Pekin Daily Times
Courtroom transparency worth the downsides
When opening statements in the trial of alleged serial killer Nicholas Sheley got under way in Morrison Monday, cameras were rolling.
That isn't entirely unprecedented in Illinois, as a handful of court systems across the state have been participating in the project since Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride announced the Illinois Supreme Court had approved the experimental program back in January, but the high-profile nature of the case does make it noteworthy nonetheless.
Kilbride said the trial of the man accused of killing eight people in a two-state killing spree may well be the biggest test of the pilot program so far, due to the increased interest of the media and the public.
Admittedly, as members of the media we have a vested interest in seeing this experiment succeed. During other high-profile trials in Illinois, we typically have had to rely on outdated file photos — which can sometimes even be years old — or courtroom sketches that, no matter how skillfully rendered, often seem to look similar. It's even more of a dilemma for our friends in the TV news business because they rely so heavily on quotes as soundbites.
However, we believe allowing cameras in the courtrooms is just as valuable for the public.
Some judges and attorneys have expressed concern that permitting cameras in the courtroom could disrupt proceedings, but there are already provisions in place to address that. If a trial judge or the circuit's chief judge objects, they won't be forced to allow cameras. And filming won't be permitted during jury selection, or testimony from a sex abuse victim — unless the victim consents. Victims who testify in other forcible felony prosecutions would be permitted to object as well. In addition, according to the statement, "The policy also prohibits media coverage in any juvenile, divorce, adoption, child custody, evidence suppression and trade secret cases, as well as in any court proceeding required under Illinois law to be held in private."
We believe those safeguards provide a good basis for continuing this experiment, and we hope Illinois will soon deem its pilot program a success and officially join the 36 other states that allow cameras in the courtrooms.
Nov. 1, 2012
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph
Organic or not, veggies, fruits good for health
Yet another group has weighed in on organic fruits and vegetables. It's rather surprising, since it's clear that eating any fruits and vegetables can only be a benefit.
Most recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics said pesticide-free food doesn't translate to healthier people. An earlier study by Stanford University said eating organic food reduces exposure to pesticides, but "the amount measured in conventionally grown produce was within safety limits."
All sides can agree that unless you grow your own, organic food does tend to be more expensive. Supporters say it tastes better, often is fresher, and has less impact on soil and the environment because of a lack of pesticides and shorter travel distances from farm to store.
Detractors note the label "organic" is not well defined and that the price difference and lack of noticeable health benefits make it a questionable and expensive choice. (Ag journalist Alan Guebert of Delavan, whose weekly column appears in Sunday's Pantagraph, describes organic as "generally grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers or routine use of antibiotics or growth hormones.")
Nutritionists agree Americans eat fewer than the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains overall, regardless of the food's origin. Eating more of those items, whether they are canned, frozen, fresh or from a farmer's market, is of paramount importance to a balanced diet.
If you're worried about pesticides and pennies, the pediatrician's group recommends buying organic versions of foods that use higher amounts of pesticides — apples, peaches, strawberries, celery — and buying traditional versions of other items.
Organic or not, you need to know what you're eating and how much is reasonable. If you're not sure, or are embarrassed to ask, go to www.choosemyplate.gov. The site, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has all sorts of fun and informative ways to learn about starting and maintaining a good diet.
Nov. 5, 2012
Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus
Stop election insanity
That breeze swirling around Quad-Cities' polling places may be coming from sighs of relief from voters saying goodbye to this nasty marathon election campaign.
Decision 2012 was one of the meanest we can remember. And just think, we'll get to do it all over again all too soon.
There may be nothing we can do to make these sessions on the electoral treadmill less angry, but we can do something to make them shorter and, thus, we hope, fairer, more competitive and, yes, more palatable.
One of the earliest proponents of an earlier Illinois primary election was Phil Rock, the Oak Park Democrat who served as Illinois Senate president from 1979 to 1993. "It seems to me if we can make elections less of an ordeal for the voters and the candidates, and reduce the costs as well, we will have greater participation in the process," he said in 1991. In the wake of the 2012 campaign, those words are music to our ears.
Every election cycle, politicians lament the lengthy campaign season and call for a shorter one, and then, once they are in office, do little or nothing to change things.
The reason is simple: These long, costly campaigns favor incumbents and their leaders. It is much easier for them to raise the huge sums of cash it takes to run campaigns lasting longer than a year. Not only are challengers discouraged from running, but the need for big-money contributions ensures many incumbents are beholden to legislative leaders who give unlimited amounts of cash to faithful members.
Additionally, more months between the primary and general election mean more expensive campaigns relying on direct mailing and costly (usually negative) major broadcast media buys, reducing campaigns to sound bites. The marathon negative campaigns which result also depress turnout, ensuring the continued production of campaign sludge.
A shorter campaign season -- we prefer a September primary, but would happily support August -- also could also allow state and federal lawmakers who must stand for election every two years to spend more time governing and less time running.
Why not stop the insanity, at least in regards to the length of campaigns in this state? Whoever is elected today, we urge you to demand that they make an earlier Illinois primary a top priority.
Oct. 31, 2012
A world market
Gasoline prices in Lake County have been on a recent rollercoaster ride. The price of gas was close to $4 a gallon a few weeks ago, then it dropped to $3.45 a gallon and now is trending a bit upward. Of all the misleading factoids tossed around by candidates this presidential election season is the one that presidents can control the price of gasoline. Essentially, no president can do much about gas prices in the short run.
Gas nationwide was, indeed, about $1.86 when President Obama took office Jan. 20, 2009, but only because gas prices had plummeted with the global economic crash. A mere eight weeks earlier, gas prices had topped $4 a gallon — higher than today. Gas prices climbed steadily through all eight years of the Bush administration.
Oil is traded on a world market, whether it's drawn from a well in Saudi Arabia or off the coast of Alaska, making it difficult for any White House to control prices. A new well in America can take a decade or longer to get up and running and, even then, the oil can be sold worldwide. America's dream of "energy independence" is sure to remain just that, a dream, without further development of renewable home-produced energy such as solar and wind.
Truth is, presidents deserve little credit or blame, given that oil field yields reflect corporate and government decisions made years earlier.
Yet, too many Americans, misled by folks running for office, continue to believe that the incumbent in the White House, whoever he may be, is directly responsible for the current price of gas at the pump.