Monthly Archives: March 2009

Remember AIG? And consider Danny Davis’s earmarks

Now and then I read something I really like in the Wed. Journal of OP&RF, like John Hubbuch’s recent tips for candidates — “Tell [people] what they want to hear, and you will get their endorsement. . . . Try hard for the newspapers’ endorsements. Even if you’re not strong, they’ll usually feel compelled to endorse at least a couple of lame candidacies, to demonstrate their independence. . . .” Etc. Rich stuff.

Another I liked was “They whom the feds would control, they first give money,” which I read (over and over) in my last column. Like the big insurance company — a “blood_sucking monstrosity,” the NY Times lady called it (yeah!) — given billions to save the system, paying millions in bonuses. Big O. got mad at that, as if he hadn’t known about it for weeks or months. The up side was that it offered him a capitalistic whipping boy for a few days, his very own malefactors of great wealth.

Young Cuomo fulminated also, waving a New York subpoena, demanding names. Ditto the eminent banking expert Barney Frank of the great state of Massachusetts. Chilling stuff actually — creeping fascism, socialism, and/or politicians doing what comes naturally, moving into the market place, which most of them know little or nothing about, having worked little or not at all for anything that lived or died on its profits.

Take Danny Davis, our congressman, whose resume lists government and other not-for-profit work, period. As our man in D.C., that jumbo ATM for the nation, he has money to burn — millions this year alone, for which he has laid out $3,935,000 on his own and $37,884,000 more in collusion with other Illinois Congress members. He requested and got the government to spend that much in FY 2008. Small parts of the $410 billion spending bill, yes, but as Sen. Everett Dirksen probably never said, “A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you’re talkin’ real money.”

Where else can a guy like Davis, who never worked at a for_profit job, get that kind of money to spread around? He’s lived off public or other non-profit money his whole professional life. Pulling down federal bucks for constituents when no one’s looking? So what? Earmarks, shmearmarks. It’s what you do.

Three major 7th-district institutions are grateful for the largesse — U. of Illinois ($1.2 million), Roosevelt U. ($689,000), and Loyola U. Health Systems ($383,000). Davis brought home the bacon for them. A few years ago, he did it for Oak Park and later stood in village hall at a town meeting, basking in the glory of the $400,000 he had procured to study capping the Eisenhower. Citizens were grateful.

John Hubbuch said, “Tell [people] what they want to hear, and you will get their endorsement.” And get them bucks from Washington.

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Rose at breakfast

Up betimes Saturday morning at cri de coeur from Lily, 4, desperately wanting to do something — go upstairs, best I could figure.  A much more modulated voice, also female, was urging patience.

The voice was 8-year-old Madeline’s.

Later I ask Rose, 4, how’s the toast I just made her.  “Lovely,” she says, and I am gratified.  She eats it standing up, on the breakfast table chair.  This works for her.  I have no opinion, and decline to comment.

I ask Rose what she plans to do today, she says, “Color,” which sounds good to me.  I say “Fine.”

We interrupt the interview to let Leo in.  Little trouble unlocking the glass door to the deck, on which Leo waits, scratching with paws against the door.  Rose helps, we get door open, Leo enters, as usual lord of all he surveys, which is only right because he is a cousin of the king of the jungle.

Rose leaves the table, now I have the earlier highly vocal Lily at table with me.  She is now a church mouse, silently spooning her cheerios while Johnny, 6, does justice to his grahams under milk.  It’s a quiet time.

Also here is Grandma, who lets me in on her plans for the day, all of which sound harmless at worst and lovely at best.

So begins another day in vicinity of Lititz PA, a few miles north on 501, then east a mile or two up a winding hill with horse farm and planted fields to the right and houses on a hill side to the left, then left up a steep hill past an old church cemetery on the right, houses on the left, to the road on the left and into this very merry subdivision.  Brickerville is the town.

Travels with Johnny et al.

Blogging one two, in trip to Lititz. OK, this works. In air on way to Phila. airport, where SUV awaits us at the Enterprise Car Rental facility.  9:35 flight left more or less on time, arrival to be noon-ish.

We will take the scenic route from airport, most of it on Pa. 322.  (Rough going in-flight here, 45 minutes out, plane rocking to and fro.  For little kid behind me it’s fun, she keeps going “Oh” with each rocking.  Amusement park ride for her, sitting with parents, to whom she frequently chatters.)

Traveler’s tip: Online ticket buying, as thru Orbitz [correction thanx to Maggie below], which we did, lets you pick a seat, but that seat is not confirmed, so that you and your loved one or other traveling companion may not be seated together as planned.  You have to call to confirm it.

Orbitz did not tell us that, even if they were kind enough to call us at home this morning to say the flight was on time (and to wake us, of course).  Recorded message but effective nonetheless.

So we sat apart, and wouldn’t you know it, I struck up a conversation with a young personal trainer from Utah, now living in Chicago and working for a national p.t. company whose name escapes me.  Nice young lady, on way to visit expecting sister in Richmond.

At the airport we got our Enterprise Rental medium SUV for $35 a day plus various fees and taxes.  OP-based Red Cab to O’Hare had been as usual a good choice on getting to O’Hare from OP, @$32 including taxes and tip.  When we go cab, it’s Red, not Blue, which as it happens matches our politics, which is irrelevant, in that service is the thing, Red having arisen in the last very few years as good alternative to the longstanding Blue Cab, which got sloppy in our (limited) experience.

Drove to outside Lititz, named after Lidice, the city in then-Czechoslovakia which was infamously decimated by German occupiers in WW2 in reprisal for assassination of a bigshot Nazi, I discovered reading a plaque in the town park, next to the park’s glorious duck channel, where mallards, and one AFLAC-style goose, gather to loll about when not chased by little boys.

Johnny, age 6, chased them as Grandma and Grandpa walked with him and his twin sisters, Rose and Lily, age 4.  Older sister Madeline, age 8, was in class.  We were to bring Johnny to the school, on a sprawling site opposite a farm field, on time for his aftenoon kindergarten session.

Johnny also worked out on every muscle-using climbing and swinging vehicle in the park, as if he had his own personal trainer operating in his brain.  The kid takes pleasure where he may and finds it everywhere he looks.

He and Madeline, for instance, on the ride last night back from the Little Gym, where they each had hour-long gymnastics sessions with 20 or so other urchins, they judged buildings we passed, one by one — “good, good, good, good” — on what grounds it was not clear, and spotted various kinds of cars, the two of them eagerly announcing what kind — “big, big, white, white.”

More later . . . .

Oak Park electioneering – 2

Careful note is to be taken of OP presidential candidate Gary Schwab’s for-the-record (but more than that, I think) correction in the Wed. Journal comment page, where yesterday’s item was linked.  He recalls that it was trustee candidate Glenn Brewer who said in a 3/13 forum that he “couldn’t tell if there was a problem with permits until he had more data” and wasn’t kidding when he said it — not presidential opponent David Pope.

This is interesting, in view of Brewer’s 3/19 observation, discussing Forest Park’s Madison Street, that this extremely successful half-mile stretch “has empty storefronts too” — a comment that advanced discussion not a whit and demonstrated unsettling unfamiliarity with the scene and subject. 

This prompts the question (does not beg it, as many say, misusing a useful phrase), what else doesn’t Brewer know and has not bothered to bone up on since his selection as VMA-endorsed candidate four months ago?  And: How much does he want an election-day victory and what does he think it takes for success as a trustee? 

He has the Wednesday Journal endorsement as providing “a much-needed African-American voice to the village board.”  Sounds racist to me.  Brewer has headed the regional housing center board and served on the Bellwood plan commission.  But what does he know about Oak Park.

Meanwhile, Reader A. in an email questions my interpretation of It Takes a Village clerk candidate Sharon Patchak-Layman’s emphasis on organizing “networks” of parents and others as political.  I “make it sound as though there is something underhanded in this,” she says, noting the traditional role of village clerks in finding and recruiting people for various commissions.

A. is right about that, and the reader can judge from what I report whether Patchak-L has more than that in mind. 

I have sat in on the “commission on commissions” meetings (Community Involvement Commission is the official name), by the way, and found it fascinating in part for its display of highly qualified citizen volunteers who come before it to be interviewed.  It’s the clerk’s commission, yes; she attends its meetings, and though I missed evidence of a prominent role by the clerk in recruiting volunteers, I happily concede it. 

However, the Patchak-Layman matter and her candidacy gets a kick in the rear in today’s Wednesday Journal in a letter from Carol Browder, who recalled her being censured a year ago by the high school board on which she serves, for “for violating her oath of office and that Board’s policies” — for “having a conflict of interest by “advocating” for a parent who has filed a complaint with the state against the school” in the Wed. Journal article she cites, of 1/29/08.

Adding insult, Patchak-Layman’s opponent in this race, Theresa Powell notes in another letter in today’s Journal that P-L takes a position on board activity — how often to enter executive session — that as clerk she would have no say about.

“The village clerk is not the party who determines when the board should meet in executive session. There simply is no need to politicize the clerk’s role.”  She adds, tellingly, “The clerk is charged with handling both public and confidential matters of the board in a professional and appropriate manner.  . . .  by statute, [the clerk] has authority over official village records and elections and administers the office that handles many of the licenses and permits issued by the village.”

I must add, being careful not to protest too much, that I beat Powell to it with my public allegation of political activity being planned inappropriately.  Nor was I aware of her letter, being not in contact with her campaign.

 

A touch of Oak Park electioneering

Village clerk candidate Sharon Patchak-Layman apparently has plans to use the clerk’s office as a political rallying tool. The clerk’s office is a “prime place to get more involvement” by citizens in the affairs of local government, she said Thursday 3/19 at a candidates’ forum at Irving School. The election is set for April 7.  The clerk “should harness parents” and others and use her office as “a way to bring a network together.”

Her running mate on the “It Takes a Village” slate, trustee candidate Julie Samuels, had a few minutes earlier identified herself as “a community organizer,” with the goal to “facilitate meetings” between trustees and citizens. The present board “is broken,” said Samuels, who ran as Green Party candidate for state representative in 2004 and lieutenant governor in 2006, unsuccessfully both times.

Patchak-Layman, on the other hand, has won three school board elections, two for Oak Park elementary schools and one for Oak Park and River Forest High School, and now is halfway through a four-year term on the latter. This is her second run for village clerk, the village’s only elected position that is paid and full-time. She ran the first time four years ago. She would continue at her high school board position — as a citizen doing volunteer civic work, she told me.

The incumbent clerk is choosing not to run again after 16 years in office, having worked eight years before that in the village’s community relations department.  Her predecessor held office for 20 years.

The clerk is to be the village’s “eyes and ears, to tell people what’s going on at village hall,” Patchak-Layman said, emphasizing her responsibility “to citizens.” Her opponent, Teresa Powell, had a somewhat different emphasis. “Elected, we [office-holders] represent all of you,” she said, adding that the clerk is to work “closely” with village board and calling it “critical” that there be “openness and trust and willingness to work together.”

Samuels further emphasized her claim that the board is “broken,” alleging lack of “public discussion” of legislation. She is suspicious of what’s discussed in executive sessions, she said. “The board seems to know a lot” at open meetings. “How did they come to know it?” she asked.

But the current village board has had fewer executive sessions than previous boards, countered a trustee opponent from the other slate, the Village Manager Association-endorsed “Responsible Leadership” party, Collette Luecke. In any case, she said, executive-session agendas are announced beforehand.

The commission system — mostly involving citizen appointees who vet issues prior to board consideration — has suffered a “demise,” said Samuels, who gave her “guarantee” to restore it and to get trustees to attend commission meetings. On the other hand, she bemoaned the length of board meetings as a needless drain on the time of its members and said time requirements discourage people from running for the board.

“Responsible Leadership” (VMA-endorsed) trustee candidate Collette Lueck agreed that there is “not enough public input,” but denied that commissions are “dead,” adding that Oak Park has more of them “than any other village in the state” and that most commissions have a full complement of members. Moreover, hearings are held by the board “for many things, as [recently] citizens wanting to sell bread at Farmer’s Market, [who] came prepared to argue their case and convinced the board. It’s not unusual,” she said.

Discussing delays encountered when seeking building permits from village hall, “It Takes a Village” presidential candidate Gary Schwab called the situation “appalling.” He also accused his opposite number on the “Responsible Leadership” slate, incumbent David Pope, of asking at a previous forum whether there is such a problem.

Pope explained that he’d been kidding. Indeed, it’s a much discussed matter, extremely unlikely to have escaped him in his six years on the board, the last four as president, and based on his normal cautious manner, unlikely that he would have misspoken in the matter.

“It Takes a Village” candidate Kathryn Jonas twice addressed the empty-storefront issue, each time urging adoption of the “Main Street” economic development program in use by neighboring Forest Park. This is the program of National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Washington.

In this she echoed her predecessors in the last two campaigns to unseat incumbents, one of them successful, the other not, the incumbents being those endorsed by the Village Manager Assn. (VMA), whose candidates have held sway with only two brief interruptions since the 50s.

“Don’t vacate commercial buildings until there’s something to replace them,” Jonas argued, referring to commercial sites awaiting development. Oak Park has an “incredible” number of commercial “buildings without tenants,” she said. The village should have “a single entity,” as Forest Park does, where “the Chamber of Commerce handles everything,” employing the “Main Street” model.

Her argument is based on the acknowledged thriving character of Madison Street west of Harlem, the Oak Park-Forest Park divider, where Oak Parkers once went for hard drink — long ago in German taverns, more recently in Irish bars — until Oak Park went wet some 20 years ago. Oak Parkers still do, for that matter, and one might argue that Oak Park has little to compare with the liveliness and boom quality of that strip.

Nonetheless, the VMA-endorsed Glenn Brewer observed that Madison Street in Forest Park “has empty storefronts too,” without saying how many.

Asked how trustees would go about getting federal stimulus money for Oak Park, Solomon mentioned “urban farms” as a good idea. Lueck noted incumbent President Pope’s familiarity with other mayors and possibilities of making joint requests. “It helps to be known,” she said.

The clerk candidates, asked about past managerial and labor-negotiating experience, candidate Powell noted that she supervised a staff of nine in nine of her 13 years at Blue Cross, Patchak-Layman that she had a staff of “16 to 20” at Pilgrim (Church) Nursery School in the 80s. Powell said she’d been a union member as a Chicago Public Schools employee, Patchak-Layman that as a school board member she has negotiated with unions.

The sisters’ hearts were touched

People give you money not because you don’t have any but because of what they know or think you will do with it, the rector of then-struggling Loyola Academy in Wilmette used to say.  Here’s a story of what some did with what they were given:

A married Near North Side couple claiming to be Kenyan refugees whose lives were in danger managed to scam more than $800,000 from an order of Carmelite sisters in Wisconsin, federal agents allege.

Angela Purity Martin-Mulu, 35, and Edward Bosire, 39, made their sale to the Carmelite monastery in Pewaukee, Wis. due west of Milwaukee and to a lesser extent to one on River Road, in NW suburban Des Plaines.  So much the worse for their benefactors.

Mike English was the rector at Loyola.  In 1959 he came on the job to save a failing institution and did so, after enduring his first sleepless nights as a Jesuit in 35 or so years.

I had my own experiences as a priest, including two summer months as fill-in pastor in Marengo, Iowa, in 1963.  One couple came to our door on our quiet small-town street with a sad story, unfortunately bringing a small boy in with them, allegedly their son.  I asked a few questions, and the kid said something that killed their story.  They left giving the kid what-for, pulling him by his ear.

Msgr. Ignatius McDermott would walk Skid Row in Chicago with meal tickets.  The most forgiving, non-condemnatory man in the world, he never turned away a drunk who wanted to try to reclaim himself at McD’s Haymarket Center on Madison Street.  He knew what he was doing with money people gave him.  Not all do-gooders do.

Uh-oh, government came to help

What I’ve been saying all along:

This whole AIG fiasco — where the entire political class is suddenly screaming over bonuses paid to derivative traders in AIG’s financial-products division — is just a complete farce. What it really shows is how the government has completely bungled the AIG takeover. Blame the Bush administration and the Obama administration. It also shows, once again, why the government shouldn’t run anything, because it cannot run anything.

Etc., by the eminent Kudlow, who speaks with authority, vs. me, who just speaks.

Barney, we hardly knew ye

Barney Frank, of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac overlook fame, has had enough and won’t take any more:

Just a day after Rep. Barney Frank excoriated federal bailout recipient AIG for “rewarding incompetence” by paying out $165 million in bonuses to its executives in a year when the insurance giant nearly collapsed, the Massachusetts Democrat introduced a bill rescinding all bailouts for failing firms or for homeowners in foreclosure.

So reports Scott Ott, of “News fairly unbalanced. We report. You decipher” fame.

“When I said AIG bonuses reward incompetence, it suddenly occurred to me that these bailouts do the same thing,” said Rep. Frank. “Instead of giving hundreds of billions to the likes of AIG and to people who bought too much house, we’re going to invest in companies and individuals who have managed their money well. From now on, we are going to reward competence.”
 
Rep. Frank said his plan has two simple steps:
 
* Immediately recover the bailout money already disbursed.
* Loan it to companies and individuals who have played by the rules, invested prudently, and didn’t spend beyond their means.
O. would never sign it.
 
P.S. Be sure not to miss this from the doughty Frank:
The lawmaker also said he plans to “go after whoever was supposed to be keeping an eye on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but who ignored history and economics in a vain attempt to implement their Utopian ideology about home ownership for everyone regardless of income.”
Utopian ideology.  That would be your Democrat platform.

The shape of news to come

The noosepaper is dead, long live the noosepaper — on line.

Newspapers are dying but journalism is evolving, an acclaimed science writer told a gathering of the techno-hip at South By South West Interactive Festival on Friday.

See them as old growth forests, says Steven Johnson.  Under its branches are growing “blogging, citizen journalism, Twittering and other Internet-age information sharing.”

He likes what he sees in the news business, though things are “ugly and going to get uglier” and “great journalists are going to lose their jobs and cities are going to lose their newspapers.”

How make it pay?  Supply nothing that’s free on line.  Ditch the printing, which is too expensive.  He’s not the first to say it, of course.

Expanding on it is a major on-line provider, International Data Group chairman Patrick McGovern, who told AFP, “Print editions are yesterday’s news.” 

It’s been that way since radio began delivering on-spot accounts — see Len O’Connor’s

A reporter in sweet Chicago on how radio news men were resented by pencil men in the late 40s.  Not to mention TV. 

But verba volant, as the Romans used to say — spoken words evanesce — while scripta manent — written words remain.  Internet makes it easy to save it all and lets you go back over the scripta right away.  Hence new ball game.

McGovern: Drop print and delivery costs and focus on digging out the hot local topics [my italics].  “Find out the scandal in the mayor’s office; what the police are up to, and those other things that people love to talk about.  . . . It is easier and much less costly to put it online.”

Scandal sells.  Chicago newsies dig it up quite nicely.  It’s the best thing they do, their raison d’etre in my view.  What if you had to log in to Tribco’s new blog Chicago Corruption (for a price) or Sun-Times’ new Cook County Dirt (ditto).  You wouldn’t?  For a fraction of what you pay for hard copy?

For $3.95 a month, I get a week-daily “Political Diary” from WSJ.com (Wall Street Journal), which never disappoints.  And because I put out that $3.95, automatically, on a card, I do not treat it lightly.  Not even Instapundit or Power Blog or Drudge Report gets that kind of attention from me.  Tribco and S-T could get that kind of attention if they were good enough, which I think they are in digging for metropolitan dirt.

Indeed,

McGovern believes people will pay monthly subscriptions for online newspapers solidly tapped into their communities.

“I think people realize that if they are not paying for the information there will not be much investment in the information,” McGovern said.

Yes.

Back to Johnson in Austin TX (the South By South West venue), who carries it several steps further.  He

sees the future of news weaving together talents of professional journalists, bloggers, and people using social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to instantly tell what is happening around them.

In some future utopia that collaboration.  The hostility of pros vs. bloggers is equal only to Sun-Times’s vs. Chi Trib in this blessedly two-newpaper metropolitan area, as in a self-congratulatory editorial in the former a few weeks back which crowed:

No army of bloggers, no TV or radio station, no nonprofit journalism collective, no foundation-supported task force of political and government reporters will ever do the job so well.

Too defensive by half.

Johnson theorized, however:

“If only there were some institution that had a reputation for integrity and a staff of trained journalists that had thousands of people visiting their websites every day.”

Those institutions are newspapers, Johnson noted, adding that an Internet-age motto of newspapers should be “All the news that fit to link.”

You could sell that.

Eeny, meeny, miney . . .

Our leader has a change of heart:

Washington is by nature an hysterical place. (Remember those who chest-thumped the fall of Saddam’s statue only soon to claim they never supported the war?)

Still, it is quite striking that in the space of a mere 50 days, Obama & Co. have gone from “We are in 1932 and things are getting worse—unless” to “Things are not as bad as we think,” with choruses from the likes of Larry Summers on the dangers of talking down the economy and sowing fear.

That’s Victor Davis Hanson on “one of the most schizophrenic moments in recent memory.”  He asks, “What in the heck is going on?” and suggests three possibilities.

Meanwhile, cartoonist Ramirez has it pictured this way:

Obama Picasso

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