Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Inspired by Kennedy Center Honors

The recent broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors, one of my favorite events in television, featured two of my favorites--Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney. Also honored were Country Singer Merle Haggard, Dancer/Choreographer Bill T. Jones, and Composer Jerry Herman. It was spectacular!

Winfrey and McCartney were my favorites. When I heard they were to be honored, I wrote the date on my calendar. I always enjoy watching the Kennedy Center Honors, even when I don't know the honorees. I lead a simple life, and don't go to Broadway shows or frequent similar entertainment venues, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the arts. I consider cultural activities vitally important to the human condition.

The awards actually were bestowed on December 5. I mistakenly thought the show would be aired that day. I was disappointed when it wasn't. So I waited.

Finally learned the date would be Dec. 28, I was glad I remembered to watch.

I have "known" Oprah Winfrey since her early days in Chicago; she was on Kennedy and Company, a morning show that featured news and entertainment, hosted by Bob Kennedy. He died suddenly in 1972, and was no relation to the former President, to my knowledge. Oprah went on to host the show, first locally when it was called A.M. Chicago. Later, in '86 it went national and was renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show.

The rest is history.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Rev. Jackson, latest gift to eastern Will County landowners

English: Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. discusses ...
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the latest Christmas present for eastern Will County landowners.

Every year it seems, the State of Illinois' and its lieutenants deliver a new gift to rural folks who live 40 miles south of Chicago.

Christmas traditions can be so heartwarming—except in this case. Here, supporters of the state's plan to build the Peotone Airport—that isn't needed, wanted, or would serve any positive purpose whatsoever for the people of Illinois—have threatened to ruin another Christmas for the good folks out in the country. This tradition has been going on for decades. Yet, somehow the audacity of it still takes me by surprise.

This is the first time, Jesse, Sr. has been involved in this effort.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lighten up on President Obama

Official photographic portrait of US President...
 US President Barack Obama 

Plenty of blame is encircling the White House as Democrats express frustration with President Barack Obama over the compromise deal he made with Republicans on tax cuts.

The wealthiest Americans have been given another perk they didn't need and in some cases don't want, along with those who do need it--middle class America.

Liberals are the most furious with Obama, believing that he has been untrue to the base of support that elected him. There is even talk about finding a candidate to run against him in the next presidential primary.

Wait just a darn minute!

First off, it wasn't just liberals that elected Obama. There were plenty of moderate Democrats. Independents, and perhaps even a Republican or two that cast ballots Obama's way. Obama had a multitude of appealing attributes that made him appeal to voters, not the least of which was his intellect and grasp of the issues that affect real people.

Obama is aware that as President of the United States, he is not just the president of his own political party, but he is president of all Americans.

One of his attributes is that Obama was not a Washington insider who had planted his feet firmly into the muck that is D.C. Because of that, he may have lacked a little experience in dealing with the sharks in the Congress who have sharpened their teeth for years.

Personally, I'm not willing to condemn him for that.

I am a little more frustrated with members of Congress. If Democrats were so anxious to end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans implemented by Bush, why did they ignore  this battle until the 11th hour? They have been the majority party for two years. If this issue was so important, why didn't they put a little effort into it? During the campaign for the November election, I received dozens of emails, phone calls, and pleas for dollars and support.

Why is getting elected more important than governing?

Passing laws is not up to the President, yet he was forced to take a leadership role in the tax cut deal because Democrats didn't act on it. Only when they learned Obama was negotiating with Republicans, did they take a vote in the House. It was no surprise that it failed because they didn't work at it.

I consider myself liberal in my thinking, and yet I know that governing the country requires looking at the big picture--the whole picture.

I dislike the compromise, but I don't fully believe Obama is the problem.

That said, I am completely giving him a pass.

His political inexperience may have caused him to give in a little too quickly when Republicans threatened to block all bills in the Congress until they got what they wanted.  I have to concur with those who criticized Obama for mentioning a compromise even as he was going into the "talks" with Republicans. Perhaps Obama knew something we didn't. Republicans have made no secret that one of their first priorities was to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.

I have to fault Obama and Democrats for not pointing out that a tax cut for the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country has no stimulative basis. They have had the tax cuts in place and the economy still tanked. Joblessness has risen while they enjoyed their tax breaks. There is no evidence nor does it make sense that the status quo will cause job creation.

Still, I believe we must not judge Obama too quickly. Obama has had a full plate--inheriting an economic crisis caused by Bush's wars, wealth bailouts, weakening regulations, and other actions. This is only Obama's first half of his first term.

I want it all too, but I am wise enough to recognize that we can't always get everything we want.

Yes, Obama could have/should have used the tools available to him to shame Republicans in numerous national addresses to the people, on television and in editorial pages across the country. He could have waged a campaign-like initiative to inspire the public to lobby their representatives, but it isn't like he was just sitting on his hands. The man has had his hands full.

I believe Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and others are acting like bullies. Do you beat a bully by pissing him off? I don't think so. It may just be more effective in the long run to out-think him. Shaming the Republicans with which Obama disagrees philosophically, would do nothing to help us get through the next two years. We cannot afford more of the gridlock we have experienced in the past when so much needs to be done to get the country back on track.

As we criticize Obama, are we thinking about the future--particularly the next two years?

I guarantee he is. I believe he is planting the seeds that will grow into future compromise, an even more vital commodity when Republicans control the House. Obama does not have the luxury of just washing his hands of them, much as he and we would prefer. He has to deal with them. I'm sure the November election altered his game plan. It had to.

We always say we want real people who we can trust to serve in office.

Yet we inherently don't trust them. We are critical at every juncture. Obama evaluated the situation and did what he thought was right. He kept his eyes on the prize--which was retaining the previous tax cuts for middle class Americans. While he found the tax cut on the top 2% distasteful, as evidenced by numerous statements and even mentioned in the first chapter of his book, there is no question that he didn't enjoy giving in on that front. But that was not his focus. His focus was help for the middle class. And his mandate was to reach across the aisle and to bring the two sides together.

Imagine the consequences if the tax cuts expired. People most unable to deal with it would have been harmed even more. The ripple effect would have derailed any hope of recovery. Obama may have been right not to fight to the bitter end. This would only have further alienated Republicans causing them to further dig in their heels.

It is nice that Democrats in congress say they are willing to go to the mat to fight the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Fighting for principal is a good thing. I've done it all my life.

But I'm not the President of the United States. Obama can't afford to fight only on  principal because he no longer has that luxury. He must govern us all, even the rich. While the American people won't remember this when the next election cycle rolls around; Obama will. Democrats will. If the rich Republicans don't create the jobs they promise, and help the economy out of the tank, Democrats will hold them accountable to the electorate. The news media will not let rich Republicans get away with it if they fail.

Tax breaks for the wealthy is not a stimulus for job growth. Had it been, we would not have seen unemployment continue to rise during this time--while they enjoy their tax breaks. There is no sound reason for Republicans to get this perk.

Time will likely show that another tax break for the richest two percent of the country was wrong. But it will be so much easier to prove in the future if they fail to produce jobs they promised. This little battle between the President and his own party has made the public aware.

While I too was frustrated with Obama, I am most disgusted by the members of Congress which has failed to act time and time again.

Mostly, I'm disgusted with the electorate--the seemingly good people of this country who believe all the crap the Republicans have sold to them. There is no excuse for the harsh results of the November election except to say that Democrats failed.

The folks who put all those Republicans in office pride themselves in being blind followers. They follow their lord and they follow their political leaders, believing theirs is the only way. They must learn that theirs isn't the only way. There are many other ways. Democrats need to do a better job to educate the electorate--even if it means a little compromise among us on our own independent views.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ryan should stay in jail

English: Former Illinois Governor George Ryan
Ex- Illinois Governor George Ryan 
Ex-Illinois Governor George Ryan could be released from prison after serving only half of his 6 1/2 year sentence.

From my own personal association with George Ryan:  if anyone deserves to be in prison, George Ryan does.

His actions as Illinois Secretary of State resulted in the death of the six innocent children of  Scott and Janis Willis fifteen years ago. The children died in a fiery car crash that involved a truck driver who obtained his drivers license illegally. The investigation was covered up by Ryan's pals. Ryan took no responsibility and offered no apology. Willis called him arrogant. I agree.

After months of legal wrangling Ryan was finally carted off to prison, but not before his legal team tried every trick in the book to keep him out of prison. They sited his poor health and his wife's health. They even got him to remain free during months of appeals. All that time Ryan had one more gubernatorial perk, a 'get out of jail free card,' courtesy of his cost-free lawyer—another Illinois governor—Big Jim Thompson. 

Ryan was convicted after a seven month trial. He lost his pension even though Thompson fought hard for him to keep it. Justice was finally served. The only burden the taxpayers pay now, are George Ryan's food, clothing, and shelter. That is more than he did for many, despite taking an oath to serve the public.

Thompson will get one more chance to free his client, even if it is at the expense of the public.

In the latest turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court revised the scope of the controversial 'honest services' law, one which has been criticized as being too vague. It has been revered by prosecutors but condemned by defense lawyers.

Earlier this week, Ryan's lawyers argued before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer that Ryan should be released from federal prison. They claim he may not have been convicted by a jury under the newly revised standards in the 'honest services' law related to mail fraud. Mail fraud was one of the charges against Ryan.

So marks another attempt by Ryan's lawyers, to spring Ryan from jail. The legal team has left no stone unturned in their attempt to keep the 39th Illinois Governor who is one of six to be convicted of corruption since the 1920's, out of prison where he headed in November 2007. Indiana. His own health has been cited, as well as that of his wife, Lura Lynn, as reasons for him to be released from prison. Attorneys have tried to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. This time, that could happen. While Justice Pallmeyer promises to rule quickly, she told the Chicago Tribune that the case would likely be appealed. 

Ryan was convicted Ryan April 17, 2006 for multiple violations of federal law, including racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice, money laundering, and tax violations. He now resides in a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The charges against him were a mere sampling of Ryan's long tenure in public office. It is too bad the prosecution could not have delved even further, uncovering all Ryan's wrongdoing in the local, and state offices where he has served, including the Legislature, Secretary of State, and Governor. But that wasn't possible. For that reason, it would be unconscionable for Ryan to go free based on this change.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dancing With the Stars, now tainted

English: Bristol Palin at the 2008 Republican ...
Bristol Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The results of this week's Dancing With the Stars results made me so angry it took me three days to write about it.

I was about as angry as the dude who shot up his television set, but my anger is more of the seething variety. I'm not the shooter type. Fairness has always been fundamental in my behavioral arsenal. There is no denying fairness was violated when Bristol Palin was chosen to go on to the dance finals over R & B singer Brandy Norwood, an excellent dancer who garnered perfect scores.

I have been watching ballroom dancing for years—dating back to the days when Juliet Prowse hosted the championship dancing on PBS. I had no idea that Dancing With the Stars would be a fixed popularity contest. But it appears that is just what this has become.

I was a little leery when the show invited Tom DeLay last season, but then to invite Bristol Palin this season should have shown the handwriting on the wall. This is a political venue rather than a dance competition. It is tainted. Bristol should have been voted off that first week because she clearly lacks the talent. Yes, she has improved over the course of the show, but her dancing is clearly not of the same caliber as any of the others who were voted off in her stead.

I was sickened at the judges' positive comments about Palin too. They clearly did not hold her to the same standards as other dancers. Were they issued a directive? Just what are the politics in play at the upper echelon of ABC television? Len Goodman is a tough dance critic, but clearly he let Palin slide. Carrie Ann Inaba was also overly kind, as was Bruno Tonioli.

The results show was in such stark contrast to the previous night when Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough performed the most elegant waltz I've ever seen. It was enchanting to watch the two of them dance so beautifully, as they captured tremendous emotional intensity. They moved effortlessly. Watching a beautiful dance can be as engaging as listening to  a symphony or gazing upon the colors of a sunset.

Yet just hours later, it was all tainted, lost in the scandal that so often takes over all that is good and innocent, perpetrated by cheaters.

This example of entertainment television does a disservice to all: absolutely short-changing the viewers of real dance competitiveness; ultimately the show which has lost all credibility; certainly to Brandy Norwood who was far more deserving of a chance to move to the finals; and even to Bristol herself, because she has been made to look like a fool, not to mention a spoiled brat child who has been coddled for a lifetime by her over-bearing mother. Sadly, Bristol might even believe she deserved to win this competition. What an injustice. One day, she will have to stand on her own merit in a real scenario, without her mother's influence over her self-made reality.

What kind of a mother is it that encourages her daughter to compete way over her head? What kind of a mother fails to teach her daughter humility? What kind of a mother throws her own child under the bus to gain popularity for herself?

It is pretty clear that the Sarah Palin factor influenced the initial choosing of Bristol Palin for Dancing With the Stars. Bristol is not a star. She is an unwed mother whose life is controlled by her over-bearing mother. Is there no limit to what Sarah Palin will do? But worse than that, she seems to have the same kind of following as the Rev. Jim Jones and other 'leaders' who prey upon those around them. 

I'm so sick of lying, cheating, and stealing. Yet that is just what happened when voters admittedly gamed the system, giving Bristol her way, most likely at her mothers' urging.

The rapid decline of Dancing With the Stars which began as a fun entertainment venue is is no longer fun. This is serious—symptomatic of where our humanity is going. And that scares the hell out of me.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

High 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. 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 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.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wondered about the BP Oil Spill aftermath

My extreme thanks to Truthout, Rose Aguilar and to Riki Ott for this enlightening interview re: the Gulf coast oil disaster that continues even though it remains beneath the radar of the mainstream media and our government. I believe this is important information. 






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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not an informed voter, stay home!


Is this not the most disgusting election season in history?

The entire premise that rich people can buy elections has been around for decades, but never before has it been more obvious, at least to some. But some people still don't get it.

The I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore attitude is normally one I would endorse, but not this year. I am a strong advocate of exercising your right to vote, but only if you are an informed voter. If you are the kind of person that simply falls for the television commercials or glossy brochures that come to your door, please stay home.

Candidates of both parties are lying, manipulating, and waging the battle of their lives. I wish I could calculate the monumental costs of this election, but throw more than six zeros at me and I admit getting a little blurry-eyed. In truth, six figures is about all I can comprehend. Yet there are tens of millions being spent every day across this country. Doesn't anyone have a problem with that?

I used to bristle at the fact that only the wealthy could afford to run for public office. Now, I find myself completely freaking out about how unlimited corporate donations and anyone with tons of money and an agenda can turn any wacko into a candidate.

I've often wondered where this wealth comes from. I certainly don't have it, but then I'm a hard-working, honest person who tries not to hurt or take advantage of other people. My goal in life is not to be rich—I'd rather be happy. I would never step on other people just to get ahead. I don't rip people off. I try to tell the truth. I care about total strangers. I don't think I'm better than anyone else.

It isn't just the act of buying elections that is bothersome. I am horrified about the what if's. What if these nutjobs actually become representatives of our government? These people are going to speak on our behalf. They are going to make decisions that will ultimately affect us all.

I'm not sure what the answers are, but we have to learn from our mistakes. Why aren't we?

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Peotone Airport rated G

The proposed Peotone Airport is like a game of cat and mouse—no, more like that of the fox and chicken house—as Will County officials and South Suburban Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. try to position themselves for the kill.

Picture a barnyard—the farm country in eastern Will County, Illinois.

Representing the free-range chickens whose freedom is in jeopardy, are the people of eastern Will County. The hens, roosters, and baby chicks are threatened, not only to be caged, but kicked out of the only yard they ever knew. The chicks own the yard. They are the law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes on time, don't believe in making trouble, and simply want to be left alone.

Most have spent their whole lives on the same ground. Some hatched from eggs in that very yard. They have grown up, laid eggs and raised broods of their own. Some of the chicks who live in the barnyard have come from other farms in faraway lands, but they love their yard and made it their own. They are all family now and don't want to be separated from the other chicks.

For a few years, the hens and roosters have noticed paw prints from the dreaded fox just outside the gate. Only recently did the fox dig beneath the fence to gain access to the yard, keeping the chicks scurrying to save their yard. And fox aren't the only predators after the chicks and their home. There are wolves and bear too.

The skulk of fox is led by two bipartisan leaders that usually tussle over territory. But in this case, they are both working together to gain control of the barnyard and all the chicks. The fox are public officials from Will County. One of the leaders is Jim Moustis, Republican County Board Chairman. The other is Larry Walsh, Democratic Executive Committee Chairman.

There are other predators beside fox. Its natural enemy, the wolf is also baying at the gate of the fence that encircles the hen house.

Jesse Jackson, Jr. is the lone wolf who wants to rule the barnyard. He wants to claim it for himself.

Both the fox and wolf are trying to control enough chicks so they can deliver for the big guy Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. He is the bear. He wants to reign supreme, but every four years, he is in jeopardy. If he doesn't get enough chicks, he could lose to the lion, the king of the jungle.

The bear has to keep a close eye on the fox and the wolves that in turn lord it over those pesky chickens. If he doesn't keep a tight reign on things, the fowl will try to take over the barnyard themselves. If that happened, new foxes and wolves that are beholden to the lion would reign.

The bear has to try to keep it all working to his advantage in order to rule the barnyard.

The big cats are already licking their chops because every four years, they too try to regain control of the barnyard. After all, it was guaranteed to them by the Constitution. The lion is the king of the jungle and would like nothing more than to take over this and all other barnyards in the state. The cats in the pride have funny names. One is called truth; another is justice. Another is called common sense.

For a time, the lion had control. One of the former bears, a guy named George Ryan, was a little too aggressive with the chicks. He lost his power over the barnyard and was eaten by the lions.

The lions work alone. They don't contract with fox and wolves like the bear does.

The moral of the story, don't let the foxes and wolves watch the chicken house.

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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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s irony


It is indeed ironic that Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. would complain about ex-governor Rod Blagojevich "wheeling and dealing."

Note the following from an April 15 column in the Southtown Star, "Jesse Jr. re-emerges in Blagojevich case." by Kristen McQueary.

      Months after Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd), of  Chicago, told me it was impossible to interact with Blagojevich without "him wheeling and dealing and trying to extract something out of you."
Blagojevich reportedly told Jackson early on that he didn't hire his wife, Sandi, as lottery director because her application wasn't accompanied by a $25,000 campaign donation. Jackson said he turned to federal prosecutors for help when private developers willing to build a south suburban airport experienced Blagojevich's extortion.
"I have worked with four governors," Jackson said back then. "It wasn't until I came into contact with the Blagojevich administration that they sought to shake down the developers. (Blagojevich's) behavior was so unacceptable to me that I took that information to the U.S. attorney because how can we build our state if every time someone wants to invest and create jobs, they have to go through a political gauntlet of 'gimme, gimme, gimme?' "

"Jackson's interpretation was ironic considering that he emerges, again, in the government documents released Wednesday," McQueary said.

Ironic indeed, but let's take that one step farther.  The irony is that Jackson complained about Blagojevich doing what he himself has been doing for years. His entire motive for building a new airport near Peotone was about gimme, gimme, gimme.

Jackson is all about control of contracts, concessions, votes, and whatever else might be beyond my imagination.

Many suspect that Jackson got his nose out of joint because Blagojevich didn't satisfy his needs. His wife didn't get the political job he wanted for her—heading the state lottery—and he didn't he get approval for his pet project. So he complained to the authorities.

Both Jackson and Blagojevich are poster children for what is wrong in Illinois politics.

But, if you ask me, Blagojevich shaking down fat cats is far less bothersome than Jackson trying to feather his own nest off the backs of innocent people.

Jackson has misrepresented the truth to his own colleagues to make Peotone look viable, manipulated facts by making people think a runway will solve economic woes in his district, and tried his own version of shaking down four governors, with the promise to deliver votes.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Eminent domain for Peotone Airport must be halted


The Illinois Green Party has aligned with the anti-airport group STAND (Shut This Airport Nightmare Down) as they call for the state to halt spending on land in eastern Will County. They say the state's plan, to use eminent domain to take two parcels totaling 500 acres, is simply not justified.

Locator Map of Will County, Illinois, 1853. Ba...
Locator Map of Will County, Illinois, 1853. 
At the same time that Gov. Pat  Quinn talks about controlling spending, he continues to support squandering $105 million to condemn family farms at the site of the proposed Peotone airport in the far southern reaches of the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

The reality is that the state is $13 billion in debt.

George Ochsenfeld, president of STAND, who is also running as a Green Party candidate for State Representative in the 79th district, expressed outrage that Quinn's land purchases are going forward despite the fact that the FAA is at least two years from making a decision whether or not to authorize the project. He says spending millions to purchase land at this time is a gamble. According to the state's official website, IDOT recently spent $2.2 million to purchase a 160-acre property. Their pending 500-acre purchases will likely cost millions more.

"Buying the land now may bring political benefits for the airport's sponsors, and there may be some short-term financial benefits for contractors and developers," said Ochsenfeld, "but this airport is going to be a hard sell for travelers, and it has already done significant damage to long-time residents of the region."

Two eminent domain cases are pending for a 300-acre parcel and a 200-acre parcel. The cases will be heard in the Will County Circuit Court in Joliet.

STAND contends that eminent domain should be halted until five criteria are met:

Funding (either private, public, or some combination of the two) is secured
The FAA issues a final record of decision for airport construction for the project and is made public
Funding for necessary surrounding infrastructure is secured
A panel of independent transportation experts is convened to determine whether there is a need for the project
A major airline has committed to using the facility
Jobs Outlook Questionable

State officials continue to make the claim that jobs are the impetus behind the airport, yet there is little evidence to suggest that the number of jobs they predict will ever materialize. The state continues to make bloated claims of job-creation. Using old data and outdated jobs forecasts for an expanded 22,000-acre project during a robust economy and healthy aviation industry, state officials continue to blur the line between aviation reality and the fantasy that a new airport will bring economic prosperity to some of the poorest regions of the state.

"The airport plan has been marketed by its proponents as a jobs program, but it's doubtful that the jobs will ever come," says Scott Summers, Green Party candidate for Illinois Treasurer. "Today, the State of Illinois is spending $3 for every $2 it takes in. We're basically broke, and yet the governor is gambling on a project that does not have local support, federal approval or any commitments from the industry that is supposedly going to be using it.

"Illinois has many examples of unnecessary and under-utilized infrastructure, from the MidAmerica Airport near St. Louis to the Thomson prison. We ought to know by now that building unnecessary infrastructure means the jobs may never materialize as promised," continued Summers. "This airport promises to be yet another long-term financial burden on the taxpayers."

"The state does not have financing to build the airport or for necessary surrounding infrastructure," said Ochsenfeld. "Not only that, the airline industry is against the project, O'Hare is being expanded, the Gary airport is being expanded, the airlines are in disaster mode, with O'Hare having the lowest number of flights in 15 years."

"We have more than 30 resolutions and referendums from surrounding villages, townships, other units of government, and from citizens' groups against the project," Ochsenfeld said. That doesn't include the thousands of signatures on petitions that have been delivered to the state through the dozens of years this project has been stuck in perpetual planning mode.

Sustainability is an issue

The State of Illinois plans to acquire a total of 22,000 acres (34 square miles) of mostly prime farmland, much of which is owned by 4th- and 5th-generation local farmers. "This is a crime against future generations, who will need productive soil," said Bob Mueller, a Will County native and candidate for State Representative, in DuPage County's 47th district.

"Rural Will County is rapidly disappearing, and with it will go, not just a way-of-life, but the self-sustainability of the region. Yet for many politicians involved, it may take a major food or energy crisis before they realize the folly in paving over highly productive farmland."

Gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney, a long-time opponent of the Peotone airport project, said: "We as a society need to be moving toward more energy-efficient and less-polluting and potentially non-polluting modes of transportation, like high-speed rail, not promoting more of the same wasteful modes of transportation that have created the crisis.

"The Peotone Airport is a horribly misguided investment of public capital, that may enrich a few speculators and politicians but will likely end up being a white elephant —  with taxpayers left to cover the inevitable losses and all of us paying for the consequences of unsustainable modes of transportation."


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Saturday, April 10, 2010

University Park bad behavior


I do not condone writing mills, those quantity vs. quality online writing sites that pepper the internet with works of well-intentioned writers who are paid far too little for their efforts. My criticism is of the sites, much more than of the writers.

In some cases, the content is worth far more than what the writer ever receives in compensation.

Such was the case in a recent article by Peter Bella, for Examiner.com.

Entitled "University Park or Gorky Park?", Bella discusses the behavior of a village official in University Park, a south suburb of Chicago. This story is worth noting, because it was not the subject of Chicago's mainstream media.

Congressional candidate Isaac Hayes, R-Park Forest, a congressional candidate who is mounting a challenge against U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Chicago was invited to a private networking event in his neighboring town of University Park, according to Bella. The April 7 event was hosted by Jennifer Day of Daylight Media, Bella explained.

He went on to describe how University Park Village President Al McCowan threw him out of the event because he was a Republican.

McCowan is a well-known supporter of Jackson, who was not at the event.

"About one hour into the event, Hayes was angrily asked to leave the event immediately by University Park Mayor Alvin McCowan," Bella wrote. "The mayor then brought the hostess to tears with a tirade about inviting a Republican to the event. It should be noted also that many of Mr. Hayes staff members are White and were treated in a bigoted manner (sic) my the mayor and his staff." Both McCowan and Hayes are black.

“I guess this Mayor doesn’t believe his community has a right to decide for themselves, considering Rainbow Push’s material was placed in full sight and not taken down”, said a Hayes spokesman, according to a Hayes Press Release. “If Jesse Jackson Jr. had a sponsored table here tonight it would be business as usual”.

Bella concluded, "Alvin McCowan is disgusting, despicable, deplorable, and detestable.  Evidently he thinks he can just do what he wants, when he wants, and get away with it.  He is right too.  No one in the local Chicago media have covered this so far.  There has been no condemnation, no editorials, nothing.

University Park is a little bit of the old Soviet Union right here in our own backyard."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Illiana Expressway; a bumpy road


Speed bumps may impact Indiana's new Illiana Expressway law in the form of the communities most impacted by it.

Earlier this month, Lowell, IN councilmen opposed the project even before the ink on the legislation had dried. Lowell councilmen voted not to support the plan until more is known about the route the road will take.

Lowell is situated east and slightly south of Beecher.

Tuesday officials in Lowell drafted a letter to Gov. Mitch Daniels, state senators and representatives citing a need for additional information on the project. They noted lack of local input into its planning.

Michael Jordan, a Lowell-area developer, who opposes the Illiana Expressway, wants to see Lowell officials have an audience with legislators to express their concerns. Jordan believes that supporters, who refuse to pinpoint the exact route of the Illiana Expressway, are using a "divide and conquer" strategy.

He indicated the move is designed to divide landowners who oppose the road, segregating them from others who live along a different route. It would be easier to defeat three unconnected small groups than one large group with momentum on its side.

Jordan suggests the strategy may have come about after the northern route of the Illiana into Porter County was met with tremendous opposition. He explained that when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels saw how intense the opposition was, he dropped the plan.

"It was a single route," Jordan said.


Strategy is nothing new

A similar strategy has been used before, and by some of the same people.

In the early 1990's the proposal to build a new regional airport near Peotone was buried among five sites being eyed for development. Many believed that the Peotone site was always the favored location by decision-makers.

One of the most vocal supporters then and now for the proposed airport at Peotone is the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. At that time, Barbara Sloan was the SSMMA's transportation director. Today, she is behind the Illiana Feasibility Study, by Cambridge Systematics.

Possibly more dissention

In another Indiana town – Cedar Lake, east of Crete – there are also some concerns about a lack of input into the project's planning. Once solidly in favor of the project, Cedar Lake officials may be starting to have some doubts.  

Council members were recently put on the spot when a resident, Sharon Pacific of Hanover Township, polled them about their support for the road.

Pacific lives on 10 acres that one of the proposed routes could impact. Pacific not only has a stake in the plan, but she questions the merits of the road.

According to the Northwest Indiana Times, Cedar Lake Council President Dennis Wilkening indicated that the council's sentiments may have shifted.

The Illiana Feasibility Study identified three potential routes. One is north of Cedar Lake. Another is between Cedar Lake and Lowell. The connection in Illinois for both of those routes would be between Crete and Beecher. A third route is between Route 2 and the Kankakee River. In Illinois that translates to south of Beecher.

The Illiana has been billed as a reliever for truck traffic on the Borman Expressway or Interstate 80/94, but Lowell officials are among many who question whether truck drivers will travel an estimated 55 miles more and pay additional tolls to drive on it.

More on RFD vs. Peotone

With regard to the previous post in CHBlog, Illinois contingency asks Gov. Quinn to abandon South Suburban Airport, about officials from the Rockford area calling Illinois Gov. Quinn's plan for Peotone development "wasteful."

What is most revealing are the insightful comments that follow.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Airports and Expressways, big similarity

It is no wonder the Peotone Airport and Illiana Expressway have been so intrinsically linked. Not only was the Illiana a part of the early studies on the Peotone Airport, but the players remain the same. I thought I was watching an airport meeting. Barbara Sloan was the former Transportation Director for the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. Randy Blankenhorn was a former IDOT employee.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Illinois contingency asks Gov. Quinn to abandon South Suburban Airport


U.S. Congressman calls South Suburban Airport plans 'wasteful'

U.S. Congressman, Don Manzullo, (R-IL) along with several Illinois state senators and representatives wrote a letter to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn yesterday, urging him to stop wasting state funds on a new airport at Peotone in eastern Will County.

Advocating for a new airport has been long and costly for Illinois taxpayers

Despite Illinois' budget crisis, Quinn recently allocated another $100 million to the Peotone project.

Illinois taxpayers have shouldered the burden for ongoing feasilibity studies for a new airport since 1985 when  a concept plan from twenty years prior, were envisioned. The latest allocation of taxpayer funds would include just the purchase of additional land. The state owns only about half of what would be needed to build a new airfield.

The estimated $5 billion project does not include any of the infrastructure that would be needed to turn a farming community into a metropolis, what would be needed to make an airport viable. The present landscape of the area proposed to house the Peotone airport contains farmsteads and historic farmsteads, which use well and septic systems. Tar and chip roads are far from that which could accommodate airport traffic or even heavy construction traffic.

Nearby towns and townships have long been on-the-record as being opposed to the construction of a new airport. Residents have fought the proposal since 1987.

In addition to opposition from the people who would live with a new airport, all of the major airlines have said they would not use an airport at Peotone.

Congressman Manzullo tells it like it is

"We believe it is unconscionable for the State of Illinois to continue to waste precious taxpayer resources on this unnecessary project as the state struggles with record budget deficits and debt," Manzullo wrote.

Citing last week's agreement between the major airlines and the City of Chicago  to move forward on the O'Hare Modernization Program, the Rockford congressman said, "it is even more egregious and unnecessary for the state of Illinois to continue to spend scare taxpayer dollars on the South Suburban Airport (Peotone Airport) that the airlines have said they do not want or need."

Manzullo named Rockford as an alternative airport to Chicago's O'Hare and Midway airports. He reiterated the statement by the Illinois Department of Transportation, the same agency pushing the Peotone project, that the Chicago-Rockford International Airport, "RFD is the airport with the greatest potential for development of passenger service and the ability to maintain passenger service."

The existing RFD is the alternative to development at Peotone, he said, pointing out that RFD offers passenger air service now handles one million passengers. It can easily serve five million passengers per year.

While Peotone remains in the study phase, unapproved by the federal government , RFD has made more than $150 million in federally-funded capital improvements, including the construction of a 10,000-foot runway, net international terminal, and Category-III Instrument Landing System capable of accommodating any plan that flies.

In conclusion, Manzullo and state signatories—Sens. Dave Syverson, Tim Bivins, and Christine Johnson, along with State Reps. Jim Sacia, Joe Sosnowski, Dave Winters, and Robert Pritchard—asked Gov. Quinn to "abandon these wasteful plans at Peotone." They invited Quinn and Illinois Secretary of Transportation Gary Hannig to meet with them at RFD to see first-hand the potential that exists there.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Illinois airport featured on NBC 'Fleecing of America'

chblog: MidAmerica Airport
Last week, the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in downstate St. Clair County was showcased on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. For the third time since it was built, MidAmerica

was featured on "The Fleecing of America," a news segment meant to highlight wasteful government spending.Called the glass palace on the prairie, MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, as it is now being called, is visible from miles away, as it rises above the flat land of Mississippi River country.

Twelve years after it opened, there has been some use, but nothing like the glowing predictions that sold a sleepy southern Illinois community. MidAmerica St. Louis remains largely empty.

The modern, two-story glass and steel terminal is impressive. But don't look for a place to buy a ticket to any destination. Not only are there no ticket agents, no tickets, but neither are there any destinations. The baggage conveyor is idle, void of luggage. Restrooms are spotless, virtually unused. The terrazo floors still shine like the day they were installed.

There are occasional aircraft on the runway, mostly military planes destined for the adjacent Scott Air Force Base. But if Illinois officials envisioned a "build it and they will come" scenario, it didn't work here. Few came. And those who did didn't stay.MidAmerica was billed as a reliever airport for Lambert-St. Louis International, just across the river in Missouri.

MidAmerica never achieved crystal ball predictions, dubbed 'Gateway to Nowhere'.

When proposed MidAmerica was estimated to cost $220 million.

It was to bring economic prosperity to southern Illinois and eastern Missouri by employing 600 people during its first year. Passenger predictions from the day forecast that 1.1 million passengers would be served by MidAmerica by the year 2000. But in actuality, the cost was approximately $307.5 million. And there were ancillary costs as well, such as the 8.6-mile extension of the MetroLink light rail system from Belleville Area Community College to MidAmerica that cost $88 million.

The entrance roads, parking lots, final landscaping and pavement markings needed an additional $3.5 million. Wetland mitigation cost $1.8 million and $13.3 million was needed to connect MidAmerica to Scott Air Force Base.

In January' 98, Tom Brokaw of the NBC Nightly News highlighted the MidAmerica Airport in his "Fleecing of America" feature for the first time. Brokaw called the airport the “Gateway to Nowhere.”

Finally, in the spring of 1998, MidAmerica got its first paying customer. Langa Air, an aircraft fueling and maintenance company began a small operation there, but it was short-lived. The company later relocated back to Lambert International at St. Louis. By summer, three Trans World Airlines jets had landed at MidAmerica bringing about $80 in landing fees each time. MidAmerica was the alternative during bad weather for TWA traffic. Lambert was its hub. But that arrangement ended when TWA was acquired by American Airlines in 2001.

In September, of ‘98, after learning that Lambert was planning a $2.6 million expansion program, State Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville, a member of the General Assembly filed a complaint with the FAA. He had hoped to block the expansion, by stating that MidAmerica should be used to relieve air traffic congestion.
Other legislators came on board. Holbrook’s actions were applauded by the residents of Missouri who opposed the expansion. They would be most affected by additional air traffic.

Ironically, despite MidAmerica being touted by then Gov. Jim Edgar in previous years, he was said to favored the expansion of Lambert. He said MidAmerica was meant as a reliever for Lambert, not a replacement.

The next month, the expansion was approved. It was billed as the largest public works project in St. Louis’ history.

Expenses continue to climb
As MidAmerica celebrated its first birthday, it had seen about 3,000 take-offs and landings, though most of those were military planes. There was little fanfare.

In the summer of '99 ex-Gov. George Ryan signed a bill to create an enterprise zone around MidAmerica Airport and to offer tax breaks to companies that would move to the area and to create jobs.

Even without regular business at the airfield, the costs for Mid America continued to rise. There was a request for $2.5 million in improvements for 2000. They included a fence to keep deer off the runway, and about $50,000 to replace runway lights, which were too short to meet federal requirements.

Local taxpayers would pay $756,000; the state contributed $852,000 with the balance paid by the federal government.

The annual operating budget at MidAmerica was $2.2 million. In 1999 it was increased to $3.4 million, with a million for salaries of security guards, maintenance workers, managers and other personnel. Part of that expense included marketing costs of $161,000 to four companies.

Today, operating costs have risen to $4.7 million and includes 14 full time and two part time employees. That includes a director, assistant, and workers in resources, operations, planning and engineering, maintenance, and ground services. The budget is overseen by the St. Clair County Public Building Commission.

In August, 2000 a restructured Pan American Airlines began flying out of MidAmerica. Its first flight, Aug. 16, was to the Gary/Chicago International Airport. But as luck would have it, the return trip, that was supposed to be 45 minutes long, was delayed. The pilot was forced into a holding pattern for five hours and was later directed to land at Lambert in St. Louis.

Three months after September 11, 2001 Pan Am suspended its flights at MidAmerica and soon thereafter closed up shop for good.

For a time, charter flights were offered to the Caribbean. But that didn't last long either.
Little changed at MidAmerica until June 2005. Eight years after it opened, MidAmerica celebrated its 10,000th passenger. That was about 980,000 passengers shy of the predicted goal expected five years earlier in 2000.

Then Allegiant Air took flight each week to Las Vegas and Orlando, Fl. airport supporters remained optimistic. Then Allegiant Air cut its Florida business because it was unable to compete with the low fairs offered by Southwest Airlines at Lambert.

Even the longtime St. Clair County board member Craig Hubbard, R-O'Fallon, admitted that building the airport may not have been a good idea.

Acknowledging that MidAmerica never achieved its goals, he said he doubts he would do it all over again, if given the chance.

Michael Boyd, a longtime Colorado-based aviation consultant warned officials about the potential for MidAmerica twelve years ago. He feared it would not be successful.
Supporters are now interested in turning the airport into a cargo facility. They think that idea could turn things around at MidAmerica.

They point to weekly flights that began in 2008 to import flowers from South America.
Boyd recently told them there is nothing to turn around, because they have built something that simply isn’t needed.

MidAmerica has never even approached the inflated expectations of its aggressive marketing campaign.

MidAmerica story, Peotone tale oddly similar

To people in eastern Will County, the MidAmerica saga and the state's proposal to build another airport in the farm fields near Peotone are eerily similar, even down to the cast of characters who have used the same playbook.

IDOT's consultant, TAMS, was responsible for both projects' highly-criticized pie-in-the-sky projections of users, operations, enplanements and job creation. Both projects were started by Gov. Jim Edgar. One project came to fruition under his administration while the other still has not. But there may be a second chance since Edgar's chief of staff, Kirk Dillard, who helped his boss do some of the political heavy lifting in those days, happens to be running for governor in the Republican primary.

But the biggest commonality between MidAmerica and the proposed Peotone project is how they both have bled Illinois taxpayers.

Many claim that Peotone would be just another MidAmerica

Critics of Peotone issue the reminder from a 19th century philosopher, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Indiana did what Illinois couldn't get done


To Indiana legislators, building the Illiana Expressway is a jobs-creator. It would do that on the Illinois side and so much more.

Instead of it merely connecting Interstate 57 and I-65, as proposed, the legislation refers to the extention of the Illiana west to I-55 near Joliet.

The Indiana legislation is a dream come true for Illinois officials who have long envisioned building a southern leg to I-355, passing by the proposed Peotone airport which would then connect it to intermodal traffic at Elwood and Joliet.


Illiana Expressway was once the South Suburban Expressway


The Illiana has been talked about in Illinois for as long as the proposed Peotone-area airport – since around 1968.

Indiana became involved two years ago when Gov. Mitch Daniels decided to fast-track an ambitious road-building plan. Daniels proposed the Illiana run north and east into Lake and Porter counties. He withdrew the extension plan, however, because of  public opposition.

Daniels' predecessors – the late Gov. Frank O'Bannon and former Gov. Evan Bayh – opposed the Illiana Expressway. They recognized the new roadway as a way to bolster Illinois' efforts to gain support for a new South Suburban Airport, (SSA) near Peotone, which was in a direct competition with the existing Gary/Chicago Regional Airport.

The Illiana Expressway, at one time was part of the airport layout plan. The plan included the location of the northernmost connector road to the facility. Since the airport has been downsized, the expressway is no longer part of the plan, however, its association remains.


Illiana Expressway, Peotone airport; both mired in politics


Just a few months ago Gov. Pat Quinn, who received an endorsement in his bid for re-election by organized labor, voiced strong support for the Illiana. He even referred to it as his future "legacy."
Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican who is still fighting to become the Republican nominee to challenge Quinn for Governor, also endorsed the project at a recent gathering at the operating engineers' local headquarters in Wilmington.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete has weighed in with strong support of the plan. Will County officials support it too.

Locally, the battle for governance over the airport, which has yet to receive FAA approval, between Chicago's south suburbs and Will County, is well-documented.

But dreams to build the Illiana is not without sticking points. Quinn's potential legacy may not enjoy smooth sailing. His most recent endorsement has come from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., who initially was critical of Quinn's interest in the Illiana.

Jackson favors the airport over the roadway. On his congressional website he noted that progress in planning for the road lags far behind what has already been accomplished with the airport.

"There will be no groundbreaking for the Illiana Expressway under a Quinn administration," Jackson said, "no matter how many terms he wins."


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2010: Reality debunks early airport predictions


It is now 2010. This was was supposed to have been an aviation milestone, according to long-ago predictions.

By 2010 the number of people traveling by air was supposed to be equal in all parts of the Chicagoland region. That prediction was made in 1987 and was known as the equal propensity to travel theory.

Equal Propensity to Travel Theory

This illusive theory appeared with no explanation of its origin, yet was alluded to throughout the pages of the Chicago Airport Capacity Study, by Illinois Department of Transportation consultants Peat, Marwick and Main.

The theory was derived by sub-consultants, the al Chalabi Group, Ltd., the husband and wife consulting team – Margery and Suhail al Chalabi – who have worked for the State of Illinois on the 'third airport' project since its inception.

The equal propensity to travel theory was used to exaggerate a trend of population, income, and jobs south of the city which contributed to a justification that a new airport should be built south of Chicago.

One asssumption, then another, and another, ...

The initial assumption that there would be an equal propensity to travel throughout the Chicago region by 2010 was merely a planning tool, one of many assumptions built into the computer model from which other predictions were generated. That assumption helped generate other forecasts, such as:  the number of passengers that would use a new airport; the number of aircraft operations that would be served; as well as how many direct, indirect, or induced jobs the project would create. It just so happened that the first crystal ball was aimed at 2010.

The equal propensity to travel theory did generate some controversy. One of the members of the technical committee, which might be considered a 'stakeholder,' in today's terms, called the theory, "false."

Members of the Chicago Association of Commerce and Industry, which later became the Chicago Chamber of Commerce explained, "The recent growth patterns in the Chicago region have increased travel propensity in the areas closer to O'Hare, not led to equal travel propensity."

The irony

The equal propsensity to travel theory was a prediction that is very different from today's reality, where some south suburban communities are considered to be among the poorest in the state.

It is ironic that the state's early prognostications that point to a need for a new airport to serve a burgeoning south suburban population stand in stark contrast to both the reality and the claims being made today by south suburban leaders. They claim that what is needed are the jobs and economic development that a new airport would provide.

The loudest voice of support for an airport near Peotone has come from U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. who may have never even heard of the equal propensity to travel theory. After all, when it was being written into the fabric of 'third' airport history, Jackson was in college in North Carolina. It wasn't until long after, around 1993, that Jackson became interested in the project. It wasn't until two years later that he was elected to Congress.

Your tax dollars at work 

The al Chalabi Group, Ltd. who first derived the 2010 prediction, remains on the state's payroll as they have for the past 23 years. They have a contract with the state transportation department at least until December 2011.  The consultants continue to make predictions for the Peotone project. Their latest, done in 2007, extrapolates figures into 2030.

They state that by 2030 there will be 4.5 million passengers using the South Suburban Airport. That prediction doesn't seem possible either, since the project is not yet approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The late State Sen. Aldo DeAngelis explained at the time, that the main goal in getting the report approved was so the process could move forward to the next study. DeAngelis, who was once considered the Godfather of the third airport, was one of the decision-makers that approved the report despite its criticisms.

The equal propensity to travel theory was never discussed again in subsequent airport studies.