Explorations in Policing, Faith and Life (With a hint of humor, product reviews, news and whatever catches my attention)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Video Games-Saving the world one pixel at a time.

I belong to the first generation that could call itself "gamers".  I was eight years old when in Maryland my Dad came home with an Atari 2600 for Christmas.  I have been playing games ever since...trust me my parents never understood, and well since I am racing to become an old man, my kids didn't know that there was ever a time when there were no video games.  So I am stuck in the middle with you...but I digress.

I have always thought that the gamers, the games and all the designers had much more potential than what was being utilized.  But I never went beyond that thought.  But Jane McGonigal did and below is a presentation that she did for the TED Speaking series.  Enjoy...and you gotta love TED.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

I always knew that my trigger thumb would take over the WORLD!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Its the weekend-A little Humor

One of the often overlooked facets of the "Police Life" is the humor that permeates everything we do...it allows us to blow off steam, replace tragic with the ironic, drop over inflated egos back down to earth and basically keep us sane.

I can be something as simple as leaving your computer unattended and upon returning realizing that you e-mailed the Chief a love letter from you to him...quickly followed up by an email you author explaining that your co-workers are idiots to same said Chief.  It can also be a co-worker deciding to take digital camera photos of "Johnsons" in the act of relief while in the field, causing everyone from that point forward to perform that function with one hand to grip and the other to cover and scanning side to side to keep from becoming a camera victim (a lot of wet shoes that week).  At another time, a co-worker left his credential wallet out and someone grabbed it and glued the face of George Washington onto his photo ID so that whenever he flashed his ID he did not get respect for his a-thor-ity but rather giggles until he discovered the prank.  To telling the story of the rookie that while in court identified himself as, "I with the D&D, no the DNA no I with the DEA, yes that's it, the DEA" and while we were all on the floor laughing having him complain that we were embarrassing him in front of the civilians (that he did all by himself).  To authoring a operational plan, in another co-workers name of course, that required sign off by the Chief of the Police Departments operational response in case of wide spread polar bear attack.

All that said to introduce the following video that I must have seen at every training session, meeting, etc where officers are gathered.  Enjoy. *Language is a little rough...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dragon software, a new experience posting by my voice.

I am dyslexic.  While this is not prevented me from going to Baylor University or getting my Masters from the Adler school of professional psychology, it has made school and homework a very time-consuming and laborious undertaking. As time has gone by I have found the effects of this dyslexia receding to the point where only when I'm extremely tired or stressed or emotional do they manifest themselves.

Fortunately for my younger daughter she is not dyslexic but for my son he is highly dyslexic. When we had him formally evaluated the psychologist who perform the evaluation told us that he was a nine point 9/10 in severity of the effect. His struggle in school and with the schoolwork have long reminded me of all the long nights that I spent working long past any of my classmates. So as an attempt to aid the learning process for him we picked up Dragon software, a voice to text recognition program. That is what I'm using to blog right now.

What I hadn't realized that after spending so much time trying to adapt myself to the printed word that I am finding it difficult to merely speak into the computer and formulate a coherent thought and get it into text.  Yet seeing that my words are being translated effortlessly into the computer and spelled correctly, the time-saving is immense.

When I left college and began working in the law enforcement field I had to step back into a lesser technology than what I had been used to. In that I've gone from computers that spell checked, grammar checked and instantly formatted my papers correctly,to being forced to take pen to paper in hand write everything that I observed into a report. I lived for the first 10 years of my career with a Franklin pocket speller and a bottle of white out.  If only I had had this software now, back then, I can even imagine how much I've could've gotten done that was wasted on trying to get everything onto the written page that would not make me ridiculed in the courtroom.

I have to say I am envious of my son and all the time he is going to save learning instead of writing. I know that I developed a lot of my personal discipline for the written word through the hours and hours and hours of attempting to figure out how to put it down on paper in such a way that it made sense to another reader but what could've been my knowledge base if I have been freed from that labor.

I will never know but the neat thing is my son will. To quote the song, "the future's so bright I have to wear shades."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Mexican Cartels Strike Back-Los Zetas Cartel

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I try to keep track of the Mexican drug wars and the American Law Enforcement response.

Up till now there have been some unwritten rules that the cartels followed, mainly to keep from having a full Mexican military intervention into their actions and to keep the Mexican position of no significant American forces operating in their country intact.

The Rules:
 1.  No cartel involved violence in/near major tourist sites.
 2.  American diplomats are not to be targeted
 3.  Hit just the target and not have huge civilian causalities

Well recent history has shown that number 3 has been abandoned since they are no longer content in grabbing their target, torturing him/her and dumping the body but instead lobing grenades at discos and shooting up parties.

Rule number one has fallen with the attacks on Americans/Europeans in and around tourist destinations.

Rule number two has just fallen.  On February 15, 2011 two ICE agents were ambushed in their armored car by  (logical guess) members of the Los Zetas*, with the result of one killed and one gravely wounded.  Reading the different news articles the attacks were specifically targeting American officials.  I am watching and waiting for the American response.  So far a couple of department heads but not the President have condemned the action but no follow up actions have been remunerated.  My belief is if the Obama administration only gives speeches (which so far is the case) and does not follow up with actions, then attacks like these will increase in number until all American law enforcement currently in Mexico are returned home.  If a major joint operation is conducted aside the government-loyal Mexican military, then this attack will be an anomaly.

Only time will tell.

Our prayers go out to the agents involved and their families.

* The Los Zetas Cartel was founded by Mexican Army Special Forces deserters who were recruited by the Gulf Cartel as a security force (assassinations, money and drug couriers, security).  The Cartel has since split into two factions, one loyal to the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels and the other to ABL.  In reality they are playing both sides to increase their share of the international drug trade.

The Article

Two ICE Agents Shot, 1 Killed inside Mexico

Two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were shot in the line of duty today approximately 100 miles outside Mexico City Tuesday.

One of the officers has died from his wounds, reports the Associated Press, quoting an anonymous official.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Mexico City tells CBS News the two agents were shot while driving from Mexico City to Monterey by unknown assailants.

"ICE is working with the U.S. State Department, Mexican authorities and other U.S. law enforcement partners to investigate the shooting. Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues," ICE officials said in a statement this afternoon.

Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano condemned the attacks.

"Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel - or any DHS personnel - is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety," Napolitano said. "We remain committed in our broader support for Mexico's efforts to combat violence within its borders."
The two agents were driving in the northern state of San Luis Potosi when they were stopped at what appeared to be a military checkpoint, said one Mexican official, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

After they stopped, someone opened fire on them, the official said.

San Luis Potosi police said gunmen attacked two people a blue Suburban on Highway 57 between Mexico City and Monterrey, near the town of Santa Maria Del Rio, at about 2:30 p.m.

Police said one person was killed and another was flown to a Mexico City hospital, though they couldn't confirm the victims were the ICE agents.

Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan spoke with ICE chief John Morton to express Mexico's condolences, according to a spokesman.

"This is a difficult time for ICE and especially for the families and loved ones of our agents. Our hearts and prayers go out to them. This tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks confronted and the sacrifices made by our men and women every day," Morton said in a statement.

Though Mexico is seeing record rates of violence from warring drug cartels and a crackdown on organized crime, it is rare for U.S. officials to be attacked. The U.S. government, however, has become increasingly concerned about the safety of its employees in Mexico amid the escalating violence.

In March, a U.S. employee of a consulate, her husband and a Mexican tied to the American consulate were killed when drug gang members fired on their cars as they left a children's party in Ciudad Juarez, the city across from El Paso, Texas.

The U.S. State Department has taken several measures over the past year to protect consulate employees and their families. It has at times authorized the departure of relatives of U.S. government employees in northern Mexican cities.

In July, it temporarily closed the consulate in Ciudad Juarez after receiving unspecified threats.

In a famous case, in 1985 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena Salazar was tortured and killed in Mexico. Mexican trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero is serving a 40-year prison term for Camarena's slaying.

ICE, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government, enforced immigration laws and is primarily responsible for arresting, detaining and deporting people who are in the U.S. illegally. It also investigates drug cases in the U.S. and Mexico and other types of trafficking.

It was created in 2003 through a merger of the investigative and interior enforcement elements of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service and has more than 20,000 employees in offices in all 50 states and 47 foreign countries.In December, U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry was shot and killed just north of the Arizona-Mexico as he tried to catch bandits suspected of targeting illegal immigrants.

As CBS News reported last week, violence has been escalating in Mexican border towns. In Juarez, Mexico, nearly seven people a day have died this year.

Nationwide, almost 35,000 people have been killed in drug violence since President Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown against drug trafficking shortly after taking office in December 2006.

Psalm 116:2-4

2 Because he turned his ear to me,
   I will call on him as long as I live.
 3 The cords of death entangled me,
   the anguish of the grave came over me;
   I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
   “LORD, save me!”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Faith-where Rubber meets the Road

God is good.  God is always good.  God can never do anything that is not good.

But that is not how we always feel.  Faith is the bridge from the truth in the mind to our emotions that tell a different story and tend to betray us.  We are tested so that our faith remains firm but tragic events are not the test, our reactions to the tragic event is the test.  The event itself is for good, somehow, someway, by some means that probably we will never know until we are at rest with him.  But in the end it is for the glory of God.

One of our brother Officers is facing the ultimate test, one I wish never to experience.  One test that, I don't know if I could pass.

My wife and I and my two children are in prayer for Officer Todd Wood of the Sheldon IA Police Department.

On the morning of February 11, 2011, Todd was the first responding Officer at a fatal vehicle accident.  The fatality was his teenage daughter.

I don't really know what else to say other than my heart goes out to him and his family.  We are praying for you brother.

Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I hate dirty cops.

Law Enforcement is a unique profession in that the very, very, few of us that go "bad" tarnish the vast majority of ethical, moral and compassionate Officers serving the public every day.  When I worked in the private sector a ten percent employee turnover would have been considered fantastic and been rewarded with promotion and pay increases, if that happened in the Law Enforcement field it would be considered a plague.

Ethics, morality and performance standards and practices are in place to keep everyone safe and allow the successful end of a 30 year Police career.  I have always said that if every cop kept, to nothing else, to the ten commandments he/she would never have a permanent career problem.

Some examples of those of us who did fall off the reservation...would love to give each a swift kick in the crotch.

1.    BOYNTON BEACH — A Florida Atlantic University police officer responded to an online ad under the “escorts” section on Monday, where a woman called “Stephanie” promised that satisfaction was her main concern.  But something went wrong between the two, and the escort ended up handcuffed by the officer, before she was shot once in the abdomen and once in her neck.  Today, Jimmy Dac Ho, 47, is sitting in jail, while the woman — Sheri Carter — is in Delray Medical Center, paralyzed from her waist down.  Ho was placed on administrative leave on Tuesday, when the department learned of his arrest, said Deputy Chief Keith Totten, of FAU police. Ho turned in his letter of resignation this afternoon and it was accepted, FAU Police said.  Police say the shooting happened on Monday, when Boynton Beach Police were told by a friend of Carter that she was concerned about Carter’s well being. When police entered Carter’s home at the Marina Village condominiums in the 600 block of Casa Lona Boulevard, they found her shot and unconscious.  Subsequent interviews with neighbors revealed to police that Carter runs an independent escort service from her home and that she lists herself as “Stephanie” on Backpage.com, according to the police report.  Her last escort ad was posted on Monday, where she offers “a quiet, clean and discreet incall location.” The ad lists Carter’s phone number and guarantees that her photos are “100% real and accurate guaranteed or your time spent with me will be completely free!!”  Through phone records, detectives found that Ho was in contact with Carter prior to the last text message she sent at 4:21 p.m., to her boyfriend, where she said that her client was acting “weird and scary.”  When they knocked on Ho’s door, detectives noticed that he looked “worried,” according to the arrest report.  “The defendant quickly then blurted that it was self defense and that she struggled with him over the gun,” the detective stated in the report.  Ho told the detectives that he was a police officer and that he felt that Carter had “ruined his life.”  First, Ho told police that he went to have sex with Carter for money, the report states. Then, he said that Carter wanted money but he didn’t have any.  After waving his rights, Ho told police that he was scared that Carter was trying to rob him, according to the report. He said that he handcuffed her when he thought she was going to use a knife. When he tried to take the handcuffs off, she struggled and he shot her in the abdomen, according to the report.  “He said that he remembered a second shot, which struck her in the neck,” the detective detailed in the report.  When Ho allowed a search of his house, police found evidence taken from Carter’s home, the report stated.  In addition to attempted first-degree murder, Ho faces false imprisonment charges.  Deputy Chief Totten said that Ho had been an officer with FAU police since 2006. Although Ho has had incidents in the past, Totten said none “would lead us to believe that this was capable.”  Meanwhile, Pembroke Pines Police confirmed on Tuesday that Ho had been arrested by the agency in 2004 for battery “in reference to domestic violence.”

2.  A California Highway Patrol officer who fatally shot her husband two years ago in what she said was self-defense was charged with the man's killing on Tuesday, prosecutors said. Tomiekia Johnson, 31, of Compton, was arrested by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies, according to the district attorney's office.  The officer had initially told sheriff’s homicide investigators that she retrieved a handgun and shot her husband once in the upper body after an argument erupted and he became verbally and physically abusive. Prosecutors, however, say she intentionally shot her husband, a father of two.  The shooting occurred shortly after 11 p.m. on a Saturday in 400 block of Amantha Avenue in Compton. The officer did not remain where she shot her husband but drove to her parents’ home and reported the killing from there. She was not arrested at the time of the shooting and was off-duty.  Sheriff’s homicide detectives, however, doubted the story especially after family members and friends of the 31-year-old barber at Platinum Cutz in Compton described him as a peaceful man not known to be violent. By contrast, witnesses told investigators the officer had a history of drinking heavily.  The couple had met through a local bowling alley, Cal Bowling Lanes in Lakewood.

3.  SUGARCREEK TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WDTN) - Sugarcreek Township police arrested a fellow officer Friday, after they said surveillance cameras captured him stealing DVDs, said Sgt. Mark White, Sugarcreek Township Police.  West Carrollton police officer Joseph Purnell and his wife Ashley were arrested at the Walmart on Wilmington Pike.  Both have since been released from jail. Charges are pending, and they're both expected to appear in court February 16, 2011.

4.  A San Francisco police officer was arrested Wednesday and faces two felony charges related to the theft of a vehicle registration sticker that the district attorney's office says he stole from a motorist during a traffic stop.  Officer Gregory Hui, 45, who also faces a misdemeanor embezzlement charge, had his bail set at $18,000, police said.  Hui was reportedly on patrol in the Richmond District in January 2010 when he pulled over a motorist for having a broken brake light, District Attorney George Gascón said in a news release.  During the traffic stop, Hui cited the driver for an improper registration sticker, according to the district attorney's office.  The officer, who has been on the police force for seven years, then confiscated the tag and put it on a car he co-owns, which had an expired tag, Gascón said.  "Police officers are sworn to uphold the law and protect the public," Gascón said in a statement. "When they violate the law and public trust, they must be held accountable, particularly when the allegations involve on-duty conduct. The law must apply to everyone equally."  Hui was suspended without pay on Dec. 17 while the police internal affairs unit investigated the incident.  He was charged with two felonies for fraudulent use of vehicle registration and a misdemeanor charge of "theft under the color of authority," police said.  Interim Police Chief Jeff Godown declined to address specific information related to the charges, saying the matter is under investigation and a personnel issue.  "That's all I can tell you," he said.

5.  The shadow of corruption over Prince George’s County government widened Monday with indictments against three county police officers and others on charges of trafficking bootleg cigarettes, alcohol and cocaine, just days after County Executive Jack B. Johnson’s arrest on charges of trying to conceal tens thousands of dollars payoffs from a developer.  The latest round of charges accuse Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, who owns several liquor stores in the area, of paying police officers to help ship untaxed alcohol and cigarettes in Maryland and Virginia. Among those charged in that case were Prince George’s Police Sergeant Richard Delabrer and Corporal Chong Chin Kim, officials said.  The indictment seeks the forfeiture of $3.5 million, 25 properties, 13 vehicles and money from 84 bank accounts that authorities say they traced to the crimes.  In a separate indictment made public Monday, authorties charged Prince George’s police officer Sinisa Simic of cocaine trafficking.  On Friday, Mr. Johnson was charged with witness tampering and destruction of evidence in an long-running federal investigation into bribes paid by real estate developers to county officials. Mr. Johnson, who has said he’s innocent of the charges, were released pending trial, with Mr. Johnson under electronic monitoring.  There’s no indication that the cases involving the police officers and Mr. Johnson are related, but the latest indictments come just days after U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in Maryland said following Mr. Johnson’s arrest to expect more charges.  Mr. Johnson, nabbed by the FBI taking $15,000 from an unnamed developer Friday, later told his wife by phone to hide tens of thousands of dollars at his home in her underwear as FBI agents arrived.  Leslie Johnson, who was elected but not yet sworn into a seat on the Prince George’s Council, was also charged Friday. The FBI recovered $79.600 in cash from her underwear, authorities said in charging documents.  The county executive, a Democrat who previously was the county’s top prosecutor, also told his wife to tear up a $100,000 check from the developer and stash tens of thousands of dollars in cash in her bra, authorities said.  “Tear it up! That is the only thing you have to do,” Mr. Johnson told his wife, referring to the check, according to prosecutors.

Exodus 20

The Ten Commandments
 1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
 3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
 13 “You shall not murder.
 14 “You shall not commit adultery.
 15 “You shall not steal.
 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Giuseppe Arcimboldo-Painter

I just read about this painter the other day. He was born sometime in 1527 and died in July 11, 1593. What he is know for are his portraits of his famous/powerful/wealthy that are composed of flowers and fruit. His "normal" art was never really appreciated but time as proved his "food" art.

I am consistently amazed that talent in whatever the form and in whatever the era is almost always rewarded. Here is a painter that uses fish to create a portrait and he gains as patrons Ferdinand of Vienna, Maximilian II and others of the same caliber.

We are all marvelously and wonderfully made.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Random Things.

Random stuff for a random day...

1.  Alex Brown's photograph, "Sad Vader."

2.  A Video..."A Dad's Life"

3.  Random event in HISTORY (Snopes Checked...True)

Back in the 50's there was a well known radio host/comedian/song writer in Hollywood named Stuart Hamblen who was noted for his drinking, womanizing, partying, etc.

One of his bigger hits at the time was ---

"I won't go hunting with you Jake, but I'll go chasing women."

One day, along came a young preacher holding a tent revival. Hamblen had him on his radio show, presumably to poke fun at him.

In order to gather more material for his show, Hamblen showed up at one of the revival meetings.

Early in the service the preacher announced, "There is one man in this audience who is a big fake."

There were probably others who thought the same thing, but Hamblen was convinced that he was the one the preacher was talking about (some would call that conviction) but he was having none of that.

Still the words continued to haunt him until a couple of nights later he showed up drunk at the preacher's hotel door around 2 am demanding that the preacher pray for him!

But the preacher refused, saying, "This is between you and God and I'm not going to get in the middle of it."

But he did invite Stuart in and they talked until about 5 am at which point Stuart dropped to his knees and with tears, cried out to God.

But that is not the end of the story.

Stuart quit drinking, quit chasing women, quit everything that was 'fun.' Soon he began to lose favor with the Hollywood crowd.

He was ultimately fired by the radio station when he refused to accept a beer company as a sponsor.

Hard times were upon him. He tried writing a couple of "Christian" songs but the only one that had much success was "This Old House", written for his friend Rosemary Clooney.

As he continued to struggle, a long time friend named John took him aside and told him, "All your troubles started when you 'got religion,' was it worth it all?"

Stuart answered simply, "Yes."

Then his friend asked, "You liked your booze so much, don't you ever miss it?" And his answer was, "No." John then said, "I don't understand how you could give it up so easily."

And Stuart's response was, "It's no big secret. All things are possible with God."

To this John replied, "That's a catchy phrase. You should write a song about it."

And as they say, "The rest is history."

The song Carl Stuart Hamblen wrote was "It Is No Secret."

"It is no secret what God can do.
What He's done for others, He'll do for you.

With arms wide open, He'll welcome you.
It is no secret, what God can do....."

By the way .... the friend was John Wayne.

And the young preacher who refused to pray for Stuart Hamblen? .... That was Billy Graham.

2 Kings 2:23-24

Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Wonder When It Stops?

Politicians from both sides have raided the social security funds for small wasteful politically motivated pet projects to obtain and maintain local voter support, till there is nothing left except a huge I.O.U..  Medicaid and Medicare underfunded to the point of insolvency.  States years behind in payments, so that their friends and family can get rich on easy and fat contracts that would have cost anyone in the private sector their job.  I wonder when its going to end?  The fees that Illinois is paying to maintain a fund that is loosing money can only make sense if the lawmakers and fund managers are together getting rich.  Illinois is taxing itself to death and yet there is no cuts or the end to the friend of the program deals.  It is quickly running to catch up with Detroit and New Orleans in quality of living and financial stability.  They are almost maxed in taxes and yet each day there is another proposal to either raise or create another.  The politicians and the friends and family of the politicians will walk away millionaires but the teachers, Policemen and firemen will just come up empty handed and working till their eighty.  That old man greeting people at Wal-Mart in ten years, just ask him which Police department he retired from, I am sure he will be happy to tell you.

The article's link: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/25/illinois-pension-idUSN2523235020110125


US SEC probes statements on Illinois pension-report

Jan 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has started an inquiry into public statements by Illinois officials about the state's underfunded pension fund, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The state's governor's office confirmed the SEC inquiry late on Monday, the newspaper reported.

It quoted the governor's spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft, as saying the inquiry is focused on public statements concerning a measure passed last year intended to shore up the retirement system.

"We are fully cooperating" with the inquiry, it quoted her as saying. "We feel our disclosure was always accurate and complete."

The newspaper, citing Robert Kurtter, a managing director in the public finance division at Moody's Investors Service, said as issue being examined is whether Illinois was taking future savings and treating them as current reductions in the cost of the pension fund.

A measure Illinois took to save costs was to raise the retirement age for newly hired Illinois workers.

The newspaper said Kurtter mentioned the inquiry in a report released on Monday evening.

The SEC informed the state about the inquiry in September, the newspaper quoted Kraft as saying.

She said Illinois has included mention of the SEC inquiry in documents being prepared for the sale expected in the next few weeks of an approximately $3.7 billion bond, the newspaper said.

Illinois' underfunding of its pension system is one of the worst among U.S. states.


Carnival Shell Game with Illinois State Pensions

On November 4, 2010, all State Senators were called to Springfield ostensibly to vote on a $4B proposal to pay into state employee pension plans. The Democrat leadership had a political caucus off-site, but no vote was taken on the important fiscal matter, nor any other substantive issue.

Last year I believed Governor Quinn's promise that he would spend approximately $3.5 Billion in borrowed funds wisely and, incredibly (for me), I voted "yes" to give him broad borrowing and spending authority. Unfortunately, that promise was broken and nearly all of that debt was used to pay for public employee pension deposits, while our schools languished and social service agencies were decimated.

Fool me once, shame on you - - fool me twice shame on me.

Two days after the election, Governor Quinn was back again to squander another $4 Billion of debt on a desperately bankrupt pension system. He still has not presented a comprehensive plan of real cuts nor even tax increases that will restore solvency to Illinois--despite the false statements he made regarding the budget during the campaign.

If you believe, as I do, that the pension promise made to public employees represents a real financial obligation, then creating new debt to pay off this existing debt is like borrowing on your Visa at a higher interest rate to pay off your Discover credit card. It's an unfortunate carnival shell game being played with important pension obligations... shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as it slips beneath the frigid waves.

What makes the credit card analogy even worse for Illinois is that the guy holding both credit cards is bankrupt. If you don't believe me, look at four pieces of evidence:
Unfunded liabilities exceed assets by $80-100 Billion where the State's entire annual general revenue is a bit over $25 Billion.
To pay that amount back over a 30-year mortgage with no interest cost, it would take more than $200 million every 30 days over the next generation of years.
Crain's Chicago Business reports that the state pensions are "eating their seed corn" selling assets to pay current benefits, i.e. a forced liquidation of assets in a bankruptcy.
To issue the last set of state bonds, taxpayers were penalized an extra $550 Million in interest cost over the life of those bonds.

Folks, you just reelected the leaders who produced this mess over the past eight years to another four years under their direction.

At least three reasonable reforms that must be implemented to close and seal the holes in the leaky bucket before we start pouring more money into these pension funds are:

Ask state employees, including teachers, to please work until 62, rather than the current 55 years old, which is early retirement under Social Security that our neighbors receive.

Cap the maximum pension pay at a whopping $120,000 annually, or $10,000 per month for no longer coming in to work. (It takes $3 Million of assets at 4% safe return per year to produce that $120,000 for every single retiree. Staggering!)

Eliminate "double-dipping" multiple state pensions.

Without these commonsense reforms, I will not only vote "No", they'll have to add a new button to my voting console that votes "Heck No".

Governor Quinn has not produced a comprehensive budget plan in two years including repayment of our enormous debt. It looks like voters have sided with the public employee unions and voted themselves a stiff tax increase in Illinois. My guess is that Chicago Democrat leadership will implement what they can claim is the majority will of the people by the end of January.

The really sad part of all this is that this pension borrowing won't solve the fundamental spending binge, and it will accelerate the exodus of employers-with-jobs and seniors-with-assets from our state. Pensions seem to be a higher priority to the current and newly-elected Springfield Democrat one-party leadership than paying the bills for local schools and social service agencies.

I hope I'm wrong, but it appears that Illinois is in a comparative economic death spiral. I will continue to give the best recommendations that I can think of to the Chicago Democrats who are still in total charge of Springfield (Quinn, Cullerton and Madigan), but hope for much different results.

And the third and last...link http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2010/02/a-modest-proposal-on-public-pensions.html


by Ralf Seiffe

There’s a lot of talk about increasing income taxes in Springfield. Democrats, and even rubbery Republicans, confess they have no other idea on how to fix the giant hole in Illinois’ fiscal situation. What appears to be missing is any nexus between the cause of the problem and the possible solutions. Until that connection is made, any tax increase will simply increase state spending without remedying the causes of the problem. Smart Republicans and Democrats who can spell “Michigan” should insist the General Assembly make that connection before voting for any tax increases.

The Pew Center for the States has investigated some 400 pension and healthcare funds operated by the states and found these plans had actuarial underfunding to be at least $1 Trillion. Their report is here. Of the financial disasters exposed by this report, Illinois has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst with only about half its pension fund promises actuarially funded. Indeed, of the total debt Illinois faces, pension underfunding explains 91% of it, according to a chart based on data from state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. All tolled, the state’s obligations will reach $130 billion by this year’s fiscal year end, according towww.illinoisisbroke.com.

There’s a difference between short-term budget shortfalls and long-term structural imbalances. Considering only the long-term, it seems to me that the problem Illinois faces are its pension obligations. Even our leaders seem to have come to the same remarkable command of the obvious; our stern-faced governor has proposed that we stop accruing lavish pensions for new state and municipal employees who enjoy much higher career earnings, have near-certain job security and retire much earlier than the taxpayers who fund these benefits. The governor makes this bold and timely proposal secure in the knowledge that his pension(s) are safe from reduction.

He’s also proposed that we increase taxes by 66% to pay for these obligations and for other spending priorities. He justifies this proposal on the Democrat mantra of “shared sacrifice” spiced by the notion that “ability to pay” is the way to apportion the new levies. To meet this objective, he’s proposed very large personal and family deductions that create at least two tiers of taxation. So, despite the Illinois Constitution’s prohibition against progressive income taxes, the governor’s appears to have found a novel way to achieve one of the great aims of all socialist philosophers.

As he is the governor, one must assume this is a constitutional approach, vetted by the phalanx of lawyers at his command. What it fails to accomplish, however, is either linkage to the problem of out-of-control pensions or to accurately assess those with the ability to pay. It also fails to take responsibility for the root causes of the problem.

Starting with the root causes, Illinois taxpayers have every right to be miffed at the management of state and municipal workers’ compensation packages. Our leaders have not resisted their workers’ demands in the fiduciary fashion that the concept of honest services demands. They allowed the formation of public sector unions and then colluded to raise compensation and benefits well beyond those available to taxpayers. Without the countervailing force of the profit motive that exists in the private sector, our leaders have treated themselves and their workers to salaries and benefits that have literally bankrupted Illinois. Now, they expect Illinois taxpayers to pay for their conspiracy with massively higher taxes. This is immoral, it should be illegal and there should be some penalty for letting it happen.

One of the ways the governor and the general assembly have been able to skirt the state constitution’s requirement that it only spend funds available is through accounting gimmicks that are felonious in the private sector. The most evident is the failure to report or consider the current service costs of pensions. Each year, state workers earn a fractional part of their eventual pension. Truthful accounting demands that the amount earned be charged to this year’s operations and accumulated through the career of the employee. Then, when the worker retires, funds will be available to pay the promised benefits. These costs are simply ignored by the general assembly which spends the dollars that should have been reserved on current projects. Were it not for the state’s sovereignty, this practice would be indictable.

So, as one great socialist philosopher once said “What’s to be done” about pensions? Why not adopt the governor’s theories on taxation and link the solution to the problem? First, let’s consider the notion of “ability to pay”. If that’s a legitimate basis for taxation, why not recognize that the lavish pensions the governor and other state workers receive are so much better than the average private sector pension that they literally define the ability to pay. So, using the governor’s logic, why not create a pension tax for public sector pensions? Then, connect that with the average pension in the private sector and make that average the “personal pension tax deduction”. In that way, only the excess benefits--that portion that collusion produced--would be taxable.

The future pension obligations would be directly reduced by the rate of taxation imposed by the public sector pension tax. The higher the tax, the greater the reduction in future pension obligations. And there’s no reason to not to tax the plan heavily because turnabout is fair play. Whenever the politicians talk about “taxing the rich”, there is always a subtle undercurrent that the rich got their wealth in some underhanded way and have some duty to pay it back. In the case of public pensions, there is actual collusion between the parties designed to hurt a third party, in this case the taxpayers. Under these circumstances, the opprobrium politicians have for the rich—and for taxing them--should be liberally turned towards a public sector pension tax in the form of a very high rate.

Given the sneaky way the governor has sidestepped the prohibition on progressive income taxes, a public sector pension tax would be an analogously clever way to comply with the constitutional pension guarantees yet solve the problem. The benefits would be paid, fulfilling the contract and extinguishing any constitutional attack. Then, in a method unrelated to the benefits, a tax would justifiably tax excess benefits.

Finally, the accounting mess. One is reminded of the folks who worked for Enron and invested their 401(k) money in Enron stock. Then, they proceeded to swindle the stock price up from its fundamentally worthless value to a huge number. All along, the workers thought they were getting rich, based on the rising price of their Enron shares. Eventually, the market detected the lie that was Enron and marked the shares down to pennies. The workers felt they were damaged because they “lost” all their gains. But, these were ill-gotten gains based on lies about the company’s financial condition which were passed off on the public. Their gain was illusory.

Similarly, public pension benefits at the state and local level have been based on a lie of the same character as in the Enron situation. The state did not accurately report its true financial condition and the benefits were created only because of this falsity in accounting. Public sector employees knew, or should have known, that the prolific benefits they anticipate are based on this lie and were also illusory. If the system explodes, they will not have lost any real value because, just like the Enron employees, there was no real truth in the plans, there was only the state’s empty promise. Public sector workers had and have a duty to complain and complain loudly when the general assembly created the pension fiction. That they did not makes them just as complicit as our leaders—or the Enron employees—when these plans come apart.

Readers might consider this a rant, and in some ways it is. The facts, as I see them are these: the politicians swindled the public and the rank and file state workers to make themselves more electable. That they take no responsibility now, and tell us that the private sector must now make up for their deceit is not only maddening, it’s unfair. It demands some penalty and taxing their excessive pensions is just one thought.

Proverbs 13:11
Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.