Sunday, June 28, 2009

Country Bank's Titanic exhibit was very nice -- my own in-depth research

It was a hot day but Aaron and I managed to stop by the Country Financial Bank Titanic display on in the west parking lot at the Orland Mall. Nice set-up. The displays shows some interesting relics from the recovery of the Titanic that sunk in 1912. My son says he had an awesome time at the display.

I am a Titanic expert of sorts and spent a lot of time reviewing the ship's history. One of the big problem's with James Cameron's movie Titanic is that it had some inaccuracies. Like the "Irish" wedding party on the ship is actually a Lebanese family reception and wedding. Although I do owe Cameron for sparking my interest in the topic.

When I saw the movie at the Marcus Theaters when it came out in 1997, the theater placed a complete list of all the names of the victims and survivors on the theater walls. As I walked out of the movie, I noticed that many of the passengers were of Arab heritage yet there was only one mention in the film by a mother with some children in the 3rd Class section. Here's the feature I wrote and responses I received from relatives of Titanic victims and survivors.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fire Judge John J. Fleming and jail Anthony Abbate immediately

Nothing is more disgusting in Chicago than the lack of justice

By Ray Hanania

Had Anthony Abbate been Black, he would have had the book thrown at him. But Anthony Abbate is an arrogant fat pig of a Chicago cop who was caught on tape in a drunken stuper beating the crap out of a young female bartender. I don’t mean “fat” as just some kind of pejorative adjective, although that certainly hangs easily around Abbate’s dirt bag neck.

At 250 pounds, he’s overweight and that only added to the disgusting video scene as he pummeled, pounded, beat, kicked and dragged mercilessly the 125-pound Karolina Obrycka as she tended bar where she was working in February 2007 and where Abbate was drinking himself into an alcoholic stupor.

What provoked Abbate. Turns out he was beating up people at the bar before he turned his fat fists on Obrycka. But when she refused to serve him more drinks because of his conduct and the disturbance he had caused, fat dirt-bag cop Anthony Abbate turned himself into the poster child for everything ugly about the Chicago Police Department and the hypocrisy that protects those who embrace corruption and misconduct regularly.

Sure enough, leave it to a judgment bankrupt and ethically questioned Cook County Circuit Court Judge like John J. Fleming to find a flimsy excuse to justify giving Abbate leniency. Fleming comes from the same culture of corruption that produces cops like Abbate.

A 12-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, Abbate was off-duty during the altercation but that is baloney. No cops are ever off-duty. They’re always working. They always have the responsibility to step up in any circumstance and throw their weight around.

What is so disturbing about the fat dirt-bag cop Anthony Abbate isn’t the circumstances of this morally corrupt situation, but the silence of the thousands of good Chicago cops and suburban cops, too, who deep down sympathized with Abbate and their stupid “code of silence.”

Abbate, to many of them, was a hero because Obrycka, who has a heavy accent, has been labeled and slandered and defamed on cop-talk blogs and in the halls of police station gossip as an undocumented, illegal alien who can barely speak English.

Instead of throwing that fat dirt-bag cop in to jail, Cook County Circuit Judge John Fleming gave the 40-year-old Anthony Abbate, a slap on the hand: home curfew of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and 130 hours of “community service.”

Who is this Fleming? Here’s his bio from one of those legal web sites:

Legal Experience: 1980-83, assistant general attorney, Chicago Park District (in house counsel); 1983-91, assistant state's attorney, Cook County (traffic 4th Municipal District and Felony Trial Divisions); 1991-94, deputy general attorney, Chicago Park District (supervise the Litigation Division); 1994-1995, ALJ, City of Chicago (Personnel and Parking departments); 1996-1996, Director of Administrative Adjudication, City of Chicago.

Judicial Experience: Judge Fleming was first elected to the bench in November of 1996. He was originally assigned to the 1st Municipal District of the Circuit Court of Cook County. He served in Traffic Court, Domestic Violence and Misdemeanor sections. He is currently assigned to Felony preliminary hearings and Central Bond Court at the Criminal Courts Building.

He has the “culture of corruption” stamp padded all over him.

Fleming, naturally defended his kindered colleague in this state’s rampant culture of corruption, asserting that he didn't see any “aggravating factors” to justify a prison term. Fleming incredulously argued that Abbate did not “seriously injure” the Obrycka, the hero in this sad Chicago saga.

Abbate beat the woman for nearly a half hour! What do you think Fleming would have done if the victim had been his child?

And, Fleming insisted after allowing this trial to be delayed two full years – something judges do when they want to help reduce the burden on the criminals they favor – that Abbate had a “clean record before the incident,” and that he had underwent “alcohol rehab and has not had a relapse” since entering the program.

Is it because Abbate’s past conduct has not been captured on tape as it was that night in that Chicago bar? Had it not been for the bar’s video tape system, Abbate would have gotten off without the worthless conviction handed down in Fleming’s unjust courtroom.

“If I believed sentencing Anthony Abbate to prison would stop people from getting drunk and hitting people, I'd give him the maximum sentence,” Fleming said.

Are you kidding me?

The only thing more disgusting about Abbate’s being given a pass is the moral bankruptcy of Judge Fleming’s ruling.

Fleming is a Circuit Court Judge. He was “first elected” to the bench in 1996. That means he can be removed from the bench. And, he should be removed as soon as possible.

Finally, every decent American citizen in the realm of this injustice by Fleming and Abbate has to ask out loud, Where are the voices of disgust from the Chicago Police Department and police departments throughout? Their silence is deafening and just as shameful, too.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forrest Claypool confides to colleagues he won't challenge Stroger

Forrest Claypool, one of the leading candidates who was expected to challenge Cook County Board President Todd Stroger in the February Democratic primary has told his party allies on the county board he will not run.

That leaves declared candidate Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, a reformer who appeals to African Americans and women dissatisfied with Stroger's rule, and opens up other possible challenges, changing the horse race completely. Another candidate in the race is Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown who has both strong name recognition, ties countywide and the ability to raise funds. She would be a formidable candidate in the Democratic primary.

Many believed Claypool was actually a weak candidate and some insiders argued that polling numbers over the past few months showed his appeal among countywide Democrats weakening. Rather than be a leader in the fight against the Stroger 1 percent sales tax, he has been meekly following along.

============= =============
Claypool's problem is reflected in the FACT that he is making
more news getting out of the race for Cook County Board President
than he ever did getting in to the race. He just never had it!
============= =============

County Commissioner Larry Suffredin immediately announced his plans to form an exploratory committee to decide if he can beat Stroger, who has been besieged by several controversies and growing unpopularity with the oppressive 1 percent sales tax hike. Suffredin originally opposed the sales tax hike, changed his vote hoping that it would bring some badly needed change to the county's health system, and then supported the repeal when those changes failed to materialize.

Another possibility is that County Sheriff Tom Dart might run for Board president in the Democratic primary.

While Democrats scramble to reposition themselves, Republicans are also taking a closer look at the race. With former Chicago Schools CEO Paul Vallas withdrawing from the contest, the Republicans are looking and possible contenders. One candidate, of course, is 17th District Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman, who has quickly risen to the top of the county list of stars first by leading the fight to repeal the Stroger sales tax and her recent victory in getting the board to reverse itself on last year's $190,000 loan to controversy-plagued Regional Schools Supt. Charles Flowers. She's been a powerful voice for voters on the county board.

But the law has been changed and if Gorman does run in November against the Democratic nominee for president, she would not be able to run for re-election to her county seat. A difficult choice but possibly a great opportunity.

That might also save Pat Maher, whose expected candidacy for the 17th District has been overshadowed by Gorman's fast action leadership on the county board. In a head-to-head race, Gorman could easily beat Maher, the president of the Orland Fire Protection District who has no real name recognition outside of this small corner of the huge 17th district. Maher's only asset so far has been his name which his family has fought hard to protect in recent elections. But outside of Orland, the Maher name means little more than that. Maher's ties to the 19th Ward, which has a huge presence in Orland Park, could both help and hurt him in the suburban county district which runs into the far north suburbs. And his ties to Stroger, through the Democratic organization, could cause him some voter grief.

Gorman would be a great candidate to lead the Republican Party going into the election. Winning the primary would be a synch.

Tough choices would have to be made by the beginning of the Fall when filing begins.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gorman credited with exposing financial mismanagement in regional schools superintendent's office

The Cook County Board last year granted a $190,000 loan to the Regional Schools Supt. Charles Flowers. Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, from the 17th district, was the ONLY member of the board to vote against the loan. At the time, she was attacked as being anti-education and out of step with the rest of the board.

But yesterday came vindication. And many responsible county board members like Commissioners John Daley and Larry Suffredin acknowledged it was a mistake to give the controversy-plagued Flowers and his administration the loan, praising Gorman, who in the past year has risen to become one of the board's more responsible leaders and voices advocating for the rights of taxpayers.

A report by the auditor general shows that Flowers mismanaged millions of dollars in funds. His office has an annual budget of about $1 million and is reportedly more than $1 million in debt. The audit shows that Flowers has borrowed money to pay for all kinds of expenses, without proper records, but he insisted he has repaid everything.

But the idea that you can use a public agency like it is your own bank account is outrageous. Gorman saw this coming last year and deserves credit for bringing it to light.

-- Ray Hanania

Orland Firefighter who claimed to be 007 in Iraq war expected to be sentenced today

The two-and-a-half year saga involving former Orland Fire Protection District firefighter Larry Masa, accused of collecting a paycheck and faking military leave to work for a private contractor overseas, could wrap up

Saturday, June 13, 2009

New Township supervisor scraps bids and hires employee to oversee new township building and move

In one of his first big moves, Orland Township Supervisor Paul O'Grady scraped the approved contracts for the new township building and created a new township job salaried at $50,000 a year that he gave to Angela Ryan, a candidate nominated by a partner in his law firm at Querrey & Harrow. Ryan will oversee the building and transition to the new township building, a plan originally started by his predecessor Robert Maher.

O'Grady acknowledged the position was not put out to bid and not posted public for residents of the township to apply for the position. He defended that saying Ryan was placed on the township payroll as an employee, presumably with full employee benefits, with the support of the Township Board.

"Her position is not a contract position. She will be a full time township employee. However, with that said, we will be launching our new web site in the next 30 days which will include an area to respond to RFP's/RFQ's," O'Grady explained in an email.

"She was referred to me by one of my law partners," O'Grady said.

O'Grady said Ryan was not a contributor to his campaign. "I recommended her to the board. ... I interviewed her for over an hour in addition to speaking with her on the phone. In my judgment she had good people skills. She communicated well, described past job accomplishments, and made a positive presentation which led me to the conclusion that she had good people skills and was competent."

The move raised eyebrows. O'Grady, Maher's camp argued, accused them of doing the exact same thing when Maher hired an architect referred to him by associates. Although Ryan is not related to anyone on the board or in the township, O'Grady acknowledged she has no construction experience, a point that has raised concerns in the township.

Ryan's hiring will also give O'Grady direct control in the awarding of the lucrative contract, already approved by the prior board. Seven contractors had vyed for the contract in an open process with bids ranging between $400,000 and $600,000. A new contractor is expected to be hired next month raising questions about the bidding process itself.

In other media reports, O'Grady acknowledged she has no construction experience, but will serve as a "point person/liaison" for the renovation plan.

"Her primary responsibilities will be to work on the new building project. This entails the bid and completion of the build out, the sale of the current building, and the logistics of the move. This will ensure Township services continue uninterrupted during the transition. Ultimately, the Board decided it was more beneficial to pay someone to get this done than to sit on two buildings indefinitely," O'Grady said.

"Additionally, she will work on the General Assistance project to help those who need it and oversee the rewriting of the General Assistance guidelines. She will also coordinate our new jobs training program. Finally, she will be doing other special projects as they arise, most notably the organization of the Township ordinances. At this point it is unclear where the ordinances are even located."

O'Grady blamed it all on his precedessor, asserting the building plan had remained stagnant and describing the bids as "incomplete."

"This was evidenced by the recent re-bid of the building after the incomplete bid packets sat untouched for months. We promised the voters to get this done," O'Grady asserted.

The transition between O'Grady and Maher was very bitter. O'Grady's campaign engaged in very tough and critical attacks that Maher called "throwing mud" and that "avoided" the issues.

Ryan begins her new job this week.

-- Ray Hanania

Friday, June 12, 2009

Responsible financial management in Orland Park?

I have received dozens of emails and heard many comments from Orland Park residents who are outraged that the Village finance department and village Manager Paul Grimes, and some of our arrogant village trustees, decided to wait until AFTER their re-elections to disclose that the village was in a financial mess.

I spoke with Mayor McLaughlin and he assured me before the election that things were tough in the village because of the downspiraling economy but we would survive. Now, he looks foolish. And so does the staff of the village, where some of the complaints have originated over the past week.

I am shocked, but not surprised. It is politics as usual in Orland Park. Mislead or even lie to the voters and paint a rosey picture before an election, and then when the election is over and you don't have to worry about repurcussions, casually let the cat out fo the bag.

Pathetic! I think Village Manager Paul Grimes should apologize for this lapse in judgment and failure to make this all public 10 WEEKS AGO! I also think Trustee Kathy Fenton who just ran for re-election should also apologize to the voters for allowing this to sneak past everyone, and she suddenly now shows concerns for the village's financial situation. It's phony!

Over $12 million in capital improvements in the village have been put on hold, we are now being told.

The newspaper reports are sketchy at best and not one reporter has a handle on how bad the situation really is. Is it $2 million or $3 million that had to be cut fromt he budget? How big is the budget deficit?

Mayor McLaughlin owes it to the people of Orland Park to put together a proper and complete statement and tell us precisely how bad things are. Put it in numbers and maybe issue it with the press releases that are always filled with happy talk, good news and events.

That's your job. Don't sit back and let Grimes do all the shuffling and waffling and obfuscation, mayor. Put together a detailed report on how bad things are and distribute it to the residents of the village. You are only making things worse letting it trickle out piecemeal through some incompetent village underlings and colleagues.

Give us the full picture!

-- Ray Hanania

Monday, June 8, 2009

Beware of online ticket ordering: Marcus Theaters hit me for a $12 a month fee

You think you can trust someone, especially someone who works in your neighborhood. But the economy is turning once reliable friends into unreliable sources trying to get your cash.

Recently, I purchased tickets online to see a movie with my family at the Marcus Theater. The idea is buying them in advance so my son can get a good seat at one of the great animated films that they are making for adults but selling to children, and at least enjoy the film. They are always packed. If you don't get there 45 minutes ahead of time, you can't get a good seat. And if you get there 10 minutes ahead of time, you won't get a seat for the big movies.

Last week, on Thursday June 4, a $12 charge mysteriously appeared on my bank card. It was listed to "Reservation Rewards." I had no idea who that was. ( is their web site, I discovered, and they are owned by another company called ""). I was planning to explore that charge today (Monday).

Last night, on June 7, we went to the show to see "Up," a great animated film featuring the voice of another great actor Ed Asner. We had a blast. It was a good movie although the theater was a filthy.

This morning, I received an email telling me "I had signed up" for something called "Reservation Rewards" and that they would start billing me $12 a month so that I could get all the "benefits" of joining their scam-like system.

Reservation Rewards claimed I would get discounts on movie tickets. Then how come I paid top dollar for Sunday's movie? The only reward, it seems, is for Marcus Theaters and Reservation Rewards.

It is WRONG to enroll someone surreptitiously in a monthly payment plan without specifically getting their approval, but adding a small check box maybe on an online purchase form WITHOUT clearly explaining that the dupes are be dragged in to a MONTHLY automatic deducation of $12?

As I explored the site more, and explored my alleged account, I discovered how much of misleading system this really is. They created an account for me (and said I created it). The account though was automatically set up. When I tried to eliminate the credit card information on the account that Marcus Theaters set up through ReservationsReward, it told me I couldn't make changes without filling out more information -- forcing me to either add more informationa nd thereby be complicit -- or face more troubles.

I used the link they provided to connect to them which automatically signed me in and then asked me to update your account. What a bunch of lowlifes. I asked for an explanation but have not received one yet but I will keep pursuing them.

The surprising thing I saw was that they announced they would now be billing me $12 and had charged my account $12 as of June 8. Well, June 8 is the day AFTER I just returned from the Marcus Theaters!

And when I checked bank on my online debit card at the bank, the $12 they charged me on June 4 miraculously was removed.

What's going on?

In fairness to Reservation Rewards, they responded fast when I inquired. Here is what they wrote:

Dear Ray, Thank you for contacting Reservation Rewards. We try to make our offer as clear as possible and we apologize for any concern you may have experienced. Our records show that on 5/9/2009 you or someone in your household completed an online transaction with After your transaction you were offered and accepted a membership in Reservation Rewards. Immediately next to the offer, the Offer Details were displayed, which included the agreement that we could bill the fee to the credit card you used for your transaction with The person who signed up for Reservation Rewards would have given permission to use that specific credit card. In order to sign up they would have typed in the email address two times, like a signature and also clicked the button to accept the membership.

When a misunderstanding occurs, we are more than willing to cancel the membership and provide a refund. This membership has been cancelled and we have issued a refund of $12.00 for the membership fee you were charged. This credit should be posted to your credit/debit card account within 3-5 business days. We retain such data in a manner that complies with law.

It is our policy to retain certain personal data of customers, for example, name and address, card details/billing information and relevant correspondence between us for a limited period of time and in connection with legitimate business purposes, including preventing fraud, enabling us to address and deal with any complaints and for financial reporting and audit trail purposes. We will not use or disclose to a third party a customer's personal data for any form of marketing purpose, and we can agree to remove your data from our marketing and customer service databases.

I didn't mind paying the extra $1 they charged for every ticket I puchased online, a charge they call a "convenience fee" because I was being told they were taking the $1 out of my pocket. But to be charged $12 and to be told it would be a monthly fee, is outrageous.

I give them credit for doing the right thing and cancelling the account. But how many thousands of people are doing the same thing and don't even know they have signed up because of a cleverly worded online ordering system. I'm not stupid. I can read. I NEVER would sign up for a "reward" system that costs me $12 a month from my account.

All I can tell you is to BEWARE. If you buy tickets online, chances are you are going to be automatically enrolled in "Reservations Reward" or a similar system.

From now on, when I go to a Marcus Theater or order tickets for Ravinia, I will pay cash. That's if I go back to their theaters!


-- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Restaurant Review: Economy now even hammering the fast food hot dog industry

I love hot dogs and especially beef and sausage combos. And I know prices are zooming up fast on the cost of the once affordable dogs.

Orland Park has several great hot dog stands. One of my favorites is Pop's at 143rd and Wolf Road. Another is Don's just off of 151st and Harlem. And another I sometimes stop at is Widens at 143rd Street east of LaGrange Road.

Now I hate to pick on a hot dog place. But last night at Widen's, it was just too much to take. I'm glad I didn't eat at the restaurant because I don't know what I would have done.

I bought two beef and sausage combos, one fry and the two hot dog special with fries on the side. I also asked for a small side of hot giardiniera. They were going to dip the beef sausage combos in the natural juice.

When I got home, of course, and opened the bag for the family. The bag of fries seemed a little light. The giadiniera was no where to be found. And then when I dug into my beef-sausage combo, I guess I wouldn't call it a combo at all. It had the sausage, and what looked like were two slices of beef on one sandwich and almost a generous portion on the second. And of course, the two combos were dry as a bone.

I wasn't going to write about it, at first. But then I took another look at the receit. It was over $17. And I thought, okay, for $17, shouldn't I expect to get what I ordered? And shouldn't it be great quality?

I'm not going back there again. It's too bad. They recently started taking credit and debit cards, which means I didn't have to worry about whether or not I had cash in my pocket. (They have an ATM machine there, but I hate like hell to pay the excessive access fees charged by the owner-operated ATMs and by the bank.)

I gave them my money. The charge didn't bounce. It went through. If it didn't, I would expect them to complain to me.

And I understand you have to trim back to make ends meet in these harsh economic times. Even the Village of Orland Park has decided to trim services to save money. I'll monitor the billings to see how they may or may not change.

But two flimsy slices of beef on the "combo" just put me over the edge. And it just made me feel worse about the economy. Widen's isn't a bad place. I go there all the time. But do we just take what we get and shut-up? Or, do we say something not only for our own satisfaction, but to do them a favor too, and maybe push them to be the best?

-- Ray Hanania