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January 30, 2006

The Jacobs money report -- and Rumler's

Sen. Mike Jacobs' year-end financial report is now on file at the Illinois State Board of elections.

Shows he had $177,688.69 on hand June 30, took in $76,119 and spent $74,619.70 to end the year with $179,187.99 on hand. Union and corporate PACs both being generous with the senator.

Paul Rumler, who's opposing Jacobs for the D nomination, hadn't filed by late Monday, at least not electronically.

The Rumler report is now on file. The race is a total mismatch financially. Rumler took in $4,085 and spent $2,184, leaving him $1,960.

Money-wise, it's $179,000 vs. $2,000. Will money decide it?

Posted by jcb at 10:07 PM | Comments (40)

Mowen's money

Jim Mowen, one of the three R's who want to take on Lane Evans for the 17th Congressional District seat, has filed his year-end money report with the Federal Election Commission.

He had $20,919.34 on hand at year-end, after taking in $20,570 and spending $43,531.89 in the last quarter of 2005. Andrea Zinga, who filed earlier, had $3,657.29 on hand at year-end. Still no report from third candidate Brian Gilliland.

Rep. Evans hasn't filed yet. The year-end report is due by tomorrow.

Posted by jcb at 10:04 AM | Comments (3)

January 27, 2006

Obama and the editorial board

So when Sen. Barack Obama was chatting with the D/A editorial board Friday, talking about the good and the bad he's encountering in D.C., he mentioned the VA as an example of the good. Among the reasons things are going better, he said, is that the VA is buying drugs in bulk, cutting costs.

It's too bad, he said, that the same savings aren't coming in Medicare. But that's impossible because the latest Medicare bill forbids bulk drug purchases, he said.

I alertly asked why something that stupid would be in the bill.

That question brought us to the ethics issues, he said.
In fact, it's the perfect example of how the ethics problem touches each and every person, he said.

The ethics problem in this case was Rep. Billy Tauzin, the bill's chief backer in the House. Even while the Louisiana Republican fought for the highly controversial bill, he was negotiating with the drugmakers for the top job at their top lobbying group. He got it. Now he's president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, getting $2 mil plus a year.

You all know what we got.

The senator kept going back to the need for change in health care. Said a lot of smart people are coming up good ideas, but that the politics keep getting in the way. No doubt about that, with people like Billy Tauzin involved.

Got the sense that Obama's seriously in the fight for the long-term, on the side of sanity. Nice, that feeling; don't often get it around politicians.

He touched on most of the issues of the day. Said he was going to vote against Sam Alito for the Supreme Court but that talk about a filibuster is silly. At least seven D's have said they're either going to vote for Alito or against a filibuster, rendering one just a waste of time, a distraction from pressing business.

I asked about a couple of issues dear to my libertarian core. He said medical marijuana isn't very high on his list. If one of the bills that would explicitly leave the choice in the hands of the states comes up, he'd have to look at it before deciding how to vote.

He did say he sees no reason for the Real ID act, which forces state drivers license bureaus to collect all kinds of personal data from people and upgrade their computers systems to enable the feds to get the data. Drivers license bureaus shouldn't be pressed into immigration-control duty, he said.

Any chance of killing it?

Not as long as James Sensenbrenner is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, apparently. "That's his baby," the senator said.

Seems like several times, when the subject was change, he said the first thing that needs changing is a committee chairman somewhere.

I hope enough folks catch on.


Hoping to get a tape of editorial board session transcribed before too awful long. Will post it here.

Posted by jcb at 10:59 PM | Comments (9)

And the staff?

Sen. Barack Obama said during the grand opening of his Quad-Cities office on Friday that Kathy Harrington and Anita Decker will staff it on a temporary basis. Permanent staff will be named within a month, he said.

So, who would you recommend for the job(s)?

Posted by jcb at 04:52 PM | Comments (15)

Boo hiss

At about the time I was praising Google for resisting government attempts to go sifting around through its search records, the news was breaking at the "do no evil" company was caving in to China's demands that it censor results available to users in that country.

Boo hiss.

Google thus joins Microsoft and Yahoo in ungloriously kissing the butts of China's authoritarian leaders in return for opportunity get a chunk of the huge and growing internet market.

Here's a Red Herring article more fully exploring the spineless move and its implications.

Posted by jcb at 04:19 PM | Comments (2)

January 26, 2006

Not vandals at all?

Is it possible that design flaws rather than vandals are repsonible for those shattered windows in Davenport's shiny new Skybridge?

That's what Barb Ickes suggests in her column today. She reports that city officials strenously deny that anything other than mischief makers are behind the breakage Sunday and Monday.

But ya gotta wonder. If it is vandals, they're the boldest bunch around, given the times and circumstances surrounding the latest damage: broad daylight with lots of people around.

The Skybridge is highly controversial because of its cost. Be pretty embarrassing for the city if design flaws are the issue.

Posted by jcb at 11:30 AM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2006

On lobbyists and reform, with a side trip into BS Bingo...

There's nothing much scarier than a legislative body all hot, bothered and eager to "reform" something.

These are scary days. Congress is in a lather to reform lobbying laws. House Republicans have a plan. House Democrats have a plan. Senate Republicans have a plan. Senate Democrats have a plan. Non-congressional groups have plans. Hearings are being conducted. Reform! Reform!! REFORM!!!

Of course, there wouldn't be any need for reform if we had a Congress full of honest people. OK, OK -- back to reform.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is emerging as the Dems' main spokesperson on reform effort. He said on "Meet The Press" Sunday that he believes that "in terms of moving forward on the ethics legislation is that we've got some low-hanging fruit that we should take care of right away."

A side trip here: Have you ever played B---S--- Bingo? It's a game for those planning meetings with the high-powered consultants and corporate types expounding endlessly on the future. The game card is like a bingo card except that instead of numbers, it has phrases -- "low-hanging fruit," "innovation," "out of the box," "synergy," etc. When you complete a row or column, you're supposed to yell "B---S---!"

The prize, if you're lucky, is getting kicked out of the meeting so you can go get some real work done; if you're unlucky, it's getting fired.

Anyway, back to the low-hanging fruit of ethics/lobbying reform: Sen. Obama specifically mentioned a total ban on gifts from lobbyists to Congresspeople. Good idea.

Others that seem like no-brainers to me include a ban on trips paid for by anyone or any organization. (I would make an exception for fact-finding trips to Minot, N.D., in January.) Otherwise, if the trip is truly in the interest of broadening a Congressperson's understanding of the world, we the taxpayers can afford the tab.

Another good idea is to tell former Congresspeople who have taken up lobbying that they no longer have access to the floor of the Senate of House, or to various members-only gyms and restaurants or whatever.

Sen. Obama did talk about some of the tougher stuff, though thankfully he didn't mention "high-hanging fruit." He said the tough questions "might involve, for example, asking the question, 'Why don't we have free television time for candidates, to reduce the amounts of costs?' My suspicion is that NBC, just like ABC and CBS, wouldn't necessarily be wild about those approaches, but that's the kind of conversation over the long term we're going to have to have."

Works for me. We the people own the airwaves; we could require the networks to provide time for candidates in return for those licenses to mint money. It'd be fun to hear Rupert Murdoch et.al scream about that idea.

Among the organizations checking in on lobbying reform efforts is the lobby for the lobbyists. Yup, there's one of those, too.

The American League of Lobbyists is "The Driving Force for Successful Lobbyists." At the league's website, you can buy "the lobbyist's toolkit," get a list of lobbyists for hire or get "career information" if you're contemplating becoming a lobbyist.

There's also a Q&A on Jack Abramoff and an article entitled "Lobbying: Perception Is Not Reality."

Among other things, it says, "The media built Jack Abramoff up to be a very powerful figure in Washington and unfortunately, as we all learn in Washington, perception tends to become reality."

I knew that, sooner or later, it would be the media's fault.

Posted by jcb at 04:25 PM | Comments (3)

January 24, 2006

It's official -- Obama to be here to open Q-C office

Sen. Barack Obama will preside over the opening of a Quad-Cities office at 2:15 p.m. Friday. Location is 1911 52nd Ave., Moline.

Office hours are likely to be 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Press aide Tommy Vietor said there are no staffing decisions to be announced yet.

"This new office will give thousands in Northwestern Illinois the ability to speak face-to-face with a member of my staff about the issues that affect their daily lives. I'm extremely excited about this opportunity and look forward to taking this step to help me better serve my constituents in the Quad Cities and all of Northwestern Illinois," the senator said in a news release issued this afternoon.

One caveat -- Sen. Obama's Q-C visit may fall off the schedule if his presence is required in D.C. to vote on pending legislation.

Posted by jcb at 02:30 PM | Comments (3)

It's just sad

Not much to be said about vandalism -- it's always pointless, stupid and sad. And, of course, irritating.

Here's hoping Davenport manages to catch whoever's responsible for the latest round at the Skybridge and then imposes the maximum possible penalties.

As I've said before, the Skybridge isn't the first thing that would have come to mind if I'd been in charge of deciding how to spend $7.4 million downtown. But there it is, and however silly building it may seem, it is, well, cool.

I've been through it any number of times since it opened last summer, and there's always people --sometimes lots of people -- strolling through, enjoying the ever-changing light displays and the great views.

Controversies about the wisdom of the thing aside, it's becoming a fine asset. Now, how to protect it...?

Posted by jcb at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)

January 23, 2006

Obama to be here Friday

Picking up word that Sen. Obama will be in town Friday, to open a local office. Haven't been able to confirm yet; have a call in to press guy Tommy Vietor. More when I hear back from him.

Posted by jcb at 04:25 PM | Comments (1)

How did the pancake feed go?

As it turned out, I didn't make it by the Rumler pancake breakfast Saturday. Any word on how many showed up? Or who the most interesting guests were?

Posted by jcb at 02:25 PM | Comments (23)

On search engines and the trails we leave...

First: Good for Google. The 10,000-pound gorilla of the internet search engines is fighting an entirely pointless government demand that it turn over search terms entered by users. Competing search engines, Yahoo, AOL and MSN, caved in without a whimper, providing the government what it wanted.

Second: Good for the government, but in a back-handed way. In demanding the information from the operators of the search engines, Department of Justice attorneys called attention to just how much information is being collected and stored the search engine companies, as well as spotlighting their own illogical actions.

The flap dates back to the Child Online Protection Act, another one of those well-intentioned but deeply flawed laws that stream neverendingly out of Congress. The intention was to protect children from the flood of porn that's available on the web, but it was a shooting-flies-with-a-shotgun thing and the Supreme Court correctly ruled in 1998 that it was unconstitutional.

The ruling turned in good part on whether there is a better way to protect children from porn than a law that also restricted content that was perfectly legal for adults to view. The court said widely available software that allows parents to block and restrict access to various websites is the better tool from a constitutional standpoint.

The government apparently wants to counter that argument and thus revive the Child Online Protection Act. Exactly how knowing what search terms are used will help is beyond me. The data would show that some number of people enter search terms that indicate they're searching for pornography, which means ... nothing, if the point is to prove that blocking/filtering software isn't the best means for keeping porn away from children.

The government says it doesn't want any personally identifiable information, just aggragates of search terms, and the companies that turned over data proclaim they didn't turn over anything that would personally identify the people doing the searchers.

Aha -- even the dimmest of the dim should now grasp that the personally identifiable information is stored and could be turned over, under government duress or otherwise. There's nothing standing between you and public disclosure of what and and when you search for but the integrity of the search-engine company. That's way Google gets good marks for fighting the request for even aggragate information.

If you want a more detailed look at just how much information about you Google may have available in its vast memory, read this story by the Washington Post's Leslie Walker. Depending upon just many of Google's conveniences you take advantage of, the trail is total and totally traceable to you.

If we're to take full advantage of the search-engine services without further destroying any hope of privacy, what's needed is a law that requires all those logs to be irrovocably and irretrievably deleted immediately, unless -- like the Post's Ms. Walker -- we authorize them to be maintained.

A final ironic note here: Google and the other search engines routinely make available lists of "top searches." You can see Google's at www.google.com/press/zeitgeist.html. The top queries for the week ended Jan. 16 ranged from "Joe Pichler" at No. 1 to "Friday the 13th" at No. 15. Hot stuff, huh?

Posted by jcb at 01:59 PM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2006

A long trip home

On the home-bound leg Friday, I drove into the rain about 40 miles east of Chicago. Added to the misery of getting through the metro area on construction-clogged I-80 at rush-hour. That turned out to be the easy part of the trip.

The snow began mixing with the rain about the time I came through Joliet; by the time I passed by Ottawa, it was all snow, blowing blindingly into the headlights, and rendered otherworldly by gigantic lightning flashes. The road disappeared; no center line, no shoulder lines; traffic slowed to a crawl -- 25 to 30 mph at times and even that feeling risky.

The real danger came from the half-dozen or so nitwit truck drivers who pretended the storm wasn't happening. They went roaring by at 60-65 mph throwing up literal waves of slush that rocked the car and overwhelmed the windshield wipers, creating long moments of terrifying total blindness.

Made me wish I had some James Bond gadgets. Missiles would have been fine -- press a button, whooosssh, kabloom, one less idiot to endanger themselves and everyone else on the road.

One more trip note -- if you ever find yourself in LaPorte, Ind., at dinner time, I STRONGLY recommend Le Cabernet, the restaurant in the Blue Heron Motel. Took me forever to decide between the the seafood paella, which you don't see on a lot of menus, and the New York strip.

Finally went with the steak. It was simply the best I've ever had in a restaurant, an honor I'd previously bestowed on a filet I had about 25 years ago in some hole-in-the-wall dinner club in Havre, Mt.

Now I'm hungry. Gotta go eat.

Posted by jcb at 04:24 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2006

On the road

Will be on the road for big chunks of time over next couple of days, but will be able to check in from time to time. Send comments if you want, but it may take a while for them to get posted.

Posted by jcb at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2006

Carol's new crowd

Stopped by the Botanical Center to see who Carol's hanging with these days.

Her newly arrived bench is the one closest to the door, on the left as you walk up: "Carol J. Loretz -- June 6, 1950-February 28, 2005."

Right next to her is Frank Krone and Karen Krone. Carol and Frank have a lot in common, even if their time at the D/A didn't overlap. She was in news and Frank in advertising. May have some interesting conversations.

'cross the way there's a bench honoring Gary W. Brown. She'll know him, when he shows up. I'm sure she covered at least one Arrowhead Ranch Roundup.

Didn't recognize any of the other names. There's Dorothy Searl, who was a loving wife, mother and grandmother. And Alice M. Williams, bench compliments of her family and friends. Harvey L. Fritch is at the end, on the other side.

Oh, yeah there's "The Tri-City Dahlia Society, 1941-1999." If I'd read this list to Carol last year, she'd have laughed out loud when I got to "Tri-City Dahlia Society." She'll enjoy those folks immensely.

Won't take her long to know all about each of them, down to which color of dahlia is the favorite of each society member, and which of the others wishes everybody'd quit talking about dahlias. Won't be long either, before they'll all be saying she's their best friend.

She'll have them organized, too, with to-do lists of things needed to make things a little better; and she'll be gently -- or not -- pushing things along.

Carol hung with a lot of different crowds; enjoyed them all. They all enjoyed her. No doubt the same's true this time, too.


I thought of Carol, too, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision sustaining Oregon's "death with dignity" law. First, of course, the court was right in deciding that an obscure federal regulation, as interpreted by whoever happens to be attorney general at the moment, doesn't trump a state law that was passed in response to two referenda by the citizens of the state.

Beyond the narrow legalities of Gonzales vs. Oregon is the real point: It's no business of government, at any level to decide how an individual makes the ever-so-personal choices that arise as death approaches. To assume and act otherwise is both arrogant and fatuous.

Carol's choice was to play the hand out, to the very last card. She used the morphine sparingly, just enough to make the pain bearable without clouding her mind to the point she couldn't enjoy (yes, that's the right word) those last days. But if she'd decided the game wasn't worth the sputtering candle, and had asked for the full bottle, I'd have unhesitatingly handed it to her.

Her call. Not mine. Not her sister's. Not that of the other friends who sat with her. Not your's. Not the doctor's. And sure as death, not the government's.

Her call. Just as it must be mine, or your's, if we find ourselves in her situation.

Posted by jcb at 09:16 PM | Comments (4)

The money reports

Federal candidates have until the end of the month to file year-end campaign funding reports. So far, Andrea Zinga is the only 17th Congressional District candidate to get one in. She filed Monday.

Her report shows she had $3,657.29 on hand as of Dec. 31, after taking in $11,312 during the last quarter of the year.

Probably leaves her trailing Jim Mowen in the money race among Republican candidates. He had $43,000 on hand at the end of the last reporting period Oct. 1. Third candidate Brian Gilliland hasn't filed any money reports yet.

Incumbent Democrat Lane Evans had $178,503.88 on hand Oct. 1.

Posted by jcb at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

Raising money

We're moving into the season ... Paul Rumler, a candidate for the Democrat nomination to the state senate from the 36th District is having a fund-raiser Saturday morning. Five bucks a pop for pancakes. Details at Rumler's website.

I'll be glad to pass along info on fund-raisers for other candidates in all the races. Send them along.

Posted by jcb at 01:07 PM | Comments (5)

January 16, 2006

Vote for me -- I stink the least

It has to be satire, right?

One of the three men contending for the high post of majority leader of the United States House of Representatives says: "I believe my record in terms of the level of taint that's there is dramatically different from either of them."

Another, confronted with the fact that "you passed checks from tobacco lobbyists to other congressmen on the House floor while lawmakers were considering ending a tobacco subsidy..." says, "The checks on the floor was a big mistake, and I regret it. But I worked hard to change the rules of the House to prohibit this practice in the future."

The third, confronted with the fact that "In 2002, you tried to insert language into the Homeland Security Act to help Philip Morris tobacco while you were dating that company's lobbyist." says "the fact is that I have set or met the highest standards in the history of the Congress on that wall of separation between people who are in your family and the work they do."

Satire, right?

Wrong. Those are actual, factural quotes from the three Republicans who see themselves as fit to be the new Majority Leader. The three were on Fox News Sunday. Here's the transcript. Read it and weep.

Whichever one the GOP blesses us with will replace Tom DeLay in the majority leader's office. DeLay, as in already under indictment; DeLay, as in under countless investigations; DeLay, as in joined hip-to-hip with briber-in-chief Jack Abramoff, who's singing like a bird and sharing his ever-so-indiscreet emails with federal prosecutors.

This is the best the GOP has to offer?

Posted by jcb at 09:51 PM | Comments (5)

January 15, 2006

Confirm Alito

I first posted the following as a comment on the string A judge calls for civility, but given the currency of the topic, I decided to give it its own string.


I've been able to watch just a few hours of Judge Alito's confirmation hearings, but even that little bit (scattered over several days) has been painful -- particularly those moments when 1) various senators have pressed for what amounts to an advance decision on issues that might come before the court; and 2) various senators have offered adulatory speeches that left we wondering where the judge left his halo and wings.

The way some lines of questioning have been framed is disturbing. Questions concerning whether Judge Alito sided with the government or the "little guy" in deportation cases is one example. In seven of eight cases in which there was a split decision by the appellate court on which he sits, Judge Alito sided with the government, said the senator (Durbin, if I recall correctly).

First, or course, is the possibility that the government was right in those seven cases (though the possibility of the government being right seven of eight times about anything strikes me as being remote). More to the point, though, is that in limiting the context to split decisions, Sen. Durbin, or whoever, left us ignorant about the judge's total record. Maybe, if all decisions were considered, we'd have a totally different impression about how deferential Judge Alito is to the government's position.

Judge Alito has a pretty substantial record; in reading some of it, about some of it and in listening to the questions during the hearings, I see things that bother me a lot and other things I find admirable. Pretty much the same with sitting members of the court.

I greatly admire Justice Stephens, but I think's he's been way wrong on some cases -- recent ones on eminent domain and medical marijuana to name two. I most often disagree with Justice Thomas, but on these two cases, he took what I thought was the right position -- on the side of state and individual rights.

Picking someone for one of the nine chairs is, in the end, the biggest gamble a gambling nation takes.

The mechanism we use is rife with partisan strife as bitter as that which accompanied our birth, but with the vicious street corner phamplet amplified by the wonders of the communication age.

In the end, too, it is impossible to know the manner in which our choice will react to the reality of a civic responsibility unique to the position -- past is no sure predictor of the future.

Among sitting members, Justice Souter has fulfilled his responsibilites in a manner that displeases that segment of society that viewed him as "their" guy when he was nominated. The street corners are awash in phamplets.

Then there's the case of Earl Warren. He was first a law-and-order county prosecutor who, as attorney general and governor of California, was a leading proponent of interning "the Japs." If I'd been in the Senate at the time of his nomination, I'd never have voted for him.

But he and his court gave us Brown vs. Board of Education, Miranda vs. Arizona and the one-man, one-vote ruling.

Judge Alito is not under-qualified, as was Harriet Miers.

No shocking ethical blemish has emerged, though it is troubling that, having gone out of his way to pledge recusal in Vanguard cases, he then ruled on one. The explanations have been a bit lame.

He has, despite the many cautious and hedging answers given the committee, said straigforwardly that he recognizes a constitutional right to privacy. Please, do not see code for "abortion" when I mention privacy, though if Judge Alito truly does see privacy as a protected right, it will make it more difficult for him overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Privacy is pretty much a joke these days, what with credit card companies losing and selling information about us, with lists of our phone calls availble for sale on the internet -- the sins against privacy are rampant and rapidly getting worse. 'nuther one of the wonders of the information age.

If we are ever to retrieve the situation short of the DHS and leading retailers installing chips in us, we need friends in high places. Will Judge Alito be one?

The president that nominated him has little if any respect for privacy; the Senate that will consent, or not, does too little to protect us; more often it rushes to approve ever-more invasive measures. (Let's talk more about Real ID sometime real soon.)

Neither the weakness of the nominator nor those of the consenters should disqualify Judge Alito. Haven't seen, heard or read anything else that does, either.

It's time to roll the dice.

Posted by jcb at 12:18 PM | Comments (8)

The Fly returns

The D/A had a story today on blogs and their impact, or lack of it. Included a reference to Davenport Daily Politics, which led me to check to see if the site was still up, even though The Fly quit posting Nov. 18 and declared he/she was done. Discovered, tah dah, The Fly is back.

The Fly says the blog will concentrate now on Iowa politics rather than the Davenport scene. Whichever -- welcome back Fly. I dropped DPP from my links section last fall when The Fly said he/she was done, but I'll restore it pretty soon.

Am also adding links to a couple of new QC blogs: The Bridge to Somewhere and QC Media Review.

Posted by jcb at 11:51 AM | Comments (5)

January 13, 2006

The Dope does a Jacobs-Rumler poll

The Dope did a Jacobs-Rumler poll. Unscientific but interesting. Lots of discussion at The Inside Dope

Posted by jcb at 10:20 AM | Comments (21)

Flip-flop -- Blago now a more-gambling fan

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to allow keno machines in bars and restaurants is a terrible idea that, if approved by the Legislature, will substantially increase the number of lives destroyed by state-sanctioned gambling.

The proposal also is a 180-degree flip from the governor's many earlier declarations that he's opposed on an expansion of gambling. When the subject came up in 2003, in the form of a proposal to allow video poker machines in bars, he denounced it and said video poker is the "crack cocaine" of gambling.

There's no substantial difference between video keno and video poker -- both are extremely fast games played on machines that can have a mesmerizing effect on players. Putting them in bars and restaurants will ensnare a good many people who otherwise wouldn't be gambling.

Got nothing against gambling, understand. I hit the casinos occasionally, play a little blackjack. But making the "crack cocaine of gambling" available everywhere is unconscionable.

In 2003, I suggested that the drug analogy used by the governor should be carried a step further -- that "the difference between allowing a handful of casinos to operate around the state and permitting video poker machines in every neighborhood bar is about the same as the difference between allowing possession of marijuana for personal use and posting state agents on every street corner to hawk dime joints to passers-by."

The governor was right in 2003. He's wrong now.

Gov. Blagojevich's flipflop is, of course, driven by election-year politics. He wants to use the money from expanded gambling to finance his own version of former Gov. George Ryan's "Illinois First" program. If the Legislature goes along with him, he'll be able to spend the months before the election swooping into community after community to announce that the state's going to be paying for some local project, many of which are needed. Best of all, he'll proclaim, there'll be no tax increase needed to pay for them. He won't mention the ruined lives and destroyed families that will be true measure of the cost.

Speaking of swooping in to announce the state's paying for locally desired project ... the governor swooped into the Quad-Cities and several other places on Tuesday to do just that. Here, the announcement was that $2.4 million was coming to further Western Illinois University's plans for a riverfront campus in Moline.

'course, everyone already knew the news. A press release went out Monday morning. The story was posted on Quad-Cities Online's homepage about 11 a.m. It was on all the other electronic media here throughout the afternoon and evening, and was on the front pages of the local newspapers Tuesday morning.

So why did the governor feel it was necessary to fly here and to the other places he visited Tuesday on similar announce-the-old-news missions? Well, it is an election year and the announce-it-today, visit-tomorrow strategy guarantees at least two days worth of media coverage, with the second day sure to feature pictures of the ever-beneficiant governor in a local setting.

It's campaign stuff, pure and simple.

Back to gambling -- I'll give you 100-1 odds that the state, not the gov's ever-so-fat campaign fund, is picking up the cost of that Tuesday trip.

Posted by jcb at 09:03 AM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2006

I think the Rev. Phelps is queer as a $3 bill

I think the Rev. Fred Phelps is a homosexual who can't deal with God having made him that way, and who attempts to hide his sexual orientation by vicious attacks on gay people.

I could further exercise my First Amendment rights to express my opinion with additional observations about Phelps, but I'll skip them in favor of quoting him on the reasons he and/or followers are showing up at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and waving signs that say things like: YOU'RE GOING TO HELL ... THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS ... GOD HATES FAGS.

Here he is, in his own words: "They served in a fag army for a fag nation. America has sinned against God. Its days of grace are over."

Phelps (I cannot bring myself to again attach "the Rev." to his name) is in the news in Illinois and other states because of the funeral demonstrations. Legislation has been introduced that would ban the demonstrations within 300 feet of where the services are being held. Even for a near-absolute 1st Amendment guy like me, that seems reasonable.

'course, in this instance, it would seem reasonable to me if family and friends of the dead soldier beat the crap out of the demonstrators. But violence would be wrong, which brings us to a man who truly deserves "The Rev." in front of his name -- in capital letters: THE REVEREND Peter Wehrly.

The Rev. Wehrly, of Springfield, buried his soldier-son in Galesburg recently, with the Phelps crew present and waving their obnoxious signs. His reaction: "I'll be diplomatic -- their theology is unique ... I disagree with them. But the greatest irony is that my son died defending their right to free speech."

Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the words of a man of the God I learned about in the non-denominational but essentially fundamentalist church I faithfully attended while growing up down in the hills of Southwest Missouri. Not a single member of that congregation would ever have uttered a sentence with the words "God hates..." in it.

Anyway, the legislature is likely to pass the bill. Phelps promises to challenge it in court on First Amendment grounds if it is passed, as he did when his home state of Kansas passed a similar law. He says he won there and will win here.

Could be. Regulating demonstrations and protests based on the message being delivered is dangerous to the rights critical to all of us. Putting up with pukes like Phelps is sometimes part of the price, high though it seems.

In the meantime, God bless and comfort the Rev. Wehrly.

Posted by jcb at 04:41 PM | Comments (7)

A judge calls for civility

The big news about the judiciary these days is coming out of D.C., where the Senate is conducting hearings on the nomination of Sam Alito to the U. S. Supreme Court, but Iowa Chief Justice Louis A. Lavorato's "state of the judiciary report" to the legislature this week deserves at least passing notice.

Justice Lavorato's speech included this passage: "I would be remiss if I did not talk about the role of judges and judicial independence, given the present climate surrounding the judiciary. In recent years, we've seen an escalating national discourse about judges and judicial decisions.

"I'm all for vigorous public debate regarding the merits of judicial decisions and the role of the courts. But the quality of discourse about the courts has degenerated. Rather than legitimate criticism and thoughtful commentary intended to inform and enlighten, the public is barraged with rash generalizations, loaded sound bites, and alarmist overstatements, intended to exploit and inflame. The sole purpose of these tactics is to politicize our courts so that judges are servants of popular ideologies rather than servants of the law. These attacks are designed to weaken the very institution Americans rely on to uphold the Constitution and protect their rights. It's time to replace the excessive rhetoric with plain facts and measured responses."

Past time, actually.

The "excessive rhetoric" Justice Lavorato mentions comes from many directions. It's poisonous, persistent and ignores facts, decency and common sense if there's a chance to further fire up the "base."

Examples from the past year or so:

-- Then House Majority Leader Tom Delay's declaration, in the wake of Terri Schiavo's death, that "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."
The "men" were the many judges in the Florida and federal judicial systems who, in following the law, issued rulings with which "The Hammer" disagreed. His statement was particularly disturbing given that the judge most identified with the case was under constant guard because of the many threats of violence against him.

-- Alan Keyes, once a candidate for president and once a candidate for the U. S. Senate from Illinois, declared that "I believe that the judiciary is the focus of evil in our society today."

-- John West, of the Discovery Institute, which pushes creationism (in the guise of "intelligent design), said a judge who ruled against forcing the doctrine into the classroom, was an "activist judge" with "delusions of grandeur."

These men are all entitled to say whatever they want, of course, but yes, as Judge Lavorato said, their words are designed to "politicize our courts so that judges are servants of popular ideologies rather than servants of the law."

There are disturbing trends in the courts, especially the U. S. Supreme Court, which over its history has been too willing to expand government power at the expense of states and individuals.

The Founders would be pretty astounded, for example, at the uses to which the commerce clause is put these days. How is it that the Constitution's grant of power to Congress to "regulate interstate commerce" is used to forbid California to experiment with marijuana for medicial purposes, as one very small for-instance? Another: There is even a case from the 1930's in which the commerce clause was used to justify telling individual farmers how much grain they could grow.

Pretty nonsensical stuff, I think. But it doesn't make the judiciary the "focus of evil" or inspire me to warn, in heated circumstances, that "these men will answer for their behavior."

Justice Lavorato's cautionary words are well worth heeding.

Posted by jcb at 12:29 PM | Comments (8)

January 10, 2006

Ignorance? Or cheap grandstanding?

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich was way off base this week when he promised to come up with $1 million in state funds to help rebuild the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago after a devastating fire.

His vow makes you wonder whether the Illinois governor has ever read the Illinois Constitution. Here's Article X, Section 3:


Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town,
township, school district, or other public corporation, shall
ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund
whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose,
or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary,
college, university, or other literary or scientific
institution, controlled by any church or sectarian
denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of
land, money, or other personal property ever be made by the
State, or any such public corporation, to any church, or for
any sectarian purpose."

The governor's dash in front of the cameras to make the pledge leaves this question: Is he ignorant of the Constitution or just scoring cheap political points. Not much virtue either way.

Pilgrim Baptist has a long and fine history, and the fire was a tragedy. Neither fact justifies the gov's promise.

In any case, the pledge of state money is unnecessary, even if the church had no insurance, which I assume it does. Private assistance for rebuilding is pouring in: The Pritzker Family Foundation has pledged a half million dollars. Other pledges are sure to come.

For anyone who wants to help, there's a "Pilgrim Baptist Church Rebuilding Fund." Send donations c/o Amalgamated Bank, 1 W. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603. Telephone (312) 822-3000 or (800) 365-6464.

Where to send Blago is the more perplexing puzzle.

Posted by jcb at 03:39 PM | Comments (6)

January 07, 2006


The news that anybody in the world can obtain a record of our phone calls simply by going to a webiste and forking over a little dough is both astounding and outrageous.
The Chicago Sun-Times broke broke the story. (AP follow-up) (D/A follow-up)

About the only more egregious invasion of privacy would be making our medical records available to all comers. Whoever's responsible ought to be given a couple of hundred years in prison to contemplate the evil of their ways.

Posted by jcb at 11:15 PM | Comments (5)

January 06, 2006

Greg, you're full of crap

"In one of the most disturbing media performances of its kind in recent years, TV news and many newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course." -- Greg Mitchell, columinist for the trade publication "Editor and Publisher"

Greg, you're full of crap. If your eyes weren't brown when you started this piece, they were by the time you put the last period in place. Same goes for all the other flagellants in the media, and all the gumbeaters out there who have jumped on your band wagon.

The reporters at the scene in West Virginia didn't invent that bell-ringing celebration at the church. The reporters didn't make up the quote from W. V. Gov. Joe Manchin: "They told us they have 12 alive. We have some people that are going to need medical attention." The AP, on which most papers around the country depend, attributed its story, first to family members and later added the governor's quote.

What the reporters, TV and print alike, did do was report what they were seeing and being told, on the record. There's nothing "disturbing" about that. (Or "disgraceful" either, Greg, as you must agree now since you altered your column to remove "and disgraceful" from the original version you posted.)

What the reporters also did was unhesitatingly reverse themselves as developments indicated that was necessary. And in countless newsrooms around the country, damn good newspeople went to extraordinary lengths to stop the presses to correct headlines and stories. And, as you may or may not know, stopping the presses and remaking pages is a lot more difficult than blipping out a word in an online posting.

I've been in the news biz for 41 years now; been to a lot disaster scenes (first big one was as a 19-year-old cub reporter, when the Joplin Globe sent me to Picher, Okla., where about three square blocks had collapsed into one of the abandoned lead mines that underlay the town).

As any reporter with even 5 per cent of my experience knows, there ain't nothing easier to come by than bad information at a disaster scene. But if I'd been in West Virginia, watching that celebration, listening to relatives and friends of the miners say they were alive and hearing the governor say what he said, I wouldn't have thought a second about filing a story, just as AP did, reporting what family members and the governor were saying.

Been an editor for a good many of those years, too. If I'd been on the copy desk, reading that AP copy and watching the celebration unfold on CNN on the newsroom TV, I wouldn't thought a second about using the story. Neither would have any other newsman worth the powder to blow him to hell.

Greg, there certainly have been a lot of disturbing and disgraceful performances by the media in recent years, but this one isn't even in the top 25. (Topping my personal list of "disturbing and disgraceful" would be the sheep-like way the media bought the case for war in Iraq.)

Anyway, Greg, in case you didn't get it the first time around, here it is again: You're full of crap.

Posted by jcb at 05:03 PM | Comments (18)

January 04, 2006

Like cockroaches, when the light comes on...

Cockroaches scattering when the light comes on ... that's the image that comes to mind as Congresspeople scramble to disassociate themselves from Jack Abramoff after the "superlobbyist" pleaded guilty to fraud this week and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

House Speaker Denny Hastert, R-Ill., says he don't want none of that money no more. He's giving $70,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and friends to charity. Besides that, Hastert says, that letter he wrote supporting Abramoff's clients in a Louisiana gambling dispute -- well that had nothing to do with all that money he got from them. Right, Mr. Speaker.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Montana, also don't want none of that money no more. He's going to return $150,000 in Abramoff-connected contributions. Less than a month ago he said he was going to keep the dough, but with home-state polls showing his approval rating plunging, he's changed his mind. And he wants people to understand that money had nothing to do with his support for Abramoff clients in the Northern Mariana Islands. Right, Senator.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., returned $62,000. He wants people to know the money had nothing to do with his support for a group of Massachusetts Indians, clients of Abramoff, who wanted recognition as a "tribe" so they could open a casino. Right, Senator.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who's collected more than $21,000 from Abramoff and friends, also used Abramoff's skybox for a pair of fund-raisers without reimbursing the lobbyist for nearly two years. But that was an innocent oversight and when it was discovered recently, the reimbursement was made. Right, Senator.

The list could go on and on. Abramhoff and friends provided some $4.4 million to nearly 300 members of Congress over the last 7 years, more than 200 of whom are still serving.

Both Quad-Cities congressmen, incidentally, have taken Abramoff-related donations. Jim Nussle, the Republican representing Iowa's 1st Congressional district, received $1,000 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and $2,000 from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, with both contributions coming in the 2002 election cycle.

Lane Evans, the Democrat representing Illinois' 17th Congressional district, received $2,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in the 2004 election cycle.

That's peanuts, comparatively speaking, and no one's suggested that either did anything untoward to get the contributions, or in return for them. Nevertheless, both said Wednesday they're donating the money to charity. So did Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

That's what everyone should do, according to Sen. Burns, the Montanan who's developing a sharper sense of ethics as his approval rating plunges.

He now says everyone should follow his example and return any contributions they received from Abramoff and those he represented. "This is an important step that all public officials should take in order to renew the faith of Montanans, and all Americans, in their government. We can and must set a higher ethical standard."

Right this time, Senator.

For those of you interested in who got how much when in Abramoff-related money, go to ww.capitaleye.org/inside.asp?ID=191 and follow the links in the "more information" section at the bottom of the page.

Posted by jcb at 09:08 PM | Comments (4)

January 03, 2006

The Year of The Scandal

The giant thud you just heard was the hearts of 200-plus members of Congress dropping all the way to their shoes when they heard today that Jack Abramoff is pleading guilty to various federal charges and will cooperate with prosecutors investigating his lobbying activities.

Abramoff, you'll recall, is the guy who, with partners and associates, took some $80 million dollars from various Indian tribes looking for help on casino issues -- and in emails referred to his clients as "monkeys," "morons" and "idiots." He also played both ends against the middle. He used Indian money to finance anti-gambling campaigns, then collected more from them to combat the effects of the anti-gambling campaigns.

Abramoff's decision to flip and cooperate with prosecutors scares Congresspeople -- and a lot of D.C.'s other denizens -- because so many of them have taken money from him. (Here's a list, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics)

Prosecutors already are looking into the timing of Abramoff's contributions and actions taken by various Congresspeople who assisted his clients. Speculation in D.C. is that as many as 20 members of Congress and/or staffers will eventually face charges after Abramoff and his associates get through singing.

Look for 2006 to be The Year of The Scandal.

The U. S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs' website has transcripts of hearings into Abramoff's lobbying efforts here and here. The site's main page has links to exhibits, including emails exchanged among Abramoff and associates in which they discuss their efforts for, and against, their clients.

Here's the information containing the three counts to which Abramoff pleaded guilty.

And here's the plea agreement.

Posted by jcb at 11:06 AM | Comments (14)