Saturday, August 29, 2009


So according to new Tribune hire Scott Stantis, somewhat new Tribune editor Gerry Kern is, "a guy talking about creating a crusading paper, a paper with flavor and spice and passion."  That sounds great.  But why is it that the Tribune doesn't reflect that?  It's hooked one major story -- U of I clout -- and ran with it for what seems like five months now... nearly every day.  It's a tired story at this point -- yes clout is bad.  No, I'm not shocked that 50 kids got into U of I that should not have.  Yes, it's a shame it happened, but it's only 50 kids (less than 1% for those scoring at home).  Let's move on with our lives.

However, the full of "flavor and spice" Tribune continues to plug away with the U of I stuff.  It's as if nothing else in this city matters.  I know, I'm preaching to the choir at this point but what about: crime, the Olympics, CPS, the State budget, the lack of social services, the fact that every single word that comes from the Olympic committee's mouth is bullshit?  Today, the Trib ran another story on clout.  Okay fine.  Whatever, I'm not going to read it, but I'll link it.  Meanwhile, this article in the Sun-Times about the Olympics is informative and they call out the pipe dream projections coming from these 2016 Dreamers.

That Sun-Times story?  That's a story with spice and flavor and passion.  

And I should be fair, the Trib does run a few pieces with spice and passion: look no further than the editorial board.  They write about clout a tad too often for my liking, but I'll put up with it because of editorials like today's.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trib bores, Health Care Turning Point?

Corruption in the county, City either out of money or Daley is sitting on billions to spend only for the Olympics (which is worse, imo, because he could be feeding millions into policing, education, transportation, etc), State budget is a joke... and what does the Trib editorial board lead off with? Quinn and U of I Clout. Shoot me in the head. Go away. Stop this story NOW.

But I've been thinking... between the Barney Frank video/town hall, the totally insane/nut job town hall anti-health care people, and Sen. Ted Kennedy's death... does health care have new life? [NOTE: I wrote this this morning and then saw this article this afternoon... oh well... it was an original thought at some point]. Never underrate these seemingly non-political moments when it comes to huge policy debates. Some times all it takes is a pitcher of beer at the Times to save a major bill.

Over the last 10 days, the health care debate has sort of shifted. Obama and company have stopped fucking it up. Congress isn't around to do or not do anything. And the TV images of idiots calling Obama a Nazi, Socialist, Muslim terrorist, dove ALL AT THE SAME TIME doesn't help the anti-health care cause. Now, with Kennedy's death, a rallying cry will/has been called to get health care done, "for Ted". I wouldn't underestimate that -- I mean, the irony of DC going out there to the win one from the Gipper is off the charts. And not totally insane when you think about it. "Let's get it done for Ted" is a rally around the flag moment for the Democrats -- this was Kennedy's last wish and something he has pushed for pretty much his entire Senate career. The question is, of course, will Obama continue to insist that they have to work with the GOP even though the GOP doesn't want to work with them?

PS I've been working on a health care manifesto... but it just gets longer and longer and longer so I'm going to have to break it down one of these days into about three posts.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Someone Out There Gets It

You would think that with all the intelligent advisers in the West Wing they would be telling Obama this every day.  But then again, they're all inside the Beltway, and if we know anything about the Beltway it is that it's were the dumbest, most stupid idiots in America move to and live.  It took someone outside the Beltway to tell Obama what everyone in the country feels:
"I'm scared out of my mind talking to you here," Joe from Philly blurted out as he was connected to President Barack Obama during a talk radio call-in show devoted to health care Thursday. But when it came to his comment, however, Joe did not hold back.

"I'm getting a little ticked off that it feels like the knees are buckling a little bit," the caller declared, suggesting the president had begun to wobble in the face of pressure from conservative critics.

"You have an overwhelming majority in both the House and the Senate, and you own the whole shooting match. ... It's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with you."
I love how giving common sense advise to the President is headline news.  But that's how fucked up the Beltway is.  They live in this bubble that no one else in America lives in.  These people think they know America, but the fact is they know nothing about America.  That's why you get fuck ups like Obama's Health Care "plan".  

Kudos to Joe from Philly.  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Maybe Obama will take his advise to heart and tell the GOP to fuck off.  Health care isn't going to get done with their help and the Democrats don't need their help.  Why Obama wanted their help even after the GOP has told Obama to fuck off since the moment he took office is beyond me.  

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tribune Takes a Stand!

It's been a long time coming, but the Trib devoted it's editorial page to the Olympics yesterday.  

So imagine my pleasure as I read all the questions they raise:
Will the taxpayer be on the hook?  
Will this just be the all time greatest Chicago corruption, who gets the contract corruption shit fest of all time?  
How about all those small 'details' that everyone always seems to 'forget' and end up cost just as much as the original price tag?  
The Trib, thankfully, raises all these questions.

But where do they stand?  Do they want the Olympics?  Do they not want the Olympics?  Do they think it's a good idea for Chicago?
DRUM ROLL............................................
Mr. Ryan, you and yours would do yourselves a great favor by voluntarily making your committee, and the successor Chicago Organizing Committee, subject to the provisions of Illinois' freedom-of-information law. That would allay the fear that, once you have the City Council on board, Chicago citizens will lose their leverage to protect the huge commitment you're asking of them.
What.  The.  Fuck.  That's it?  You want FOIAs on the Olympics?  You have to be kidding me. Way to take a stand there Chicago Tribune.  You want the most obvious, necessary, no fucking shit, of course guys, demand.  Freedom of information.

Why didn't the Trib talk about how Daley has sold the city down the river for the chance to get the Olympics?  Why didn't they talk about the soring crime rate, which is due in part, to chasing after the Olympics?  Or how the schools are out of money... again because TIF money has been shifted to Olympic wining and dining?

What does it take to get some one, anyone, in this city to raise some tough questions AND dish out some tough opinions?  Yeah, we have the Reader.  But that's it.  No wonder the city is a mess.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Things to read

- Second City Cop with a good read taking apart Mary Mitchell of the Sun-Times:
The trouble is we're stretched too thin now and what used to be "normal" deployment is more of a stopgap or "reactionary" and doesn't prevent a thing. Not only that, the Uptown eruptions are a direct result of manpower being shifted to higher crime areas and less pressure being placed on the local hood rats who figure out very quickly that they can act out with less repercussions.

- I've been giving newspapers a hard time, but the New York Times has been doing what I suggested for a while.  Only, they get actual economists to write about policy and economics.  This piece on high speed trains is worth the read:
A second economic argument for high speed rail is that it will revitalize troubled regions of the United States. This argument would never be made about Dallas or Houston, which are booming, but some argue that high-speed rail can save Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland. Transportation can have a significant impact on urban growth. Josh Gottlieb and I estimated that counties with access to a rail line in 1850 grew 20 percent more over the next 40 years. Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner found that a 10 percent increase in a metropolitan area’s stock of highways in 1980 caused a 2 percent increase in population growth over the next 20 years.

This logic has led some to think that high-speed rail will do wonders transforming Buffalo into a back office for Manhattan. Buffalo is 376 miles from Manhattan, so a 150-mile-an-hour rail line will take two and a half hours, which is not going to be significantly faster than air. Moreover, vast amounts of low-cost space are closer to Manhattan than the shores of Lake Erie. Faster connections between Buffalo and Toronto might do more, but in that case speed is hampered by the burdens of border crossing.

Remember people will do anything for their pet projects, even if they don't make any sense... Buffalo to New York City?  REALLY?!?!?!

- And on the bright side, Illinois is a bit more transparent:
The new law tightens many of the loopholes exploited by public officials to keep taxpayers from prying into their own affairs. It shortens the deadlines for responding to records requests and prohibits governments from charging outrageous fees to produce public documents.

Most significant, it comes with teeth. The law authorizes a public access counselor to mediate disputes over records and issue binding opinions. It provides penalties of up to $5,000 for governments that don't follow the law, and it requires them to pay legal costs if a citizen has to go to court to force the release of a public record.

When it's broke don't blame yourself

The vow. Global media mogul Rupert Murdoch this month: "Quality journalism is not cheap. The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites."

That will work for the Wall Street Journal, but will it for more local newspapers?  

No matter, as Miner outlines here, newspapers keep telling themselves that there is a problem and then offer up a million ways to fix it. The problems are always the same: Craigslist, giving away their product for free on the Internet, blogs... all these problems are sort of right, but mostly wrong. Yes, Craigslist eliminates the guy looking for a job or the girl looking for an apartment, but this couldn't have been a large percentage of readership (a free weekly like the Reader probably is hurt more by Craigslist than the dailies). True, newspapers give away their product away for free on the Internet, but that's also not totally true since most papers make money from Internet advertisements. Sure, blogs link and copy parts of stories... but blogs need newspapers more than newspapers need blogs. If anything blogs should only help newspapers.

And then there are the ways to fix newspapers: better copyright laws, payment to read content... but those aren't going to solve the major problem that newspapers have but they refuse to admit to themselves: It's themselves.

As I wrote -- there is little context to far too many stories that are written and reported. The problem with newspapers is that they hire journalists. The journalists who are smart and can give context to a story end up at the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the paper's editorial board, or go off and do their own thing (magazine writing, columnist, write movies, etc). The average journalist keeps chasing fire trucks or hits up a press conference and then just tells us what happened. That's not enough. In grade school, when asked to write an essay, what do they teach you?  

Who? What? Where? When? Why?  

Newspapers can do the who and the what and the where and the when... but they never seem to get the why right. The day to day journalist always seems to never quite understand the why.

And why is that?

Well, in the complex world we live it, with specialists and fine print and everything else, the journalist, who is really a generalist, is going to be far behind the person who was educated in economics, biology or law. However, the journalist is required to some how take what happened and then combine them with the complex ideas of a specific study.  If a newspaper can't give context to the story or what happened, then why would I, the reader, want to buy the newspaper?  Why would I want to go to their website when I know that the stories on the site won't give me the context I'm looking for?  The days of telling us what happened are long gone -- newspapers need to realize that covering a press conference is not enough because the reader now has many options.  Chicago is called a two newspaper town, but that's false, it's a hundreds newspaper town because there a blogs out there that give context to the stories I want to read.  And if you don't believe me, find someone under the age of 30 who still reads a sports section to a local paper -- they don't -- because the coverage is so much better on the blogs.  SouthSideSox does a better job analyzing than the Sun-Times or Trib.  The same can be said for pretty much every economic or policy story (and I assume most science stories).

I am not saying that over the years a journalist cannot become an expert him/herself. They can and do so. But remember, the good ones leave for another paper or another gig (season Five of the Wire highlighted this problem).

The question newspapers should be asking themselves is why aren't they hiring young lawyers or economists or scientists out of grad school or college? Sure they'll have to offer more money for such people, but they would get better context in their stories. Newspapers need to realize that the Watergate scandal is only part of their job -- uncovering graft is just part of what we, the buying public, wants.  The other part of the story we'd like to read about?  How about someone being able to explain how property taxes and schools are interconnected...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Newspapers, the Trib, and the Problem with Newspapers

This article in the Tribune last week isn't bad, but it's everything that is wrong with newspapers these days.  The reporting is fine, the writing is clear, but there is absolutely no context to the story itself.  I read this and was dumbfounded. After the first line, one can stop reading: "Chicago Public Schools leaders want a 1.5 percent property tax increase to balance this year's budget -- a hike they estimate would cost an extra $18 a year for the owner of a $262,000 home."

So with that in mind, let me fill in the gaps -- either where the story lacks context or doesn't go far enough.

Huberman listed increasing employee pension costs and the state's money woes as leading pressures on the district's spending plans...

The most under reported story over the last few years has been the rises cost of public pensions.  It is the major reason why the State of Illinois is in debt.  And in education the way pensions often work for teachers is that you work for years, then when it comes close to retirement, the principal starts bumping up your salary.  Why?  Because you get a percentage of that salary in retirement (these are career teachers).  Also, the state itself under funds education because of the state tax system -- read about it here -- and there's more on that below.

City school officials for months have been warning of a budget gap of $475 million or more in their $5.33 billion budget. The $475 million is the largest dollar deficit since Mayor Richard Daley took over the district in 1995. Next year, Huberman is projecting a budget hole close to $1 billion...

Why the budget hole?  In part because of the stock market drop over the last year (they'll get to that in a second) but also because property tax revenues are expected to either go down or stay about the same.  And since the state of Illinois doesn't really spend any money on public education, most of CPS' money has to come from property taxes.  Would part of this hole be filled if Daley's Great TIFS Giveaway wasn't happening?  Yes.  Does the Tribune mention this?  No.  Why?  I'm not sure.

Last year, the district avoided a property tax increase by dipping into its reserves. That decision followed the biggest property tax hike of Daley's tenure in late 2007 and two sales tax increases approved in 2008.

Again, not to beat a dead horse, but these actions were taken because:
1) The State of Illinois doesn't support public education.
2) Daley's giving TIFS to developers in areas like the Loop -- one of the last places in the City that needs a TIF.

The pension issue looms large. The district is required to fund 90 percent of the pension, which previously had not been a major issue, Msall said. But when the stock market crashed, the value of pension investments dipped and the school district was required to begin making up the difference. That meant $130 million extra this year and an estimated $300 million more next year.

"I think the Chicago Public Schools system faces an enormous financial challenge this year and even more so in the coming years," Msall said. "Basically, it's a pension time bomb."

Oh and the crazy, stupid contract they've worked out with the unorganized organization that is filled with petty infighting yet is some how powerful -- the Teachers Union.  Why not point out that the deals that CPS signed with the Teachers Union are much like the deals that GM, Ford, and the steel companies signed with their workers years ago and those pension and health care promises are, in part, what is killing these companies today?  

Again, the story itself is fine -- there is nothing wrong with it from a reporting stand point.  But if you were grading it what would you give it?  Something like a C+?  Maybe a B because it has some good information, isn't poorly written?  However, there is so much context to this story -- from how pensions work to the State constitution to property taxes -- that it's easy to see why newspapers are failing.  Journalists are taught in school on how to chase a fire truck or cover a press conference.  That's what was done here.  And we have, as a public, moved beyond that in part because of TV news but also because of the Internet.  If this story was (and part of it were) posted right after the press conference that's how newspapers should use the Internet get breaking news up there quick and make it easy to find.  But the next day in print?  Why not file a story with more context, explaining more about what is going on and why CPS is in this bind and wants to raise taxes?  Then I (and we) might actually buy your newspaper, but stories like this give me (and us) no reason to do so.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Year On -- What's the Point of Huffington Post Chicago?

Out of boredom I ended up clicking on the Chicago Huffington Post page--something I admittedly have looked at twice since they fired that up a year ago--and I realized why I never go there.

It sucks. It totally sucks. It isn't interesting and it says the same freaking things that the Trib and Sun-Times say. There is no point to this site. None. There are posts and headlines on Ozzie saying that the Sox will go after teams that throw at them. There is a Patrick Kane update. There is even a headline... no wait, two headlines, on the U of I Clout story, along with a section on how to make peach donuts and someone praising Italian wines.

So what's the point of this page again? Wasn't Huffington going to some how bring "attitude" to Chicago? Instead, it seems like it's just a rehashing of Tribune/Sun-Times stories, and has little to no actual opinion or counter arguments/reporting to what those two newspapers do. The site is totally uninteresting and pretty much fails at what it set out to do:

"Transferring The Huffington Post's blend of news, opinion, and community -- delivered with our familiar look and attitude -- to a local level, HuffPost Chicago is part local news source, part resource guide, and part virtual soap box -- featuring a collection of bloggers who know and love Chicago, and are looking to share their takes on everything from the Cubs to City Hall to the hot new local band to the best place for Greek food (and I can testify that there is a lot of that in Chicago!)."

However, the site never actually set out to do this. John Cusack talking about how much he loves Chicago doesn't cut it because he doesn't really live here any more and lost all his Chicago cred when he showed up at the Cell in 2005 cheering on the White Sox – this after years of being a Cubs fan. From what I can/could tell Huffington Chicago was supposed to be about Chicago for people not in Chicago... only why would anyone read that?

A year later, they haven't added anything to the conversation. They haven't broken any stories -- not even a clout story -- instead they've just linked to what we already knew. They could have gone the route of the Reader and just hammered home how local media is all over the place or how TIFs are being misused by Daley and his pals. But instead it's just a shittier version of the Trib and Sun-Times, repeating their stories instead of going after new stories or offering up opinion on things like why Chicago shouldn't get the Olympics, or hammering the Tribune for flying 2016 flags when the IOC was in town in the winter. I'm not sure what the point of HuffPost Chicago ever really was – posing as an edgy alternative in a city that hates phony attitude was never going to fly. And it lacks the snark of Gawker... or the off-the-front-page stories of Chicagoist.

I think it's safe to add it to the FAIL Blog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kass Points Out What No One Else Will

Maybe Kass reads there fine little blog, I don't think so, but hey, we seem to be on the same page. At least someone in Chicago knows what's up:
"The details of the crimes have been repeated endlessly in the news.
Unsuspecting taxpayers walking in high-end neighborhoods are approached
by thugs, who punch the taxpayers in the face, beat the tar out of
them, humiliate them further and take their money.
It happens in other neighborhoods. But in other neighborhoods,
unfortunately, this wouldn't lead the local newscasts. It would be
police blotter stuff, next to the motor vehicle break-ins and petty
thefts and bleak, one-paragraph accounts of murder...

They'll catch them. Police have made one arrest and cut the suspect
loose for lack of evidence, but sooner or later, the marauders will be
caught. And we'll be treated to another dog and pony show. Politicians
who rule from on high will thump their chests and pronounce Chicago
safe. The real police will snicker and wonder when they'll ever get a

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Next time you complain about the government, remember this

Saw this one Second City Cop about a fella who decided to punch a police horse during Lollapalooza.  Hahaha, what an idiot, insert cheap dumb joke here, blah blah blah.

But as Second City Cop points out things get a little interesting:
"So, a citizen of Mexico without a local address? Illegal? Oh wait, we can't ask that. Never mind."

The Chicago Public Schools face the same problem (really any major public institution in this country faces this problem) -- in fact it becomes a major headache for CPS because it makes identifying and labeling students extremely difficult.  Why?  Because CPS can't use Social Security numbers to register students.  That's the stupidest thing you've ever heard you say... why don't they?  Because public education is available and accessible to all young people in this country no matter what their situation may be.  Since a students Social Security number can't be used to check if they're in the system, CPS (again, all large public schools) faces problems with duplicates in the system, especially at the early school year levels (K, 1, 2, etc). This makes streamlining information and data all that more difficult -- and part of the reason why everyone thinks CPS can't get their act together.  Too many people -- from coordinators to administrators to data analysis -- spend too much time tracking down data on students or making sure they do not have duplicates in their files.  

No matter where you stand on the illegal immigration issue, it's little policies or regulations like this that slip though the cracks of media coverage and seem like they don't matter, but have a huge fall out.  I have no clue how many hours CPS or the police department loses per year chasing down information like this but it's a lot.  And that's a lot of tax dollars and creates huge inefficiencies in the all public departments.  So when a bleeding heart liberal says that everyone has a right to public education -- no matter where they're from if they walk though that door, they should receive an education -- I hope they don't complain about the red tape at these public institutions.  I'm sure CPS or CPD administrators could spend their time much more productively if they could, you know, ask for a Social Security number.

Next time your complaining about whatever public department or government agency, remember that part of the reason they're so slow or so bad at their jobs is because of the regulations put in place to protect everyone -- you, your friends, even the illegal immigrant.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Crime Crisis Averted... back to the Olympics! UPDATE

UPDATE 10amish 8/12 -- HOLY FUCKING SHIT -- They released the guy they arrested. So back to lock down on the North Shore! Forget about the Olympics, forget about covering the Olympics, forget even thinking we're going to get the Olympics, there are white people getting mugged on the North Side! And the Cubs played last night on top of it! How is the city going survive this crime wave on the North Side?!?!?! Whatever you do, do not read any of this.
Phew, the city can go back to Full Olympic Mode! The North Side Mugger has been caught! White people are once again safe! Back to the Olympics!

I was getting worried that white people here in Chicago were going to start paying attention to crime! But, Daley and company can breath a sigh of relief... North Side Lakefront whites won't be focusing on crime any time soon now that they won't be mugged again for a few more months. So let's get back to focusing on getting the Olympics and Clout!

Meanwhile, for those who are a tad more interested in the fate of Chicago (and the country)... read this tragic story. Seems like there is one of these every month, at least, here in Chicago. But as they said in the Season Five of the Wire: Wrong Zip Code.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Now We're Talking

Wow, nice find by the Trib this morning... this is more like it, I like it.

The Trib is connecting the dots and just tied Michael Scott, Daley (aka Shortshanks if you're a Second City Cop reader (and you should be))... where was I... oh yes, Michael Scott, Daley ally and President of the Chicago Public School Board, has some prime real estate that he'll be able to develop if/when Chicago (sadly) gets the Olympics. Scott of course says he's done nothing wrong. And I guess he's sort of right this being Chicago at all... but let's face it, this stinks of graft.

This Scott story comes just a day after it's been alleged that people close to him were able to get their kid into one of CPS' selective enrollment high schools though back channels. The kid later pulled out after CPS started asking questions... but you've got to wonder now how much longer Scott will be around City Hall and CPS.

Oh wait, this is Chicago. It's the city that works! Yuppie whites will smile and shrug and say, "Hey, it's Chicago, this stuff is supposed to happen" and tell everyone that they think it's cute. This is a city were alderman, like say, Ed Burke (one of the biggest Hacks to ever walk these city streets) should be able to redo his office with taxpayer money right now even though thousands of city employees are getting laid off.

This Scott and Olympic story should come as no surprise. It's just the first. And it wouldn't shock me if someone either at CPS or City Hall tipped off the Tribune on this one (this is so far out of left field that I sort of have to believe the Trib got help on this one considering it's been a five alarm fire drill in the Tower for the last year). Anyway, if you're cool with stories like these, then sure, keep rooting for the Olympics. The corruption will be off the charts. But if you don't want you tax money to be going to the likes of Michael Scott, then it's time to call your alderman and tell them to vote down the Olympic money.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Trib Website Redesign

Kudos to the Chicago Tribune for its new website design.  I know, I know, it's 2009 and their site now feels very 2004 -- but what they launched last night is about the price for war in Iraq (a.k.a. $3 trillion) times better than what they had yesterday.  So let's all raise our coffee mugs to the Trib this morning and welcome them to the 21st century!

Now on to much more important things... CLOUT!  The story that won't go away and is past the point of anyone caring is the Trib's main story which sets a new record for "Most Consecutive Days a Newspaper Carries a Story that No One is Talking About" at 162 days.  Maybe it's just me and my dorky policy friends who aren't talking about it... but the only people that I talk about this story with is other Trib people and how sick they are of the story too.

But hey, in a town were crime is though the roof, the Olympics are about to fleece every resident, and the state is out of money -- Clout should be the #1 story for 162 days.  

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's Not About Jobs, Stupid

Who needs jobs when the Olympics are coming and will solve all of Chicago's problems!

See when you say things like: "Construction of the store would create200 jobs. The store, once it was running, would provide nearly 500jobs" you're totally missing the point of Chicago and the City Council.  The point isn't to create jobs for Chicagoans today because we're talking about hundreds of jobs for Walsh Construction in 2013. See, building a Wal-Mart in Chicago makes too much sense, but of course it will piss off rich, liberal whites who the city needs more than anything else in the world... other than the Olympics of course.

So you're barking up the wrong tree.  We don't need Wal-Mart, we need the Olympics.  Because it will solve everything.  And it won't cost a dime.