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Question of the day

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* JBT is on a statewide tour

Judy Baar Topinka was greeted warmly Monday at a Quad-City agency for developmentally disabled, even though as Illinois’ comptroller she had to deliver the news the state is far behind in paying its bills.

“It’s nice to see so many smiling faces,” Topinka said at The Arc of the Quad-Cities Area. “When you owe $8 billion in unpaid bills, friends are hard to come by.”

As of Monday, the state owed The Arc $1.3 million, the agency’s director of development and communications, Maureen Dickinson, said.

Standing with leaders and clients at The Arc’s facility on 9th Street in Rock Island, Topinka said government budget cuts and state payment delays have created staggering fiscal challenges for the state’s service agencies.

Topinka offered a hot line for agencies on the verge of shutting their doors at 855-IL-ASK-US, where she said a “real, live person” can assist them about what their options might be.

“I never want to hear any of your agencies shutting down due to state payment delays,” she said. “I would consider that a personal failure.”

* More stories from the tour…

* Comptroller Topinka visits Rockford to support not-for-profits: “Not-for-profit and service agencies are the backbone of our state. Their services make all the difference when it comes to the quality of life, if not survival, or our most vulnerable residents. We cannot have them shut down because of state payment delays,” Topinka said. “I urge those agencies to contact my office if they are in dire straits because of payment delays, and we will do everything we can to keep them going.”

* Comptroller: Parc may be facing worst - Judy Baar Topinka assures crowd they are not forgotten

* A photo

* The Question: Caption?

And keep it clean, people. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      

*** UPDATED x2 *** Quinn pulls media stunt over assault weapons ban

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* This just in… yet another press pop

Gov. Pat Quinn plans to propose a ban on assault weapons in Illinois.

The Democrat will use his amendatory veto power Tuesday to include the ban in a bill related to ammunition sales. It would then be up to lawmakers to accept his changes or reject them. […]

His proposal will face big hurdles in Illinois, even after the massacre at a Colorado movie theater renewed national debate about assault weapons.

Cook County’s ban has undergone legal challenges. The Illinois Supreme Court this year reversed lower-court rulings that found the ban constitutional, sending it to trial court.

* From the governor’s AV message

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment - the right to bear arms.

However, the proliferation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines undermines public safety and the rights of personal security of every citizen.

* So, why is this a media stunt? Well, I’ll tell you why.

The Senate bill in question is sponsored by Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, a southern Illinois Republican. As the sponsor, he controls the bill’s fate. And there’s no way Luechtefeld will ever move to accept that amendatory veto. Not gonna happen. Not even if Hell freezes over.

This amendatory veto is merely a way to get the governor’s name in the headlines yet again. Nothing more, nothing less.

*** UPDATE 1 *** And it begins. From a press release…

**Tuesday, July, 31 2012**

CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn will hold a media availability with Orland Park Police Chief and American hero Tim McCarthy to discuss the governor’s action today seeking a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois.

WHEN: 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Fulton’s
The Bridge Room
315 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, 60654

*** UPDATE 2 *** The Sun-Times contacted Sen. Luechtefeld, the bill’s sponsor

The underlying bill’s sponsor, state Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville), predicted Quinn’s actions may doom the original legislation because Chicago Democrats will be loathe to support an override and cast votes against the governor on a gun-control issue.

Luechtefeld also accused Quinn of trying to take political advantage of the July 20 shootings in the Denver suburb of Aurora, where 12 theater-goers were murdered and another 58 were wounded by an assailant bearing an assault weapon.

“He likely knows this won’t go any place,” Luechtefeld said of Quinn. “But because of what happened in Colorado, he’s going to exploit that as much as he can.”

To override Quinn’s amendatory veto, Luechtefeld would need 36 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House, where House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) traditionally blocks such wholesale rewrites of legislation by governors.

If those supermajorities aren’t reached and there is not a majority vote in each chamber to accept Quinn’s changes, the underlying bill will die, along with the governor’s proposed bans on the sale and possession of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

- Posted by Rich Miller   54 Comments      

The drought continues, while farmers hope to keep disease testing lab open

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* I was in southern Illinois over the weekend to visit a county fair, and the farmers were all talking about how their corn crop was basically nothing. But they have yet another worry on the horizon. If they don’t get rain soon, their soybean crop will be the next on the failure list

Any rain that comes now will be too late to help the corn crop, but it might salvage soybeans, area farmers say. […]

It’s still too early to assess how badly soybeans will be affected, but there’s concern the crop hasn’t received enough moisture to fill out pods.

Many pods may have only one or two beans, rather than the customary three, said Scott Docherty, general manager of Topflight Grain Cooperative at Monticello.

The hay crop is pathetic as well. Several farmers I talked to were preparing to mow their failed corn crop to use as animal feed.

* And then there’s this

There are concerns aflatoxin may be a problem in corn since this is a dry year, Docherty said.

Drought-related stress can make a plant vulnerable to the toxic fungus. When aflatoxin levels exceed certain thresholds, farmers can’t sell the affected crops for feed.

As for soybeans, Docherty said he has had some reports of spider mites in fields.

* The very real threat of aflatoxin is just one of many reasons why Gov. Pat Quinn has decided to keep the Centralia Animal Disease Lab open for a little while

Governor Quinn is keeping the Centralia Animal Disease Lab open. The lab was supposed to close at the end of August but because of an increased workload due to extreme drought conditions, the lab will stay in use for an indefinite period of time.

Lab workers don’t know what this recent news means. Workers have been through their share of ups and downs. At the start of June, lawmakers allotted funds to keep the lab open, along with the other state facilities slated for closure. At the end of June, Governor Quinn signed the state budget that removed that funding. City officials look at this as another opportunity to show the value of the lab to the Governor. […]

Governor Quinn’s office says the lab is staying open until further notice because of the drought. The 16 employees there have no idea how much time that buys them. Ashby is working with a coalition of five county boards, mayors, economic development boards, and farmers to keep the lab open for good.

Ashby says the lab costs around $200,000 a year to run. The coalition wants to institute larger fees to keep the lab running and possibly make it self-sufficient. The lab serves more than 200 communities, and Ashby says this drought proves how important and necessary the lab is.

* But it appears that only the crop testing portion of the facility will remain open through the drought

In an email response Friday evening, Quinn spokesperson Kelly Kraft wrote: “Due to severe drought conditions in the area the Governor is making certain essential crop testing continues at the lab until further notice.”

* As I said, I was in southern Illinois over the weekend and happened to talk with Dr. Ed Schreiber, a highly respected veterinarian who’s passionate about keeping the Centralia Animal Disease Lab open for business. Doc Schreiber was invited to speak to the crowd assembled before the 4-H livestock auction about the pending closure and he mentioned that he had written the governor a letter. I asked him for a copy. Here’s part of it

The [Centralia Animal Disease Lab] is strategically located in the epicenter of animal agriculture in Southern Illinois. Clinton County has the largest livestock production in our State.

With the CADL gone the time between detection and diagnosis of an animal health problem could be so long as to cost the State many more millions of dollars than we will ever realize in savings.

I will also attach an article concerning the economic impact of a mock Foot and Mouth Disease Virus outbreak in California. In summary, as the diagnostic delay went from 7 days to 22 days the number of slaughtered cattle went from 8,700 to 260, 400 and the median national loss in total agricultural surplus ranged from $2.3 billion to $69 billion. Both the Galesburg and Centralia labs are currently qualified to prepare tissues for diagnostics for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease). It is critically important to keep this capability in our State near our largest cattle region. Multiple hours or days of shipment time for some tissues especially brain will prevent these samples from being diagnostically useful (aka they will be soup). How would that look in the media if our State government closed the only lab in the southern two-thirds of our State in which the Federal government has accredited to do this work? […]

If just three 100 cow dairies had dramatic mortalities due to inaccurate or absent testing, the total dollars saved by our State would be negated by the losses experienced by these farm families.

* Dr. Schreiber also played into Gov. Quinn’s fondness for touting the state’s agriculture exports

Without the [Centralia Animal Disease Lab] there also would not be a single animal toxicology lab in our State and this function also would not be transferred to Galesburg. Without the CADL there will be only one lab in the entire United States able test for arsenic. This is a test the Russians require for all poultry meat being shipped to their country.

Without the CADL the Illinois exporters of premium swine genetics around the world will have to look for another lab to do the export testing these countries require. The Chinese will not be happy.

Is it worth jeopardizing millions of dollars of Illinois export?

If you close the Centralia Lab the State’s veterinary community will no longer have a complete laboratory to be a part of their IVERT program designed to mobilize in the event of man-made or natural disasters. Does Illinois really have to stoop so low that we have to depend on other state’s infrastructure in the face of a catastrophic animal or public health emergency? What if these other labs are already overwhelmed?

* Schreiber then mentioned this chilling moment

If your family discovered a dead bat in your backyard where your small children play, you would no longer have an option here in Southern Illinois to take that bat for rabies testing since there was not a confirmed human bite exposure.

A very timely example that demonstrates the public health importance of the Centralia Lab is the case where a women woke up with a bat attached to her lip. She woke up frantic, ripped off the bat and screamed for her husband. He killed the bat and took her and the bat to St. Mary’s Hospital in Centralia. The hospital directed him to take the bat to the CADL. It was accessed into their system at 7:56 AM and their professional staff went to work, just like they have for the last 65 years. The bat’s testing was completed at 11 AM, and it was rabid!

A piece of State infrastructure like this close to the most populous region in the southern part of our State is of critical life-saving importance.


- Posted by Rich Miller   22 Comments      

More evidence of DoC harassment?

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* The AP has uncovered a new memo

An email from an Illinois Department of Corrections administrator ordered wardens at 10 prisons to conduct “mass shakedowns” of staff as they left work last week, at the same time workers were telling lawmakers about problems at the facilities.

The July 19 memo obtained by The Associated Press is from Ty Bates, the department’s southern region deputy director.

It was sent less than 20 minutes after a hearing started at the state Capitol, where a dozen workers testified about prison overcrowding and understaffing. […]

Bates’ email to the 10 prison wardens and a halfway house superintendent asked that they “please ensure we conduct a mass shakedown on a shift of your choosing” by the end of last week.

It was dated July 19 at 11:18 a.m.

The testimony by prison workers in Springfield began at 11 a.m.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the workers’ union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, called the shakedowns “retaliatory harassment” for employees who were speaking out publicly.

Correlation is not always causation, but at the very least this memo was unfortunately timed.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      

There is no magic wand

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* It’s so nice to see that Gov. Pat Quinn is now fully subscribed to the Tribune editorial board’s notion that all you have to do is wave a magic wand and hurl personal insults and the Illinois General Assembly will obey one’s every command

The third Friday in August should be a good day to get a tee time in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn just called Illinois lawmakers off the golf course and back to work that day to save the state from a fiscal collapse.

The governor said Monday he has called a special session of the Legislature on Aug. 17 to deal with pension reform. That’s good.

There were two things, though, that Quinn didn’t say.

He didn’t say he will use the next 16 days to press Republican and Democratic leaders for a deal on pensions, so the rank-and-file will have something to approve at the special session.

He didn’t say he’ll call another special session on Aug. 18, and another special session on Aug. 19, and another one every single day until the Legislature puts real, substantial pension savings into law.

We asked the governor to call a special session and applaud him for doing so. But that action guarantees only that lawmakers will have a reason to hang around for a day and go see Cheap Trick, the headliner at the State Fair that Friday night.

Actually, Quinn did say that he plans to use the next several days to publicly push the General Assembly to heel

“I think the way to look at it over these next couple of weeks is for the people of Illinois to put pressure on the legislature — their members of the legislature that are running for office in campaigns across Illinois … and I think this is a good time to say that, ‘This is a crying need of our state. We must act.’ “

* Ty Fahner is not on board, however

While the governor’s critics lauded him for taking the initiative and stopped short of ridiculing his move as a political stunt, virtually no one in or around the Capitol buys into Quinn’s apparent thinking that such a quick fix may be in the offing to a problem that took decades to create.

Instead, the emphasis is on the House and its uncertain plans for a watered-down pension-reform bill that passed the Senate in late May. If the House passed that proposal, it would generate headlines that the governor and General Assembly finally were addressing the pension problem, but the approach would fall well short of totally winnowing down what government employees have been told to expect during their retirements.

“It’s a great piece of politics, and beyond that it doesn’t do anything useful,” Tyrone Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, said of Quinn’s special-session push if the emphasis strictly is on taking up the Senate-passed plan and having it fail.

“It’s shameful if that’s what the game is,” said Fahner, whose group has pushed a variety of more comprehensive pension reforms.

* Shades of Rod? Some, yes

The situation Quinn set into motion Monday is not entirely unlike what played out when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich kept calling lawmakers back into special session to bully them into passing a multibillion-dollar capital construction plan that no one trusted him enough to administer. At one point, Blagojevich had 17 special sessions going on at one time and never succeeded in getting what he wanted.

Quinn, of course, is no Blagojevich. He’s used his special-session powers just once before. But his strategy this time, at least now, seems headed for the same result as under his predecessor.

* The Tribune reporters who covered the story don’t share the optimism of their editorial page

The already-dim prospects of a deal on public employee pension reform before the November election got tangled up Monday in a disagreement over whether a special session on the issue should even be held next month.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn issued a proclamation summoning the General Assembly back to Springfield on Aug. 17, a move viewed as largely symbolic because lawmakers are no closer to striking a comprehensive deal than when they left town at the end of May. […]

Although Quinn sought to frame his special session call based on hopes for a deal, Republicans said privately that they had not talked to the governor since he had convened the legislative leadership in his office about six weeks ago. [Emphasis added.]

Calling a special session without first having extensive discussions with the leaders is quite Rodlike.

* More skepticism

Many house members as well as senators are skeptical much could be accomplished in one day.

“Do I have my doubts? Without question. Like anything, it’s a process,” said Sen. Donne Trotter, (D) Chicago. “It didn’t happen overnight. It’s not going to be corrected overnight.”

“I just don’t think in a couple of hours on a Friday in the middle of August we’re going to be able to accomplish the governor’s goal,” said Rep. Lou Lang, (D) Skokie.

“If they can negotiate a deal and ratify it on August 17th, I think it’s possible,” said Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green. “If they start on August 17th, it will be the longest day.”

* And the Republicans would like to see a plan in writing

Radogno spokeswoman Patty Schuh said Senate Republicans want to know more about Quinn’s plan, if he has one.

“We will be available in the coming weeks to discuss it, if the governor has a plan he’s going to lay out there or show us,” Schuh said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   33 Comments      

Cardinal George: “Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan?”

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012

* Francis Cardinal George blogged Sunday about Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s claim that the Chick-fil-A food chain’s values “are not Chicago’s values”

Recent comments by those who administer our city seem to assume that the city government can decide for everyone what are the “values” that must be held by citizens of Chicago. I was born and raised here, and my understanding of being a Chicagoan never included submitting my value system to the government for approval. Must those whose personal values do not conform to those of the government of the day move from the city? Is the City Council going to set up a “Council Committee on Un-Chicagoan Activities” and call those of us who are suspect to appear before it? I would have argued a few days ago that I believe such a move is, if I can borrow a phrase, “un-Chicagoan.”

The value in question is espousal of “gender-free marriage.” Approval of state-sponsored homosexual unions has very quickly become a litmus test for bigotry; and espousing the understanding of marriage that has prevailed among all peoples throughout human history is now, supposedly, outside the American consensus. Are Americans so exceptional that we are free to define “marriage” (or other institutions we did not invent) at will? What are we re-defining?

It might be good to put aside any religious teaching and any state laws and start from scratch, from nature itself, when talking about marriage. Marriage existed before Christ called together his first disciples two thousand years ago and well before the United States of America was formed two hundred and thirty six years ago. Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.

Marriage exists because human nature comes in two complementary sexes: male and female. The sexual union of a man and woman is called the marital act because the two become physically one in a way that is impossible between two men or two women. Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. Gender is inextricably bound up with physical sexual identity; and “gender-free marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like a square circle.

Both Church and state do, however, have an interest in regulating marriage. It is not that religious marriage is private and civil marriage public; rather, marriage is a public institution in both Church and state. The state regulates marriage to assure stability in society and for the proper protection and raising of the next generation of citizens. The state has a vested interest in knowing who is married and who is not and in fostering good marriages and strong families for the sake of society.

The Church, because Jesus raised the marital union to the level of symbolizing his own union with his Body the Church, has an interest in determining which marital unions are sacramental and which are not. The Church sees married life as a path to sanctity and as the means for raising children in the faith, as citizens of the universal kingdom of God. These are all legitimate interests of both Church and state, but they assume and do not create the nature of marriage.

People who are not Christian or religious at all take for granted that marriage is the union of a man and a woman for the sake of family and, of its nature, for life. The laws of civilizations much older than ours assume this understanding of marriage. This is also what religious leaders of almost all faiths have taught throughout the ages. Jesus affirmed this understanding of marriage when he spoke of “two becoming one flesh” (Mt. 19: 4-6). Was Jesus a bigot? Could Jesus be accepted as a Chicagoan? Would Jesus be more “enlightened” if he had the privilege of living in our society? One is welcome to believe that, of course; but it should not become the official state religion, at least not in a land that still fancies itself free. Surely there must be a way to properly respect people who are gay or lesbian without using civil law to undermine the nature of marriage.

Surely we can find a way not to play off newly invented individual rights to “marriage” against constitutionally protected freedom of religious belief and religious practice. The State’s attempting to redefine marriage has become a defining moment not for marriage, which is what it is, but for our increasingly fragile “civil union” as citizens.

[Hat tip: Newsalert.]


- Posted by Rich Miller   102 Comments      

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* Question of the day
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