URBAN PHILOSOPHER
Conscience Laureate

Monday, January 31, 2011

WALKING AND CHEWING GUM


Fran├žois-Marie Arouet

 New York State Senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) has introduced legislation making it illegal to use an iPod, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while walking and crossing the street. He proposed the bill because of an incident last December when a man was crushed by a Mack truck when he failed to hear the vehicle’s backup signal because he was listening to music on headphones. If elected officials introduced a new law every time someone did something stupid (even though it might be fatal) the legislatures of this land would be clogged with minutiae.


Sen. Kruger said, “You can’t be fully aware of your surroundings if you’re fiddling with a Blackberry, dialing a phone number, playing Super Mario Brothers on a Game Boy or listening to music on an iPod. Tuning in and tuning out can be a fatal combination on the streets of New York.” Okay, just use some common sense, people! We don’t need a law on this matter.

I asked my friend, Manhattan resident James Edstrom, what he thought about the proposed new law.  He said, "What's the difference anyway?  They will just enforce the law a few times to show it on TV and then it will never be enforced again.  The police use these kinds of stupid laws just as an excuse to be able to search you, ask for your ID and then maybe arrest you.  What they need to do is enforce a ban on giant umbrellas.  People using them show no courtesy and pedestrians have to dodge them all the time in bad weather."


Kruger's bill (S.1945) calls for a penalty of $100 and a municipal court summons if anyone is caught crossing the street while using an electronic device. Since electronic devices are not the only distraction one might encounter while crossing the street, will the Senator outlaw mini skirts on women because the distraction of shapely legs might cause men to walk into traffic? What about chewing gum and walking at the same time? A tough task for many people.


The derivation of the phrase “walking and chewing gum” is originally from a private conversation then President Lyndon Johnson was having, but it has been altered a bit. Johnson was expressing his frustration with then Congressman Gerald Ford and said that Ford was, “so dumb he couldn’t fart and chew gum at the same time.”


For those needing an education in chewing gum and walking, the web site for Bemidji State University (part of the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system) has a How 2 Guide for the process.  Author LeeAnn Johnson breaks down the components of this seemingly easy multitask into categories of footwear, type of gum, walking surface and state of mind. The procedure is really quite complicated when analyzed in depth.


French philosopher and author Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name, Voltaire, said, “Common sense is not so common.” So I guess we should base our laws on the lowest common denominator.







Friday, January 28, 2011

LEAVE ME ALONE!

Greta Garbo

The Chicago Tribune published an editorial recently in opposition of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed “Do Not Track” plan that, “would allow Internet users to reject all forms of tracking through a single setting on their Web browsers. “ I am in favor of the plan because I want to be left alone.


It is ironic that the Tribune is in favor of the National “Do Not Call” Registry but is in opposition to the “Do Not Track,” because I find Internet tracking to be more personally invasive than the phone calls!


The Tribune does admit that, “As it stands, tracking is routine, unfettered and a little scary. Advertisers can collect and share information about the searches conducted by any particular individual, the Web sites visited and the content viewed. They can analyze content on social-media pages, the groceries bought via store loyalty-card programs or a person's precise whereabouts through location-enabled smart phones. Then they can share and compile the data to form personal profiles so detailed that many consumers would find it troubling." But they attempt to justify the intrusion by writing, “Yet tracking comes with benefits. It makes search results more useful and precise.”

I am registered on “Do Not Call” but because charities, politicians and companies I currently do business with are exempt, I still receive many solicitation calls. But I can choose not to answer the phone when I see a toll-free number pop up. Also, the caller has no idea of who else has called me and who I have called in the past. With Internet tracking, a company can ascertain incredibly personal information about me and not even have to produce a search warrant!


If a rogue organization like WikiLeaks can obtain classified State Department information which is distributed on a dozen or more networks that connect agency employees around the world, think what a multi-billion dollar corporation could buy access to!


While Microsoft Corp. said it will add privacy-control features to its Internet Explorer browser that would enable users to create lists of web sites they forbid from tracking them, the work involved by the consumer would take years to complete. There are millions of web sites. How would an Internet user be able to block them one at a time? At least with “Do Not Call,” a person can enter their own phone number and refuse access to it. The Microsoft plan would be the equivalent of a person having to enter every phone number combination in the world, one by one, to block that number from calling them. Impossible!


Please support the FTC in their plan to block access, otherwise every researcher in the world will know who is researching embarrassing topics like erectile dysfunction or breast augmentation!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I KNOW WHAT I WANT FOR MY BIRTHDAY!

Plane that transforms into a car













On January 3, 2011, I wrote a blog  about software that on-line retailer Amazon has developed so potential gift recipients can turn down a gift before it even arrives. In the blog I started off by writing that I don’t like giving gifts when they are expected like for a birthday or a holiday. I like giving them when I find something that I know a person would specifically want. Well, people say I am impossible to buy for, so I am letting all my (loyal) blog followers know today that I have found the perfect gift for me!

Terrafugia Inc. has developed and is taking deposits on a multi-functional vehicle known as the Transition®. It can fly like an airplane and also be fully capable of operating as a car on public streets and highways. According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, “This vehicle is being built to meet the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) certification standards. It has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an aircraft and therefore exempt from the Clean Air Act. It has also been classified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as a multi-purpose passenger vehicle, and will have certification labels from both NHTSA and EPA. It will have a conforming 17-digit VIN and VIN plate, and will meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). “

Sounds great! Here are the answers to some of the simple questions I know many of you must have before deciding if you are going to buy me this present.

Who can use this vehicle?

Since it will be certified as a Light Sport Aircraft, the Transition® will require at least a Sport Pilot license to fly, which requires a minimum of 20 hours of flight time and passing a simple practical test in the aircraft. One will also need a valid driver's license for use on the ground.  (I have a driver's license, I will have to get the Sport Pilot one.)


How does the Transition® convert from flight to road configurations?


Before flying, the pilot extends the wings and performs a standard preflight. The engine power is directed to the propeller for flight through a carbon fiber drive shaft.


After landing, the pilot activates the electro-mechanical wing folding mechanism from inside the cockpit. The wings fold, once at the root and once at the mid-span, and are stowed vertically on the sides of the vehicle in less than 30 seconds. Simultaneously, the engine power is directed to the wheels with a continuously variable transmission. (Sounds easy.  I can do it!)



Where can I use a Transition®?


The Transition® can take off or land at any public use general aviation airport with at least 2,500' of runway. This represents the majority of the over 5,000 public airports in the United States. On average, you're within 30 miles or less of one of these fields anywhere in the country. On the ground, the Transition® can be driven on any road and parked in a standard parking space or household garage. ( The vehicle would not fit in the garage space I currently have, but since I am planning on moving, I will look for a bigger garage.)


How much does the Transition® cost?


The final purchase price has not been set. The company is currently in the process of updating their final cost estimate, which is expected to be between $200,000 and $250,000. (But since they also estimate the car mileage at 35 m.p.g., filling up will be cheap!)


What does one do next if they want to buy one for Kathy?


It only takes a refundable $10,000 deposit to put one on hold. If all my friends get together, that should be no problem! Collecting the rest of the money might get tough, but I know you can do it if you all band together. You read this blog for free! Is it worth a $1/day? Start saving! (The Friends of Kathy Unit (FOKU) committee can pick the color.)





Wednesday, January 26, 2011

GENTLEMEN, GO TO YOUR CORNERS


In a scenario reminiscent of the “Thrilla in Manila” or “The Rumble in The Jungle,” two Illinois officials are battling it out over what one is calling the “poaching” of employees from his government office.


In one corner, in the red tie, we have Illinois Auditor General William Holland, looking to duke it out with the striped-shirt wearing Chad Fornoff, Executive Director of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission.

The stats of the two men stand up as follows:
“The Auditor General is a constitutional officer of the State of Illinois charged with reviewing the obligation, expenditure, receipt and use of public funds. The office issues approximately 150 post-audits of State agencies each year, reviewing an agency's financial records, compliance with State and federal laws and regulations, and program performance after the close of its fiscal year.”

The Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) “is a nine member  commission that promotes ethics in public service. Its purpose is to help ensure that State business is conducted with fairness and integrity.”

Like Superman, I am sure both believe in, “Truth, justice and the American way.”

The big difference in the statistics is that Fornoff has deeper pockets and the EEC can pay employees more money than the Auditor General.

Holland is calling foul because Fornoff has hired eight key employees from his office in the last six months by enticing them with salary increases of up to 28 percent.

The Chicago Tribune reported, “The Ethics Commission went on a hiring binge after getting a budget increase in response to a law that added "another set of eyes" over the state's purchasing practices. Those rules were reformed in the wake of Blagojevich's arrest on political corruption charges, impeachment and removal from office as governor.”


Fornoff claims innocence in the “poaching” charge saying, "We just posted the positions, and very experienced, talented people came and applied — a lot of MBAs and CPAs. We hired on that basis.” He denied his new employees were recruited specifically from Holland's office.


Seven who left for the commission were from a 55-member division that Holland says does "the bread and butter" financial examinations in his office. The eighth employee was a key computer expert, he said. He is upset that another government agency with a “big pot of money” used its monetary strength to circumvent a state hiring freeze.


The biggest salary increase went to one worker whose annual pay rose from $39,024 to $50,000. The highest new salary was $60,000, and the average increase was 17 percent, comptroller records showed.


So the ethics bosses are sparring over ethics. It all comes down to the definition of “poaching” which is to take or appropriate unfairly or illegally. What Fornoff did is not illegal, but is it unfair that he has more money in his budget? Not for the eight new employees who just got a nice raise. Unanimous judges decision to them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

IF ONE COMMUTES, IT TAKES TIME! Get over it!







Every year the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University  puts out an annual Mobility Report  that details the traffic congestion in 439 urban areas. The speed data is supplied by INRIX,  the leading-provider of traffic information. Guess what? There is congestion during morning and evening rush hours in all urban areas. Is that some big revelation?

The report starts out by telling people what causes congestion:

“In a word, “you.” Most of the Mojave Desert is not congested. But the rural portions also support very few jobs, has hardly any schools and provides a very small contribution to the nation’s economic production. The 100 largest metropolitan regions, on the other hand, contribute 70 percent of the gross domestic product and have 69 percent of the jobs (17). It is not surprising that congestion exists in large areas given the number of people and the amount of freight moving in many directions over the course of two peak periods of two or three hours each.”

Did anybody reading this blog not know that already? Will it make anyone's commute more palatable to know that “The commuting uber reference, Commuting in America III confirmed the lengthening commute times, with average travel time to work growing 2 minutes (to 25.5 minutes) from 1990 to 2000, following a 1.7 minute increase in the decade before.”


So we have two studies hundreds of pages long that confirm that there is congestion during rush hour. A four year old could know that by looking out the window of their car as they travel to spend a day at Mommy or Daddy’s office one morning.

According to an AP story, ” Using real-time data to calculate commuter mileage, speed and distance traveled over time, the institute estimated traffic tie-ups cost about $115 billion in 2009. The study released Thursday cites factors such as wasted fuel, lost work hours and delays in shipping goods.”


Nationally, in 2009, commuters lost 34 hours in commuting time because of snarled traffic, but in Chicago, the number of hours was 70. After reading this information are people who live in Winnetka going to give up their beautiful home, backyard and highly-rated public school to move downtown so their commute is just a few minutes? No, of course not! They chose to live in a suburb for the amenities it offers to families and the commute is just part of the off-set.


I find it hysterical when these studies come out with headlines about the horrors of traffic congestion because they will not make one iota of difference in a person’s decision where to live.  Economics and family are the two important reasons behind where people choose to reside.

Everybody knows that there is congestion during rush hour. We don’t have to be told by detailed reports and surveys. Don’t like commuting? Do what the Mobility study tells us, move to the Mojave desert!



























Monday, January 24, 2011

LIFE REFLECTIONS- Two stories



An Eye for An Eye

If someone viciously murdered my sister or a loved one, I would want them immediately tortured slowly and then killed. They have no right to continue their life after taking another’s life away. That said, why am I am opposed to the death penalty as it exists now?

In Illinois there is much public discussion on whether Governor Pat Quinn should sign a bill abolishing the death penalty which has been frozen since 2000 by former Governor George Ryan. Ryan declared the moratorium after courts overturned convictions of 13 men on death row. Seven more inmates have been exonerated since.

Quinn has shown support for capital punishment in the past but is carefully reviewing the bill to abolish. Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said, "He knows what everyone else realizes: The system is still broken.”

While I understand there have been mistakes made in the past, and currently there could be other innocent inmates on death row, there are two factors in my decision about execution.

(1) TIME AND MONEY
People do not realize that it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars when a capital punishment case is involved because the U.S. Constitution requires a long and time consuming judicial process for capital cases.

A New York Times editorial published in 2009, in addressing the costs per state of capital punishment said, “Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health care, schools and parks.”

While money should not be a factor in deciding to put a criminal to death, why should an innocent population be deprived of services because money is being spent on criminals?

Because the appeal process can take up to 15 years, it is a traumatic experience for the victims’ families, causing them to relive the pain of the death of their loved one.

(2) Change the Rules on the Death Penalty

The varying state death penalty laws, as they exist now, have a lot of mitigating factors in the decision process of whether someone should be tried for a capital crime. I am against the death penalty as it is currently defined. So what legislatures need to do is re-write what type of crime deserves the death penalty. If the commission of the crime is viewed by hundreds of people (think Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) then there is no question that the perpetrator is guilty! Nuke him immediately! I will push the start button.


MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL



Besides the introspective reflection of the first story, we have actual reflection in this story. Mirrus, a unit of Clear Channel Outdoor advertising, is a company that produces innovative multimedia vehicles, has created advertising that will be reflected in mirrors in public restrooms.

O’Hare International Airport has been chosen as one of the test markets to gauge the effectiveness of this type of marketing. About 150 40 inch mirrors will be installed in both men’s and women’s bathrooms that run a video on the mirrored screen . The entire mirror is covered with an advertisement until a person walks up to it and then the ad moves to a corner so one can see their own reflection instead of the canned message.


Mirrus Founder Brian Reid said in a statement, “We developed these digital displays to provide brands with a platform to convey gender specific advertisements that are guaranteed to reach female and male audiences in an uncluttered environment.”

A couple of questions: How much did Mirrus pay O’Hare for the right to install the mirrors and how much do they charge the client for placing the ad? I’ll have to reflect on that for a while.

Friday, January 21, 2011

SIGNS OF A DIFFERENT MATTER


Snowmen protesting global warming. Courtesy of John M.
 In April of 2009, the White Sox opening game was canceled due to a snowstorm. At the time I wrote a blog, “Global Warming? It’s snowing in April!!,” that wondered how the world could be warming up if the temperature were falling. Two recent stories about movement of the earth and moon seem to tie in.

NORTH POLE MOVING
According to the Tampa Tribune, “A National Geographic News report described a gradual shift of the Earth's magnetic pole at nearly 40 miles a year toward Russia because of magnetic changes in the core of the planet.” So because the magnetic North Pole is moving, all the numeric designators at the end of the primary runway at Tampa International Airport are wrong! Taxiway signage has to change!

The Federal Aviation Administration has required that the busiest runway will be re-designated 19R/1L on aviation charts. It's been 18R/36L, indicating its alignment along the 180-degree approach from the north and the 360-degree approach from the south. So the designation has been wrong for years. Luckily no plane has been in an accident and Santa has not gotten lost.

WHAT'S YOUR SIGN?
A story came out a week or so ago about Minneapolis astronomy professor Parke Kunkle telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the earth’s wobbly orbit means it's no longer aligned to the stars in the same way as when the signs of the Zodiac were first conceived. It all has to do with the moon’s gravitational pull on earth. That means that people’s zodiac signs might not be the one they thought it was. The story went viral and people started panicking!

It turns out the story is no big deal. According to the Associated Press, “Kunkle, who teaches at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said that all the hubbub is based on ‘2,000-year-old information.’ He can't understand why his explanation of how a well-known wobble in the earth's orbit throws off astrology charts turned into an Internet sensation. ‘Astronomers have known about this since about 130 BC,’ Kunkle said while sitting in his office, where the phone rang constantly, as he said it had been since the article came out. ‘This is not new news. I have no idea why it went viral this time,' Kunkle said. 'Almost every astronomy class talks about it.’”

Astrology shows people how to rely on the location of various stars to make life decisions and define their personalities. I prefer tea leaves. ( Kidding on that!) By taking the new measurements into consideration, below is where, according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society, where the real signs of the Zodiac should fall.

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.


Aquarius: Feb. 16-March 11.


Pisces: March 11-April 18.


Aries: April 18-May 13.


Taurus: May 13-June 21.


Gemini: June 21-July 20.


Cancer: July 20-Aug. 10.


Leo: Aug. 10-Sept. 16.


Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.


Libra: Oct. 30-Nov. 23.


Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.


Ophiuchus: Nov. 29-Dec. ( new sign)


Sagittarius:Dec.17-Jan. 20

Shelley Ackerman, an astrologer and spokeswoman for American Federation of Astrologers, says not to worry because there are “an infinite number of ways to divide the constellations, and that scientists are continually discovering new stars and solar systems. Astrologers don't change their systems for every new change.”

So I guess you can just pick whatever sign you want because it is all bunk anyway!


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Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Happened to the Lockbox?


(Chart nobody understands)













When Al Gore was running for President, Saturday Night Live did a spoofed debate with the Vice president talking about how he would put Social Security and Medicare payroll deductions in a lockbox for safekeeping. His character, played by Darrell Hammond, said, “May I just say that in my plan, the "lock-box" would be used only for Social Security and Medicare. It would have two different locks. Now, one of the keys to the "lockbox" would be kept by the President; the other key would be sealed in a small, metal container and placed under the bumper of the Senate Majority Leader's car.” In retrospect, after reading the 2010 Annual Report of the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, it would have been a good plan.

When the report was published last August, the group predicted that the main Social Security program, the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI,) would not be exhausted until 2018. For fiscal 2010 they predicted that the payments for the OASI fund would be $580 billion, and receipts about $540 billion. The fund was expected to be $40 billion short, the first deficit since 1983. Wrong! The final deficit actually came in at $79 billion—twice the prediction. Whose calculator had a bad battery when figuring the numbers?

On the positive side, their estimate for total SSA income in 2010 (which included both Social Security payroll taxes and interest paid by the Treasury on the Social Security Trust Funds) was $791 billion – but the actual total income was $741 billion (tax receipts of $631 billion plus interest income of about $110 billion). So they made a mistake of predicting receipts by $50 billion!

Did the SSA accountants attend Chicago Public schools? How else can one explain two such huge mistakes?

I pay Social Security taxes every year, even though I have already maxed out on what benefits I would receive. I am paying so everyone currently on SS can get their monthly check. But our current contributions are not high enough to fund the payments! Help!

So simply either the payroll deduction percentage will rise or the U.S. Treasury will have to keep borrowing more money to fund the deficit. Again, help!

Maybe Al Gore’s wanting a lockbox was not that far off the mark. He had some other good government ideas that he shared at a 2000 Al Smith dinner. He said, “My plan to put Social Security in an ironclad lockbox has gotten a lot of attention recently, and I'm glad about that. But I'm afraid that it's overshadowing some vitally important proposals. For instance, I'll put Medicaid in a walk-in closet. I'll put the Community Reinvestment Act in a secured gym locker. I'll put NASA funding in a hermetically sealed Ziploc bag.”

I would like to tell Gore where I think the administration should put the Healthcare Plan but I am too much of a lady!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MORE TALES OF A CORRUPT CITY



Every government is corrupt and every person corruptible (with the exception of the late Mother Teresa.) It is so frustrating to continually read reports of various Illinois Inspectors General and not feel exasperated and powerless. But I will let the “Dr. Phil” show deal with the psychology behind crooks and just report the facts about the latest quarterly posting of the Inspector General’s Office (IGO) of the City of Chicago.

The Municipal Code of Chicago (Section 2-156-120) requires the city’s IGO to file four reports a year on the activities of the office. But who ever really bothers to read these long reports? Chicago media might mention them in passing, but no in-depth study is really done. Of course, I read the whole report and will highlight a few of my favorite parts below, followed by my comments on the particular investigation. The IGO report does not give any names of the people who were investigated, even those found guilty. That is because the Chicago Municipal Code does not allow them to publish the names. Chicago likes to protect the guilty!

The report starts with a long letter of explanation from the IGO with a summation about what the office accomplished in the previous quarter. Want to know why the City cannot balance its budget? “The IGO Audit Section issued audit reports this year identifying millions in misplaced, misdirected and misspent funds.” What is being done to recover this money? It is OUR (the taxpayer’s) money! I want it back! You should too!

One of the more interesting sections of the cover letter dealt with the frustration of the IGO to accomplish what it needs to do as an independent office. How can the major Chicago media ignore the plea of the OIG and not take Mayor Daley to task on this? Or is there just too much corruption to cover?

“One item not noted in the quarterly report is the Inspector General's continued difficulty in exercising independent authority to operate and manage the office. In June, the IGO informed the Mayor of its plan for restructuring the office to meet our fiscally challenged environment by better serving a longstanding but little appreciated part of the IGO's mission under its enabling ordinance - the promotion of economy, efficiency, and effectiveness. This plan did not require additional City resources, but rather shifted existing positions to work on this part of the office's mission. The restructure was written into the IGO's budget which was approved by the City Council in November and received the Mayor's verbal support. However, the Administration has not permitted the office to effectuate the plan. The primary goal of the IGO is to save the City money by rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse while finding efficiencies. This goal can only be achieved if the IGO is truly independent. We cannot be truly independent if the Administration, through control of how we spend our budget and staff our office, has functional veto power over our operations. Fundamentally, the lack of a budget floor and independent spending authority places the functional integrity of the IGO's essential operations and independence at risk.”

IGO Case # 07-0807
“An IGO investigation found that a laborer with the Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) falsified his/her time while on duty by going home after swiping in for work in the morning, and also by going home for lunch and remaining there for substantially longer than his/her allotted 30 minute lunch break. The IGO recommended that the laborer be suspended for 30 work days. DSS agreed with the IGO’s findings and recommendation, but a mediation session lowered the discipline to 29 days.”

I don’t understand why someone cannot be fired for falsifying work records! Try doing that in the real world.

IGO Case # 08-0898
“An IGO investigation determined that a Department of Revenue (DOR) supervisor abused his position by requiring two of his supervisees to drive him to work in the mornings. The supervisee DOR employees – while on City time – would drive a City vehicle from a Department facility on the north side, pick up the supervisor at or near his home on the south side, and return to the north side facility. When interviewed by the IGO, the supervisor and supervisees repeatedly lied, giving false and evasive responses to direct questions. As such, the IGO recommended that the supervisor be suspended for 30 days and the supervisees be suspended for four days each. DOR suspended the supervisor for 15 days and each of the supervisees for one day.”

These city employees not only basically “stole” a city vehicle by illegally driving it to pick up their boss, but then everybody lied about it once they were caught. The punishment level is a joke!

IGO Case # 09-0330
An IGO investigation found that a delegate agency, the delegate agency’s president, and its chief executive officer defrauded the City by falsely representing that the delegate agency was current with its payroll tax obligations, when, in actuality, the agency had an outstanding tax balance of up to $1.35 million. The delegate agency also defrauded the City by using taxpayer grants for purposes unrelated to the mission of the organization, including payments made for school tuition, personal vehicle loans, and expenses related to a business owned by the president’s husband. Lastly, the IGO determined that the delegate agency submitted reimbursement claims for expenses the agency did not pay, including approximately $56,000 in false expense claims for audit, health insurance, and payroll expenditures. The IGO recommended that the City permanently debar the delegate agency and its president from conducting business with or receiving funding from the City and seek recovery from the delegate agency and its president for the approximately $56,000 in expenses the agency falsely claimed for reimbursement."


Delegate agencies are companies that are independent social service agencies funded by grants and supervised by the Department of Housing and Economic Development. They serve those in need. I guess they needed more for themselves personally than the community they were supposed to serve!


The IGO received 406 complaints in the quarter but had to decline investigating 311 cases “due to a lack of resources.” Since the office admits they don’t have the capability to investigate complaints, city employees will continue stealing time and money from the city. If one is certain they won’t get caught, they might as well be corrupt since it pays well…and there is little punishment, if any, when nabbed.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

THINGS DO NOT GO BETTER WITH COKE PART 2








I promised I would let everyone know what happened re my chastising Coca-Cola for their releasing John Rosales from his job of 28 years in my blog last Thursday, “Things Do Not Go Better With Coke.


On Friday, I received an e-mail from Sonya Soutus, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Communications of Coca-Cola North America. The fact that I got a response so quickly proves the power of the Internet. They ignored me when I mailed letters, but once I got people posting on Facebook and Twitter about how upset they were, Coke knew they had to act quickly! I have copied the letter below.


I am not pleased with the tone of the letter and would like to continue my tirade, but John wants to “take the high road” and let the matter drop. He is grateful for everyone’s support and is appreciative that we all tried so hard to save him.


I especially want to thank Scott in Florida. Somehow he stumbled onto my blog and was outraged by what Coke had done. I don’t personally know him and neither does John, but he was as upset about John as if he were a life-long friend.


I really love the flavor of Diet Coke, but am now willing to make another beverage choice. I can’t continue to give money to a company who is so heartless.  Test tasting will begin next week and results will be posted when I have made my choice.   Please vote on the survey on the blog because I am open to suggestions. 

LETTER FROM COCA-COLA
Sonya Soutus
Senior Vice President
Public Affairs and Communications

VIA EMAIL

January 14, 2010

TO: Ms. Kathy Posner

Dear Ms. Posner:

Thank you for your recent correspondence to Steve Cahillane, related to employee John Rosales. First, please let me apologize for the delay in our response. As you may be aware, The Coca-Cola Company recently purchased Coca-Cola Enterprises' North American operations. The new company is named Coca-Cola Refreshments USA, Inc. (CCR) and as in any large integration and transition of this kind, sometimes correspondence may get lost in the shuffle of moving offices and switching email addresses. Unfortunately, I believe that was the situation with your original letter to our organization. We do pride ourselves on being responsive to our consumers and again, I want to say how sorry we are for not following up on your original inquiry.

In light of recent business performance in North America, changes in our business model and organizational structures became necessary. The new organization is designed to enable us to better focus on the marketplace and to operate as an aligned organization. Changes were made to both organizations to accomplish these goals.

While we cannot divulge confidential information about individual employees, I can assure you that all decisions were made based on the needs of the new organization and in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of our obligations under all applicable laws and regulations and in concert with our commitment to maintain a workforce as diverse as the communities we serve.

In addition, where it will be necessary for an employee to leave our organization, each affected employee will be provided with a severance package. Throughout the integration process both pre-merger Companies were fully transparent about their plans and each employee has been and will continue to be treated with dignity and respect. In addition, many employees whose positions have been eliminated have been given the opportunity to apply for other available positions within the company.

The Coca-Cola Company remains committed to involvement in all of the communities we serve. In Chicago, and throughout the Midwest, we have been proud to partner with many diverse community-based organizations and look forward to continuing our role in partnering with community leaders to make a difference in the lives of those we all serve.

Again, thank you for reaching out to us and expressing your concerns. Kevin Morris, in charge of Public Affairs and Communications in Chicago, would be happy to meet with you if you would like to discuss this further. Kevin can be reached at (847) 600-2495 or via email at kevmorris@coca-cola.com

Respectfully,

Sonya Soutus

Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications

Coca-Cola North America

Monday, January 17, 2011

GRAHAM WHICH?








I don’t normally write about restaurants but an experience I had last week at the newly opened Grahamwich was so pathetic I felt compelled to share the story.

James Beard nominee Chef Graham Elliot opened a sandwich shop, Grahamwich, at 615 N. State Street. Elliot is best known for his eponymous Michelin Star restaurant on Huron and his television appearances on "Iron Chef," "Top Chef Masters" and "Master Chef." I find his new shop to be the epitome of the definition of pretentious: “making claim to or creating an appearance of (often undeserved) importance or distinction.”

I dined there last week as a guest of a friend who is a reporter. We did not go until 1:30 to make sure we could eat without a long wait. My impression was less than stellar.


Pretentiousness 1!
Graham Elliot’s natal name is Graham Elliot Bowles. In 2010 he dropped the Bowles. “I'm not changing my name because I got in a fight with my father, or because I want to go P Diddy on everyone," the chef said via e-mail at the time. "It's just easier." His publicist said that the name change came “after a lifetime of confusion and typos." Since his first honor was being named Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine in 2004, how has there been a lifetime of confusion about his name? How pompous can someone be to give up their familial last name because of publicity reasons?

Pretentiousness 2!
The web site for Grahamwich states that Elliot created the restaurant to, “Redefine what a sandwich shop could and would be.” A sandwich shop is supposed to be a neighborhood place with good prices and a friendly wait staff. Elliot has certainly succeeded in redefining the concept because his prices are outrageous and the wait staff as pompous as Elliot. Well, there really is no wait staff because one orders from a counter as in any fast food restaurant and then waits for their name to be called to pickup the food wrapped in paper just like any cheap joint.

Pretentiousness 3!
The only seating at the restaurant is a long family table that sits 20 people—all squished together. Or you can eat standing up. Not easy to do. There is no silverware, only plastic sporks. They serve only four types of sodas: ginger citrus, root beer, vanilla kola and lemon grass-lime leaf. There is a communal water pitcher and plastic cups if you don’t chose one of their beverages.

Pretentiousness 4!
There are only eight sandwich choices on the menu and you cannot change anything in a sandwich. Compare that to Jimmy John’s, which has 100’s of combinations of ingredients. I do not eat bread, so I asked for my sandwich choice: beef short rib, to be served on a plate. They refused to do that! But they did give me a spork so I could eat the few pieces of meat off the bread.


Pretentiousness 5!
All of their sides are cutely named with a small g in front of the choice: g’wich popcorn, g’wich chips and g’wich pickles—seasonal veggies. Each side costs $5. The popcorn was stale, the chips not much tastier than ordinary potato chips and the pickles were horrible! Our g’wich pickles ended up being brussel spouts (which I normally love) pickled in some horrible brine. They were barely edible.

Pretentiousness 6!
They only accept cash. Our lunch bill was $33 for two sandwiches, a few sides and no drinks or desserts. While that might not seem like a hefty bill, remember that did not include beverages, sweets or a tip. I don’t see much repeat business at those prices and cash only.


The only good part of the meal was that I got to visit with my friend and was treated for the lunch. I would not recommend this restaurant to anyone!

Friday, January 14, 2011

SMOKERS THINK IT IS BAD IN THE UNITED STATES?



SMOKERS THINK IT IS BAD IN THE UNITED STATES?


I still have not figured out why drinking alcohol is glamorized in America, but someone smoking a cigarette or cigar is tantamount to killing a baby. Oh, I forgot, killing babies is legal in the United States. Now in Bhutan, a small country south of China and northeast of India, abortion is illegal (and forbidden in the Buddhist religion) and has become the first country in the world to outlaw the sale of tobacco products. By the way, when it comes to drinking, according to the World Health Organization, the country has the highest per capita alcohol consumption of any country in South Asia and alcoholism is becoming one of the leading causes of death there. So have they banned alcohol? No. But they have banned the sale of cigarettes and have limited smokers to smoking less than seven cigarettes a day.

The Bhutanese Tobacco Control Act is 36 pages long and the preamble is quite eloquent:


PREAMBLE
The Royal Government and People of Bhutan concerned with the physical health and well being of the people of Bhutan which are important elements of the development principle of Gross National Happiness..."

I love their use of the phrase “Gross National Happiness." I doubt if any legislation in America would ever be so expressive, but whose happiness are they talking about?


It continues with: “Recognizing the harmful effects of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke, from a spiritual and social health point of view…” additional fluent language, but what about the harmful effects of alcohol? Why just go after the smokers?


Bhutan actually first banned the sale of tobacco in 2005 (but did not limit the amount of tobacco one could have in their home) but the law did not have enough consequences and tobacco smuggling thrived. Thus the new law gives the police the power to enter a citizen’s home and check out how much tobacco they have in their possession. The Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency has already started raids with trained tobacco-sniffing dogs.

The Act contains a number of pages listing the penalties but my favorite is:

Any person found with more than the permissible quantity for personal consumption under section 12 shall be guilty of the offense for smuggling and shall be punishable with minimum sentence of felony of fourth degree.”

Kenusel, Bhutan’s largest selling newspaper, wrote in an editorial, “When it comes to the penalties in the tobacco control act, it is, in every sense of the word, draconian.”


Legislative Opposition leader Tshering Tobgay wrote about the new law in his  blog. “It’s a new year. And I have a new year’s wish: that the first person to be caught and jailed under the Tobacco Control Act is a member of parliament.”


Besides health reasons, Buddhists also believe that smoking is bad for one’s karma. I would love to see the United States Congress use that as a reason for some new law.  Or even Gross National Happiness!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

THINGS DON'T GO BETTER WITH COCA-COLA!






It is no secret that I am addicted to Coke--Diet Coke that is! I wrote extensively about the beverage throughout the years that I had a column in Food Industry News. It was because of a column I wrote in 1989 about Diet Coke (the first of many) that I met John Rosales, at that time Vice president of Community Affairs for Coca-Cola Bottling (which was bought out by Coca-Cola Enterprises in 2001.) He has been with the company since 1982. We formed not only a business relationship, but a wonderful friendship.


Last year, Coca-Cola Enterprises was bought out by the Coca-Cola company. Should a 28 year veteran be worried about his job? John wasn’t. That turned out to be a mistake. I was so upset about the news, I wrote a letter to Steve Cahillane, President of Coca-Cola Enterprises, on November 26th. I included my address, phone number and e-mail address in my correspondence. I have received no reply. Not even a basic form letter sent out by an intern thanking me for my comments.


A few weeks ago, I sent a second letter to Cahillane with the first letter attached. I still have heard nothing. Then I remembered that each time I have written about Diet Coke in my blog, someone from Coke has contacted me. So I am posting my letter below in hopes of getting a response.


 


Mr. Steve Cahillane
President of Coca-Cola
2500 Windy Ridge Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30339

November 26, 2010


Dear Mr. Cahillane,


I have been a devoted Diet Coke drinker since it first appeared on shelves in 1982. Since I drink approximately 10 cans a day, that means I have consumed more or less 102,200 cans. In fact, when I have been hospitalized, I have taken a mini fridge with me to install in my room so I can still have my Diet Coke. When I was profiled by Dateline NBC in 1999, I was holding a can of Diet Coke in my hand during the entire 10 minute segment. That story also ran on Weekend Magazine with Stone Phillips and on United Airlines. You can see my bio at http://www.kathyposner.com/.

I am telling you this background because it ties into one of your employees in Chicago, John Rosales. Who has brought Diet Coke to me in the hospital? John Rosales. Who brought Coca-Cola paraphernalia to the party I threw when my Dateline piece debuted? John Rosales. Who has supported many wonderful not-for-profit organizations in Chicago? John Rosales.


I met John years ago when I was writing a column for Food Industry News, a trade magazine published in Chicago. In one of my columns I commented on how I hated when I specifically ordered Diet Coke in a restaurant and the waiter would bring me some other diet cola. After reading that article, John contacted me, we met, and a wonderful friendship developed.

John has great depth of character and is a wonderful, loyal/devoted/trustworthy representative for the Coca-Cola brand.


When I read that his organization was bought out by yours, I asked him if it would affect his job. I could not imagine that Coca-Cola headquarters would not know about his great work and how vital he is to the company and its future. At the time, he told me that he was okay.


I have since learned that he will be let go. I am incensed! Here is a man who is an outstanding pillar of the community and a hard-worker and yet Coca-Cola does not have room for him on its employee roster? It makes no sense!

The troubling news compelled me to write to you to make sure you understood the reputation John has, not only in Chicago and the Latino community, but throughout the Midwest in every community.


I have trusted Coca-Cola for the last 28 years to provide a beverage, Diet Coke, for me of the highest quality. When employees like John Rosales are being severed it makes me question the company’s future goals and quality control.

I look forward to hearing from you about this poor corporate executive decision.


Sincerely,

Kathy Posner
krp01@aol.com







Wednesday, January 12, 2011

BRIDGING THE CHICAGO BUDGET GAP PART 2








On July 28, 2010, I wrote a blog, “Bridging the Budget Gap”, where I talked about an ordinance the Chicago City Council had passed hiring Fresh Pickle Media (FPM) “to sell corporations the right to decorate, through a sponsorship agreement, one of 14 (those with the highest traffic usage) Chicago River bridge houses for $1 million-a-year-per-bridge. The sponsoring company would be allowed to hang the decorations for the month-long period preceding four major holidays --- Halloween, Christmas, Easter and 4th of July. “

At that time, Phillip Lynch, president of FPM said, “We’re looking at a projection of $250,000-per-month per [holiday] or $1 million on an annual basis for a sponsor…Based on the 14 bridges at 100 percent occupancy, that’s $14 million in gross revenue and $10.5 million to the city.” Fresh Media will keep 25% of the sponsor fee as their commission.”

When Ald. Eugene Schulter (47th) expressed concerned about the size of the corporate logos, he was told by John Yonan, deputy commissioner of engineering for the city’s Department of Transportation, that corporate logos would be the "smallest dimension possible,” adding, “We’ll try to scale it down as much as possible.”

Now, seven months later, FPM has started distributing a brochure with the pricing for the sponsorship and pictures of how they envision the ads would be placed.


(1) LIE NUMBER ONE! -- REVENUE
We were told back in July that the city could expect to net $10.5 million dollars because each bridge would gross $1 million for the four-month-period at each of the 14 decorated bridges. WRONG! According to the Sun-Times, the brochure lists the most expensive bridge at $140,000/month or a total cost of $560,000.

 Wait! We were told $1 million per location. Wabash and State Street bridges are going for $280,000 each. So if the most expensive bridge costs $560,000 and the other 13 bridges cost $280,000 each that is a gross of $4,200,000 or a net to the city of $3,150,000. The last time I checked $3,150,000 is not $10,500,000! Where will the net difference of $7,350,000  that the ad agency promised when they got the deal come from?  I guess they are in a bit of a pickle!


(2) LIE NUMBER TWO!—SIZE OF LOGO

Adams Street Bridgehouse
 Remember how the Deputy Commissioner of Engineering for the city’s Department of Transportation said that corporate logos would be the "smallest dimension possible”? Look at the renderings of sample bridges that FPM has in its brochure using their own logo. Are they small?

State Street Bridgehouse

 Well, we know men always lie when it comes to size.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

“Some Claimed to be Anti-Semitic”?


Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas was hired last week by the Virginia-based Falls Church News Press as its latest columnist. In a story on the front page of the paper and its web site, owner-editor Nicholas Benton said, “She is progressive, and following my more than eight hours of direct, one-on-one talks with her since the events of last June, I remain firmly convinced that she is neither bigoted, nor racist, nor anti-Semitic." That might seem to be a reasonable statement had not earlier in the story the newspaper not shown its obvious prejudice by this description of Thomas: “Now age 90, Thomas began her journalistic career in 1942 and has covered every U.S. president one a day-to-day basis as a White House correspondent since 1960. She declared her retirement abruptly on June 8, 2010 following a firestorm of criticism that arose from spontaneous taped comments she made the day before that some claimed to be anti-Semitic.” Claimed to be? I will remind everyone of what the “claimed to be” anti-Semitic remarks were and let the reader decide if the "claims" are valid!

(1) May 27, 2010. Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com was at the White House for an American Jewish heritage Celebration Day event. He spoke to Thomas as she was leaving the White House via the North Lawn Driveway.


Nesenoff: Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today, any comments on Israel?

Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

 Nesenoff: Oooh. Any better comments on Israel?

Thomas: Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not German, it's not Poland.


Nesenoff: So where should they go, what should they do?


Thomas: They go home.


Nesenoff: Where's the home?


Thomas: Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.


Nesenoff: So you're saying the Jews go back to Poland and Germany?


Thomas: And America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries? See?


(2) June 3, 2010. A one minute excerpt of the May 27, 2010 interview was posted on Rabbi Nesenoff's site.


(3) June 4, 2010. Thomas issued an apology on her personal web site:


“I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”


(4) June 7, 2010. Thomas retires from writing a column for Hearst newspapers. Quite fitting because William Randolph Heart advocated for the creation of a "homeland for dispossessed or persecuted Jews."


(5) June 8, 2010. In an interview on NBC’s Today Show, President Obama called her remarks "offensive" and "out of line," and said her retirement was "the right decision."

(6) October 2010. In an interview on Ohio radio station, WMRN-AM, Thomas said that while her comments has touched a nerve, they were, “exactly what I thought.” She said she knew she would be fired because “I hit the third rail. You cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive.” She said she issued the apology because people were upset but that ultimately she "had the same feelings about Israel's aggression and brutality."


(7) December 2, 2010. Thomas told reporters at a diversity workshop in Dearborn, Michigan that the remarks she made to Nesenoff were "the truth", truth," and "I stand by it, I told the truth."


(8) December 3, 2010. The Detroit Free Press reported that she told the workshop audience in Dearborn that "Congress, the White House, and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion . . . They put their money where their mouth is."


(9) January 6, 2011. Her position as a columnist for the Falls Church News Press (circulation 30,000) is announced and the owner of the paper says, “she is neither bigoted, nor racist, nor anti-Semitic.”

So are the "claims" truth or fiction?  Only her Imam knows for sure.

Monday, January 10, 2011

TIME OFF and TIME TO PLAY, Two Stories






TIME OFF



According to the Bureau of Prisons, more than 90,000 federal inmates were granted unescorted furloughs in the past three years—mostly for medical reasons. About 13 percent of the prison population qualifies for furloughs each year, though all do not receive them. That is why former Illinois Governor George Ryan’s request for a furlough from prison to be able to visit his sick wife was not unusual and I don’t know why the media made such a big deal about it. What they should have been focusing on is the number of inmates who don’t return from furlough!

Federal prisoners receive handbooks  when they are incarcerated. The rules and regulations for whom is allowed a furlough are very precise.

“Furloughs: A furlough is an authorized absence from an institution by an inmate who is not under escort of a staff member or a U.S. Marshal. A furlough is not a right but a privilege granted an inmate who meets certain requirements. It is not a reward for good behavior. With the exception of emergency furloughs, inmates must be incarcerated at this facility for six months before they may be granted a furlough. In addition, you must have community custody, maintain above average work, quarters and sanitation reports, must have a high school diploma, or have completed the requirements for a GED, or have completed a mandatory period of GED enrollment, be medically cleared, must not have used drugs or alcohol in an institution within the past two years, and must have maintained a minimum of six months clear conduct. In addition, you must have demonstrated significant responsibility regarding your financial obligations and a furlough must not depreciate the seriousness of your offense or create public concern.”

But according to a report issued by Glenn Fine, Inspector General for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal prison officials fail to properly keep track of thousands of inmates who are granted unescorted furloughs when they are temporarily released. CNN reported, “Currently, the federal Bureau of Prisons operates the furlough program using manual processes. The investigation found the prison system does not have accessible or accurate data on inmate escapes while on furlough, nor on crimes committed by furloughed inmates. The report sharply criticizes the Bureau of Prisons for failing to implement proposed policy improvements drafted seven years ago. Among the policy changes still awaiting implementation is a requirement to notify crime victims and witnesses when a prisoner is being temporarily released.”

CNN also said, “The investigation reported that the Bureau of Prisons blames the delay in implementing the policy changes on negotiations with the prison union. The bureau estimated that it would take at least seven years to implement the policy changes because of the negotiation process with the unions. Fine said it would be ‘excessive and unacceptable’ to delay until 2017 improvements to the furlough policy.”

So the proposed changes in policy were drafted seven years ago and the Prison Bureau says it will take a further seven years to implement them. Why should it take fourteen years for the government to fix the flaws in the furlough system? The government moves slowly but that amount of time is insane!



TIME TO PLAY

While researching this story and reading the Lewsisburg Federal prison inmate handbook, I came across the section on recreation and was astounded by how many leisure activities the Federal prison in Lewisburg, PA offers to inmates. The description could almost be taken from a summer camp brochure and it makes me mad! Our tax dollars are being spent on guitar and salsa lessons. If one reads the list of activities available, it almost wants to make you commit a Federal crime just for the fun time you would have while incarcerated.

RECREATION

The Recreation Department offers leisure, wellness and structured programs designed to give every inmate an opportunity to participate.

The following is a list of programs that have been offered throughout the year here at Lewisburg.

Leisure Activities: Bike riding (stationary), bocce ball, horseshoes, table top games, pool, ping-pong and weight lifting.

Arts & Crafts: Beads, Crochet, Drawing & Painting

Wellness Programs: CORE training, fitness training, ISSA correspondence courses, Spinning, (ACE Courses) and Yoga.

ACE Courses: Beginner’s Acoustic Guitar class, Beginner’s Crochet class and Salsa class.

Structured Leagues: Spring/Summer Basketball, Bocce Ball, Horseshoes, Sand Volleyball, Soccer and Softball. Fall/Winter Bid Whist, Chess, Dominoes, Flag Football, Ping-Pong, Pinochle, Pool, Softball and Spades.

With all of this available for free ,(plus health care) look for me in a ski mask at a neighborhood bank near you soon!