Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' Flash Index went up a full point in September, only to drop back down by half a point in October. But economist Fred Giertz says the new reading of 98.3 isn't all bad news --- because the index to the state economy is still higher than it has been all summer.
"Last month's increase was probably a little bit overly optimistic, but it didn't fall back down to the old level," Giertz said. "So over the two-month period, it shows a very modest gain, which is good news, compared to what many people were fearing, which was a double dip recession back a month or two ago."
A hundred is the dividing line between economic growth and contraction in the Flash Index. And it is now a full three years since the Index last showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Index hit a low point of 90.0 in Sept. 2009, and there have been fears that levels might fall again, indicating a double-dip recession. But Giertz said the overall improvement in the Flash Index, along with other indicators, make a double-dip recession more and more unlikely.
"These things are always a question of what the probabilities are," Giertz said. "But some people were talking about a one in three or one in four chance of a double-dip, maybe six weeks ago. Now that probably is down to one in ten. But that one in ten is still there. So it's always a chance that might happen, but less likely than it was before."
Giertz said modest improvements in the national economy also argue against a double-dip recession.
The Flash Index is based on analysis of Illinois tax receipts --- and Giertz said only sales tax receipts showed any real improvement last month.
A federal jury found William Cellini guilty Tuesday of joining a conspiracy to trade state contracts for campaign contributions for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The conviction is the latest in the long-running investigation into the Blagojevich administration, and it's likely one of the last trials in "Operation Board Games," marking the end of an era of political scandal in Illinois.
The jury found Cellini guilty of two of four counts, including:
Count 2 - Conspiracy to Extort - Cellini knowingly joined a conspiracy - He knew what Rezko and Kelly were about and he didn't walk away and he knew they were trading state contracts for campaign contributions to Blagojevich.
Count 4 - Aiding and Abetting Bribery - Cellini knowingly aided and abetted an agent of a state agency (Levine in his role as a TRS trustee) in corruptly soliciting something of value in connection to official state action.
However, the jury found Cellini not guilty of two other counts, including:
Count 1 - Conspiracy to defraud - Defendant knowingly joined a conspiracy to use Levine's role as a public official to defraud the people of Illinois, specifically the teachers who entrusted Levine to act with their best interests at heart.
Count 3 - Attempted Extortion - Cellini knowingly attempted, with Levine, to get money from Rosenberg. They threatened to hold back Rosenberg's $220 million allocation believing that that would force Rosenberg to pay the bribe. This count also requires that the extortion could have potentially affected interstate commerce which it would have as the $220 million would have been invested in companies nationwide.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the conviction sends a message to people trying to make backroom deals in Illinois.
"I think people ought to understand that as a result of 'Operation Board Games' we can not only convict the governor, but convict Ed Vrdolyac and convict Bill Cellini. It sends a message that federal law enforcement will work together as partners and investigate vigorously and will bring charges as appropriate," Fitzgerald said.
Cellini's attorney Dan Webb said the jurors threw out what he called the most serious charges against his client.
"The conspiracy to commit extortion which could very well be one act on his part, but whatever it was, it didn't even rise to the level of being attempted extortion. And I'm grateful for that result from the jury," Webb said.
Webb plans to file an appeal.
The investigation into the Blagojevich administration began because Stuart Levine was using his power as a trustee on the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board to try and squeeze bribes out of hospital administrators who had matters before the board. When Levine's activity was reported, the FBI put a wiretap on his phones and Cellini had the misfortune of being in contact with Levine at that time.
Cellini was charged in connection to Levine's work on another board, the Teacher's Retirement System, the board that pays out teacher pensions and collects and invests the money. Cellini had won a contract to invest $220 million dollars for the fund, and prosecutors say, in an attempt to keep the contracts coming, he sought to curry favor with the new administration which meant doing business with Stuart Levine, Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly.
From the tapes, it seems clear that Cellini knew what Rezko and Kelly were about. In a May 8, 2004 phone call Cellini tells Levine about a contractor he knows who does work for the state.
CELLINI: He's talkin' about these guys Tony and Chris because they are out uh, according to him...essentially hammerin' people for contracts uh, with with contracts for fundraising.
LEVINE: Mm hm.
CELLINI: And, and I gotta tell you I'm a nervous wreck over it myself.
LEVINE: You think they are?
CELLINI: Oh, oh...
LEVINE: Oh you know they are?
CELLINI: I know they are.
In that same call, Levine lays it out pretty clearly for Cellini that they're trading contracts for contributions. Levine and Cellini are discussing Tom Rosenberg who is refusing to give a contribution even though he's got $220 million hanging in the balance. Levine has put a hold on that business hoping to get a bribe but Rosenberg threatened to go to federal authorities.
"The way I think that this should be handled is that they shouldn't take a political contribution from him and he shouldn't get an allocation," Levine said on the FBI recording.
Cellini counsels Levine to take a middle road. He says TRS should give Rosenberg a small allocation, something like $25 million because he won't be able to publicly complain about that. On the tape Cellini laughs, and in her closing argument, Assistant United States Attorney Julie Porter told jurors that that was the sound of corruption.
Cellini does seem worried about the way Rezko and Kelly do business but prosecutors say he had a choice. He could have walked away but he didn't want to lose his clout.
"It may be that there is nobody checking yet," Cellini is heard saying on FBI recordings. "That there is nobody investigating what they're doing yet, but there's so much going on that there's no question that it will happen because too many people are talking about how you get things done."
Cellini tells Levine that he recently had to counsel Chris Kelly who was distraught about a newspaper article. Cellini says he told Kelly that the scrutiny would only increase.
"If somebody comes in with badges and flashes them at you and in the course of the conversation says do you know Bill Cellini, just know before they ask that question that they have already checked all your phone logs and they know that we have talked on the phone, that we have called each other 4,700 times so you can't say, oh, I've heard of him, or I barely know him because they know that we've called, talked back and forth," Cellini said.
Cellini is the last Blagojevich co-defendant to stand trial. Blagojevich staffers John Harris and Lon Monk both pleaded guilty and testified against the former governor. Chris Kelly committed suicide. Robert Blagojevich was tried but prosecutors dropped the charges after the jury was split on his guilt. No sentencing date has been set for the former governor.
Tony Rezko, the brains behind corruption in the Blagojevich administration, is scheduled to be sentenced November 22.
Chicago-based Boeing announced new plans on Monday to build space shuttles for people and cargo. Boeing will build reusable capsules that can take up to seven people into space.
Ever since NASA's space shuttle program ended, the U.S. has been relying on Russia to get to the International Space Station. Boeing's new program is expected to provide another way to get there.
Morningstar analyst Neal Dihora said Boeing's space technology accounts for about 13 percent of the company's sales this year.
"With the space shuttle shut down, they were going to see some exits or decreases in revenue and this actually helps them over a longer time frame," Dihora said. "But it's not really that big of a material difference for the entire company as a whole."
Boeing will lease a former shuttle hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The project is expected to create more than 500 jobs by 2015. More than 4,000 space-related jobs have been lost in the Cape Canaveral area.
Spokespersons for the Champaign and Urbana school districts say there's more to learning progress than just one standardized test.
Both Unit Four and District 116 failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress overall in standardized test scores released by the state on Monday. Yankee Ridge in Urbana and Bottenfield in Champaign were the only two elementary schools that managed to make AYP.
An Urbana schools administrator says state standardized test scores are only responsible for a small portion of improvements at his district. With Yankee Ridge Elementary making Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, 85-percent of students met or exceeded federal standards this year.
Urbana Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Don Owen said by relying on one test, Adequate Yearly progress and federal standards fail to account for student progress over time, or the growth of advanced placement classes in areas like science and social studies.
Owen said he hopes the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind looks at areas like student growth for years, and other areas he feels the federal act doesn't address well.
"Are my kids learning, and are they progressing at an appropriate rate, so when they're out of high school, are they going to be ready for either college or a career?" he said. "I don't think a simple multiple choice test tells much as a parent about my child's ability to do that."
Meanwhile, A spokeswoman for the Champaign School District maintains the focus is more on continued monitoring of students than the scores on one state exam. Bottenfield Elementary made Adequate Yearly progress, while four other grade schools made AYP in math. Unit 4's Lynn Peisker said the focus is on forward progress.
"That's our concern is that students are learning," she said. "The focus is on student learning every day. Not just one week in March. We take that test very seriously. We look at the results very closely. No doubt there will be some adjustments made. But the real focus is on student learning every day of the year."
Peisker noted that the target is moving for AYP as the standards go up. She also said 77 percent met or exceeded federal standards, and the goal by 2014 will be 100 percent.
Peisker said Champaign schools will develop common course standards over the next few years, which focus more on teaching and learning rather than testing and scoring.
The Champaign Police Department has released a two-hour video from the high-speed traffic pursuit and arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller on Oct. 24, 2011,
Police say the only thing edited out of the video is Miller stating his social security number for police. The footage comes from several different police car dash cameras that show multiple angles of the pursuit. It starts off with police tailing Miller's van for about two minutes until the teen's vehicle stops in front of a house.
Police say the van destroyed the front porch of a home. Miller then jumped out of the vehicle on the intersection of Greenbrier and Arcadia and fled from the van, out of camera range. Within a few seconds, microphones attached to police officers' uniforms picked up the sound of Miller evidently being subdued.
OFFICER: Get your hands right here. Don't spit on any one of us. MILLER: I'm not going to spit on you officer ...if you could just give me some water. OFFICER: We don't have any water. MILLER: Officer, please....officer please. OFFICER: We don't have any water with us. MILLER: OK. OFFICER: Stand still.
After the confrontation, one of the officers on the scene asked Miller why he ran.
"He just told me to," Miller replied.
It is not clear from the audio who 'he' refers to or whether Miller reached for the officer's duty belt as police have claimed. Calvin's father, Martel Miller, has said that he never told his son to run from police. Speaking to other media outlets after the release of the video, Miller admits his son broke traffic rules, but contends that he shouldn't have been beaten by police officers.
Another thing that is not clear is how Miller was subdued. Police say Miller was pepper sprayed and struck with an officer's hand. The teen's father has said his son was sprayed with mace, struck repeatedly on the face, head and ankle, and hit with a baton.
Both police and Miller supporters are expected to address the issue at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, which starts at 7pm at the City Building.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Three days after winning the World Series, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is retiring.
The 67-year-old manager announced his retirement at a news conference Monday at Busch Stadium.
"I have no regrets about looking at them and saying, I did the best I could and the numbers are what they are," he said. "Could a better manager have won more games? Yeah. He's better and he could have won more, but they got my best shot."
La Russa has the most wins as a manager in Cardinals history, and is third on the all-time baseball wins list, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. The World Series win over Texas was the third of La Russa's 33-year career. The manager guided the Cardinals to the championship despite losing ace starter Adam Wainwright for the season in spring training and despite being 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta on Aug. 25.
In addition to this season, he won championships in Oakland in 1989 and St. Louis in 2006. LaRussa also managed the Chicago White Sox from 1979 to 1986, winning the American League West division title in 1983.
La Russa said both general manager John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt Jr. asked him several times as the Cardinals made a thrilling late season and playoff run if he was sure about his decision. He says he never wavered.
"You gotta look in the mirror, and I know if that I came back I would be coming back for the wrong reasons and I couldn't do that," he said.
La Russa says he is a bit nervous about the unknown, but says he might own a minor league team or open a bookstore. Team officials say they have not set a timetable by which they'd like to hire a new manager.
(AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Exelon Corporation is testing its emergency response plan this week in DeWitt County.
On Wednesday, county and state government officials are testing the Clinton Nuclear Power Station to make sure proper notification and actions take place under certain scenarios.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson says there are four levels of emergency declarations at nuclear power plants, and crews will progress through each of them in these exercises. But she says personnel won't know about the setup ahead of time.
"We never know exactly what the scenario will be, we just know that there will be some type of events simulated that we all need to react to," said Thompson. "Then we are judged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to how we demonstrate our ability to respond under those conditions."
Thompson says usually, safeguards would be in place to prevent an emergency from occurring, but Exelon will take officials through all four stages.
Thompson says this is considered a full-scale exercise, with participation from Exelon, and all levels of government, with emergency personnel from not only DeWitt County, but Macon, Piatt, and McLean counties, but also a number of state agencies. The test will also have radiological field teams conducting samples of soil and vegetation.
Federal officials will report their findings in Clinton on Friday at DeWitt County's Emergency Operations Center.
Starting Monday, Oct. 31, the Champaign County Housing authority will begin accepting applications from people who want to be included on a waiting list for its Section 8 housing voucher program.
Housing authority executive director Edward Bland said the last time people could apply to be on the list was in 2007. The agency has received about $10 million from the federal government to support existing vouchers. He said there's no time line for when the next batch of vouchers will be available.
"The purpose of opening up the waiting list is to have future applicants available, so as vouchers become available in the future we will have a pool of qualified applicants to issue those vouchers to," Bland explained. "Those vouchers could be new vouchers that we may receive or they could be existing vouchers from a family (that) no longer needs that voucher."
Bland said participants will be considered for a voucher based on a number of factors, including their income level and criminal history. He said if more than 400 people sign up to make it on the list, then participants will be selected through a lottery system. The enrollment period to apply ends Nov. 14, 2011.
Applications for the voucher program can be picked up at the following locations:
Champaign County Regional Planning Commission - 1776 E. Washington, Urbana
Housing Authority of Champaign County - 205 W. Park Avenue, Champaign
Illinois Work Net Center - 1307 N. Mattis Avenue, Champaign
Oscar Street Place - 1202 E. Harding Street, Urbana
Rantoul Community Center - 520 E. Wabash, Rantoul
Refugee Center - 302 S. Birch Street, Urbana
Restoration Urbana Ministries - 1213 Parkland Court, Champaign
Salvation Army - 2212 N. Market, Champaign
Skelton Place - 302 S. Second Street, Champaign
The Times Center - 70 E. Washington, Champaign
Washington Square - 108 W. Washington, Champaign
The opportunity to get on the Section 8 waiting list comes less than week after the release of preliminary results from a homeless survey by the group C-U at Home. The organization interviewed around 300 homeless people in Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul, and identified about a third of them as being vulnerable to dying on the street. Each person's situation was based on the Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by researchers at Boston's Healthcare for the Homeless.
John Smith was one of about 80 volunteers who interviewed the homeless, asking questions about physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and time living on the street.
"It was amazing that the empathy that the volunteers felt from talking with the homeless doing the surveys, and the reverse," Smith said. "We saw the homeless appreciative that somebody would listen to their story."
The study was part of a national effort to find housing for 100,000 vulnerable people across the county within the next couple of years. Melany Jackson, the project coordinator for C-U at Home, said she plans to take the information collected from the survey in Champaign County, and find housing for a half a dozen people by the end of next year.
"There aren't nearly enough beds," Jackson said. "There aren't nearly enough support services for folks who are in desperate need. Many of them are falling through the cracks. They're falling through the cracks of the system that does exist."
According to the United Way of Champaign County, homelessness is on the rise with an estimated 418 individuals in Champaign County without a stable place to live at any given time. Jackson said her organization will work with churches and other faith-based groups to connect people with a place to live.
(Reported by Azra Halilovic)
The solidarity group Occupy Champaign-Urbana organized a demonstration Saturday afternoon in downtown Champaign. More than a dozen people met at the corner of Neil and Main to protest corporate policies and political inequality.
That's compared to the 300 people who attended the march and rally in West Side Park a couple weeks ago. Saturday's event was part of a series of smaller demonstrations the group is organizing in Champaign County. The demonstrators held signs and handed out fliers with details about their group and ways to get involved. The group is in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movements that have erupted across the nation and globe.
The demonstrators included students, working class citizens, and retirees. While they have personal motives for participating in the demonstration, they are all seeking economic reform and greater political representation.
Pat Dewal of Champaign is a retired resident who became involved with the Occupy movement about three weeks ago. Dewal said she would like to see less corporate involvement in politics.
"I just have a lot of concerns about what's happening in our country and how much things have been in decline," she said. "I think it's time for citizens to speak up and do something."
Dewalt added that most people who organize and attend the events are on the political left, but that the group welcomes people of all political ideologies.
"Only a few Libertarians have been involved," she said. "It would be nice to hear more conservative voices. They would be enthusiastically welcome."
As cars stopped at streetlights, Eric Burton of Champaign approached them to hand out the group's fliers. He was there with his wife and child, and said he would like to see the government do a better a job representing families.
"I'm a working class citizen of this country," he said. "We can barely afford health insurance. I work about 70 hours a week between jobs and we just get by. And so that's my own personal impetus to be involved. I think it's more about a perception of what's right and wrong."
Other people at the demonstration expressed frustration with the role of lobbyists and the influence of money in politics. They hope to have a better and more diverse turnout at their future events. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration Tuesday at noon at the University of Illinois ' Urbana campus.
(Photo by Azra Halilovic)
Champaign's Police union says some members of the community are rushing to judgment on this week's arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.
In a press release issued by the state's Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union mentions the events of Monday's early morning hours, when police say the teen ran red lights, ran over a curb, and his van struck the front of a house after exiting the vehicle. Miller then reportedly ran on foot, and struggled with police before the arrest. The incident has led to angry comments from local activists, including Martel Miller, the teen's father, who claims police beat the teen repeatedly.
The FOP says it's encouraging all citizens of the city, and especially elected officials, to withhold judgment until all of the facts and circumstances have been released. The union says it's 'confident they will demonstrate that use of force was appropriate and reasonable under both department policy and the law.'
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night.
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