URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

PAYING PEOPLE TO EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

A new pilot program, Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) being touted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will give residents of Hampden County, Massachusetts who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously food stamps) benefits to get credited 30 cents back for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables when using their electronic benefits debit cards (EBT). I don’t think that paying people to eat sliced apple chips instead of potato chips will be something that SNAP recipients will swallow. First Lady Michelle Obama (can someone remind me when she was elected to office?) and the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service want to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables; and, to them, this plan seems to be one way to make it happen. The money to fund the incentives are coming from the 2008 Farm Bill, which authorized a $20 million grant for the USDA to test whether incentives to buy fresh produce will increase the purchase of healthy foods. The plan will enroll 7,500 randomly selected SNAP households to receive the benefit. The multi-million dollar grant will be distributed throughout the next three years during which an independent contractor will evaluate the efficacy of the plan to see if people are eating healthier. Interesting to test this when a previous report, “Fruit and Vegetable Consumption by Low-Income Americans—Would a Price Reduction make a difference? ( http://ddr.nal.usda.gov/bitstream/10113/28882/1/CAT31020515.pdf ) published in 2009 by the same department running the HIP program found that it really would not!
The report said that a 10% price subsidy would increase consumption of both fruits and vegetables by 2%o to 5% but it also found that the program would cost taxpayers $680 million per year and leave most Americans still far short of consuming their daily requirements of these foods. But maybe giving a 30% subsidy would make a difference. The HIP program upsets me because I feel that people who are receiving government subsidies should not be given more subsidies to eat healthier. They should already be spending the government’s money judicially and if they’re not, then it’s their own fault. Instead of rewarding people for buying healthier food, they should be penalized if they don’t. By their own accord, don’t let them eat cake. The HIP program upsets me because I feel that people who are already receiving government subsidies should not be given even more subsidies to eat healthy. They should know to spend the government’s (meaning us the taxpayers) money judicially and if they’re not, then it’s their own fault. Instead of rewarding people for buying healthier food, they should be penalized if they don’t. By their own accord, don’t let them eat cake.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I DON’T NEED/WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH MY NEIGHBORS

A recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll showed that 57% of respondents socialized with their neighbors at least once a week. Are the people who answered this survey living in Mayberry RFD or somewhere? People in downtown Chicago do not want to be friends with their neighbors! There is no upside and the downside can de dangerous. In my August 5th blog, I castigated the Tribune for doing a poll on what is great about Chicago when I saw they surveyed people from a six county area. I pointed out that people living in the boondocks have as much right to comment on living in Chicago as I do about living in Paris. They don’t live in Chicago and I don’t live in Paris; so keep opinions about those cities to those who live there! It is the same with this poll about being friendly with the neighbors. Living in Marengo in a single family house is as different from living in a Chicago high-rise as Beirut is from Budapest. The Tribune needs to stop pretending that the six counties that border Chicago have one iota of commonality with the “Big City.” Quotes in the Tribune story point out exactly why I do NOT want to be friends with the neighbors, they want stuff. "A lot of us depend on each other, especially with our children," said Debra David, 43, of Elgin, whose three children are ages 12, 6 and 5. ”We frankly don't have time. Our lives are so busy with getting our kids back and forth to where they have to be. Most of the time our conversations are, 'Can you get so and so off the bus?'“ I have my own life to live; I don’t want to live my neighbors’ lives also.
The story also included the information that, “Research has shown that social relationships improve health, providing emotional support during major life events or stressful situations. People with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships, according to a recent study by Brigham Young University’s psychology department.” While I agree that social relationships can provide help during times of stress (just ask my friends who were my lifeline when I got out of the hospital on two recent visits,) but that does not mean that the friendship has to be with immediate neighbors. Visit me and then drive away. I have lots of friends, I just don’t want them living next door able to do the “pop-in” whenever they feel like it. After the capture of Ted Bundy, serial killer, the neighbors almost universally said he “was very charming,” “the boy next door,” and “the last one we would ever suspect.” That is reason enough not to become friends with the neighbors.

Friday, August 27, 2010

WHEN IS IT MY TURN TO BE OFFENDED?

One recent event and one upcoming event, both related to the Muslim community in Chicago, have offended me. According to the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, August 25th,”Earlier this summer, the leader of the group "Stop the Islamization of America" took out ads on 25 Chicago taxi cabs--and as of Tuesday, all of them will be removed.” The ads are being removed because they are “offensive” to Muslims. I am not offended by the ads, but since Muslims are offended, the ads are coming down.
Yellow Cab CEO Michael Levine issued a statement announcing the removal of the ads: "Recently, the head of the group 'Stop the Islamization of America' took out ads on Chicago-area taxis. The ads in question were carried by independent affiliates of Yellow Cab Affiliation. The fleet owner was contracted and paid by an independent advertising company specializing in taxi top advertising." "When Yellow Cab became aware of the ads three weeks ago, we immediately called the advertising company and asked to have the ads removed. We were told that they were taken down, but we found out today that three such ads were still running. They will be removed today. Yellow Cab does not regularly approve advertising content carried by our affiliates, but we do reserve the right to ask them to remove ads that offend either the drivers or the public."
The ads, which denounced honor killings, showed pictures of young women who allegedly were killed by their Muslim fathers for "refusing an Islamic marriage, dating a non-Muslim or becoming 'too Americanized,'" according to the Tribune. Below the photo, the ad reads "Is your family threatening you?" and gives a web site for more information, www.LeaveIslamSafely.com."
So the ads are being taken down because they are offensive to Muslims. As a Jew, I find it offensive that there will be a Muslim demonstration in Daley Plaza for International Al-Quds Day, so will they cancel the rally because I am offended? No! Of course not! Jews don’t get the same protection from discrimination as Muslims do in Chicago. There ins a Advisory Council on Arab Affairs on the Chicago Commission of Human relations. Is there an Advisory Council on Israeli Affairs? Do I even have to answer that question? Muslim and Arab countries around the world celebrate the last day of Ramadan with Anti-Zionist demonstrations. The celebration of Al-Quds Day was first introduced by Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran in August 1979 as a Muslim day of solidarity against Israel. This year Al-Quds Day rallies will be held in Chicago, Seattle, Houston, St. Louis, Detroit, Dallas and Washington, D.C. on September 3rd when there will be Arab demonstrations against Israel. The Chicago event will be held at Daley Plaza from 3:00-5:30 p.m. Information on the demonstrations is detailed at http://www.alqudsday.org/. The web site describes the day as,” International Day of Al-Quds is an annual event opposing Israel’s control of Jerusalem, (Al-Quds in Arabic: القـُدْس). Anti-Zionist demonstrations are held on this day in most Muslim and Arab countries and by Muslim and non-Muslim communities around the world, including the United States. It is held each year on the last Friday of Ramadan. Jerusalem Day is not an Islamic religious holiday but a political event open to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” The Jews have prepared answers to the Muslims’ anti-Israel hatred and why Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are not holy to Muslims.http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/3691 I am not going to post the information on how people who want to support Israel can participate in the rally because I am afraid to share that information on the web for fear of anti-Semitic backlash. If someone wants that information, they can e-mail me directly and I will provide it. So Muslims can be offended by some taxi cab ads that then must be taken down, but just a week later the Muslims are allowed to offend Jews at a giant rally. I guess freedom of speech and religion only run one way.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

MINTING STUPIDITY; Putting My Own Two Cents In

The 15th presidential $1 coin featuring James Buchanan was released into circulation on August 19th as the United States Mint hosted a launch ceremony on the grounds of Wheatland, Buchanan's home, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I missed the party where United States Mint Deputy Director Andy Brunhart said, “In a few short weeks, Americans will begin to see James Buchanan Presidential $1 Coins and will be reminded of his place in history." I would not bet on that happening! While the Deputy Director lauded the new coin last Thursday, just a month earlier, U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy said to a congressional panel in response to why millions are being spent to encourage the use of the $1 coins. “We have tried every major idea that we can come up with, with limited success. Americans are creatures of habit. They are very used to using the bill. They're not used to using coins in regular retail transactions.” It also costs the government money to promote the coins, ship them, store them and protect the growing stockpile. Why is the mint making $1 coins when nobody is using them? Because The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-145) directs the United States Mint to issue four $1 coins each year to honor our Nation's Presidents in the order they served in office. I read the act and it is so hysterical it should be doing stand-up at Zanies. To think that our Congress spent valuable governmental time on this bill has my sides splitting and I am laughing so hard as I write this blog! The act opens with ( my comments are in red), “For a variety of reasons, the new $1 coin introduced in 2000 has not been widely sought-after by the public, leading to higher costs for merchants and thus higher prices for consumers. But since The success of the 50 States Commemorative Coin Program (31 U.S.C. 5112(l)) for circulating quarter dollars shows that a design on a United States circulating coin that is regularly changed in a manner similar to the systematic change in designs in such Program radically increases demand for the coin, rapidly pulling it through the economy.” So we should automatically decide that if we mint new dollar coins all the time people will want them just because they are new? Act 2 of our comedic special says, “A national survey and study by the Government Accountability Office has indicated that many Americans who do not seek, or who reject, the new $1 coin for use in commerce would actively seek the coin if an attractive, educational rotating design were to be struck on the coin.” So while American have rejected the $1 coin, maybe if the government makes it educational, Americans would use it? No! Act three tells us why presidents were picked to adorn the coin,”Many people cannot name all of the Presidents, and fewer can name the spouses, nor can many people accurately place each President in the proper time period of American history.” So if we mint a coin with their picture and dates of service, Americans will study the coin and remember the information about that particular President? Not!
We start our close with, “First Spouses have not generally been recognized on American coinage. So now we have SEC. 103. First Spouse Bullion Coin Program.” Under this section bullion coins will be minted with pictures of the first ladies. But the most recent President to have a coin is James Buchanan; he was not married! I wonder who they will use as his wife?
We take our bow with “Sec. 105. Sense of the Congress. It is the sense of the Congress that—(1) the enactment of this Act will serve to increase the use of $1 coins general” because ” the coins should be as attractive as possible.” Double riff here!
It is sad to think that the SENSE of our Congress is that Americans will use the $1 coin if it is pretty. Are we that superficial a nation? I will save our government money by telling them that nobody uses the $1 coin because it looks like a quarter and we get it mixed up in our change pile! Alter the shape and size of the coin and maybe we will use it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

DON’T TELL ILLINOIS GOVERNOR QUINN ABOUT THIS TAX!

The state of New York has just started enforcing an, up until now, hidden ”bagel clause” in the state tax code. This clause calls for an approximately 8¢ per bagel tax if the bagel has been sliced or prepared before consumption or if it is consumed inside a store. A whole bagel carried out of the store has no tax. The tax has been unenforced until recently when an audit found that New York chain Bruegger’s Bagel was in violation of the tax. The state demanded that the owner pay a huge back tax, according to the Wall Street Journal. Owner Kenneth Greene posted a sign near the cash register explaining the extra charge for the bagels when customers thought he was gouging them on the charges. New Yorkers are going insane at the bagel tax and we in Illinois have to hope that Governor Quinn does not hear about it! Or maybe it’s good if Quinn tries to enact the tax because then for sure all the votes in the November gubernatorial election will go to Jewish Independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen. First the controversy about a Mosque being built close to ground zero and now an Anti-Semitic bagel tax. I guess they will all be speaking Arabic soon in Manhattan. The tax is confusing because the exact rules aren’t spelled out in the tax code. According to tax officials, a sliced loaf of bread in a bakery is not taxed, but a sliced bagel is. A spokesman for the Department of Taxation and Finance told the Wall Street Journal that the state "will provide additional guidance via our Web site and publications in the near future." If the taxman can’t give a straight answer about their own tax code, then how can a bagel store understand it? New York State has a $9.2 billion deficit and just passed one of their largest budgets ever last month. The bagel tax has been around but has never been enforced until now as the legislator’s in the state capital of Albany look to squeeze New Yorkers out of every penny they have. New Yorkers who love their bagels are screaming! One of those screaming in her thick NY accent is advertising icon Wendy Kaufman, best known for her stints as formerly “The Snapple Lady” and contestant on VH1!’s Celebrity Fit Club. Her rant? “They don't have enough to worry about other than bagels? I would like to put a tax on all government officials who are immoral, unethical hypocrites. Forget the bagels!!! New York could raise millions with that kind of tax!” Celebrity photographer and founder of the web site www.timessquaregossip.com, James Edstrom, has one simple statement about the controversy, “Eat my bagel!” But will he pay the tax on it? He will have to if he wants his bagel sliced.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NEW HIGH RISK HEALTH INSURANCE POOL IS UNFAIR! (Unless you can get in.)

While on first read, The Illinois Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (IPXP) that just opened for enrollment sounds like a great plan. It is a health insurance option for people with pre-existing conditions and without medical coverage. Once anyone with a modicum of intelligence reads through it they will see how inherently unfair the plan is. IPXP is part of a national health insurance program that the Federal Government has allotted $5 billion in total to all of the states. First, an option already exists in Illinois for people who cannot get health insurance coverage: ICHIPS (Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan). This plan is administered by BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois and is very, very expensive. Nobody would sign up for ICHIPS if they had any other option. The premiums are paid by the insured person and there is no subsidy. People on limited income could not afford ICHIPS. So one would assume that the new plan, IPXP, would be for people who could not afford ICHIPS. Au contraire! Not only are there are no low income requirements, but the premiums are subsidized by the Federal Government! So essentially, a millionaire could sign up for IPXP if they qualified under the plan’s rules. Second, how large is the subsidy? The Feds are sending Illinois $196 million so the premium payments for the insured parties are reduced. IPXP will be administered on a first come, first serve basis to the first 4,000-6,000 people who qualify. To qualify one must be uninsured for six months, have a pre-existing condition, be a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and not be able to obtain insurance from another source. Since the plan will only exist until January 1, 2014, when the new national health care legislation kicks in, that means that IPXP will run for approximately 36 months. Even if the maximum number of people enroll and we divide the $196 million Federal contribution by 6,000 we arrive at a $32,666 subsidy per person per year or $971/month- TAX FREE!! How is that fair? Third, the number of people who can enroll in the plan is being limited in size because of funding restrictions. Well, wouldn’t it be better if 12,000 people could receive health insurance and only be subsidized at $18,333 apiece? And if this is a subsidized program how come there are not any income limits? Since it is estimated that 1.7 million people in Illinois do not have health insurance, is it reasonable to only help four to six thousand? Fourth, I qualify under all the required conditions except that I already have ICHIPS. So I am essentially being denied a subsidy because I have been a good citizen and had health insurance rather than relying on Cook County hospital or the like. Fifth, the subsidized IPXP is also a better plan than ICHIPS because it has only a $2,000 deductible before coverage kicks in. I have a $5,000 deductible with no subsidy! The table below is from the web site for IXIP (http://insurance.illinois.gov/IPXP/) and explains why there is a difference in the premiums for the two plans. Illinois Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (IPXP) PREMIUM RATE TABLE INSTRUCTIONS This Rate Table Booklet contains all rate tables applicable to enrollees in the IPXP. Information and premium rates contained herein are established pursuant to applicable federal law and may be changed. The following premium rates for the IPXP were calculated in compliance with Federal requirements, including: --Premium rates for the IPXP must not exceed 100% of the standard risk rate in Illinois. This means that the premiums charged by the IPXP must be equal to or less than those charged for similar coverage in Illinois. --Premium rates for the IPXP may vary on the basis of age by a factor of not more than 4:1. As a result, the oldest enrollees in the IPXP may be charged no more than 4 times what the youngest enrollees are charged. --Male and female enrollees in the IPXP must be charged the same rate. --IPXP premiums may vary based on location within Illinois. -- IPXP premiums may vary based on an enrollee’s use of tobacco, but tobacco users may not be charged more than twice the premium for non-tobacco users. These requirements differ from the state laws which regulate the calculation of ICHIP premiums in the following ways: --ICHIP premiums, by state law, may not be less than 125% of the standard risk rate in Illinois. This means that ICHIP enrollees, by law, must pay at least 25% more than the charge for similar coverage in Illinois. --ICHIP must, by state law, set different premiums for men and women. -- ICHIP must, by state law, vary the premiums charged based on the age of the enrollee. Due to these differences between the Federal law which establishes guidelines for the IPXP program, and the Illinois law which establishes guidelines for the ICHIP program, ICHIP premiums may be higher than IPXP premiums. Sixth, the last line of the chart reads, “ICHIP premiums may be higher than IPXP premiums.’ When I checked on the site for rates, my ICHIPS premium is TWICE as much as it would be under IPXP. So it may not be higher, it is much higher! In conclusion I wonder who were the stupid federal legislators who concocted a health insurance premium subsidy plan that did not include an income requirement? They had about the same level of intelligence as Mark Fowler Chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) from 1981 -1987, who once said, "If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there'll be a record." I pay for my own health insurance, so hopefully I won’t wake up dead!

Monday, August 23, 2010

BEING INDEPENDENT

It is very difficult politically to be self-determining; one has to declare at primary voting time exactly which party ticket one wants to vote for. It does not matter if one likes a particular person for Governor in one party and a particular person for Attorney General in another, there has to be a total commitment to one side only. No waffling allowed! At the general election is when a person gets the opportunity to vote for candidates from different parties for different offices. One does not have to straight party vote. While I am a Republican at heart, there are many Democratic candidates that I vote for because I simply think they will do a better job than the Republican candidate. Or in the case of the gubernatorial election in Illinois, I will vote for Independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen. But what if someone has chosen to represent their party as a committeeman? Are they only allowed to support candidates from one party even if they think someone else is more qualified? In an August 15th story, Bernard Schoenburg, political columnist for The State Journal-Register, wrote the following:
Cohen gets local support
The tip of a small rebellion showed itself last week, with word that Margaret Ann Gramlich, a Department of Revenue worker, Democratic precinct committeewoman and president of the North End Improvement Association, has a sign in her yard supporting independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen.
Gramlich said she and a couple other local Democrats recently had lunch with Cohen. He seemed “very, very sincere” and was “a very easy person to talk to,” she said. She thinks the allegations against him in the past are no more than that.
“I think he’s going to really turn out to be a good governor if he wins,” she said.
She said she’s disappointed with Quinn because some people installed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the Revenue Department still work there, and Republicans are being hired.
Bill Houlihan, a former Sangamon County Democratic chairman and downstate director for Durbin, said he called Gramlich and told her he thinks committeemen should support the ticket or step down.”
Committeewoman Gramlich made a commitment to the Democratic Party when she thought that they would have the best candidates. When she decided the party and its gubernatorial candidate, Pat Quinn, had disappointed her, she made the choice to support Scott Lee Cohen. Should she step down as a Democratic precinct committeewoman? No! Not if she values her independence. Our country was formed by the Declaration of Independence that declared the 13 states were no longer part of the British Empire. Gramlich has declared that she is no longer beholden to King Madigan; and good for her! I just hope it does not cost her the job she holds at the Revenue Department, a position held at the discretion of Quinn.

DON’T LET FITZGERALD GO!

There are many topics in the news that have caused me outrage, but nothing has risen to the heights of my current indignation, frustration and anger than the media reports of the early demise of Patrick Fitzgerald because of the Blago trial outcome. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of his death are greatly exaggerated.” We cannot allow the misguided actions of lone juror hold out, Jo Ann Chiakulas, to taint the reputation of the best prosecutor to ever represent the Northern District of Illinois! The background of Chiakulas is going to be discussed ad nauseum by political pundits smarter than I am: former state employee, so she was used to seeing corruption; special assistant for minority affairs at the Illinois Department of Public Health, so she appreciated the All Kids healthcare program Blago created; director of the Chicago Urban League's Young Parents Center for more than 10 years, so she worked with Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and probably did not think he would buy a Senate seat; blah, blah, blah. But she at least did vote guilty on one count and Blago is now a convicted felon, something the media and Blago want to ignore as they proclaim “victory” for the corrupt former governor. The media should not have to be reminded of all of Fitzgerald’s successes. How dare the Wall Street Journal write an editorial that said, ''If Mr. Fitzgerald doesn't resign of his own accord, the Justice Department should remove him.'' A United States attorney serves at the discretion of the President of the United States and Obama cannot send a message that he will protect his former shady Illinois pals by removing Fitzgerald. The list of the accomplishments and successful prosecutions of the U.S. Attorney’s office since Fitzgerald took command would run pages long, but I will list a few to remind the near-sighted media to open their eyes. There was former Governor George Ryan and his Chicago businessman friend Larry Werner whose network of political bribery and gift-giving led to more than 60 indictments. At the conclusion of the trial, in April 2006, Ryan was found guilty on all 18 counts against him; and Warner was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, fraud, attempted extortion, and money laundering. In March 2006, former Chicago City Clerk James Laski pled guilty to pocketing nearly $50,000 in bribes for steering city business to two trucking companies in conjunction with the Hired Truck Program scandal.
Since April 2007, Fitzgerald has overseen Operation Crooked Code, the investigation and prosecution of more than two dozen defendants for bribery and related charges in the City of Chicago's Departments of Buildings and Zoning. Even if the rest of the world wants to forget about the Conrad Black trial and victory, that is certainly one that Sun-Times reporters cannot ignore!
It was just this past June Former Chicago
Police Commander Jon Burge, the subject of accusations of torture against suspects for decades, was convicted on all counts of an indictment charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice. Does the media have a memory that cannot go back even two months and remember this most recent conviction?
In the song,” Let My People Go,” God told Moses to beg the pharaohs to let his people go. I beg President Obama to NOT let Fitzgerald go; there is too much corruption in Illinois so his job is not done.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Guess What? It's Always Hot in August!

With temperature humidity indexes hovering past 100 degrees, nearly 100,000 students and teachers whose schools were already in session because of the Track E program are sweltering. CPS officials said the hot weather caught them by surprise. What? Last time I checked it was always hot in August!
Chicago Public Schools’ administrators bought 1100 fans, but we know that just blows the hot air around. Schools could not install window air conditioning units because of Chicago building code rules. But CPS CEO Ron Huberman said, “CPS was working with the building department and the commissioner to work through that hurdle.” The only way to “work through that hurdle” would be to ignore the building code. Try doing that in your own home and an inspector will be by to fine you quicker than the revenue department can call for them.
It was discussed calling the hot days, “snow days,” and shut the schools, but CPS Huberman did not want to “waste” a snow day on a hot day! Better to swelter than freeze. Solution? CPS bought bottled water for the students and teachers. What? Bottled water? Isn’t that environmentally unfriendly? Isn’t it expensive? Don’t schools have drinking fountains and paper cups for the students to use to quench their thirst?
It is also kind of ironic that according to analysis of industry data by the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch, filtered tap water makes up an increasing share of bottled water -- rising from 32.7 percent in 2000 to 47.8 percent in 2009. "These are the numbers the bottled water industry doesn't want you to see," said Wenonah Hauter, the group's executive director. So CPS PAID for water that might have been the very same water that comes from in the tap!
Why wouldn’t CPS officials, being aware of the budget deficit, have realized that Chicago tap water is basically FREE and bottled water costs money! How clean is Chicago’s tap water? On the front page of the city’s web site for the Chicago Department of Water Management there is a letter posted by Mayor Daley. It reads,” The purified tap water provided by the Chicago Department of Water Management meets or exceeds all state and Federal standards as regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Chicago water is second to none, and together we can work to keep it the most enviable resource in the world.” So when we read the stories about the hundreds of millions of dollars that Chicago Public Schools are in debt; just remember they are pouring money down the drain.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

JUST SMILE AND WRITE A TICKET!

A Sun-Times front page story revealed an internal City Hall memo which warned police officials that, “the city will witness a dramatic decrease in annual revenues and not meet 2010 targets" if a decrease in writing parking and vehicle-compliance tickets persists. As my friend Sharon Rae Bender said, “What the heck are they supposed to do? Write a ticket while pursuing an armed gang-banger? The priorities are upside down. Don't we still have meter maids?
”Chicago is experiencing one of the most violent summers in its history, because while homicides are about the same as this time last year, three of the victims were police officers. Officer Thomas Wortham IV was killed in front of his parents' home; Officer Thor Soderberg was killed with his own gun in front of a police building, and Officer Michael Bailey was killed in front of his own house while washing his car. Bailey was one of the officers on detail to the Mayor; can gang members be more blatant in their choice of victims? A message is being sent and City Hall is responding by making revenue more important than safety?
As the Sun-Times story story pointed out,” Last month, officers in the Near North District, which covers the downtown area north of the Chicago River, issued 6,709 tickets, the most in the city. The Wentworth District east of Sox Park on the South Side issued 1,030 tickets, the fewest. The districts with the most tickets were among those with the least crime in the city. And the districts with the fewest tickets were among those with the most crime.” In these instances the math makes sense. The more crime that a district has, the less time an officer spends writing a parking ticket because he is busy pursuing criminals!
Top 5 districts that issued most/least tickets in July
Districts with most tickets issued Near North District, 1160 N. Larrabee-- 6,709 Rogers Park, 6464 N. Clark-- 4,990 Town Hall, 3600 N. Clark--4,673 Foster, 5400 N. Lincoln-- 4,100 Albany Park 4650 N. Pulaski--4,087
Districts with least tickets issued Wentworth, 5010 S. Wentworth --1,030 Austin, 5701 W. Madison--1,053 Gresham, 7808 S. Halsted --1,179 Calumet, 727 E. 111th--1,197 Englewood, 6120 S. Racine --1,720
Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue called the memo a "troubling warning that smacks of ticketing quotas. It sends the wrong message to the public as to what the real responsibilities of police officers are."
Serco Inc., the firm hired by the city's parking-meter contractor, Chicago Parking Meters LLC, has employees that write parking tickets at meters and aides assigned to the Revenue Department write parking tickets at meters and anywhere else. Writing tickets should be supplemental work for police officers, not a first priority!
If the Revenue Department is complaining that not enough tickets are being written, they should look at the enforcement aides in their own departments, not the officers served to protect the citizens and streets of Chicago. There are more than enough murders, robberies, shootings and other violent activities the police must be responsible for; when did their job description include being a revenue generating center?
When Mayor Daley held a press conference on August 2nd to introduce a new crime fighting initiative called, Predictive Policing he choose to hold his press conference at the Austin District Station, a district that ranks the second-worst for writing parking tickets and one of the highest in crime. Maybe if the police officers there had ticketed all the illegally parked TV trucks, they could have helped their statistics for the month.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this blog before Mayor Daley became upset when he heard about the memo that was sent out by the Department of Revenue and suspended Director Bea Reyna-Hickey for one day for allowing it to be distributed. His reason for suspending her? “Stupidity. It was stupid. Just stupid.” The problem with using “being stupid” as a reason for suspending someone is that the Mayor has just put his own job in jeopardy—just think parking meters and the Olympics.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"We Did Something That We Never Do."

In response to why the CTA hired back three bus drivers who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) because of DUI convictions off duty, CTA President Richard Rodriguez said, “What we did is something that we never do." Well, you did do it; so how can you say you never do it? Never means never! The Better Government Association and FOX Chicago News made public last week an investigation that called the process of allowing the drivers to get their jobs back, ” a lesson in Chicago-style backroom wheeling and dealing.” I have written many blogs about mismanagement, bloated salaries, executive perks, etc. at the CTA. I have also commented that I do not use the CTA and now hearing about the driving records of the three drivers in question, I am glad I don’t!
CTA rules state that any driver who does not have a valid CDL for 180 days can be terminated. The three bus drivers in question were all charged with drunk driving while off-duty and were subsequently fired after they lost their CDLs.
The BGA/FOX report revealed, “CTA President Rich Rodriguez said the agency took the extraordinary step of rehiring those drivers as something of an olive branch. Earlier this year, the CTA was millions of dollars in the red and needed to restructure its labor agreements. Rodriguez said they allowed the former employees with DUI's to get back behind the wheel as an enticement to get the Amalgamated Transit Union to the bargaining table to talk about furlough days and cutbacks.” So Rodriguez risked the safety of thousands of bus passengers as a negotiating tool. So while the streets of Chicago are already not safe because of crime; now they are not safe because of incompetent of CTA drivers! Doesn’t working from home sound better now? Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw said, "It's important for organizations like the CTA to maintain good relationships with their unions, and I'm all for that. But you don't buy labor peace by jeopardizing the safety of riders by rehiring people with drunken driving records." In the story that aired on FOX Chicago News, they tracked down one of the drivers, Marilyn Smith. She was busted for DUI on July 4, 2008. Fox reporter Dane Placko said, “According to police reports Smith had a blood-alcohol level of .14, well over the legal limit of .08. Smith told us she had had a beer and a shot when she was arrested while off-duty, but disputed whether that amount of alcohol should even warrant a DUI. ‘I was not drunk,’ she said. ‘Two beers will give you a DUI? So the whole city is driving drunk.’ “ Maybe with the exception of me because I have not had a beer in at least 20 years!
The report concluded with, “Not only did the three bus drivers with DUI's get their jobs back; they also received a total of $70,000 in back pay, according to a CTA spokesperson.
The three were among a total of ten fired employees the CTA agreed to rehire at the union's behest. Rodriguez said he tried to stop the reinstatement when he learned some of the employees had DUI's but the process was too far along. The union filed a lawsuit and the CTA agreed to take all the employees back.”
Rodriguez admitted that,”What we did is something that we never do. We have rules and that's why they are in place, and we were willing to bend the rules in order to try to... avoid the mass layoffs.”
According to records compiled for the Tribune by the Federal Transit Administration, CTA buses have been involved in more collisions annually since 2008 than buses operated by the nine other largest public bus systems in the United States.. Do the DUI convictions of some drivers have anything to do with that?
So the CTA was willing to jeopardize safety for peace. Imagine what it will cost the city in a lawsuit if one of those reinstated drivers is an accident that kills someone? Since Chicago is self-insured it will have to pay millions in settlement. I wonder if the 2011 budget has a line item for that?

I TOLD YOU SO!

On September 20th of last year, I posted a blog, “Quinn Says Let The Prisoners Go.” I pointed out that fiscally the early release plan was not really worth it and I wrote, “Illinois Governor Quinn has announced a plan (well not the details, just that he wants to do it) to provide early release of 1,000 inmates from prisons that he says will save the state about $5 million. But since it will cost the prison system about $2 million to monitor those who get out; the math shows a $3 million not $5 million yearly savings. Since the population of the State of Illinois is about 13 million people, that means that the resultant tax benefit is about TWENTY FIVE cents per citizen.” Did anybody listen to me? No! When the program was announced, an Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman said that only "low-level, non-violent" offenders who are in the last year of their sentence will qualify for early release and will be fitted with electronic monitoring devices. The offenders who will qualify for the program will just be “drug and property crime offenders,” Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said. Inmates who are really “bad” like murders, sex offenders and domestic violence criminals won’t qualify for early release. I guess no one listened to her either! Now it is 11 months later and guess what? I was right that the program was not smart and the Illinois Department of Corrections was wrong saying that no violent prisoners would be released.
Last December Governor Quinn asked retired Appellate Judge David A. Erickson to head a committee to investigate the early release program. The report is scathing. "The Meritorious Good Time Push program was ill-conceived. The Department (of Corrections) exhibited institutional myopia: While pursuing cost-saving measures, it neglected the most important consideration — the potential impact on public safety."
According to the Chicago Tribune, here is a breakdown of how the 1,727 early release prisoners have fared: --658 parolees are free and compliant; --498 have been discharged; --390 have been returned to Illinois prisons, some for committing violent offenses; --100 are the subjects of federal immigration enforcement; --36 are incarcerated elsewhere; --32 have outstanding warrants but haven't yet been arrested; --13 have died (we don’t know if by natural causes or by violence) So 25% are back in prison and almost 10% are subject to an investigation or have not been arrested yet; so we basically have a 35% “error rate” on who got out early under “meritorious good time.” I have no idea how much it costs to investigate, re-arrest and send the 426 felons back to prison; but if it costs $2,000 per prisoner (and it probably costs more when you add up salaries of policemen, judges, public defenders etc.), there’s a million dollars of the supposed savings from the program down the drain! And what about the trauma to the victims? And payments to them from the Crime Victim Compensation program? It has to add up to much more than my million dollar estimate! By the way, synonyms for meritorious are praiseworthy and commendable; not words usually associated with felons. Governor Quinn’s Chief of Staff Jerry Stermet said, “The accelerated MGT program was a mistake." I said that 11 months ago, not even factoring in that violent offenders might be released. While Quinn has placed most of the blame on Corrections chief Michael Randle, he also said, “Clearly mistakes were made. I've said that before. I take accountability for the mistakes. The director who made the mistakes takes responsibility for them. My job is to find remedies for those mistakes." Winston Churchill said, “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” Since Quinn is not a wise man, we have to hope the voters of Illinois are and don't allow him to keep Illinois' highest elected position, the Office of Governor

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two Times Twelve Equals Twenty Four!

In referring to City Hall employees having to take 24 furlough days a year, the Mayor said, “My employees are taking one day a month off. Don’t you think they’re sacrificing? Do you think they want to take it off? No.” Wait? Shouldn’t that be two days a month, not one? In normal circumstances, when one multiples two times twelve, they get 24. Of course, if one is not using the base ten system the results would be different; but I am sure Mayor Daley is only knowledgeable in the one that is in common use. So I wonder how he arrived at that answer to a math question. No gold star for you, Mr. Mayor. And no gold star either for the Chicago Teacher’s Union, who rejected having teachers give up their four percent raise so lay offs could be avoided; forgoing the raise would save about $100 million. Instead, the union said cuts have to come elsewhere. But Ron Huberman, the school’s Chief Executive Officer has said that he has already taken cuts everywhere, including central office firings and changes to bus routes. Muddying up the waters is a federal jobs bill passed last week that could give Chicago Public Schools up to $105 million for teacher’s salaries. But this money would be a one- time windfall and not exist the following school year. So the Union must be thinking that since there might be money for salaries they are not risking that pot by saying they will forgo a raise. Can’t the union do the math either? If the federal pile of money comes in and it is used for raises, there still will not be enough money to halt eliminating hundreds of teaching positions. Four hundred teachers have already received pink slips with another 800 slips waiting to go. In a statement last week, Chicago Teacher’s Union President Karen Lewis accused CPS of manufacturing an “unconscionable, man-made educational disaster” by raising high school class sizes to 33 students and laying off 2,000 teachers and “para-professionals.”
Both sides have their own stories and neither side believes the other. The stand-off reminds me a bit of the “Soup Nazi” episode of The Jerry Seinfeld Show. The “Soup Nazi” himself is the nickname of the titular character played by Larry Thomas. The term “Nazi” is used as an exaggeration of the excessively strict regimentation he constantly demands of the patrons of his “soup only” restaurant. The “Soup Nazi” demands a strict manner of behavior while ordering. As Seinfeld comments in an explanation of the procedure, "It's very important not to embellish on your order. No extraneous comments.” Character George Costanza (Jason Alexander) asks Jerry about a bowl of soup, “Why can't we share?" Seinfeld replies, “I told you not to say anything. You can't go in there, brazenly flaunt the rules and then think I'm gonna share with you." CPS and CTU better learn how to divide the money equitably and come to an agreement soon or “There’s No Soup for Them.”

Friday, August 13, 2010

ALL OF CHICAGO IS A STAGE

The position of Legislative Inspector General, that was created months ago by ordinance, whose mission will be to “investigate” ethics complaints against Chicago Councilmen, has not been filled. Is anyone surprised? Fran Spielman wrote in Tuesday’s Sun-Times, “The City Council's Rules Committee, chaired by powerful Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), has yet to appoint a search committee to recommend candidates for the four-year term of legislative inspector general.” Once the panel is appointed, the new job has to be advertised. Even if aldermen have a retired judge in mind for the job, the search committee has to go through the motions. Applicants need time to apply and be interviewed. The City Council then must ratify the panel's choice, establish a budget and staff for the office and find a way to fund it.” I have written so many blogs in support of the City Inspector General (who cannot investigate aldermen) and the ordinance that created the Legislative Inspector General (who can investigate aldermen) that people might be getting bored. But the topics are so important that they cannot be ignored. Until I read Spielman’s story, I had no idea that the City Council had not acted upon the legislation. Not that having a Legislative Inspector General will do much good because he will be a “toothless tiger,” as Alderman Joe Moore (D-49th) has said. I wrote in my blog, “As The Alderman Like It” on April 13th, when the legislation was still pending, that 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. “ I also wrote about Moore’s frustration in that the ordinance “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; ‘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." While I wrote in April about the ordinance being a sham, “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,” it never occurred to me that City Council would not be making some sort of effort to fill the position! How stupid was I?
Alderman Richard Mell (D-33rd) chairman of the The City Council's Rules Committee, has not even appointed a search committee for recommendations of potential applicants to fill the position. The process after the committee makes suggestions entails advertising the job, vetting potential candidates, interviews, City Council ratification of the choice, etc. etc. There hasn’t even been any discussion how the office will be funded or staffed. Because the legislation virtually handcuffs the Legislative Inspector General, including that all investigative findings would have to be presented to the city's Board of Ethics (which has never taken action against aldermen) why is Mell dragging his feet? He is already being humiliated by the actions of his son-in-law Rod Blagojevich so one would think he would at least pretend to care enough about the ethics of the Aldermen to get someone in position to investigate! I concluded the blog back in April by writing, “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?” At least the Crimeans spent the time painting the facades of the buildings, Mell isn’t even doing that. The stage might be set, but no actor is even allowed to play the role. Mell is really a master thespian.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

WELL, PARDON ME!

During a 1998 radio interview, former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, who died yesterday from cancer at the age of 82, said, "With all the legislation that I passed, with all the history that I've written with respect to the economics of the country, they're always going to say there's a felon named Danny Rostenkowski. That's going to be the obituary." And that is what it should be; but it isn’t. The laudatory quotes that are coming from politicians falling over themselves to praise a man who stole from the people he was elected to serve are making me sick. Like this one from Democratic Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan on how the former congressman was devoted to the state of Illinois and Chicago and how Rostenkowski's efforts to help "regular people" wade through the tangle of government was "unparalleled." Even the Republicans are praising him. In a brief statement, former President George H.W. Bush asserted everyone in the Congress respected Rostenkowski. The former president added that he and his wife, Barbara, "loved him and will miss him.” Readers of this blog are educated enough to know about Rosty’s career as one of the most powerful United States Congressmen from 1959 to 1995, so I don’t have to dwell on that. Nor is it really necessary to write about how, during his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee from 1981 until 1984, he brought a lot of pork to Chicago and Illinois because various obituaries will list the legislation he worked on. So to paraphrase Marc Anthony, “I write to bury Rosty, not to praise him; the evil that men do lives after them.” Rosty was a politician of the old Democratic machine. Back then elected officials did what they wanted without regard to legalities or proprietary. A 1977 Chicago Tribune investigation found he had filled his congressional payroll with friends and business associates and was renting office space in his district from a building owned by his two sisters.
I want everyone to remember that in 1994, he was charged with 17 counts that included: Abusing Congressional Payroll: Accused of placing on his Congressional payroll from July 1971 to July 1992 at least 14 people who did little or no official work, but who performed a variety of personal services for him, his family, his family insurance businesses and his campaign organizations. Payments to these people exceeded $500,000. Trading Stamp Vouchers for Cash: Accused of taking cash on numerous occasions from 1978 to 1991 in exchange for vouchers that members of Congress used to buy stamps. Charged that he obtained at least $50,000 in cash by disguising transactions at the post office as stamp purchases. Misusing Office Expense Accounts: Accused of charging Congress more than $40,000 for items from the House stationery store, including hand-painted chairs, crystal sculptures, and fine china, which he gave as gifts to his friends. Misusing Personal Vehicles: Accused of buying seven vehicles from 1987 to 1992 for use by himself and his family and paying for them with more than $70,000 in official House funds, and $100,000 from his campaign funds. Obstruction of Justice: Charged that he had a House employee engrave brass plaques for him at no charge and then told the employee not to mention this to the grand jury investigating the case. He lost re-election to continue to represent the 5th Congressional District to Republican Michael Flanagan in 1994; ending his career in disgrace—one would think. In 1996, as his federal trial date neared he negotiated his last deal with the Federal government by pleading guilty to two counts of mail fraud. He served 15 months in prison, two months in a half-way house and had to pay a $100,000 fine. I attended the first luncheon that Rosty spoke at after his sentence was completed and it was one of the most nauseating events I was ever at. A room full of 350 prominent business and civic leaders; politicians and media stood and applauded him as he entered the room. I was the sole person to stay seated. I wrote letters to the editors of both the Sun Times and Tribune telling of my disgust. Both papers published the letters which I wish I still had so I could share the sentiments here again. When President Clinton pardoned Rosty in 2000, the New York Times published an editorial on December 23rd that read,”President Clinton's pardon yesterday of Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who pleaded guilty to mail fraud charges in 1996, is a misuse of the presidential pardoning power in order to pay back a loyal political lieutenant. We sought to caution Mr. Clinton last week to show restraint in exercising this extraordinary power during his last holiday season in office, but our cautionary note was replaced in most editions by an editorial on the Supreme Court's late-night ruling in the election case, so we return to the subject today.” In justifying the pardon, Clinton said, “Rostenkowski had done a lot for his country and had more than paid for his mistakes." We taxpayers paid also because Rosty received a federal pension of between $97,000 and $125,000 per year for the 16 years since he left office; that’s more than $1.5 million paid to a convicted felon. Great country we live in. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We Don't Want Nobody That Nobody Sent!

A key question in Chicago politics has always been, “Who sent you?” The classic phrase, “we don’t want nobody that nobody sent,” is from an anecdote related by Judge Abner Mikva. “One of the stories that is told about my start in politics is that on the way home from law school one night in 1948, I stopped by the ward headquarters in the ward where I lived. There was a street-front, and the name Timothy O'Sullivan, Ward Committeeman, was painted on the front window. I walked in and I said ‘Id like to volunteer to work for Stevenson and Douglas.’ his quintessential Chicago ward committeeman took the cigar out of his mouth and glared at me and said, ‘Who sent you?’ I said, ‘Nobody sent me.’ He put the cigar back in his mouth and he said, ‘We don't want nobody that nobody sent.’ This was the beginning of my political career in Chicago.” So if somebody does not send you, then you are basically no one. The same theory of exclusivity holds for getting in to see a new doctor. If nobody sent you, you will never get an appointment with a fabulous practitioner because they will be booked for weeks. If a new doctor can see you right away, you almost become suspicious wondering how they can possibly be available at a moment’s notice. Of course, if somebody sent you, then you can get in. An on-line doctor appointment booking service just went live for Chicagoans; www.zocdoc.com. This free service started in New York City in 2007 and also covers doctors in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. It is very simple and works just like the restaurant reservation website Open Table. I tried booking a Saturday night table at Toplobampo, Graham Elliot or Capital Grille and I felt the web site was laughing at me when it reported, “No tables available within 2.5 hours of your request.” Now if I personally called Capital Grille, I could get in. But the computer does not know who I am; so it rejects me. So who would want to see the type of doctor that is immediately accessible by a computer appointment? How pathetic does that doctor have to be that they are not booked up weeks in advance? And ZocDoc does not just have general practitioners on their site; there are even cardiologists listed! The company bragged in a story in the Sun Times that it has 200,000 appointments available in Chicago at any given time. I did not realize there were that many substandard doctors in the area.
In my blog of July 27, 2009, “Having People,” I wrote that Bobbie the scheduler for my vascular surgeon was an important person in my life. That was proven again this past May when I called her from my cell phone when I was walking down the street and told her something was not right. She told me to come in right away and I had surgery a few days later on Memorial Day. If a stranger who nobody had sent had called her, they probably would still be waiting for an appointment! My surgeon is the best, so you can’t get an appointment like at a second-rate restaurant listed on a web site! I went to www.zocdoc.com and there are hundreds of doctors that a patient can get in to see immediately. But how good a doctor can they be when they see patients that “nobody sent?” I only want to see doctors that nobody can get into to see; those are the best doctors!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

ADMITTING FAILURE

Gery Chico, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at City Colleges, told the Sun-Times editorial board last week, "There are too many people coming from schools unprepared in the rigors of math, reading and writing to succeed at the college level."
On July 30th, I posted a blog, “The Test Scores Are Still Failing Numbers,” where I castigated Mayor Daley for touting high school ACT test numbers that, while rising, are still pathetic. I wrote, “With the exception of community colleges, a student cannot expect to gain entrance to an institution of higher education with an American College Testing (ACT) score lower than 20; that means that 75.6% of CPS students do not have scores high enough to attend and succeed in college.”
I also pointed out that since City Colleges have an open admission policy, “…basically anybody who is breathing and older than 18 years of age can attend. Since the graduation rates range from 3.4% at Harold Washington College to 13% at Malcolm X, we’ve answered the question of whether the students perform better after they leave high school. NO! They still do not succeed. So Chicago students fail miserably in high school and the trend continues at the Chicago-run colleges.”
Now Chico is evaluating whether the colleges’ “open-door” admissions policy needs to be overhauled. He also told the editorial board, "There are too many people coming from schools unprepared in the rigors of math, reading and writing to succeed at the college level. City Colleges is spending about $30 million a year on "basic remediation" classes. It's an expense that takes away from preparing other students to move on to four-year schools or learn skills that will help them get good jobs. It's a re-do, if you will. And it's not what we want to be in the business of doing."
Might unprepared students be rejected?
"Not sure yet," Chico said. "But I'll tell you one thing: The Mayor and I are looking at not being a completely wide open, walk-in place."
Good for Chico!! Until someone admits failure, can they hope to succeed! When it is possible for any student of any ability to be admitted, it is unfair to the students who do meet the standards because the education process will sink to the lowest common denominator. Professors cannot be effective teachers if the scholar is not scholarly.
If a student does not have basic reading, writing and math skills they are doomed to failure. That is obvious. Remediation courses should be offered and taken before the student enters college, so they will have a chance to succeed.
I have guest lectured at Harold Washington College and have been astounded at the lack of fundamental skills of the students. These undergraduates are not stupid, they are just underachievers. They are knowledgeable in social media, so it proves they can learn.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” City Colleges have failed in the past; I know we can rely on Chico’s hard work to make them succeed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

THE JUDGE WILL WAIT!

Last week I was at the Standard Club, which is adjacent to the Dirksen Federal Building, and was astounded at the multitude of satellite TV trucks that were parked across from the Club. The doorman told me the trucks were there waiting for the verdict from the Blagojevich trial. The stupidity of the reporters hanging around, reminded me of a similar story years ago when Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was banned by Major League Baseball’s Executive Committee in 1996 from managing her team due to statements in support of German domestic policies of Nazi Party leader, Adolf Hitler. Carol Marin’s column in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, “Waiting for Blago at Camp Dirksen,” reinforced that memory. In 1996 when the Executive Committee of MLB met at the Hilton O’Hare, I was in charge of the media room. There were about 30 reporters from print, radio and TV (this was before the days of the internet) from Ohio, Chicago and national outlets. The Executive Committee was sequestered in an area of the hotel not known to the reporters. We had been told that when a verdict was ready to be announced we would be given notice as to where to assemble. Because the Ohio and national sports radio and TV media needed to broadcast up-dated reports of progress (of which there were none!), I helped them all interview each other. It was hysterical to watch, for instance, Jerome Holtzman, legendary baseball writer from the Chicago Tribune, do an interview with a Cincinnati radio station about what was happening. It was so funny because NOTHING was happening except for the reporters interviewing each other using phrases like, “rumor has it, “or “speculation is.” After hours and hours of being “held hostage” in that holding room, I suggested that if EVERYBODY walked out to stretch their legs, get something to eat or even throw a baseball around in the backyard of the hotel, I would let them know when the verdict came in. MLB would not make an announcement unless the press was present to report it. Nobody would leave the room! All throughout the afternoon, reporters would shout out and claim the owners were coming out for the announcement. Just more rumors! Eight hours after we had assembled, it was actually Tom Shaer, then a sports reporter for WMAQ TV, who saw the Executive Committee members coming and yelled, ” Air raid Pearl Harbor, this is not a drill .” At least for the Marge Schott it was only one day of waiting; for the Blago verdict we are in the second week. Don’t all the high-powered reporters realize that there will probably be at least one hour’s notice before the verdict is announced because the Judge has to give time for the defendants to arrive in the courtroom? With the exception of WGN-TV, which is located 6.7 miles from the Federal Building, the rest of the media are all within walking distance! The WBBM studio is five blocks away, WLS-TV is nine blocks away, WFLD-TV is ten blocks, etc., etc., etc.
Carol Marin wrote, “Welcome to Camp Dirksen. It has been seven weeks of the Rod & Robert Blagojevich corruption trial. And eight days of jury deliberation so far. We media types have formed an occupation army at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago.
We come early and we wait. And wait.
Camera crews sit in collapsible lawn chairs and balance laptops on their knees in the media pen in the lobby -- and kill time surfing the Web.”
Marin also wrote, “My pal, WMAQ-Channel 5 reporter Phil Rogers, compared the sameness of our days to Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." We immediately Googled it. Murray spent 38 days reliving the same day.”
I find the Camp Dirksen situation to be akin to the Samuel Beckett play, “Waiting for Godot,” a play that depicts the meaninglessness of life--with its repetitive plot, where nothing much happens. The play is considered by some critics to be one of the most prominent works of the “Theater of the Absurd.” Exactly what we are seeing on Dearborn Street; people waiting when it is inconsistent with reason, logic or common sense.

Friday, August 6, 2010

THIRD TIME SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE CHARM!

Alderman Bernie Stone of the 50th ward is the oldest member of Chicago’s City Council. First elected to the Council in 1973, he is also the second longest-serving alderman (after Ed Burke). Two of his 2007 campaign aides were sentenced to prison this week for their participation in election fraud during the 2007 municipal elections. Stone denies any involvement. I have written three blogs which included references to Alderman Stone. The first one, “Inspector General not Inspector Gadget” (6/7/09) dealt with Stone’s criticism of David Hoffman, who was then Chicago’s Inspector General. I wrote, “Alderman Bernie Stone (50th) is an outspoken critic of the Inspector General probably because Hoffman investigated a Stone aide for voter fraud. Stone said in a Tribune story that the Mayor probably has voiced support for Hoffman, “…because he is afraid to fire him because of the reaction he would get. People might say he got rid of him because he’s criticizing the Mayor.” The second one, “Crooked Aldermen? A Job for the FBI according To Stone,” (2/9/10) recounted Stone’s not wanting the City’s Inspector General’s scope of duties to include investigating Aldermen. I wrote, ” In response to Chicago Mayor Daley saying that he wanted to add the responsibility of investigating Aldermen to the duties of the Inspector General, Alderman Bernard Stone said that the fact that 29 aldermen have been convicted shows there's no need for more scrutiny. "Law enforcement is doing an excellent job in sending crooked Aldermen to jail," he said. "Why do we need someone to duplicate that?" Hey, Bernie, maybe there would have been more convicted if there had been oversight?” In the third one, “City Payroll is no longer Relative,” (2/12/10), I wrote, “Alderman Bernie Stone makes it so easy for someone to take him to task for his entitlement attitude that I am almost embarrassed to take another shot at him. My blog a few days ago, “Crooked Aldermen? A Job For The FBI According To Stone,” recounted Stone’s not wanting the City’s Inspector General’s scope of duties to include investigating Aldermen. It also included a few other juicy tidbits about his past. This week he voted AGAINST barring relatives from the Aldermen’s part-time “stealth payrolls.” This fourth one gives Stone the dubious honor of being the most “popular” subject of my blog after Mayor Daley. Trust me; this is not an honor like multiple hostings of “Saturday Night Live!” According to the Sun-Times, “A Cook County Judge sentenced Ald. Bernard Stone’s (50th) former ward superintendent and another man to jail today for attempting to improperly steer votes toward Stone in the hotly contested 2007 aldermanic race. Anish Eapen, 40, and Armando Ramos, 36, both “attempted to steal democracy,” Judge Marcus Salone said before sentencing Eapen to 364 days in jail and Ramos to 270 days in jail. While arguing for probation, the men’s attorneys, Rohit Sahgal and Tom Breen, said that the two were not well-versed in election law and were taking orders from Stone and other 50th ward officials.” To this day, he has no idea what he did wrong,” Sahgal said of Ramos.” What did they do wrong? The Sun-Times continues “Eapen, who was handpicked by Stone to serve as a ward superintendent, and Ramos would target primarily Indian and Pakistani voters and coax them to take absentee ballots, prosecutors said. Both would watch as voters filled out the absentee ballot applications and forms for both the 2007 February general election and the run-offs in April later that year when Stone edged out challenger Naisy Dolar. At least one woman, Hema Panchigar, who isn’t registered to vote, testified in November that Eapen filled out her ballot. She signed the ballot, as did all her relatives, but said during the drawn out bench trial, ‘I didn’t mark anything.’ “
The two men said they were “taking orders from Stone,” yet Stone is not punished. In fact he called them, “political prisoners,” and he castigated former city Inspector General David Hoffman by saying that Hoffman singled him out in the ballot fraud investigation while ignoring to probe other aldermen.” They are not the ones who attempted to steal democracy. The one who attempted to steal democracy was David Hoffman,” an infuriated Stone said. “. . . This is a miscarriage of justice.” The only miscarriage of justice will be if voters in the 50th Ward elect Stone again in the upcoming municipal election in February 2011.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

WHY I LOVE CHICAGO

The Chicago Tribune and WGN commissioned a poll to find out what was the best of Chicago and what was the worst about the city. Out of the nine categories in the best column, I only cared about the one that I will reveal at the end of this blog. Since respondents to the poll done by Market Shares Corp of 800 heads of households in Chicago’s six-county area were not confined to Chicago residents only, I discount many of the answers. I do that because a suburbanite has no right to respond to what is good or bad about actual living in Chicago. They don’t live here! I don’t care that they live in the “Chicagoland area,” because once one is outside the borders of the city they are a different animal. They have no more authority to comment on my city than I do about Northbrook, Oak Park or Crestwood. I hate when someone introduces themselves as being from Chicago and it turns out they live in Forest Park or some other suburb. You are not allowed to say you live in Chicago if you don’t! My rule! McHenry is one of the six counties referred to in the survey. I checked and the distance from a Walgreens in Spring Grove (McHenry) to my Walgreen’s on the corner of Michigan and Chicago Avenues is 59.44 miles. How often is a Spring Grovite or Spring Grovidian coming to the “big city?” Not enough for them to be qualified to answer questions about the quality of life in Chicago. The number one category of choice on the best of Chicago list was the cultural activities. Eating yogurt is the closest I get to culture. It is nice is know that there are 40 museums in Chicago, but I only enter one when some out of towner comes to visit and I have to pretend I know what’s going on. The suburbanites filling out the survey probably considered Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza as cultural events and that is why the category ranked so high! According to the survey, the second best thing about Chicago is the lakefront. I have lived here fulltime since 1987 and have never stepped onto any Chicago beach: public or private. Why anyone would swim in a body of water where fish defecate is beyond me. There are less germs in my dirty old bath water; want to come over for a dip? Convenient transportation was very high on the list. Since I have written many times about my non-usage of public transportation, this is also a meaningless category for me. The quality of colleges and the sports teams hold no thrill. I was happy that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup this year but that was followed up by a front page story in the Tribune recently about how much money the team is losing. If a team can win a championship and still be fiscally in the red, how good a team can it be? Way down on the list was the reason I live in Chicago--the people. Every major city on the world has museums, gourmet restaurants, buses, universities and many have lakefronts; but Chicagoans are special. In Manhattan a stranger steps over your fallen body, in Chicago ten strangers rush to pick you up off the ground. Friends are what makes Chicago the best city and as St. Thomas Aquinas said” There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Friendship is why I choose Chicago.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"DEEP FREEZE CITY'S NEWEST ART WORKS"

Monday’s local newspapers touted Chicago’s latest summer public art display. It started August 2; and will continue though September 15th. The exhibit, “Fine Art Fridges,” consists of dead, recycled, painted refrigerators given to the City of Chicago by ComEd. According to a company press release, “The exhibit was created to raise awareness for ComEd’s Appliance Recycling Program, through which ComEd will haul away old, second working refrigerator or freezer free of charge. In return, customers receive $25.00 per appliance. To date, the program has removed more than 43,000 inefficient appliances from the market.”
When did it become allowable for the streets of Chicago to become shills for an ad campaign (created by the Leo Burnett Agency) for a private company as the picture on this blog shows?
In 1999, hundreds of life-sized beautifully painted fiberglass cows promenaded through the streets of Chicago as a stunning summer public art display. The event was originally conceived and presented in Zurich, Switzerland, during the summer of 1998 and Chicagoan Peter Hanig brought the idea to Mayor Daley. The city became host to cow mania and the craze was milked for every drop. Hotels, restaurants, stores all had promotions tied into the displays and more than one million additional tourists visited the city to view the bovine beauties.
The cows were stunning and, when the exhibit was over, were donated to local charities which sold them for thousands of dollars. Mayor Daley received well-deserved praise from international media and took his bows.
Trying to keep the momentum of summer public art going, in the summer of 2000, Chicagoans were treated to the “Summer of Ping Pong,” when the city sported ping pong tables on the sidewalks downtown. This came about because, according to Lois Weisberg, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, "I got tired of hearing from hundreds of people . . . asking what the city was going to do next. I decided to do either nothing or come up with something that had absolutely nothing to do with the cows." The idea scored up a big zero!
Not wanting to give up, the next year, 2001, the city served up another blooper with “Suite Home Chicago.” This was when the city became home to 300 makeshift living room suites of elaborately decorated furniture arranged throughout the city's streets, parks and plazas. Each suite consisted of a sofa, a chair, an ottoman and a television set. The suites were decorated by local artists, in a huge variety of styles: from muted Martha Stewart hues to a sofa with plants and flowers springing from its cushions. The urban street furniture displays might have sounded like a winner in concept, but even the homeless population of Chicago shunned the displays.
Now, we have the dead refrigerators. When I checked with the Department of Cultural Affairs to find out who approved this exhibition I received an e-mail from Kimberly Costello, Assistant Commissioner/Director of Public Affairs for the department that read,” The Department of Cultural Affairs was not involved in this exhibition and does not have any documents that are responsive to your request.” In a follow up e-mail she wrote,” This was a private exhibition, sponsored by ComEd, not a City-sponsored exhibition like Cows on Parade.“ She suggested I try the Department of Transportation, which has to approve use of the public ways.
So this story that started off with my wondering how Lois Weisberg could have allowed dead refrigerators to become street art, has now taken an entirely different twist.
I will continue with the research. I have sent FOIAs to various city departments asking for information on the program. Like fish not kept in the icebox, it is starting to smell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bite Me Motard Partie Deux!

Paris is the City of Lights; Chicago is the City of Big Shoulders. Paris has foie gras and escargot; Chicago has hot dogs and pizza. Parisians are sophisticated and chic; we are gauche. Women swoon when hearing a French accent; yet when women hear “Da Bears,” no lady sweats. So Mary Schimch’s column in the Chicago Tribune on Friday was a bit curious when it started with, “It's not every day that you can stroll down a Chicago sidewalk and think you've been magically zapped to Paris.” Well, that ain’t gonna ever happen! Willis Tower… Eiffel Tower—not the same. In her narrative, Schich was referring to rental-bike docks that resemble the Vélib’ stations in Paris. The Parisian public bike rental program was an initiative pushed by Mayor Betran Delanoe in July, 2007. While they might share an aesthetic look, the comparison of the two systems stops there. Chicago’s “Bike and Roll” rental program offers seven rental locations and 75 bikes. The program in Paris started with 10,000 bicycles and 750 automated rental stations each with 15 or more bikes/spaces. This number has since grown to 20,000 bicycles and 1,639 stations, roughly one station every 300 meters (984.25 feet for you Americans; remember France uses metric system!) throughout the city which makes the Vélib’ the largest system of its kind in the world. The name Vélib’ is a combination of “velo” (bike) and “liberté” (freedom). The company requires that bikes can only rented by people who are older than 16 years of age. Since there are no employees at the rental sites, how will verification occur? According to the company’s web site, current rental locations are at Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and North Avenue Beach. The other locations: Riverwalk, DuSable Museum, Adler Planetarium and Foster Beach are listed as being available this summer. Since it is August, maybe the other locations are active. I don’t know and I am not biking to them to check! I would have to move out of Chicago if the city’s system grew to 20,000 bikes because I have made clear my disdain for bicycling in an urban city. (July 7, 2010: “Bite Me Biker!) The bike rental plan is quite simple: one rents a bike at one location with a credit card and returns it either to the same location or another one. The meter at the station determines what one owes from the time that has elapsed between rental and return. All the boring information on pricing can be found at the Bike and Roll web site, http://www.bikeandroll.com. My Francophile friend Caroline, who knows of the Paris operation, pointed out a number of problems with the Chicago system. Here are a few scenarios. You rent a bike at Navy Pier and ride to North Avenue Beach for a swim. You get there and all of the slots in the bike docking station are already full from people who biked from Millennium Park and parked first. What do you do? Since the bike rental charges are dependent upon time of return, the clock is ticking and you hear, “cha ching, cha ching,” going off in your head. You want to swim but you can’t because you are standing there holding a bike with no place to put it! How about you bike from Millennium Park to Navy Pier, return the bike, enjoy an afternoon at the Pier and want to return to Millennium for a concert? There are no bikes left at Navy Pier. You have to take a gas guzzling bus which disgusts you, a tree-hugging biker! Problems! My final problem with the program is that when Schmich asked Bike and Roll founder, Josh Squire, if the rental program cost the city anything, his answer was,” It doesn't cost the city anything. Since we put a couple of stations on park district space, if we get sponsorships, then the city will benefit.” Wait! A for-profit company is receiving free space from the Park District to run their company? Every other company pays rent! Where was the RFP? In Hamlet, the character Marcellus says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” I prefer saying, “Quelque chose est pourri dans le royaume du Danemark,” because this bike deal stinks!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Illinois Should Better Manage the Lottery, not Waste the Bucks

STATE REP. JACK FRANKS GUEST EDITORIAL Our state recently put the wheels in motion to hire a private management firm to run the Illinois lottery for the next decade. No other state has ever tried to privatize any portion of their lottery. There is a simple explanation for this; taxpayers lose out under a privatization plan. The rationale behind privatization is to make Illinois’ lottery operate like a cutting-edge business. Any private manager that took over our lottery would look like a hero because we are doing such a poor job managing it ourselves. A private manager would cut administrative costs because only one firm would be in charge of business operations which are currently spread between a dozen or more hands. In the end, however, taxpayers will lose out on the full benefit of improved lottery performance. If the deal is cut, Illinois will pay the management company a hefty fee for its services, plus an additional percentage of the increased lottery profits, allowing the management firm to reap huge benefits from cleaning up a lethargically run state agency. With the stench from the Chicago parking meter deal still lingering this plan should sound familiar. It would behoove our state to proceed with caution whenever the word ‘privatize’ is uttered. Simply entertaining the private management idea has already cost taxpayers nearly $4 million in consulting fees to help state officials set up bid documents and evaluate offers. There are severe problems with current management of the lottery in Illinois. A complete overhaul of the lottery’s operation is in order. Our lottery system uses antiquated machinery, its superintendent is only a part-time employee and our state’s procurement system is archaic. By running our lottery inefficiently, we are missing out on the opportunity to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Illinois’ cash-strapped budget. We can streamline the lottery’s management while increasing its benefits to the taxpayers. Importantly, Illinois places no valuation on online lottery sales because they are not currently legal. But, I believe the federal government will change the law in the near future and those sales will become legal. To properly manage our lottery and maximize profits, we should be placing a value on those assets and plan accordingly. Illinois is the fifth most populated state in the United States, but it ranks 18th in lottery sales and per-capita sales in Illinois are below average for a population of our size. In fact, Illinois lags behind states that are petite by comparison, for example, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. These smaller states have maximized profits without privatization. Instead, they have employed clever marketing and innovative business practices. It is clear that Illinois can and should have higher lottery sales. Illinois can reach that goal on its own, by centralizing and modernizing the lottery’s management. Rather than jump to a privatization deal, we should simply hold ourselves accountable for making the changes we know need to be made. The bottom line is we need to improve our management of the lottery, ourselves. Two of the firms reportedly interested in bidding on the plan already do business with Illinois’ lottery. Handing over the profits to companies that already operate our lottery makes little sense. Moreover, a third interested firm is headed by a highly lauded former Illinois lottery director. We had the talent in-house before, and we should hire that talent in-house again. We have the all the tools we need, we just need to use them wisely and efficiently. Keeping the lottery in-house will require implementing an entirely new management structure mimicking the private industry. However, profits realized from an improved system will remain in the taxpayers’ hands. After all, the purpose of the lottery is to provide funding for the citizens of Illinois, not a corporation handpicked by the Governor. Illinois does not need a private company to manage its lottery. Illinois just needs to do a better job of doing its job.