Thursday, August 27, 2015

Obama to seek unity with pope on issues in White House visit - Yahoo News


WASHINGTON (AP) — Sweeping into office in 2009, President Barack Obama captured near rock-star status around the world among millions who saw him as the embodiment of a new sense of social purpose. Now, that baton has largely been passed to Pope Francis, whose visit to the White House next month will put his common cause with Obama on vivid display.

Obama has made no secret of his affection for the outspoken pope, calling him a "transformative leader" whose influence has transcended the Roman Catholic community. The pope has embraced many of the issues Obama has sought to advance, including global warming, poverty and diplomacy with Iran and Cuba.

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, said the pope's Sept. 23 visit will mark an important moment not only for Catholics but for all Americans.

"Pope Francis has breathed new life into what I believe is the central mission of our faith: Catholic social doctrine," Biden said in a statement to The Associated Press. Invoking key elements of Obama's agenda, Biden added that Francis "has become a moral rudder for the world on some of the most important issues of our time, from inequality to climate change."

The pope's brief visit to the White House is part of his highly anticipated trip to the U.S. and Cuba. It's a reunion of sorts for Obama and Francis, who first met when the president visited the Vatican last year.

Despite deep differences on some social issues such as abortion, Obama and the pope are expected to focus on areas of agreement. The White House said economic opportunity, immigration and refugees, and protection of religious minorities were high on the agenda.

"It's going to be a come-to-Jesus moment - no pun intended - for the many politicians who want to claim the mantle of Pope Francis," said Michael Wear, a former White House official who led faith outreach for Obama's 2012 campaign.

For Obama, the visit offers a chance to imbue his remaining goals with a sense of moral authority as he approaches the end of his presidency.

Viewed as largely above politics, Francis is extremely popular in the U.S. Tickets to his speech to Congress are such a hot commodity that an overflow crowd of thousands is expected to watch on Jumbotrons from the National Mall.

"In a way, Pope Francis has become a conscience for this age of the world. When President Obama came to office, he too had that aura for at least the first couple of years," said Stephen Schneck, who runs the Catholic politics institute at Catholic University of America. "But Pope Francis' message is moral and religious. He's not going to be talking about legislation."

The White House has praised Francis for involving himself in issues usually left to politicians. In a rare move, Francis personally intervened to help the U.S. and Cuba restore relations, writing leaders of both countries and hosting their delegations at the Vatican for final talks. And on climate change, a cornerstone of Obama's desired legacy, Francis added the weight of the pulpit by publishing a landmark encyclical calling climate change real and man-made.

Yet there are risks for Obama if he glosses over other, stark differences in views.

When he visited Francis early last year, Obama contradicted the official Vatican account of their meeting by saying they hadn't discussed social issues in any detail. Papal aides insisted the two leaders indeed discussed religious freedom, life and conscientious objection - buzzwords for abortion, birth control and parts of Obama's health care law.

"That's the delicate dance," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. "The idea is to point out common areas of concern, rather than say, 'We are total allies.'"

Gay rights presents another area of likely disagreement. The pope's U.S. visit is focused on family issues, and while Francis has emphasized compassion and tolerance for gays and lesbians, he's also affirmed the church's opposition to same-sex marriages - putting him at odds with Obama.

The president's relationship with the Catholic Church has a mixed history. He won the Catholic vote in his presidential campaigns, according to exit polls - a feat even then-Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic, couldn't pull off. And when Obama signed his landmark health law in 2010, he gave the nearly two-dozen pens used to advisers and supportive lawmakers - but set aside one for Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, who played a key role in building support for the bill.

But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the legislation over provisions on coverage for abortions and birth control. Hundreds of Catholic groups and employers sued the Obama administration over the law, claiming it infringes on religious freedom.


Obama to seek unity with pope on issues in White House visit - Yahoo News

McHenry County Board is told how to consolidate townships

Cal Skinner has recently blogged the legal opinion which McHenry County Board received from their States Attorney on the matter. 

If anyone is interesting in the process of changing/abolishing townships GO TO:  Shown below is the page previously referenced.


War of words: Obama v. Koch brothers


WASHINGTON — The White House says it's not backing down from President Obama's pointed criticism of the Koch brothers, saying the billionaire industrialists were "squealing" after Obama accused them of hypocrisy for benefiting from oil subsidies while opposing green energy.

Charles Koch told The Politico Tuesday he was "flabbergasted” and "dumbfounded" Obama's speech Monday singling out the Koch Industries owners for opposing solar power. “It’s beneath the president, the dignity of the president, to be doing that,” he said.

But the White House — which had already admitted that the president's use of the word "crazies" that same night was "a little flip"  — wasn't backing down. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the Koch response was both "remarkably rich" and "utterly predictable."

"The fact is that Koch Industries has spent at least tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, lobbying Congress -- these are publicly available disclosures -- in support of those kinds of policies, to say nothing of the millions of dollars that they have spent punishing those candidates that didn't side with them," Earnest said.

Koch officials do not deny that the company benefits from federal subsidies and said it doesn't oppose green energy in theory.

"If the question is, ‘Has Koch accepted subsidies?’ the answer is ‘Yes,’ and we’ve been clear about that," said Koch vice president Philip Ellender in a written statement to USA TODAY. He said Koch participates in existing programs so as "not put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage."

"The fact is — and the White House should know this — we have fought against government boondoggles for decades because corporate welfare wastes resources, stifles innovation and has pushed our country to the brink of bankruptcy," Ellender said.

In an interview with USA TODAY in April, Koch said he and brother David does not spend millions on political causes in order to advance Koch Industries' business interests. "We oppose as many or more things that would benefit us than would hurt us," he said.


Charles Koch: We're not in politics to boost our bottom line

But the Kochs' business success has allowed them to fund a broad range of political causes, founding the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

That's made them a frequent target of Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Charles Koch told the Politico that he suspects Obama's Las Vegas speech attacking him was "kind of a farewell gesture to help Harry Reid,” who's retiring next year. Reid hosted the Clean Energy Summit and introduced Obama at the event.

"When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests, or conservative think tanks, or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that's a problem," Obama said at the summit. "That's not the American way."


Obama hits Koch Brothers for opposing solar power

Until that speech, President Obama had only mentioned the Koch brothers a handful of times in his public speeches — always as a punchline.

"Speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight," he told the White House Correspondent's Dinner last year, "But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front. Hello, Fox News."

And at the 2015 dinner, he noted that the presidential campaign was already starting, "and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick."

Earnest said the exchange illustrates the kind of president Obama set out to be.

"This is exactly why the president ran for office, it's why he ran for this office, is that for too long, we saw the oil and gas industry exert significant pressure on politicians in Washington, D.C.," he said. And when Obama fights that influence, "the special interests, including the millionaires and billionaires that have benefited from that paralysis, start to squeal. And I guess in this case, at least one billionaire special interest benefactor chose to squeal to a Politico reporter."

Earnest said the spat would not distract from the one area where the White House and the Koch brothers are making common cause: criminal justice reform. "It certainly is not going to impact the desire of the president or this administration to work with anybody who is interested in bringing greater justice to our criminal-justice system," he said.

War of words: Obama v. Koch brothers

Rauner budget guru set to depart


KURT ERICKSON JG-TC Springfield Bureau

18 hours ago  •  KURT ERICKSON JG-TC Springfield Bureau


SPRINGFIELD -- She came to Illinois touted as a "superstar," ready to provide a roadmap to fix the state's budget mess using her high-profile experience working for other Republican governors.

On Friday, however, Donna Arduin's contract as Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget guru expires while the state budget remains unfinished and mired in a divisive political fight.

Despite the lack of a spending plan two months into the state's fiscal year, Rauner's office is praising the controversial adviser as she heads back home to her job as a GOP consultant-for-hire.

"In a state with a horrific economic and fiscal record over the last dozen years, Donna Arduin is playing a major role in attempting to change the mindset in Illinois from one of 'kicking the can down the road' to solving the state’s economic and fiscal problems for the long term," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly noted in a statement.

Although Illinois is budgetless, court orders and various measures approved by the Legislature and the governor have put the state on course to spend as much as $5 billion more than what is expected in revenue this fiscal year.

Arduin's slice of that pie amounts to an estimated $165,000 for nearly eight months of work.

Rauner's hiring of Arduin came as the governor took over a state that had been run solely by Democrats for 12 years. Before heading to Illinois, she helped GOP governors in New York, California, Florida and Michigan.

The amount of her initial contract -- $30,000 per month -- rankled some Democratic lawmakers, who held hearings designed to shine a spotlight on the governor's practice of paying out high salaries to his top aides while he argued that rank-and-file state workers were getting big salaries and excessive benefits.

Rauner defended Arduin’s salary, saying she was “the smartest state government budget person in America.”

Arduin also stirred controversy as one of a cadre of Rauner appointees who weren't actually being paid out of the governor's office budget.

Arduin's contract -- later reduced to $15,000 per month -- was with the Illinois Department of Revenue, leading to catcalls from Democrats that Rauner was "off-shoring" his hires.

But, in her statement, Kelly said Arduin worked across the administration to help get the first Republican governor's staff in 12 years on track.

"Given her background as an economist, she has also worked closely with the Department of Revenue and its economists on revenue policy and evaluating the state’s revenue performance. She has also worked with agencies to help them navigate the current budget impasse, and troubleshoot any concerns, so they can best serve the people of Illinois," Kelly noted.

Kelly said Arduin had a direct hand in crafting the governor's budget proposal, which Democrats ignored and said was $2.2 billion out of balance because it relied on savings from an unconstitutional change in pension law.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who chairs a House appropriations committee, said he met with Arduin once and found the two agreed on little.

"If you look at what she did in other states, she recommended Draconian cuts, balancing the budget by cutting higher education and social services. It's not a surprise that she tried to do that here. It's been pretty consistent," Harris said.

Arduin also helped train budget office employees and helped draft budget reforms, which also have been heavily criticized by Democrats because they will reduce state aid to the elderly, poor and disabled.

"In all, she has brought a lifetime of invaluable budgeting experience to Illinois to help grow the economy and make us the most competitive state in the country," Kelly said.

Rauner budget guru set to depart

Chicago Board of Education to vote on budget | CLTV


CHICAGO — The Chicago Board of Education is expected to approve on Wednesday a nearly $6 billion budget that counts on $500 million in unguaranteed state funding.

The school board’s vice president issued a strong warning to Governor Rauner and lawmakers, saying that money is a ‘must’ and not an option.

The governor says the state will not bail out CPS, and the school board should consider bankruptcy.

About 100 teachers and parents protested against the budget outside CPS.

The budget doesn’t address the district’s one billion dollar debt, pension crisis, or junk bond status.

It also includes $200 million in cuts, 1,500 layoffs and a property tax hike of around $19 million.

“They’re playing roulette right now with the schools,” said Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey.

Chicago Board of Education to vote on budget | CLTV

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Capitol - Proposed DHS rule changes slammed as horribly biased against the poor


Wednesday, Aug 26, 2015

* Progress Illinois

The Illinois Department of Human Services is holding the second of two public hearings Wednesday over the Rauner administration’s proposals to toughen the appeals process for key benefits programs.

The Rauner administration’s proposed rule changes would impact Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), according to disability advocacy group Access Living.

The group says the Rauner administration is seeking to make the appeals process harder for people who are denied benefits or terminated from those programs.

The Rauner administration’s proposed rules “do not provide customers with due process, are unnecessarily complicated and confusing, and in some cases are in conflict with the federal statutes and regulations protecting the rights of those eligible for the various benefits programs,” Access Living’s advocacy director said in a posting on the group’s website.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois is also speaking out against the proposed changes.

“The Rauner administration is adding a blizzard of new barriers to access services as well as denying due process to the very poor in ways that conflict with existing statutes, regulations and court cases–not to mention Rauner’s own public statements that he is committed to preserving benefits for the vulnerable,” the union said in a media release. “Among the changes, the state would alter the entire premise for Illinois social services and place the burden of proof for aid on those who need help the most — a drastic departure from current conditions — and would move hearings when benefits are denied far away from access points for the poor.”

The proposed rule changes are here. Some criticisms are here.

* From today’s hearing…

See more:

Illinois must disclose which bills it has paid or not paid: judge - Yahoo News


CHICAGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday gave Illinois until midday on Friday to disclose which bills the state has paid or not paid and why it could not fully comply with a court order to fund services for developmentally disabled residents in the absence of a fiscal 2016 state budget.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said she was "very disappointed" the state failed to meet an Aug. 21 payment deadline she set in her Aug. 18 order and did not communicate that failure to the court.

"You have to make contact with the court or else you are in contempt of the court order," the judge told attorneys for Illinois' comptroller and two state agency heads.

An impasse between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the House and Senate over a spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1 ignited a rush to court to seek payment orders. State and federal courts have ordered state money to continue to flow for human services covered under existing consent decrees and for state payroll.

Services for more than 10,000 disabled residents were covered under a 2011 consent decree.

Attorneys for disabled residents on Tuesday asked the judge to find the state officials in civil contempt of court. But Coleman requested a detailed accounting of the state's bill payments instead.

"Human lives are at stake," the judge said, while acknowledging the existence of other court orders competing for state funds.

John Stevens, a lawyer for Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger, said after payments were made on Aug. 21 for debt service on bonds and for pensions, the state lacked money to pay all of its bills.

Benjamin Wolf, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing the disabled, told reporters after the hearing that some clients were about to be thrown out in the street due to the lack of state payments.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Illinois must disclose which bills it has paid or not paid: judge - Yahoo News