Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kane County Dems and Clinton's Baby Bonds

The Kane County Democrat's Blog where I spirited things up a few years ago with posts saying Bush's ownership accounts could be a progressive thing.

Now Clinton's suggesting a Bond in every Bassinet.

That could easily be an investment-portfolio-in-every-bassinet. A personal account Americans could contribute too, borrow against, and pass on to their survivors.

Maybe Kane Democrats should start posting those Questions of the Day again on policy because Clinton's tossing out some good ideas here. They pretty much stopped that after my Ownership account exchange on their site.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chicago's Eye on the Light Pole

From Chicago Video Surveillance Gets Smarter,

CHICAGO (AP) - A car circles a high-rise three times. Someone leaves a backpack in a park. Such things go unnoticed in big cities every day. But that could change in Chicago with a new video surveillance system that would recognize such anomalies and alert authorities to take a closer look.

On Thursday, the city and IBM Corp. are announcing the initial phase of what officials say could be the most advanced video security network in any U.S. city. The City of Broad Shoulders is getting eyes in the back of its head.

"Chicago is really light years ahead of any metropolitan area in the U.S. now," said Sam Docknevich, who heads video-surveillance consulting for IBM.
My daughter lives near an intersection in the City with these cameras. You see the blue lights blinking and I find them comforting.

Wonder how the lady who railed against Lipinski's vote for FISA feels about getting videoed. Maybe she doesn't spend much time in the city.

These smart-cameras seems like a far greater intrusion than FISA. They're an intrusion I'm ok with.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Ron Paul: Are you ready, Chicago?

Blake Dvorak writes on the Ron Paul ralley in Chicago,

....it's a circus of ideologues each with their own pet causes. Paul deftly satisfies the factions individually with his peculiar politics, but what this amounts to is a grab-bag of radical policy proposals. Some might say that this is libertarianism or "true Republicanism," but the fact is that it leads to a chaotic campaign, whose only guiding light is some mythical American past where an unsullied constitutional order reigned. Not to mention that Paul brings out the kind of person who spends their days pining for the gold standard and that's the not person you want your daughter bringing home.
Somehow I think a surprizing number will be bringing them home in the GOP primary. Obama signs so common I don't notice. He's gone stale for all: like him or not.

The only other signs (i.e. energy) I see around are for McCain and Paul. Now what these guys do with the rest of the ballot when your daugter brings them home, I wonder. They seem like an ice cream crowd to me.

Update: Reid Wilson on RCP Blog,
And while he's gotten little attention outside his fervent and fanatic fan base, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who finished the second quarter with more cash on hand than Sen. John McCain, could have another surprise in store for the media establishment his supporters so often malign.
[***]
Paul won't outraise any of the front-runners, but the frugality with which he is running the campaign, as well as the fervency of his supporters and his presence in Iowa and New Hampshire, mean that he will be one second-tier candidate unwilling to drop out before the nominating process takes its course. Paul could cause some serious problems for the front-runners, and it looks increasingly like he will have the money to compete in at least a few early states.
Maybe Ron Paul is the Black Swan.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bush to kick off Lincoln bicentennial celebration next Feb. 12


Just as President Theodore Roosevelt did in 1909 with the 100th anniversary celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth, President George W. Bush is expected to inaugurate the Lincoln bicentennial remembrance next year on February 12 at the Lincoln birthplace site near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Yes, next year is 2008, but the bicentennial bash is scheduled to last two years.

In addition to President Bush, all of the living presidents are invited to attend the festivities.

Actor Sam Waterston, who has portrayed Lincoln on stage and screen, will offer a presentation of the words of the savior of the Union.

Hat tip to Pol Watchers

Several Illinoisans are on the board of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, including Dick Durbin, Ray LaHood, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Julie Cellini, and Lura Lynn Ryan. Dr. Jean Bandler, who lives in Connecticut, is the daughter of the late Paul Douglas. Durbin now holds his seat in the Senate.

Related Marathon Pundit posts:

Andrew Ferguson video on his new book, Land of Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln birthplace site
Abraham Lincoln birthplace site's log cabin
"My earliest recollection is of the Knob Creek place"
Thirty hours in Lincoln's Springfield, Illinois
I found this bit of history in downtown Chicago today
Lincoln Bicentennial Commission playing with Lincoln Logs
Illinois lagging in Lincoln bicentennial celebrations

To comment on this or any other Marathon Pundit post, click here.

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All on board?

When state lawmakers return to Springfield Monday, there could be more momentum behind a gaming-for-capital plan than there was at the beginning of this nearly nine-month session. The pressure is on for lawmakers to approve a capital bill to finance road and school construction projects and a plan to address mass transit shortfalls. Now House Republicans have changed their tune and indicated a willingness to consider the creation of a Chicago casino to pay for a capital plan. That leaves only House Speaker Michael Madigan to hop on the bandwagon of a Chicago casino. That's not expected.

The potential support among House Republicans also is unlikely to shore up enough votes to approve a three-casino plan passed by the Senate earlier this month. That idea was crafted by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones Jr., who did not seek input from House Democrats or Republicans before sending it to the floor for a vote. Members of both political parties approved the deal. Now it’s waiting to be considered by the House.

Cross, who convened a Chicago meeting about gaming with the three other legislative leaders and the governor Wednesday, said the Senate’s gaming-for-capital plan “needs a lot of work.” “I’m not comfortable with three new licenses,” he said in a phone conversation Thursday. “Our caucus has had some interest in the increased positions, and I think reluctantly, as this process has evolved, is open to the Chicago idea.” He added there are a few House Republicans who like the idea of granting three new gaming licenses because it would give their downstate districts an opportunity to build one of the new riverboats.

Cross said the push for a capital bill isn’t about getting money for individual projects. “The roads need repair, the bridges, the school construction plan, the higher ed facilities — the needs are great. So it’s not individual member projects. It’s just the legitimate needs that exist around the state.” The focus of the caucus will be to agree on a way to generate about $1 billion for the state’s share of a $10 billion capital plan. Cross added, “I think with increased positions and Chicago that you can probably get there.”

Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat and budget negotiator for his caucus, said lawmakers shouldn’t get their hopes up. Not only is approving three new casinos going to be a tough sell in the House, he said approving new licenses doesn’t produce immediate gratification. He said while the state would get an initial big check in exchange for a new license, it would have no idea when the gambling facility would be up and running or whether its revenue would live up to expectations.

He added the Senate’s revenue estimates from its gaming plan are “very optimistic.” “It really is just anybody’s guess about what this thing in Chicago could generate. I don’t know that we can make those kinds of dollars. And if we don’t, we basically borrowed a big bunch of money and ask some future generation to find a way to pay it off because we gave them an insufficient revenue stream.”

And then there’s Madigan, who may be for a Chicago casino under the right but unlikely circumstances. His spokesman, Steve Brown: “In terms of a city-owned casino that meets all of the city requirements, if that ever came up by itself, I assume the speaker would support it. No expectation it ever will.” He also cited the Senate’s gaming bill as an example of a typical plan that has kernel of an idea but gets bogged down by various demands and falls over on its own weight.

The speaker is considering scheduling public hearings to air out gaming proposals, but there’s no schedule or format for any hearings right now, according to Brown. The House first will focus on some $470 million budget cuts made by the governor last month. The fun begins Monday with a special committee of the entire House. The chamber is expected to override those budget cuts when it convenes for the annual fall session Tuesday.

Throughout the two-week “veto session,” the General Assembly also is expected to consider mass transit subsidies and Chicago property tax relief. But there’s no indication the regular legislative session will end there.

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Illinois House Dems voting to condemn MoveOn.org

I counted Emanuel, Jackson, and Lipinski voting to condemn MoveOn.org.

Update: And Phil Hare too.

Update:sorry, Bean also.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mike Tryon on CTA-Roads Deal

"No Capital? No CTA!" reads the headline on State Rep. Mike Tryon's "legislative update."

It has a wonderful train analogy to describe the effect on McHenry County of the bill to bail out the Chicago Transit Authority under consideration:

"on a fast track to nowhere."
It points out that "less than one percent of those in McHenry County use mass transit."

Then Tryon writes,
"If the sponsors of Senate Bill 572 are not willing to talk about the overall transportation needs of McHenry County, I cannot support their legislation."
Is that a hint he can vote for the half percentage point sales tax increase?

A 7.7 percent increase in McHenry County's sales tax, half of which would go to the RTA (read mainly the CTA) and half to the McHenry County Board with which to build roads.

Let's read the sentence again:
"If the sponsors of Senate Bill 572 are not willing to talk about the overall transportation needs of McHenry County, I cannot support their legislation."
And, here's another hint for you to interpret at your leisure:
"I am committed to working with the sponsors of Senate Bill 572 to create a plan that addresses both mass transit and roads."
This reminds me so, so much of how an eastern Illinois ex-sheriff state representative agreed to vote for the creation of the RTA when Dave Caravello, one of Governor Dan Walker's legislative people, offered not to fire one of the Republican's road worker buddies, if he'd vote for the RTA bill.

The price is bigger here. I'll grant that.

But we had state approval to build the Western Bypass and Governor Rod Blagojevich took it away. It's a congressional earmark. When the last time IDOT didn't build a congressional earmark?

Now, it sounds as if Tryon is willing to vote for higher taxes in order to get back what was already ours.

The legislative update does not mention how more roads will be financed, but increased gambling has been mentioned widely elsewhere.

The only specific road improvement mentioned is the Western Bypass (to ease the traffic flow at Routes 62 and 31 in Algonquin). There is no mention of the Bolz Road bridge, in southern Algonquin and Carpentersville, without which the Western Bypass will not work. Local municipal and county officials seem intent on making people pay a toll to use the Bolz Road bridge (see Please Make Me Pay Twice), which means, of course, that those who don't want to pay a toll will continue to cross the Fox River at Route 62.

You can read Tryon's whole press release on McHenry County Blog. I wonder if it is a prototype for suburban Republican state representatives to use to justify voting for the deal.

And, speaking of roads, 8th congressional district Republican primary candidate Ken Arnold from Gurnee has made three interesting road proposals, two to save money and one to build a causeway across Lake Michigan. This is a man into policy.

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Hillary's vacuous vetting exposes International Profit Associates hypocrisy

My good friend Dan Curry has been working on the Hillary/International Profit Associates story for months, and I'm sure he won't mind that I take his post, almost word for word, and post it here.

Dan blogs at Reverse Spin, and I highly recommend his blog.

On Meet the Press last Sunday, Hillary Clinton proclaimed that new vetting procedures had been been put in place to prevent her from taking money from sleaze merchants like Norman Hsu.

If you think you've heard that line before, you are right.

The spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton, Ann Lewis, said Mrs. Clinton was not aware of Mr. Burgess's background when he held fund-raising affairs for her in 2000 and 2003, nor did she know whether other prominent Democrats had rejected contributions. She said that Mrs. Clinton’s vetting procedures have been strengthened since the senator’s appearance at I.P.A.

That paragraph appeared in a May 2006 article in the New York Times focusing on questionable contributions to Clinton from Illinois-based International Profit Associates, a business consulting company run by a convicted criminal that is beset by fraud allegations and a massive federal sexual harassment lawsuit.

Small business owners across the country, frustrated by Hillary’s continued refusal to turn away IPA funds, have written her this letter today. The small business owners were victimized by IPA’s fraud and are suing IPA in a federal racketeering lawsuit pending in Chicago.

Hillary Clinton for President
4420 North Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA. 22203

Dear Senator Clinton:

We, the undersigned small business owners from across the country are deeply offended that you continue to accept campaign contributions from top officials of a business consulting company, International Profit Associates (IPA), Buffalo Grove, IL., that defrauded us. As we struggle in federal court via a civil racketeering lawsuit to recover the thousands of dollars this company took from us illegally, you continue to use political donations that might have come directly from our pockets.

We also are appalled because you accepted the money amid dark clouds of fraud allegations, a criminal past by the company's founder, and one of the largest sexual harassment lawsuits ever filed by the federal government.

We are trying to fight back against this company and you, Senator Clinton, are enabling it. We ask that you immediately donate to charity the more than $150,000 the New York Times says you've accepted from IPA's top officials, a figure that includes a ride on IPA's corporate jet and a donation from a high school age son of an IPA official.

Surely, now, in the wake of the Norman Hsu scandal, some time, including:

  • IPA is being sued by the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for widespread sexual harassment. In a New York Times article May 7, 2006 titled, "Rubbing Shoulders with Trouble, and Presidents," EEOC lawyer Diane Smason called the allegations "probably the most egregious" ever filed by the agency's Chicago office. She said the investigation found that "sex harassment is the standard operating procedure for this company." That case is pending in U.S. District Court.


  • The Illinois Attorney General’s office has acknowledged publicly that it is investigating IPA for alleged fraud.


  • The Better Business Bureau says IPA has an "unsatisfactory record" based on reoccurring complaints that total 427 in the last three years. The BBB has issued "alerts" in various states to warn businesses that IPA was soliciting work there.


  • The company founder, John Burgess, is a convicted criminal, according to numerous published reports. He was convicted of attempted grand larceny and of soliciting a 16-year-old prostitute, those reports state. He was disbarred as a lawyer in New York state in July 1987 for "failing to answer charges which involved perjury, larceny, a conviction for patronizing a 16-year-old prostitute, possession of drugs and engaging in a pattern over a six-year period of lies and deceit," according to The Lawyers Fund for Client Protection of New York state. Burgess also is named as a key defendant in the sexual harassment lawsuit.


  • The company's attorney, Myron "Mike" Cherry, also a contributor of yours, has been identified in published reports as "Individual "H" in the Illinois criminal indictment of businessman Antoin "Tony" Rezko. Cherry has acknowledged in published reports that he was the conduit for some of the IPA campaign contributions.


  • Already, politicians across the country have returned donations from IPA because of the company's checkered past. Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager are among those who have returned contributions from IPA.

    We have made our fraud allegations in a federal racketeering lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

    Mrs. Clinton, we see from published reports that you have identified yourself as a champion for women’s rights and an advocate for small business owners. We cannot fathom, in light of those self-labels, how you could possibly accept campaign contributions from a company accused by the federal government of sexually harassing scores of women and one that has left behind a long trail of fraud complaints from small business owners. Do you believe the 114 women who were allegedly sexually harassed at IPA are not telling the truth about that harassment? Do you believe the Better Business Bureau is wrong? Do you think the state Attorney General is unjustified in her investigation of IPA?

    We believe this is our concern because the campaign contributions you continue to accept came from the money that we believe was taken from us illegally. We do not believe you should continue to further your political career with such tainted cash.

    We are not singling you out in this request. We plan to make the same request to other public officials who continue to accept and hold IPA-related campaign contributions. We wrote you first because you are running for President and certainly should be setting an example for other politicians.

    Sincerely,
    Amari Company, Inc., Amherst, NH.
    Amazing Productions, Inc., Tamarac, FL.
    Precision Painting and Decorating, Inc., Elmhurst, IL.
    All About Construction, Inc., Fort Myers, FL.
    Capital Removal, Gold River, CA.
    BBQ Island, LLC., Gilbert, AZ.
    Compsolution VA, Inc., Richmond, VA.
    JRP Construction, LLC., Yuma, AZ.
    Evco Commercial Construction, Corp., Lake Elsinore, CA.
    Gunnison Metal Shop, Inc., Gunnison, CA.
    Captains Select Seafood, Minneapolis, MN.
    MSI Redimix Inc., Mesquite, CA.
    Joseph E. Clouse, Inc., Lehigh Acres, FL.
    Kyles Discount Stuff, McPherson, KS.
    Dames Air, LLC., Warrenton, MO.
    Home Theater Design Group, Carrollton, TX.
    Gigs Inc., Tewksbury, MA.
    Cool Access LLC., Mesquite, TX.
    Philipsburg Electric & Supply, Inc., Philipsburg, PA.
    Gilbert-American Companies, Rockwall, TX.
    Hinsdale Sales and Rental, Inc., Hinsdale, NH.
    Hitech Fire Detection, Inc., Houston, TX.

  • Tonight, the Democratic candidates for President are debating in New Hampshire. Considering that some of IPA’s victims are from that state, it would be the perfect time for somebody to ask Hillary about how IPA has escaped her vaunted vetting procedures.

    The International Profit Associates story is out there on the Internet, but you have to do some digging to find it. The Oprah Winfrey Show's take on it can be found here.

    From Oprah's site:

    According to Charlotte, even the top executive participated in the harassment. "John Burgess, the owner, had his assistant proposition me to have sex with him," she says. "She started telling me a story of how he sleeps with women in the company and how I can get a better job if I do sleep with him."

    Shortly after Charlotte rejected her boss's proposition, she says, she was demoted. "The next day I went to the [Human Resources] department and spoke with the manager," Charlotte says. "She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders and said, 'That's how he is.'"

    To comment on this or any other Marathon Pundit post, click here.

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    "Worst sports team owner" Bill Wirtz dies


    During my three year stint as an employee at the Bismarck Hotel, now the Hotel Allegro, I got to know--a little bill--Bill Wirtz, whose family then owned the property. I found him to be a friendly and charming man.

    Still, I have to agree with many other that Wirtz, who died of cancer early today, was easily the worst owner in professional sports.

    The Wirtz dynasty was founded in real estate, and for a while the magic touch carried over to the Chicago Blackhawks, an "original six" NHL team. Wirtz' father Arthur purchased the team in 1954, the "Hawks" won a Stanley Cup in 1961. And for a while the team gave the Cubs, White Sox, and the Bears a run for their money as Chicago's most popular team. The Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita led teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, after that championship, brought a tremendous amount of excitement to the city.

    But Hull jumped to the World Hockey Association in 1972--Wirtz' father still owned the team until his death in 1983--but the team remained successful, but without a Stanley Cup, into the 1990s.

    But free-agency came to hockey in 1990 and Bill Wirtz' Blackhawks refused to spend the money to keep star players such as Tony Amonte, Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, and Ed Belfour in Blackhawks sweaters. The Blackhawks have only qualified for the NHL playoffs twice in the last ten years.

    And the team' popularity plummeted. People living outside of Chicago find this hard to believe, but home games, with rare exceptions, are not televised in the Chicago area--not even on cable. People have busy lives, and kids who aren't exposed to televised hockey don't become fans. (Road games are televised on cable, but the Blackhawks play in the Western Conference, and play a lot of games on the west coast, when kids are sleeping.)

    But Wirtz, on the rare occasions when he addressed the TV issue, responded that three things make the Blackhawks successful: "Season reservations, season reservations, and season reservations."

    But that failed Wirtz too. The Blackhawks average 12,000 fans a game, but play in the 20,000 capacity United Center.

    Besides the realty holdings, the Wirtz empire includes Judge & Dolph, a wine and liquor distributorship. In one of Illinois' most idiotic laws--a hold over the 1930s--beer, wine, and liquor manufacturers are prevented from selling their products directly to businesses. They have move their goods through a middleman such as Judge & Dolph. During the unhappy term of disgraced Illinois Governor George H. Ryan, a law passed, nicknamed the "Wirtz Law," made it virtually impossible for alcohol producers to fire companies such Judge & Dolph. A federal judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional three years later.

    To comment on this post, or to read my latest "Kansas Kronikles" post, click here.

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    Sun Times: Aldermen: End Burge saga

    Today's ST,

    Aldermen demanded Tuesday that Mayor Daley "stop the bleeding" of tax dollars -- and "end the nightmare" of torture by former Chicago Police Lt. Jon Burge -- by honoring a settlement with three alleged victims and reaching agreement with two others.
    [***]
    On Tuesday, Aldermen Bob Fioretti (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Howard Brookins (21st), Ed Smith (28th) and Joe Moore (49th) again demanded that the Burge cases be settled.

    They were armed with a study, disclosed Sunday by the Chicago Sun-Times, that shows taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $195 million if the city insists on defending Burge in civil suits filed by Orange, Howard, Hobley and two others alleging torture -- Aaron Patterson and Darrell Cannon.

    To the aldermen, it's not simply a matter of saving money when Chicago is struggling to close a $217 million budget gap. It's about justice and healing for African Americans.
    That IL GOP Website should be taking a position here. And who knows where the Greens have gone.

    Update Sep 27: More...Cop charged in plot to kill former officer On Sunday, Finnigan dropped by Herrera's house.
    On a piece of paper, he wrote the initials of the ex-officer and three other cops, correctly speculating they were cooperating with authorities, said an affidavit by FBI agent Tom Simon.

    Finnigan allegedly told Herrera that "they might as well take care of all the witnesses against them," the affidavit said.

    "He's happy that it was uncovered," said a lawyer for one of the witnesses.

    Mayor Daley said the explosive new charges against Finnigan are "a good thing," but refused to condemn the Special Operations Section. "It doesn't reflect the entire police department," he said.
    For the sake of the cops, hope the Mayor is right. What did Reagan used to say? Trust but verify? CPD overdue for some verification.

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    Tuesday, September 25, 2007

    Ron Paul and John McCain Visit Chicago - Compare and Contrast

    Making my point that Republican presidential candidate visiting Illinois can’t or don’t bother to work up a crowd is John McCain’s fund raising appearance Monday.

    NBC Channel 5 reports McCain was here to gather money again, rather than to rally his troops.

    Channel 5 did not bother comparing McCain’s turnout to the 1,500 who rallied for Ron Paul on Saturday.

    One can see why McCain is concentrating on fund raising, rather than rallies.

    As George Stephanopoulos points out,

    “Though often regarded as a longshot candidate for president, Republican Ron Paul tells ABC News that he has an impressive $2.4 million in cash on hand after raising an equal amount during the second quarter, putting him ahead of one-time Republican frontrunner John McCain, who reported this week he has only $2 million in the bank.“
    The link above to McHenry County Blog's Ron Paul rally story has a link to Rick Pearson's article on the rally, as well as a link to a recording of the speech. The Chicago Tribune did not run Pearson's complete article.

    = = = = =
    The John McCain photo taken in the Union League Club during a press conference on an earlier fund raising trip to Chicago. The crowded ballroom shows the Ron Paul rally last Saturday.

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    Racists for Obama?

    I think that part of the reason that the attacks by Mayor Daley and the Children's Museum on residents of Chicago's New East Side (bordered by Michigan Ave - Randolph - Wacker Dr. - Lake Michigan) have been so soundly rejected is that it ran so contrary to people's perceptions of downtown residents.

    Racist? New East Side? It just so happens that Barack Obama's former fundraiser lives in that neighborhood, so I went back to check how Obama did in his primary race there in 2004:

    Pct. 6 - 60%
    Pct. 13 - 67%
    Pct. 50 - 68%
    Pct. 51 - 73%
    Pct. 52 - 84%

    Average: 70%

    I'd say Obama did pretty good with the "racists", especially since then Democratic Committeeman Burt Natarus and Mayor Daley both backed Obama's opponent, Dan Hynes.

    Just for comparison, Obama got 15% of the vote in Daley's 11th Ward.

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    Monday, September 24, 2007

    The Veto Override Tour – McHenry County

    The following was written by Cary’s Chris Jenner after he attended meeting of what I would call the “Veto Override” tour. This was held in Crystal Lake last Thursday and sponsored by State Senator Pam Althoff and State Rep. Jack Franks.

    Report on Sept. 19, 2007,
    “Regional Budget Hearing”
    at McHenry County College


    Wednesday September 19th, I attended one of the first of Speaker Madigan’s “Hearings on the Budget Cuts” in the Chicago area. There was one the night before in Hoffman Estates, and one scheduled for the same night in Aurora. The five previous “hearings” were all south of I-80. The hearings continue through September 27th, with most of the remaining ones in and around Chicago.

    My read is that Madigan is using these “hearings” to build an arsenal of nuclear proportions to force Blago off his no-income-tax-hike pledge. There were over 200 people there. At least 50 spoke. As far as I could tell, there was only one person in the entire conference center that was thinking about Joe Taxpayer.

    Here is the agenda provided, and actual times the agenda items ran. More details and commentary after the agenda. The audience seemed to be about 50% heart tuggers (Pioneer Center brought at least 20 people with what seemed to me to be significant disabilities, and there were a number of other disabled people and their aides), and another 48% officials and leaders of either public organizations (municipal government, police, fire) or private organizations supported by state tax dollars. Comcast taped the whole thing, and supposedly will broadcast it at some point. The remaining 2% were a couple reporters, photographers, and me.

    6:00pm – Welcome from Rep. Franks and Sen. Althoff.

    They got rolling at 6:10. Franks spoke for 9 minutes, Althoff for 2.

    6:10pm – Overview of Budget Cuts Made by Gov. Blago

    6:21pm – 6:43pm. This was a presentation made by one of Franks’ or Althoff’s staffers. I couldn’t find the presentation online anywhere, but I procured a hard copy. If anyone would like a copy, let me know.

    6:40pm – Statewide Organizations Affected by Gov’s Budget Cuts

    From 6:43 – 7:00, Althoff and Franks let people who had to leave early speak, from both local and statewide organizations. Representatives from statewide organizations spoke from 7:00 – 7:12. Eight organizations were listed to speak, including the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and AFSCME, both of which had no representatives present.

    7:00pm – Local Organizations Affected by Gov’s Budget Cuts

    7:12pm – 9:04pm. 38 organizations were listed to speak. A smaller number were represented, but a number of organizations had more than one speaker.

    9:00pm – Public Comment

    9:04 – 9:26. Around 8 – 10 more people spoke, all telling what wouldn’t happen if Blago’s veto that cut the budget isn’t overridden. No one spoke on behalf of taxpayers.

    9:15pm – Conclusion. They came close, ending at 9:26pm.

    Exemplifying the objectiveness and nonpartisanship of this issue, the other major handout was an Issue Brief from the Center for Tax (and Budget Accountability – not!). “Analysis of Gov Blago’s Vetoes and What They Mean Across Illinois”. It’s currently the centerpiece of Ralph’s web site, go to http://www.ctbaonline.org/ and look under SPECIAL REPORT.

    In Franks’ opening comments, he said these hearings had four purposes:
    • Provide info on Blago’s budget cuts

    • Permit those affected by the cuts to explain how the cuts will impair their ability to provide services

    • Provide the public an opportunity to give their opinions

    • Convince the Senate to join the House in overriding Blago’s vetoes
    In the short time Franks, Althoff, and the staffer spoke, it was clear the whole GA really hates Blago and wants to make sure their constituents hate him too.

    I’ve been observing Althoff for four or so years now, and I’ve never seen her so angry!

    Franks said that the House “approved a budget with a lot of good and necessary things really important to people.” My initial reaction to that statement was why not let the people keep their money and spend it on what they think is really important? As a compromise, instead of forcing people to give 100% of their state tax burden to Springpile, let them give 50% of their tax burden to the charity of their choice.

    After almost 3 hours of speakers, there were some organizations that (in this day and age) I actually wouldn’t have a problem receiving my tax dollars.

    Other organizations that spoke, I’m not so sure.

    Should the Town Square Players, the Illinois Youth Dance Theatre, the McHenry County Music Center, the Illinois Council of Orchestras, and the IL Chapter of the American Choral Directors be supported by money forced out of taxpayers?

    To tug hearts, the rep from the American Choral Directors (one of the last speakers) sang Kum-Bah-Yah, cut by 37%. I’m not making that up, he stopped 63% of the way through the song. 37% was the amount Blago cut from the Illinois Arts Council, which funds many arts groups with grants -- coincidentally chaired by Speaker Madigan’s wife.

    Most groups were asking for a relatively small amount of dollars. The question people need to ask and press for answers to is why $58 billion isn’t enough to help the groups that really need it. No one suggested phasing out the grossly underfunded state pension systems to provide funding for these groups.

    A couple interesting comments. The lady from Little Angels in Elgin talked about the various components of their increasing costs. Far and away, Little Angels’ largest cost increase (by more than 2x over the next largest cost increase) was real estate taxes.

    One lady said some McHenry County seniors were proud to receive money from a recent tax hike. Who would be proud to be on the government dole?

    The three biggest components of Blago’s $470 million budget vetoes are $130M in health care, $103M in human services, and $102M in education. Other than cutting in the wrong places, and not cutting enough, the third problem with Blago’s cuts is he wants the money to be spent on more government programs. God forbid we should consider giving it back to the taxpayers, or at least not further plundering them.

    A lot of people want more state money, and they really don’t care where it comes from. They’re being fed that the only way for them to get more money is for another program to lose money and/or a tax hike – and we can’t cut any programs. Illinois provides more programs and state employee benefits than it can afford, and is breaking the backs of its (non-government employee) citizens, their children and their grandchildren.

    Bet you didn't guess this was posted on McHenry County Blog first.

    Read more...

    Is This The Way To Select Good Judges?

    Illinois' judicial system has been branded as one of the worst in the nation in two separate evaluations: the respected Harris International survey and the American Tort Reform Association's annual "judicial hellholes" report showing three Illinois counties to be among the worst in the country.

    Admittedly, many of the participants in these surveys are business-oriented. But that means they are the job-creators, the employers, the tax-payers, and they also are physicians and hospitals and other health care providers.

    There is no doubt that the politicization of the judicial system is a major cause of the problem.

    We've harangued -- even whined -- about Illinois' procedure for selecting judges.

    Here is Example Number One of why our current process should be changed.

    The Chicago Sun-Times last Monday reported on the slating process used by the Democratic Central Committee of Cook County.

    One Supreme Court seat, two Appellate Court seats, and nine open Circuit Court seats will be on the ballot in November, 2008.

    In a two-day meeting at the Palmer House Hilton on September 6 and 7, the Cook County Democratic ward and township committeemen determined who would fill those vacancies. Case closed. End of story.

    The Sun-Times story, which appeared in last Mondays ICJL Weekly Report, is worth reading. It can be found here (in PDF form, since the link may expire).

    There are many honorable and distinguished members of the Democratic Central Committee of Cook County. And they have slated several excellent candidates for judge: Anne Burke for Supreme Court is one. There may be others.

    But is this the way judges should be selected? Unless lighting strikes, the nine circuit court candidates selected by the Cook County Democratic politicians will become judges next November. (Some will begin earlier, to fill vacancies).

    No Republicans are likely to challenge the slated Democrats, for good reason. In 2006, 11 Democrats slated for judicial office were unopposed by Republicans and thus elected. The pattern is the same as in 2004, and 2002, and going back every two years. Republicans can't win office in Cook County, including judicial office, so the Democrat establishment can pick who it wants to administer justice in the largest and most active judicial jurisdiction in Illinois and one of the largest in the nation.

    Elsewhere in Illinois, there have been (and in some cases still are) other judicial selection processes that challenge the concept of judicial impartiality and balance.

    Trial lawyers have controlled much of Southwestern Illinois, at least until recently. Republicans -- yes, even Republicans -- have controlled the process in some heavily Republican-dominated counties.

    But none of the other regions in Illinois approaches the size and importance (judicially, at least) of Cook County: three of the state's seven Supreme Court justices are from Cook; 18 of 42 appellate judges are from Cook; and 268 of 518 circuit judges are from Cook.

    More suits are filed in Cook County than any other jurisdiction; more money is awarded in Cook County trials and settlements; and, as indicated in the Sun-Times article and as confirmed year after year, there is more political influence and control over the judiciary in Cook County than any other place in Illinois.

    This is the strongest argument -- perhaps the only valid argument -- for Illinois to call a constitutional convention next year.

    Several public opinion surveys in Illinois have shown that voters prefer electing judges to a system of "merit selection," in which judges are appointed following a non-partisan evaluation process.

    If Illinois voters are not willing to go that far, we should at least take steps to make judicial elections non-partisan.

    -- Ed Murnane
    Illinois Civil Justice League
    September 24, 2007

    Read more...

    Children's Museum Move Will Cost Taxpayers Millions

    Gregory Meyer at Crain's reports this weekend that the Chicago Children's Museum move will cost taxpayers millions, or at the very least divert funding from Chicago's marquee museums like the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Art Institute, and Shedd Aquarium.

    Ironically, the DuSable Museum of African American History and National Museum of Mexican Art are also likely to lose out. I wonder how Chicago's black and Latino Aldermen are going to feel about that?

    Under a Chicago Park District subsidy to museums located in parks and funded by property taxpayers, the Children's Museum hopes to receive taxpayer subsidies from a fund overseen by Museums in the Park. 10 museums split nearly $34 million this year. If the Children's Museum move goes forward, either those museums will see a smaller slice of revenue or taxpayers will be forced to kick in more.

    Read more...

    Innocent until proven guilty, or accused of something by Mike Flannery

    It seems that if one of their own is making the charge, CBS doesn’t feel the need to even appear objective or even-handed. How else do you explain the story posted online by Adam Harrington that begins:

    “Political Editor Mike Flannery has filed a complaint after he was shoved and sent down a flight of stairs while questioning a congressman Friday.”

    Excuse me, Adam, but shouldn’t there be an “allegedly” in there somewhere?

    This is my favorite part of the story:

    “Flannery was pushed by a Weller aide right before he followed Weller into a stairway. The initial contact occurred off-camera. In the video posted on cbs2chicago.com, you can see Flannery stumbing (sic) into the view of the camera after being pushed.”

    Wouldn't it much more accurate to say that, in the video, “you can see Flannery stumbling, which he claims is the result of being pushed?”

    On an earlier post, I referred to Flannery as “Bush-league.” I guess I was wrong. This guy is apparently such a serious heavy-weight that his word is like gospel. There’s no need to worry about standard journalism protocols - his account can and should be presented as unquestioned fact!

    CBS2: Chicago's very own Tiffany Network.

    Read more...

    The Chicago Ron Paul Ralley

    Nothing about the Ralley for Paul in MSM as far as I can google.

    I think people are under estimating him and he's going to make some unhappy folks who otherwise would have pulled a Dem ballot in the primaries pull a GOP one instead (to what effect further down the ticket who knows, but I think he could impact IL-14 where I think Paul's ideas have some appeal to younger people).

    This stuff is simply going to appeal to a certain segment of folks who don't adhere to the abstract voter a lot of junkies here have in their heads.

    Ron Paul may not score any points with the neo conservative empire builders or the major corporations that are building fortunes thanks to our aggressive empire building. But the average American can see the benefit to having a President that follows the rule of law and the Constitution.
    Roeser has a long column on the event. Both parties will reformulate their premises and principles. Roeser writes the view from the GOP side, but I think Dems will face the issues and Ron Paul pretty neatly sums up the anger.

    There is a lot to be angry about with Illinois Politics and I think this guy is going to have more impact than some think.

    Read more...

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Jones may back tax hike to fund CTA

    From today's Sun-Times...

    The head of the Illinois Senate for the first time is indicating he might stomach a sales-tax hike to bail out the Chicago area's mass transit systems -- a potential step toward ending CTA threats of fare hikes and service cuts.

    "I don't like a sales tax because it's so regressive, but I have voted for taxes in the past and will support them again," Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) said during a Friday taping of WBBM-AM 780's "At Issue."

    Jones also said "we intend to pass a version" of a transit bailout bill in the Senate when lawmakers return to Springfield next month. Two such proposals are on the table; both include a quarter-percent sales-tax increase in Cook and the collar counties to help provide long-term funding for the CTA, Metra and Pace.
    A transit solution is by no means assured, though.

    Jones would run the risk of angering one of his closest political allies, Gov. Blagojevich, if Jones shepherded a sales-tax hike through the Senate.

    Abby Ottenhoff, a Blagojevich spokeswoman, said the governor continues to oppose "raising sales taxes to fund a transit bill. We are working on other options."

    Among other hurdles is Jones' contentious relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) on a host of budget matters this year. Jones and Madigan appear to remain at odds over a Senate plan to finance $25 billion in state infrastructure projects based on revenues from three new casinos, including one in Chicago.

    Should the House not approve a version of the infrastructure plan, Jones could stymie the transit-funding legislation in the Senate.
    I've frequently saw the increase of a sales tax. Often this sales tax is a regional sales tax good for the Chicagoland area. Anyway this sales tax is heralded as a solution to the funding issues of the CTA and other RTA agencies.

    I'm not a big fan of taxes but I don't want the CTA to increase their fares and cut services. Then again some would say CTA needs to manage their money better. Hopefully the personality clash in Springfield won't affect those individuals who rely on public transportation in the city of Chicago.

    Read more...

    Saturday, September 22, 2007

    Hackery, not "thuggery" on display at Joliet Junior College

    Rich reported yesterday on allegations that a Weller staffer "violently" shoved reporters Mike Flannery (CBS2) and Carlos Hernandez Gomez (CLTV). Apparently, Flannery plans to press charges against the “thug” in question, Jack Dusik. My question is: why hasn’t he done so already? There’s really no reason why he couldn’t have filed a complaint right then and there. My guess is that the JJC police advised Flannery that he should take a few days to cool off.

    Why would they do that? I don’t know for sure, but it could be that, after reviewing the tapes themselves (which I understand they did), they realized that Flannery’s account of the episode doesn’t really add up.

    Flannery claims that Dusik pushed him down the stairs and then ‘went after’ Gomez. If that were true, you would have seen him making some sort of thrusting movement before he makes contact with Gomez. There are clearly no indications of “shoving” on Dusik’s part.

    As for Gomez, Rich has an image capture that, according to him, shows that “the Weller guy leaned hard against Carlos Hernandez Gomez’s throat or upper chest.” Now, if a “large man” leaned hard against my throat, my reaction would include more than standing there looking frustrated about getting bumped out of his spot in the journalistic mosh-pit.

    Bottom line: if Dusik is hoping for a post-Hill career as a professional “thug,” he should leave this footage out of his portfolio. And if Flannery doesn't want to be considered a Bush-league reporter who trips down the stairs in a desperate attempt to jam a microphone in someone's face, then he should do the same.

    Read more...

    Downtown Moms Rip Daley a New One


    Mark Konkol at the Sun-Times offers what is probably the best "woman-on-the-street" interviews regarding the Children's Museum move. I think it probably illustrates just how bad of a misstep the Mayor and the Children's Museum have made.

    Moms vs. mayor

    A bunch of mommies from the New East Side want Mayor Daley to walk his "large tuchus" over to their neighborhood and call them racists to their face

    ....
    "I'm really pissed off and I'm kind of heartbroken the mayor would say something like that about us," says Susana Cuadros, a New East Side mommy.

    ....
    "Who is he to say we're racist. He grew up in Bridgeport. Please. Give me a friggin' break," say Ariel Elliott, a black mother of three girls. "He owes the neighborhood an apology, or better yet, me personally."

    Elliott, a former Chicago public school teacher, says she moved to the New East Side from the South Loop so her girls could grow up in a more accepting environment.

    "We lived down the street from the mayor. We walked past his little sleeping cop parked outside his window, and we moved because it was so uncomfortable," she says. "My kids will tell you: The white kids played with the white kids, and the black kids played with the black kids over there. That's why we moved here."

    ....

    It's where Katsue Katattira comes to socialize, find out the scoop on the best schools and park programs. It's not all white. She's Japanese and loves the neighborhood's diversity.
    "You see so much a mix down here, and he call us racist. The mayor not study much. Do we look racist?" Katattira says, while heading to the park with her rainbow coalition of pals.
    Alderman Reilly has been quick to point out the New East Side's racial diversity, and Konkol adds this important point:
    The 60601 ZIP code, which includes the New East Side, is 65 percent white, 14 percent Asian, 11 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic. It's the second-richest postal district with more than 200 residents in the city, according to Claritas, Inc., a demographic research firm. (The richest is 60606, in the Loop.) Claritas defines the 60601 "lifestyle" as a healthy mix of working class bohemians, young over-achievers and wealthy empty-nesters. You can buy a condo in the sky for more than a million bucks, or rent a modest place for about $1,000 a month. (Emphasis added)
    So, Mayor Pritzker, you just called downtown residents - the richest, best-educated but also one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city - a bunch of racists. I don't even know how to quantify that political and public relations blunder. But one things for certain, you probably shouldn't be counting on these downtown moms to visit the Children's Museum for the next decade or so. Of course, by then their kids will be old enough to vote. Oops.

    Read more...

    Friday, September 21, 2007

    PJM Algonquin, Illinois

    Rick Moran has a nice post directed at those of us who spend way too much time on the net.

    Read more...

    Charlie Johnston: ducks born lame

    Charlie Johnston over at Chicago Daily Observer writing on the GOP primary in IL-14,

    If, as many are speculating, former Speaker Denny Hastert resigns his Congressional seat in early November, it could set up a truly bizarre spectacle on Feb. 5, 2008: the winner of the general special election to fill the unexpired term (likely to be held that day) could simultaneously lose his primary for the regular term. That would not just be a lame duck, but a duck born lame.
    Read the whole thing. It's complicated. I'd hate to have Hastert resign and complicate things like this.

    I don't think Oberweis all that popular here except with the anti-immigrant crowd.

    Like Johnston I hear (without the phone calls)

    In calls around the district last week, I was startled to hear activists in the east almost uniformly behind Lauzen while out west they were undecided between Lauzen and Oberweis. That is exactly the opposite of what Oberweis needs – and if it continues could well be the formula for a stunning Lauzen upset.
    Can't speak for the expanse West of Dekalb, but people I know like the ice cream. As Candidate for Congress though, Oberweis is going to need to work. Bashing the folks who cut all the lawns out here may not be the way to go.

    Read more...

    More maneuvering means more fireworks

    The governor sidestepped the legislative process again. He announced Thursday that he changed legislation dealing with high property taxes in Cook County, a controversial measure that took a lot of time and a lot of negotiating between legislative chambers. It’s now beholden to the ongoing power struggle between Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

    The property tax relief bill approved by both chambers in August would have extended the so-called 7 percent solution, which caps the amount assessments can increase, for another three years (it started in 2004). It also increased the homeowners’ exemption to $33,000 and phased it out over the three years. The governor’s amendatory veto expanded the homeowners’ exemption even more — up to $40,000 — and made it permanent.

    Because the governor used an amendatory veto to make the changes, both chambers have three options: agree with the changes, override the changes or let the bill die. If one chamber overrides it but the other doesn’t, the bill dies. Lawmakers would have to run another bill through the legislative process to extend the program that expires this year.

    David Eldridge, legislative director for the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois, said that was the intent of the original law: to phase out the 7 percent cap and replace it with a long-term homeowners exemption. “The intention there was to go at the targeted areas in Cook County that really need it rather than do a broad brush and capture areas that didn’t need the 7 percent [cap],” he said.

    Now he said there’s worry of a slippery slope. The governor said his maneuver would cover at least 76 percent of Cook County residents, but the Taxpayers’ Federation has feared all along that the tax break would eventually apply to all of Cook County. “The fundamental question is, is it a good idea for 76 percent of Cook County to get this greater relief than the rest of the state gets, when there are other parts of state that are paying higher taxes than Cook County is,” Eldridge said.

    That’s because when more people are getting bigger exemptions than they had before, someone else has to pick up the tab. Businesses argue they’re the ones paying a bigger portion of the tax burden.

    Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and original sponsor of the 2004 legislation, said he actually would have supported the governor’s idea if it had gone through the legislative process. But it didn’t, and it led lawmakers to question the move’s constitutionality. “I’m unsure as to whether I can support an action that may have questionable motives and questionable underpinnings under the law,” Lang said.

    Read more...

    Many (Better) Children's Museums, Only One Grant Park

    To date, the argument being advanced by Mayor Daley and the Chicago Children's Museum is that the museum is a one-of-a-kind, world-class civic institution committed to serving minority kids. They want to locate in Grant Park so they can remain accessible by public transportation to minority children throughout the city, and anyone who opposes their construction of a 100,000 sq ft facility in Grant Park must be a racist child-hater.

    That argument has some big holes in it.

    First, as the Sun-Times editorial points out today, the typical visitor to the Chicago Children's Museum (700,000 a year), is a white 6 year-old accompanied by a parent who arrives by car.

    Oops. There goes serving minority kids, and there goes the need for public transportation.

    And as Sun-Times columnist Delia O'Hara points out today, the Chicago Children's Museum is neither one-of-a-kind or world class:

    "The Chicago area has three major children's museums. The DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville and the Kohl Children's Museum in Glenview leave the Chicago museum in the dust."

    "the Chicago Children's Museum, which at $8 has the highest non-member admission of the three, plus hefty parking fees on Navy Pier, books one unimaginative commercial traveling exhibit after another, often with licensed characters children are expected to recognize from television."
    That's not just O'Hara's opinion. According to Parents Magazine, which ranks children's museums throughout the country, the Chicago Children's Museum ranks 31st in the country, behind not only museums in Boston and New York, but also behind children's museums in Rockford, Bourbonnais and Decatur, Illinois.

    The Chicago Children's Museum's 31st place ranking puts it two spots below Waco, Texas and just above Little Rock, Arkansas.

    The Association of Children's Museums, to which the Chicago Children's Museum belongs, has 160 museums among its membership across the country, and a quick search of the Internet reveals as many as 300 children's museums in the U.S.

    With so many (better) children's museums in the country, the state and the region, and only one Grant Park, why are we even having this debate?



    Real Racism


    Most of the phony arguments about racism in this debate have been laid bare by local residents, reporters and editorial boards. But the real racism in this case has been ignored.

    As O'Hara points out in her column, the Chicago Children's Museum was founded in 1982 in response to cuts to the Chicago Public Schools.

    Um, who's fault is it that Chicago's kids need to pay $8 a head to learn basic math skills, art, and play with building blocks?

    Another argument advanced by Children's Museum backers is that Grant Park is the only place in the city that's really accessible by public transportation. They actually make a decent point there, but whose fault is it that we have a public transportation system that is adept at moving low-wage workers to and from the city's center, but is terrible at allowing residents to move from one Chicago neighborhood to eat, shop, or visit neighborhood cultural attractions? Why are buses so antiquated, overcrowded, unreliable and infrequent? Why does it take a resident of Uptown nearly an hour to travel by train to the up-and-coming restaurants in Logan Square, or a half hour by bus, when the four mile trip is only 15 minutes by car?

    Perhaps CTA head and Children's Museum board member Carole Brown should spend a little less time pointing the finger at Grant Park backers and a little more time working with Mayor Daley to help solve this conundrum, on top of all of the other problems the CTA has.

    But to me, the sickest thing about this whole debate was Mayor Daley calling for Chicago's business leaders and religious leaders to rise up in the name of racial equality and fight for a museum in Grant Park.

    What the %$#&?

    Where was that rally cry for racial equality when we were debating education funding reform in Springfield, Mr. Mayor? Where was that rally cry in the fight for funding public transportation? Where isn't your "moral authority" exerted more appropriately to fight for good paying jobs, or affordable housing? What could be more racist than ignoring or downplaying these problems so that you can help your good friend and political supporter, billionaire heiress Gigi Pritzker have her way?


    Oh, the Irony

    My favorite, most ironic exhibits at the Chicago Children's Museum:

    BIG Backyard
    Art meets technology in BIG Backyard, a wondrous urban garden, filled with enormous insects, giggling flowers, giant toadstools and other fantasy creations that stir the senses and make imaginations bloom. Through innovative technology, you can immerse yourself in the action and discover what it's like to be part of the city's landscape.

    Treehouse Trails
    Camp out, climb a tree and explore a cave in this enchanted forest setting. Designed for children ages five and under, Treehouse Trails magically transports the youngest visitors to the great outdoors and encourages them to use their boundless imaginations. Canoe or fish in the pretend blue river; splash in a mountain waterfall; explore the natural landscape; play in an enormous tree house; prepare vegetables from the garden and serve them in the old-fashioned log cabin. Infants can crawl over giant logs and play peek-a-boo with reflective mirrors in the waterless, cushioned Baby Pond.
    Oh, the irony of building on an open park so that kids can explore the wonders of nature, visit the great outdoors, and "discover what is like to be part of the city's landscape" three stories underground.

    And for those of you who still believe that the Children's Museum is a one-of-a-kind cultural institution that serves Chicago's minority children, check this out:

    Birthday Bashes - $350
    Amazing art activities, awesome add-ons and affordable party packages make birthdays at Chicago Children's Museum truly memorable! Your guests will celebrate in style in our festive, private party rooms

    Birthday Bonanza - $450
    Birthday Bash plus your choice of:
    Tremendous T-Shirt Party (ages 3+): Great for all ages! Children create their own works of art, which is transferred to high-quality cotton T-shirts (all sizes available) to take home as party favors.
    Jazzy Jewelry Party (ages 4+): Fun for girls and boys! Children design beads to create necklaces, bracelets, key chains and other wearable art to take home as party favors.
    Fun with Puppets (ages 5+): Put on a puppet show! Children will have the opportunity to create "sock" or "rod" puppets for their enjoyment.
    Making Music (ages 5+): What's a party without music! Your child and their friends will design their own musical instruments to take home.

    Artabounds Extravaganza - $500
    Birthday Bash, plus one of these art adventures:

    Painting Party (ages 2+): Children learn how to "foot-paint" in a wacky canvas activity and make colorful hand-painted t-shirts!
    Tie-Dye Party (ages 6+): Children tie and dye their own cotton t-shirts to take home as party favors. Tell us the birthday child's favorite colors, and we'll make them available for dyeing fun. This party is especially popular with big kids.

    IMAX Adventure - $500
    Birthday Bash plus 35 IMAX tickets.

    Read more...

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Aaron Schock playing fast and loose with election rules?

    I've written before about how Republican Party loyalists are a bit annoyed at Aaron Schock. Less than a year after they spent millions getting him re-elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, he decided to abandon that seat to run for the one being vacated by U.S. Rep Ray LaHood.

    This means that the GOP is more likely than not to loose the seat to the Democrats. Until Schock defeated Ricca Slone, the 92nd was considered a safe Democratic seat. But Schock -- who has a knack for picking opponents who have weaknesses in their base -- won back in 2004.

    And now Schock is making tongues wag yet again. This time, some of his fellow GOPers are upset at the special favors he's getting from the party organization, and for possible violations of campaign finance rules.

    Here are some of the complaints I'm hearing:


    • The Shock for Congress campaign is passing out the same literature, they say, that was distributed by the Schock for State Representative campaign. Presumably, that literature was purchased long before anyone knew Ray LaHood wouldn't run for re-election and long before Schock officially entered the race. So the literature must have been bought with money raised for a state race. That's a big no-no.

    • The Schock for Congress campaign is using the same phone number from the state rep campaign. This account with the phone company was opened with money raised for the state rep campaign. Unless Schock office gave up that phone number, and handed it over to the congressional campaign and paid for with federal campaign funds, it might not be exactly legal.

    • And some of the ire is directed at the Peoria County Republican Central Committee. They have allowed Schock to set up his Congressional campaign office inside their offices. That's a no-no too, apparently. In fact, sources say the desire to separate state and federal election efforts was one of the reasons the county GOP moved its offices away from its location next to Ray LaHood's local offices at 4238 N. Knoxville to its new location at 8835 N. Knoxville Ave.


    Via Schock's own Website:

    schock_campaign.jpg

    Here's a closer look:
    schock_campaign_closeup.jpg

    And here is an image from the Peoria County Republican's homepage:

    peoria_county_gop_hq.jpg

    It's exactly the same address. Right now, I'm not sure if this means that "state" campaign funds are being used on behalf of a "federal" campaign. If so, it's a violation of federal campaign finance laws, or so I'm told. If not, then it's ethically questionable.

    What I do know is there is serious talk about making a formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission. THAT is a big deal, unlike the allegations that passed back and forth when Schock ran against State Rep. Ricca Slone. Those were treated like most allegations of cheating are treated in Illinois -- with a certain amount of amused interest by the media, but with no real consequences (at one point, they were debating the ethics of free hot dogs and soda, for crying out loud).

    But this is a federal race, and the national media is looking at it. And the media looooves to write about Republicans accused of campaign violations. Those guys have no sense of humor.

    While 11 out of the 20 Republican county chairs in the 18th district have reportedly endorsed Schock, that doesn't mean that Schock is endorsed by the party as a whole. The GOP and the Democrats alike pick their parties' nominees through primary elections, not in smoke-filled cloakrooms.

    Letting Schock set up an office inside the county's party HQ months before the primary sends a message to the rank and file: What you want doesn't matter. The powers-that-be have pre-selected their favored candidate, so just give up and go home. It's a great way to de-energize the party faithful.

    And I'm sure that those folks who have contributed to or are working as volunteers for either Jim McConoughey or John Morris are absolutely thrilled (note the sarcasm, please) that their party itself is using their money to provide facilities to Schock.

    And I'm also hearing that one of the people who is a bit POed is none other than Ray LaHood. As an incumbent, LaHood is very much aware of the effect this sort of nonsense is having on the GOP's chances of recapturing Congress.

    And the thing is that Schock has a history of bending if not breaking what should be simple and easy to understand campaign rules. With the media and voters hype-sensitive to crooked electioneering, one wonders what other rules Schock might break or bend.

    I'm recalling the history of the district. In 1956, Rep. Harold Velde endorsed his top aide Bob Michel, who won the party nomination in a crowded field. In 1994, Michel in turn endorsed Ray LaHood, his aide, instead of the more conservative Judy Koehler.

    Perhaps LaHood might want to consider doing the same thing. Considering that everyone is assuming what whoever wins the GOP primary is going to win the general election, they may as well pick someone who acts like a grown-up and plays by the rules.

    Read more...

    Wednesday, September 19, 2007

    Presidential Preference Poll

    As the race for president heats up this fall, Dick Schuldt at the University of Illinois' Survey Research Office of the Center for State Policy and Leadership gives us an idea of how Illinois voters feel about the candidates in each political party. In short, Illinois' "favorite son," U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, holds a commanding lead over U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.

    Here's the summary.
    The breakdown of Democratic preferences is here.
    The Republican breakdown is here.

    Read more...

    Keep it straight

    *Today* is Talk Like a Pirate Day.

    *Tomorrow* is Talk to the FCC Day.

    See you there!

    Read more...

    Tuesday, September 18, 2007

    An exercise in futility?

    In a mostly rosy display of bipartisan cooperation (with some thorns in the Senate president’s side), the Senate approved an all-in-one deal to create three new casinos as a way to pay for a capital plan. That $25 billion plan would finance road and school construction projects and provide a one-year subsidy for Chicago mass transit systems. Not everyone was happy. Worse, they predict trouble in the other chamber.

    “I think it’s fine and dandy that we can be here and doing this,” said Sen. William Delgado, a Chicago Democrat and Latino Caucus leader. “But this is just an exercise in futility because it’s dead on arrival [in the House].” The House wasn’t represented in the past two weeks of negotiations and isn’t expected to support that large of a gaming expansion.

    The Senate version of a gaming plan would license a new land-based casino in Chicago and two new riverboats elsewhere in the state. Side note: Despite an earlier version, this plan would require all casinos to abide by the statewide smoking ban that starts in January.

    A large part of the gaming revenue would subsidize mass transit with $425 million over three years. The Regional Transportation Authority, which includes the Chicago Transportation Authority, Metra rail services and Pace suburban bus services, has been threatening to lay off hundreds of workers and cut services if the state doesn’t lend a helping hand. The deal would grant the agency $200 million for operating funds in the first year (downstate would get $30 million). The catch is that if the General Assembly doesn’t come up with a way for the RTA to generate a long-term revenue source, then the RTA does not have to repay the $200 million.

    Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat who sponsored the gaming bill, said this plan would buy time for the General Assembly and the governor to work out a long-term funding solution for mass transit, and it avoids raising the sales tax in the Chicago area. “With this route, if you don’t play, you don’t pay. If you don’t go to the boats, it’s not costing you a nickel,” Hendon said earlier Tuesday. “And I think that’s the best way and the fiscally responsible way, the prudent way, to help the people of this state.”

    House Speaker Michael Madigan, on the other hand, favors the regional sales tax for the long-term solution. He has also repeatedly said there’s not enough support in his chamber to approve a deal for new casinos. The House could tweak the Senate’s plan to do a limited expansion of gaming, but that risks being shot down in the Senate again. As Hendon said, “I just hope the House doesn’t tweak so much ‘till it’s dead on arrival when it gets over here.”

    The governor said in a Statehouse press conference Tuesday night that he still opposes a regional sales tax increase and favors ending a series of business tax breaks to generate revenue.

    So we have the governor, Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson on the same page. But then there’s Madigan and House Minority Leader Tom Cross on a separate page, and they may not even agree with each other on a gaming for capital and mass transit plan. Veto session will provide the next chance to see how close (or if) the four legislative leaders and the governor can come to a compromise.

    Read more...

    How to Speak to the FCC

    Cross-posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

    The Federal Communications Commission has released the official schedule for their hearings in Chicago on media regulation (click here for the pdf, or here for the Word document.) The hearings, open to the public and with most of the time set aside for comment from TV viewers, will be held at the Operation Push National Headquarters 930 East 50th Street, at the corner of South Drexel Blvd. They'll be using Dr. King’s Workshop, a 1,200-seat venue, so that they're ready for big crowds.

    This is the public's chance to speak directly to the five commissioners at the FCC about how broadcasters should be regulated. Back in 2003, the FCC adopted new rules on media ownership that would have allowed media conglomerates to own a larger share of the market, greatly increasing consolidation and reducing minority input at the management level. The public outcry was fast and furious. Over 1 million people sent letters to the FCC, and the U.S. Senate publically rebuked the Commission for its stance. A court challenge forced the FCC to start over from scratch.

    That's why they're coming to Chicago for the 5th of 6 planned hearings around the country.

    There are many perspectives on what's wrong with broadcasting today. ICPR has been tracking coverage of local government, campaigns, and elections for years. We've found that TV news broadcasts throughout the Chicago media market spend more time touting themselves and their upcoming stories than they do covering local campaigns, government and elections. Ensuring that these stations remember their obligation to local viewers is an essential role for the FCC.

    TV viewers from around the Midwest now have a rare opportunity to speak directly to the five Commissioners who will decide how to ensure that broadcasters serve the public interest. Viewers should seize this opportunity.

    For more information on these hearings, click on these links:

    Benton Foundation
    Broadcasting and Cable (magazine)
    Chicago Media Action:
    Free Press
    Illinois PIRG

    Read more...

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    All in one: gaming, capital and mass transit

    The Senate could consider a new gaming bill that would pay for a capital plan and, potentially, Chicago mass transit all in one. (The governor temporarily saved mass transit last week.) Some Senate Republicans favor the all-in-one strategy, but its fate is uncertain in the House. But House Speaker Michael Madigan wasn’t invited to the Springfield meeting between Senate leadership and Gov. Rod Blagojevich this afternoon. After the meeting, Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson said, “How do you leave out the speaker of the House in this discussion? But that’s what’s happened.”

    One gaming proposal outlined by Sen. James DeLeo, a Chicago Democrat and assistant majority leader, would create a new casino in Chicago and two others somewhere in the state. The revenue, an undetermined amount, would help pay for road and school construction projects as well as mass transit. It also would serve as an alternative to the House’s version of a mass transit bill that would increase the sales tax in the Chicago region and allow a real estate transfer tax in the city of Chicago.

    But opinions differ about the all-in-one approach. DeLeo says Senate Democrats think the chamber should focus on gaming and capital first. “If we have a capital and gaming bill, we can certainly give the [Regional Transportation Authority] a lot more funding than anticipated. So it’s a better way to go. And we wouldn’t have to do a sales tax.” It also would satisfy the governor’s repeated no-tax pledge for state income or sales taxes.

    Sen. Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, said she actually agreed with the governor and credited him for opposing the sales tax increase, which she says is regressive and would unfairly apply to food and drugs. Instead, she favors the consideration of more transportation-related fees, such as those for drivers’ licenses and vehicle stickers.

    The governor, on the other hand, still favors closing “corporate loopholes,” or ending various tax breaks for businesses. Eric Zorn now with the Chicago Tribune has more here.

    The Senate Democrats and Republicans are meeting behind closed doors in their respective caucuses tonight. The chamber is scheduled to convene around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and break for committees around 11 a.m. or noon. Meanwhile, House Democrats continue to hold a series of budget hearings around the state to build support for overrides of Blagojevich’s budget cuts. One interesting thing I missed before: According to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the governor’s budget cuts total $470 million, not the $463 million announced by the governor’s office.

    Read more...

    STATE’S MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR CONSTRUCTION PLANS NEED SAFEGUARD AGAINST POLITICS

    Cross-posted from ICPR's blog, The Race is On:

    Government reform advocates on Monday said the multi-billion dollar construction program about to be debated in Springfield has made the need for limitations on pay-to-play contracting opportunities even more obvious and more important.

    “When the Senate returns to Springfield on Monday to take care of its unfinished business from the spring session, House Bill 1 should be at top of its list of things to do,” said Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “The Senate should act swiftly to pass HB 1 and prohibit large state contractors from contributing to the campaign committees of the officeholder awarding the contract.”

    The House approved HB 1 by a vote of 116 to 0 on April 25, but the Senate leadership has not allowed it to be debated in the Senate.

    “This state government’s reputation as a cultivator of corruption is well deserved, and Illinoisans have good reason to question the likelihood that a multi-billion dollar construction road and transit program will be run on the up and up,” Canary said. “There is serious talk of spending an extra $5 billion per year for each of the next five years and – unless there is a change in law –some contractors will likely feel pressured to contribute to the Governor’s campaign committee and that is not how the people’s business should be conducted.”

    The governor’s closest ally in the General Assembly is Senate President Emil Jones, and Jones is responsible for blocking the progress of HB 1. For more than four months, Jones has refused to allow the Senate to vote on HB 1.

    Despite Jones’ public claim that he’d like more comprehensive reform, the Senate has failed to produce alternate legislation. Sponsored by 46 of 59 Senate members, HB 1, if called for a vote would pass out of the Senate and go to the Governor’s desk for signature immediately.

    “With barely a whimper of protest from his followers in the Senate Democratic Caucus, Senate President Emil Jones has stood in the way of this government reform bill by refusing to assign it to committee,” Canary said. “It’s time he stopped carrying water for Gov. Blagojevich and instead give taxpayers some hope that their money might be spent without regard to political fundraising.”

    Read more...

    Illinois Constitution Could Be Big Obstacle for Judge Maddux and Other 'Veteran' Judges

    The Illinois Constitution could play as big a determining factor in Judge William Maddux’s lawsuit in 2008 as it played in Judge Joan Margaret O’Brien’s lawsuit in 2006. However, while the Constitution supported O’Brien’s arguments in her – and her two colleagues’ – effort to stay on the ballot, the Constitution could be the biggest obstacle for Judge Maddux and other judges facing retirement at age 75.

    Things are never dull in the Cook County judiciary when petitions are being circulated in the fall every two years: someone’s changing their name, or someone missed the deadline for filing for retention, or – this year – a preemptory strike against the mandatory retirement age.

    When Judge O’Brien sued two years ago to stay on the retention ballot, after missing the deadline by one day, the court dealt with the matter in almost record time. Judge Patrick McGann quickly ruled the December deadline unconstitutional – rightly so – despite the fact that the deadline allowed for greater efficiency in guaranteeing the voters the opportunity to choose replacements for retiring judges. However, the statute setting the December retention deadline was so out-of-step with the Constitution, the Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous bench decision after hearing oral arguments. Three judges gained a place back on the ballot, while the nine candidates who circulated petitions and filed for the vacancies found themselves off the ballot.

    The resulting changes in the election procedures from the O’Brien v. White decision could make things interesting should the court decide favorably in Maddux v. Blagojevich. But, first, one must consider the chances the court would rule in Maddux’s favor.

    The Illinois Constitution clearly states in Article VI, Section 15: “The General Assembly may provide by law for the retirement of Judges and Associate Judges as a prescribed age.” That provision supports 705 ILCS 55/1, which states: “A judge is automatically retired at the expiration of the term in which the judge attains the age of 75.”

    That might have ended the story had the First Appellate District not reapplied the mandatory retirement “only to sitting judges” in Anagnost v. Layhe in 1992. In its application, this law meant “mandatory retirement” precluded sitting judges from running for retention. As if perfectly pointing out the interesting complexity in the law’s application – or lack thereof – to “retired” judges choosing to simply to run against an opponent, the author of the Anagnost decision – 75-year-old Justice Alan Greiman – is now running in the open Appellate seat vacated by Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.

    Additionally, the Court has frequently tapped “retired” judges to occupy vacated seats through appointment for all levels, from Associate Judge to the Supreme Court.

    With all that being said, the federal court has supported mandatory retirement of Illinois judges several times, including two prominent cases that are described by Bernard S. Meyer in his book Judicial Retirement Laws:

    In Trafelet v. Thompson (594 F.2d 623, cert. den. 444 U.S. 906), mandatory retirement at age seventy was held rationally related to the state’s purpose of competency of its judiciary and, therefore, not unconstitutional; and in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. State of Illinois(721 F.Supp. 156) it was held not in conflict with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act as to appointed state judges, although that statute (29 U.S.C. 680[f]) expressly excluded from its protection only elected officials including judges.
    But, plaintiff Maddux directs his arguments towards several different angles, including the Constitution’s mandatory retirement provision with the same document’s ban on “special legislation.” Judge Maddux also intends to challenge the concept that age is somehow tied to judicial competency.

    David Novoselsky, the attorney for Judge Maddux, hit on the age and competency question in his comments in Thursday’s Chicago Daily Law Bulletin: “Judge Maddux, I think everyone will agree, is an excellent judge. He was born in 1935. So what? Why is 75 the magic number? Shouldn't it be based on the actual ability of the judge?”

    According to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Judge Maddux “contends the law undermines the intent of the Illinois Constitution, which was to use the retention system to remove judges from partisan elections following their initial election to the bench, ‘a benefit intended to be conferred on both the judges and the electorate.’”

    Judge Maddux’s suit reinforces the fact that we currently don’t have a good system of rating judicial competency for judges of any age. Instead, voters mostly elect judges based upon three factors: age (or lack thereof), political affiliation (especially in places like Cook and Madison counties), and popularity in bar association polls (or even popularity within the plaintiffs bar).

    But it’s unlikely that anything short of a Constitutional Convention could resolve these issues.

    So how could the results of O’Brien impact the 2008 elections if Judge Maddux were to get a favorable result? The key is the change in date for retention notification from December to May. If the court were to rule the mandatory retirement statute invalid before May 2008, 75-year-old judges across the state could simply choose to tell the Secretary of State they intend to run for retention.

    In Madison County, for example, Democrat Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli is already circulating petitions for “retiring” Judge Nick Byron’s seat. In fact, Judge Tognarelli recently launched his campaign website. He has endorsements from six unions and the Democratic Party of Madison County. What if Judge Byron was able to instead run for retention? If you look at the experience of 2006, is it impossible to think that candidates already chosen by primary voters could be tossed off the general election ballot?

    It will be interesting to see if this case works its way through the system as quickly as the O’Brien case, especially since the arguments are much more complicated. But, just as easily, it could dramatically change the judicial election landscape in 2008.

    View Judge Maddux's Complaint.

    -- Al Adomite
    Illinois Civil Justice League
    September 17, 2007

    Read more...

    Friday, September 14, 2007

    More Mass Transit Thoughts from Overtaxed Suburbia

    Some have suggested that I have merely re-fighting a battle I lost in 1974.

    Whatever the reason, mass transit thoughts keep rising to the surface of my consciousness.

    Today I offer three ideas, one political and two substantive.

    The political thought is

    Governor Rod Blagojevich has handed the General Assembly a strategy to raise sales taxes over his veto in which those casting the crucial final votes can escape political punishment at the polls.

    The deadline for passage as far as the Chicago Transit Authority is concerned is now November 4th.

    Know what day November 5th is?

    It’s the filing deadline for state representative and state senator.

    If the General Assembly can stall that long, marginal members may be convinced to vote for the bill knowing that the odds of an outraged potential challenger getting 500 (state rep.) or 1,000 (state senate) signatures within a day are slim.

    And they can vote to override the Governor's veto after the end of filing.
    The first substantive suggestion is
    a logical way to finance whatever deficit the CTA has.

    A property tax.


    Before you beat me about the head with aluminum bats, consider that that the value of property in Chicago is largely dependent on its access to mass transit. Certainly, that is a major reason, if not the primary reason, that property value in and near the Loop is so high.

    Likewise, real estate in poorly served parts of the city is less valuable.

    So, those who receive the most value from mass transit would pay the most; those receiving the least value, the least.

    I am certain the fact that more Metra trains stop at Crystal Lake than anywhere else in McHenry County makes local property values higher than they would be otherwise.

    Now, my preference would be the unrefined approach of 19th Century economist Henry George, that is, a tax on only the land. (This approach has the result of encouraging maximum development of land, since the tax on a particular parcel would be the same whether an empty lot or a high rise. Think of all the problems that could be avoided with such a tax system in Chicago or anywhere else.)

    One final thought.

    Residential property taxes in Chicago are about the lowest in all of Illinois.

    My information comes from the Illinois Department of Revenue’s Property Tax Statistics. It has information on “effective tax rates” that show Chicago about as low as one can go in Illinois.
    An “effective tax rate” is defined as one’s tax bill divided by what one could sell one’s house for.

    Figure out your own by getting the value of your home from Zillow.com. Divide the number there by your annual real estate tax bill.

    Not a big surprise, but the Illinois Revenue Department stopped calculating effective tax rates about the time Democrat Rod Blagojevich took office. There is a couple of year lag time, so the most recent and, sorrowfully, the last comparisons of relative property tax burdens throughout Illinois is for the 2000 tax year.

    I found Chicago’s effective tax rate for residential property on page 46 of that year’s Illinois Property Tax Statistics. (You’ll have to scroll down to Table 10. You can find what the effective tax rate is for your town, if it is large enough. This is a double-sided table, so it's a bit tricky.)
    Chicago homeowners paid 1.1% of the value of their homes in real estate taxes for the 2000 tax year payable in 2001. That ranks 521st lowest out of 533 Illinois communities for which the effective tax rate was calculated.

    So, don't tell me Chicago property taxes are too high unless you can produce an up-to-date effective tax rate for the city.

    Most of Crystal Lake (the Algonquin Township part) the effective tax rate is 2.05%--ranking 203rd. The Village of Algonquin in McHenry County and Algonquin Township was 1.89%, ranking 286. McHenry was ranked 251 at 1.96% in McHenry Township.
    The second substantive suggestion is
    allowing legalized jitney cabs to take up the slack.

    I think I had a bill drafted to allow jitneys passing a safety inspection and proper insurance for a group of conservative legislators whom I was helping in the late 1980's or early 1990's. The idea is still a good one.

    Not just where the Chicago Transit Authority finds it uneconomical to run buses, but anywhere in Chicago.

    I know that the “powers that be” would favor this no more than they would a property tax to finance the CTA, but it also makes all kinds of sense.

    Look at the price of taxi medallions.

    Clearly there is room in the market for more cab-like transportation.
    Of course, bailing out the CTA is not about logic or even transpiration.

    It is about patronage and forcing suburbanites to subsidize downtown office buildings.

    And you can read more of some of that here.

    Always more on the weekend on McHenry County Blog.

    Read more...

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