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TIme waster

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

McSweeney’s New Food page is a culinary and literary delight.

Swiss Chard

Submitted by Eric Smith

I hate you Swiss chard. Oh, how I hate you. I have hated you ever since I figured out why dumpsters smell like dumpsters. It’s because of you. I always thought they took on that characteristic stench because long years of bad garbage odors combined together in an unholy stew that for some reason always smelled the same. Kind of like how mixing lots of different paint colors always gives you brown. But no, it turns out that they smell exactly like you did two days after I brought you home from the grocery store. So it was you all along. Screw you, Swiss chard. [Snip]

The Litchi

Submitted by Ellia Bisker

If you’ve ever idly wondered what it might be like to eat a human eyeball, you might want to consider the litchi as a delicious (and more socially appropriate) alternative. Here is how to eat a litchi. Stick your thumbnail into the base of the stem and pull back slightly until the stem releases, then peel away the papery skin in a thin spiral strip. About this skin: it is covered with small rosy hexagonal scales, like the drupelets of a raspberry with some reptile in its family tree. You will expose a slippery globe of translucent white flesh about the size of a pingpong ball. Stop peeling about halfway down, because here comes the part you have been waiting for: press your lips to the perfectly smooth fruit, apply a little suction, and with a wet, satisfying plop, it will suddenly pop into your mouth, luscious, fragrant as nectar. Imagine that it’s the eye of your lover, or your nemesis. It’s just that good.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


Watch your back

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

Is the Republican-controlled Will County Board gearing up for a fight with the incoming county executive, Democratic state Sen. Larry Walsh?

Walsh upset the apple cart in Will by defeating incumbent Joe Mikan. The county board has already moved to hire Mikan’s top assistant, Bruce Friefeld, as its “director of operations” - a new post created for Friefeld after the election.

Will County Executive Joe Mikan may be leaving office on Dec. 6, but he won’t be going far — for a few months at least.

Mikan has been asked to stay on as a county board consultant while the executive office transitions to the administration of County Executive-elect Larry Walsh.

Mikan will stick around for at least 3 months, at $1500 per month working about two days a week, according to the article. Walsh better watch his back.

- Posted by Rich Miller   3 Comments      


Old Fax

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

Back when I started Capitol Fax, in 1993, about a third of my new subscribers had to buy a fax machine just so they could read it. It wasn’t that long ago, but the world of technology has progressed amazingly fast since then. Still, the fax machine has been around a very long time. From Boing Boing (click on the photo for a larger image).

This fax-by-telegraph machine was in operation at the New York Herald in 1900. From a Pearson’s Magazine article published at the time:

“The equipment consists of two machines, almost identical in construction, the first being called the “transmitter,” the second the “receiver.” Each is provided with an eight-inch cylinder, which may be made to revolve by a delicate system of clockwork so finely regulated that both instruments work together to a nicety.

Above each cylinder rests a fine platinum needle, or stylus, not unlike the point in a telegraph key. A sheet of tin-foil, six inches by eight inches, ready to wrap round the transmitter’s cylinder, and a sheet of ordinary carbon manifold-copying paper of the same dimensions, which, when placed between two sheets of blank paper, is to be wrapped round the receiver’s cylinder–these complete the chief requirements.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Blogroll additions

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

I’ve added a few more blogs to the roll.

Peoria Pundit has moved to Typepad, so go check him out. Also he has a snarky little piece on Rep. Ricca Slone today that’s a good read.

Metroblogging Chicago has some good stuff, mostly not about politics, though.

Glenview politics is the subject of Glenview Watch.

Draft Vallas has apparently expanded its subject matter beyond the goal of drafting Paul Vallas to run for governor in 2006. Good site for those who aren’t thrilled with Rod Blagojevich.

- Posted by Rich Miller   2 Comments      


Chamber statement

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

The statement from the Illinois Chamber about the Cook County judge’s ruling on the fee increase follows. Also, I read the court’s decision very early in the morning and misread part of it. Only the fees collected from the Workers Compensation surcharge are placed in escrow. However, it’s clear from the opinion that the other 300 fee increases aren’t Kosher.

“The court’s decision sends a clear message to our state lawmakers that it is unreasonable – and unconstitutional – to discriminate among fee payers and specifically burden one group, in this case businesses and employers, with providing funds for general purposes,” said Douglas L. Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber.

“The court’s decision addresses the fundamental distinction between fees and taxes,” added Whitley. “If the General Assembly decides it needs additional funds for general purposes, it should be up front about it and enact a tax increase.”

“Our hope is that this well-reasoned decision will prevent lawmakers – in Illinois and across the nation – from abusing their power by using excessive fee increases to supplement general revenue funds, which should be generated by taxes paid by all taxpayers,” he said.

“By drawing this distinction, the court is saying that state government does not have unlimited power to impose fees. State government does not have a blank check to discriminate against a certain class of fee payers to solve its fiscal problems,” Whitley said.

A story in Crain’s about the judge’s ruling is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


Fee hike decision

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2004

As promised in today’s Capitol Fax, you can click here to download Cook County Judge Patrick McGann’s ruling from yesterday that struck down 300 state fees which were imposed last year. The file is fairly large, so be patient if you have a dial-up connection.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


No study

Monday, Nov 29, 2004

A few weeks ago, I asked my blog readers if they knew of any studies of Illinois state tax and spend “winners and losers” organized by county. I got this e-mail from Jim Nowlan, one of the brightest guys around, not long afterwards. He has since given permission to post it here, slightly redacted to remove some phone numbers.

From: “Jim Nowlan”
To: “Rich Miller Capitol Fax”
Subject: Re: winners and losers

Three decades ago former Dem state rep Doug Kane wrote his PhD dissertation on this topic and found that, generally speaking, the poorer counties (western and southern Illinois ) were the “winners” and the suburbs were the losers, with the City getting about as much back as it contributed.

Later the [Legislative Research Unit], under Pat O’Grady, I think, did their own analysis and found the same thing. Because LRU got flack for pointing all of this out, LRU decided never to do it again, if I recall correctly.

More recently, probably the late 1980s, Fred Giertz at the UI Institute of Government and a colleague conducted a similar analysis. Again, they found the same–southern and western Illinois counties were big “winners” and the suburbs big losers.

(If I recall correctly) Fred and his colleague noted, however, that actually these “winners” possibly should receive even more from the state because of their low incomes and greater needs in transportation and social services.

The big allocations of state dollars are, as you know, transportation, education, social services like MA, and of course the straight tax distribution of sales (which goes back on basis of where sale occurred) and income tax, which is on a per capita basis. The key to any analysis is the mix of programs you include.

But I would guess that regardless of the mix, the findings will show what all have found thus far.

IF I RECALL correctly, the LRU study found that Downstate received about $1.4 back for every dollar it sent to Springfield and the burbs about 80 cents for every dollar. This is all very rough, but I’ll stand by the thrust of these figures.

I think the Giertz study cab be founbd in a book edited by Peter nardulli on the topic of regionalism in Illinois, but I’m in Toulon this early Mon. a.m.
and don’t have it on these bookcases.

This isn’t over yet. I think we need a new study and am determined to get one done. After this year’s relentless Chicago-bashing in several downstate legislative campaigns, the taxpayers should be given the truth.

- Posted by Rich Miller   1 Comment      


Mostly PR so far

Monday, Nov 29, 2004

But he’s got a lot of face time on TV, so it’s not a total loss:

Nearly two months after Gov. Rod Blagojevich introduced a prescription drug program he likened to “a prairie fire,'’ the I-SaveRx plan is barely smoldering.

Fewer than 1,100 people - out of an estimated 5 million uninsured residents in the participating states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri - have completed enrollment forms and ordered prescription drugs from the program’s wholesalers and pharmacies in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Central Illinois senior citizen advocates say poor timing and natural caution are the major reasons few people have signed up for the program.

And check out the PR campaign the governor has done on behalf of his pet program:

After kicking off the program in Chicago on Oct. 4 with Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, Blagojevich hit the road in a barnstorming promotional campaign that included stops at senior citizen centers in Chicago, Herrin, Collinsville, Standard, Rock Island, East Moline, Rockford, Peoria, Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and Danville.

Three weeks after the program’s start, the Illinois Department on Aging initiated a seven-week statewide tour that sent agency director Charles Johnson to senior centers in Chicago and nine suburban communities. Upcoming visits are scheduled to Mattoon, Charleston, O’Fallon, Alton and four Chicago suburbs.

The Blagojevich administration also is mailing information and enrollment forms to seniors statewide who fall within a certain income bracket, according to Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff.

Blagojevich again placed the program in the spotlight on Oct. 28 when he announced the “prairie fire” of a program was spreading to Missouri, bringing the total target population to more than 23 million residents - five million of whom are estimated to lack prescription drug insurance.

Not mentioned was that the guv also sent out a press release when the first person signed up for the program, heralding the major accomplishment.

- Posted by Rich Miller   4 Comments      


Not quite

Monday, Nov 29, 2004

From the AP today:

From 1998 to 2003, Illinois had the nation’s lowest average number of state employees compared with its population, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

The average size of the state payroll during those years, roughly 161,000 employees, amounts to 130 employees for every 10,000 Illinois residents. That’s far below the national average of 175 employees for every 10,000 Americans and below levels in other large states, including California, Florida and Texas.

A watchdog group says the low numbers are a product of souring economic times that force everyone to cut back.

‘’It’s not unique to government by any means,'’ said Tim Bramlet, president of the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois. ‘’There’s just less resources available, and people are being asked to do more with less.'’

Um, not quite.

The low state employee ratio began in 1998, or at the very least the study covers the ratio beginning in 1998. That was a very good budget year. Lots of extra money was coming in. George Ryan wasn’t even elected yet. I think we had a low ratio even before then.

But watch the current governor take credit for this.

Also, according to the article:

Illinois saw the nation’s smallest increase in the monthly cost of paying its government employees — 15 percent compared with a national average of 27.6 percent.

Governor Blagojevich just negotiated his first union contract this year, and it was described as the most generous in the nation.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


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