URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

“Cash for Clunker Schools” or Tuition Voucher Confusion

“Cash for Clunker Schools” or Tuition Voucher Confusion Senate Bill 2494 passed last week in a vote of 33-20 and is now waiting discussion and a vote in the Illinois House. This bill, the “School Choice Program” would offer tuition vouchers to students now enrolled at 49 of Chicago’s poorest performing schools. The bill is 99 pages long. The first nine pages deal with the voucher system and the remaining 90 all deal with very confusing tax code changes to allow for families to receive the money to pay for the private schools and not pay Illinois taxes on it. The voucher amount would be exempted from “base income” in the Illinois Income Tax Act. Below I give a lot of background information on the bill that one should read before reaching the section about why I think there are problems with the plan. I hope I explained the plan correctly. If this bores you; just skip down to the highlighted area. The School Choice Program as a pilot program for students enrolled (or who would otherwise be enrolled) in one of the poorest performing Chicago Public Schools; the lowest 10% as determined by testing levels. Parents would receive vouchers from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) which they could use to pay for tuition at a non-public school. The private school would then submit the voucher to the ISBE for payment. The voucher could not exceed the amount of expense that CPS shows is related to that particular student’s enrollment. By December 31, 2014, the ISBE would assess whether the program has been working and make recommendations whether to expand the program with CPS and/or with other schools in the state. The monetary amount of the vouchers would be determined by a formula that calculates state and local resources for the funding of each child’s education. While CPS spends about $11,536 per pupil; about $4,222 of that funding comes from the state. The average cost of tuition at a private school is about $3,234 per year. So if the typical voucher is issued for $3,234 and we subtract that from the state cost of $4,222 that would leave a net savings of $988 to the state for every pupil who elected to attend a private school rather than a CPS school. Timeline of vouchers: Base year = 2010-2011 school year;
In January 2011 (and each January thereafter), principals of low performing schools must notify custodians (guardians) of the availability of vouchers;
Between March 1 to May 1, 2011, custodians may apply and submit any ISBE-required documentation;
By August 1, custodians would be notified of the amount of their voucher award;
By September 15 the voucher instrument would be issued to the parent;
By October 1, the custodian must present the voucher to the nonpublic school;
By October 31, the nonpublic school would submit the voucher to ISBE;
By December 31, ISBE must honor and pay the voucher; and
By December 31, 2014, ISBE must submit its report on the status of the voucher program (including number of participating pupils, names of the schools to and from which students transferred, the financial ramifications of the program, and the results of pupil assessments). ISBE would also assess whether the program has been financially and academically beneficial and recommend whether it should be expanded. Meeks has long called for equality of funding between all schools. He has not thrown in the white flag on that quest, but felt he needed to try for an option that would pass. Now that we have all the facts; we can deal with the confusion. First, if a child were enrolled in a low performing school and a parent could send them for free (tuition paid by the state) to a private school, they would absolutely do it. There would be no reason not to. So if all the current students leave the worst CPS school to attend private schools; then the CPS school would have no students and would have to close. If the school closed, it would obviously “drop off” the list of low-performing schools (because it would not exist) and the next lowest school would go on the list. If that occurs, eventually all CPS schools would close. It would be a downward spiral that would lead to the demise of CPS. Second, why is a school low performing? That decision is based on standardized testing scores. Are low scores the teachers’ fault? If that is the case, then replace the teachers. If it is the students’ fault, how will they improve by going to a private school? Is it because the teachers are better at a private school? If it is an issue of teachers, then getting better teachers is the solution, not getting rid of the students. Third, Catholic School education per pupil costs less than CPS per child because many of the schools receive funding from the local parish and some from the Archdiocese. So if all those CPS students get to attend at the same rate as a parish student does, it means the church is supporting the state in education costs. If I were a member of that parish, I would resent that. The Catholic schools should raise their tuition to have it reflect the true cost; not the subsidized amount. Fourth, while the State of Illinois can amend its own tax code to not tax the value of the vouchers, what about Federal IRS code? If parents receive vouchers worth $4,000, it would have to be reflected in their tax returns and federal income tax would be due. If that is not true, then it is unfair to parents who do not get a tax deduction for the tuition they currently pay for private school. Fifth, what if I were a parent who already removed my child from a low performing school and was making sacrifices to pay for the tuition at a private school. According to the timeline, my child would have had to be a student at the low performing school in January 2011 for me to receive the voucher. I would be better off financially to have my child enroll in the low performing school, receive my voucher and then move them back to the private school. My “confusion questions” could go on for pages. Please send this blog to your individual state Representative and ask for some answers before they vote to approve the voucher system. President Harry Truman said, "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em." Meeks could not convince the legislature to appropriate more money to fix the broken educational system in Chicago, so he has concocted this voucher system. The legislators don’t even realize they should be confused because they just haven’t asked the right questions. Or as Michael Stipe, the lead singer in R.E.M. said, “Sometimes I’m confused by what I think is really obvious. But what I think is really obvious obviously isn’t.” The voucher system as proposed is obviously wrong.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.”

“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.” Those are the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC), a Roman philosopher who is widely considered one of the world’s greatest orators. The town of Cicero, Illinois was NOT named after him. It was named for the town of Cicero, New York which was named after the Roman statesman. Cicero, N.Y. has no history of scandal while that of Cicero, IL is legendary. Al Capone’s criminal empire flourished there when he left Chicago to avoid scrutiny of the police. The last Town President, Betty Loren-Maltese, was sent to federal prison for misappropriating city funds approximating $12 million. She recently was released but still owes $8 million in restitution for the money that she funneled from Cicero to a reputed mob boss. Loren-Maltese entered politics under the guidance of her late husband, former Cicero town assessor Frank “Baldy” Maltese, who was indicted on corruption charges in the early 1990s along with Rocco Infelice, reputed one-time boss of the Cicero mob. Maltese pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 1993 but died of cancer before going to prison.
Current Town President Larry Dominick was elected in 2005 with an education record that included only one year of classes at Morton Community College. In his re-election in 2009 incumbent Cicero Town President Larry Dominick easily won re-election even though challenger, Cicero Police Officer Roberto Garcia, had said that Dominick had become an “iron-fisted” leader that won re-election using similar tactics Cicero leaders have used for years, going back to the days of Al Capone. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cook County Clerk David Orr called in sheriff’s police to remove armed guards Dominick hired to stand inside Cicero polling locations.
In June 2009 Sharon Starzyk a Cicero worker in the town's Animal Welfare Department, alleged in a federal lawsuit that Cicero President Larry Dominick embarked on "an increasingly offensive course" of sexual harassment and sexual assault, which included explicit comments, groping and inappropriate touching. The lawsuit also alleged Dominick sent Starzyk lewd and sexually explicit text message and that Dominick "grabbed and squeezed her breasts" and in one case "picked her up by her crotch."
Former Cicero auxiliary police sergeant Janidet Lujano also accused Dominick of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching. Her lawsuit alleged Dominick repeatedly commented about her breasts, touched her inappropriately and made sexual comments about her mother.
The “highly educated” Dominick, in a videotaped deposition, denied all of the allegations, and dismissed the women's claims as "all a crock of shit.
So in this bastion of “respectability” what is the latest news? Last week Cicero trustees passed an ordinance that voted themselves the power to issue parking tickets. "The intent is to make our town a safer place for our families," said Fran Reitz, a trustee and the town collector. "This basically gives us more eyes on the street."
In a prepared statement, Town President Larry Dominick said the new ordinance will improve safety economically. "It's a good idea because all of the members of the board … spend a lot of their time monitoring the conditions in the town," he said. "They are aware of everything. This will help increase the response time and also crack down on motorists who violate parking and traffic laws but escape punishment.”
Town officials contend their motivation arises from civically responsible ideals: They want to reduce chronic parking congestion by placing seven more parking enforcement monitors on the street at no cost to taxpayers.
I agree with giving the trustees this added authority. As Jan D. Wolter said, “It's important to remember that just because there are crooks, zealots and morons supporting a position, it does not automatically follow that the position is wrong.” It is very simple why I am a proponent of giving additional authority to the trustees. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was written by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902) in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887. With their supplemental influence, one would guess given the history of corruption in the town, that the trustees would be prone to receive offers of bribes to quash tickets and inducements not to write them. How enticing to accept the proffers; how quickly a Federal investigation will follow.
While Marcus Tullius Cicero was not present at the banquet held on the Idea of March where Julius Caesar was assassinated, Brutus called out Cicero's name, asking him to "restore the Republic" when he lifted the bloodstained dagger after the assassination. Maybe this additional power to the Trustees will be the final thrust to restore the city of Cicero to honesty
.

Monday, March 29, 2010

FOR A FRIEND TO BE NAMED LATER

FOR A FRIEND TO BE NAMED LATER I have no interest in professional or college sports. I find the salaries outrageous, the fact that colleges revere athletics more than scholarship disgusting and am aghast that we treat athletes as some sort of heroes when they have done nothing more than throw a ball faster or further than someone else. I do find it fascinating (though I have no idea who the people being discussed are) when there are stories about the trading of players from one professional team to another. I find it so mesmerizing because the decisions that go into moving players from one team to another are based on economics and skill sets. It is mostly the science of mathematics that comes into play. It takes intelligent people to decide what is offered and what is accepted. Brawn does not matter. I have a great group of friends that “play” on my team. We might be aging; but we still have enough skills to be viable players in the game of life. But, unfortunately, my line-up has some weaknesses. I have no friends who own a private plane, have a chauffeur on staff or a permanent suite at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. (I don’t care about a villa in the south of France.) So, I am looking to make a trade of one of my current friends for a friend who has those qualities. I don’t want any of the traded friends to worry that I won’t care about them anymore, because as Winnie the Pooh said, “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” So I will still think of them with love and fond memories. Anybody want to make me any offers? It sounds mean-spirited and evil to trade one friend for a new friend that might be “better” but in happens in politics all the time; especially in Chicago. Somehow the “traded” friend from City Hall ends up with a high paying job in the private sector (like Pooh, the Mayor will always be with them) but they still got traded. In Chicago politics you get “traded” when you resign from a job that you might have been doing well but were chosen to take “the fall” to protect all the other friends. The latest “friend” to be traded from City Hall was Chicago Public School Board Chief of Staff David Pickens. He resigned last Friday. Pickens was the person who kept the secret clout list of school applicants for former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan who is now U.S. Secretary of Education.
The Sun Times reported, “Years before Duncan created a formal policy that allowed “principal picks’’ in elite college prep high schools, Pickens said he acted as a “buffer’’ for such principals by checking out the requests of clout-heavy callers seeking admission for students into elite schools.
Pickens said he was charged with checking out students and telling callers — including some with no connections — “no’’ if principals said they couldn't accommodate the students. No principal was ever pressured to take a student, or told who had called on the student’s behalf, Pickens said.“
Pickens did nothing wrong in keeping a list that his boss asked him to keep. But his former boss was Arnie Duncan and there is no way that he can take the heat off the Mayor because he is firmly ensconced in Washington, D.C.
Pickens offered the usual “friend being traded” statement, “This is something I have been thinking about for a long time.’’ They always say something like that to protect the Mayor and make it look like it was their own decision.
Too many people have been traded out of City Hall during the past few years. They should all be thinking of another piece of sage advice from Winnie the Pooh’s Little Instruction book,” Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the forest that was left out by mistake.” And when the Mayor steps in a mistake, it’s the friend who gets traded.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Insufficiency (Deficit) Panel

Insufficiency (Deficit) Panel In January of this year, New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senator Judd Gregg and North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad jointly proposed the creation of a task force that would tackle the job of finding ways to reduce the national debt. Their Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act died in the Senate on Jan. 26. But, President Obama liked the idea so much he said he would create the task force by Executive Order; so came into being the bi-partisan deficit panel.
The panel has 18 members, 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans. Obama chose six members and the remaining 12 members were chosen by the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate. A requirement that 14 members support any recommendations it sends to Congress effectively gives the Republicans veto power.
Why would anyone who serves on this panel matter to us in Illinois? It was nice when Senator Durbin was named because that gave us a representative on the panel; but what were the odds that out of 435 Congressmen available to be picked, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would pick Rep. Jan Schakowsky to be a member? Illinois was already represented by Durbin on the panel.
What was Pelosi thinking? Illinois has the second worst debt-rating in the nation and yet two out of the 18 panel members are from our state? Why aren’t lawmakers for a financial task force picked from states that know how to control their finances?
Pelosi’s other two choices might make sense because Representative John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, is chairman of the House Budget Committee and Representative Xavier Becerra of California is a member of the Budget and Ways and Means committees; but Schakowsky sits on neither of those committees.
Schakowsky’s husband, Robert Creamer, pled guilty in 2006 to failing to pay withholding taxes and bank fraud involving check kiting -- writing checks on accounts without sufficient funds to cover them while moving money between accounts and playing the so-called float to prevent the checks from bouncing and served time in prison. Schakowsky herself served on the board of the now-defunct Illinois Public Action Council, co-signing the tax returns that implicated her husband in those federal crimes. If she did not know what was happening fiscally in her own home, how can we expect her to understand complicated fiscal issues that will have an impact on every household in the United States?
She recently proposed a $100 million Illinois bail out of ShoreBank (not in her district) which would be the first-ever state bank bail out in history. She did not propose anything like that when the Bank of Lincolnwood failed last year and it IS located in her district!
Schakowsky recently voted to raise the national debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion, to $14.3 trillion and has stood faithfully by the side of Speaker Pelosi who has added $4 trillion to the national debt, more than twice the rate of her predecessor.
I spoke with Joel Pollack the Republican who is running in the 9th District of Illinois and hopes to replace Schakowsky. He said to me, “The lesson of past experience with deficit panels in other countries is that they work best when they are fully transparent, when their members have credibility on fiscal issues, and when they are conducted in a non-partisan fashion. On all three of these counts, Rep. Schakowsky fails. “ Of course, one would expect her opponent to make such statements; but politics aside, they are true! Editorial boards are always lamenting about the unsavory power of many of our political leaders and how we need to vote them out. I don’t live in the 9th District, so I can’t vote Schakowsky out; but there are 653,647 (including children) people who can. That district has not had a Republican Congressman since Robert Twyman in 1949. After 61 years, it’s time for a change. Isn’t that what Obama says?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Common Senses Invades Chicago Politics

Common Senses Invades Chicago Politics A few weeks ago, Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward) was a guest of mine on the TV show Political Forum. While discussing the upcoming census and redistricting we talked about the weird geographic configuration of the ward boundaries. He pointed out that because of the oddly-shaped areas, city services could not be efficiently dispensed. He spoke of changing to a grid system for street cleaning pointing out how much sense that would make. That type of arrangement would save money and be more competent. He said he had been lobbying for it for years. Now, with Alderman Fioretti being the only proponent, Mayor Daley has announced a cost-cutting plan to change street sweeping from a ward-by-ward pattern to a grid system. "If this side is one ward -- of the street -- and that's the other side, we can only street clean one side one day and the other the other day.”It's called efficiency, saving money," Daley said.
What? Has common sense invaded Chicago politics for the first time? Could reform be next?
With 50 wards, 50 sweepers are needed. With the new grid system only 33 would be needed because of a smarter deployment of the equipment. Why would Alderman be so upset about a new arrangement that will employ 17 fewer sweeping machines and yet still provide the same level of service?
Fran Spielman’s story in the Sun Times quoted various Aldermen who don’t want to see a change.
It is taking control away from me. ... I want to keep control of that sweeper. I want to be able to keep control of the criticism that may come to me when they say that the streets are not clean,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th). “We have a lot of leaves. We have a lot of debris that has blown out of a garbage can. ... As I’m driving down the street and I see [trash] that needs to be taken care of, I can get on the phone and say, ‘Send a sweeper to this location.’ Under this proposal, we won’t have that luxury.”
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) is equally concerned. “Sometimes you have a certain area that’s a lot dirtier than other areas. So, you ask the street sweeper to go back a couple times. Sometimes, you don’t have all the cars off that street and you send your guy out there to ring doorbells and get everybody off the street so the street sweeper can go back. Once they start on that grid system, you’re never gonna have control over it anymore,” Mell said.
Ald. Ed Smith (28th) added, “If you decrease the number of sweepers, you’re gonna have some problems with trying to get everything done, especially with us who’ve got these huge wards.”
In response to the Aldermen worried about the cleanliness of their particular ward, Daley said that ward-level street department superintendents will insure street sweepers remain responsive to local calls for cleaning.
To the Aldermen it’s not just a matter of who has control of the sweeper; it’s that some of their power is being taken away. What’s next? Garbage pick-up in grids? Sidewalk repair requests going straight to Streets & Sanitation? Parking permits and street closure application disseminated by the Department of Transportation? The Office of Special Events assigning use of the Jumping Jacks? The need for city services being assigned by the actual office that will fulfill the request?
If the city can be divided into 33 perfect grids for disbursement of city services; then it could be divided into 33 wards. So we are not talking about the loss of 17 sweepers, but the elimination of 17 Aldermen’s jobs. I think that is the real fear.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” I am not worried about the job the street sweepers do—they do it well-but how well do Aldermen perform? Since, according to data collected by Dick Simpson, Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois, more than 30 Aldermen since 1971 have been convicted in political corruption cases (about 20% of those elected to City Council during that period); the job they are doing enriches themselves, not the people of Chicago. I guess the hosts of heaven and earth won’t pause to say Aldermen did their job well.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

YELPING!

YELPING! Yelp.com is a web site where one can click on a particular city, (Chicago is my favorite city in the world, but others might say Paris) and get user reviews and recommendations of restaurants, shopping, nightlife, entertainment, services, hotels and even doctors. The basic concept is a blend of need and knowledge. One consumer needs to learn about a particular business and a previous user of that business has knowledge to share. But one person’s impressions of a business might not be the same impression I would experience; so why should I care what a stranger (even though so many people claim they are my friend when I don’t even know who they are) has to say? (They were probably treated like a regular person; I always get special treatment.) I believe experts and my friends only. (I have the best group of friends!) Last week I had lunch with Joe Aguilera VP of sales of the new Elysian Hotel at 11 E. Walton. (Magnificent property and fabulous food!) I asked him about the marketing plan for the hotel and he told me that besides public relations and advertising it included being involved in all the travel web sites. I told him I would not trust either a positive review (it might have been written by an employee themselves) or a negative view (might have been written by a recently dumped lover.) He assured me that he checks on the history of the person’s past reviews of other locations and how long they had been writing reviews before he believes what they have written. Just like a Chicago ward committeeman said to a young Abner Mikva, “we don’t want nobody, nobody sent,” I don’t care about a review written by anybody that is a nobody! (I am an elitist snob!)
In the wake of that conversation (very pleasant meeting during lunch where I ate the most delicious hamburger ever!), it was interesting to learn yesterday about the recently certified class-action lawsuit against Yelp involving businesses that claim they were being pressured to advertise on the site in exchange for getting negative reviews squashed.
Two law firms, Beck & Lee ( an elite business litigation firm where all the lawyers have graduated from Harvard or Yale) from Miami and The Weston Firm in San Diego (founder Gregory Weston has a nice looking picture posted on their web site) have filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court alleging unfair business practices by Yelp. The plaintiff in the suit, Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital Inc., a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, CA, ( head veterinarian Dr. Greg Perrault really seems to love his English Mastiff, Hamster), is said to have requested that Yelp remove a negative review from the website, which was allegedly refused by Yelp. Later sales representatives repeatedly contacted the hospital demanding payments of roughly $300 per month in exchange for hiding or deleting the review.
The lawsuit, Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital Inc. v. Yelp Inc, essentially alleges that the heavily funded start-up runs an "extortion scheme" and has "unscrupulous sales practices" in place to generate revenue, in which the company's employees call businesses demanding monthly payments in the guise of advertising contracts, in exchange for removing or modifying negative reviews.
According to the Citizen Media Law Project, (an exciting new pro bono initiative that connects lawyers from across the country with online journalists and digital media creators who need legal help), “In particular, the complaint alleges that Yelp advertising employees systematically call business owners that are the subject of negative reviews and promise to remove or relocate negative reviews in exchange for monthly advertising deals. It further alleges that members of the class were "threatened, implicitly or expressly, that if they did not purchase advertising from Yelp, their Yelp.com pages would be detrimentally manipulated, including for example, by removing positive reviews and posting new, negative reviews." The complaint relies heavily on press accounts detailing complaints from other businesses about the alleged extortionate behavior. “
Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman responded with a two-part blog post (
http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/02/lady-justice-needs-a-lawsuit-filter.html vigorously disputing the allegations, saying that the plaintiff’s claims are "false" and "ignore empirical evidence in favor of conspiracy theories." In part 2 of the blog post (http://officialblog.yelp.com/2010/03/additional-thoughts-on-last-weeks-lawsuit-or-how-a-conspiracy-theory-is-born-.html), Stoppelman stated that "we have never and will never extort businesses; the accusation is beyond ludicrous," and offered an explanation of why some business owners might get the wrong impression.
So whose review of the lawsuit should we believe? Both sides have given their opinions, but only one can be correct. I am going with the vet hospital and the owner of the English Mastiff. The mastiff is described as having a behavior that reflects a combination of dignity and courage. That kind of appraisal beats an evaluation of Stoppleman who was named one of San Francisco’s “Dashing Dudes” and then posted a positive review of himself on Yelp.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One Trillion Dollars to Anyone Who Understands the Health Care Bill!

One Trillion Dollars to Anyone Who Understands the Health Care Bill! As readers of this blog know, I claim I am not stupid (I am technologically ignorant though) and I carry a Mensa card to prove I am smart to anyone who deigns to question my intelligence. But even I do not understand how a Health Care Bill that has a $938 or $940 billion 10-year price tag can reduce the federal deficit by $130 or $142 billion in the next ten years, and by $1.2 trillion during the following ten years as the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will. The numbers keep changing depending on which story one reads. I don’t understand the numbers and I am sure that no Senators or Congressmen do either. Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movie series has a problem understanding the value of money. According to the movie’s description in Wikipedia, in the first film, he intends to hold the world ransom for one million dollars, but doesn't understand that isn't as large a sum of money as it was in the 1960s, because of inflation, and the demand causes the U.N. to burst out laughing. In the second film, Dr. Evil goes back to 1969 and plans to hold the world ransom for $100 billion, an amount of money that didn't exist back then, and when he tells the amount to the President, he receives a similar reaction as in the first film when the President and his cabinet laugh at him. In the second film, Dr. Evil says, "Why make trillions when we can make...BILLIONS?" not knowing that trillions are a thousand times larger than billions. In the third movie, he demands "1 billion, gagillion, fafillion, shabolubalu million illion yillion...yen." Dr. Evil does not comprehend fiscal matters and the Congress does not either. I will give one trillion dollars to anyone who can explain the health care bill. I don’t have one trillion dollars; but I won’t have to work the streets to earn the money to pay off the bet because nobody understands the whole health care bill. H.R. 3962 is 1990 pages long. I know that because I attempted to read the bill. (http://docs.house.gov/rules/health/111_ahcaa.pdf). It is titled a bill ” To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes.” Its short title is “Affordable Health Care for America Act’’. Scrolling through the pages, one finds section after section calling for additional payments for programs other then what might have already been appropriated for them. So if one does not know yet if the additional payments will be needed, how can one estimate the cost of the entire bill? For example, page 1176 starts with ‘‘SEC. 440. HOME VISITATION PROGRAMS FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN AND FAMILIES EXPECTING CHILDREN” and ends on 1190 with APPROPRIATIONS.—Out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated,there is appropriated to the Secretary to carry out this section— ‘‘(1) $50,000,000 for fiscal year 2010. ‘‘(2) $100,000,000 for fiscal year 2011. ‘‘(3) $150,000,000 for fiscal year 2012. ‘‘(4) $200,000,000 for fiscal year 2013. ‘‘(5) $250,000,000 for fiscal year 2014. Page 1220 deals with community health centers increased spending And the additional funding that will be needed. For the purpose of carrying out this section, in addition to any other amounts authorized to be appropriated for such purpose, there are authorized to be appropriated, out of any monies in the Public Health Investment Fund, the following: (1) For fiscal year 2011, $1,000,000,000. (2) For fiscal year 2012, $1,500,000,000. (3) For fiscal year 2013, $2,500,000,000. (4) For fiscal year 2014, $3,000,000,000. (5) For fiscal year 2015, $4,000,000,000. The ending pages of the bill numbered 1635-1990 deal totally with Indian Health Care Improvement or the ‘‘Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2009.” It is not until five pages into the reading of this section, that one realizes it refers to American Indians and not citizens of The Republic of India or, भारत गणराज्य , for those who understand Hindi. The entire “Affordable Health Care for America Act” is Hindi to me! In April 2009, Elsie Tan Roberts, at the aged 2 years 4 months (845 days) at the time became the youngest member of Mensa. The previous record was held by Ben Woods, who joined Mensa aged 1,035 days in the 1990s. The two-year-old’s IQ of 156 was assessed using a standard Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale test, putting her in the top 0.2 percent of her age group.
Roberts lives in London, England, but maybe if we e-mail her the link to the health care bill, she can explain it to the rest of us. Members of the U.S. Congress could certainly use her sage advice. Oh, but it’s too late; they already voted for the bill.

Monday, March 22, 2010

YOU CAN BRIBE AN ALDERMAN

YOU CAN BRIBE AN ALDERMAN
Politically connected Chicago developer Calvin Boender was found guilty last week of one count of bribery, two counts of illegal campaign contributions and two counts of obstructing justice in the case involving (now former) Chicago Alderman Isaac Carothers. On March 1st, Carothers, chairman of the Chicago City Council's police and fire committee, pleaded guilty to taking $40,000 worth of home improvements in exchange for a zoning change for Boender. Just after his plea, he submitted a letter resigning his post as alderman of the 29th Ward.
In response to the guilty verdict, Mayor Richard Daley said, “You cannot bribe people.”
I think the Mayor used the wrong verb in saying “cannot” because you can bribe people, especially an Alderman. “Can” means having the ability to do something and refers to present and future probability of an event happening. If the past history of Aldermen accepting bribes is any indication of present and future probability of bribery happening again; it can and will happen. As brilliant editor Robert Manewith explained to me, “The Mayor’s use of the word “cannot” in his statement can never be true because of the record of previous Aldermen being found guilty of bribery.”
What is so ironic about Isaac Carothers pleading guilty to bribery is that his father, while Alderman of that same 29th ward, threatened to block a $14.5 million Bethany Hospital expansion unless he received $15,000 worth of remodeling in his ward office. He was convicted in 1983 and sentenced to three years in the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
What about Operation Silver Shovel in the 1990s when mole, John Christopher, together with an undercover FBI Agent, made more than 1,100 audio- or videotape recordings of meetings or telephone conversations of various targets of federal investigations? The tape recordings were used in investigations of undercover payments of bribes, undercover purchases of cocaine, and undercover money laundering of more than $2.2 million. Among those convicted were Aldermen Ambrosio Medrano (Alderman 25th Ward), Allan Streeter (Alderman 17th Ward), Jesse Evans (Alderman 21st Ward), Lawrence Bloom (Alderman 5th Ward), Virgil Jones (Alderman 15th Ward), and Percy Giles (Alderman 37th Ward). All were found guilty of extortion except Bloom, who pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns.
Let’s not forget that on August 6, 2008, Alderman Arenda Troutman of the 20th ward pled guilty to two federal counts, including admitting to taking bribes as an Alderman in exchange for preferential treatment for a supposed private developer looking to do business in the 20th Ward. She was sentenced to four years in prison on February 17, 2009.
That gives us seven more Aldermen who were holding office when they were convicted that proves you can bribe people.
It is obvious that Mayor Daley meant to say, “You should not bribe people,” or it is “illegal to bribe people,” but he didn’t; he used the word “cannot.”
Of course, Mayor Richard M. Daley is not as famous for incorrect language as his father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, whose mangling of the English language was legendary. Everyone remembers his statement about the police during the riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968 when he said, "The policeman isn't there to create disorder; the police is there to preserve disorder."
But how many remember his introduction of a speaker with the words,”We are proud to have with us the poet lariat of Chicago.”
Give Mayor Richard M. Daley enough rope and his words will eventually hang him.

Friday, March 19, 2010

BORN AGAIN VIRGINS

BORN AGAIN VIRGINS
In 1999, Wendy Keller wrote a book, “The Cult of the Born Again Virgin,” which dealt with how single women could reclaim their sexual power by basically keeping their legs crossed. With Bristol Palin and “Real Housewife of New Jersey,” Danielle Staub now proclaiming themselves “born-again virgins,” the movement is supposedly having a resurgence.
So will being chaste become the vogue?
I grew up in the 1970’s, an era of “free love,” where unmarried people had sex as frequently as they said, “hello.” Two major events impacted the surge of casual sex; the prescription for birth control pills became available to unmarried women in all states with the ruling in Eisentdadt v. Biard in 1972 and the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973 with their affirmative decision in Roe v. Wade. With the fear of unwanted pregnancy resolved, women were empowered to hop into any man’s bed.
So what happened to intimacy? I guess it got lost in the translation.
The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health released a study that showed that in Chicago 55.1% of students in grades 9-12 have had sexual intercourse (nationally it is 46.7%) The study also reported that while a third of adolescents (including three fourths of sexually active adolescents) say they have engaged in oral sex, one in five does not know that sexually transmitted infections (STI) can occur through oral sex and two in five considers oral sex to be “safer sex.” Since only 66% of sexually active teens reported using a condom, it is no surprise that nearly one in four sexually active young people contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) every year, and one-half of all new HIV infections in this country occur among people under the age of 25. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of all developed countries and one third of all teenage girls get pregnant before the age of 20. About 1 million teenagers become pregnant each year and 95 percent of those pregnancies are unintended. Of those unintended pregnancies, almost one-third end in abortion. So approximately 300,000 teenage girls every year suffer the emotional consequences of killing a baby. That is five times the number of soldiers who died in the Vietnam War and three times as many who perished in WW1. So what can we do to end this trauma? Abstinence-only education has not worked; clinically taught sex education has not worked; what will work? Unfortunately, maybe we have to look at “role models” like Palin and Staub who are proclaiming pride in their virginity. Young girls need to realize that if they keep their legs crossed they will have more power over men and themselves than if they spread them. In a “friends with benefits” situation, the only one who benefits is a man. If “young Hollywood” is chaste, teenagers will want to emulate them. It is very easy to have sex, it’s tough not to.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Going Postal; Giving His Stamp of Approval

Going Postal; Giving His Stamp of Approval Mike Quigley, formerly a Cook County Commissioner, became a Congressman because former 5th District Congressman Rahm Emmanuel went to D.C. to become Chief of Staff for his good friend Barack Obama. According to the press releases posted on Quigley’s official Congressional web site it appears much of his time has been spent recognizing and honoring various organizations: Quigley recognizes Poland’s contributions to democracy, Quigley honors Polish General on Pulaski Day, Quigley introduces resolution commending Army’s green achievements, Quigley offers condolences for fallen Chicago police officer, Quigley congratulates Chicago-area Olympians, Quigley urges constituents to take advantage of free online tax preparation, Quigley honors anniversary of Roe v. Wade decision, Quigley joins cast of “A Christmas Carol” at Goodman Theater in special performance for local military families and Quigley commemorates completion of Jefferson Park Streetscape project. Since disgraced politicians Dan Rostenkowski and Rod Blagojevich also held that seat, Quigley is probably just trying to keep a low profile on doing any real government business. That is probably why his latest venture was to introduce a bill to name a Chicago post office after musician Steve Goodman. The United States Postal Service, an independent agency of the United States government, employs about 656,000 workers, (making it the second-largest civilian employer in the country—Wal-Mart is first), delivers about 660 millions pieces of mail daily to about 142 million delivery points and operates 32,741 post offices. Most of the post offices are named for the locations in which they serve. In Chicago we have Uptown, Graceland, Hancock, Merchandise Mart, etc. But there are also post offices named after people. Who are they?
Nancy B. Jefferson has a post office, a boulevard, a Chicago public school serving grades 4-12 and also an alternative school housed within the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center all named for her. Jefferson, who died in 1992, served Chicago’s west side community as a nurse, social worker, and Civil Rights activist. She obviously was very politically connected to have so much real estate honoring her. Her post office location is 116 S Western Avenue.
The post office at 5001 W. Division Street is named for State Rep. Robert LeFlore, Jr. (D-Chicago) who died in 1993. While serving in the legislature for 10 years he fought for jobs and quality education for the underprivileged. LeFlore was chairman of the Human Services Appropriations Committee and served as a former chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Chicago Police Officer Daniel J. Doffyn was shot and killed when he surprised burglary suspects at an apartment complex on March 8, 1995. He has a post office named for him at 3750 N. Kedzie; certainly a well deserved honor.
I could not find any germane information about the post offices named after Mary Alice Henry (4222 W. Madison) or Otis Grant Collins (2302 S. Pulaski). Neither of them have entries in Wikipedia where even the most irrelevant and useless information is posted.
So now Congressman Quigley wants to rename the Lakeview Post Office (1343 W. Irving Park Road) in honor of deceased songwriter Steve Goodman. Quigley’s press release quotes him as saying,” While most Chicagoans know him for the song we sing after every Cubs’ win, Steve Goodman’s contributions reach far beyond the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley. Goodman was one of the most prolific American songwriters and performers of our time whose songs have been played by Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, and John Denver and whose short but tremendous life reminds us how one person can impact so many others.”
If you want to discuss songwriters, Goodman cannot even come close to Irving Berlin. Berlin, who is considered the greatest songwriter in history, does not have a post office named after him and he wrote, “God Bless America.” During his 60-year career he wrote an estimated 1,500 songs, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films, with his songs nominated eight times for Academy Awards. Composer George Gershwin called him "the greatest songwriter that has ever lived", and composer Jerome Kern concluded that "Irving Berlin has no place in American music - he is American music."
Berlin does have a stamp, but no post office. Where is his piece of real estate? Berlin has a Chicago connection to the Cubs because, according to Wikipedia, during the Vietnam War, “God Bless America” was often played by the organist as part of his post-game playlist, while fans filed out of the stadium.
So while it is nice to know that Quigley says he has the full support of the Illinois Congressional delegation to rename the post office, I wish the Illinois delegation was working on something more important. Like maybe naming a post office after me. But since one has to be dead; I guess I can wait a few years.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

IF A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST In 2006, a coalition of Chicago community organizations and civic groups forged together to form a group called Developing Government Accountability to the People (DGAP). Their mission (www.chicagodgap.org) is “To build and develop a comprehensive people’s agenda in order to take action on social justice issues, and to create and to preserve a participatory and democratic society through collaborations among organizations and individuals.” In 2007 they issued a “report card” on how poorly the City of Chicago is fairing in the areas of criminal justice (F), economic development (C+), education (C), environment (B+), ethics & corruption (F) , housing (D+) and transportation (C). The entire report was 220 pages long. I am sure nobody read it in its entirety except possibly those involved in the organization, those who contributed funds and some political public-policy wonks. I would bet even money that most of those readers just skimmed and did not thoroughly study the report. I flipped through the pages, it is laid out quite nicely; but even I, speed-reading member of Mensa, did not bother with the whole report. City Hall reporter Fran Spielman called the group a” coalition of liberal-leaning civic groups,” in a story posted on the Sun Times web site. Bleeding-heart liberals should realize that other liberals only care about their own reports and will not spend time on reports written by other groups. People just want to hear themselves blather, not other people. Now DGAP has issued their 2010 report. Did the City of Chicago improve? Has the Mayor spent the last three years working on improving his test scores so he can get good grades? Did he pull some all-nighters eating Chicago pizza and hot dogs (no ketchup) to fortify him as he labored over the report? Did he have his advisers study the report, look at the recommendations and act on them? Obviously not, because the DGAP 2010 tests scores for the city are even lower then the 2006 scores! The current grading levels are criminal justice (D), economic development (D), education (D+), environment (B), ethics & corruption (D+) , housing (F+) and transportation (D). After issuing the 2007 report, DGAP identified their three goals for 2010:
  1. To provide an extensive update to the 2007 Report Card;
  2. To provide an analysis of local government accountability issues that is comprehensive and accessible to a wide spectrum of populations, from community leaders to policy institutions; and
  3. To provide a continued link between analysis of local government policy and direct social action on government accountability issues

Let’s grade how they fared in their goals:

  1. They did issue a 2010 report which would count as an extensive upgrade to the 2007 report. So I give them an A+
  2. They did provide an analysis that was accessible to all. But since nobody in government acted up any of the recommendations, I gave them an F.
  3. They provided a link of their analysis of government policy; but there was no direct social action taken, so once again an F.

So overall, DGAP failed.

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" is a philosophical question that has plagued scholars throughout the centuries. “Esse est percipi,” –“to be is to be perceived” was the dictum promoted by Irish philosopher George Berkley (1685-1753). His theory of “subjective idealism” was that objects ceased to exist if there were nobody around to perceive them.
Another great Irish philosopher, Richard J. Daley said, “Look at our Lords disciples. One denied Him; one doubted Him; one betrayed Him. If our Lord couldn't have perfection, how are you going to have it in city government?”
So the tree hugging do-gooders should realize that no one cares about what they have to report and they could save a few trees by not printing their analysis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

EVICTED, NOT CONVICTED

EVICTED, NOT CONVICTED
While Chicago Aldermen have had a problem with being convicted; state-wide legislators are having a problem with the threat of being evicted. State Senators receive a yearly district office allowance of $83,063 and State Representatives of $69,400; money budgeted to pay the bills for supporting their district offices. The bills go directly to the Comptroller’s office where workers have to prioritize what state bills need to be paid. Guess what bills are being put in the “don’t pay” pile? “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” rent notices.
I asked State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) if he is preparing to look for new digs and he told me that he pays for his district office rent and utilities from his personal campaign funds so he has no need to start packing up. “I use the yearly allowance for salaries which allows me to hire additional workers for constituent services. I feel the constituent work is very important so I am more than happy to use campaign funds to help support my district.”
According to the Chicago Tribune at least five state senators owe back rent and/or utilities: Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-Moline), Dan Duffy, (R- Lake Barrington), Dan Kotowski, (D-Park Ridge) and John Jones (R-Mount Vernon). There is no pattern because the senators are located in geographically diverse districts and from both parties.
The Tribune also quoted Sen. Mike Jacobs as saying, "It certainly puts us in a position of looking like deadbeats," and continued with,”He got an eviction notice last year from a longtime friend who has rented the same building for years to the senator and his father before him. Payment eventually arrived — nine months late — but Jacobs was prepared to pay if the state had failed to come through.” I find it appalling that Jacobs would let a friend suffer through nine months of unpaid rent. How can he say he was “prepared to pay if the state failed to come through?” He should have paid by the third month at the very least. How could he let a friend suffer through months of waiting for payment?
The legislators in Cook County won’t have to worry too much about actually being evicted because Cook Cook Sheriff Tom Dart has been forced, because of budget cuts, to reduce the number of deputies doing that task from 80 to 50. His office also won’t evict during inclement weather or holidays. With Easter approaching, there will probably be a holiday moratorium; but the robins are singing as a harbinger of Spring and those who don’t pay get tossed during warm weather.
Landlords and utility companies should not be the ones suffering from the backlog of payments from Springfield; the legislators should. They are using the office space and their landlords need to pay their mortgages. Sen. Mike Jacobs said the late payments put him in a position of “looking like a deadbeat.” He does not “look like a deadbeat,” he is a deadbeat! Lawmakers should absolutely be raiding their personal campaign funds to pay the bills they incurred and then be reimbursed by the state.
Many of these lawmakers have campaign funds fattened with hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been donated to help the person in their political career. The integrity of their career depends upon their conducting themselves in an appropriate fiscal manner. They should write the check themselves.
State Rep. Jack Franks could not even get out of the Rules Committee House Bill 4989 that would increase the minimum monthly personal needs allowance provided to nursing home residents to $50, from $35, for inpatients in Medicaid-eligible institutions. The extra income boost would allow nursing home residents to purchase extra toiletries, phone service and personal needs, which they otherwise might not be able to afford. “The amount of the personal needs allowance has not been increased since the program was created decades ago.” Franks said. So while legislators are expending energy howling about their unpaid rent, they don’t care enough about the elderly to even consider raising the quality of their life. Remember that Franks pays his district office rent out of his own campaign funds; this is a lawmaker who acts with good convictions.

Monday, March 15, 2010

THE SALT OF THE EARTH

THE SALT OF THE EARTH Matthew 5:13-16: "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its flavor be restored?” Since salt, actually sodium chloride, cannot lose its flavor; many scholars believe that this may be wordplay related to the Rabbinic use of salt as a metaphor for intelligence. The actual use of salt is taking an unintelligent turn in New York. Brooklyn Democratic State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, in taking a maneuver from the “ban foie gras” playbook of Chicago 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, and is looking to ban chefs in New York from adding salt to their recipes.
At least Moore had humanitarian reasons for wanting to ban foie gras because of the torture geese endure when they are fattened so their livers become more tender and delicious for human consumption. So while Moore was ridiculed for his attempt, he should be applauded for his compassionate reasoning. As we approach the two year anniversary of the repeal of the ban, it is ironic that the state of New York is looking to repeat Moore’s mistake of making themselves a laughing-stock in the international culinary community. While Alderman Moore was the successful sponsor of a Whistleblower Ordinance that gave taxpayers the right to recover damages, on behalf of the city, against corrupt city contractors, he unfortunately will be only remembered in history for trying to save the livers of geese. Didn’t New York legislators learn anything from that debacle? Ortiz thinks he is acting as a humanitarian also because according to the New York Daily News, “Ortiz says his bill is designed to save lives, just like laws that ban the use of trans fats and require chain restaurants to post nutrition information. ‘It's time for us to take a giant step,’ Ortiz said. ‘We need to talk about two ingredients of salt: health care costs and deaths.’ He claims billions of dollars and thousands of lives would be saved if salt was taken off the menu altogether.” New York bill A.10129 states in part, “No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises.” Each violation could result in a $1,000 fine. While this story has been covered extensively by the media, all the focus has been on the outrage of chefs at being told to alter their recipes and withhold salt. The real story is how ludicrous the enforcement process will be.
The bill is very serious in its nature because it continues with, “whenever there shall be a violation of this section an application may be made by the Attorney General in the name of the people of the state of New York to a court or Justice having jurisdiction by a special proceeding to issue an injunction.” It continues, “If it shall appear to the satisfaction of the court or Justice that the defendant has, in fact, violated this section, an injunction may be issued by the court or Justice, enjoining and restraining any further violations, without requiring any proof that any person has, in fact, been injured or damaged thereby.”
Has anyone in the legislature or the Attorney General’s office in the state of New York paid any attention to this wording? The AG’s office will have to enforce this stupid law.
The New York State Attorney General is the chief legal officer of the State of New York and the office has been in existence in some form since 1626. Some notable officeholders include Aaron Burr, Martin Van Buren, Jacob Javits, Louis Lefkowitz and the infamous Eliot Spitzer.
Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, is the current Attorney General for the state of New York. On his web site it states, “As Attorney General, he has established the key priorities for his office as social justice, economic justice, racial justice, the environment, and public integrity, and has built a substantial record of results on each. Attorney General Cuomo has initiated a dramatic and historic expansion of the Civil Rights Bureau within the Attorney General’s office, won landmark decisions forcing the E.P.A. to enforce pollution laws, achieved new standards in government transparency and accountability, and conducted numerous industry-wide investigations -- exposing corrupt practices within both Albany and the private sector, recovering billions of dollars for New York’s citizens, and bringing widespread convictions to those who have abused the public trust.”
Last November his office issued a statement that he had “filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC), the world’s largest maker of computer microprocessors. The suit charges that Intel violated state and federal anti-monopoly laws by engaging in a worldwide, systematic campaign of illegal conduct - revealed in e-mails - in order to maintain its monopoly power and prices in the market for microprocessors.”
This guy is one tough cookie-- a recipe that requires salt! Now a new law would require an office of this stature to become the “salt police?”
At least in Chicago, a foie gras violation was handled by the lowly Department of Health. There are more than 20,000 licensed restaurants in New York City alone; imagine the wasted time of all the Assistant Attorneys General state-wide trying to enforce the ban?
The proposed bill ends with, “Each use of salt in violation of this section shall constitute a separate violation. In connection with any such proposed application, the Attorney General is authorized to take proof and make a determination and to issue subpoenas in accordance with the civil practice of the law and rules.”
Pliny the Elder wrote in 77A.D. in Naturalis Historia that an antidote for poison was, “Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt; if a person takes this mixture fasting, he will be proof against all poisons for that day.” One needed to add a grain of salt because unpleasant tasting food is more easily swallowed with the addition of salt.
This proposed new law is poison to the chefs of New York and needs to be taken “with a grain of salt.” But wait—if they add the salt it will cost them $1,000!

Friday, March 12, 2010

DOES IT COME WITH SNOW TIRES?

DOES IT COME WITH SNOW TIRES? On Oct 28th of last year, I posted a story entitled, “It Is Finally Time For Me To Grow Up,” when I related the tale of the day I bought a Ferrari. What I did not include in the story was that I had also seen a Bentley that day that I really would have preferred more than the sports car; but since someone was buying me specifically a Ferrari as a gift; I had to pass the Bentley by with a slight tear in my eye. The liberal Democratic readers of this blog are probably sickened by the thought of people spending vast amounts of money on a car when there are starving children in the world, but the people who hand-craft luxury cars have a right to make a living. Without buyers of these cars they would be out of a job. So it all evens out in the long run. Because a number of Bentleys park in my condos garage and I live one block from the Bentley dealership in Chicago, I have to look at Bentleys all the time. If I had a child, I would trade them for the new Bentley Continental Supersports convertible in white with a black interior. Or maybe black exterior; I can always make that decision later. Since I have no progeny to sell on the open market, I don’t have to worry about hearing from DCFS or some other governmental agency about a possible baby-selling scheme. The 2011 model will be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show next month. It makes no difference to me that the car has a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter engine putting out 621 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, or that it runs on either gasoline or ethanol or that it can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds and has a top speed on 202 mph with all- wheel drive. The car is shiny and pretty! It almost seems cheap at about $350,000 when compared to the newly unveiled two-door station wagon featured at the Geneva show starting at around $800,000. The car is not pretty! Why would someone pay almost a million dollars (with tax) for a station wagon? Now that is stupid! This new Continental Star model is actually called a “Shooting Brake” and not a station wagon. For the ill-bred few, this term originated with custom built two-door luxury estate cars altered for use by hunters and other sportsmen who require larger storage space for their guns and other equipment. Only 20 of these cars will be built. A million dollars and it’s not even pretty! I just don’t get the concept.
My favorite economic law is that of “utilization.” What something is worth to you at a particular moment in time changes as the conditions change. I might not want to pay $10 for a glass of Diet Coke if I am sitting at hone with 10 cases in my cupboard but I would pay that if I were in the desert and very thirsty. What conditions could exist under which someone pay $800,000 for a station wagon? Maybe if it came with snow tires.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

IDITAROD IS FOR IDIOTS

IDITAROD IS FOR IDIOTS
I do not like to use the word “idiot” as a pejorative for a stupid person, but the alliteration fit, so I used it. I apologize to anyone who might be offended.
The première Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was held in 1973 as a small event and has evolved into what is called “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The first Saturday of March sees about 50 teams of mushers with 12-14 dogs per team, converge on Anchorage, Alaska where the ceremonial start of a 1,161 mile race that takes eight to fifteen days to complete takes place. The teams do an official restart in Willow, a city in the south central region of the state. The restart was originally in Wasilla, but because of too little snow, the restart was permanently moved to Willow in 2008.
The teams race through blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, gale-force winds (which can cause the wind-chill to reach −100 °F) and white-out conditions. The teams cross a harsh landscape through desolate forests, dense tundra, over hills and jagged mountain ranges, perform treacherous climbs over side hills and across frozen rivers during long hours of darkness.
The current fastest winning time record was set in 2002 by Martin Buser with a time of 8 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, and 2 seconds. Buser and the other human participants personally choose to participate in the race; the dogs have no part of that decision process.
Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have animal anti-cruelty laws that say "overdriving" and "overworking" an animal is animal cruelty. The California law is typical:
" Cruelty to animals. (B) Every person who overdrives, overloads, drives when overloaded, overworks... any animal... is, for every such offense, guilty of a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or as a felony or alternatively punishable as a misdemeanor or a felony and by a fine of not more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000)."--Animal Welfare Institute, Animals and Their Legal Rights
Tragically, the State of Alaska's animal anti-cruelty law does not say that "overdriving" and "overworking" an animal is animal cruelty. If it did, the race would have to be cancelled.
The Iditarod violates accepted standards regarding animal cruelty as evidenced by the fact that in almost all of the Iditarod races, at least one dog death has occurred. The first race is reported to have resulted in the deaths of 15 to 19 dogs. In 1997, the Anchorage Daily News reported that "at least 107 (dogs) have died." In the years since that report, 35 more dogs have died in the Iditarod, bringing the grand total of dogs who have died in the Iditarod to at least 142. There is no official count of dog deaths available for the race's early years and this count relies only on a reported number of deaths. One wonders how many deaths went unreported.
According to the Sled Dog Action Coalition, “Causes of death for dogs during the last ten years have included strangulation in towlines, internal hemorrhaging after being gouged by a sled, liver injury, heart failure, and pneumonia. "Sudden death" and "external myopathy," a condition in which a dog's muscles and organs deteriorate during extreme or prolonged exercise, have also been blamed. In 1985 a musher kicked his dog to death. The 1975 Iditarod winner, Jerry Riley, was banned for life in 1990 after being accused of striking his dog with a snow hook (a large, sharp and heavy metal claw). In 1996 Rick Swenson's dog died while he mushed his team through waist-deep water and ice.
Some injuries and disorders that occur during the race include spinal injuries, bone fractures, sore and cut paws, ruptured tendon sheaths, torn muscles, sore joints, dehydration, stress and diarrhea. Intestinal infections occur when mushers feed their dogs food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. When temperatures rise, dog food dropped off and left outside during the race often spoils. On average, 50% of the dogs who start the race cannot make it across the finish line. “
In researching how many humans might have died in the race, I could only find a lauding story published in the Anchorage Daily News from February of 1997 gloating that no musher had died during the race and quoting two-time champion Jeff King as saying, ''The only two mushers I know who have died both drowned -- and that wasn't on the Iditarod.''
Linus Van Pelt in the comic strip, Peanuts said, “No problem is so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from.” Unfortunately the dogs can’t run away from the cruelty they endure while being harnessed to a sled. If there were only a way we could reverse the direction of dominance and strap the mushers in front and let the dogs control the whips. But dogs are too kind an animal to subject a human to such punishment; if only man had the same type of conscience.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I CANNOT LIVE TO BE A SUPERCENTARIAN

I CANNOT LIVE TO BE A SUPERCENTARIAN Lincoln Park Zoo’s oldest animal died this week. The dwarf crocodile, Reptile 1, (they should have come up with a better name than that,) nick-named R1, was believed to be 72 years old. He had lived at the zoo for the past 70 years. He was most famous for his having sired five babies when he was 69 (Hugh Hefner take note). His ‘Baby Mama” was Maggie a moody crocodile from Texas who was known for crushing her eggs. R1 never raised his progeny and was separated from them at birth for fears he would eat them. The death of the oldest animal at the zoo would not be major news until coupled with the fact that two of the 10 oldest people in the world died within a few hours of each other also this week. "March 7, 2010, will go down in history as the first time two top-10 supercentenarians died on the same day," said Robert Young, of the Gerontology Research Group. "This is a very elite group, the very top of the population pyramid." According to AOL news, Mary Josephine Ray, certified by the Gerontology Research Group as the oldest person living in the U.S. and the second oldest in the world, died early Sunday at a nursing home in Westmoreland, N.H. She was 114 years and 294 days old. Hours later, Daisey Bailey, the oldest living black person in the world and the fifth oldest person in the world, died at 10:03 p.m. in Detroit, Young said. Born March 30, 1896, in Tennessee, she was 113 years and 342 days old, Young said. The gerontology group certified her age using two Censuses, but her family believes she was born on the same day one year earlier, he added. The gerontology group, which studies why the oldest people live as long as they do, now has 75 validated supercentenarians worldwide -- those aged 110 or older. Seventy-two are women. The world’s absolute longest lived person, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records, was Gertrude Baines, until her own death on September 11, 2009, at age 115 years 158 days. According to MSNBC.com, she enjoyed "simple pleasures" of eating a diet of bacon and eggs, and watched shows like The Price is Right and Jerry Springer.
I love bacon and eggs and I was Jerry Springer’s first publicist; so Baines and I have a lot in common. The problem is that I cannot afford to live to that long. When I retired in 2002, I relied on information that the average life expectancy of a citizen of the United States is 79 years and 11 months ( 49th on the world country list). The current world average of 67 years and two months works even better for me financially. I have already surpassed the life expectancy of people from Guinea, Rwanda, Laos, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, The Congo, Western Sahara, Gambia, Cameroon and 20 other countries. I cannot move to Macau, Andorra, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong or Australia because those countries have residents who are too healthy and live too long for my bank account. AT 62 years of average life expectancy, Madagascar is looking good monetarily and I did enjoy the animated film about the New York Central Park Zoo animals who got shipped there by mistake. The problem is that Madagascar is not in my hood; but I guess I could make new friends. Maybe if I hung out in the crocodile cage of the Lincoln Park Zoo, I could get a free trip. No visa fees to pay.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

TEN DOLLARS TO ENTER, NO CHARGE TO EXIT

TEN DOLLARS TO ENTER, NO CHARGE TO EXIT
Last week President Obama signed into law, The Travel Promotion Act, legislation that creates the United States' first national travel promotion program. Costs for the program, which would create a nonprofit corporation, would be divided equally between the government and private industry, with Washington contributing up to $100 million a year. The funding would come from a $10 fee levied on travelers from the 35 countries, mostly in Europe, participating in a visa waiver program. Visitors from Canada and Mexico would not have to pay the $10 fee.
The nonprofit corporation (not named yet) would promote the United States as a travel destination and explain travel and security policies to international visitors. Simply put a giant PR firm for tourism.
Visitors from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program will partially fund the public-private organization. These visitors will pay the $10 fee every two years when they register online using the Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
“The rest of the funding will come through a matching program of up to $100 million in private sector contributions. If the corporation is able to raise the projected $200 million annually, the organization would be the largest national tourism communications program in the world,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.
Since most countries most countries charge $25 to $50 in exit and entry fees and that $10 is insignificant compared to the average $130 cost of obtaining a visa. “The fee,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., won't "deter or diminish the appetite of those who want to come here."
The reason for creating the PR firm is because The U.S. Travel Association, in a report compiled with consulting firm ,Oxford Economics, pointed out that while “worldwide international tourist arrivals jumped from 682 million in 2000 to 880 million in 2009, arrivals in the United States declined, from 25.9 million to 23.5 million, in that period.” Visits from Canada and Mexico are not included in those totals.
National tourism organizations in countries including Greece, Australia and Mexico each spent more than $100 million on tourism marketing in 2005, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization. The United States spent about $6 million the same year -- the last year for which figures are available.
According to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce., despite strong global growth in long-haul international travel between 2000 and 2008, the U.S. welcomed 633,000 fewer overseas visitors in 2008 than it did in 2000. The study by Oxford Economics also showed that the additional PR would attract 1.6 million additional foreign visitors annually, pumping $4 billion into the economy each year and create about 40,000 new U.S. jobs.
The average foreign tourist on a U.S. trip spends $5,000 according to Geoff Freeman, senior vice president of public affairs for the U.S. Travel Association. Sen. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.) and another chief sponsor, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn), cited figures showing that the average overseas visitor to the United States spends $4,500 on their trip.
Now that I have thrown all these numbers at you (and my friend Linda’s eyes are rolling backwards and she is spitting up green-pea soup), let’s analyze them to see if they make sense.
First, if the average tourist visa costs $130/person in other countries, why are we only charging $10? The United State is the greatest country in the world; proven by the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants every year who flood over our borders. If we are going to charge this fee at least make significant and not embarrassingly low.
Second, if we are such a fabulous country, why would we have to do PR to promote ourselves? Doesn’t everybody in the world already know how extraordinary America is? Mounting a publicity campaign to promote tourism to America would be like George Clooney hiring a publicist to confirm he is good looking.
Third, the numbers of potential money being pumped into the economy make no sense! The study indicates 1.6 million new visitors. Oxford Economics says the average amount spent by a foreign visitor is $5,000 and the two U.S. Senators say $4,500. If you multiply the number of visitors expected to be influenced by the PR campaign by the average spending per visitor you get estimates of between $7 and $8 billion “pumped into the economy.” But the study says $4 billion. So which number do we believe? Potential visitors or potential spending?
As Judge Judy always says to litigants if the story does not make sense, then it is not true. The numbers don’t make sense here, so I wonder what the real story is. Unless I am appointed CEO of the new Tourism PR firm, I am going to keep asking questions!

Monday, March 8, 2010

MEDICAL ETHICS

MEDICAL ETHICS Last week I had some tests performed at Northwestern Hospital as follow up to my vascular problems. While I was at the hospital they took my blood pressure and pulse; both readings were quite low. Nothing to be vastly concerned about, but they had me lie down for a while and told me to follow up later in the week with my regular physician to see if some of my medication levels needed to be adjusted. A few days later, I was at a meeting right near my doctor’s office so I decided to stop by to get my blood pressure measured. I walked up to the reception desk at the doctor’s office and told the nurse the back story of needing my blood pressure checked. She told me my doctor was not in that afternoon. I said I did not need him to take my blood pressure; any random person would do. The nurse picked up the phone, dialed some extension, spoke quietly and then told me that I would have to make an appointment the following week to get my blood pressure taken. I was so astounded by her abject dismissal of me that I did not even throw what some friends of mine might call a “Kathy Fit.” I then just walked out of the office. My friend Linda was with me so I have a witness to how I was treated. I used to have my own sphygmomanometer at home, but when my friend Georgette was collecting medical supplies to send to Haiti, I donated it to the relief effort. I knew the Haitians needed the blood pressure cuff more than I did. What is ironic about this story, is the night before my being turned away from getting a simple blood pressure reading, was that I attended a presentation at the Standard Club by Dr. Ofer Merin who is Director of the Emergency Preparedness & Response Program at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem. I sit on the Midwest Board of the American Committee of the hospital. Dr. Merin was Chief of the Israel Defense Forces Field Hospital in Haiti and was part of one of the first international responders teams to the earthquake in Port- Au- Prince. Who knows—maybe he used my sphygmomanometer while he was there! I did not ask him. The lecture Dr. Merin gave was one of the most compelling I have ever listened to. One of his points was about the problem of medical ethics and triage when a doctor has to decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t. He and some other doctors published a story on the topic in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 3rd. I have copied the whole story below because I would not want to take just mere quotes from it when the whole story should be read. So I live in a major city, Chicago, and paradoxically I could not get my blood pressure checked. The English translation of the name Shaare Zedek is “Gates of Righteousness.” I guess I should have asked Dr. Merin for his assistance when I saw him the evening before. He would have known the right thing to do and his medical ethic would not have allowed him to turn me down.
The Israeli Field Hospital in Haiti — Ethical Dilemmas in Early Disaster Response
Within 48 hours after the massive earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on January 12, the government of Israel dispatched a military task force consisting of 230 people: 109 support and rescue personnel from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Home Front Command and 121 medical personnel from the IDF Medical Corps Field Hospital. The force's primary mission was to establish a field hospital in Haiti.
We landed in Port-au-Prince 15 hours after leaving Tel Aviv and began to deploy immediately. The first patients arrived at our gates and were admitted even before the hospital was fully built, within 8 hours after our equipment arrived. In its 10 days of operation, the field hospital treated more than 1100 patients.
Our mission was to extend lifesaving medical help to as many people as possible. The need to manage limited resources that fell far short of the demands continuously presented us with complex ethical issues. Every mass-casualty event raises ethical issues concerning the priorities of treatment, but the Haiti disaster was exceptional in several ways. Haiti is a poor country with minimal civil facilities, and the earthquake's destruction of infrastructure left millions of people homeless and hundreds of thousands in need of medical assistance. When we arrived, there was no functioning authority coordinating the distribution of the available medical resources. We were faced with the challenge of establishing an ethical and practical system of medical priorities in a setting of chaos.
Our hospital was designed to contain 60 inpatient beds, including 4 in the intensive care unit (ICU). It had one operating room with a single table. In view of the initial absence of functioning nearby medical facilities and the dire need for medical services, we extended our hospitalization capacity to its maximum of 72 patients and added a second operating table.
Under normal circumstances, triage involves setting priorities among patients with conditions of various degrees of clinical urgency, to determine the order in which care will be delivered, presuming that it will ultimately be delivered to all. After the Haitian earthquake, however, it was impossible to treat everyone who needed care, and thus the first triage decision we often had to make was which patients we would accept and which would be denied treatment. We were forced to recognize that persons with the most urgent need for care are often the same ones who require the greatest expenditure of resources. Therefore, we first had to determine whether these patients' lives could be saved.
Our triage algorithm consisted of three questions: How urgent is this patient's condition? Do we have adequate resources to meet this patient's needs? And assuming we admit this patient and provide the level of care required, can the patient's life be saved?
In the first days of our deployment, most of the patients we saw had recently been removed from the rubble. The majority had limbs that were compromised by open, infected wounds. Untreated, open fractures meant infection, gas gangrene, and ultimately death. Clearly, the sooner after injury the patient received medical attention, the better his or her chances of survival. Late-arriving patients who already had sepsis had a poor chance of survival. But there was no clear cutoff time beyond which patients could not be saved; each case had to be evaluated individually.
One of the dilemmas we had to confront repeatedly was whether to accept a patient with a crush injury. In such patients, rhabdomyolysis often develops, with resulting impairment of renal function. Given the absence of functioning dialysis facilities, the chances of survival in this scenario were low.
The potential for rehabilitation was an additional consideration in the triage process. Patients who arrived with brain injuries, paraplegia secondary to spinal injuries, or a low score on the Glasgow Coma Scale were referred to other facilities. Since we had neither a neurosurgical service nor computed tomography, we believed it would be incorrect to use our limited resources to treat patients with such a minimal chance of ultimate rehabilitation at the expense of others whom we could help. But denying care to some patients for the benefit of others was not a course of action that came readily to physicians accustomed to treating all who seek care.
Patients who had just been rescued presented another dilemma. We believed it would be inappropriate to deny treatment to a patient who had survived days under the rubble before a heroic rescue, even though this policy meant potentially diverting resources from other patients with a better chance of a positive outcome. Indeed, one patient who was rescued a week after the quake was brought to us in dire condition. She was admitted, was intubated, and underwent surgery but ultimately did not survive.
After we admitted a patient, additional decisions had to be reached. We needed to optimize the utilization of our ICU beds. At least one of these four beds was designated as a postoperative recovery bed for the first hours after surgery, leaving us with two to three available ICU beds. Using one of these beds for a patient with an extremely severe condition could mean rendering this resource unavailable to others for long periods. Our policy was to try to use these beds for patients whom we anticipated being able to stabilize in 24 hours or less. The practical implication of this prioritization scheme was that hospitalized patients who were deemed to have a small chance of survival were not likely to be treated in the ICU.
To deal with the ethical aspects of decisions regarding patient placement and treatment options, we created a system of ad hoc ethics committees. The physician who was directly in charge of caring for a certain patient would present the case to a panel of three senior physicians, who would decide how to proceed — a system that relieved individual physicians of the burden of determining a given person's fate. Decisions that were reached by the committee were recorded and became part of the patient's file.
From the outset, our hospital functioned at full capacity. With the exception of patients requiring urgent care, we operated on the basis of a one-to-one exchange between discharges and admissions. Given this policy and the level of activity, in order to function effectively, we also adopted a policy of very early discharge. Patients with infected open fractures were admitted, were operated on, and underwent débridement as needed. They received perioperative intravenous antibiotics and were discharged the next morning. The patients received a full-course supply of oral antibiotics and a discharge letter and were asked to come for follow-up within the next several days. At the entrance to the hospital, we had a waiting area that accommodated approximately 20 patients, most with open fractures. These were patients whom we had already triaged and decided to admit, and they were now awaiting hospitalization. With the discharge of each patient, a new patient could be hospitalized. Our policy of very early discharge permitted us to treat more than 100 patients per day in a facility with 72 beds.
This policy, while necessary, clearly did not allow us to provide in-house medical care for the duration for which we are accustomed to providing it in a nondisaster setting. Moreover, the problematic nature of early discharge was exacerbated by the unique environment in which we were working: there was no functioning health care system in the community, many patients were homeless, and many children in our care had no adult guardian. To discharge patients effectively, staff members engaged in discharge planning. We relied on the United Nations and other relief organizations to aid in the postdischarge management of care. With time, more and more groups started to operate, some of them backed by large facilities (such as the USNS Comfort). The presence of these groups allowed us to revise our discharge policies, since some of the groups opened referral centers.
Our guidelines for triage, management, and discharge were subject to continuous reevaluation and revision, but throughout our deployment, we were guided by our objective of providing lifesaving medical care to as many people as possible.