Attorney Paul Schimpf retired from the Marine Corps this year.
(Schimpf campaign photo)
September 16, 2013

Marine To Challenge Lisa Madigan

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan beat her last opponent by more than a million votes. Her decision to run for re-election next year scared away most of the people who'd been eyeing her job. But at least one Republican is throwing his hat in the ring.

Running against Madigan will not be easy. She's a three-term incumbent, has one of the richest campaign funds in Illinois, and happens to be in one of the state's most powerful political families.

But none of that is deterring Paul Schimpf, a retired Marine Corps lawyer from the town of Waterloo.

"Unlike four years ago or eight years ago, I actually think there are a number of reasons that Democrats — not Republicans, but Democrats — would vote against Lisa Madigan," Schimpf says.

Schimpf commended Madigan's work on behalf of veterans, consumers, and sexual assault victims. But he says there are critical issues she's not involved in.

"Who can you trust to protect your religious liberty? Who can you trust to be an honest broker on the pensions issue? Who can you trust to actually fight corruption?" Schimpf asks. "I can do a better job than Lisa can."

Schimpf graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and spent four years as an infantry officer. Then the Marines sent him to law school at Southern Illinois University. He retired this spring as a lieutenant colonel with 24 years of service.

Schimpf says he plans a formal campaign announcement next week.

Lawrence Summers
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
September 16, 2013

Summers Pulls Out Of Running To Be Federal Reserve Chief

Larry Summers has removed his name from the running to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The former Treasury secretary informed President Obama of his decision in a phone call Sunday. The withdrawal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

"I have reluctantly concluded that any possible confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interest of the Federal Reserve, the Administration or, ultimately, the interests of the nation's ongoing economic recovery," Summers said in a letter he sent to Obama after their phone call.

Summers had been seen as a frontrunner to replace Ben Bernanke, whose term expires in January. But he faced opposition from Democrats in Congress, for reasons that include his role in helping to deregulate the financial industry under President Clinton, as The Washington Post reported in a recent article on the possible political battle over his nomination.

The other top candidate is widely seen as Janet Yellen, the head of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank who was appointed by Obama to be the vice chairman of the Fed in 2010.

"Earlier today, I spoke with Larry Summers and accepted his decision to withdraw his name from consideration for Chairman of the Federal Reserve," Obama said, in a White House statement released Sunday afternoon.

The president continued, "Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom, and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today."

In withdrawing his name, Summers told Obama that he will continue to support efforts "to reform our financial system so that no President ever again faces what you and your economic team faced upon taking office in 2009."

Summers was one of Obama's key economic advisers until late 2010, serving as the assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council. Since then, he has been a professor at Harvard University, an institution that he once led.

Earlier this month, a group of more than 350 economists signed a letter to Obama that backs Yellen as the next chief of the Federal Reserve.

People wait at the Urbana Civic Center on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 to get their passports through the Mexican Consulate.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
September 13, 2013

Mexican Consulate Stops In Urbana As Immigrants Prepare To Get Driver's Licenses

Officials from the Mexican Consulate in Chicago were at the Urbana Civic Center this week connecting many undocumented immigrants with a passport and photo ID - documents they will need in order to apply for a driver's license in Illinois.

In a few months, undocumented immigrants in the state will be able to obtain a driver’s license thanks to legislation signed into law this year. 

Aida Avila of Crystal Lake, Ill. arrived in the United States from Mexico 18 years, and she showed up to meet with consulate officials. She said she needs a license so that she can get to work.

“This is going to be a real and important help to us,” Avila said in Spanish. “Because we're immigrants, traffic tickets can get really expensive. And sometimes we don't make enough to pay them.”

Lucia Maldonado, who organized the consulate’s visit to Urbana, said the agency only sees people by appointment, and that many of the 1,200 people who were supposed to show up did not.

“And a lot of people here locally from Champaign-Urbana were not able to get appointments, so we have people who keep calling, asking if there are appointments available, and we don’t have any appointments,” Maldonado explained.

According to the Illinois Secretary of State's office, undocumented immigrants can begin scheduling appointments in November to take the driver’s license test, but no date has been set for when those licenses will be available.

Barack Obama
September 09, 2013

Obama: Diplomatic Solution In Syria Is 'Overwhelmingly My Preference'

After much diplomatic wrangling, President Obama on Monday left open the possibility of a diplomatic solution in Syria, saying a proposal allowing Syria to give up its chemical weapons was a "potentially positive development."

In interviews with six television network anchors, Obama said his administration would "run to ground" a Russian proposal that would avoid an international military confrontation by putting Syria's chemical weapons in international hands. As we reported, Secretary of State John Kerry first floated the possibility during a press conference in England this morning. The proposal was then picked up by the Russians and Syria's foreign minister said the country welcomed the overture.

In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."



Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making.

Obama said his administration will work with Russia to see if Syria is serious about the proposal and to see if they can reach a deal that is "enforceable and serious."

However, Obama said that he will ask Congress to move forward with a debate on whether to approve military action against Syria.

Now, Obama said, is not the time to let up on the pressure.

"We would not be at this point if there were not a credible military threat standing behind the norm against the use of chemical weapons," Obama said.

We updated this post as we worked our way through the six interviews. Keep reading if you want highlights from all of them:

Update at 7:12 p.m. ET. Hasn't Decided On Moving Without Congress:

Over the past few days, much has been made about what Obama would do if Congress rejects Obama's plan to attack Syria.

On NBC News, Obama said he had not yet decided if he would move forward with the strikes, even if Congress rejected the proposal. Obama also admitted that he was not confident that the proposal would pass both the House and Senate.

In fact, as those interviews were airing, the AP reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, announced he was delaying a test vote on a measure authorizing military force in Syria.

Update at 6:22 p.m. ET. Something 'Enforceable And Serious':

In an interview with CNN, President Obama said a proposal to have Syria give up its chemical weapons was a "potentially positive development."

But Obama cautioned that it could be a stall tactic by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Echoing the words he used on other networks Obama told CNN: "We're going to run this to ground," working with Russia to "to see if we can arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."

Update at 6:35 p.m. ET. High Stakes But Not Immediate:

"This is one of those situations where the stakes are high, but they're not immediate," Obama told ABC News. "There will be time for the Russians and Syrians to work with us."

That means that Obama is not expecting a vote in Congress this week, but that "now is not the time to let up on that" pressure.

Obama said that his intention all along was to stop Assad from using chemical weapons again and if that can be accomplished diplomatically, that is his preference.

But Obama said he still moving forward with a Congressional vote on limited strikes against Syria.

On NBC News, Obama said he is taking the vote in Congress and the opinion of the American people "very seriously."

"I knew by bringing this to Congress there was a risk that the American people just could not arrive at a consensus even around a limited strike," he told NBC.

"It's my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there's not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world, that that's not the kind of precedent I want to set," Obama added.

Update at 6:12 p.m. Diplomatic Solution Is Obama's Preference:

In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."

But Obama said the threat of military action is important.

"We would not be at this point if there were not a credible military threat standing behind the norm against the use of chemical weapons," Obama said.

Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, this is a true diplomatic breakthrough, not a plan that was born from a flippant reference by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Update at 6:05 p.m. ET. Welcome Russian Plan:

In an interview with Fox News, President Obama said he "welcomed" a plan that would have Syria give up its chemical weapons.

He said they would "run [that option] to the ground"over the coming days.

Obama said he welcomed the possibility of a diplomatic solution and that his administration would "exhaust all avenues of a diplomatic resolution."

Obama also said that it was important to keep up the pressure on Syria.

Update at 5:32 p.m. ET. The Anchors Wait:

Pat Shevlin, the executive producer of CBS Evening News, tweeted this photograph of the network anchors waiting for their turn to interview Obama:

National Security Agency
(Saul Loeb/Getty Images)
September 05, 2013

Reports: NSA Has Keys To Most Internet Encryption

The National Security Agency has the keys to most Internet encryption methods and it has gotten them by using supercomputers to break them and by enlisting the help of private IT companies, The New York Times and The Guardian are reporting.

In plain English, this means that many of the tools — like TLS, used by many banks and email providers — that people worldwide have come to believe protect them from snooping by criminals and governments are essentially worthless when it comes to the NSA.

The revelations are the latest from documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

While the main premise of the story isn't surprising — one of the main goals of the NSA is code-breaking, after all — the breadth of the program and some of the "trickery" described in the pieces are.

One of the more interesting finds is that the NSA spent $250 million a year to engage "the U.S. and foreign IT industries to covertly influence and/or overtly leverage their commercial products' designs" to make them "exploitable," the Times reports.

Essentially, the paper says, the U.S. was lobbying IT companies into programming a backdoor into their encryption products.

For example, the Times reports:

"In one case, after the government learned that a foreign intelligence target had ordered new computer hardware, the American manufacturer agreed to insert a back door into the product before it was shipped, someone familiar with the request told The Times.

"The 2013 N.S.A. budget request highlights "partnerships with major telecommunications carriers to shape the global network to benefit other collection accesses" — that is, to allow more eavesdropping.

"At Microsoft, as The Guardian has reported, the N.S.A. worked with company officials to get pre-encryption access to Microsoft's most popular services, including Outlook e-mail, Skype Internet phone calls and chats, and SkyDrive, the company's cloud storage service.

"Microsoft asserted that it had merely complied with 'lawful demands' of the government, and in some cases, the collaboration was clearly coerced. Executives who refuse to comply with secret court orders can face fines or jail time."

These kinds of allegations are not new. Our colleague Tom Bowman was at the Baltimore Sun back in 1995 and reported on a Swiss company called Crypto AG.

The paper ran a piece based on interviews with former employees as well as internal documents that indicated that for:

"...decades NSA apparently rigged Crypto's machines so U.S. eavesdroppers could effortlessly decipher the most sensitive political and military messages of many countries. Crypto AG, or Crypto Inc., has sold its security products to some 120 countries, including prime U.S. intelligence targets such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia."

The New York Times also points out in its piece that the U.S. lost a "heated national debate in the 1990s about inserting into all encryption a government back door called the Clipper Chip."

Matthew D. Green, a cryptography researcher at Johns Hopkins University, told the paper: "They went and did it anyway, without telling anyone."

Bob Schillerstrom
(Seth Perlman/AP)
September 05, 2013

Schillerstrom Won't Make Bid For Illinois Treasurer

Former DuPage County board chairman Bob Schillerstrom has decided not to make a bid for Illinois treasurer.

In announcing his decision, Schillerstrom said the GOP would have a better chance to keep the office if the party doesn't have a costly and divisive primary. Schillerstrom's decision makes way for Republican House minority Leader Tom Cross, who is stepping down to run for treasurer.

Current state treasurer, Republican Dan Rutherford announced in June his candidacy for governor.

In announcing the formation of an exploratory committee in June, Schillerstrom said he will use his fiscal experience on the DuPage County board to maximize investments and keep spending flat.

Schillerstrom withdrew from the 2010 governor's race after a six-month campaign and endorsed the failed bid of former Attorney General Jim Ryan.

September 04, 2013

Pension Panel Could Be Nearing Agreement

Legislators writing an overhaul of the state's pension systems could be nearing the end of their work. 

Feedback's been plentiful since late last month, when a draft of a pension plan drawn up by a bipartisan legislative committee was leaked. Unions hate it, saying it overreaches in cutting retirement benefits.

Meanwhile, business groups say it does not go far enough to save the state money. Not to mention complaints, including from the governor, that the committee is taking too long.

Now a key member of the panel is responding.

In a statement, Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) said the leaked plan is not the final version. He said "our conversations remain in a state of flux" but adds he is hopeful the committee is entering "the late stages" of deliberations.

Biss encourages more feedback on the leaked plan. Under it, state employees', teachers' and public university workers' pensions would still get cost-of-living increases, but instead of going up 3-percent automatically each year, it'd be a fraction of the consumer price index.

Employees would also have less taken out of every paycheck for pensions.

Dick Durbin
(Chip Mitchell/IPR)
August 31, 2013

Durbin: Seeking Congressional Approval On Syria Right Call

The Senate’s second highest-ranking Democrat says President Obama made the right call by turning to Congress about a possible military strike in Syria.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he has not made up his mind about whether he would support a military strike against Bashar al- Assad’s regime.

At an event in Champaign on Saturday, Durbin said there is no doubt Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. But before he can back a military response, Durbin wants to hear the president’s plan.

“Of course if anyone attacks the United States, there’s no question of his authority as commander and chief, but in this case we’re dealing with an atrocity which occurred within another foreign country – not an ally of the United States,” Durbin said. “This is new territory for a president to embark on. I can hardly think of many examples in the past quite like this. ”

Echoing what the president said, Durbin said he would not support troops on the ground in Syria.

Both the Senate and the House plan a vote on the matter no later than the week of Sept. 9.

August 31, 2013

Quinn: If Lawmakers Want Paychecks, Override Veto

Attorneys for Gov. Pat Quinn say a judge should toss a lawsuit over his halting of lawmaker salaries because if legislators want their paychecks they can override his veto.

Quinn used his line-item veto to cut money for legislators' salaries from the budget because lawmakers haven't fixed Illinois' massive pension crisis.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued, saying Quinn's action was unconstitutional and violated the separation of powers. They want a judge to order paychecks to be issued.

In a motion filed Friday, Quinn's lawyers say when a veto "rankles'' lawmakers they have the authority to override it. They note there may be ``understandable political reasons'' for Madigan and Cullerton's reluctance to seek an override.

But they say if that option exists, a lawsuit is premature.

August 30, 2013

Concealed-Carry Instructor Applications Available

Illinois State Police say applications for training to be a concealed-carry instructor are now available.

State police made the announcement Friday, a week before a Sept. 6 deadline to make the paperwork available for those who want to teach concealed-carry classes in Illinois.

Those who want to apply for a concealed-carry license in Illinois must successfully complete training from an approved Illinois concealed-carry firearms instructor. Illinois concealed-carry licenses will be available in early January. Approved instructors will be listed in a state registry.

In July, Illinois became the last state in the nation to approve a concealed-carry law.

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