Friday, January 27, 2006

In the On Deck Circle

As the prosecution is on the verge of resting their case in chief in the trial of former Governor George Ryan, Eric Zorn gives his prediction that Ryan will not take the stand in his own defense.

The following is from Eric's always interesting blog:

Opinion is split among those seated in the large (put not often crowded) media gallery at the George Ryan trial whether the former governor will testify in his own defense.

The panelists discussing the trial last night on WTTW Ch. 11's "Chicago Tonight" sounded sure, to varying degrees, that Ryan would take the stand as his lawyer, Dan Webb, has all but promised.

But other observers, me included, think Ryan is too touchy to do well on the stand; too blustery, and, like nearly every politician, too unaccustomed to not being in control of the room. He'd do fine under direct examination from his own attorneys, but he'd likely lose his cool under days and days of tough cross examination from the prosecution.

So what do you think? Should Ryan testify? What does the jury think if he doesn't? Try to keep it decent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Politics, Football and Poker

Once again, I've been remiss in meeting my blogging goals. I have just been really busy trying to get a variety of things done, but I think I'm almost there. The worst part is that there's been tons of stuff worth commenting on:

Rick Pearson's Sunday Trib article about the Governor's tactic of demonizing D.C. in his State of the State speech; the Trib Editorial about corruption everywhere you look; and Carol Marin's article about whether Chicago is ready for reform, just to name a few.

The common theme in those articles is one that I've discussed before. Will stories of scandal and corruption trump items like education and healthcare when voters head to the polls in March and November? And what does it portend for the future if they don't? Only time will tell.

I'm pretty tired and have to get on the road early tomorrow to get downstate, but I'll cover this issue in more detail sooner rather than later and discuss the specific impact that it could have on races on both sides of the aisle, and up and down the ticket.

Believe it or not, I actually have some other good topics which I will really try to find the time to get to soon.

On a closing note, (and remember, this is coming from the guy who predicted Texas over USC by 4), take the Seahawks and the points. I don't really like the Seahawks, and the Steelers are peaking at the right time, but I'm surprised that they are favored, let alone by 3 1/2 to 4.

Lastly, anybody interested in a friendly game of Texas hold 'em downstate in the next couple of weeks, let me know. The first five people who I could see spending a few hours with, (and more importantly, that I think I could take), are in. E-mail me directly if you're interested.

I'm thinking about putting together a larger charity poker event in Springfield in March, but have to see how onerous the regulations are on doing something like that, or if it's even permissible. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Does He Remind You of Somebody?

In the Governor's State of the State address, one of the main themes was a compare and contrast between Washington D.C. and Illinois. And he effectively used it to highlight a number of the accomplishments of his administration. I found it to be very Clintonesque in it's approach of building up a foil to demagogue against.

Later on in the day, I read the latest article by Chicago attorney and political analyst Russ Stewart about the Governor's re-election prospects. Russ draws a comparison between the Governor and another elected official - Dan Walker. And without taking any positions on what he wrote, I think that there is some real interesting stuff in there. Below is one excerpt for your pondering.
A 1970's song by The Who, entitled “Don’t Get Fooled Again,” contained the verse “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Illinois’ new governor has a lot more hair than the old governor, and undoubtedly has more personal integrity, but three years into the Blagojevich Administration, it’s still the Same Old Stuff in Springfield.

A politician can survive in a hostile environment if he has built a loyal and cohesive base of support. The 2002 environment was tainted by the scandals of Ryan. Republicans had controlled the governorship for 26 years, and Blagojevich promised change. That was the message many independent voters, and some Republicans, wanted to hear. But Blagojevich’s vote was anchored by a coalition of Organized Labor, minorities, liberals, abortion supporters, gays, trial lawyers, Downstate county Democratic chairmen seeking state patronage, and white Democratic Chicago ward committeemen who took Mell’s word that The Kid would “do well” as governor. Even with that firepower, Blagojevich managed to win by only 252,080 votes.

Blagojevich, the calculating opportunist, has since rent that coalition asunder. He alienated the trial lawyers by refusing to veto a tort reform bill with non-economic caps. He alienated the teachers (Illinois Federation of Teachers and Illinois Education Assn.) and state government workers (AFSCME) with his pension raid; thus far, only the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union have endorsed the governor. He alienated Mell and his Chicago colleagues; they worked hard for him in 2002, but will ignore him in 2006. He alienated Downstate chairmen, who are livid about the dearth of state jobs. Mayor Rich Daley’s political operation is in shambles, and he is in no position to aid the governor. Blagojevich’s feminist base is in jeopardy: If Republicans nominate Judy Baar Topinka, a lot of liberal women will vote to make her Illinois’ first woman governor. And even liberals and independents, if they begin to tire of the Same Old Stuff in Springfield, may abandon him.

The governor has spent his first term making enemies in order to make headlines, much as did the state’s last Democratic governor, Dan Walker. In 1972, Walker ran as the candidate of “change,” and beat Paul Simon in the primary by 735,193-694,900, a margin of 40,293 votes. He then spent four years warring with every vested interest, expecting that voters would perceive him as an independent-minded reformer, and then triumphantly re-elect him in 1976. But Watergate and rampant corruption in Chicago changed the environment. Mayor Richard J. Daley’s administration was rocked by scandal, but Daley enticed then-Secretary of State Mike Howlett to run against Walker in the primary, and Howlett won 811,721-696,380, a margin of 115,341 votes. Walker carried Downstate and the collar counties by 113,434 votes, but lost Chicago by 202,292, and the suburbs by 26,483. In the ensuing election, with Democrats divided, Republican Jim Thompson, the former U.S. Attorney, pulverized Howlett by a margin of 1,390,137 votes.

Thirty years later, it’s almost déjà vu all over. Venality, greed and avarice are equally epidemic.
I guess I just thought that my take on the Governor's speech as trying to sound like Clinton and Russ' take that a comparison with Walker may be more appropriate made for some interesting material. Thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Taxing Question

For a while now, Mike Lawrence, of SIU's Paul Simon Public Poicy Institute, has probably been my favorite Illinois political commentator. He manages to deftly combine keen political insight with practical real world application and analysis. Today's column in the State Journal-Register is no exception.

In it, Mike addresses the state of our economy and education system, and their ramifications for our long-term prognosis. For those of you too lazy to follow the link to the article, here is the second half of it:
Given our changing demographics, we should address squarely the related academic and employment achievement gaps between whites and minorities. We should enlist and empower religious and other community stalwarts to aid in the family intervention that will help disadvantaged children gain the education so vital to them and to our state.

We simply cannot field a skilled work force that will entice high-paying enterprises to locate and expand here without sufficiently funding public schools and providing an affordable array of specialized training, community college and higher education programs.

Money is not the only answer. But Illinois has a deficit in the billions and a revenue structure that can no longer fund vital needs.

We already have burdened tomorrow’s taxpayers with too much debt. As our economy continues to change, how can we justify imposing a sales tax on goods but not services when it could generate $1 billion even if health care were exempted? How can we blithely remain one of the few states in the nation not to tax the retirement annuities of its most affluent citizens when even limiting the levy to those making $75,000 or more would reap hundreds of millions of dollars?

Confronting those issues could put politicians at risk. But failure to do so leaves children and jobs at risk. Where are the eagles in Illinois public service who will take wing while flightless ostriches ignore reality, pander to our self-interest and cheat our kids, grandkids and the state they claim to love?

We've had, and are having, some spirited discussion on education funding on recent threads here, so let's try a different angle today. How do you feel about a revision of the state's sales tax structure to include certain services?

For point of reference as to some of the inequities in the present system, I will leave you with one of my favorite examples. In our state, the homeowner who buys a lawn mower to tend to his grass pays a sales tax on that purchase. But the wealthy individual who hires a landscaping company to take care of his property pays no sales tax for such service. There are myriad other examples along these lines, where there exist differences without clear supporting rationale for the same.

Is this inherently unfair, regressive, or is there a justification for keeping our system the way it is? Have at it. And obviously, feel free to address anything else raised by Mr. Lawrence in his article.

Monday, January 16, 2006

What's Cooking?

Okay, I'm back from a couple of days of R+R, and (I think) ready to get back into the thick of things. I have received a number of requests for a thread on the Cook County Board President race between incumbent John Stroger and Commissioner Forrest Claypool. And in light of Laura Washington's article in Monday's Sun-Times, today is as good a day as any to open the blog up to people's thoughts on the race.

She starts off by taking what I thought to be an unnecessary cheap shot at Claypool, , and then proceeds to set forth her assertion that Claypool is going nowhere fast. "A reform campaign that doesn't have significant black, Latino and gay support can forget it", says Washington.

What I find interesting is that the overwhelming media sentiment had seemed to be that with Claypool and Commissioner Mike Quigley both in the race, Stroger was golden, but that once Quigley honorably stepped out of the race, Stroger was in big, big trouble.

Washington's article paints quite a different picture, one in which the race card still looms large.
To the voters, clout and loyalty count more than newspaper endorsements, white papers, and blue-ribbon committees. The mood in the 'hood says that once an office goes black, it never goes back.
to those who asked for this thread, and anybody else wanting to weigh in here, let me pose a few questions:
How do you see the race thus far?
What issues is it going to turn on?
Who prevails on those issues?
At the end of the day, is race going to trump everything else?
And if so, and on the heels of Dr. King's birthday, what does that say about where we are as a society?
I think that the outcome of this race will make for some fascinating fodder for the present state of politics in the City and County.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Money Problems

Ralph Martire has an interesting piece on his view of Illinois' budget situation in today's Chicago Sun-Times. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Fom a state government perspective, the new year certainly came in with a bang. The gubernatorial primary is hitting its stride, the General Assembly has a shortened, fast-track session, and the governor just proposed a significant capital improvement plan calling for a $3.2 billion infrastructure investment. Meanwhile, continuing a 15-year trend, the Illinois private sector is creating more low- than high-paying jobs that either provide reduced or no health benefits. Making matters worse, the feds are cutting Medicaid, pushing costs down to the state as demand for the program increases....

The funny thing about borrowing to fund services is, the debt has to be repaid, with interest, from tax revenue growth. The prospects for that happening aren't good. If state revenue growth this year hits the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability estimate, it will still fall short of inflation by almost $400 million. That means there won't even be enough revenue next year to sustain the services funded with taxes this year, much less cover the cost of services currently financed with debt...

Martire concludes with the following statements:

This fiscal uncertainty clouds the fact that the governor's proposed capital investment program, like his solid commitment to ensuring families and seniors have access to health care, addresses real needs in Illinois. Since that's the case, let's design a tax system that has the capacity to meet these needs in a sustainable fashion. A combination of modernizing the sales tax by including some services, increasing the income tax, reducing property taxes and providing targeted tax relief to middle- and low-income workers, will generate the recurring revenue needed to fund the state's priorities, while maintaining Illinois' competitive advantage of being a low tax state. Doesn't that sound better than betting the rent on number 13?
Feel free to think about or discuss.

Special Education

I'm out of town for a couple of days, but came across an online article in the Houston Chronicle dealing with bond ratings for a school funding bond issue. (Apparently as busy as I am, I still have too much time on my hands.) In any event, what caught my attention is the part that I put in italics below:
There is uncertainty as to the future of the school funding system in Texas. The State Supreme court recently ruled that certain aspects of the Texas public school finance system are unconstitutional. The governor is expected to call a special legislative session, the sixth special session in less than two years, to consider school finance. The effect of any legislative action on school funding is undeterminable at this time.
Edwin Eisendrath seems to be of the same mindset as far as addressing the school funding issue in Illinois is concerned:
Edwin Eisendrath spoke at a taping of W-B-B-M Radio's "At Issue" program today. And he says -- if elected -- he'd call a special legislative session to address school funding.Eisendrath says getting more money for schools will require tough choices and force a re-evaluation of the state's entire revenue system. He says he won't promise to not raise taxes, but he says such an action would be a last resort.
I really appreciate the diverse and intense opinions I get here when I post about the school funding issue, so let me try this spin. It strikes me that the GA is constantly dragging its feet when it comes to trying to take on the issue of a major overhaul of our education funding system.

Do you think that a special session would help by forcing legislative and public attention onto the issue? My thought is that it would be like an old-fashioned cage match, that is, nobody comes out until a result is reached. Could it be done in an election year? (My bet, not a chance) Could it be done at all? Will a fix ever be done any other way? How? Keep in mind that the issue has been kicked around for, oh, about 40 years now.

Have at it and have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Time Out

Sorry I've been a little off pace here on the blog, I've been trying to get everything organized as we start the new year and am just about there. I might post something over the weekend (Lord knows there's enough fodder out there right now), otherwise I'll be back in full swing by next Tuesday.

And for those of you who have sent topic suggestions, thanks, there's some good ideas there. I think that I should be able to get to most of them in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Failure is Not an Option

Once again, another study is out grading states on the issue of school funding. Once again, Illinois comes up waaaay short.
A study recently conducted by Quality Counts 2006 published in Education Week magazine gives Illinois schools a C+ overall grade but only a D+ when it comes to school funding. The grade is down from the C“ Illinois was awarded last year. In the study, conducted by Editorial Projects in Education, it lists its reasoning for the lukewarm grade.

"Illinois falls short in resource equity, scoring in the lower tier of states. Its wealth-neutrality score is among the worst in the nation, indicating that per-pupil funding is considerably higher in its wealthier districts than in its poorer districts," the document reads.
Regardless of what you think the solution is, I would think that we could all agree that there is a problem. What is troubling to me is that many of the fine folks at ISBE still don't seem to even have a grasp on that basic fact:
Meta Minton, public information officer with the Illinois State Board of Education, said that unfortunately the disparity in property values across the state leads to this gap in funding.

"You're always going to have that," Minton said.
Duh. That's why we can't be so reliant on property taxes to fund our schools. As I have repeatedly stated, it is inequitable and immoral for the quality of a child's education to be predicated upon the value of the dirt in the town in which he or she resides.

I can, and have, extensively discussed this issue here and in other forums. I appreciate that there are several passionate and competing thoughts on what needs to be done. Recent discussions about school district consolidations are one valid piece of that puzzle and I hope that we address that issue in the very near future. And without even getting into the amounts of funding, I still maintain that we need to address the manner in which we fund schools. Soon.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Eisendrath Fires First Shot

A lot of people have been wondering when Edwin Eisendrath's campaign for Governor would start doing something to be well, visible. Apparently, that day is today. Not surprisingly, his opening salvo deals with the fundraising and investigation issues that have been dogging the Administration.

This is just the type of problem that I would imagine the Governor's campaign had hoped to avoid having to deal with in a primary battle. But Eisendrath appears in the race to stay, and as such, the next 60 days are going to be interesting ones, with the Governor's campaign trying to shift to a health and education focus, while Eisendrath and the Republicans will keep trying to keep the media and public attention on ethics and reform issues.

The following is a press release that was just issued by his campaign:

Edwin Eisendrath today called on Governor Blagojevich to come clean with the people of Illinois about quid-pro-quo contributions to his political funds in exchange for pension fund investments.

“The Governor’s fundraising scandals continue to undermine trust in the pension system, and erode confidence in government,” said Eisendrath. “It’s unfortunate that he continues the tired tactics of changing the subject and ignoring the problem.”

The Teachers Retirement System of Illinois, which represents 330,000 public school teachers outside of the City of Chicago, has now filed suit against three Blagojevich campaign insiders seeking millions in damages. Two of those appointees have pleaded guilty to the kickback scheme and the third is facing trial.

Eisendrath thinks the legislature should begin an official inquiry.

The tangled web of money and influence peddling allegedly begins in the Governor’s office with public documents linking “public official a” to the plan to kickback money to the Blagojevich campaign fund by lobbyists seeking pension fund investments for their clients. “Public Official A” has been identified as the Governor himself by people close to the investigation.

Illinois taxpayers are already spending millions in support of several ongoing investigations into the pay-to-play politics of the Blagojevich administration.

Eisendrath called on the governor to cut short those investigations by voluntarily detailing which contributions to his funds came from lobbyists working for any consultant to the state’s pension funds, or any recipient of pension fund investments.

“As governor I would act immediately to restore trust in the pensions and confidence in government. Tens of thousands of teachers are counting on these funds, and both teachers and taxpayer continue to pay to support those funds,” said Eisendrath, a Democratic candidate for Governor and former Clinton appointee. “Instead of waiting for the US Attorney to do it for us, the Governor should take four steps right away:

  • Investigate and determine how the fund investments and contracts were related to contributions.
  • Disclose the findings of that investigation
  • Discipline those involved.
  • Return any contributions related to this pay-to-play scandal.”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hook 'em Horns

And for whatever (little) it's worth, if you go here, you will see that, in response to a reader inquiry, at 12:45 yesterday afternoon, I boldly predicted not only a Texas victory in last night's Rose Bowl, but went so far as to predict "Texas by 4", only a point off the actual final score.

I still don't like non-Big 10 teams playing in the Rose Bowl. Or Michigan playing in the Alamo Bowl. Or Michigan losing in the Alamo Bowl. And winding up with 5 losses. Or losing to Indiana in their Big 10 basketball opener the other night. Ok, I'm over it.

Swamp Thing

I've added 'The Swamp' to the list of blogs on the right of this page. It is a new blog started by the Tribune's D.C. office focusing on, well, D.C. stuff.

Newspaper spin-off blogs are always interesting endeavors because they test just how much editorial freedom the writers will get in a quasi-independent format. Eric Zorn has done a great job with his blog, in large part because he appears to have been given a lot of leeway. It will be interesting to see just how much room the Swamp folks are given by the powers that be, or if there will be any slant to their posts. I guess we'll find out.

Now Hear This

Thanks to Doug Kenline, I learned that Blogger has a feature called AudioBlogger which is pretty fascinating. It essentially allows me to upload real-time audio posts from any telephone. I'm not sure yet about how to make the best use of this, but I envision it allowing me to instantaneously post some comments when I don't have access to a keyboard. I also like the idea of providing interviews with, and/or commentary from, colleagues while we are in session.

The one shortcoming is that, if I don't have access to a keyboard, I can't let you know what the audiopost is about, which means that you are on your own to find out by listening to the post. In any event, for those of you who think you hear too much from me already, rest assured, this will be judiciously used.

For a quick example of what this (I?) sounds like, just click the button under my picture on the right side of the page.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Big Move by a Little State

For what, in my opinion, is the result of inaction predicated upon political fears rather than upon any scientific underpinning, we have been unable in Illinois to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana. I am a sponsor of Rep. Larry McKeon's resolution that would do nothing more than create a commission to study the issue.

And despite some compelling and heart-wrenching testimony on the issue from medical professionals and patients alike, we have yet to be able to advance even this basic measure, let alone take the steps taken by almost a dozen other states to alleviate the suffering of sick or dying individuals.

The latest state to step up to the plate is Rhode Island whose legislature just overrode a veto of just such a measure. From
Rhode Island on Tuesday became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana and the first since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that patients who use the drug can still be prosecuted under federal law.

The House overrode a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri, 59-13, allowing people with illnesses such as cancer and AIDS to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or buy 2.5 ounces of marijuana to relieve their symptoms. Those who do are required to register with the state and get an identification card.

Federal law prohibits any use of marijuana, but Maine, Vermont, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington allow it to be grown and used for medicinal purposes.

The U.S. high court ruled June 6 that people who smoke marijuana because their doctors recommend it can still be prosecuted under federal drug laws, even if their states allow it.

Federal authorities, however, have conceded they are unlikely to prosecute many medicinal marijuana users.
Even in this day and age, the knee-jerk reaction to any issue touching the subject of cannabis is fast and strong. I can still remember the difficulty that existed in passing legislation calling for a study of potential benefits for Illinois farmers that could result from cultivating industrial hemp. You would have thought that the Legislature was advocating passing out joints to kids.

This may be one of those issues that is safer left untouched, but I didn't create this blog to simply tread in calm waters. There are responsible ways to implement the use of medicinal marijuana, and it is impossible to listen to terminally ill patients who speak about both the benefits of its use as well as the lengths that they have to go to in order to obtain marijuana today, without feeling sympathy for their plight.

Despite the fearmongering that seems straight out of 'Reefer Madness', these people are suffering enough without our creating additional barriers for them. Social progressives already understand this, so if you want to talk about being a 'compassionate' conservative, here is a good place to start.

Bad Impressions

Unless you've been living in a cave for, oh about the last couple decades, you are keenly aware that the public has about had it with the political process in our state. It's probably one of the few issues that you on which you can find agreement across party lines and from one end of the state to the other.

The latest effort to drive that point home is a column 'to the General Assembly' in the Southern Illinoisan by Jim Muir, in which he essentially gives the Governor and the General Assembly a Happy New Year slap upside the head.

In discussing the upcoming session schedule which has us scheduled to adjourn in early April, Muir says:
You see, politicians are keenly aware these days that voters have a short attention span and an even shorter memory. So, those of you up for re-election believe that it will send a positive message to voters as they head off to the polls if you work together like a well-oiled machine during this legislative session. It's all about perception, right?

Well, in the case of this memo ¦ the answer to that question is "wrong."

I want to remind some of you that regardless of the love, adulation and BS that will soon be flying out of the hallowed halls of the state Capitol in Springfield, some of us have not forgotten the embarrassment of past legislative sessions that has turned Illinois into the poster child for corrupt politics.
Now some may try to dismiss this as 'more of the same', but I still believe that elected officials at every level of government are going to be in for a rude awakening if there is not some serious housekeeping done ASAP. And I would suggest that it's both just and preferable for the housekeeping to be done internally rather than waiting for the clean-up to come via pitchforks or indictments.

But let me be clear, for better or worse, this is not solely an Illinois issue. According to a poll reported on, public opinion of Congress is down the tubes as well:
According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 49 percent of respondents said most members of Congress are corrupt. Although 46 percent of respondents said most aren't, the margin of sampling error -- plus or minus 4.5 percent -- makes it clear that the perception of congressional politicians is largely negative.

Congress' image could emerge as an election topic, with 55 percent of respondents saying corruption will be "the most important" or a "very important" issue to consider when voting in November. (emphasis added)
At the end of the day, what the public wants, and deserves, is pretty straightforward. An efficient, honest and hard-working government that puts public interest first and foremost. Now there are obviously legitimate differences of opinion as to what the 'public interest' is when it comes to issues of social services, education, etc. But there should be little room for disagreement about the concepts of an honest and hard-working government.

What is surprising is how easy it would be to give the public what it craves and deserves. A bill such as HB4073 (Fritchey-Black) would essentially elmimate the 'pay to play' issue in our state. But as much practical and political sense as it would make to pass this measure and sign it into law, we have thus far been unable to get a vote on the bill.

But I do believe that some electeds see the writing on the wall. To his credit, Comptroller Dan Hynes, the originator of HB4037, isn't waiting for action on the bill. He unilaterally imposed the restrictions on his office when we announced the bill. Good move. And smart too.

People that I speak with seem to have finally gone from being desensitized to corruption stories to being fed up with them. And like the CNN article, I think that, for a number of reasons, the issue of corruption will be a dominant one when voters go to the polls this year, especially in Illinois this November and Chicago for local elections in early 2007.

So to Jim Muir, and the millions out there of the same mindset, keep it up. It should be an interesting election year everywhere.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Are We Building or Sinking?

Crain's has an interesting article about ongoing discussions between the Governor's office and the Four Tops to reach an agreement on a $3 billion bond deal that would put about 2/3 of the cash into road improvements, with the remainder going toward public transit and education projects. Now astute readers will realize that this could not be passed without Republican buy-in (no pun intended?), but Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson is sounding like that might not be too much of an issue:
Mr. Watson specifically suggests the state use a $175-million-a-year "windfall" it's receiving from sales taxes on the rising price of gasoline to help pay interest on the $2 billion in road bonds. In addition, Senate Republicans "would take a look at" boosting the state cigarette tax if necessary to pay for school and/or transit bonds, he says.
Now roads, transit and schools are all laudable and necessary goals, but is anybody else just a little worried about this?:

According to the numbers, provided by the State, we are tripling per capita pension indebtedness over just a six year period. I am not going to revisit the previous discussions here about the pension bill at the end of last session, but at some point, much sooner rather than later, we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions in order to keep this ship afloat.

My Best to the President

I was a little taken aback a few minutes ago when I heard on the late post-Sugar Bowl news that Senate President Emil Jones was hospitalized after feeling some tightness in his chest while working out at home. Fortunately, the reports sound like he is okay but is being held for further observation.

In any event, join me in wishing him a full and speedy comeback. I look forward to seeing him when we reconvene in a week. (Is it time for session already?)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Go (Black and) Blue

Completely off-topic: Since I realize that it is pretty close to impossible to trash talk when your alma mater went 7-5 after being ranked as high as number 3 in the beginning of the year, it would still really give me some needed solace if there were any way for both Notre Dame and Ohio State to lose when they play each other this afternoon.

Petty, yes, but it's been a long and bad season to be a Michigan football fan.

New Year, Same, uh, Stuff

Okay, I'm back. Wasn't really actually gone, but at least I'm blogging again. And why not lead off the year with an issue that took up a lot of my time last year?

An article in the New Year's Day issue of the Belleville News-Democrat reports that while the past five years were tough on Illinois doctors, they were pretty good for top executives of the state's leading provider of medical malpractice insurance.

Now before you start screaming that this is some type of trial lawyer propoganda, you should know that these comments were made by...the former president of the Illinois State Medical Society.

According to Dr. Arvind Goyal, the nonprofit ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co. -- an offshoot of the state medical society that insures 60 percent of Illinois physicians was raising premium costs by 120 percent in some cases, was doling out big perks to ISMIE executives since the late 1990s.

ISMIE perks to executives included:

Big pay raises, including one that boosted CEO Alexander Lerner's 2004 yearly salary to nearly $1 million, the firm's annual reports show.

Low-interest mortgage loans, including a $995,000 loan on Lerner's 4,800-square-foot home in Glencoe, a wealthy Chicago suburb, Cook County property records show.

Nearly $5 million in deferred compensation to Dr. Don Udstuen, a top lobbyist who pleaded guilty to taking part in a kickback scheme connected in testimony to former Gov. George Ryan.

ISMIE's own records show that even as its leaders were asserting market conditions had forced them to raise premium rates, ISMIE was spending large sums on political campaigns, executive loans and big-ticket salaries.

What is interesting about the timing of these revelations is that a decision is due soon from the Illinois Department of Insurance regarding yet another proposed rate increase by the folks at ISMIE.

The docs did a stellar job of convincing the general public that the rate increases were the fault of a broken legal system, and in turn, convinced the Legislature and the Governor that stripping away the fundamental underpinning of the jury system by capping awards was the only real solution to the rate increases.

It will be interesting to see if they are as effective in convincing a group of people that are actually paying attention to all of the facts.