Matthew Blake’s Articles

Great Lakes invasion threat

Asian carp gets all the press, but there are 40 other species swimming in the Chicago River that could spring an unwanted invasion into the Great Lakes. So says a new report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as relayed by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Dan Egan. At issue is whether the Army Corps should build an electric barrier to separate the Chicago River from Lake Michigan. Many environmentalists say the barrier should be built now, but the Army Corp is still in studying/evaluation mode.

Meanwhile, progress in cutting auto pollution

In the midst of the ruckus over the debt ceiling, Barack Obama announced strong new fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. This is something of a “man bites dog” story at a time of major cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress’s apparent inability to avoid a federal default. TIME’s Michael Grunwald writes that the standards represent “a big victory in the fight to reduce our foreign oil addiction, our carbon emissions, and our gasoline costs.” The success in writing such an ambitious law — that cars must go 55 miles per gallon by 2025 – seems largely due to the fact that Detroit automakers are literally indebted to the Obama administration, not to mention efforts by California to up tailpipe emission standards.


Illinois and the federal debt default

Paul Merrion of Crain’s Chicago Business got a jump Wednesday on an issue already generating a sub-genre of stories — how would a federal debt default impact local governments and communities? As has been diligently chronicled over the last months, the expiration of the debt ceiling would be devastating to the American economy. Illinois –  a state that already owes billions in interest payments — would have to start making good on major payments as the state’s credit rating could be lowered. Money to pay off the debt means less money for Medicaid, education, and everything else the state must pay for.

Study doesn’t vouch for vouchers

School voucher programs — which assign taxpayer money for students to attend area schools of their choice, including some private schools — have “no clear academic benefit for their users.” This is according to a Center on Education Policy report that looked at 27 studies of voucher programs since 2000. Erin Richards writes up the study for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as Milwaukee was one of the first cities to implement vouchers. (more…)

Conventional labor disputes

Chicago's McCormick Place

Even as both private and public sector unions lose power, labor is a powerful force in Chicago. But Illinois politicians — even Democrats who get union contributions — argue that AFL-CIO unions like the carpenters and the teamsters keep the city from seeing millions, maybe billions, of revenue at the McCormick Place convention center. But, like the dispute between Chicago-based Boeing and the machinist union, federal law has so far sided with labor.

FAA shutdown could ground O’Hare expansion

The Federal Aviation Administration’s partial shutdown – where the chief debate is over whether or not the agency should provide subsidies to rural airports – has temporarily stopped airport construction projects country-wide dead in their tracks. The Chicago Tribune’s Jon Hilkevitch had a good piece yesterday on how the federal dispute could delay the already absurdly delayed expansion of O’Hare airport. Funding for a new runway could be halted, along with the dozens of other airport improvement projects across the country that rely on federal funds.

As corn demand goes up, subsidies go down

The Wall Street Journal’s Scott Kilman visits Shelbyville, Illinois and reports that in “this typical Midwestern town” crop prices are now high enough that they no longer trigger billions of dollars in federal subsidies to farmers. Kilman’s narrative is a feel-good one for WSJ readers: the market has done what special-interest Washington politicians never could — cut farm subsidies in half during the last six years. The high crop prices are a result of both growing demand from consumers in developing countries like China and also the fact that each year millions of tons of corn is used to produce ethanol for auto fuel.

However, there are still egregious farm subsidies that ought to be eliminated from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture budget. For example, the federal government still doles out billions of dollars so farmers uphold their promise to not grow crops in highly erodible land.


More bad news for East St. Louis schools

A federal prosecutor will investigate the misuse of public funds in the East St. Louis, Illinois school district — one of the poorest and most mismanaged school districts in the country, reports Nicholas J.C. Pistor. The investigation comes three months after the East St. Louis District ceded control of its operations to the Illinois Board of Education.



Waiting For Thomson: Guantanamo Bay and an Illinois village held hostage

Thomson (IL) Correctional Facility

President Obama made many pledges during his campaign for president, and one of the most cut-and-dried was his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It hasn’t happened. “Gitmo” still houses 172 suspected terrorists.

In Thomson, Illinois, the fate of the prison in Guantanamo Bay is not the first thing on Jerry “Duke” Hebeler’s mind. Hebeler, village president of Thomson, oversees the town of about 600 that lies 90 miles west of Chicago. (more…)

Chicago goes to Washington

Paul Merrion of Crain’s Chicago Business breaks down which Chicago companies did the most lobbying in Washington, D.C. during the second quarter. Defense contracting behemoth Boeing unsurprisingly did the most, spending about $4.4 million on lobbying efforts. The Exelon Corp. energy company was second, with $1.6 million.

What the numbers show is that while major companies have a full staff of lobbyists, lobbying expenditures wax and wane depending on whether the company has specific business in Washington. Boeing, for example, spent a lot more on lobbying while trying to procure a $35 billion tanker deal from the Air Force.