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March 2010 Archives

Group hug, everybody

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Wednesday is National Hug Day.
Chances are, you've never heard of National Hug Day, which is not even an official holiday, unless you're a member or friend of the Italic Institute of America, an organization that promotes the many contributions of Italians to the United States.
But the Italic Institute loves to celebrate National Hug Day -- they made it up -- and not just just because Italians are a hugging kind of people, though they are.
Wednesday is National Hug Day because March 31 is the birthday of the late, great Italian-American Leo Buscaglia, aka Dr. Love.
The man who all but invented the group hug.

Sen. Durbin: Haven't been asked about Supreme Court post

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Asked Monday at a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board if he has been approached about an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he hasn't.

After joking that it would be "an interesting confirmation hearing" in front of "all my buddies on the Judiciary Committee," Durbin said no one has spoken to him about an appointment.

In an era when presidents tend to select justices who will sit on the bench for a long time, Durbin said he is too old.

Moreover, he said, "I am not sure that is a life where I would enjoy the pace."

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Could European votes have helped Illinois go 3 for 3?

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Over the past six decades, major-party presidential candidates from Illinois have had more success winning the hearts and minds of Europeans than of Americans.

At least, that's the recollection of Alzina Stone Dale in her new book, When the Postwar World Was New (Tate Publishing).

To Americans, the World War II-era Dwight Eisenhower might be the man agonizing over the decision to invade Normandy. But Dale, who joined other young Americans in a postwar rebuilding effort in Europe, remembers Europeans seeing Ike differently.

From time to time, people can be heard to complain that Chicago-style politics have taken over the nation's capital. That has raised a question in some quarters: To which books would you turn for an accurate, behind-scenes look at how a Chicago or Illinois political campaign really works?

Three longtime standards have been Mike Royko's Boss, Milton L. Rakove's Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers and Rakove's oral history We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent. But those titles date back to the 1970s. Even older is is a book one person mentioned, Captive City: Chicago in Chains by Ovid Demaris.

Most of what's been written since then was characterized by another person I took this matter up with as "either boring academic studies or empty, self-serving memoirs. Jane Byrne wrote My Chicago and managed to say almost nothing interesting."

What's fair compensation for 18 years on Death Row?

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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal by New Orleans prosecutors of a $14 million judgment won by John Thompson, a former Death Row inmate who says they withheld a crime lab report to help convict him of murder. The case is Connick vs. Thompson.

The district attorney's office now admits that its prosecutors withheld the lab report, which showed Thompson's blood type didn't match the sample from an unrelated attempted robbery. Prosecutors had used the attempted robbery to help get a death penalty for Thompson.

Who ever said February elections were a good idea?

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State legislators finally did something smart -- and they did it quickly.

Miracles happen.

We're referring to the bill Gov. Quinn signed Wednesday to return the election primary to the third Tuesday in March.

In 2008 and 2010 the primary election was held early, on the first Tuesday in February.

This year was Illinois' first gubernatorial election in February.

The result? A record low 23 percent turnout.

The 2008 shift made sense. The General Assembly had moved the date to February in the hopes of making Illinois a player in the presidential election and to advantage Barack Obama.

But those days are over. We know now that a February date does little except guarantee low turnout, incumbency protection and an endless general election season (Sorry if you're tired already. The general election is still seven months away).

February balloting was worth a try. But much like our feelings in general for that cold and gloomy month adieu, we're glad to bid it farewell.

For too long, Illinois has relied on nursing homes to house psychiatric patients who might be better served in smaller, community-based settings.

That will likely start to change under a landmark class-action lawsuit settlement expected to be filed Monday.

If it's approved by a judge, the settlement would require Illinois to give thousands of psychiatric patients the option to move from nursing homes designated as "institutions for mental disease" to community-based housing, where they would have access to support services.

The agreement is being praised by advocates for the mentally ill who have long argued that relegating psychiatric patients to nursing homes violates laws protecting people with disabilities.

Supportive housing, when it's done the right way, allows mentally-ill people to live independently while still getting the help they need.

Switching about 4,500 patients into supportive housing over the next five years could also be a cost saver for the state, since Medicaid doesn't reimburse for care provided in IMDs.

Given the volatile mix of mentally ill, elderly and disabled people living in the state's nursing homes, big changes like the ones outlined in the proposed settlement are long overdue.

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Failing Grades for Chicago

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Fed up with the City of Chicago? Frustrated by its lack of progress on schools, building affordable housing and fighting corruption?

You're not alone.

A report card due out Tuesday gives the city government an overall grade of D, knocking its performance on criminal justice, economic development, education, ethics and corruption, housing and transportation. The only area where it earned high marks was for environmental policy, where it got a B.

The report card was produced by a group called DGAP -- Developing Government Accountability to the People. The organizers are do-gooders who work on social justice issues. It's led by the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and includes other community groups, academics, unions and foundations. This is an update to an initial 2007 report card.

We don't agree with many of the group's recommendations and some of its analysis. But we do support their effort to hold public officials accountable and educate the public.

To check out the report, go to

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Chicago is unique in having local school councils that have the power to hire and fire principals and decide how discretionary school money is spent.

These elected councils, made up of parents, community members and teachers, give people a real say in what happens in their neighborhood public schools.

But if the dearth of applicants for this year's LSC elections is any indication, at least some schools won't have enough candidates to form an effective council.

As of today, only about 2,400 people have signed up to run in next month's elections.

That's far less than the usual range of 6,660 to 8,400 candidates for these volunteer positions, according to the reform group Designs for Change.

The deadline to apply is 3 p.m. Thursday. But we're hoping schools CEO Ron Huberman and Chicago School Board President Mary Richardson-Lowry will extend that deadline by at least two more weeks, given the low number of people who have applied.

Even if that doesn't happen, it's not too late for you to get involved.

LSC election forms are available here.

You don't need to have a background in education to apply, only a commitment to the quality of our schools.

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UPDATE: The deadline to run for a local school council has been extended to March 24.

Now we hear Rod Blagojevich will read the "Top Ten" list on Dave Letterman's show Wednesday night.

The former governor is "thrilled," said his spokesman, Glenn Selig, who then rattled off a list of other famous people who recently have read the Top Ten list: "Barbara Walters, Olympic gold medal skater Evan Lysacek and Britney Spears."

To repeat: Barbara Walters, Evan Lysacek, Britney Spears and ... Rod Blogojevich.

This reminds me of the logic test in which you are presented with several items and asked, "Which does not belong?"

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Mayors: Legislature caused pension problems

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The General Assembly has generated numerous headlines lately for the budgetary disasters it has created for itself.

What's not always as apparent are the budgetary disasters it has created for other units of government.

At a meeting in the Loop Monday of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, one of the big topics of discussion was the sweeteners the General Assembly has ordered up for pensions in municipalities outside Chicago -- without contributing a dime toward the cost.

A funny thing happened on Sarah Palin's way to Zanies

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Last week, the vice president of the Zanies - impressed by Sarah Palin's performance on the Tonight Show - gave her a standing invitation to perform a stand-up routine at the Old Town comedy club.

That got me wondering what her show might be like. So I turned to veteran Zanies comic (and my brother) Paul Frisbie. Turns out he had a pretty good idea what she might say:

"So it's great to be here, and, like in the old joke, I just flew in and the pilot's arms are still tired. Of all the 50 states, Chicago is one of greatest.

Last month, City Hall posted an ad on the Internet seeking applicants to fill aldermanic vacancies in two city wards.

Mayor Daley will choose from this pool of applicants to replace former Ald. Manny Flores (1st), who resigned to become chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission, and disgraced former Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), who recently pleaded guilty to accepting $40,000 in home improvements, meals and sports tickets from a developer in exchange for zoning changes.

Obviously, the public has a clear interest in knowing who is applying for these important jobs.

But the Daley administration has denied freedom of information requests to release the names of the would-be aldermen, saying it would be an invasion of their privacy. Daley also suggested Thursday that some of the applicants could lose their jobs if their employers found out they were applying, according to ABC 7.

This argument would make sense if these were private citizens applying for private sector jobs. But that isn't the case.

When you volunteer to be considered for public office, you should expect public scrutiny.

It's time for the Daley administration to release the names.

UPDATE: The attorney general's office notified the city's law department late this afternoon that it can't use the personal privacy exemption to withhold the names of applicants for alderman. The reason? "The public interest in this matter outweighs individual privacy interests," law department Jennifer Hoyle said in an e-mail. I couldn't agree more.

Did the sky fall in D.C?

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On Wednesday for the first time gay couples in Washington D.C. could apply for marriage licnese and -- no surprise there -- the sky did not fall.

The District on Wednesday became the sixth place in the nation where same-sex couples can now marry, following a chain of dominos that began fallling in Iowa last spring.

This is good news for anyone who believes in basic civil rights for all, for anyone who rejects discrimination of any sort.

After some tough setbacks late last year -- New York state took a pass on legalizing gay marriage and in Maine voters approved a referendum to block same-sex marriage -- it was encouraging to see the ball moving forward, ever so slightly.

The stories out of D.C. on Wednesday, featuring real people looking for the same rights the rest of us have, are reminders of why this is worth fighting for.

"I became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the the mid-90s," a woman from Vietnam waiting with her partner for a marriage license told a New York Times reporter. "But this is really the first time that I feel like I have the full rights and benefits of citizenship."

Banning release of information? Someone call 911

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Lawmakers in Florida, Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin are considering a ban on release of recorded 911 calls. In Florida, only transcripts would be available -- after 60 days and at a price. Some states already ban the release of 911 recordings.

In the never-ending struggle over release of information, public officials often portray the news media as hungry simply for salacious items. But the more information that is withheld, the harder it is for the news media to report how well and how fairly public institutions are doing their jobs.

As much as I favor strong gun control legislation, I've never felt the Second Amendment supported my position. Just my bad luck. If I could, I'd change the amendment.

But for the longest time, the Second Amendment really was the only provision of the Constitution that came into play in the gun control debate. Now we have a new wrinkle:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, having ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment does indeed protect the right of an individual to bear arms, will hear arguments in a Chicago case that this constitutional protection applies not only to federal laws and federal jurisdictions (such as the District of Columbia) but also to cities and states.

At issue now is the 14th Amendment, which limits states from enacting laws that essentially subvert federal law. The amendment was passed after the Civil War to prohibit Southern states from writing up laws that would effectively deny full rights and freedoms to the newly emancipated slaves.

As so often happens, the Supreme Court's decision in the Chicago gun case could have wider ramifications, as nicely explored in this article at, a generally smart libertarian journal.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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