Saturday, September 6, 2014

St. Tars to host 5th Annual Recycling Day and Green Expo September 27

St. Tarcissus Catholic Parish, 6020 W. Ardmore, will hold its 5th Annual Recycling Day and Green Expo on Saturday, September 27, from 9:00 to 3:00.

Computers, monitors, televisions, telephones, radios, DVD players and metals (aluminum cans, brass, copper) will be accepted for recycling in the parking lot behind the church, on the 5800 block of North Moody. Paper shredding will also be available (but only from 9:00 to noon). Walgreens will have people on hand to collect unused prescriptions (flushing expired prescription medications is not the best plan; that puts traces of medicine in the water supply) and to offer flu shots. Working Bikes will be accepting donations of old bicycles, bike parts, crutches, sewing machines, and wheelchairs for repair and distribution to the underprivileged, locally and globally.

The Green Expo will be in the St. Tars School Auditorium, 6040 W. Ardmore. There will be a free book swap (leave a book, take a book), games and activities for children, vendors offering Green and Fair Trade products, Green household cleaning tips, and backyard composting demonstrations. There will also be raffles for various items, including a rain barrel.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It will take time (and terabytes) to rebuild this relationship

Today started as Day 11 of our Internet outage at home. I don't want to name and shame the Internet provider, so I'll just call it by its initials, AT&T.

Readers would presumably be bored with the specifics of my problems. I'll even concede that the poor person employed by the Illinois Commerce Commission to read consumer complaints may not have been entirely riveted by the screed I submitted last Thursday. But, for reasons that will become apparent, I must at least point out that, in the course of allegedly repairing my Internet outage, AT&T disconnected my home phone besides as of Monday, August 4. This was at least our second home phone outage in the past couple of weeks; we'd had an unexplained five-day outage that had only just ended (after our repeated pleas for assistance) on July 28. These phone outages were mentioned in the ICC complaint.

However exciting, or unexciting, my ICC complaint was, it at least seemed to have a salutary effect on the aforementioned telephone monopoly: On Friday I received an earnest phone message from a gentleman in the "Office of the President of AT&T," and if that doesn't sound as official as all get-out I don't know what does.

Interestingly, Friday was also the day that, according to the AT&T U-verse computers, our Internet "upgrade" was to take place. Never mind that, for roughly two blessed hours on Wednesday evening, our Internet was working. Our outgoing phone line was open. Only incoming phone calls were blocked. My foolish mistake was in telling AT&T about this one little flaw. AT&T responded to our request to take care of this minor, remaining issue by scuttling our brand new Internet service and our partial home phone service. My wife and I had just about finished installing the new wireless password on our phones and iPads and other household geegaws when the lights on our brand new U-verse router stopped flashing a uniform, cheery green. From cheery green, the "service" light had gone cherry red. And the phone's dial tone was gone, too.

But that did not set us off. No, we were more or less rational about having the 21st Century snatched away from us -- again -- at least until the AT&T "service" representative told us (our recollections notwithstanding) that our new service had not been installed, but was scheduled to be installed on Friday, August 8. Things got a little heated. But at least the "service" representative did not ask, "Who are you going to believe -- my computer screen, or your lying eyes?"

And, in fairness, a man did show up on Friday afternoon. He worked at a box a couple of blocks away, then came to our house, heading out to the pole in the backyard for awhile, before coming back to the house to tell us that the paperwork was all wrong and would have to be reentered. Meanwhile, my wife and I could return to our unscheduled nostalgia trip to a time before the Internet. And house phones. I had to resist the urge to stop by the general store for some kerosene on Saturday morning.

This morning, when I got into the office (located in the Loop and the 21st Century) I checked the AT&T website to see the status of my "repair appointment." I thought I'd been angry before, when the website said installation was scheduled for a day and a half after it had been up and running, only to have it snatched away from us. But now, when I looked at the screen, and it told me my order was "complete," I'm afraid I may have lost it.

I'm also afraid the attorney in the next suite over is going to look at me with a bit of a raised eyebrow for some time to come.

My wife called AT&T again, while I waited vainly for the earnest young man in the "Office of the AT&T President" to call me back. The person with whom she spoke on this occasion noted the pending ICC complaint and promised that a "senior technician" would be dispatched, a plenipotentiary with full authorization to do whatever it took to put us back online.

And, would you believe it? This time, it worked.

Even the home phone works.

And when the home phone started working again I discovered I had seven voice mails waiting. One was from a credit card company, trying to sell something. The other six were from AT&T. None of the callers seemed to appreciate that they were calling a number they knew, or should have known, not to be in service. This does not inspire confidence.

Nevertheless, I am back. Tentatively. Fearfully. Checking the lights on the broadband modem in between key strokes.

I am hopeful, but I am wary.

I can't embrace the Internet again at home as I had before, not right away. It'll take time. And uninterrupted service. Uninterrupted service for some time. A long time.

I'll try and make this relationship work again. But some scars heal slowly....

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Congratulations to Big Frank Thomas on his enshrinement in Baseball's Hall of Fame

When I was a boy, baseball cards were sold at Waxman's Drug Store at 95th & Hoyne. That's where I got mine. I had a pretty good collection, too, before my mother threw them all out. (Your mother did it, too; don't try and con me.)

In those days, baseball cards came with thin, brittle sheets of awful bubble gum. I never could blow a bubble. But I chewed the gum anyway.

In my life, I have bought very few baseball cards that came without bubble gum.

The one you see above is one of them.

I took it from the vault today to share, in honor of the enshrinement, this weekend, of Frank Thomas in Baseball's Hall of Fame.

When our kids were young, my wife would buy the boys baseball cards as stocking stuffers. I'd get some, too.

Here's one of these.

It's ironic that Big Frank is blowing a bubble in this baseball card photo. By the mid-90s, I think they'd stopped selling baseball cards with bubble gum. I don't remember cards with gum being available anywhere.

Big Frank was always big. He was big in Birmingham; he was big with the White Sox. In 1990, the White Sox acquired Sammy Sosa, a skinny kid from the Texas Rangers. I seem to recall him being called Sammy So-so at the time. He got lots bigger, though, when he went to the Chicago Cubs. He credited "Flintstones Vitamins" for his new muscle mass, as I recall. The sportswriters -- the same ones who will keep Sosa out of the Hall of Fame -- winked at each other and nodded and laughed and ballyhooed the home run duel between Sosa and Mark McGwire, saying nothing about PEDs. Then.

They've said a lot since. And whether or not you think Sosa, McGwire, Barry Bonds and all the rest also deserve to be in Cooperstown, the sportswriters may have said something useful by putting Big Frank in ahead of all of these. Big Frank was great and clean. It is fitting and proper that he gets in first.

Assembly line collection firm faces its own legal troubles

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sued a Georgia law firm, Frederick J. Hanna & Associates, P.C., and three of its principal partners, charging that the firm operates "a debt collection lawsuit mill that uses illegal tactics to intimidate consumers into paying debts they may not owe." (For a complete copy of the CFPB's Complaint, click here.)

Debra Cassens Weiss posted about the suit on July 15 on ABA Journal Law News Now. According to Weiss, the Hanna firm "filed more than 350,000 debt-collection suits from 2009 through 2013" in Georgia alone (the firm also boasts offices in the St. Louis and Ft. Lauderdale areas). Weiss writes that the suit charges that one lawyer in the firm "signed an average of about 1,300 collection suits a week."

Now, let's assume that non-lawyers prepare the suit papers. Indeed, the government's suit (which says the Hanna & Associates operates more like a factory than a law firm) alleges "non-attorney support staff produce the lawsuits and place them into mail buckets, which are then delivered to attorneys essentially waiting at the end of an assembly line. The Firm’s attorneys are expected to spend less than a minute reviewing and approving each suit."

Let's do the math.

There are 60 minutes in an hour. There are, allegedly, eight hours in the typical business day. (I'll pause here until you stop snickering.) 60 x 8 = 480.

There are, again allegedly, five business days in the week. 480 x 5 = 2,400.

Clearly, the government's charges are exaggerated. The man or woman who signed 1,300 suits in a week could have lavished a good 90 seconds on each case and still found time, occasionally, to go to the bathroom or scarf down a sandwich.

And, remember, these are debt collection suits -- not antitrust pleadings. After all, how long does it take to say 'the deadbeat defendant owes my already megarich corporate masters even more money'?

Except... while some of the firm's clients are giant credit card issuers seeking to collect from their own customers, the firm also represents zombie debt buyers -- "companies," as the Washington Post Wonkblog explained, "that purchase old accounts for collection -- such as Portfolio Recovery Associates and Midland Funding."

Here's the deal: John Q. Public buys a widget from the store, charging the $100 purchase price on his Megabank MultiCharge (note that MultiCharge is not a real card issuer -- I can't afford to get sued). The store gets paid a discounted amount -- $97 or $98 from Megabank -- but the store is happy because it has most of its money up front and doesn't have to worry about collection.

If John Q. pays his MultiCharge bill in full on or before the due date, Megabank makes only $2 or $3 on the transaction. Unless, of course, it gets an annual fee or a membership fee (some cards command these). But MegaBank really makes out when John Q. Public can't quite pay the entire balance when the MultiCharge bill comes due. Depending on the card, John Q. may be accumulating annual interest charges of 10, 12, 15 or even 24, 25 or 29%. Considering that, these days, MegaBank pays virtually nothing to borrow money (if, for example, it had to borrow money to pay the store in the first place), the bank's profit margin gets pretty darn plump pretty darn fast.

But, now and again, a MultiCharge customer will fall behind in his or her payments. These losses can be readily absorbed by the obscene profits made from other Megabank customers, but discipline in the ranks must be maintained. The offending customer must be dunned.

If those efforts are not successful, for some reason -- perhaps the credit card customer, taking a page from the corporate giants, decided to decamp in the middle of the night to another venue in order to capitalize on tax advantages -- the charge (still accruing interest the whole while) may be "written off."

But that does not mean that Megabank has given up on collecting. No, it packages its uncollectable accounts and sells them to a zombie debt buyer for pennies on the dollar. The zombie can sue for the entire amount of the indebtedness, still piling up interest according to the original cardholder agreement; it need not hit on very many of these long-shots to make a huge profit on its investment. But the zombie's pleadings should be a little more complex: It addition to allegations of fact showing the validity of the original debt, the complaint needs to document how the zombie came to possess the debt. This documentation might be easy enough if the zombie is the first purchaser of the debt from the credit card issuer, but zombies sell downstream, too.

And the debts written off and sold by the card issuers are not just the ones where the cardholders moved in the middle of the night and left no forwarding address. Some debts were discharged in bankruptcy, others may have been run up on cards fraudulently issued (it's not always a Russian or Bulgarian syndicate that gets a phony credit account started, sometimes it's a spouse who never tells his or her partner about the card issued in both spouses' names).

And then there's the problem of mistaken -- as opposed to stolen -- identity. Computers are wonderful devices, but the accuracy of the information stored within varies according to the humans who enter that information. Mistakes can be made. There may not be too many persons named Xxzyz in any given town (and probably not any, but let's pretend). So the odds that the Stanley J. Xxzyz named by the zombie in its complaint being the one and only Stanley J. Xxzyz in the town phone book are probably pretty good. But it ought to take a little more time to evaluate whether the right defendant has been named if the defendant is named Smith or Jones, right?

I don't know what the rule might be in Georgia, but in Illinois a lawyer's obligations with respect to pleadings is spelled out by Supreme Court Rule 137. An attorney must not only sign every new complaint, but the attorney's signature is meant to be "a certificate by him that he has read the pleading...; that to the best of his knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation."

In other words, an Illinois attorney is expected to vouch for the legitimacy of every complaint he or she files -- not that it's a dead-bang winner, but that it states, in good faith, a legitimate dispute. Where the complaint is prepared by staff and the attorney sees it for the first time in a pile of pleadings to be signed, whether he or she spends less than a minute on the 'review' or spends 90 seconds or even two full minutes, it seems unlikely that, in any but the simplest and most straightforward of cases, that anyone could realistically comply with Rule 137. If Georgia's rule is similar (and I'll bet it is) it will be interesting to see whether, regardless of the outcome of the CFPB suit, there are disciplinary consequences for the attorneys who signed these pleadings or those who set up the assembly line system.

The takeaway for the layperson who comes across this post is that one should never, ever assume that suit papers, even though (in your view) clearly erroneous, can be safely ignored. It will not matter to the court that a zombie debt collector has sued the wrong John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. The court will not know the complaint is erroneous -- not unless you appear to say so. If you are a John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, but never had a MegaBank MultiCharge account, but if you are served with a complaint that says you did, and you do not go to court and prevent it, you will be defaulted. You will wind up with a judgment on your record, possibly a garnishment summons on your employer. His name is your name, too, and, if a default judgment is entered against you, his debt is yours as well.

Put it this way: The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble; they're only made of clay -- but, in Illinois, after 30 days, a default judgment is here to stay.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Republicans trying to bail out the Redistricting Amendment?

That's what the Illinois Observer is reporting this morning. Specifically, according to the linked post, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno have asked the Illinois State Board of Elections to reconsider the impossibly tight deadline imposed on Yes for Independent Maps to 'rehabilitate' signatures tested and found wanting on its petitions to place the Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment on the November ballot.

The Observer piece makes this out to be a normal Republicans vs. Democrats story: As I reported on May 21, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is behind a suit to knock this amendment off the ballot... if it makes it on the ballot in the first place. Today's Observer post notes that the Yes to Independent Maps campaign has raised $2.9 million, principally from Republicans, "such as Ken and Anne Griffin who have donated $350,000 to the effort and who are among GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner’s biggest financial backers."

See? Straight-up partisan politics, right?

As Lee Corso says on college football Saturdays, not so fast, my friend.

It's easy to assume that the Republicans would be in favor of the amendment, since the Democrats that now control that mapping process have drawn such friendly districts for themselves, and such dangerous districts for their Republican friends, that the Republicans can practically qualify for endangered species status in Illinois. But nothing lasts forever, especially in politics. The Republicans will presumably have their day again. Eventually. And when they get it, they don't want to have to deal with fairly drawn districts; they will want a chance to draw three Democratic incumbents into the same new district and see how they like it. Republicans want to pick friendly voters and hamstring their opponents just as badly as Democrats do.

Today's alleged Republican plea to the ISBE comes suspiciously late in the process.

The ISBE is required by law to spot-check 5% of the signatures on mega-petitions like that filed by the redistricting amendment's supporters. In that check fully 54% of the signatures were deemed invalid. Projecting this failure rate across the entire petition would put the amendment well short of the 298,400 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot.

Amendment supporters were given the Herculean task of trying to track down the 13,807 petition signers whose signatures were deemed invalid and secure affidavits from them showing that they did in fact sign the petition -- and they were initially given only until June 5 in which to accomplish this.

A Tribune editorial on June 5 noted that an ISBE hearing officer had agreed to give the Yes people a brief extension, to June 13, in which to marshal their rehabilitation evidence, but the full Board overruled the hearing officer. (The Tribune article also notes -- curiously -- that there was no consensus as to which signatures were invalid -- some Board staffers found only 17% of the signatures wanting, while others were willing to throw out an astonishing 86% of the signatures checked.)

Anyway, Radogno and Durkin's plea apparently comes after this reinstated deadline has passed -- before the Board's seemingly inevitable final ruling against the amendment comes down on June 17, but too late to do any real good. Fodder for a commercial or two, perhaps, but without incurring any serious risk that the voters might get a chance to vote on the amendment.

Photo obtained from this post on Capitol Fax
It's interesting to note that the constitutional amendment that Bruce Rauner openly supports, the term limits amendment, an amendment that would also cut the size of the Illinois Senate, has sailed through the ISBE without difficulty. (That's Mr. Rauner, above, posing with the term limits petitions just before they were sent for filing.)

Political professionals can deal with term limits -- Putin and Medvedev simply traded places, you'll recall. Granted, the last Cutback Amendment, perhaps the all-time blunder of Pat Quinn's career, was disruptive. Not only did it put one-third of the Illinois House out of office, it did more than any other single thing to create our current system in Springfield in which the majority leaders in both houses have such authority. The political class as a whole survived and prospered despite the disruption.

If some individual politicians would also suffer under Rauner's new cutback plan, the entire political class, in both parties, would be shaken to the core by a non-partisan map-drawing process. The Democrats are honest enough to be openly against it; many Republican politicians are merely pretending to be for it.

There may well be some constitutional infirmities in the Yes proposal; election attorney Michael J. Kasper will make a strong case, if he has to. This sentence in the proposed Amendment, for example, seems likely to cause trouble: "For ten years after service as a Commissioner or Special Commissioner [on the Independent Redistricting Commission], a person is ineligible to serve as a Senator, Representative, officer of the Executive Branch, Judge, or Associate Judge of the State or an officer or employee of the State whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate."

But the professional politicians don't want to get to the merits of the map-drawing amendment either in a courtroom or on the hustings. They'd like to see it killed before it gets on the ballot. And, today's nominal Republican protest notwithstanding, the professional politicians may soon get their wish.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lots more photos from yesterday's Norwood Park Memorial Day Parade

This post is a continuation of a post that began on page one. If you just came from there, you saw the large group of from Taft High School that marched yesterday.

Well, a lot of the local grammar schools and Scout groups participated as well.

Here's a group from Garvey School.

And there was a large group from Immaculate Conception Parish, including several Scout groups and a contingent of junior high students.

Girl Scout Troop 41640, sponsored by the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, marched in the parade... did Lutheran Unity School...

... and Cub Pack 3958, sponsored by the Norwood Park Lutheran Church.

Norwood Park School also had a good sized turnout.

Also marching were Cub Scout and Girl Scout units from Edison Park Elementary School.

St. Thecla Parish had a large group participating.

And Boy Scout Troop 943 and Cub Pack 3943 from St. Monica Parish also marched... did Cub Pack 3965 from St. Juliana's.

The Marching Eagles Band from Smyser Elementary School also performed along the parade route.

There are more pictures I could share -- my daughter Brigid will be mad at me for not including any pictures of the marchers from the Norwood Park Dog Association -- and I haven't shown any of the old cars that rumbled by. Some of these old cars were new in my lifetime, and I'm not thrilled by that realization. But I can't leave the parade without showing these two ladies, who marched behind a car bearing placards for the Norwood Park Historical Society.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wait -- I thought Mayor Emanuel said we needed speed cameras because pedestrians in Chicago are in such mortal peril

In today's Chicago Sun-Times Rosalind Rossi reports that Chicago is among the safest cities for pedestrians, ranking no. 45 out of 51 metropolitan areas in a Smart Growth America survey of pedestrians killed per 100,000 residents in traffic accidents between 2008 and 2012.

(Finally! A survey where it's good to be down near the bottom!)

So that's good news for a change.

Still, I'm confused. Didn't Mayor Emanuel tell us that we need speed cameras because our streets are so dangerous?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

45th Ward "ecoFair" today from 10:00 to 1:00

I saw this earlier, but when I went looking for it, I couldn't find it.

Ald. John Arena (45th) is hosting the ward's annual ecoFair, paper shredding and electronics recycling event, cosponsored by the Chicago Park District and the University of Illinois Extension, today, May 10, from 10:00 to 1:00.

The ecoFair will be at Wilson Park, 4630 N. Milwaukee, and will feature booths where you can learn about ecologically-friendly practices, such as composting, creating rain gardens and sustainable back yards.

There will also be a drawing for a free rain barrel.

Electronics recycling and paper shredding will be available across the street and next to the fire station. Used shoes, clothing, and books will also be collected for charity.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Another Northwest Side electronics recycling event tomorrow

The first thing you have to realize is this: Not all trash is created equal.

You can throw out your coffee grounds or the dust picked up by your vacuum cleaner and lots of other gooey and gloppy stuff, but, in Illinois, if you put your old TV out in the trash, you could be fined a hefty sum of money (see, Sec. 80 of the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, 415 ILCS 150/80). In addition to televisions, the Act also prohibits folks from throwing out any computer, computer monitor, printer, electronic keyboard, facsimile machine, videocassette recorder, portable digital music player, digital video disc player, video game console, electronic mouse, scanner, digital converter box, cable receiver, satellite receiver, digital video disc recorder, or small-scale server.

So if you have any of this stuff piling up in your garage, and you're in the area, tomorrow may be a good time to responsibly dispose of your old electronics at St. Priscilla's, 6969 W. Addison. Ald. Nicholas Sposato and State Representative Luis Arroyo are hosting tomorrow's event.

Monday, April 28, 2014

City Council to adopt partial plastic bag ban this week?

This is the plastic bag recycling bin at the south entrance to the Jewel-Osco at Harlem and Foster on Chicago's Northwest Side.

The Chicago City Council is expected to vote Wednesday on an ordinance that would prohibit this Jewel store and other chain grocery stores in the City from giving out plastic bags to their customers after August 2015. A "compromise" worked out with the ordinance's sponsors will give smaller retailers (stores with under 10,000 square feet of space unless part of a chain of three or more stores) a reprieve from the ban until August 2016. The Chicago Sun-Times Politics Early & Often site provided the text of the proposed ordinance:

Plastic bag ordinance

Retailers subject to the ordinance would be required to provide paper, cloth or "compostable" plastic bags that meet specified standards of biodegradability.

This is touted as a great environmental victory instead of just another regressive tax. It might be beneficial to the environment if the use of plastic bags would really be eliminated, but the proposed ordinance is also a regressive tax.

Bags are not free. I had a post on Page One back in 2011 that looked at the differences between the costs of paper and plastic bags. Paper bags cost significantly more than plastic ones; that's why grocers started using plastic. If this new 'environmental' ordinance passes, the costs of switching back to paper or using "compostable" plastic bags will be passed along to consumers. More well-to-do consumers may already be using cloth or other reusable bags (that they pay for). But, under the proposed ordinance, everyone will have to buy them, or pay increased costs at check-out to cover the costs of new bags. This will raise prices for rich and poor alike. It is for this reason that this new tax, like the sales tax, is regressive.

And the plastic bags have their uses. For example, dog owners will still have to have something to dispose of what dogs do, only now they will have to pay for their doggie-doo bags. It would be best, of course, if the dog owners used "compostable" bags, but the ordinance won't guarantee that.

Plastic bags are also helpful when carrying meat home from the grocer, even in enviornmentally-sound cloth bags. If blood from fresh meat contaminates those cloth bags and the bag owners don't launder them properly, what sort of public health concerns will that create? The ordinance doesn't consider that either.

The environmental benefits of the ordinance were touted by Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who chairs the Health and Environmental Protection Committee. He was quoted in a recent post on the CBS2 Local site. Cardenas said said plastic bags by the hundreds and thousands litter city streets in many wards.
“You see litter, and you see plastic, and you see plastic bags. That’s what you see,” he said. “And we clean it up on a daily basis. Every week we have a task force from the Streets and Sanitation [Department] to go out and clean.”
But that's why they have bins like the one pictured above, at my local Jewel, so people can recycle the plastic bags, not let them blow away in the breeze. We just passed the 44th anniversary of Earth Day. Weren't we supposed to have eradicated litter bugs by now? Wouldn't the truly "green" solution be to encourage recycling?

And it's quite interesting to note that, despite the concerns of aldermen that plastic bags are winding up as litter, the City of Chicago does not even accept plastic bags for recycling. Chicago residents finally have their blue bins -- but plastic bags are not permitted in those bins (from the City of Chicago website, highlighting supplied):

Will my local Jewel still collect plastic bags when it can no longer issue them? Will anyone?

I don't know if the ordinance will really kill jobs, as some of the more strident critics charge. It will presumably give a price advantage to stores just outside the City limits -- bad news for my local Jewel, located just inside the City boundaries. The bag ordinance is a regressive tax, hurting poor people more than rich ones, and yet not contributing one thin dime to the City coffers for the benefit of either rich or poor. Instead of a ban, the environment might be a lot better served if people would just pick up after themselves and use the recycling bins already at their local groceries.

I hope the City Council will again reject this proposal. I'm not, however, holding my breath.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

One in four Illinoisans think ours is the worst state in which to live

This table is reproduced from a Gallup poll discussed in a post on page one. You may need to enlarge or clarify this table, depending on the device on which you are viewing this.

Illinois fares poorly in Gallup poll of state residents' trust in their home state governments

This table is reproduced from a Gallup poll discussed in a post on page one. You may need to enlarge or clarify this table, depending on the device on which you are viewing this.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Judicial blogger appears on this week's North Town News Magazine

I am a guest on this week's edition of North Town News Magazine, talking about the results of the March judicial primary with host and moderator Avy Meyers.

My thanks to Avy Meyers and his entire technical crew Sonny Hersh for allowing me to appear.

The program airs tonight at 7:30 on CAN-TV, Channel 19 on Chicago cable systems, with a rebroadcast tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The show is also seen in Evanston on Channel 6 tonight at 5:00 and Sunday night at 10:30. NTNM is also broadcast on a number of other suburban cable systems on Mondays at 6:00 p.m. Check your local listings for air times in your area.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Definitely not a good sign

Non Sequitur comic, by Wiley Miller, obtained from Yahoo! Comics.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The burdens outweigh any benefit of MLB’s new ‘security’ procedure

At first, I thought it was an early April Fool’s joke.

I got off the Red Line a good 25 minutes before the scheduled first pitch yesterday, passing the usual Opening Day phalanx of police officers on my way to Gate 5 where I planned to get to my seat in plenty of time for the National Anthem.

The operative word in the preceding sentence is “planned.”

It soon became evident that the lines to get into U.S. Cellular Field were outrageously long – and not moving in any appreciable way.

My host suggested we try the Stadium Club (he’s a member), and we crossed 35th Street, passing many other peace officers en route. But the line for the Stadium Club was also extremely long, and it funnels into a small elevator (or maybe two – I don’t get out much), so we got in the adjacent line for Gate 2. Eventually, after the game was well underway, because we had 100-level tickets, we were allowed to go to Gate 1, where we were wanded and finally allowed to climb the stairs into the park – where, as usual, we still had to show our tickets to at least two other ushers before we could finally get to our seats. I didn’t see as many uniformed police officers after we got in line – we saw some – but mostly, at that point, we saw Sox Security personnel (many of whom are moonlighting police officers).

The long lines weren’t an early April Fool’s joke: According to the Sun-Times this morning, the debacle at the Cell yesterday is a manifestation of MLB’s new security program, which we are all encouraged to accept with stoic passivity.

I dissent.

Seriously, who came up with this brilliant plan for MLB – Jeffrey Loria?

It’s one thing to turn a trip to the airport into an excursion into one of the outer circles of Dante’s Inferno; it doesn’t matter, much, because at the end of the TSA ordeal is the soul-crushing tedium of modern airline travel. But now misguided security guidelines are messing with America’s Pastime. This is serious.

I suspect that the MLB plan is probably a reaction to the tragedy last April at the Boston Marathon. That was an unspeakably awful crime. According to Wikipedia, three people were killed, and 264 more were injured, many of them horribly. People in Boston and around the nation felt deeply for the victims and their families; Americans took the losses personally. The whole nation paused a few days later as we watched the unfolding news of the manhunt for the surviving bomber.

But there were roughly 500,000 people at the Boston Marathon last year. Necessarily, almost all of them got home safely that day. You may recall news reports about many runners or spectators who didn’t even learn of the tragedy until after they’d returned to their homes or hotels.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my professional career dealing with insurance companies, but, for me, everything comes down to analyzing risks and burdens.

I am not a statistician or an actuary. Like almost everyone else (except, possibly, for professional statisticians and actuaries), my sense of risk is at least partially informed by my ‘gut feelings.’ Because of my background, though, my gut feelings are not unduly fueled by hysterical news outlets. And I have perhaps a greater appreciation for risk statistics than most, even if I lack the ability to calculate the odds myself.

I therefore find it significant when the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are calculated at 1 in 20,000,000, as Ronald Bailey calculated in this 2011 piece on (I tracked down that link after seeing it cited in an April 2013 Wonkblog post on the Washington Post website).

You can compare the relative risks of death by terrorism with death by other causes by following either of those links.

I also looked at the publication Injury Facts (2013 edition), published by the National Safety Council, for comparison purposes. The NSC did not provide a calculation for the risk of death at the hands of a terrorist. The NSC’s figures were based on 2009 mortality figures and there were no deaths in America caused by terrorism to use as a basis for calculation of the odds in that year. (According to the NSC methodology, unless at least 20 people die annually from a given risk, any calculation of odds would likely be “unstable from year to year” and the calculations were not included for that reason. The article on used cumulative figures from five years, from 2005-2010, and included Americans killed in terrorist attacks overseas, before taking an average.)

According to the NSC, over 36,000 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents in 2009, making the annual odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident 1 in 8,477. So the risk of death from traveling by motor vehicle is orders of magnitude greater than the risk of dying in a terrorist attack (1 in 20,000,000).

If safety is the real goal, we should perhaps prohibit people from driving to ballgames. But people can die using public transportation as well – again, using the 2013 edition of Injury Facts – Americans had a 1 in 13,954,843 chance of dying in a bus accident and (here’s a coincidence) the exact same chance of dying in a railroad accident. Not a lot of risk, admittedly – but the odds are still better that you might die in an accident on the way to the ballpark as opposed to dying in a terrorist attack at the ballpark.

You are at least twice as likely to die from a lightning strike (1 in 9,903,437) as be killed by terrorists.

But here’s where the ‘gut feelings’ come in: We know we can virtually eliminate the risk of getting struck by lightning if we stay inside during a storm. On the other hand, if we venture from our homes to go to the ballpark, we can’t avoid the risk of terrorism. Also, we can intuit that ‘soft targets’ like ballparks may be attractive to terrorists; therefore, however low the risk of terrorism generally, we find it easy to believe that the risk would be far greater when people are concentrated together at a ballgame or a concert or a shopping mall or a school or a movie theater or a railroad station or a church or.... Hey, wait a minute: There are so many ‘soft targets’ that maybe we shouldn’t consider the risk of being in this place any greater than the risk of being in any other place. There have been terrible tragedies in several of these types of places, of course – not caused by terrorists, actually, but by deranged lunatics with guns and opportunity who, sadly, were lucid enough to pick out targets where there weren’t a lot of armed police officers on the lookout for trouble. So the police presence yesterday at the Cell provided some real security.

On the other hand – back to those nervous gut feelings again – wouldn’t special occasions like the Super Bowl or Opening Day be more attractive targets for terrorists? Well, maybe so – except that these kinds of events present the least soft of any soft target you can imagine even without subjecting patrons to wanding at the entrance gates. Because once again there’s that problem (for the wannabe terrorist) of lugging his bombs or other weapons past all those police officers. What do you think those police officers were doing all along 35th Street and around the stadium? Do you think they were just soaking up atmosphere?

If a person is hellbent on committing some heinous act in the name of some cause, and if that odious person is truly prepared to die in the effort, he will find a place and time to commit his crime whether people are wanded at the entrance to sports arenas or not. But the terrorist or armed lunatic is not going to go anyplace where he must run a gauntlet of uniformed police in order to reach his ‘soft target.’ In my experience, there are always lots of police in attendance in the vicinity of U.S. Cellular Field when the White Sox have a home game. The extreme slowdowns caused by yesterday’s enhanced security wanding exercise, therefore, were a waste of time and effort and failed to make anyone safer.

The burden imposed (keeping thousands outside the stadium until the second or third inning) did not outweigh the benefit of reducing the already minuscule risk of terrorism. Besides, it must have cost the White Sox tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost concession sales.

I’m all in favor of staying safe. But I want real safety, not an illusion, and particularly not an illusion that takes 45 minutes to navigate.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Facts and figures show the Associate Judge applicant pool was very deep

In announcing the 26 Associate Judge finalists, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans stated, "These candidates are capable, talented individuals. All of them were found either 'Qualified' or 'Recommended' by all of the bar organizations participating in the process."

But, in addition to announcing the successful applicants, the Nominating Committee also released a fact sheet about the entire applicant pool. These were figures for the 236 applicants that completed the process (41 applicants withdrew, for one reason or another, presumably including the 12 applicants who won nomination in the primary). The numbers show that the Nominating Committee had a plethora of well-qualified individuals from which to choose.

In short, while every one of the 26 finalists was rated Qualified or Recommended by every evaluating bar association (the Chicago Bar Association and the member bar groups of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening), a lot of the candidates passed over can say the same. According to the Nominating Committee's figures, some 88.14% of the applicant class were found qualified by the Chicago Bar Association (the figures for the CBA aren't broken down further, but I can think of at least three unsuccessful applicants who were deemed Highly Qualified by the CBA).

The Nominating Committee did provide a more detailed breakdown for the Chicago Council of Lawyers evaluations of the associate judge applicants. Some 83.06% of the applicants were deemed Qualified or better by the CCL. The CCL deemed two of these Highly Qualified (neither was chosen by the Nominating Committee). The Council found 29 applicants Well Qualified (nine of these made the short list, according to figures provided by the Nominating Committee).

The Cook County Bar Association gave favorable marks to 91.95% of the applicants. Five candidates were deemed Highly Qualified; none of these made the short list, according to the Nominating Committee fact sheet.

The Illinois State Bar Association deemed 88.13% of the applicants Qualified or better. Nine were rated Highly Qualified by the ISBA. Only one of these, however (James Robert Carroll), made the short list.

The Decalogue Society of Lawyers found 87.72% of the applicants Recommended or better. The Decalogue Society found 39 applicants Highly Recommended; eight of these (Carroll, Shauna Louise Boliker, Kevin Thomas Lee, Myron Franklin Mackoff, Sanju David Oommen, Linda Johanna Pauel, Debra Ann Seaton, and Stephen Stern) are on the short list. Of course, that necessarily means that 31 are not.

There are seven candidates on the short list who were rated Highly Recommended by the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (Carroll, Bolliker, Oomen, Pauel, Stern, Gregory Emmett Ahern, Jr. and Devlin Joseph Schoop). But LAGBAC found 28 candidates Highly Recommended (83.05% of the applicants being deemed Recommended or batter).

The Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois found 89.41% of the applicants qualified, 18 of these deemed Highly Qualified per the Nominating Committee's fact sheet. Only two of these (Carroll and Alfredo Maldonado) made the short list. The Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois gave favorable marks to 89.41% of the applicants. Nineteen of these were considered Highly Recommended by the PRBA but only one (Stern) is among the finalists.

Several Alliance members have only one favorable rating (Qualified or Recommended is the best rating given). The Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area found 89.41% of the applicants Qualified. The Black Women Lawyers' Association found 83.47% of applicants Recommended. The Hellenic Bar association found 87.29% of the applicants Recommended, while the 89.83% of the applicants were Recommended by the Women's Bar Association of Illinois.

Looking at the list myself, I believe there were 13 current judges in this pool of applicants, including one recalled Associate Judge. Four of these won their primary races. Of the nine remaining, only two (Ahern and Michael Francis Otto) made the short list. There were nine former judges in the applicant pool as well; none of these made the short list.

By my calculations, eight of the nine finalists who were not selected in 2012 (the last time Associate Judges were chosen) reapplied. But only two of these former finalists (Maldonado and Rossana Patricia Fernandez) made the short list.

Sixty-six percent of the applicants were male, 34% female, according to the Nominating Committee. The Nominating also reported that 77% of the applicants were Caucasian, 16% African-American, 4% Hispanic, and 3% Asian.

After the short list was announced Friday I heard from some disappointed applicants, some of whom were kind enough to offer me condolences as well (I was an also an unsuccessful applicant -- again). It took me awhile to think of an appropriate response, but this is what I eventually came up with: We may not be in select company, but we are in good company. The facts and figures bear this out.

Spring cleaning -- time to archive the candidate websites

Hard to believe the primary was only two weeks ago. Almost two weeks ago.

But several of the candidate websites have already come down, and it's time for them to be retired from the Sidebar on Page One as well.

I'm keeping the list here for archival purposes. Some of the sites will be live indefinitely and those looking for ideas for the future may find in these some ideas to imitate (or reject).

Without further adieu then, herewith the list of 2014 Appellate Court candidate websites:
And here is the list of 2014 Circuit Court candidates:

Friday, March 28, 2014

41st Ward electonics recycling event tomorrow

It doesn't look anything like Spring outside at the moment, but (according to the calendar, at least, if not the climate) it's time again for Spring Cleaning.

Tomorrow, 41st Ward Alderman Mary O'Connor is hosting an electronics recycling event at St. Thecla's Church, 6725 W. Devon. Here is your chance to get rid of those old TVs and printers and other electronic stuff gathering dust in your garage -- and to do so responsibly and in compliance with state law which prohibits sending these kinds of electronics to landfills.

If you're not certain what will be acceptable for drop-off, contact the 41st Ward office at (773) 594-8341 or email

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pictures from yesterday's Northwest Side Irish Parade

More coverage of yesterday's parade in this post on Page One.

You'd think, as cold as it was, that there'd be no competition for good spots on the parade floats. These kids were taking no chances, however; they had their places staked out on the Sheet Metal Workers Union float early on.

Ditto for these kids promoting the St. Baldrick's Foundation:

Sure, everyone thinks it must be all sorts of glamorous fun to be the Queen of a parade or a member of her court. But maybe not when you have to sit in the back of a convertible a half hour before the parade begins. Especially when the temperature isn't quite 20 degrees.

And you have to keep smiling all the way down the parade route, too.

If it was tough for the parade queen and court, how much tougher must it have been for the Irish dancers? You can't have a St. Patrick's Day parade without at least three schools of Irish dancing -- but Sunday had to have been difficult.

Here are some of the dancers from the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance waiting with their parents before the parade.

And here are some of the dancers and their parents from the Mullane Healy Godley School.

I was still there when the Trinity Dancers came down the street.

I had to leave before any of the marching bands made it down Northwest Highway. This is the Notre Dame and Resurrection Marching Band assembling near Onahan School.

I was there when the St. Patrick's High School Jazz Band came down Northwest Highway.

All parades bog down at times. If delays yesterday seemed pronounced because of the cold, these were merely moments of opportunity for the kids watching the proceedings -- a chance to make sure that not a single piece of candy tossed from those trolley buses or floats went to waste.

The photographer may have succumbed to the chill, but the parade-goers faced the elements with indefatigable good cheer.

But, dear St. Patrick, would it be too much to ask for things to be just a little warmer next year?