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April 2012 Archives

Cicero library story irks volunteer board members

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The volunteers who make various boards run in Chicago and the suburbs were shocked to learn Friday that library board members in Cicero in 1998 awarded themselves free health insurance for life (the benefit has was discontinued in 2010 for new board members).

But something else got under the skin of those volunteer board members, too: A comment from a former Cicero library trustee: "it was a meeting once a month. You'd just show up. It was no big deal. It was a piece of cake."

The meetings, the former trustee said, typically lasted just an hour or so.

Volunteers who take the job seriously spend a lot more time than that. They spend hours preparing for board meetings and take piles of documents home to study afterward. They get up to speed on whatever issue suddenly is engaging the citizenry. If complicated issues arise, their meetings stretch on for hours. If an administrator leaves, they devote lots of time to hiring a replacement.

That grumbling sound you hear today is from board members who suddenly feel under-appreciated.

Read the Sun-Times story here.

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Do skilled workers want to come to America?

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American tech firms and advanced manufacturers have a new problem, a labor economist says: China and India want their workers.

Edward E. Gordon, author of Winning the Global Talent Showdown and seven other books about jobs and looming shortages of skilled workers here and abroad, says the United States can't count anymore on importing foreign talent to make up for shortages here. Instead, he says, China and India, who face growing shortages of their own, are competing for those workers.

At WaterSaver in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel in February released "A Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs," created by World Business Chicago, to drive Chicago's leadership in the global economy and articulate clear, actionable strategies for economic growth and job creation. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Illinois conservation police: Missing in action

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conservation police-72.JPGThe vanishing species in Illinois state parks that is perhaps of most concern to the Department of Natural Resources is the conservation police officer.

The number of Conservation Police officers is at an all-time low, the DNR says.  As of February, there were only 125 sworn law enforcement personnel statewide. More retirements are expected before the end of the fiscal year.

A search party team leader, Eric Behr (right),
discusses coordinates with Officer W. Bergland
of the Illinois Conservation Police during a search
for evidence concerning Lisa Stebic at Silver Springs
State Park in Kendall County on July 7, 2007.
(Beck Diefenbach~Naperville Sun)

Nursing homes: Budget cuts would put us on life support

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Pat Comstock-72.jpgWhen Pat Comstock came to Chicago last week, she paid $199 (plus tax) for a hotel room: "a place to sleep and take a shower."

By comparison, the Medicaid reimbursement rate in 2011 for one day in a nursing home was $120.30, the executive director of the Illinois Health Care Council says.

Not surprisingly, Comstock says the reimbursement is not enough. And that's before Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed $2.7 billion of Medicaid cuts are factored in.

Illinois has the lowest Medicaid reimbursement level of any state, Comstock says. And, she says, it's not easy for nursing homes to adjust to that.

"A hospital [facing budget cuts] can say: we are not going to do cardiac care, for example," Comstock told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. "Nursing homes can't do that. We have mandated services.
Pat Comstock

Hospitals offer own plan on Medicaid trims

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wurth-721.JPGThe Illinois Hospital Association today released its own position paper on Medicaid. The hospitals think Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed $350 million cut goes too far, and they are offering an alternative.

Maryjane Wurth, president of the IHA, calls the changes in Medicaid "a very, very critical issue."

"When you look at what are the drivers of cost for Medicaid in Illinois, the growth in the program has been primarily due to increased individuals, the number of individuals who are now eligible for Medicaid ... for a whole series of reasons," Wurth told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board earlier this month. "Everybody is potentially just one job loss away from being on Medicaid."
Maryjane Wurth
(John H. White~Sun-Times)

rahm-72.JPGAn alternative ordinance to control the way Chicago would set up an infrastructure trust was proposed today by several aldermen, including Scott Waguespack and John Arena. The proposal would provide more protections for Chicago taxpayers.

Illinois PIRG field director Celeste Meiffren said: "The new version of the Infrastructure Trust ordinance introduced today by a group of aldermen is a sign that some aldermen have learned from the mistakes of the parking meter deal. With more time and more public discourse, it is possible to develop a better public policy that, while still ambitious and innovative, adequately protects the public." Read her blog post last week on this topic here.

The Infrastructure Trust, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would pave the way for five financing giants to bankroll $1.7 billion in "transformative" projects.
Rahm Emanuel (Rich Hein~Sun-Times)

Read the alternative proposed ordinance here.doc
Read the most recent Sun-Times editorial here.

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Why Anita Alvarez opposes victim's rights amendment

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Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez testified Wednesday in Springfield against a proposed victim's rights amendment to the Illinois Constitution (as the amendment is currently written).

Alvarez, who also is in midterm as the president of the Illinois State's Attorneys Association, was accompanied by DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin and the state's attorneys from several other Illinois counties when she testified before the Illinois Senate's Executive Committee.

One of the amendment's features that worries prosecutors is that victims would be entitled to representation by their own lawyers.

For two centuries, the justice system has been based on the idea of two parties in court: the prosecutor representing the people and a lawyer for the defendant. The amendment would break new ground by giving a victim the right to have an attorney participating in the process as well.

Anita Alvarez

Israel, Zionism, anti-Semitism: One man's views

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Two days, two different views of Israeli policies.

Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was in Chicago Wednesday, a day ahead of Peter Beinart, who argues in his book The Crisis of Zionism that Israel routinely violates Arab human rights outside its borders in pursuit of its self-defense.

Beinart will read from his new book at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Ct., Chicago.

Meanwhile, meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Foxman said the premise of the book is unfair.

"You know what," he said. "There is no peace.
Abe Foxman (John J. Kim~Sun-Times)

New Chicago sticker - will this one stick?

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Chicago on Tuesday released its latest attempt to come up with a city sticker that people will actually stick on their cars.


City Clerk Susana Mendoza in February did a u-turn on a design submitted by a 15-year-old who won a citywide contest because some people thought it resembled a gang sign.

Next, the runner-up, a different student, backed out.

This time, city employees designed the sticker.

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Illinois cements a jobs win over Wisconsin

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On the same day that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is talking in Springfield, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Lafarge North America is investing approximately $10 million to move its headquarters from Virginia to Illinois. Wisconsin was said to be angling for the headquarters itself. Read the press release here.pdf.

Wisconsin Governor-72.jpg
Protesters march outside the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Hotel where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is speaking to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, April 17, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. Walker says he's using Illinois and its many problems as an argument for keeping him in office. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

In town this week for a Monday airing of her 2010 film "No Woman, No Cry" at the Gene Siskel Film Center, supermodel Christy Turlington Burns talked about her campaign against pregnancy- and birth-related turlington72-2.JPGdeaths of women around the world.

Eight years ago, when Burns was delivering her first child, she didn't advance to the fourth stage of pregnancy. Everything went fine until an hour after the birth, when she experienced postpartum hemorrhaging.

"Why did that happen to me?" she said. "I found out it is quite random. For the most part, 15 percent of pregnancies will result in complications. ... When women live far away from a facility, they can bleed to death within two hours."

Her mother is from El Salvador, and when traveling to that country Burns realized she

Christy Turlington Burns
(John H. White~Sun-Times)

wouldn't have had access to the medical team that pulled her through.

Income tax loopholes cost you $508, Illinois PIRG says

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Tax havens cost the average Illinois taxpayer $508, a new report from Illinois PIRG says.


The havens allow corporations and wealthy individuals to shift their income offshore. That means other taxpayers have to make up the difference, the group says. So do businesses too small to have their own havens.

The small businesses pay an extra $2,556, PIRG says.

Read Illinois PIRG's press release here.

PIRG backs the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act (H.R. 2669) and Cut Unjustified Tax Loopholes Act (S.2075) legislation, and is calling on U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) to back the House bill.

Read a summary of the Stop Tax Have Abuse Act here.

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Judy Biggert

Fewer elected Cook County officials?

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Next week, the Cook County Board will take another crack at trimming down the number of elected county offices.

Recently, an effort to combine the offices of county clerk and county recorder of deeds fizzled.

On Tuesday, the Legislative and Intergovernmental Committee will vote on combining several offices into a single job of county tax administrator. Commissioner Larry Suffredin is pushing the idea. Other sponsors are John P. Daley, Bridget Gainer, Gregg Goslin, Timothy O. Schneider and Peter N. Silvestri.

Larry Suffredin

The committee is a committee of the whole, so Tuesday's vote will be a good indication of the proposal's ultimate fate.

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Illinois' top lawyer, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Illinois' top writer of legal thrillers, Scott Turow, are on opposites of a federal case, as of today.

Madigan was one of the officials in 15 states, along with the federal government, who sued Apple Inc. and major book publishers today, alleging a conspiracy to raise the price of e-books. Read the Sun-Times story here.

Lisa Madigan

"By colluding to fix the price of e-books, publishers and Apple essentially forced consumers to pay millions more for e-books than they otherwise would have paid," Madigan said.

As president of the Authors Guild, Turow is a fierce critic of the lawsuit.

Scott Turow

"The irony bites hard: our government may be on the verge of killing real competition in order to save the appearance of competition," Turow wrote.

Read the statement of Lisa Madigan's office here.

Read Scott Turow's letter to authors here.

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Camping: Overnights in Cook County forest preserves

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Don't break out your s'mores yet; but the Cook County Forest Preserves may soon be open for overnight camping. That's a proposal before the forest preserve district and the Chicago Sun-Time Editorial Board on Tuesday said it is a good idea. Read the editorial here.

Is this a good idea?

New life for enterprise zones?

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If all of Illinois was put into one giant "enterprise zone," where taxes are trimmed and regulations relaxed, that would be fine with Mark Denzler.

"We'd support that," says Denzler, vice president and COO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

But the support might be a little more tepid from government officials who would lose all that tax revenue. These days, it seems governments at all levels need every dollar they can get.

mike frerichs.JPG
State Sen. Mike Frerichs (Richard Chapman~Sun-Times)

Eighty-plus enterprise zones were established in Illinois three decades ago (there are now almost 100). The idea behind them is that only by trimming taxes and easing regulations can government attract business investment to economically distressed areas.

Is Tamms prison Illinois' own 'human rights disaster'?

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Here's an interesting statistic that came out recently: Nearly a quarter of the people in Tamms -- Illinois' super-maximum-security Downstate prison -- are more than 50 years old.

The 14-year-old prison was designed to house the "worst of the worst" of Illinois inmates. But one of the critiques is that once an inmate is there, it's hard to get out. So even after someone no longer should be considered among the "worst of the worst," they're still there, running up costs for the state. It's one of the reasons Gov. Pat Quinn wants to shut the place down to save money. His budget would close 14 state facilities, including Tamms, to save money.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, lead organizer of Tamms Year Ten, speaks Wednesday at a noon James R. Thompson rally by ex-prisoners and relatives of Tamms inmates prior to a march to AFSCME headquarters. (Sun-Times photo)

Relatives of Tamms inmates held a noon press conference today at Chicago's James R. Thompson Center in support of the plan to close the facility, where they called the facility inhumane for keeping prisoners in isolation for 23 hours a day.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, lead organizer of Tamms Year Ten, called Tamms "a human rights disaster."

What is everyone doing now that the Illinois comptroller's office has gone online with a new website that makes it easier to check how Illinois spends its money?

If you guessed they're examining the state's enormous backlog of unpaid bills or checking contract data to make sure the state is getting the best value for its money, you'd be wrong.

As of Tuesday morning, a day after going online, the site christened "The Ledger" had 8,000 hits. And what people were checking most, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said, is the employee salary data base. They want to know how much money their neighbor or co-worker makes.

Topinka said much of the information on the new site was already available in various places online, but "The Ledger" is more complete and puts everything in one place.

Judy Baar Topinka (M. Spencer Green~AP)

"It's the most comprehensive financial portal that Illinois has ever seen," she said Tuesday.

Title bout: Foreclosures pit communities vs. banks

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During the foreclosure crisis, banks have been accused of rushing in too quickly to seize distressed properties.

But not always. Sometimes communities think banks or other loan servicers take too long to secure a property that's a vacant eyesore, damaging a neighborhood.

That's the heart of a debate that was going on in Springfield last week over legislation that would require banks to move in promptly to clean up and secure vacant property, even before it's legally theirs.

(Sun-Times Media)

Vacant properties are a big problem. There are huge numbers of them in Chicago and around the state. Often the property is in limbo because the occupants are gone but the bank has not initiated or completed the foreclosure process. By some estimates, there are thousands of delinquent properties that no one is taking responsibility for.

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