Chicago Sun-Times
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June 2012 Archives

a-quentin-72.jpg Don't expect to see Quentin Young cheering the Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that the heath care reform legislation is constitutional.

Young, a longtime health-care reform advocate and former chief medical officer of John Stroger Hospital, says the legislation omits a key ingredient: "a decent health system."

"Unfortunately, the reform won't control costs but will leave 26 million people uninsured and everyone else with 'unaffordable underinsurance,' or coverage so skimpy it doesn't protect from financial ruin in the event of illness," Young writes in a letter to the editor of the Sun-Times.

Young, who now is national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program, says the only effective cure for the nation's health care woes is a single-payer health care system, something he points out that Barack Obama once supported.

Field Museum hopes to catch a green wave

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Richard W. Lariviere, president-elect of the Field Museum, thinks the institution he will take over Oct. 1 is poised to capitalize on a new generation's interest in the environment.

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"My experience at universities is that for this 10-year window of students who have just recently graduated ... their issue is the environment," Lariviere says, the former University of Oregon president.

"And that is really great for the Field, because that's the sweet spot for the Field."

a-vilsack-72.JPGWas there dirty work at the crossroads in creation of the White House garden?

That question came up in a recent discussion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "people's gardens."

The USDA now has some 1,500 people's gardens at its facilities around the country that have donated nearly 1 million pounds of food to food banks.

"They are all over the world," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a recent trip to Chicago. "There is one in Korea and there is one in France."

Vilsack said Michelle Obama has been instrumental in the spread of similar gardens, partly because of the organic garden she created at the White House.

2 more cases of possible torture-induced confessions

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Two more cases of alleged torture were filed this morning by the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission for the defendants David Randle and Gerald Reed.

The cases were filed with Cook Country Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans.

The commission found credible evidence that Randle and Reed were tortured into confessions that led to their convictions.

The commission expects to file additional cases later this week.

Read more about the cases here.

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For many kids, a summer break from food security

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a-Maehr-72.jpgThe Chicago Public Schools academic year is about to end, and Katherine R. Maehr, chief executive officer of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, says that will leave many families without access to a meal program for their children.

In Cook County, 21.1 percent of children 18 or younger experience food insecurity, which means they can't always be sure where their next meal is coming from, Maehr says. Another stat: The Food Depository maintains a rolling four-year window for comparison purposes, and it shows that the number of visits to food pantries is up 77 percent over four years ago.

In addition, a new report by the Food Research and Action Center indicates only 14.7 percent of eligible children are accessing free meals through summer programs.

Findings that torture may have elicited confessions

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As BackTalk reported on June 4, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission has begun filing cases with the courts in which confessions may have been tortured out of defendants.

Unfortunately, the work on the first of these cases is being completed just as the commission is going out of business June 30 because of last-minute budget cuts in Springfield. That means many other cases may simply never be reviewed.

Earlier this month the commission said it found five cases in which complaints had credibility. On Wednesday, the commission filed three of those cases cases with Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans after finding credibility in claims by convicted defendants that they were tortured into confessing. The commission recommended these cases be reviewed by a judge.

Until this year, Cook County hadn't sent out bills for the second half of property taxes on time in 34 years.

The county sends out two tax bills. The first is due March 1. The second is due, well, whenever the county gets around to it. The due date is supposed to be Aug. 1, but it has been as late as Dec. 13.

a tax portal-jpgFor years, those late bills sent local units of government - park districts, school districts, libraries - into fits, because they didn't get their money on time. (The county collects property taxes for everyone, then divvies it up.) If the fire protection district, for example, didn't get its tax revenues, its trustees had to borrow money to get by. That means they have to pay unnecessary interest.

So, back in 2010, the Legislature quietly passed a special law for Cook County. Instead of taxpayers paying half the tax in the first installment and half in the second, the Legislature changed it to a 55 percent/45 percent split. Taxpayers paid more upfront so that local governments would have a little cash in the till while they waited for those late tax bills to be paid in the fall. They called it the "accelerated billing" law.

Why they're still angry at Blagojevich in Iowa

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blago-72.jpgBack when he still was Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich promised the people at the Quad Cities Marathon he would run in the marathon if then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack would run it with him.

In those days, Iowans didn't know you couldn't exactly trust a Blagojevich promise.

Vilsack, first elected Iowa governor in 1998, had run three marathons that year, one of them with Arkansas' Mike Huckabee. So he said yes.

"i show up on a warm September day," Vilsack recalled on Friday while he was in Chicago. "Blagojevich didn't show up. And I was stuck running 26.2 miles. Because it was the fourth marathon I had run in a year- I'm not a Kenyan-thin kind of guy, I'm a Clydesdale - it was excruciatingly long.

How banks got a windfall for decades in Cook County

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One of the little-noticed side effects of Cook County's habitually late property tax bills was this: It was a sweet deal for the banks.

This year, the county expects to send out its tax bills in mid-July, making this the first year the county has been on time in three decades.

Michael M. Cabonargi, a commissioner on the Cook County Board of Review, said there was some concern this might be a shock to banks that collect money in escrow accounts from property owners each month to pay the bills when they came due. If the banks were used to paying in October, November or December what would they do with bills that were due Sept. 1?

But guess what?

JFK would have opposed Scott Walker. So what?

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A writer posting at one of my favorite websites, History News Network, says JFK never would have sided with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in today's recall election.

Kennedy, writes Martin Halpern, a professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkansas, was a great champion of organized labor and, more to the point, of public employee unions. In 1962, JFK set a historic precedent by granting limited collective bargaining rights to most civilian employees of the federal government.

Of course Kennedy took that stand then. And, I'd argue, of course he would not today.

Did torture put you in prison? Too bad

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prison-72.jpgSitting in an Illinois prison because someone tortured a confession out of you? Sorry, the state doesn't have enough money to do much about that.

That's not what anyone thought three years ago, when a bill creating a new commission was signed into law. Or two years ago, when Illinois appointed commissioners to the new Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission. Or last year, when the commission hired its first executive director.

But late last month, funding for the commission was one of the casualties of budget-cutting in Springfield.

The commission was created after years of controversy over former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was accused of overseeing the torture of more than 200 prisoners to extract confessions. Its goal is to show the state is committed to "fairly and impartially investigating a claim by any person who alleges that he or she has been tortured into making a false confession, and that the confession was used to obtain a conviction for that crime."

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