The Pritzker disaster in Illinois

Apple River Fort State Historic Site last month in Elizabeth, Illinois, located in a county that has 18 reported cases of COVID-19 as of May 10, 2020.

By John Ruberry

Illinois has the wrong governor at the wrong time. 

Oh, I’m not talking about the political positions of Chicago Democrat J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire who was elected governor in 2018. 

Let’s first discuss how he was elected. Largely because of support of unions, who probably fell in love with his wallet, as well as the tacit support of the most powerful politician in Illinois, longtime state House speaker Michael Madigan, Pritzker won the Democratic gubernatorial primary. That’s quite ironic as the Pritzker family has had a troubled relationship with organized labor, starting with the Pritzker-owned Hyatt hotel chain

Pritzker largely self-funded his campaign. So did his hapless general election opponent, multi-millionaire Bruce Rauner. The one-term Republican achieved nothing as governor, other than get bested by Boss Madigan, the mother hen of Illinois’ pension bomb

Illinois’ shelter-in-place order in response to the coronavirus was eased a bit earlier this month. Golf courses, those germ cesspools, are now open. Dine-in restaurants, health clubs, hair salons and the like are closed. Nearly one million Illinoisans, including my wife and daughter, are newly out of work. 

When things get back to what we might call normal, many of businesses won’t be here anymore. Pritzker is a trust fund baby who has never had to worry about economic survival. I’m sure he’s had a few setbacks, but he could always reach into that perpetually-full cookie jar of a trust fund or his accounts in the Grand Cayman Islands. Contrast that situation to the husband and wife who met while working as servers at a restaurant twenty years ago, then saved their money and took out a second mortgage on their home to open their own restaurant. They’ve laid off their servers and bussers, and only half of their cooks kept their jobs. Revenue has plummeted. Taking a third mortgage out on their home to bail out their restaurant isn’t an option. So their dream business, their livelihood that supported children may have only one destiny. Closing down. And then they’ll have no choice but to declare bankruptcy. 

Pritzker doesn’t get it. 

Since the governor issued his shelter-in-place order nearly two months ago most state offices were shuttered. Yet every state employee is being paid. Let’s zoom in on Illinois’ secretary of state office, which is mainly what other places call the DMV. Driver’s licenses aren’t being issued or renewed, the same goes with license plates, unless, with the latter, you are buying a car as most car dealers in Illinois have the ability to provide at the very least temporary state tags. 

Why haven’t state employees like these been laid off? Union rules just might prohibit that but we are told by Pritzker that Illinois is facing an emergency. I’m sure if he wanted to he’d find a state law to justify layoffs. But Pritzker couldn’t simply buy the governor’s office two years ago, he needed votes to win and unions supply lots of voters. And Pritzker, who is not the most dynamic campaigner–he comes across as an arrogant jerk because he is one–will need labor support again if he chooses to run for reelection. 

Sales tax revenue is of course way down in Illinois. Because of that and the state’s mountain of unpaid bills and its appallingly-underfunded public worker pension plans, last month Fitch lowered Illinois’ bond to one level above junk

Unlike its governor, Illinois has no trust fund to bail it out nor does it have bank accounts in the Grand Caymans. Courtesy of Boss Madigan Illinois hasn’t had a rainy day fund for years. 

Pritzker is facing several lawsuits challenging his shelter-in-place order. But his wife violated that order by leaving the state for the refuge of their Florida equestrian estate, in the manner of a medieval royal escaping a plague. 

It’s good to be king. It’s better to be a billionaire living off a trust fund who can use that cash to be elected governor and then lecture people like me as to how I should live my life. He’s been doing so in his daily press briefings on live television that pre-empt talk shows and soap operas. What fun! The Great Oz has spoken!

Rural Illinois has been particularly devastated by Pritzker’s shutdown. Many Illinois counties have fewer than ten reported cases of COVID-19. Three of them have none. 

With great fanfare and expense–$65 million–Pritzker transformed Chicago’s cavernous McCormick Place Convention Center into a hospital because he told us our existing hospitals would be overwhelmed by the coronavirus and there’d be no more hospital beds. After treating 37 patients the McCormick Place hospital closed down. Pritzker took bad advice from so-called experts.

Whether the shelter-in-place order in Illinois and other states worked–or perhaps it was never needed–the lockdowns need to end, with exceptions such as preventing visitors at places with vulnerable people, such as nursing homes. Densely populated cities such as New York and Boston–but not Chicago–probably need to keep up additional protections against COVID-19.

As I wrote a few weeks ago here, a new epidemic is coming. Perhaps it’s here already. One consisting of addiction, spouse and child abuse, and suicide. Economic hardship often brings out the worst in people. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois should put itself under receivership over pensions

Blogger two years ago

By John Ruberry

“As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.” Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in 2016.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Rahm Emanuel in 2009.

Last week the president of the Illinois state Senate, Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sent a letter the state congressional caucus, a gerrymandered lot–more on that latter–asking for $41 billion in aid in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The devil is in the details–Illinois is a hellish place—and in that letter from Harmon is a request of $10 billion to fund its woefully-underfinanced public pension plans.

Illinois’ pension crisis goes back decades. In 1989 Governor Jim Thompson, a Republican, signed into law an annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living-adjustment for the state’s public pensioners. But the funding wasn’t there. His successor, Jim Edgar, another Republican, seemingly placed a fix into the system in 1994, “the Edgar ramp,” which started with low payments for the 15 years of his plan. But by that time, when the “ramp” was to kick in, Great Recession arrived. And there were “pension contribution holidays” before then. When the 2008 economic collapse hit Rod Blagojevich, who was as bad as math as Edgar and Thompson, was governor.

In the early 1990s pension payments consumed four percent of the Illinois budget–now it’s 25 percent. The state-controlled public pension plans are only about 30 percent funded.

All that time–except for two years–powerful Chicago Democrat, Michael Madigan, has been speaker of the state House.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 19,000 state pensioners collect more than $100,000 annually. On average these pensioners paid a paltry $160,000 into their retirement plans. What a great deal!

New Jersey and Kentucky have public pension funding issues that are as bad, or perhaps slightly worse, than that of Illinois. Will they be asking for pension bailouts next?

Cutting the three-percent COLA has been tried–it was ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court because of the pension guarantee clause in the state constitution. Repealing that clause is the smart thing to do but it’s a politically tall hurdle. Such an amendment would likely have to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Thanks to Madigan, a skilled gerrymanderer who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, there are Dem supermajorities in both chambers. Two attempts by petition to effectively ban gerrymandering by way of a constitutional amendment was struck down in court. Allies of Madigan were behind the anti-Fair Map suits. The petition process to amend the Illinois constitution is deeply flawed. 

The organized labor wing of the Democratic Party, the public sector unions, won’t remain quiet if pensions are challenged. Hey there unions, you contributed to this problem too. In 2005 most public service unions signed on to that year’s pension holiday.

Last week Fitch lowered its bond rating for Illinois to BBB- with a negative outlook. That’s one level above junk.

I’m against an Illinois pension bailout by the federal government. For the most part. But if such aid comes in the form of an International Monetary Fund-style rescue package with conditions that Illinois cleans its fiscal house, such as dropping the 3-percent COLA and taking aim at the top pension earners, those six-figure retirees, I’m willing to listen. 

But receivership is best. Okay, let me dream a bit. As Chicago architect Daniel Burnham said a century ago, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I know, states are viewed as sovereign entities and cannot, as Detroit did in 2013, declare bankruptcy. But what if Illinois agrees to a strings-attached receivership deal? An emergency manager can be appointed. Pritzker, or whoever is governor if receivership comes about, can still handle the ceremonial stuff, such as ribbon cutting for a new bridge and placing bets with other governors when Chicago sports teams are playing for a league championship.

Oh, I’m thinking loans from the feds, not handouts.

As badly funded as Illinois’ pension plans are, many local government pension systems are in worse shape. Illinois municipalities and government agencies, unlike those in Michigan, cannot do so under current state law. That needs to change too.

On a personal note, several friends and relatives of mine are collecting state pensions. Money that was taken from their checks every two weeks for their retirement was instead spent on lord-knows-what. They deserve to be angry and that fury needs to be directed at every Illinois governor from Thompson through Blagojevich. And of course at the Where’s Waldo of Illinois failure, Boss Michael Madigan. He deserves the most rage.

Let me be clear: I don’t take my pension reform views lightly.

Prior to Harmon’s bailout request, the latest pension fix idea was a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Illinois flat income tax guarantee and replace it with a graduated one. That amendment will be presented to Prairie State voters in November. My guess is that it will fail. And even if the graduated income tax amendment passes, the additional revenue won’t be enough. Illinois, which has had negative population growth for six straight years, can’t tax its way of the mess.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit

Bloodletting the American economy

By John Ruberry

I am living in the third week of Illinois’ shelter-in-place order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The streets are quiet, the parking lots in many retail spots are either empty, if it’s a mall, or less crowded if that shopping area has a grocery store.

At home there are three of us. I’m the only one with a job. I’m a commission sales person but income is down. Mrs. Marathon Pundit, after getting laid off a month ago, drove Uber until the shelter-in-place order was put in place on March 21. She filed for unemployment for her first time the following week. Little Marathon Pundit’s employer shut down when the shelter-in-place order went into effect. She was paid until she was informed by a letter yesterday that she was furloughed–then she promptly filed a jobless claim. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have done the same recently.

We are holding up okay. We are healthy and not suffering from anxiety. I’ll have more on mental health later.

As of Easter morning there have been nearly 20,000 confirmed novel coronavirus in the Land of Lincoln with 677 deaths. Each person was loved and will be missed. Each death is a tragedy.

Yet most of the COVID-19 fatalities already had illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Or they suffered from unhealthy underlying factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. Or they smoked. Let me repeat, each death is a tragedy.

Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about what I still believe is an overreach in Chicago in response to coronavirus. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, among other things, has closed Chicago’s sprawling lakefront to even solitary walkers, runners, and cyclists. Barbershops and hair salons, along with many other businesses, have been viewed as non-essential by Governor JB Pritzker, although that didn’t stop Lightfoot from getting her  hair done.

But Lightfoot’s reaction is mild compared to what is going on in a nearby state, Michigan. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a Democrat like Lightfoot and Pritzker. While she hasn’t run out of things to ban or shutter, Whitmer, who is supposedly on Joe Biden’s shortlist of running mates, might reach that millstone.

Travel between homes–even walking across the street–is banned in the Great Lakes State, unless it involves checking on someone’s health. Stores deemed essential are open, but in a bizarre overreach, garden center sections in those open retail outlets are cordoned off, including seed displays. Gardening, generally a solitary pursuit, is a fabulous mental health salve.

Yes, Michigan has one of the highest coronavirus rates in the nation. Cases are concentrated in the Detroit area, which by all accounts has disproportionately more residents suffering from the underlying health issues I mentioned earlier.

There is speculation over a second wave of COVID-19 coming later this year. If that’s the case in between there will be a mental health crisis. Joblessness and money troubles are a reliable predictor of suicides

Not every family is a happy one. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has already decried the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” now that much of the planet is enduring a lockdown. Alcohol sales are up since the shelter-in-place orders began. Will this lead to a higher rate of alcoholism? Will problem drinkers who kicked the habit suffer a relapse? Will there be a hike in narcotics abuse?

Liquor stores are open in everywhere where they were before the pandemic–I’m not calling for their closure. In Michigan you can buy booze and visit a marijuana dispensary. But stay away from that seed aisle at the local big box store! Governor Gretchen Whitless is watching!

Lee Chatfield, a Republican, is the speaker of the Michigan House.

Flint, which is no stranger to economic turmoil, issued a 9am-6pm curfew as long as Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order is effect. Violators face up to $2,000 in fines and six months in jail. Even the ACLU is rolling its eyes over the Flint curfew. I’ve been to Flint. Take my word for it, most residents of the Vehicle City don’t have $2,000 lying around. 

Two hundred years ago  bloodletting was viewed by most physicians as a valid and effective medical treatment for a variety of illnesses. George Washington, a believer in bloodletting, was arguably killed by his doctor who bled him as he was suffering from a throat infection. That cure for Washington and countless others was worse than the disease. 

Now I fear we are bloodletting the American economy. I fear the wide-ranging shelter-in-place orders could trigger an economic depression with the horrible health repercussions I described above. And more. 

President Donald Trump is right. We need to re-open the American economy as soon as possible. 

Our collective health depends on it. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Lockdown in Illinois goes from smiling faces to a preview of tyranny

Blogger running on a Cook County Forest Preserve trail earlier this month

By John Ruberry

Illinois is now in its eighth day of lockdown as part of Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Life is anything but normal here.

There’s not much good to report.

On the other hand a few days ago I planned to compose a feel-good entry focusing on the the few good things to report on from where I live in Morton Grove, Illinois about coronavirus. But things quickly turned south. And now we just might have a preview of the damage an overreaching government that claims to be looking out for us can inflict.

I’m a runner–and I’ve not let the lockdown cut back on my hobby. (Oh, Peter Da Tech Guy has been begging me to write a running post for a while–here you go!) After all outdoor activity, including running, is allowed according to Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, as long as I practice safe-distancing, which I do. During my runs through the Cook County Forest Preserve trails near my home, I’ve seen more people on the paths, including entire families, since the issue of the shelter-in-place order. When the coronavirus crisis fades away, some of those folks might pick up a new appreciation of nature and become physical fitness enthusiasts as well.

I’ve also seen more people smiling at me and waving during my runts. And I reciprocate.

That was through Wednesday.

In Chicago in the early part of last week, particularly on the lakefront, the parks and paths were packed with runners, walkers, and cyclists. There were picnics and barbecues and basketball games. Which caused Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, to freak out.

“You cannot go on long bike rides,” the Democrat scolded. “Playgrounds are shut down. You must abide by the order. Outside, is for a brief respite, not for 5Ks. I can’t emphasize enough that we abide the rules.”

“If we have to … we will be forced to shut down parks and the entire lakefront,” the mayor said that day.

And so she did. In a condescending press conference the following day, Mayor Tenderfoot announced, while upping her warning that training for marathons was also not allowed on the lakefront during the lockdown, that all Chicago parks along the lakefront, along with the 606 Trail on the North Side, were closed and would be barricaded. Violators of Lightfoot’s order face a citation and a $500 fine.

Okay, I get it. COVID-19 can be deadly. Playing close contact sports such as basketball is stupid. But cooping people up in home will be psychologically demanding. And what will happen if the internet in Chicago slows down to a trickle because of an overwhelming demand in residential areas?

Will spouse abuse instances spike? And child abuse?

And it’s not just a Chicago issue in Illinois. At a large park in Skokie, the town just east of me, a friend of my daughter’s was playing tennis with her boyfriend. Someone living next to the park called the police, they them to told stop playing and leave. The cops also cleared out the rest of park. There were no gatherings there of more than ten people. Just a few people here and there, I was told.

On Friday Lightfoot encouraged people to call the non-emergency 311 line to inform on businesses that are deemed non-essential that remain open. Employees can rat out their bosses. Violators face up to a $10,000 fine.

What we are witnessing in Chicago is a preview of life under a Green New Deal tyranny-of-the-enlightened-few led by know-it-alls like Lightfoot. Because of “climate change,” the city’s lakefront could be closed for weeks during the summer. After all, many people drive to the lakefront parks and the adjoining neighborhoods.

On a national basis industries such as travel could be altered and possibly destroyed. Travel by jet spread the virus. So let’s shrink the airline industry, which produces greenhouse gases. What about the jobless pilots, machinists, and the flight attendants? Force them to attend a green jobs training program doubling as a re-education camp.

If the government goes after jet travel will the automotive industry be next? What about recreational boating? Why not shutter restaurants that serve food deemed as unhealthy? Who hasn’t heard obesity called an epidemic?

Does a family of four really need a huge house? Do you really need to take an out-of-state vacation?

Presumably in a Green New Deal America the running trails near my home will still be open and I can train for a marathon if I choose. But I’ll expect to see fewer smiling faces there.

Yes, I’m taking COVID-19 seriously. I’m washing my hands and drowning them in hand-sanitizer. I’m keeping safe distances.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Review, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

By John Ruberry

“While we can’t predict where the next influenza pandemic is going to come from,” Dennis Carroll, the director of the emerging threats unit of US Agency for International Development, says in the third episode of the new six episode Netflix documentary series Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak, “there are certain places that you want to pay particular attention to–and China is one of those, that’s the place where we’ve seen the emergence of virtually all of the deadly influenza viruses over the last half-century.”

Carroll says this while images of a Vietnamese wet market, where live chickens are sold and slaughtered, are shown.

“We know that viruses move from wildlife into livestock into people,” he says early in that same episode.

I’m writing this from home in Illinois, where I am living under Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 coronoavirus outbreak. While the origin of this disease is still being debated it is likely, according to experts, that it did first infect humans at a wet market.

I saw Pandemic last week on my Netflix welcome screen and at first I looked away and said to myself, “If I want to know about pandemics I can switch on the local news–or cable news.” And I was concerned that this was, to use the legendary chant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a “bring out your dead” series. And it starts that way, with Carroll, at a mass grave in western Pennsylvania, one that is marked by a single crucifix. The site contains the remains of victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Yes, not only can it happen here–but it has happened here.

And the “not-if-but-when” pandemic has arrived, only it’s coronavirus instead of influenza.

The focus of Pandemic is on the scientists, the aid workers, and the doctors on the front lines of disease prevention and cures. People like Jake Glanville and Sarah Ives, the scientists who are working with pigs in Guatemala to develop an all-strains flu virus, as well as Dr. Dinesh Vijay, who treats flu patients at a crowded hospital in Jaipur, India. But disease isn’t just an urban phenomenon. In Pandemic, we meet Holly Goracke, the sole doctor at tiny Jefferson County Hospital in rural Oklahoma, who works 72-hour shifts. And we also become acquainted with Dr.Syra Madad, the director of the special pathogens program of New York City Health and Hospitals.

Along the way we are introduced to anti-vaccination activists in Oregon, health care workers at an Arizona border detention center, and World Health Organization disease fighters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who not only face the risk of contracting the extremely deadly Ebola virus, but also getting murdered by gangs.

Surprisingly, religion is viewed favorably in this scientific docuseries. Madad, Goracke, and Vijay all rely on faith to strengthen them as they battle disease.

Not surprisingly there are a few knocks in Pandemic over lack of funding from the Trump administration. Including from Madad. But she’s not infallible. In January, in a CNBC interview shortly after the debut of Pandemic, Madad praised China’s efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, although she did parse her statement with, “It’s too early to tell.” I wager she’d like to take that praise back.

If you are suffering from anxiety over coronavirus, you may want to stay away from Pandemic. The same goes if you are an anti-vaxxer–you’ll just get POd. Also, I suggest if you decide to view Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak then take it in just one episode at a time. At times the series is emotionally exhausting.

Pandemic is rated TV-14, Netflix says, because of foul language and smoking. And there are some disturbing scenes.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Jussie Smollett’s protector Kim Foxx faces Cook County voters in two weeks

By John Ruberry

February was a nasty month in Chicago. Not the weather, as it was pretty good. Just a day or two of sub-zero weather and no major snowstorms.

No, I’m talking about crime. Just as there are contested primaries in Cook County for state’s attorney, which consists of Chicago and its inner suburbs, on both the Democratic and Republican sides. There are three challengers to Kim Foxx in the Democratic side, two GOPers are battling for their party not.

Bill Conway seems to be the leading Dem challenge to the incumbent prosecutor.

Foxx, best known for her still not-fully explained decision to drop charges against alleged hate crime hoax charges against Jussie Smollett. A grand jury empowered by a special prosecutor issued new charges against the former Empire star last month, 

Murders of have been decreasing in Chicago since 2016 when there were 762. But last month there were 34 murders–ten more than in February, 2019, a 41 percent increase.

In 2019 there were 123 shootings in February. This February there were 166.

Carjackings are up too. As with murders in Chicago, the clearance rate is abysmally low, year to year, according to Hey Jackass, hovers around ten percent. But that clearance rate is declining. 

There are no figures on gangs of shoplifters in Chicago, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate there are more of these roving mobs. Twice last month the ritzy North Michigan Avenue was hit. Both times no one was arrested. 

Foxx, a leftist, refuses to charge shoplifters with a felony who are caught steeling less than $1,000 in merchandise. The Illinois threshold is $300. Crime seems to pay in Chicago and suburban Cook County as long as you don’t get caught and especially if you don’t get too greedy.

Northeastern Illinois seems to be part of the wave that I called here the Age of the Criminal.

Election Day is March 17 here. Of course I’ll be taking a Republican ballot. 

UPDATE March 19: Cook County voters proved to me just how dumb they are. Foxx easily was won renomination two days ago. The Republican nominee is Pat O’Brien, who has my support.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

I oppose Trump’s commutation of Blagojevich sentence

By John Ruberry

“I didn’t cross any lines I didn’t break any laws,” disgraced former Illinois governor told Rod Blagojevich Fox Chicago’s Larry Yellen in his first interview after his 14-year prison sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump.

Blago did both, which is why I oppose Trump’s commutation. I’m also on the other side of the opinions of my conservative friends and relatives here in the Land of Lincoln. Two of them are lawyers who have tried cases in front of now-retired federal judge James Zagel, a Ronald Reagan appointee. One of those attorneys remarked to me that he was “a hardass with a tin ear.” When I pointed out that one of the counts that the Chicago Democrat was convicted was for was attempting to extort a children’s hospital, he conceded, “Yeah, that was a bad one.”

So is trying to sell a US Senate seat to the highest bidder. As is lying to federal agents.

“I will govern as a reformer,” is what Blagojevich declared in his first inaugural address. His idea of reform was replacing the crooks and ward heelers surrounding his predecessor, Republican George H. Ryan, with his own crew of corruption. Blago’s friend and top aide Christopher Kelly was one of them. Shortly before he was to begin his five-year prison sentence, Kelly committed suicide. Two of Blagojevich’s chiefs of staff served time. Tony Rezko, his political fixer and fundraiser, served several years in federal prison. While they may have willingly been on board Blago’s corruption express, the former governor aided in ruining several lives.

Rezko of course was a key fundraiser in the early years of Barack Obama’s political career. The fixer and his wife played a role in the purchase of the Obamas’ Chicago mansion, the transaction has never been completely explained.

“He honestly believes he did nothing wrong,” Yellen told Mike Flannery this weekend about Blago on Flannery Fired Up

On my own blog I explained my opposition to the commutation with one caveat. If Blago spills the beans on what he knows about his political adversary, longtime state House speaker and Democratic Party chairman Michael Madigan, I’ll give Trump’s move a second thought. There is a current federal investigation of Illinois corruption and Boss Madigan’s name keeps coming up. True, whatever Blagojevich knows probably falls outside of the statute of limitations, but it can’t hurt either. Illinois needs to be power-scrubbed and sand-blasted. Illinois needs much more transparency. 

And as I’ve said many times, one way to finally clean up Illinois is to have judges like James Zagel impose maximum sentences on crooked pols and public workers. Fear is a powerful motivator. The 28-year sentence that former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick received–he had his hands in a lot more pots than Blagojevich–is a good example.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois red-light camera probe provides convincing evidence why they should be banned

Chicago’s Northwest Side

By John Ruberry

There is a lot of red-light camera news in Illinois. As part of an overall corruption investigation in the state, federal authorities are into looking into the activities of Chicago firm, SafeSpeed, LLC, which installs red-light cameras in some Chicago suburbs.

Last week the mayor of west suburban Oakbrook Terrace, Tony Ragucci, resigned. He is part of that SafeSpeed probe. Federal agents have also have raided the municipal offices of the villages of McCook, Summit, and Lyons in conjunction with this investigation. A state senator who is part of the red-light camera probe, Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) has since resigned.

Last year federal authorities seized $60,000 from Ragucci’s home, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and $51,000 from a safe from Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski’s residence. Tobolski is also the mayor of McCook.

SafeSpeed’s CEO denies any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed regarding the firm.

In 2017, the Forest Park Review called SafeSpeed a “clouted company.”

Something stinks in Illinois. Actually, something new stinks in the state.

Red-light cameras are a cruel cash cow. At best their record in preventing accidents, the prima facie for them, is mixed as evidence shows out of fear of a $100 ticket–the charge in Illinois–motorists often abruptly slam on the brakes but then end up getting rear-ended.

As the nation’s most corrupt city, it shouldn’t be surprising that Chicago has more red-light cameras than any other municipality. Nor should it be surprising that it has endured a bribery scandal involving red-light cameras. John Bills, a former precinct captain in Michael Madigan’s political organization, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for accepting $2 million in bribes and gifts from a different red-light camera company, Redflex.

Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for thirty-five of the last thirty-seven years and he’s been the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998.

Three paragraphs ago I called red light cameras a cruel cash cow. How much cash? From 2008 through 2018, drivers forked over $1 billion to municipalities. Not a major reason, but I suspect the proliferation of red-light cameras, most of which are concentrated in the Chicago area, as among the causes of Illinois’ six-years-and-counting population decline.

Here’s a personal take on red-light cameras. Thursday night Mrs. Marathon Pundit, who is a limousine driver, called me. “You have to pick me up at O’Hare Airport.” I replied, “Why?” She answered, “There is a boot on my limo.” Yes, one of those wheel boots. When I picked her up at O’Hare she supplied more details. “The city says there are four unpaid red-light tickets, two of them are from 2018, but the office says they were never told about them.”

Okay, you may answer that one of her co-workers could be covering up inaction at the office. But in order for her employer to receive a city vehicle sticker for the limo she drives, all red-light camera tickets must be paid off. But the limo she drives has the latest Chicago vehicle sticker.

Those four tickets cost her employer $988, which included late charges and sending someone out to the car to remove the boot. Not knowing what was coming next, Mrs. Marathon Pundit parked her limo in a short-term lot, so her fee–which we have to pay–was a staggering $77. As it took all day Friday to sort out this debacle, my wife missed a day of work. She’s not on salary.

I’m certain hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have similar stories.

There is some good news regarding red-light cameras. Last year Texas became the eighth state to abolish them. And in a rare bipartisan push, there is a movement in Illinois to ban them. And Illinois drivers now have a new friend, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. The Chicago Democrat says she’ll no longer assist municipalities in collecting red-light camera tickets. “As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken,” Mendoza said in a statement, “I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources from being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers.”

Good for her. 

Red-light cameras should be banned. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Republicans are handed a winning issue as Democrats call for and act on abolishment of cash bail

By John Ruberry

If your sole source of news is leftist media such as Slate, you’ll believe that there are “people who are in jail solely because they can’t afford to pay their way out.”

Nope.

There are people in jail awaiting trial because they are accused of serious crimes and they are deemed by a judge to be a threat to society.

Someone like Tiffany Harris of Brooklyn seemingly fits that bill. Late last month Harris allegedly slapped three Orthodox Jewish women as she said “F-U Jews” and was promptly arrested.

Courtesy of New York State’s new laws that eliminate most cash bails, Harris was back on the street a few days later. The next day Harris allegedly punched a woman and was arrested again–and was released.

A few days later, during a court-mandated meeting with a social worker, Harris was arrested again after allegedly pinching that worker. She went too far even for New York this time. Harris is now being held for psychiatric evaluations.

The Harris case is not an isolated one in the five days the Empire State’s new bail law has been in effect, as the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle tells us:

On Thursday, a man accused of manslaughter for choking and stabbing a woman to death in Albany was set to be released without bail under New York’s new criminal justice laws.

In Harlem, a man who allegedly hit and killed a pedestrian while driving drunk was released without bail because of the new state law that ends cash bail for misdemeanors and many non-violent felonies.

In Rochester, a man convicted a decade ago of shooting a Rochester police officer was released on new drug charges without bail.

And in Poughkeepsie, a man once convicted of manslaughter was set to be freed on new charges of felony aggravated DWI as he awaits trial, the district attorney said.

Law enforcement officials are understandably aghast over the new law, as are Republicans.

New York City’s left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio, is now calling for a minor scaling back of the law, adding judicial discretion to keep those are the biggest threat to society either locked up or under the burden of a cash bail.

De Blasio is a former Democratic presidential candidate. Of the top tier Dems running for president, all of them, specifically Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders favor ending cash bail. So dropping it is not a fringe issue among the Democrats. Sanders has gone as far as sponsoring a Senate bill to abolish cash bail.

Anti-police rhetoric dominated liberaldom during the 2016 presidential race, which led President Trump to call himself “the law and order candidate.”

In a November Tweet, President Trump decried the New York bail law, “So sad to see what is happening in New York where Governor Cuomo & Mayor DeBlasio are letting out 900 Criminals, some hardened & bad, onto the sidewalks of our rapidly declining, because of them, city. The Radical Left Dems are killing our cities. NYPD Commissioner is resigning!”

Other Blue States are bowing to the criminals. As I noted here at Da Tech Guy, Cook County Illinois’ State’s Attorney, Kim Foxx, best known for dropping the hate crime hoax charges against Jussie Smollett, is bringing additional misery to law-abiding citizens such as myself by refusing to prosecute shoplifters who steal merchandise worth less than $1,000. Probably not coincidentally, Chicago is now plagued with shoplifting mobs. Californians will vote later this year on an initiative to eliminate cash bail–a bill enacted in the former Golden State was blocked by a lawsuit. As I also noted in that DTG entry, the headline was “Welcome to the Age of Criminals,” San Francisco’s new prosecutor, Chesa Boudin, the son of two Weather Underground terrorists, who was raised by two others, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, wants to drop cash bail right now. He favors “restorative justice” as an alternative to imprisonment. New Jersey and one Red State, Alaska, has a weaker version of the New York cash bail law.

Abolishing cash bail for the GOP is what former Chicago White Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson would call a “get-me-over-fastball.” In other words, it’s a gift basket of a pitch that ends up as a home run.

Trump should pursue maintaining cash bail as a campaign issue. But even more so, because law enforcement is primarily a local issue, down-ballot Republicans should do so too.

After all, as I’ve noted many times, the most important duty of any responsible government is to protect its citizens from invaders and criminals.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Feds have their net out for Illinois’ kraken monster, Boss Michael Madigan

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

By John Ruberry

The new year isn’t here yet but 2020 is shaping up to be the Year of Many Political Indictments in Illinois.

Three months and a day ago I posted this story at Da Tech Guy: Feds setting up a massive corruption net in Chicago area. In that entry I gave a summery of the recent raids on offices of several politicians, all with ties to Boss Michael Madigan, the kraken monster of Illinois. As I’ve explained numerous times in this space, Madigan is the most powerful pol in the Prairie State. He has been speaker of the state House for all but two years since 1983. He’s served as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998. He’s been committeeman of Chicago’s 13th Ward since 1969. It was from that perch in 2007 that Madigan nominated Joseph Berrios to be the chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as “the Chicago Machine.” Three years later Madigan greatly assisted Berrios in his election of the seemingly obscure post of Cook County Assessor. That office determines how much your property is worth in Crook County–and therefore how much it will be taxed–and it’s a position that has long been associated with graft.

Like the legendary kraken, Madigan has very long tentacles and of course a large reach.

Among the updates I have for you today is that Berrios, who was–gasp!–ousted by a reformer last year in the Democratic primary for assessor, is now under federal investigation. With his power base gone, Berrios stepped down as party chairman shortly after his well -deserved defeat.

Madigan is the senior party in the tiny law firm Madigan and Getzendanner, which specializes in corporate property tax appeals.

Hmmm.

Also in that September DTG post I reported on the indictment of Ald. Ed Burke of Chicago. He represents a ward that borders Madigan’s. Burke has been an alderman since 1969 and is the longest serving Chicago alderman in history. Burke’s a lawyer too. His specialty? Property tax appeals. 

In May, federal authorities raided the home former Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Michael McClain. ComEd is the electrical utility for northern Illinois and the utility, which is owned by Exelon, seems to be a major focus of the corruption probe. And that’s a big problem for Madigan and other Illinois politicians. Exelon is a public corporation and it’s difficult for it to hide its dirty laundry. And ComEd is subject to local government regulation, which of course is why the utility cozied up to Madigan and other big shots. And customers, such as myself, have to pay a ComEd bill every month. And every ComEd user believes they are paying to much for electricity. Now they have another reason to hate ComEd.

Clearly the feds are in the midst of a far reaching corruption investigation in Illinois, its target appears to be our kraken, Madigan. But Madigan has been under federal investigation before and the tangible results of those probes were as elusive as those efforts by photographers trying to get a clear photograph of Bigfoot, or a real kraken. 

Madigan infrequently speaks to the media and he never uses email.

Let’s take a look at where one of those tentacles reached. The City Club of Chicago is a tweedy, or seemingly so, good government group, dismissed as “goo-goos” by the cynics. It’s known for its weekly luncheons featuring prominent public officials. For years its president was Jay Doherty, a lobbyist for ComEd. He resigned earlier as head of the group after the feds raided the City Club offices and he no longer lobbys for Commonwealth Edison. Among the speakers at the City Club during Doherty’s tenure were ComEd reps–and Lisa Madigan, Michael’s daughter, who spoke to them in 2009. At the time Lisa was the Illinois attorney general and her office was investigating Doherty and the City Club.

The focus of this part of federal probe appears to be handing out of ComEd jobs for the politically connected in exchange for state actions favorable to the utility.

Last year a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago named Illinois the second most corrupt state. Louisiana was tops. 

Man oh man, Louisiana must be horrible. Illinois surely is. 

Here at Da Tech Guy Pat Austin regularly reports on Louisiana.

John Ruberry blogs at Marathon Pundit from Illinois, where is not under federal investigation.