URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Sunday, May 30, 2010

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE? NOT!

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE? NOT! I am a very fastidious person. That is obvious from my not eating food from street vendors ( Where are they washing their hands?), not going in a swimming pool (I want my face where your feet are?), not swimming in the ocean (Isn’t that where the fish defecate?), getting nauseous when I watch women get their make-up applied at a cosmetic counter in a department store ( the technician is using the same product on everyone!), so one can imagine what it does to me to not be able to shower when I am in the hospital! I am not excessively concerned with cleanliness; I do not have mysophobia or verminophobia. I just like to be reasonably hygienic! There is no “five second rule” for me when food falls on the floor—even if it would be something delicious to recover like a brownie or chocolate chip cookie. My life might not be next to Godliness, but it is as clean as possible. Sunday morning, waiting for my friend Lisa to pick me up to go to Northwestern Hospital, I changed my sheets and cleaned my home—even though the housekeeper was coming in two days. Because of the pain when I am standing and walking, it took me 37 minutes to make a fresh bed because I had to sit down every 45 seconds or so. Swiffering my hardwood floors (3000 square feet!) took another half hour but I could not leave my home knowing there was visible dust to the eye. What if someone came to my home while I was away and saw a mess? I would be humiliated! Because I never cook, the kitchen had no tasks to speak of except to wash the counters. Polishing all the end tables took another 17 minutes and cleaning my desk took 13. I have four bathrooms, but since I only use two of them on a regular basis, I accomplished making them hygienic in less than half an hour. I guess I might have rhypophobia (fear of filth or dirt) but everyone should have that disorder. Who likes dirt? Unless one has pica (medical disorder characterized by an appetite for dirt and other non-nutritive substances) and enjoys eating dirt; there is no use for dirt except as a home for worms! So this week, while I am at Northwestern, the only real fear I will have is athazagoraphobia (look it up!) Not from hospital staff (they are great!) but from the outside world because, as strange as it might seem, the world does not revolve around me!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

THE FATTY CLAUSE

THE FATTY CLAUSE If one is not able to fly in first class and is relegated to the coach section in the back, then the most comfortable seat in the house is the aisle seat in the emergency exit row. Not only does one get the most legroom; but also the opportunity to save themselves first in case of an emergency. I know that someone sitting in that seat is supposed to promise to help others off first; but cowards exit quickly. One proof of how desirable that row is can be verified by Qantas airline charging a fee of $130 for booking an exit row seat on its trans-Pacific flights. That translates into about $8.70/hour so it is not an outrageous amount to pay for the comfort. The Federal Aviation Administration set minimum standard rules in 1990 that one must qualify for to be able to sit in the emergency exit row. Southwest airlines list their own requirements on their web site www.southwest.com. The list is so onerous as to prevent anyone from ever wanting to take responsibility for the task. But since most people do not know all the rules; they take the seat for the legroom.

RULES FOR SITTING IN AN EMERGENCY ROW 1. Recognize the emergency exit opening mechanism. 2. Comprehend the instructions for operating the emergency exit. 3. Operate the emergency exit. 4. Assess whether opening the emergency exit will increase the hazards to which passengers may be exposed. 5. Follow oral directions and hand signals given by a crew member. 6. Secure the emergency exit window so that it will not impede use of the exit. 7. Pass expeditiously through the emergency exit. 8. Assess, select, and follow a safe path away from the emergency exit. In addition, to comply with federal regulations, a passenger seated in an exit seat must have sufficient mobility, strength or dexterity in both arms and hands and both legs to:

1. Reach upward, sideways, and downward to the location of emergency exit. 2. Grasp and push, pull, turn, or otherwise manipulate mechanisms. 3. Push, shove, pull or otherwise open the emergency exit. 4. Lift out, hold, deposit on nearby seats, or maneuver over the seatbacks to the next row or out the opening objects the size and weight of overwing window exit doors. 5. Remove objects similar in size and weight to overwing exit windows.
6. Reach the emergency exit expeditiously. 7. Maintain balance while removing obstructions. 8. Exit expeditiously.
A passenger seated in an exit seat must:
1. Be 15 years of age or older. 2. Have the capacity to perform the applicable functions without the assistance of an adult companion, parent, or other relative. 3. Have the ability to read and understand instructions related to emergency evacuation provided by Southwest in printed or graphic form. 4. Have the ability to understand oral crew commands. 5. Have sufficient visual capacity to perform applicable functions without the assistance of visual aids beyond contact lenses or eyeglasses. 6. Have sufficient aural capacity to hear and understand instructions shouted by flight attendants without assistance beyond a hearing aid. 7. Have the ability to adequately impart information orally to other passengers.
A passenger seated in an exit seat must NOT:
1. Have preboarded. 2. Use a portable oxygen concentrator. 3. Require a seat belt extension to fasten his or her seat belt. 4. Have a condition or responsibilities, such as caring for small children, that might prevent them from performing the applicable functions. 5. Have a condition that might cause the person harm if he or she performs one or more of the applicable functions.
This list includes a requirement that only Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and AirTran have and other airlines don’t; that is the “Fatty Clause.” No other airline bans overweight people who use seat extenders from sitting on an emergency exit row seat. Randy Diamond, who writes the Travel Maze column for Daily Finance, is a seat belt extender user and was banned from the emergency exit row on Southwest. When he asked for a reason why for the “Fatty Clause,” Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Brandy King e-mailed him the statement: "The reason behind the policy is safety,'' she said.”It supports our ability to assist passengers in exiting the aircraft in an expeditious manner in the event of an emergency." That is not much of an answer. At least Alaska Airlines, which has the same rule, gave him a more detailed explanation. Spokeswoman Bobbi Egan said that the seat belt extender creates a "potential safety hazard." "With an extender, a seat belt can stretch across the floor and could become a tripping hazard for people exiting through the emergency exits."
Diamond wrote, “I guess that makes sense, but then shouldn't laptop cords be banned in the exit row as well?” The only way that airlines can REALLY know if a passenger is capable of handling all of the responsibilities of sitting in an exit row is if they had a test upon boarding for visual and aural capacity, dexterity, strength, mobility, and the ability to lift 50 pounds. Being fat is visible to the naked eye; being smart isn’t.

QUACKING IN HIS BOOTS

QUACKING IN HIS BOOTS In the “fowl” world of Illinois politics, if something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck; it is a duck. So I can understand the concern of Governor Quinn that if he signed the McCormick Place overhaul legislation, that includes appointing Jim Reilly as trustee, the stench could be awful. Quinn is trying to avoid stepping in duck poop. So on Wednesday afternoon, he vetoed the bill. The background, according to the April 29th Chicago Tribune, “Exhibitors' rights likely would include greater ability to set up booths and displays, including the use of some power tools and ladders. Show-floor labor rules likely would reduce the size of various work crews and the number of union stewards working the halls, while at the same time expanding the hours when workers would be paid straight time. That move would reduce time-and-a-half and double-time pay. These rules, at least in theory, would supersede terms in collective bargaining agreements between the two major show contractors — Freeman and Global Experience Specialists, or GES — and the unions that work the shows.” Until 18 months ago, Jim Reilly was a paid consultant to both Freeman and GES. Unions have objected to the fact that Reilly consulted for the two major trade-show contractors during contract talks with the unions, including the Teamsters and carpenters in previous negotiations with McCormick Place. As trustee, Reilly would have broad decision-making power to oversee restructuring the Chicago convention center. Reilly says he sees no conflict of interest; just changing the side of the table he will be sitting at. I am not questioning whether Jim Reilly is capable of handling the job as trustee, I am questioning whether it is smart to choose someone who has “jumped the fence,” when there are probably a score of other equally capable people to fill the job. Asked if he had a specific issue with Reilly, Quinn said, "I just think anytime you have one person running anything, you've got to make sure you've got accountability." While Reilly has assured everyone that he will be “accountable” to the needs of McCormick Place; he used to be “accountable” to the very trade shows he would now be working against. Quinn was under tremendous pressure to sign the bill because he has been told in a letter from Philip Brandl, president of the International Housewares Association, the second-largest trade show that the governor had until Friday to sign a bill to revamp the work rules at McCormick Place or the show is leaving town. The letter said, “Chicago would be and is our choice . . . but not without the substantial reform this bill can enact. The lack of signature to this bill will ultimately send us and other vitally important trade show business elsewhere." Greg Hinz in his column in Crain’s Chicago Business reported that, “The show is prepared to renew for "three to five years" in Chicago if the legislation is signed, Mr. Brandl said. The show attracted nearly 60,000 participants in March and injected an estimated $82 million into Chicago's economy.” So Quinn is now left flapping his wings. He has vetoed the bill and now will have to endure the wrath of conventioneers who gave him a deadline and Mayor Daley who does not want to see trade shows leave the city and lose the jobs and tax revenues. In his veto message he said, “In accordance with Article IV, Section 9(e) of the Illinois Constitution, I hereby return Senate Bill 28 with specific recommendations for change.” One of the obstacles he pointed out was that, “by naming a specific individual as a trustee, this bill violates Article IV, section 13 of the Illinois Constitution which states that,’ The General Assembly shall pass no special of local law when a general law is or can be made applicable.” Second, if the Trustee was unable to serve, or if the Trustee failed to carry out his duties, no mechanism exists to protect the people of our State form a void at the Authority.” His citing of Article IV was a very clever way to be able to NOT have Reilly be the Trustee but without making it seem personal. If he had signed the bill that appointed Reilly as trustee, the unions would have been upset; by not signing trade shows leave. The decision was not of his making, he was just following the law of the Illinois Constitution. He cleverly avoided getting poop on his shoes!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

DUCHESS OF PORK CAUGHT OINKING

DUCHESS OF PORK CAUGHT OINKING
When someone is caught, basically red-handed, committing a crime or a misdeed, there are three ways to essentially handle it.
One is to obfuscate the issues. Be like former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and begin by saying that, "I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I'm not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing," and then throw in that the prosecutors are lying about why they won’t play all the tapes;"And the reason they won't play all those tapes is because they're covering up that big lie that foreseeably led to a chain of events that stole a governor from the people of Illinois and undid the will of the people.” And don’t forget to play the “wife and Mother card; "Patti is a devoted mother; she's a loving wife." She works hard in everything that she does ... and all that money she earned she worked for."
The second way is to totally deny it without any caveats like former President Bill Clinton did. Wag your finger at the audience and say,” I did not have sexual relations with that woman. These allegations are false.”
The final solution is to admit you did it and express regret. I have great respect for the former Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, who when she was caught on tape influence peddling her former husband’s connection with a faux businessman/tabloid reporter, immediately apologized for what she did.
Fergie could have pulled a “Blago” and told how she was desperate for the money because she only receives $22,000/year from her ex-husband; so she did what she did for the good of her children—like Blago claimed he was doing for the good of the people of Illinois. Or done a “Clinton” and denied it even though she was caught on videotape. She could have claimed that she knew it was a reporter and was actually doing a “double-whammy sting.”
How refreshing that a person of prominence followed the advice of an old Scottish proverb (“Open confession is good for the soul.”) and told the truth and asked for forgiveness. No waffling, no excuses, just confession.
Associated Content of England reported the story this way, “In the sting operation set up by News of the World, the transaction was discussed and set up in a New York hotel. The actual bribe took place in London. The video was taken of Sarah Ferguson and the undercover reporter Tuesday evening after a dinner where a suspicious Ferguson kept asking the faux businessman if he were actually a reporter for News of the World or some other tabloid. After numerous assurances and the lure of the bribe, Sarah Ferguson went back to the Mayfair hotel with the undercover reporter and got her money. It was during this time that the incriminating video was shot of the former Duchess of York, claiming to have access to Prince Andrew and his ties through his position as a United Kingdom Special Representative of Trade and Investment. She insisted that Prince Andrew knew about the dealings -- had even suggested the amount that the businessman should pay for the influential service he would provide -- and would compensate the businessman well once another $725,000 was wired to Ferguson's HSBC bank account. She noted that it would "open doors." She took a black computer bag, which was stuffed with the $40,000, and left.”
The next chapter in the scandal is that in the video footage filmed by the reporter from News of The World, the duchess appears to accept a $40,000 down payment in cash. What happens to that money now? I think she should keep it! It might be morally wrong, but since she is not going to be following through on the conditions of the bribe; then the money is not actually “bribe money” anymore.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

DA COACH Without the fear of sounding sexist (because I don’t really care what people think!), when you say “Coach” to men in Chicago it can only mean Mike Ditka and when you say it to women, it is a leather handbag. A purse that is not expensive or exclusive enough to be considered a designer bag; but still held in esteem by some. I have passed the store on Michigan Avenue for years and have never ventured in. At their web site (www.coach.com), new styles start at about $150; but at their outlet site (www.coachoutlets-stores.com) the bags only cost about $60. So if one can buy a genuine Coach purse for $60; why would one bother buying a knock-off?
I first read the story about the manufacturer of Coach bags suing the City of Chicago in Shia Kapos’ column, “Taking Names”, last Friday, in Crain’s Chicago Business (www.chicagobusiness.com). The city is being sued (Coach Inc. v. City of Chicago, 10cv3108, in the Northern District of Illinois) because they have failed to take measures to halt the sale of counterfeit Coach Bags at the Maxwell Street Market. "Defendants are well aware of the extraordinary fame and strength of the Coach brand, the Coach trademarks, the Coach trade dresses and the Coach design elements and the incalculable good will associated therewith," the complaint reads. Bloomberg News reports that, “The New York-based leather goods maker is seeking statutory damages of $2 million for each counterfeit item and mark, as well as a court order directing the city to "recall" and deliver to Coach all of the offending items.”
Two vendors and 100 unnamed “John Does” were also named as defendants. One of them was accused of selling 135 fake Coach purses. The lawsuit claims that a Coach investigator went to the market in August, 2009 and saw vendors selling “counterfeit Coach products in plain view.” Two vendors were subsequently arrested by Chicago police for selling a Coach knock-off for $18 and a Chanel fake for $24. But, when a Coach investigator returned to the market earlier this year, Coach knock-offs were still being sold with impunity, the lawsuit states. In December, Coach sent a “cease and desist” notice to the city demanding a crackdown to stop the illegal activity. But the sales persist.
Because the city is allegedly sustaining a street market where counterfeit goods are sold, they can be held responsible. Not being an attorney (but I play one on television), I might not be totally correct here, but the theory seems to be of the same genre that allows police to investigate and prosecute property owners who permit or encourage criminal activity to occur on their property.
According to the law department section of the City of Chicago web site, “Attorneys review the police reports, meet with potential witnesses and visit the subject property with police personnel in order to determine which cases to prosecute. Attorneys also meet with community groups to determine which properties harbor criminal activity in their neighborhood. The Department of Buildings conducts inspections on all problem buildings referred by police for Drug and Gang House prosecution. Prosecutors file cases against property owners in either Administrative Hearings or Circuit court and seek, not only fines, but abatement measures to curb crime at the property.”
So if the City can prosecute landlords who, even unknowingly, allow criminal activity at their property, it would make sense that the City could be sued for permitting Maxwell Street vendors to sell illegal counterfeit goods on city property.
So now we, the legal-abiding taxpayers of Chicago, not the offending vendors, will have to pay the attorney's fees to defend the City in this lawsuit. Maybe we can pay the bill with counterfeit money.

Monday, May 24, 2010

PAGING SEYMOUR BUTTS The character Bart on The Simpsons cartoon TV show loves pranking Moe Szyslak, the bartender voiced by Hank Azaria, by calling his bar and asking for Seymour Butts to be paged. Moe walks around, holding the phone, shouting out in his raspy voice,“ Seymour Butts, phone call for Seymour Butts” while young Bart laughs hysterically in the receiver. In April 2008, a study by researchers at the University of Wolverhampton in England found that the oldest recorded joke*, from 1900 B.C. in Sumeria, now southern Iraq, was about female flatulence. (The joke is copied at the end of the blog. I did not find it funny.) This affirms that scatological humor has been around for at least 4,000 years. Mayor Richard Daley has made Chicago the “butt of jokes” internationally with his quote last week in response to a question of a reporter from “The Reader” asking how effective Chicago’s gun ban has been. "If I put this up your butt, you'll find out how effective it is," Mayor Daley said as he picked up a rifle and answered a reporter who questioned the effectiveness of the city's gun ban. Toilet humor aside, the answer makes no sense. If criminals have guns in their possession to put up someone’s butt, then the ban is not effective. All the stories on the subject have dealt with the horror of the mayor of the third largest city in America using the word, “butt.” No one has dealt with what he meant by it. In his apology the next day he said,” We have to rouse the American public. Maybe I shocked everybody, and maybe you realize it now, how guns kill and destroy and injure people on a daily basis," he said. "It's something you can't laugh at." He might have shocked people with his use of the word “butt,” but he still has not answered the question about the effectiveness of gun control.
He further demonstrated his stupidity with a repartee about the gun he had picked up as a demonstration model. "It was a gun with a bayonet," Daley said. "Just think, a gun with a bayonet. What is a bayonet used for?" When he was told that bayonets are not for sticking in rear ends, Daley replied, "Well, you stick it anyplace. It's a bayonet, so let's not make trivia about this."
How could he not know what a bayonet is used for? Maybe because the word had more than four letters he was confused.
The Mayor is worried that the Supreme Court will overturn the decades old handgun ban. They have heard oral arguments and we are now awaiting a ruling which is expected in June. Mayor Daley said that if the ban is overturned he might move to require gun registration, ballistics tests, purchase of liability insurance and a training course for people who buy firearms. I agree with him on all of his points. I am a proponent of gun control; but what he suggests is useless against criminals having guns. His requirements would only make it tougher for law abiding citizens to own guns; it would do nothing to combat illegal street guns.
In light of all the interest paid to the Mayor’s “butt” remark, little attention was brought to his comment about hoping the Supreme would rule in his favor. “Maybe they’ll see the light of day. Maybe one of them will have an incident and they’ll change their mind overnight,” he said. Does that sound like an Al Capone type threat? If an ordinary citizen, waiting for a Supreme Court ruling, talked about an “incident” occurring against a Judge he would be arrested for threatening intimidation. But nobody has paid much notice to Da Mayor saying it. Somebody should tell U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; but we all know what happens to whistleblowers in Chicago. They get a proverbial bayonet up their butt.
*First recorded joke,1900 B.C.(which makes no sense to me): "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Friday, May 21, 2010

ILLEGALLY BLIND

ILLEGALLY BLIND William Holland, the Illinois Auditor General has been working hard the past week. First we learned about all the financial improprieties in the All Kids health insurance program (blog of May 19-All Kids Health Insurance is Making Me Sick) and now we learn that former Governor Blagojevich used taxpayer money to pay for attorneys that was not only of “questionable benefit to the state” but was billed to state agencies that had nothing to do with the legal work.
Since the payments involved covered the period from July 2007 to June 2009, why did it take until now to discover this? The compliance examination showed that Blagojevich spent $7.2 million on 62 contracts for outside legal counsel, many times firms hired without competitive bidding. For example, the state police and the Department of Children and Family Services were charged for and paid legal bills related to Blagojevich's impeachment; including depositions of Blago’s staff in regard to his appointment of the U.S. Senator to replace Obama. I don’t understand how that can happen. Why wouldn’t the director of a state agency that has a bottom line budget know that money was being appropriated from his budget for expenditures not related to that agency?
The compliance examination for the two years ending June 30,2009 specifically reported that, “During the engagement period, the Office executed 62 contracts with outside legal counsel for over $7.2 million. Hourly rates ranged from $75 to $425 per hour. Our classification of these contracts showed 29 of the 62 contracts (47%) were for general legal representation while the rest were for legal work as appointed Special Assistant Attorneys General. None of the 29 general legal representation contracts, totaling $5.2 million, were competitively bid. Of the $7.2 million in legal contracts, the Office of the Governor paid a total of $21,775 over the two years examined. Eighteen other State agencies via interagency agreements paid the rest, ranging from $1.5 million and $1.2 million for Central Management Services and Healthcare and Family Services, respectively, to $3,078 and $2,164 for State Board of Education and Capital Development Board. There was no documentation to show how payment percentages by agency for individual contracts were determined or what benefits agencies received.” It is astonishing that $7.2 million dollars was diverted from tight agency budgets and no one at the agencies knew it. The Comptroller can’t possibly be paying bills accrued by office and charging the ledger of another. Where was Dan Hynes through all of this? Some more shocking findings from the Auditor’s General report, “We reviewed all billings submitted for outside legal service providers for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. In total, we questioned $1.1 million (15%) of the total $7.2 million in expenditures for the 62 contracts. Specifically, we noted: - In 14 contracts (23%) State agencies paid for services of attorneys that had not been specifically appointed by the Attorney General. - In 13 contracts (21%) firms billed individuals as attorneys that had not yet been licensed. - In 16 contracts (26%) State agencies paid for services that occurred prior to the execution of the contract or prior to a specific appointment by the Attorney General. - In 15 contracts (24%) billing rates were either not specified or higher than contract rates. - In 9 contracts (15%) firms billed for legal research on days when the individual had either not charged any time to the State contract or the time had been denied by the Office.”
Not understanding how state agencies could not know what was going on; I called upon State Representative Jack Franks who is Chairman of the State Governance Administration Committee in the House of Representatives for assistance in understanding this. Franks told me that this practice had been going on for years and he had held hearings on the matter. When he asked various agency director’s why they allowed it, their answer was that Robert Greenlee, the Deputy Governor and former Governor Blagojevich’s attorney had directed them to do it. Franks told them they were blatantly breaking the law. That they had budgets with specific line items; by their allowing these expenditures it was like pretending that their budgets were only a suggestion and they would spend the money any way they wanted to. To remind readers, Robert Greenlee, who resigned on December 10, 2008 the day after Blago was arrested is identified as “Deputy Governor A” in the former Governor’s indictment. When Blago uttered the famous phrase heard on the federal prosecutor’s tapes of "Now is the time for me to put my f------- children and my wife first, for a change," he was speaking to Greenlee.
So Agency Directors knew what was going on but pretended not to perceive. They believed what Greenlee told them instead of what they saw with their own eyes. I guess you could call them illegally blind.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MOVING MONEY AROUND

MOVING MONEY AROUND I don’t always understand how government bodies decide to move money around from one pot to another to pay for various programs that sometimes have nothing to do with the program that is supplying the money. The City of Chicago is billions of dollars in the red. The Mayor sold off the parking meter system to help balance the budget. The revenue from the sale should be used for budget items that benefit ALL Chicagoans. After all, the meters belonged to all of us.
So I was confused when I read that the city has created a program called Chicago Career Tech which is being paid for with $25 million in parking meter proceeds. Last Monday when the program was announced the Mayor told Chicago Career Tech’s first class, "Waking up this morning -- of all the things I've done as Mayor -- this is one of the most exciting Monday mornings. Career Tech, according to the city’s web site is,“ a new public-private partnership whose goal is to re-train unemployed middle class workers and put them back to work in areas such as health care, information technology, telecommunications, digital media and other fast-growing industries with increasing career opportunities. “ There are 175 people in the first class--and you and I are paying for their training with the parking meter money that is supposed to help balance the budget. Career Tech might be a great program, but why is parking meter money being used to pay for it? Also, is the program so incredible that in all the years of Daley being Mayor it was one of his most exciting mornings? I guess if Chicago had gotten the 2016 Olympics, the next day would have been one of his most exciting mornings. Loser!
Chicago taxicab and limousine drivers want Gov. Quinn to veto the portion of the McCormick Place overhaul that doubles — to $4 — the tax they pay to pick up passengers at O’Hare and Midway airports. The Sun Times reported that, ” The Illinois General Assembly authorized the 100 percent increase to raise $6 million a year to boost the marketing budget of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. Another $2 million — or 25 percent of all revenue generated by the increase — would go to the village of Rosemont for its convention center.”
Chicago cabbies are upset that one quarter of the money is going to Rosemont when they are not permitted to pick up passengers there. I agree with their outrage but for a different reason-- why should I, a Chicagoan, pay to subsidize Rosemont? I have no problem with charging tourists and people who actually use the Rosemont Convention Center a fee to financially support the venue; but I never go there.
If limo or cab passengers who are going to the airport had to show their state ID, we could charge the “foreigners” the extra fee. Don’t take the money from a Chicago citizen’s wallet. People in Rosemont are wealthy the estimated median house or condo value in 2008 was $429,221; the state median is $214,900. Rosemont public schools have about 12 students per teacher. We are more than double that in Chicago and we are going to send that city money?
The only way the surcharge would benefit Chicagoans is if as independent cabdriver Melissa Callahan said, “The more taxes that are added to taxi fares, the less likely someone will be to take a taxi [at O’Hare or Midway] instead of jumping on the CTA.” I guess if they triple the surcharge and no one takes cabs anymore, we will have solved the CTA budget shortfall with the extra ridership revenues. That would be a smart way to move money around.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ALL KIDS HEALTH INSURANCE IS MAKING ME SICK

ALL KIDS HEALTH INSURANCE IS MAKING ME SICK My health insurance is provided by ICHIPS (Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan) which is administered by Blue Cross. It is not state funded; it is a pool of high risk people who are unable to obtain private health insurance due to health conditions. The premiums are extremely high. Nobody would voluntarily elect to have ICHIPS coverage unless there were no other option. Even though one pays astronomically for this coverage, one has to prove that they need it. The paperwork and acceptance process is arduous. So it is astonishing to me that an audit of ALL KIDS health insurance (a program implemented by then Governor Blagojevich in 2006), which is a subsidized plan for lower-income families, showed lax application and payment findings. Last week the results of the first annual audit of ALL KIDS was released by William Holland, the Illinois Auditor General. It covers FY 2009. The program was implemented in 2006; so why weren’t there any previous annual audits? It seems a bit fishy. The report started off with,” The focus of this audit is on “EXPANDED ALL KIDS,” which is the portion of the ALL KIDS program that serves uninsured children not previously covered by KidCare (i.e., those children whose family income was greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level or who were undocumented immigrants). The results of the audit were shocking. The scathing report was 14 pages long and Senate Minority leader Christine Radogno laid out some of the mismanagement issues in an e-mail she sent out:
--Children have been receiving All Kids benefits beyond the cut-off age; --Illinois residency requirements are not being verified; --Undocumented immigrants are not being required to provide birth or identity documentation, making it difficult to verify age requirements or confirm the child’s identity; --Inconsistent income documentation and income verification procedures made it impossible to determine whether eligibility was determined correctly; --Incorrect data reports relating to the classification of undocumented immigrants have led to the loss of federal matching funds; and --All Kids coverage is not being terminated when enrollees fail to pay premiums.
One of my favorite sections of the audit revealed that a marketing agreement had been entered into by The Illinois Department of Health & Family Services (HFS) with Greer Margolis Mitchell Burns, Inc./Fleishman Hillard (GMBB) for $3 million to increase ALL KIDS enrollment. But the audit revealed that the state spent $8 million with no documentation to show why such an increase was necessary or justified.
Specifically the report stated,” In the announcement posted in the Illinois Procurement Bulletin, HFS estimated the total cost of the ALL KIDS marketing strategy to be $3 million over three years (an initial term and two one-year renewals). While HFS increased the contractual obligation under the ALL KIDS marketing contract from a renewal amount of $250,000 to the $5.3 million HFS actually spent with GMMB on the contract in FY07, there was no documentation to show why such an increase was necessary or justified. HFS officials provided change order justifications signed by an HFS official and indicated these were necessary for pass through costs of media buys. These forms gave only generic reasons why the changes were being made, did not match up to the media buy figures, and presented conflicting figures. In the Procurement Business Case, the economic justification states that the “expenditures for the ALL KIDS Outreach Activities, as described in this procurement business case, would be claimable for matching funds at the appropriate FFP rate.” However, more than $2 million in expenses for the Health Portal Ad Campaign were not eligible for matching funds yet were paid under the marketing strategy contract.
The section of the audit on the marketing payments and lack of work product is documented in multiple pages. The part about the procurement process almost sounds fraudulent. "The procurement process for the ALL KIDS marketing strategy contained deficiencies. During our review we found that HFS:"
(1) Did not require the bidders to identify what staff would be working on the project; and
(2) Utilized a pricing evaluation formula which was not published in the Request for Proposal (RFP), a formula which directly affected which bidder was awarded the contract. HFS lacked documented policies and procedures for evaluating billings submitted for the marketing strategy contract with GMMB.”
There are so many unanswered questions after one reads the audit. So how will the state recover the misallocated marketing funds? Can GMMB be sued for recovery? What about the HFS officials who signed off on the payments? Will they be fired? What about families whose assets exceeded the income limit and were erroneously part of the program? Can they be forced to repay the benefits they received? The same for families who received benefits when their children were past the cut off age. None of this will happen.
Once again, we taxpayers are the ones who will be paying the bills of the cheaters. The actor Jeff Goldblum once said, “My friend Ed Begley goes fishing. It's a little smelly to me; I don't like it so much. I like to eat fish, but I don't like to catch them.” And in Illinois we seem not to like to catch the crooks.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

AS TRANSPARENT AS AN OPAQUE WINDOW

AS TRANSPARENT AS AN OPAQUE WINDOW Almost every day we read a story in the newspapers or see a report on the evening news about another investigation that the Better Government Association or the media itself has uncovered about corruption in City Hall. We have almost become blasé when we learn of another outrage with contracts or job hiring because there is such a surfeit of shocking scandal. But thank goodness the time is spent researching these scandals or we would know nothing. The media uncovers these stories through a conglomeration of leads, inside sources and whistle blowers. But usually the final smoking gun information comes through a filing of a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) that seals the deal. When a media outlet is working on an investigative story it requires the use of many resources and keeping the inquiry confidential so other media won’t know what they are working on. The City of Chicago’s new updated web site has now made that impossible. All FOIA requests are now available on-line to be seen by anyone at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/progs/foia.html. At a press conference last week, in a press release I obtained from the updated website, “Mayor Richard M. Daley said new information has been added to the City’s website that represents another step toward his goal of better managing government by making Chicago government more accountable, open and transparent. ‘That’s the kind of government the residents of Chicago want, and it’s the kind of government that I want,’ the Mayor said in a news conference held at City Hall. “ By making FOIA requests public knowledge, City Hall has actually made the concept of “transparency” opaque (difficult). Now one medium can discover what department of City Hall the other medium is scrutinizing. It will makes investigations into shenanigans at City Hall more complicated instead of easier. The Mayor and his people know that, but they are posting the information under the guise of transparency. The new state law on FOIA law requires every department to maintain a log of all FOIA requests, including the name of the requestor, a description of the request and the submission and due dates. The law does not require the log to be posted online, but Daley said the City is going above and beyond what's required and taking that extra step to post the logs online -- effective now -- in the interest of transparency and the free flow of information. Chicago is the only government organization in the nation that posts logs for every city department and updates them daily. Chicago should not lauded for being the only government agency in the country that posts the FOIA logs. If it were a good thing, other cities would have already been doing it. But they’re not; so as Hamlet said, “there’s the rub.”

Monday, May 17, 2010

CARPE DIEM

CARPE DIEM I have no adventure in my soul. I don’t even like leaving the six block zone around my home because everyone knows me here. I am certainly not exploratory either when it comes to food. I met Palmer House Hilton Executive Chef Phillip Foss when he appeared on Mancow’s radio show. One of the featured dishes he had brought was “Buffalo Sloppy Joe.” I don’t know what gave me the courage to eat it, but I did. It was incredible and I became a “Foss Fan.” When Foss informed me that he was testing recipes for Asian carp, I was skeptical. This species of fish has not gotten good PR (It needs a good publicist! Nobody liked Pantagonian toothfish until it changed its name to Chilean sea bass) and has been called a destructive fish because officials feel its presence could devastate the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry. Foss had been approached to see if he could create any recipes to make Asian Carp a palatable food for Americans. His web site, www.thepickledtongue.com, has a number of postings telling of his attempts to deal with the fish. He wrote there,” Misconceptions are plentiful regarding the fish: It IS healthy to eat. It is NOT a bottom feeder like yellow carp. It does NOT eat other fish. It DOES taste good and is eaten all over the world.” Upon invitation, I decided to be brave and go to Lockwood restaurant at the Palmer House and eat Asian carp. I took my friend Stella Black with me because since her campaign for Commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District she has been working with several agencies, legislators, and non for profit groups that are interested in finding a solution to the Asian carp problem that would benefit all the various groups that are effected by its presence. We dressed up in our “Sunday Go to Meeting” clothes because the hotel is so elegant and we didn’t want embarrass ourselves by looking like country yokels! Foss came to our table, we spoke and then the dreaded moment came when we were served the first appetizer dish. Named, “Shanghai Bass (aka Asian Carp),” it is a ceviche (citrus marinated seafood) of carp, shrimp, roasted peppers, pickled cucumber and olive tapenade. I was scared to try it because I thought I would hate the ceviche style. I had originally planned to pretend to eat it and then hid the remains under my napkin when no one was looking. I was shocked to discover that I loved it! I devoured the dish and glanced over to Stella’s plate just in case she had not finished hers so I could steal it away. Unfortunately for me, she had finished her portion also. His second rendition then came out and was goujonettes (small strips cut from a fillet that are breaded and fried) of Asian Carp with a Spring Salad of stinging nettles, five varieties of shaved carrot, pickled cucumber, artichokes, asparagus, citrus and pine nuts. Once again the food was consumed faster than a speeding race car driver at the Indy 500. Stella and I settled back and just kept looking at each other and sighing with contentment, not believing the power of the blend of the flavors that the Chef had created. The mise-en-scène of the plate was impeccable.
Foss started his culinary career as the “Malt Man” at a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop and has “chefed” at three legendary four star New York restaurants; Quilted Giraffe, Lafayette and most influentially, Le Cirque. He has worked under Jean-Georges Vongerichten and has had the privilege to cook for several U.S. presidents, including Nixon, Reagan and Clinton, and for Pope John Paul II.
From being a short order cook in a diner where he learned the intricate technique behind grilled cheese sandwiches, to being an entremetier, a poissonier, a sous chef and now his current Executive Chef position with Hilton, Foss has cooked it all. His mantra is perpetual innovation. Mise en place in French means putting in place and Foss has created a new place for Asian Carp. Instead of Carpe Diem, it should be Carpe Carp at Lockwood.

Friday, May 14, 2010

IF PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE, THEY SHOULD PAY THE PRICE!

IF PEOPLE ARE DESPERATE, THEY SHOULD PAY THE PRICE! In two past blogs, (Credit Card Companies Are Not All bad- May 23, 2009 and You Owe You Should Pay-Feb 19, 2010), I defended the interest that credit card companies charge. I pointed out that 26 percent of Americans, or more than 58 million adults, admit to not paying all of their bills on time. (Source: National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 2009 Financial Literacy Survey, April 2009) When one does not pay their bills, they obviously have to suffer the consequence and pay for the privilege of borrowing money. Interest is what is charged when you borrow the money from a company or person. Don’t borrow and you don’t have to pay! It is that simple. Because there are so many deadbeats in the world, companies base the amount of the interest they will charge on the ability of the borrower to pay the money back. The worse one’s credit score, the higher the interest rate charged. If a company is worried about one’s paying back a loan, they have to charge a high interest rate. This is third grade mathematics.
People who are really desperate for money and cannot get bank or credit card loans resort to what are called payday loans. They are totally unsecured loans and have an extremely high interest rate because of the massive default on repayment. These companies are not predators as described by the media, but businesses that serve a purpose. Nobody is holding a gun to people’s heads telling them they have to get a payday loan; they do it by free choice. Crain’s reports that the Consumer Installment Act is expected to be amended to impose a cap of 99% interest on consumer installment loans under $4,000. The Payday Loan Reform Act will be amended to increase terms of loans to six months.
Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois praised the legislation, which is expected to pass the House when lawmakers return to Springfield saying “We will for the first time have set rates on these unsecured loans made to the most vulnerable borrowers.”
The borrowers are vulnerable, why? Because they are paying high interest rates for unsecured loans! What caused them to be “vulnerable?” Their own act of being deadbeats! Their being vulnerable is not the same as the vulnerability of a child who is susceptible to attack or injury. This is self-inflicted vulnerability. I have no sympathy.
According to Crain’s, “The compromise, negotiated by bill sponsor Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, would impose a cap of 99% on consumer installment loans under $4,000 and 36% for those above that threshold. Previously, interest rates under the consumer installment loans were unregulated, leading payday lenders subject to rate caps to offer slightly longer-term loans in order to fall under the less stringent law.
The Payday Loan Reform Act, meanwhile, would be amended to increase the allowed terms of the loans to six months from four. Remaining the same is the limit of charging no more than $15.50 per $100 loaned out every two weeks.” “For our association, it’s a very hard to swallow,” said Steve Brubaker, executive director of the Illinois Small Loan Association. “We do expect to see store closures and job losses. “ How will that affect the industry? Fewer lenders will result in more people who are desperate for a loan and cannot get it. More desperate people will result in more crime. More crime, more costs for law enforcement. So the bottom line is that that it will cost the good citizen tax-payer if the law changes.
So once again the people who pay their bills on time will be punished because of those who don’t. But as Microsoft founder Bill Gates said, “Life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

GEORGE WASHINGTON DID NOT SLEEP HERE The next time your Congressman comes up to you and asks for your vote for re-election, ask him where he lives when he is spending time in Washington, D.C. While most have homes, Rep. Mike Quigley, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Dan Lipinski and Rep. Bobby Rush sleep in their offices. While Rush’s spokeswoman Sharon Jenkins says the Congressman’s habits “Vary from hotel use to office sofa depending on his schedule/mood or comfort level," Quigley proudly sleeps on the floor on a mattress. Being a person of impeccable hygiene, I find it disgusting that a Congressman (or anybody) would sleep on the floor of their office. Rep. Mike Quigley justifies his revolting living condition by citing two reasons; one is frugality and the other is image. While he earns, $174,000 as a Congressman, he told the Chicago Tribune, “I like to think that this reinforces the point that I live in the district, that I spend most of my time in the district, and I'm trying to be in solid contact with my constituents."
The Tribune also reported that, “With two daughters in private college, Quigley says his home in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood is all he can afford. Moreover, planting roots in the nation's capital — a place plenty of Americans love to hate — doesn't seem like good politics to Quigley, who is fifth from the bottom of the House seniority list.”
Reporter Katherine Skiba wrote, “On a night last week, Quigley shed his power suit and slapped a sign on the door to Room 1319 in the Longworth Building, giving fair warning to third-shift cleaning crews.”Member sleeping," it announces. "Miembro durmiente." By morning, he would stash the mattress into a private hallway and the sheets and pillow in a metal filing cabinet.” I wonder where he stashes his clean underwear? How reassuring to know that a legislator who could be voting on a crucial issue of national security has not gotten a good night’s rest, but instead slept restlessly on the floor of his office. The United States is the wealthiest country in the world and it is an international embarrassment that we have Congressmen sleeping under almost the same conditions as a homeless man on a park bench in Washington. When I checked into the hospital a few weeks ago, I had a list of 37 personal items I needed to make my stay more comfortable. This inventory did not even include clothes because I know I would never be changing out of the backless green gown. I live one block from Northwestern, yet I had to have my friend Patti drive me over because of the amount of baggage I had. It takes more than a mattress and a blanket for me to be able to sleep and be comfortable. Obviously Quigley is not as “high maintenance” as to require a toothbrush. There are a few occasions when it is okay to make the decision not to seek the comfort of a bed. My friend Linda slept askew in a chair in ICU to make sure I did not die in my sleep; but it was only for two days and not an entire congressional session! The hygienic habits of who is representing me in Congress is almost as important to me as whether he/she is Republican or Democrat because cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

STEALING IS STEALING, NO MATTER THE VALUE

STEALING IS STEALING, NO MATTER THE VALUE It is tragic that shoplifter Anthony Kyser died as a result of a chokehold by a CVS employee (not identified) after being apprehended stealing toothpaste; but the employee did not commit murder. Kyser's criminal background includes a 2005 drug conviction in Cook County and a 1999 burglary conviction in Lake County, Ind. The police have ruled, I think, correctly that it is an accidental death. Nothing can justify the death of Kyser, but I do not think the action to kill him was deliberate on the part of the employee. I doubt if the employee woke up that morning and decided that he would slaughter any shoplifters that he apprehended in the store. He was just over zealous in his manner of detention; and he should not be punished for that. It is proper that no charges are being pursued because there was no indication he intended to harm Kyser. Crime records show that there were 15 thefts reported from the CVS in the 2600 block of South Pulaski in the first four months of 2010. So one wonders how many shoplifting incidents there really were because of those “who got away”? Much is being made that the theft was ONLY toothpaste. Does that mean if Kyser had been apprehended fleeing Tiffany’s with a $100,000 necklace people would understand the physical force used to catch him? Stealing is stealing, no matter what the value of the products. According to the Sun Times, “Kyser's family said that though he had served prison time for drug convictions and had a drug problem and "his ups and downs," nothing he had done came close to justifying his death.” I am not justifying his death; but he was the one to put himself in a position that something like this could happen. Nobody forced him to shoplift. He solely was responsible for placing himself in a situation of potential tragedy. He was the root cause of his death. The community hue and cry over this incident will be forceful. Pressure will be brought to bear upon Police Superintendent Jody Weis to charge the CVS employee. I hope he does not succumb. It was an accidental death; unexpected, unintended and unforeseen and unpredicted. Since most insurance policies payout in accidental death; his family will profit monetarily if he had coverage. But if there were not enough, his ex-wife Anna Balboa says the family plans to sue. With his demise, Kyser might finally be providing financially for his family. Something a convicted drug dealer probably did not do while he was alive.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

SOMETIMES SUICIDE IS A SOLUTION

SOMETIMES SUICIDE IS A SOLUTION
It is said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem; I disagree. I, instead, agree with German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice... that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”
Chicago witnessed two very visible suicides last week; both for very different reasons. The murder/suicide of Eugene Robinson (or Robertson) who shot himself and his girlfriend at the Old Navy store on State Street and Phil Pagano the beleaguered Executive Director of Metra who stepped in front of a train dominated the news.
If Robinson’s life was not worth living, he should have just killed himself; taking the life also of the mother of his child was tragic. In his case he was a coward.
In Pagano’s case, he obviously made a decision that he felt was best for his family. The investigation of financial improprieties that he was involved with at Metra was heating up and he must have known he could not withstand the scrutiny. If he is dead, everyone feels pity for his family and they get sympathy and not disdain. He spares them the humiliation of seeing his name in the media everyday and the accompanying stories of his criminal acts. In this instance, he was a hero.
According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide ranks 11th as a cause of death; and is actuality is the leading cause for teenagers and adults under 35. Shooting, suffocation and poisoning are the top three choices in the United States. But in Germany, suicide by train, accounts for the largest share with 7% committing the act. (Baumert et al.: Ten-year incidence and time trends of railway suicides in Germany from 1991 to 2000. European Journal Public Health. April 2006)
Illinois also witnessed, three years ago, the suicide of Orlando Jones, a Cook County Executive (and Godson of former Cook County Board President John Stroger) who killed himself after police recommended that he be charged in a contract scheme that was run by another former Cook County official in Las Vegas. Have we heard anything about that case since he killed himself? No. So his story disappeared from the news and we never found out the story behind the allegations.
Former Chicago Board of Education President, Michael Scott took his life after questions of expense account spending and possible conflicts of interest over land near a proposed 2016 Chicago Olympic site surfaced. Have we heard anymore about those investigations? It is like they never existed. What about Christopher Kelly, former Blagojevich advisor, who was facing jail time for tax charges and mail fraud and was also being pressured by the Feds to testify against his friend Blago? When was the last time his name was in the news?
So I laud these men who decided to take a “permanent vacation” instead of subjecting their family to years of humiliation. Since it costs about $30,000 per year to house an inmate, these men saved the taxpayers a lot money by not having to incarcerate them. Plus the millions that would be saved by not prosecuting these three men. The last act they committed in life was for the public good. They finally did something positive for the people of Illinois.

Monday, May 10, 2010

TWO TAXING ISSUES


 
As of this writing, the Illinois Legislature left two tax proposals on the table as they left Springfield without coming to agreement on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. . One was Governor Quinn’s proposal to grant a state sales tax moratorium on back to school supplies and clothing and the other was to raise the tax on cigarettes. I am against both.

Leaders have set no date for a return to the capitol, but there is a May 31st budget deadline.

The sales tax moratorium that would run from August 6th-15th amounts to a 5% savings to the consumer. The legislation would reduce the state 6.25-percent sales tax to 1.25 percent. It would apply to clothing priced under $100, notebooks and markers, backpacks and classroom supplies. Computer laptops, though, wouldn’t qualify for the tax break.

Five percent is such a meaningless number that I do not see how it will help “spur sales and create jobs,” as State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) said. Last week I defended Franks in an unfair diatribe against him by State Rep. Bill Black, (R-Danville) but today I agree with Black who said, “It will cost $25 million to $50 million that the state cannot afford. It's an irresponsible thing to do when we don't have the money." Since the state currently has a $13 billion budget gap, how can the Governor propose tossing away millions?

Every day Kohl’s, Target, Wal Mart have sales of 50% off and more and we don’t see consumers running to the store to spend $1 billion just to sve 5%. (That is what is spent to achieve a 5% savings on $50 million). If a 50% off sale does not produce a spike in revenue for the stores how will a 5% tax savings do it? The stores are not going to hire more salespeople in anticipation of a one week tax moratorium so I don’t see how more jobs will be created.

To break it down more simply, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the annual retail spending for Illinois is approximately $131,469,518,000. So $1 billion worth of spending is a basically a hick-up. The state’s population is about 13 million people. So each person would save about $4 while the state coffers would be denied $50 million in sales tax. FOUR DOLLARS per person?? What is the big deal about that? Unless you have a family with 100 members, that is not a lot of savings!

The fact that I am a smoker does not prejudice my opinion on raising the cigarette tax. I get my cigarettes in Indiana, so Illinois is already totally losing out on any tax revenue from me anyway. Hence it makes no monetary difference to me what the tax rate is here. Raising the rate only drives more people to Indiana.

The bill SB44, which would add another $1 per pack tax to cigarettes, also redefines the category and reclassifies “little cigars” as cigarettes. The Department of Revenue estimates the fiscal impact at $350 million during fiscal 2010 and 2011. I doubt that number because people will just buy their cigarettes elsewhere.

It is the redefinition of cigarettes that bothers me. “Little cigars” are not cigarettes and how can the legislature just randomly decide to change the classification? It would not irk me if they had chosen to include all sizes of cigars to be subjected to a higher tax; but why only “little cigars?” Obviously because politicians smoke BIG cigars and they don’t want to pay more for them!

The National Cancer Institute reports that cigars are worse than cigarettes for the following reasons:


A higher level of cancer-causing substances: During the fermentation process for cigar tobacco, high concentrations of cancer-causing nitrosamines are produced. These compounds are released when a cigar is smoked. Nitrosamines are found at higher levels in cigar smoke than in cigarette smoke.

More tar: For every gram of tobacco smoked, there is more cancer-causing tar in cigars than in cigarettes.

A higher level of toxins: Cigar wrappers are less porous than cigarette wrappers. The nonporous cigar wrapper makes the burning of cigar tobacco less complete than cigarette tobacco. As a result, compared with cigarette smoke, the concentrations of toxins are higher in cigar smoke.

Also, the larger size of most cigars (more tobacco) and longer smoking time result in higher exposures to many toxic compounds (including carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, ammonia, cadmium, and other substances).

So when the deals are being made in the cigar-smoke filled back rooms, legislators should stop their puffing and postulating and make some solid decisions to solve the state’s budget crisis. The proposals on the table now are just all hot air and basically smoke and mirrors.

Friday, May 7, 2010

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

SILENCE IS GOLDEN This Saturday, May 8th, Brittany Szaflarksi will be holding her wedding shower at the Hilton Chicago and then she will be marrying her fiancé Frank Caruso August 21st at a ceremony at the Palmer House Hilton. Both are first class hotels and I am sure that both events will be beautifully presented as all events at Hilton hotels are. But by order of U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman, the bride and groom’s fathers will not allowed to speak to each other at the wedding. In fact the bride’s father is not even allowed to attend the wedding shower this weekend, the rehearsal dinner on August 18th or spend the night at the Palmer House on the 21st so he can attend the brunch on the 22nd.
The reason for all the drama is that the bride’s father, Casey Szaflarksi, is under house arrest, and wearing a monitor, for allegedly running an illegal gambling operation. The judge does not want him speaking to the groom’s father, his boss, Frank “Tools” Caruso, who also is the reputed head of the 26th Street mob. The groom’s grandfather, Frank “Skids” Caruso, had a criminal record of at least 13 arrests on charges including grand larceny, illegal gambling and conspiracy. In 1956, on the death of his father-in-law, Bruno Roti, Caruso became the owner of several Southside casinos.
The groom is no prize because he served time in prison for the racially motivated 1997 beating of 13-year-old Lenard Clark as Clark was riding his bicycle through the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. Clark injuries resulted in his being brain damaged for life. How can Brittany be marrying a man who committed such a heinous act? That is what the real story should be here. No matter how much mob activity Brittany had experienced through her life with her father how does she marry a man who brutally beat a teenager? How desperate must she be for love?
The bride’s side of the equation does not seem so bad once you know the history of the groom’s side. What is the big deal about illegal gambling when compared to your future in-laws’ criminal history with the law?
The Judge also ruled that the guest list must be turned over to prosecutors before the wedding. Can you imagine the security at the Palmer House the night of the wedding? Will the guests be toting more hardware then the paid protection? I will stay out of the Loop that evening!
Omerta is the code of silence. It is a common misconception that the Mafia or Cosa Nostra created the concept. In fact, the code was adopted by Sicilians long before the group’s emergence and some historians date it to the 16th century as a way of opposing Spanish rule. Harvard anthropologist Michael Herzfeld (The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifacts in the Global Hierarchy of Value) says it is also deeply rooted in rural Crete, Greece. The origin of the word is often traced to the Spanish word hombredad, meaning manliness. How “manly” is Frank Caruso for severely beating an innocent 13 year old boy? That is cowardice. Why would Brittany marry a man of such low character? Certainly her Father is not talking and maybe I should have kept my mouth shut here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

“Illinois needs honesty more than perfection”

“Illinois needs honesty more than perfection” When I heard Scott Lee Cohen say those words at the speech he gave announcing his candidacy as an Independent for Governor of Illinois, I knew they would be the sound bite that the media used. I was correct when those words were quoted everywhere. I thought of those words when I read quotes from the resignation speech of Juan Ochoa yesterday as he prepared to leave as chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the agency that runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
In a prepared statement, the sound bites that stood out for me were, that Ochoa "achieved what I set out to do" He said that during his tenure, "we have made great progress to position McCormick Place to compete, and have seen Navy Pier grow steadily as a major tourist destination." How about this line? "We have continued to work closely with our customers to address their concerns, streamlined our operations, and developed and championed reforms that are critical to position McCormick Place to remain the nation's premier convention center." I would have respected him if he had spoken honestly and told the real story.
This is how the truth would have sounded. “ Today I report that I am leaving a cushy $195,000/year job that my friend then Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed me to even though I was not qualified. I had never worked in the convention business or tackled public finance issues before, but I had raised a lot of money for his campaignn so there I was. The revamp plan for McPier currently being discussed by legislators in Springfield would have ousted me from this position. I cannot pretend that I have done a good job because convention after convention have abandoned McCormick Place because the prices charged are insane; nobody wants to pay $345.39 for 4 cases of soda (see Blog November 18, 2009, “Brother Can You Spare A Pepsi). We lost a number of important conventions during my tenure --most recently the plastics industry trade show said it is moving to Orlando, Fla., for 2012 and 2015 after nearly four decades in Chicago and the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society is moving its 2012 annual meeting to Las Vegas. Both shows cited the high cost of doing business in Chicago as their reason for leaving. In 2009, The Health show attracted 27,000 attendees who spent an estimated $55 million. My poor management has cost the state of Illinois a lot of revenue. How can I expect to keep my position when I have not done a good or even half-way decent job? I should have resigned a year ago but the pay and benefits are so substantial, I did not want to quit during a time of recession. “
If Juan Ochoa had told the truth in is resignation speech I would have viewed him as a more perfect man than he appears today. Honesty is always better than perfection. Politicians should take that line from Cohen’s playbook and employ it daily. Maybe they would get more respect because now they have virtually none.

IN SUPPORT OF JACK

IN SUPPORT OF JACK
Below is the commentary State Rep. William Black published in the Chicago Tribune on May 3rd followed by my letter to the editor supporting State Rep. Jack Franks.
Less posturing needed to solve budget crisis By William B. Black
May 3, 2010
I read with incredulity the recent Tribune op-ed by my colleague, Rep. Jack Franks, which laid out a simple solution to Illinois' budget crisis — just say no to spending. I agree wholeheartedly with his suggestion. However, I believe my Democratic friend left out a few details. We are facing a $13 billion budget deficit and owe our health care providers, social service agencies and schools nearly $6 billion. In my district, the Vermilion County Health Department has been forced to cut half of its workforce and slash programs because the state owes it more than $500,000. Most every community-based service provider in my district has cut services and laid off personnel.
How did we get to this point? Since 2003, when the Democrats took control of state government, general fund spending has increased by more than $4 billion. The state's bonded debt has tripled to more than $18 billion. Because of health care expansion under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Illinois' Medicaid costs have more than doubled to $10 billion, consuming one-third of the state's budget.
Over the past two years, House Republicans have offered numerous budget reform measures to cut waste and fundamentally change the way we spend taxpayer money. From Pay as You Go to Medicaid and welfare reform, our budget ideas have been shot down by the Democrats who control the House.
I have repeatedly asked my colleagues why we have yet to spend one minute on the House floor discussing how we're going to dig ourselves out of this budget hole. I have made motion after motion to discharge Republican budget reform bills from the House Rules Committee so that they may be voted upon by the Illinois House. And every single time, Franks has sided with House Speaker Michael Madigan to keep our bills from even being debated by the House. Franks' record stands in sharp contrast to his words. For example:
• Rep. Franks voted three times against our PAYGO proposal, which would require any legislation with a fiscal impact to identify cuts within the budget or new revenue to offset the spending increase. •He twice voted against a balanced budget declaration. •He twice voted against our tax amnesty plan, which would generate more than $100 million. •He voted against an Appropriations Sunshine Act, which would require a seven-day review period before any budget vote. •He voted against a three-fifths supermajority requirement for any tax increase. •He voted against Medicaid income verification. •And Rep. Franks voted against my proposal to sell the state fleet of executive aircraft.
Let me say that I don't take Rep. Franks' votes personally. I continue to hold out hope that Democrats and Republicans will work together to get our fiscal house in order. But some legislators sound insincere when they say that we have to cut spending and then vote against a repeal of Blagojevich's free mass transit rides for seniors program. House Bill 4654 would require means testing to keep the free-rides program for seniors on fixed incomes while saving the state millions of dollars.
We must get spending under control before we consider asking taxpayers for more of their hard-earned money. As Rep. Franks said, "We won't get out of trouble unless Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois legislators have the courage to put a stop to the unchecked spending that got us where we are today."
To that I will add that we need more action and less political posturing to solve our budget crisis. The people of Illinois want solutions, not empty rhetoric.
William B. Black, R-Danville, is the deputy Republican leader of the Illinois House of Representatives
KATHY POSNER LETTER TO EDITOR AT TRIBUNE May 4, 2010
Dear Editor,
I read State Rep. William Black’s (R-Danville) May 3 diatribe and believe it’s vital that his complete disregard for the truth be pointed out. The baseless accusations made in his column are just another example of the shenanigans and the partisan politics of which voters are sick and tired.
The fact is that every “no” vote described by Rep. Black in his article was a procedural vote tendered to disallow the bill sponsors from breaking the rules and circumventing important processes. These bills were never considered and never voted on. A visit to http://www.ilga.gov/ will prove that. Procedural votes occur when a bill’s sponsor wants to bring a bill straight to the floor, skipping its committee hearing and robbing representatives of the chance to vet the bill. Rep. Black has intentionally mis-characterized a process he has taken part in for more than 20 years.
Rep. Black criticized State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) for being partisan, but Rep. Franks’ record of bucking party lines is undeniable. The same day Rep. Black’s misleading commentary was printed, the Tribune ran its own editorial commending Rep. Franks for the lone Democratic “no” vote against a faulty redistricting plan. If you recall, he was also former-Governor Blagojevich’s (a Democrat) biggest critic. Rep. Black is in the twilight of his career, and he ought to end his legacy with honesty and character, not lies.
Kathy Posner

BOBBING AND WEAVING THROUGH THE LAW

BOBBING AND WEAVING THROUGH THE LAW Currently in Illinois, if one wants to be a hair braider, you are required to have a cosmetology degree — which can take 1,500 hours of training and cost up to $15,000 for tuition fees — and then get a license. Proponents say the rules are needed to protect consumers if they develop problems such as hair loss or have service complaints. If the braiders are not licensed then the consumer cannot file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. There are 63,000 licensed cosmetologists in Illinois, and "many of them do not look kindly on people practicing their profession without a license," said Susan Hofer, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. In fact, most of the tips about unlicensed braiding shops that come into the department are from licensed cosmetologists, she said in an Associated Press story.
So how do the legislators in Illinois react to the hundreds of illegal braiders? Do they support the current law and encourage state regulators to shut down shops that have ignored the regulations that are in place to protect customers? NO! Instead they pass HB5783 that is now sitting on Illinois Governor Quinn’s desk awaiting his approval. According to the Associated Press,” Under legislation that passed the House and Senate and awaits the governor's signature, braiders who prove they've practiced their craft for at least two years could automatically get a hair-braiding license after paying a fee. New braiders could get a license after undergoing 300 hours of training in braiding methods and sanitation.” So basically if an illegal hair braider can prove that they have been breaking the law for at least two years, they can become legal. The synopsis of the bill reads that it “Provides that the Department (The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation) shall take no action against any unlicensed hair braider for acts that occurred prior to the effective date of the amendatory Act.” Aren’t legislators supposed to uphold the law, not encourage people to circumvent it?
The AP story also said,” It isn't uncommon for women who wear their hair in braids to have never stepped foot into a salon, relying instead on relatives or friends who have the knack, time and energy for braiding and who do it to supplement their incomes. Braiding is a way for mothers to work out of their homes at flexible times and for teens to make decent spending money for a few hours of work.” So not only are the braiders circumventing the law by not having a license, they are cheating the IRS (and those of us who pay taxes) because I am sure they do not report the income of the money they are earning illegally.
I understand that hair braiding is an art in the African-American community and that practitioners do not consider the skill to be a part of what a cosmetology license requires; but laws exist to protect customers from unscrupulous/ unskilled operators. If there are not proficiency exams to establish base-lines then how are consumers to know if their hair braider is qualified?The continued licensure of people engaged in hair braiding might not seem like that important an issue, but it is representative of why professional standards are needed. The Governor should sign laws that make regulations that protect consumers stronger, not weaker; but he will bob and weave and put his John Hancock on the bill. I wonder what Brady would do? Footnote: For those of you who live out of Illinois and may not get the last line reference and want to know...check the first comment.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

“THIS IS MAKING ME SICK”

“THIS IS MAKING ME SICK” In a 1952 episode of “I Love Lucy,” the Ricardos are invited to be guests on the “Mr. And Mrs. Quiz" radio show, hosted by Freddie Fillmore. Husband Ricky (Desi Arnaz) does not want to appear on the show because he feels that he and Lucy (Lucille Ball) will make complete fools of themselves by not knowing the answers. Through a series of madcap events (what else does one expect from the show?) Ricky answers the final $500 bonus question, “What did George Washington say while crossing the Delaware?" correctly when he blurts out, "Please let me sit down. This is making me sick." That is how I feel when I read about or see people eating food from street vendors. I have the same exact reaction when I see women getting make-applied at department stores and someone getting a pedicure. Once again, this is making me sick! According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day around the world. In New York City food street vendors are at every corner (estimates put the number at 10,000) and vendor Lance Orton in Manhattan was the person who spotted the car bomb in Times Square last weekend and reported it to the police. So as eyes and ears street vendors serve a purpose; but not, in my estimation, as a reason for serving food. Chicago has 1,589 licensed street vendors, according to Efrat Stein, spokeswoman Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection with three different categories of two-year vendor licenses. In a story in the Chicago Tribune, Stein said some business owners don't want peddlers and push carts outside their establishments. They complain about noise, public urination and trash generated by an overabundance of street vendors. The garbage they produce can attract rodent. ‘Other complaints are that they are unlicensed, not paying taxes and this particularly upsets licensed restaurants who are following the rules and paying rent and taxes,’ Stein added.”
Throwing aside the unfairness of street vendors not paying taxes, rent, and other overhead associated with running a business, the issue of cleanliness is what bothers me most. An episode on the show, “Food Detectives” on the Food Channel exposed the amount of filth in the water of hot dog vendors in New York City. The experience of just watching them reveal the amount of germs and filth made me gag. Eating the food would have made me vomit! Don’t people realize the unsanitary conditions in food carts? There rarely is refrigeration, the vendor’s bare hands are touching the food, taking money and then touching the food they serve to the next person. It is right in front of one’s eyes. How can someone possibly stomach consuming food served in those contaminated circumstances?
Members of the Asociacion de Vendedores Ambulantes, (AVA) or the Street Vendors Association, want to change the law in Chicago to allow for prepared foods to be sold from carts. The Tribune reported that the group has been talking to aldermen and faith-based organizations trying to garner support. They hope to work out an agreement to prepare food at a commercial kitchen — such as in a church or one they build themselves. AVA Vice President, Jose Tofoya said the current economy and the lack of factory jobs have forced many Latinos into this occupation. Changing the law is critical for the survival of many families. "Street vendors make no money when they get tickets from the police. If we get to change the law and have permission to sell, then everyone will be happy and working,"
Of all of the Chicago street vendor licenses, 477 of them are food vendor licenses. In order to obtain a license, one must be at least 16 years old, show identification, such as a driver's license or photo ID, have an Illinois business tax number and must not owe any outstanding debt to the City of Chicago. Each license is good for two years and costs $165. "This license allows fruit or vegetables to be sold that are not cut or prepared," Stein said. Many street vendors obtain the license, but still prepare and sell warm food illegally. "They may be licensed but operating outside of the requirements," Stein said.
As the weather warms up, more and more food vendors will be on the streets. I am not trying to deny anyone the right to earn a living, but the law in Chicago about selling street food is quite clear. It is illegal to sell prepared food from food carts; and it is a health hazard if one eats the fare. Arthur Charles Simons wrote,” Sickness is the vengeance of nature for the violation of her laws.“ It is prohibited to sell the food and one has their own stupidity to answer to if they eat it. In either case, a law is being broken.

Monday, May 3, 2010

THERE’S OVERTIME AND THERE’S OVERTIME

THERE’S OVERTIME AND THERE’S OVERTIME It is astonishing to me that at a time in Chicago history when there are daily stories about gang violence and children being killed, that Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), newly appointed chairman of the Police Committee, is complaining about the amount of overtime being paid to police officers. If the overtime payments were for the Department of Streets and Sanitation (known for lavish snow removal spending, lax field supervision and allegations of continued personnel abuses), I could understand the frustration—but payments to the police? What makes it more astounding is that the overtime paid in 2009 was $37.1 million and nine years earlier in 2000 the amount was $40.7 million! So the amount has actually gone down in the past decade, and with inflation figured in, has actually been lowered tremendously.
According to a story in the Sun Times, there are a number of reasons for the overtime pay,”Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue blamed slow hiring and rising retirement. "There's not enough bodies to go around, which may cause them [officers] to work overtime," Donahue said.
The city paid $18.5 million in police overtime in 2005, $33.8 million in 2006 and $37.1 million in 2009 -- its highest in eight years, according to figures obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Police officials attribute the enormous rise from 2005 to 2006 to officers landing a new contract with the city. Their 2006 paychecks included three years of retroactive pay increases. The big jump in 2009 was partly because of a legal settlement that required $3.5 million in overtime payments to officers.
Also last year, more officers were responding to the recession by taking their overtime payments immediately, instead of waiting until retirement to cash out or taking compensatory time off, said Lt. Maureen Biggane, a police spokeswoman.
I don’t see how the overtime spending can be reduced when only one class of 46 recruits entered the academy last year and the department is more than 830 officers short of its authorized strength of 13,500. Also according to the Sun Times, “Including those on medical leave and limited duty, the department is 2,230 officers short.”
Add to that the 130 officers who retired last week and the almost 1,000 more retirements that are expected by year's end and Chicago citizens have much to fear in that the police force keeps getting smaller while crime statistics keeps growing.
Mathematically it is easy to reconcile the figures. If there are not enough police officers on duty, then those who are working will be required to work overtime. Alderman Beale should be smart enough to figure that out; because a three year old could understand the statistics. Hire more police officers and then there won’t be overtime. Straight salary is less expensive than overtime salary; again a three year old knows that!
Recently some Illinois legislators suggested calling the National Guard in to help the beleaguered City of Chicago deal with its gang problems. Mayor Daley dismissed the idea as unworkable; but he offered no suggestions as an alternate solution except to hold a press conference at the Liberation Christian Center announcing this year’s guns for money turn in program; a program I will write about later this week.
Al Capone said that you can go a long way with a smile but you can go a lot further with a smile and a gun. But if there are not enough police officers on duty to wipe the smile off the face of the criminals, Chicago can’t win.