Sun-Times Weighs in


“Sort of like a prizefight between accountants.” That’s how Gov. Blagojevich characterized the differences between the state auditor and the Department of Central Management Services after the former laid into the latter for mismanagement and waste. It’s a cute image for a newspaper cartoonist or skit writer to work with, but in making light of the allegations, the governor was disappointingly cavalier.

He may not want to hear, or have taxpayers hear, that CMS can’t document its claim of having saved them $600 million by cutting government costs. He may want to protect the reputation of Paul Campbell, the CMS executive he named as its next director. If revelations about him dining out on taxpayers don’t do him in, Campbell next month will replace Michael Rumman, who unexpectedly resigned after receiving a draft of the auditor’s report.

Trib: Blogger Friendly Now!

Really, the new design is quickly taking what used to be (before the recent versions) one of the worst web sites to explore to one of the easiest and friendly for bloggers.

New features include a list of national and foreign correspondents with a link to their recent stories.

Bloggers have been added to the Editorial Page List along with easy access to the non-Trib columnists (thank you) and letters to the editor.

Much, much easier to use and helps me find the stories I’m most interested.

It’d be nice to do the same thing with the local/state correspondents as well–though I imagine this is a work in progress. A further feature that can probably be automated and is really helpful is to link the writer’s name to their page of articles.

And get Middle East correspondent Joel Greenberg a pic that doesn’t look like he is a hostage.

The only bad news from the Trib appears to be that Bonnie DeSimone has left and is writing for other outlets–she was the single best cycling newspaper writer in the country.

Honorable Police

Despite scumbags like former Chicago Police Commander John Burge, there are many honorable police officers out there trying to do the right thing and the victory in a civil suit for Mike Callahan over Illinois State Police superiors is a great thing. Despite facing significant career sanctions he continued to investigate a murder investigation where it’s pretty apparent those convicted are innocent of the crime. In somewhat limited dealings, I’ve always been impressed with the professionalism of Illinois State Troopers and Callahan only increases that impression.

Without people like Callahan we’d have more people in prison who don’t deserve it–which is as much of a crime as was what they were accused.

After the verdict, Callahan, standing next to his wife Lily, called the verdict a vindication of his work.

“Obviously, I’m glad. Now that it’s over, it’s a big relief,” Callahan said. “The last five years have been rough; it was like a roller coaster going up and down.”

Callahan was assigned in 2000 to take a second look at the July 5, 1986, slayings of Karen and Dyke Rhoads in the eastern Illinois city of Paris.

But when his investigation focused on a Paris businessman who had donated thousands of dollars to the re-election campaigns of former Gov. George Ryan and former Atty. Gen. Jim Ryan, he was transferred, Callahan alleged. The Tribune is not naming the businessman because he has not been charged.

Two years ago, Callahan began raising questions about the men convicted in the murder, Gordon “Randy” Steidl and Herbert Whitlock. Steidl, who was sentenced to death, was released last May after prosecutors dropped his charges.

An Edgar County judge will decide if Whitlock merits a new trial.

Whether the man he was investigating has anything to do with the murders is a completely different issue.

Another Reason for LaHood to Do Well

He’s really good at the sound bite–as boring as the guy is, he’s got a talent for summing up the state of a debate and even more talent at reflecting what the average person on the street thinks. Despite being in DC for a long time, he’s especially attuned to chatter of constituents more than chatter of the chattering class and that’s tough when you are surrounded by the chattering class–he cuts through it far better than most. Today’s example:

“The problem is that the country doesn’t think Social Security is in a crisis,” said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) “I don’t think the president’s message of `Social Security in a crisis’ resonates.”

The president has been conducting a 60-day national road show, with dozens of appearances across the country to promote his plan. Almost all of those forums, however, are attended only by strong supporters of the president.

The failure to connect effectively with younger voters on the issue, especially when Bush contends that he wants to change the system to protect them, is a strong measure of his challenge, LaHood said.

“Unfortunately, the audience the president really has to try to engage and energize hasn’t been engaged or energized,” he said.

If Bush has a tough sell on Social Security, his challenge in addressing rising anger over gasoline prices is even greater. He conceded as much, saying there was no “quick fix” other than jawboning major oil producers into increasing supply.

He had little to offer other than sympathy to consumers in the near term and a pledge to pass a more complete energy plan in the long term.

LaHood named high gasoline prices as the No. 1 issue he hears about in his home district, which includes Peoria.

“I don’t know if they really see a connection between the president cozying up to the Saudi Arabians [and the prospect of lower gas prices],” LaHood said of the photo opportunity this week that showed Bush holding hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. “I don’t know if that picture was that helpful.”

Ruffling Feathers?

What an idiot, absolute idiot the Governor is.

CMS is “ruffling some feathers” because it is changing purchasing policies established 10 to 12 years ago by Holland, who worked on reforming state purchasing laws, Blagojevich said.

Which misses the point of nearly every finding—the law was not followed in regards to RFPs, RFPs were changed with individuals working on them benefiting from the changes, RFPs were modified to fit particular bids instead of giving all bidders reasonable chances and then much of the bid was reinstated after being awarded at a lower level. That’s changing business, but it’s doing it to the benefit of particular companies and fails to meet any definition of reform.

Further, the savings cannot be documented–the agency in the most bizarre defense ever–insisted they estimated savings as they claim the law wanted, but they can’t demonstrate them. It’s nothing more than Faith Based Accounting.

Too Easy On CMS

The Daily Herald offers up this in relation to the audit:

Maybe Illinois government?s roots in political and money connections, quid pro quo agreements and wink-and-nudge contracts run so deeply that Blagojevich has found it harder than he expected to change business as usual. Maybe those he entrusted to make the changes have let him down. Maybe the governor intended to change the culture but once in office found it easier to follow a path of less resistance. Or, maybe, the governor?s office has satisfactory answers for many or all of the audit?s criticisms. But shrugging off the audit or attacking the messenger won?t do. Not with so many troubling questions at hand.

I understand the desire to want a response, but frankly, the lack of documentation is alone a point that there aren’t answers to the audit. The audit seeks out such materials–it not being available in so many cases means the agency is seriously troubled. An audit doesn’t raise questions, it answers them.

Mostly, state agencies are monitored by fire alarms. Someone interacting with the agency calls a Lege Member and tells them there is a problem. This works because the Lege has very limited time to monitor state agencies. However, the one type of police patrol they do have is an audit that seeks to determine if the agency is following standard practices on average–that this audit found such horrible findings on just spot checks isn’t potentially exculpatory as CMS seemed to argue, it is more damning than just finding a few issues. It says no one’s following the rules even when a metaphorical quick check is done.

The degree of seriousness of this audit cannot be overestimated.

I Will Survive

Who wouldn’t pay to hear Melissa Bean do a Kareoke version of “I Will Survive

Social Security is a political nightmare for Republicans

?Support for the Bush Social Security proposals by a member of Congress yields a net electoral loss of 24 percentage points,? conclude pollsters Guy Molyneux and Geoffrey Garin. Hart polled 811 voters April 15-19, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. Some 19 percent ?are more likely to vote for a candidate who sides with the president, and 43 percent are less likely.?

Another poll finding that gives Dem leaders mapping strategy some ammunition: ?By 58 percent to 32 percent, voters say the Democrats in Congress are raising legitimate concerns about Bush?s Social Security proposals, not making unfair political attacks.?

The lame rejoinder that Democrats aren’t offering solutions is a bit of a joke given the Republican’s plan(s) don’t actually solve the solvency problem and that seems to be getting through as the impression to the public.

What’ll be interesting in the 8th is what will the Republicans argue for in regards to Social Security?

Private accounts? Gee, those don’t seem to solve the problem.

Bush’s Plan? Reduce benefits more than if things stay the same? That’s not compelling.

It’s going to be hard to run as a loyal Republican to the President and take a clear stand on this issue.

The SS Proposal Gets Even More Bizarre

Apparently the President’s proposal is to significantly reduce the COLAs for Social Security over time. The problem being:

The Social Security Administration calculates that the system will deplete its reserve of Treasury bonds by 2041, after which it will be able to pay out in benefits only what it receives in taxes. But even then, benefits would be almost three-quarters what is currently promised, and considerably higher in inflation-adjusted terms than they are now. If nothing is done to Social Security, the system will be able to meet the president’s promise to ensure that all seniors receive a benefit larger than current levels.

He’s apparently going to make the system worse.

But remember that the trust fund is not a real obligation and the bonds in there can just be ignored? That would appear to be a rather bad idea from which to then move to this position:

Despite opposition from Democrats and a lukewarm response from the public, he intensified his push for private accounts financed by a portion of a worker’s payroll taxes. To pacify those worried about the risk associated with investment, the president, for the first time, said one of the investment options should be no-risk Treasury bonds.

I believe we now know where CMS learned it’s accounting practices.

Speaking of Speaking

I don’t do these often, but I found this kind of interesting:

Your Linguistic Profile:

70% General American English
10% Dixie
10% Upper Midwestern
5% Midwestern
5% Yankee

I grew up in Central Illinois, but spent many summers in Georgia with my Dad who worked for Lockheed and Martin Marietta there. The legacy of both continues. Of course, I’ll be heading to Greene County for the weekend with the relatives where pop is soda.

Trib Takes Guv to Woodshed


A scathing audit released this week on one of the state’s most powerful agencies bolsters the impression that the Blagojevich administration is taking on the hue of its predecessor. The audit found so many troubling practices regarding how contracts were awarded and managed that Auditor Gen. William Holland turned the findings over to the Illinois attorney general to investigate.

This mess comes amid a growing list of cases in which the governor’s favored people seemingly have been beating the odds to get rich.

Unlike the state’s slot machines, blackjack tables and lottery tickets, this new game isn’t regulated … at least not on the surface.

A soup line of clout-heavy insiders profited from the bond work generated by a $10 billion pension deal Blagojevich pushed through the legislature.

Blagojevich’s campaign political director, John Wyma, has cashed in on his close relationship with the governor. Since being hired by Lehman Brothers to help land business in Illinois, Wyma has scored $400,000 for himself and nearly $2 billion for Lehman in state-connected bond work, according to filings with a government bond oversight board.

Lucrative rights to operate restaurants in revamped tollway oases have been granted to firms with ties to two members of Blagojevich’s kitchen cabinet. Both have raised oodles of campaign money for the governor.

Other close advisers-turned-lobbyists have been hired by hospital groups to influence action by a state board that the governor appoints. There are, however, supposed to be restrictions on lobbying of that board.

Blagojevich usually responds to these questions about insider-deals by attacking the messengers. This time, he should try something more credible and concrete. He should clear out the advisers who are making money off of him. And he should get the state to put all state contracts, including bond work, out for competitive bid.