Category Archives: Columns
Public-Private Partnerships or Just Crony Capitalism?
Published September 19, 2012 at Rock River Times
“Public-private partnership” has become the latest buzzword among the political class and its supporters. Often used in combination with “economic development” (another favorite campaign slogan), it conjures the rosy image of government and the private sector walking hand-in-hand toward a more prosperous future. More careful observers, however, see nothing more than a mask for cronyism and corruption. In truth, these partnerships may enrich a few, but they hardly ever yield the promised benefits for the public.
The “public-private” concept works in several ways: either government partners with private business to build and maintain public projects, or government invests in private business in order to foster the growth of certain industries, supposedly for the public good. Rather than stay out of the marketplace, government officials use their influence and authority to grant special favors to their friends and colleagues in the business world.
When government officials and business leaders maintain a close relationship for their own financial benefit, as is often the case with public-private partnerships, it is sometimes called “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism is marked by favoritism when it comes to handing out legal permits, government grants, business contracts, and special tax breaks. Self-serving friendships or familial ties between businessmen and government officials mean that anyone not on the “inside” of these relationships is excluded from the process.
Published September 5, 2012 at Rock River Times
Campus speech codes and other rules governing expression at public colleges and universities have long been controversial. Now, Rock Valley College has landed itself in hot water over its policies concerning which students have access to campus bulletin boards and which do not. Dominic Celletti, a Criminal Justice student at RVC, is filing suit in Federal court over what he says was a systematic infringement on his freedom of speech by administrators at the college.
A letter sent last October by the Rutherford Institute to Jack Becherer, President of Rock Valley College, explained the incident that led to the civil suit. On September 2, 2011, Dominic approached staff at the Student Life Center about his ability to post flyers around campus, urging students to get involved in civil rights issues. The flyer was a simple design featuring a call for students to read the U.S. Constitution and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, with Dominic’s phone number.
“As you can see,” a staff attorney at the Rutherford Institute wrote, “the flyers are not offensive or inflammatory and simply urge people to stand up for their civil liberties and become knowledgeable about their constitutional rights.” When Dominic inquired about posting the flyers, however, he was told that he was not allowed to post on campus bulletin boards because he was not a member of a campus club. As a non-affiliated student, he could be given access to one “free” and one “event” board in the Student Center Building.
Published August 22, 2012 at Rock River Times
It is not easy to start, own, and run a business, but it is easy to overlook this fact. Most people, after all, have never owned a business. While clocking in and out every day, it is easy to imagine that your employers are living the high life while you and the other employees toil around them. Reality is much more complicated, however, and it may just be the simple wage earner who has the last laugh.
For every successful business owner, there are many more whose businesses failed, or who have struggled for years just to stay above water. Whether it is a mom and pop store or multimillion dollar operation, the fate of every business is ultimately determined by the whims of the marketplace. Circuit City, Frontier Airlines, Hollywood Video, and Borders Books are just a few of the hundreds of companies that have gone under in recent years. Each one represented the dreams and desires of an entrepreneur or group of entrepreneurs. Each took years to build and seemed, at one time, to be unstoppable.
Those are just some of the most prominent examples. According to a special tabulation by the Census Bureau, 25 percent of businesses founded in 1992 did not make it past their first year. By 1997, less than 50 percent of those businesses were still in operation, and by 2002, only 29 percent were still operating. Of course, those numbers vary according to industry, but overall, they paint a very grim picture. For every business that survives to its one year anniversary, there are many more that never even make it to opening day.
My new column is up at Disclosure News!
As fans of Disclosure know, I recently returned to Charleston, Illinois to publish a Disclosure franchise called Disclosure Heartland. Starting a newspaper of this kind is not easy. It takes hard work, a lot of travel, and a lot of time and money. It is hard enough on its own without all the obstacles put in its way.
What obstacles are those, you ask? Well, it turns out that some of our good friends and neighbors do not like when a new newspaper comes to town, especially not one like Disclosure. It is not just a sense of competition with the other local newspapers, although there is that too. It is a hostility to the very notion of a news outlet daring to shed light on things that many people would rather not be seen.
For most of my life I had a rather naïve understanding of the place of the press in this country. Of course I understood that most newspapers shied away from controversy for any number of reasons, whether it be to placate advertisers, to follow a particular political or social agenda, or simply out of laziness.
My latest column has been published at the Rock River Times. This could be the most important column I have ever written about local politics.
Previously, I have written about Rockford’s out of control crime rate, what can be done about it, and who deserves the blame. My columns have, so far, focused on one aspect of law enforcement: the police who currently serve as our first line of defense. I have written about how inept politicians have chosen to deprioritize local law enforcement in their budgets, and how bureaucrats have tied the hands of police when it comes to combating street crime. This, however, is only one side of the story.
There is only so much the police can do to keep dangerous criminals off the streets. They can arrest criminals as many times as they want, but without the support of tough, competent prosecutors and an efficient court system, their efforts will have a limited effect. In Winnebago County, the chief prosecutor is State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato. Mr. Bruscato’s office has a less than stellar record when it comes to keeping repeat offenders behind bars.
The case of accused murderer Melvin J. Perkins is a good illustration of how, despite adequate police work, the bungling of the State’s Attorney’s office can put a repeat offender back on the streets and endanger the public. For Sandra Golden, who Perkins has been charged with stabbing to death, too many second chances ended in tragedy.
It is time for an honest conversation about crime in Rockford, a conversation that focuses on solutions rather than excuses. For far too long, politicians and public officials have gotten away with blaming everything under the sun but themselves for their impotence in the face of the city’s problems. For years they have offered the same solution: raise taxes and pour money into public schools and development projects, with little effect. We need leadership with the courage to change the conversation and get results.
Unfortunately, dissemblance has become a way of life for our public officials. In an interview last week, for example, Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson masterfully side-stepped criticism over Rockford’s embarrassing crime rate. “There is too much crime,” he said. “When we look at crime reduction, crime is the end result. We have to look at poverty, the economy and education. Those are the core components. If we have a crime problem, that is the end. What has happened before that? We are making progress, but there is just too much crime.”