Thursday, November 16, 2017

Boone County voters must decide on another public safety sales tax hike

By Susan Vela
Staff writer

Posted Nov 15, 2017 at 10:01 PM Updated Nov 15, 2017 at 10:01 PM

BELVIDERE — For the second time in less than a year, Boone County voters must decide whether putting money toward public safety is more important than plunking down more dollars at cash registers.

Board members voted unanimously, 12-0, Wednesday to put a question on the March 20 ballot that asks if the public safety sales tax should be increased from 0.5 percent to 1 percent.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and hopefully we have a lot of volunteers,” Board Chairman Karl Johnson said. “The first thing we have to do is we have to get some of our business leaders involved, get them on board and understanding how important better public safety is to Boone County as a whole.”

“While nobody wants to raise taxes, this is the most fair and equitable way that we can improve our public safety.”

The increase would generate about $1.4 million a year for public safety purposes that include building repairs, hiring new deputies and purchasing squad cars and equipment.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Medicare cuts under new federal tax proposal

CBO: House GOP tax plan triggers $25 billion in Medicare cuts

Ethan Wolff-Mann 19 hours ago

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. clarified effects of the current House GOP tax legislation with the Congressional Budget Office. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

If the House GOP tax plan passes, it is projected to cut revenue significantly, likely increasing the deficit by $1.456 trillion from 2018 to 2027, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

With a number that large, Congress’s “pay as you go” rules that prevent unchecked spending would fall into place, a move that could cut Medicare’s budget by as much as $25 billion for 2018.

In a letter to House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the CBO explained that without any more money to offset the fall in revenue, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to issue a “sequestration order” to reduce spending in 2018 by $136 billion.

The effects of this sequestration order would trigger automatic cuts to various programs, including Medicare. According to the CBO, this could be as much as 4% for Medicare, which amounts to $25 billion in 2018. Furthermore, all non-exempt programs would be eliminated, which include some farming subsidies, border security, and student loan help. Others, like Social Security, would remain untouched.

At the same time, the tax plan’s changes to the estate and gift taxes would cut revenue $151 billion from 2018 to 2027, according to the JCT. Only 4,700 estates were large enough to be subject to the estate tax as the 2017, since the exemption is over $5 million.

Because of the rules exempting or limiting how much can be cut from certain programs, the CBO also estimated that the reductions would not make up for the need for money to pay for what Congress “bought.”

Touching Medicare has been traditionally considered explosive, and some have noted the “pay as you go” rules give Democrats leverage in the tax bill debates.

In a response to the CBO’s letter, Rep. Hoyer issued a statement, noting the broad impact beyond the deficit on the program cuts, adding that he actually wrote the “pay as you go” law, and called for a bipartisan lawmaking process.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the “pay as you go rules” were passed with bipartisan support.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: emann[at]oath[.com].

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Shep Smith Breaks From Fox News Coverage, Tears ‘Uranium One’ Scandal To Shreds


Shep Smith Breaks From Fox News Coverage, Tears ‘Uranium One’ Scandal To Shreds

HuffPost Alana Horowitz Satlin,HuffPost 2 hours 8 minutes ago

Fox News anchor Shep Smith broke from his network’s hyperventilating coverage of the “Uranium One” pseudoscandal to debunk allegations of wrongdoings by Hillary Clinton.

Smith, never one to blindly toe the party line, took to task President Donald Trump ― and, implicitly, his cable news network of choice ― over the “inaccurate” portrayal of the sale of a Canadian mining company with major U.S. holdings to a Russian company.

“Here’s the accusation,” Smith explained Tuesday. “Nine people involved in the deal made donations to the Clinton Foundation totaling more than $140 million. In exchange, Secretary of State Clinton approved the sale to the Russians — a quid pro quo.”

It’s a claim that has dominated Fox News in recent weeks after The Hill published a deeply flawed report about a “Russian bribery plot” involving the sale. Following pressure from the president and several Republican members of Congress, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this week that the Justice Department would consider appointing a special counsel to review the deal as well as other matters involving Clinton and other Democrats.

There’s never been any evidence that Clinton acted inappropriately and, as Smith notes, “the Clinton State Department had no power to approve or veto that transaction. It could do neither.” Indeed, the State Department was just one of nine agencies that signed off on the deal and Clinton herself wasn’t even on the committee. 

“The accusation is predicated on the charge that Secretary Clinton approved the sale,” Smith said. “She did not. A committee of nine evaluated the sale, the president approved the sale, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others had to offer permits, and none of the uranium was exported for use by the U.S. to Russia. That is Uranium One.”

Since Smith’s segment, Uranium One has been mentioned over 40 times on various Fox News shows.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Letter: Governor Rauner fortunate to live in Illinois


Letter: Governor Rauner fortunate to live in Illinois

Posted at 8:00 PM

If Gov. Bruce Rauner were chief executive of any of Illinois’ contiguous states he would have paid at least $1.4 million to $2.7 million more on his state income tax form than he did on his Illinois 1040. The governor’s recently released form indicated he paid $3,248,605 on a net income of $91,354,858. The 2016 tax rate was 3.75 percent.

Wisconsin, one of Rauner’s paragons of governmental virtue, has a top individual rate of 7.65 percent. As best I can tell without the governor’s backup forms, his Wisconsin bill would have been nearly $6 million.

Indiana, another state the governor seems to find virtuous, has a flat state rate of 3.3 percent, but the state form also includes a county income tax of 1.77 percent applicable in the state capital for a total 2016 rate of 5.07 percent. The governor would have paid about $4.6 million in Indiana.

Missouri and Kentucky have top rates of 6 percent and Iowa’s top rate is 8.98 percent! His bill would have been millions higher in those states.

Illinois has raised its rate to 4.95 percent, but that still is lower than the rates the governor would have paid in any of Illinois’ neighbors. And I thought Illinois was supposed to be the high-tax state.

Brent Bohlen


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Monday, November 6, 2017

Belvidere Middle Schools Ranking

Illinois Middle School Rankings

JUST IN! Illinois PARCC test scores and updated rankings for the 2016-17 school year were posted to SchoolDigger this week!

Belvidere Schools


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Rockford Schools




Loves Park


Thursday, November 2, 2017

FBI plants bull's-eye on GM, Ford as UAW scandal widens


Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press Published 1:01 p.m. ET Nov. 2, 2017





The intertwined lives of a UAW official and a Fiat Chrysler executive

Over a period of years, former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli and former UAW Vice President General Holiefield helped to save Chrysler and then stole millions intended for worker training, authorities say. Wochit

FBI probe into crooked dealings between UAW and auto execs now involves FCA, GM and Ford. At issue is whether training funds tied to all three automakers were stolen


(Photo: Associated Press/Getty Images)


The FBI's probe into financial shenanigans by UAW and auto executives has extended to General Motors and Ford, which join FCA in a growing scandal that focuses on stolen training funds, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

At the heart of the probe is whether funds that were meant to train autoworkers at all three companies were instead secretly funneled to union officials and auto executives who were scheming together to line their own pockets.

Since the investigation surfaced four months ago, criminal charges have been filed against two FCA officials and three UAW officials, including ex-FCA Vice President Alphons Iacobelli and Monica Morgan-Holified, the widow of the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield. The pair, along with others, are accused of  siphoning millions of dollars from a UAW training center and spending it on themselves, buying everything from luxury vehicles to $35,000 Mont Blanc ink pens.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters, located inBuy Photo

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters, located in Auburn Hills, left, and UAW headquarters. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

The Free Press has now learned that the FBI is also eyeing at least one GM official for similar conduct, and is looking into the financial records of  training centers that are funded by GM and Ford with the goal of training union autoworkers.

“We are cooperating with the inquiry,"  Kelli Felker, manufacturing & labor communications manager at Ford, said in a statement. "We are confident in the UAW-Ford National Programs Center leadership team and the policies and procedures used to govern the program operations that benefit approximately 57,000 members of our UAW-Ford hourly workforce.”

GM also is cooperating, stating:  "We have been contacted by the Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding an investigation into the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. We are fully cooperating with the investigation."

The UAW declined comment on the latest development, but has emphasized that the union continues to cooperate with the investigation.

As first reported by the Detroit News, the FBI's latest targets in the probe include Joe Ashton, 69, a retired UAW vice president who was appointed to GM’s board in 2014, and Cindy Estrada, Ashton's successor who oversaw the union’s GM department.

Neither could be reached for comment this morning.


Feds: UAW and FCA execs laundered money through fake hospice center

Feds: Bargaining rivals stole millions from FCA; kept UAW officials 'fat, dumb and happy'

So far, the investigation has focused on allegations that FCA auto executives and UAW officials ran a sophisticated money laundering scheme,  The executives allegedly stole money from the training center, then funneled it to themselves through various organizations, including a children's charity called the Leave the Light On Foundation and the Hospice of Metropolitan Detroit.

As prosecutors alleged in court documents, the scam was part of a bigger goal by at  FCA execs to keep UAW officials "fat, dumb and happy." And the schemers were careful not to get caught, they said, claiming they warned one another not to leave a paper trail about what was going on.

According to court documents, the training center was funded by FCA and received between $13 million  and $31 million a year.  Prosecutors say least $4.5 million of that money was misspent.

Here is what the accused have been charged with:

The Rochester Hills home of Al Iacobelli

The Rochester Hills home of Al Iacobelli (Photo: Eric D. Lawrence)

  • Iacobelli is accused of steering $1.2 million in employee-training funds to Morgan, Holiefield and others. Iacobelli also is accused of pocketing $1 million in training funds and using it to buy a Ferrari, pay off his personal American Express and Chase credit cards, buy two Mont Blanc pens at $35,700 each, install a swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and spa at his Rochester Hills home. 
  • Morgan, whose photo business allegedly once received $70,000 from a charity that was supposed to help children struggling with hardships. The government claims the charity was really a sham, set up by Holifield and Iacobelli.
  • Virdell King, 65, of Detroit, the first African-American female to be elected president of a local union in UAW-Chrysler's history.  She is accused of buying designer shoes, clothing, jewelry and luggage using credit cards that were issued through the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. King also is accused of making more than $40,000 in additional purchases that pampered other senior UAW officials, including a shotgun, golf equipment, luggage, concert tickets, theme park tickets and other items.
  • Jerome Durden of Rochester, a financial analyst at FCA who allegedly helped conceal the fraud. He pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and faces up to five years in prison.

UAW and FCA officials have said that no labor contracts were  perverted by the alleged scandal. Prosecutors have said they don't know if that happened, but that laws were broken: auto executives were giving things to union officials when the law prohibits that.

Fiat Chrysler officials declined comment on the latest developments, but FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has previously expressed “disgust” at the alleged conduct and called it the “most egregious breach of trust by the individuals involved.”

"These acts were of course neither known nor sanctioned by FCA US," Marchionne has previously stated. "In fact, upon learning of some possible malfeasance in June 2015, the company investigated and, once credible evidence of wrongdoing was discovered, the individuals involved were immediately separated from the company."

Iacobelli, who had led the company's contract talks with the UAW in 2011, abruptly resigned one month before he was set to lead negotiations on a new four-year contract with the UAW in 2015.

"This conduct had nothing whatsoever to do with the collective bargaining process," Marchionne previously said, "but rather involved two bad actors who apparently saw an opportunity to misappropriate funds entrusted to their control and who, unfortunately, co-opted other individuals to carry out or conceal their activities over a period of several years."

The U.S. Attorney's office and FBI both declined comment.

Free Press reporters Eric Lawrence and Phoebe Wall Howard contributed to this report.

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House Dems sue for records on Trump Hotel lease

Michael Isikoff

20 minutes ago

The Trump International Hotel is shown on Aug. 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. The hotel, located blocks from the White House, has become both a tourist attraction in the nation’s capital and also a symbol of President Trump’s intermingling of business and politics. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – All seventeen Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today filed a novel lawsuit against the Trump administration to force it to turn over documents about the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C.—records, they say, that will reveal details about how the president is personally profiting while in office.

The lawsuit represents the latest legal challenge to Trump’s controversial decision to retain ownership of his international real estate firm, which operates the Trump Hotel in a building leased from the government’s General Services Administration.

“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House committee.  “It is a glaring symbol of the Trump Administration’s lack of accountability and a daily reminder of the refusal by Republicans in Congress to do their job.  This may be standard operating procedure in foreign countries—but not here.  Not in America.”

Guided by a Georgetown law professor, the Democrats are employing an unusual legal tactic to get Trump Hotel records: they are using an obscure law, enacted during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, that authorizes any seven members of the House oversight panel to obtain records from a federal agency.

The Trump Hotel has been a lightening rod for the president’s critics ever since he took office last January . Almost immediately, the GSA stopped providing Congress with regular updates on the hotel’s expenses and profits under its government lease.

Nevertheless, some records about the hotel’s operations have surfaced: In August, the GSA “inadvertently” posted “privileged and confidential” documents showing the hotel earned $1.97 million in profits during the first four months of this year. The business has become a favorite of lobbying groups and foreign governments seeking to influence the administration.

The documents showing the hotel’s profits have since been removed from the GSA website and no further updates have been made available to the public or Congress. The GSA did not respond to requests for comment from Yahoo News about the removal of the records or the filing of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks GSA documents including monthly expense records so the committee can investigate “whether the Office of the Presidency is being used for private gain” and “the extent to which the Trump Hotel is receiving payments from foreign governments,” according to a “fact sheet” explaining the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Washington. The panel also wants to see records relating to why the GSA reversed an earlier legal interpretation of the lease, which prohibits any “elected official of the Government of the United States” from sharing in the profits of the hotel.

The lawsuit is not the first to be filed over Trump’s business operations while he is serving as president.  Three other suits have been filed contending that the president is receiving unconstitutional “emoluments” from foreign governments through his ownership of the hotel.

A judge in New York is currently weighing a motion by the Justice Department to dismiss one of the suits on the grounds that the plaintiffs, including a liberal legal group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, lack standing to bring the case because they can’t show they have been injured by the president’s conduct.

But the new lawsuit being brought Thursday by the House members is significant because, if it survives a court challenge, it could give congressional Democrats new leverage to pry documents out of the Trump administration on a host of other issues.

Their case relies on a little known law known as the “seven member” statute. Enacted in 1928 and signed by President Calvin Coolidge, it provides that any seven members of the principal House oversight committee can request—and receive–  reports and documents from federal agencies.

The law has only occasionally been used over the years—with varying results. Rep. Dennis Hastert (a future Speaker of the House) and Rob Portman (now a U.S. Senator), both Republicans, successfully invoked the law in 1994 to obtain documents about a Texas savings and loan from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

But in 2006, when Rep. Henry Waxman, then ranking Democrat on the House panel, along with other Democrats, filed a lawsuit under the “seven member” statute to obtain Medicare records from the Bush administration, they lost on the grounds they lacked “standing” to bring the case. (Before the Democrats had a chance to appeal, they regained control of the House that year and the case became moot.)

David C. Vladeck, a Georgetown law professor who drafted the complaint being filed today, said the House Democratic case gained new traction last summer after the GSA notified Cummings in a letter it would refuse to turn over records about the Trump Hotel. In doing so, a GSA official cited a new Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that the administration would only produce records when requested by a full committee or subcommittee (currently controlled by Republicans.)

“Individual members of Congress, including ranking minority members, do not have the authority to conduct oversight in the absence of a specific delegation by a full house, committee, or subcommittee,” the Justice Department legal opinion read.

“They basically said, ‘we’re not going to give the stuff to Democrats,’” said Vladeck. But in so doing, he argued, they ignored the fine print in the 89-year-old “seven member statute” and gave the Democrats new grounds to bring their lawsuit.

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