Tagged: Chicago

City administration in Chicago cuts up hundreds of credit cards

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Local government employees who once passed around 500 credit cards will now get by on just eight, under a crackdown that exceeded Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expectations.

Two months ago, Emanuel reduced the number of credit cards to 30 after alleged abuses that ousted the chiefs of the CHA and Chicago Park District. The plan called for five credit cards to be issued to top executives of each of six agencies: the CTA, CHA, Park District, Chicago Public Schools, City Colleges and Public Building Commission. Monthly expenditures are posted on the Internet.

Now, the number of credit cards has been further reduced to “no more than eight” with three of the six agencies joining City Hall in going cold turkey.

In a news release touting the additional cuts, Emanuel noted that lax policies he inherited had “allowed city employees to treat a city credit card as their personal expense accounts.”

He added, “Our residents work hard every day and we work for them. Abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars absolutely will not be tolerated…”

Earlier this year, the inspector general of the Chicago Public Schools questioned more than $800,000 in spending under former school board presidents Michael Scott and Rufus Williams. The spending — not all of which was charged to CPS credit cards — ranged from $3,000 to check the board’s offices for “eavesdropping devices” to $12,624 for holiday parties at a president’s home…

The credit card crackdown followed a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WFLD-Channel 32 news that uncovered alleged credit card abuses at the CHA and the Park District…

The investigation…found CHA credit cards were used to buy thousands of dollars worth of flowers, cakes and holiday gifts for employees, a suite at the United Center and to pay fines stemming from red-light camera tickets.

Emanuel condemned the alleged abuses, called a halt to credit card spending and ordered a sweeping audit of agency policies. Jordan subsequently resigned.

Any number of pundits are always predicting the political demise of Rahm Emanuel. They’re always predicting Chicago-style cronyism that existed for decades under traditional machine governance. In truth, no party holds a patent for cronyism – as the recent Bush administration proved. Though the results are always the same. Taxpayers, ordinary citizens are left holding the bag.

Cynic that I am, I’m pleased to see Emanuel cleaning house – at least a little bit – in Chicago. I hope he keeps it up. Maybe, someday – he’ll bring his talents back to the White House and TCB.

Cop/clown kills robber with his own gun

An off-duty Chicago police officer dressed up as a clown for a South Side fundraiser shot and killed a teen who held him at gunpoint tonight after the event, authorities said.

The officer…was in his clown outfit for a fundraiser for a day-care business. The event, attended by a group of 50 children, was near West 87th Street and South Damen Avenue.

At 10:10 p.m. after the event ended, the officer went to his car and a teen approached him, asking him for money, authorities said. When the officer said he had no money, the teen pulled a gun on him, authorities said.

During a struggle with the teen, the officer grabbed hold of the gun, opened fire and killed him.

The officer sustained minor injuries, according to a release from police News Affairs.

Don’t carry a gun unless you’re prepared to use it. Don’t pull a gun on someone unless you’re capable of using it. Don’t get close enough to let someone take your gun away – and use it on you.

In this case – I’d say instant justice was meted out.

Psychiatric patient gets past security at America’s tallest building

Photo by Glenn Harper

A resident of a facility for psychiatric patients got past security guards at the Willis Tower and made his way to the 102nd floor before he was tracked down and held for police.

The 42-year-old man was charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and released on his own recognizance after he followed an employee through a turnstile and got into an elevator, said Police News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak. The man has no prior arrest record, she said.

The incident happened about 4:35 p.m. on May 16.

A spokesman for the Willis Tower said in a statement released to the media that the man was spotted by security in a freight elevator and was in the building for 16 minutes. He went up to the 102nd floor and on his way down was arrested on the 32nd floor, the statement said…

At Willis Tower, safety is our utmost priority,” the statement said. “We are aware that an individual entered the building on Monday, May 16. Through our security systems and procedures, we were able to track and detain this individual within 16 minutes.”

That he was under psychiatric care and still able to get past security either says something about the quality of that security – or maybe the fact that he doesn’t need a heckuva lot of care.

Good thing he wasn’t suicidal, eh?

Chicago terror prosecution puts Pakistan spy agency on trial

Allegations that Pakistan’s intelligence service was involved in the Mumbai terror attacks will be scrutinised in an American court case starting on Monday when the man who helped plan the 2008 strikes testifies against his alleged accomplice.

David Headley, a Pakistani-American businessman who has confessed to his involvement in the attacks, will be the star witness in the trial of Tahawwur Rana, his childhood friend, in Chicago.

Rana is charged with providing material support for terrorism in the assaults, which killed 166 people, as well as a plot in Denmark that was never carried out. Opening arguments in the case, based on the deaths of six Americans in Mumbai, will begin on Monday.

The case has drawn international attention because Headley’s testimony is expected to reinforce allegations that Pakistan plays a double game in the fight against terrorism. Its success will depend largely on how the jury views Headley, 50, who is said to have juggled relationships with multiple wives, terrorist groups and intelligence agencies.

Headley is a former informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He pleaded guilty last year to conducting reconnaissance for the Mumbai attacks and for the Danish plot. His confessions painted a devastating portrait of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) – he says ISI officers helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist group plot the commando-style attacks on Mumbai…

Prosecutors recently raised the political stakes by indicting a suspected ISI officer for the murders in Mumbai. The officer, identified only as Major Iqbal, allegedly oversaw Headley’s scouting in India.

The decision to indict Iqbal was made at high levels in Washington, sending a signal from Barack Obama’s administration, which had expressed frustration about Pakistan’s reliability even before Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad.

RTFA. Beaucoup detail. Involved, intricate, opportunist – and offering all the corruption you would expect in global politics.

The ISI is about as useful to processes dedicated to peace and security as the average teabagger is to stem cell research.

Teenager charged with robbing and murdering his father

After taping his father to a chair, 19-year-old Matthew Nellessen and three accomplices allegedly forced the Arlington Heights man to sign over a $100,000 check from his retirement fund.

When 55-year-old George Nellessen warned his son he would report the theft to police, the younger Nellessen reacted violently — pummeling his helpless father with a baseball bat, then stabbing him in the neck with a steak knife, Cook County prosecutors said Monday…

After the killing, Matthew Nellessen later tried unsuccessfully to cash the check, then made “numerous” bank withdrawals using his father’s debit card, McCarthy said. He ultimately returned to the family’s Arlington Heights home where his father’s lifeless body still sat tied to a chair, authorities said.

George Nellessen’s body wasn’t discovered until two days after his death when a friend came to the house to check on him after co-workers became concerned that he had missed work, prosecutor Maria McCarthy said during the younger Nellessen’s bond hearing.

Judge Kay Hanlon ordered Matthew Nellessen jailed without bond on first-degree murder and armed robbery charges stemming from his father’s killing.

Three other alleged accomplices — all Chicago residents — remained jailed Monday on bonds ranging from $3 million to $1.5 million. Those three men: Marlon Green, 20; Armon Braden, 20; and his younger brother, Azari Braden, 19; also face murder and armed robbery charges in the killing…

The day he was slain, George Nellessen told two co-workers that he planned to kick his son out of the house because he believed the teen was stealing money from him, McCarthy said.

The elder Nellessen, who worked in the tool-and-die industry, told a friend he was afraid of his son.

RTFA for the slimy details. Throw away the key!

Rahm Emanuel ruling sets aside teabagger mindset

Emmanuel celebrates in a Chicago bar

The Chicago elections board underscored an important rule for politicians Thursday when it cleared Rahm Emanuel to run for mayor, which is that it’s fine to rent your house out to a complete stranger, as long as you leave your wife’s wedding dress stuffed under the stairs, or maybe just some old pasta in the refrigerator.

But for all the farce surrounding the question of Mr. Emanuel’s residency, the elections board, whether or not it intended to, also affirmed a serious and more important principle with its ruling — that Washington is in fact an extension of the rest of the country, rather than some alien territory cloistered within it.

This, of course, was not the most obvious issue to surface in the proceedings to decide whether Mr. Emanuel really was or was not a Chicagoan, a sideshow that must have made the former White House chief of staff pine for the relative sanity of Congress. Led by the man who rented Mr. Emanuel’s house from him and who had himself threatened to run for mayor, about 30 citizens questioned Mr. Emanuel, under oath, about whether he had actually left behind any boxes in the basement that might prove his continued residency…

“Were you ever a member of the Communist Party?” one of the interrogators jokingly asked Mr. Emanuel, tacitly acknowledging, it seemed, the ludicrous nature of the entire hearing.

Illustrating the stupidity and core values of populist opposition to this union called the United States, describing teabagger ideology by repeating the ironic question characteristic of paranoid nutballs years back in our poltical history of fear.

And yet there was a serious cultural subtext to the debate, beyond the question of whether Mr. Emanuel, a lifelong Chicagoan, is enough of a Chicagoan to run the city. At issue was also the larger question of whether someone who goes to Washington to serve his community and his country, as Mr. Emanuel did as both a congressman and a presidential aide, can be seen as having left his home to take up residence somewhere else.

This was essentially the argument [countered] by Mr. Emanuel’s lawyer, Kevin Forde, who pointed out that the residency law made allowances for people who were away “on business of the United States,” like soldiers stationed overseas. “If being chief of staff for the president of the United States isn’t in the service of the United States, I don’t know what is,” he said…

As it is, assuming the decision survives an inevitable appeal, Mr. Emanuel, who is leading handily in public polls, can now look forward to the election. After that, perhaps, he can return to his house and unpack the contents of those disputed storage boxes, the accumulated this-and-that of your average American life.

The appeal is guaranteed by sufficient funding for delay by those in high places and low whose singular interpretation of Constitutional Law holds that holy writ supersedes legal precedent, secession remains a viable alternative to federal decision-making, dedication to parochialism in education, religion and jurisprudence is what is lacking in government.

Ex-con dies trying to stop Chicago robbery

Heroin addict Bobby Butler had vowed to turn his life around before. But this time — at the ripe age of 55 — it seemed finally to have stuck.

Just five months out of prison, where he had spent much of the last 20 years for a series of drug offenses, the fast-talking father of four was drug-free and church-going, proudly working as a telemarketer downtown and saving up to move into a new apartment with his mom.

His days on the street were done, he had told family and friends.

But as he walked home from the Central Park L stop in Lawndale at 6 p.m. Monday, the street claimed him anyway.

Gunned down by a robber as he ran to the aid of a young woman whose purse had been snatched, Butler died not a criminal, but a hero.

Chicago police search the alley where Bobby Butler died

“When he got out of prison we had a big long talk,” his brother, Jeffrey Butler, said Tuesday as detectives hunted for the killer. “He regretted that he wasn’t there when his other brother died of cancer, and he really wanted to make a difference — but he’d have helped this woman even when he wasn’t in his right frame of mind, before he got clean. It’s just how he was.”

Butler died of a gunshot wound in his chest during surgery Tuesday at Mount Sinai Hospital…

“There was one shot, and as the shooter ran away down the alley he was lying in the middle of the street, saying, ‘I can’t feel my legs!’ ” said a witness who spoke with police but asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.

Regular readers know I haven’t much respect for cons doing time for robbery and violent crime. And my tolerance for junkies is even lower. I spent too much hard time with both growing up in a factory town in decline.

But, yes, there’s always the exception, someone who deserves a chance to do better – and doesn’t deserve to die at the hand of some creep still stuck into a life of crime.

When they catch the thug who did in Brother Butler, they should throw away the key.

Walgreens tackles food deserts with fruit and veggies

Among students of the contemporary metropolis, “food deserts” have become a widely known problem. The term is generally used to describe urban neighborhoods where there are few grocers selling fresh produce, but a cornucopia of fast-food places and convenience stores selling salty snacks (though, strictly speaking, the term can be applied to rural or suburban areas, too). Often the problem afflicts low-income areas abandoned or shunned by food businesses that focus on better-off consumers; the residents of food deserts, apparently, are not providing enough profit to be offered more healthful grub. These are places where the market for nutritious sustenance has essentially failed.

Perhaps the marketplace can reverse its own failure, but a little prodding from other entities may be required. One example emerged this summer in Chicago when Walgreens, the drugstore chain founded in that city more than 100 years ago, started selling an expanded selection of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, at 10 locations selected because they were in food deserts. The experiment in creating these “food oases” is intriguing because it involves a well-known retail brand not typically associated with groceries — and, really, because it involves a well-known retail brand at all…

A drugstore might not seem the obvious venue for solving a grocery-store problem, but Walgreens offered something useful: ubiquity. “That’s the exciting thing about Walgreens, they’re in so many places,” Mari Gallagher says. (It was during her research on Detroit that she was struck by the fact that pharmacies were practically the only mainstream chain presence, aside from fast food, in many neighborhoods.) Thus the pharmacy chain did not have to open new stores in food deserts, because it was already operating in plenty of them, and could use Gallagher’s data to pick locations for its experiment. Still, refitting the stores to offer 750 or so new products, including whole new categories, without expanding their actual size was a big undertaking. (About 20 to 25 percent of the square footage in each participating store is now given over to food.) And Walgreens had to line up new suppliers and adjust to the risks of selling things like lettuce and bananas that can go bad on the shelf if not bought quickly, says Jim Jensen, the chain’s divisional merchandise manager for consumables.

Then again, if you’re a big retailer looking to explore a new category, there are advantages to knowing in advance that the market isn’t exactly saturated. Walgreens is offering few specifics about how the test run is going. (The company put me in touch with Bridgett James, manager of the 67th and Stony Island Avenue location, who said that customers love it.) But Don Whetstone, senior director of new format development, frames groceries as a business opportunity. “We didn’t build this just for Chicago” he says…

RTFA. “Food deserts” is’t a concept new to these eyes. I’ve lived in a few. Gallagher – and looks like some of the marketing folks at Walgreens – sees this experiment as a decision to let the marketplace help expand business.

Gift cards for tons o’ guns – in Chicago

NRA Life Member

There were shiny six-shooter revolvers, polished wooden rifles, semiautomatic handguns, pistols, rifles and even two hand grenades.

In a citywide effort Saturday to try to curb the violence on Chicago streets, police collected more than 4,000 guns and other weapons in exchange for gift cards worth up to $100…

Collecting guns from their owners may seem like a futile effort to skeptics, since those voluntarily turning in their weapons are likely not the ones behind neighborhood violence that has devastated some communities, acknowledged Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis. But the program nonetheless means there are fewer weapons around that could somehow end up in the wrong hands, he said.

We have just too many guns in our society,” said Mayor Richard Daley, speaking before a march in Old Town, on the Near North Side. “When someone has access to a gun, they use it…”

The gun exchange program is in its sixth year and is credited with taking thousands of weapons off the streets…

Those turning in actual guns got $100 gift cards and lower-value gift cards for BB guns and toy replica guns. At St. Sabina Church, on the South Side, the church gave an extra $50 for assault weapons.

Yeah, I know. They’ll probably scrap ’em like they say they will.

Won’t they?

McDonald v. Chicago creates challenges for the Supreme Court

Otis McDonald, 76, lives in Morgan Park, a tough Chicago neighborhood where the same youngsters who used to shoot hoops in his back yard are now threatening his life.

A law-abiding citizen, McDonald wants to keep a handgun in his home to protect himself against gangs but that’s against Chicago’s gun-control laws…

McDonald’s attempt to keep and use his weapon lawfully has been rejected by the trial court and the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals, both of which ruled in favor of the city. The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue Tuesday in McDonald vs. Chicago.

But allowing McDonald to have a gun for self-protection could mean huge upheavals in constitutional law, involving the Second and 14th amendments…We know what the 2nd Amendment arguments are. If you don’t, someone from the NRA will show up and repeat them 99 times.

The 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, states: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

The privileges and immunities clause and the due process clause are the ones through which federal rights might be imposed on the states. The states and their respective county and municipal governments would be required to recognize and uphold any rights thus “incorporated against” the states.

In 1873, however, the Supreme Court handed down a decision on consolidated cases that undercut the privileges clause…

The decision was never seriously challenged and so, throughout the ensuing 137 years, the privileges clause of the new amendment was essentially dead as a means to apply federal rights against the states because justices instead looked to the due process clause…

If the Supreme Court were to reinvigorate the privileges clause, it would overrule the Slaughterhouse Cases and would open the floodgates for challenges not only of the Second Amendment, but for wholesale incorporation of federally guaranteed freedoms as yet unincorporated against the states.

RTFA. Lots of details – including devils. Historically, states rights have been used as a defense for reactionary politics in the United States. But, that’s not a requirement cast in stone.

Our present Supreme Court is reactionary enough they may even wish to revisit 1873 and start afresh. Though style over substance still requires the inclusion of copout loopholes to avoid the least opportunity for progressive legislation. Hearings and decisions should be interesting. Stay tuned.