Sunday, August 31, 2014

Oberweis and Durbin agree - labeling GMO foods is wrong

One’s a dairyman and one’s a lawyer, but the two men running for U.S. Senate in Illinois this year do agree on this: mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is wrong.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), whose family’s dairy sells milk and ice cream at premium prices, says he’s against GMO, RBGH, and any other artificial boost. He says rather than maintain its own herds, Oberweis purchases milk from 20 family farms in Illinois and Wisconsin – all of which pledge not to give their cows such additives.

But in the name of opposing government overreach, Oberweis says mandating that they label the foods is wrong. Durbin agrees, saying the mere presence of a label suggests there could be something wrong with the product.

Quinn says Rauner would dump a lot of money from education fund

The Quinn campaign for governor says Bruce Rauner’s budget would cut $4 billion from education.

It’s inevitable if the 2 percentage point income tax increase is rolled back, reducing state revenue by $8 billion, since education funding consumes 52 percent of General Fund revenue, says Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Paul Vallas.

“If you take $8 billion away from the General Fund, education will be facing a cut of about $4 billion once his plan is fully implemented, whether it takes two years or three years,” Vallas said.

The state raised the personal income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent in 2011. The rate will fall to 3.75 percent at the end of this year unless lawmakers act. Gov. Pat Quinn asked lawmakers to extend the tax; they did not this spring. Rauner has proposed gradually reducing the tax rate.

Rauner disputes the assertion that schools will suffer under his plan. He says his cuts will be somewhere else. “I would put education as a top priority. It would be sacrosanct. The cuts can come in other places. Education is not where things should be cut,” he said.

Rauner also says economic growth will provide money for proper education funding. Vallas says that’s ridiculous; even boom-level economic growth would leave Rauner with a $7 billion hole to fill.

Vallas says it’s impossible to make cuts of this size without cutting education, because that’s where the money is.

Burr Oak Cemetery restored and rededicated

Burr Oak Cemetery is now restored and reopened.

This is the place where it was discovered five years ago that bodies had been double-buried and weren’t where they were supposed to be, body parts had fallen out of graves and were found in piles of dirt on the grounds, record-keeping was haphazard and maintenance had slid. Now, with new landscaping, fences, and an office where loved ones can locate graves, it’s back in business.

“I am so pleased and so thankful to the trustees and all the others involved in turning around what was an eyesore and now is actually a beautiful piece of property – the building, the tree trimming, the new fences, everything is just truly amazing,” Alsip Mayor Pat Kitching said at the re-dedication Friday.

A new stone monument at the entrance also was unveiled today.

It’s a historic cemetery, dating to 1927, where blues great Willie Dixon, heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, many Negro League baseball players and civil rights icon Emmitt Till are buried.

Fracking rules published

The proposed rules for regulated hydraulic fracturing in Illinois are finally out, but it will still be a long time before anybody drills into the ground to force out oil and natural gas.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued its list this (Friday) afternoon. It sets out disclosure and other regulatory provisions for companies which are now licking their lips over what could be buried beneath Southern Illinois.

The lawmakers on the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules could make a decision about the rules in October.

The process took too long – more than a year – for pro-frackers' liking, but those who are against the process are about as unhappy.

“When we work through these issues,” says DNR Director Marc Miller, “there’s also another part of this that’s coming. We want to ensure that these rules are going to withstand any litigation effort and then proceed so we can do what the law provides.”

Bus crashes at O'Hare Airport

A bus crashed into a concrete barrier Friday morning at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, injuring 15 people and clogging the road into the airport on a busy travel day.

It was a shuttle bus that struck the concrete median; why hasn’t been determined. Fourteen people were taken to the hospital, including one firefighter who was injured lifting someone out of the bus.

Fire Chief Timothy Sampey says with traffic backed up by the crash, passengers were jumping out of their cars and taxis to run the remaining half-mile to the terminal to catch their flights. “People were basically bailing out of their vehicles in an effort to make it to their flights, and it’s understandable, but at some point in time we had to gain control of them to get them off the shoulders where the emergency vehicles were trying to get to the scene,” he said.

Four of the injuries are considered serious. Glass from the bus windows was strewn hundreds of feet along the highway.

The crash happened at 6:30 a.m.; the road was cleared and re-opened at 8:30.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rauner "appallaed" by strong-arm tactics against Libertarian petition signees

Bruce Rauner says he had nothing to do with armed investigators coming up to people who signed nominating petitions for the Libertarian Party.

The armed investigators worked for a private security firm hired by a lawyer to challenge those petitions. Those men came up to voters who had signed to get the Libertarians on the ballot, and asked for them to admit the signatures were faked. Rauner says that was done by the state’s Republican Party, not his campaign.

“Well, I’m appalled, I’m appalled by the behavior I’ve read about, and I absolutely reject it and would never condone it,” Rauner said. “It’s terrible. I don’t know if it’s true, but I would never accept it, I’m outraged by what I’ve read.”

The private investigators appear to have been legally armed; whether they broke any voter intimidation laws is unclear.

Despite the petition challenge, the state Board of Election approved the signatures, meaning Libertarian candidates will be on November ballot. 

Police out in force during holiday weekend

It’s another holiday weekend, and another special DUI enforcement period for police in Illinois.

Cops across the state will have extra patrols and be conducting roadside safety checks through Labor Day on Monday. The number of DUI crashes is down over the last decade, so this must be working, says Sgt. Charles Kean of the Springfield Police.

“We feel that by having an aggressive enforcement program in DUI enforcement, that keeps that number low,” he said.

Ali Seys of Orion, Ill., a senior at Illinois State University in Normal, is warning of the dangers of DUI. She was in a car hit by an alleged drunk driver who blew a red light at 134 mph in Bloomington in March.

“I was released later that day. I just had fractured ribs, concussion, whiplash, bruised bones, cuts, scrapes,” she said.

A passenger in her car, Michael Collins of Normal, was killed, and another, Tawni Ricketts of Geneseo, was seriously injured but is recovering. Seys says she and Ricketts confront individuals who appear intoxicated to make sure they aren’t going to be driving.

The suspect in the crash is awaiting trial.

Big parade held in Chicago for Jackie Robinson West little leauge baseball team

Chicago held a big parade, celebration and welcome home party Wednesday for the Jackie Robinson West All Stars, the 11 and 12 year old boys who won the U.S. Little League Championship in Williamsport, Pennsylvania last week.

Much has been made of these children, who are from the South Side of Chicago where often news reports contain grim accounts of gun violence and gang and drug-related offenses.   

The parade began on the South Side, at Jackie Robinson Park, where the team plays its home games and ended several miles away in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, where an estimated 10,000 fans gathered to congratulate the Little League champions.

The All Stars lost the Little League World Series title to a team from South Korea, but that didn’t seem to matter to fans celebrating the team’s national title.  

Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein and Chicago White Sox Executive, Kenny Williams were both at Millennium Park to congratulate the team.  Epstein said thanks to a rain delay Saturday, the Cubs were able to watch the JRW All Stars defeat a team from Las Vegas for the national title.  He told the players: “We’ll see you in the draft in about 2023.” 

Williams thanked the JRW All Stars for giving Chicago a team to cheer for and he presented team coach, Darold Butler, with a jersey signed by all the White Sox players.  He promised signed jerseys for the entire team.

Rachel Robinson, the widow of the late Jackie Robinson, who broke the so-called “color line”, when he became the first African American to play Major League ball sent a letter to the national champs.   In it she says her husband would have been proud of them  - not only for their athletic prowess on the field but also their  character off the field.

State Supreme Court returns to their renovated building

The Illinois Supreme Court has returned to its renovated building in Springfield.

After the court spent 15 months hearing cases in Chicago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita B. Garman says it is time her court returns home.  “We’ve been able to preserve the best of the past, and we think that’s critically important,” she said.

The structure was finished in 1906.  The $16 million makeover included new heating and air conditioning systems, restoration of murals and woodwork, and work on the facade of the building that may be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Quinn and Rauner think the other would be a bad fit for education funding

You can find at least two points of agreement between the major-party candidates for governor: each says education funding is important, and each says the other would be terrible for it.

“If I don't win on November Fourth,” Quinn said, “get ready for Siberia when it comes to investment in public services. Our schools will not get the resources they need, other purposes of government are going to be left with extreme and radical cuts.”

Rauner says that's not true. “We are a wealthy state,” he says, “and if we say education is our priority, the money is there to invest in education.”

On another topic, both would like to get Illinois farm products into Cuba.

“The embargo, I don't think, is successful,” says Quinn. “That country does not have the purchasing power to purchase our agricultural exports.”

“Cuba has the potential to be a huge export market for us,” says Rauner.  “That takes a lot of federal involvement and control.”

The men appeared two hours apart at an Illinois Farm Bureau forum in Bloomington.

Durbin and Oberweis appear at Illinois Farm Bureau function

Differing views of federal earmarks were just one way you can tell the candidates for U. S. Senate in Illinois apart.

Incumbent U. S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) appeared two hours apart at an Illinois Farm Bureau forum in Bloomington.

Durbin says ag research buildings at the University of Illinois and the USDA lab at Peoria are examples.  “You and your predecessors came to me with these projects, and said, we need them for the future of agriculture.  So, no apologies.  If we can get back to where I can earmark money to bring it home to Illinois, to make sure our federal tax dollars find their way back to our state, I'm going to continue to do it.

“Our federal budget is bleeding with deficit and debt that is being immorally being piled on our children and grandchildren,” Oberweis countered.  “Dick Durbin's solution is to bring back earmarks.”

Oberweis, a freshman state senator after several failed attempts to win elective office, is trying to paint Durbin as an entrenched insider and himself as a non-politician.  Durbin said seniority does count, pointing out the current occupant of the Oval Office will take his call.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gibson City Council notes

The Gibson City Council met on Monday, August 25th.

Gary Stroh of 910 North Melvin St. reported to the Council that a six inch drain line coming into his property was tied into a two inch line that was installed by mistake by an engineer that was contracted by the city. Superintendent Randy Stauffer told the Council about other areas of Gibson City (North Lott Blvd. and Meadow Rue Dr.) where additional work needs to be done as well. Money for the projects is in the budget and were approved by the Council.

The owner of Black and White Confections, Jennifer Thomas, talked to the Council about the city sponsoring the "Gibson City Harvest Festival." Thomas, who is a member of the Revitalization Committee asked if a Council member could serve on the committee. No exact date for the festival in 2015 has been set. It would be held in the downtown area and would incorporate food vendors, music, and other family-friendly activities. After formation, the committee would seek additional sponsorships and participation from other interested groups. The Council asked Thomas to provide more information about the event at a later date.

The owner of the building where Gibson City Meats and Deli is operating, Mick Bradbury, asked the Council about the removal of the two buildings directly north of his property. Bradbury asked, "Are you tearing down these buildings? I'm sure you're thinking about protecting my building at the same time, right? You're going to give him the money to do it. What about the other two buildings?"

"When you bring that down, you have some kind of plan about what you are doing about the other two buildings," Bradbury continued.

Mayor Dan Dickey informed Bradbury that the city is not tearing down the buildings. The demolition will be handled by Lee Excavating and was hired by Randy Arends, the operator of Gibson City Meats and Deli, to do so. The city is helping with the cost of the demolition.

Alderman Dean Kidd asked Bradbury if he had any conversation with Arends about the demolition. Bradbury inquired about a certification of insurance and if the city had one for this project. Dickey suggested a meeting between all parties involved. Bradbury felt that the neighbors of the condemned property should have been informed about this action and that it was a good idea the buildings be removed.

In old business, the consideration of downtown signs was tabled until the next Council meeting.

In new business, the Council approved the planning committees recommendation to allow Mike and Jennifer Carley to sell a portion of their property to Phil and Megan Whitehouse for the purpose of building a private residence. The property will have access to city water and sewer. The Carley's attorney, Ellen Lee reported to the Council that Carley has no plans to sell or develop any other lots located on their property.

The Council approved garbage hauler permits. Police Chief Steve Cushman told the Council that the department will keep an eye out for leakage from garbage trucks on city streets and will take appropriate action.

The Council went into executive session to consider the employment and compensation of city employees. After returning to open session, the Council approved the hiring of Jonathan Dassow as a part-time police officer at the rate of $16.13 per hour.

This week's Illinois crop report

Illinois’ corn and soybean crops are in good condition.
In this week’s USDA crop progress report, corn is rated 52 percent good and 30 percent excellent, and beans are rated 55 percent good and 23 percent excellent.
“I think the story is timely rains through July, which is typically seen as helping the corn crop, and I was somewhat worried about the soybeans, and honestly in August there’s been a number of good rain systems covering large portions of the state, and those August rains tend to be very, very helpful for soybean pods,” says USDA crop statistician Mark Schleusener.
Soybeans are now 94 percent setting pods, ahead of last year (82 percent) and the five-year average (88 percent).  Corn is now 48 percent in the dent stage, well ahead of last year (27 percent) but behind the five-year average (53 percent).
The average temperature last week was 77.4 degrees F, 3.9 degrees above normal – the first warm week in a while – but rainfall was above normal too, at an average of 1.41 inches, which is ¾ of an inch above normal.
Topsoil moisture is 76 percent adequate, 9 percent surplus, 13 percent short and 2 percent very short. In Southeastern Illinois, 32 percent of farmland has surplus moisture. 

The Chicago Bears aren't the only ones in Illinois

Remember the black bear’s odyssey through Northern Illinois earlier this year?
A new law which sets out where the bear and other wild animals fit in Illinois aims to protect both animals and people.
Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Young says the black bear, grey wolf and mountain lion will be under the Illinois Wildlife Code, “which gives the department the authority to draw up some protocols and develop a management plan for these species if and when they are seen in the state.”
Young says the animals are supposed to be kept wild.  They’re not around much as it is, so most people won’t see one in Illinois.
He says you’re not to hunt the animals, but you may take a bear or lion if it is on your property.

Housing percent of personal budget often unattainable

The rule of thumb is that your housing cost should be no more than 30 percent of your income.
That’s a pipe dream for too many of the poorest Illinoisans, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  It says there are only 30 affordable rental units for every 100 of the lowest income citizens.
“We need government to come in and fill the gap … specifically by funding the federal housing trust fund, which would be a new federal resource,” says Bob Palmer, policy director of Housing Action Illinois.
“There’s a deficit of 321,394 rental units that are affordable and available to extremely low income households, (defined as) those that have income at or below 30 percent of their local area median income,” Palmer says of the Illinois numbers.