Friday, September 30, 2016

Fiat Chrysler supplier chooses Beloit

 

Thursday
Posted Sep 29, 2016 at 7:06 PM Updated at 12:03 AM
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By Brian Leaf
Staff writer

BELOIT, Wis. — An Ohio company that will supply components to Fiat Chrysler Automotive's Belvidere plant is moving to a facility on industrial property here, giving Wisconsin an economic development win in a border war with Illinois.

Toledo Molding and Die Inc., will bring 118 jobs to Wisconsin Stateline Industrial Park, at Willowbrook and Stateline Roads near Interstate 90/39, where in May Hendricks Commercial Properties started construction on a building without a tenant.

Toledo, which has nine facilities around the country, will make plastic interior and air and fluid management systems for the Jeep Cherokee, the new model that will be assembled in Belvidere.

Although land is available in Illinois closer to Belvidere, developers have avoided putting up spec buildings in recent years, despite what regional economic development groups have characterized as a shortage of new industrial space here.

The 105,000-square-foot building will be ready in November, just as Cherokee production ramps up.

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“This building is the prototype for similar industrial development projects we are in the process of starting across the country so we are pleased to see how well it has been received here," Rob Gerbitz, CEO of Hendricks Commercial Properties, said in a news release.

There will be vacancies in and around the Belvidere plant in coming months as current Fiat Chrysler suppliers move out as production shifts to the Jeep Cherokee. But inventory is tight for companies looking for modern space they can occupy immediately.

“That’s true,” said Jarid Funderburg, executive director of Growth Dimensions, which provides economic development marketing to Belvidere and Boone County. “When it comes to modern industrial facilities, we just have very little vacancy.”

Fiat Chrysler was scheduled to end production in Belvidere of the Dodge Dart last month and is scheduled to stop building the Jeep Compass and Patriot in December. Cherokee production is expected to start late this year and ramp up toward capacity in 2016.

In recent years there has been fierce competition between Illinois and Wisconsin for economic development along the state borders.

During its negotiations with the city of Rockford over the $585 million hospital campus it was planning at Interstate 90 and West Riverside Boulevard this year, Mercyhealth threatened to move the campus to industrial land in Beloit. But an agreement was reached to keep Mercyhealth here.

In 2006, office supply company Staples Inc. put a huge fulfillment center just across the border in Wisconsin.

Andrew Janke, executive director of the Greater Beloit Economic Development Corp., said one of the ways the city of Beloit competes is by owning shovel-ready industrial sites that it will sell for $1 to a developer or end user who brings jobs and investment to the area.

Janke said that while Toledo may have chosen Beloit, the creation of 188 jobs will have economic tentacles along the I-90/39 corridor.

“We like to say our workforce extends from Madison to Belvidere,” Janke said. “Of course, we hope a tremendous number of those jobs are held by Beloiters. But at the end of the day, jobs will also go to people from Janesville, Clinton, Belvidere, Roscoe, Rockton, Rockford and other areas.

“These large economic development projects benefit the entire region.”

Brian Leaf:

 

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160929/belvidere-fiat-chrysler-supplier-chooses-beloit

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rail line opponents want new chance to comment

 

An attorney representing several groups across the Midwest opposed to Great Lakes Basin Transportation's proposal for a freight train line is asking a federal agency to re-open a public comment period now that GLBT filed an alternate route.

In a Sept. 23 letter to Victoria Rutson, director of the Office of Environmental Analysis, Chicago attorney Thomas McFarland asks for a 77-day window for public comment.

The timeframe, he notes, is how long it took GLBT to respond to a request for an alternate route. That timeframe included a three-week extension.

"Procedural fairness dictates that there be a public comment period in regard" to GLBT's response, McFarland wrote. "The comment period should be commensurate with the time that was consumed by GLBT in filing its response…. A similar period should be allowed for public comment."

McFarland also notes that GLBT's filing, made Sept. 20 and including 24 documents, "is very lengthy and detailed," and includes substantive changes from GLBT's initial route. GLBT officials said in the filing that the new route was their preferred one.

"There are many people who are newly affected or affected in different ways by the new route, and in order to have a complete scope of the new impacts, their voices should be heard," said Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, whose Porter Township property would be bisected by the route.

An official with the Surface Transportation Board, which oversees the Office of Environmental Management, confirmed Monday that the OEA received the letter and said OEA officials are considering the request.

Alternate route plan extension requested for proposed freight line

 

GLBT's proposal, at $8 billion using private funds, would be the largest new rail line in recent times and is meant to provide a bypass for Chicago's congested rail yard and take trucks off the road. The route, from Milton, Wis., into LaPorte County, will have the capacity for up to 110 trains a day.

Mike Blaszak, attorney for GLBT, said he had not seen McFarland's letter and declined to comment.

McFarland is representing opposition groups in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, including Residents Against Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain, or RAILED, in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

The OEA held a series of public meetings in the spring about GLBT's initial proposed route. Citizens and officials in all three states potentially affected by the freight train line also submitted more than 3,900 comments about that initial route. The STB twice extended the public comment period, which ended July 15.

All of the comments will be taken into consideration for an environmental impact statement. Ultimately, the STB will decide whether GLBT's plans go forward as suggested, on an alternate route, or not at all. McFarland also filed a motion in mid-July asking the STB to adopt a "no-build" alternative.

The alternate route filed last week shaved 21 miles off the initial route, takes it further away from Lowell Middle School, and runs south of Westville instead of through the city limits.

Modifications also were made to the route in Illinois and Wisconsin, but it is unchanged as it runs through southern Porter County.

"With the newly affected areas and yet more negative issues than previously existed, an additional comment period would be the right thing for the STB to do," said Eagle Creek Township resident Linda Cosgrove, adding the environmental impact statement would be flawed without additional comment. "The landowners know their properties and surrounding areas better than anyone and should be given the right to comment. If the STB wants to be transparent, they need to grant this."

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Copyright © 2016, Post-Tribune

Above is fromhttp://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/news/ct-ptb-rail-opposition-st-0928-20160927-story.html

Monday, September 26, 2016

Daphne Bramham: Lessons for Canada from how the Koch brothers hijacked democracy

 

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Daphne Bramham
More from Daphne Bramham

Published on: September 25, 2016 |

This was supposed to be the year that the American billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, bought the presidency in their zealous bid to reshape the United States into a libertarian utopia.

Another Republican billionaire ended that dream. Donald Trump refused to seek either their backing or their blessing.

On the Democratic Party side, outsider Bernie Sanders nearly derailed the well-funded hopes of Hillary Clinton with his appeal to get big money out of politics.

But it’s folly to take this as evidence that money — especially “dark money” — isn’t a factor, says investigative reporter Jane Mayer.

The Koch brothers are the fifth richest people in the world, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $41 billion. They are at the centre of a tangled web of non-profit organizations and foundations that are spending $750 million this electoral season. That’s nearly equal to the campaign budgets of the Republican and Democratic parties.

While it is completely legal, Mayer calls it the “weaponizing of philanthropy.”

This year, largely because of the Koch brothers, two-thirds of all campaign funds are this so-called “dark money.” Eighty per cent will be spent by Republican candidates for the senate, house of representatives and state governor.

Mayer was in Vancouver Friday on a break from the election campaign to speak at UBC. She quotes former Bush aide (and Canadian) David Frum, who described the Kochs and their supporters as “the radical rich” who have moved Republican Party policies to the extreme fringe.

Others call the Kochs “anarcho-totalitarians,” according to Mayer, a New Yorker reporter who spent five years researching her book, Dark Money.

As Canadians watching the gong-show of the U.S. presidential election and hearing some Americans muse about coming north as political refugees, it’s tempting to be more than a little smug.

That too is folly. Mayer blames citizen apathy for what’s happened in the United States, a lack of vigilance over the ho-hum issue of election campaign financing and spending limits that brought the United States to this place and a failure to demand greater transparency.

Canadians can take some comfort in the fact that the federal government banned unions and corporations from making political contributions in 2015. Only individuals can make political donations and the maximum is $1,500 to each party and $1,500 in total at the riding level.

But the roots of an underground network for dark money are planted at the local and provincial levels. And the Koch brothers are connected to Canada as the largest foreign investors in Alberta’s oilsands and as donors to the Fraser Institute, which has reportedly received $765,000 from them in the last decade.

Given the Kochs’ investments in Alberta, it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the first things Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government did was pass campaign financing laws that mirror the federal legislation.

But in British Columbia, the Liberal government has repeatedly refused to follow those examples. When a private member’s bill was introduced in the spring session of the legislature, it was shot down by the Liberal majority.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong reasoned that the cost of an election campaign should not be borne by taxpayers, but by people, corporations and organizations that “make their own decisions about whether or not they want to support a politician, a candidate or a party.”

As a result, the B.C. Liberal government has also refused to amend municipal campaign financing laws that also allow for donations by corporations, unions and non-profits.

So far, there is no Canadian equivalent to the attempts by the Koch brothers to radically transform the United States both through massive campaign spending and large donations to more than 300 colleges that now have Koch-funded programs, scholarships and academic-funded research.

But there’s no doubt of their influence in the United States. There, through surrogates, Mayer says, they are systematically implementing the Libertarian Party’s 1980 platform when David Koch ran as its vice-presidential candidate.

Included in that platform were promises to eliminate the FBI, CIA and the Environmental Protection Agency as well as end independent oversight of elections, income and corporate taxes, Medicaid and social assistance.

So, as much as the presidential campaign is a train-wreck that most of us can’t take our eyes off, it’s largely irrelevant.

Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton is president, a Koch-aligned Congress will make it difficult, if not impossible, to pass legislation — including campaign financing reform — that doesn’t fit with the Koch agenda.

Trump and Sanders reflected the fact that many Americans recognized that their country is no longer really a democracy. It’s more like a plutocracy or autocracy — a country ruled by the wealthy or ruled by someone with absolute power.

But is it fixable? Mayer is a cautious optimist.

“It’s why I do this kind of reporting to expose things that the public needs to think about,” she said in an interview.

“But the biggest problem now is people are not getting the information. They are sequestering themselves and only listening to things in their own little corners.”

dbramham@postmedia.com

Above is from:  http://vancouversun.com/news/politics/daphne-bramham-lessons-for-canada-from-how-the-koch-brothers-hijacked-democracy

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chuck Sweeny: We can benefit from Great Lakes Basin railroad route

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  • Boone County didn't want windmills. It didn't want the Great Lakes Basin railroad. The railroad's new route is through Winnebago County. We can take advantage of it. In a nation of 320 million people, are Hillary and Donald the best we can do for presidential candidates?
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  • By Chuck Sweeny
    Staff writer

    Rockford Register Star

  • Chuck Sweeny is senior editor for the Rockford Register Star and rrstar.com. |

     

  • Residents of Boone County have made it clear that they don't want windmills that generate electricity, and they don't want a railroad rollin' past their houses, farms and fields. They have been successful in halting both projects, a dubious distinction in my opinion.
    However, that's what the Boonian people don't want, and that's what they're not going to get. "Welcome to Boone County. Get off my lawn!"
    The Great Lakes Basin Transportation Co. project has been rerouted once again, away from Boone County to an alignment that takes it through Winnebago County west of Rockford, around Chicago Rockford International Airport, down to Rochelle and through Lee County.
    The private venture is an $8 billion project that seeks to make money by routing freight trains more than 200 miles from southern Wisconsin, around Chicagoland and into northwest Indiana to avoid the bottleneck caused by 1,200 trains a day snaking through a city where the tracks were built in the 19th century and are inadequate to handle the number and length of trains today.
    This includes 500 freight trains a day on six major railroads, all of which converge in Chicago, as well as more than 700 Metra, South Shore Line and Amtrak passenger trains. Great Lakes Transportation estimates that up to 25 percent of the freight isn't bound for Chicago, just passing through.
    Transcontinental container freight takes two days to get from the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach to Chicago, and up to two more days to get through that city's jumble of trackage before heading to its ultimate destination. This is not competitive with the newly widened Panama Canal, which can now handle bigger container ships.
    This project is not a done deal, of course. There are millions of Citizens Against Virtually Everything today, and progress is not CAVE's top priority.
    We in Winnebago County should welcome such a venture and take advantage of it. There are many opportunities for rail-oriented economic development — if we do it right.
    The new route takes the railroad close to Chicago Rockford International Airport and south to Rochelle. This is a growth corridor. The airport is the nation's 25th-busiest airfreight hub, and it is getting busier. If there were modern rail access, we'd be able to sell that as another piece in our transportation infrastructure, as Rochelle has done so spectacularly over the past 30 years with its city-built, city-owned, privately operated railroad on which Fortune 500 companies and other firms have built distribution centers.
    Rochelle has taken full advantage of the fact that both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads have main lines going through the city; the city-owned railroad links them both; switching freight cars earns Rochelle as much as $1 million a year, and all the city has to do is collect the money.

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160924/chuck-sweeny-we-can-benefit-from-great-lakes-basin-railroad-route-plus-some-thoughts-on-presidential-race

Is Boone County really out of consideration for GLB RR Project?

 

Listen to what one group says about Boone County

 

 

3 hrs ·

Attention Boone County Residents!!!

This alternative route is just that a second choice if the surface Transportation board feels the first choice which would include Boone County does not work then they would move to the alternative route which would be Winnebago County. This sounds like a tactic to get us to stop fighting please keep your signs up and continue to fight against the railroad no alternative routes are good. we want no Railroad. When sending letters two Representatives or anything else there is no good alternative route.

Citizens against "The Great Lakes Basin Railroad" project

 

Note that two Boone County alternatives are still proposed if the “new preferred route” runs into environmental problems.  SEE Alignment #291 and #292 below:

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Above is from:  http://greatlakesbasinraileis.com/documents/03_GLBT_OEA_Response_Sep20-2016_App2.pdf

 

The detailed response of Great Lakes Basis to the Surface Transportation Board is at:  https://www.stb.gov/ect1/ecorrespondence.nsf/UNID/9AC26D4336E03CF48525803600738E59/$file/EI-25375.pdf

Below is a map of the GLB’s preferred route.

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What the H? Boone County sign curb raises free speech question

 

  • By Georgette Braun
    Staff writer

    Posted Sep. 23, 2016 at 4:41 PM
    Updated Sep 23, 2016 at 5:32 PM

    BELVIDERE — A lawyer who advocates for freedom of speech said today that it was wrong for Boone County to tell a Belvidere couple that their yard sign with the word "HELL" on it violated community standards.
    "Who gets to decide what is obscene, immoral or any of those other things?" said Don Craven, general counsel for the Illinois Press Association.
    But was the Boone County Building Department wrong to tell Richard and Terri Messling their sign in the 8300 block of Shaw Road violated a zoning ordinance? "I think so," Craven said.
    Craven's comments came after the Messlings were notified Thursday that their sign — it says "SLOW THE HELL DOWN, PLEASE" — violated the ordinance.
    The ordinance prohibits "signs which contain characters, cartoons, statements, works, or pictures of an obscene, indecent, prurient, or immoral character."
    "I know it when I see it," Craven said of obscene material, repeating U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's description of the difficulty of determining what constitutes obscenity, contained in a concurring opinion in a 1964 ruling. "But the government doesn't get to decide what is immoral."
    The county told the Messlings the sign would be acceptable if they took out the "ELL" in "HELL," which they did by placing tape over the three letters. If they hadn't fixed it, they could have been fined $500 for each day it was up after Sept. 27, the Messlings said.
    "This is right up there with burning the flag," Craven said. "It pisses people off. But it also provokes discussion, which is exactly what the First Amendment is all about."
    Richard Messling said he had erected the sign several years ago to get traffic to slow down to the 45 mph speed limit. He was asked to remove it the day after a Register Star story about the sign published online.
    Messling said this morning that he had been sitting by his phone taking call after call. "It's ringing all the time. People are 100 percent behind me," said Messling, a 70-year-old retired Chrysler worker. "They say the word 'hell' is in the Bible," so it can't be considered a swear word.
    "People are calling me up and wanting me to make them signs."
    Michelle Courier, Boone County state's attorney, said in an email today that the Messlings' case "had not yet reached my office to enforce, and at this point, will not reach my office as the property owner has since complied."
    Rockford has a zoning ordinance that addresses obscene signs. It says a sign would be in violation if the average person would find it obscene because it appeals to a prurient interest or depicts or describes in a "patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law" and if the work, "taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."
Bob Walberg, chairman of the Boone County Board, said the ordinance in the Messlings' case had been enacted years before he joined the board, but that its merits could be discussed.
"I would think if anyone cared to have this looked into, we would certainly try to accommodate them," Walberg said.
Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; gbraun@rrstar.com; @GeorgetteBraun

Above is from: 

http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160923/what-h-boone-county-sign-curb-raises-free-speech-question

    Friday, September 23, 2016

    UPDATE: Great Lakes Basin Railroad releases new route proposal

     

    From:  http://www.wifr.com/content/news/Boone-County-Board-to-Oppose-Great-Lakes-Basin-Railroad-Plan-379288081.html

    By Sabrina Bennett

    Posted: Thu 1:24 PM, Sep 22, 2016  | 

    Updated: Thu 11:40 PM, Sep 22, 2016

    UPDATE: WINNEBAGO COUNTY, Ill. (WIFR) – The Great Lakes Basin Railroad plan is changing its path.

    The controversial Great Lakes Basin Railroad project is taking a new turn after developers release a new route that avoids Boone County.

    Boone County residents can breathe a little easier knowing their property won’t be affected by the GLB Railroad project. Instead, it will now affect farmers on the west side of Rockford, including the only two dairy farmers left in Rockford township.

    Developers behind the controversial project submitted a new 260 mile route to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that would run along the west side of Rockford instead of Boone County. The rail line aims to bypass Chicago moving Cargo from Northeastern Indiana to Southern Wisconsin.
    The rail line would come within 100 feet of the Wakeley’s dairy farm in west Rockford which will virtually put them out of business. The rail line will also affect another dairy farmer nearby going through 5 of his fields totaling about 400 acres.

    “It’s really sad because it’s not just my husband and I or the neighbor. This area, there's actually, we have a younger generation that wants to come back and farm and that opportunity may be taken away from them because of this,” says Tammy Wakeley.

    Jim Wilson, the Vice Chairman of Great Lakes Basin Transportation says it’s up to the Surface Transportation Board to decide on open comment and scoping sessions.

    The farmers found out about the new proposed route Thursday when the route was announced. Both famers say they feel that they have not been given the opportunity to voice their concerns, so they are working to reach out to the Surface Transportation Board and they will go from there.

    -----

    Updated: September 22, 2016

    STATELINE, Ill./Wis. (WIFR) – The railroad that has plans to bypass Chicago’s busy rail lines by passing through the Stateline has released a new route proposal.

    The new proposed route released by Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GLBT) would pass through Rock, Winnebago, Ogle, and Lee Counties but does not go through Boone County as other previous versions did. This comes after multiple Boone County residents expressed their concerns at public meetings earlier this year about the rail line being built in some of their backyards.

    To see a map of the new proposed route, please click on the attached related link.

    This is a developing story and we will continue to update you as we learn more.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2016

    Gov. Rauner uses Facebook Live to announce bicentennial plans

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    Gov. Bruce Rauner (AP)

    By Doug Finke
    State Capitol Bureau

    Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 6:54 am Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 10:37 PM

    Gov. Bruce Rauner Tuesday issued an executive order creating a bicentennial commission and office to prepare for the state’s 200-year celebration in 2018.
    Rauner announced creation of the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial during a Facebook Live session in which he answered questions from the public. Rauner said it was the first of what will be regular sessions on the social media site to answer voters' questions.
    The first of the questions that had been screened by his office was posed by Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who wanted to know what the Republican governor was doing to prepare for the bicentennial. It provided Rauner with the perfect opportunity to announce formation of the new office and a newly reconstituted bicentennial commission.
    “We’re going to do a very big celebration of our 200th anniversary,” Rauner said. “The role of the commission is to develop the ideas and the recommendations for how to best celebrate this important milestone in our state’s history.”
    Rauner named Stuart Layne as executive director of the bicentennial office. Layne previously worked as sales manager for WBBM-FM in Chicago and was vice president of sales and marketing for the Seattle Mariners and Boston Celtics.
    The administration said Layne will be paid $142,000 a year through the end of December 2018 from a pool of funds from various state agencies involved in bicentennial planning. Layne will be paid for the next five months through an intergovernmental agreement between the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, after which he will transfer to another agency to cover his salary.
    The Bicentennial Commission will have 51 members, 40 of whom will be appointed by Rauner. The four legislative leaders will each get one appointment, as will Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Comptroller Leslie Munger, Secretary of State Jesse White and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder will also each get one appointment.
    “We want leaders from all over the state coming up with their ideas and recommendations about how we can best celebrate,” Rauner said.
    Not much time
    The new commission will replace a 77-member commission created by then-Gov. Pat Quinn two years ago. In a recent column, Peoria Journal-Star columnist Phil Luciano documented how the Quinn commission has basically sputtered ever since it was formed.
    The new commission will have its work cut out for it. Illinois joined the union as a state on Dec. 3, 1818. That will give the commission less than 16 months to plan celebrations if they are to start early in 2018.
    Indiana is in the middle of celebrating its bicentennial. Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels named its bicentennial commission in December 2011.
    “We’ve been holding planning meetings ever since then,” said commission spokeswoman Valeri Beaman. “Our commission members have been working for five years.”
    In addition to the commission itself in Indiana, there are coordinators in each county for bicentennial events, she said. Funding for the celebration is a mix of both state funds and sponsored events. All of the big events are sponsored, she said.
    Events actually kicked off on Dec. 11, 2015, the 199th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood. They’ve been going on ever since and will culminate on statehood day this year.
    Familiar themes
    Many of the other questions taken by Rauner Tuesday allowed him to retread his well-worn talking points on everything from the need to reform state government to efforts to reduce Illinois' prison population. At the beginning, Rauner said more than 100 questions were submitted since he announced on Facebook last week that he would be answering questions. He answered eight of them during his 30-minute live session.
    Rauner said he was assured by Democrats that pension reform “would be front and center” as part of renewed, post-election budget discussions. Rauner said he thinks the issue can be dealt with this winter.
    He again said benefits already earned by workers should be protected, but added that they should be offered more affordable choices in the future. Rauner said he supports a plan advanced by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, that would make workers choose between receiving annual increases in pension benefits or having future pay raises be covered by pensions.
    “That will save billions. It will help us balance our state budget for the first time in decades,” he said. “It will free up money that we can put into our priorities in schools and in human services.”
    Rauner again called for lawmakers to approve proposed constitutional amendments to impose term limits and change the way legislative boundaries are drawn to keep lawmakers out of the process.
    “Nothing would change the performance and the culture in our state government faster than term limits and also redistricting reform,” Rauner said. “If the General Assembly would put those on the ballot … immediately, right today, many elected officials would look and see 'Wow, the game is kind of over.' I think you’d see a number of people retire or resign soon.”
    Those issues are part of a lengthy agenda of things Rauner wants the General Assembly to tackle after the Nov. 8 elections. That includes passing a balanced budget to replace the stopgap measure that expires Dec. 31. Rauner said he's “cautiously optimistic” a balanced budget will be approved. He repeated, though, that he won’t entertain talk of higher taxes unless his reform measures are approved.
    -- Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 78

    Above is from:  http://www.sj-r.com/news/20160920/gov-rauner-uses-facebook-live-to-announce-bicentennial-plans

    Boone County faces nearly $3 million deficit; low inmate numbers, health insurance costs blamed

     

    By Susan Vela
    Staff writer

    Follow @@susanvela

    Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 2:51 PM
    Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 8:05 PM

    BELVIDERE — The Boone County Board is looking for ways to trim $2.7 million from next year's general fund budget, which takes effect Dec. 1.
    County officials are trying to balance a proposed $17.4 million budget for day-to-day operations without noticeable cuts to services. But programs, positions and resources are once again on the line.
    “It looks like to me we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” said board member Sherry Giesecke. “(But) it’s probably no different than any municipality or county in the state of Illinois.”
    County Administrator Ken Terrinoni said there are two main challenges: The county is projected to pay about $600,000 in health costs for the 175 employees signed up for the county's health insurance plan, and the Boone County Jail is holding fewer inmates from outside the county, which accounts for at least a $58,000 loss in annual public safety revenue.
    Typically, department heads make initial requests that add up to about $1.5 million more than projected revenue, which board members resolve before approving a balanced budget. No budget solutions have come out of committee meetings yet. In the past, the board has dealt with deficits by not replacing retirees and cutting services.
    “No stone can be unturned to try to get this problem under control,” Terrinoni said.
    Terrinoni pointed to several revenue challenges that persist in the wake of the Great Recession. Annual public safety sales tax revenue has declined since 2008 by at least $400,000 to $1.4 million. Regular sales tax revenue declined by about $330,000 to $1.5 million over the same period, and motor fuel tax revenue from the state has dropped by about $140,000 to $625,000.
    Also, the county is projected to pay $661,000 in health care premiums during the next fiscal year, compared to $362,000 this year. Medical claims are likely to cost $2.9 million, compared to $2.6 million this year.
    He said the county's older, less-healthy employees are being insured at a hefty cost.
    The county pays an average of $23,800 per employee each year for insurance, with each worker kicking in about $3,570 per year.
    But 11 employees have significant health issues — up from the average of two or three — that require the county’s maximum contribution of $75,000 per year.
    Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest said revenue from housing nonresident inmates has waned over several years. County governments pay $60 per day to house inmates in the Boone County Jail. The U.S. Marshals Service pays $75 a day.
    So far this year, the jail has received $125,790 — or about $14,000 a month — from the U.S. Marshals Service and various governments, compared to $592,208 — or $49,350 per month — in 2010.

    “It’s an issue,” Ernest said. “If we have the space, we’re happy to take on the prisoners. (But) we can’t become dependent on it. We just really had the luxury over the last several years to make some revenue on that facility.”

    The jail can house 150 inmates, and has 20 beds for work-release inmates, Ernest said. It had 118 inmates on Wednesday, 25 of whom were from outside Boone County.
    “It’s going to be a very difficult process going through our budgets and just determining where we can reduce expenditures, and hopefully find a way to increase revenues,” said Karl Johnson, chairman of the board’s Finance, Taxation & Salaries Committee. “The facts of the recession are still definitely crimping our style, I guess, so to speak.”
    Susan Vela: 815-987-1392; svela@rrstar.com; @susanvela

    Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160920/boone-county-faces-nearly-3-million-deficit-low-inmate-numbers-health-insurance-costs-blamed

    Tuesday, September 20, 2016

    Chuck Sweeny’s take on the Orth-Beloit stop sign

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    • Chuck Sweeny: A four-way stop, finally, at Orth and Beloit roads, plus Nik's Home Run set

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    • By Chuck Sweeny
      Staff writer

      Posted Sep. 19, 2016 at 5:40 PM

      I shook my head in wonderment when I read about the two township governments in Boone County that were unable or unwilling to do much to make the dangerous intersection at Orth and Beloit roads safe, until a car hit a bus containing middle school students two weeks ago. Then the tune changed to, "By golly, we've got to do something!"
      The crash was recorded by a resident's surveillance camera. The driver of the car, who was turning from Orth Road onto Beloit Road, was ticketed. The bus traveling on Beloit Road hit the car, spun out of control and landed on its side. Twelve people, including 10 children, were injured. Thankfully, no one died.
      Since 2011 there have been 64 accidents at that crossing, in which traffic on Orth Road must stop while Beloit Road traffic sails through. This was a country crossing for many years, but it's getting busier and busier as the area develops. In 2015 alone there were 19 accidents. Yet that alarming number didn't provoke highway officials to make this a four-way stop.
      Boone County Sheriff Dave Ernest considers that crossing to be Boone's most dangerous intersection, our story said. Yet only the horror of school children getting hurt stirred the governments of Caledonia and Belvidere townships to action. Other minor steps have been taken, including cutting back trees and shrubs, installing reflective tape and boosting police patrols.
      Now, I want you to read the following paragraph, taken from the Register Star's news story reporting on the decision of Belvidere and Caledonia townships to make the crossing a four-way stop.
      "(Belvidere Township Commissioner Rich) Lee said the four-way stop had been considered for about three to four months but it took time to get everyone together from different jurisdictions. The intersection is under the jurisdiction of Caledonia and Belvidere township road districts, with three legs of the crossroads belonging to Caledonia Township."
      Time? What time did it need to take? We are not rebuilding the intersection or even installing traffic lights. We are just talking about a couple of aluminum stop signs and some red flags to put on top of them to let people know they're new. So why does it take months to get everyone together?
      Here's a suggestion from the real, nongovernment world: One highway commissioner phones the other highway commissioner and says, "Hey, I think we'd better put up stop signs on Beloit Road at Orth." And the other highway commissioner says, "Yeah. You provide signs, and we'll put 'em in."
    That would make sense, but we're talking about townships, the governments closest to the people. They are so close they're right under our noses, and you can't see anything that's right under your nose.
    Boone County is small in area and population. One combined highway department could easily handle all the roads and city streets, and it would save taxpayers money. Here's a road sign I'd like to see someone install in front of township, county and city buildings: "Start seeing taxpayers."
    Nik's Home Run
    Every year at this time I give a shoutout to the fall event called Nik's Home Run. It's a fun day of physical activity that gets under way this year at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at Rockford Rivets Stadium, rain or shine.
    Nik's Home Run is a 7K race, a 1.5-mile fun walk and a silent auction. This is its fifth year.
    The event is a fundraiser put on by the Nikolas Ritschel Foundation, a nonprofit providing life enrichment opportunities (think vacations) for cancer patients 18 to 24. The fundraiser was inspired by the life of Nikolas Ritschel, a Rockford teen who received a diagnosis of synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer, a month before his 18th birthday. He died a month after his 21st birthday.
    Nik realized that many cancer patients in his age group were too old to take advantage of charities like "Make a Wish," which stops at age 18, and yet too young to have much of their own money. That's why this foundation was started in Nik's name by his mom.
    Interested in taking part? If you want to run the race, take the walk or contribute, learn more at nikolasritschelfoundation.org.
    Chuck Sweeny: 815-987-1366; csweeny@rrstar.com; @chucksweeny

    Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160919/chuck-sweeny-four-way-stop-finally-at-orth-and-beloit-roads-plus-niks-home-run-set

    Belvidere Township Supervisor Patrick Murphy dies

     

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    • As a public servant and as a volunteer, Murphy remembered for his devotion to Boone County
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    • Belvidere Township Supervisor Patrick Murphy. PHOTO PROVIDED

       

       

    • Posted Sep. 19, 2016 at 9:37 PM

      BELVIDERE — Whether he was serving Belvidere Township or devoting time to the community's youth and the elderly, Belvidere Township Supervisor Patrick Murphy touched the lives of many.
      Murphy died Friday after complications with a cyst, friends said. He was 67, and leaves behind a legacy in Belvidere, serving as alderman, mayor and with various public boards, while also providing opportunities for residents.
      "He was a strong, dedicated leader," County Board Chairman Bob Walberg said. "He was always well-meaning, he was sincere and loved the community. He always tried to do what was right."
      Murphy worked until his final days. On the township website, he posted a statement in relation to the Sept. 7 collision involving a school bus at the intersection of Orth and Beloit roads.
      "Belvidere Township was saddened and appalled to learn about the accident at Beloit and Orth roads involving a school bus, which resulted in the injury of several children. I am thankful that there were apparently no serious injuries," Murphy wrote. "We are continuing to work with the Road District, the Sheriff's office, Caledonia Township and others to determine if we need to do a traffic study of this particular intersection and other intersections that may need additional traffic control devices, or whether there is anything else that we need to be doing to improve the safety of all drivers."
      A four-way stop sign was installed at the intersection today.
      Murphy served on the board of directors for the Boone County Council on Aging Keen Age Center. The 12,800-square-foot center opened in 2001, and offers volunteer and professional services. Murphy was crucial to the center ever happening, Executive Director Joe Fortmann said.
      "In short, there would be no Boone County Council on Aging if not for the vision and actions of Mr. Murphy," Fortmann said in an email. "He saw the need and took the action necessary to get the Keen Age Center building project under way and complete."
      Richard Nelson, a Belvidere Township trustee, served on the board of directors for the Keen Age Center, then later reconnected with him when they served the township together.
      Murphy served on the I.O.U. Club, which host events for Belvidere youngsters such as the Halloween Parade and the Easter egg hunt.
      "He always had Boone County seniors and children in his heart," Nelson said.
      Murphy made it possible for the Flaming Monkeys 4-H FIRST Robotics Competition Team in Belvidere to use the basement of the community building for space.
      "Patrick not only supported our local teams, but was a champion of FIRST, as evidenced by him being awarded the 2014 Rock River Off-Season Competition 'Make It Loud' award, presented to individuals who do the most in the community for spreading the word of local teams and FIRST," the Flaming Monkeys posted to their Facebook page Friday evening.
    • A video posted to the Flaming Monkeys Facebook page in 2014 shows team members dumping a bucket of ice water on Murphy as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
      Debbie Carlson, a former trustee, said she has a photo of Murphy dressed as Santa Claus for Christmas. In the 1980s, they worked together to bring the recycling center to Belvidere.
      "Eventually it was taken over by local recyclers, but the true grassroots of it was the city and township of Belvidere," Carlson said, adding he "showed good stewardship.
      "He cared about the community," she said. "He was an advocate for many different organizations to do good things in the community, and provide tools do to something."
      Adam Poulisse: 815-987-1344;

     

    Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160919/belvidere-township-supervisor-patrick-murphy-dies

     

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    Patrick J. Murphy thumbnail

    Patrick J. Murphy

    January 5, 1949 - September 16, 2016

    Patrick J. Murphy, 67, of Belvidere, passed away suddenly, September 16, 2016. He was born January 5, 1949 in Ottumwa, IA, son of Ted and Mary (Darner) Murphy. Patrick graduated from Ottumwa High School in 1967, and went on to attend the University of Iowa. He was a prominent member of the community. Patrick was the Belvidere Township supervisor, served as Mayor of Belvidere, and was a devoted IOU member; he belonged to numerous boards and committees within the community and state. Patrick loved helping people, and being involved in the community. He loved his grandchildren, and adored music. His positive aura was infectious.

    Patrick is loved and missed by his children, Ryan (Dominika) Murphy, Tim (Lindsay) Murphy, Sean Murphy; grandchildren, Patryk Murphy, Solomon Murphy, Mila Murphy; siblings, Deborah Dyer, and Robert (Sharon) Murphy; 25 nieces and nephews; mothers of his children, Lori Murphy-Remiker, and Pam Murphy. He is preceded in death by his mother, Mary Williamson, father, Ted Murphy, stepfather, Brick Williamson, sister, Phyllis Murphy-Acton, and niece, Kathy Murphy.

    Funeral Service will be held at 10:00 a.m., Saturday, September 24, 2016 at the Belvidere Community Building, 111 W. 1st Street, Belvidere, IL 61008. A visitation will be held from 3:00-8:00 p.m., Friday, September 23, 2016 at the Belvidere Community Building. Burial will take place in Belvidere Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the family for a fund to be established at a later date. To light a candle or share a condolence, please visit www.AndersonFCS.com.

    Monday, September 19, 2016

    Stay alert when driving: The 4 way at Orth & Beloit has happened

     

    The Rhubarb's photo.

    The Rhubarb's photo.

    The Rhubarb's photo.

    The Rhubarb added 3 new photos.

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    10 mins ·

    NEWS ALERT- Beloit Road and Orth Road is officially a 4 way stop! Belvidere and Caledonia. Township's were on hand along with the Boone County Sheriff's deputies for traffic control as the new signage was being installed this morning.

    Sunday, September 18, 2016

    Oil Company buys local newspaper in Cal refinery town

    Chevron PR Firm's Local "News" Site Draws Attention from Koch Industries, Alarm from Media Watchdogs

    Sharon Kelly | September 18, 2016

    By Sharon Kelly • Sunday, September 18, 2016 - 03:58

    Chevron refinery

     

    In the city of Richmond, California, Chevron Corp. not only processes up to 250,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the largest refinery on the West Coast — it also writes the news.

    The Richmond Standard, an online paper focused on local news for the roughly 100,000 residents of this San Francisco Bay area city (neighboring Berkeley and Oakland), is produced entirely by Chevron's public relations firm.

    The Standard mostly prints local-interest stories: announcing library construction, highlighting missing persons, and profiling area businesses.

    But unlike a traditional newspaper, the Standard also runs a dedicated section called “Chevron Speaks” — used to introduce friendly Chevron reps, attack investigative reporting projects, and talk electoral politics. And unlike other media outlets, the Standard consistently lacks mention of industrial accidents and problems at the refinery. 

    Since the Standard was first launched in 2013, the paper has grown dramatically in readership and its successes are now garnering attention from other fossil fuel companies — and alarm from media experts including Noam Chomsky, the prominent political observer, activist, and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Chevron, however, touts the traction the Standard has gained.

    “It was widely panned when it was first started, it was called corporate journalism, the Guardian did a whole story on it, I mean, it was highly criticized,” Morgan Crinklaw, a Chevron representative, said at last month's Red State Gathering. “But now it's to the point it gets more traffic than the San Francisco Chronicle.” (The Standard later clarified to DeSmog that its site receives more Richmond-area traffic than the Chronicle).

    All the PR That's Fit to Print

    Chevron's experiment in mixing local news reporting into its public relations output comes at a time when traditional journalism — especially print journalism — continues to face extreme economic pressure. The number of newspaper journalists nationwide has plunged, with newsroom staffs cut by over 40 percent, falling from a 2007 workforce of 55,000 to just 32,900 in 2015.

    The troubles faced by the newspaper industry are so bad that the decline of independent watchdog journalism at local newspapers was recently featured by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

    Like many cities, Richmond lost its long-running local newspapers decades ago.

    “The city of Richmond, high crime, news organizations pretty much abandoned it,” Crinklaw, who is best known in the PR world for his work defending Chevron in its ongoing $9.5 billion legal battle over contamination of Ecuador's Amazon rainforest, explained at the Red State Gathering.

    Chevron stepped in to fill that void. But there's little question that the Standard operates in territory that journalists would find ethically questionable.

    Unlike traditional newspapers, there's no firewall between editors and owners at the Richmond Standard or commitment to editorial independence. In fact, the Standard's entire newsroom consists of Mike Aldax — an account executive at Singer Associates, Chevron's PR firm — who serves as both reporter and editor.

    “If you’re looking for criticism of Chevron you’re not going to find it in the Richmond Standard,” Aldax told the Guardian in 2014.

    Chevron has defended the project, arguing that its funding is transparent and the site serves an important function in Richmond. “Since our launch, we’ve produced thousands of informative, hyper-local news stories that have attracted millions of page views,” Aldax told DeSmog. “We’re successful because we are delivering content that is local and focusing on issues that residents care about. In fact, more people in Richmond read the Standard than the San Francisco Chronicle (SF Gate).”

    “We are also fully transparent with respect to Chevron’s sponsorship of the site,” he added. “And we believe the content speaks for itself and invite people to read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.”

    Drawing the Eye of the Koch Brothers

    At the Red State Gathering, Chevron's Standard drew praise and admiration from another high-powered PR executive who represents one of the most politically influential conservative companies in the U.S., Koch Industries.

    “I think there's a balance, reacting to the right things but also telling our story more, and you just got to be more proactive,” said Steve Lombardo, chief communications and marketing officer for Koch Industries, who sat on the same panel as Chevron's Crinklaw.

    “I applaud you for that idea in Richmond, because that's what we need more of,” Lombardo added.

    Watch the panel at Red State Gathering (the section on the Richmond Standard begins at roughly 24:00)

    In 2013, the Koch brothers had considered purchasing eight newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, but backed away from considering the deal soon after. “Koch continues to have an interest in the media business, and we're exploring a broad range of opportunities where we think we can add value,” the company said in a statement at the time.

    The Koch brothers remain extremely active in politics and efforts to mold public opinion. Among the Koch's recent initiatives is a $10 million-a-year campaign, Fueling US Forward, which plans to aggressively promote the “positives” of burning oil and gas. 

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    Those Who Don't Learn Their History …

    While Chevron and its backers tout the Standard as novel and innovative, for others it might seem that history is repeating itself, with Chevron's company-run press harkening back to the days of robber barons and the Industrial Revolution, when single corporations controlled most of the institutions in company towns and ran their own printing presses.

    “The lessons are pretty clear,” Prof. Noam Chomsky told DeSmog, when asked whether lessons from the days of company-run towns were worth revisiting now, given the Richmond Standard's successes. “It had better be overcome if we hope to live in a free and democratic society, not as subordinates in a plutocracy.”

    Chomsky is not the first to warn of the hazards posed by the Standard.

    “To the casual observer who just happens upon this, it looks like a community news website, it says Richmond Standard community-driven news,” Rachele Kanigel, associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University told Media Matters for America, a press watchdog organization, in 2014. “For the uneducated media consumer, it looks like a news website that people might not realize where it's coming from.”

    For journalists, the Standard poses another potential threat. As traditional newsrooms have shrunk, some veteran reporters have found themselves running one-person shops, juggling reporting, editing, publishing, social media, and all the associated administration that goes along with running a local paper. But while technology has allowed individual reporters to get more done in a day, communities not only lose the oversight of a fiercely independent editorial culture, they also lose the chance for new reporters to train alongside experienced reporters — and the capacity for the sorts of investigative reporting that holds the powerful accountable.

    As for the Standard, these criticisms have thus far failed to deter the $254 billion oil giant Chevron from continuing to publish its mix of news reporting and public relations. Aldax, a former reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, produces Chevron's site from a laptop in his car, working in coffee shops and even the local Target, wherever the wifi is good.

    In many ways, the Standard seems to operate, like the news it reports, with a hyper-local focus, connected with many Bay Area institutions.

    Aldax's boss, Sam Singer, president of Singer Associates, lists not only national companies like Ford Motor Co., The Gap, and others among his clients, but also the San Francisco Chronicle (against which the Standard compares its traffic). Singer, described as “one of the most powerful people in the San Francisco Bay Area,” in his company bio, got his start in the media industry in part by working as a newspaper reporter for The Richmond Independent — a Richmond, California-focused newspaper that folded in 1978.

    But the implications for the media and PR industries reverberate far beyond Richmond and California. “This is a revolution still in its early stages,” Singer told The Richmond Confidential, speaking about how the Internet has fundamentally altered communication, allowing for sites like the Standard to emerge. “The media, individuals, and corporations have not even begun to realize its power and importance.”

    A Company Town, A History of Accidents

    It was 1901 when Standard Oil first arrived at the site of the Richmond refinery, with a company manager finding “the ideal site along a dusty country road that terminated near a tiny railroad settlement,” according to Chevron. As the refinery expanded to 2,900 acres and its workforce grew, so did Richmond, which officially incorporated in 1905. And Richmond rose to its current population of roughly 100,000 while Standard Oil morphed into Chevron, second only to ExxonMobil among America's oil giants.

    Today, Richmond's residents are mostly people of color (roughly 40 percent Latinx, 27 percent Black, and 14 percent Asian, as Colorlines, which investigated the refinery's threats to the community, reported last month). Median incomes for some neighborhoods are less than half the average for the rest of the county. Roughly 17 percent of the city lives within a three mile radius of the refinery, many in housing projects.

    It was August 6, 2012 when Chevron's Richmond refinery exploded into flames.

    Animation of Chevron Richmond refinery fire. Source: U.S. Chemical Safety Board

    Workers at the refinery had noticed a leak dripping from an 8 inch insulated pipe carrying light gas oil from a distillation tower, but managers decided to attempt repairs without first shutting down and stopping the flow of the 640°F diesel-like fluid.

    The U.S. Chemical Safety Board later concluded that damage to a section of the pipe during the repair attempt allowed a massive cloud of flammable vapor to seep out and ignite, sparking a massive blaze from which 19 workers and firefighters narrowly escaped with their lives.

    That fire and its toxic fumes ultimately sent 15,000 residents to seek medical treatment for respiratory and other ailments. Financial struggles pushed Richmond's public hospital to close last year, leaving locals facing a 20-mile drive to the nearest large public emergency room if, say, another massive refinery fire strikes.

    “It’s interesting to live in a place that’s so beautiful, with the best climate, and to have it so close to a death trap. It’s definitely crazy,” area resident Sherman Dean told Earth Island Journal. “It’s like having a big, I want to say, a bully, standing over you all the time. The refinery is up in the hills, over us.”

    There's another deadly threat from the refinery, one that is far less visible — the slow and steady seeping of air pollution from the site. Children in Richmond are hospitalized for asthma at double the rate of the rest of California, and breast cancer rates for the area are among the highest in the region.

    The air emissions also have climate-changing implications.

    “As a facility, it’s the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in California,” Andreas Soto, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, told Vice in 2014.

    But if you read the Standard, it can seem there's little to worry about.

    “Unlike a half-century ago, when emissions of toxic pollutants were unmonitored, Richmond now has multiple state-of-the-art air monitoring stations around the city assessing air quality 24 hours daily,” Aldax wrote in June 2015.

    “The clouds that could be seen above Chevron Richmond refinery Wednesday morning were actually harmless steam clouds,” Aldax reported in a February 2015 article. (DeSmog was unable to locate other media coverage of that incident, but two months later, dark clouds over the refinery, attributed by Chevron to “normal refinery operations” caused county health officials to issue a public health advisory).

    'A Deceptive Atmosphere'

    This type of coverage worries journalism experts. “[W]e don't know what interests Chevron might have that dictate what gets covered and what doesn't,” Edward Wasserman, dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism told The Los Angeles Times in 2014.

    “To Wasserman, the Standard's diet of noncontroversial community news creates a deceptive atmosphere of community goodwill — 'and they can draw on that goodwill when something hits the fan,'” The Times added.

    To be sure, the First Amendment protects Chevron's right to express its opinions (especially in the wake of Citizens United, a controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling).

    The best cure for bad speech, legal scholars often argue, is a vigorous debate. As the Supreme Court Justice Loius Brandeis wrote in Whitney v. California, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

    Fortunately for Richmond, there's been a mini-revival in local news coverage. The Richmond Pulse, launched in 2011, describes itself as “Youth-led, Community News”; La Voz is Richmond's bilingual e-magazine; and the University of California's Berkeley School of Journalism publishes a student-staffed paper, the Richmond Confidential, which has run investigations into Chevron's influence over local politics.

    But as Brandeis noted, the danger to the public discourse arises from a lack of time, when people don't spend the time necessary to pay close attention to what they're reading and who is writing it. And compared to citizens in other large democracies, most Americans might find that time is especially scarce. Americans work the longest hours per week (out of the ten largest economies per capita), and take the least vacation time, with roughly 40 percent of workers saying they put in at least 50 hours a week on the job, according to a Gallup poll released last year.

    Taken all together, that means the Standard's media coverage is at best a double-edged sword — but one that cuts unequally, providing small public services while simultaneously helping to entrench large powerful interests and keep hazards out of the public eye.

    “They've covered some things I haven't seen people cover here before,” Tom Butt, then a member of Richmond City Council, now mayor, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2014. “On the other hand, they know who they work for, and they're not getting involved in anything controversial. They're certainly not doing anything that's adverse to Chevron's interests.”

    Above is from:  http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/09/18/chevron-pr-firm-s-local-news-site-draws-attention-koch-industries-others-alarming-media-watchdogs

    Friday, September 16, 2016

    Mainstream pulls plug on Boone County Wind Project

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    Company pulls plug on Boone County wind farm project

    By Adam Poulisse
    Staff writer

    Posted Sep. 16, 2016 at 8:00 AM
    Updated at 1:46 PM

    BELVIDERE — A plan to bring wind farms to Boone County has been shelved indefinitely, according to the renewable energy company behind the project.
    In a letter sent to residents who agreed to lease farmland for wind turbines, Chicago-based Mainstream Renewable Power says a more-restrictive county ordinance approved last year makes it too difficult to move forward with the six-year project.
    Spurred by the concerns of some residents, the Boone County Board in November approved a change in the ordinance, which now requires wind turbines to be located at least 2,640 feet — or 5.5 times the height of the turbine tower — from a property line. Previously, the setback was 1,000 feet from a residence.
    The County Board vote came after years of debate about whether wind farms should become a permanent part of the county landscape. Supporters said wind farms would boost the county economy, while expanding its tax base and creating renewable energy. Detractors said turbines would hurt property values, be noisy and be harmful to nearby residents' health.
    "This unexpected and disappointing outcome has conversely followed years of positive discussions with the planning department and health board," the company letter said. "Mainstream and landowners alike have invested considerable time, energy and resources into this project and so such an outcome is disappointing. The North Boone Wind Farm project was founded on the basis that the strong winds and open landscapes of the region would serve as the perfect home for the wind farm. Additionally, the jobs, clean energy, and millions in tax payments over the life of the project would have been a boon to the county."
    The project leases will be terminated this month, the letter states. About 50 residents signed eight-year leases in 2010, and were being paid each year, even though no wind turbines have been established in Boone County.
    Deb Doetch was receiving "a few thousand" dollars each year, she said, to house a 200-foot tower on her property that measured the wind and other aspects that would determine how successful a wind farm in north Boone County could be.
    Doetch said it's "really frustrating" to see the project end this way. A 200-megawatt wind farm would have generated about $1.6 million in property taxes per year to the county.
    "Boone County really missed on an opportunity for financial benefits and a tax base," she said. "They've done themselves a disservice."

    Resident David Cleverdon pushed for the more-restrictive ordinance because he fears the potential negative effects of large wind turbines dotting the rural landscape. He said he's pleased with the company's decision to walk away from the project.

    "It's a positive for the county and a positive for people in north Boone County, and a responsible thing for (Mainstream Renewable Power) to do," he said. "I appreciate they realize this is not a good place to construct a wind farm. It's unfortunate it took this long to convince them."
    William Randall, a Poplar Grove resident and candidate for the Boone County Board District 1 seat, said he is disappointed with the company's decision. His father began leasing family property to Mainstream before he died in 2012 to help generate county tax revenue and ensure the property remained farmland, Randall said.
    "Wind turbines are effective. They're green energy; it's renewable energy," Randall said. "They're all over the country. Here, they determined they were going to be a problem. At this point, it just appears it's a done deal."
    County Board District 2 member Cathy Ward said the decision "is a sad financial blow for thousands of our Boone County residents," and "a blow to those of us who believe in green energy and want to lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
    "Not only would this project have given our landowners a chance to earn a profit from the wind towers on their land, it would also have brought millions of dollars of tax revenue for our schools, villages, townships and our county. As a county, we are facing a huge deficit this year."
    She said the County Board's decision to increase the setbacks was designed to stop the project.
    "To deny a business a chance to come to our county and help us be financially stronger is against all our long-term plans," Ward said.
    Boone County Board Chairman Bob Walberg said the company is "using (the) ordinance as a scapegoat," and that there likely are additional reasons the project failed, such as a lack of participation by willing landowners.
    "I think they would have gone forward with it if they had the commitment they needed," Walberg said. "My thought is they could never get all the cooperation they needed."
    Christopher Dorman, the company's development project manager, did not return calls seeking comment.

    Adam Poulisse: 815-987-1344; apoulisse@rrstar.com; @adampoulisse

    Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20160916/company-pulls-plug-on-boone-county-wind-farm-project

    Thursday, September 15, 2016

    John Doe still has affect on Gov Walker

     

     

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    GOP eases lead paint laws after $750,000 in donations

    Daniel Bice, Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 7:47 p.m. CDT September 14, 2016

    Madison — Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature approved a measure aimed at retroactively shielding paint makers from liability after a billionaire owner of a lead producer contributed $750,000 to a political group that provided crucial support to Walker and Republicans in recall elections, according to a report released Wednesday.

    Citing leaked documents gathered during a now-shuttered investigation into the governor's campaign, the Guardian U.S., an arm of the British newspaper, reported that Harold Simmons, owner of NL Industries, a producer of the lead formerly used in paint, made three donations totaling $750,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth between April 2011 and January 2012.

    Simmons' donations were made before and after Republicans approved two laws helpful to the industry — one in January 2011 and the other in June 2013. The 2013 measure was inserted in a budget bill in the middle of the night despite warnings about its constitutionality.

    The documents confirm earlier reports that Walker solicited millions of dollars for Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group then run by R.J. Johnson, one of his top campaign advisers. The Guardian story says Walker was warned in an email about potential "red flags" with Simmons, who died in 2013, including a magazine story that described him as "Dallas' most evil genius."

     

    Simmons' contributions mirror a $700,000 donation from mining firm Gogebic Taconite to Wisconsin Club for Growth around the same time, a donation that was earlier disclosed in court records. After that contribution, the GOP-controlled Legislature and Walker approved legislation aimed at streamlining regulations for an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

    The 1,352 pages of leaked John Doe records provide a window into the case that prosecutors were putting together in arguing that Walker's campaign and conservative groups such as Wisconsin Club for Group were illegally coordinating campaign activity. The Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down the probe last year, finding the prosecutors' case was "unsupported in either reason or law."

    Walker's campaign said Wednesday that there was no sign that the Republican governor had done anything wrong but did not directly address the donations from Simmons or the legislation touching on lead paint lawsuits.

    "As widely reported two years ago, the prosecutor’s attorney stated that Governor Walker was not a target," said Walker campaign spokesman Joe Fadness. "Several courts shut down the baseless investigation on multiple occasions, and there is absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing."

    Club For Growth attorney David Rivkin said in an email that prosecutors made up crimes that don’t exist and called their attempt to get the case to the Supreme Court  “legally frivolous and just another publicity stunt intended to tarnish their targets’ reputations and salvage their own.”

    Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat who launched the investigation in 2012, noted in a statement that it is illegal to leak records from a John Doe investigation. Chisholm has been critical of past leaks to the Wall Street Journal that have been favorable to the John Doe targets.

    "The public release of this John Doe evidence without court authorization is not merely a violation of the John Doe secrecy order; it is a crime under Wisconsin law," Chisholm said. "As Special Prosecutor Fran Schmitz has done in the past when other secret materials have been publicly disclosed, we support any effort that may be undertaken to determine the source of these newest leaks."

    Such an investigation appears possible.

    GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel "is currently reviewing the available options to address the serious legal questions raised by the leak and publication of these sealed documents," Schimel spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in a statement.

    State Rep. David Craig (R-Town of Vernon) said he wants to form a special legislative committee with subpoena power to look into how the investigation was conducted and the leak of documents. Craig, who is running for state Senate without opposition, helped lead the effort to end the ability of prosecutors to use John Doe investigations to investigate campaign finance matters.

    This leak of John Doe documents comes just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court is to meet in closed session on a petition from prosecutors to revive the investigation.

    Prosecutors argue that former state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and current Justice Michael Gableman should not have been allowed to hear the case because their campaigns benefited from work by some of the groups being investigated.

    The Guardian story quotes a Walker email to Karl Rove, a former top aide to President George W. Bush who oversaw a major political action committee, in which the Republican governor credits Johnson and Wisconsin for Growth in the election of Gableman and Prosser. Both justices voted to shut down the John Doe investigation.

    "RJ was the chief adviser to my campaign," Walker wrote on May 4, 2011. "He put together the team to flip the Senate three times and the Assembly two times.

    "He ran the effort that defeated the first incumbent Supreme Court Justice in decades back in 2008, and Club for Growth-Wisconsin was the key to retaining Justice Prosser."

    Since the recalls, Walker and Republicans in the state have sought to shield paint makers from liability in lawsuits involving lead paint, although federal courts have in turn blocked some of those actions from standing.

    For instance, in an overnight meeting in June 2013, Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee inserted a provision into the budget long sought by the paint industry that was meant to block lawsuits pending against them by 171 children sickened by lead paint.

    But in July 2014 a federal appeals court ruled that a lawsuit by one of those children could continue despite the 2013 state law. The boy who suffered lead poisoning can sue a half-dozen major manufacturers of paint used on the Milwaukee house where he lived, based on a theory approved in a controversial 2005 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled.

    In an interview Wednesday, the boy's attorney, Peter Earle, said he was "trembling with rage" at the news of the contributions by the industry, saying that they were meant to block claims by "the most vulnerable among us." He said Republican leaders in Wisconsin had benefited from industry money and then acted to try to retroactively block lawsuits by children harmed by lead paint.

    "What I see is a corrupt morass of government in Wisconsin that has been fueled by corporate money," Earle said. "How can people have faith in a system like that?"

    State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said he was shocked by the lead paint company's donations.

    "He answers first and foremost to large donors and that's kind of underscored in the lead paint (example)," Erpenbach said of Walker.

    He said it was frustrating that the state Supreme Court had concluded prosecutors weren't allowed to look into whether there was a connection between the money from

    the lead paint industry and legislation helping it. He said conservatives on the state court benefited from their own decision to shut down the investigation into these contributions.

    "A majority of the Supreme Court benefited directly from the dark money that flowed into this state," he said.

    Walker won his recall election in June 2012, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to do so, and GOP senators faced recalls in both 2011 and 2012.

    Three GOP senators faced recalls and then voted on the Joint Finance Committee budget motion in June 2013 that sought to retroactively shield the lead paint industry from lawsuits. Those senators were Alberta Darling of River Hills, the panel's co-chairwoman, Luther Olsen of Ripon, and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls. None responded to requests for comment.

    That controversial motion came at the end of the panel's budget-writing work and, as is common, came in the middle of the night and included a grab bag of special interest moves, including a failed attempt to allow bounty hunters to start work in Wisconsin. The lead paint provision was added to the bill despite a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Council that warned that the retroactive change would "raise significant constitutional concerns."

    Erpenbach said he didn't know if Republicans in the state Senate were aware of the donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth that helped them in their recall elections, but he expects them to face tough questions about it now.

    "Republicans bent over backward to get this (lead paint) legislation through," Erpenbach said.

    A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) had no immediate comment.

    A controversial 2005 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision intensified legal and political fight in  the state over who is responsible for paying for those sickened by lead

    paint in cities like Milwaukee.

    The decision in the case Thomas vs. Mallett was written by then-Justice Louis Butler, who was later defeated for re-election, based partly on a backlash by business interests against the ruling.

    In 2010, then-U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee threw out a young plaintiff's lawsuit on the grounds that the "risk contribution theory" advanced in the 2005 state Supreme Court decision violated the substantive due process rights of the defendants — the makers of lead carbonate pigment. In its 2014 ruling, the U.S. 7th Circuit reversed Randa and let the lawsuit continue.

    In December 2011 and January 2012, GOP state Sen. Glenn Grothman was drafting legislation to make immunity from liability lawsuits retroactive. The drafting file for the bill shows that Grothman, now a congressman, and his aides gave drafting attorneys an unsigned memo on the issue that appears to have been written by an outside attorney.

    Grothman declined to comment. The proposal failed to pass in 2012, but Grothman was on the Joint Finance Committee when it ended up passing a similar measure in 2013.

    The leaked documents were gathered during the secret probe launched by Chisholm.

    The investigation focused on whether Walker's campaign had illegally coordinated with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups. The documents

    released Wednesday once again made clear that the GOP governor was active in raising money for the group.

    One donor gave the group $10,000 in 2011, writing on the check's memo line that he made the contribution "because Scott Walker asked."

    It was not clear who leaked the documents to the Guardian. Some of them have been already disclosed during various court cases and reported by the Journal Sentinel, among other media outlets, while others have never been released before because they were filed under seal or never showed up in court documents at all.

    Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz led the probe, which was conducted under the John Doe law. That law allowed prosecutors to force people to testify and turn over documents, while barring them from talking about the investigation with others.

    The probe was effectively halted in January 2014 when the state judge overseeing the investigation found the activities in question were not illegal. Schmitz sought to overturn that finding, while the Wisconsin Club for Growth and two of its advisers brought legal challenges to stop the investigation for good.

    Johnson worked for Walker and the Wisconsin Club for Growth at the same time.

    The state Supreme Court last year ruled 4-2 against the prosecutors. The court initially determined all evidence prosecutors had gathered had to be destroyed but later told prosecutors they should instead turn it over to the justices. The high court has allowed prosecutors to hang onto it while they pursue their appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Chisholm has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision by Wisconsin's high court to shut down the investigation.

    They also want the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the Wisconsin court got it right when it ruled that candidates have free speech rights to work closely with advocacy groups during their campaigns, according to sources.

    Dave Umhoefer, John Diedrich and Bruce Vielmetti of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.

    Above is from:  http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2016/09/14/report-lead-paint-makers-helped-gov-walker/90349256/