Monthly Archives: September 2008

Good guys — and awesome Chicago baseball teams — wear black

Chicago White Sox 1, Minnesota Twins 0 — how sweet it is!

It’s been a long, often frustrating season. At times the Sox have not played up to their potential this year, and that’s why they had to play this divisional tie-breaker.

But they hung in there and refused to die. And now they’re American League Central Division champions.

I think I read somewhere that the Sox won’t be the only baseball franchise to represent Chicago in the playoffs. So let’s hope for the best — and go Sox!

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‘A House divided’ stresses markets by not passing bailout plan

Local legislators must have gotten an earful last week regarding the Bush administration’s proposed $700 billion plan to bail out the financial industry, suffering from the subprime mortgage crisis.

Lawmakers put the brakes on the White House’s rush for a bailout plan. Republicans, in particular, wanted to explore alternatives to the proposal that the federal government buy rotten assets from ailing financial institutions and holding on to them until the economy stabilizes.

Public opinion was definitely not siding with a bailout. And the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrated this today by rejected the plan worked out by congressional leaders over the weekend by a vote of 228-205. In news reports, some lawmakers cited the continued opposition to a bailout plan they’re hearing from constituents.

U.S. Reps. Judy Biggert, R-13th District, of Hinsdale; Dan Lipinski, D-3rd District, of Western Springs; and Peter Roskam, R-6th District, of Wheaton voted against the measure; U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-14th District, of Geneva voted for it.

With an election about a month away, most House members weren’t willing to return home with a vote like this on their hands. The stock market fell more than 730 points, but hopefully Congress has a backup plan in mind.

At least the Chicago White Sox are playing their makeup game with the Detroit Tigers and (if they win) will force a Central Division tie-breaker with Minnesota. So that’s one thing I have to look forward to today.

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Congressional Republicans want to ensure bailout plan is sound

The latest from Capitol Hill: Cooler heads must prevail.

That was the message from U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-6th District, of Wheaton during a telephone conference today with Chicago-area reporters in which I participated. He briefed us on how things look for a possible deal regarding the proposed $700 billion bailout by the federal government of financial institutions reeling under the wegith of massive debt from failed mortgages.

The economic mess that collapsed some corporate giants last week and imperiled a few others stemmed from the subprime mortgage crisis we’ve experienced. When the housing market was exploding, many people took out bad mortgages involving variable rates. This means they had low rates for the first few years and higher rates later on.

Some of these people made off well beacuse they sold their properties at a sweet profit before their rates went through the roof. But when the housing bubble burst, too many of these people couldn’t unload their homes before their rates went up.

Before the housing market soured, banks holding these mortgages began bundling them and selling them to other firms. As more and more people started defaulting on their loans, firms that purchased these bundles began feeling the pinch.

The failure and near collapse of several firms last week initiated what could best be described as a China Syndrome on Wall Street. These giants were in serious trouble, and their pain was spreading quickly. Other companies that deal with these firms, even though they may not be in the mortgage business, have been put at risk themselves. The global economy came frightfully close to a meltdown like we’ve never seen before.

So last week the Bush administration proposed a $700 billion bailout to stem the crisis. Under the direction of U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the federal government would buy bad assets and hold onto them until the markets stabilized and economic conditions improved. This would take the debt off the books of these firms and let them get back to business.

But as Roskam pointed out in his conference call, a $700 billion bailout is massive and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Congressional Republicans wanted to see if an alternative more in keeping with the principles of a free market could be implemented, and they’re right to do so.

Roskam reiterated that his constituents don’t want Congress to rubber-stamp something so drastic. While everyone wants the market to get back on track, to have the federal government socialize the largest sector of our economy is bad news.

And what happens when the crisis eventually passes and we ask the Treasury Department to relinquish all the power it has been given? We could be a fight on our hands.

So it’s good that options are being discussed. Perhaps the price tag won’t come out to be $700 billion, and maybe the government won’t have to control the private sector. Let’s hope a reasonable plan can be reached before too long.

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No one involved in proposed railroad merger is sitting back quietly

Whether Canadian National Railway succeeds in overcoming opposition from southwest and western suburbs and eventually purchases the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway could well depend on who has the better public relations machine.

The press releases have been flying fast and furious from all corners. I received two within the past couple of days regarding a piece of legislation winding its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. House Bill 6707 would restrict railroad deals like the proposed CN/EJ&E merger.

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-13th District, of Hinsdale co-sponsored the bill, which would compel the federal Surface Transportation Board “to weigh the public costs a merger would have against the transportation benefits. For a merger to proceed, the adverse impacts on communities could not outweigh the transportation benefits. The STB also would have the authority to set stricter mitigation conditions on a merger.”

Here is what Biggert had to say this week:

“Congress may have a lot on its plate right now, but this issue is far too important to let it fall by the wayside. I’m very grateful for all the hard work that Chairman Oberstar and the other members of our bipartisan coalition are doing to keep this legislation moving.

“I think the testimony we gave before the committee really opened their eyes to how patently unfair the current regulatory process can be. Once they heard what CN is trying to do to our communities in Illinois, I think members from both sides realized that it could happen in their districts too. There is just no excuse not to have some basic fairness built into the law to protect the public interest — that’s what laws are for.

“My colleagues and I will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to protect local communities and keep the pressure on the STB to address our concerns. The safety, quality of life and tax dollars of suburban residents shouldn’t have to be sacrificed to advance CN’s corporate interests. I call on House leaders to quickly schedule this bill for a vote on the House floor so that we can send it to the Senate for consideration.”

But Biggert’s certainly is not the only voice on this issue. Here is what Karen Phillips, vice president of North American government affairs for CN, had to say about the bill:

“Relieving rail congestion and making the United States’ rail system more efficient must be a national priority.

“The process for the Surface Transportation Board’s consideration of the environmental impacts — both positive and negative — of proposed rail mergers should be structured and balanced. The review process for CN’s proposed acquisition of portions of the EJ&E railway has been far more concerned about negative impacts, compared to the positive benefits for many Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. In addition, the review process must provide more predictability and early confirm at ion of minor transactions, so that all parties can work toward reasonable mitigation.

“CN believes the review process should not be applied retroactively, as provided in (HB 6707). Already, the review process for the CN-EJ&E transaction has gone far longer than the 180-day review process required by statute for a minor transaction. This process, now a yearlong, has included ample time and input from all communities along the EJ&E and received exhaustive study by transportation experts overseen by the STB.”

Who’s right? And more importantly, who’s going to prevail?

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September is as good a time as any to hold Oktoberfest

Every year about this time, I wonder, “Why do some towns and/or groups celebrate Oktoberfest in September?”

Of the listings for seven Oktoberfest celebrations that I found in our company archives, four of them (in Berwyn, Carol Stream, Itasca and Villa Park) have been held in September. The other three (in Downers Grove, La Grange Park and West Chicago) will be held next month. Which is October.

Sure, not knowing why this traditional celebration is often held in September isn’t going to keep me up at nights. But this year, for some reason, I opted to do a little research on the matter.

The first Oktoberfest was held Oct. 12, 1810, in Munich to commemorate the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. The people of Munich decided to expand the festivities in the years following.

Oktoberfest eventually spanned from the final week of September to the first weekend in October.

One explanation for the earlier start said that people enjoyed celebrating while the weather was still warm. Another said that before refrigeration, the latest beer could be brewed in Germany was in March (they couldn’t produce it in summer). So late September/early October was the latest people would be able to drink the beer before it went bad.

I’m glad I did a little detective work on this one, and I appreciate the incredible amount of information available on it. In the words of a young, brash Wayne Newton, “Danke Schoen, darling Danke Schoen!”

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Economic crisis pitting two American principles against each other

Last week’s near meltdown of a large chunk of the global economy is focing me to pick the lesser of the two evils.

The first evil is that more and more financial giants will collapse under the weight of their monumental debt if the federal government does nothing to try and stem the bleeding. This could set off a worldwide economic depression the likes of which we’ve never seen.

The second evil is watching the federal government give itself the kind of power necessary to stop a global financial catastrophe. The authority necessary to pull off what President Bush, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and members of Congress want will have to be extraordinary and unprecedented. The government is not going to be too eager to relinquish such power once the job is done.

So which principle is more expendable? Our commitment to limited government or our desire for economic security?

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College of DuPage makes wise choice in posting salaries online

Transparency about public salaries doesn’t appeal to everyone.

The Board of Trustees for the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn voted last night to post the salaries of all college employees online. The board previously worked with Adam Andrzewski of Elmhurst, who launched ForTheGoodofIllinois.org, on a plan to post online all itemized expenses the college incurs.

I featured Andrzewski a few months ago in my weekly column in Suburban Life Publications about the work he is doing through his Web site. Last month, Andrzewski notified me that the Elmhurst Park District recently agreed to post its financial information online.

The idea is to get as many public bodies as possible to be transparent about what they’re spending money on and how much such items are costing them. Making this information easy for people to find holds these bodies more accountable for they way they use public resources.

The vote on last night’s proposal before the COD Board was 4-1. Board member Kathy Wessel was the lone dissenter, expressing concern about identifying employees online with how much they’re paid. She also said people can file a Freedom of Information request to obtain these records if they want.

It’s here that Wessel undermines her own argument. If there are security concerns with letting people know how much money specific employees are paid, wouldn’t it be a concern under any circumstance? But if she’s OK with the college dispensing this information, what does it matter if this is done through an FOI request or retrieved online?

You don’t have to publish personal information such as where the person lives or how old he or she is; I’m just looking for the person’s name, what department he or she works in and how much the individuals is paid.

Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent, and public bodies should make it as easy as possible for people to access this information. If you’re going to work in the public sector, you should have no problem letting people know how much you’re paid.

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