URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Friday, April 30, 2010

HAVING CARNAL RELATIONS OR NOT SHOULD NOT MATTER

HAVING CARNAL RELATIONS OR NOT SHOULD NOT MATTER My friend Connie reminded me that in the final episode of the TV show, Boston Legal, attorney Denny Crane (William Shatner) proposes marriage to Alan Shore (James Spader), his best friend and one of the firm’s partners. They marry, not because they are homosexual, but as a way of ensuring that their property, confidential conversations and friendship are protected. Having carnal relations has nothing to do with their union. A same sex marriage that is based solely on friendship should be as acceptable as one between heterosexuals or homosexuals; otherwise it is a new form of discrimination.
In the Chicago Tribune editorial about same -sex marriages, the newspaper says, “Healthy, supportive same-sex relationships abound in Illinois, and they deserve the same civil rights the rest of us enjoy -- the right to visit a loved one in the hospital, to be granted custody of children, to inherit property.” The Sun Times editorial on the same subject says,”… it's unfair to deny same-sex couples the tax advantages, legal protections and other privileges that heterosexual couples take for granted.” Neither editorial qualifies that the same- sex people be copulating.
Since heterosexual people have sexless marriages-- the number of sexless marriages is "a grossly under reported statistic," says therapist Michele Weiner Davis, author of "The Sex-Starved Marriage"—why can’t people who are just friends marry to gain the tax benefits and other perquisites of marriage?
My sister lives in Europe and thus is not readily geographically available if I need her. When I was in the hospital last week, my friend Linda sat with me for two days in ICU, and held my hand. I had signed a paper when I checked in saying the hospital could share my health information (except how much I weigh!) with her. When Linda and I grow older, why shouldn’t we be allowed to legally marry to take advantage of making health decisions, family insurance plans, adoption, survivor pension benefits, rights involving wills, intestate succession, conservatorships and trusts, community property rights, etc? Why hasn’t there been any discussion of same-sex marriage or civil unions between just friends?
The Tribune points out that, “Only five states allow same-sex marriage. Nine others have laws recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships that convey most or all of the rights of marriage, and six have laws that go part of the way. “But whatever one calls the same-sex unions it is presumed that the two people are sharing the same bed; what if they aren’t? Should they be allowed to marry? Do the “bedroom police” monitor if same-sex couples are doing the nasty? No. Not any more than heterosexual couples’ private lives are monitored. So why is it presumed that people are having intimate relations in order to form a more perfect union? Why can’t any two people who care about each other’s well-being get married?
Webster’s Dictionary defines “ marriage” as (1) The state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law or (2) The state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.
Marriage is a social union or legal contract that creates kinship. Married people are not required by law to have sexual relations; so once again I ask, why can’t people who are just friends marry?
Illinois House Bill HB0178 is the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. The synopsis of the bill is that it “Makes legislative findings: same-sex couples are denied equal access to civil marriage benefits; the current marriage law is discriminatory and harms same-sex couples; and there is no compelling interest or rational basis to deny same-sex couples those benefits. Provides that the Act does not interfere with any religious beliefs about marriage. Provides that the Act's purpose is to provide eligible same-sex and opposite-sex couples with the same treatment as those in a civil marriage. Provides that parties to a marriage of the same sex are included in the terms "spouse", "immediate family", "dependent", and related matters. Provides that domestic relations, probate, and family law shall apply equally to parties to a marriage of the same sex. Provides that benefits apply equally to same-sex marriages in these areas: causes of actions related to spousal status, for wrongful death, emotional distress, and loss of consortium; adoption; family leave; group insurance for State and municipal employees; accident and health insurance protections tied to former spouses and dependents; and taxes and tax deductions based on marital status. Provides that a civil marriage is prohibited between siblings or between an uncle and a nephew or an aunt and a niece. Amends the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Provides that nothing in the Act should be construed to interfere or regulate any religious practice concerning marriage and no religion is required to solemnize a marriage to which it objects. Provides that a marriage is between 2 persons (rather than, a man and a woman) licensed, solemnized, and registered under the Act.
There is no language in the bill requiring the two people joined together to have sexual relations. So to any of my friends (or good looking strangers) who currently have a good health insurance plan that allows for “spouses” to be covered, I say, “Will you marry me?”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

CRASHING AND NOT BURNING

CRASHING AND NOT BURNING I can emotionally and rationally handle that I cannot change the oil in my car and cannot perform by-pass surgery because both are tasks that I do not care to learn how to execute. Let those more qualified than I do the assignments. When it comes to my computer, I go insane when something goes wrong and I have no clue what is going on. While I have Computer Gigolo Kevin who always comes to my rescue, he does not live in my closet to be brought out at a moment’s notice. A new study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council, a communications industry think tank, found that ''Today's digitally dependent consumers are increasingly overwhelmed and upset with technical glitches and problems.” The Combating Computer Stress Syndrome report identified sources of peoples' pain as ''frustrating, complex computers and devices, technical failures, viral infections, and long waits to resolve support issues.''
According to AFP News findings were based on a survey of more than 1000 people in North America. ''Because they are so important to us, computers are a two-edged sword,'' said Murray Feingold, an American physician credited in the study with giving the syndrome its name. 'When they are functioning properly, they're great. But when something goes wrong, we immediately go into panic - this is what I call the computer stress syndrome.''
So how do we learn to handle the frustration of accepting what we have no control over? Dr. Ian Smith, currently the medical/diet expert on VH1’s highly-rated “Celebrity Fit Club,” the creator and founder of The 50 Million Pound Challenge and a medical contributor on the nationally syndicated television show “Rachael Ray,” has written Happy: Simple Steps to Get the Most Out of Life.” Dr. Smith is also the author of six books, the #1 New York Times Bestseller Extreme Fat Smash Diet, the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Fat Smash Diet, the New York Times Bestseller The 4 Day Diet, the critically acclaimed The Blackbird Papers (2005 BCALA fiction Honor Book Award winner), Dr. Ian Smith's Guide to Medical Websites, and The Take-Control Diet. Smith said in an interview that, “Happiness is about internal things. The real science of happiness is that people can control 40% of what makes them happy. Happy people understand that the world does not revolve around them. They concentrate on what they have and not what they don’t have.” So I have to teach myself to accept that I don’t have the skills to fix my computer and that the world does not revolve around me. I can do the former, but not the later because the world does revolve around me and that makes me HAPPY!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

GEORGE TO CHRISTINE; KERMIT TO MISS PIGGY

GEORGE TO CHRISTINE; KERMIT TO MISS PIGGY
The Obama administration has become concerned by the amount of toxic weed killer in our drinking water and is conducting a review to see if tighter restrictions need to be implemented. The Chicago Tribune reported that, “Despite growing health concerns about atrazine, an agricultural weed killer sprayed on farm fields across the Midwest, most drinking water is tested for the chemical only four times a year -- so rarely that worrisome spikes of the chemical likely go undetected.” The Tribune also reported that,” Manufacturers say their own research proves the chemical is safe. But alarmed by other studies, the Obama administration is conducting a broad review that could lead to tighter restrictions.” Manufacturers say their own research proves the chemical is safe. While that might be true for humans; what about animals?
Science Daily reported that atrazine, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a new study by University of California, The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially "dead" because of their inability to reproduce in the wild, reports University of California Berkeley's Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology.
What is interesting is that the 10 percent of frogs that become females ‑ something not known to occur under natural conditions in amphibians ‑ can successfully mate with male frogs but, because they are genetically male, all their offspring are male. So the male frogs that become females can reproduce but they only have sons and not daughters. Kermit becomes Miss Piggy.
It might not be easy being green, but it’s harder if your sex changes! So while some are worrying about Asian Carp invading the Great Lakes (not the Supreme Court) I think we should worry about saving emasculated frogs. Illinois chose the Eastern Tiger Salamander as the state amphibian in 2004; and the vote was made official by the General Assembly in 2005. While their diet consists mainly of small insects and worms, it is not rare for an adult to consume small frogs. So we are back to having to worry about the frogs in order to protect the eating habits of the salamander. The official nickname for Illinois is The Prairie State and the Big Bluestem is the official state prairie grass. Where do frogs hop? In the grass! The Bluegill is the official fish and the best way to catch one is with a bluegill frog popper lure. So it seems that everything in Illinois revolves around the frog. But if the male frog is being poisoned and becoming a female frog where does that leave us? You fill in the blanks here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

VENGEANCE WILL BE HIS

VENGEANCE WILL BE HIS Whether Scott Lee Cohen can be described as jetsam (thrown overboard voluntarily by Mike Madigan) or flotsam (goods floating on the water without having being thrown in deliberately), he is now rising from the ashes of a media scorching like the mythical phoenix; reborn anew to live again. On February 7th, I posted a blog, “Holier Than Thou,” where I wrote that I hoped that Scott Lee Cohen, the winner of the Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor, would not succumb to the pressure of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and drop out of the race. On February 8th, I wrote, “Know Thyself,” where I registered discontentment that he had surrendered. I quoted Plato and then Cohen: “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Cohen exhibited all three of those sources when in his speech on dropping out of the race he said, “When I decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, I did it with my heart and my soul. I thought that by opening up my life, I could represent the people in a fair, honest, loving, caring way.” On March 4th, I met Cohen for the first time at a private lunch at The Capital Grille that had been arranged by one of his advisors, Baxter Swilley. While I might have found some of the “scandal” in Cohen’s past offensive, I respected that he had attempted to get ahead of his history James Carville Cajun-style by revealing his foibles to Sun Times columnist Mark Brown a year earlier. The fact that other media and the uneducated voting public choose to ignore the story was through their own stupidity; not through Cohen’s lack of candor. I enjoyed my conversation with Cohen and found him quite charming. Once it became apparent that my candidate of choice for Illinois Governor, Kirk Dillard, would not be the Republican nominee, I hoped that Cohen would enter the race as an Independent candidate. While I am a Republican, I do not know Bill Brady and have no allegiance to him; he beat my friend Dillard so he meant nothing to me. I had no horse to whip. When I received a call last week that Cohen would be entering the race, I was ecstatic! Now I could care about the gubernatorial contest. Let the trumpet call of “Boots and Saddles” resound loudly throughout the Land of Lincoln. Here was a stallion I could root for. Here was someone who decided he was not afraid to take on Madigan. How could one not help but respect someone with such guts?
Cohen might have rolled over like a puppy when first confronted by the Illinois Democratic Party that he better get out of Madigan’s way; but now he is growling. The Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz might have asked Dorothy and the Tin Man to talk him out of confronting the Wicked Witch of the West but he discovered he had the courage to tackle the demons in the Emerald City. Cohen doesn’t have straw for brains, he is no Scarecrow and Madigan might be melting right now.

Friday, April 23, 2010

JACK FRANKS GUEST COLUMN

Jack D. Franks State Representative 63rd District of Illinois Guest Column
These days, Illinois is in desperate need of a multitude of things: an influx of jobs, a fully funded pension system, a winning baseball team. Yet, what Illinois needs most during this alarming period of our history is precedent-shattering leadership. Everyone agrees that eliminating the $13 billion budget deficit facing our state is not a task for the faint of heart, but close the gap we must, and legislators need to be bold. It is time Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois’ legislators have the courage to put a stop to the unchecked spending paradigm that put us in the fiscal quicksand we are in today. We must step back from the precipice of our man-made fiscal disaster.
Despite Illinois’ balanced budget constitutional amendment, our state has essentially budgeted by shooting from the hip, borrowing and not paying our bills. Illinois does not and has not operated under a careful or sensible spending system and that must stop. We need to fundamentally change how the budgeting process is done. I have co-sponsored legislation that would require the General Assembly to adopt a full accrual-based accounting statement prior to voting on the budget. Accordingly, legislators would know exactly what economic position the state is in before they approve any budget. The precedent of starting the budgeting process at the previous year’s spending levels is irresponsible and must be replaced with a zero-based approach and require all spending to be justified. It is simply common sense prudent accounting. By requiring the General Assembly to utilize accrual-based accounting techniques, we can prevent this type of fiscal nightmare from reoccurring.
Still, reversing the approach to the budgeting process must be coupled with forensic audits to make a real difference. Illinois does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem. In fact, state revenue for the current year is at the third highest ever in the history of Illinois; greater than 2007 levels. So why are we in such dire straights? With more than 1,700 state programs, the Illinois budget rings of excessive spending even to the most untrained ear. In fact, unbridled spending has created a labyrinth of pork projects that make it difficult to efficiently run vital and necessary state programs. These programs come at a cost of billions, at a time when slashing education funding is threatened. We need to take a step back and remember that government is not self-perpetuating.
Furthermore, those who see an income tax increase as the only solution do not understand the problem. With one out of eight Illinoisans out of work, a tax increase would only serve to lead us further down the wrong path. It would be unfair to imply that the budget deficit is the fault of Governor Quinn. However, he has not made the situation better. Instead of advocating for a tax increase, Quinn should take a number of judicious measures to stop the bleeding. For example, by executive order, Quinn could cut $1.2 billion dollars worth of "member initiative" pork projects. Secondly, he should push for collection of the more than $1 billion in taxes and fees that are owed to Illinois. Next, scrapping the lieutenant governor office would save us $16 million over four years. Eliminating the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity would save another $1 billion. Combining the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority with the Illinois Department of Transportation would also save millions. Finally, payments to governor-appointed boards and commissions should be eliminated. Rather than playing politics with a hot-button issue like education funding, Governor Quinn needs to scour Illinois’ budget, assess every dollar spent and cut all but the most necessary expenditures.
It will not be easy. But Illinois can both pull itself out of this mess and make our budgeting process stronger and more efficient in the future. We must shrink the influence of government through a combination of prudent accounting practices and restrained spending. I urge Governor Quinn and my fellow legislators to be innovative and remember that assent without careful consideration is not leadership. As former British Prime Minister
Tony Blair said, "The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ON THE BEACH TWO

ON THE BEACH TWO When Tom Hank’s character, Josh, in the movie,” Big,” is sitting in a meeting at the toy company he is working at, he keeps saying, I don’t get it,” when he is presented with an idea for a new type of toy. Well, I just don’t “get it” when it comes to the public vs. private use of the beaches on Lake Michigan. The latest imbroglio is the use of tents by Oak Street Beachstro for private events. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Contract negotiations between Beachstro owners Anthony and Kimberly Priola and the Chicago Park District have stalled over complaints from some nearby residents that the restaurant's private parties — which have included long white tents — are monopolizing too much of the public beach for too much of the summer.The restaurant, which has anchored the beach corner since 1999, holds dozens of special events, such as weddings, charity fundraisers and corporate parties, each summer season. Tents up to 22 feet tall and 118 feet long have been hoisted three times a year on average, for up to 14 days at a time, to protect guests from rain, sun and wind. The guest lists range from 50 to 500 people.”
The Priolas say that the tents are built on the beach’s water breaker and leave the sand part of the beach alone. "We take over no part of the public beach," said Anthony Priola. "Literally, I brought in photos and did a study (before opening the restaurant), and in every picture that you see is a giant slab of concrete that is completely vacant." The Tribune also quoted Alderman Brendan Reilly (D-42) whose ward includes the Oak Street Beach area, and said the criticism is not about the view, but the "privatizing (of) a public amenity that's most offensive. The primary concern for downtown residents is that this is a public beach and that a good portion of the beach is essentially privatized to host these large special events," Reilly said. "We're done with the large special events on Oak Street Beach." The contract that Oak Street Beachstro has with the Chicago Park District provides for a revenue sharing agreement. The Priolas say in their 11 years of operation they” have provided $700,000 to the district in rent and revenue-sharing, as well as more than $1 million to the city in sales tax. They said that each season they hire about 200 employees.” Gail Spreen, a leader in an area group the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) told the Tribune that there is support in the community for the restaurant, but that the group "appreciates the alderman's position" regarding tent usage for private events. "It is a private use on a public beach," she said. "It's a public beach that should be available for everyone. It's not just for residents. It's for so many people." Now to the part where I say, “I just don’t get it.” If the Alderman says he does not want large special events at Oak Street Beach because the lakefront is for public use and SOAR says it’s a public beach available to anyone, how do they justify all the sports leagues that monopolize the beaches with volleyball, tennis and other events? There are many companies that run recreational sports events on the beaches. For example, the Chicago Sport and Social Club brags on their web site that they have more than 70,000 participants and that their Beach Volleyball Leagues are the world's largest with more than 20,000 players and more than 1200 teams playing. They almost monopolize the beaches at Montrose, North Avenue, and Oak Street. If one drives down Lake Shore Drive in the Spring and Summer months one can see the beaches are jammed with people taking up PRIVATE beach space playing games provided by PUBLIC companies. The balls from the various games are bouncing all over the sand and probably interfering with the quiet relaxation needs of PRIVATE citizens. Why are sporting companies allowed to use PUBLIC beach space and not Oak Street Beachstro? I just don’t get it! “On The Beach” is a post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world novel by Nevil Shute that was published in 1957. “On The Beach Two” is a blog published by me about the prophetic devastation of doom if the Oak Street Bistro is allowed to hold parties in tents at Oak Street. The first one did not really happen and neither should the second. Just let them put up the tents!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

THE DRINKING OF WATER BANNED IN CHICAGO

THE DRINKING OF WATER BANNED IN CHICAGO With an executive order or ukase, Mayor Daley announced today the banning of the drinking of water by citizens of Chicago. “I learned a new word yesterday,” the Mayor said as he leaned over to press secretary Jackie Heard and asked her how to pronounce, ’hyponatremia.’ As he stumbled over the enunciation of the word, mumbling it as “hypochondria,” he read from a prepared statement that his doctor had told him that excessive consumption of water can lead to “a disruption of normal brain function due to the imbalance of electrolytes in the body’s fluids.” Dr. Hackenbush, Chief of Hydrology at Northwestern University Hospital said, my colleague Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D explained to me that, “When too much water enters the body's cells, the tissues swell with the excess fluid. Your cells maintain a specific concentration gradient, so excess water outside the cells (the serum) draws sodium from within the cells out into the serum in an attempt to re-establish the necessary concentration. As more water accumulates, the serum sodium concentration drops -- a condition known as hyponatremia. The other way cells try to regain the electrolyte balance is for water outside the cells to rush into the cells via osmosis. The movement of water across a semipermeable membrane from higher to lower concentration is called osmosis. Although electrolytes are more concentrated inside the cells than outside, the water outside the cells is 'more concentrated' or 'less dilute' since it contains fewer electrolytes. Both electrolytes and water move across the cell membrane in an effort to balance concentration. Theoretically, cells could swell to the point of bursting.” “We can’t have people’s brains bursting all over Chicago,” the Mayor said,” so to protect the citizens of our city from drinking too much water, because they are incapable of making any decision on their own, I am banning the drinking of all water as of today. I have instructed the Chicago Department of Water Management to visit every household, restaurant and hotel and seal off the water faucets. I understand that this order will also prevent Chicagoans from bathing, but compared to people’s brains bursting, being smelly is no big deal.” When asked why he does not think Chicagoans are smart enough to make their own decisions about how much water to drink in one sitting, Daley said,” Bloomberg in New York is banning salt and Obama’s health care bill requires restaurants to post calories. If people cannot gauge their own salt and calorie consumption, how can they be smart enough to know how much water to drink?” According to the web site of The Department of Water Management, they are currently responsible for delivering close to 1 billion gallons of fresh pure water to the residents of Chicago and 125 suburban communities everyday. When asked if Chicago would still supply clean water to the suburbs, the Mayor said, that it would no longer be the city’s responsibility to fulfill the drinking water needs of outlanders. “We don’t want their restaurants participating in “Taste of Chicago” and it’s no longer our responsibility to give them clean drinking water. Maybe if those suburbanites had supported a bail-out of our city’s mass transit system, we could have helped them in this instance. If they still want to drink water after hearing they can die from it and brains burst, let them drink it straight from Lake Michigan. I will be happy to supply them with paper cups.” Coca Cola CEO, Muhtar Kent endorsed the Mayor’s order. “If people are thirsty, we are prepared to supply all the Coke and Diet Coke they need. We are stepping up production at our Niles, Illinois facility to meet the beverage demands of all Chicagoans. We would be willing to allow our products to be pumped directly into homes of Chicagoans if the Mayor decides to unseal the faucets.” Daley concluded his press conference saying that for his next project he was having his staff investigate the issue of global climate change. “If there is global warming, then how come it snows here?” he said with a chuckle.

Monday, April 19, 2010

HOW MANY CZARS COULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK?

HOW MANY CZARS COULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK? The Chicago media did not cover the story of what happened last week in Springfield when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spokesman Chris McCloud, announced that Claude Walker had been hired, at a salary of $85,000/year, to coordinate the creation of new “water trails” throughout Illinois and promote existing paddling routes. Walker said the position could provide a boost to tourism, resulting in more revenue for the state. A few hours later, McCloud said, “Because of the importance and very severe situation with the state budget, at the request of the governor’s office, we rescinded the position.” Probably the quickest hiring and firing in Illinois tainted politics history.
According to the Springfield Bureau of the Quad City Times,” The position had not been advertised. The new post is at least the fourth state job Walker has held since 1990. He served as a spokesman for Quinn during Quinn’s tenure as lieutenant governor. He also worked for Quinn when the governor was state treasurer in the early 1990s. And he has worked on Quinn’s campaigns for various offices, including his current bid for governor. Walker has been off the state payroll since March 2009 when he left a position at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, which oversees student financial aid programs.”
The downstate media quickly nicknamed Walker, “The Canoe Czar.”
What is a Czar and why would someone want to be one? The first person to bear the title was Ivan IV in Russia who was crowned Czar of all Russia in 1547 when he was 17 years old. He is best known as Ivan the Terrible. He governed absolutely and killed anyone who got in his way; including his son. He had seven wives in succession and would kill them off or send them to a nunnery when he tired of them. The pronouncements of a Czar are called “ukase,” a Russian word that came to English usage about 1729 and means any authoritarian edict. Thus a person whose policy decisions can have significant influence on the strategy of a governmental body (usually a top-level advisor to the President of the United States whose appointment does not have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Congressional or have Judicial review) become known as a “Czar.”
According to Wikipedia, “one of the earliest known metaphorical usages of the term in the U.S. were to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was named commissioner of baseball, with broad powers to clean up the sport after it had been dirtied by the Black Sox of 1919.” The first appointment of a “Czar” by a President was by Woodrow Wilson who, during the final stages of World War I, appointed financier Bernard Baruch to run the War Industries Board and the media dubbed him the “Industry Czar.” Franklin Roosevelt, the first “Czar” appointing president appointed 12 “Czars;” and JFK none. The most prolific “Czar” appointer is President Obama with 38. George W. Bush appointed 25 “Czars,” my favorite being his March 2006 pick of Randall Tobias, former CEO of Eli Lily, as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) who was dubbed the “Abstinence Czar.” He resigned on April 27, 2007 after being linked to a prostitution investigation where it was revealed that he had been a regular client of ,”D.C. Madam” Deborah Palfrey. Do we have any “Czars,” in Illinois? No official ones that I could find. The Chicago Tribune called for a “Jobs Czar” in an editorial on January 25th this year and Jim Tyree (before his company bought the Sun Times) wrote an article in Crain's Chicago Business, March 30, 2009 calling for an “Innovation Czar.” Back in 1986 Horse Racing columnist, Dave Feldman said we need a “Racing Czar” to help the thoroughbred racing industry; no one was appointed. So why don’t we have any “Czars” in Illinois or Chicago? Are we up a creek without a paddle because our leaders have not appointed anyone to study the problems of the region and pronounce their ukases? Wait, we have an Emperor in Mayor Daley; and since a czar “trumps” an emperor in the game of Kings, Chicago will never have any “Czars.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

THE PRINCESS CHRONICLES

THE PRINCESS CHRONICLES Sarah Palin will be speaking at California State University at a Stanislaus Foundation fund raiser (the University’s Foundation arm) on June 25th. Students at the university found the contract for her speaking engagement in a garbage pail and now California Attorney General Jerry Brown said his office would look into the finances of the Foundation as well as allegations that the nonprofit organization violated public disclosure laws by keeping details of Palin's contract secret. Somebody else can deal with that story; I am dealing with Palin’s personal requirements in the contract. I don’t find anything outrageous in what she requires. I have no problem that the contract specifies first-class flights from Anchorage to California — if she flies commercial and if not, "the private aircraft MUST BE a Lear 60 or larger ..." She also needs a suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel near the campus in Turlock in the Central Valley. During her speech, her lectern must be stocked with two water bottles and bendable straws. Big deal! She has not learned how to be a true diva yet. Legendary Comedian Don Rickles has a rider in his contract that his dressing room must contain: color TV; private telephone line; make-up tables with mirrors; full length mirror; clothing rack; bath towels; wash cloth and hand towels; 2 boxes of facial tissue; one sliced fruit and cheese platter; one platter of assorted cold hors d’oeuvres for eight people; one coffee pot with cups, saucers, milk and sugar; one bottle each of Stoli, Scotch, Cognac, Dry Vermouth, Red wine, White wine; buket of ice cubes; eight water glasses; six rocks glasses, three bottles of Evian; assorted sodas diet and regular; assorted cocktail mixers and assorted cocktail fruit of lemons, limes, olives and onions. Divas like Aretha Franklin and Barbra Streisand have contract riders (this is a show biz term for personal requirements) that run pages and pages long. Aretha needs $25,000 in cold, hard cash in her hands before she performs and Streisand needs a thoroughly sweeping of the arena by a police K-9 team before she will step foot into an arena. The pathetic and barely famous singer Ashley Simpson has a nine page rider that demands 72 bottles of water, both room temperature and chilled, but no Evian! I love that David Spade barely wants more than a box of Triscuit crackers, one ripe avocado and a turkey breast sandwich on wheat bread with regular mustard. He also needs a Nerf football! Talk about a low-key guy! The most famous person I know is Jerry Springer. If asked what he wants, he always replies,”Nothing.” If his publicist Linda is asked, she says, “Diet Coke and anything chocolate.” Even though I am known as an elitist-snob, my requirements for happiness, like a baby’s, are very simple; Diet Coke and cigarettes (Marlboro Light 100s). Not that one would let a baby drink Diet Coke and smoke; I just meant I am satisfied with just very simple pleasures! I was going to blabber about needing Pratesi sheets; Uni-Ball pens in black (fine-line only!); honey mustard salad dressing, 100 calorie snacks and “bag o salad,” but I have all of those things at home. If I am hired for a personal appearance, just Diet Coke and cigarettes will suffice. Maybe it’s my kainolophobia that makes me so one note.
Socrates, who lived a very frugal and simple life, loved to go to the market. When his students asked about this, he replied, “I love to go and see all the things I am happy without.”
Okay, I lied. I should be honest; it was my allodoxaphobia that made me try to sound normal. If I had a rider on a contract for a personal appearance we all know it would be 15 pages long—plus attachments!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

OLD FOGEY CRIES “BOGEY”

OLD FOGEY CRIES “BOGEY”
On October 14, 2009, I wrote a blog called “Seniors as Freddy the Freeloaders,” which dealt with the free fares that senior citizens receive from the CTA. (Ha! That will be going away soon!) I ended the blog with, “Just because one turns 65 years of age does not mean they should be entitled to free CTA fares for the rest of their days. They did nothing to earn it.”
Now seniors are waving their golf clubs in protest that their discounted golfing fees are being raised $1 per round at the six park district courses, which are privately managed. The price has increased from $9 to $10; I guess we will have to hold a benefit for the seniors! They should be happy they have the time to play golf during the day. Everyone else is out working earning a living!
Just for comparison-- at the other end of the spectrum-- green fees at Pebble Beach in California are $495 per round. If you are a guest of the hotel, that includes a cart.
Non-senior golfers will pay between $16 to $22 per round depending on location. Guess what? Seniors also get to park for free at the Marovitz and South Shore courses on the lakefront, while “young” motorists will pay about $1 an hour starting this year for one of the 4,000 newly metered spots located by Lake Michigan.
Why should seniors receive discounts? Why are they members of a “special class” of people? Does being older necessarily mean that you are poorer? Why does adding years to your life mean that your prices should be lower then other people’s for the same exact thing? Young people have less money since they could not have saved anything yet. Giving older people discounts is as unfair as rich celebrities who get SWAG bags at award ceremonies and their meals comped in restaurants.
The website www.seniordiscounts.com allows seniors to access information on more than 150,000 age-related discounts. Can you imagine if businesses advertised that only blue-eyed people got a price cut? Or that only Italians could get something at a cheaper price? All the various local and national Commissions on Human Relations would be up in arms holding protests about discrimination. How do the seniors get away with it?
What sparked my maybe somewhat misguided outrage was a story in the Sun Times about 76 year-old Earl Ramsden who has been golfing for more than 50 years at the Marovitz Course and is upset about the $1 price hike. He was quoted in the paper as saying, "The fact is the Chicago parks were intended for the public -- for people who don't have money," said Ramsden, a retired jewelry salesman who has cut his golfing days from seven to four. "This should all be free to the people. I mean, how many people can't afford to go anywhere?" he said, referring to a recession that has kept people close to home during the summer months.”
First,Ramsden has been golfing for 50 years at a public course that I as a taxpayer am forced to support but do not use. I subsidize his golf fees; he should be satisfied with that. Second, the man had been golfing seven days a week! How tough can his life be if he could golf seven days a week? Seven days of golf at $9/day means he was accustomed to spending $63/week. Why did he have to cut back to four days a week when he could golf six days at the new $10 price and spend $60? That is still less then he spent weekly last year. So what is the real reason that he has cut back to four days a week?
The Sun Times story missed the mark in not questioning Ramsden more closely and being more methodical in the analysis of why he had to cut back on his golf outings. Where are the investigative journalists when you really need them?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CLEANING THE LENSES

CLEANING THE LENSES Tropical Optical supplies eyeglasses and exams to uninsured Chicago Public School students and Medicaid recipients. This is accomplished through contracts the company has with Chicago and the state of Illinois. On Monday there was a Sun Times/Better Government Association (BGA) story, “Prescription for Success” which outlined the political contributions that Daniel Arce, owner of Tropical Optical, has personally made to various Illinois local and state politicians and contributions made by the Mexican American PAC where he serves as President. The contributions totaled more than $600,000 during the past 10 years. That is a lot of money and certainly would raise some red flags about the contracts that Arce’s optical business has received. When one looks at those contributions and sees that Tropical Optical has received about $13 million in state and city contracts, it seems questionable. The BGA and the Sun Times were correct in doing an investigation. I took their investigation one step further and did some math. The story said, “Since 2000, Arce's company has gotten more than $13 million in taxpayer money to provide eye exams and glasses for more than 60,000 uninsured students from Chicago's public schools, as well as providing vision tests for his rapidly growing Medicaid business, which has become one of the biggest in the state. Arce makes the glasses for the uninsured students, though not for the Medicaid recipients, whose glasses are made by Illinois prisoners.
Arce's business pulled in more than half of the $13 million in the past four years, after a new state law began requiring the Chicago Board of Education to provide vision tests and glasses for uninsured students.
Last year, Tropical Optical was paid more than $1.4 million by the state for seeing 21,918 Medicaid patients -- nearly four times as much money as it collected in 2006, when it had 13,552 Medicaid patients, state records show.
Arce has other government customers, too. Employees who work for Chicago City Hall, the city's schools and Cook County government can get their glasses at Tropical Optical under their health insurance plans.”
Now we will look at the “Kathy Math” using the numbers in the story.
(a)Tropical Optical has received during a 10 year period $13,000,000 to “provide eye exams and glasses for more than 60,000 uninsured students from Chicago's public schools, as well as providing vision tests for his rapidly growing Medicaid business.” That paragraph does not elaborate how many Medicaid patients were treated but if we use the number 21,918 (used in a later paragraph), and added that to the 60,000 CPS students, it would add up to 81,918 patients a year. If we divide the $13 million paid by 60,000 CPS students and 21,918 Medicaid patients and then divide that by 10 years, the expenditure per patient is $15.86/per year. No wonder Arce’s company was the lowest bidder for the job!
(b)“Last year, Tropical Optical was paid more than $1.4 million by the state for seeing 21,918 Medicaid patients -- nearly four times as much money as it collected in 2006, when it had 13,552 Medicaid patients, state records show” The price per patient here is $63.87. Still a lot less money then I just paid at Pearle Vision!
(c) “Arce's business pulled in more than half of the $13 million in the past four years, after a new state law began requiring the Chicago Board of Education to provide vision tests and glasses for uninsured students.” So that is $6.5 million divided by 60,000 students divided by 4 years and we get an expenditure of $27.08 per student for exam and glasses! Now we know why no other company has since bid on the contract, Tropical Optical is giving such a low price no one else could compete with those numbers. Arce should be lauded and not vilified!
(d) “ To negotiate his three contracts with the Chicago Board of Education, Arce hired the Chicago law firm Chico & Nunes, headed by Gery Chico, a former chief of staff to Mayor Daley and former Chicago school board president who is now chairman of the City Colleges of Chicago.” Chico has a law firm and he negotiates contracts. When he was CPS President I think he was paid $1/year; I doubt if he gets paid much more to be Chairman of the City Colleges. Arce had a right to hire who he thought was the best lawyer to negotiate his contract and he did. What was dishonorable about that? Should Arce have hired someone from 1-800-Lawyers?
(e) “Arce has other government customers, too. Employees who work for Chicago City Hall, the city's schools and Cook County government can get their glasses at Tropical Optical under their health insurance plans.” These employees are given the names of hundreds of optical businesses to choose from; no one is purposely directed to Topical Optical.
Where is the scandal here? This is not like the Pentagon where one hears stories of $8,000 being spent on a toilet seat. These are contracts being fulfilled at low prices; lower prices than I have ever paid for eye exams or glasses in my life.
I was upset because I felt that Tropical Optical was targeted unfairly. The huge two page story seemed to imply that Arce only received the contracts because of his campaign contributions. Because of my tremendous respect for the investigative work of the BGA, I contacted their Executive Director Andy Shaw (who I have known for 20 years) and asked him to explain the reasoning for the story. What he told me made sense.
“One of the functions of the BGA is to investigate legislation that might be connected to campaign dollars. The legislation might not be illegal or bad. It is important for the public to know of these connections and what legislation is connected directly or indirectly to what campaign dollars. Because at the end of the day when you have people who vote on contracts, decides who gets them and how large they are it raises the question that the contract has been inflated or steered in exchange for the money. That is not the implication in this story and that might not be the case. But I think it is important for people to read the stories and see how they system works. With an eye perhaps on making some changes that results in more vigorous disclosure of intermediaries and lobbyists. I think it is important to figure out a way to reduce the likelihood of wasted tax dollars or lousy services from contracts that come about because of the flow of campaign cash. That is the message here. It is not in the story, maybe it should be in an accompanying editorial and maybe I should say something on the BGA web site. The awarding of contracts are frequently steered by the people who get the dollars. It is the job of the BGA to give this information and share what those practices might be in a more perfect world and push for that which the BGA is trying to do more and more of. Not to just disclose but propose. Stories like this are deigned to be the nexus of cash. Wherever you see contracts, campaign cash and jobs, I like to call this the unholy Trinity."
So while I understand the basis for the story, and agree with Shaw’s statement on the importance of disclosing alliances between businesses and politicians, I feel that Tropical Optical is fulfilling the contracts at a price that is fair to the citizens of Illinois. That information also needs to be shared.
As the Beatles sang, “Hey Jude don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better.” The BGA and Sun Times sang a song about Arce, he needs to refrain and try to just make it better.
The numbers I used made the lenses less foggy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

AS THE ALDERMEN LIKE IT
To paraphrase the melancholy Jaques in his monologue (Act II, Scene VII) in William Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It,” "All of Chicago is a stage, and all the men and women merely players….” Chicago citizens are merely puppets with our strings being manipulated by the Aldermen who watch us wiggle while we bobble up and down at their beck and call. Like “The Truman Show,” we live in a carefully structured bubble bounded by the city limits and by what Mayor Daley allows us to know.
The latest manipulation of the citizenry is the watered-down ordinance that would create the office of a “Legislative Inspector General” with the power to investigate Aldermen and their employees. To remind you, the current “Chicago Inspector General” is banned by ordinance to investigate Aldermen. Section 2-56-050 of the ordinance created to establish the office of the city’s Inspector General outlines the duties and jurisdiction of the IG as:
BROAD JURISDICTION:

Section 2-56-050 — Conduct of City officers, employees and other entities

Provides jurisdiction over all City officials, employees, those doing business with the city and those seeking city certification. Excludes the City Council and staff, and City Council Committees and staff.

The proposed ordinance for the NEW Inspector General, who could investigate Aldermen, includes the provision that there must be “signed and sworn complaints,” for an investigation to proceed. Alderman Joe Moore (D-49) finds that provision troubling. In a story in the Sun Times he said, “"It's as bad, if not worse than doing nothing," Moore said.”There is no investigative agency in the world that needs a sworn complaint. Not the U.S. attorney, not the state's attorney. Not the attorney general. Not the [city's] inspector general. It really prevents any serious investigations from taking place."
In a number of previous blogs I have written about how whistle-blowers are treated as pariahs in Chicago; so I seriously doubt that many citizens would have the courage to sign a sworn statement in a complaint against an Alderman or one of their staff members.
The Sun Times also reported that if the ordinance passes, the "Legislative Inspector General" “would be appointed to a four-year term after a search panel chosen by the Rules Committee recommends candidates to the City Council. The new IG would have subpoena power. But, all investigative findings would have to be presented to the city's Board of Ethics, which has never taken action against aldermen. “
Chicago’s budget is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red; yet a new level of bureaucracy would be created that would have to be funded. And the leader of that new office would be appointed by the very Council that he would be hired to investigate!
The proposed ordinance for a “Legislative Inspector General” would create a “Potemkin Office,” that would exist just so the Mayor could tout to editorial boards how he was opening the window on the days of the lives of Aldermen.
The Potemkin Villages (Russian: Потёмкинские деревни ) were fake settlements erected at the direction of Russian Minister Grigory Potyomkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to the Crimea in 1787. The villages were facades that appeared to anyone passing by that they were of substance. The villages were hollow, just like this proposed ordinance. Emperor Daley wears no clothes, when will Chicagoans realize it?

Monday, April 12, 2010

NO ORDER WITHOUT LAW

NO ORDER WITHOUT LAW When DNA evidence is collected after a rape, the evidence can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the identity of a known assailant and exonerate innocent suspects. The FBI reports that nationally the arrest rate for rape is at an historic low of 22%; sadly in Illinois the arrest rate is 11%. In Illinois in 2008, 4,118 felony sexual assaults were reported to the police, with only 452 arrests. In Illinois, according to a story in the Huffington Post, The Human Rights Watch “made public records requests to the 100 most populous cities and to every county and interviewed more than 300 people - police, prosecutors, rape victims, and advocates. In the 82 of the 243 jurisdictions that have responded so far, we found that about 4,000 of the 5,000 rape kits delivered to police storage facilities over the past 10 years have yet to be tested - 80 percent. “
State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) has introduced HB4765 that” Amends the Sexual Assault Survivors Emergency Treatment Act and requires that all sexual assault evidence collected using the State Police Evidence Collection Kits shall be analyzed and tested by the Department of State Police within 6 months after receipt of all necessary evidence and standards into the State Police Laboratory.”
Franks told me that he personally learned about the back-log of rape kits when his wife Debby showed him an article in the Chicago Tribune about the problem. The story reported,” that many rape kits were being placed in police storage untested, robbing the state of opportunities to solve crimes and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.” The Tribune also found that even when rape kits are submitted, the lab sometimes refuses to analyze them. "I don't want people who'd been victimized once to be victimized again by the people who were supposed to be protecting them," Franks said.
When watching a crime show on television, the process of collecting DNA evidence takes one second with the use of a single swab. According to the Chicago Tribune, “With rape kits, those alleging sexual assault or abuse allow a nurse to secure semen, saliva and other potential DNA samples from their bodies. The exam is invasive, and the process can take up to eight hours.” Since the importance of completing the evidence is paramount, time does not matter; completion does.
I was the victim of date rape on October 19, 1969; it’s how I lost my virginity. I never told my family or friends at the time because it was too humiliating. You did not talk about it back then. You suffered in silence. The number of rape victims is astounding. The Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, says that one out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime and one out of every 33 men. (
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cv05.pdf )
Franks bill has passed on the House side, and is now over at the Senate. Franks told me that it was of paramount importance for people to speak to their Senators to get the bill moved quickly because the longer the wait, the greater the backlog.
The Human Rights Watch reported that inn 2003, when New York City began testing all kits; the arrest rate skyrocketed, from 40% of reported cases to 70%.
Currently in Illinois there are about 500 arrests for felony sexual assault out of the 5,000 cases reported. If the arrest rate were 70%, there would be 3500 arrests. We can worry about housing those extra 3,000 prisoners later; just get them behind bars. The police cannot “order” the arrests of possible felons without having the DNA evidence. We need this law to preserve order.

Friday, April 9, 2010

LIGHTS, CAMERAS AND NO ACTION

LIGHTS, CAMERAS AND NO ACTION On Thursday both the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune ran tabloid-type “sensational” stories that I don’t think were sensational at all! The Sun Times story had the HUGE headline of “City workers beat red-light camera tickets” with a sub head of “More than half their tickets dismissed since Jan. 2007. “ The story includes a picture of a red-light camera that was captioned, “Nearly 70 percent of the red-light camera tickets issued to city vehicles over the last three years have been dismissed, records show.” Those words got my blood boiling until I read the facts. (1) “2,685 red-light tickets issued to city-owned vehicles since January 2007, compared to 1.89 million for all motorists.” (Why would one compare how many tickets were issued to city-owned vehicles as opposed to issued to all motorists making it seem “suspicious” that city-owned vehicles got so few? It is good that so few tickets were issued to city employees. Because motorists cannot “talk” themselves out of a red-light camera ticket like they could do with a human traffic enforcement officer, what is bad about a low number? A low number is good. It means that the law is not being broken! Mathematically it works out to only 2 tickets a day for city driven vehicles compared to 1555 a day for regular drivers.)
(2) “1,830 of those city tickets dismissed, including emergency vehicles.”(Of course the tickets given to emergency vehicles should be dismissed. Emergency vehicles go through red lights! They are on their way to an emergency!)
(3)” 689 of those tickets paid by city employees who apparently had no valid defense.”(So a city employee had no defense and paid the fine. Isn’t that what they are supposed to do? What is wrong here?)
(4) “77 tickets remain unpaid”- (So the 77 unpaid tickets equal 3% of the total tickets issued. Maybe the check is in the mail!)
By my math that leaves 89 tickets that were not accounted for in the story. Again, a small enough number to be no big deal. The story also includes the line that with 2,685 red-light tickets, “At $100 a pop, that should have generated $268,500. Instead, only $77,167 has been collected.” Hello! More than half were dismissed because they were issued to emergency vehicles. There never was $268,500 of revenue generated!
The article does say that not all the emergency vehicles that got red-light tickets “were responding to emergencies with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Some police vehicles were working undercover. Some were vehicles assigned to city departments not typically considered emergency departments.”
Or in this case, “One time, we had a situation where the inspector general's office was following an employee to make sure someone was living in the city," said Scott Bruner, director of the city's Department of Administrative Hearings. "The employee made a right turn. By the time the investigator got to the intersection, the light was red, so he followed, got a ticket and talked to the Revenue Department about getting the ticket withdrawn because he was on official city business."
City officials considered that a valid defense. I consider it a valid defense also and any reasonable person would too.
So what is the sensational story here? I think what happened is that the Sun Times had decided BEFORE hand that there might be a story, did all the research and then did not want to “spike” the effort when nothing materialized.
The Chicago Tribune exhibited their own brand of down-playing legitimate news in favor of an eye-catching headline with the,”Aldermen spend expense accounts on cars, relatives, consultants.” It was a full page article with half the page being devoted to a map of every ward and the amount each particular Alderman had spent of the $73,280 that was budgeted to their ward in 2009. City-wide that amounts to $3.66 million, of which $3.1 million was spent. The city’s budget for 2010 is more than $6 billion! The Aldermanic office expense accounts amount to one half of one percent of the entire budget or .0001 or one hundredth of one percent per Alderman. (A CPA who wishes to remain anonymous confirmed these numbers.) The spending of the money allotted to each Alderman is so miniscule it should not rate two lines of the Tribune, much less a full page!
Where is the scandal? Some of the Aldermen spent allowance money on leasing a car! The shame! The horror! Aldermen have to attend meetings all around the city, so they lease a car. I have no problem with that. The city comptroller reviews the vouchers before making payments, and since the Alderman are given leeway in how to spend the allowance most vouchers are approved.
The Tribune wrote, “Seventeen aldermen made payments to themselves, and in a few cases those payments topped $10,000. Ald. Eugene Schulter, 47th, who paid more than $24,000 to himself last year, said he was reimbursing himself for office expenses. "I pay all my bills up front because it takes the city such a long time to pay the vendors," Schulter said. "All of that is backed up with original receipts, and the canceled checks — all that good stuff."
Good for Schulter! He has seen the embarrassment of state-wide legislators whose rent payments on their district offices are months in arrears. He wants to make sure that when ne uses the services of a vendor, they get paid. What a novel idea! Paying a bill on time yourself and then waiting for reimbursement; rather than making a vendor suffer.
I have commented in blog after blog about real scandals that the Sun Times and the Tribune have uncovered. The red flags they threw up Thursday won't catch the eye of the Pulitzer Committee, it is just yellow journalism.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

GETTING IN THE SPIRIT OF THINGS

GETTING IN THE SPIRIT OF THINGS It is no surprise to friends of mine that I am an elitist snob. I grew up with a Father who told us that it was better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a dog. He would also say how staying one week at a Ritz Carlton was better than two weeks at a Holiday Inn. It is quality, not quantity that is important. I have lived my life in that spirit following his advice. Unfortunately, most people do not live that way; and I have to personally contend with being bothered by that. Something inexpensive might not be a bargain, it is just cheap. I like bargains, but I hate cheap. With the exception of the individual business traveler (known in the industry as an IBT on an expense account), most people who fly are cheap. They spend hours searching the Internet to find the best fare, not even being cognizant that they are costing their employer money because they are wasting work time on a personal pursuit. They saved $50 for themselves but burned up $100 of company time. The cheap traveler (CT) became even more bothersome to me and the IBTs once airlines started charging for checking baggage. The CT has to see how much they can shove into a carry-on suitcase and then cram it into the overhead bin in the cabin with totally disregard to the comfort of their fellow passengers sitting in the seats below the bin. Because there is more carry- on luggage than can fit in the bins, the flight would be held up as passenger bags were sent out to be checked. But the inconvenience to others does not bother the CT. If they can save $10, then the world has to wait. I have never flown Spirit Airlines, a low-cost carrier based in Florida, but I applaud their announcement that they are now charging for carry-on luggage that does not fit under the seat. The airline said on their Website, “Spirit Airlines' approach liberates customers from being forced into paying for services they do not desire or use. When customers are seeking the best value in travel they can choose a low fare at spiritair.com and select the services and options appropriate for their travel needs."
In a press release, Spirit's Chief Operating Officer Ken McKenzie said, "In addition to lowering fares even further, this will reduce the number of carry-on bags, which will improve in-flight safety and efficiency by speeding up the boarding and deplaning process, all of which ultimately improve the overall customer experience." Bring less, pay less. It's simple."
So far, unfortunately, none of the other airlines have indicated an intention to follow Spirit's lead. I hope they do. The more something costs, the less opportunity the CT will have to afford to fly. Less CTs, the better for me!
Sadly, the CT will find ways to avoid having to pay for carry-on. They will dress themselves in 10 outfits of clothes; causing their bulk to spill-over the arm rest and bother their seat mate. Every male will now clutch a “man purse” (or European carryall to Seinfeld fans) full of toiletries that will be stowed under the seat to save money. The CTs will develop ways to thwart the system until the airlines come up with a solution to whatever they devised.
Of course one solution would be for the IBTs and non CTs to only book first class seats; but many flights no longer offer that amenity. In my March 29th blog, (For a Friend to Be Named Later) I lamented that I currently have no friends with access to a private or corporate jet. I am going to have to work harder on trading someone for that perk! Albert Einstein said," Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. "I hope the CTs understand the spirit of this blog and don’t fly off the handle in opposition.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A STREET NOT NAMED DESIRE

A STREET NOT NAMED DESIRE Blog follower John McNeal alerted me to a story about how the city of Park Ridge, IL was going to have to spend $75,000 to replace their street signs to comply with new federal regulations. It turns out cities all across the country are facing similar problems. The new signs will cost millions of dollars when each city’s tab is added up. In the case of Park Ridge the 1,089 unique concrete sign posts don’t “count” as street signs and will have to be replaced with standardized signs. In other cities the new federal law on how much light the signs reflect is a problem. Before the revision, federal rules did not govern light reflection and did not require cities catalog their signs. The incentive for local governments to comply with the rules comes from lawyers who can make a case that if somebody is injured in an accident involving a sign that is not up to federal regulations, the city could be sued. The United States Department of Transportation sets the rules for street and highway sign sizes and designs. The federal guidelines are set forth each year in The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The history of how traffic signs and road markers came to be is quite fascinating (at least to me!). The next few paragraphs relate the story of road signs, so you can skip them if that bores you! The USDOT web site has an article that was developed from a series of articles by H. Gene Hawkins, Jr. that relates how road signs came to exist and the evolution of the changes. “The early days of the automobile found intrepid "tourers" out for a drive, only to wind up losing their way because directional signs were either nonexistent or they were broken, unreadable, or knocked down. In fact, as early as 1899, horseless carriage owners in New York City met at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for the purpose of forming an automobile club - the predecessor of the American Automobile Association - and part of their function was to place and maintain signs on principal local highways to guide drivers through the area or to specific sites.
Records indicate that in 1905, the Buffalo Automobile Club installed an extensive signpost network in the New York State. In 1909, the Automobile Club of California undertook the task of signing the principal highways within a 250-mile radius of San Francisco. These could be actual signs, or perhaps they were colored bands around a utility pole. Similar clubs conducted comparable efforts in local areas around the Nation. Unfortunately, competition for signing certain popular routes was fierce and organizations became increasingly aggressive as to which club would sign which routes. One study noted that for 40 to 50 percent of the more traveled roads, it was common to encounter as many as 11 different signs for one single trail or route.
In the early 1920s, representatives from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana toured several States with the intent of developing a basis for uniform signs and road markings. The group reported its findings to the Mississippi Valley Association of Highway Departments (MVASHD) in 1932. Their efforts resulted in standards for sign shapes, some of which are still in use.
These pioneers devised a plan to classify sign shapes according to the level of danger represented by highway situations. For example, round signs warned of approaching railroad crossings, which even then represented the most potential danger to the driver. The octagon advised of the next level of danger - the need to STOP for intersections. Diamond signs indicated more ordinary conditions that required drivers to be cautious. Rectangular signs provided direction or other regulatory information. All signs were black letters on white background and were limited to 2 feet (0.6 m) square - that was the maximum width of sign-making equipment. Because round and octagon shapes required the most cutting and wastage, they were chosen for the fewest installations. These shapes made sense because there was little illumination of signs and the rationale was that drivers would respond to the shape of the sign even when they couldn't see the letters.
Also in 1924, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO, the forerunner of AASHTO) took earlier efforts one step further by issuing a report that combined the previous efforts to standardize sign shapes and colors. The report recognized the superior visibility of the yellow background and advised its adoption for all danger and caution signs, including the STOP sign. The use of red was rejected because of its inadequate visibility at night. This report was also the first to propose the shield to designate U.S. highways.
The importance of the AASHO report is that it became the basis for the first guidebook, Manual and Specifications for the Manufacture, Display, and Erection of U.S. Standard Road Markers and Signs, in 1927. However, this manual addressed only use and design for signs on rural roads. Following a national survey of existing traffic control devices, the Manual on Street Traffic Signs, Signals, and Markings was published to address urban traffic control devices. This manual corresponded with the AASHO rural manual, except that material also addressed traffic signals, pavement markings, and safety zones. The manual also allowed smaller signs in urban areas, and the STOP sign was modified to allow red letters on a yellow background.
It was immediately apparent that having two different manuals simply confused the attempt to standardize traffic control devices. Thus in 1932, AASHO and NCSHS formed the first Joint Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (JC). In 1935, the first MUTCD was published. More accurately, it was mimeographed. The demand for the manual was so great, that a printed version was published in 1937. In comparison to the Millennium Edition, the 1937 printed version was only166 pages; content was separated into four parts that addressed signs, markings, signals, and islands.”
As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now for the rest of the story.”
According to the Sun Times, “Park Ridge isn't ready to abandon its 1,089 iconic concrete markers, Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim said, noting that "residents love our monuments.”I wouldn't get rid of the monuments. I would just put the signs on a different corner," Zingsheim said. The columns originally had the street names engraved into the concrete, and the letters were later painted black, said Paul Adlaf of the Park Ridge Historical Society. Eventually, reflective green signs were placed over the engravings.”
This is not the first problem with street signs in Park Ridge and the public works director. On January 8th, 2009, signs reading "Honorary Jim Hendry Way" were attached to two traffic signal poles at the intersection of Prospect Avenue, Touhy Avenue and Northwest Highway by the Illinois Department of Transportation. They were in honor of the Chicago Cubs manager who lives in Park Ridge. On January 9, 2009, Wayne Zingsheim said,” They just appeared out of nowhere.” An Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) representative told Zingsheim the signs were installed based on an executive order from the governor's office which was then held by Rod Blagojevich who is a Cubs fan.
The City Council was preparing to vote on an ordinance that very evening that would have prohibited such designations of honorary streets, but since the poles on which the "Hendry Way" signs appeared are property of IDOT, the city can not do anything Why is the date of the installation of the honorary street sign so significant? It also happens to be the date that the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach Blagojevich by a 114–1 vote for corruption and misconduct in office.
IDOT probably received the order months earlier (even before Blago was arrested on December 9, 2008) but bureaucracy moves slowly and it probably did not occur to anyone at IDOT to cancel the order once the Governor was impeached.
So timing is everything. Will Park Ridge and other cities be able to plan their budgets so they can obtain the new street signs that Federal law requires? NO! Because, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “ The Federal Highway Administration is developing revisions to the Standard Highway Signs and Markings (SHSM) book to provide design details of the new signs and markings added in the 2009 Edition of the MUTCD and signs and markings whose designs have been modified in the 2009 MUTCD. The release of the new edition of Standard Highway Signs and Markings is anticipated for Fall 2010.”
So the Feds tell you NOW that there are new street sign rules; but won’t release the new edition of the book that delineates the rules for months to come. How stupid!
USDOT, You’re fired!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spicing up McCormick Place

Spicing up McCormick Place Let’s pretend you own a catering business. You have lots of workers and a very high payroll. Nobody wants to hire your hall anymore because your prices are too expensive. There are other banquet facilities that offer the same amenities with much lower charges. You might go out of business if you don’t make changes. What do you do? In the “real world” you lower your prices. In Illinois, you get the legislature to subsidize your business so you can keep the high prices. That is the scenario for McCormick Place if State Senate President John Cullerton gets his way. At the first legislative hearing on how to make the convention center more competitive, Cullerton advised diverting additional hotel tax revenues (Chicago hotel tax is now 15.4%) to subsidize McCormick Place. Currently McCormick Place gets a percentage of the hotel tax money solely to reduce their construction debt; now Cullerton wants to redirect more of the taxes. Chicago has already lost two big conventions; The Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society is moving to Las Vegas, and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is moving to Orlando. Both associations cited the high costs at McCormick Place and the problems of strict union work rules. On November 18th, I posted a blog, “Brother Can You Spare a Pepsi, where I wrote,” We all have heard stories about the outrageous fees that McCormick Place charges for products and services. Until I read in the Chicago Tribune what Tim Hanrahan the CEO of a Massachusetts company who attended a convention told what it cost to get some soda delivered to his booth I did not really believe it. “The total charge for four cases of Pepsi, delivered to our booth, was $345.39. The invoice breaks down to $254 for the four cases of Pepsi, a 21 percent service charge, and a 10.25 percent Illinois state sales tax, a 3 percent Chicago soft drink tax, a tax on the service charge, and a food and beverage tax. Government taxes totaled $38.06, which is more than the legitimate retail price of the soft drinks. Now, a nice man in a tuxedo delivered the Pepsi, along with a couple of buckets of ice and a few cups. Good service? Sure, but not worth $345.39." That is almost $87 per case. Since my Diet Coke consumption is two cases a week, at that price it would cost me more than $8700/year to satisfy my habit! The main problem at McCormick is the union right to work rules. David Roeder of the Sun Times delineated some of the complaints: Here are examples given at the hearing and the person who offered them:
  • An exhibitor can use a screwdriver, but not if it's battery powered. -- Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president of the National Restaurant Association
  • Electricity at McCormick Place costs 40 percent more than Orlando's and doesn't include labor. Orlando's price does. -- Heftman
  • Projectionists install laptops. Electricians install desktops. -- Felix Niespodziewanski, director of conventions, American College of Surgeons
  • A stage costs $46,000 in Chicago and involves seven trade unions. In San Francisco, also with union labor, the cost is $32,000. -- Niespodziewanski
  • Setup of one ice machine costs $1,700 in Chicago, $720 in Orlando. -- Eric Holm, representing restaurant supplier Manitowoc Foodservice
This week unions will present their side of the story. They disputed the descriptions of difficult work rules. "We want to see everybody out a little skin in the game and step up," said Tony DeGrado III, president of Local 17 of the United Steelworkers. "We've done it for the last 10 years," he said, alluding to past work-rule changes. "We want to see everybody else step up."
If we give a little flesh, we want some flesh in return from the contractors," said Robert Fulton, business manager for the Machinery Movers, Riggers & Machinery Erectors Local Union 136. Cost savings from concessions must be passed along to exhibitors, he said. Tim Roby, president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, testified that if the Legislature does nothing during its spring session, “at least five and as many as 20 shows will announce they are leaving.” Roby also said that the loss of those conventions puts at stake about 132,000 jobs — workers who directly support the tourism industry — and $656 million in tax revenue that supports everything from education to public safety. The five shows represented at the hearing last Thursday account for a collective $292 million in local spending.
Legislators in Illinois receive millions of dollars in campaign contributions from unions and they are not going to risk that money by forcing the unions to make any major concessions. I think they would rather divert tax revenues to subsidize McCormick than force unions to change their work rules. Martin Luther King Jr. said,”The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
John Cullerton is facing a great challenge here; will he be able to withstand the controversy? The issues are spicy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

GOOGLE THIS!

GOOGLE THIS! Last week, Jaye Williams, Cook County’s Chief Financial Officer, offered the position of Cook County Director of Risk Management to Stephen Hill. The job pays $127,000/year. Hill had worked at Cook County a number of years ago as a job benefits coordinator before leaving that position to become the manager of Detroit Public Schools Risk Management Office, a position he held from 2001-2005. Hill cleared a background check by Cook County Human Resources Director, Joe Sova. The research on Hill included a criminal background check, along with a drug and alcohol test. Gene Mullins, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger’s spokesman said that Hill’s resume was “impeccable.” Sounds like an easy hire, right? He was not related to Todd Stroger; so there should be no controversy. Au Contraire!
When Hill’s paperwork was submitted to Stroger’s office for final approval, Stroger’s Chief of Staff Joe Fratto ran a Google search of Hill. It took me 0.14 seconds to discover thousands of stories about Hill; it might have taken Fratto less time because the computers at Cook County are probably faster than mine.
So why so many stories about Stephen Hill? Because in June 2008 a lawsuit was filed by the Detroit Public School System against Hill ( a document running thousands of pages long) alleging Hill and his aide (former lover) Christina Polk-Osumah of diverting $57 million in illicit wire transfers to vendors who did little or no work. The vendors — friends or business associates of the pair — knew the payments were improper, but accepted them anyway, the district contends. According to the Detroit Free Press, “Hill was able to circumvent the district’s purchasing rules to approve more than $57 million in spending for unauthorized contracts through wire transfers, the suit alleges; often, the vendors were paid in full before they had performed any work. Hill created his own computer system that he used to hide improper financial transactions. He allegedly cooked two books, one for those who must scrutinize them and one for the ‘bag men’ who made off with kickbacks and alleged bribes.” The FBI is now investigating the scandal.
Hill’s trial is scheduled to start in July. How did he possible think he could get the time off from his new job at Cook County to defend himself in Detroit? Sneak out on furlough days? Say he was going out for lunch and forgot to come back to work? He currently does not have a lawyer and former attorney, Benjamin Whitfield Jr., said Hill may end up representing himself at the trial. “He’s very intelligent, and he can handle himself very competently with respect to these allegations,” Whitfield said.
According to the Sun Times, Mullins said Stroger would meet with the county’s human resources department to talk about possible changes in background checks on potential hires. Any woman preparing to go on a blind date runs a Google check on the prospective suitor. How come an HR department doesn’t check the Internet? What company conducts Cook County’s potential employee background checks and how can they still have a contract after missing something so obvious?
Public school officials in Detroit must be getting a real chuckle after hearing of the stupidity in Cook County. Detroit is supposed to have one of the worst education systems in the country; but they are certainly smarter than we are here because we were going to hire who they are planning to send to jail.
If Stroger Chief of Staff, Joe Fratto had not Googled the name Stephen Hill before signing off on the final paperwork, Hill would now be an employee of Cook County. Call it the flying fickle finger of fate.

Friday, April 2, 2010

GEORGE KING OF THE JUNGLE

GEORGE KING OF THE JUNGLE Currently, people living in the state of Illinois are not allowed to own, keep or harbor a dangerous animal. A dangerous animal, as defined by the Illinois Dangerous Animal Act, is a lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarondi, bear, hyena, wolf, coyote or any poisonous or life-threatening reptile. Missing from that list is actually the world’s most dangerous animal, the mosquito, an insect that causes 2-3 million fatalities a year. But I guess the wise men of Illinois don’t think anyone would keep a mosquito as a pet, so they have not banned it. Also missing from the Illinois dangerous list are shark, jellyfish, elephants, crocodiles and scorpions; all animals considered more dangerous than many that are already banned. State Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago) has introduced a bill into the Illinois House that would make it illegal to "keep, harbor, care for, act as custodian of or maintain" any primate – such as a monkey, lemur, chimpanzee, orangutan or gorilla. The measure would exempt zoos, circuses, science labs, universities, veterinary hospitals and animal refuges. Also exempt, according to the bill would be, “a person who is permanently disabled with severe mobility impairment from possessing a single capuchin monkey to assist the person in performing daily tasks if the capuchin money was obtained from and trained at a licensed nonprofit organization.”
It's illegal in 21 states to own primates as pets, and yet only five states ban any ownership of chimpanzees (They are an endangered species and can weigh up to 150 pounds.) The Humane Society of the United States estimates there are about 15,000 monkeys living as pets or in roadside zoos in the United States. There are 2,000 chimpanzees in the United States. Of those, 269 live in accredited zoos, 1,100 in laboratories, and the rest are either pets or are used in animal shows.
Humans are primates; but the bill exempts humans because it defines the types of primates that one is not allowed to own, keep or harbor as “non-human members of the order primate.”
I don’t understand why humans would be so cruel and want to privately own a primate. Even according to the web site The Primate Store (www.primatestore.com)—which encourages people to own monkeys and sells them says, “All monkeys bite. I guess it is needless to say that a baboon will bite a lot harder than a marmoset. Even with reduced teeth it will still hurt. If you take your monkey out in public you have to realize that when it would bite someone else that it could result in the loss of your monkey.”
I cannot fathom the type of person who would want to keep a monkey in captivity. Is it a power play because a monkey is so closely related to the human being? The human can “pretend” that the monkey is their friend because they cannot get real friends? The Primate Store web site also has on its home page,” Non-human primates are so closely related to us that it scares and excites us at the same. It is so incredible to see how they eat like we do, how they can climb, how they like to play hide and seek, how curious they are... Some monkey owners say their monkey is a family member, others talk about their children but they have all one thing in common; they love their monkeys so much that they will do the impossible for them!”
Rep. Burke’s bill is very important and should be supported to pass.
What is the “Kathy Twist” here, there is none; unless you look back at the last three blogs. Get it now? Don’t feel like a non-human primate if you don’t.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

IF I CLOSE MY EYES I WON’T SEE IT

IF I CLOSE MY EYES I WON’T SEE IT
Since nobody has responded to my offer of $1 trillion to anyone who understands the Health Care Reform Bill (blog of March 23, 2010), I am still assuming that I am the only person in America who has read through the 1990 pages of the bill. I might not have paid close attention to every page; but I did read them all. (Maybe not all, I fudged a bit!) Today we are dealing with pages 1510-1519 or Sec. 2572 or “Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu items at chain restaurants and of articles of food sold from vending machines.” This section only applies to restaurants with 20 or more locations; so Mr. Beef on Orleans is exempt. (We will never have to know how many calories are in a beef sandwich made “hot, sweet and juicy.”) On October 13, 2009, I posted a blog called, “Calories Listed on Menus Make No Difference.” I wrote the following: “So what are the results in New York City since calories have been listed on the menus? A recent study showed that diners at fast food outlets in NYC purchased a mean number of 825 calories before menu labeling was introduced and 846 calories after labeling was introduced. The amounts of saturated fat, sodium or sugar purchased did not change either after labels were posted. This seems to make no sense until one analyzes people’s thinking about the value of food.
Psychologically people make their food purchase decisions based on taste, cost, convenience, health and variety. If one can purchase a salad that has 100 calories and it costs $3 or one can purchase a hamburger with 500 calories for $3, it is perceived that the hamburger is a better value because one is getting “more for the money!” To people who don't have a lot of cash, it may seem like getting the 100 calorie salad would be throwing money away.” So even though studies have proven that posting calories make no difference in consumer food choices; Big Brother government is interfering in our lives and making it a national law to post calorie counts. I guess because Article One, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to provide for the General Welfare of the United States, that is how legislators justify being the calorie police. Because I have studied the section in the Health Care Bill on calorie posting rules, I have found an easy way for restaurants to circumvent the process; change the menu every 59 days and make all meals special order. Restaurants have to post calories except for the food exempted in sub-clause 9 (vii). The exemptions are: (aa) items that are not listed on a menu or menu board (such as condiments and other items placed on the table or counter for general use); (bb) daily specials, temporary menu items appearing on the menu for less than 60 days per calendar year, or custom or orders; or (cc) such other food that is part of a customary market test appearing on the menu for less than 90 days Following those exemptions, a clever chef and marketer could open a restaurant chain called, “No Calories Posted.” Since all of the menu items could be seasonal and changed every 59 days; there would be no Federal Law requiring the posting of calories. This restaurant could serve the most decadent food and patrons would not feel guilty eating the food because no calories would be listed. Or people could do what I do in many occasions of my life and just close their eyes and not see the calorie count. If one does not see it, then it does not exist!