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February 2013 Archives

What business is telling Legislature about pension reform

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Doug Whitley.jpgDouglas Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, says businesses are worried the state Legislature might take a pass once again on reforming state pensions.

In a note to Chamber members, Whitley wrote, "I am of the opinion that many of our legislators are once again ignoring the problem with a false sense of hope that continued delay will somehow make all the painful decisions they must make go away."

On Wednesday, Whitley sent a letter about pension reform to every legislator.

Here's the letter:

Dear Senator or Representative _______,

The ongoing public employee pension crisis is a huge barrier to restoring confidence and trust in our government and our state's future prosperity. Employers, business owners, investors and financial decision-makers tell me that their disappointment and frustrations with the state's inability to adequately deal with fiscal challenges continue to influence their investment and hiring decisions.

Happy birthday, Mr. Steinbeck

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Roger Ebert reminds us by Tweet today that this is the 111th birthday of the novelist John Steinbeck. That brings to mind, for me, two books that deserve a shout out in these times.

The first, of course, is Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," which reminds us that great canyons of opportunity have always separated the haves from the have-nots. Although, as Roger points out, the children and grandchildren of those desperate Oakies in Steinbeck's book went on to do quite well for themselves in California. Once the dust settled, so to speak. Maybe it's time for a sequel.

The second book is Donald L. Miller's "City of the Century: The Epic Making of Chicago and the Making of America." It first was published in 1996, but I never got around to reading it until just now. It makes Chicago's early history, up to the Columbian Exposition, comes alive in a way that I've never encountered before. Usually that stuff -- Marquette and Joliet and some dude named Kinzie -- bores me half to death. To live in a city fully and deeply, it helps to know where it came from and why. Miller fills us in.

The Picasso and Afghan dogs

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Why, oh, why did we ever doubt that the famous Picasso in Daley Plaza was meant to be an abstract sculpture of a woman?

As we wrote in an editorial last week, a new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago makes clear that Pablo Picasso intended the sculpture to be of a long-haired woman. You can see it in his working drawings.

But could Picasso also have had an Afghan dog in mind? Without a doubt, says Sun-Times reader Diana Micek, who writes:

"Stanley Coren [an expert on the mental intelligence of dogs] once wrote in Modern Dog magazine: 'One professor of fine arts told me that Picasso had five passions: his art, his ego, his image, his women, and his dogs, in that order. Picasso's life was full of dogs....the dogs were as much a part of his life as his female companions.'

"Of all the many breeds of dogs Picasso owned, two were Afghan Hounds.

"In an interview Coren had with Picasso, Picasso is quoted as saying, 'Right now I have an Afghan Hound named Kabul. He is elegant, with graceful proportions, and I love the way he moves. I put a representation of his head on a statue that I created for Daley Plaza in Chicago and I do think of him sometimes while I am in my studio. Often, if he comes into my mind when I am working, it alters what I do. The nose on the face I am drawing gets longer and sharper. The hair of the woman I am sketching gets longer and fluffy, resting against her cheeks like his ears rest against his head. Yes, if I have a favorite, for now at least, it is my Afghan Hound, Kabul.' Coren ends the article by writing, 'Since that meeting, I have looked at Picasso's art in a different way. Now, I always look at the noses and hair and wonder if the picture I am looking at has a bit of Afghan Hound in it.'

"It should also be noted that a work Picasso painted in 1962, titled 'Femme au chien', features an Afghan Hound. It sold at London's Christies for $10,980,813 in 2012. The Afghan Hounds International website features a photo of Picasso with his beloved Afghan Hound named Kabul, taken in 1959 or thereafter.

"Having owned and loved Afghan Hounds over the past 31 years and reading this history about Pablo Picasso's similar love for the breed, I have to disagree with the new finding that the Picasso statue on Daley Plaza is of a woman. View this breed's elegance first-hand and then take a good hard look at the Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, and I'm sure you will agree that Kabul, Picasso's beloved Affie, was his inspiration for our city's statue."

Unofficial Chicago Poet Laureate David Hernandez dies

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The Chicago poetry world was in shock this week after learning David Hernandez - who was called the "unofficial poet laureate of Chicago" and wrote the inauguration poem for Mayor Harold Washington - had died Monday of a heart attack.

Mr. Hernandez was also commissioned by the city to write and perform an original poem commemorating the city' s sesquicentennial birthday. He was the first recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Outstanding Poet of Illinois award and also won the Illinois State Library Patron' s Choice award. In 1971, he founded Street Sounds, a poetry music group that former Illinois Poet Laureate Kevin Stein said "blends ... lyricism with expert musicianship, bridging the chasm between so-called page and performance poetries." He also was a former board member of the Society of Midland Authors.

Here's a Q&A with Mr. Hernandez that ran in 2009 in Literary License, the newsletter of the Society of Midland Authors.

Literary License: Chicago is the home of the poetry slam, and recently Chicago poets helped set up a reading at the White House. What does this say about the vitality of poetry in Chicago?

David Hernandez: There' s always been an extremely vital poetry scene in Chicago. This city is a neon lady that nurtures quiet or introspective, loud and brassy poets. There isn't one given day in this city that a poetry event isn't happening. In both Ivy and Beer Halls, the park, the schools, cafes, you name it and the word-dealers are there. Poetry slams, performance poetry and recitals make poetry accessible to the public. It encourages people from all walks of life to listen and most importantly to participate. It validates that creativity in all of us and we have fun with it.
The slam is an international event now and Chicago is the Mecca of it all. Chicago poetry is the product of her vitality, and her poems have reached the four corners of the world. The city sponsors after-school programs and summer jobs for our youth where they get paid to do art, music and write poetry. How great is that? Also, it' s not only Chicago that' s hopping with poetry, it' s also the whole state. Our poet laureate of Illinois, Kevin Stein, is putting us on the map and bringing us all together. That's powerful stuff. He's a great poet.

DEATH_PENALTY_ILLINOIS.JPGIllinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters in his office after signing legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on March 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Thirty years ago today, 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico was abducted from her home in unincorporated Naperville and murdered. A year later, three men were indicted for the crime, starting a long legal battle that ended not only in freeing the men but also to the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois.

New gun laws piling up in Legislature's in-box

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GUN_POSTER.JPGJasmine Maymi leaves Chicago's Roberto Clemente High school carrying a poster which is a tribute to her friend and classmate, eighteen-year-old Frances Colon, on Feb. 18. Colon, who was shot and killed on Friday, was the third student from Clemente High School, a West Side school with less than 800 students, to be murdered in the past three months. Colon was the 51st person murdered in Chicago in 2013. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Illinois House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Friday in Chicago as it works on legislation on guns that will move through the House. The state Senate has had no hearings so far.

But that hasn't stopped some legislators from introducing their own legislation. Here are some of the bills already in the General Assembly's hopper:

- House Bills 1296 and 2248 would require state pension funds in certain circumstances to divest their holdings from firearm manufacturers.

- House Bill 2265 and Senate Bill 2267 would stiffen some penalties and require anyone convicted of certain gun crimes could get no more than 4.5 days of sentence credit for each month of sentence.

Wells quietly drain Lake Michigan water levels

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Even back in 2003, several years of near-record low water levels had left this dock on East Grand Traverse Bay near Traverse City, Mich., surrounded by beach grass. Water levels are even lower now. (AP Photo/Traverse City Record-Eagle, John L. Russell)

Robert Glennon .jpg

Last month, water levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron dropped two inches below their lowest recorded monthly average since the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers began keeping records in the 1860s.

One cause that's overlooked - which also affects rivers and lakes throughout the Midwest - is a sharp increase in the number of wells that are being dug, says Robert Glennon, regents' professor and Morris K. Udall professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona.

"There has been an explosion of ground water wells throughout the state [of Illinois]," says Glennon, author of the 2009 book Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It. "You've got record high corn prices, terrible drought and high cost of farmland. All of those things have been leading toward drilling of new wells."

it's not just going on in Illinois. Many new wells are being dug in every Midwestern state, partly because the laws are "ridiculously permissive," he says.

Legal bid to save Prentice Hospital is dropped

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Prentice Hospital 3rd place.jpg
A rendering of one of the ideas architects submitted for preserving the old Prentice Hospital.

Prevervationists today dropped their lawsuit against Chicago and its landmarks commission.

Here's today's statement from Save Prentice Coalition:

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois moved for a voluntary dismissal of their complaint in Cook County Circuit Court, signaling the end of their legal challenge against the City of Chicago and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The Save Prentice Coalition issued the following statement:

End of the road coming for Illinois' motor fuel tax?

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Douglas L. Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, (left) and Joseph P. Schwieterman, director of the Chaddick Institute and professor in the DePaul University Graduate School of Public Service. (Scott Stewart~Sun-Times)

The motor fuel tax in Illinois may be starting to run out of gas.

The motor fuel tax is the main source of funding for the state's road construction and maintenance. In planning circles, though, some people are wondering whether it's time to make a change.

In Illinois, the motor fuel tax is 19 cents per gallon of gasoline and 21 cents for diesel.
There's also a state sales tax of 6.25 percent, but that goes into general revenues, not just for roads. Chicago levies its own 3.5 percent tax.

The problem, as planners see it, is that motor fuel tax revenues aren't keeping pace with the cost of building and maintaining roads.

Did alderman slip up on this issue?

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Canal St.jpg
Canal Street across from the river from Wolf Point on Tuesday evening.

If you walked along the east side of Canal Street recently just west of Wolf Point, you might have been buttonholed by a constituent of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) who thinks the alderman should have made sure this sidewalk was cleared of snow.

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Landmark case: How tour guide became an author

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Michael Corcoran .jpg

As a tour guide in Chicago who points out architectural gems and movie history, Michael Corcoran sometimes cribbed from books by Arnie Bernstein, including Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago & the Movies, which details how Chicago was an important early center of movie-making. The book also lists many of the early landmarks.

Corcoran thought the book was a "lovely history." So he jumped at the chance to update it. The result is Hollywood on Lake Michigan, Second Edition, which will be out in June from Chicago Review Press.

For this edition, Bernstein updated his original story of how Chicago "is where the film industry started," Corcoran said. But Corcoran supplied most of the new material, with interviews and stories about - and a guidebook to - movies that have been made in Chicago since the first edition was published by Lake Claremont Press in 1998.

Corcoran also re-interviewed some of the film industry figures that Bernstein had talked to for his original work.

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Cook County official wants fed crackdown on gun crime

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John Fritchey.jpgShould the feds get more involved in prosecuting gun crimes?

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey thinks so. Today, he issued a press release calling on the U.S. attorney to more actively coordinate efforts with State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Fritchey points to a successful project to aggressively prosecute gun crimes under federal laws in Richmond, Va. Offenders didn't get parole, and were shipped off to the federal prison system, not a local penitentiary where they would be with people they knew from their neighborhoods.

"Gun crime went down dramatically," Fritchey says.

In Chicago, a similar program started in 2002 called Project Safe Neighborhoods, but the number of gun crime cases prosecuted in federal courts has dropped steadily, he said. Fritchey would like to see the number go back up.

We need Cook County gun court, former top cop says

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Jody_Weis.jpg If there's one thing about guns that Jody Weis says he learned as former Chicago police superintendent, it's that there's a huge inconsistency in the enforcement of gun laws.

That's why Weis is a big fan of the proposed Cook County gun court. It offers a better chance that guns laws will be uniformly enforced.

"The people who should go to jail -- should go to jail," Weis says.

But, in his experience, that's often not what happens. Sometimes offenders get probation for carrying an illegal weapon. Sometimes, judges ignore mandatory sentences.

A gun court could change that, he says. That's Step One. Step Two "is to advertise, get the message out, that if you use a gun you are going to jail for 10 years," Weis says. "That would start getting their attention."

What to do about Chicago's 'Newtown"

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Over the weekend, we ran an editorial that made the argument "Chicago is Newtown," where mass murder rolls out over time, one day to the next, resulting in more than 500 homicides a year. The response from Sun-Times readers, online and via Twitter, was passionate, and ranged from the highly thoughtful to the incredibly racist.

One reader wrote that we were missing the point when we failed to see that the solution to the problem is to end the prohibition on drugs. Make drugs legal, as we made booze legal, the reader wrote, and the gun-happy gangs will dry up for lack of income.

Many other readers wrote that the fundamental problem is one of young single mothers who fail to raise their children properly -- and who shouldn't be having children in the first place. That is an old, social sensitive and complicated issue, but an important one. Unfortunately, a number of commentators wrapped that point in ugly racism, which should surprise nobody.

In the coming days and weeks, we expect to keep writing about Chicago's alarming homicide rate and what's to be done about it, including the problem of parents who are not parents. In the meantime, you might want to check out the comments at

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

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