Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mid-America St. Louis Airport lands Boeing plant, China traffic


Cash-strapped State of Illinois plans to sink another $2.3 million into a project at its largely-vacant airport — Mid-America St. Louis Airport — near downstate Mascoutah.

The state will give Chicago-based Boeing the cash to allow the aero-space manufacturing giant to set up shop at the 12-year old airport that has seen so little use during its tenure that from outer space it must resemble a giant paper weight.

The taxpayers of St. Clair County which have been footing bill to keep the airport open, as well as providing millions of dollars in incentives to spur air traffic, will also contribute $3.5 million to turn the unused cargo terminal into use for Boeing's defense program, employing about 75 people.

The lease has not been finalized with Boeing, but the St. Clair County Board has already approved its portion of the up-front cash. Boeing is expected to lease the facility and repay the investment over the next ten years as it opens a $7 million manufacturing plant.

County Board Chairman Mark Kern told the Belleville News Democrat that the board was comfortable that a company of the stature of Boeing has made a commitment to the area, and that they look forward to working with them.

Others, especially the taxpayers of St. Clair County, are a little more skeptical as evidenced by the more than three dozen comments that follow the online version of the story .

Mid-America could land Chinese trade route

Thursday, a cargo jet from China landed at Mid-America in a test run that could result in long-term cargo service from the East. The landing was considered a success. The plane's cargo shipment off-loaded onto trucks bound for cities throughout the country.

Five years ago, Mid-America established a Foreign Trade Zone, which provides special customs procedures to U.S. plants engaged in international trade.

Mid-America St. Louis has also become a U.S. Port of Entry to accommodate a customer that imports flowers and other perishables from South America. The county spent $3 million to outfit a cargo terminal with refrigeration.

The board is considering building another warehouse.

Competition across the river

In Missouri U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-MO and Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-MO are part of a delegation enroute to Beijing in an attempt to secure cargo opportunities between China and St. Louis' Lambert Field.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nostalgic about food prices


I can still remember my first full time job as a checkout clerk at a grocery store. I worked at National Tea Company. I remember what some of those prices were. Sometimes while stocking up on groceries today, I have a flashback of the prices and wonder whatever happened to them? A gallon of whole milk cost $1.29; a jar of baby food was $.19; and a loaf of bread was $.29.

Those were the days. As an employee back then we had to do the math ourselves, counting out change to our customers. We were also taught that when making change, coins were placed into the customer's hand first, with paper money on top. Only then did we distribute the proper number of S & H green stamps. Remember those?

One of my pet peeves today is that such retail etiquette has disappeared. How many times have you had your change roll off the top of crinkled, unkempt dollar bills and onto the floor or under your car at a drive through?

But that little annoyance pales in comparison to how upsetting it is that the cost of food has risen so dramatically.

When my children were little, I really struggled. I carried a calculator and added costs as I went. I didn't want to be embarrassed at the checkout by having too little cash. Whatever happened to cash anyway? On the days that I forgot my calculator, I got by with estimating about $1 per food item, not counting meat. Today, that estimate falls far short. Practically nothing costs under $1.

So why does food cost so much more today? I suspect one of the reasons is to pay for all the advertising that is done. Commercials on television every few minutes has to be expensive.

I have an idea — STOP! Advertising is annoying. It doesn't teach us anything. It only tries to coerce us into buying a particular item, much like a con game. Advertising has destroyed our national pasttime, television viewing. But it also infiltrates every aspect of our lives. Cut advertising and lower our food prices. That would make me really happy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jury still out on Blogojevich case


Illinois Ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich looks just as dapper today as he did when this picture was taken in 2003 while he was still Illinois' governor. He made an appearance at Union Station in Joliet, IL to speak to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

Today, Blagojevich awaits a verdict by a jury of his peers after weeks of testimony was delivered in a federal court room in Chicago. Blagojevich stands accused of 24 charges, including racketeering for allegedly trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he won the Presidential election.

It is amazing that a man who is accused of acting in his own best interests over and above the very people he was supposed to represent, can still appear as cool as Blagojevich does during television appearances and in interviews.
At the time I took these photos, I was one of the people Blagojevich was supposed to represent, though I didn't feel very adequately represented.

I was among a small group at Union Station that afternoon, in an effort to lobby, and I use that term very loosely, against the state's plan to build a new airport, the South Suburban Airport, near the small town of Peotone, some 40 miles south of Chicago.

We did get noticed, thanks to the adoreable C.J. Ogalla, shown at right, who was just 7 at the time. She wrote a letter to Blagojevich. It was heartfelt and touching as it echoed the feelings her mother has expressed for years.

C.J. lives with her family on a working farm near where they want to build the airport. Her mother Judy has been an avid fighter for a long time, vowing she and her husband will never give up their family farm for a project that isn't needed. Blagojevich continued to support the airport while in office.

Blagojevich's latest criticism stems from the fact that he brought his daughters into the courtroom. Why not, he has consistency claimed he is innocent? It is not odd that he would want his family by his side to show their support for him. Besides, it would look good to members of the jury. And looking good is what Gov. Rod is all about.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Illinois officials wrong to force eminent domain at Peotone

I don't care how you slice it—government trying to seize people's property for their own amusement is just plain wrong.

Will Township Highway Commissioner Bruce Hamman and STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) President George Ochsenfeld who is also a Green Candidate for State Rep. in the 79th District express their views of the state's actions to tear down another livable home.
Yet that is just what is happening in Illinois, about 40 miles south of the City of Chicago as the Illinois Department of Transportation continues the folly of advocating for a new airport near Peotone.

Illinois officials are shameless as they try to coerce people out of their homes and property. It seems they especially like to target the elderly, going after those whose will has been worn down through the continuous struggles of everyday life during the past sixty, seventy, and eighty years. Aren't these the very people state officials should be fighting for rather than against?

Illinois Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Director Susan Shea is the state's mouthpiece who continues to rave about the benefits of a new airport; its need has never been proven. This is despite the efforts of five different state administrations at the helm—Governors Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Blagojevich, and now Quinn. All of them have used their lieutenants to sell the project to the public, to the airlines, and to the Federal Aviation Administration. None of those crucial agencies or people have bought into the state's rosy information.

Eminent domain should be used for real projects

For Shea to threaten to use eminent domain to take people's property, for a project that hasn't even been approved by the federal government, seems almost criminal.

Susan Shea should be fired for bragging to newspapers about how this is a great time to go after property since the real estate market has been depressed and property values are lower.

Isn't the government supposed to work for the people, not for the whim of government authoritarians? The country and the state are struggling financially so it should invest wisely, but at the expense of shaking down the taxpaying public? The state is trying to usurp its power in every way it can to muscle people out of their property.

Hedging their bets

One of the state's ploys is to destroy neighborhoods. They have been doing it methodically since they demolished the first home in 2001. Perfectly good dwellings on beautiful land are being decimated for no good reason other than to further depress the property values. I wonder what one of Illinois' struggling homeless families would think if they saw the giant steel jaws rip into a perfectly livable home, turning it into a pile of rubble.

Anyone who lives in the State of Illinois should clamor for an end to the state's folly and the terrorist tactics to the people who live there.

Wouldn't the state be better served to rent properties rather than destroying them? And as the homes are leveled, the neighborhood continues to lose value, which plays into the state's hands as well.

The only benefit to actually building an airport would be to finally wipe it off the books with a check mark under 'look what we can do!' Wouldn't a bottle of white-out be more prudent?

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent to try to sell this idea, not to mention the gazillion man-hours using highly-paid political operatives, consultants, lawyers, planners, map-makers, and so much more dating back to 1987. All this is for a little runway among the cornfields in eastern Will County—despite the same thing that already exists and is underserved at Gary and Milwaukee airports.  I would think there are better ways for Illinois officials to spend the people's money.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The road to Peotone along a path of corruption

Illinois State Capitol
Illinois State Capitol (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

State of Illinois officials are enthusiastic about building the Illiana Expressway.

It is often referred as the road to Peotone, the ill-fated 1968-to-present proposal to build a new airport south of Chicago, and with good reason. At one time, the State of Illinois, Department of Transportation identified the road, now called the Illiana Expressway, as the northernmost access road to the Peotone Airport. Though it was considered by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority as the southernmost leg of Interstate 355, that portion was considered to be part of the airport project.

After watching several Illinois legislatures and governors botch the decision-making process favors its corrupt pay-to-play system during the 1980's and '90's, the Illiana project may come to fruition. If it does, of the three proposed routes, I predict the one chosen will ultimately mirror the one drawn onto maps of the South Suburban Airport (SSA) decades ago.

For the record, I dislike calling the project the South Suburban Airport. Its location is rural, far from the south suburbs. The name falsely paints a picture of prosperity for some of the most beleaguered towns in Illinois. To believe that a one-runway and terminal building 40 miles south of Chicago will benefit or even affect the south suburbs is akin to believing in the tooth fairy.

I believe the airport is dead and never had a chance of success, and that the Illiana Expressway is the state's fall-back position. Supporters of concrete and asphalt who thrive on decimating farm fields and small towns can probably learn to be content with a ribbon of pavement rather than the huge paved square they had hoped for. After all, politics is the art of compromise.

That doesn't mean they won't continue to try. The Peotone Airport is written into every report and drawn on every map at the local, state, and federal levels. Government can be diligent when it comes to rubber stamping their desires onto as many documents as they can create. The Peotone proposition is as prolific as the writing on bathroom walls. For anyone who thinks the state has gone on to other things, they may be surprised to learn that it still dominates the development-at-all-cost discussions in planning meetings, board rooms, and on legislative agendas. Illinois Department of Transportation officials are always looking for new ways to try to sell their pet project. That is difficult when the project has been around as long as Ziploc bags and Pringles potato chips.

For some odd reason, the politicos in Illinois refuse to let go of this dinosaur. Perhaps their habitual hanging on has gone on so long that they just don't know how to let go, despite numerous opportunities to do the right thing; walk away from the project. There have been ways to heroically turn toward other things—tend to more necessary projects—and at the same time, keep their politics in-tact. But they have refused to do it.

The players have seemingly changed over the many years, but the difference is indiscernible. A governor here, a congressman there; they are all cut from the same expensive cloth borne out of a culture of greed and corruption.

My biggest disappointment is that the power really does lie with the people who have the ability to cut them off at the voting booth. Yet, too few have bothered to get involved, educate themselves, and/or make the connection to what is wrong and who is making decisions.

One of those who did bother to get involved was John Walliser, a homebuilder from Lockport Township. He was one of the victims of the state's desire to build Interstate 355 who saw his house demolished despite the fact that it never was in the path of the tollway. He was largely responsible for the 1996 court order that halted construction of the road builders until the state complied with federal law.

In the following file, Walliser details the story of I-355 and the state's corrupt officials. He names names of the government officials involved in the state's endemic corruption, with a focus on Sen. Roland Burris, as Illinois Attorney General. Walliser shows that Burris manipulated the state's culture of pay-to-play corruption for his own benefit.

Walliser discusses the laws that were meant to safeguard the public but don't. Entitled The Long and Winding Road to Peotone , Walliser connects the I-355 debacle to the state's wrongful attempts to acquire property for an airport that is neither approved nor imminent. His compelling arguments cannot be ignored.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

An Ozark tribute for those who never met him


Lurch, the local "Guinness World Records" African Watusi steer who gained world acclaim in 2003 because of the size of his enormous horns, has died. Lurch was 14 years old.


At the time of his induction into the record book, Lurch's horns measured a circumference of 95.25 cm. or 37.5 inches—the world's largest. And they were still growing.

Born in 1995, Lurch came to live at Rocky Ridge Refuge in Gassville, Arkansas when he was only five weeks old. He shared 15 acres that Wolf inherited from her father, with a number of other animals, under the care of refuge creator, Janis Wolf who relies on donations and volunteers for the care and feeding of all her animals.

Lurch made the national television spotlight when he and his friends were highlighted on the Ellen DeGeneres show a couple years ago. Donations helped build a new barn and feed for the animals.

Wolf, who holds a masters degree in human rehabilitation and experience as a veterinary technician, is the sole caregiver to as many animals as happen to turn up at her place. She has devoted everything she has to her animals which, include a water buffalo, zebra, llamas, sheep, goats, countless dogs, cats, baby deer, raccoons, and all other kinds of critters. She has animals who have gone blind, become crippled, or just don't have a home. There are plenty of dogs and cats to be adopted as well.

Wolf has lost a special friend with the loss of Lurch.

Watch a video tribute to him at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z46M6Fcik4E

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Illiana Expressway gets another green light


The Illiana Expressway has been given the go-ahead—first in Indiana—and now in Illinois. Legislation that would allow the project to move forward through a public-private partnership awaits the governor's signature. That act will simply be a formality since Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn considers the project to be his future legacy.

What a disappointment Pat Quinn has been to so many who had hoped his fight-for-the-little-guy attitude could transform the governor's mansion, still lingering from the ill repute of its former occupants.

Instead, Quinn has embraced previous administration's tactics in his clamor for votes to keep him in the style to which he has become accustomed. Politics as usual is deeply entrenched in the Land of Lincoln.

The Illiana Expressway has been just another politically-motivated bad joke perpetrated on the people of Illinois who have had to pay for it.

It is a smokescreen for the South Suburban Airport/Peotone Airport as pointed out in an insightful column by Guy Tridgell in the May 11, 2010 Southtown Star . Tridgell called the Illiana "our very own Tobacco Road," referencing the 1932 novel by Erskine Caldwell that ends with the tragic death of the main characters.

"The airport has become the crazy aunt of Illinois who's permanently locked up in the attic. She is dying a slow, quiet death," Tridgell wrote.

He concluded, "They don't want to tell the constituents that they have failed, so they have created a new project as a diversion with the hope everyone stays quiet. The Illiana Expressway - the perfect smoke screen."

Tridgell is correct. The Illiana—once a part of the far-reaching, far-fetched 23,000-acre airport project—may be all that is left of Illinois' once grandiose plans.

But while Illinois officials and airport boosters hope the Illiana becomes the yellow-brick road to their avionic version of Oz, they may find that by using the same tactics, same tired arguments, and attempts at factual manipulation, the road may suffer the same fate as the airport.

The game changer, however, may be something Illinois officials rarely think about; it is the one thing that has surprised them in the past—Indiana.

At the same time that Illinois officials are crowing about their passed-too-quickly legislation to build the Illiana Expressway, Indiana officials look at the Illiana as a real tool for economic development and job creation.

Indiana's version of Oz also has an airport—the Gary/Chicago International Airport—that is real, viable, and a potential money-maker rather than the black hole for money that has been the Peotone Airport project. An Illiana Expressway could be a benefit to the transportation network in place in Indiana. Instead of the tar and chip roads that traverse the area where Illinois wants to bring millions of passengers per year, pavement leads to Indiana's airport. The Illiana could be an enhancement.

The Illiana could bring additional access to the Gary/Chicago airport.

Tridgell also called attention to the fact that neither state owns land for the project, nor has an exact location even been identified. Additional studies are needed. It could be decades before a spade of dirt is turned.

Given the amount of time devoted to the Peotone Airport, and the lack of will to make sweeping changes in the way Illinois does its business, there is little doubt that Illinois politicians and their employees will still be hawking the Illiana Expressway in the year 2040 and beyond.

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