Monday, April 30, 2012

95th Street

Alderman O'Shea. You've been in office a year. You should be well settled in by now. Please tell us your plan for the revitalization of 95th Street. Please keep in mind, everyone wants you and 95th Street to succeed.

It's time to cut the grass.

Needs a lawnmower.
This is directed to the high visibility Beverly Arts Centre. You have a grass strip which borders the entire length of your parking along 111th St. Due to a lack of maintenance, it does not look like anything resembling an Arts Centre or even something that belongs in Beverly. It looks like something that belongs a few miles east.

Our neighborhood supports you. The least you can do is bend over backwards to be sure your building projects the image that our neighborhood wants / needs.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Patrick Daley Thompson

The candidate with the yellow teeth.

Yearning for the good old days, some people would vote for a dog if it was named Daley. That will probably change after everyone comes to believe their pension money really is gone. 
Patrick Daley Thompson, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, raised more money than all of his Democratic primary opponents combined in his bid to be elected a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, newly released records show.
Despite that edge in campaign cash and an endorsement from the Cook County Democratic Party, he didn’t lead the pack on election night last month.
The 42-year-old attorney finished third of six Democrats seeking one of three seats on the board that oversees sewage treatment in Chicago and most of Cook County. He beat former water-reclamation Commissioner Patricia Young by more than 32,000 votes to win the last Democratic slot on the November ballot and — if past general elections are any indication — should win election in the fall.
He says his third-place finish didn’t surprise him.
“There were five other candidates running who ran for this office before; some had run for additional offices,” says Thompson, the first member of the third generation of Daleys to seek public office. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but we worked hard. And the way it’s set up, the top three vote-getters win. From that perspective, I was satisfied.”
Thompson’s uncle, the former mayor who left office nearly a year ago, continues to face criticism for the city’s budget problems and particularly for the deal that privatized Chicago’s parking meters. Even so, Thompson has no plans to change his ballot name, “Patrick Daley Thompson,” in the fall.
Any voter unhappiness with the Daley name probably proved less of a factor in Thompson’s third-place finish than historical Cook County political behavior, says former 44th Ward Ald. Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Thompson finished third along the North Shore, as well as on Chicago’s North Side and throughout the north suburbs, election records show — heavily white areas won by incumbent Commissioner Debra Shore of Skokie, who was the top primary vote-getter overall.
Thompson finished last in heavily black wards on Chicago’s South Side and Far West Side, which were dominated by the field’s two African-American candidates, led by chemist Kari K. Steele, who finished second. She’s the daughter of Illinois appellate judge and former Chicago Ald. John O. Steele (6th).
Thompson finished first in near South Side and Southwest Side wards, many of which continue to be controlled by white politicians even as they’ve become more racially diverse. They include Thompson’s home 11th Ward — where he lives in the same Bridgeport bungalow where his late grandfather Richard J. Daley raised his family — as well as the 13th Ward, controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the 14th Ward, led by Ald. Edward M. Burke.Thompson
also finished first in the Southwest Side’s 19th Ward — known for its concentration of police, firefighters and other city workers — and in southwest suburban townships.
“Without party backing in the old machine wards run by the old machine bosses, he wouldn’t have made it,” Simpson says. “That’s the strongest thing I can see in the numbers.”
Simpson doesn’t see anyone beating Thompson, Steele and Shore in November because the others who’ll be on the ballot — Republican Harold “Noonie” Ward and the Green Party’s Julie Samuels, Dave Ehrlich and Karen Roothaan — aren’t as well-known to voters.
Since forming his campaign committee in October, Thompson has raised $257,677. The other five candidates raised a combined $219,327 in the nearly eight months leading to the primary. That includes $99,380 raised by Shore and $49,054 by Steele.
Chicago Suntimes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

O'Shea could have been a hero, instead he is a goat.

The new face of Chicago-style democracy was on display Tuesday as aldermen handed Mayor Rahm Emanuel his expected lopsided win on a controversial plan to lure billions in private investment to rebuild the city.

The first-year mayor is willing to compromise, but only to a point. And while he might give City Council members a bit more time to consider measures that could have decades-long impacts on Chicago's finances, he still gets to set the schedule.

Emanuel held out those changes as a break from his predecessor, Richard Daley, who wasn't always concerned with such niceties. Yet at the end of the day, both Emanuel and Daley have proved able to score comfortable margins on major proposals that remained mostly intact.

"What we don't do is to try and compromise, ever, the objective or the goal. That's clear," Emanuel said of his governing approach after the council voted 41-7 to approve the Chicago Infrastructure Trust. "And then you work with the legislative body and include their ideas, when you can, that don't compromise getting to the essential goal."

Emanuel's victory left a handful of aldermen discouraged after they tried and failed for even greater oversight and transparency safeguards for the five-member board the mayor will appoint to craft deals with private investors to pay for major public works projects.

"Kudos to the mayor for having these conversations," said Ald. John Arena, 45th. "But on something this big I expected something a little more substantive in the first round, and then when the changes were made and so much was made about them not going far enough, why weren't we really sitting down across the table and working these things out?"

Such extensive give and take is hardly a requirement in a city where being mayor automatically deals you the better hand: broad control of city services and spending. The mayor proposes, the council disposes, and it's been very difficult in recent decades for aldermen with other ideas to muster a 26-vote majority to stop the city's chief executive.

Although Emanuel said aldermen could come back later to amend the trust, some council members were skeptical that substantive alterations would ever happen.

"It's obvious he has the majority of the council on his side, so the changes that are going to be made are the changes the administration wants," said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, the only alderman to oppose the very concept of the trust. "If they don't want something, they have the votes to stop it."

Emanuel did agree to some changes before Tuesday's vote. But he left intact his framework — a board dominated by financiers who will arrange private investment deals as members of a nonprofit trust not subject to all the same rules as city government.

"The fact that he's not afraid to compromise and not afraid that he'll be accused of being weak speaks well of his style," said Ald. Joe Moore, 49th. "This started out as controversial, but he ended getting a vast majority of us to go along with this."

Moore argued that aldermen were able to make substantive changes involving transparency and accountability, although he added that "the structure of the trust itself was mostly unchanged."

The mayor took the same approach of limited compromise last year to pass a difficult budget that cut library hours, reduced the number of mental health clinics, decreased staffing at the 911 center and closed police stations. He restored some library cuts and backed off on increasing the vehicle sticker fees for minivans, but kept the blueprint of his original spending plan.

It's also the same way he won approval last week of a controversial plan to put up automated speed cameras near schools and parks. He changed some of the hours and promised a slow roll out, but won approval for his concept with just minor tweaks.

In all three instances, Emanuel got a clear majority of aldermen to back his efforts, in part by letting them have some say, however small.

In the case of the infrastructure trust, Emanuel agreed to appoint one alderman to the board and ensured a council vote on every trust-financed project involving city money, assets or property. He also added some ethics and sunshine provisions, but good-government groups and critical aldermen said they were not sufficient.

Faced last week with a movement by aldermen to delay approval for up to two months — well after his one-year anniversary as mayor — Emanuel engineered a delay of just six days. The mayor also issued an executive order requiring the trust board to pick analysts to evaluate each deal and to conduct annual financial reviews of the trust.

Some aldermen said those changes still leave the board with too much unchecked power to make as-yet undefined deals that could alter city finances for decades. They asked why the mayor has given only one relatively modest, noncontroversial example of how the trust would be used.

Under what Emanuel has dubbed Retrofit Chicago, private investors would lend the city up to $225 million to make energy efficiency improvements to city buildings. City savings would be used to pay down the debt, but only if they were realized. If not, investors would lose out, city officials said.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How will O'Shea vote?

Does Matt O'Shea see any harm in conveying valuable city assets to a Trust controlled in part by Hollywood financiers and Goldman Sachs? Does he he think it's a good idea for future generations to be able buy the assets back at the then prevailing price? Does he think it's good business to eliminate the Inspector General from overseeing the process? We will see today. 

A handful of Chicago aldermen have launched a last-ditch attempt to secure City Council voting rights on every deal put together by a new board that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would appoint to try to attract private money for public-works projects.
The group of five holdouts stated their case ahead of Tuesday's special council meeting where the mayor's Chicago Infrastructure Trust measure tops the agenda.
The ordinance only calls for a council vote when city money, assets or property is involved. That leaves out projects involving city sister agencies, including Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Park District, all led by mayoral appointees.
Given that taxpayers could be on the hook if projects don't pan out, Ald.Leslie Hairston, 5th, said the measure "comes down to taxation without representation."
Allowing the council to consider such projects is among several oversight provisions the aldermen want Emanuel to add. The new proposal won quick endorsement by a host of good-government groups, but aldermen conceded they lacked the votes to win passage — leaving only persuasive argument or public pressure to sway the mayor.
"The city doesn't have the authority or the power to impose City Council authority on sister agencies," said mayoral spokesman Tom Alexander, who added that the mayor planned to move forward with his own proposal Tuesday.
Emanuel already has made several requested changes to the proposed ordinance, but critics say they are insufficient to ensure adequate oversight of an agency that could help shape the city's finances and image for decades to come by deciding how to spend billions of dollars.
Facing that criticism and a likely attempt by aldermen to delay the vote for up to two months, Emanuel last week maneuvered to put off the vote for just six days. The mayor also said he would issue an executive order calling for outside review of trust deals and finances.
A new version of the ordinance, crafted by the five aldermen and attorney Emily Miller of the Better Government Association, aims to ensure that the trust falls under the full force of state open meetings and records laws, that it's subject to the city ethics ordinance and that it falls under city inspector general oversight.
In an opinion requested by Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson wrote that the only way to ensure the trust falls under his office's oversight is to specify that in the ordinance.
"The ordinance simply is opaque," Ferguson said Monday. "These are things that should be addressed and clarified."
Ferguson also said city personnel rules, the city ethics ordinance and a federal prohibition on taking politics into consideration when hiring and firing workers "may well not apply to the trust" and it needs to be made clear that they do.
The administration late Monday countered one point with a new opinion from Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton stating that the trust would be subject to the ethics ordinance.
The five aldermen also want the ordinance to require outside experts to evaluate each deal and the trust's finances, something Emanuel plans to do through an executive order that could lapse on his departure from office.
"We feel like we've come up with exactly what the mayor wants, which is an infrastructure trust ordinance, but one that protects taxpayers," said Ald. John Arena, 45th. Joining Arena, Hairston and Waguespack were Aldermen Robert Fioretti, 2nd, and Toni Foulkes, 15th. They spoke to the Tribune editorial board about their plan.
Ferguson said the proposed changes would make "significant improvements" to Emanuel's ordinance.
"The remarkable thing about Chicago is that we are debating something that is just the norm in the rest of the advanced world," Ferguson said, who then referred to Emanuel's tenure as chief of staff for President Barack Obama. "You need look no further than the Obama administration from which the mayor came to see exactly how it's done."
Twitter @ReporterHal

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dan Webb named special prosecutor

Former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb — who won the convictions of corrupt Cook County judges and a former national security adviser — was appointed Monday as the special prosecutor to re-examine the 2004 death of David Koschman, who died after being punched by Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Cook County Circuit Judge Michael P. Toomin named Webb “to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against any person in connection with the homicide of David Koschman in the spring of 2004 and whether, from 2004 to the present, employees of the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office acted intentionally to suppress and conceal evidence, furnish false evidence and generally impede the investigation into Mr. Koschman’s death.”
Webb — the top federal prosecutor in Chicago from 1981 to 1985 — was given the authority to subpoena records and compel witnesses to testify under oath before a grand jury.
“I don’t have any timetable,” said Webb, 66. “I’m just going to do whatever the facts tell me to do.”
Chicago Suntimes
There is more to this story than is being reported.

A prominent advocate for the separation of church and state filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service Thursday, accusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria of violating federal law by intervening in a political campaign.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alleges that a fiery homily by Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky last Sunday effectively urged Catholics to vote against Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

Jenky’s homily criticized policies proposed by the Obama administration that would require all employers, including religious groups, to provide free birth control coverage in their health care plans. The bishop included Obama's policies in a litany of government challenges the Catholic Church has overcome in previous centuries, including actions by Hitler and Stalin.

“Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care,” Jenky said. “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama — with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda — now seems intent on following a similar path.”

Lynn has said church-affiliated agencies who operate on taxpayer dollars should follow public policy guidelines or only collect money from parishioners. But remarks delivered later in the homily prompted Lynn’s complaint to the IRS.

“This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries -- only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down,” Jenky said.

In a letter to the IRS, Lynn wrote that Jenky violated the rules that prohibit issue advocacy and that he had called on Catholics to vote as a bloc at the polls.

“To be sure, Jenky never utters the words ‘Do not vote for Obama,’ ” Lynn wrote. “But the Internal Revenue Code makes it clear that statements need not be this explicit to run afoul of the law.”

On Wednesday, Lonnie Nasatir, the regional director of Chicago's Anti-Defamation League, demanded an apology from Jenky, calling his remarks “outrageous, offensive and completely over the top.”

A spokeswoman for the diocese said the comments were taken out of context and misunderstood.

“Based upon the current government’s threatened infringement upon the Church’s religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions,” said Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Peoria Diocese.

“Bishop Jenky gave several examples of times in history in which religious groups were persecuted because of what they believed,” Gibson said. “We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

This just may work, as bitter as it may be.

Picking a fight with labor unions, Gov. Pat Quinn Friday unveiled a “bold step” to make the state’s grossly underfunded pensions whole in three decades by raising the retirement age, increasing employee contributions and threatening to withhold retiree health care for anyone who balks.
Quinn, legislative leaders civic groups and even the unions agree something’s got to give with the ballooning pension deficit exceeding $80 billion.
Quinn calls for:
◆ Raising the retirement age for government workers from 55 to 67.
◆ Increasing employee contributions by 3 percentage points. Contributions currently range from 4 percent to 11.5 percent.
◆ Reducing cost-of-living adjustments to 3 percent or one-half of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less.
The pension under-funding has been years in the making.
“I did not create the problems,” he said at a news conference in Chicago, “but I’m here to solve those problems. I know I was put on Earth to get this done.”
Perhaps the most surprising reaction to Quinn’s far-reaching proposals was the enthusiasm with which most legislative leaders greeted them.
With the financial ratings agencies threatening to downgrade the state’s rating — escalating the state’s cost of borrowing — legislative leaders and civic groups agree a change is needed this year.
Unions representing state workers immediately denounced the proposal as “insensitive and irresponsible.”
“Forcing public servants to choose between two sharply diminished pension plans is no choice at all,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said. “It is a clearly illegal attempt to solve the problem caused by past governors and the Legislature solely on the backs of teachers, caregivers and other public workers.
The state constitution prohibits cutting pension benefits for government workers and the unions are prepared to go to court to fight any cuts. Quinn aims to get around the constitutional prohibition by making the cuts “voluntary.”
If state employees don’t want to opt into this new plan, the governor instead would let them stick with the current plan, but then they would forfeit their retirement health-care coverage.
The Illinois constitution doesn’t guarantee health care in retirement.
And for those who opt to stick with the current plan, they would see no benefit from any pay raises they get between now and retirement.
If the state employees, university professors and suburban and Downstate teachers who are covered by the state pension plan opt for the new plan, with its higher employee contributions and later retirement age, they would get health benefits in retirement and any pay raises they get would also increase their pensions.
The new health plan would not be as generous as the current one, Quinn said.
He said he expects at least three-quarters of the employees covered by the state pensions to opt for the new plan.
People who have already retired would not be affected.
Senate President John Cullerton “is pleased that the Governor’s proposal embraces the legal framework that will allow the State to control pension costs in a constitutional way,” his spokeswoman said.
Quinn said he assumed the law would eventually wind up in court.
House Republican leader Tom Cross and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno both showered praise on Quinn’s proposal, saying it reflects suggestions that Republicans have been making for years.
“We’re glad the administration and the Democrats have finally got religion,” Radogno said.
She and Cross expressed optimism the plan will win Republican support.
What gave them pause was this paragraph in Quinn’s news release: “The Governor’s plan also calls for phasing-in the responsibility for paying normal costs of pensions to each employer, including school districts, community colleges and public universities.”
Cross and Radogno read that to mean suburban and Downstate school districts that currently contribute nothing to their employees’ retirement plans will have to raise property taxes to start funding them.
They don’t like that. But Speaker of the House Mike Madigan has pointed to the inequity of the current system under which Chicago residents are taxed twice — once for the Chicago Teachers Union self-funded pension and once for the suburban and Downstate districts funded by the whole state.
Three quarters of retirees in state pension systems are not state employees — they are school teachers and community college professors.
Quinn told the Sun-Times that his projection to save the pension funds $65 billion to $85 billion assumes no transfer of responsibility to school or community college districts.
Any such transfers would just help the system more, he said.
“If we make these benefit changes, these school districts will save considerable money,” Quinn said. “Some even have quite a bit of money right now in their pocket.”
Quinn and his aides Jerry Stermer and Jack Lavin said they have kept Madigan informed as they developed the plan, and they hope to get his support.
“What really is important is whether there’ll be the bipartisan coalition on this and Medicaid to get a bill passed,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.
Wavering legislators should be more afraid of letting the ballooning pension deficit eat up more important programs in the state budget than of angering state pension holders who don’t want to pay more, Quinn said.
“I really expect the Legislature to rise to the occasion here,” Quinn said. “This is not a time for timidity. This is a time for fortitude.”
Reprinted from Chicago Sun Times

Sadly, this is true.

America has Turned Into an Orwellian Nightmare

Let me begin by saying that most Americans don’t have a clue just who George Orwell was or what an Orwellian nightmare means. We have dumbed down to such a state of ignorance that government tyranny is easily facilitated despite our Bill of Rights.

Washington, DC—Before the early-1970s most Americans did not have a photo ID. Pictures were not on driver’s licenses. You could board airplanes without ID and you along with your luggage were never searched. You could travel the roads unmolested without those sobriety checkpoints. Cops were never searching bags in city subways.

Taxes and bogus fines did not rise to the level of slavery like they do today. There were no photo radar and red light cameras generating millions for private contractors that kick back cash to politicians campaigns.

Entrances into government buildings did not have security checkpoints. There were no surveillance cameras and cellphones that kept a total history of every call you ever sent or received. There were no black boxes in your car to tell government agents about your driving habits.

If police stopped anyone it was painfully slow for cops to even get driving or criminal histories. Now they have instant digital access. Stores did not have shopper’s cards recording every cash purchase you make. Credit cards were not often used and there was no such thing as a debit card.

The military was precluded since the Cicil War from engaging in law enforcement practices against Americans on our own soil. You could not be detained by government without probable cause that you committed a crime and even then you had a right to bail, lawyers and Due Process of law.

There were many fewer search and seizure exceptions allowed by court decisions. The failed Drug War was little more than a lame excuse to steal liberty and privacy.

Today we have the Patriot Act that brings additional draconian provisions every time Congress meets.

Some people say the threat terrorism changed all of that. That’s simply a bold face lie! We have had a Civil War and two World Wars and never suspended civil rights. Okay our Communist President, Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed the roundup and detention of Japanese and some German Americans during World War Two. That was beyond disgraceful and un-American. But of course Roosevelt became a curse on America and fundamental freedom.

Now, a new Berlin Wall of sorts is being erected to prevent Americans that owe taxes from travel outside of the USA. I guess jailing and shooting anyone trying to leave is next.

Since the 1970’s we have surrendered so many civil rights and our privacy to our despotic politicians. The judges they appointed have not done their job of protecting Americans from utter tyranny.

Folks we are in a full-blown police state complete with Gulags and non-stop construction of yet more places to detain yet more Americans. If you think this is somehow necessary you’ve either been brainwashed or you are incredibly stupid.

What will it take for Americans to stand up and reject this horror? We have become a nation of cowards and fools. It’s only a matter of time before this nightmare invites a holocaust of biblical proportions. We must do something while we still can.

From a favorite blogger.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Speed Cameras.

It's not about the money. It's about the children.
I wonder if Matt O'Shea voted for this?

It’s full speed ahead for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial plan to use fixed and mobile surveillance cameras to catch drivers who speed near schools and parks.
Despite concerns that it’s more about raising revenue than keeping children safe, the City Council on Wednesday approved the dramatic expansion in the city’s Big Brother surveillance network. The vote was 33 to 14.
“The bottom line is, in a neighborhood as densely-populated as mine, we need to make sure that people slow down around schools,” said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd).
“This is about behavior modification and how we train drivers to reduce their speed around parks and schools.”
The debate turned emotional Wednesday when Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) recalled that he was run over by a car at the age of 8.
“It was a traumatic experience in my life. I still remember it,” Balcer said.
“People said buckle up wouldn’t work. They said why give people tickets who won’t buckle up? It has saved lives [and so will speed cameras]. We will get used to it. We will adjust to it. If people don’t want a ticket, obey the law.”
Wednesday’s debate on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan followed a string of mayoral concessions to accommodate aldermen fearful of a political backlash once tickets start arriving in the mailboxes of speeding motorists.
But turning to his colleagues, Balcer said, “If you don’t want the cameras, let me have them. I’ll be glad to put them in to save the lives of children.”
Ald Danny Solis (25th) predicted that cameras would pave the way for a “culture change” where motorists slow down to avoid tickets. Ald. Ray Suarez (31st ) said the cameras are needed because there are “so many idiots who won’t slow down.”
During the debate, at least three aldermen confessed that they had been snared — either by red light cameras in Chicago or by speed cameras somewhere else.
That prompted Emanuel to jokingly call the confessional “group therapy.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was one of the only aldermen who dared to speak against the speed cameras. It’s not because she wants to protect speeders. She just doesn’t want top mayoral aides dictating where the cameras will go.
“We are giving up our authority. ... The last time I checked, we are still a democracy and that democracy is being chipped away. We are giving up our ability to determine what happens in our wards,” Hairston said.
“We don’t have a say-so as to where the cameras go. Why don’t we? We are elected and we should have a say-so. ... My ward will have 90 percent coverage by cameras. The other 10 percent is a cemetery.”
Wednesday’s vote followed a string of mayoral concessions to accommodate aldermen fearful of a political backlash once tickets start arriving in the mailboxes of speeding motorists.
The mayor agreed to cap the number of camera locations at 300 — 60 fewer than previously planned. The city will be divided into six regions, with each having “no fewer than” 10 percent of the citywide total.
Instead of slapping motorists with a $50 fine for going between six and 10 miles-per-hour over the speed limit near schools and parks, the fine will be reduced to $35. Those who exceed the limit by 11 mph would still face $100 fines.
The mayor also agreed to roll back the hours cameras would operate around schools from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. And the city has promised to issue two tiers of warnings to motorists — including an unlimited number during the first 30 days after cameras are installed and one more-per-driver after the break-in period is over.
And Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein has promised that speed cameras will be installed slowly—beginning with a “pilot field test” of technology provided by a short list of vendors.
“In the first year, I can’t imagine we’d even be able to roll out 50 cameras, to be honest,” Klein said. As for 300-location maximum he said, “I don’t think we’ll even get there.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that City Hall has installed 10,000 speed humps in streets and alleys, 450 cul-de-sacs, 400 traffic circles and 250 “bump-out” curbs since 2005 alone--many of them near schools and parks--raising questions about why the city also needs speed cameras.
Thousands more were installed prior to 2005, but the city has no record of the overall number.
That has prompted Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) to demand that speed cameras be installed, only in those schools on “dangerous major thoroughfares” like Wentworth Ave., that have no speed bumps.
At last week’s committee meeting, Klein appeared to agree.
“If we’ve already got that [speed bump] precaution, my guess is the data’s not gonna show that it’s appropriate to put a camera in that location. The problem you talked about on the wider arterial street where people are speeding—that may be the appropriate context for automated speed enforcement,” the commissioner said.
The flurry of changes to the mayor’s speed camera ordinance continues the Emanuel pattern of proposing bold new plans, often without seeking public input, then throwing the opposition a bone or two when he encounters resistance.
That’s what happened last week, when Emanuel tweaked his signature plan to lengthen the school day—by agreeing to a 7-hour day in elementary schools and a 7.5-hour day four days-a-week in high schools.
The same script was followed when the mayor rolled back some of spending cuts and fee hikes tied to his first budget and modified strict new rules governing parades and public demonstrations heading into the NATO summit in response to a First Amendment flap.

Worthwhile reading.

What do you get when you have a book written by two guys named James T. Joyce? An entertaining story about growing up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side in the 1960s.
James T. Joyce, of Chicago’s Beverly community, the former Chicago Fire Commissioner who grew up on Carpenter Street, teamed with James T. Joyce, who grew up on Ada Street, to write “The Guys in the Gang (and other stories),” published by iUniverse in Bloomington, Ind.
The two Joyces, friends 57 years since their days attending St. Sabina School and Leo High School, will sign copies of their book during a wine tasting at Town Liquors, 10000 S. Western Ave. in Chicago, from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, and at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St., Chicago, from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday.
“It was a good experience, being able to put our thoughts together on something other than city business,” the Carpenter Street-raised Joyce said Tuesday.
Ada Street Joyce now lives in Waynesville, N.C., where “the locals are eating it up,” he said.
“Although it’s about the big city, they can relate to the stories about growing up. Everybody did crazy things,” he said.
The book idea originated over — big surprise — a few beers.
“We’d start telling funny stories and said, ‘We should write that down,’ ” Carpenter Street Joyce said. “The scoresheet is how many books you’ve sold. We’re not so concerned about that. But the buzz has been interesting. A lot of old St. Sabina people have been calling or emailing or commenting about the book. Eventually, we’ll figure out a way to get a website going so people can post their own memories or old photos.”
When recording their memories in print, they contacted people to make sure the stories were accurate.
“Bill Nelligan was the toughest guy in our gang and still is. I called him ‘ugly’ and said he had zero personality. So he wouldn’t beat the crap out of me, I asked if that was OK. He had no problem with either. He still thinks he’s handsome,” Ada Street Joyce said with a laugh.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some of these people would sell their mothers.

Maybe it's time the Feds take a look at these deals.
Under the $563 million, 99-year deal that privatized four city-owned parking garages in downtown Chicago, City Hall made a promise:

It wouldn’t allow any parking facilities to open nearby.
That was six years ago, under then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Today, though, you can park just a block away in a new garage at the 82-story Aqua building — and it’s cheaper, too.
That’s angered the consortium of investors who took control of the garages and thought they were safe from competition. Their group, known as Chicago Loop Parking LLC, has filed an arbitration claim against the city that could leave Chicago taxpayers on the hook for $200 million or more, documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

The Emanuel administration also is fighting a separate, $13.5 million claim stemming from another privatization move spearheaded by Daley — the unpopular 75-year deal that turned over the city’s parking meters to private investors and led to higher parking-meter rates.
That deal calls for the city to reimburse the private investors — operating as Chicago Parking Meters LLC — for lost revenue from drivers who use, and sometimes misuse, disability license plates and placards to park for free in metered spots. The meter company claims it doled out $13.5 million worth of free parking between February 2010 and February 2011, the Sun-Times has reported, and it’s demanding that City Hall pay up. Emanuel is fighting that. The bill for the past year hasn’t come in yet.
Both parking claims are coming from companies controlled by the Morgan Stanley financial services firm. Partnerships assembled by the Wall Street giant hold a 99 percent stake in Chicago Loop Parking LLC and a 50.1 percent interest in Chicago Parking Meters LLC, city records show.
Instead of settling these disputes in court, the privatization deals spell out that such matters are to be resolved in arbitration hearings, largely outside of public view. Both claims are before the American Arbitration Association, which promises total confidentiality to the parties in conflicts it’s asked to referee.
But the records lay out previously undisclosed details of the $200 million dispute involving the downtown garages. Morgan Stanley’s newly formed Chicago Loop Parking was the winning bidder for the right to operate — and collect all payments from — the 9,178 spaces in the city’s Millennium Park garage and the Chicago Park District’s Grant Park North, Grant Park South and East Monroe Street parking garages. Chicago Loop Parking could raise parking rates as high as it wanted under the deal, which the City Council approved 37-8 in November 2006. At the time, Daley called the plan “an outstanding deal” for Chicago taxpayers, and his aides said the competitive downtown parking market would keep rate increases in check. To protect the investors, the city promised it wouldn’t allow any new garages offering public parking to open within the area bounded by East Wacker Drive, Harrison Street, Lake Shore Drive and State Street. In the arbitration claim, which records show was filed against the city in March 2011, lawyers for Chicago Loop Parking said the investors “would not have paid the city anywhere near $563 million for the right to operate the parking garage system without this provision.”
Within months of signing the garage lease, the Daley administration approved plans for the Aqua tower that included a garage with 1,288 spaces, and Standard Parking Corp. then was granted a license to operate an open-to-the-public garage at the new building at 225 N. Columbus Dr.
City officials say they made a deal with Standard Parking in February 2010 restricting public parking in the Aqua garage to drivers only from the surrounding area. The Aqua garage remains open to the general public, though, charging $13 for the early-bird special — a buck less than the former city garages that were privatized. Standard Parking officials declined to comment.

City Hall’s lawyers maintain that Chicago Loop Parking’s claim “incorrectly assumes that all the public parkers at the Aqua would have parked at a [Chicago Loop Parking] garage had the Aqua not been available.”The parking disputes with the operators of these former city assets come as Emanuel is pushing to launch a $7 billion fund that would seek private investors for the city’s public-works projects. The mayor and his aides have tried to distance themselves from the Daley-era moves, saying the new “infrastructure trust” would not involve privatizing city assets.
Emanuel administration officials declined to comment on the parking-garage company’s $200 million claim.They made the dispute public with a recent filing that disclosed the impasse to potential buyers of city bonds, saying they were “actively defending the case and cannot predict the outcome at this time.” Lawyers for both sides in the dispute signed an agreement in January that would keep much of the arbitration proceedings private.
Avis LaVelle, a spokeswoman for both the parking meter and garage companies, says executives of the firms would not comment on either dispute.
Morgan Stanley executives include William Daley Jr., the former mayor’s nephew. Morgan Stanley officials have said William Daley Jr. had nothing to do with the firm’s two Chicago privatization deals.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Edna White Community Garden

I was wondering if anyone has plans to till the soil this year. Last year, it was looking a little shabby.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Now the Teachers Pension Fund

Rod Blagojevich is in prison. But the worst things the former governor did to Illinois (BEESIL) weren’t even illegal.
This month, the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois made a dire announcement to its members. TRS, which covers most public-school teachers in Illinois outside Chicago and has more than 360,000 members, said the following:
“If the General Assembly does not continue to provide all of the funding called for in state law, calculations done by TRS actuaries show that the System could become insolvent as soon as 2030. Preventing insolvency may include significant changes for TRS -- new revenues must be generated and if they are not benefits may have to be reduced.”
The teachers’ fund is one of the country’s worst-financed statewide pension systems, reporting that it is only 47 percent funded. And that’s if you buy the system’s rosy accounting assumptions, including that it will achieve 8.5 percent annual returns on its assets. This level is tied for the most aggressive investment assumption among state pension funds in the country, and the fund has had to get creative in an effort to meet it. Pensions & Investments magazine says it has the fourth-riskiest pension investment portfolio in the U.S., with less than 17 percent of its investments in fixed income and cash.

Teachers Left Hanging

Perhaps the teachers’ fund will be fabulously lucky, and rich investment returns will cover pension costs so taxpayers won’t have to. But the odds of that are vanishing. Indeed, the system’s funding status is so poor that it achieved a 23.6 percent return on investments in 2011 and still managed to shave only $2 billion off its $46 billion unfunded liability. And it’s not as though the fund can make such gangbuster returns consistently -- in 2009, it returned negative 22.7 percent.
Closing the TRS funding gap -- and the gap at the State Retirement Systems of Illinois, which is only 36 percent funded-- will depend on taxpayers’ willingness to start paying far more than they ever did for pensions. And as the TRS statement makes clear, that is far from a sure bet, meaning that pensioners may see their benefits cut.
Public pensions are a problem all over the country, but they are a special problem in Illinois, mostly because the state has failed, for decades, to make proper contributions into its pension funds. Illinois, more than most states, has used its pension funds as a vehicle for off-balance-sheet borrowing, financing high spending without high taxes by making unfinanced pension promises.
No individual is more personally responsible for allowing this to happen than Rod Blagojevich, who became governor in 2003 and who was impeached in 2009. Illinois is not unique because it has struggled to manage its budget in the recession; many stateshave similarly failed to act responsibly in the last four years. It is much more notable as a place that let its fiscal problems spiral out of control while the economy was strong, leaving an unusually daunting mess for lawmakers to clean up in the recession.
Of course, he didn’t act alone. Illinois made bad pension decisions before he was elected, and the Legislature approved his worst ideas. But the governor pushed other lawmakers to give in to their most irresponsible impulses.
One of his first initiatives was a pension-obligation bondplan. For years, Illinois had been struggling to come up with enough cash to make required payments into its pension system (even though its law stating what was “required” was more lax than what was recommended by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board). Blagojevich proposed that the state shore up its pension funds by issuing $10 billion in bonds and investing the proceeds in the pension fund.

No Bond Windfall

In principle, nothing is wrong with pension-obligation bonds. They simply swap one form of indebtedness (unfunded pension obligations) for another (bond debt). But in practice, when a jurisdiction issues these bonds, it is usually up to no good, and this was no exception.
The pension funds would invest the proceeds in stocks and bonds with a target investment return of 8.5 percent a year, but the interest on the bonds was only about 5 percent. This was marketed as a free lunch, but it wasn’t one: Interest payments were fixed but Illinois taxpayers were on the hook to pay if the assets underperformed, which they did.
A second problem was that the governor used the expected free lunch to justify putting only $7.3 billion of the $10 billion in bond proceeds into the pension fund. The remaining $2.7 billion went to pay bond interest and to cover part of the state’s required pension contributions in 2003 and 2004 --freeing up money to spend on other initiatives, including an aggressive expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This meant that when you added together the unfunded liability and the outstanding balance on the bonds, the plan widened Illinois’s overall funding gap for pension benefits.
Even after the proceeds from the pension-obligation bonds had run out, Blagojevich and the Illinois Legislature continued to underpay the required pension contributions, by $300 million in 2005, $1.2 billion in 2006 and $1.1 billion in 2007.
As the recession hit, the Legislature started passing budgets it knew were unbalanced, causing the state to run out of cash mid-year and run up billions of dollars in unpaid bills. Periodically, the state would issue general-obligation bonds to pay off the bills backlog, again shifting pension liabilities into bond debt.
Even as the state budget fell apart and he spent profligately, Blagojevich, a Democrat, steadfastly opposed increases in the income or sales tax. He even alleged that his impeachment on the grounds of having tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat was a plot to get him out of the way so that the Legislature could raise the income tax.

Income Tax Increase

Starting after the 2010 election, with Blagojevich gone, the Legislature did raise the income tax, from a flat 3 percent to a flat 5 percent. But Illinois’s budget situation was so dire that even a 66 percent increase, which raised general fund revenues by about 20 percent, still left an annual gap of more than $1 billion.
In 2010, Republicans gained seats in the Legislature and have blocked any further general-obligation bond issuances to close budget gaps. As a result, the unpaid bills backlog has reached more than $8 billion, and there is no plan to pay it off. Because of the tax increase, at least the backlog is no longer growing very much, and vendors can expect to be paid on a rolling basis after waiting about five months.
But the state hasn’t taken the steps it needs to reform its precarious pension system. Michael Madigan, the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly, has belatedly become an advocate for aggressive pension reform, but Governor Pat Quinn and public-employee unions stood in his way through 2010 and 2011. The state did sharply reduce benefits for workers hired after 2010, but material savings from those changes won’t materialize for decades, and the state used those estimated savings to shave a few hundred million dollars off its annual required pension contributions in the near term.
Much of the current trouble would have existed with or without Blagojevich. But when fiscal times get tough, it falls to the governor to tell the Legislature “no.” In the middle of this decade, while neighbors like Indiana (BEESIN) were getting their fiscal houses in order, Blagojevich was the one telling the kids in the Legislature to eat all the candy they wanted and stay up as late as they felt like. And that has left lawmakers with a much bigger mess to clean up now.
(Josh Barro is a contributor to and a fiscal policy analyst based in New York City. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Read more opinion online from Bloomberg View.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

95th Street Business Strip

It's been a year and I have kept my opinion to myself despite having to look at it everyday. So I guess I will put the question out there. What should be done about the 95th street business strip?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New pension website by Commissioner Bridget Gainer

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer  has something to say. 
Bridget Gainer is the first and only politician to offer a workable solution for the pension problem. Perhaps she should run for mayor.
OpenPensions.Org, provides access to all pension data, analysis of what changes to contributions or benefits would cost and how changes would impact employees. This is the first time that the status of the County's pension, the unfunded liability and possible solutions will be available to all - taxpayers, employees, retirees and the civic and business community. Our Truth in Numbers report details how the Cook County Pension Fund fell from over 90% to less than 60% funded in just 10 years. It also presents a set of solutions that will be the basis of engaging all stakeholders across the County.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cook County Employees are in trouble too.

Cook County also faces pension funding gap, new analysis says

Commissioner says time to act is now

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Cook County Board member Bridget Gainer, 10th District, has analyzed the county's pension funding and created a new report.(Heather Charles, Chicago Tribune / April 3, 2012)

Cook County's pension fund will go broke in 26 years without changes that could include an increase in employee contributions and later retirement ages, according to a new analysis.

The report, done under the direction of county Commissioner Bridget Gainer in her role as chairwoman of the board's pension-oversight panel, shows that it's not just state and city pension funds that have perilous futures.

Even if the county fund generally is in better shape, Gainer said, that doesn't mean the county can continue to ignore a funding gap that had grown to $5.2 billion by the end of 2010. That's seven times the size it was a decade earlier, before a 2003 early retirement plan, rising health care costs, higher life expectancies and fund investment downturns swelled that gap.

"We have to act now because every day you don't do anything, it requires more draconian solutions to solve the problem," Gainer said. "If we act now ... we can make these changes without raising taxes and without really undermining the stability of the benefit."
Gainer hopes the analysis, and a website she plans to launch Monday, will result in a well-thought-out effort to repair the fund that could be ready to present to state lawmakers in time for their post-election November session.

"We're trying to make this a collaborative process," Gainer said. "We want to put all the information out there, give all the facts to everybody — workers, taxpayers, retirees — and say, 'Look, this is where we are. This is when it runs out of money.'"

The effort comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel is highlighting even more dire problems for city pension funds, in part by launching his own website with a real-time tally of the city's pension funding gap of more than $25 billion.

Gov. Pat Quinn, meanwhile, awaits a report from a pension reform panel. The state's pension gap is about $80 billion.

Gainer noted the county's pension woes differ from those of the state and city. Her report offers a smorgasbord of potential solutions, including having employees pay 9.5 percent — 1 percent more than currently — of their annual wages into the fund, which also would trigger a relatively modest $15 million increase in the county government's annual payment.

The report also proposes lower annual cost-of-living increases, a higher retirement age, slightly less credit for future years worked and basing the pension payments on a percentage of each employee's highest consecutive eight years of salary, rather than the current four.

In exchange, the county would guarantee retirement health benefits. "Right now, health care is something that could go away tomorrow," Gainer said. "There's no protection."

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle appointed Gainer, who has a background in private-sector finance, to head up the county pension panel. Gainer used nearly one-tenth of her district office budget — nearly $30,000 — to pay an expert to help her put the report together.

Gainer has met with union leaders to discuss the pension reform effort and said she plans to start meeting soon with rank-and-file employees.

"You know, this isn't something that is going to be done to county employees," Gainer said. "It's something that is going to be done with county employees."

Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Civic Federation, praised Gainer's efforts.

"We think it's very important that the county and other units of government not wait to begin crafting a resolution to the pension crisis," Msall said. "That's all positive. Still, the entire County Board and the president need to be engaged, and then they need to convince the legislature as to the merits of their proposal."