ESPN has questions to answer

This morning on its flagship show, SportsCenter, ESPN ran a series of reactions to Ryan Braun’s statement on his use of PED’s (in violation of MLB’s drug policy). The reactions had a similar theme: “Ryan Braun needs to do a news conference and fully explain himself.”

Fair enough. But if this is what ESPN is demanding from Braun, then media members ought to be getting notice of an ESPN news conference where network executives will be willing to take uncomfortable questions.

Also this morning, there was this from the New York Times:

The story points out that after a recent meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN pulled out of documentary project with Frontline about how much the league may have knew (and ignored) about players and head injuries.

The story flat out says the NFL pressured ESPN to abandon the project. “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” said it parted ways with Frontline because of a lack of journalistic control of the final product.

Fine. But let’s hear more, in a news conference…on the record…maybe with live coverage to boot.

If your position is that high-profile players who break the rules should explain themselves in a news conference, then surely high-profile sports networks suspected of committing journalistic sins would do the very same.

Lake County, while you weren’t looking…

…the local election authority of Clerk Willard Helander was effectively stripped away. The Daily Herald has this story today:

The provision was tucked inside House Bill 2418, which you can see here:

It’s an omnibus bill, which is to say it is a wide-ranging re-write of portions of Illinois’ election law. The most heralded portion of it is on-line voter registration. That’s what Governor Pat Quinn talked about at a recent signing ceremony you can see here:

But if you turn to page 87 of the legislation, you’ll see the law REQUIRES a county board of elections for “(a)ny county with a population of more than 700,000 persons as of the 2010 federal decennial census that borders another state and borders no more than 2 other Illinois counties, shall be subject to a county board of election commissioners beginning 90 days after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 98th General Assembly.”

The only county which fits those narrow parameters is Lake County. (Will County, south of Chicago, is close to 700,000 in population and borders Indiana but also borders six other Illinois counties and is therefore not bound by the provision.)

Now, I am merely one person in Lake County. I have lived here for most of 13-years. My experiences with voter registration and voting have all been good ones. I have never heard anyone accuse Helander of abusing her election authority. As far as I know, controversy surrounding elections or voter registration is at zero. (If you have a different opinion or experience, please chime in.)

It may be tempting to suspect this is just a partisan Illinois power grab. Helander is a Republican. Governor Quinn is a Democrat, and his party holds super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. But prior to this legislation Democrats picked up seats in Lake County in 2012. The most notable were the defeats of two incumbent Republican members of the US House. So, the conspiracy theory has holes.

What is clear is this, each Illinois county moving to a countywide elections board has let the voters decide. Not in Lake County.

Lake County government is challenging the provision in court, which means tax-payer dollars will be spent trying to undo something no-one has publicly declared they asked for. Such is the state of democracy in the state of Illinois.

Failure costs…

…and Illinois residents will pay.

The Illinois General Assembly recessed last week without fixing the state’s massive pension mess. Currently, the estimates on the unfunded liability (or money owed to the state’s five pensions fund to meet future retirement benefit pay-outs) are near the $100-billion mark. Previous failures to patch the pension funds have resulted in Illinois’ credit rating taking a hit. If you’re wondering were Illinois ranks, check the very bottom of this graphic from the Illinois Policy Institute:


Yes, the IPI is a fairly conservative group and has been no fan of the current Democratic leadership of House Speaker Michael Madigan, State Senate President John Cullerton and Governor Pat Quinn.

Moody’s, however, is interested in balance sheets and credit risk. The credit rating agency said  in March the state’s already lousy credit rating could take another hit if the pension problem was not addressed.

Governor Quinn has said repeatedly since the end of the legislative session that the state’s poor credit has already jumped the cost of borrowing by $17-million a day. If Moody’s holds true to its position, then that number is about to go up. Also going up, the number of state employees retiring…drawing off those pensions funds with too little money in them.

In short, a hugely expensive problem is getting pricier by the day. Leadership has not produced a solution. Illinois taxpayers will foot the bill. These are the costs of failure.

Pomp and Circumstance

That’s what the 7th graders at Woodland Middle School played last night…over and over and over again…as 433 eighth graders in green gowns paraded two-by-two into a packed gymnasium. My son, Graeme, was one of them.

It was not a graduation. On the tickets read, “Promotion Ceremony”. The class received “certificates of promotion”. They have all been promoted to Grade 9 and high school.

It was a very nice event. Awards were handed out. A few students made speeches (longest 2.5 minutes). Then came the reading of the names of the promoted (alphabetical of course), hand-shakes and certificates bestowed. Despite repeated requests that people NOT cheer until all names were read, the list was punctuated with sporadic bursts of “Yeah!”, “Way to go!” and other howls of joy.

Some people are just naturally enthusiastic. But it made me think.

All these parents, grandparents and siblings were packed into a gym to honor 433 young teenagers on the achievement of completing 8th grade. Is that really an achievement? I cannot speak for every student, but I suspect most of them were like Graeme. Completing 8th grade is roughly the education equivalent of halftime. Think about it. If the education of these young people ended at that ceremony, it would be considered a tragedy. What can you do with an 8th grade education in the real world? Darned little. I get the hoopla surrounding a high school graduation. It is a true crossroads in life. 8th grade? “Very nice, young man/woman. Now please keep moving.”

Don’t get me wrong. The promotion ceremony was very nice. It no doubt took to a lot of effort to organize and pull it together. (Ever try to get more than two teenagers to do something at once?) Everybody was all smiles afterwards. There were hugs and photos being taken in any direction you looked. And my misgivings about the symbolism of a grand gesture in honor of completing 8th grade did not stop me from getting my son a present to mark the occasion. (More on that in a future post.)

Yes, congratulate and hug your soon-to-be high school freshman. And maybe begin worrying about what kind of people he/she will be roaming the halls with next year. Anticipate that impending question, “Can I get my driving permit now?”

But Pomp and Circumstance? Wouldn’t it be better to hold off four yearsgive the 7th grade band a break?

More than I bargained for at WalMart

No. It’s wasn’t a fabulous price on peanut butter.

I dashed into a WalMart early yesterday morning to pick-up some CD/DVD cases. At the check-out was a woman who I guessed was in her 60′s.

“Good morning”, I said.

The woman repeated the greeting, sighed and added, “Another day in paradise.”

A disgruntled employee, I thought. Turns out, I was off the mark.

She must have seen something of an invitation on my face to continue her thought, so she did.

“I’ll tell you exactly how I’m doing.”

I wasn’t sure what to do next. I chose to freeze a half-smile on my face and brace myself. She pulled out of a front pocket on her jeans a piece of paper folded in half three times. As the WalMart worker unfolded it, I was thinking it was her work schedule. The woman’s eyes fixed on the paper, her lips began moving and after a moment she said, “312 days until I retire.”

Did not expect that.

I had been thinking a lot recently about the many financial hurdles ahead of me on my way to retirement. Every time I thought about it, I came to the same conclusion. There’s way too many hurdles.

I blurted out to the woman, “I doubt anyone from my generation will be able to retire.” For emphasis, I said, “Anyone.”

The WalMart woman explained, “It doesn’t make any sense working when I can make more money retiring.”

At that moment, I got it…or at least I thought I did. Social Security was going to be a better deal for her. Now, IF this WalMart cashier was making $10 an hour, my quick guestimate was she was clearing about $300 a week. (That presumes she was full-time, logging 40 hours weekly.)

This woman had done the math. Retirement would free her up and pay her better. Now, maybe she was a frugal woman who listened to her parents talking about always saving money when she could. Maybe her life was simple and satisfying. Maybe the mortgage is paid. Maybe she and everyone in her family is in good health…and employed.

I’d like to think so, but I didn’t see any of that on her face. What I saw was a woman wedged between her job in “paradise” and the cold calculus of what her future may be like…in 312 days. And that’s all I could think about as I scooped up my purchase and headed for the parking lot.