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July 29, 2005

Swing and a painful miss


Gary Skoien's goal was to decapitate Chicago Mayor Richard Daley but
ended up getting his own head handed to him.

Skoien, the Cook County Republican chairman, earlier this week offered a $10,000 reward to anyone that could provide information leading to the mayor's indictment and conviction. Apparently, any charge, any conviction would do.

The mayor was unamused. He said the stunt was "completely over the top" and "below the belt" (which makes him guilty of confusing metaphors but that's not a crime so I guess there's no reason to apply for the award).

Anyway ... turns out that Skoien's employer was just as unamused as the mayor. Michael Reschke, chief executive office of the Chicago real estate development firm for which Skoien works, fired him. "I think it was inappropriate and irresponsible. I don't think he should continue in his role with the company," Renschke said.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Posted by jcb at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

July 28, 2005

That "secure" data gets lost again

The only surprise is that the call from the credit union this week was so long in coming. A credit card with both my name and my son's on it has been revoked. It's been compromised; a new card with a new account number will be mailed soon.

This time the breach in security was at the University of Iowa Book Store. I saw the story June 1 and knew there would be an excellent chance the incident would touch us since he's a student in Iowa City.

The hackers invaded the computer there May 13; don't know why it took two months for the credit-card company to decide to take action. As far as I know the info hasn't been mis-used but that's a big window of opportunity.

It's the fourth time in the last 18 months that one or another member of the family has been issued a new credit card or ATM card because someone somewhere failed to keep hackers and thieves from getting at their "secure" files.

All of which serves to remind that we need to make very sure the Real ID act never goes into effect. There ain't no such thing as perfectly secure data.

Posted by jcb at 03:00 PM | Comments (2)

July 27, 2005

Waiting on Fitzgerald

Patrick Fitzgerald, the U. S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, is not a man you'd want on your trail.

Just ask former Gov. George Ryan, who'll soon go on trial on various corruption charges after having watched well more than 40 of his former employees and associates hustled off to jail by the relentless Mr. Fitzgerald.

Just ask Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who has watched as Mr. Fitzgerald nailed two dozen-plus of his employees and political associates on corruption charges, and who may be in the crosshairs himself.

Now it's the denizens of Washington who are nervously looking over their shoulders at Mr. Fitzgerald, who took on an additional assignment 18 months ago: Find out who disclosed that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent and whether the leak violated federal law. The Plame story had been widely ignored outside the D.C. beltway. It was convoluted, confusing, apparently political he said-she said stuff.

No more.

A New York Times reporter is sitting in jail for refusing to testify before Mr. Fitzgerald's grand jury. (Curiously, very curiously, the reporter, Judith Miller, was not among the several who reported that Ms. Plame was a CIA agent.)

A Time magazine reporter would be in jail, too, had his bosses not ordered him to turn over his notes on the Plame leak to Mr. Fitzgerald.

Numerous White House employees have been grilled.

President Bush himself retained private counsel for a question and answer session with Mr. Fitzgerald last month, even though the president was not under oath during the 70-minute meeting in his office.

The president also has back-pedaled on a declaration that he would fire anyone in the White House who leaked Ms. Plame's name. As it's become clear that Karl Rove, his chief political advisor/hatchetman was at the very least resposible for confirming to reporters that Ms. Plame was a CIA agent, Mr. Bush changed the bar: Now, he says, he'll fire anyone convicted of a crime in connection with the leak.

Mr. Fitzgerald, in the meantime, is playing his cards close to his chest. It seems clear, though, that his report is going to shine an unwelcome spotlight on the trumped-up case for invading Iraq.

Ms. Plame was outed in July 2003, a week after her husband, former state department official Joseph Wilson, publicly debunked a key element Mr. Bush used in justifying the invasion.

The CIA was not amused. Officials there asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into the leak. Then-attorney general John Ashcroft did so, initially as an in-house matter.

But by December, 2003, he'd decided a special prosecutor was needed. Enter Mr. Fitzgerald.

After conservative columnist Robert Novak -- citing "administration sources" -- first publicly identified her, Mr. Rove is reported to have told Chris Matthews of TV's "Hardball" that "Wilson's wife is fair game."

Mr. Fitzgerald plays hardball, too. On a field where, so far in his career, everyone is fair game.

Posted by jcb at 02:19 PM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2005

The Second Rule of Voting

Sometime back, I defined Beydler's First Rule of Voting: If the same person is on the ballot twice, vote against him, or her, twice.

Here's the Second Rule: If a candidate runs TV ads 15 months before the election, vote against him, or her.

In practical terms, vote against Ron Gidwitz, a Joliet Republican who's a gov wannabe. He is indeed already running ads saying Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich a terrible screw-up. Which may be true, but even those who agree probably don't wanna listen to it for the next 15 months -- or even 10 months, which is how far away the primary is. That's when Gidwitz will go away.

If we're lucky, maybe sooner. Rich Miller,the Springfield writer who runs the capitolfax blog, says in a recent column that problems at a family-owned apartment complex in Joliet means Gidwitz's candidacy is little more than a meal ticket for consultants.

Maybe the guy will wise up.

Posted by jcb at 10:36 PM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2005

Cry, beloved country

The nation's governors, at their annual meeting held recently in Des Moines, complained bitterly about the so-called Real ID act passed by Congress in May. They said it's going to cost the states hundreds of millions of dollars, reduce efficiency at drivers' license bureaus and create endless snafus for their citizens.

All true, and that's the good parts.

It's a misbegotten measure, the merits of which are discernible only to power-grabbing federal officials intent on bending, folding and stapling the rest of us. The only positive is that it doesn't go into effect until May of 2008, which provides time for us to convince our national lawmakers they need to reverse themselves despite all the people who'll be yelling ``War on Terror!'' ``9-11!!'' as the debate proceeds.

A good many congresspeople are willing -- the Real ID act probably wouldn't have made it into law as a stand-alone but the ancient legislative tactic of tacking a bad idea onto a must-pass bill was employed by its backers. (In this case, the vehicle was a bill providing some $80 billion for the war in Iraq and benefits for soldiers. The Senate version didn't include the Real ID act; that was added as Title II in conference committee.)

The law requires people to provide additional layers of identification when they obtain or renew a driver's license; it requires the states to put all that information into a database that is accessible by all other states and the federal government; it requires the resulting license or ID card to be "machine readable" and says that anyone without one of those machine-readable cards can't get into a federal building, onto an airplane or avail themselves of any number of federal government services.

The bill also gives the diretor of the Department of Homeland Security unprecedented power to determine what information the license/ID cards must contain and what the machine-readable format will be.

Scared yet? The bill also empowers the DHS director in some instances to waive the provisions of the law, solely at his own discretion; and exempts portions of it from judicial review.

Ron Paul, the arch-conservative representative from Texas who occasionally gets it right, was so upset about the Real ID provisions that he joined the tiny handful of lawmakers who voted against the military appropriations bill because of it.

"The legislation also grants open-ended authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security to require biometric information on IDs in the future. This means your harmless looking driver's license could contain a retina scan, fingerprints, DNA information, or radio frequency technology," he warned.

Radio frequency technology, or RFID, in case you don't know, permits remote Reading of encoded information. It's not new; more and more retailers are using it instead of bar codes to track inventory and whatever else they feel like. People put RFID chips in their dogs.

Though the government has claimned "remote" equals a few inches, the geeks have demonstrated that the info can be read from dozens of feet away. Some say hundreds of feet.

In short, anyone smarter than a brick and armed with readily available gadgets will be able to lift information off your driver's license/ID card as you walk down the street. Not to worry though, Real ID's backers are insisting it's going to prevent ID theft, not make it easier.

Since Real IDs in effect will be the national ID cards Americans have long fought against, they'll also be used routinely as IDs at all kinds of retailers, who of course will save the data, minipulate it for marketing purposes and sell it to each other.

And you know how secure that information is. Or are you one of the five people left in the country who hasn't had a credit card or ATM card revoked and replaced because the "secure" information was stolen or otherwise compromised somewhere out in data processing land?

Cry, beloved country.

Posted by jcb at 03:55 PM | Comments (1)

July 19, 2005

The Bix at Six

The Bix at Six is the topic of this thread on Davenport Daily Politics. I took notice because I'm among the several thousands of people who live "inside" the race loop and have the nearly impossible task of getting around each Thursday evening for a couple of months before the annual race itself.

While I don't mind the race, the weekly practice runs do irritate the hell out of me, since I'm inevitably late to be somewhere on Thursday and end up spending extra time getting there because streets in every direction are blocked off to accommodate the practice runs.

And I certainly hope that all the cops stationed along the route every Thursday are off-duty guys hired by the Times or whoever. If they're on-duty officers, then the rest of the city is pretty close to unpatrolled for a couple of hours. Be a better time than even joint presidential candidate appearances to do some armed robbing.

Posted by jcb at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

Dumb dumb dumb

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed the bill outlawing cell phone use while driving -- if you're under 18 years old.

I got no quarrel with the notion that using the cell phone while driving is a distraction that can be dangerous. But the distraction and danger don't go away on your 18th birthday. If the gov and the lawmakers really feel they pose enough danger to outlaw driving while phoning, they should have outlawed it across the board, for the kids, the parents, the grandparents and the great-grandparents.

Chicago did that, outlawing driving while phoning for everyone unless they're using hands-free devices.

But down in Springfield, that's too much. Lawmakers settled for picking on kids who can't vote.

This stupid law also gives police yet another reason to stop people who are lawfully going about their rounds, since looking like you might be under 18 will justify a stop if you're using your cell.

Dumb dumb dumb.

Posted by jcb at 01:25 PM | Comments (1)

George and Karl

And Karl shall be with us always, or at least as long as George is...

President Bush, who said sometime back that he'd fire anyone who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the press, now says he'll fire anyone convicted of a crime in connection with the leak.

Too bad. Under the earlier standard, Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist, would be gone since it's pretty clear now that even if he didn't initiate the leak of Ms. Plame's name, he confirmed her status as a CIA employee for a couple of reporters.

But now, even if Mr. Rove is indicted in the leak case, we'll be blessed with his continued presence on the public payroll. Motions, more motions, delays, more delays ... by the time any case against Mr. Rove plays out in court, Mr. Bush's term in office will likely be over and he won't have to fire the man he calls "Boy Genius."

Let's hope special prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald wastes no time in reporting on the leak case. Questions an mysteries abound; answers and solutions are needed.

Posted by jcb at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

Keeping track of the $$$$

In the interest of making it easy to follow the bouncing ball, I've added a "money watch" section to the links on the right hand side of this page.

So far, links are to the FEC records of congressional candidates in Illinois' 17th District and Iowa's lst District. I'll add links to gubernatorial candidates later.

The URLs are "deep" links into FEC databases but they're good at the moment. If you notice that any of them go sour, please let me know.

Posted by jcb at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

The money's rolling in

I'd rather be staring at the mountains, but ...

Jim Mowen of Rock Island has taken an early fund-raising lead among Republicans considering a challenge to U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, the R.I. Democrat who'll be seeking a 13th term in Congress next year from the 17th Congressional District.

Mr. Mowen's FEC disclosure records show he raised about $38,000 in the period ended June 20 and spent about $13,000, leaving him with about $23,000. Andrea Zinga, who lost to Mr. Evans in 2004, raised about $11,000 and spent about that much. She's got $3,800 on hand and has about $58,000 in debt left over from the 2004 run. Brian Gilliland, the third GOPer talking about running, hasn't yet filed organizational papers with the FEC.

Mr. Evans, in the meantime, raised $83,000, spent $34,000 and ended the period with $80,000 on hand. If he hasn't already, he'll soon be giving the FEC $50,000 as a downpayment on the $185,000 he agreed to pay to settle a suit over his fund-raising tactics in 1998-2000.

So far, the money is flowing from the usual sources: Union-related committees are bolstering long time favorite Evans, and bankers/real estate people are putting money behind Mowen, a businessman/real estate developer.

The amount raised by the 17th Distict canddiates pales, so far, with the amounts being raised by candidates in Iowa's First Congressional District, where incumbent Jim Nussle is stepping down to run for governor. D/A Washington Bureau chief Ed Felker reported on those numbers:

"Of those seeking Nussle's congressional seat, Democratic attorney Bruce Braley of Waterloo raised a net $211,768 and had $191,336 in cash reserves, according to his FEC disclosure. Fellow Democrat Rick Dickinson of Dubuque raised a net $176,329 and had $145,069 in the bank.

"Bill Gluba of Davenport, a 2004 candidate and former state senator, had $41,485 on hand, though he had $46,610 in debts, nearly unchanged from his first quarter disclosures.

"On the Republican side, no report was available for State Rep. Bill Dix of Shell Rock, but the Associated Press reported he raised more than $200,000.

"Bettendorf resident and businessman Mike Whalen reported raising $139,613 and had $68,752 in the bank.

"Attorney Brian Kennedy, also of Bettendorf, raised a net $110,131 and had $94,252 in the bank."

All that money, and it's still 16 months to election day. And to think I can remember the day when $100,000 was a huge amount to spend in a Q-C congressional race.

Posted by jcb at 11:04 AM | Comments (1)

July 08, 2005

Escaping the rat race, for a time

Abandoning family and work, I'm off for Whitefish, Mont., for a week of porch-sitting with a friend of 35 years standing. It's an annual thing, with perfect relaxation being the goal.

We'll stare at the mountains, have refreshments and maybe talk, or not. Maybe make the 20-mile run out to Glacier National Park, or not. Maybe ride the gondolas up to the top of Big Mountain, or not. Maybe play a little cribbage, or not.

Maybe I'll bestir myself to make a few posts, or not.

In the meantime, feel free to treat this as an open thread and post something, or not.

Posted by jcb at 01:16 PM | Comments (4)

July 07, 2005

Whatever is Lisa M. thinking?

I'm pretty disgusted today with Lisa Madigan.

I'd hoped the Illinois attorney general was above the cheap stunt she's pulling with the marijuana-flavored candy. But, no, she's out crusading against an obscure and perfectly legal novelty item, treating it as a Great Threat to American Youth.

She's gone so far as to contact Moline, asking that it forbid the sales since one of the relative few stores in the state that sell the pops is at SouthPark Mall. The city attorney is dutifully drawing up an ordinance for council consideration.

Her nonsense is particularly grating, coming as it does at a time when any adult discussion about marijuana would be about its medical use.

The legislators who lost last year when they tried to pass a medical marijuana bill should try again. The feds may have enough resources left over from the war on terror to harass people whose doctors prescribe marijuana, but we ought not to squander state and local resources in such pursuits.

By joining the growing number of states legalizing medical marijuana, Illinois would increase the pressure on Congress to -- finally -- remove impediments the Supreme Court cited when it said state laws on medical marijuana don't override the feds.

With health issues of import on the table, Ms. Madigan is jumping up and down and yelling about harmless candy. Disappointing, very disappointing.

Posted by jcb at 12:25 PM | Comments (2)

July 06, 2005

Evans, the GOP and 2006....

``We probably made some mistakes. If I made a mistake, if my campaign committee made a mistake, we did it with the best of intentions.''

- U. S. Rep. Lane Evans of Rock Island, Feb. 2, 2004, commenting on a Federal Election Commission suit alleging fund-raising illegalities in his 1998 and 2000 campaigns.

Rep. Evans hasn't personally discussed the topic since he agreed last week to pay $185,000 to settle the FEC complaint, but his spokesman, Steve Vetzner, sounded a less conciliatory note when he said, "I think our supporters recognize that this has been a witch hunt, and they don't want to see Lane weakened by this." The suit was settled, Mr. Vetzner said, only because of the time and expense required to win vindication in court.

Be that as it may, reading through all the FEC filings makes it difficult to believe anything other than that Rep. Evans gamed the system to get some extra funds into the closely fought '98 and '00 elections, during which the Republicans came up with a combined total of well more than $2 million for the Mark Baker campaigns.

And the settlement, inescapably, hands Republicans a giant club with which they will enthusiastically beat Rep. Evans about the head and shoulders in what is sure to be a bitter 2006 contest.

Nevertheless, the GOP has an uphill battle as it tries to deny him a 13th term in Congress.
The Republicans' first problem is the bizarrely gerrymandered 17th District, which gives any Democrat a big step up.

Their second problem is the ancient political axiom that holds "you can't beat somebody with nobody." Of the three Republicans who've announced they want the seat, Andrea Zinga, the former TV newswoman who lost to Rep. Evans in 2004, comes closest to escaping the "nobody" tag.

But she lost big, 61-39, and is still saddled with some $81,000 in debt from the 2004 run, including s $50,000 personal loan. The two others, Brian Gilliland of Aledo and Jim Mowen of Rock Island are starting from zero in name recognition and financing. And a primary contest will only aggravate money problems.

The Republicans' third problem is, well, Rep. Evans. Love him or hate him, he is somebody.
On the day the FEC settlement news broke, he was in a committee hearing attacking the Bush administration for failing to anticipate the drain on Veterans Administration funds created by the war in Iraq. Incidentally, he voted against invading Iraq, a principled stand that looks ever smarter as time goes by. And in 20-plus years in Congress, he's accumulated a lot of friends across a spectrum of issues.

His health (Parkinson's Disease) is of concern to friends as well as foes, but making a major issue of it is risky business - talking about it can easily seem mean-spirited and has a big backlash potential.

My unlearned view: If the GOP is serious about beating Rep. Evans in 2006, it needs to find a consensus candidate, perhaps some "name" not yet in the race, one big enough to convince the party's money people to once again pour $1 million or so into the effort to take him down.

Failing that, I'm guessing Mr. Evans, FEC warts and all, gets that 13th term.

Evans and 2006, incidentally, is the subject of a lively discussion on Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.

John Beydler is news editor of Quad Cities Online; email johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at 04:02 PM | Comments (2)

July 05, 2005

One strangeness after another

Stranger and stranger....

The hunt for whoever broke federal law by revealing that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent has always been somewhat bizarre.

First, the special prosector investigating the leak has leaned hardest on two reporters -- Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine -- who never published anything naming Plame. Both may be in jail before the week is out for refusing to name the source(s) they may have talked to about the subject.

Time, in an unusual move, decided to hand over Cooper's notes and emails on the topic, over Cooper's objections. Several people who claim to know say those notes/emails will show that Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove is the person who fingered Plame as a CIA operative. Here's MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on the topic: Three questions for Karl Rove's lawyer

Today, Editor & Publisher, a leading newspaper industry magazine, published a column by University of Massachusetts journalism professor Bill Isreal arguing that in this case the media's generally sound policy against giving up confidential sources should be waived. His reasoning: , Rove is using journalists and the First Amendment to "camouflage breaking the law."

In the meantime, of course, Robert Novak, the aging columnist who has turned into just another cog in the Republican propaganda machine and who is the man who made Plame's name public, has either escaped the prosecutorial microscope or gave up his "high administration" sources without a wimper. Neither he nor anyone else is saying which.

From the time Plame's affiliatiion with the CIA became public in 2003, the widespread assumption has been that it was a revenge move against Joseph Wilson, her husband and a former U. S. ambassador who challenged key parts of the Bush administration's flimsy case for going to war with Iraq.

I'm looking foward to the report from the special prosecutor in the hope that it will make sense of things that make none now.

Posted by jcb at 04:53 PM | Comments (2)

July 03, 2005

What's this all about?

So what is it we're celebrating this long weekend?

Well, July 4, Independence Day, of course.

But what's July 4 got to do with independence?

Even in this age of abysmal ignorance of history, I suspect everyone checking in on politically centered blogs knows the answer, but just in case you're not totally up to speed get that way with a visit to the National Archives Declaration of Independence page.

Written in June, 1776, by Thomas Jefferson (my favorite Founding Father despite the hypocrisy of a slave-holder writing glowingly that "all men are created equal"), the Declaration was approved the the Second Continental Congress, July 4 that year.

Amuse yourself this July 4 by asking friends and family members (especially children still in school), a few basic questions about the holiday. Share the results.

Posted by jcb at 12:09 PM | Comments (1)