Monthly archives: October, 2009

Weekly Address: President Obama Says Recovery Act Creating Jobs and Strengthening Economy

While there is nothing to celebrate until job numbers turn around, the President cites the recent dramatic turnaround in gross domestic product as a sign of better things to come. He also applauds the fact that the Recovery Act has now created or saved more than a million jobs.

The President’s weekly address:

Each week, I’ve spoken with you about the challenges we face as a nation and the path we must take to meet them. And the truth is, over the past ten months, I’ve often had to report distressing news during what has been a difficult time for our country. But today, I am pleased to offer some better news that – while not cause for celebration – is certainly reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction.

On Thursday, we received a report on our Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. This is an important measure of our economy as a whole, one that tells us how much we are producing and how much businesses and families are earning. We learned that the economy grew for the first time in more than a year and faster than at any point in the previous two years. So while we have a long way to go before we return to prosperity, and there will undoubtedly be ups and downs along the road, it’s also true that we’ve come a long way. It is easy to forget that it was only several months ago that the economy was shrinking rapidly and many economists feared another Great Depression.

Now, economic growth is no substitute for job growth. And we will likely see further job losses in the coming days, a fact that is both troubling for our economy and heartbreaking for the men and women who suddenly find themselves out of work. But we will not create the jobs we need unless the economy is growing; that’s why this GDP report is a good sign. And we can see clearly now that the steps my administration is taking are making a difference, blunting the worst of this recession and helping to bring about its conclusion.

We’ve acted aggressively to jumpstart credit for families and businesses, including small businesses, which have seen an increase in lending of 73 percent. We’ve taken steps to stem the tide of foreclosures, modifying mortgages to help hundreds of thousands of responsible homeowners keep their homes and help millions more sustain the value in their homes. And the Recovery Act is spurring demand through a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, and through assistance for seniors and those who have lost jobs – which not only helps folks hardest hit by the downturn, but also encourages the consumer spending that will help turn the economy around.

Finally, the Recovery Act is saving and creating jobs all across the country. Just this week, we reached an important milestone. Based on reports coming in from across America – as shovels break ground, as needed public servants are rehired, and as factories whir to life – it is clear that the Recovery Act has now created and saved more than one million jobs. That’s more than a million people who might otherwise be out of work today – folks who can wake up each day knowing that they’ll be able to provide for themselves and their families.

We’ve saved jobs by closing state budget shortfalls to prevent the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of police officers, firefighters, and teachers who are today on the beat, on call, and in the classroom because of the Recovery Act. And we’ve also created hundreds of thousands of jobs through the largest investment in our roads since the building of the interstate highways, and through the largest investments in education, medical research, and clean energy in history.

These investments aren’t just helping us recover in the short term, they’re helping to lay a new foundation for lasting prosperity in the long term – and they’re giving hardworking, middle-class Americans the chance to succeed and raise a family. Because of the investments we’ve made and the steps we’ve taken, it’s easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college and get the training and skills they need to compete in a global economy. We’re making it easier for these families to save for retirement. And in areas like clean energy, we’re creating the jobs of the future – jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.

In fact, just this week, I traveled to Arcadia, Florida to announce the largest set of clean energy projects through the Recovery Act so far: one hundred grants for businesses, utilities, manufacturers, cities and other partners across the country to put thousands of people to work modernizing our electric grid – the system that provides power to our homes and businesses – so that it wastes less energy, helps integrate renewables like wind and solar, and saves consumers money. And that’s just one example.

So, we have made progress. At the same time, I want to emphasize that there’s still plenty of progress to be made. For we know that positive news for the economy as a whole means little if you’ve lost your job and can’t find another, if you can’t afford health care or the mortgage, if you do not see in your own life the improvement we are seeing in these economic statistics. And positive news today does not mean there won’t be difficult days ahead. As I’ve said many times, it took years to dig our way into the crisis we’ve faced. It will take more than a few months to dig our way out. But make no mistake: that’s exactly what we will do.

For the economy we seek is one where folks who need a job can find one and incomes are rising again. The economy we seek is one where small businesses can flourish and entrepreneurs can get the capital they need to plant new seeds of growth. The economy we seek is one that’s no longer based on maxed out credits cards, wild speculation, and the old cycles of boom or bust – but rather one that’s built on a solid foundation, supporting growth that is strong, sustained, and broadly shared by middle class families across America. That is what we are working toward every single day. And we will not stop until we get there.

Thank you. And Happy Halloween.


Best Wishes on the Birthday of Guru Nanak

For all of our Sikh brothers and sisters, best wishes on the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, celebrated on November 2.

From the BBC:

Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak, and present day Sikhism is still based on his teachings and those of the nine Sikh Gurus who followed him.

Gurpurbs are Sikh festivals which celebrate the lives of these Gurus. Guru Nanak was born in 1469 in what is now Pakistan. At the age of 30 he mysteriously disappeared for 3 days. When he reappeared, he began to preach the Sikh faith and spent the rest of his life teaching, writing and travelling around the world to discuss religion with Muslims and Hindus.

Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak’s Birthday and the other Gurpurbs with an Akhand Path, a reading of the Sikh holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, continuously from beginning to end. This is done by a team of Sikh men and women, each reading for 2-3 hours over 48 hours, beginning two days before and ending early on the morning of the birthday.

On the day before the birthday, processions are held in India and in some parts of England. These are led by five people representing the original Panj Piare (Five Beloved Ones) and followed by singers, musicians and even teams of people demonstrating martial arts.

Matteson Mayor Was Wrong to Fire Haney

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I read this in the Southtown Star:

Matteson village administrator Napoleon Haney was let go this week after just four months on the job.

Haney, who had a four-year, $120,000 per-year contract was hired in June.

“I don’t really know (why this happened),” Haney said Thursday. “I was called in, and the mayor informed me that my contract was terminated.”

Haney said there was a provision in his contract that he could be terminated without cause.

Haney, who moved his family from Reno, Nev., and bought a house in Matteson in late July, said he thought he was on the right track.

“I thought I was. I came from a large city. My goal was to bring added value to the community,” he said.

Mayor Andre Ashmore did not return messages left for him.

Read more here.

I knew Napoleon Haney, and I believe him when he says he had no idea this was coming. Napoleon Haney gives new meaning to the word “ethics.” The man is ethical to the core of his being. Did Ashmore have a problem with an Administrator with ethics?

Haney is creative, dynamic, innovative, thoughtful, intelligent…

I am completely flabbergasted with Mayor Andre Ashmore.

Matteson residents should give serious thought to electing someone else for mayor.

Yup. I said that.

Andre Ashmore has some explaining to do. Yes, I understand that he would not want to comment on a personnel matter. But this is a public matter. Matteson is losing real talent. Why would Matteson choose to jettison talent? We know Haney wasn’t fired for cause.

This smells of nasty politics, and nasty politics should never dictate policy.

If Mayor Ashmore appoints his wife as Village Administrator, we’ll know what this was really all about.

President Obama Remembers Ryan White: Ends HIV Entry Ban

Do you remember Ryan White? Do you remember this young man who died, publicly, of HIV-AIDS?

I think of him from time to time, this brilliant young man who was "done too soon," who endured years of hatred, years of insults — because he got sick.

I remember, years ago, picking my son up from school on a spring afternoon. I was listening to WLS in Chicago (never a good idea these days), and I heard a caller condemn Ryan White to the depths of Hell. The caller was convinced, and argued, that this young man got what he deserved, that if he himself hadn’t sinned in his lifetime, then God must have killed him because one of his ancestors must have sinned horribly.

Yes, that was the argument.

Today, President Obama remembered Ryan White in a big way.

From White House blog:

Today, President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. It represents our ongoing commitment to ensuring access to needed HIV/AIDS care and treatment. The White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) worked very closely with Congress on this bipartisan legislation, and the consensus document developed by the HIV/AIDS advocacy community was an important part of the process. We were so pleased that Jeanne White-Ginder, Ryan White’s mother, was here at the bill signing.

The Ryan White Program is the largest federal program specifically dedicated to providing HIV care and treatment. It funds heavily impacted metropolitan areas, states, and local community-based organizations to provide life-saving medical care, medications, and support services to more than half a million people each year: the uninsured and underinsured, racial and ethnic minorities, people of all ages.

The President also announced today the elimination of the HIV entry ban. Since 1987, HIV-positive travelers and immigrants have been banned from entering or traveling through the United States without a special waiver. In July 2008, Congress removed all legislative barriers to repealing the ban and paved the way for HHS to repeal the ban. A final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Monday, November 2nd and will take effect in early January 2010. That means that people who have HIV and are not U.S. citizens will be able to enter the U.S. starting in January next year. This is a major step in ending the stigma associated with HIV.

And the sad thing is, would Ryan White have died in 1990 — theoretically — if the Reagan Administration had given medical science the funding to find the cause of and fight AIDS instead of segregating it as a gay disease? Would an anonymous thug have come along and kicked over Ryan’s headstone if Reagan had been slightly more enlightened?

Yes, we still have to ask those questions. It could all happen again. We still have plenty of people in our society who are seemingly at war with science.

I’m starting to like this Obama as President of the United States.

However, this isn’t about President Obama.

This is about a young man who was gone too soon.

Peace, Ryan. We remember you still.

Ryan White

Barack Obama’s Facebook Feed, Courtesy

This is just a section of President Obama’s Facebook feed, courtesy of our friends at Slate.

This is really very good. Go here, please, to see the whole feed.

gift The Central Intelligence Agency sent Ahmed Wali Karzai a gift.
money money money
camera The New York Times posted a video: "Swine flu vaccine running low."

ObamaBarack Obama

Don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around.

BoehnerJohn Boehner
Good, because I’m getting a shot today.
ObamaBarack Obama

Oh, look, we just ran out.

Note Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a note on Tom Ammiano’s Wall:

Sorry if I offended you, Tom. It was immature and
Unprofessional of me to write you a note with a hidden
Code buried in it. I hope you’ll
Kindly forgive me. It was a 
Mean stunt, and 
You deserve
Better. I hope we can
Agree to
Let this one 
Arnold. P.S.—You should really
Come over for dinner some time. Maria makes heavenly 

Again, go here, to see the whole feed.

Pelosi Outlines 14 Health Care Provisions to Take Place Immediately

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Thursday outlined fourteen health care reform provisions that would take place immediately, upon passage of the health insurance reform legislation currently making its way through Congress:

  1. BEGINS TO CLOSE THE MEDICARE PART D DONUT HOLE — Reduces the donut hole by $500 and institutes a 50% discount on brand-name drugs, effective January 1, 2010.
  2. IMMEDIATE HELP FOR THE UNINSURED UNTIL EXCHANGE IS AVAILABLE (INTERIM HIGH-RISK POOL) — Creates a temporary insurance program until the Exchange is available for individuals who have been uninsured for several months or have been denied a policy because of pre-existing conditions.
  3. BANS LIFETIME LIMITS ON COVERAGE—Prohibits health insurance companies from placing lifetime caps on coverage.
  4. ENDS RESCISSIONS—Prohibits insurers from nullifying or rescinding a patient’s policy when they file a claim for benefits, except in the case of fraud.
  5. EXTENDS COVERAGE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE UP TO 27TH BIRTHDAY THROUGH PARENTS’ INSURANCE— Requires health plans to allow young people through age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance policy, at the parents’ choice.
  6. ELIMINATES COST-SHARING FOR PREVENTIVE SERVICES IN MEDICARE—Eliminates co-payments for preventive services and exempts preventive services from deductibles under the Medicare program.
  7. IMPROVES HELP FOR LOW-INCOME MEDICARE BENEFICIARIES—Improves the low-income protection programs in Medicare to assure more individuals are able to access this vital help.
  8. PROVIDES NEW CONSUMER PROTECTIONS IN MEDICARE ADVANTAGE— Prohibits Medicare Advantage plans from charging enrollees higher cost-sharing for services in their private plan than what is charged in traditional Medicare.
  9. IMMEDIATE SUNSHINE ON PRICE GOUGING—Discourages excessive price increases by insurance companies through review and disclosure of insurance rate increases.
  10. CONTINUITY FOR DISPLACED WORKERS—Allows Americans to keep their COBRA coverage until the Exchange is in place and they can access affordable coverage.
  11. CREATES NEW, VOLUNTARY, PUBLIC LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE PROGRAM—Creates a long-term care insurance program to be financed by voluntary payroll deductions to provide benefits to adults who become functionally disabled.
  12. HELP FOR EARLY RETIREES—Creates a $10 billon fund to finance a temporary reinsurance program to help offset the costs of expensive health claims for employers that provide health benefits for retirees age 55-64.
  13. COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS—Increases funding for Community Health Centers to allow for a doubling of the number of patients seen by the centers over the next 5 years.
  14. INCREASING NUMBER OF PRIMARY CARE DOCTORS — Provides new investment in training programs to increase the number of primary care doctors, nurses, and public health professionals.

Source: Committee on Education and Labor

I Admit I Wept When I Saw the President Welcoming the Fallen at Dover

President Obama welcomes the Fallen from Afghanistan.

I admit, I wept openly when I saw this picture.

I didn’t realize policy forbidding the media from photographing our Fallen coming home has been in place since President George H.W. Bush.

Even President Bill Clinton did not attend this solemn ceremony. President Clinton did not attend a funeral of a fallen warrior. Neither did President George W. Bush — although President Bush did meet privately with family members of the Fallen. To his credit. And I thank him for that.

President Abraham Lincoln had a home across from a cemetary during the Civil War. At times, he saw 30 fresh graves dug a day.

From The Swamp:

President Obama traveled overnight to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans killed in military service this week, the height of the bloodiest month for the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan.

In an unannounced trip in the middle of the night, the president went to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware by Marine helicopter to be present for the arrival of the bodies of the fallen troops.

The solemn visit was the first of its kind for Obama, and comes as he is withdrawing troops from Iraq but contemplating a troop increase in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, Obama spoke to sailors and aviators at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida, where he promised that he would count the full cost of war before deciding to send more military into harm’s way.

“Obviously it was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day — not only our troops, but their families as well,” Obama said later today, at the White House. “And so Michelle and I are constantly mindful of those sacrifices.

“And obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts,” said Obama, deliberating over the way forward in Afghanistan. “It is something that I think about each and every day.”

The administration this year lifted a longstanding ban on media coverage of the return of fallen service members. Obama was accompanied by a small pool of White House reporters who were on duty overnight.

Of course this visit was appropriate. I found it incredibly moving just seeing the President of the United States saluting while one of our fallen hero’s is brought home to rest.

No, President GWB did not do this. Neither did Bill Clinton, unless someone can recall otherwise.

We waited a long time to see this.

Regardless of his or her policies, the President of the United States stands as a symbol.  He represents the United States of America.  And it is entirely appropriate that he stand at attention, periodically, when our Fallen are brought home.

Our Fallen deserve this honor.

I hope he does it again. He needs to keep in touch with the fact that each casualty is a real fallen human being, with a real family. George W. Bush may have met with families privately — and I respect him for that — but some surrounding him in his administration were often glib when asked about the fallen soldiers.

The president needs to do this to keep in touch. And we need to see it happen.

Homewood on Slippery Slope Raiding Pension Funds; But What Is The Alternative?

The Southtown Star reports that Homewood, Illinois, is considering a measure to dip into police and fire pension funds to balance the budget. The measure calls for reallocation of 25 percent of property tax revenue from its pension funds to pay for day-to-day operations in its 2010-2011 budget.

That’s operations, not capital projects. Homewood needs to dip into pension funds just to maintain the status quo.

From the Southtown Star:

The move would offset an expected drop in sales and income tax revenue during the fiscal year from the economic recession, the village’s financial director, Dennis Bubenik, told trustees during the village board meeting Tuesday night.

"We have 30 years to recoup the loss in the pension funds. We need the money to run day-to-day operations now," Bubenik said.

He said Homewood’s police pension fund is currently funded at 82 percent, and the firefighters pension fund is at 78 percent.

First, let’s consider the percentage figures. If the police pension was funded at 100%, that would mean the pension fund would support each and every police officer if they all went on pension now. Right now, immediately. So funding at 82% is pretty good. 78% for fire isn’t bad either.

If this measure passes, funding levels will be less than those figures, of course.

The big problem, as I see it, is the financial director’s claim that Homewood has "30 years to recoup the loss in pension funds."

Here’s the rub: if the economy was a static, growing entity, then I would have no problem with that statement. But what about future recessions in the next 30 years? And why the incredible hole in the budget in the first place? No doubt, last year, Homewood was counting on revenues that simply did not materialize due to the Great Bush Recession, whether they were from sales tax, real estate transfer taxes, or whatever. Many towns in the south suburbs are facing similar conundrums.

But dipping into pension funds is dangerous. What happens in 12 years, theoretically, if there is another Great Recession? At that point, Homewood is 18 years shy of the 30-year mark necessary to recover the pension funds. Does that future Village Board dip into pension funds again to save the day? Does the 30-year recovery then become a 45 year recovery? And what if Homewood faces a tragic fire event in the interim? What if, tragically, 7 or 8 firefighters lose their lives? Their spouses would receive full benefits.

I’m imagining the impossible because the impossible can happen. Challenges like these require critical thought now so future boards are not faced with a future slippery-slope quandaries.

More conservative budgeting would help Homewood in the long run. As would a healthy reserve fund.

The bottom line is this: municipalities should not need to dip into pension funds to pay for operations. No matter what.

Daley Blames Houlihan for Tax Hikes; Look in Mirror, Richie

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wasted no time pointing hizzoner’s finger at Cook County Tax Assessor Jim Houlihan over this year’s sharp spike in property taxes. But his wag of the finger ignores a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday tried to offer up a scapegoat for the puzzle of why property tax bills are soaring as home values are plummeting: Cook County Assessor James Houlihan.

As he promoted a modest city tax relief program, Daley also lashed out at the assessor, accusing him of not doing his part to keep a lid on tax bills expected to arrive in mailboxes the next few days.

"The thing I can’t understand (is) this whole assessment deal," the mayor said. "Now, no one’s value is going up in the city. … I’m asking him how he does it."

Despite the attack, Daley didn’t make clear how the assessor could have acted legally to alter the trajectory of the latest round of bills. The mayor also did not mention that new bills to Chicago residents reflect a $65 million City Hall property tax increase passed two years ago but that’s only showing up now. Houlihan spokesman Eric Herman blamed big hikes largely on the General Assembly’s decision to phase out a program designed to soften the effect on taxes of soaring property values earlier this decade. "This idea somehow that we’re going around jacking up everybody’s assessments is just fiction," Herman said.

The finger-pointing took place after Houlihan released new data showing that homeowners across much of the city and county can expect to be hard hit by the latest installment of tax bills.

Mayor Daley has been around long enough to know exactly "how [Houlihan] does it." These assessments the tax bills are based on are already two years old, according to the Tribune, "The latest round of bills actually reflects 2008 taxes. For city neighborhoods, those bills were calculated using assessment values from 2006."

Then the bottom dropped out:

The bubble burst last year, too late to be factored into the tax bills that West Garfield Park homeowners have to pay this year. "We are legally prohibited from using current market conditions to go back and change assessments for a previous year," [Houlihan spokesman Eric] Herman said.

Houlihan said the legislature must shoulder responsibility. From the Sun-Times:

"This is a direct result of Speaker Madigan’s phaseout of the 7 percent homeowner exemption," Houlihan said. "This is the one thing that worked. For the first three years, when it was really going, it protected homeowners. I met with the mayor and urged him to go to Springfield and try to reverse that. The budget indicates how serious the problem is: The mayor has $35 million to deal with that."

Daley supported the "7 percent" cap on property tax increases, but a $65 million property tax increase from Chicago’s City Hall does make a difference, and the mayor owes it to the citizens of Chicago to admit that.

Read more here at the Trib, and read more here read more here from the Sun-Times.

Schwarzenegger Hidden Veto Message to Assemblyman Ammiano: ‘F*** You’

We write, "LOL" online when we get a chuckle. Sometimes we turn up the heat and write, "LMAO." And then theres, " LMFAO."

This one falls into the latter category.

From CBS Chicago:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger typically attaches a message to bills he signs or vetoes telling lawmakers why he took the action.

A Democratic assemblyman who heckled the governor during a recent event in San Francisco actually received two messages: the veto letter itself and a not-so-subtle rebuke creatively hidden within it.

Like a find-the-word puzzle, the second message was visible by stringing together the first letter of each line down the left-hand margin. It consisted of a common four-letter vulgarity followed by the letters "y-o-u."

"My goodness. What a coincidence," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. "I suppose when you do so many vetoes, something like this is bound to happen."

Here’s the note, emphasis added:

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 1176 without my signature.

For some time now I have lamented the fact that major issues are overlooked while many
unnecessary bills come to me for consideration. Water reform, prison reform, and health
care are major issues my Administration has brought to the table, but the Legislature just
kicks the can down the alley.

Yet another legislative year has come and gone without the major reforms Californians
overwhelmingly deserve. In light of this, and after careful consideration, I believe it is
unnecessary to sign this measure at this time.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

My goodness. What a coincidence.

See the original document here.