid a salary, so while I have no problem with their expenses being reimbursed, I don’t understand how someone can spend $3,000/month on such trivial supplies unless one is buying Mont Blanc pens and engraved Tiffany stationery.” Those monthly stipends have now been cancelled. The Board is now spending up to $100,000 for an outside law firm who has been hired to investigate the expense accounts and credit card charges. So we taxpayers have not only paid for limousines, high-priced meals and liquor; we are now paying someone to tell us how much we got screwed out of. Chicago Teachers Union spokeswoman Rosemaria Genova questioned the $100,000 tab for an outside attorney, saying "The Inspector General’s office is working on this. How many people do you have investigating this and why does it cost so much money?'' We are awaiting the answer to that question.
On November 18th I posted a blog, “Brother Can You Spare a Pepsi,” about how the high costs at McPier were driving conventions from the city. I questioned why we needed a task force that was meeting to discuss how to make Chicago more competitive. The answer was easy; lower prices. McPier has a projected operating deficit of $28.8 million this fiscal year.
So with the announcement that 61 of 95 eligible employees ( 64%) opted for an early retirement package—20 of them are top paid employees—McPier will be able to lower its payroll costs. The rats are jumping from a sinking ship; but will be highly compensated to do so. They will continue to receive huge paychecks for doing nothing. But the money will now come from the pension system and not from the McPier budget. Of the 52 employees earning more than $100,000, 16, or 31% have opted for the early retirement program. “Some of those positions will have to be refilled, but the number is not yet determined,” McPier Chief Executive Juan Ochoa said. It will be interesting to see how many of the positions will be filled and how many were just like bloated fish floating on Lake Michigan and not necessary. On May 14th I posted a blog, “Risk Your Life for a Dog?” about a woman who jumped into Lake Michigan to save her dog. I outlined all the reasons she was stupid and quoted blog follower Kevin as saying, “I think they should make her pay the cost of her rescue for being so stupid. A stupid tax perhaps?” Our latest stupid person in Chicago is Kendra Coffey who, according to the Chicago Tribune, “Coffey said she was wearing headphones as she walked Sunday afternoon near her apartment when the purse snatcher struck. The thief warned that he had a gun, she said, but "it looked like a piece of wood painted black. Coffey put up a fight, she said, but the robber fled with her purse and jumped into a car driven by another man. She gave chase and tried to get in the car, Coffey said, but the driver took off down the wrong side of the street with the door open. She was still clinging to her purse as the car began moving. "I was half in, half out," she said. "They were dragging me about half a block." Coffey said she held on until the driver started to speed up, causing her to fall off the side of the car. Her thick winter clothing cushioned her fall and protected her from more serious injuries, she said.” The upshot was that she did not get her purse back because the suspects threw it away. She lost her driver's license, keys, about $20 and other valuables. So she risked her life for $20. How much stupid tax should she have to pay? All three of these stories are related because they have to do with money. In the cases of the first two stories millions of dollars are involved and the last story only $20. People are risking their reputations and lives because of personal enrichment. If only the concept of the Stupid Tax were real, we could balance all the budgets in Illinois if we could collect on it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

PROSTIDUDE

Illegal prostitution exploits women; legalized prostitution empowers women by giving them control over the use of their own sexuality. No man has ever offered me money in exchange for sex; and I doubt at this point in my life it will ever happen. I won’t claim that I would turn down a sufficient enough offer if one ever came my way; we all have a price it is just the negotiation levels that will differ. I also have never paid for sex. No female needs to. A man will readily and randomly have sex with anything that is breathing and warm; and sometimes warm is not even a requirement. If there are 150 million heterosexual men in America over the age of 18; a woman could find 149,999,999 men who will have sex for gratis with her. The only man who would possibly turn her down is George Clooney who has a wide range of women he can choose from and thus can be more discriminating. So why would a woman pay for sex from a stranger when so much free sex is available? The state of Nevada has just granted approval for the first legalized male prostitute who started work this week. Marcus (no last name) set up shop at the Shady Lady Ranch (www.shadyladyranch.com) which is located 30 miles north of Beatty, an unincorporated township of less than 1,200 people between Las Vegas and Reno. The brothel web site touts that they have been voted the “Best Small Brothel” for seven years. I have no idea who voted in those surveys, but I have no reason not to believe the honor.
In an Associated Press story Marcus (pictured above) described himself, “as a well-read college dropout and former U.S. Marine from Alabama. He said he drove to Los Angeles to become a porn actor and left after filming two scenes, the first about a month ago. He said he ended up in a homeless shelter near Santa Monica, Calif., after being unable to find another job. Shady Lady Madam Bobbi Davis picked him from about 10 potential hires culled from hundreds of applications, many featuring crude inquiries, according to her husband and co-owner Jim. Part of Markus' appeal was that he was not afraid to deal with heavy publicity.”
One concern about the first male prostitute is discrimination because Marcus says he will only have sex with women. The legal female prostitutes are upset. A 22-year-old prostitute at Angel's Ladies named "Cuddles" said Markus' unwillingness to see gay males makes the Shady Lady seem sexist and discriminatory. "How can you just turn down services because of what someone's preferences is? It comes with the territory. It comes with the business," she said.
Another problem, according to AP, is diseases. “George Flint, a longtime lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Owners Association (which the Shady Lady Ranch is not a member of), said allowing a male prostitute creates legitimate health concerns. Male customers are thoroughly cleaned and inspected for signs of disease before sex at Nevada's brothels, and he doesn't believe the same "fanaticism" is possible when checking female customers.”
The Shady Lady Ranch charges $200 for 40 minutes and $300 per hour. They do not say exactly what services one receives for the pricing. If Marcus ejaculates in the first five minutes and can no longer perform his manly duties; does one get a refund? At least when I spend $200 at the beauty salon; I get the full haircut.

Friday, January 22, 2010

SKEWERED FOR DOING GOOD!

SKEWERED FOR DOING GOOD! Sometimes politicians just cannot win even when they are doing something good. We read story after story about free fall spending on “pork projects,” bloated no-bid contracts and deficit spending that skewers elected officials for not being fiscally responsible. Yet when some Chicago Aldermen decide not to spend all of their “menu money” ($1.32 million allotted to each Alderman for projects in their ward) immediately, the Sun Times castigates them. Sun Times City Hall political writer Fran Spielman wrote an “exposé” story about 13 Aldermen who were left with at least $500,000 of unused “menu money” at the end of 2009; including four with more than $1 million unspent. The casual reader of the story probably missed the line, “unspent money stays in an alderman's account for future use “ and believes instead that their Alderman did not properly allocate money for ward street repairs and other projects and the money is lost. Just because you have the money in the bank does not mean you have to spend it immediately! These castigated Aldermen are wise and have not haphazardly spent money as if it were burning a hole in their pockets and have prudently decided to apportion it as needed. What is wrong with that? In the story, Alderman Helen Schiller (46th ward) said she had not spent $1.15 million of her budget because she is deliberate. "I can spend the money. That's not the issue. The issue is I like to do it in a comprehensive manner.” Alderman Mary Ann Smith (48th ward), “acknowledged that she "hordes" most of her menu money to "seed" projects that "might not happen" otherwise. They include improving retail space in CTA Red Line stations, building dog parks, and enlarging the soon-to-be-built Edgewater Library. This is a very precious pool of money to me. With this menu money, I can make unusually good things happen. But, just because you've got it doesn't mean you need to spend it. There's no rush," she said. "Our neighborhood has a wish-list. It's our job to make it happen. If that means hoarding some of the money, I hang onto it. Every nickel is a prisoner." We should be holding a parade for Aldermen who want to expend money in a purposeful manner instead of grilling them about not spending it frivolously. At first, I was happy to read that my Alderman, Brendan Reilly (42nd ward), was first on the list with $1.3 million still left in his budget. I was proud of his prudence. Then I read what he wants to do with the money and I went ballistic! According to the Sun Times, Reilly wants to “nearly triple the number of downtown bike lanes and clearly delineate those lanes with a plastic green surface. But, the work can't begin until the Chicago Department of Transportation completes a study on the project. “I have done a number of blogs about hating how bicyclists ignore the rules of the road and are a menace to pedestrians and drivers. Their impertinence and disrespect is compounded because they know the Mayor loves them and they can get away with anything. Now I will have to worry about triple their number! I have already written to the Alderman’s office asking how I can testify against expanding the bicycle lanes but have not heard back yet. Look for a future blog on the subject as spring approaches.
The one day there is good news coming out of City Hall, the Sun Times chooses to run it as a negative piece. Since there are scandals of epic proportion occurring every day at City Hall, this story should have been front page with a smiley face—but good news doesn’t sell. It has to bleed to lead.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ENDORSING FROM THE HEART

ENDORSING FROM THE HEART On January 11th I wrote a blog, “Endorsements What Are They Worth?,” about how one should question the origin of a political endorsement before they blindly accept it. The endorsements I am bestowing today come from my heart with a personal knowledge and friendship of the particular candidate. My heart cannot be bought. These endorsements are not about any particular issue in each of the candidate’s race; though all my choices are deeply qualified for the office they seek. One can read about the issues on their web sites. This is about what I personally know about each individually. While the actual election date is February 2nd, one can “Early Vote” until January 28th. According to the Chicago Board of Elections, only 10,402 people voted in the first week. I don’t understand why more people don’t early vote because there are no lines! Vote now, don’t wait for the rush on Election Day. Sadly, even though I am a Republican, in that primary there are only two races I care about and they are the ones for Governor and Comptroller. In the Governor’s primary we have Kirk Dillard who I have known for twenty years. In 1990, I was a judge at the Miss Chicago Pageant. (I doubt if that pageant even exists anymore!) Kirk was also a judge because his sister had once won that title. We spent an entire day together. Anyone who knows me understands that spending a full day with me can be quite tiresome; at the end you either love me or hate me. Luckily for me, Kirk became my friend. Kirk worked for Governor Thompson and then for Governor Edgar. If I had friends or clients who needed to speak to the Governor or needed advice on State of Illinois issues, Kirk advised me. I was not given access because I was making political contributions; I received entrée because the topics I needed help with were important and impactful. When Kirk became a Senator, even though he was not my Senator, we stayed friends. My October 28th Blog, “It Is Time For Me To Grow Up,” tells a funny story about my getting a Ferrari, my fear of driving it and Kirk’s guidance in relaxing that fear. Kirk has been a Dinner Co-Chair with me for many years at the Chicago Legal Clinic’s Annual Banquet and has helped me raise money to help make legal services available for those who cannot afford it. He has been a tirelessly worker on this issue and I am most grateful for his support. One of my clients in the 1990s was Cook County Commissioner (now Cook County Treasurer) Maria Pappas. One of her legislative aides was Stephanie Hallam who became a good friend. Stephanie left Maria’s office, became a lobbyist and met Senator Kirk Dillard. A romance evolved and they got married! Two friends from different areas of my life got together and I couldn’t have been happier. They have two beautiful daughters and I even babysat once when Stephanie had a doctor’s appointment. It is the only time in my life anyone trusted me alone with a baby! It was very brave of her to do that. In the Comptroller’s race we have Judy Baar Topinka, former State Treasurer, who would have been Governor of Illinois instead of Blago if everyone who claimed they voted for her really did. She does not have a tough race, and because she is so dearly loved and respected; I do not have to spout a litany on how fabulous she is. Not only was I a consultant to her office; she has been a dear friend for many years. So when I say that I endorse Kirk Dillard and Judy Baar Topinka from my heart, you know it is true. Please vote for them if you pull a Republican ticket. On the Democratic side of the aisle, I have three friends that are running for office. Since I will start with the highest level and move down; I will begin with Alexi Giannoulias who is running for U.S. Senator to fill the seat of Barack Obama that is now held by Roland Burris. When Alexi ran for Treasurer of the State of Illinois, I had no idea who he was. I knew the workings of the Treasurer’s office because I had been a consultant to Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. I attended a debate between him and the Republican candidate and his knowledge of the office was impressive. The Republican candidate gave no reason to vote for her; only why not to vote for Alexi. I threw my support behind Alexi and took tremendous flack from Republican friends because of my disloyalty to the party. But I felt he was the most qualified for the job. I always vote for the right person, not necessarily the one from my party. Alexi and I became friends, and because he is so adorable and is single, I pretend I am his “fiancé.” He lets me do that; and is not the least bit embarrassed that I go around touting our “engagement.” His mother Anna even accepts the fact that I am too old to provide her grandchildren and also plays along with my game. I sit on his Treasurer’s Community Affairs Council and have advised his office on a number of issues. Because of his long time friendship with President Obama (they play basketball together), I know he would serve the State of Illinois well as our Senator in Washington. Alderman Toni Preckwinkle has a tough race in the Democratic Cook County Board President contest. How did I, a northsider, become friends with a southside Alderman? It is because of Doolittle, a school where I do volunteer work that is located in her ward. Because she had been a teacher before entering politics, Toni understands the importance of education and how it shapes our future. She has embraced my devotion to Doolittle and has advised and helped me with the Board of Education to get Doolittle assistance when the school needs a champion. She has been a guest on my show, Political Forum, a number of times over the years and the calls we get from constituents who respect what she has accomplished in her ward are almost endless. If Toni has been able to accomplish so much in just one ward of Chicago, just imagine what she could do if she had all of Cook County to work with? Finally, we have Stella Black who is running for the position of Commissioner for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD). Nobody understands what the MWRD does and less understand what a MWRD Commissioner is. This is one of those ballot positions that most people just randomly check off with no knowledge of the candidates. They arbitrarily vote for the name that “sounds good.” While there are three slots available, it is best to cast only one vote to ensure your choice wins. I have known Stella for about 15 years and she is one of my closest friends. If I call Stella and tell her I need help with one of my charities there is no question that she stands up first, front and center, to lend a hand. Whether it is writing a check or physically helping to paint the auditorium at Doolittle, Stella is there. Because I have hundreds of wonderful Stella stories to relate it would be impossible to share them all with you; so I will choose this one. Last year, because of a bone infection in my leg, I was fitted with a peripherally inserted central catheter in my arm; also known as a PICC line. Having a PICC line required my running my own IV every day with antibiotics. It is a very complicated procedure and Stella would stop by my home early every morning to sit with me while I ran the line in case something went wrong. For weeks I had no mishaps and had told Stella there was no reason for her to continue coming because I knew what I was doing; but she kept coming. Then one day there was a disaster! I did something wrong when I unhooked the IV line and blood started spurting out of the tubing. Stella leapt up and grabbed the tubing in her hand; paying no attention to the fact that she was getting blood on herself. Only a true friend lets you bleed on them. So when I tell you that I endorse these candidates from my heart, in Stella’s case that is certainly true. The blood pumping from my heart spilled on Stella and she stoically stood there. How can you not vote for her?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

DEATH BY CHOCOLATE Kellogg bakeries in Atlanta, Georgia and Rossville, Tennessee, that produce Eggo products, both had to halt production because of flooding and other extensive repairs that had to be made to the plants. That means there will be a shortage of Eggo and Eggo-branded products such as syrup, pancakes, toaster pastries and other breakfast items in the upcoming months. This is not big deal for me because I can live with no Eggos.
What will be more difficult for many people to live without is Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. The delicious combination of secret ingredients that comprises Toll House dough is supposed to be spooned from the tube and baked in an oven. Dough is not supposed to be eaten raw, no matter how delicious it is. The Food & Drug Administration web site warns. “Do not eat any raw cookie dough or any raw food product that’s supposed to be cooked or baked. “ But do we care? No!
I think Jewish people might invented the concept of eating raw dough because everyone in my family did it. Of course that was before there were health rules telling us that we were not supposed to do it. That might not have stopped us anyway! Because Jews have the innate fear of suddenly being banished to exile in the desert; we eat whatever and whenever we can. But Lutherans like raw dough also as Kristie Hansen told me,” When I was pregnant, I could easily have eaten a whole roll of cookie dough. But it is interesting that I could never eat 17 baked cookies which is how many a single roll makes.” Because of those who follow the practice of ingesting the uncooked cookies, Nestle’s is now checking the dough for bacteria. Testing done in early January revealed two samples of cookie dough that tested positive for E. coli; a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, death. All the dough that was produced at the time of these tainted samples was destroyed and none of it had been shipped to retail outlets. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is monitoring Nestle's manufacturing practices. So now there will be a raw cookie dough shortage and we will be forced to mix the flour, eggs and sugar ourselves. Or just do what I do and buy the baked cookies at the store. Instant gratification is always best!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SPENDING MONEY THE AMERICAN WAY

SPENDING MONEY THE AMERICAN WAY American Girl, a line of dolls, books, and accessories based on pre-teen girl characters, is owned by Mattel. According to statistics from the company, “The foundation of the company is dolls (13 million of them have been sold, according to the company); especially dolls that are customized to look like their owners and dolls based on historic characters created by American Girl itself. Huge numbers of clothes and other accessories for the dolls are available, as well as books (117 million sold) and a magazine (with 650,000 subscribers.)” The Chicago Sun Times says, “The Chicago store -- one of American Girl's top two stores nationwide in revenue -- says it attracts 1.5 million to 1.6 million visitors a year, which would rank it as the fifth-most-popular tourist attraction in Chicago, just after the Shedd Aquarium and just ahead of the Museum of Science and Industry, according to data from the Chicago Office of Tourism.” The latest American Girl, “Doll of the Year,” Lanie Holland, can be purchased with an optional accessory, a camper, that sells for $295. The camper, which features a bed, a kitchen and a seating area, is the most expensive of all the accessories any of the dolls have. There is one more expensive accessory, a two-doll storage trunk, which sells for $349, but it's not connected to any particular doll. The thought of someone spending this amount of money on a doll’s accessory either greatly offends you or does not bother you at all. I have no problem with the price because it is the buyer’s individual decision as to whether or not they want to spend their personal discretionary dollars on a toy for a doll. The United States economy is based on capitalism—an economic system of free enterprise. The means of production are privately owned and profits are distributed to the owners. The system is based on individual rights. We do not live in a socialist society where the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution belong to the community as a whole or a communist economy which is a totalitarian form of government in which classes are abolished and property is controlled by the state.
In America I earn my own money and can choose how I spend it. With a few exceptions, like car insurance, taxes and licenses, the government does not mandate how my personal money is spent. I earn it and I decide how to distribute it. There is no one holding a gun to my head forcing me to buy a toy for $295. So why do people get upset that a toy is so expensive? A liberal Democratic friend said, “Given the current economic times-- maybe as a corporate brand-- Mattel should have been more sensitive to pricing. “ Again, I ask, “why?” Mattel would not have priced the camper at $295 if they did not think that people would pay that price. And if you don’t want to pay that price, then don’t buy the camper.
In light of the recent tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti, there will be people screaming that is unconscionable that people are buying expensive toys for their children; but the two events are unrelated. If the people buying the costly plaything want to splurge their money; remember that it is their money. That is the beauty of capitalism.
So I agree with the great philosopher Dr. Suess who said, "Always do what you want, and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind."

Monday, January 18, 2010

DETENTION CENTERS FOR FAT KIDS?

DETENTION CENTERS FOR FAT KIDS?
The U.S, Preventive Services Task Force, a very influential advisory panel, published a study this week , online in the journal Pediatrics, recommending that children should be screened for obesity and sent to intensive behavior treatment if they are fat. According to an Associated Press story, “The recommendations follow government reports last week that showed obesity rates in kids and adults have held steady for about five years. Almost one-third of kids are at least overweight; about 17 percent are obese.
Evidence the panel evaluated shows intensive treatment can help children lose a few pounds. The behavior treatment that is recommended requires appointments at least once or twice a week for six months or more. Why do therapy for only once or twice a week when we can take all the fat kids into custody and house them in Diet Detention centers? If obesity is such a critical problem in our nation, we certainly can’t allow these corpulent children to walk among us and possibly “infect” other children’s behavior. Plus their plump and portly silhouettes are so disgusting to look at because their rotund bodies are so offensive to view!
A Diet Detention center could house these children and remove them from a situation where their parents obviously have no control over the food their youngsters put in their mouths. A stay in the center would not be punitive; but for the purpose of rigorous and demanding food skills rehabilitation. These adolescents are ensconced in a family life that is obviously filled with negative influences that produce self-destructive eating behavior. It is time for the government to step in and take control! The preamble of the Constitution calls for the people of these United States to promote the general welfare; so what better way to advance this ideology then making sure everyone is thin?
Clearly I am being sarcastic when I make the insane recommendation of housing fat children in Diet Detention Centers; but my proposal makes as much sense as some expert panel recommending that overweight children need intensive therapy. I have been fat my whole life; I like to eat. Food tastes good! I do not eat because I am happy or sad; I eat because the victuals are delicious! No amount of therapy is going to change my thinking that chocolate cake is scrumptious. Only I can say “No” to the piece of cake that is calling my name, not some doctor.
I lost 65 pounds a few years ago by making some simple life style changes that worked specifically for me. They might not work for other people. Thin people do not realize the struggle we “fatties” suffer every day as we try to control what we put in our mouths; and I wonder how many of the members of the “expert” panel suffer have ever been overweight? Therapy will never stop someone from putting food in their mouth; only self-control will.
Henry David Thoreau said, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away." Some hear the drumbeat of vegetables, I hear the drumbeat of candy—and it is getting closer.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I WAS RIGHT, I WAS WRONG, I WAS RIGHT!

I WAS RIGHT, I WAS WRONG, I WAS RIGHT! A few days ago I posted a story called, “Didn’t he learn how to ride the bus or take the El?” in response to a Chicago Tribune story about all the leased cars being used by officials at Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Since CPS CEO Ron Huberman had been past President of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), my story was partially “tongue in cheek” and partially serious. Because a very dear friend of mine was so upset by the story and felt I was being unfair to Huberman, I wrote an apology in my blog e-mail yesterday saying I might have been too harsh in the posting and I did not mean the story as an indictment against the fine work that Huberman is doing at CPS. He has a very tough job. Now the Chicago Tribune has revealed that the CPS Inspector General James Sullivan is investigating the use of the leased cars by staff. So I was right, I was wrong, I was right! Vindication for me! Fan Club Deputy Undersecretary Linda Shafran had wondered, as did others, why Huberman needed two tax-payer funded leased cars for himself. To answer her, CPS returned his 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid to the lease company yesterday. Five other staff leased vehicles were turned in because they also were improperly leased. The Tribune story prompted CPS to check into its leases and it was discovered that Huberman’s Ford Escape and five other cars were leased from Enterprise Leasing Co., a company that CPS did not have a contract with and that was arranged by the Transportation Department. "That department is responsible," CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said. "I don't want to implicate any individual, but we found out that policies were not followed. ... Those found to be responsible will face severe disciplinary action. Ron is upset that proper procedures were not followed. He's troubled. He's embarrassed and he's angry." So while Huberman is “embarrassed and angry” that the cars were not leased according to contract; is he also embarrassed that it was discovered that he had two leased cars? A perk no previous CEO had. Or only embarrassed and angry that the leases were not legit? While I had pointed out in my previous story that the money being spent on leased cars (Ryder Transportation Services has a $1.5 million contract that had been approved by the Board before Huberman took his position as CPS CEO) is miniscule when compared to the $5 billion yearly budget, the improper leases are just another indication of wasteful spending by government. How were checks written to Enterprise leasing and approved by oversight when CPS had no contract with them for staff leased cars? The only contract Enterprise had with CPS was for 36 cars to be used for the student driver program. Was the student driver program short-changed the six cars that were diverted to Huberman and his staff? I am not questioning the legitimacy of CPS needing leased cars; I am questioning the process followed in leasing the cars. Every time the Tribune, Sun Times or other news organization does an investigative story into some branch of city, county or state government we hear the next day that the Inspector General for that department is now launching an investigation into the allegations. Why does it always seem that the various Inspector General offices are constantly behind the story and not in front of it? Don’t they exist to discover improprieties before the mud is slung in their faces? Albert Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." Since the bureaucrats that are doing the investigating are basically the same as those who are running the store, “Houston we have a problem.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

PARKING METER TICKET NEEDS TO BE VOIDED BEFORE NOT AFTER

PARKING METER TICKET NEEDS TO BE VOIDED BEFORE NOT AFTER I park in a garage where I live downtown and very rarely drive my car n the city. I take cabs everywhere. If I do drive in the city it is usually to a restaurant that has valet parking. So while the parking meter debacle has been a problem to everyone else, it has not been a problem for me because I have no reason to park on the street. I was invited to an event at a restaurant in Wrigleyville and because it was so cold, and I did not want to have to try to catch a cab after the party, I decided to drive. I was told it is easy to find a parking space on Clark. It might have been easy to find a parking space, but it was not easy to find the parking meter box that was associated with that spot. I had to walk the length of a whole block to locate the box. It took another few minutes figuring out how to use the box. I then had to walk back to my car and put the paid meter receipt in my windshield. The whole process took about nine minutes. If a parking meter enforcement aide had been on that street during the time I was paying into the meter box waiting for a receipt, my car would have received a ticket. I would not even have seen it happening because I had to walk down the block to the meter box with my back towards my car. Imagine trying to fight the ticket claiming I was paying for a receipt down the block at the very time the enforcement aide was giving me a violation. Mayor Daley introduced an ordinance yesterday (which we know City Council will approve because it was introduced by His Honor himself—but wouldn’t it be hysterical if they voted it down?) authorizing the Revenue Department to void one parking ticket a year per vehicle. But, the ticket will only be nullified if it is issued within five minutes of the expiration time on the pay box receipt. Revenue Director Bea Reyna-Hickey said, “You’re avoiding a $50 ticket. I think that’s a very big break.” Daley commented, “We’re trying to sensitize those who are administering tickets. If someone is running to their car or running out of the store, use discretion. ... You don’t have to issue the ticket.” Well, someone is not always “running to the car,” when a ticket is being issued and how do you prove that you were “running to your car?” and should get a pass? If the city will forgive” violations that occur within 5 minutes of expiration, then why issue them to start with? What about 6 minutes instead of 5? Should we go for 7?
I think the Mayor made a big mistake and is “forgiving” the wrong people. If I have a parking meter receipt that has expired, I deserve a ticket and should have to pay for it. But if I am one of the people who got ticketed before I even had a chance to put the receipt on my dashboard, I am the person who deserves to have my ticket voided. Try and prove that you were going to pay but the process took so long you got ticketed before you even had a chance to put the receipt in your car.
A Martian day, called a sol, is about 39 minutes longer than a day on earth. The next time one gets a ticket, fight it by saying you thought you were on Mars and had extra time. But since we live on the Daley Planet, don’t even bother trying to fight City Hall. I know someone who tried it yestersol and it did not work.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT DISCRIMINATION!

IT’S NOT ALWAYS ABOUT DISCRIMINATION! There are zoning and other construction laws for concrete reasons. If I live in a particular neighborhood, I am glad I have the right to discuss and decide whether I want something built or not. In my own neighborhood there has been a contentious issue for years on whether the new Children’s Memorial Hospital should be allowed to erect a heliport on top of the building. I happen to be in favor of the heliport and have voiced my support; other groups are opposed because of their safety concerns. Does anyone say that the anti-heliport people are discriminating against children because of their opposition? No. The anti-heliport people have what they feel are legitimate concerns and our laws allow them to register their disagreement. There are no discrimination law suits being filed about this issue In unincorporated Naperville a zoning issue has become controversial because the approval of the erection of a Muslim Irshad Learning Center has been denied by the DuPage County Board. Neighbors of the proposed area of the center had objected to the plans, citing concerns about parking and late-night services. A DuPage County zoning panel rejected the group’s proposal twice, saying it did not prove that the property would have adequate parking, lighting and utilities.
A neighbor of the potential center, Dan Wallace said "Irshad clearly has every right to assemble and worship in their custom, and I would like to see them be able to do that in a location that would not be subject to restrictions that would cause them to modify how they meet and how they worship. I think that they picked a site that happens to be very poorly suited to that purpose." Wallace also said that residents are opposed to the center because services, which begin at sunset, would end late at night, particularly during summer. In a document submitted to the county, neighbors said nearby houses are occupied by young children whose bedrooms are in the back of each house and “who stand to be disturbed” by noise and light.
But because this issue has to do with a religious group, cries of discrimination and bias are claimed to be behind the rejection of the building permits. Kevin Vodak, attorney with the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which will be representing Irshad as it considers appealing the county's ruling said, "We fear that the board may have acted on improper factors in rejecting the Irshad Learning Center's permit, and we will continue to pursue this matter in hopes of achieving a just resolution."
To further fan the fire, Mahmood Ghassemi, chairman of the Irshad board said that elections are coming up and, “It is not a popular sentiment to be in favor of an application by Muslims, no matter how good the application is."
To me the simplest solution would be for the proposed center to look for locations that were not located in a residential area. If there was still opposition, then maybe there would be cause for claiming that denial of approval of the building of the center was based on religious discrimination. There is no proof of that now.
Nobody in my neighborhood is being accused of discriminating against children because of their opposition of the heliport and there is no concrete evidence of religious discrimination in Naperville.
Our country was founded on principles of religious freedom and tolerance, but as an unidentified source once said ( falsely attributed to 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney)” I have the right "NOT" to be tolerant of others because they are different, weird, or tick me off.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DIDN’T HE LEARN HOW TO RIDE A BUS OR TAKE THE EL?

DIDN’T HE LEARN HOW TO RIDE A BUS OR TAKE THE EL? Ron Huberman was president of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for two years before he was named CEO of the Chicago Public School (CPS) system last January. The CTA is the nation’s second largest public transportation system and operates in Chicago and 40 suburbs. More than 2,000 buses cover 2,273 miles of routes and there are 12,000 posted bus stops. The system also operates 1,190 rapid transit cars. Between the two systems about 2 million rides are provided every day to customers. But obviously Huberman did not learn how to ride a bus or catch an EL because he now has TWO leased cars and a driver to ferry him around as CPS CEO. The two cars that Huberman uses are a 2009 Crown Victoria that is leased for about $1,000/month and a 2009 Ford Escape hybrid that costs more than $800/month. Throw in the salary and benefits for his driver, car insurance, gas, repairs and we are talking about a very high number. Since I don’t know what his driver earns; I will be conservative and estimate only $3,000/month (with benefits) and only toss in another $300/month for insurance etc. So my low ball estimate is that Huberman’s transportation costs the city about $5,100/month. A monthly unlimited rides CTA pass costs $86. Didn’t Huberman learn how to use the transit system while was president? It was only a year ago that he ran the Chicago mass transit system, so he couldn’t already forgotten how to catch a bus. Huberman’s response to questions about the leased cars was that, "The decision to lease a vehicle for the purpose of driving to early-morning and late-evening meetings and work-related functions as well as weekend events was based on efficiency. The job of the CEO involves a significant time commitment outside of standard business hours." I understand that Huberman works very long hours, but CTA runs 24 hours a day! One would think he learned that as President of the system. Most of the cars leased by CPS are for vehicles used by the warehouse distribution, food service and operations departments. I can understand why those departments need cars. One cannot delivery food to schools on a bus. The boxes are too big. But, according to the Chicago Tribune, from date obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, “Eighteen officials at the school district have leased vehicles.” If each of those vehicles have an average cost of about $750/month that translates into $9,000/year times 18 cars or about $108,000/year. Let’s add Huberman’s approximately $60,000/year in transportation cost and we arrive at a total of $178,000. If these officials took mass transit instead, CPS would save about $150,000/year. While saving $150,000 is pennies when compared to the scope of the 2010 CPS $5.328 billion budget, let me explain the savings in terms of what could be provided for students. Last year, I instituted an after-school dance program at my favorite school, Doolittle. It cost $100/student for the program. The classes were funded by me and the generosity of my friends; not by CPS. With $150,000, 1500 young students could participate in after- school programs like this. Or Huberman and his cronies could continue to have leased cars. What’s the better value for your tax dollar? You do the math.

Monday, January 11, 2010

ENDORSEMENTS? What are they worth?

ENDORSEMENTS? What are they worth? My webmaster, Jason Baumann, sent me an e-mail saying, “The Tribune wrote that they will not endorse a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Neither will the unions. I am very independent and am pulling a Democratic ticket this year only because of our friend Stella Black running in the Democratic primary for Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commission. What are endorsements really worth?”
The most publicized endorsement ever of a candidate was when Oprah Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama for President. In August 2008, two University of Maryland economists, Craig Garthwaite and Tim Moore, quantified the Oprah endorsement at 1 million votes in a study they published. "Winfrey’s ability to influence the actions of her supporters is impressive. Polling evidence suggests that this effect on consumers’ decisions may translate to politics," the economists wrote. "Furthermore, Oprah is regarded as one of the most prominent and influential public figures in the United States: if a celebrity endorsement is ever going to have an empirically identifiable influence, then it is likely to be hers." The economists recognized in their report that few studies have ever even documented a clear link between endorsements of any kind and voter behavior.
While there might not be have been many scientific studies linking voter behavior to endorsements, there have been many polls. One done by USA TODAY during the 2008 Presidential election showed that 16% of people felt endorsements were very important; 21% at somewhat important; 23% not too important and 38% at not important at all. The fact that 16% of potential voters felt endorsements were important is really a huge number when one considers that many elections are usually won by only a few percentage points. Mayor Daley, the most prominent Democratic in Illinois ( sorry Mike Madigan!) said on Saturday that he won't be endorsing anyone running in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary contests because he's too busy to worry about elections. "If I do endorse, you'll say, 'Boss Daley does this,' you guys will spin that," Daley told reporters. "In this day and age it's completely different, it's a completely different environment in politics, and I’ll be very frank. Endorsements don't mean as much as they used to mean in the past. "There's enough issues out there, whether it's public transportation, whether it's the parks, whether it's the schools, I'm focusing my energy and my experience on making sure everything's done for the city."
In explaining why the Tribune is not endorsing either Democratic candidate for Governor, the editorial said, “We cannot endorse either (Quinn or Hynes) of these candidates in the primary. Neither one has inspired confidence that he can make the difficult, unpopular decisions that must be made to resolve this state's financial crisis.We don't see this as tantamount to an early endorsement of the Republican nominee in the general election. The Democrat who wins the primary will have nine months to make a better case for himself. We hope he proves our skepticism wrong.But if he doesn't, we think voters will have an easy choice.” When George Foreman signed a $137.5 million deal with Salton Inc. (recently merged with Applica Incorporated), entitling the grill manufacturer to global, unrestricted use of Foreman’s name in marketing the Lean, Mean, Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine and related products, who knew that more than 100 million grills would be sold? Salton later expanded the line to include many other products. In Foreman’s case, the public knew that his endorsement had been bought and paid for. While we hope that newspapers base their endorsements on who they think is the best candidate, how many of the general population know that at the slating session held by the by the Cook Cook Democratic Party a few months ago, potential judge candidates were asked if they were slated could they contribute $25,000 to the party and other candidates were asked for $40,000? If they answered, “NO,” they obviously would not be endorsed or slated. So while endorsements can have an influence in how the population votes, I think it is important to know how the endorsement was obtained. At least we knew Foreman’s was bought and paid for; we don’t always know that in politics.

Friday, January 8, 2010

WHAT SIDEWALKS DOES THE CITY CLEAR?

WHAT SIDEWALKS DOES THE CITY CLEAR? The City of Chicago, which has an ordinance for everything one can imagine, has Muni Code section 10-8-180 which explains who is responsible for cleaning the sidewalks when it snows. It is very specific:
Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk in front of such building or lot of ground.
If the sidewalk is of greater width than five feet, it shall not be necessary for such person to remove snow and ice from the same for a space wider than five feet.
In case the snow and ice on the sidewalk shall be frozen so hard that it cannot be removed without injury to the pavement, the person having charge of any building or lot of ground as aforesaid shall, within the time specified, cause the sidewalk abutting on the said premises to be strewn with ashes, sand, sawdust, or some similar suitable material, and shall, as soon thereafter as the weather shall permit, thoroughly clean said sidewalk.
The snow which falls or accumulates during the day (excepting Sundays) before four p.m. shall be removed within three hours after the same has fallen or accumulated. The snow which falls or accumulates on Sunday or after four p.m. and during the night on other days shall be removed before ten a.m.”
Since the first line of the ordinance reads,” Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground in the city abutting upon any public way or public place shall remove the snow...” it makes it clear who is accountable for cleaning of the snow-laden sidewalks and it does not seem like the City of Chicago has much responsibility! With the exception of City Hall in The Loop, just about all of the buildings in the central business district and shopping areas are owned by private entities, Cook County or the State of Illinois; so the City is not responsible for cleaning the sidewalks in front of all those buildings. Before I read the ordinance, I thought the City was responsible. The only thing the City is in charge of is issuing citations if the sidewalks are not clean. Since the fine is only $50, there is not much incentive to clean your sidewalk and hope you just get away with it!
How does Chicago issue those citations? There are public way inspectors who are employed by the City Department of Transportation! That sounds like a fairly cushy job; walk around and see if the sidewalk is clean. I wonder who I have to know to get that type of employment.
But Chicagoans won’t have to worry about getting fined because the Mayor announced that the City won’t be enforcing the ordinance. “I don’t think so. We just want people to understand that they have a responsibility — a civic responsibility to do it,” the Mayor said.
As activists groups go, one would not expect pedestrians to have one. But they do! It is the Active Transportation Alliance whose mission is “ to make bicycling, walking and public transit so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel. We advocate for transportation that encourages and promotes safety, physical activity, health, recreation, social interaction, equity, environmental stewardship and resource conservation. “
Their latest effort is to remind people to clear their snow-laden sidewalks. They have a link to a downloadable flier at activetrans.org/shovel where people are encouraged to print the fliers and put them their neighbor’s front doors.
The group is a not for profit 501©3 and asks for donations to help in its mission. Now while there are obviously those who think it is important to give money to a group that advocates for pedestrians, my charitable dollars go to organizations that I feel make more of an impact on people’s lives than just keeping the sidewalks clean!
I walk around the city a lot and have passed many homeless people and beggars blocking access on the sidewalks. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless there are approximately 73,656 people who experience homelessness in a year and 21,078 on any given night. Instead of worrying about snow on the sidewalks, this group should instead help these people get out of the cold. Helping the homeless is a civic responsibility that we should all embrace, even though there is no ordinance that requires us to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

NOT A POLITICALLY CORRECT BLOG

NOT A POLITICALLY CORRECT BLOG I wrote a blog yesterday (Tests Are Important) about how the City of Chicago was thinking of eliminating the police entrance exam because not enough monitory candidates were passing the test. My friend Shaunta, who is African American, posted the following comment,” I feel that all of these short cuts and political correctness will be the down fall of this country. I notice that if it’s not cronyism or nepotism, it’s racial issues that come into play when it comes to jobs now days. What happened to the days of qualifications, skills and capabilities of being able to work hard to succeed? Nowadays short cuts are being created to make things easier; having to work hard and strive to reach goals is out of the question for many. The police officers that took the exams and passed them didn't have help, so why should they eliminate the exams to help people as of late. We are crippling our selves as well as our future. This is why we have a lot of self entitled young adults walking around because why should they follow rules and work hard, when eventually the system will bend to them any way.” Shaunta made a very good point when she wrote that racial issues seem to get in the way of so many things. People seem to be playing the race card when the concern should be viewed from another angle. The latest playing of this card from the deck is a class-action lawsuit filed against The State of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) and Metra. The complaint alleges that white transit riders are favored more than minorities in transit funding and it benefits Metra and harms the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The suit says "As a result of the funding scheme, CTA has continually tottered on financial ruin ... while Metra has thrived, and today provides its predominantly white riders mass transit luxury at a below market price." This statement is justified because the suit claims that about 70 percent of Metra riders are white and about 60 percent of CTA riders are African-American or Hispanic.
Let’s parse some of the previous sentences. First there is the claim that CTA is at the edge of financial ruin because of mis-allocated funding. My November 17th blog (Solution to CTA Financial Woes) pointed out, “What business can survive if their expenses are eight times higher than their income? No company can unless it has expectations of higher future earnings and lower expenses. Can the CTA reduce its expenses? No, not when labor accounts account for more than 65 percent of the CTA's $1.27 billion operating budget in 2010 and in response to a question about salary concessions the answer of Darrell Jefferson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241, which represents bus drivers and bus mechanics is "We're not giving up anything." The high employee costs of the CTA have nothing to do with “mis-allocated funding.” The CTA spends too much money! That is the problem!
Let’s examine the line about Metra riders traveling in “luxury.” Metra trains are nice, but certainly not any more luxurious than what a bus rider experiences. The claim that Metra riders get service at a “below market price,” is ludicrous also because CTA riders are charged one eighth of what the ride actually costs. This is substantiated by what Tribune reporter Jon Hilkevitch wrote on November 13th, “The average fare collected by the CTA is 98 cents, according to the transit agency. It takes into account full-priced fares, reduced fares, passes and free rides. The cost for the CTA to provide service averages $7 per ride, including some capital costs such as maintenance and some system improvements. The cost per ride jumps to $9.90 if major projects such as the ongoing Brown Line capacity-expansion project or the planned extensions of the Red, Orange and Yellow/Skokie Swift Lines are factored in, CTA officials said.”
When we look at the section that justifies the suit because “about 70 percent of Metra riders are white and about 60 percent of CTA riders are African-American or Hispanic,” let’s look at the demographics of the area that the bus and train lines cover. The CTA runs in the City of Chicago only and Metra operates throughout all the suburbs besides the city. People who live in Lake Forest are lily white and they use the Metra. The locations of the areas of operation are vastly different. This suit is comparing apples to oranges and trying to make lemonade.
I am not an attorney, yet I can see how bogus this suit appears to be. There is no black vs. white issue here in funding and there should be no black vs. white in deciding if Chicago eliminates the entrance exam for policemen. The only black and white issue for me in Chicago is deciding whether I should eat one or two of the delicious black and white cookies they sell at Manny’s Deli on Jefferson.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TESTS ARE IMPORTANT!!

TESTS ARE IMPORTANT!! Every time I read a story that a particular company won a construction project contract because they were the lowest bidder or because they had some kind of minority status, and not because they were necessarily the best qualified, I get scared. Do we really want to drive over a bridge that was constructed cheaply? I know I want to traverse the best built bridge that was erected with the most expensive and safe materials possible. Most qualified for the job should be the first and only consideration in awarding a contract. I feel the same way about the people who are hired to serve and protect me; I want the most competent policemen possible. The Daley administration is considering dropping the police entrance exam in an effort to bolster minority hiring and save money on the testing process. If minority groups are not currently passing the exam, and the city wants to up the percentages, then hold training classes for people who are having trouble passing the exam, don’t cancel the exam. Did anybody think of that solution? You educate people to meet a standard; it is not a solution to lower the standard! Mark Donahue, President of the Fraternal Order of Police said the idea of cancelling the exam “sounds too stupid to be true. You need a testing process. You need to be very concerned about the very limited information you would get from just a screening and application process.”
A Sun Times story by Fran Spielman and Frank Main quoted Brad Woods, who ran the Personnel Division under former Chicago Police Superintendents Phil Cline and Terry Hillard: "A background check and a psych [exam] alone will not eliminate some people who should not be there.” Calling an application-only process a "step backward" and the "wrong way to go," Woods said, "When you lower your quality, you will get poor police service and more complaints. ... Whenever you make it easier to be the police, you're doing the citizens and the Police Department a disservice." I spoke to some policemen, who asked not to be quoted by name, but were outraged at the thought that the exam might be scrapped. “I worked and studied hard to pass the exam,” one told me, “plus there are certain educational requirements I had to meet. Opening up the hiring process to anyone whose only qualification is that they are a resident of the city is ludicrous,” one concluded.
There are probably not a lot of short Jewish women who work as mechanics. I do not know how to do something as simple as changing the oil in a car. Should I demand that Car-X or Oil Express hire me because they don’t employ enough Jewish women, so I must be suffering from discrimination? Not from my lack of ability?
The color of one’s skin, the religion they practice, the gender of an applicant is not what makes one capable or not capable of being a policemen. The ability to understand the law is what counts. I went to www.policequiz.com and found I could take a comprehensive study course for the CPD exam that provides a complete breakdown of previous test questions, provides practice quizzes, police judgment explanation etc. The cost of the entire study course is only $24.95. The site says that 97.84% of their members pass their respective police entrance exams on the first try.
So my solution for the City of Chicago is that instead of cancelling the exam, they give every potential applicant $24.95 so they can take a study course to be able to pass the exam. Money is color-blind and does not discriminate against minorities.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

CENSUS COSTS MORE THAN THEY ARE SAYING! Since stories about the upcoming 2010 Census have been hitting the media, I decided to do some research on how it is done and what the purpose is. Even I can learn new things! The United States Constitution requires a census every 10 years to draw congressional districts and to figure out the Electoral College votes of each state. Congress uses the count also to figure the distribution of more than $400 billion each year in federal aid to state, local and tribal governments. The decennial (great word!) U.S. Census figures include citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and illegal immigrants. Not that an illegal alien is going to admit their status to a census taker even though the census taker will explain that the responses are confidential by law and they cannot be shared with other federal agencies or law enforcement. So how can you really count the number of illegal immigrants? I think the numbers that are always quoted are bogus. The Census Bureau, a division of the Department of Commerce, uses the method of imputation in figuring the census. In statistics, imputation is the substitution of some value for a missing data point or a missing component of a data point to assign data to housing units where occupation status is unknown. Many people disagree with the use of imputation but it was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 in Utah v. Evans. Then there is the controversy of the practice of counting prisoners as residents of prisons, not their pre-incarceration addresses. This can result in misleading information about racial demographics and population numbers in certain states. What about college students? In a city like Champaign, IL students would create a very inflated census count. Since the accuracy of the Census count is so important, I am confused how some of the financial figures in the stories about the Census don’t seem to compute correctly. The Census Bureau reported that the campaign to accomplish the count will cost $300 million. Since the Bureau also reported that they are mailing out two letters; one a letter telling a person they will get a census reporting form (and asking what language they want it in) and then the form itself to about 120 million households. That is 240 million pieces of mail. Right off the Bureau has spent about $200 million just on the mailing. That is assuming that the Federal government charges another Federal government agency to mail a letter. I think there is postage on the letters I get from the IRS! A boatload of our taxpayer money is also being spent on a huge civic outreach effort that will feature 13 vans crossing the country, driving more than 150,000 miles with 800 publicity stops at parades, festivals, the Super Bowl and other major sporting events. The vans will have interactive exhibits that will allow people to share their stories on why the census is important to them. What a joke and waste of money! Like I care why the census is important to someone! According to the Census Bureau, “in 2000, about 67 percent of households mailed back their forms, ending a three decade decline in the response rate. Follow-up visits are expensive.” For every percentage point decrease in the response rate, the Census Bureau said,” it costs an additional $85 million to find and count those people.” So the only way the Census Bureau could KNOW that the initial response rate was 67%, was that they did enough follow up to get close to the 100% mark. If it costs $85 million to find and count each additional 1%, and the Bureau was missing 33% of the count that means it cost more than $2.5 BILLION in 2000 to identify the rest of the population. So how is the Bureau going to complete the census for only $300 million? The financial numbers don’t make sense. You might have to think about this for a while, but with enough study, you will understand it!
The Bureau also reported that in 2000, there was an over-count of 1.3 million people, which they attributed to affluent people with multiple homes. I can understand how they discovered the duplication because of multiple forms being returned. But the Bureau also said that about 4.5 million people were ultimately missed, mostly blacks and Hispanics. How did the Bureau know how many people were not counted? If they know how many people were NOT counted, how come they cannot figure out how many people ARE in the population without spending hundred of millions (or a couple of billion) dollars? Give me five million dollars and I will start counting our population right now. One, two, three…..

Monday, January 4, 2010

NEW ILLINOIS LAWS

NEW ILLINOIS LAWS
Depending on what story you are reading there are anywhere from 200 to 300 new laws that took effect in Illinois as of January 1, 2010. The laws relating to texting while driving and raising the speed limits for big truckers have been well publicized. The fact that one can now order special license plates to benefit the Teamsters (HB2625) was not one of the driving laws that was given any media attention. I definitely would order a Teamsters license plate because people would know not to “F” with me when they saw my car!
(HB2625)“Amends the Illinois Vehicle Code and the State Finance Act. Creates the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Fund as a special fund in the State treasury. Provides for the issuance of International Brotherhood of Teamsters license plates. Provides that in addition to the appropriate registration fees, an applicant for the special plate shall be charged a fee of $40 at original issuance and $27 at renewal. Provides that $25 of the additional original issuance fee and the renewal fee shall be deposited into the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Fund. Provides that $15 of the original issuance fee and $2 of the renewal fee shall be deposited into the Secretary of State Special License Plate Fund. Provides that, subject to appropriation by the General Assembly and approval by the Secretary of State, the moneys in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Fund shall be paid as grants to the Teamsters Joint Council 25 Charitable Trust, an independent organization established and registered as a tax exempt entity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.”
There are many interesting new laws; Establishes Feb. 5 as Adlai Stevenson Day to honor the former Illinois governor (HB50), Mexican-American history must be studied in every public elementary and high school (SB1557), Health care facilities can't flush unused medications (SB1919) and lots of others. But I have two favorites.
My second favorite new law is SB1335 which says that bowling alleys that post notices about the dangers of wearing bowling shoes outside are exempt from civil liability. I wrote about this bill on my blog on May 31, 2009 when it was being discussed and then passed in the Senate by a vote of 51-4. (Bowling Shoe Legislation All Wet) I wrote, “Cook County Democratic Chairman Joseph Berrios, a member of the Cook County Board of Review and father of state Rep. Maria Antonia Berrios (D-Chicago), was among those lobbying for the bill. Joseph Berrios represents the Illinois State Bowling Proprietors Association. How convenient for Father Berrios that his daughter is a member of the Illinois House.” I called it “Kiss for Play” politics because Berrios would not have to pay his daughter for her vote, just a hug and kiss would do. I wonder if the new ethics reform law (SB1466) bans using “affection” as a lobbying method? I doubt it! It caps monetary contributions, but does not cap “familial” contributions.
My first favorite new law is SB1685 which says that American Indian religious ceremonies and rituals are exempt from the Smoke Free Illinois Act. It amends the original smoking act to now read, “Smoke" or "smoking" does not include smoking that is associated with a native recognized religious ceremony, ritual, or activity by American Indians that is in accordance with the federal American Indian Religious Freedom Act, 42 U.S.C. 1996 and 1996a.” An American Indian is defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintain tribal affiliation OR community attachment. While I could not prove any ancestry to the “original peoples of North or South America,” I could create a “community attachment” with some tribe so I could smoke where and when I wanted. I will “attach” myself to whatever tribe that will have me. Iroquois, Mohawk or Sioux, I don’t care! Just tell me where to sign up! Tomahawks rule!