The city’s immediate budget problems may be lessened, if not wiped out, by the deal to privatize Midway Airport that the Daley administration announced Tuesday. It will almost certainly win approval from the City Council—the quick dividends will be too much to pass up in this tumultuous economic climate, and aldermen won’t have much expertise except the administration’s to use for evaluating the deal.
Of course, it’s hardly free money. As in other deals that hand long-time (as in 99-year) control of public assets to private businesses, the city will lose out in the likely event that the airport increases in value and generates more revenues in the decades ahead.
And the budget problems aren’t going away—at all levels of government, they’re likely to get worse over the next couple of years. There is a solution that might make more financial sense, but it’s arguably not right, and it certainly isn’t politically viable: outsource the labor and operations of the government rather than relinquishing control of its physical assets.
Salaries, benefits, and pension obligations make up the biggest piece of the budget pie, by far; more than 80 percent of the city’s corporate fund, its primary pot of money, goes toward salaries and wages. Contracting with private companies for labor might save taxpayers some money, but competition for the deals (assuming competition would determine them as opposed to, say, nepotism or backroom handshakes) would drive down wages and benefits for those workers—it's happened before—as well as people doing comparable work in the fully private sector.
Sorry to be Mr. Doomsday, but even before Wall Street started tanking, public-sector budgets were a ticking time bomb, and now our elected officials have even tougher choices to make. I hope voters are paying attention, because as we know the political process typically rewards people who make the shrewdest short-term moves while leaving the messy stuff for later.
Green Week continues at Northeastern Illinois University (5500 N. Saint Louis) with two free workshops: worm composting--easy and odorless, according to Martha Stewart, and, in any case, certainly less gross than other types of composting previously mentioned here--at 2 PM in the Village Square, and "The Low Carbon Diet" (a how-to on reducing your carbon footprint) at 1 PM and 5 PM in room 215 of the Student Union. The second workshop is geared toward students in leadership positions and registration is requested.
Zara, "possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world" (I don't know what a "devastating" retailer is, but it sounds awesome), is open at Old Orchard mall in Skokie and will be opening downtown next year, according to Heather Kenny. Normally this would go over my head, but the business model is really pretty interesting--their clothes have a freakishly short production cycle, like two weeks from design to shelf. This means that they get people coming back more often, can swap failures with new products quickly, and follow street fashion more closely than competitors.
A group of Democratic House members are announcing a new plan based not on the original Paulson plan but on ideas put forth by former FDIC head William Isaac that would allegedly have bipartisan support--the Republican Study Committee sounds like they're into Isaac's ideas.
This might be the consensus of the ends against the middle that's seemed possible for awhile. It's based around the principle of the net-worth certificate program (PDF), which I'm still pretty hazy on, but here's how I understand it:
1. The FDIC "buys" net-worth certificates from troubled (but not fucked) banks with promissory notes
2. As part of the deal the banks submit to more intensive regulation
3. The bank "pays back" the FDIC as it regains financial health
I.e. no real money changes hands. All of this sounds kind of mysterious to me--the best I can do is that it sounds like the government gets to say "you actually have more capital than people are saying because we trust you and your books look okay." Feel free to correct or annotate.
Update: How they do it in Iceland.
Susan Chandler of the Trib has a thoughtful piece about the just-announced Midway lease --it's a short-term fix, and one that will drive up prices. But you'll be able to buy more stuff when you're waiting for your flight.
McChaos is getting stomped in the polls (FiveThirtyEight has a 25% chance of an Obama landslide r/n), which doesn't provide much incentive for Obama to stick his neck out on a bailout bill. So it'll be interesting to see if he chooses to.
As I reported in the Reader in August, Illinois congressman Mark Kirk was so eager to see the United States provide Israel with a state-of-the-art missile-tracking radar system that he announced a deal between the two countries weeks before the Pentagon wanted to talk about it.
A story from the Israeli daily Haaretz posted on Kirk's Web site calls the deployment an "initiative" by Kirk and says the purpose of the system, which will operate in conjunction with American satellites and Israeli interceptor missiles, is to shield Israel from Iranian attack.
The system will be operated in the Negev by American military personnel, whom Haaretz says will constitute the first permanent American military presence in Israel. This must help explain why Washington hasn't wanted to call attention to what's it's doing.
Maybe Creative Loafing should have invested in mulefoots.
Yesterday I sat in on a strategy session for our October 19 six-course, all-mulefoot dinner at Blackbird with Paul Kahan and the other principal chefs. We announced it last Tuesday, and it was booked solid in two days.
"We've never sold out anything that fast," said Kahan. (You can still call Blackbird and get on a waiting list for cancellations.)
As I mentioned earlier, Valerie Weihman-Rock is providing three young mulefoots for the dinner, each predicted to weigh about 160 pounds when their time comes. If that's accurate, after slaughter the chefs will have about 120 pounds of pork from each pig to work with. The meeting's purpose was to assign the primal cuts (which will be broken down at Blackbird), to brainstorm some ideas for dishes and wine pairings, and to map out a few logistics.
Kahan, who has previously worked with mulefoots supplied by Michigan farmer George Rasmussen, gave Jason Hammel from Lula and Vie's Paul Virant first choice. Hammel, who took the bellies, was thinking about doing something with preserved ground-cherries. Virant, who chose the shoulders and the offal, was going to collaborate with Kahan on a dish. Avec's Justin Large got the heads and the feet, for a possible ravioli in brodo. Blackbird's Mike Sheerin is going for the hams and the Publican's Brian Huston will work with the loins. Each will get a bag of bones for stock.
Blackbird/Avec pastry chef Tim Dahl, who faces an interesting challenge in coming up with a nongimmicky pork dessert, took some ribbing from the others:
"I thought he was gonna jump right at offal."
"You're not gonna use head and feet for dessert?"
"How about the blood? You want the blood?"
"How about making cups out of the ears?"
In the end he decided to do a cheese course, possibly based on a Spanish dish with chicharron and a spicy syrup.
Of course, at this stage, menu planning is still theoretical. If you didn't reserve a spot you can follow along here on the Food Chain to find out what happens. Mike Gebert from Sky Full of Bacon will be along for the ride, videocam in hand.
You can read the collected dispatches from the Whole Hog Project here.