Thursday, December 31, 2015
Obsessive fund-raising is also the foundation of Emanuel's political operation in Chicago. When two reporters for the Chicago Reader filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the mayor'sprivate schedule in 2011 (unlike previous mayors, his public schedule was pretty much blank), they discovered that he almost never met with community leaders. He did, however, spend enormous blocks of time with the rich businessmen, including Republicans, who had showered him with cash.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
There are many techniques to consider when designing an effective lean startup experiment, so we decided to capture a few of our favorites below. Mix-and-match each example to create a powerful experimental learning vehicle for your next concept. Even better, see if you can recognize these lean startup experiment examples next time you're using your favorite application or website. Good luck!
Remember, the most effective experiments measure real behavior, while also delivering real value to the customer.
Manually perform tasks related to delivering the value of your product or service. Eventually you will automate and optimize the process you perform manually, but its likely you will move faster by simply performing tasks manually.
Example: P-2-P Payments platform (name is confidential). The founding team created a peer-to-peer payment workflow via a web "responsive" application, where user can request payments from friend and family. This workflow was presented to the user as as functional website. In reality, the founding team manually processed all requests by hand, meaning they manually sent email notifications, tracked payment requests and captured billing information.
Mechanical Turk (or Wizard of Oz)
For offerings where a complex backend is required, such as databases, algorithms or complex engineering, consider simulating this backend with real people or existing apps. It's likely you can mimic the "engine" behind the scenes. Even if this takes longer for the customer to receive an answer, you will avoid wasting precious time building features the customer does not want. This is especially good for support centers.
Example: See it in action at a call center – Why don't you Just tell me which movie
Imposter Judo (Boomerang)
If a similar ideas to yours already exist in market, you can use these as a quick and simple way to gather feedback. You might ask customers to sign-up and give you feedback on a competitors website, or repackage an existing product. This is especially effective when selling physical products, or showing early static mockups.
Example: In the early days of Zappos, the founders simply purchased shoes as needed from local shoe retailers, instead of stocking their own inventory. This allowed Zappos to test their idea fast and cheap, before investing ion their own inventory.
Sell a physical version of the product, even if your final product will be digital. This is especially effective for information or data-based products such as customer lists or how-to guides.
Example: When selling a digital information product the experiment team gathered early versions of this data "by hand", then produced a printed report for the test customers. This printed report provided real value, and was used to gather feedback. Eventually, the team created a digital version of this report.
In order to test whether your customers will actually purchase your products, and for how much, you can deploy a simulated "purchase now" experience. This may take the form of a simple e-commerce check-out, or perhaps a letter of intent request. Once the user begins the purchase process, you can simply respond with a "out of stock" message, or other elegant way to proceed such as simply not billing the customer at all.
Example: You will encounter this strategy the team designed a website for selling a subscription based physical product. To gauge interest, the team quickly created a web based purchase form simulating the check-out process, so the customer believed they were purchasing the product. However, no billing occurred since the form did not connect to payment processing…
Refers to any experiment where you actually make your experience more difficult to use, in an effort to gauge real interest. The higher the hurdle, the more validity you can attribute to your results.
Example: Design a sign-up process with multiple, difficult to answer questions, which adds friction to the sign-up process. This way you only capture the most passionate customers for your early testing. Over time, you can reduce the friction in order to improve your funnel.
Record a "real life" scenario using your product, where you edit the video to create the illusion your product is real. Then, use the video as part of your landing page or marketing message. This is especially useful for products where the behavior can be easily simulated (see other experiment types)
Check out our Rapid Experimentation Resources
5 Ways to Spark Innovation at Your Organization
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Value Stream Discovery: What to Test & How to Measure (Plus Airbnb Example)
4 Seeds for Planting Lean Startup and Continuous Innovation in the Enterprise
Business Model Disruption through Lean Innovation
Lean Entrepreneur Experiment Map
Customer Zoom Tool
The Fallacy of "Modern" Management When It Comes to Innovation
Fail Learn Fast
Value Stream Discovery: What to Test & How to Measure (Plus Airbnb Example)
How to Run Experiments without Compliance Wanting to Kill You
How to Innovate (Part 1): What Innovation Actually Is
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randyapuzzo on Fail Learn Fast
Pete Tinker on Customer Zoom Tool
brant cooper on Value Stream Discovery: What to Test & How to Measure (Plus Airbnb Example)
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5 min read
10 Experiments to Test Your Startup Hypothesis
Partner at ff Venture Capital
MARCH 3, 2015
You know that a new idea has gained dominance when it becomes practically a cliché.
This is what I've seen happen with the "lean startup," a philosophy of viewing your startup as a scientific experiment in search of a business model. This concept began as a new idea and then became so popular people now consider it common sense. As the partner at VC firm ff Venture Capital, I am one of those people who regularly advises our portfolio companies to think creatively about how to test their operating assumptions.
But the challenge is: What experiments can you run to test your hypotheses? Below are 10. To structure your experiments, I suggest using the Javelin Experiment Board.
Related: How to Grow Your Company Lean
Step I: Explore the problem and the market
1. Blog publicly about what you're doing. This helps you to get qualitative, personal feedback, which you need to inform quantitative feedback (i.e measurable outcomes and metrics) you gather later. Also, you should include face-to-face interviews with customers (read these quick tips for effective customer interviews).
2. Ask open questions on Quora and other online discussion tools. Listen to what people have to say. Many consumers want to provide feedback, but they just need to be asked. Jump on a Q&A site like Quora or forums like Reddit or one specific to your industry and start asking questions. You can begin with a broad inquiry like, "How do people solve this problem…." For example, "What CRM tools are used by venture capital and private equity funds?" This will surface both competitors and customers.
3. Create surveys and experiment with monetary and non-monetary incentives. Sending a questionnaire to your customer base is a great way to elicit feedback and discover needs.
For instance, try evaluating response an incentive like: "$100 off our product when it first hits the market." If people are eager to apply that discount to a product that doesn't even exist yet, it's further validation of customer demand.
4. Collect pre-orders. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have made it much easier to measure market demand for a product or service. By describing the product's features and offering it to the masses, entrepreneurs can get an idea of how the market outside of the crowdfunding platform would respond. Also, the instantaneous feedback and questions can help startups uncover potential issues and allow them to correct them before scaling.
5. Run test ads. Utilize Google AdWords, Yahoo!, Bing and other platforms by creating ads that take viewers to a page soliciting email signups and possibly pre-orders. Test which ads are most effective. (For instance, Tim Ferriss titled his book based on Adwords conversion rates.).
And don't just collect emails. Try to also collect data in the form of a mini survey. I suggest checking out QuickMVP, an all-in-one tool for building launch pages, driving traffic through Google AdWords and analyzing customer demand.
Related: Prove Your Business Idea Will Succeed
Step II: Explore the solution
6. Test multiple iterations of your site. Design and user experience definitely play a role in how the consumer views your startup and its offerings. So experiment with it. Launchrock is a great site for building launch pages and analyzing user data. Or try experimenting with different A/B testing campaigns using Optimizely. Here are examples of what makes a viral landing page.
7. Talk with real users of your beta product. Beta testers can potentially be your lifeline when launching a new product. To get people interested in testing out your startup, check out websites like Betali.st, Erli Bird and StartupLi.st, among others.
Step III: Market
8. Analyze site usage. Testing what words get the most hits can give you insight into the target market. Drill down in Google Analytics, taking advantage of goal tracking, demographic information, interest segmentation and cohort analytics.
9. Analyze which marketing campaigns get the most traction. Just as you need to understand your end users, it's also important to understand the behavior of the influencers who touch your end users. There are several social-media analysis tools out there that can help you with this, including Copromote and Bottlenose.
10. Test referral programs with monetary and non-monetary incentives. Referral programs can be a great way to acquire new customers, while keeping current customers happy.
A famous example of a successful referral program is Dropbox. The company was smart and used a two-sided incentive for sharing. The person who signs up for Dropbox through a referral link gets more space than through a normal sign up, and the referrer gets additional space as well.
Related: How to Know If You're Really Running Lean
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Sunday, December 27, 2015
"You Will Always Suck at What You Do, Until You Do This" @cammipham https://medium.com/keep-learning-keep-growing/you-will-always-suck-at-what-you-do-until-you-do-this-e0f5e2e08715
Saturday, December 26, 2015
In 1934, A GROUP of New York's prominent white citizens elected Bill Robinson, the most celebrated black tap dancer in America, the unofficial "mayor of Harlem." The police of his Harlem pre-cinct had given him a revolver some years earlier, and he carried a diamond-studded case in his upper-right vest pocket containing a gold badge designating him special deputy sheriff of New York County (an honorary position). He also carried documents estab-lishing his friendship with the police chiefs of most major American cities. During a Pittsburgh tryout of Brown Buddies, a musical comedy about blacks serving in the First World War, Robinson heard a scream and saw two black kids mugging an elderly white woman. He yelled, took up the chase, pulled out his revolver, and fired in the air. A white policeman, coming on the scene to find a black man discharging a gun, shot Robinson in the shoulder and let the muggers escape. Collapsed on the ground, Robinson showed the cop a letter of friendship from Pittsburgh's chief of police. Rob-inson was famous enough that the incident made headlines across the country, and according to The Chicago Defender, the policeman offered the excuse that "all black men look alike to me." At the New York opening of Brown Buddies two days later, Robinson was tapping again, his arm in a satin sling, his grin bright.— Adapted from What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing, by Brian Seibert, published by FSG in Novemb
Friday, December 11, 2015
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of the AAAS for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Science Magazine, Vol 346, 5 December 2014. Summer Jobs Reduce Violence among Disadvantaged Youth Authors: Sara B. Heller1* Affiliations: 1 University of Pennsylvania and University of Chicago Crime Lab. *Correspondence to: Sara Heller, email@example.com. Abstract: Every day, acts of violence injure over 6,000 people in the U.S. Despite decades of social science arguing that joblessness among disadvantaged youth is a key cause of violent offending, programs to remedy youth unemployment do not consistently reduce delinquency. This study tests whether summer jobs, which shift focus from remediation to prevention, can reduce crime. In a randomized controlled trial among 1,634 disadvantaged high school youth in Chicago, assignment to a summer jobs program decreases violence by 43 percent over 16 months (3.95 fewer violent-crime arrests per 100 youth). The decline occurs largely after the 8-week intervention ends. The results suggest the promise of using low-cost, well-targeted programs to generate meaningful behavioral change, even with a problem as complex as youth violence. One Sentence Summary: A Chicago summer jobs program for disadvantaged high school students reduces youth violence by 43 percent over 16 months.
Saturday, November 7, 2015
I thought you would be interested in this article I found on MSN from The Week:
Source - The Week
Poor white Americans are dying of despair. And racism is to blame. A recent social science paper found that middle-aged non-Hispanic white Americans (age 45-54) experienced a large increase in total mortality between 1998 and 2013.
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THE WATCHDOGS: A third of Chicago city workers make $100k or more
WRITTEN BY CHRIS FUSCO AND TIM NOVAK POSTED: 11/07/2015, 09:01AM
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Nearly one out of every three workers on the city of Chicago payroll made $100,000 or more last year — a far higher percentage of six-figure employees than in state or Cook County government.
That's according to a Chicago Sun-Times analysis that for the first time combines city workers' salaries, overtime and other extra pay.
Twenty-six city workers drew paychecks that eclipsed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pay of $216,210, the analysis found. They included a police detective, two fire department ambulance commanders and two water department operating engineers.
And 152 workers more than doubled their base pay through OT and a wide range of pay incentives — including "specialty pay" in the fire department and "baby furlough day" buybacks for police.
Altogether, city taxpayers paid $2.93 billion in 2014 to 35,761 city government employees, from lawyers and librarians to part-time crossing guards and student interns, according to records that Emanuel's administration refused for months to release.
A sizable chunk of that money — $256.1 million — was for "other" pay, according to the data City Hall eventually provided to the Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. That includes retroactive raises, duty-availability pay, uniform allowances, holiday pay, end-of-career compensatory time payouts and shift differentials.
Ninety-six percent of that "other" pay went to police and fire employees — the city's two largest groups of workers.
On top of that, the city spent $240.8 million on overtime. Police and fire personnel collected 67 percent of that OT. Ten employees made more than $100,000 apiece in overtime: four police officers, three water department operating engineers, two emergency call operators and a fire captain.
Emanuel posts city salary and overtime data separately on a city website. But when the Sun-Times sought the total amounts paid to all city workers, his administration refused, eventually agreeing to release the information only after the newspaper appealed to the Illinois attorney general's office, which helps enforce the state's open-records law.
Last month, Emanuel muscled a 2016 budget through the Chicago City Council that includes a $543 million property-tax increase to help shore up the city's severely underfunded police and fire pension funds. By a 35-15 vote, aldermen also approved a new, $9.50-per-household garbage-collection fee to bring in about $62 million, as well as a separate, $45 million property-tax hike to be transferred to the financially struggling Chicago Public Schools.
The benefits and overtime given to city employees — 90 percent of them represented by unions — are mainly the result of labor contracts that have been negotiated over a span of decades. The rationale has been that the workers should be compensated for their unusual schedules and the dangers many of them face.
City Hall requires police officers, firefighters and emergency communications operators to work nights, weekends and holidays. Streets and sanitation and water department employees get called in to work when, say, a snowstorm hits or a water main breaks.
Last year's brutal winter was a key reason that water department workers averaged $11,245 apiece in overtime, second only to fire department employees, who made an average of $11,488 in overtime. Streets and San workers averaged $5,930 apiece in OT.
Overtime isn't counted toward any city worker's pension.
Emanuel's staff says overtime offers taxpayers a better deal than hiring more employees, especially police officers.
Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a non-partisan tax policy and government research organization, is skeptical.
Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times file photo
"In light of the severe financial stress the city is under — and in light of the [Illinois] Supreme Court ruling that severely limits any changes to existing employees' or retirees' pensions — it is imperative the city's management look at overtime, look at extra pay and see how much of that could be eliminated through sufficient staffing and management," says Msall.
The Sun-Times' examination of city government pay shows that hundreds of city employees worked long hours, got special training and took advantage of some of the provisions in their contracts to pull down paychecks more lucrative than those of Emanuel's top managers. Among the findings:
• A total of 11,284 city workers made $100,000 or more last year, amounting to 32 percent of the payroll. In state government, 11 percent of employees made in the six figures, records show. In the Cook County government and medical system, that figure was 12 percent.
• The median pay for city employees was $86,102, compared to $60,878 for state government workers and $63,355 for Cook County government and medical system workers. The average pay for city workers was $81,964, compared to $58,284 for state employees and $67,066 for county employees.
Molly Poppe, a spokeswoman for the city's budget office, says the higher number of public safety workers on the city payroll explains those gaps.
"While the city's public safety personnel are compensated at a level commensurate with the vital role they serve . . . the city's remaining staff — 40 percent of the workforce — is paid at a similar level to county and state employees serving in non-public safety roles," Poppe says. "Further, the city salaries are reflective of the higher cost of living in Chicago."
• Sixty-one city employees — including the mayor and police Supt. Garry McCarthy — made $200,000 or more. Another 11,223 workers made $100,000 to $199,999.
(Breakdowns of some workers' pay are at the end of this story. To search the city data, see below.)
Click on the image to see the pay of all 35,761 city government workers.
• The 5,569 people who drew paychecks in the fire department, from battalion chiefs to firefighters and emergency medical technicians to clerical staff, were paid an average of $111,139 — the most of any city department. Building department employees ranked second, at $88,870. Police employees were third, at $88,040.
• The police department allows officers to accumulate compensatory time, which they can cash out when they leave the department. Five officers retired, each collecting between $105,105 and $162,739 mostly by cashing in comp time accumulated over decades.
• Unlike beat cops and detectives, police supervisors can cash in 200 hours of comp time a year, which allowed several top cops to boost their pay by about $11,000 apiece. Those supervisors also were paid about $9,000 each in "supervisors' quarterly OT."
• Police officers get between 20 and 25 vacation days a year, depending on their years of service. They also get between three and six "baby furlough days" — extra vacation time that has nothing to do with babies. The city pays officers who don't use those extra days, with some who cashed them in collecting more than $2,800 each. In 2011, the most recent for which figures were available, baby-furlough pay cost taxpayers nearly $7 million.
• City Hall spent $21.7 million on holiday pay — $17.5 million to firefighters and another $4.2 million to police officers. Cops and firefighters get 13 paid holidays a year — one more than other city workers get. Firefighters get extra pay for working holidays; police officers get a mix of pay and comp time.
"Daley days" are a benefit that dates to the City Hall tenure of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. | Sun-Times file photo
• Every month, 3,856 firefighters get two "Daley days" under a program begun in the late 1960s under Mayor Richard J. Daley to reduce the number of hours firefighters work. Those firefighters typically work eight 24-hour shifts a month, which averages 44 hours a week. Without Daley days, they'd work 10 shifts a month, or 55 hours a week. Firefighters summoned to work on their Daley day get overtime. If that Daley day comes on a holiday, they get 60 hours of pay for their 24-hour shift.
• Police officers and firefighters who have special training get paid for that expertise — a total of more than $40 million in 2014. Cops get extra pay when they're detailed to work for the Chicago Housing Authority, the Chicago Transit Authority or special traffic details — with those agencies or the state reimbursing the city. Firefighters get specialty pay for working as divers and for having hazardous-materials certifications, among other things.
• The city paid police officers $36.8 million and firefighters $14.6 million in duty-availability pay — compensation for the city's ability to call them in to work at any time.
After succeeding Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2011, Emanuel began negotiating with the city's public safety unions, whose contracts expired the following year. In 2014, the mayor inked five-year deals with the largest of those unions — the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7 and the Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 — awarding them 11 percent raises over five years retroactive to July 1, 2012. Both deals expire on June 30, 2017.
The firefighters' union ended up endorsing Emanuel's re-election. The police union didn't.
"This was the second-smallest wage package in more than 30 years of formal collective bargaining for police and fire," says Poppe, who points out that City Hall has increased the wait time for new police officers to become eligible for duty-availability pay from one year to three and a half years.
Dean Angelo, Fraternal Order of Police president. | Sun-Times file photo
Dean Angelo, the president of FOP Lodge No. 7, defends the benefits police officers get, noting that high six-figure pay for cops isn't the norm.
"When it's one person earning $200,000 or more . . . I think it demonstrates the need for more bodies," Angelo says. "If you're earning that much, you're working a lot. I don't think it's a good thing for the individuals, their families or a good thing for the department."
Firefighters' union president Tom Ryan says taxpayers are "absolutely" getting "their money's worth" under his union's latest deal. Some ambulance crews, he says, are doing as many as 20 runs a day, and firefighters have to deal with a wide range of potential hazardous-materials disasters given Chicago's position as a transportation hub.
"We don't just go to fires any more," Ryan says. "When people are having the worst days of their lives, they call us, and we're there. . . . You've got the best damned fire department in the country."
Contributing: Data Reporting Lab editor Darnell Little
THE CITY THAT WORKS . . . AND PAYS
A look at some of Chicago's top-paid city employees last year, where the mayor ranks and other highlights of the Sun-Times' findings, with the highest-paid workers listed first along with how they rank overall in terms of total pay:
No. 1 — Lupe Pena, 25th District police commander (died in October 2014): $292,484
Salary: $104,575 before his death at 51
Other: $187,047 mostly for unused compensatory time paid to his family
No. 2 — Gary J. Basile, Fire Department captain: $286,453
Salary: $118,854 through Nov. 30, 2014, when he retired and began collecting a $93,381 a year pension
Other: $45,533, including $12,329 in specialty pay, $18,098 in retroactive pay, $8,503 in holiday pay and $3,270 for duty availability
No. 3 — Garry F. McCarthy, police superintendent: $260,004
No overtime or other pay
No. 5 — David J. Ryan, police forensic investigator: $241,568
Other: $58,219, including $49,060 for Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Transit Authority special employment, $3,220 for duty availability and $2,376 for cashing in baby furlough days
No. 6 — Brian J. McLaughlin, Fire Department captain: $240,731
Other: $40,587, including $16,605 in retroactive pay, $12,329 in specialty pay, $5,500 in holiday pay and $3,270 for duty availability
No. 11 — William P. Marshall, Water Department assistant chief operating engineer: $229,409
No. 17 — Salvador E. Avila, police lieutenant: $221,140
Other: $64,206, including $33,715 for "saturation" and "roadside" special employment, $13,261 in retroactive pay, $7,038 in supervisors' quarterly overtime and $4,525 for cashing in comp time
No. 18 — Kevin E. Nitsche, Fire Department lieutenant-EMT: $220,745
Other: $36,815, including $14,514 in retroactive pay, $10,979 in specialty pay, $4,898 in holiday pay, $3,270 for duty availability and $1,454 for continuing education
No. 23 — Edward W. Heerdt, police detective: $218,194
Other: $20,816, including $11,004 for Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Transit Authority special employment, $3,220 for duty availability and $2,016 for cashing in baby furlough days
No. 24 — Daniel A. Kolakowski, Water Department assistant chief operating engineer: $217,068
No. 27 — Mayor Rahm Emanuel: $216,210
No overtime or other pay
No. 29 — David J. Doggett, Fire Department chief helicopter pilot/EMT: $214,484
No. 78 — Lisa Y. Jamison, OEMC police communications operator: $194,520
No. 190 — Scott F. Slavin, police sergeant: $180,707
Other: $56,364, including $14,658 for "saturation" and "roadside" special employment, $10,179 for cashing in comp time, $8,698 in retroactive pay, $6,001 for supervisors' quarterly overtime, $3,220 for duty availability, $2,443 for cashing in personal days and $1,629 for cashing in baby furlough days
No. 300 — Homero Padilla, Water Department plumber: $175,745
No. 325 — Lisa P. Schrader, mayoral chief of staff: $174,996
No overtime or other pay. Schrader left the administration this year
No. 575 — Thomas Czerniak, firefighter: $167,538
Salary: $82,389 through Nov. 13, 2014, when he retired and began collecting a $68,686 a year pension
Other: $59,381, including $32,529 for cashing in unused vacation time, $10,890 in retroactive pay, $4,433 in specialty pay, $3,955 in holiday pay and $3,840 for duty availability
No. 582 — Russell B. Modjeski, OEMC police communications operator: $167,313
No. 1,045 — Mark W. Rashin, Water Department hoisting engineer: $157,837
No. 1,293 — Rebekah C.M. Scheinfeld, transportation commissioner: $153,609
No overtime or other pay
No. 2,307 — Roberto J. Abreu, Transportation Department traffic signal repairman: $141,023
No. 2,602 — Nicholas A. Tassone, Water Department construction laborer: $137,927
No. 3,383 — Michael J. Mancari, Streets & Sanitation supervisor of lot cleaning services: $131,665
No. 3,551 — Stephen McNamara, Aviation Department foreman of electrical mechanics: $130,511
No. 17,881 — (median city pay) Shannon S. Hodrick, Water Department construction laborer: $86,102
Friday, November 6, 2015
Video: President Obama interviews David Simon, creator of the great US series "The Wire"
Video: President Obama interviews David Simon, creator of the great US series "The Wire" The Wire's famous chess scene was a metaphor for both the drug trade and urban politics in general. , widely considered the greatest American television show ever, in which I learned more about urban politics, crime, and public health than I did in other courses actually devoted to those subjects. US president Barack Obama, clearly a fan of the HBO show, apparently sees it as a similarly useful paradigm ...
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With violence, education at crisis, Chicago Urban League to focus on youth
WRITTEN BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA POSTED: 11/06/2015, 05:38PM
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With its 2016 centennial just around the corner, the Chicago Urban League is ramping up its focus on youth issues in a city where rampant violence claims young lives daily and public dollars for education continue to dry up.
That's the theme at this year's 54th Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner expected to draw 1,500 of the city's movers and shakers to the Hilton Chicago Saturday night, for an event annually scrutinizing the state of black Chicago and League efforts to address challenges.
"We have made it our business, since 1916, to reach, teach, mentor and inspire young people," says Interim President/CEO Shari Runner. "We do this with the knowledge that building on the victories of the past requires that we make a significant investment in our future. Today, that investment is needed now more than ever."
"We continue to work with law enforcement and community stakeholders to enhance the safety of our neighborhoods and to develop a police force that reflects and respects our communities. We continue to fight for a fair and equitable state funding formula that allows our schools to offer all children access to computers, art, music, and athletics, at a minimum," she says.
"Every day I spend at the Chicago Urban League, I am reminded of something that you don't see enough of in the media: There are thousands of young people who want to succeed. They just lack a pathway to get there. We all have a role to play to create those pathways," adds Runner.
Runner took over from former chief Andrea Zopp, credited with exponentially expanding League programming and collaborations during her tenure. Zopp stepped down in May to run for the U.S. Senate in the March 2016 primary against Tammy Duckworth, and a nationwide search for a new figurehead continues.
Shari Runner. Provided Photo.
Runner says the work of the historic civil rights organization and others like it that advocate for the black community — in the League's case, through education, economic development and social justice programs — remains critical, with racial disparities still rampant in 2015.
"Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, too many of our schools remain underfunded and unable to provide a quality education to our children. Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, access to the ballot is under attack across the country," she says. "And 52 years after the Civil Rights Act, disturbing videos of law enforcement officers using excessive or deadly force with a person of color have become part of the daily news."
The two Chicagoans receiving this year's coveted Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Civil Rights Award — named for the civil rights activist who steered the league from 1956-1970, and convinced Martin Luther King to come to Chicago in 1966 — are steeped in chronicling history.
Timuel Black a 96-year-old educator, author, political and civil-rights activist and griot of Chicago's black community, worked alongside King in the 60s and was heavily involved in King's Chicago Freedom Movement. As president of the Chicago chapter of A. Phillip Randolph's Negro American Labor Council, Black spearheaded Chicago's participation in the 1963 March on Washington.
Timuel Black. Provided Photo.
Black's grandparents were slaves, his parents sharecroppers who came to Chicago in the Great Migration that Wilkerson's "Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" covers in 545 critically acclaimed pages.
Wilkerson, the first black woman ever to win the Pulitzer in journalism, chronicled the 55-year phenomenon during which some 6 million blacks left the South for the North and West in a book picked up by Hollywood writer/producer Shonda Rhimes for development into a multiple-part TV series.
Isabel Wilkerson. Provided Photo.
"The Chicago Urban League has uplifted and inspired generations of people since 1916. Just as we were there for the children who arrived here from the Jim Crow South in 1916, we will be here for young people who need us in 2016 and beyond," says Runner.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Father of slain boy believes son targeted but denies connection to slaying
Tyshawn Lee, 9, was killed in a shooting at 4:15 p.m. Monday in the 8000 block of South Damen Avenue in the Gresham neighborhood. Police said the child was shot in the head and back.
Father denies connection to slaying of son, 9
Chicago police are looking into whether a 9-year-old boy was killed in retaliation for his father's alleged role in a gang rivalry that resulted in at least two recent slayings on the South Side and the wounding of a reputed gang member's mother, law enforcement sources have told the Tribune.
But while the father of Tyshawn Lee said he believes his son was targeted, he denied anyone had reason to kill the boy in order to retaliate against him.
In an interview Tuesday night with the Tribune, Pierre Stokes denied anyone would have a motive to kill him, but if they did, there was no reason to take it out on his son because he's out in public in the neighborhood all the time. If anyone wanted to harm him, they could find the opportunity, he said.
"I'm not hard to find," Stokes said.
Tyshawn was on his way to his grandmother's home from Scott Joplin Elementary School when he was shot multiple times Monday afternoon, police said. A basketball he always carried with him was found nearby.
The Tribune, quoting law enforcement sources, reported online Tuesday that police are looking into whether Tyshawn was killed in retaliation for recent gang shootings. Just days apart in October, two reputed members of rival gangs were shot on the South Side, one fatally. A female companion also was killed in one of the shootings and the mother of a reputed gang member was wounded.
CAPTIONFather of slain boy believes son targeted
Father of slain boy believes son targeted
Tyshawn Lee's slaying an 'execution'
Community leaders speak against violence that killed 9-year-old South Side boy
Emanuel on shooting of Tyshawn Lee and Kaylyn Pryor
Tyshawn's mother asks for help
Police are investigating if Tyshawn may have been shot in retaliation for the slaying of Tracey Morgan, a 25-year-old parolee, because of his father's alleged gang ties.
Stokes did not talk specifically about whether he was a gang member but said he disagreed with what police have said about him. He also expressed frustration with Chicago police, saying investigators seem more interested in him than in finding who fatally shot Tyshawn.
"They're more worried about me. Why are you worried about me, not the killer?" Stokes, 25, said outside his residence in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. "I'm not the killer. Worry about the killer."
But Stokes said he felt guilty that he was not at his son's side when he walked to his grandmother's house.
"To be honest, I feel bad," he said. "I feel like it's my fault."
Stokes said his son, who lived with his mother, didn't go trick-or-treating on Halloween because of the recent violence in the neighborhood. Instead, Stokes said, he bought his son candy from a Family Dollar store.
Karla Lee talks about her son Tyshawn Lee, 9, who was fatally shot in the Gresham neighborhood Nov. 2, 2015, in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
"I didn't want to risk it," he said.
On Monday night, Chief of Detectives Dean Andrews said he could not rule out that the boy had been targeted. Law enforcement sources said Tuesday that Tyshawn may be the latest victim of a violent gang feud.
Tracey Morgan, a 25-year-old parolee, was fatally shot Oct. 13 after leaving a "gang call-in" meeting, an anti-violence effort by Chicago police and other law enforcement. His mother, who was also in the vehicle, was wounded by the gunfire. Police were investigating if Morgan, a reputed member of the Terror Dome faction of the Black P Stones, was followed by a rival gang member who also attended the meeting in a Chatham church.
Five days later, a member of the rival Killa Ward faction of Gangster Disciples was wounded in a shooting near 78th and Honore streets in Auburn-Gresham that also left 19-year-old Brianna Jenkins dead, according to police.
Even with the level of violence Chicago is experiencing this year — homicides and shootings are both up 18 percent through Oct. 25 compared with a year earlier — it is rare for young children to be targeted by gangs. Police said a gang member fatally shot 9-year-old Antonio Smith Jr. in a Greater Grand Crossing backyard in August 2014 after thinking the boy had shouted a warning to gang rivals.
In other cases, children have been the innocent victims of violence intended for a relative targeted by gang rivals. Police said 7-year-old Amari Brown was fatally shot at a Fourth of July celebration this year in an apparent attack on his father, a reputed ranking gang member.
Aliyah Shell, 6, was fatally shot in March 2012 as she sat in her mother's lap on the front porch of their Little Village home when reputed Latin King gang members opened fire on the home because a rival Two-Six gang member lived there. In June 2009, Chastity Turner, 9, was washing her pit bull outside the Englewood home of her father, an admitted Gangster Disciple, when rivals from a faction opened fire and killed her.
At a vigil Tuesday afternoon for Tyshawn, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, the activist pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church, said "street codes" have changed from when gangbangers had an understanding that killing a rival's mother, grandmother or child was off-limits.
"What kind of an individual shoots bullets into a 9-year-old baby ... multiple shots?" Pfleger said while flanked by other clergy, anti-violence activists and community members. "That's not a drive-by. That's not a spray of bullets. That's not an accidental shooting. That is an execution."
At a later news conference outside Area South police headquarters, Tyshawn's sobbing mother, Karla Lee, clutched a photo of the beaming fourth-grader in her left hand and a football under her right arm as she begged for anyone with information about her son's killing to come forward.
"Please find whoever did this to my baby," she said. "I love my son. He was supposed to play ball. That's all he did, play ball and play his video games. He never hurt nobody. I don't know why this happened. If anyone knows anything, please, please."
"Please put the guns down," Lee said. "It's taking too many young lives. I'm only 26. This is my only baby."
By Tuesday afternoon, reward money had climbed to $20,000 for information leading to Tyshawn's killer, according to Dawn Valenti, a crisis responder who is assisting the family.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said anyone with information on the shocking slaying of a child so young had "a moral responsibility" to come forward.
"I believe fundamentally in the goodness of human nature, but there is evil in the world," Emanuel told reporters at a hotel groundbreaking near Midway Airport. "And whoever did this, there is a special place for them. I hope they never see freedom. I hope they never see daylight.
"This person is not an individual. They're not a human being. Because when you do what you've done to a 9-year-old, there's a place for you, and there is no humanity in that place."
An autopsy Tuesday determined that Tyshawn had indeed died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.
At the scene of the shooting Tuesday morning, three men gathered to clear a proper place for a makeshift memorial for the boy. They scraped away weeds and trash from a small slab of dirt next to a garage in the middle of the alley in the 8000 block of South Damen Avenue.
They laid down three stuffed animals, a small Bible, a bouquet of flowers wrapped in pink paper and a basketball still in its package.
"I woke up this morning and it was just something weighing heavy on my heart," said Antwan Burns-Jones from the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. "I just had to do something."
"When I saw what happened, I couldn't even eat," said David Lee, also of Auburn-Gresham, who is not related to the boy's family. "It's just disgusting for them to kill a child in the street."
Burns-Jones, Lee and another friend, William Moore, stood at the site for more than an hour, trying to understand how a boy close to the age of their own children could have been so coldly gunned down steps away from his home.
"It could have been my son," said Moore, of the Kenwood neighborhood. "It's a child. That's really what should wake Chicago up. It makes it even more disheartening. I've been to Iraq, I've been to Afghanistan and stuff like this still affects me."
Blood spattered the pavement between the mouth of the alley on 80th Street and the midpoint of the alley near a garage. The smudges of dark red trailed from the middle to the left side, then right to where a scrap of red crime scene tape remained.
"I wish I had something to clean that up because he doesn't deserve to be out here like that," Burns-Jones said.
Nearby, Frank Graham walked alone up and down Damen Avenue, holding white signs with messages in black lettering, urging community members to rally and find Tyshawn's killer.
"Get off your couch and get involved," one sign read. Another said: "Don't criticize. Help us fix it."
"All I see out here right now are cops and reporters," said Graham, 25. "That's crazy. It makes me wonder do black lives really matter? Do we care enough about our own lives enough to stop what's going on in our communities?"
Graham, who said he has nieces and nephews about Tyshawn's age, said he took the day off from work to demonstrate, feeling it wasn't enough to simply share stories of Tyshawn through social media.
"There's only so many times you can see this on the news and just go about your day like nothing ever happened," he said.
At the vigil Tuesday afternoon, Annette Nance-Holt, whose son Blair Holt was fatally shot on the Far South Side in 2007, said all of Chicago needs to be angry about what happened to Tyshawn, not just people in the immediate neighborhood.
"We have to take back this community one by one," she said. "We're going to have to take each block back."
For others at the vigil, the slaying of such a young child brought back their own trauma.
"It's like PTSD," said Johneece Cobb, whose nephew, Edwin Cook, was shot to death in January in the West Englewood neighborhood. "I can't see it without reliving it. The minute I heard about (Tyshawn) I just started shaking and crying."
Edward Ash, who lives in the row of single-family homes along Damen just across from Tyshawn's street, said his grandson heard on the bus that a woman was shot to death. Ash had to tell him that, in fact, the victim was a little boy younger than he was.
"All I can do is continue warning him to be careful and don't fool around. Just keep walking," said Ash, 84, sitting on the stoop outside his home. "I hope he'll listen."
More than 100 people showed up late Tuesday for the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy or CAPS gathering after the Chicago Police Department held a press conference steps away from where Tyshawn was gunned down, urging the community to get involved.
"What we are doing today is called an 'Operation: Wake Up,'" said Glenn Brooks, area CAPS coordinator. "Now, we don't do these things every day. We do these things when someone has crossed that line in the community that should never be crossed."
Sheronda Nicholson, 41 was there with her son and said she hoped the community will learn to speak up.
"Start being a parent," she said. "Talk to your children."
Nicholson said that parents need to know what their kids are doing and teach them right from wrong.
"Too many parents are letting the streets raise their children and that is the main reason why there's so much lives lost," Nicholson said. "We can't blame the police at all. It has to start at home. If they're doing their job at home, it would make it a lot easier on the police. A lot of these kids don't have guidance, they don't have their fathers, and their mothers not doing nothing."
Chicago Tribune's Grace Wong, Carlos Sadovi and Alexandra Chachkevitch contributed.
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune
Monday, November 2, 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Racism Hidden in Plain View - http://huff.to/1kGhf84
Racism Hidden in Plain View
3 days ago | Updated 2 days ago
One of the odd things about our era is that 50 years after the great civil rights era, ugly realities that the black community knows all too intimately are finally being recognized by the broader society. The question is whether constructive change will result.
The Sunday New York Times, based on its own exhaustive study of tens of thousands of traffic stops, reports that blacks are far more likely to be stopped, then arrested and sometimes brutalized, for minor traffic infractions than whites. The piece, focusing on the relatively moderate city of Greensboro, N.C., provides more detail than has ever been reported in a major press account. This was no surprise to the black community, which lives these realities daily.
Since Ferguson, the press has been paying more attention to the killings of young black men by police. The pattern is not new; only the intensified press coverage is.
The media has also been shining a belated spotlight on the fact that people of color are far more likely to be jailed for minor offenses for which whites generally are released in their own recognizance, or allowed to make modest bails.
We are also getting far more coverage of the racial disparities in who gets sentenced to prison for what crimes and for how long. This wasn't really "news" either. It just didn't get the attention it deserved.
To add insult to injury, it's shocking (and not entirely surprising) that as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting rights of African-Americans are being taken away by rightwing state governments, using the very techniques that the 1965 Act prohibited -- techniques that were legalized after the fact by a partisan Supreme Court.
In the South of the 1980s and 1990s, there were bi-racial voting coalitions that elected economically centrist and racially moderate governors and senators to statewide office, even in the Deep South. Bill Clinton of Arkansas was one such governor. Albert Gore, Jr. of Tennessee was one such senator.
Other racial moderates elected by coalitions of blacks and whites included Democratic governors Jim Hunt (1977-85; 1993-2001, Mike Easley (2001-2009) and Beverly Perdue (2009-2013) of North Carolina, Richard Riley of South Carolina (1979-87), Zell Miller (1991-1999) and Roy Barnes (1999-2003) of Georgia, and even Ray Mabus (1988-1992) and Ronnie Musgrove (2000-2004) in Mississippi -- not to mention several Democrats elected in more ambiguously southern places like Florida and Texas. And several senators as well.
Those days are just about gone. The Republican Party in the Deep South is a mostly white party and the Democrats mostly a black party. The GOP has successfully played the race card, and biracial governing coalitions are getting scarce.
Today, there are no Democratic governors in the 13 states of the old Confederacy (except for Virginia, which has had a huge influx of northerners), and a shrinking number of Democratic state legislators. To be sure, 2014 was a worse wipeout than usual for Democrats, but emblematic of a trend. 2012, when Barack Obama was re-elected, was also losing year for Democrats in the South.
It is increasingly looking as if the period of bi-racial coalition in the South was analogous to the brief window of statistical "integration" in the case of a town or neighborhood that is flipping from mostly white to mostly black. For about one generation, the moderate remnants of the once-dominant Democratic Party, people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, could get elected statewide, by appealing to Yellow Dog Democrats (people who'd vote for a yellow dog running as a Democrat) and newly enfranchised blacks.
But then the South reverted to its mostly segregated and structurally racist self. Yellow Dog whites got entirely comfortable voting for Republicans.
The relevance of this bitter history is that the region of the nation -- the former Confederacy -- that most needs to come to terms with the racial realities finally being exposed and discussed nationally is in no political position to do so.
It's one thing to belatedly disown a symbol like the Confederate Flag. It's another to root out a pattern of police harassment that is deeply rooted in the ruling cultures of one city and town after another.
Not that the North has much to brag about. The Times piece on traffic stops showed that blacks were four times as likely to be arrested in traffic stops in North Carolina -- but that blacks relative to white were far more likely to be searched during traffic stops in Chicago than in Greensboro.
Not to be too pessimistic -- it's true that over the long term, the South is trending demographically more Democratic. But that assumes blacks will be allowed to vote.
So we have a huge disconnect between the realities being exposed and discussed nationally -- and the willingness of ruling elites, especially in the South, to discuss them.
What next? Just as demands for justice that bubbled up from the black community, (with support of decent whites) finally forced the nation to pay attention half a century ago, this must happen again. What's appalling is that as a nation we seem to take a step forward only to take a step back.
We are fighting battles that we thought we won in the 1960s. Structural racism still runs far deeper than the victories of a single generation.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.
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Tuesday, October 27, 2015
The House science committee is worse than the Benghazi committee
"Are you now or have you ever been a climate scientist?"(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Last Thursday, the nation watched with a mix of amusement and horror as the House Benghazi committee spent 11 hours grilling Hillary Clinton on a bizarre farrago of issues, many of which bore only tangential connection to the Benghazi attack.
Over the past few weeks, the political narrative seems to have shifted from "Clinton in trouble" to "congressional witch hunt seeks to take down Clinton." Between McCarthy's accidental truth telling, an ex-staffer confirming the worst reportsabout the committee, and another House Republican conceding the obvious, it has become clear that the Benghazi committee is a thoroughly partisan political endeavor. Opinion has turned, but Republicans are trapped.
The thing is: The Benghazi committee is not even the worst committee in the House. I'd argue that the House science committee, under the chairmanship of Lamar Smith (R-TX), deserves that superlative for its open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate some of the nation's leading scientists and scientific institutions.
The science committee's modus operandi is similar to the Benghazi committee's — sweeping, catchall investigations, with no specific allegations of wrongdoing or clear rationale, searching through private documents for out-of-context bits and pieces to leak to the press, hoping to gain short-term political advantage — but it stands to do more lasting long-term damage.
In both cases, the investigations have continued long after all questions have been answered. (There were half a dozen probes into Benghazi before this one.) In both cases, the chair has drifted from inquiry to inquisition. But with Benghazi, the only threat is to the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who has the resources to defend herself. With the science committee, it is working scientists being intimidated, who often donot have the resources to defend themselves, and the threat is to the integrity of the scientific process in the US. It won't take much for scientists to get the message that research into politically contested topics is more hassle than it's worth.
This year, Smith was one of the committee chairs granted sweeping new subpoena powers by his fellow House Republicans, what one staffer called "exporting the Issa model." No longer is the chair required to consult with the ranking member before launching investigations or issuing subpoenas. A spokesperson for Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, "This change will inevitably [lead] to widespread abuses of power as Republicans infect the other committees with the poisonous process that Issa has so abused during his chairmanship."
That turned out to be pretty prescient, at least in the case of the science committee. No chair has taken to his new role with as much enthusiasm as Smith. Here are just three of his recent exploits.
(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images)Smith asks for tips from Issa at a 2009 hearing on (no kidding) ACORN.
Hassling a scientist for unwelcome results
In June, a scientist named Thomas Karl, along with colleagues, published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Science called "Possible artifacts of data biases in the recent global surface warming hiatus." It cast doubt on the global warming "pause" that has become the latest cause célèbre for climate change, er,doubters.
That did not sit well with Smith, who is a doubter himself, like many of the Republicans on his committee and more than half of all House Republicans. And it was the subject of much heated attack in the denial-o-sphere.
So Smith has gone after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where Karl works as the director of the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). For a play-by-play, I recommend this scorching letter to Smith from committee ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).
In it, she notes that Smith made three written requests for information about Karl's study, all of which NOAA responded to in writing and in personal briefings. "Moreover," she writes, "NOAA attempted to explain certain aspects of the methodology about which the Majority was apparently confused." (Imagine how that meeting went.)
Among Smith's repeated demands: access to the data and methods behind NOAA's work on climate. Except, as NOAA and Democratic members of the committee kept trying to explain, those data and methods are posted on the internet. Anyone can access them. Yet Republicans kept demanding them.
Unsatisfied with the total cooperation and untrammeled access his committee received, Smith issued a subpoena:
On October 13, the committee subpoenaed nearly seven years of internal deliberations and communications among scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including "all documents and communications" related to NOAA's measurement of our climate.
"All documents and communications" would presumably include emails, preliminary drafts, peer review comments, notes, audio recordings, and a treasure trove of other material. This would mean thousands upon thousands of records for employees to identify and go through and analyze for no clearly stated purpose.
NOAA was given two weeks to comply.
(Coincidentally, the very following day, longtime climate skeptic blogger Bob Tisdale published a long post calling into question the very adjustments to temperature data that were mentioned in Smith's subpoena.)
To be clear, Smith has not alleged any corruption, wrongdoing, or even bad science. He hasn't alleged anything. Nor has he offered any justification for why he needs access to NOAA internal communications. The new rules mean that he no longer has to explain or justify himself to anyone. He's just hoping to find something he can use.
Here's the most pointed part of Johnson's letter:
The baseless conflict you have created by issuing the October 13 subpoena is representative of a disturbing pattern in your use of Congressional power since your Chairmanship began. In the past two years and ten months that you have presided as Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology you have issued more subpoenas (six) than were issued in the prior 54 year history of the Committee. That prior Committee history is filled with extensive legitimate oversight concerning consequential events — oftentimes quite literally matters of life and death. Yet none of the prior eleven Chairs of our Committee exercised their authority with the degree of partisan brashness as is now the case in our Committee.
Hassling a scientist for unwelcome politics
Recently, political pressure on Exxon and the oil industry has been growing.
In May, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) gave a speech and penned an op-ed on the possibility of a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case against the energy industry, arguing that the "parallels between what the tobacco industry did and what the fossil fuel industry is doing now are striking."
On September 1, a group of about 20 climate scientists sent a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and OSTP Director John Holdren recommending that they look into a RICO case. Holdren replied, deferring any legal decisions to the Department of Justice but writing that "the Administration shares the concern expressed in the letter about the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change."
On September 21, InsideClimate News published the first in what would become ablockbuster series of stories that made clear just how much Exxon knew about the dangers of climate change, and how soon, well before it spent millions of dollars deliberately obscuring the issue. In early October, the LA Times followed up with itsown investigation.
On October 15, Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) wrote Lynchasking the Department of Justice to investigate whether the company violated the law. On October 20, Bernie Sanders joined the call for a federal investigation.
None of this sat well with Smith, either. So he's going after one of the scientists who signed the letter to Obama.
Apparently the letter was (inadvertently, the organization says) posted on the website of George Mason University's Institute of Global Environment and Society(IGES), a nonprofit research institution led by one of the scientists who signed the letter, Jagadish Shukla.
Science journalist Warren Cornwall tells what happened next:
The letter eventually came to the attention of outsiders, including science policy specialist Roger Pielke, Jr., of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Pielke, an active voice in debates over climate science and policy, called attention to the letter on Twitter, and also raised questions about IGES's finances. Soon, journalists, including several associated with conservative news outlets, were writing about the letter and IGES. The Daily Caller, for example, noted that "climate scientists asking Obama to prosecute skeptics got millions from U.S. taxpayers," in a 21 September story.
Smith got wind of this and sent Shukla a letter (citing the Daily Caller story) noting that "IGES appears to be almost fully funded by taxpayer money while simultaneously participating in partisan political activity by requesting a RICO investigation of companies and organizations that disagree with the Obama administration on climate change."
Here's what Smith demanded from IGES:
1. Preserve all e-mail, electronic documents, and data ("electronic records") created since January 1, 2009, that can be reasonably anticipated to be subject to a request for production by the Committee. ...
2. Exercise reasonable efforts to identify and notify current employees, former employees, contractors, and third party groups who may have access to such electronic records that they are to be preserved ...
Like the other scientists, Shukla signed the letter as a private citizen, not a representative of his organization. Yet "current employees, former employees, contractors, and third party groups" will now be hounded for electronic records back to 2009.
Now the whole mess has come to the attention of bottom feeder Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who spends his time hassling scientists with public records requests. He has now filed them with several universities that employ scientists who signed the letter.
Hassling a prestigious research organization for funding studies with funny names
For more than 60 years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has supported basic research in science and engineering. With a $7 billion budget, it is responsible for about 20 percent of the federal government's basic research spending.
The NSF "merit review" process is something of a legend, a multilayered process that sends each grant past a panel of independent scientists, researchers, and educators in the field, with scrupulous rules to avoid conflicts of interest. About 80 percent of applications fail to pass review; receiving an NSF grant is widely seen as a mark of prestige in the science world.
Crucially, the peer review is blind. The names of reviewers are never disclosed.
Republicans on the science committee believe they have discovered an important flaw in the process: Sometimes it awards grants to studies that sound funny.
Smith is convinced that NSF is wasting public money by funding these funny-sounding studies, which has led to a long and acrimonious fight between Republicans on the committee and committee Democrats, NSF's leadership, and much of the academic and research community.
(Said parties have engaged in a long and spirited exchange of correspondence, which you can read in full here.)
Smith is demanding that NSF turn over all the details — including internal communications and the names of reviewers — related to a growing list of grants that he thinks don't sound quite right. It's up to about 50 now, and as journalist Jeffrey Mervis explains, "the scientific community is scratching its head over how Smith compiled his list of questionable grants":
[T]he list is hard to characterize. One grant goes back to 2005, and 13 appear to have expired. The total amount of money awarded is about $26 million. The smallest grant, awarded in 2005, is $19,684 for a doctoral dissertation on "culture, change & chronic stress in lowland Bolivia." The largest, for $5.65 million, is for a project that aims to use innovative education methods to educate Arctic communities about climate change and related issues.
If you do the math, $26 million represents about 0.37 percent of NSF's budget.
Smith demanded that all files related to these grants be sent to his House offices. NSF leadership pushed back, which led to this absurd scene:
Four times this past summer, in a spare room on the top floor of the headquarters of the National Science Foundation (NSF) outside of Washington, D.C., two congressional staffers spent hours poring over material relating to 20 research projects that NSF has funded over the past decade. Each folder contained confidential information that included the initial application, reviewer comments on its merit, correspondence between program officers and principal investigators, and any other information that had helped NSF decide to fund the project.
No one knows what Smith and his staffers are looking for, because they won't say. It's difficult to imagine what staffers think they will learn from rifling through these documents, or why they think the judgments they come to in a few hours will improve upon NSF's peer review process. All they can hope to find is fodder for more press releases.
(NSF)France Córdova being sworn in as NSF director, with no inkling of what she's in for.
What's clear is that Smith's unilateral use of subpoena power has forced the NSF to compromise the longstanding confidentiality of its review process. It has sent letters to several universities that employ grantees, explaining that it had no choice but to turn over documents. But the damage is already being done. The trust the foundation has built among the scientific community over the past 60 years is in jeopardy.
In another damning letter to her counterpart, Rep. Johnson says:
The plain truth is that there are no credible allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse associated with these 20 awards. The only issue with them appears to be that you, personally, think that the grants sound wasteful based on your understanding of their titles and purpose. Seeking to substitute your judgment for the determinations of NSF's merit review process is the antithesis of the successful principles our nation has relied on to make our research investment decisions. The path you are going down risks becoming a textbook example of political judgment trumping expert judgment.
She goes on to note that on September 16, Fox News carried a story about one of the grants that contained a quote from Smith disparaging it, along with two pieces of information that could only have been gleaned from the confidential materials involved in the grant.
To summarize: The chair of a House committee is using his newly expanded subpoena power to go fishing through the work of the NSF, forcing it to breach its storied confidentiality, searching for bits and pieces of decontextualized information that can be leaked to right-wing media to make the executive branch look bad, on behalf of an ideological quest to cut research funding.
Worse than the Benghazi committee
The science committee, Fox News, the Daily Caller, climate deniers, CEI — at this point, it's all one partisan operation, sharing information and strategies.
Republican radicalization has already laid waste to many of the written and unwritten rules that once governed American politics. The use of congressional committees as tools of partisan intimidation is only a chapter in that grim story.
But the science committee is going after individual scientists, who rarely have the resources on hand to defend themselves from unexpected political attack. It is doing so without any rationale related to the constitutional exercise of its oversight powers — not with a false rationale, but without any stated rationale, no allegations of waste, fraud, or abuse — in service of an effort to suppress inconvenient scientific results and score partisan political points against the executive branch.
The federal government is an enormous supporter of scientific research, to the country's great and enduring benefit, though that support is now under sustained attack. If such funding comes with strings, with the threat that the wrong inquiry or results could bring down a congressional inquisition, researchers are likely to shy away from controversial subjects. The effects on the US scientific community, and on America's reputation as a leader in science, could be dire, lingering on well past the 2016 election.
Video: A small sample of the Benghazi hearing
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