Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No trust

So the government lends taxpayers' money to the banks with the idea that they would then lend that money to people to get the economy moving again. I know there were other objectives to lending money to banks , but that was one of them. So what does Northern Trust (a/k/a No Trust, to me) do with some of their money? It spends the money on schmoozing clients for the Northern Trust Open, a golf tournament.

Now, No Trust argued that it didn't spend the bailout money, of which it received $1.5 billion, on the event, which included concerts by Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire and Sheryl Crow as well as hotel rooms at the Ritz Carlton. But my response to that is, how badly could the bank have been hurting if it had other money to spend on the event?

If No Trust is doing so well now that it can throw money away on party time, then maybe it should repay that $1.5 billion tout de suite. No Trust also argued that the schmoozing was part of its marketing program, and a No Trust spokesman said, "It's about client relationships and showing appreciation for clients." Really? I wonder how many of the people No Trust put up in the Ritz and who were in attendance at all those concerts were just regular "clients." I wonder if Joe Average, who has a checking account with No Trust that contains maybe a few thousand and a savings account to match, was a part of these events. Because he's a client too, and many more like him. He might not be a whale, but he put his trust in No Trust just like anyone else. So what No Trust is really saying is these events were for lucrative clients and building those relatoinships. And to that I say, it wasn't just the lucrative clients' money that made up that $1.5 billion No Trust received. It was Joe Average's too. I think it's time for No Trust to pay Joe Average back. All $1.5 billion.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I just wanted to rant for a moment here. This morning I decided it was time to sign up for the half marathon I usually run in the summer. I had waited because the registration cost for the Chicago Marathon was quite high ($125), and I also signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle ($40), which I had to do in January because the race fills up fast. I usually do all my registrations online. It's faster and instantaneous. And usually I'm charged a dollar or two as a registration fee. I don't really understand the fee, since everything is being done online so I imagine there is little manpower required on the race organizer's part, but a dollar or two is not a big deal. Today, however, I'm signing up for what is now the Rock N' Roll Chicago Half Marathon (used to be the Bank of America Chicago Distance Classic Half Marathon) and find out they charge $6.95 as a registration fee. The race itself cost $70, so that's kind of a hefty fee to tack on. Not only that, but if you fill out the registration form by hand and either fax or send it in, you just pay $70. So for the convenience of online registration, you're paying almost 10% more in fees, even though registering online should take less work for all involved.

So of course, what did I do? I canceled my online registration before paying, filled out a hard copy form and faxed it in. In this economy, I'm trying to save all the money I can, and my race fees per year probably cost me about $300. Add in shoes and running clothes, and you have another $200 to $300. I would think Elite Racing, which runs the Rock N'Roll series of marathons and half-marathons, would understand this. Bank of America never charged $6.95 for registration. In fact, last year, I paid $55 with a $4.95 fee. Now, before you say, well that fee's about 10% too, sure it is. But in total, I was only paying $59.95. That's $17 less than this year's registration cost. And the year before (2007), the half marathon again charged $55 with no registration fee.

Now, in all fairness, it is the Active Network, which Elite uses as its registration service, that charges the fee. But Active isn't a small company. They handle a lot of the registrations for various races, including the Chicago Marathon. They don't need a 10% fee. And every year, these races charge more money. I remember my first Chicago Marathon I think I paid $80 or something, maybe less. This year, it's $125. I used to do both triathlons and marathons, but had to stop because the race fees were getting so high I couldn't afford to do both. The Accenture Chicago Triathlon is $165 this year.

I'm not saying the cost isn't warranted to some degree. The race organizers have to pay for supplies and food, medical personnel, police presence and any paid employees (many are volunteers). But why just a couple years ago could the Chicago Marathon get by with $110 registration fee, and this year it's $125? Sadly, I believe the answer is -- because they can. We'll pay it because we want to run. And even if I decide to bow out once the fee gets to say, $150, there will be many other people willing to pay in my place. It's a shame that those of us who love running or doing triathlons have to almost work a second job to afford the races. I'm starting to wonder if I'm better off as a "recreational runner." It would definitely be cheaper. If the Chicago Marathon goes up another $15 next year, I probably will seek out a less expensive marathon, even if I have to travel. Sure, I'd have to spend the money on travel costs, but at least I'd get a little vacation out of it. If I can find a marathon that costs about $60, and they are out there, I'm already $80 ahead.

Well, that's my rant for today. I faxed in my form to Elite Racing, to save the $6.95. I can put it toward the new running shoes I need.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where's B. Rush?

Maybe Rep. Bobby Rush is gearing up to make a statement on behalf of his pal, Roland Burris. But I'm surprised it's taking so long. Back when the U.S. Senate was blocking Burris from being seated, Rush was quick to throw out the race card. Burris would have been the only black senator, just as President Obama had been. The U.S. Senate, according to Rush, didn't want a black man around. Never mind that under normal circumstances, it doesn't matter what the other senators want. Senators are elected. If there are no black men or women in the Senate, the voters are to blame, not other senators. Never mind that a black man, a former senator, was elected president, supported by some of the same senators that Rush now claimed didn't want Burris around because of his race.

No, the issue back then, if Rush had bothered to step back for a bit, was about Rod Blagojevich's taint on the whole process. Blago had been arrested. Politicians and voters were skeptical about the appointment, whether Burris gave anything to Blago in return. That was the issue. Not Burris's race.

And now, when information has come out that Burris not only had contact with more Blago associates than he testified to but also tried to organize a fundraiser for Blago, Rush is nowhere to be found. Like I said, maybe Rush's support is forthcoming. Maybe it is meant to be implied. But I don't see Rush giving any press conferences or TV interviews now. No statements that Burris is being attacked because he's black and the U.S. Senate wants him out. I don't see any press releases from the Congressional Black Caucus once again supporting Burris. Has Rush realized his mistake? Has he, with the benefit of hindsight, realized maybe he shouldn't have been so quick to blame the ruckus over Burris on race?

I don't see the support that was there a little over a month ago. But I'm waiting.

Kass, off his rocker again

John Kass is better at finding people to blame than Roland Burris. In his column today, Kass blames President Obama for the Burris mess. Wow, now there's some well-thought out journalism. The Chicago Tribune shouldn't have even wasted the ink. Because Kass spends about half the article talking about Mayor Daley, Burris playing the race card, Blagojevich and the FBI wiretaps, etc. The only blame he puts on Obama is that Obama should have pushed for a special election for his Senate seat and that Obama wanted Burris seated so that Burris could vote in favor of the stimulus bill. Well, damn, there's a smoking gun if I ever saw one!

First, Obama did push for a special election, but I guess Kass didn't bother to research that. Or maybe Kass's use of the word "demanded" means he thought Obama should have pushed harder on the issue. But let's face it, other Illinois politicians also were asking for a special election, among other things. It was out there already. Obama also called for Blago's resignation. But I guess that wasn't "demanding" enough either. And frankly, on the heels of becoming our new president, Obama had a little more to worry about than just Illinois's troubles. He didn't create this mess, other than getting himself elected as president thereby leaving an empty Senate seat for the selling. Not his fault.

As for passage of the stimulus bill, I doubt Burris's one vote mattered all that much. Yes, the bill passed 60-38, so just barely. But with all the back and forth on the bill, I'm sure without that one vote, the Senate would have come to a resolution on the bill eventually. They couldn't do nothing. Even Republicans could understand that. Looking back, I believed Burris should be seated and the whole mess put behind us. The Senate had more pressing matters to deal with than the business of whether Burris should or should not be seated. They didn't need Illinois's mess in their house. Even though I was skeptical that Burris was appointed without giving Blago something in return, I hadn't seen or read anything saying he had, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

This mess is no one's fault but Blago's and Burris's. It's not on Rep. Jim Durkin for asking the wrong questions. It's not on Obama. It's not on other Illinois politicians. Blago appointed Burris, even though Blago should have left the task up to someone else (whether the people of Illinois by special election, or by resigning). Blago was given that authority by the Illinois Constitution. After Blago's arrest, there wasn't enough time to do anything to prevent what happened, to force Blago to do something other than what he did. Burris accepted the seat, because of his blind ambition. Burris wasn't completely truthful in his affidavits or his testimony. A mess has ensued. But it is a mess of their making, not anyone else's. Although I know how Kass likes to stick it to a Democrat.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Burris in the hot seat again

Sen. Roland Burris should have known what would happen if he let himself get mixed up with the likes of Rod Blagojevich. Just a little over a month after being sworn in as President Barack Obama's replacement in the U.S. Senate, Burris is under suspicion once again.

When first appointed, many people doubted that Burris didn't conduct any behind-the-scenes deals with Blago for the seat. But we gave Burris the benefit of the doubt. And Burris might still be clean. However, the information that recently came out doesn't look good.

Burris sent an affidavit to Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, head of the impeachment committee, to supplement testimony he gave in January before that same committee. During his original testimony, Burris forgot to mention that he had been in contact with other Blago friends, staff and relatives besides Lon Monk. Burris stated in the affidavit and during his press conference that he was asked another question by Rep. Jim Durkin, which is why he never went back to supplement his answer with these other names. It's all Durkin's fault, in other words. If Durkin hadn't confused Burris, Burris would have mentioned John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, John Wyma, et al. during his testimony. Below is that line of questioning. You decide for yourself if Burris had an opportunity to answer the question fully at that time.

REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Did you talk to any members of the Governor's staff or anyone closely related to the Governor, including family members or any lobbyists connected with him, including let me throw out some names, John Harris, Rob Blagojevich, Doug Scofield, Bob Greenleaf, Lon Monk, John Wyma, did you talk to anybody who was associated with the Governor about your desire to seek the appointment prior to the Governor's arrest?
MR. WRIGHT: Give us a moment.
MR. BURRIS: I talked to some friends about my desire to be appointed, yes.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: I guess the point is I was trying to ask, did you speak to anybody who was on the Governor's staff prior to the Governor's arrest or anybody, any of those individuals or anybody who is closely related to the Governor?
MR. BURRIS: I recall having a meeting with Lon Monk about my partner and I trying to get continued business, and I did bring it up, it must have been in September or maybe it was in July of '08 that, you know, you're close to the Governor, let him know that I am certainly interested in the seat.
REPRESENTATIVE DURKIN: Okay. Did you speak to any individuals who -- any individuals who were also seeking the appointment of the United States Senate seat, otherwise people we've referred to as Senate candidates one through five?
MR. BURRIS: No, I did not.

I watched Burris's press conference. When asked why he didn't tell the impeachment committee about these other contacts during his testimony, Burris asked his lawyer, Tim Wright, to answer. But then reporters badgered Burris about why he couldn't answer the question, why did he need his lawyer? Burris went on to answer, or try to answer, the question, but again, he just blamed Durkin's line of questioning. But the transcript of his testimony doesn't show that. Durkin didn't ask Burris about Monk, to the exclusion of all others. Burris talked about Monk and no one else. And then Burris waited over a month, until after he had received the transcript of his testimony, to suddenly realize he left something out. A few somethings, or somebodies as the case may be.

Regardless of Durkin's line of questioning, Burris knew why he was at that hearing. He should have made sure, at that hearing, that the committee members knew everything there was to know about his contacts with Blago's friends, staff and family. But I think Burris also knew that admitting to those contacts would only make him look worse. And he was already looking pretty bad.

Some have questioned whether Burris only prepared this affidavit because he found out his conversations, or any one of them, were taped by the FBI. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I am wondering the very same thing. Burris said in his press conference that federal prosecutors had reached out to his lawyers because they wanted to talk to Burris. But Burris claimed no meeting had been arranged and no discussions had been had. And later in the press conference, Wright said that the FBI hadn't contacted them, then said there "may have been some contact," but when asked by reporters for more information, Wright refused to give any more. Did Burris know what was forthcoming?

In the press conference, Burris also makes a distinction between "the appointment" and "the Senate seat," as if the two are different. Burris said he filed an affidavit about "the appointment" before he gave testimony, stating that he didn't talk to anyone about the appointment. Burris accused the Republicans on the impeachment committee of starting this line of questioning about who he talked to period. But Burris's Feb. 5 affidavit stated that he did talk to people about the U.S. Senate seat. How Burris sees a distinction between talking to people about his appointment and talking to people about the seat is beyond me. They are one in the same. His appointment was to the Senate seat, so therefore, any conversations he had with Blago's associates about the open seat was the same as talking to them about an appointment, because how else did Burris intend to get the seat? By osmosis?

And this lapse in judgment brings me to something else I gave Burris the benefit of the doubt on when he was appointed by Blago. I read about his lapse in judgment on the Rolando Cruz case, but I figured it was mistake. No doubt it was a BIG mistake (an innocent man put in jail and Burris fought his appeal even though an employee in his office told him there were inconsistencies in the case). But it was the only mark on his record that I read about. Now, here is another lapse in judgment. Whether the lapse was taking the Senate seat to begin with after being appointed by a crooked governor, or whether it was not providing complete testimony before the impeachment committee, it was a lapse. And I'm not sure Illinois can accept any more lapses.

P.S. At the end of his press conference, Burris then blamed this whole mess on the media. First, Durkin, then the MSM. Who isn't at fault, Senator?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's really important

I read this column by John Kass this morning and had a laugh about it. I don't like Kass's columns very much. They are so full of puffery at times, it's difficult to continue reading. But now I see this topic is front and center on the Chicago Tribune's Web site, so I thought I'd write about it.

Why is this important? If E-Verify was such a spectacular program, why was it just put into play now? If the Republicans wanted to make using E-Verify mandatory for all employers, they could have done it anytime since 1997, when the program was first introduced (under a different name). But now the House Democrats put it in a stimulus bill, the Senate takes it out, and it must be all the Democrats' fault. The headline to Kass's column is even "Democrats undercut aid for U.S. workers." Seriously? Again, if this program was so important, why didn't Republicans make it law when they had a majority in Congress? I guess "Republicans undercut aid to U.S. workers" too. And really does Kass even know why the E-Verify provision was taken out? No, he doesn't say. He talked to one Republican senator (Jeff Sessions from Alabama) who said the Democrats stripped it out of the stimulus bill, and that's all the proof he needs. Kass doesn't know if the provision was taken out in hopes of getting more Republican support. I guess, like Kass, we can all speculate. Or could it be because E-Verify still has its problems?

And from my reading, E-Verify does have its problems (or see here or here or here). Maybe Kass should question whether the program's glitches and shortcomings aren't to blame for its disappearance from the bill. Or maybe Kass should just focus on more important issues altogether, like our failing economy and rising unemployment rates. E-Verify makes little difference to people when there aren't jobs to apply for, or when companies can't afford to hire more employees.

I could care less about the reason E-Verify disappeared from the Senate version of the bill. I could care less about some program that is supposed to verify someone's eligibility to work in this country, because by the time an illegal immigrant gets to the point that he or she tries to apply for a job, he or she is already in this country. If Kass is serious about illegal immigration, he should be writing columns about immigration reform. E-Verify is a too-late solution to a much bigger problem. And we have plenty of problems to tackle right now.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Race or reality?

I read this column by Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, and the events it described bothered me. Quick synopsis -- Warner Saunders, an NBC 5 news anchor, accused Robert Feder, a former Chicago Sun-Times columnist, of bias in his columns against black journalists in Chicago. Saunders didn't accuse Feder in private. He accused him in front of everyone at the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists meeting. Saunders even brought a speech prepared just for the occasion.

Now, I will admit that I never read Feder's columns. I may have read them at some point in the past, but not enough to remember that it was his column I was reading. But I read many of the comments to Rosenthal's column, and commentors who were regular Feder readers stated that Feder wasn't biased. He gave the business to everyone, white or black. I also read the same thing expressed in other blogs (you can find them by typing in "Warner Saunders" and "Robert Feder" in Google, too many to link here).

I started to wonder -- what this really a case of race or was it reality? If a white person criticizes a black person, is it automatically a case of race? What if the criticism is true?

I've watched Saunders on NBC 5, and he is not good. He may have been once, but he at times can't even read the teleprompter accurately. He makes mistakes. He mispronounces words. That is not a race-based criticism. It is the truth. And those criticisms were also expressed in comments and blogs I read. If Feder expressed the same in his columns, does that make him biased? Even if Feder was biased and picked on journalists of color, if he pointed out Saunders' shortcomings, he was on point. I think many NBC 5 news watchers would agree. And if Feder was so biased, why in the past had he praised Saunders (mentioned in Rosenthal's column)?

This being the case, it bothered me that Saunders not only blamed the criticisms on Feder's bias, instead of recognizing his own poor performance, but that he confronted Feder is such a public way. Saunders said,
"I simply wanted to confront him, face to face. I just spoke my truth in front of a person who I felt has been unfair to me and to black journalists in this city. … Very few people who are not in our skin can understand this."
If Saunders wanted to confront him, there were other venues to do it. Call Feder on the phone perhaps. And no, I don't understand it. I don't understand the need to humiliate a fellow journalist in front of other journalists in order to cover up my own mistakes. But not understanding that has nothing to do with race. It's just reality. I won't be watching NBC 5 news in the future. The station can thank Saunders for that.

Oh those downstaters

Looks like State Sen. Larry Bomke from Springfield has been spending too much time with his head in the cornfields. It was just last week that Rod Blagojevich was voted out of office. Gov. Pat Quinn and the rest of the legislature is now faced with the task of fixing what Blago broke. And what does Bomke's to-do list contain? A proposal to fire Bill Ayers. He wants Ayers fired from his position at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Yes, that is certainly top on Illinoisans' minds right now. I've been wondering when they were going to get to that. Forget our $5 billion budget deficit. Forget that our former governor was arrested and later voted out of office, and Illinois is now a laughingstock. Ayers is definitely the problem, and firing him will put Illinois back on track.

Ayers has taught at UIC for over 20 years, and until the presidential election campaign, when Republicans trotted the Ayers' story out in order to paint President Barack Obama (then, Sen. Obama) as a terrorist sympathizer, someone who pals around with terrorists, no one cared. Parents whose children were being taught by Ayers weren't up in arms over his past bad acts. No one called for his firing because of who he was. I don't think anyone condones what Ayers did so many years ago, but it was so many years ago. Although only Ayers can speak to this, what he has done since then has seemed to be his way of making up for it. I found this letter, written by one of Ayers' colleagues at UIC, and posted on a former Ayers' student's blog. UIC Professor Willian H. Schubert talks about the Bill Ayers he knows.

So given all this, Bomke's proposal is just another waste of time for Illinois. It's not important. It won't make a substantial difference to anyone in Illinois. It won't provide jobs for Illinoisans (except for the person who would take Ayers' place). It won't fix the budget. It won't clean up government. In fact, all it does is make our government look more wasteful. If the legislature wants to oust people from their jobs because of bad acts, whether those acts are considered terrorism or not, maybe they should put in a proposal to remove Cook County Board President Todd Stroger from his post? Or Mayor Richard M. Daley? They have wasted taxpayers' money. They have been involved in scandals (Hired Truck or hiring family). They certainly haven't helped people in Illinois.

I do wonder, why now? Ayers has taught at UIC for years. Bomke has served in the Senate since 1995. Fourteen years, and not a word said until now, after Ayers' story was splashed across the television and newspaper pages during the presidential election campagin. Now, Bomke wants to do something about it. Maybe Bomke should resign. I mean, he has sat back for fourteen years while big bad Bill Ayers (*sarcasm*) was teaching at UIC. Let's put it to a vote. Because we have nothing else to worry about here in Illinois.