Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Juvenile justice reform

Steven Guerra, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for social services, helped kick off the first conference of its kind in Illinois Wednesday morning in Springfield. He spoke at the 1st Annual Collaborative Juvenile Justice Conference, where he said juvenile justice is a “life and death” situation for him, that he was one of the “street kids” once shot at three times but, luckily, unharmed.

“I am one of the kids that actually, you guys caught,” he told hundreds of juvenile justice officials at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and Conference Center. “Were it not for you, certainly like a lot of my friends, I would have been caught up in what we now know is a cradle prison pipeline.”

His comments mirror the results of a report also released Wednesday that says Illinois falls below national standards in helping kids stay out of the juvenile justice system. That’s partially because the kids often lack adequate legal representation and, in 70 percent of the cases, agree to plea bargains (or plead guilty) rather than take the time to fully consider how the case should proceed. The study was released by the Children and Family Justice Center of the Northwestern Law School and the National Juvenile Defender Center. (Here’s the executive summary.)

The three-day conference where Guerra spoke focuses on the condition of Illinois’s system, including the status of the relatively new state Department of Juvenile Justice and such other alternative youth programs as Redeploy Illinois.

The conference did not paint a rosy picture, but did offer a road map for collaboration. A harsh analysis of state and national systems was spelled out by featured speaker Bart Lubow, a director with the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. It’s an advocacy group started by the founder of UPS shipping services that studies policies and funds programs to help disadvantaged families and kids.

Lubow called the existing national juvenile justice system “the country’s most underachieving and disappointing reform agenda to date.” He said what went wrong was that “we have created a segregated system of justice that primarily serves kids of color or kids who are too poor to buy their way out of it.”

He cited research to demonstrate that states can get kids out of detention centers and into the court system where they are more likely to have successful outcomes, and states can reform their justice systems by shifting the focus away from detention and towards intervention at a much lower cost than it’s doing now. But the trick, he said, is to stop throwing money at new programs in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of the system. He said change has to start with the adults running those systems, and that includes refocusing how officials view the children they’re supposed to help.

“We unfortunately have viewed them for far too long through a lens that is distorted by race, class and place bias. That is, by being biased towards the places where kids come from,” Lubow said. “We talk all the time in juvenile justice about a dysfunctional neighborhoods and dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional is a code word. What we refuse to do, what we have been unable to do because of the distortions in our lenses is to, in fact, recognize the strengths and … redirect our resources to building upon the assets that exist in those communities and within those families.”

The conference touched on a wider array of topics and trends, available from the Juvenile Justice Initiative.

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George Ryan going to jail

I wrote about his conviction here at Illinoize last year. I discussed that he was on a public access program in Chicago on a show whose intended audience was black. The reason for it was simple.

A lot of people may have looked up to George Ryan because he got a lot of bruthas off death row. I explained that in my post because this program was a live call in show and a lot of people expressed their support and admiration for the ex-governor. On the other hand I also explained that I was suspicious of the "why". Why did then Governor Ryan commuted all death row sentences before he left office in 2003?

In that post I leapfrogged off of a Sun-Times Column by one Rich Miller. And I explained at that point that it indicated what I would have always suspected. He did that to say he had a positive legacy or as Miller stated...

The other question I hear a lot is, "What was Ryan's motivation for veering so far to the political left by emptying Death Row and changing his mind on gay rights and women's rights?" Some believe he was cynically playing to the liberal
Democratic jury pool in Cook County. The thinking goes that he knew he would end up on trial and he wanted to create as much sympathy as possible. Others think he changed because he was somehow trying to atone for all the laws he broke -- as if becoming a social liberal would get him in good graces with God.


Obviously since whenever we pick up a paper we complain about how Illinois is a corrupt state or that Illinois is full of inept or incompetent politicians it's bound to be obvious that not too many people sympathize with the ex-governor right now. So I want to go in another direction here.

I was looking at the Wikipedia article on Ryan. Trying to find some quick facts on what sent him to prison and I found this post by a blog called Urbangora.

This post gives a list of some of politician's in Illinois who might have righted high on the integrity scale. And I'll open up the floor to those of you who might want to talk about who else that either was in politics or currently serve in politics who might rank high on the integrity scale.

BTW, I write about it because it appears he's going to have to report to prison in Duluth, Minnesota on November 7th. That is provided that the US Supreme Court comes to his rescue before he reaches prison.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

No, The Christian Right does not Drive Up the Abortion Rate - But Thanks for Asking

Last Friday a piece written by Terry Cosgrove, head of Personal PAC, was extensively quoted in the Capitol Fax Blog. It asked if the Christian Right drives up the abortion rate, and then cited some statistics suggesting the answer is yes. It noted that the highest abortion rates all uniformly occur in countries that ban abortion and outlaw birth control. It further noted that the lowest abortion rates come in the countries with the fewest restrictions on abortion and no restrictions on birth control. It claimed, rather astoundingly, that half the hospital beds in every big city in South and Central America are occupied by victims of botched abortions. It argued that for those of us who want to save children’s lives, the best thing we could do is become pro-abortion. What it did not do is reveal where any of these statistics were coming from.
I remembered, of course, that the pro-choice movement has long had a dicey relationship with standards of evidence when advocating their cause. In trying to keep partial-birth abortion legal they claimed it caused the child no pain because the anesthesia killed the fetus. They had to back off that whopper when the medical profession couldn’t stomach the lie and women who needed anesthesia were afraid to get it for fear it would kill their child. They claimed that over 90% of such abortions were medically necessary to save the mother’s life. (Cosgrove repeated that one when we appeared together recently on WLS. When I noted that the American Medical Assn. said partial birth abortion is never necessary to save the mother’s life, he muttered that it was all politics). But even by the loose standards usually used by the pro-abortion movement, this piece seemed pretty far out there. So I decided not to just refute Cosgrove with any old statistics, but with statistics derived solely from the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute and Center for Reproductive Rights. I am not content to demonstrate that he is wrong, but that even working from his own side’s playbook he is wrong. If you wish to check any of my assertions, simply go to the website of either of these organizations.
First, his assertion that the highest abortion rates are always in the countries that have the tightest restrictions on abortion. According to Guttmacher, the four countries with the highest abortion rates; Vietnam, Romania, Russia and Ukraine have NO restrictions on abortion or laws against birth control. Of the top nine only one, Chile, outlaws abortion outright. Brazil only allows it to save the mother’s life, but every other entry either has no restrictions or offers the standard medical loopholes. On this factual assertion, he is just dead wrong.
Next the assertion that the lowest abortion rates come in the countries that have the fewest restrictions. If he had not asserted that this is an invariable rule, he would be close to right, here. Of the nine countries with the lowest abortion rates only three; Japan, Israel and England have any restrictions on it. It is true that western countries with few restrictions usually do have among the lowest rates in the world. In South and Southeast Asia, the rates are high even with the most permissive laws. In Russia and Eastern Europe, rates are at the highest in the world even with absolutely no restrictions. Since the countries with both the highest and the lowest rates all have little or no restriction on abortion, permissiveness cannot be the key to low rates. One significant difference between the west and the two regions just mentioned is that all the western countries have vigorous pro-life movements while the latter two regions do not. That may not be the fundamental cause for the low western rates in permissive countries and the high rates in eastern and Asian countries with permissive laws, but at least it is an argument that fits the facts, unlike the argument Cosgrove makes.
Finally we have the assertion that half the hospital beds in South and Central America are taken by victims of botched abortions. I will confess I did not undertake a study of morphology in these regions. I called a friend in Guatemala who laughed and said; no they are not tossing out heart patients to make way for victims of botched abortions. Then I called a friend in Peru who, at first, laughed at the assertion. Then she got angry and said that is one of the “Yankee’s” favorite racist stereotypes; South American woman as the impoverished, ignorant slattern. I had to assure her that I was not the racist here – I was writing a piece refuting the assertion. We’ll leave it at that.
Cosgrove’s pro-choice Personal PAC is very effective: I shudder every time I hear a friend in the legislature has been targeted by them. Cosgrove, himself, can be very eloquent – as long as you don’t check the facts he spouts. Like the prophet in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, he just makes it up as he goes along.

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Politicians protest tax-hike proposals

From Crain's this afternoon...

A group of Illinois congressmen and Cook County commissioners poured bottled water into the Chicago River on Monday in protest of recent tax hikes proposed by Mayor Richard M. Daley and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

“We deserve a Chicago-style tea party,” said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, as he stood near the Michigan Avenue bridge. “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

He was joined by Cook County Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Larry Suffredin and by Kenny Johnson Jr., who is running for state representative in the 26th District. Supporters held signs with messages such as “Cut the corruption” and “Stop Daley & Stroger tax dynasties.”

At issue are Mr. Daley and Mr. Stroger’s proposals for balancing each of their respective 2008 budgets. Their suggestions, which include a bevy of increased taxes and fees for Cook County and Chicago residents, have drawn sharp criticism from even their own supporters.

Mr. Daley has proposed $260 million in tax and fee hikes, including a 10-cent levy on bottled water, while Mr. Stroger has proposed more than tripling Cook County’s sales tax rate to 2.75%.


I'm happy to hear that Jesse Jackson Jr. is on the warpath about this, but to be honest there are those who wished that he had been saying these things as a mayoral candidate.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Crash

I'm sorry to say blogging will be light until later this week. My hard drive crashed again. I hope to catch up soon.

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Bridget's G I Jill Roundup

Well, I wish Bridget would have posted it here too. I'm curious what the Colonel will say too.

Bridget does a round up of blogger's posts and I think it's fair to say the netrooters are left perplexed. There hasn't been much coverage and Bridget gets just about all of it linked.

I'm not too surprized. It think it's going to be General Clark for VP too.

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51 Weeks After 2006 Election, 2008 Launches Monday

Nine days less than a full year after the 2006 election, Illinois candidates today begin filing nominating petitions for the 2008 contests -- more than a full year before Election Day ballots are cast.

Yes, there will be some important contests on the ballot. We'll elect a new president, new members of Congress, new state legislators -- and in Illinois, at least 59 judges whose names probably will not be much better known on November 4, 2008 than they are today.

But why worry about judges? Governors and legislators control the state purse strings (including taxes -- and highways); presidents can send us to war (or peace). What can judges do?

Ask George Ryan. True, the former Illinois governor was tried in a federal court before an appointed judge but the fact remains that judges -- mostly unknown -- have more power than the other branches of government.

And in Illinois, we have far more judges -- unknown or not -- than we do State Senators or State Representatives or Governors.

As of today -- and the number could change as some judges decide they might opt for retirement -- this is the judicial election battlefield for 2008:

    One Supreme Court contest (First District, in Cook County);
    Three Appellate Court contests (Two in Cook County, one in Southern Illinois);
    Fifty-five Circuit Court contests (25 in Cook County, 30 in the other counties).
    Eleven of the circuit court contests are for newly-created judgeships.
Judicial elections are frequently overlooked by the news media, or remain in the shadow of more popular elections, such as this year's presidential primary contest between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton. As an example of that media dis-interest, today's Chicago Tribune reports on the opening of candidate filing and ignores the judicial races:
Monday also marks the start of candidate filing for candidates for the Senate, Congress, the state legislature and various county offices.
But judicial elections in Illinois have generated increased interest in recent years, due largely to the increased attention paid to the elections by non-lawyer groups.

While the various bar associations and special interest lawyer groups, such as the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, have weighed heavily in judicial candidate selection and funding of judicial campaigns, it has only been within the past decade that other state interests, including the business community, doctors and hospitals, and other interests have taken significant roles. The Illinois Civil Justice League is one of the relative newcomers to the judicial election arena.

But the ICJL, in addition to taking an activist role by endorsing and in some cases aggressively supporting candidates, has provided more information to the public about sitting judges and judicial candidates than most other organizations, including the various bar groups.

The ICJL invites every candidate for judicial office -- including sitting judges seeking retention -- to respond to a detailed questionnaire that has been reviewed and approved by sitting judges of both parties, including presidents of the Illinois Judges Association.

The candidates' responses to the ICJL questionnaire are posted on the ICJL's judicial website, which also includes maps of judicial districts, biographies of judicial candidates, newspaper endorsements, bar association ratings and links to candidates' campaign financial reports.

No other organization in Illinois -- or nationally -- provides as much information.

With the beginning of the candidate filing season for 2008 today, the ICJL's judicial site -- www.IllinoisJudges.net -- will be back in action. While many of the links on the site today refer to 2006 elections, the site will begin reporting on judicial candidate filings Tuesday, October 30, and will refresh and update candidate and campaign information daily, if necessary, through November 5, 2008, when judicial election results are posted.

*

Apart from the actual judicial campaign activity involving actual judicial races, the next 12 months are likely to produce considerable attention to the process of judicial selection in Illinois, and the manner in which information about judicial candidates is disseminated.

The Illinois election ballot in November will include a referendum asking votes if Illinois should call a Constitutional Convention. The question of electing or appointing judges is certain to be one of the major issues of a Constitutional Convention, as it was in 1970, and that potential debate could lead some activists to support the convention call.

On another front, the Illinois League of Women Voters convened a meeting last week to discuss improving the dissemination of information about judicial candidates to Illinois voters. Several organizations and interests, including the Illinois Civil Justice League, Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Chicago Council of Lawyers, Protestants for the Common Good and the American Bar Association, participated in the discussion. The LWV expects to reconvene the group early next year.

And the ICJL expects to announce a judicial selection reform proposal early next year.

-- Ed Murnane
Illinois Civil Justice League
October 29, 2007

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An invitation to Peoria Blogger Bash

Chef Kevin confirmed today he has make arrangements with the fine folks at Donnelly’s Shamrock Pub for use of their back room, so Blogger Bash is officially on for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the pub located at 4908 N. Renwood Ave, near the corner Glen and War Memorial Drive. It will last until we're damn well read for it to end. Or, whenever the kick us out. Here’s a map.

I'm extending an invitation to all Illinois bloggers and regular commenters to attend.

There's the slight possibility of live entertainment. No wi-fi, though.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Removing a governor

If you haven't read this Chicago Tribune editorial yet, don't wait now. The Tribune believes that voters should be allowed to recall a Governor...

Should Rod Blagojevich remain as governor of Illinois?

He shows no inclination to resign from office. And while the state constitution does allow for his impeachment by the Illinois House and trial by the Senate, it's doubtful legislators could bring themselves to such drastic action. So the realistic question becomes this: Given the multiple ineptitudes of Rod Blagojevich -- his reckless financial stewardship, his dictatorial antics, his penchant for creating political enemies -- should citizens create a new way to terminate a chief executive who won't, or can't, do his job?

That is, should Illinois join the 18 states that give voters -- as opposed to lawmakers -- the ballot power to remove state officials from office?

The Blagojevich experience suggests that the answer is yes, Illinois should write a recall mechanism into its constitution. Having endured the Blagojevich era, we believe voters never should have to endure another one like it. They instead should have the power to recall an inept governor.

The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a succinct summary of how a recall provision would be useful in a predicament such as Illinois': "Proponents of the recall maintain that it provides a way for citizens to retain control over elected officials who are not representing the best interests of their constituents, or who are unresponsive or incompetent. This view holds that an elected representative is an agent, a servant and not a master." (The NCSL takes no position on whether states should have recall provisions.)

This serious mechanism is rarely used. Only two U.S. governors have been recalled. North Dakotans ousted Lynn Frazier in 1921. In 2003, Californians voted to remove Gray Davis and, in a separate ballot measure, selected Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him.

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Hear That Giant Sucking Sound?

Today's Tribune has an article that explains why Sierra Club made having Illinois ratify the Great Lakes Compact one of our top legislative priorities of 2007. Indeed, we are emerging as a target for a thirsty country envisioning some very large straws pointing our way.

Good work by two lakefront legislators, State Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Harry Osterman (D-Chicago) to get this done this year. Now we need our Great Lakes neighbor states to do the same. (Minnesota already has).

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Chief Illiniwek comes back for Homecoming

Despite bravely skirting the Open Meetings Act for the sake of retiring Chief Illiniwek, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign can't seem to shake itself free of the controversy several months later.

Once again, the honored symbol and/or racist stereotype has fancy danced its way back into the media spotlight just long enough to remind everyone what's different about this year's half-time show at Memorial Stadium.

At issue was the university's mandate that no Chief imagery could be used during the homecoming parade:

Kachel said groups cannot use the Chief symbol on their floats, signs, costumes, or T-shirts. She still expects the best of the parade's 35 floats to employ some creative design ideas.

Uh oh. EVERYONE PANIC!

To give you an idea of how weird it got over this flap, the very people who spent years protesting against the Chief came to the aid of pro-Chiefers:
"While I don't want to see people wearing those shirts because I think they are offensive, at the same time I know they have the right to wear them. I think the University needs to learn they cannot sensor people's speech," says Jen Tayabji, Progressive Resource Action Cooperative.

And then there's this quotation:
"We decided this was a blatant trampling of First Amendment rights," said UI student Paul Schmitt, president of the student organization Students for Chief Illiniwek.

Before this ended up being too much of a circus, free-speech champion Chancellor Herman lifted the ban:
"The floats and the people on them are representations of personal points of view," said Robin Kaler, University spokesperson.

"Just as we don't prohibit people from wearing their Chief apparel to work, we won't prohibit those in the parade from expressing their points of view," Kaler added.

Whew! Crisis adverted. And according to The New York Times -- wait, they're covering this, too? -- nothing much happened at the parade:
There were no protesters.

The amusing part of all of this, however, is that the student paper might have unintentionally started this ruckus:
There wasn't any uproar over the ban until an article about the parade was printed in The Daily Illini, Kachel said.

I'd give my college paper props, except the NYT noted this tidbit:
The chief is still such a hot point of contention that the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Illini, would not discuss the homecoming issue and does not plan to publish an editorial position on the rule reversal.

Why is the Daily Illini not weighing in on its editorial page on what's an intense local issue dealing with the First Amendment? This is the kind of thing that gets people to pick up the paper for more than the crossword and sudoku!

So, it looks like the Chief will still be a part of the university's tradition on homecoming and also not go away completely any time soon. It's obvious that the university is going to have to deal with the fallout from their decision for quite some time, whether they want to or not.

Another way to look at this flap is that the university didn't actually want to completely scrub the Chief from the institution. After all, you could make the argument that parades and athletic events where students are allowed to keep honoring the Chief adds to a hostile and abusive environment that they supposedly got rid of once they put an end to the fancy dance.

But maybe this is just the latest example of the university trying to pander to both sides of the aisle. They made the grandest of gestures in retiring the Chief, but have now placed themselves defensively behind the First Amendment in letting 81 years of the Chief's spirit continue forward. This is hardly a show of a firm commitment to purge the Chief from memory, or a show of remorse.

So, what is the university's stance on the Chief? Does it have one? And can we ever expect the issue to be laid to rest? I doubt we'll know the answers to any of these questions anytime soon.

(Thanks to Rich Miller for giving me the invite to Illinoize. I started out unsure of what to write about here, so I think I'll try to contribute posts dealing with higher education in Illinois in a semi-snarky, yet hopefully entertaining manner. Some disclosures for the unfamiliar: I'm a former editor of the Daily Illini and alumnus of UIUC and UIS. I blog here and here, and contribute here.)

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dan Ryan construction video

Our friend ArtistMac provides us with a time lapse video of the Dan Ryan reconstruction project over 7 months. He compressed it down to about 3 minutes. I really wish I knew what music he used for this vid.

BTW, he has a question for those of you who reside around the Eden's Expressway...
I've got a question for you folks living by the Edens during its current September-November 2007 repairs. Are IDOT workers parking dump trucks, cement mixers and their personal cars and storing supplies on your residential streets? Are they taking lunchtime siestas on your parkway grass? Just curious.


This is perhaps one sign that the 2 year Dan Ryan Expressway project is coming to a close, finally.

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Hear the news? Illinois has a wonderfully honest state government

It must have been more than a decade ago. I was watching the "Tonight Show," and Johnny Carson's guest was a nice old lady whose hobby was to collect hardened bird droppings and polish them into jewelry. The finished products did, I must admit, look pretty in a sort of cheap trinket sort of way. But I thought to myself at the time: 'It doesn't matter how hard she polishes this stuff, it's still bird sh*t.'

In today's Journal Star, reporter Karen McDonald turns in this less-than-stellar article about a survey that gave Illinois high marks for campaign finance disclosure and other laws that supposedly keep the public informed about their candidates.

A survey that evaluates campaign disclosure laws, electronic filing programs, public access to campaign finance information and Web site usability ranked Illinois among the top 10 states in the nation in disclosure with an overall score of "B." Thirty-six states earned passing grades for disclosure programs (the state of Washington ranked first), while 14 failed.

"People are either proud - as Illinois should be - in most categories,or say 'we need to do better.' It gives everybody a benchmark and lets them know how they compare to other states," said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, which collaborated on the project with the California Voter Foundation and UCLA School of Law.

McDonald might not have been given much time to report and write this article. If so forgive me, but topic screams out for additional reporting. There are too many questions left unanswered.

Right off the bat, I've gotta know if this survey even bothered to address the issue of whether or not existence of campaign disclosure laws, electronic filing programs and the available of information on the Web has has done any good at all.

Illinois gets a high "B" in the survey, but I don't think anyone who lives and pays attention would give this state a passing grade for honest and open government. We have a ton of laws on the books here, but we somehow keep electing politicians who use the public dime to enrich themselves, their pals, their campaign contributors and their relatives. Our previous governor is headed to the federal pen for doing exactly that, and our current governor is under investigation as well.

The trouble with Illinois is not that we don't know how corrupt our government is. We know. These sorts of laws let us now exactly who puts money into our politicians hands. The problem is that We. Do. Not. Care. All we want to know is "Where's mine?" All we care about is whether the politicians are going to continue the gravy train and keep sending pork to our communities, keep those tax breaks for our businesses, keep sending "free money" to local governments, keep hiking pensions for teachers (at least in Chicago) and police and firefighters, and on and on.

Even when we complain about the leadership of the state House and Senate, we keep re-electing the state senators and representatives who put those leaders in place, because we know that's how it's done in Illinois if you want the gravy train to stop in your community.

So spare me the praise from out-of-state brainiacs who think our laws are wonderful examples of good government. Our actions demonstrate otherwise.

Feh.

Crossposted to Peoria Pundit

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Get ready, early birds

The Illinois State Board of Elections expects to receive double the number of petition paper filings Monday than it would normally receive in an election year. It’s happening about six weeks earlier than normal, too.

For the first time in Illinois, Democratic candidates for president, delegates and alternate delegates to the Democratic National Nominating Convention will file their petitions the same day as candidates for federal, state and county offices. The Illinois General Assembly also moved the primary election from March 18 to February 5 to aid a presidential bid of Illinois’ “favorite son,” U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Petition filings start at 8 a.m. Monday, but candidates are expected to line up early in an attempt to be the first candidate listed on the ’08 ballot. The filing period ends November 5. We’ll have more Monday.

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Laesh, Lauzen and debates in IL-14th

Anything but those TV ads with the family photos. Watching one was enough.

Laesh below using YouTube to make his points, and the St Charles Republican on GOP plans for debates.

“I’m in favor of as many debates as it takes to assure all of our constituents are fully informed on what our positions are on the issues,” Lauzen said. “If we had eight to 10 debates that would be just fine.”

Lauzen said he would like to see a change in the traditional debate structure, where candidates are given a short time period, usually one to three minutes, to respond to questions.

“I’d like to see the format be more flexible,” Lauzen said. “Right now you’re given about three minutes to present your background and agenda, then they give you a minute to answer a complex question.”

The “Oxford format” debate, which is less organized than traditional debate formats, would give candidates a chance to mix things up, Lauzen said.
Yes, Mix it up please, put it all on YouTube for us, and leave the family photo albums at home.

Update: A lot of back-and-forth over at Prairie State Blue on the debate among Democrats. It was held at the County Building but closed to all but Democratic Precinct Captains.

Update: On the GOP side, this on Wiggins in today's Herald,
The leader of Kane County's Republican party has offered to resign from his post after becoming a paid consultant for state Sen. Chris Lauzen's congressional campaign.

But Denny Wiggins told members of the Kane County Republican Central Committee at the group's monthly meeting Thursday he hopes a majority of party leaders agree to let him fulfill the remainder of his term as central committee chairman. The term ends Feb. 5, the day of the primary election.
We'll need a lot of lawyers to sort out all the issues in IL-14. Seems sort of needlessly complicated.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Unlucky sevens

Former Gov. George Ryan could go to federal prison within seven days — correction: by November 7 — pursuant to a decision by the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Thursday, the full court affirmed that Ryan would not receive a retrial for his federal corruption conviction last April. Ryan requested the full panel of judges review an August ruling by a three-judge panel that determined he should not receive another trial. According to Thursday’s court order, even the three dissenting judges wrote that they agreed “the evidence of the defendants’ guilt was overwhelming.” But they disagreed over whether the management of the jury during the six-month trial harmed the case.

Ryan and his friend, Chicago businessman Larry Warner, were found guilty of using public office for private gain during Ryan’s years as secretary of state (1991 to 1999) and as governor (1999 to 2003). The Kankakee Republican has remained free during the appeals process and could ask to remain free if he takes his case to the last resort: the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back to the Capitol in 7
The Illinois House could vote on controversial mass transit funding just two days before threatened service cuts and fare increases.

Members will return to Springfield to conduct business one week from today. This comes after House Minority Leader Tom Cross met with House Speaker Michael Madigan in Chicago Wednesday to discuss ways to save mass transit from financial turmoil. But the leaders aren’t necessarily on the same page about whether a mass transit plan should rely on revenue from increased taxes, expanded gaming, other sources or all of the above.

The minority leader still prefers alternatives to tax increases. “Tom Cross and a majority of our caucus does not feel that now is the time to be increasing taxes on people, especially in light of what is being proposed by the Cook County board president and the mayor of Chicago,” said David Dring, Cross’ spokesman.

Alternatives include allowing a Chicago casino and the expansion of positions at existing casinos to help mass transit and to pay for a major capital construction plan. Dring said Cross also proposed diverting $300 million of the revenue from the state sales tax on gasoline to aid mass transit, and he’s proposing a menu of items to replace that money, such as increasing fees on auto titles and raising transit fares by 10 percent to 15 percent. “That is something we just thought about because that would be less money you would have to take from the sales tax on gas,” Dring said, adding a 15 percent fare increase would be “much more modest” than the fare increases planned by the Regional Transportation Authority if the agency doesn’t receive long-term state help by November 4.

Madigan, on the other hand, “did not seem to warm up to our idea of the sales tax on gas,” Dring said.

The speaker is open to a Chicago casino to pay for a road and school construction projects but only under certain circumstances, such as whether the revenue would stay in Chicago or be divvyed up all over the state, said Madigan spokesman, Steve Brown. However, the speaker still doesn’t want to rely on gaming legislation to save mass transit. “He has said that he doesn’t plan to hold transit riders hostage to the casino interests or the gambling interests,” Brown said.

In fact, Madigan still plans to push for a plan that would include a small sales tax increase in Chicago for the sake of mass transit. Lawmakers could vote for a second time on that measure next week. It previously fell short of the necessary votes in September.

Lawmakers were told to be prepared to work at the Capitol Thursday, November 1, Friday, November 2 and potentially Monday, November 5. And the governor repeated his statement Wednesday that he would call the General Assembly into another special session in mid-December to address the so-called 7 percent solution to Chicago-area property taxes. See the background here.

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Ryan Appeal Denied

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

The US Court of Appeals has denied Gov. George Ryan's effort to gain a new trial on corruption charges, finding that "In the end, the evidence supporting the jury's verdict was overwhelming." And what was that overwhelming evidence?

• That Ryan personally participated in schemes to rig contracts for vehicle stickers and computer equipment, and leases for state offices in Joliet, Chicago, and South Holland;
• That Ryan lied to investigators about bribes paid in the form of vacations to Jamaica, and his role in quashing the original investigation into the sale of drivers licenses that contributed to the deaths of the Willis kids
• That Ryan evaded paying income taxes on his and his children's illegal payments in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998

Ryan's indictment in December, 2003 and his conviction in 2006 laid bare a broad scope of problems that continue to fester in Illinois politics. At the time of his conviction, ICPR issued a statement about "look[ing] beyond the Ryan verdict." We still think these areas deserve attention. Rather than focus on what went wrong in the past, let's figure out what to do in the future so that it doesn't happen again.

* Tackle Pay-to-Play: Illinois still has no rules limiting how much state contractors can give to the campaign funds of the public officials who negotiate and sign their contracts.

* Adopt contribution limits: Illinois should join with nearly all other states and the federal government in adopting campaign contribution limits and banning direct contributions from unions and corporations.

* Revise lobbyist regulations: Criminal shakedowns were cloaked with legitimacy by pretending the payoffs were lobbying fees. The public has a right to know more about what lobbyists are doing.

* Improve the 2003 Ethics Act: The Act, adopted before the indictment and trial, was a terrific starting point, but time has shown its weaknesses, particularly in regard to oversight of Inspectors General and the Ethics Commissions.

George Ryan has been held responsible for his actions and, it appears, will soon head to jail. Perhaps the sight of a governor behind bars will motivate Illinois' current crop of elected officials to take action before it happens again.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No fat in Cook County budget?


Last year Sen. Barack Obama called Cook County Board President Todd Stroger "a good progressive Democrat" and someone who will "lead us into a new era of Cook County government."

Stroger is a hack, but unfortunately he's someone who really is leading me and 5.3 million residents of Cook County into that new era.

The new era could end up with a doubling of the gasoline tax, a 2.8 percent property tax increase, and worst of all, the nation's highest sales tax.

Stroger says there is no fat left to cut in his proposed budget. But I found some from this year's budget, right here in Morton Grove in the Linne Woods Forest Preserve. What on earth is that in the picture? Is it a canoe landing? Maybe. If so, are the brains of Cook County government aware that the body of water in the picture, the North Branch of the Chicago River, is too shallow--with rare exceptions such as after heavy rains--for canoeing? Or is this a walkway to get a close look at the river? However, about 100 yards away, where grass is mowed, there is access, without steps, to the river.

How many projects like this well, whatever it is, are in Stroger's next budget?

To comment on this post, please visit Marathon Pundit.

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Video competition: Phone vs. Cable

The phone giant AT&T officially can compete with cable companies on a statewide level to offer high-tech video services to customers. But that doesn’t guarantee the company will build out those services in all areas of the state any time soon. See Crain’s Chicago Business story here.

This comes after the Illinois General Assembly approved changes to state law in May. The new state law allows such phone companies as AT&T and Verizon to offer video services anywhere in the state without having to go through each individual municipality as cable companies previously had to do.

Three of four members on the Illinois Commerce Commission, a state panel, voted Wednesday to approve AT&T’s application to provide the video services (the fourth commissioner was absent). But the law stops short of giving the commission the ability to regulate what happens after the application is approved, says Beth Bosch, commission spokeswoman.

The measure originally sparked controversy but was rewritten with consumer protections that allowed the bill to win near-unanimous support in the Illinois House and Senate. Among the biggest changes is the requirement for video service providers to extend a certain percentage of their services to low-income neighborhoods within three years of earning the so-called statewide video franchise.

The new law expires in six years, meaning the General Assembly will have five years to evaluate whether it actually creates competition as touted. The law does bring Illinois in line with Indiana, which approved a statewide video franchise in March 2006.

For more background, check out my previous telecom blogs, and for a lot more context and potential outlook, see my May 2006 article, “A playbook for competition.”

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Chicago Marathon: Ambulance driver got lost, took dead runner to wrong hospital

Because of the heavy demand for ambulances created by the unseasonably hot weather in this month's Chicago Marathon, suburban crews were called in to assist Chicago officials.

An ambulance team from Niles, which is the town just west of where I live, was flagged down and began treating Chad Schreiber, who was in full cardiac arrest. But NBC 5 Chicago is reporting this morning that not only did the Niles crew get lost, but they took Schreiber, who had a pre-existing heart condition, to the wrong hospital.

Neither the Niles group or the hospital emergency room where Schreiber was taken were able to revive him.

Schreiber, a 35 year-old Midland, Michigan police officer, was married with three children.

Related post:

A participant's view of the cancelled Chicago Marathon: UPDATED

To comment on this post, please visit Marathon Pundit

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More Poison Toys for All the Girls and Boys

Buried in last week's back pages was an announcement by Wal-Mart that it has once again flooded the American market with lead-poisoning toys from China. This time, it was lead dinosaurs.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced that it was recalling over 60,000 baby bibs tainted with lead. That's right, those little things wrapped around babies necks that you always see them sucking on.

Wal-Mart alone has had to recall over 60 products recently, including cough medicine for kids, teether books for tots, cribs that resulted in infant deaths, defective car seats, and atleast a half-dozen lead-poisoned toys.

Of course, Wal-Mart isn't the only corporate culprit, just the biggest. Major recalls have been issued in 2007 for poisoned dog food, toothpaste made with anti-freeze, and more lead-painted toys from China than I can count.

All of these announcements have created severe recall fatigue for the press and the public.

They also create a big hurdle for the Illinois Civil Justice League, which is calling for restoring immunity to big corporations under the Wrongful Death Act for grief, sorrow and mental suffering in wrongful death cases.

The flood of recalls also creates a great issue for Congressional candidates running in the hotly-contested open seat races in Illinois and across the state.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, charged with protecting us all, has come under fire from many sides. So much fire in fact, that this week the director of this "toothless tiger" asked Congress to expand the scope of her agency, making it illegal to sell recalled products and giving customs the authority to seize products that don't meet voluntary industry standards.

The second is a big one, because industry often argues that it can "police itself," and sets up industry standards in lieu of mandatory federal standards. Then of course, they ignore them.

This makes a great issue for Congressional challengers in Democratic primaries and against Republican incumbents, because Congress is under fire for slashing funding for the CPSC over the last three decades. Also, attacking cheap foreign imports capitalizes on people's economic worries about job losses overseas.

This week, USA TODAY'S Editorial page wrote:

Our view on consumer protection: Unsafe products overwhelm emaciated safety agency

Stripped of staff and authority, CPSC struggles to keep up.

What links the cases is not just dangerous products and companies that did not move to quickly recall them, but the tragically ineffective response of the government agency responsible for acting when companies do not: the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

Begun in 1973 in a wave of consumer protectionism, the commission is overwhelmed and understaffed. It investigates barely 10%-15% of the reports it gets of product-related deaths and injuries. Its staff has shrunk to about 400, from a peak of 978 in 1980. The huge recalls of lead-tainted toys from China this year revealed that the agency's primary full-time, small-parts toy tester is a guy named Bob.

There's plenty of blame to go around for CPSC's deterioration. A succession of presidents and Congresses, hostile to the burden the commission can place on business, have limited its power and budget. The results can be tragic.

Emphasis added.

What, if anything, do you think Illinois can be doing?

Here's some of my ideas:

- Set up an e-mail alert system for parents through the Attorney General's Office to share information of product recalls.

- Require retailers to post notices on their entrances for all product recalls of anything that was on their shelves in the last six months.

- Expand Illinois definition of joint liability to hold retailers more accountable for deadly products imported from overseas.

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Executive Decision - UPDATED

Every time that I think that I might be being overly critical of the Administration, something like yesterday happens.

No, I'm not talking about the Governor's press conference to bring us in for (another) special session in December to do nothing that couldn't be done in January.

I'm talking about yesterday's rendition of the Springfield Shuffle. As I have previously explained in a post about the games being played to prevent the passage of HB1, legislation aimed at ending pay-to-play politics in our state:
Those who pay attention to Springfield politics are well-versed in what should be known as the 'Springfield Shuffle', the art of trying to bottle up ethics legislation by saying something along the lines of 'it doesn't go far enough' or 'we don't have time to deal with it' or 'we have a better idea'.
Yesterday, Comptroller Dan Hynes unveiled Open Book, a website database that will allow the public (and press) to cross-check state contract holders with campaign contributors. It's an excellent idea that is being understandably well received and for which Dan gets mad props, um I mean, deserves a lot of credit.

BUT then, in keeping with Shuffle tradition, comes the following:
In response to Hynes’ statement that House Bill 1 could be the first step with more legislation following, (Blagojevich spokesperson Rebecca) Rausch said, “Why not do it right the first time? Why set the bar low? It’s taken many, many, many years to pass the first round of ethics reform in 2003. We shouldn’t squander the opportunity to do something sweeping and across the board now.”
For the life of me, I just don't get how somebody can make that statement with a straight face. Why set the bar low?! Are you kidding me? The bill could be a centerpiece of good p.r. for the Governor at a critically needed time, and more importantly, would be the most substantive item passed by the Administration this session. Why set the bar low?! Wow. (And I'm not even going to go into the whole 'rock the system' thing and all of the other reasons why HB1 should be JOB1.)

But at the same event, Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield, hit on something that I had been mulling over for some time now.
“The governor could do what the comptroller has done through executive order this afternoon. It should not be sufficient for the governor’s spokesman to say, ‘Well, we’re in favor of broad reform.’ These are the sorts of things that should be in law, that can be done by executive order.”
Redfield's statement provides a solution that can quickly satisfy a couple of issues at once - and quickly. Taking the Administration at its word - that HB1 is too narrow, that they want to end pay-to-play politics, but want to do more - it can put its (proverbial and literal) money where its mouth is.

Follow the lead of the every other Constitutional officer and issue an executive order banning campaign contributions from people holding state contracts that are worth more than some minimal threshold.

That way the Governor can demonstrate his commitment to campaign finance reform by leading by personal example and we won't have to let the pesky pay-to-play issue get in the way of even bigger reforms.

And it doesn't get much easier to do. He could borrow a copy of the Executive Order issued by any of the other office holders on the second floor of the Capitol. Plus, he doesn't even need the Legislature to do it.

All he has to do is sign it.

UPDATE - The Tribune editorial board comes out swinging (again) in support of HB1, and against the nonsense preventing its passage. Read the whole thing, but here's the punch line:
So what's going on in the Senate now? Jones argues it's all about noble intentions. So does Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They say they don't want to settle for the House bill because they are cooking up a much better ethics bill.

Just wait and see.

We're waiting. The House voted in April. And what have we seen from the Senate? Nothing but the same excuses the Senate leaders were mouthing in August, the last time this page wrote about their failure to call a vote on the House ethics bill.

That's what they said in August. Wait! We have a better idea!

Many Democratic senators at this moment are doubtless printing up campaign fliers that boast they have sponsored ethics legislation. And those campaign fliers will be a crock.

Every Democratic senator should be asked two questions:

Why haven't you screamed for your leaders to call a vote on the ethics bills that passed the House 116-0?

Why are you protecting the Illinois culture of corruption?

Yep. But in the meantime - sign an Executive Order.

To read or post comments, visit Open House

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Appetite for state and local tax increases due to outmoded taxes

Why is it that the State, the transit agencies, the City of Chicago and the County of Cook are all looking for tax increases?

According to the Tribune story Behind the Great Tax Push, it's because they can get away with it. Typical anti-government line: they must not represent the people (who only want lower taxes) because they just got elected, so therefore, 'they' will try to shove an unwarranted tax increase down 'our' throats because they can't manage a government.

The real reason why our state and local governments are broke is because we're taxing the wrong things. We have a great tax for the 1950s economy, but in 2007, our taxes need to be modernized.

We use the sales tax to fund a big chunk of state and local government. In Illinois, we only tax goods, not services. That means if you buy a bowling ball you pay a sales tax but if you go bowling you don't. More and more of our economy is about selling services instead of goods, so the relatively few people still selling or buying goods end up with the bill while the increasing group of people selling or buying services gets a free ride.

The sales tax rate on goods has to keep rising to try to generate the same amount of money, since less and less economic activity flows through the sale of goods and we don't tax services.

There are 168 possible services that states tax. We tax 17 of them. Iowa taxes 94. Every other state in the Midwest taxes more services than we do. The Federation of Tax Administrators in DC put out that data recently, and you can check it out yourself here.

You'd think the Trib would have included some of our local experts, like the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (that put out a great report on Cook County's structural deficit, due partially to a sales tax that only covers goods), but I guess there wasn't room with the anti-government quotes like:


"There seems to be a general attitude to tax everything that you can," said Msall of the Civic Federation, a non-partisan government watchdog. "That's what these government officials think their role is, to oversee the expansion of government rather than the management of government."
Well, gee! I guess our 1950s tax system doesn't have anything to do with revenues shrinking every year. It's all about those Big Government Democrats instead who don't believe in management!

I hope the Trib and the rest of the media tell a more accurate story about our governments and our 1950s-era tax systems in the coming weeks to explain why more of our governments are not balancing their budgets.

And more importantly, I hope we can modernize our tax system with a sales tax on services as well as goods and a progressive income tax instead of a flat tax.

[Cross-posted at djwinfo -- comments welcome over there. I finally learned how Representative John Fritchey can turn off comments on Illinoize!]

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Comptroller: "Follow the money"

The public, the media and anyone with Internet access has a new tool to search for connections between people who donate money to political campaigns and people who win state contracts. Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes’ office designed a new Web site, called Open Book, which combines records from his office with records from the State Board of Elections’ office. That allows people to search state contractors side by side with campaign contributors.

Hynes said at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday that he also hopes the new search engine will apply more pressure on lawmakers, particularly Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones Jr., to advance ethics legislation drafted by Hynes. Known as House Bill 1, the measure would ban and criminalize so-called pay-to-play politics (a.k.a. granting state contracts in exchange for political campaign contributions). It gained unanimous support in the House and lined up 46 sponsors in the Senate, but it’s never been called for a vote.

“In the absence of a statutory ban on contributions from those who have state contracts, what we can do is create more transparency, more awareness, better information for watchdog groups, the media, citizens, so that people know who’s doing what,” Hynes said. “And perhaps that information will create pressure to enact the right legislation that will prohibit it, or, as one of my colleagues said, shame people out of not awarding contracts to contributors or getting contributions from contractors.”

A search takes a few seconds and starts with entering a person’s name or business in the blank. The database comes up two columns, one for state contracts and one for political contributions. It also lists the person’s or company’s address and how much was donated to any political campaign in each fiscal year back to 1999. It does this by tapping into the comptroller’s accounting records of contract information and into campaign disclosure reports filed twice a year with the State Board of Elections. Previously, matching contractors with campaign donors required multiple searches on the separate Web sites of each state agency.

“Open Book creates a one-stop shop where you plug in one name, one field and get all of those answers at once,” said David Morrison, deputy director of the Chicago-based Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which started one of the first searchable, online databases for campaign contributions with Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project for campaign finance research based at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “It’s a really terrific system that I think has the potential of unleashing thousands of ants all over the state to crawl over the problem with pay-to-play contracting,” Morrison said. The Chicago-based watchdog group the Better Government Association also came to support the unveiling of the site.

Redfield added that more disclosure is important to prevent conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived, from eating away at public confidence in the system. He says the costs of corruption include turning people away from participating in government and wasting tax dollars to curry political favors.

Then Redfield pointed directly to the governor, who has said in the past that he favors more sweeping ethics reform than the measure urged by Hynes. The governor’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Rausch, said Blagojevich supports anything that increases transparency to state government, in terms of the comptroller’s new Web site. But as far as supporting the ethics reform measure backed by Hynes, Blagojevich is holding out for a measure that he deems more comprehensive.

In response to Hynes’ statement that House Bill 1 could be the first step with more legislation following, Rausch said, “Why not do it right the first time? Why set the bar low? It’s taken many, many, many years to pass the first round of ethics reform in 2003. We shouldn’t squander the opportunity to do something sweeping and across the board now.”

Redfield says the governor still could do more. “The governor could do what the comptroller has done through executive order this afternoon. It should not be sufficient for the governor’s spokesman to say, ‘Well, we’re in favor of broad reform.’ These are the sorts of things that should be in law, that can be done by executive order.”

Hynes and the other constitutional officers issued executive orders to ban campaign contributions from people holding state contracts that are worth more than $10,000, as in Hynes' case. Secretary of State Jesse White said his office also prohibits campaign contributions from his own employees and the employees’ families.

For more background on previous attempts to reform state ethics laws, check out an April 2005 column by Pat Guinane, former Statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Issues.

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One Fish, Two Fish, Rod Fish, Kingfish

While working on my last post, I started thinking back on former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long. And the more I thought about it, the more something struck me.

People have compared our present Governor to various past leaders, both local and national, but I think that the most apt comparison may well be to the Kingfish.

While there were some invocations of Long brought up by people following Gov. Blagojevich's class-dividing budget address last year, I'm not sure that anybody has really thought about the extent of the similarities. Or if they have, I may have missed it.

I'll let you judge to what extent the following items seem eerily similar. They are not all negative, by the way. In fact, some may well find the comparisons to be a reaffirmation, not a repudiation, of the current administration. I'll let you be the judge, I'm just throwing this out there for thought.

So here you go, from the background of Huey Long (all emphasis added):

Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately election as President of the United States.

As governor, Long inherited a dysfunctional system of government tainted by influence peddling. Corporations often wrote the laws governing their practices and rewarded part-time legislators and other officials with jobs and bribes.

Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters.

In 1929, Long called a special session of both houses of the legislature to enact a new corporate tax, in order to help fund his social programs. The bill met with a storm of opposition. (can you say GRT?)

Denying that his program was socialistic, Long stated that his ideological inspiration for the plan came from the Bible. (where have we heard this recently?)

Long became ruthless when dealing with his enemies, firing their relatives from state jobs and supporting candidates to defeat them in elections.

After impeachment, Long surrounded himself with armed bodyguards at all times. (Although I don't think they had SUV's back then.)

Long’s radical rhetoric and his aggressive tactics did little to endear him to his fellow senators. Not one of his proposed bills, resolutions or motions was passed during his three years in the Senate. During one debate, another senator told Long that “I do not believe you could get the Lord’s Prayer endorsed in this body.”

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not sure that there is any real point or relevance to the above, some of the aspects can readily be attributed to administrations around the country at various points in time, but I still found it to be somewhat interesting and thought-provoking.

To read or post comments, visit Open House

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Monday, October 22, 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different

This is the beginning of an Associated Press story that appeared late Friday (and is linked to below):

LOS ANGELES — A man who prosecutors say was paid about $2.6 million to be a professional plaintiff — and who helped a prestigious New York law firm get lucrative class-action lawsuits — pleaded guilty Thursday to obstruction of justice and two other charges.
After reaching a plea deal, Seymour Lazar, 80, of Palm Springs, appeared before U.S. District Judge John Walter. Lazar also pleaded guilty to one count each of subscribing to a false tax return and making a false declaration to the court.

I'm not sure how common this practice is, but I suspect it is too common. We're going to dig into it, at least as it relates to Illinois. There are some repeat plaintiffs who have been named in some Illinois newspapers, most notably the Madison County Record.

It seems a series of questions like this should be asked of plaintiffs and of the plaintiffs' attorneys:
    Have you ever been a plaintiff in another class action suit?

    What was the outcome? And if you recovered anything, how much?

    Have you ever been represented by this law firm? If so, in what kind of litigation?

    Have you ever been paid to be a plaintiff? If so, by whom?When and how did you become aware of the potential wrong-doing against you?

    How were you notified?
A similar list of questions should be asked of plaintiffs' attorneys, with one addition:
    Have you ever paid a plaintiff?
Maybe these questions are already being asked; maybe it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We'll try to learn the answer.

Full Associated Press Article here.

-- Ed Murnane
Illinois Civil Justice League
October 22, 2007

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Homeschooling Facts

I'm still searching for an independent study of the efficacy of homeschooling, but George Bush's U.S. Department of Education did conduct a survey of WHO homeschool's their kids in 2003. Here's one of the more alarming statistics regarding the more than 1 million homeschooled children in the U.S.:

Parents’ highest educational attainment

Twenty-five percent of homeschooled students had parents whose highest educational attainment was a high school diploma or less; this figure is lower than that for public schooled students (34 percent) but higher than that for private schooled students (13 percent). Homeschooled students were also less likely than private schooled students to have parents whose highest educational attainment was graduate or professional coursework beyond a bachelor’s degree (20 percent compared to 31 percent).

Other Homeschooling facts:

Compared to the general student population, homeschooled children are more likely to:

- Be white;
- Be from the South;
- Live in a rural area;
- Have two parents in the household;
- Have only one parent working;
- Have a household income of less than $75K;
- Have three or more children in the family.

The survey also asked parents what their primary reason was for homeschooling their kids:

31% - Concern over school environment (negative peer pressure, drugs, safety)
30% - To provide religious or moral instruction
16% - Dissatisfaction with academic instruction

You can find the study here.

The closest thing I can find to an independent study of the efficacy of a homeschool education is this news release, touting a report from ACT, Inc. that homeschool students scored an average of 1.7 points higher on the ACT than public school students in 2003. Good for them. What the news release failed to mention is that less than 5% of the nation's homeschooled highschool juniors, or about 3,000 kids, takes the ACT each year.

Earlier commenters are correct, a slight majority of Americans do not believe in evolution, despite the fact that we rely on the forces of evolution - natural selection - everyday, from the food on our tables to the medicine we take, to capitalism and democracy.

This could help explain why the 2007 report from ACT found that only 28% of students met basic standards for college-readiness in the sciences. African American and Hispanic scores were abysmal, but only 33% of white students and 37% of Asian students were ready for college sciences.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Problem With Finding Problems With Homeschooling.

I'm sure everyone noted YDD's exploration into why homeschooling isn't such a good idea, but perhaps as interesting is the somewhat deserved comment shredding he received. Strangely enough, I've got fairly mixed opinions on homeschooling.

On one hand, most people that I've known whom were homeschooled tend to be the least socially adjusted folks I've ever met. Especially in college, I noticed quickly that kids who saw their parents for hours a day being 'educated' were unable to socialize with kids whom didn't. Universally, the parents who decide to home school their kids tend to be the least connected with reality anyhow (see YDD's post for an explanation) and I think we can say without any uncertainty that when a homeschooling parent says that he's trying to "prevent his kid from being indoctrinated by the homosexual liberal evolution people, what they're really afraid of is their kid accepting reality more so than the parents, which would really ruin Christmas for some of these parents who think that accepting a little science and being forward thinking will grant you a one way ticket to the hellz. The natural danger to the child is pretty obvious. We're talking about a group of people that believe:

-The Earth is only 4000 years old.
-Evolution is racist.
-That Dan Proft is a hot, hot college coed
-The pill causes cancer.
-There is no such thing as economic poverty, there is only moral poverty.
-Jews are merely "unperfected Christians"

We can all be honest about it: A ton of homeschool environments are little more than the American Taliban's version of a madrassa, which is to say it's going to breed yet another 'tiny vocal minority' of people living the religious extremist life style. Keeping your kid out of regular schools, seems pretty extreme to me, amirite?




On the other hand, as these poor kids will have to go home at some point, I would imagine being dumb is probably in their best interest. I don't have a stat on me, but the cop gene says that the type of parents whom home school their children are probably more....shall we say....'Biblical' in their use of corporal punishment which translates nicely into abuse. That being said, if the parents are drunk from the Jeebus juice, the kids probably aren't going to come out into the real world all that well adjusted anyhow.

So it's a quandary: Either way the kids come whacked out of their noggins at no harm to society. I guess it's just a matter of whether it's better for the kid to be exposed to some modicum of reality while they're in their younger days.

There are, of course, completely good reasons to homeschool your kids as well. These tend to not be issues of 'values', but rather academic proficiency considerations. There are some kids whom are just way too slow for schools and there are some kids who are way too fast for regular schools. In those narrow circumstances, who really beefs with the idea of a parent recognizing their kid's handicap and/or doogiehowserdom and takes the initiative if other options aren't available.

Note: I know what you're doing. You're about hit "post comment" and tell me about all the medical doctors who choose to homeschool their kids, and how many well adjusted homeschooled brain surgeons you heard about on lifesitefamilyfaghatingnews.com. Save it. I'm not talking about the majority of homeschooling parents. You know. The crazy ones.

So call me distinctly on the side with the homeschoolers. Sure, my kids will still make fun of your kids. But I'm hard pressed to come up with a good reason to be against letting people teach their own kids. The statistics on where these kids stand academically are, understandably, murky. Public and private schools regularly produced screwed up and socially maladjusted kids, and ultimately - who are we to make any commentary on the legality of how you raise your kids, so long as it's not abusive.

And then there's this.


The Center on Education Policy (an advocacy group with an agenda to promote public schools over private schools) has released a study in which they conclude that private schools are really no better than public schools.


In all honesty, the folks at SayAnything were really digging into why such a study does not serve as an argument against school choice, but I think the core idea here is that we can test for basic reading/writing/math/etc. proficiency and that if there's limited statistical difference between public and private schools, thus as long as the parent doing the teaching isn't woefully stupid, home schooled kids will probably perform within the same range as kids from traditional schools. Naturally, that's because the ultimate point of standardized testing is to determine what you know and not whether or not how you learned it actually contributes to your ability to think critically - which is the most important thing, imo, about education to begin with.

That, if anything, might provide for the best argument on why in the correct set of circumstance homeschooling can potentially be at least as good as regular education. Which is mainly because...well...most schools aren't doing so good, anyhow.

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They've Come a (Huey) Long Way

Some interesting news came out of my birth state of Louisiana on Saturday where U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal is poised to become the nation's youngest governor and the first nonwhite to hold the post in Louisiana since Reconstruction.

The 36-year-old Republican took 53% of the vote in a twelve way race. (More than any candidate took in our state in a 3 way race btw.)

But while the rest of the country might focus on Jindal's age or ethnicity, Illinoisans may be drawn to this aspect of his candidacy:
He pledged to fight corruption and rid the state of those "feeding at the public trough," revisiting a campaign theme.

"They can either go quietly or they can go loudly, but either way, they will go," he said, adding that he would call the Legislature into special session to address ethics reform. (emphasis added)

Now that's why you call a special session - to actually get something substantive accomplished. I'm going to predict that he'll even have legislation ready for the legislators to debate when they get called into session. (Maybe I'll send his transition team a copy of HB1 to review.)

So let's see, for quite some time now, we've had the dubious honor of trailing the entire country when it comes to the gap in per-pupil education spending.

Now Louisiana is going to give us a lesson in ethics and campaign reform.

Does anybody else see a problem here?

To read or post comments, visit Open House

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Hastert back and forth....

Yesterday's Herald,

....Republican aides, speaking on background, said Thursday he now intends to leave later this year or early next. An exact date for departure or an announcement was not known.

In Washington, however, Hastert told an NBC reporter the stories are mere "rumor" and that he still has a lot of work to do for Illinois.

Asked if he plans to resign before his term ends, he said, "not at this time."
We elected him for the full term. Unless it's health, he should stay and say so. That will quiet all the folks speaking on background.

Update: CQ on the money story.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

As pols raise taxes, trial lawyers continue to push their costly agenda

Water bottle taxes. Transportation "doomsday." Gross receipts. Family secrets.

A relatively small number of "sexy" issues in Cook County and Springfield has largely dominated the headlines during the past year. And while each of these issues is worthy of attention, it is worth noting that one clout-heavy special interest group is breathing easy, enjoying their year-long hiatus from the public spotlight.

I am writing, of course, about the personal injury trial lawyers.

Possibly the most politically influential group in Illinois (and nationally), the trial lawyers were able to fly under the radar this year.

But that doesn't mean they weren't as active as ever.

While the governor, speaker of the house, and Cook County board president have been grabbing headlines - and distracting the larger business community - the trial lawyers have done their best to wreak havoc in Springfield.

In fact, the trial lawyer agenda in Springfield this year has been the most aggressive in years.

Among the bills they introduced was House Bill 1798, sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), which would allow compensation to be paid to beneficiaries of decedents in wrongful death cases for "grief and sorrow." Not just for actual loss, which can be calculated, but for grief and sorrow, which cannot be calculated. Of course, regardless of whether it can be calculated or not, the personal injury trial lawyers will get their cut of the grief and sorrow.

Realizing this misguided legislation would be a dagger through the heart of popular medical liability reform legislation passed two years ago, the Illinois State Medical Society noted that this bill would "expand the damages allowed in wrongful death lawsuits and medical liability litigation."

Successfully passed and signed into law by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, this bill has created a new source of profits for the Illinois trial lawyer industry, now allowing these lawyers to cash in on grief and sorrow.

Can you feel their grief and sorrow?

Another disastrous bill pushed by the trial bar, Senate Bill 1296, would make any Illinois employer -or any Illinois institution, city, county, hospital with deep pockets the prime targets of Illinois trial lawyers. This bill would change the way compensation is determined in damage suits. It changes the rules of fairness in the Illinois tort system.

SB 1296 would establish that if multiple parties are responsible for causing an injury or loss, it makes no difference which of the multiple parties is most responsible. The plaintiff's attorneys, i.e. the trial lawyers, would be able to manipulate which defendant would be left at trial to pick up the tab. It would be the party with the deepest pockets or most money who pays. It wouldn't matter who was mostly at fault, it matters who has the most money.

Fortunately, a broadly-based collection of interests and organizations - including the Illinois Civil Justice League, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, City of Chicago and Illinois Municipal League, among others - was able to stall this bill from passage. It seems certain the trial lawyers will attempt to resurrect it in some form during the next legislative session.

Perhaps the lawsuit lobbyists have kicked it up a notch because they are losing their foothold at the local level. In 2004, they suffered a major blow when Justice Lloyd Karmeier defied millions in trial lawyer campaign cash to win election to the state Supreme Court.

Recent headlines have hailed the unprecedented reforms initiated by Chief Judge Ann Callis in Madison County - long known as the nation's capital of lawsuit abuse. Now even local government organizations, such as the Peoria City Council, have joined the fight, passing pro-lawsuit reform resolutions. Although non-binding, these resolutions do reflect grassroots pressure and voter sentiment that have made it more difficult for the trial lawyers to operate as freely as they once did.

Despite these positive steps forward, Illinois' lawsuit crisis remains. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce annually ranks Illinois among the worst in the country for lawsuit abuse. The American Tort Reform Association continues to label several Illinois counties as "judicial hellholes."

Employers and investors from around the country still look upon the Prairie State with disdain, due in large part to our lawsuit lottery. Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals continue to suffer under the uncertainty surrounding the trial lawyer's court challenge of the 2004 medical liability reforms.

As the trial lawyers get stymied at the local level, they circle the wagons and retreat to their safe refuge, Springfield, where clout and campaign cash speak louder than public opinion.

In sunlight or the dark of night, in the headlines or on the back page, the issue of lawsuit abuse will continue to be front and center for employers, nonprofit organizations, health care workers, local governments and hospitals. And as trial lawyer cash continues to flow to judicial and legislative candidates alike, the personal injury trial lawyers will descend upon Springfield in the spring to block any meaningful lawsuit reform legislation and to push a dangerous agenda of their own.

The problems that plague our state's sputtering economic engine are vast, but reforming our broken legal system should be at the top of our elected officials' priority list. For the good of the Illinois economy and our employers, consumers and working families, our state legislators should resist the selfish urging of the clout-heavy trial bar.

The only ones who benefit from lawsuit abuse are the trial lawyers. And when they win, the rest of us lose.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

ST: Aldermen: Daley needs to give up names of cops

This issue won't go away. It will develop into a confrontation between the Mayor and City Council. And Sauerberg ought to be telling Illinois if he were Senator he would have called Fitzgerald in much earlier. From the ST,

If Mayor Daley continues to keep secret the names of Chicago Police officers most often accused of excessive force, he may be compelled to reveal them by a rare City Council order, four aldermen said Friday.

Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Ed Smith (28th) and Joe Moore (49th) said they have lined up 28 votes, two more than they need to force Daley’s hand.

But, the aldermen have decided to take a softer approach before setting up a confrontation between the legislative and executive branches not seen since the Council Wars power struggle that raged during the 1980s.

On Monday, they plan to file a so-called “petition to intervene,” asking U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow to order that the names be released.

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What Pat Quinn Really Thinks of Pay-to-Play

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

As if his statement to the press yesterday wasn’t enough, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is leaving no doubt about his concerns with pay-to-play state contracting. Check out the animation and soundtrack added to his homepage:

http://www.standingupforillinois.org/

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Tax news and something fun

The Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois' board of trustees voted to provide “qualified support” to SB 572, Rep. Julie Hamos’s measure to give a much-needed boost to Chicago-area transit and to give some more money for operating costs of downstate public transit systems. I’ll try to post the association’s position statement as soon as it’s available.

Here's the federation's statement supporting Hamos' legislation:
• "TFI supports the pension, healthcare, and governance reforms in the bill. TFI has taken the position that reforms to spending, such as spending on pensions and healthcare, should be prerequisites to any increases in revenue. TFI believes that the reforms agreed to between the Chicago Transit Authority (“CTA”) and the relevant unions to, among other things, increase contribution rates and increase the retirement age to 65 are positive steps to reining in costs. TFI believes these reforms are an example of the types of reforms the State should undertake in the future to reduce its own cost structure."

• "TFI supports the sales tax increases in the bill as reasonable, targeted increases to fund transit needs. Given that transit use is regional to a particular area, TFI believes an increase in the sales taxes in Chicagoland is a reasonable revenue source since it will be targeted primarily on the taxpayers of the area that is serviced by the Regional Transportation Authority (“RTA”)."

• "TFI previously worked with the Illinois Association of Realtors (“IAR”) to obtain the referendum requirement for home rule municipalities. The provision in SB 572 grants an exception to the requirement for the limited instance of this particular tax imposition in Chicago. While TFI is concerned about this exception, we acknowledge and support the fact that the bill does not rescind the overall requirement for home rule municipalities to seek voter approval of the imposition or increase of real estate transfer taxes."

• "TFI also believes that reasonable fare increases designed to reflect the growth in operational costs should be part of any future fiscal considerations of the RTA and its service boards."

Tax climate
The national Tax Federation also released its 2008 State Business Tax Climate Index, which is supposed to rank states based on how “business friendly” they are. The news release says the index “measures how well a state's tax system encourages investment by maintaining a broad tax base and low rates.” It considers the corporate tax, individual income tax, sales tax, unemployment tax and property tax.

Illinois places 28th overall. Here’s Illinois’ rankings in the sub-groups:
Corporate income tax: 29th
Individual income tax: 12th
Sales tax: 32nd
Unemployment insurance tax: 42
And property tax: 40

The report says Illinois, along with Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan and Colorado, are in the top 12 for the individual property tax because each state uses a single, low rate. Watch for my November column about Chicago's property tax system.

Illinois placed 27th overall last year and 29th in 2006. That’s down from placing 19th in 2003, the first year the group published the report.

“Good state tax systems levy low, flat rates on the broadest bases possible, and they treat all taxpayers the same,” the federation says. “Variation in the tax treatment of different industries favors on economic activity or decision over another. The more riddled a tax system is with these politically motivated preferences the less likely it is that business decisions will be made in response to market forces.”

Here’s the executive summary of the background paper, and here’s the full background paper. You can access the full report here.

By the way, this is the same group that said Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s failed gross receipts tax idea was the “largest single-year state tax increase this decade.” I mention that in my May feature about the state’s business climate. Watch for more analysis by Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, next month.

Something fun
You may be interested to see which presidential candidates align with your views. WQAD News Channel 8 linked to this 11-question survey, which is not scientific, developed by Minnesota Public Radio. It’s here. It's quick and easy, but the site says it's not meant to pick your candidate for you. It's designed to inform the public about the candidates' stances on a variety of issues.

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