Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Indianapolis police are not saying how the victims were killed or speculating on possible motives. Police have also not explained what they meant by "alternative lifestyles." Photographs of Elzy with Hunt depict him as being dressed as a woman, although a family member referred to Elzy in the masculine. Speaking of the last time she spoke to her brother, Theresa Elzy told WTHR, "I called him an hour later and let him know I was not coming to his party," she said.
At least one GLBT blogger has been highly critical of the local news media reporting on this double homicide, complaining about their lack of reporting on the status of the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. I don't think the criticism in this case is fair as evidenced by the WTHR interview with a family member.
As I've lamented in the past, Indiana is one of only a handful of states in the country without a hate crimes law. Adding further insult to injury, Indianapolis police dropped the tracking of the number of hate crimes committed during the administration of Mayor Bart Peterson a couple of years ago despite an Indiana law requiring the tracking of hate crimes. Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has advocated for the passage of a state law making so-called "bias crimes" an aggravating factor for allowing enhanced sentencing.
Ironically, the complaining GLBT blogger has been highly critical of this blogger's past reporting on hate crimes and has opposed the legislation backed by many in the GLBT community. I hasten to add that there is no indication at this point that their killings were related to what police call their "alternative lifestyle."
UPDATE: A story in today's Star sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the killing. The alleged killer apparently met one of the victims, Elzy, in an Internet chat room and had visited Elzy and Hunt a number of times. The story confirms Elzy considered himself transgender. "Elzy, whose given first name was Avery, was transgender and identified as female but had not undergone gender reassignment surgery, Theresa Elzy said." The story continues, Theresa Elzy said she didn't suspect Taysia (female name used by Avery) was targeted because of gender identity, but the family was sometimes concerned about Taysia's well-being. "Tay lets everybody know upfront from the beginning that she was a transgender," Theresa Elzy said. "We were more worried (about her safety) than she was." I would note that Elzy's sister, in the WTHR interview, referred to him as her brother.
The story sheds no light on how Benker was able to make off with what was essentially the organization's entire revenues. A separate report at the IBJ, however, says Benker had passed off the treasurer duties to another Somerset CPA, Gene Zoellner, this year after preparing Penrod's 2007 financial reports but was still permitted access to the organization's funds and was able to write checks. The IBJ says Benker had been promoted twice by Somerset since 2005. No criminal charges have been filed against Benker to date.
UPDATE: WTHR reports that a gambling addiction is being blamed for Benker's actions.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In lockstep, those same pols and pundits, including Obama himself, are instructing the U.S. Senate to ignore the law and the Constitution and refuse to appoint Roland Burris as Obama's Senate replacement. The Constitution calls for it and Illinois law requires Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint Obama's replacement. Because the governor is facing a yet-to-be filed indictment [which the prosecutor is now saying won't be forthcoming until April] and the General Assembly has commenced impeachment proceedings against him, the powers that be, none of whom have clean hands in this matter, want to defer the appointment to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who presumbably will become governor under the Illinois Constitution if Blagojevich resigns, or is impeached and convicted by the General Assembly. The impeachment process, to date, has been a complete embarrassment.
Just weeks ago, the Illinois General Assembly met in a special session for the purpose of passing legislation requiring a special election to fill Obama's vacancy. Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan decided his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, might not be able to win the special election should she decide to seek the seat. Despite pleas from Republicans to act immediately, Madigan blocked the legislation. Blagojevich had even agreed to sign the legislation if the legislature made it applicable to all appointments by the governor to the U.S. Senate and not just this special election.
Daughter Madigan had already been laughed out of the Illinois Supreme Court for attempting to unconstitutionally have Blagojevich relieved of his duties because of disability. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to appoint Madigan so he can get her out of the way for his 2010 bid for governor and appoint an attorney general replacement for her, further strengthening his position. Secretary of State Jesse White may want to run for governor himself, and he is refusing to perform his ministerial duty to sign the appointment of Burris made by the governor and to forward it to the U.S. Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already announced the Senate will defy the U.S. Constitution and refuse to seat Burris. And President-elect Obama is seconding Reid on that action.
If this weren't such serious business, it would be funny. There's certainly plenty of material there for people who make their living as stand-up comedians. The piety of these people to actually think they are any better than Blagojevich. Hypocrites, all of them, I say. Forget the fact that Burris has greater qualifications than anyone else who aspires to this post, including the guy who created this mess by being elected president. Only in Illinois could politicians make Blagojevich appear a little saner and cleaner than he appeared just weeks ago as he was being hauled off in handcuffs by FBI agents.
UPDATE: Politico reports that Harry Reid says Burris is unacceptable and he won't allow him to be seated. Reid's statement is unacceptable and truly an insult to the people of Illinois who entrusted Burris with the state's finances and as its top legal officer for many years. He has no legal right not to seat Burris. If Obama has an ounce of integrity, he will contact Reid and tell him to knock it off and seat Burris.
Now, the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is telling reporters he won't sign the paperwork certifying the governor's appointment of Burris. White has his own conflict in this regard. He probably would like to run for governor in two years and would prefer to see Attorney General Lisa Madigan appointed to remove her as a possible contender for the gubernatorial nomination. I can understand Illinois Democrats' frustration with their governor, but they put him in office and refused to deal with impeachment long after they learned enough information to come to the conclusion he was corrupt. It seems they are now engaged in their own unconstitutional acts and refusal to abide by the rule of law in their efforts to remove him from office. It's a pretty disgraceful display all around in Illinois these days.
At a live press conference announcing the appointment, which just concluded, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Chicago) delivered an impromptu appeal to Democratic leaders to support the appointment with Burris and the governor at his side. He believes White spoke prematurely in saying he would not certify Burris' appointment. Reporters immediately began pummeling Burris with questions about work his consulting firm has done for the state and political contributions he has made to the governor's campaigns in the past. He acknowledged performing minority certification work for the Illinois Department of Transportation and bond work his son's law firm at which he is of counsel performed for the state.
UPDATE II: President-elect Obama has sent word that he backs Harry Reid's decision to unconstitutionally refuse to seat Burris to his Senate seat. Can we ask Obama if he understands why some people think he should not be sworn in as president since he does not meet the constitutional requirement that says he must be a natural born citizen in order to serve? The Democrats are really playing with fire here. Don't think for a minute that Blagojevich doesn't have the goods on Obama. He can bring down Obama in short order if he chooses to start talking to prosecutors in exchange for a plea agreement. Obama also risks opening the previous division he had with many African-American Democratic leaders in his own home state. Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s political ambitions may have already been destroyed by these series of events over the past few months and, now, Burris is being vilified for agreeing to accept an appointment he clearly has earned. It is also interesting seeing the negative reaction to Rep. Rush's belief that this seat belongs to an African-American, which is exactly the argument forwarded for putting Obama in the seat which was once held by the state's first black senator, Carol Mosely Braun. It's okay when Obama plays the race card, but it is not okay when someone else does it.
Monday, December 29, 2008
UPDATE: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald advised the House impeachment committee today that he would petition Judge Holderman on January 5, 2009 to release portions of the wire-tapped conversations to the House committee for use in the impeachment proceedings. It is unclear which conversations Fitzgerald is seeking to disclose.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Hendon, whose West Side district saw some horrible child neglect cases, was trying to stop the closing of a child welfare office there. He says Obama, then running for the U.S. Senate, voted against him, but Hendon later voted for Obama’s bid to keep a facility in his district open, and Hendon said on the floor that he wished Obama had reciprocated.
Obama tried to get his vote changed, but it was blocked procedurally.
Hendon wrote that Obama then “walked menacingly towards my seat” and “stuck his jagged, strained face into my space and told me in an eerie, dark voice” that if Hendon embarrassed him again, he would kick his behind.
That led to an almost-fight just off the floor where there was “a little pushing and shoving” until some others interceded to stop it, Hendon wrote. There was also “profanity too vulgar to write, from both of us. …”
As Schoenburg observes, Hendon oddly thinks the incident tells us about how Obama will react in foreign policy deliberations. “In addition to the discussion on whether he’s black enough or white enough,” Hendon wrote, his toughness was questioned. “If we were attacked by terrorists, would he pull the trigger?” Hendon asks. Because of this incident, “There’s no doubt that he would.”
This incident tells us a lot more about Obama's vanity than anything else. Hendon had the ability to get under Obama's skin and embarrass him in front of all of his Senate colleagues. Obama's reaction reflects a weakness, not a strength. Instead of apologizing to his colleague for incorrectly voting the wrong way, Obama wanted to kick his butt for drawing attention to his mistake. We can only hope as president he doesn't act as irrationally in such moments because there are bound to be many such instances when he will be tested by other foreign leaders and politicians.
The Obama-Hendon incident reminds me of a story a political science professor at Eastern Illlinois University used to tell his students from the days he worked at the State Department during the Kennedy administration. According to his story, when Kennedy first met in Vienna with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev audibly passed gas. Kennedy found it amusing and couldn't stop laughing. Khrushchev, according to this account, interpreted this as a sign of weakness and immaturity in Kennedy, sensing he lacked self-control. Khrushchev would soon thereafter test Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis. Obama is not a good student of history. During the presidential campaign, he mistakenly used Kennedy's meeting with Khruschev as a rationale for his position in support of meeting with the leaders of rogue nations without preconditions. Kennedy's meeting with Khruschev occurred more than a year before the Cuban missile crisis.
When Alfonso Salinas decided he and his fellow Streets Department foremen in Hammond deserved a $5,000 raise last year, he did more than just ask for it.
As a Hammond city councilman, he offered the motion amending the city budget, then voted to give himself the money.
Although other states have banned the practice, it's legal in Indiana for local government employees to serve on their own governing bodies -- and, as a result, vote on everything from department budgets to their own wages.
Actually, I believe the practice is already banned in Indiana by our state constitution. Unfortunately, the applicable provision has essentially been written out of the constitution by lack of enforcement. Article 3 of the Indiana Constitution establishes the separation of powers doctrine for state and local government. It reads:
The powers of the Government are divided into three separate departments; the Legislative, the Executive including the Administrative, and the Judicial: and no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.
Article II of the state's constitution also bars a person from "holding more than one lucrative office at the same time." The argument over what constitutes a "lucrative office" has been the subject of numerous court decisions. Earlier in our state's history, these two provisions worked to prevent the very problem visited upon by allowing a city worker like Salinas to serve on a city council. At some point, a couple of courts decided the provision only applied to state workers and not local government workers. This opened up the floodgates to local government employees seeking election to city and county councils. You need look no further than Indianapolis' own City-County Council to see the corrosive impact it has had on local government. The worst example is East Chicago, the city with the history of the most corruption in recent memory where every council member is also a government employee. The legislature should do what it failed to do years ago and legislatively ban what it is already banned by our constitution but not enforced by the courts.
Naturally, a double-dipper like House Speaker Pat Bauer opposes the change as do the lobbyists who represent local government workers, such as police and firemen. "One of the reasons that we allowed those local employees to be part of this process is that these are really part-time jobs, too," Bauer told Schneider. Slowly but surely, the people are being further and further removed from the democratic institutions we established for self-governance. It's happening at all levels of government. This is just another sad example of it.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Republicans agree with Genson on calling the witnesses. The problem is that Democrat House Speaker Mike Madigan, who may just want to see his daughter appointed sooner rather than later to the Senate seat, stacked the committee rules giving the Democrats complete control over who may be subpoenaed by the committee. The committee chairperson, Barbara Flynn Currie, says she doesn't want to interfere with the U.S. Attorney's ongoing investigation, but these members of Team Obama and Jackson we're told are not targets of the investigation. So what gives?
The Democrats in Springfield know what I've been telling you all along. Barack Obama is knee-deep in the pay-to-play politics that are pervasive in Illinois. Hell, Obama knew Tony Rezko before Blagojevich and worked with him as close if not more closely than the governor. Sure, Rezko may have helped the governor out with some of that remodeling work on his northside home. But he helped Obama even more in purchasing a house he and his wife could not afford without Rezko's assistance. Behind closed doors, you can bet Currie and her Democratic colleagues know that Obama and his team members probably don't have entirely clean hands on this business of selling a Senate seat. After all, this sort of thing happens all the time. It just happened that the feds were eavesdropping on telephone conversations this time.
What a conundrum Illinois Democrats now face. They so badly want to dislodge their disgraced governor they supported in his last two elections, but they fear if he starts talking too much about how business is conducted in the Land of Lincoln, he just might swallow their political careers along the way. They also can ill afford to put others at risk by unnecessarily making them testify under oath and presenting an opportunity for them to perjure themselves and at the same time help the governor present evidence that there really is no "there" there to the allegations made by the U.S. Attorney. Perhaps this is why the Democrats are dragging out old issues which have been lying around for more than a year as grounds for impeachment--the same ones they earlier didn't feel were worthy of impeachment.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The ten members of a former IU a capella group, Straight No Chaser, saw their careers take a dramatic change when the group reunited on the IU campus in 2006 and one of its members posted their performance of "The 12 Days of Christmas" on YouTube, which attracted more than 7 million hits in a single year period. That led to the IU graduates being discovered and signed to a music contract with Atlantic Records. Now the group is performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall in New York. This morning, the group displayed its talent on FOX News' Fox & Friends. Several of the members are Indiana natives and some still make Indiana their home.
If you're Obama, do you want a White House Chief of Staff whose primary concern right after you've just entrusted him with this major responsibility in your administration is to ensure he will some day become Speaker of the House? Can you trust that he will be giving advice and carrying out his duties in a manner that will be in your best interest and not his? Isn't it possible that Emanuel's early conversations with the governor opened the door just a little anyway for quid pro quo discussions? Today's story in the Sun-Times just didn't appear out of nowhere. Somebody leaked this to the reporter. Perhaps Team Obama is trying to send a message to Emanuel, who is now on a long-planned trip to Africa, that he should just stay in the House and pursue his Speaker ambitions. Interestingly, Emanuel has yet to resign his seat. Maybe he's having doubts about whether he will survive until January 20, 2009.
House Speak Pat Bauer, as predictable as always, was immediately dismissive, questioning whether ideas such as eliminating township government, consolidating small school districts and creating a clear chain of command within local government are practical "in the real world."
Well, Mr. Speaker, most Hoosiers -- unlike entrenched lawmakers who determine their own pay and benefits and have lobbyists pick up the checks for fine dining and entertainment -- live in that real world. Last month, those real-world Hoosiers voted overwhelmingly to eliminate assessors in 29 of Indiana's most populous townships.
It shouldn't be difficult for even Bauer to understand the next logical step: elimination of township government altogether.
Townships may have made sense in the 18th century, but in an era of instant communications and easy travel, the need for 1,008 townships has long passed. The chief reason townships have survived this long is political: They serve as fertile recruiting and training grounds for party workers.
But, just as with households and businesses, the era of tight resources should force political leaders to forgo the status quo.
The Star would also like the legislature to reconsider the role of other elected county officials, such as surveyor, coroner, treasurer and assessor.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The report implies that Emanuel may have had his own agenda. The report confirms he spoke directly to the governor one or two times on the telephone, purportedly to give the governor a heads up about his appointment as Chief of Staff and possible replacements for his seat in the House. Emanuel acknowledges that he also spoke to the governor about potential persons to fill the Senate vacancy. Emanuel pushed Jarrett for the appointment in those early discussions because he said "he knew she was interested in the appointment." If Obama truly wasn't pushing her appointment, this suggests Emanuel may have been trying to keep Jarrett out of the White House where she would compete with him for Obama's attention. Emanuel talked more extensively with the governor's chief of staff, John Harris, speaking to him about four times on the telephone. Emanuel conveyed to Harris the names of the four persons suggested by Obama and later, the report says, he added the names of Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cheryle Jackson with Obama's approval. The report says Emanuel and Harris had no discussions about a cabinet position, a nonprofit or private sector job or any other personal benefit for the governor in consideration for an appointment. Further, Emanuel says he never discussed with Obama or other members of the transition team any effort by the governor to extract a benefit for filling the Senate vacancy.
One of the allegations made by the U.S. Attorney's Office is that Gov. Blagojevich was seeking the assistance of the powerful SEIU union in establishing a well-funded nonprofit to be run by the governor. Jarrett admits to speaking to Tom Balanoff, head of the Illinois SEIU chapter on November 7, while she was still considering the Senate appointment. Balanoff told Jarrett that he had personally spoken to the governor about the possibility of appointing her to the Senate seat. He said he also discussed Madigan's appointment with the governor. Balanoff communicated to Jarrett the governor's interest in a possible cabinet appointment. Jarrett confirmed what Balanoff had already surmised--that it would never happen. Jarrett insisted, though, that Balanoff never suggested any potential quid pro quo for selecting a particular candidate.
David Axelrod didn't talk to anyone about any Senate appointment according to the report. Axelrod said he mistakenly believed Obama had contacted the governor directly about the potential replacements the staff had discussed with Obama. He didn't learn until later, according to the report, that it was Emanuel who had discussed with the governor potential replacements.
The only other member of Obama's circle of advisers mentioned in the report is Dr. Eric Whitaker, a close Obama family friend who has been mentioned as a possible appointment for the surgeon general's position. Deputy Governor Louanna Peters contacted Whitaker right after the election to inquire about who spoke for Obama on the naming of his replacement. She indicated to Whitaker that others had spoken to the governor about recommendations. Obama told Whitaker that nobody was authorized to speak on his behalf because he had "no interest in dictating the result of the selection process" and would not do so either directly or indirectly through staff. Keep in mind that Whitaker also has close ties to convicted political fixer Tony Rezko and Gov. Blagojevich. Obama used Rezko to help get Whitaker appointed by the governor as the state's public health director. Note that it was the department's Health Facilities Planning Board that Rezko help stack with cronies engaged in various pay-to-play schemes during Whitaker's tenure. After Whitaker left his state job, he went to work with Michelle Obama at the University of Chicago Hospital.
If the report is to be believed, then everyone is innocent of wrongdoing, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The report is very clear that if the governor was seeking a quid pro quo for the appointment, Obama and his key transition team members were totally unaware of it. Some things just don't add up. The Sun-Times Michael Sneed reported a source who said Emanuel was taped 21 times talking to the governor or his representatives about the Senate appointment in contrast to the half dozen communications he acknowledges took place. It also doesn't look good that Jarrett was speaking to a high-ranking SEIU official about the appointment given the prosecutor's claim that the governor discussed the SEIU's assistance in creating a nonprofit job for him. SEIU's ties to Obama cannot be understated. He has been very close to the local SEIU chapter throughout his relatively brief political career and has received substantial financial assistance from the union's PAC for his campaigns.
The mainstream media is glossing over the contents of the report, pretty much buying the "we're totally innocent" line in toto. Again, I think there are more unanswered questions by this report than any real clear indication of what Obama team members may or may not have done. I find it absurd to believe that nobody on Obama's team had any idea the governor was trying to extract favors in consideration for the Senate appointment.
UPDATE: The Obama transition team reveals for the first time that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office interviewed Obama, Emanuel and Jarret, respectively, between December 18 and December 20. The report does not tell us what the three told the prosecutor's office. Earlier, the Obama campaign stated its report had been prepared for release on December 15, but the transition team agreed to hold up its release at the request of the U.S. Attorney's office. Not until today did we learn that the delay was so Obama and his key staff persons could be questioned by prosecutors.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Five Muslim immigrants accused of scheming to massacre U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix were convicted of conspiracy Monday in a case that tested the FBI's post-Sept. 11 strategy of infiltrating and breaking up terrorist plots in their earliest stages. The men could get life in prison when they are sentenced in April . . .
Convicted were: Shnewer, a Jordanian-born cab driver; Turkish-born convenience store clerk Serdar Tatar; and brothers Dritan, Eljvir and Shain Duka, ethnic Albanians from the former Yugoslavia, who had a roofing business. A sixth man arrested and charged only with gun offenses pleaded guilty earlier . . .
"These criminals had the capacity and had done preparations to do serious and grievous harm to members of our military," Ralph Marra, the acting U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said after the verdict . . .
Prosecutors said the men bought several assault rifles supplied by the FBI and that they trekked to Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains to practice their shooting. The government also presented dozens of jihadist speeches and videos that the men supposedly used as inspiration.
According to prosecutors, the group chose Fort Dix because one of the defendants was familiar with it. His father's pizza shop delivered to the New Jersey base, which is 25 miles from Philadelphia and used primarily to train reservists for duty in Iraq.
The group's objective was to kill "as many American soldiers as possible," prosecutors said.
The reaction from CAIR was predictable. "Many people in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment. From what I saw, there was a significant role played by the government informant," said Jim Suess, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Other Muslims suggest the men were just joking about an attack. "I don't think they actually mean to do anything," said Mohamed Younes, president of the American Muslim Union. "I think they were acting stupid, like they thought the whole thing was a joke." "Faten Shnewer, the mother of defendant Mohamad Shnewer, said the informants should be the ones in jail." "Not my son and his friends. It's not right, it's not justice," she said after the verdict. The government "sent somebody to push him to say something; that's it."
On Sunday evening, Jackson's lawyer, James Montgomery Sr., reacted to the news of Nayak's bid for immunity by saying, "If that is indeed the case, and if that cooperation relates to my client, then [Nayak] is trying to save his own skin. That's all I have to say."
Nayak and his wife have helped raise about $779,000 for political candidates ranging from local office to Barack Obama according to the Tribune. He also raised considerable sums for some of the governor's harshest critics, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and State Treasurer Alex Giannoulias. Nayak is the subject of an ongoing investigation of fraud allegations at medical clinics he owns. Nayak's ties to the Jackson family, however, are the closest. The Tribune says Nayak traveled with Rev. Jesse Jackson on trips to India and he's been a business partner of Rep. Jackson's brother, Jonathan Jackson.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
But for now, a spokeswoman for President-elect Barack Obama said the transition team was not covered by a public information law that Politico cited in requesting copies of Obama staffers’ emails and notes about Blagojevich’s efforts to fill the Senate seat Obama vacated after winning the presidency.
Asked if the team would voluntarily release the records, the spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter, was non-committal. “Let's wait and see what we put out after our internal review,” she told Politico. “I don’t even know if there’s any correspondence to be had, so one step at a time.”
Who needs public disclosure when it comes to Obama? Another Politico headline reads, "Obama to absolve Emanuel in gov. scandal." The story opens, "President-elect Barack Obama’s aides plan to release a report this week absolving incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel of any impropriety in his contacts with the disgraced Illinois governor’s office, Democratic sources tell Politico." I guess Obama is the judge and jury when it comes to matters involving potential wrongdoing by those around him. Did anyone think Obama was going to turn over his own text messages he cranks out constantly on his blackberry? Who needs to wait for federal prosecutors to provide answers to these questions?
- He showed me a bill (Senate Bill 17) to require the reporting of every gift of $25 or more, including meals, that a lobbyist gives to a lawmaker. The current limit is $100; a reduction in that amount would make it harder for lawmakers to keep quiet about which interest groups are funding their dinners.
- Then he showed me a bill (Senate Bill 73) to require state university lobbyists, including presidents and trustees, to actually register as lobbyists. While it is crucial that we support and fund Indiana's universities, those institutions should have to abide by the same rules as other lobbying groups. Few groups work harder than universities to tap into the state budget. Is it too much to ask that those efforts be disclosed?
- Two other bills that have not yet been filed would ban lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists on out-of-state junkets and force the legislature to create a commission to fairly draw legislative districts.
All of Delph's ideas are worthy of becoming law. The lowering of the reporting limit for gifts is important. There are some legislators who are dined daily by some of the state's most powerful lobbyists at the city's most expensive restaurants while the legislature is in session. All of those expensive meals never seem to trigger the $100 reporting requirement and so a legislator's constituents have no idea just how much he or she is taking in freebies from lobbyists. Delph's targeting of state university lobbyists is also a good idea. All of those free tickets to IU and Purdue sporting events really soften up legislators. Similarly, banning out-of-state junkets paid by lobbyists is a great idea.
I recall hearing a story about a freshly-appointed lawmaker a few years ago who took the place of a legislator forced out of office under an ethics cloud. The freshman legislator took a free fishing trip to Florida with a group of lobbyists (unreported, of course). Not surprisingly, that legislator resigned a few years later from the legislature to become a lobbyist, just like the ethically-challenged legislator who preceded him in office. And that brings up Sen. Pat Miller's legislation. Yes, we need a law barring state lawmakers from resigning their legislative seats to become lobbyists. She proposes a one-year cooling off period. A two-year period would be preferable but anything is better than what we have.
I particularly like Delph's idea to create a bipartisan commission to fairly draw legislative boundaries. So many bad lawmakers remain in office for decades because the legislative boundaries are drawn to favor incumbent members of the party drawing the boundaries. Districts should be drawn compactly and without regard to their political make-up. States like Iowa which have adopted this approach have seen far more competitive races for the state legislature and Congress.
Chances are that neither Delph's or Miller's legislation will go anywhere if the past is prologue. Indiana lawmakers like their all-too cozy relationship with lobbyists too much to give up the perks that come along with those relationships. It is nice to see that some lawmakers understand the problem, even after participating in the process for many years. Mayor Greg Ballard could take some cues from Delph. Less than a year into office and he already seems to have an almost depraved indifference to the ethical clouds which have enveloped his entire administration. And this after he ran a campaign promising the exact opposite.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The mythical character portrayed by Jimmie Stewart, Jefferson Smith, was willing to fight to his dying breath to protect a proposed boys camp from a pork barrel, dam project favored by his state's corrupt political establishment. The political boss of the state, Jim Taylor, controlled the governor who appointed Smith to his seat, the state's senior Senator Joseph Payne and the news media. Together, the corrupt political establishment sought to portray Smith as the bad guy, but they couldn't break him. In the end, it was Sen. Payne, played by Claude Raines, who confessed his own corruption to his shocked Senate colleagues, overwhelmed by his own shame.
As bad as Blagojevich comes across in this movie, others don't fair much better. The state's junior senator, Barack Obama, preparing to take the reins of the U.S. presidency, could barely muster a statement of indignation concerning the governor's actions. How could he? Obama is a player in The Combine which runs Illinois government. Pay-to-play is how the game is played and Obama played it as well as the next guy. The man at the center of the corruption scheme, political fixer Tony Rezko, helped Obama get his start in Illinois politics, raised more than a quarter million dollars for him and financially assisted him in the purchase of his home.
House Speaker Mike Madigan looked particular small when he told an MSNBC reporter this week that Republicans were to blame for acting as the governor's enabler in defending his refusal to allow legislation to be heard that would let Illinois voters pick their next senator. His party has controlled the Illinois General Assembly for years, including his more than two decades as the House's top leader. He co-chaired the governor's re-election campaign and serves as his party's state chairman. He belatedly initiated impeachment proceedings against the governor many months after evidence first surfaced in Rezko's trial of the extent of pay-to-play corruption in his administration. Instead of adopting rules that permit bipartisan participation in the proceeding, Madigan stacked the rules so his party alone can control who is called to testify and produce evidence to the impeachment committee. One of the clients of Madigan's law firm, power broker William Cellini, has been indicted by the U.S. Attorney and figures pretty big in the pay-to-play scandal engulfing Illinois government. Ed Genson, the high profile criminal defense attorney hired by Blagojevich, dined with Cellini while in Springfield this week attending to his impeachment duties. Cellini's influence in Illinois is remarkably similar to the mythical Jim Taylor's influence.
Madigan's daughter's behavior is equally as deplorable. Rather than use her job as the state's top law enforcement officer in the state to weed out public corruption, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has continually deferred all action to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office. Incredibly, she sought to short-circuit the impeachment process by petitioning the state's Supreme Court to relieve the governor of his constitutional duties because of an alleged "disability." Madigan's name has surfaced prominently in the governor's attempt to sell the senate seat Obama is vacating. She wants the appointment. If Blagoyevich is dislodged from office, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn might be counted on to appoint her to the seat with the understanding she won't challenge him for governor in 2010. Are her actions more noble than Blagojevich's?
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn first demanded the governor's resignation and called on the legislature to pass legislation allowing Illinois voters to pick their next senator at a special election. He then reversed his position and now says he wants the power to appoint Obama's replacement after Gov. Blagojevich either resigns or is impeached. The motivation for this dramatic reversal is suspect. Although he often pushes reform-minded concepts to the point of being a gadfly, he is haunted by his past as well. Observers of the former administration of Gov. Dan Walker from the 1970s describe Quinn as a ghost employee who performed political work on the taxpayer's dime. Walker later went to jail on unrelated fraud charges arising out of his management of a failed savings and loan.
Historians tell us that Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" was vilified at the time by the Washington establishment and the American press for portraying the august U.S. Senate as corrupt. It was banned in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Russia because it proved that good could win out over bad in a democratic government. However accurately Capra's movie portrayed the state of politics in America in 1939 it cannot be disputed how relevant its plot is to politics in America today. Today's movie plot is real life and not imaginary. Smith was as defiant as Gov. Blagojevich and offered his own fighting words. "You think I'm licked. You all think I'm licked. Well, I'm not licked. And I'm going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause." Smith, unlike Blagojevich, had a cause worth fighting for.
"Great principles don't get lost once they come to light," Sen. Smith said. "They're right here; you just have to see them again!" Unfortunately, finding someone today who can see those "great principles" and stand up and fight for them is a daunting task.
Friday, December 19, 2008
The Detroit-based company and competitors such as Ford Motor Co. shifted more manufacturing to Mexico this year to capitalize on wages less than an eighth of those in the U.S. and factories that make fuel-efficient models. Through November, Mexican plants turned out 5 percent more vehicles than a year earlier, versus an estimated decline of 30 percent in the U.S. . . .
GM, for instance, has invested $3.6 billion in Mexico in the last three years. Its auto and light truck production there rose 28 percent in November, the national car industry association said on Dec. 9.
The company said total output in North America, including Mexico, fell 32 percent for the same month to 249,000 vehicles. GM declined to break out its Mexican production.
Ford spent $1.2 billion in 2005 to increase output in Hermosillo of its mid-size Fusion sedan. Production in Mexico from January to November rose 1.5 percent, while it fell 26 percent in the U.S. and 9 percent in Canada, it said.
Chrysler is building a $570 million factory near Saltillo, Coahuila, that will produce 440,000 engines a year, said Manuel Duarte, a Mexico City-based spokesman. It has canceled one of its two work shifts at a light truck plant there, Duarte said . . .
The wave of investment helped Mexico expand its production to more than 2 million cars in 2007 from 1.54 million in 2003. Mexican car output is forecast to rise to 3 million units by 2015, Magliano said.
Over the same period, the U.S. industry has gone in reverse, dropping 12 percent to 10.54 million vehicles last year from 11.92 million in 2003, according to CSM Worldwide. The seasonally adjusted annual rate through November plummeted to 8.71 million cars and light trucks, CSM Worldwide said in a Dec. 15 statement.
City Board of Elections records show Kennedy has failed to vote in many elections since she registered in the city in 1988 - including votes for the Senate seat she hopes to fill and numerous Democratic faceoffs for mayor . . .
Records show Kennedy did not pull the lever for any of her fellow Democrats in city primary races for mayor in 1989, 1993 and 1997 and 2005, which Republicans went on to win three out of four times in the general election.
She was also AWOL for the primary and general elections in 1994, when Sen. Daniel Moynihan was running for reelection to the seat Kennedy hopes to hold . . .
Records show she also took a pass on the 2002 gubernatorial primary as well as the general election, when Democrat Carl McCall took on incumbent Republican George Pataki.
Aides Thursday said that prior to 1988, Kennedy was registered in Massachusetts while a student at Harvard University. She later switched her voting address to her mother's old apartment on Fifth Ave., but apparently fell off the rolls completely sometime in the 1980s.
When she went to reregister in 1988 at her new Park Ave. home, she filled in "1984?", when asked the year she had last registered.
How low the bar is when you're a Kennedy. And since when did she stop going by her married name, "Schlossberg"?
Thursday, December 18, 2008
The City-County Council's Public Works Committee will vote on a proposal to charge the roughly 1,900 public safety personnel with take-home vehicles a monthly surcharge of $51, the cost of a 17-gallon tank of gas, once gas hits $3 a gallon.
The surcharge would remain in effect for at least 90 days or until gas reached $4 a gallon, when the monthly cost would increase to $68, the cost of a tank at the $4 rate.
Officers could opt out of the take-home vehicle program if they didn't want to pay.
Unless gas prices shoot back up to $3 any time soon, public safety officers aren't going to be paying a dime for personal use of their city-furnished vehicles. And even if prices do reach $3, it doesn't come close to paying the added costs taxpayers are forking over to allow police officers their favored take-home car policy. In other words, the taxpayers will continue to be screwed. Can we trade this lousy deal offered behind door number one for the deal behind door number two?
Here's the problem, which the Star article completely fails to discuss. Current city policy not only allows police officers unlimited free use of their take-home cars for personal use, but it also allows them to rent themselves out to private security companies using the uniforms, equipment and cars you furnish them. Private security companies make millions annually off of your uniformed public safety officers, and the officers make a decent second income to supplement their already good-paying, full-time police jobs. Not surprisingly, the proposal doesn't touch this sweet little deal. Other major cities wisely collect fees from the private security companies to share in the profit of rent-a-cop. It's obvious our Republican mayor and council put the interest of the FOP and the private security companies over the taxpaying-public. This is a missed opportunity to save taxpayers $1-2 million annually. This is what happens when you allow police officers to serve as city councilors.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
LaHood, who is of Arabic descent, can be aptly described as a career political hack. He started out working for U.S. Rep. Tom Railsback decades ago until Railsback got ousted because of a sex scandal involving a lobbyist for the dairy industry. LaHood then joined the staff of House Republican Leader Bob Michel, an affable but "go along to get along" Republican. LaHood returned back to Illinois and successfully ran for a seat in the Illinois House in 1992. When his old boss retired two years later, LaHood ran and won the seat in Congress. He won re-election every two years thereafter until he decided to retire this year. LaHood is not anything close to a reformer. He's a big proponent of earmarks. Further, members of Congress make terrible presidential cabinet choices. Unfortunately, Obama is filling up his cabinet with lots of these congress critters. The only sure bet is that pork-barreling will be alive and well at a Transportation Department run by LaHood.
UPDATE: Jonathan Turley has a very negative reaction to the LaHood choice for different reasons.
Blagoyevich's attorney, Ed Genson, made a big splash by requesting the impeachment committee approve an application he submitted to receive reimbursement from the taxpayers for his representation of the governor in the proceeding. The committee turned him down, telling him to take his request up with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the same person trying to remove the governor for disability. Genson then asked the committee for the right to subpoena witnesses and documents on behalf of the governor. The committee said no. He then demanded that several of the committee members recuse themselves from participating in the proceeding because they made statements prejudicial to his client during the debate on the impeachment resolution. Again, the committee said no. This should get more interesting, particularly when the governor tells the story he's telling reporters that he's anxious to discuss publicly. The House committee is making documents introduced in the impeachment hearings available online, which you can find here.
"To lose money through a fraud is just a horrible situation to be in," said Peter Reist, a managing director with KSM. He added that he began informing clients late last week of their potential losses from Madoff investments.
He said fewer than 50 clients, mostly individual investors from Indiana, had money tied up with Madoff. Those investments represent less than 4 percent of assets under advisement by KSM. Future Select Portfolio Management, a Redmond, Wash.-based investment fund, made the actual investments of KSM's clients' money into the Madoff investment program.
In addition, Katz Sapper & Miller, the Indianapolis accounting firm that is KSM's parent organization, could lose up to 1 percent of its book value from Madoff investments.
KSM said it is working with Future Select to try to recover money for clients. However, Reist said the size and scope of the apparent fraud make it hard to determine the prospects for financial recovery.
"That really is the big unknown," he said.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I remember Johnnie as a long time friend when ask for help, he responded. After a break-in leaving my home defenseless, he made it secure. I remember his talking of his family as they served our country and his youngest as if he would always be dad. I remember him as not seeing skin color, but something deeper, he could see your moral values. I remember sitting with him, listening to his retold jokes, laughing again and again at the same jokes just because he enjoyed the retelling so much. I remember seeing him pick up other people's trash. I remember him being asked for a handout, taking money out of his pocket, giving money away. I told him agencies were for help, his reply; it is needed now. He knew it might be used for something besides food. Yes, he enjoyed playing and traveling was his passion. He believed in working to make that possible. He took pride in his city and police department, calling the police who worked the area his friends. Yes he will be missed. He lived religion.
Sneed hears rumbles President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is reportedly on 21 different taped conversations by the feds -- dealing with his boss' vacant Senate seat!
A lot of chit-chat?
• • To date: Rahm's been mum. Stay tuned.
Anybody got any thoughts on the number of times Rahm dropped the f-bomb during those 21 taped conversations? Yesterday, the Obama transition team announced its own review of conversations between its staff and the governor came up with a clean bill of health for the Obama team; however, the transition team is not releasing a report of its findings listing all contacts supposedly at the request of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's office. That information will have to wait until December 22. Sneed's sources within Fitzgerald's office have proven pretty impeccable over time. Was his office trying to save Obama from huge embarrassment by asking him to hold off on reporting anything yet and dropping this little item in Sneed's column?
Monday, December 15, 2008
After legislators arrived in Springfield and the House Democrats caucused, the Democrats had a change of heart and no longer want a special election. Their excuse is the supposed high cost of a special election. This excuse is specious. Next year, Illinois will conduct municipal and township elections. The primary is on February 24, 2009 and the general election is on April 7, 2009. Proposals for a special election called for piggy-backing the Senate election on the previously-scheduled municipal elections. The special election to fill the vacancy created by U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel's resignation to become Obama's White House Chief of Staff is expected to follow this same schedule.
The municipal elections don't typically generate a big turnout. My suspicion is that Democrats fear they might lose a special election to a Republican under the Illinois Democratic Party's cloud of scandal. Hence, previous calls for a special election are being laid aside in hopes of an earlier removal date of Gov. Blagoyevich. Also, Speaker Madigan may want his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, to get the Senate appointment. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who supported a special election before he opposed one, may want to appoint Madigan to the Senate position to remove her from competition for the 2010 gubernatorial race. Interestingly, Blagoyevich put out word he would support a special election to replace Obama if it applied to all Senate appointments by a governor and not just this appointment.