Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dem candidates at OP library: Stroger plus three

I’m a little late with this, but Nov. 14 is not that long ago, is it? That’s when Democrat candidates for county board president showed up at the Oak Park library, brought together by Dem Party of OP (DPOP). The Veterans Room on the second floor was filthy with Democrats, including assorted other candidates, with potential judges predominating.

But the stars were the incumbent, Todd (John-son) Stroger, who came late, and three challengers: Terry O’Brien, president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (former Sanitary District, does sewage treatment for the Chicago area); 4th Ward (Hyde Park) Ald. Toni Preckwinkle; and Clerk of (county) Courts Dorothy Brown.

O’Brien made most sense. He would repeal the one-cent Stroger sales tax increase right away, all at once. It’s a tax-base destroyer in his book. Sales proceeds are down 14% in the year ending June 30, admittedly a bad year for sales. But businesses are decamping for neighboring counties. Reduce the tax rate, he argued implicitly, and you will increase tax revenue. Even in Cook County, liberal doctrine can be mugged by reality.

The other two challengers were not so sure. Preckwinkle would make “incremental cuts” while encouraging “economic development,” talking with “regional planning councils,” and starting “a jobs program.” Oh my, as if the market were waiting to be goosed by planners and programs.

Brown came out for “new ideas, not new taxes,” leaving cuts unmentioned — but not before winning the Oak Park Library declamation prize hands down. Rather, hands up, one holding the mike, the other moving continuously — circling, jabbing, flip-flopping, as if directing an invisible orchestra, eyes darting to and fro, face wrinkling, decibels multiplying.

She ended one segment, to scattered applause, with something about “the American dream.” Ending another, when the moderator called time, she hugged him. Later, when she announced her no-new-taxes (!) policy, she perorated, reaching crescendo with a memorable “If Barack Obama can be president, Dorothy Brown can be president of the county board!”

Preckwinkle was bland in comparison, businesslike, and direct enough. County hires, she said, come from “a few ward organizations, one of them the president’s [Stroger’s].” Jobs should be open to “the skilled” and spread around, especially to “Hispanics, [who] are underrepresented.”

Discussing the Forest Preserve district, O’Brien said he would consolidate it with the county. Brown would use “biometric technology” to monitor workers and would sell space for advertising on district property. Preckwinkle would rely on “professionalism,” keeping in mind that forest preserves are not just for recreation but are also “an ecological preserve.”

Forty-five minutes or so into the forum, Stroger arrived. “Had to stop at a funeral,” he explained. He said the board had “had a good three years” during his presidency, which would come as a surprise to many newspaper-readers. But it was “newspapers and television” that had decided he’s “a public enemy.” He had “found” a half-billion dollar deficit on entering office (slated to replace his stricken father on the ballot) and had worked it down to $238 billion, he said. To make up the shortfall, he had raised the sales tax.

He was glad he had done so. “You don’t hear complaints about services. We operate efficiently.” As for cutting taxes, “you have to be responsible,” he said. “You need money to do things.”

To a question about how the board might operate more effectively, Preckwinkle said she would bring “a new tone,” persuading commissioners to be “respectful of each other” and not engage in “hurtful personal interaction.”

“You lead by talking to people,” said O’Brien. “You must reach out to other elected officials.” Brown echoed that, saying they should pay more attention to “Springfield.”

Stroger portrayed opponents as “playing to the camera,” which he said “has become a way of life” for them. He said he had asked intended tax-cutters to show how they would avoid cutting services, but they had no answer. “We can take no money away” from services, he said, especially health system services.

Opposition to his leadership was “all posturing,” he said, but added, “We get along very well.” Again, the problems were caused by “the press.”

In the matter of spending and bidding on contracts, O’Brien said he was “shocked” to learn that expenditures of “up to $100,000” did not require board approval. But Stroger denied it. The limit was $25,000, he said. “All is done through requests for proposal,” he said. “We run things in a very professional way.”

O’Brien said there should be one procurement department for all of county government. He would do audits of every department, streamlining and consolidating as was done at the triple-A bond-rated Water Reclamation District, which last year returned $56 million to taxpayers. The district had 3,000 employees in 1988, when O’Brien became a commissioner; now it has 2,000, the reduction gained entirely by attrition, he said.

Preckwinkle blamed the patronage problem on the absence of public financing of elections. [No: see comment from her campaign below] She would take no money from county employees, she said: It “smacks of coercion.”

Stroger repeated his emphasis on non-interruption of services: “You’re going to hear a lot of things,” he said. “But nobody is saying they are not getting what they need.”

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First, burn it, then, stupid, keep it simple

The House and Senate health care bills give us

an overregulated, overbureaucratized system of surpassing arbitrariness and inefficiency. Throw a dart at the Senate tome:

–You’ll find mandates with financial penalties — the amounts picked out of a hat.

–You’ll find insurance companies (who live and die by their actuarial skills) told exactly what weight to give risk factors, such as age.

Currently insurance premiums for 20-somethings are about one-sixth the premiums for 60-somethings. The House bill dictates the young shall now pay at minimum one-half; the Senate bill, one-third — numbers picked out of a hat.

–You’ll find sliding scales for health-insurance subsidies — percentages picked out of a hat — that will radically raise marginal income tax rates for middle-class recipients, among other crazy unintended consequences.

Charles Krauthammer has a solution:

The bill . . . should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool.

Then do health care the right way — one reform at a time, each simple and simplifying, aimed at reducing complexity, arbitrariness and inefficiency.

Which means zero in on tort reform, interstate buying and selling of health insurance, and taxation of employer-provided health insurance.

Trial lawyers don’t like the one, the left doesn’t like the other, which obviates need for public option, and unions don’t like the last

The lawyers are big-bucks people who give heavily to Dems, the left we have always with us, unions love big government, by whom most of their members are employed.

“Insuring the uninsured is a moral imperative,” says K. in today’s Chi Trib.

The problem is that the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method — a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency.

Better to “attack . . . inefficiencies . . . one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits.”

A bill that did that would be shorter — 20 not 2,000 pages — and pay for insurance for the uninsured “without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.”

And don’t get him started on the economic recklessness part.

The FBOP-FDIC-Mike Kelly debate, continued . . .

These comments in Wednesday Journal on the FBOP-Park National Bank closing at the hands of FDIC frame the argument nicely. 

First, a typical Oak Park response, echoed in dozens of comments in columns, editorials, and letters:

Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009
Article comment by: Scott

We should be outraged that a community bank like FBOP was taken by the FDIC. Large institutions like Citi and Bank of America received millions of dollars in TARP money and what did they do? Spent most of it to pay our [for?] incentives or severence pay outs to CEOs and CFOs who were so greedy they left the institutions on near bankruptcy. Community Banks like FBOP who care about the communities and their employees were not able to receive any funding from the goverment.

If Mike Kelly was able to obtain money from private investors to put FBOP in a well capitalized state, then why didn’t the FDIC give them that opportunity? Instead they sold to US Bank who will in turn lay off employees and change a quality bank with great customer service and standards to something like Chase and Citi, who’s [sic] only concern is profit and loss. Not helping the communities they serve or the employees that work for them. It is tragic what they did to Mike Kelly and FBOP.

Then a cogent rebuttal:

Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009
Article comment by: Stephen Micklin

Please excuse my apparent blindness, but I don’t see why everyone is so outraged about the FDIC’s takeover of FBOP Corp. Maybe I need to look at the facts through Oak Park tinted glasses, because with an objective eye the hoopla appears ludicrous and unreasonable. Let me highlight three aspects of the FBOP outrage that are, well, outrageous.

First, FBOP is to blame for its failure, not the FDIC or “Washington.” This obvious fact has someone been misconstrued. When the FDIC seized FBOP and arranged a deal with U.S. Bankcorp it was not acting with a vendetta against FBOP or favoring Wall Street over Main Street. The FDIC was doing its job—protecting depositors from losing all their money. FBOP fell into financial disarray because of misguided and greedy investments. Instead of keeping their money safe by buying Treasury Bills or other secure assets, FBOP decided to make a risky investment in Fannie Mae and Feddie Mac. FBOP wanted to squeeze out additional profits. Unfortunately those wagers backfired when the housing market collapsed. FBOP failed because it made bad investments. What is more, if not for the FDIC and U.S. Bankcorp’s actions, thousands of people could have lost their entire life savings.

Second, just because FBOP and Park National are now U.S. Bankcorp, it does not follow that neighborhood businesses and people will lose access to credit and banking facilities. If businesses and people are worthy of credit, other banks will step in to provide such loans. And if other banks refuse, then maybe those borrowers should never have received credit. Anyone would love a bank that extends credit on extremely favorable terms. Hey, subprime loans were a good idea for those receiving the funds. That does not mean, however, that such actions are sound banking practices. If Chicago and Oak park businesses and people are reliable borrowers then the absence of FBOP will not matter because other banks will rill FBOP’s shoes.

Third, people should not be angry that the FDIC had to spend $2.5 billion, they should be angry that FBOP forced them to spend the money. Had FBOP not made bad investments, the FDIC would not have had to use taxpayer money to protect customer’s deposits. Yet somehow the FDIC is being bashed. During a recent community meeting arranged to discuss FBOP’s failure (The protest gets formal), Oak Park Village President David Pope was quoted as saying “Two and a half billion dollars comes out to $25,000 for every man, woman and child in Austin. If you’re aware of the facts in this case and you’re not absolutely outraged, then you’re not alive.” I agree that the FDIC’s spending of $2.5 billion of taxpayer money is terrible, everyone should be. But we should be made at FBOP for forcing the FDIC to spend that money.

Maybe I am the only one in Oak Park with these views. Or maybe I am the only one looking at the facts without a hometown bias. Either way, the world will survive without FBOP Corp.

Not quite the only one.

Post-racial Cook County

I am shocked, shocked! to hear these ministers talking this way about the Cook County board president race.

A group of African-American ministers encouraged [Dorothy] Brown and [Toni] Preckwinkle to get out of the race because they say African-American votes will split up, allowing a white candidate to win.

They are the Concerned Clergy for a Blacker, I mean Better, Chicagoland.  Also Friends of Todd, which won’t sit well with Friends of Dorothy and Friends of Toni.

Studying Pilgrims and Indians

Very cautious Chi Trib story here, about second-graders at Beye School, Oak Park. 

The kids

spent two school days aboard a faux Mayflower ship in their auditorium, braving simulated storms, seasickness and even the birth of a baby.

The pretend Pilgrims . . . kept journals to explore their fears of moving to a new land. . . . .

Beye kids 091125

Before the mock journey, they role-played and kept journals in a similar fashion as American Indians while studying different tribes.

The students also learned how some of the English settlers’ choices harmed indigenous people, examining both bright and tragic aspects of American history.

Many educators are striving to celebrate a more historically accurate Thanksgiving, ditching [sic] the stereotypical Pilgrim-and-Indian stories in favor of true [accurate?] social studies lessons. [Truly s.s. lessons, not faux ones?]

Teachers say a nuanced approach helps debunk popular myths and can add cultural awareness to the holiday. [Cliche hat trick there, dying for expansion and particularization]

“This makes history more real,” said Amber Schweigert, a second-grade teacher at Beye. [Italics added throughout]

Cautious because it tip-toes through minefields of cultural warfare, dropping hints.  The aim may have been to produce “a nice story,” as I heard a city editor speak approvingly many years ago and this writer may have heard a few days ago.  It ends up soft soap, tantalizing and deceptive.

Ron Grossman’s hard-copy, same-page [not web-site]companion piece produces something quite different.  It’s about

a number of Chicagoans who have discovered they are Pilgrim descendants and who gather on the weekend before Thanksgiving for a luncheon (yes, turkey). Someone reads the Mayflower Compact, a kind of mini-constitution the Pilgrims wrote just before landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Then the list of its signers is recited:

William Bradford, Myles Standish, John Alden

As each Pilgrim’s name is called out, his descendants rise.

The experience

“. . . sends shivers up the back of my neck, every time,” [Don] Sherman said. “Hearing the compact reminds me why it’s the first great historical document of our country.”

Grossman:

With only two sentences, the compact expressed a world-shaking idea: Ordinary people can govern themselves. In the 17th century, kings and nobles made the rules; others were to silently follow.

Not so among these settlers. A history lesson follows:

Originally called the Dissenters, [Pilgrims] were known and reviled for thinking outside the box, so to speak. [G. knows what he’s doing; semi-apologizes for radio-speak.]  They disliked what they considered the pompous Church of England and wanted to be ministered to by like-thinking preachers in simple churches. [Clean copy]

So the Dissenters went on a series of wanderings that would give them the name Pilgrims. They went first to what is now the Netherlands, even then an open-minded country. [A long-ago Dutch friend: French get ideas, Dutch have to try them.] Yet toleration presented another problem confronted by every immigrant group in whatever new homeland it chooses.

“Their children were becoming Dutch,” Morony said. “The Dissenters thought of themselves as English.”

They did not howl for bilingualism, whose day had not yet come, but like Huck Finn headed for the territory.

Fearing assimilation, a group of Dissenters planned a second exile: to a place far enough away from England that they could be free of the Church of England and yet still be English. Strangely, that agenda meshed with the thinking of London’s movers-and-shakers.

Late to colonizing, England wanted to catch up. So a scheme was hatched whereby the Pilgrims would be sent to New York as part of a commercial enterprise organized by English investors with the crown’s OK.

And off they went.  The rest is . . . [deleted as cliche] . . .

Tale of two delays

Yesterday’s Antietam is today’s Afghanistan?  Consider

General George B. McClellan, whose willingness to delay action and refusal to do so allowed enemy forces to prepare and react.

The delay was leading up to what became “the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, in fact, the single bloodiest day in American military history,” writes J.P. Freire, Wash. Examiner associate commentary editor.

It was McClellan’s “willingness to delay action [that] allowed enemy forces to prepare and react.”

Of him, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee said:

“He is an able general but a very cautious one. His army is in a very demoralized and chaotic condition, and will not be prepared for offensive operations—or he will not think it so—for three or four weeks.”

Freire:

General [Gen. Stanley A.] McChrystal told the president that the war could be lost in a year, and three months of that year have been given to the enemy to regroup and prepare. . . .  If you have a general who is competent, as McChrystal is, give him what he says he needs to win.

Or if you consider him incompetent, fire him, as Lincoln did McClellan.  Do it or get off the pot.

The heads-up four

The RC bishop of Madison WI, a Big Ten city, is diverting contribs to ACORN-besmirched Catholic Campaign for Human Devel:

As he did last year, Bishop [Robert C.] Morlino chose to allocate the national campaign’s portion of the collection to a different cause.

Last year, the funds were sent to the Hurricane Ike recovery fund, and this year he allocated the contributions to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have an international outreach to the elderly.

Millions for the Little Sisters, not one cent for community organizing!  (Thousands?)

He’s one of “at least” four bps who diverted $ from CCHD this time around.  The others:

Bishop John O. Barres of Allentown, Pennsylvania; Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska; . . . and Bishop Robert J. Baker of Birmingham, Alabama.

This even after

Bishop Roger Morin [New Orleans], chairman of the USCCB’s subcommittee on the CCHD, delivered a passionate plea to the bishops’ plenary meeting last week, pledging the CCHD’s commitment to ensure grantees’ respect for Catholic teaching.

They didn’t believe him.  Or did not take him seriously.  Tsk, tsk.

ACORN and its Catholic donations

The latest from ACORN:

Shockingly, we now learn that the ACORN office in National City (San Diego County) engaged in a massive document dump on the evening of October 9th, containing thousands upon thousands of sensitive documents, just days prior to the Attorney General’s visit.

SanDiegoACORNDocumentDumpScandal-100909-Photo4

BigGovernment.com has learned that not only did this document dump occur, but the documents in question were irresponsibly and brazenly dumped in a public dumpster, without considering laws and regulations as to how sensitive information should be treated.

Would the Catholic Campaign for Human Development know if this is the same ACORN that until a year ago got Catholic donations?  I think it is.

FDIC-FBOP-GEITHNER-GOOF-etc.

Remember the odd thing about Park National Bank’s demise?  How on the fateful day, it got money from Treasury for poor neighborhoods?  Well, FDIC, which supervised the demise, blames T-Sec Geithner for the gaffe-goof, as reported by The Street-dot-com on 11/1, two days after the seizure:

The Treasury Department, not the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., should be held responsible for a public relations gaffe last month in which the FDIC closed a Chicago bank just hours after it received an award from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, according to FDIC spokesman David Barr.

The grim details:

Park National Bank of Chicago received $50 million in tax credits to encourage investment in poor communities at an Oct. 30 ceremony attended by Geithner. Hours later . . . it was seized along with eight other banks around the country that formed part of a holding company called FBOP Corp. and sold to U.S. Bancorp.

However:

One financial services executive, who did not want to be on the record for fear of running afoul of regulators, accused the FDIC of timing the closure as it did in a deliberate effort to embarrass Geithner.

Among a dozen or so comments disputing or accepting this claim is a call by CNBC’s Jim Cramer for FDIC head Sheila Bair’s ouster as “as a rogue operator who cannot be reined in,” to which came a rejoinder by commenter CedricT:

Not really—it just shows how poorly managed and co-oordinated our Government is—these turf wars are their life blood. . . .  Looks like the same happened in Ft Hood–the FBI knew about the mad Major but neglected to tell the Army—and these are the guys who are going to “Fix” the Healthcare system–God Help us!!

Normally, I say leave God out of it, but this time prayer seems appropriate.

Finally, the article itself ends with this about what the hell happened to FBOP:

Though Park National was relatively healthy, it was shuttered because it could not cover the losses of other banks in the FBOP holding company.

Yes, we understood that, especially in Oak Park, which may never recover from the shock of it all. 

Then too, the buying into governmentally approved and supervised (?!) operations:

In addition to the usual real estate loans gone bad that have dogged virtually every institution from Bank of America . . . to Goldman Sachs . . . the FBOP banks had big losses on preferred shares of Fannie Mae . . . and Freddie Mac . . . according to a report in the Wall Street Journal [here] . . .

How WSJ characterized FBOP owner Mike Kelly:

The nine small banks represented the holdings of FBOP Corp., based in Oak Park, Ill., and owned by a banker who had plowed into real-estate lending around the country. [italics added]

Cost to FDIC: $2.5 billion.

A (non-Oak Park) banker put it to me this way: FDIC was cutting its losses by moving when it did, forestalling FBOP’s cutting loose its troubled banks (assets) and leaving FDIC with something unsalable.  Better for taxpayers, the argument goes, to have the whole bunch of them and making a sale — in this case to U.S. Bank.

Total number of failed banks this year: 115, the most since 1992, when 181 banks collapsed during the savings-and-loan crisis — which is when Kelly began to expand his holdings, buying banks outside Chicago that proved his undoing.

The provincial cometh

Was it a media blitz in the last few days, the coverage of the Wheeling Jesuit University president-firing and the aftermath? 

Not quite, but the WJU board and its acting president did come out of hiding, smoked out by mass-medium coverage of slam-bang accusations by a high-profile West Virginian whom the mediums all know about.  (He’s in the clips.)

The bishop didn’t do it, the acting president and board spokeswoman trumpeted, speaking for themselves and for the Jesuit provincial superior, Rev. James M. Shea, SJ, of Towson, MD.

MD Prov Shea

Indeed, Fr. Shea has approved the behavior of his three fellow Jesuits — the local superior, the president of another Jesuit university, and the operator of a Pennsylvania retreat house, each a “trustee” of WJU — pretty much since they gave a fourth Jesuit, also a trustee, the boot in absentia as WJU president while apparently keeping a fifth out of the loop lest he veto the ouster.

To be kept in mind is the first rule of home-office-based executives, not to second-guess operators in the field.  They are home-office appointees, for one thing, and are on the scene, for another, while executives are not.  To top it off, the executive in this case has neither interest in nor (probably) stomach for an independent investigation.

If there’s something rotten in the state of West Virginia, he relies on local authorities to tell him.  It takes more than indignation expressed and accusations made by local non-Jesuits to get him, the provincial, off a dime.

Besides, in this case he is a lifelong chaplain and pastor, most recently pastor of the Jesuits’ Georgetown (DC) parish.  He’s a pastor, with all the one-on-one impulses and expertise that implies — with a doctorate in pastoral care from Southern Methodist, no less.  It’s his specialty.

He ran a parish in a sophisticated neighborhood — no small thing — but university administration and politics he probably knows from rec-room chatter and the like, to judge by his resume.

It should never have been in doubt, therefore, that he would endorse the WJU ouster, as sloppily as it was conducted, if not deceitfully.  On the other hand, when anguished cries from West Virginia arrived by U.S. mail, it might have been hoped, if not expected, that he would revert to a tried and true pastoral approach and write back; but he did not.

It’s a jungle out here, true.  SNAP and their lawyers wait to haul him before a civil court.  Money is at stake.  Oregon Province has declared bankruptcy.  In Seattle the Jesuit university president, a former provincial, is being sued for keeping under his hat the abuse of hundreds of Eskimos by dozens of Jesuits. 

The Maryland Provincial can be like the Huron Indians of 400 years ago who took it on the chin for Jesus’ sake and went out of business, destroyed by the un-Jesus-like Iroquois, as the movie “Black Robe” would have it.  Or he can be very, very careful, giving nothing his enemies might use against him.

He can sit on letters and say nothing, not even when he has something to say, leaving it to non-Jesuit officialdom to pass on his approval of the mysterious WJU firing.  He himself stays out of it — or did until today, when he presided at the St. Joseph Pignatelli liturgy on campus.  Perhaps more later about that pregnant appearance . . .

Later: If pregnant, not yet delivered, is the word from Wheeling.  Shea did nothing of note in this context at the Pignatelli mass but is staying in Wheeling for a few days.  It’s his annual “visitation” of the Jesuit community there, when he has one-on-one conferences with each, after which he will have the low-down.  Icing on the cake, one may assume: how could he in the past have been so sure of the wisdom of what transpired if he didn’t have it?

Indeed, as an astute observer noted to Blithe Spirit, the removal of Giulietti had to be a Jesuit thing, for that matter a provincial’s decision.  Civil legality has no room for three Jesuits in a conference call removing a university president.  It was the religious superior that did it.  Giulietti was remanded back to his own province, New England, case closed.  He served in Maryland (province) at sufferance of the Maryland provincial.  Sufferance withdrawn, Giulietti withdrew.

So it’s a fool’s errand to ask Shea to save the day, no matter who you are, including Giulietti’s sole trustee-supporter, Rev. Ed Glynn SJ, a former Maryland provincial and successively president of three Jesuit universities.  This is as much religious-community politics as university politics.

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