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Welcome to "Notes from the Newsroom" the official Blog of ABC7Chicago Anchor/Reporter Ben Bradley. This is the place where Ben will share extra information, behind-the-scenes reports, and tidbits about stories he's covering around Chicago.


Olympic Update: Rio sends in the tanks

As Chicagoans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, authorities in Rio de Janeiro were sending in tanks, troops and police to try regain control of a series of slums run by gangs.  It's not a pretty picture in the Brazilian city that beat Chicago for the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Since Sunday at least 23 people have died, hundreds have been injured.  Roving gangs have set-up checkpoints along a major roadway to rob motorists en masse.  They've torched more than 40 buses and cars and sent bullets slicing through police posts.  When heavily armed officers arrive, the gang members retreat back into the shantytown slums that scar Rio's picturesque hillsides.

"Wereaffirm our full confidence in the excellence of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic security project," Rio's Olympic boss Carlos Arthur Nuzman said in a statement tonight. "We can assure that the Games in 2016... will take place in an atmosphere of total security."

It's never a good thing when the guy planning the Olympics has to applaud the use of tanks and the military on local citizens; however safety and security problems have long plagued Rio.  The city's murder rate is more than four times greater than what's experienced in the United States.  In the 1990's it wasn't uncommon for Rio to average more than 20 murders a day, although the Brazilian government says violent crime has been reduced in recent years.

Rio's crime problems were well known to the International Olympic Committee members who picked that city over Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid... and you have to hand it to Rio's bid team:  They managed to spin Rio's security problems into a positive bidding element by claiming hosting the Games would be the impetus to once and for all fumigate Rio of the murderous gangs that control sections of the city.  It looks like the Olympic clean-up has begun.


Inside the FBI: Making Friends in the Muslim Community

Here is a web report I put together on my trip to FBI headquarters, Quantico and the National Counter Terrorism Center during the week of September 11th. http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=7685594 



I remember when the calendar rolled over to the year 1990.  The "nineties" seemed so futuristic for some reason.  My dad and his dear friend were talking that New Years Eve and I remember the two members of Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation" marveling that they would run full force with energy and enthusiasm into the last decade of the century.  

Hard to believe it's been 20 years since those memories were made. The passage of time struck me as I scrolled through several dusty old tapes from the Channel 7 video vault. I was looking for footage of the tornado that tore through Plainfield on August 28, 1990 for a piece we're putting together this week. Looking through old file tape is a wonderful adventure back through time. I'm always struck by the sameness of the issues we cover.  Story names on the yellowing handwritten log that accompanied the tape include: Iraq, gas prices, soldier homecoming, suburban sprawl, state budget problems, and the list goes on.

The other thing that struck me was how many of the people whose reporting filled those old tapes continue to bring you the news today on ABC 7.  Kathy Brock reported a story on a soldier concerned about back-to-back deployments overseas. Chuck Goudie asked hard questions of bureaucrats who had bungled a project. Paul Meincke covered CTA funding problems.  This is the strength of Channel 7.  People who know news and have the perspective to report it with character and context.  Although, I have to say, thank goodness they've all updated their hairstyles.


Prosecutors' Batting Average

Rod Blagojevich likes to recite numbers.  250,000.  That's the number of children he said would be covered by his "All Kids" health insurance program.  1.7 million.  The number of people each month who took advantage of his "free rides for seniors" on public transit.

But there is another number the former Governor - and all those charged with federal crimes - should consider: 94.1%. That's the batting average of prosecutors working for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald here in the northern district of Illinois.  Of the cases resolved last year, 94.1% ended with a conviction, according to statistics maintained by the Justice Department.

"Unless you've been there you don't know how tenacious the federal prosecutors are," said Jim Laski. He's the former Chicago City Clerk who plead guilty to taking bribes. Last week he told me a politician's first instinct is to fight, but it's often the wrong one. "When they started playing back some of those tapes to me when they arrested me, I did the Blago thing where I said 'this is taken out of context, I'm gonna fight this.'"

Laski details his decision to plead guilty in his book "My Fall From Grace: City Hall to Prison Walls." He describes a candid conversation with his defense attorney that went something like this: 'We can fight like hell against these guys, but we won't win.' 

Blagojevich and any other defendant facing the feds have a steep hill to climb and the numbers aren't on their side.  Last year US Attorneys concluded criminal cases against 88,821 defendants nationwide. 81,577 ended with convictions.  96% of all those convicted plead guilty prior to or during their trial.  81% were sentenced to prison.

Prosecutors' conviction rate is a bit lower in official corruption cases like Blagojevich's: 88% convicted, 54% went to prison last year.  Those are real people: 645 politicians, government bureaucrats and others who gamed the system and had their cases resolved last year now have guilty convictions on their record.  They include Blagojevich's former Chief of Staff John Harris.  Mr. Harris was a rising star in Mayor Daley's City Hall before he went across to the street to work in the Thompson Center. Harris testified against Blagojevich and now faces no more than 35 months in prison.

A spokesman for the US Attorney's office in Chicago says in recent years more defendants have been choosing to go trial rather than reach a plea deal with prosecutors.  The spokesman theorizes that's because judges now have more discretion in sentencing so defendants hope a judge will be softer on them than the deals being offered by prosecutors.  Just a few years ago an average of only 50 cases a year brought by the US Attorney in Chicago actually made it to trial.  This year federal prosecutors surpassed that number in July.  That means they're getting a lot more practice in the courtroom.  And that can only help their batting average.


Lightning Strikes Twice in Two Days

My computer monitor didn't even have time to burn in the image of that last post before the two candidates for US Senate agreed again!  This time on Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court. Both Kirk and Giannoulias say she should be approved. http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=7571104.

I take no position on Elena Kagan's nomination. I'm just happy to see a candidate issue a thoughtful, reasoned statement of position without a cheap shot on his opponent.  Come on boys... let's go for three in a row! Tomorrow is Saturday, your base won't notice.


Blinded by Partisanship

Thought I'd give you some insight into the fun of parsing political speak and political operatives' inability to ever say they actually agree with their opponents.

Tonight, I'm covering an appellate court's decision which will likely mean Illinoisans will be asked to vote twice on the same day to fill Barack Obama's old Senate seat.  Essentially the court said Roland Burris' appointed term is up on election day in November and not in January when the winner of the November election will take the oath in Washington (see story here http://bit.ly/cMSpVh). We asked the campaigns of Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias whether they think Senator Burris should be allowed to stay until January.    Giannoulias made himself available for an on-camera interview in which he said "I think at this point he should probably serve out the remainder of his term and the next Senator should start in January."

Rep. Kirk was in Washington and unavailable for an interview. His spokesperson responded to my question with the following statement: "Over the last four years, Alexi Giannoulias stood by and watched our state slip into fiscal crisis. We certainly don't need to saddle Illinois families with any more debt."

Doesn't quite answer the question, does it?  Only after a repeated back and forth, did Kirk's PR person finally admit... wait for it... wait for it... prepare the breaking news bulletin... the two candidates AGREE!

My intent is not to specifically pick on Team Kirk, because many political operatives of both parties handle issues this way.  It's ashame.  There's nothing wrong with saying "we agree."   Voters may even appreciate it.


It seems like only yesterday...

"What the Governor of Illinois did was legal."

That's what Roland Burris told me on a cold night in January of 2009.  We met in a hotel lobby in Washington, D.C. with the United States Capitol visible out a nearby window.  Burris was correct.  His appointment by then Governor Rod Blagojevich was perfectly legal.  It would take nine more days before Senator Harry Reid and his cabal finally acknowledged their fellow Democrat Blagojevich had boxed them into a corner, forcing them to admit his pick.

Seventeen months later, it's now clear Senator Burris benefited more than anyone else from Mr. Blagojevich's arrest and prosecution.  Nearly 100 wiretaps have now been played at the former Governor's trial.  Blagojevich talked about selecting everyone from Oprah Winfrey to himself to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. Never was Roland Burris' name heard on the government recordings. Not once did Blagojevich ever say he was thinking of appointing Burris.

Burris did not stumble onto the scene until after the feds swooped in and arrested Illinois' two term Governor.  That's when Blagojevich - desperately needing to look like a man in charge and anxious to thumb his nose at  fellow Democrats - searched for a patsy.  Burris happily played the part because it meant he could play the role of a United States Senator.

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," Blagojevich said as Roland Burris did what no other politician would: Stand beside Rod Blagojevich in public with cameras rolling.  But now we know the truth. Blagojevich never seriously considered appointing Burris until he had no other options.  The fact Burris accepted gives insight to his character.

"Ben, I have no qualms, no concerns about whether I'd be tainted because I know I won't be tainted as a result of the Governor carrying out his constitutional duties," Burris told me at the time.  I wonder, in an honest and private moment today would he give the same answer?


State's Attorney's Stunning Claim

(JOLIET) Blame it on "the young people."   That seemed to be the sentiment Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow stumbled into as he tried to explain why a man might confess to a killing he did not commit.  

It wasn't the first time unbelievable events have come out of Will County government buildings.  In fact, 6 years ago we were all sitting before a different state's attorney as he announced charges that Kevin Fox had killed his 3-year-old daughter Riley... and confessed to it on videotape.  Almost immediately, Fox said the confession had been coerced by Will County Sheriff's detectives.

Riley Fox's murder, her father's reported confession and the charges all unfolded amidst a bitter election battle between then-prosecutor Jeff Tomczak and Glasgow.  

Eight months later we were back in Will County.  This time we were here reporting on DNA evidence that put another, unidentified person, at Riley Fox's murder scene.  Freshly elected state's attorney Glasgow ordered Fox released.  In the years that followed a judge would rule detectives framed Fox and were "absurd" to overlook evidence pointing to other suspects.

Today, prosecutors say that DNA evidence shows convicted sex offender Scott Eby was likely Riley's killer.  Reporters peppered Glasgow with questions about how and why the case was so mishandled.  He blamed his predecessor, financial constrains, and then seemed to suggest Kevin Fox's confession to a crime he didn't commit was a symptom of generational differences.

"I'm 60 years old and I grew up in a generation where people wouldn't make those statements," Glasgow told reporters.  "But now we've got 'generation x' and 'generation y' and they're a whole different mindset."

It's as if Glasgow believes innocent men confess to crimes in the same way teens listen to bad music or wear their hair too long and shaggy.  If Glasgow believes that, I would encourage him to spend some time in a courtroom downtown at the Dirksen Federal Building in the next few weeks.  That's where former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge is on trial, accused of conspiring to cover-up beatings, torture and coerced confessions that are said to have resulted in countless innocent men going to death row.  Coerced confessions from men of Glasgow's generation.


Chicago: This could have been us

Odds and ends from what was the Chicago Olympic beat:

- Chicago raised a little more than $75 million to fund its failed Olympic bid. The organizing committee spent $59 million.  The leftover money is going to fund sports programs for city kids.

- This week an International Olympic Committee team finished its first formal visit to Rio since the city beat Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Games.  It's conclusion: 'Work harder.' Since winning, Rio has proposed moving some venues and revising budget figures.  Now comes concern from the IOC that the city may be falling behind in the still early building process. "It had laid a solid foundation, but the scope of the Olympic project is immense, and it is important no time is wasted," said Nawal el Moutawakel of the IOC's coordination commission.

- London continues to stun the marketing world with another stupefying branding decision.  The London 2012 logo looks like shattered glass and the animated version reportedly induced seizures.

This week the mascots of the London Games were revealed.  Their names are Wenlock and Mandeville. Pokemon meet mutant:


You can see them dance and hear from the guy who admits to designing the coo ky characters here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/olympics/london2012/7741352/London-2012-Olympic-mascots-Wenlock-and-Mandeville-unveiled.html -


Mother's Day Memories, of a murdered son

Mother's Day is no longer a time to celebrate for Annette Nance-Holt.  Neither is her birthday, which falls a few days away.  In fact, the entire month of May is difficult for this mother.  Her son Blair was shot and killed three days before Mother's Day 2007. 

By all accounts Blair was a remarkable young man who died protecting a friend from a bullet fired at a CTA bus. Blair's father is a Chicago Police officer, his mother a Chicago Fire Department captain. Anyone who thinks "it'll never happen to my son," doesn't know Ron and Annette Holt.

In the three years that followed Blair's murder the Holt's have become tireless crusaders against the crime that grips many Chicago neighborhoods.  They give of their time and their hearts and stand in front of the cameras, re-sharing their pain each time they are asked in the hope their son's story will deter future killings.

That's where we found Annette Nance-Holt this year, on the eve of Mother's Day.  She was at St. Sabina church promoting the city's annual gun turn-in day where citizens are paid cash to hand in their weapons. "Getting another gun off the street might save another life," Mrs. Nance-Holt said. "Perhaps it will spare another mother the grief I suffer every day not having my son."

It's ashame it takes the promise of $100 on an untraceable MasterCard to get people to do the right thing, especially on Mother's Day weekend.