Conscience Laureate

Sunday, March 27, 2011


(Early wishes from some young blog followers)

As much as I would love to post blogs while I am in the hospital for thrombolysis and then possibly a femoral artery bypass, I know I won't have the strength.  But, I will have my laptop with me and I will keep you posted through the blog e-mail alert on what is happening.

This will be my 12th "staycation" at Northwestern Memorial.  I have asked for a "frequent visitor" special price, but they won't give it.  Darn!  Below are some fun pictures from last year's visit.
(Male nurse who looked like Ashton Kutcher)

(Me working on laptop from hospital bed)
Don't send flowers!  Instead spend $25 for a ticket to WingMadness!  You can buy both event tickets and raffle tickets at  the site.  First prize in the raffle is a summer lease on a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder convertible provided by Grand Mitsubishi of  Bemsenville/Elmhurst.  For a great deal on buying a car, call Keith at (630) 860-3100!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) is the chief sponsor of Illinois Senate Bill 137, aka the Cottage Food Bill. The bill looks to amend the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act to change some of the food sanitation laws in Illinois. The mere thought of it is making me sick!

The synopsis of the bill as introduced is:

“Amends the Food Handling Regulation Enforcement Act. Sets forth definitions for "cottage food operation" and "non-potentially hazardous food". Provides that notwithstanding any other provision of law, neither the Department of Public Health nor the Department of Agriculture nor the health department of a unit of local government may regulate the service of food by a cottage food operation providing that certain conditions are met. Amends the Sanitary Food Preparation Act to make a corresponding change.”

According to definitions in the full bill, “ ‘Cottage food operation’ means a person who produces or packages non-potentially hazardous food in a kitchen of that person's primary domestic residence. ‘Non-potentially hazardous food’ means a food that is not potentially hazardous food as that term is defined in the Federal Food and Drug Administration Food Code (FDA 1999, Pt 1-201.10(B)(61)), which includes, but is not limited to baked goods, jams, jellies, fruit butters, candy, granola, granola bars, vinegar, dried herbs, and dry seasoning blends.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that Koehler said, "We looked at legislation from other states, in particular, Minnesota, where they have, in a sense, deregulated some of the requirements that small vendors have to go through to be able to make their jams and jellies and baked goods … for farmers markets sales."

How did the Illinois Department of Public Health react? "We are very concerned," said Sean McDermott, director of policy development at the Cook County Department of Public Health. In the Tribune story he pointed out that “allowing people to prepare food in an unregulated environment could lead to an increase in food borne-illness outbreaks. For instance, he said, parents and pet owners might contaminate food if they don't wash their hands after changing diapers or cleaning up after their pets.”

Pardon me while I retch.

Current state laws require kitchens that produce food for sale have a three-compartment metal sink to wash, rinse and sanitize dishes. The floor must have a drain and carpeting is not allowed. There are also various regulations on lighting, plumbing and ventilation. I understand that outfitting a home kitchen to those specifications would be expensive, but if you want to produce food for sale from your residence, you need to comply with the law. Don’t change an important health law just to make it cheaper for a home-based business to operate. Not when sanitation is involved!

My track record lobbying for or against proposed bills has not been stellar, but I urge all Illinois citizens to tell their legislators to vote against Bill SB 137. Do it 1, 2, 3 before you join me at the vomitorium.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


A timeline of the evolution of transportation  starts from the invention of the first wheeled vehicles in 3500 BC to the first space shuttle launch in 1981 AD. Do we still use chariots as a mode of transportation? No, because we embraced more convenient modes as time passed. Why can't bicyclists
understand that and just accept that cars rule urban roads now?

 The modern bicycle was invented in 1790, so two-wheeling riders had the roads to themselves for 95 years until 1885 when Karl Benz built the world's first practical automobile to be powered by an internal combustion engine.

Bicyclists in Chicago are reminiscent of the Luddites, a social movement of artisans in the early 1800’s in Britain who destroyed mechanized looms because they were against the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Bike riders need to understand that city streets are for automobiles, not bikes, not horses and certainly not chariots. Transportation has evolved. They need to evolve also. Bicycles are to be ridden on bucolic country paths where the only danger is a twig on the trail.

A few weeks ago, while leaving a cab on Clark Street, I was correctly exiting the taxi curbside. I opened the door and hit a bicyclist who was attempting to continue peddling by squeezing between the vehicle and the sidewalk. The door knocked the cyclist down. I was concerned and asked the rider if he were okay. He started screaming invectives at me in a loud abusive tone like I had done something wrong. I feared that he was going to physically assault me. He was the one who had acted incorrectly but I was being treated as the guilty party. I apologized to calm him down even though I was innocent. He finally pedaled away.

As the weather warms up in Chicago, the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) the Luddite type group that wants to make roads "so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel,” is launching a campaign to increase public awareness of “dooring crashes.”

The ATA is asking the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) to keep track of dooring accidents so the group can create statistics that prove a problem exists. They need the stats to apply for federal and state traffic-safety funds.

IDOT’s response, according to the Chicago Tribune, was, “that they aren't opposed to collecting dooring-accident data, but they haven't received many requests to do so and it might not be relevant in rural parts of the state, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. There is also a concern that an overly lengthy police accident report form would be a burden on the more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies required to file crash data to the state. Police fill in more than 100 fields on an accident form for a single-vehicle crash.”

The Chicago Tribune also reported, “Seventy-six dooring crashes were reported to Chicago police last year and 62 in 2009.” And, “A Tribune request for violations data showed that since 2008, Chicago police issued no tickets for opening a vehicle door into the path of a bicyclist or turning in front of a bicyclist.”

Since there are millions of automobiles traveling on Chicago streets during a year, the percentage of dooring accidents is so miniscule I cannot even figure out the percentage. Plus, of those crashes, how many were the fault of the bicyclist as in my case?

I have written before about how city streets belong to automobiles, why can’t bikers get the message? Maybe a few dooring accidents will jar their brains into sanity and they will get a car.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The Illinois payday loan reform law (capping interest rates lenders can charge on installment loans) took effect on Monday, March 21, 2010. I was against the reform from the start and wrote a number of blogs about the subject, but no legislators have paid attention. The do-gooders think the legislation is a protection for consumers, but it’s not! It will drive payday loan companies out of business, so those who are desperate for money won’t be able to borrow it legally. What will their only option be?

The payday loan companies have to charge high interest rates to be able to cover the default rate of those who don’t pay the loan back. As I wrote before, “Because there are so many deadbeats in the world, companies base the amount of the interest they will charge on the ability of the borrower to pay the money back. The worse one’s credit score, the higher the interest rate charged. If a company is worried about one’s paying back a loan, they have to charge a high interest rate. This is third grade mathematics.”

The lawsuit filed last week In Cook County Circuit Court by Illinois Lending Company, which has six Chicago area locations, said, according to Crain’s, “That its business will be irreparably harmed by the law’s provision barring companies that offer payday loans — short-term unsecured loans aimed at enabling strapped consumers to pay bills due before their next paycheck — from making installment loans, slightly longer-term borrowings. ‘There is no evidence that consumers have been injured where both (installment and payday) loan products are offered in the same place of business,’ the lawsuit states.”

Crain’s also reported that, “The company is asking for an injunction to halt the provisions barring payday lenders from offering installment loans.”

Lynda Delaforgue, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois, a consumer advocacy group in Chicago, said consumer advocates are willing to negotiate changes with the industry so long as consumer protections are included to keep borrowers out of spiraling debt.

Borrowers can keep themselves from spiraling in debt by not obtaining a payday or installment loan! It is the borrower's own choice. Nobody is holding a gun to people’s heads telling them they have to get a payday loan; they do it by free choice.

The only guns involved will be the ones law-abiding citizens will see in their face, when someone, desperate for cash could not get a payday loan because the store went out of business. Because, after all, money doesn’t grow on trees!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011



Last week I attended the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Women of Distinction dinner as a guest of my friend Anita Ponder. During the event, Anita (who is not Jewish) asked me if I still felt there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America. I told her, “Yes.” It is because of her asking that question, that I am once again writing about Helen Thomas. As a Jew, I owe a debt of gratitude to  Thomas because she reminds people that virulent anti-Semitism still exists.

My first Thomas blog was on January 11th about her being hired by a Virginia newspaper. It gives a timeline of her conduct for the past year.

I followed that up on February 18th  when I re-capped her interview on the Joy Behar show.

The April edition of Playboy Magazine  contains an interview with Thomas that contributing Editor David Hochman conducted. The interview is very long, so I have copied just some of the highlights below.

After reading it, you will never ask anyone the question, “Does anti-Semitism still exist in America?”

THOMAS: Every columnist and commentator jumped on me immediately as anti-Semitic. Nobody asked me to explain myself. Nobody said, “What did you really mean?”

PLAYBOY: What did you really mean?

THOMAS: Well, there’s no understanding of the Palestinians at all. I mean, they’re living there and these people want to come and take their homes and land and water and kill their children and kill them. How many are still under arrest in Israel—never been charged, never been tried, never been convicted? Thousands. Why? Meanwhile, we keep giving Israel everything. Our government bribes the Israelis by saying, “Please come to the [negotiating] table and we’ll give you this and we’ll give you that.” Obama’s last offer to the Israelis was $22 billion in new fighter planes [Editor’s note: The offer was actually just under $3 billion], a veto at the UN for anything pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian and a three-month freeze on the colonization and settlers. I mean, what is this? They gave away the store, just as Reagan and every other president did. Why do you have to bribe people to do the right thing? I don’t want my government bribing anybody. I want them demanding. Stop all this aid to Israel when they’re killing people!

PLAYBOY: It was your follow-up comment, when you said the Jews should go back to Poland, Germany and America, that really infuriated people.

THOMAS: Well, that immediately evoked the concentration camps. What I meant was they should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted—not since World War II, not since 1945. If they were, we sure would hear about it. Instead, they initiated the Jackson-Vanik law, which said the U.S. would not trade with Russia unless it allowed unlimited Jewish emigration. But it was not immigration to the United States, which would have been fine with me. It was to go to Palestine and uproot these people, throw them out of their homes, which they have done through several wars. That’s not fair. I want people to understand why the Palestinians are upset. They are incarcerated and living in an open prison. I say to the Israelis, “Get out of people’s homes!” It’s unacceptable to have soldiers knocking on a door at three in the morning and saying, “This is my home.” And forcing people out of homes they’ve lived in for centuries? What is this? How can anybody accept it? I mean, Jewish-only roads? Would anyone tolerate something like that in America? White-only roads?

PLAYBOY: You mean Israeli-only roads, not Jewish only, right? [Editor’s note: Israel closes certain roads to Palestinians, but roads are open to all Israeli citizens and to other nationals, regardless of religious background.]

THOMAS: Israeli-only roads, okay. But it’s more than semantics because the Palestinians are deprived of owning these roads. This is their land. I’m sorry, but we’re talking about foreigners who came and said, “God gave this land to us.” [Former Israeli prime minister ¬Yitzhak] Rabin said, “Where’s the deed?” I mean, come on! Do you know that an Arab Palestinian trying to go home to see his mother has to go through 10 checkpoints and then is held there, while an American tourist can go through right like that? The Palestinian people have to carry their kids to hospitals and are not allowed to drive cars and so forth. What is this? No American Jew would tolerate that sort of treatment here against blacks or anyone else. Why do they allow it over there? And why do they send my American tax dollars to perpetuate it?

PLAYBOY: Do you acknowledge that some Palestinian behavior over the years, including hijacking and the use of suicide bombers, has been wrong and has added to the problem?

THOMAS: In an ideal world passive resistance and world disarmament would be great. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone. But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation. Three generations of Palestinians have been forced out of their homes—by Israelis—and into refugee camps. And the Israelis are still bulldozing Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem. Remember, Menachem Begin invented terrorism as his MO—and bragged about it in his first book. That’s how Israel was created, aided and abetted by U.S. money and arms. To annex and usurp an occupied people’s country is illegal under international law. The Israelis know that, but their superior military force has always prevailed against the indigenous people.

PLAYBOY: In the wake of your anti-Israel comments, a blogger from The ¬Atlantic argued there’s really no distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. He wrote, “Thomas was fired for saying that the Jews of Israel should move to Europe, where their relatives had been slaughtered in the most devastating act of genocide in history. She believes that once the Jews are evacuated from their ancestral homeland, the world’s only Jewish country should be replaced by what would be the world’s 23rd Arab country. She believes that Palestinians deserve a country of their own but that the Jews are undeserving of a nation-state in their homeland, which has had a continuous Jewish presence for 3,000 years.…”

THOMAS: [Interrupts] Did a Jew write this? [Editor’s note: The writer is Jeffrey Goldberg.]

PLAYBOY: “…and has been the location of two previous Jewish states. This sounds like a very anti-Jewish position to me, not merely an anti-Zionist position.”

THOMAS: This is a rotten piece. I mean it’s absolutely biased and totally—who are these people? Why do they think they’re so deserving? The slaughter of Jews stopped with World War II. I had two brothers and many relatives who fought in that war against Hitler. We believed in it. Every American family was in that fight. But they were liberated since then. And yet they carry on the victimization. American people do not know that the Israeli lobbyists have intimidated them into believing every Jew is a persecuted victim forever—while they are victimizing Palestinians.

PLAYBOY: Let’s get to something else you said more recently. In a speech in Detroit last December, you told an Arab group, “We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about 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. We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.” Do you stand by that statement?

THOMAS: Yes, I do. I know it was horrendous, but I know it’s true. Tell me it’s not true and I’ll be happy to be contradicted. I’m just saying they’re using their power, and they have power in every direction.

PLAYBOY: That stereotype of Jewish control has been around for more than a century. Do you actually think there’s a secret Jewish conspiracy at work in this country?

THOMAS: Not a secret. It’s very open. What do you mean secret?

PLAYBOY: Well, for instance, explain the connection between Hollywood and what’s happening with the Palestinians.

THOMAS: Power over the White House, power over Congress.

PLAYBOY: By way of contributions?

THOMAS: Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood. Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.

PLAYBOY: Who are you thinking about specifically? Who are the Jews with the most influence?

THOMAS: I’m not going to name names. What, am I going to name the Ponzi guy on Wall Street [Bernard Madoff] or the others? No.

PLAYBOY: Then how do you make the claim that Jews are running the country?

THOMAS: I want you to look at the Congress that just came in. Do you think [New York Democratic senator Charles] Schumer and Lehtinen—whatever her name is—in Florida [Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strong supporter of Israel] are going to be pro-Arab? No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing. If you’re not in, you’re eased out, just as Senator William Fulbright was in the 1960s [after claiming that millions of tax-deductible dollars from American philanthropies were being sent to Israel and then funneled back to the U.S. for distribution to organizations with pro-Israel positions]. Congressman Paul Findley from a little old rural district in Illinois made the mistake of shaking hands with Yasir Arafat years ago. It ended up costing him his reelection. He later wrote a book called They Dare to Speak Out about how impossible it is to have a position in this country that takes on Israel. Maybe there is a handful that can, but in general you cannot speak against any Zionist movement in this country.

PLAYBOY: Do you begrudge people like Steven Spielberg? He created the Shoah Foundation to chronicle the life stories of Holocaust survivors. What’s your feeling about him?

THOMAS: There’s nothing wrong with remembering it, but why do we have to constantly remember? We’re not at fault. I mean, if they’re going to put a Holocaust museum in every city in Germany, that’s fine with me. But we didn’t do this to the Jews. Why do we have to keep paying the price and why do they keep oppressing the Palestinians? Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That’s true, but they shouldn’t use that to dominate.

PLAYBOY: In America you’re talking about a relatively small community. Jews make up roughly two percent of the U.S. population. On a worldwide level, the percentage is well under one percent. Those numbers don’t exactly spell domination.

THOMAS: I get where you’re leading with this. You know damn well the power they have. It isn’t the two percent. It’s real power when you own the White House, when you own these other places in terms of your political persuasion. Of course they have power. You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?


THOMAS: That’s what I thought. Well, you know damn well they have power.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The $30.56 SOLUTION

When NASA announced that two decommissioned space shuttles would be up for grabs, the Adler Planetarium quickly issued a statement formally expressing an interest in acquiring one of the Space Shuttle Orbiters for public display. When I heard that on the news, I was excited. I started doing some research; I learned the rest of the story--now I am not so excited.

There are 21 organizations that have expressed interest in obtaining one of the two decommissioned shuttles that are left for placement after the Smithsonian gets one. There will be an extensive lobbying process (think 2016 Olympics). If the Adler is chosen, there are some costs involved:

(1) The retired shuttles are being offered to institutions that can raise an estimated $28.8 million to ship and reassemble them after their decommissioning.

(2) The Adler will need to build a facility to house the shuttle and would need to raise $100 million! (Think Olympics again!)

The shuttles will cost a lot of money because they have to be transitioned for retirement. CollectSpace.com reported that Stephanie Stilson, flow manager for orbiter retirement said about the Shuttle Discovery, "We are going right into what we are calling our 'transition retirement' processing flow, which in many ways is very similar to the processing flow to get the vehicle ready for flight again. It is just this time, we are not preparing her for flight, we are preparing her for display.”

NASA will have to:
 (1) Get the cryogenic [propellants] out of the fuel cell system, there are some [hypergolic fuels] we need to drain, those types of things. Pyrotechnic cartridges need to be removed.

(2) Hazardous commodities have to be removed.

(3) The systems to be stripped include ammonia, nitrogen tetroxide and monomethylhydrazine, all of which could pose a risk to future museum visitors if left intact.

(4) Decontaminate all the lines or just remove them.

If a shuttle comes to the Adler, it will have to be flown to Gary Airport on the back of a special Boeing 747 and then be transported by barge along Lake Michigan.

If someone is really interested in the shuttle, they can buy a very nice kit at Amazon.com for $30.56. No charge for shipping! The model needs to be assembled and measures more than 14 inches tall. The kit includes a display stand, cargo bay doors that open and close, detailed NASA decals, both liquid fuel and solid fuel rockets and illustrated assembly instructions. Sounds fun!

The population of Chicago is about 3 million, so if everyone bought a kit the total expense, with tax, would be about $100 million. Same amount of money and the shuttle would be located in your own home! No cost for parking at the museum campus.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I patiently explained the Law of Supply and Demand in a blog  on December 28, 2010 in relation to the possibility of an admission fee for The Taste of Chicago. This blog deals with the fees that the credit card issuers charge businesses, but the basic premise is still the Law of Supply and Demand. Credit card companies (through banks) supply a service that businesses need and they have a right to charge a fee for providing that service, but the Federal Reserve is sticking their nose in about fees and the battle is heating up.

According to the Associated Press, ”Currently, the fees typically range between 1 and 2 percent of each purchase, averaging 44 cents. The Fed has proposed capping that at 12 cents, though smaller banks could charge more. Bankers want lawmakers to delay the change in hopes that it will eventually be killed or toned down.” I agree with the banks that the Fed has no business stepping in. If a business does not like the fee they are being charged for a service, then stop using that service! Don’t ask the Federal Government to step in and ask the service to lower their rates.

I have written a number of blogs in support of credit card companies and have given the history of the industry. Originally, the ability to not pay immediately for something resulted in a bill at the end of each month that a person had to pay off immediately. It was a charge account. That has evolved into credit accounts where one has the ability to pay off the bill over a period of time.

If a company wants to provide their own billing system, known as a “House Account,” there is no law against that. But are they willing to risk that the customer will pay their bill at the end of the month? Are they prepared to deal with fraudulent use of the House Account? Can they handle that fraud costs credit card companies more than $500 million a year? How about the cost of floating the money to customers? Average credit card debt per household with credit card debt is $15,788. The Feds themselves estimate total U.S. consumer debt at $2.40 trillion, as of June 2010 (Source: Federal Reserve's G.19 report on consumer credit, November 2010) Does every Mom and Pop store in America have the capability of essentially loaning money to their customers and hoping they will get paid back? No! That is why there are bank-issued credit and charge cards.

Plus many credit cards offer all sorts of reward programs when a person spends. Can a local store offer that option at the level a bank can? Probably not.

What about these statistics?

• According to Fitch Ratings, the number of credit card defaults hit 11.37 percent, the highest level since a record 11.52 percent in September 2009. (Source: Associated Press, March 2010)

• In the last 12 months, 15 percent of American adults, or nearly 34 million people, have been late making a credit card payment and eight percent (18 million people) have missed a payment entirely. (Source: National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 2009 Financial Literacy Survey, April 2009)

• 26 percent of Americans, or more than 58 million adults, admit to not paying all of their bills on time. Among African-Americans, this number is at 51 percent. (Source: National Foundation for Credit Counseling, 2009 Financial Literacy Survey, April 2009)

Nobody forces a business to take a credit card in exchange for goods and services; the business does it for the convenience of their customers. Don’t like the fees the banks charge? Then don’t offer to accept credit cards. But since customers will demand it, businesses will have to supply it; just don’t go crying to the Feds for a bailout.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Phone I wish I had

On Wednesday, I finally bought a new cell phone to bring me into step with the latest technology. Last November, my sister gave me a check to pay for the phone as a birthday gift. It has taken me all these months to build up the intestinal fortitude to go to the Sprint store. I have a new phone and here is the story.

My first step was coordinating my schedule with my friend Ron who wanted to come with me and view the potential disaster of my melt down. We finally arrived at the date of March 16th at 11:00 a.m. Because Ron lives in the suburbs, we then had to figure out if he would park at my apartment building and take a cab to the Sprint store, walk if the weather were nice or he would pick me up and we would park in the Loop. We decided on his picking me up and parking near the store.

My second step was making the appointment on-line and I easily accomplished that. Computer Gigolo Kevin also offered to accompany us and meet us at Sprint during his lunch hour.

The day of the appointment, Ron called me at 8:30 a.m. to tell me that he had a conflict and could not come. His Mother had fallen the evening before, he had spent time in the emergency room with her and now he needed to take her to the doctor instead of coming with me. The story seemed credible to me, so I told him I understood. That was bad omen number one.

I left my apartment and got in a cab to travel to 180 N. La Salle. When we arrived at the bridge to cross over the Chicago River, it was shut for emergency construction. We had to turn around and find another bridge to get us into the Loop. Bad omen number two.

I had left my home early enough to leave myself time to have a cigarette in front of the store to calm my nerves. Now with the extra time spent traveling, I could not do that and be on-time for the appointment. Bad omen number three.

I walked into the store, verified who I was for my appointment and asked for Francisco, a gentleman I had worked with before who knew how to “handle” me. He was not in. Bad omen number four.

Luckily I spotted Joseph who I recognized from a previous visit. I asked if he could be the one to help me. He was available and my luck seemed to be changing for the better.

Joseph patiently showed me the various options of phones. I decided to choose the one that he personally used figuring since, as an employee, he he could have any phone he wanted; he would obviously have the best one. It was the EVO 4G. I decided to buy that one. It was $450, but I could get a $150 rebate. (Which we know I will never receive!)

We walked to the counter and the first thing we did was my paying for the phone and filling out the rebate card. Just then Kevin walked in and I showed him the phone for approval before buying. He agreed that I made a good choice.

It took me FOUR times before I filled out the rebate card correctly. Kevin, Joseph and I were laughing together at my stupidity, so a bond was formed.

I then had to make a decision on what kind of monthly package I wanted. I don’t remember now what plan I picked, I just knew that I decided I did not need to keep the two other cell phones that just sat at home as emergency back-up, I wanted to cancel them.  That s not so easy.

Joseph could not cancel the other phones. I had to call Sprint billing to do that. So I stood in a Sprint store, calling Sprint to let them know of my desire. The woman I spoke to was very nice but I had to answer a million questions on why I did not want to keep the additional lines anymore. I went into a whole long explanation, (with Kevin and Joseph laughing in the background,) when I just should have told her it was none of her business. Just cancel me! But I was too nice for that.

Before Joseph could start his tutorial, I had to read the disclosure agreement on a little machine at his station. Even with my glasses I could barely see the print. I just scrolled through it, accepted it and hope I did not agree to anything that I will regret later.

I did decide to buy the total equipment protection package for $7/month in case I ever lost or damaged the phone. This package includes GPS if I need to locate my phone. I know that warranty packages are a waste of money, but I was caught up in the moment.

I also bought protective films for the screen and a hard case so I would not “butt dial” people like various friends of mine do to me all the time. They shall be nameless.

When Joseph took me over to look at the Bluetooth accessories there were too many choices, so I am saving that for another day.

The dreaded tutorial time had arrived. I told Joseph and Kevin that we need to sit down and walk through my list of items slowly together. Here are some items from my list:

How to make a call. How to answer a call.
How to put in new phone numbers.
How to change ring tones.
How to text. How to change font size. Heat stylus?
How to set up voice mail, how to listen to voice mail.
How to send e-mail. How to download and view attachments.
How to store e-mail addresses. How to save e-mails.
How to use the scheduler.
How to use the memo recorder.
How to take pictures? How to look at picture mail?
How to access apps.
Do I have GPS?
Voice recognition dialing?
Speaker phone?
Conference call?
How to switch to another call?
How to watch TV?

I then discovered I had to set up a G-Mail account for some reason, which I did, but I don’t know why. So I have a G-Mail account that I don’t even know how to access, so don’t send me an e-mail on it.

Joseph started showing me how to do the items on my list. I spent three hours with him and I basically know just how to answer the phone and text. That is not Joseph’s fault, it is mine. I forgot how to do everything already.

 I made sure to let store manager Victor know how wonderful Joseph was because I did not want him to get in trouble for spending so much time with me.

When Joseph showed me how to get on the Internet, I went to my own web site and impressed him with pictures of me and the Cardinal, Mancow and Jerry Springer. I promised him a Springer t-shirt the next time I came in to the store as an incentive for him to continue to be nice.

Joseph at Sprint Store
I took Joseph’s picture on my new phone so I could use it on this blog, but I could not figure out how to transfer it. Luckily Kevin took a picture and e-mailed it to me the old fashioned way on my computer.

Three hours, I finally reached technology overload and left the store. Kevin is having dinner with me on Friday to continue the tutorial.

So while the experience started badly, it ended with me finally getting a new phone—something I have tried to do for months and could not muster the strength to do. So if you call me and I don’t answer, that does not mean I am not around. It just means I messed up and will call you back from my land line. Also, don’t text me for a few days because I lied when I said earlier that I knew how to do it!  I don't know how to do anything on the phone, but it is very pretty.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn proposed in his budget address  to consolidate the state's 868 school districts down to 300 because it would save $100 million or more in administrative costs. Since there are 3912 public (and charter) schools in Illinois, that idea would seem to make sense. This would mean an average of approximately 13 schools per district. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) supports the plan because right now there are 200 districts with only ONE school in them!

Since there are 247 school superintendents earning more than the governor's $177,000 salary — and 172 earning at least $200,000, it seems like there is a lot of fat that could be trimmed.

Before we make our final decision on where we stand on the issue, let us look at some facts from the 2009-2010 ISBE Annual Report.

Slight increase in the number of public schools. The number of public schools increased slightly from 3,908 in 2001 to 3,912 in 2010. These figures include charter schools and regular public schools which issue school report cards.

Increase in average school size. The average school size increased by about three percent, from 514 in 2001 to 528 in 2010.

Student enrollment declined in 2010. Student enrollment in the regular Illinois public schools increased steadily from 2,007,170 in 2001 to 2,077,856 in 2007, then declined to 2,064,312 in 2010.

Why would there be an increase in the number of schools and an increase in the average school size, if student enrollment declined? Those facts really have nothing to do with consolidating school districts, but I always get suspicious when I see numbers that make no sense. It makes me question other statistics we are told about schools.

So if Illinois consolidates school districts the taxpayers could save a lot of money, right? Wrong! The reason is that if two districts combine, teachers in the lower-paying district get their salary raised to the higher paying district’s level!

An Associated Press story on the subject said, “As an example, Palatine could be a target for consolidation with its seven elementary school districts feeding into one high school district. The Illinois Association of School Boards estimates that merging those districts would save $1.6 million in administrative salaries but cost at least $10 million in higher pay for elementary teachers.” That is because, according to Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft, “Illinois law requires the state to make up the salary difference between districts when a merger takes place. She said the governor wants a commission to determine how to accomplish that.” AP reported that Kraft had no comment on how higher teacher salaries would affect Quinn's prediction of $100 million in savings.

So Quinn can “predict” $100 million in savings by consolidation, but he forgot to subtract from the savings the cost of the higher salaries! AP spoke to some experts and reported, “Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said any debate about consolidating school districts must take higher teacher salaries into account. ‘That will generally eclipse administrative savings’ Schwarm said.

Illinois could stop the salary increase by changing teachers' collective bargaining rights. But Schwarm predicted that would ignite the kind of firestorm seen in Wisconsin, where Republicans have gutted collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican and a school superintendent, said the state agreed years ago to cover salary differences as an incentive for districts to consolidate. He questioned whether Quinn has calculated how much the state spends on those incentives and whether they outweigh the governor's estimated savings.”

Accounting problem or stupidity in the Governor’s Budget Office? I think answering true to both options would earn you an A+.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


In 1974 the Illinois General Assembly created the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to coordinate public transpiration throughout the six-county Chicago metropolitan region. In 1984 the “Metra” name was introduced as the name for the commuter rail system. According to the Metra web site, “Today, Metra directly operates seven of its lines and contracts with two freight carriers to run four others. Metra’s contracted services include the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line to Aurora, as well as the three Union Pacific lines: the UP North Line to Kenosha, Wisconsin; the UP Northwest Line to Harvard, with branch line service to McHenry; and the UP West Line to Elburn that was extended from its former terminus at Geneva in 2006.”

The general public did not pay much attention to the running of Metra unless there were stories of rate hikes—until last year when the Executive Director, Phil Pagano, committed suicide by stepping in front of a Metra train, amid allegations of major fiscal fraud and disclosures that he had taken $475,000 in unapproved vacation pay and forged memos. That act finally brought major scrutiny to how Metra was run.

Last week, IL State Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-Woodstock) held a press conference to expose excessive and wasteful spending among members of the Metra Board. The Metra Board oversees the suburban rail system that serves the City of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Franks has worked with State Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) to pass legislation aimed at reforming and bringing transparency to Metra, as well as other Chicago transit agencies.

“Transit agencies have spent thousands of dollars on high-priced lobbying efforts to convince lawmakers they need more taxpayer dollars,” Franks said. “But a closer review of where that money is going shows there is an outdated and bloated payroll that includes far too many perks for board members who don’t really need them.”

Franks contends the Metra Board has systematically and intentionally misclassified its board of directors as ‘employees,’ rather than the outside ‘independent directors’ that they are. By definition, outside directors are not employees. As a result of this intentional misclassification, Metra does not issue 1099’s for board member benefits. Rather they are classified as employees and are issued a W-2 in which these multimillion-dollar, taxpayer funded perks are not taxed as income. Notably, no statutory authority exists to classify members in such a way.

As an example, Carole Doris, the Metra board chair, was treated as an employee but not reimbursed as one. She took limousines to $500 per night hotels and was reimbursed for all expenses when other employees would not be. Other state employees are entitled to certain per diem and would be responsible to pay, out of pocket, for such lavish expenses. Doris was fully reimbursed by Illinois taxpayers.

Additionally, former State Senator and former McHenry County Republican Chairman Jack Schaffer serves as another bad example. Schaffer is the Metra board’s Treasurer. Senator Schaffer retired with the General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) on January 14, 1999 after 24 years of service. His final salary on which his pension was based was for the position of Commissioner of Banks and Trusts, a job covered by the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS). Currently, Senator Schaffer receives $8,250.85 per month for GARS and $799.27 per month from SERS – totaling $9,050.12, a figure that will increase 3% annually.

Shaffer is drawing two lucrative pensions, along with free health care provided to retired state senators. His Metra board position, which involves one meeting per month, affords him yet another pension. On any other board, a part-time independent contractor would be not eligible for a pension. All that is on top off a $15,000 Metra board salary. Additionally, over the past five years, Schaffer has taken over $105,000 in Metra-paid health care, even though one of his state pensions already provides it.

“On any other board, Schaffer would receive a 1099 and be taxed on the health care perk, but because he has been improperly classified as an employee this taxpayer backed perk is entirely tax free,” said Franks. “Not only has Schaffer unnecessarily taken $105,000 in health benefits, he has shorted taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in taxes owed on these perks because of the intentional misclassification of his position.”

“I will ask the proper authorities to investigate whether these actions rise to sanctionable activity and call for the immediate removal of Schaffer as a board member. Furthermore, I demand that he repay the State for all of the duplicative health care costs and pay taxes on those perks,” Franks added. “Governor Quinn is seeking to take $85 million from road funds to give to Metra for operations while tax dollars are being squandered, the Metra board’s culture of entitlement and lack of accountability has gone on far too long.”

Franks has introduced legislation to remove the salaries and benefits for all transit agency board members and to consolidate the Metra, Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Pace, and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) boards into a single agency.

“Metra Board members are supposed to be independent watchdogs appointed by their respective county board chairmen,” Franks said. “Instead we have political cronies who have allowed its executive director to loot the system and board members doing prison time for taking bribes.”

So how did the Chairman of the Board of Metra react? Doris issued a prepared statement that said she considers the treatment of Metra board members no different from that of the CTA, Pace and RTA boards and numerous state-sanctioned boards. The old “everybody else is doing it why can’t we” defense does not cut it with me.

Maybe the Illinois legislature should take a page from Mayor Daley’s playbook and just encourage everyone to bike to work.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


On September 11, 2001, the United States of America experienced one of the worst tragedies of its history. National security then became a major priority and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created. Carrying some sort of identification became mandatory, as most buildings started requiring an ID for entry. Where this procedure has only been used at government buildings, even access to the elevator in an office building necessitated some sort of identification. But since every state has a different type of driver’s license (or state ID), and different requirements for issuance of the license, a REAL ID act was passed requiring states to be in compliance with new Federal guidelines for the issuance of IDs by May 11, 2011.

Sounds like the State’s need to update their systems. If the Feds required citizens to do something, we would have to comply immediately. But since many states have not done this, DHS has delayed implementation of the Act until January 15, 2013. Moving the date ahead NINETEEN MONTHS instead of forcing compliance?! Insane!

How can the Feds justify this? A 9-page announcement states, “Implementation of REAL ID involves a significant financial investment, and, despite the receipt of substantial Federal grant funds, a number of States are struggling to come up with the resources necessary to meet the full compliance deadline in these times of budget austerity. Additionally, some States delayed investing in new technology."

Since every document provided for identification (social security number, birth certificate, address, etc.) has to be verified under REAL ID, we are lucky that Illinois is closer than most states because we have really good security systems in place.

On January 29, 2008, DHS promulgated a final rule implementing the requirements of the act so states had more than THREE YEARS to become compliant! Instead, on March 7th this year, the DHS gave notice of the delay in the Federal Register that they were extending the deadline.

Let’s look at the time line again. In JANUARY OF 2008, the Feds say that states must have systems in place to verify that all information given for the issuance of an ID is verified. And now the deadline for compliance is 2013, FIVE YEARS later!

If the United States of America cannot get a system in place to verify the legitimacy of its own citizens’ identification cards for FIVE YEARS, what kind of message are we sending to the terrorists whose mission is to destroy us?

The Federal Register statements about moving the compliance date includes this section:

“Throughout the development and implementation of the REAL ID program, DHS has engaged in extensive, ongoing discussions with the States regarding their ability to comply with the REAL ID Act and the DHS regulations. Based on those communications, DHS has learned that the States, despite their good-faith efforts, will not be able to meet the May 11, 2011 deadline.”

Well, I am letting the Federal Government know that despite my good-faith efforts, I won’t be filing my income tax return by April 15th. I will be happy to engage in extensive on-going discussions to explain why.

Friday, March 11, 2011


When Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D, 6th District) announced that he was thinking about imposing a state income tax on retirement income (excluding Social Security) for high-earning senior citizens, loyal blog reader Cheryl Jacobs Lewin e-mailed me the story, expressed her outrage and asked if I were going to write about it. I responded that I was thinking about it, but since I agreed with Cullerton she probably would not be pleased with the result. Her reply was, “Anytime the state wants to tax me more instead of cutting wasteful spending and looking to figure out other sources of revenue pushes me to look to move elsewhere.” What Cheryl said makes sense, so I will examine both sides of the story.

According to an editorial in the Chicago Tribune, taxing pensions is commonplace. Ronald Snell, a tax specialist at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, said, “Of the 41 states that tax personal income, 36 tax some or all retirement income, including government, private and military pensions and Social Security. Only five don't: Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi and Pennsylvania. And even in the first three of those, you can find a fistful of retirement dollars that are taxed.”

Governor Pat Quinn’s reaction to the proposal, “I think it’s important that we always be open to reviewing the tax code. Matter of fact, I proposed in my budget address that we have a commission in Illinois that’s focused on fairness and economic growth, and looking at our tax code, that promotes fairness to everyday taxpayers and also economic growth for all of us, so I think everything should be looked at. How we go about it is obviously something we have to work together on.”

So if 41 states currently tax pensions, what would be so wrong about Illinois doing it? I have no problem with taxing senior citizens who are receiving pension in excess of $100,000. The rest of us are paying state income tax; what your age is should not matter when it comes to taxes.

Now to the other side of the story. Where can Illinois cut the budget? The Illinois Policy Institute (http://www.illinoispolicy.org/) has issued a 108 page report, ”Budget Solutions 2012: A Sustainable Path for Illinois.” In the report they include examples of wasteful and unnecessary spending by Illinois government provided by IllinoisOpenGov.org. I have listed some large questionable expenses below. I use the word “questionable” because they merit further analysis.
 State Spending Examples Found via IllinoisOpenGov.org

In 2009, the Illinois Policy Institute launched IllinoisOpenGov.org, which gives Illinois taxpayers a clear look into how state government spends their hard-earned tax dollars, down to the agency, person and penny. The site contains information on state employee payroll, checks to businesses and people and state retiree pensions. The following spending examples come directly from IllinoisOpenGov.org and highlight spending choices that should receive extra scrutiny before being repeated in the future. The expenses below were incurred between July 1, 2009 and April 16, 2010.

Statewide: $19,803,867 for In-State Travel Expenses:

Eighty-eight state agencies had in-state travel expenses, with the expenses for twenty-six agencies exceeding $100,000.

Statewide: $7,073,923 for Passenger Automobiles:

Twelve state agencies had passenger automobile expenditures, including the General Assembly ($48,390), the Supreme Court ($39,052) and Governors State University ($17,799).

Statewide: $6,927,825 on Advertising:
Fifty state agencies incurred nearly $7 million in advertising expenditures. Almost three-quarters of the expenditures came from the Department of Transportation ($5,082,930), and six agencies spent more than $150,000 on advertising.

Statewide: $2,885,766 on Prizes, Premiums and Awards:

Seven state agencies spent a combined total of $2,885,766 on prizes, premiums and awards. The Department of Agriculture was responsible for over 98 percent of the expenditures, spending $2,837,019 on this category of spending. The Department of Natural Resources spent the second highest amount at $30,994.

Statewide: $1,406,623 on Subscriptions

Various state agencies spent $1.4 million on subscriptions to vendors such as Gatehouse Media IL Holdings II ($11,090), Ahead of Our Time Publishing ($9,450) and XM Satellite Radio Inc. ($6,958).

And more from the Institute’s Piglet Book:

Highlights include:

$6,500 for a tub of live bass. The state paid for fishing seminars and demonstrations using a 4,000 gallon, 40-foot long tank filled with live fish.

$353,165 for car racing. The state is funding Raceway Associates, which partners with big-time races like the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, as well as a massive construction grant for Atkinson 
Motorsports Park in northwestern Illinois.

$10,000 for a Batman gala. Your tax 
dollars funded a star-studded party for “Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan.

$1,100 for Hawaiian party props. Your 
money made its way to Island Enterprises, a company providing “everything for luaus and Hawaiian themed events from dancers to music to props and apparel.”

$78,066 for quail promotion. The state is funding Quail Unlimited, which is “dedicated to the wise use and management of America’s wild quail, doves, upland game birds and other forms of wildlife.”

So the State of Illinois has funds to pay for XM Satellite radio (I don’t even have satellite radio) and bass demonstrations. Maybe we should be fishing for money elsewhere than from the seniors, but still not let them totally off the hook.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Chicago Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) resigned Wednesday as chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus.  It was, according to the Sun-Times,  because there was "dissension in the ranks fueled by his demand to set aside 20 percent of the city’s tax-increment financing funds (TIF) for affordable housing."  So it seems like a good time to explain TIFs.

The only people who understand tax increment financing are those who know how to take advantage of it. Since normal people’s eyes glaze over when they try to comprehend the theory, they do not even bother to really try. Think of TIFs as a game of three-card Monte where only the dealer can hold the winning hand.

Simply explained, TIF districts are supposed to be created in distressed or blighted areas to encourage development. It is a method where future tax gains are used to pay for current improvements. The theory being that when an area is developed, there would be an increase in the value of the surrounding real estate so there would be increased tax revenues. The increased revenues are the “tax increment.” That future increment is used to pay for the past improvements done in the area.

Eyes glazing yet?

The City of Chicago is a leading city in creating TIF districts. There are 162 districts today, according to the Department of Housing and Economic Development’s web site  and hundreds of projects have been financed through TIF money.

Journalism students at Columbia College in Chicago have recently published an extensive list of TIF projects at their web site, Chicago Talks,  and have provided research on a city map of 171 TIF projects finalized between January 1, 2000 through July 30, 2010. It “shows more than half of the private-sector projects are clustered in or near the Loop. Few if any projects can be found in many of Chicago’s most economically distressed communities on the West and South Sides.” That makes no sense. Didn’t we just learn that TIF projects are supposed to be in blighted areas?

Chicago Talks analyzed public records of nearly $100 million in TIF spending and found ” about a dozen companies since 2000 that were authorized to receive tax-increment financing to move their corporate headquarters to Chicago or remain in the city:-CareerBuilder, $2.9 million in 2008-CB2, $3.4 million in 2010-CAN, $13.68 million in 2006-Green Works, $6.1 million in 2005-Grossinger City Auto Corp. Inc.'s Toyota and Scion dealership, $8.5 million in 2008-Mittal Steel Co., $2 million in 2008-MLRP Merlin LLC and Coca-Cola Enterprises, $3.22 million in 2006-Nanoink, $1 million in 2003-Navteq Corporate Headquarters, $5 million in 2010-United Airlines, $5.475 million in 2007-United Airlines, $25.9 million in 2009-USG Corp., $9.75 million in 2004-Sara Lee, $5 million in 2000-The Ziegler Cos. Inc., $2.4 million in 2008 Source: Records from the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development.”

Below is a list of some of their analysis of why TIF money was awarded:

*Green Works, a landscaping firm that was authorized to receive $6.1 million – or 89 percent of the total cost – for its headquarters at 551 N. Sacramento Blvd. to be built on the site of an illegal dump. No one from the company returned calls for comment.

* USG Corp. and Christiana Investors LLC, which has received about $7 million out of the project’s $9.75 million cost to help fund the construction of an 18-story office building at 550 W. Adams St. The company didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

* United Airlines, which won approval for two TIF subsidies totaling about $31 million to help fund its corporate headquarters at 77 W. Wacker Dr. and for its operations to move to Willis Tower at 233 S. Wacker Dr. United spokesman Mike Trevino said the company expects to create about 3,100 jobs because of the subsidies, though he notes about 600 of those jobs were transferred from Elk Grove Village.

‘That’s not how TIF money should be spent,’ said Rachel Weber, associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She said TIF money should not be given to companies to shift jobs from one area to another.

‘I think one of the more egregious uses of TIFs . . . is the subsidizing of corporate headquarter locations in the Loop,’ Weber said in September at a panel sponsored by the Better Government Association.”

A dedicated group of college students discovered these TIF subsidies. Their names are: Caitlin Bukowski, Ellyn Fortino, K. Herron, Becca James, Meghan Keyes, Tony Merevick, Margaret Smith, Taryn S. Smith and Mika Tatich. Dan Weissmann assisted with data analysis. Derek Eder created the searchable map.

When they graduate they will be looking for jobs; any media outlet should feel privileged to hire them. If they produce this kind of work as students, imagine how they would succeed as reporters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


At the beginning of this millennium, plans started for Children’s Memorial Hospital (founded in 1882), currently located in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, to build a new billion dollar hospital just east of North Michigan Avenue in the complex where Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH) resides. Since that is just across the street from where I live, I became very interested in the project and have followed the plans from the start. What an honor to be able to watch the growth of the hospital, which last year served more than 146,000 children, from the ground up. My elation was not shared by all of the other residents in this community called Streeterville.

Besides the worry of future traffic congestion and parking issues, (which the hospital quickly solved by planning more parking garages) residents were concerned about a heliport being planned for the roof of the complex. While people were vocally claiming, “safety issues,” I think the underlying reason was that the selfish area residents were concerned about the noise of a helicopter flying by their high-rise windows.

Because Streeterville is also the home of NMH, ambulances are in transit all day long. The background noise of sirens has become such a familiar noise I don’t even notice it. If there are 10 ambulances a day, that means 3650 times a year, the wails are emitted. Do you know how many helicopter flights the hospital does in its current location in Lincoln Park? Approximately 73 a year! That is nothing compared to the number of ambulance rides.

A hospital fact sheet tell us: 

 The heliport will be used to receive critically ill and injured children who cannot be transported by ground transportation without threat to the life or condition, and for time-critical organ transplantation.

 Heliport transports to the future rooftop heliport will be used for pediatric treatment of Children’s Memorial patients only.

 Annually, an average of 73 seriously ill or injured children and five organs for life-saving transplantation are transported by helicopter to our Lincoln Park location

 Children are only brought from other hospitals – never from the scene of accidents.

 Doctors have concluded that using an off-site heliport could result in serious harm to the child being transported because of the additional time and physical movement of the medically fragile child.

Children's Memorial Hospital, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the City of Chicago and a slew of aviation experts have done extensive studies on heliport safety. They have all concluded that the hospital’s heliport plans EXCEED any safety requirement for the operation of a heliport. Their video  clearly explains how all safety issues have been resolved.

The obvious safety of flying helicopters in this area was proven last summer when the city allowed the "Transformers" movie to have whirly birds sweeping low over Michigan Ave. I wrote about that last July:“It is interesting to note that while there has been a multi-year study, very contentious, ( still continuing) on whether a heliport should be allowed on the roof of Children’s Memorial Hospital which is currently under construction; it is perfectly acceptable for movie helicopters to be flying in the very same air space over Michigan Avenue. The hypocrisy of it!”

The reason for this story now is because the most vocal anti-heliport group, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR,) sent out a fund-raising letter with many misstatements about the safety of the heliport. That compelled the hospital to send out a letter refuting what SOAR had written.

The battle continues and it sickens me how selfish the residents around me are. As I have said in community meetings, “Once the heliport is built, if I hear the noise of a helicopter, it means the life of a child is being saved.”

So why are we still arguing this issue?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I have written many, many times about the importance of transparency in government that one would think I owned a glass company, but the subject is so important it cannot be discussed enough.

Illinois State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) advanced HB222 through a House committee last week. The bill seeks to expand the parameters of the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal (ITAP.)

The Synopsis As Introduced
Amends the Department of Central Management Services Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois. Provides that the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal (ITAP) shall also include a searchable database of all county, township, and municipal employees sorted by the employing unit of local government, employment position title, and current pay rate and year-to-date pay. Amends the Counties Code, the Township Code, and the Illinois Municipal Code. Provides that counties, townships, and municipalities must comply with the requirements established by the Department of Central Management Services concerning ITAP. Limits home rule powers.

How fun to be able to check on the salary of any public employee. After all it is our tax money paying their wages, so we should be able to see what they are taking home.

Other exciting items called for are:

(1) A database of all current State contracts, sorted separately by contractor name, awarding officer or agency, contract value, and goods or services provided.

(2) A database of all current State expenditures sorted separately by agency, category, recipient and Representative District.

“The state of Illinois is in desperate need of further ethics overhaul,” Franks said. “We must take every opportunity to improve state government by shining a bright light on every elected official, every employee and every expenditure. Increased transparency will help ensure that tax dollars are being spent responsibly.”

He added, “To change business as usual on every level of government, we must take the necessary steps to make information more available to the average citizen. This bill will provide citizens with another means to hold their government accountable. The government must be returned to the people and transparency is the first step toward that goal.”

House Bill 222 would expand ITAP to include salary information for local government employees, including municipalities and county governments. ITAP, which Franks helped create in 2009, currently provides a searchable, online database of state government spending, including contracts and state employee salaries. Franks believes that holding local governments to the same standards as state government is important to ensure local officials are working in the best interest of their constituents as well.

According to the Better Government Association  there are 1,435 taxpayer-supported townships in 85 of 102 state counties, where each township collects taxes to support the salaries and pensions of, at least, seven elected officers, plus staff. Add that number to all the county, city and state workers and the salary data base will be enormous!  Even though I probably won't read through all the lists, yu know I will try!