April 4, 2013
We were all better for knowing Roger Ebert
Do you love what you do?
Do you go to work every day and try to master your job and feel deeply that it matters? Do you believe that you can, through sheer excellence, make it matter even more?
Roger Ebert did.
He loved everything he ever did, and made it matter to all of us, perhaps because he chose wisely.
Roger loved the movies and big ideas and great conversation and hard work. He loved the very idea of living a full and examined life, and he was an inspiration to millions of others. Movie fans adored Roger, of course, but so did all of us who at times can feel that electric surge that is life itself.
Speaking of the vitality of youth, Dylan Thomas once wrote — and Roger would appreciate the literary allusion — "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower drives my green age." That was Roger, a life force, and it did not fade as his green age grew grey.
Roger grew up in Urbana, a pudgy only child, a questioning Catholic boy, in the thrall even then of movies and journalism and ideas, and blessed even then with a stunning work ethic. As a kid in high school, he would work all night covering sports for the local paper, then hit the bars — underage — with those glamorous local reporters he couldn't get enough of.
Roger moved on to the big city, Chicago, and could never get enough of that, either. He cranked out the smartest stories for the Sun-Times, always delivered in deceptively simple Midwestern prose. Then he'd schmooze into the wee hours with the likes of Nelson Algren and Mike Royko at Riccardo's and the Billy Goat and, best of all, O'Rourke's.
But when the drinking got the best of him, Roger quit cold. He wanted to do so much more of everything else — he knew he had it in him — and the drinking got in the way.
Roger was unafraid to try his hand. There was his great TV movie review show, "Sneak Previews," with his unlikely friend and competitor, Gene Siskel. There was an awful screenplay. And a better novel. And an excellent blog that should have won him his second Pulitzer Prize.
And we who were lucky to work with him, we who felt such intense pride in being Chicago Sun-Times journalists simply because Roger was one of us, we were all better for his example and friendship.
Roger grew wiser with age. A bit less prideful. A good deal more forgiving. You could see it in his film reviews which, frankly, turned more thumbs up over time. Roger did not agree this was so — he was as tough as ever, he would insist. But he also once wrote, late in life, that while it is easy to find fault in a film or in any work of art, our obligation to each other is to see and appreciate that which is great.
April 8, 2013
The (Alton) Telegraph
Plan to close 'loopholes' controversial
The sad truth about Illinois' fiscal crisis is that any proposed solution is bound to cause problems for someone.
In the case of a proposal from Gov. Pat Quinn to end three of what he calls "loopholes" in the corporate tax system, it could come down to hurting the state's already fragile business climate in order to help pay down Illinois' huge backlog of unpaid bills.
The Illinois Senate Revenue Committee heard testimony last week on a plan that Quinn first outlined last month to address the state's desperate financial situation. The plan includes taxing the foreign dividends of multinational corporations. Quinn claims it would generate an estimated $445 million a year, which he said could go toward the state's backlog of some $9 billion in unpaid bills.
Not surprisingly, the plan is being panned by business groups, including the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Manufacturing Association. During last week's hearing, they questioned whether parts of the plan were constitutional and said the changes would penalize businesses and hurt job creation. The chamber characterized the suspension of the tax incentives as a "tax increase."
The proposed legislation calls for generating $320 million by taxing foreign profits paid as dividends to U.S. parent companies of multinational corporations. The proposal also would tax dividends paid by U.S. subsidiaries of companies doing business in Illinois.
Another proposal would eliminate a link between the state tax code and a federal law that allows deductions for "production activities" that Illinois-based companies move outside the state. Nearly two dozen states do this already, and it's estimated to raise $100 million.
A third measure would require companies that have companion businesses to file a combined tax return, even if the companion is in the finance, insurance or transportation fields, which currently are exempt. The move is expected to bring in $25 million.
In the end, maybe not much will come of these proposals, anyway. Members of the Senate Revenue Committee say they expect extensive discussions on the tax "loophole" issue when the General Assembly reconvenes next week for the last two months of the spring session. But with so many fiscal issues needing attention — most notably, the state's worst-in-the-nation public employee pension funding crisis — closing the "loopholes" may take a lower priority.
April 4, 2013
Illinois legislature to the rescue?
Sen. Bill Haine is introducing legislation to give Gov. Pat Quinn a clean slate to start over and appoint an all-new Southern Illinois University board of trustees.
How embarrassing that it has come to this. It shouldn't take such drastic legislative action to resolve a petty internal power struggle.
This is all Quinn's fault because he tried control who its chairman would be, then refused to back down when the Senate wouldn't let him have his way.
Quinn should be making new appointments but instead his longtime ally on the board, Roger Herrin, tried an end run this week to grab power. Herrin tried to get himself voted in as the permanent board chairman, even though three of the seven trustee seats are vacant. Obviously choosing a chairman should wait until the vacancies are filled and SIU Edwardsville again has representation on the board. A trustee had to walk out of the meeting to stop this farce.
The legislature throwing out the rest of the board seems extreme to us. But Haine is right when he says that SIU needs a stable environment for leadership and that the turmoil is inexcusable.
April 6, 2013
The (Moline) Dispatch and Rock Island Argus
Minimum wage hike hurts those its aimed at helping
State lawmakers who insist Illinois still is a great place to do business and that they are committed to ensuring it remains so, may have the opportunity to prove it this week.
Retail and small business leaders worry that a bill sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, could soon surface that would significantly hike Illinois' already disproportionate minimum wage with predictably disastrous results.
Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Kim Maisch, director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told our editorial board last week they worry the plan making the rounds in Springfield would send a state already in economic jeopardy headlong back into recession.
Of course, Quad-Citians are well aware of what may happen if Illinois' minimum wage -- already fourth highest in the nation -- is raised to $10 an hour over the next three years. It's already more than a dollar higher than most of our neighbors. If SB 68 is enacted, it would be at least $1.75 per hour higher in the first year and grow ever higher every year after.
Those who suggest such a tiny increase in pay for the state's poorest paid workers shouldn't have a big an impact on a business' bottom line fail to take into account the slim margin of profit under which small businesses like restaurants must function. Add in the double whammy of the increased costs that the Affordable Care Act (analysts suggest can reach $3,000 per employee), and the number of kinds of such businesses in the Illinois Quad-Cities are likely to decline.
Their disappearance hurts more than quality of life. When that restaurant disappears, so do the jobs of servers, cooks and dishwashers. If the small retailer goes out of business, she doesn't need sales clerks. Local governments and the state won't get sales, payroll and hotel and restaurant taxes. And another empty storefront drags a community down.
There also is little proof that increasing the minimum wage reduces poverty. There is proof, however, that the loss of businesses which provide minimum wage jobs doesn't help families, it hurts them.
Q-C lawmakers who say they care about the state's business climate and jobless rate should prove it by opposing efforts to hike the minimum wage.