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Behind the screaming headlines

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011

* The Associated Press often acts like a giant blogger by repackaging stories into little briefs. Too often, though, those briefs skew the story. For instance, this story is headlined: “Insiders got early notice of college savings deal”

People with connections to the Illinois treasurer’s office got early notice of a limited offer that added cash to college savings accounts, giving them an edge over thousands of people who were shut out of the deal.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford tells the Chicago Tribune that early word was sent out solely as a promotion because officials weren’t sure the new offer would be popular. Rutherford says it was a mistake that won’t happen again.

The offer was for the Bright Start savings program. People could deposit up to $250 and have that money matched by the firm running the program.

* You already know the back story. Bright Start’s administrator, Oppenheimer Funds, sent out 100,000 letters to the college savings program participants on May 31st offering to match their next $250 contribution. Trouble is, the offer was limited to the first 2,500 people and about 8,500 people took up the offer by going to the plan’s website. But the website wasn’t changed to reflect the fact that the money had dried up until a day after all the cash was spoken for, which left some folks quite angry.

* The Tribune reports that Rutherford’s office sent its workers an e-mail the same day Oppenheimer mailed the letters from New Jersey, giving Rutherford’s employees a clear head start on everyone else. That was obviously a bad move. The e-mail encouraged the employees to forward the offer to their friends and family. Not good, either.

* However, Rutherford’s employees were not eligible for the matching funds, according to the Tribune’s report. That little factoid was buried deep within the Trib’s story, which was headlined “Family, friends got head start in Bright Start match - Treasurer’s office employees were sent email about $250 program before general public received letters.”

The workers’ friends and family were eligible, of course, but the Tribune could only find “about 25 people” who were forwarded the e-mails from state accounts. Not great, but hardly a gigantic scandal.

The Tribune also noted that the Bright Start website announced the program on May 27th - days before anybody was notified by e-mail or snail mail.

And, despite what the AP claims, Rutherford himself was never quoted by the Tribune as saying “early word was sent out solely as a promotion because officials weren’t sure the new offer would be popular.” That comment was attributed by the Trib to an official at his office.

* Whether this was just another stupid bungle or something more nefarious, this whole thing has become a PR disaster for Rutherford, who obviously thought the stunt would be popular

Doran Phillips, who has a savings account for his 31/2-year-old son, said he still hasn’t received the promotional letter and feels cheated out of $250.

“It was just a screw-up, but still it had a bad consequence,” said Phillips, of Palos Park. “They are giving away this money and couldn’t give it away in a fair and responsible manner. They devised a method of giving it away that was totally unfair unless you happen to be one of the lucky people.”

The $625,000 for the promotion came from Oppenheimer Funds, which manages Bright Start, as part of its contract with the state to pay for scholarships. Oppenheimer was responsible for mailing the letters and updating the website, treasurer’s office officials have said.

The promotion was open to existing account holders who made a one-time special contribution. Account holders who coincidentally made a donation at the beginning of the month, even if it was unrelated to the promotion, received the match.

Unfortunately for Rutherford, the TV ads about this will write themselves.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

Question of the day

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011

* With all the negativity sparked by the Blagojevich verdict, I thought we’d try to balance that out with a little positivity. So…

* The Question: In your opinion, who was the best Illinois governor of the modern era? I define “modern era” as the period since the new state Constitution was drafted. Take the poll and then fully explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   85 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 *** More grim budget news

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011

* The grim state budget situation is being felt all the way through the system

Inmates in at least one state prison are being forced to wear the same used underwear for several days in a row because of a clothing shortage.

The situation, says a prison watchdog group, is not only icky, but could potentially lead to illness. And it isn’t limited to just one facility.

In a recent report, the John Howard Association says a visit to the Taylorville Correctional Center found inmates wearing dirty, threadbare clothes that are only being washed twice a week.

Since the minimum-security prison only issues two pairs of boxer shorts to inmates, that means they must wear them for at least half of the week. Or, the group suggests, some inmates could decide to forgo wearing underwear altogether.

* Oy

With the start of a new budget year just two days away, thousands of Illinois businesses are still waiting for state income tax refunds dating back to 2009.

The Illinois Department of Revenue said Tuesday it would end the fiscal year June 30 still owing about $620 million in business income tax refunds. As of June 21, the department still owed 7,572 business income tax refunds, although spokeswoman Sue Hofer said the number by the end of the month would be lower because some since have been paid.

The oldest of the overdue refunds goes back to April or May of 2009, she said. The average amount of the refunds owed is $104,000. Hofer said refunds less than $5,000 have been paid.

The average is $104K? Wow. Yet more evidence that state government is one of the biggest drags on Illinois’ economy.

* Speaking of taxes, the Illinois Department of Revenue didn’t do so well in a recent state audit

In the agency’s Chicago and Springfield tax-processing offices, full- and part-time employees who handled confidential tax returns were permitted to carry personal cell phones equipped with cameras, Holland found.

Holland also found sensitive tax records on desks, open shelving areas and tables in areas where visitors had access and, in one instance, stored in an open bin in a readily accessible hallway within a tax-processing area.

Holland also disclosed instances where uncashed taxpayer checks turned up in the desk drawers of employees who no longer worked for the Department of Revenue and faulted the agency for not performing background checks on state workers who had access to the department’s taxpayer-information database.

“I don’t think we proved instances of identity theft,” Holland told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But I’d tell you, when you have so many people with so much access to so many records, it’s only a matter of time until something bad happens.”

* Turning to the city’s budget woes, the mayor is ending the furlough program

Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Tuesday to defuse a financial time bomb left behind by former Mayor Richard M. Daley — without unpaid furlough days and with or without union help.

“Furloughs have not worked out economically or for morale — and I’ve heard it directly from the workers. I also know that it’s not worked out for the taxpayers — the people I represent … It hasn’t been the panacea” it was purported to be, Emanuel said.

“June 30 … the furloughs will end. … The city work force will get their vacation days and their full work week in. The taxpayers will get that as well. … But, I’m committed to seeing through the $30 million in savings [generated by unpaid days off required of the entire city work force]. Make no mistake about it.” […]

On Tuesday, the mayor said he’s poised to wield his budget ax at midnight Thursday, presumably by sending out layoff notices.

And while he’s still holding out hope that organized labor will help bridge at least part of the gap, he’s prepared to act unilaterally if they don’t.

*** UPDATE *** From the Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today revealed that he’s offered City Hall labor unions a choice: Agree to $20 million in savings through work-rule changes or face 625 layoffs.

“If you don’t, that will be the choice left to me on behalf of the taxpayers,” Emanuel said at a news conference to announce Walgreens will add 600 jobs in Chicago over the next two years.

Labor leaders will take 10 days to two weeks to put together their own package of proposed cuts, the mayor said. He would not say whether he will issue the layoff notices in the meantime. “I’m not just going to sit here and wait. I’ll make certain decisions,” he said

* Related…

* Regional school chiefs await final state budget: According to information from Franklin-Williamson Regional Superintendent Matt Donkin, the state budget includes $2.2 million for program costs in the 2012 fiscal year, down from $4.4 million in 2011. The $4.4 million this year was 43 percent of the 2003 budget allotment.

* Illinois Lottery cut corners in rush to choose private manager: state auditor

* CTA cuts 54 jobs, details $15M in savings

* ISU golf course gets Quinn’s OK to sell liquor

* Consolidation could be survival option for struggling towns

* Decades after Council Wars, Burke’s bodyguards questioned - Finance Committee chairman kept police protection in racially charged era; now critics doubt need in tight budget times

* Chicago convention officials prepare new moves to tout tourism

* Allscripts ready to double Chicago workforce, add conventions here

* Walgreen to add 600 city jobs: In a news conference at a South Side Walgreen store, Mr. Emanuel and company officials announced the huge drugstore chain will add food products to roughly 40 additional stores in so-called food deserts, up from 11 currently that sell a wider range of groceries.

* Mines in 10 states, including Illinois, cited for safety violations

* Ready for Reform: Illinois bill draws looks from other states

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

Jury didn’t buy the act that charmed the rest of the state

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011

* The jurors in Rod Blagojevich’s trial saw through the hokum

Jury forewoman Connie Wilson, 56, of Naperville, said she thought she recognized what Blagojevich was up to when he started picking and choosing details from his personal history. The details appeared to mirror personal information that came out when the judge questioned the jury pool before testimony began, she said.

“I said, ‘Do you remember what he talked about . . . [while testifying about his home] library?’ ” Wilson said she told other jurors during their deliberations. “He pointed to something in the library that pertained to almost everybody on the jury.”

She said jurors started piecing it together.

Over his seven days of testimony, Blagojevich mentioned books, targeting a librarian on the jury; pointed out an interest in music, directing the comment toward Wilson, the former choral director at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Naperville; and discussed the importance of education, to connect with a teacher, Wilson said. “He even brought out at one point something about Boston, and of course our gentleman was a huge Boston fan,” she said with a laugh, remembering the male juror’s many Boston-themed T-shirts.

Know hope.

* Speaking of hope, a commenter pointed out this recent New York Times story about how Bernie Madoff’s judge decided to go with the ultimate max in his sentencing order

Judge Chin said he quickly rejected the idea of a 12-year sentence for Mr. Madoff, but pondered whether 20 to 25 years might be acceptable. He ultimately concluded that even that “would have been just way too low.”

“In the end, I just thought he didn’t deserve it,” he said. “The benefits of giving him hope were far outweighed by all of the other considerations.”

Judge Chin would impose a term of 150 years on Mr. Madoff, perhaps the most stunning and widely discussed sentencing in the history of American white-collar crime. In doing so, he seemed to find a way to translate society’s rage into a number.

And New York legal analyst Jami Floyd makes a prediction

You will recall that many of the experts who are now predicting a ten-year sentence for Blagojevich also predicted a ten-year sentence for Bernard Madoff. Madoff was older (71). He was also convicted in federal court and the sentencing guidelines in that case suggested a 13-year term. Instead, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years and will never see the light of day. I predict a slightly kinder, gentler sentence for Blagojevich; something in the order of 20-25 years.

* More legal analysis. This time, about the appeal

Veteran appeals lawyer Joel Bertocchi said that in his experience, broad-based claims of unfairness don’t usually work.

“He needs to show specifically how (the recordings) would have helped and how the defense was seriously injured by the inability to play them,” he said. […]

Another obstacle to a successful appeal could be Blagojevich’s own testimony, Bertocchi said. Many of the judges on the appeals court were once trial judges themselves, he said, and they know that once a defendant testifies, that’s more or less the ballgame.

The jury either believes you or, as in Blagojevich’s case, it doesn’t.

…Adding… Oops. I forgot to post this important piece of the puzzle

Where will Rod Blagojevich serve his time?

It may depend on how much time he has to serve.

It’s up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to place a prisoner, but experts say that the length of Blagojevich’s sentence could be a key factor in deciding whether the former governor is in a place with guards and bars or in a place with khakis and cards.

Defendants who are sentenced to more than 10 years in prison typically don’t get a spot in the more-desired prison camps, said defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback, who is regarded as an expert in federal sentencing and who has testified before the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

…Adding More… I missed this one

Rod Blagojevich won’t likely ever set foot in a courtroom again as a practicing attorney thanks to the sweeping corruption convictions a federal jury handed down.

The top lawyer for the Illinois Supreme Court’s Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, the legal panel that polices lawyer misconduct, said it is a virtual certainty Blagojevich will be disbarred as a result of his convictions.

* Bizarre

Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist were both upset by the decision. “It is a miscarriage of justice. They can’t prove it,” said Scarborough. Geist lamented, “I grew up in a country where you only had to stand trial once for a crime. Didn’t they already go through this once? Nothing stuck.”

Scarborough laid his law degree on the table: “Here’s the deal. I don’t want to talk about it a lot, but I am a lawyer. And I can tell you, I didn’t have to go to law school to learn about a little concept called double jeopardy…The entire weight of the government leaning down on him. The jury goes, “no, we see nothing wrong with this man except perhaps his hair cut.” And then he wins and then they throw the entire weight of the federal government on him again twice. I’m sorry. That’s just not the America I grew up in. “

What Scarborough forgets (or never learned) is that the Blagojevich case is not subject to double jeopardy. The Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy is designed to protect the acquitted from multiple and repeated prosecutions, and only applies to cases in which a verdict has been reached. Because 23 of the counts against Blagojevich were declared mistrials, no judgment had been reached. According to Chicago defense attorney Ava George Stewart, “if the jury had decided that Blagojevich was not guilty, then the government could not retry him, as they have already indicated they intend to do. In this case, Double Jeopardy is inapplicable.”

* National pundits were wrong again. No surprise, since most don’t bother to do even basic fact-checking and just repeat pre-approved talking points

Last fall, when Rahm Emanuel left his post as White House chief of staff, some political analysts warned that his dealings with Blagojevich could doom his chances to be elected mayor of Chicago.

But Emanuel easily won. And while he testified briefly at Blagojevich’s second trial, he was never accused of any wrongdoing. In fact, on the charge directly involving Emanuel — that Blagojevich tried to shake down Emanuel for a fundraiser — jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

What the clueless pundits deliberately failed to realize was that Blagojevich had predicted that Emanuel could clear him. He was actually right on one point. The juror failed to convict the former governor on charges that he had attempted to extort a campaign fundraiser from Emanuel’s brother in exchange for releasing grant money to a school in Emanuel’s congressional district back in 2006. Emanuel testified that he was never told of any proposed deal.

* And Jon Stewart was pretty darned funny last night


* Roundup…

* Lawmakers move to cut off Blagojevich’s pension

* Airline Ad Plays Off Blagojevich Conviction in Promoting ‘F-ing Golden’ Low Fares

* Only one Blagojevich juror from Chicago

* Naperville woman was reluctant to be Blagojevich jury foreman: “Some of the women actually said, ‘I’m sure we’re going to be characterized as the typical woman who talks ad nauseam,’ and you know, it really wasn’t that way,” she said. “Everybody was very much trying to find ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ and that’s what everything’s based on, and we would go back to that premise very often.”

* Tinley Park juror: Blago ‘really cheated the people of Illinois’: “He really cheated the people of Illinois, or tried to. He took an oath to do what was best for the people of Illinois and he didn’t do it. So we’ll have another governor in jail,” she said.

* Lone ‘gentleman’ juror doesn’t feel sorry for Rod Blagojevich

* Jurors at Blagojevich retrial say they used communication techniques, tried to stay in harmony: Wilson put her choir-directing skills, perfected at Naperville’s Holy Spirit church, to use in trying to track how the group was interacting and whether some jurors were out of sync. “With a choir, you’re looking for trouble spots in the music and going back,” she said. “I was listening to all the jurors, understanding where they were, then adjusting, go back.”

* Aurora juror finds relief as Blagojevich trial ends: Bennett said she was warned that Monday’s press conference after the verdict was handed down would not be the end of the media’s interest in her and other members of the jury. While some jurors were hesitant to talk to the press, Bennett said she felt it was part of her duty. She gladly sat down with a host of reporters on Tuesday to answer questions and give insight into what went on behind closed doors over the last couple months.

* Juror: ‘Most interesting thing I’ve ever done … And the most boring’:

* Juror from first trial praises Blago jury

* CityRoom video: Inside the media pit at the Blagojevich verdict

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

Caption contest!

Wednesday, Jun 29, 2011

* Gov. Pat Quinn did a fly-around yesterday to sign the workers’ compensation bill into law and appeared at Kraft Foods in Champaign. As part of the festivities, he was presented with a box of Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese with his photo on it. It was a fun little presentation

There’s no word yet on whether the governor also received a personalized truck during yesterday’s visit to Navistar.

Thanks to our friends at for the clip.

* And here’s a close-up shot of the box [updated with a high-rez photo from a good pal]…

Have fun.

- Posted by Rich Miller   93 Comments      

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