Friday, June 12, 2009

In Mexican City, Drug War Ills Slip Into Shadows - Series - NYTimes.com

a brutal, long-running turf war between rival cartels came to an end when one side, the Gulf Cartel, came out on top. The added presence of government troops made it harder for the rival Sinaloa Cartel to continue its quest to take over

Organized crime has gone underground in Nuevo Laredo, still feared, still thriving, but no longer in charge.

Read the whole story by clicking on the following:  In Mexican City, Drug War Ills Slip Into Shadows - Series - NYTimes.com

Daily Herald | Stimulus cash for Wauconda water work

 

the funds come in the form of a 20-year loan to be repaid at no interest. One quarter of the amount will be forgiven by state and federal authorities, meaning it will not have to be repaid.

Read the rest of the story by clicking on the following:  Daily Herald | Stimulus cash for Wauconda water work

The Healthcare War is Now Official

The following is from Robert Reich’s Blog at:  http://www.robertreich.blogspot.com/

Reich

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Healthcare War is Now Official

Yesterday the American Medical Association came out against a public option for health care. And yesterday the President reaffirmed his support for it. The next weeks will show what Obama is made of -- whether he's willing and able to take on the most formidable lobbying coalition he has faced so far on an issue that will define his presidency.
And make no mistake: A public option large enough to have bargaining leverage to drive down drug prices and private-insurance premiums is the defining issue of universal health care. It's the only way to make health care affordable. It's the only way to prevent Medicare and Medicaid from eating up future federal budgets. An ersatz public option -- whether Kent Conrad's non-profit cooperatives, Olympia Snowe's "trigger," or regulated state-run plans -- won't do squat.
The last president to successfully take on the giant health care lobbies was LBJ. He got Medicare and Medicaid enacted because he weighed into the details, twisted congressional arms, threatened and cajoled, drew lines in the sand, and went to war against the AMA and the other giant lobbyists standing in the way. The question now is how much LBJ is in Barack Obama.
The big guns are out and they're firing. All major lobbying firms in Washington -- many of them brimming with ex-members of Congress -- are now crawling all over the Hill. Lots of money is on the table. AMA's political action committee has contributed $9.8 million to congressional candidates since 2000, and its lobbying arm is one of the most formidable on the Hill. Meanwhile, Big Insurance and Big Pharma are increasing their firepower. The five largest private insurers and their trade group America's Health Insurance Plans spent a total of $6.4 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, up more than $1 million from the first quarter last year, and are spending even more now. United Health Group spent $1.5 million in the first quarter, up 34 percent from the $1.1 million it spent in the first quarter last year. Aetna spent $809,793 between January and the end of March, up 41 percent from last year. Pfizer, the world's biggest drugmaker, spent more than $6.1 million on lobbying between January and March, more than double what it spent last year. It also spent nearly $3.3 million lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2008. Every one of them is upping their spending.
Some congressional Democrats are willing and able to stand up to this barrage. Many are not. They need cover from the White House.
The President can't do this alone. You must weigh in and get everyone you know to weigh in, too. Bombard your senators and representatives. Organize and mobilize others. And let the White House know how strongly you feel. This is one of those battles that define a presidency. But more importantly, it's one of those battles that define the state of American democracy.

Boone County Journal: Possible County Investigation of Ethics Violations

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The following is taken from Page 1 and 3 of the June 12, 2009, Boone County Journal and is available on line at:  http://www.boonecountyjournal.com/

Possible County
Investigation of
Ethics Violations
By Rebecca Osterberg
Health and Human Services Committee members
redressed the issue of a possible ethics violation by certain
members of the Boone County Board of Public Health
during recent job interviews, at their regular June meeting.
The interviews in question were conducted by officials
of the board of health, during the selection process in
an attempt to find a new director for the Boone County
Department of Public Health.
Boone County Board Representative Kenny Freeman
(District 3) asked about filing a report with the county’s
Ethics Committee to investigate a possible violation.
According to receipts obtained from the BCBPH,
interviews conducted at a Rockford restaurant included
several meals accompanied by numerous alcoholic
beverages. That information, along with other practices
employed for the eventual hiring of Stephanie Seaworth,
RN, who was later determined by rules of the State of
Illinois Department of Public Health to be unqualified, led
to an inquiry by county officials in committee and at the
board level.
As a result of negligence concerning qualifications
and certifications needed to hold the job, the BCBPH was
advised by state officials to hire a mentor for Seaworth,
who, after being tenured as assistant administrator for the
Boone County Department of Public Health for two years,
could be hired as administrator.
At last month’s meeting of the committee, Boone County
Board Representative Cathy Ward (District 2) offered
BCBPH Chairman Allen Sisson an opportunity to respond
to public comment demanding an explanation of spending
approximately $600 for the food and beverage tab.
“The members of the county board of health are not
employees of the county,” said Sisson. “We supply a load
of wealth and experience. There was a certain amount of
alcohol purchased. We were bringing the corporate setting
into play. In no way shape or form were we trying to slight
anyone in the county. We will be discussing this but not
publicly, but we will discuss it internally first.”
County Representative Pat Mattison (District 3)
responded to the explanation. “It’s not a matter of money or
who’s in charge,” Mattison said. “It’s a matter of, if one can
do it so can others.”
“We are not employees of the county,” said Sisson. “I
think there is truly a distinction there. We are volunteers.”
During the June meeting County Representative
Freeman asked if the health department has a policy about
the [consumption of] alcohol. “If not, does the county have
any policy?” asked Freeman.
Boone County Administrator Ken Terrinoni replied
that “the county policy is absolutely no alcohol.” He also
explained that anyone can file an ethics violation report. “I
think to clear the air...this committee needs to address it,”
said Terrinoni. “Then whatever is is.”
“I don’t want to see it happen again,” said County Board
Representative Peggy Malone (District 3).
Mattison shared his concern that a member of the
BCBPH is also a member of the county’s Ethics Committee.
Terrinoni explained that the individual on that committee
was not one of those involved in the interviews.
County Representative Anthony Dini (District 2) said,
“Your complaint would be about the individuals, not the
board of health.”
Terrinoni agreed that was an excellent point and
suggested the committee see a written complaint before
When Enough is too Much
It seems that almost every day, a new crisis is disclosed
asking if a state, a county or a municipality can meet
payroll, manage a deficit or provide governance. Some
municipalities have filed for bankruptcy protection
and some states might need to be managed by a federal
government bailout.
Vallejo, Calif., filed for federal bankruptcy protection
because, according to the mayor, the city supports three
police departments. The first force is patrolling the
streets, the second lives on disability, and the third lives
in retirement.
The delicate balance needed to satisfy public service
needs, the collection of sufficient tax revenue, and the
ability to provide an increase in public salaries is difficult
when revenue streams are uncertain. This community,
this state and this nation stand at this point as negotiators
represent workers seeking rewards that reflect what
had previously been provided to other public employee
groups. No one asks what to do if the municipality cannot
afford the salary increase. The answer is to file for federal
bankruptcy protection.
Most government work builds upon prior precedent
and moves forward in response to future projections. Such
is the case with labor negotiations; an agreement that was
previously accepted forms the basis for what will come
ahead. This is what is occurring now for Belvidere, Boone
County and both school districts with no taxing body able
to afford what lies ahead.
Many municipalities have reached a point beyond
which they can go. As we moved into the 21st Century,
many corporations divested entitlement plans because
these are unsustainable. States and municipalities are the
next groups that will divest these obligations. The problem
is the plethora of “Baby Boomers” reaching retirement age
when they will ask for what has been promised to them for
decades.
However, with the entitlements and the expanding
governmental services from the 1970s and 1980s, we
also have municipal salaries that continue to rise even
though revenues have diminished under reduced income
tax collections and diminished sales tax revenue resulting
from the recession and lost jobs.
This is a “perfect storm” that has been decades in the
making.
The old policy with inflation at 3 to 4 percent every year
led to salaries increasing at a similar rate. Municipalities
watched revenue streams increase that provided for
workers to win ever-higher contracts. However, this all
must change.
In the private sector, salaries do not now escalate at the
same rate as in municipalities because municipalities can
raise taxes but corporations cannot. Therefore, because of
the uninterrupted stream of revenues that municipalities
enjoy, negotiators build upon prior agreements to escalate
salaries ever higher.
In this community the recently arbitrated labor contract
for county sheriff’s deputies and sergeants will form
the basis of all future municipal salary negotiations. In
addition to the three-percent-plus salary increases, there
was also a cumulative impact from prior agreements still
in effect that advanced three-to-five percent and higher
salary increases.
One area of concern is that District #100 is projecting
a deficit in the next school year while negotiating a new
teachers’ union contract. Belvidere had to shift revenue
from the Utility Tax Fund to pay for street worker salaries
and avoid a deficit in Fiscal 2009. Boone County is under
a hiring freeze and trying to pay increased salaries for
deputies and sergeants and that does not include another
similar salary increase likely for dispatchers. And, there
are more waiting to negotiate their ever-escalating piece
of the public pie.
We (The Journal) have suggested that salary
increases must be tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Public tax increases are tied to the CPI under tax caps and
taxing bodies may not increase taxation beyond either 5
percent annually or the CPI, whichever is the lowest. It
is estimated that the CPI in 2009 will reach .01 percent.
That means taxes to community taxing bodies may not
increase by more than .01 percent. Yet, sheriff’s deputies
and sergeants in Boone County will realize a cumulative
salary increase of 5 percent.
Municipal negotiators must be clear that they have
a reduced ability to raise revenue and cannot afford
significant salary increases. Further, negotiators
representing workers must narrow their vision of what
is a “reasonable” salary increase, within the context of
restrictions on a municipality to raise taxes by a mere .01
percent in this current year.
Sanity must enter into the negotiation process but,
remember, in the arbitrated settlement between deputies
and Boone County, the county proposal was accepted
and not the counter offer from the deputies. That means
that the county offer of 3.5 percent and 3 percent for the
following years was accepted and the demand from the
union of 4.5, 4.25 and 4 percent was not accepted.
Negotiators representing local municipalities must
argue that, because the body is restricted by the CPI,
so should employee salaries be. A salary increase of 1
percent or less above the CPI seems appropriate when the
municipality will be restricted to a .01 percent increase in
taxation.
This idea will probably be laughed at by labor
negotiators but uncontrolled salary and employee benefits
are what many have criticized about excessive executive
pay. Now the federal government is seeking a mechanism
to manage and control executive compensation. If
executive compensation can be restricted, why should
employees be exempt?

Ethics Committee, for a
thorough review.
The consensus of
committee members was to
have the complaint ready
by the next meeting of the
Health and Human Services
Committee. In a voice vote
on the matter, Dini voted
against the issuance