The end of Boss Madigan, the man who destroyed Illinois

Madigan graphic courtesy of the Illinois Policy Institute

By John Ruberry

Had this event not occurred on the same day President Donald J. Trump was impeached a second time, the failure of Michael Madigan to win a 19th term as speaker of the Illinois House would have made national news. The luck of the Irish was somehow with him on his worst day in his 52 years in politics.

There is much to criticize with Madigan. While the one sentence summary of the Chicago Democrat’s career might be “Longest statehouse speaker tenure in American history,” it instead needs to be, “The man who destroyed Illinois.”

Here’s a graph created by the Illinois Policy Institute–which has been on the forefront of exposing Madigan to the masses for a decade–that shows the decline of Illinois’ credit rating. And the rating began its descent early in Madigan’s tenure as speaker. To be fair, it was Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican, who in 1989 signed into law the annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living public pension raise for retired state employees, but that bill emerged from Madigan’s House. Nearly all state workers are members of public-sector unions, those unions have been an important cog for the Madigan Machine. Other GOP governors share some of the blame for the Illinois pension bomb. But for all but two years since 1983, Madigan was speaker and he had his hands on every budget since then. 

Illlinois’ credit rating now hovers slightly over junk status.

The Prairie State has lost population for seven straight years. People have wised up. After the 2020 reapportionment Illinois will once again lose a congressional district. Perhaps two.

Madigan’s political mentor was the first Mayor Daley, Richard J, the legendary boss of Chicago. Madigan was America’s last machine boss. As mayor Daley was also chairman of Cook County Democratic Party, since 1998 Madigan has been chairman of state party, a post that he, at least for now, retains. Like Daley, Madigan would reward his political supporters and their relatives with jobs, usually public-sector jobs. But recent scandals involving private-sector entities, including the Chicago area’s electrical utility, Commonwealth Edison, betrayed the burden of the pension bomb that is eating away at Illinois government. Allegedly ComEd was handing out jobs, as lowly as meter readers, to Madigan loyalists. The ComEd scandal has produced several indictments, including the company’s former CEO and some Madigan loyalists. A separate scandal centered around red-light cameras has bagged other Madigan cronies. These political brushfires, on top of allegations of sexual harrassment against a member of Madigan’s inner circle, finally made the Madigan name toxic. 

The result in 2020 was better-than expected results for the anemic Illinois Republican Party. Best of all, the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, would have replaced Illinois’ flat income tax with a graduated one, was resoundingly defeated. A majority of Illinoisans finally ascertained, as I quipped at the time, that if Illinois was given an unlimited budget, politicians here would still exceed it. 

Another sin against democracy committed by Madigan is gerrymandered legislative districts, unintended artwork that would make Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso proud. “The state’s legislative map looks like a Rorschach test on steroids,” Robert Reed wrote in 2019 for Chicago Magazine, “with districts of all squiggly sizes and shapes.” With a few exceptions, such as university towns, Republicans dominate downstate Illinois in gubernatorial and presidential races, but there are still plenty of central and Illinois Democratic members of the General Assembly. That is the power of Madigan’s gerrymandering. It also discourages challengers to the status quo; according to the Center Square, last year 44 percent of Illinois legislative races were uncontested. Why run? Because in most districts in Illinois the politicians choose their voters, not the other way around.

Illinoisans would have been better served if there was not a Madigan monoculture in power for years in Springfield.

Groups such as the Better Government Association of Illinois and the League of Women Voters have long called for a Fair Map Amendement, taking away the power of decennial legislative remapping away from the General Assembly and putting a non-partisan panel in charge of the task instead. Twice in the prior decade hundreds of thousands of signatures were collected to put such an amendment on the ballot for voters to decide the issue, twice a lawyer with ties to Madigan successfully sued to keep it off. Last year, for the first time ever, a state Supreme Court justice, Democrat Thomas Kilbride, who represented a downstate district, failed to win retention. His vote against the Fair Map Amendment was one of the issues that galvanized opposition from voters.

Illinois’ Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, finally the state’s most powerful politician now that Madigan is no longer speaker, has vowed only to sign only a fair map into law. 

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Madigan’s successor is Chris Welch, a suburban Chicagoan who was once a member of the Madigan Machine. He’ll be the Land of Lincoln’s first black speaker. But there is already a cloud over him. In 2002 he allegedly slammed the head of his girfriend repeatedly on to a kitchen countertop. Eight years later another woman claimed that she lost her job at a high school because Welch, then a school board president, broke up with her. 

Still there is reason to have at least a glimmer for hope in Illinois. But barring a change in federal law that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, Illinois will remain in its financial sewer for many years. A different amendment to the Illinois constitution, one that will allow pension reform and remove the pension guarantee clause, is desperetely needed. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs in Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

The blame game

By Christopher Harper

After hundreds—perhaps thousands—of demonstrations over the years in Washington, D.C., how could law enforcement officials have been so poorly prepared for the attack on the U.S. Capitol?

For the most part, that question has gone unanswered as the media and Democrats blame President Trump.

The chaos showed that government agencies had no coordinated plan to defend against an attack on the Capitol.

The U.S. Capitol Police chief, Steven Sund, said he asked his supervisors for the National Guard to be put on alert long before the rioters exploded into the House and Senate. That request was denied.

“If we would have had the National Guard, we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive,” said Sund, who, along with other law enforcement officials involved in the mess, has resigned.

Sund said that House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving rebuffed the idea, arguing he was uncomfortable with the “optics” that such a move would bring. Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger told Sund that he should informally reach out to his contacts at the Guard and ask them to be on alert, Sund added.

Both Irving and Stenger have since resigned from their posts in the fallout of the riots.

Despite numerous postings on social media calling for violent action, various federal agencies apparently failed to take the rhetoric seriously.

Dozens of posts listed assault rifles and other weapons that people claimed they were bringing to Washington. People discussed what types of ammunition would be best to carry and whether medical personnel would be available to treat the injured.

“It was such an embarrassingly bad failure and immediately became an infamous moment in American history,” said R.P. Eddy, a former American counterterrorism official.

Despite all of the red flags, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a letter to top federal and local law enforcement officials that warned against massive police deployments. Bowser had complained loudly about the large presence of riot police during last June’s protests by Black Lives Matter.

All of the requests for support came far too late, resulting in National Guard troops arriving hours after the assault started.

“We rely on Capitol Police and federal law enforcement to provide an assessment of the situation,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. “And based on that assessment that they had, they believed they had sufficient personnel and did not make a request.”

Ultimately, the rioters are responsible for the mess they created.

Now the politicians are shoveling the blame toward Donald Trump when the House and Senate leaders didn’t like the optics of a sufficient number of cops to handle the rioters.

As a result, the optics got a lot worse.

Readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic

During the 25 years I have taught writing, I have complained frequently about how K-12 educators pay little attention to the building blocks of grammar, punctuation, and style.

In the past, students have accepted the need to learn these elements of writing. Now that’s changed.

I am teaching a month-long course in journalism history, which requires a great deal of writing.

For the first time ever, students feel emboldened enough to complain publicly that I deduct points, generally a full grade, when they make three errors or more.

“You keep dropping me entire letter grades for tiny, insignificant grammatical errors. I’ve never had a teacher complain about my grammar,” one student wrote. “Considering most of your students are juggling school, work, and the ramifications of a global pandemic, I don’t think this is the time for harsh grading.”

Another told me he checked with a website editor who said the grammar was fine. I noted 18 errors in a submission of 500 words.

Here’s what I wrote to all of the students:

After more than 25 years as a journalist at The Associated Press, Newsweek, and ABC News, I decided to teach writing. Since I joined academia, I have written and edited seven books. I’ve also written for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and online publications. 

As such, I take writing quite seriously.

If a writer fails to understand the basic tenets of grammar, punctuation, and style, myriad problems occur.

First, readers and viewers get hung up on the errors, known as creating “noise” in communications theory. For example, I once did a major investigation of prisons, which began with a visual of geese over a Wisconsin jail. I referred to the geese as Canadian geese. Such birds are called Canada geese. At least 100 of the 20 million viewers of the documentary scolded me for the error. That means that at least 100 people stopped watching something important because I made a style error.

Second, readers and viewers may question the accuracy of the information provided if basic rules are not followed.

Third, I had the luxury of having excellent editors who would challenge almost anything I wrote. Today, there are virtually no editors who look over reporters’ shoulders for errors of grammar, punctuation, style, and most importantly, accuracy.

Lastly, if you seek employment in journalism, advertising, or public relations, you will likely have to take a writing test, which is intended to determine your abilities in accuracy, grammar, punctuation, and style.

Since this course is a writing class in the Department of Journalism, I think it’s essential that someone care about such matters.

DaTimes admits it published ‘fake news’

By Christopher Harper

The New York Times finally admitted that it published fake news over the past few years.

The admission wasn’t about the coverage of the Trump administration, but the errors stabbed at the very heart of what DaTimes considers its influence: international reporting.

You shouldn’t be surprised that you haven’t heard much about the massive editorial issues because DaTimes dumped the findings on the weekend before Christmas.

Reporter Rukmini Callimachi has been at the center of the publication’s coverage of terrorism, particularly the Islamic State.

In December 2014, Callimachi unearthed what appeared to be an important discovery. Syrian journalist Louai Abo Aljoud, Callimachi reported, said he had seen three American hostages while he was being held at an Islamic State facility in 2013. Upon further inspection, however, key details failed to bear out the “news,” resulting in an editor’s note affixed to the story on Friday.

“After the article was published, The Times learned that Mr. Aljoud had given inconsistent accounts of key elements of the episode to Times journalists and others,” the note reads in part.

After the publication of the editor’s note, Karam Shoumali, a Syrian journalist who worked with Callimachi, tweeted that he told the reporter about errors in the story. But she refused to change the details.

The tweet stands as evidence that as early as late 2014, less than a year after Callimachi jumped from the Associated Press to DaTimes, colleagues expressed concerns about her methods and conclusions.

But there’s a lot more. A key figure in DaTimes’ podcast, “The Caliphate,” which Callimachi created, was a fraud. Last September, Canadian authorities charged Shehroze Chaudhry for carrying out a terrorism hoax. Chaudhry was a key figure in “The Caliphate,” a 12-part series created in 2018. 

On Friday, DaTimes finally came clean. An editor’s note atop “Caliphate” admitted the collapse of key episodes. “In the absence of firmer evidence, ‘Caliphate’ should have been substantially revised to exclude the material related to Mr. Chaudhry. The podcast as a whole should not have been produced with Mr. Chaudhry as a central narrative character,” the note reads in part.

DaTimes failed to listen to various reporters from the news organization itself. This frequent problem has existed at the publication in past misadventures, such as Jason Blair and Judith Miller. 

Last week top editors who worked with Callimachi admitted their errors. But some reporters were not assuaged. C.J. Chivers, a former foreign correspondent and now a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, was among the first Times reporters to complain to editors. 

“You discouraged people from using the fire alarm, and when some of us did use the fire alarm anyhow, we found the alarm was not connected to anything,” Chivers reportedly told the group. 

But there is a more fundamental question that runs through these problems at DaTimes, mainly since it is far from the first time that such egregious errors have happened. 

I gave up on DaTimes a few years ago. But it would seem its loyal readers should be asking a fundamental question: If someone got away with making stuff up for six years, shouldn’t the news organization take a harder look at all other aspects of the publication?   

Trump supporters are like ISIS fighters

By Christopher Harper

If anyone represents the disdain of the media for Trump supporters, CNN media maven Brian Stelter would be an excellent example.

Recently, Stelter compared Trump supporters to ISIS members who’d been brainwashed.

“The same pipeline that helps my children learn, helps you connect with your loved ones, also poisons some adults, and distorts their reality. The body of research about radicalization is very clear,” Stelter said. “The Internet creates more space for extremism, and the echo chamber effect accelerates the process. QAnon is one really clear recent example. But so is ‘Stop the Steal,’ and so are some corners of the anti-vaccination movement.

“The best word for what is happening in America right now is radicalization. That’s what it is. That’s what this hyped-up, right-wing media machine is doing. That’s why it feels harder to talk about politics with other people, harder to speak a common language about right and wrong.”

Stelter’s screed is reminiscent of various media attacks on Trump and his supporters—a subject of a recent analysis in Quillette by writer Kevin Mims. See https://quillette.com/2020/12/15/journalisms-ivory-towers/

Simply put, media types don’t understand Trump supporters because the two groups are almost distinctly different from one another. Virtually no one in the elite media comes from the same background as Trump supporters. For example, two-thirds of Americans—many of whom support Trump—don’t have college degrees. Alternatively, a college degree is a minimum requirement for a job in journalism. 

“As recently as the 1970s, when I first became a consumer of American journalism, daily newspapers were filled with the work of syndicated journalists such as Art Buchwald, Mike Royko, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, and Jack Anderson, none of whom possessed a university degree that wasn’t honorary. Perhaps the most storied newspaper columnist in Northern California during the second half of the 20th century was Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, another journalist who never went to college. Visit the Wikipedia page for American Print Journalists, and you’ll find plenty of famous 20th-century reporters who lacked a college degree: Ernie Pyle, H.L. Mencken, Harold Ross, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon, I.F. Stone, Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, and even Hunter S. Thompson,” Mims notes. 

Mims continues: “So much that has been written about black Americans lately has also been written by black Americans. The same is true of gay Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and American immigrants. But very little of what has been written about non-college-educated Americans of any race or ethnicity in the last five years has actually been written by non-college-educated Americans.”

In many cases, the elite media no longer seek non-college-educated people as readers and viewers. That may be another reason why few people in the press understand those who voted for Trump.

Whatever the case, the media might want to look for people who understand that Trump supporters aren’t brainwashed idiots akin to ISIS members.

Just Words

The Biden campaign, planning for every contingency it seems, recently wargamed a situation where, in the event Trump won re-election, the entire West Coast would secede, and the public would wait to see what the military would do. Democratic insider John Podesta played the role of Biden in their scenario, and refused to concede, prompting the secession.

Secession is all the rage these days among the Left, which always seems to fester among the losing side in any election. (Which makes me wonder about all those polls showing Biden ahead.) Along these lines, just this past Thursday, NPR featured the author Richard Kreitner on its morning news shows, Morning Edition. Kreitner was pushing his new book, a history of American secessionism. Kreitner has previously written for the Nation and Slate and currently lives in Brooklyn, so I think it’s safe to call him a leftist.

Kreitner’s book purports to examine whether “it’s time to break up” the United States. Of course, Kreitner assured the listener, while he didn’t “want” states to secede, he also didn’t see why California should have the same number of senators as Wyoming. My way or the highway, essentially.

You hear this argument quite a bit among the Left, actually. The tyranny of the Senate. California has so many times the population as Wyoming, so why should they have the same number of senators? A cursory glance at some of Vox legal writer Ian Milhiser’s ravings will reveal similar sentiments.

Memo to the Left: California should have the same number of senators as Wyoming because California agreed to have the same numbers of senators as every other state when it applied to join the Union in 1850.

No surprise the Democrats put little weight in words. From Kamala Harris laughing off her earlier condemnations of Joe Biden’s sexual predations as merely the stuff of a “debate,” to Bill Clinton dancing around the definition of “is,” Democrats treat words as things to be twisted and manipulated, not to be backed up with conviction. Joe Matthews, a journalist for Zocalo Public Square, claimed on NPR that it was good that Kamala Harris had no conviction, because it allowed her to blow wherever “the wind blows.”

Words are supposed to mean something. To fewer and fewer Democrats, they don’t.