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.

Chicago mayor Lightfoot’s status as a fraud solidified in her response to police raid on wrong home

By John Ruberry

The competition for worst big city mayor is fierce, New York’s Bill de Blasio and Eric Garcetti typically lead the pack but don’t overlook Lori Lightfoot of Chicago.

How did America’s third-largest city get there?

Lightfoot’s victory in last year’s election was a fluke. She and Toni “Taxwinkle” Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board emerged as the top two candidates after a 14-candidate first round of balloting–she collected only 17-percent of the vote. Lightfoot, used her endorsement by the Chicago Sun-Times and her time as chair of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards to fashion herself as the reform candidate. Her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, decided not to run for a third term; it’s widely believed his blocking the release of a video until after his 2015 reelection of the shameful deadly police shooting of Laquan McDonald led to his bowing out.

Now there is a another video. Late in Emanuel’s second term Chicago police officers raided the apartment of social worker Anjanette Young. But they busted into the wrong home. Guns were drawn and Young was handuffed naked while she screamed. “You’ve got the wrong place.”  She said that 43 times. Lightfoot’s campaign slogan was “Let There Be Light” and this was her opportunity to be transparent in a time of crisis. 

She wasn’t.

City lawyers sued to block CBS Chicago from airing the video of the botched raid. Lightfoot later called that a mistake. 

Let There Be Light.

Then the woman often derisively called “Mayor Beetlejuice” claimed that she wasn’t aware of the raid on Young’s home. But emails show that Lightfoot learned about the raid in November of 2019, around the time CBS Chicago began reporting on it. She says she “focused on budget issues” at that time and the could explain why she has no recall of the emails.

Lightfoot also admitted that she was wrong when she said that Young hadn’t filed a Freedom of Information Request for the video of the raid. The victim had in fact done so. 

At best, Lightfoot’s Chicago is circling the drain. Yes, she inherited a mess. Even before the COVID-19 epidemic Chicago was losing residents. Chicago’s public-worker pension worker plans are the worst-funded of any big city. But Lightfoot’s lockdown orders are best draconian, she hasn’t been taken to task as much as she deserves for that only because her fellow Democrat, blowhard governor JB Pritzker, has been all over local media almost daily trying to frighten Illinoisans into compliance with his own lockdown orders. 

Shootings, murders, and especially carjackings in Chicago are up dramatically over last year.

What are Lightfoot’s priorities? 

The day before the second round of widespread looting and rioting, deemed “unrest” of course by the mainstream media, Lightfoot followed through on her threat to close the vast Montrose Beach to visitors because she thought too many people gathered there on a gorgeous late summer afternoon. 

In the spring Lighfoot scolded Chicagoan by declaring “getting your roots done is not essential.” During that first lockdown, which closed all hair salons, the mayor got her stylist, maskless, to do her hair. 

When confronted with a predictable uproar for her hypocrisy, Beetlejuice doubled down, “I’m the public face of this city, I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”

Last month a few days before imposing a second COVID-19 lockdown, Lightfoot appeared, maskless, outdoors at a spontaneous rally at an unsafe distance with many others as she celebrated the media calling the presidential election for Joe Biden.

Chicago, a failed city, has the perfect person to represent it in the public eye.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Not a bad general election for Illinois conservatives

By John Ruberry

Illinois conservatives have reason to feel pretty good after Election Day. Pretty good but not great. Still that’s a rarity in this state that has been trending blue for decades, much of the reason for that is the tortured gerrymandering practiced by Boss Michael Madigan, the longtime state House speaker and Democratic Party chairman. 

The Land of Lincoln’s feckless GOP, which local radio host Dan Proft calls “Stockholm Syndrome Republicans,” has contributed to the decline, doesn’t deserve much credit for this bit of success. 

The big win for conseratives–really, for all Illinoisans–was the resounding defeat to the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, which would have replaced the state’s flat-rate income tax with graduated rates. Sixty percent of voters neeeded to approve the amendment to the state consitution–of 50 percent of all those voting. Despite big votes for Joe Biden and Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior Democratic US senator, only 45 percent of voters supported the Fair Tax. 

Credit for the victory for keeping the flat tax goes of course to Prairie State voters, but also for the libertarian think tank, the Illinois Policy Institute, as well as Illinois’ richest resident, Ken Griffin, who funded highly-effective television ads against the amendment. Slow down liberals, if you think a billionaire “bought” the win against the Unfair Tax Amendment. Illinois’ billionaire Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, spent $58 million of his own money on the campaign for the amendment. Griffin spent $53 million opposing it. 

Illinois doesn’t tax retirement income–all 32 states with progressive tax rates tax pensions. The anti-Fair Tax ads said that retirement income wouldn’t be untouchable, and an admission, quickly retracted, by state treasurer Michael Frerichs, that the Fair Tax would be a first step to taxing pensions aided the argument of the “antis.”

This summer a federal investigation of rank-and-file Illinois political corruption implicated Boss Madigan. The speaker has not been charged. But the stench from the ongoing investigation served as a potent reminder that Illinois isn’t just mismanaged, it’s crooked. Clearly Illinois kleptocrats don’t need more money to squander and steal, many voters–including some Democrats–reasoned. 

Illinois hasn’t had a balanced budget since 2001, when there was a GOP majority in the state Senate and a Republican in the governor’s mansion, despite a constitutional requirment for a balanced budget. The current budget has a $7.4 billion deficit. That GOP governor in ’01, by the way, was George Ryan, who later served time in federal prison for corruption. 

For many good reasons Illinoisans don’t trust state government. 

Illinois is still counting ballots. I can mail a letter from Illinois that is addressed to someone in Los Angeles and it will probably arrive there in three business days. But my state is allowing mail-in ballots to be counted if they arrive at one of Illinois 102 county clerk offices by November 17. So a few races are yet to be called. While it appears the Democrats will pick up a seat in the state Senate, the Republicans will probably gain two seats in the state House of Representatives. The Dems will maintain supermajorites in both chambers of the General Assembly. But there is a budding revolt by Democrats in the House against Madigan because of the election results. Pritzker and Durbin have called for Madigan to resign his chairmanship of the state Democratic Party. A few brave Democrats in the House have called on this term as speaker for Madigan, who has held the gavel since 1983 except for two years, to be his last. Illinois’ other US senator, Tammy Duckworth, also a Democrat, has called for Madigan to resign his speakership as well as the party chairmanship.

A weaker Madigan–and a specially a Democratic Party without him in leadership posts–means a weaker Democratic Party, which is why the Boss still has support. That’s good news for Illinois conservatives. But the state Republican Party still might find a way to squander this gift.

Other pretty good news for Illinois conservatives is that Donald Trump bettered his performance over his 2016 effort by two percentage points. Two Republican candidates nearly ousted two Democratic incumbents. One of those close calls was in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District. Despite being heavily outspent by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Cheri Bustos, GOP challenger Esther Joy King came within three points of upsetting the incumbent, whose role as DCCC chair is to elect more Democrats to Congress. 

On the other hand, Illinois will lose at least one congressional seat in the 2020 reapportionment. A downstate rural district, the 15th, that is currently represented by a Republican, is expected to be sacrificed. During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker vowed to support fair legislative maps rather than a gerrymandered ones. 

Don’t hold your breath for Pritzker to fulfill that campaign promise.

Illinois conservatives need to get firmly and publicly behind two new constitutional amendments, the first one to eliminate the pension guarantee clause, so that reasonable and financially responsible pension reform can occur. The biggest challenge for Illinois is its worst-in-the-nation $230 billion in unfunded pension debt. Illinois cannot tax itself out of this mess, an insight not lost on voters when they voted “No” on the Fair Tax. Pension reform will be painful–but even moreso if state politicians continue the decades-long policy of kicking the can down the road. 

Meanwhile of course the Illinois Exodus continues. The Prairie State has lost population every year since 2015.

Oh, I almost forgot. There was another victory of note for conservatives on Election Day. Voters chose not to retain Illinois Supreme Court justice Thomas Kilbride, a downstate Democrat. One of the reasons for Kilbride’s defeat was his being in the party-line 4-3 majority that prevented a redistricting reform amendment from appearing before voters in 2016. The suit against the Fair Map Amdendment was filed by a long-time Madigan ally. Kilbride is the first Illinois Supreme Court justice to fail to be retained. But the victory was short-lived. Kilbride’s interim replacement, chosen unaminously by the remaining justices, is a Democrat. Ken Griffin also funded much of the anti-Kilbride effot.

The second amendment conservatives need to rally around is another attempt at an Illinois Fair Map Amendment.

UPDATE December 6: After lots of counting, in the end the GOP caucus will increase by one seat, not two, in the state House.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

COVID-19 lockdowns must end for the sake of our overall health

Outside a store in Wisconsin earlier this month

By John Ruberry

Who else besides me is fed up wearing a mask when shopping at a supermarket?

Or at work?

Or a restaurant? 

I haven’t eaten inside an Illinois restaurant–or in a tent–since Governor JB Pritzker instituted his first lockdown in March. I’ve picked up take-out meals only.

Who has had enough of lockdowns?

As a person with a strong libertarian bent I don’t like being bossed around, pestered, or nagged. 

But I’ve been coping with all of that for months. 

I know ten people who’ve contracted COVID-19. Only two of them told me they were very ill. Two were asymptomatic. All of them are still with us–in fact, they’ve all returned to their jobs as if nothing happened. 

Last month the Centers for Disease Control released the survival rates for those who have contracted COVID-19.

  • Age 0-19 — 99.997%
  • Age 20-49 — 99.98%
  • Age 50-69 — 99.5%
  • Age 70+ — 94.6%

So if you are over 70, and most people already know that seniors are more prone to death from COVID-19 than everyone else, you have a 94.6 percent of surviving. President Trump is one of those septuagenarians who has recovered. Yes, COVID-19 is serious, because those stats also say those 70 and over have a slightly higher than 5 percent chance of dying from it. 

Here’s another situation where that percentage, 94 percent, comes in to play. Nearly two months ago the CDC said of those deaths from the novel coronavirus, 94 percent had “multiple chronic conditions.” In other words, they were already unhealthy. Every death is tragic. But part of life is getting sick, getting injured, getting old, and yes, passing away. You can fool, perhaps, your neighbors or co-workers about your true age with hair dye and plastic surgery, but never can you hoodwink Father Time. 

Humans are intensely social animals, as are all primates. It’s in our genetic makeup. The most watched television shows and movies are centered on personal interactions. One of the most popular TV programs ever aired is “Friends.” There is not a show entitled “Hermits,” there is no interest in producing such a program because few people would want to watch it. 

The death rate from COVID-19 is very low for the very young. Yet many of our schools are closed except for cold and impersonal Zoom sessions.

Usually our first and most lasting impressions with others of our species is by way of their faces. But the mask requirements in many states, especially blue ones like mine, take those connections away from us.

The lockdowns have led to an increase in drug overdoses and possibly suicides. Among young people, the CDC says, the death rate for young people is higher for overdoses and suicides than for COVID 19.

That wave just might be beginning. For instance, Chicago, which is just south of where I live, just instated another curfew because of an uptick in COVID cases. All businesses deemed non-essential for the next two weeks must close between 10pm and 6am. Bars and restaurants, already reeling from being closed down this spring, will be hit especially hard. Some of these businesses, especially those struck by looting this summer, will never re-open. Which means of course more people will be prone to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. The workforce in the food and beverage industry is disproportionately young.

Mrs. Marathon Pundit was an early victim of the COVID-19 lockout layoffs. She’s fine–she has a new job in a different field. But her former boss was forced to downsize his business, which I believe his home mortgage was tied into. He sold his home this summer and moved into a much smaller residence.

There are millions of former business owners facing similar situations across America. And not all workers, such as Mrs. Marathon Pundit, will be able to land on their feet. 

One “fix” to the drop in revenue for brick-and-mortar restaurants is to set up plastic tents next to them. Diners instead of eating indoors will be eating, sort of, outdoors in these tents, but still breathing each other’s air. Alongside them in cold weather climates, in the winter, will be space heaters, which are a well-known fire hazard. 

Follow the science. 

Take a deep breath before reading this next paragraph.

Based on my current age, overall health, and family history, I’ll probably live another 25-years. I do not want to spend those years wearing a mask. I don’t want to go running outdoors–and this really happened–as I run 50 yards past a couple who, in horror, hurriedly put their masks over their faces as I move, maskless, down the street that I live on as if I am Typhoid Mary. According to federal government data, there have been 624 positive cases of COVID-19 in the town I live in, Morton Grove, which has a population of 23,000.

Who frightened that Morton Grove couple? Not me, well not initially that is.

Will the mask mandates return–if they ever go away–when a more virulent than usual strain of the flu strikes?

Follow the science. 

This is not a distress from me call but instead a call for action. For the sake of our overall health–while maintaining strict safety controls in places such as senior homes and hospitals–these lockdowns must end. But I suspect many politicians–such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago–don’t want the lockdowns to end. They are too in love with power. Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker told us we needed the lockdowns to “flatten the curve” in the spring so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Now they want to prevent all of us getting sick, which as we know is not possible.

The goalposts keep moving.

Years ago I read in a book about marathon training that stated that distance running, all things being equal, does indeed lead to a longer life expectancy. But more importantly, those extra years on this planet for runners usually mean they are enjoyable years. Who is going to sign up for an additional ten years of life if those years will consist of living in a nursing home in need of 24-hour care?

The quality of life for myself and millions of others is diminished because we are ordered to wear masks and to avoid each other.

End the lockdowns.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the Unfair Tax Amendment

By John Ruberry

I’ve mentioned this profound sentenced from a 2016 Chicago Tribune editorial several times here before at Da Tech Guy. “As a result, Illinois government,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote, “is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.”

It’s actually worse than than that. Illinois is a racket where elected politicians, many of them legislators in gerrymandered districts created by longtime party boss Michael Madigan, rewards pals with unionized jobs. Those unions are public-sector unions such as AFSCME and SEIU, which plow campaign contributions from dues money into the coffers of Democratic politicians who protect unaffordable pension plans from any cuts. Okay, I know, in accordance with the state constitution pension benefits cannot be lowered. An amendment to that document to allow pension reform is vehemently opposed by Illinois Democrats. 

Instead the Dems are pushing what they call the Fair Tax Amendment which will allow for a state income tax with graduated rates, currently only a flat rate is prohibited. Eight states, including Florida, Nevada, Texas, and Tennessee, which coincidentally are popular destinations for escapees for Illinoisans, have no state income tax. Most Illinoisans, we are promised by the pols hawking the Fair Tax Amendment, will see a tax cut, albeit one that is a pittance. If what I call the Unfair Tax Amendment passes, the “rich” will pay more but mark my words. Springfield politicians are liars and the tax rates will reach down in a few years to the middle class and the working poor. That’s because the rich will leave and those left behind will get stuck with the bill. Oh, the others will leave too. Don’t forget, Illinois has lost population every year since 2014.

The Fair Tax Amendment is on the ballot for Illinois voters to decide in November.

As I’ve also mentioned here before, Michael Madigan, the state House speaker for 35 of the last 37 years, has had his fingers on every state budget, and every failed pension fix, for decades. Those “fixes” for the most part kinda-sorta solved the pension crisis for five years or so. Which means they solved nothing.

If you trust Madigan to fix Illinois’ pensions and finances then you are a fool. The Prairie State’s second-most powerful politician, another Chicago Democrat, Governor J.B. Pritzker, was arguably put into office by the Madigan machine. Illinois’ lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, first run for public office, a state House seat, was a victorious one. In a very expensive race Stratton defeated another Democrat who dared to cross Boss Madigan. The Boss of Illinois even convinced Barack Obama to go after Stratton’s opponent.

In a conference call on Thursday Stratton threatened Illinois residents with a twenty-percent across the board income tax hike if the Unfair Tax Amendment fails. In 2017 the General Assembly overrode Republican governor Bruce Rauner’s veto to raise income taxes by 32 percent. Still at the end of 2019, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability went up by $3.8 billion to nearly $140 billion. Well, that tax hike didn’t work. Keep in mind Pritzker’s heavy-handed COVID-19 lockdown, which has severely impaired state revenues, promises to provide more financial shocks. 

And I want to be clear, some Republicans, namely governors James Thompson, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan, deserve some of the blame for Illinois’ predicament. Democrat Rod Blagojevich, the recently freed convict who supports Donald Trump for president, was equally irresponsible in fiscal matters during his time as governor. Edgar supports Joe Biden over Trump. Man, oh man, is Illinois a crazy place.

Illinois cannot tax itself out of this human-made disaster. A Fair Pension Amendment, one that protects modest pensioners and Illinois taxpayers, is the best way out. Followed by a Fair Map Amendment. Madigan’s Picasso-like gerrymandering skills in drawing maps puts his lackeys in office in the General Assembly. For the most part the Illinois legislature functions like a private country club, one that allows a few Republican members inside to make it look genuine. Twice in the 2010s hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters signed petitions to put a Fair Map Amendment on the ballot. Twice an attorney with ties to Madigan successfully sued to block it

How adept at gerrymandering is Madigan? In 2014, GOPer Rauner won 101 of Illinois 102 counties and defeated the incumbent Democratic governor. But Madigan didn’t lose a single seat in the state House that year and he kept his supermajority in the lower chamber. Yes, I’m aware that the GOP gerrymandered districts in 1991. That’s wrong too.

Illinois government is a failure.

And one party does not have all the right answers. Yes, that includes Republicans. Which is why we need two parties.

The Fair Tax Amendment is really a public-sector worker pension plan bailout where millions of Illinoisans, who don’t have a fixed-benefit pension plan, will pay for ones who do.

As I wrote in my own blog last week, “If Illinois politicians are ever given an unlimited budget–they will exceed it.”

The cure for a heroin addict isn’t a larger dose of heroin.

Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the so-called Fair Tax Amendment. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Feds strike at Democratic corruption in Illinois on two fronts

By John Ruberry

As WIND-AM radio host Dan Proft says, “Illinois isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”

And the biggest fixer of all in Illinois is Boss Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997, speaker of the Illinois House, except for two years, since 1983, and Democratic committeman of the 13th Ward since 1969.

As I’ve mentioned many times before in this space, Madigan, among many other things, is a walking advertisement for term limits. I didn’t call him a walking-and-talking advertisement for term limits, because Illinois’ most powerful politician infrequently speaks to the media.

On Friday Boss Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, part of the Exelon Corporation. ComEd, in a deferred prosecution agreement, is charged with one count of bribery. ComEd, according to the filing, admitted that it gained $150 million in rate structuring over the last eight years. Which means that Illinoisans like me have to pay more for electricity.

ComEd has to pay a $200 million fine. If the utility behaves over the next three years the bribery charge will be dropped.

The bribe scheme involves the utility rewarding contracts and jobs–some of them allegedly little-or-no-work—to Madigan cronies. Madigan is not named by the feds but he is widely believed to be the person labeled Public Official A in their paperwork.

Illinois’ weaselly Democratic governor, JB Pritzker, the state’s second-most powerful pol, had this to say later on Friday about the man whose political machine arguably gained him the Democratic nomination in 2018, and hence the governor’s office in the general election, “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore.”

But Pritzker has his own legal problem. The aggressive U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, in an investigation involving the former Cook County assessor, Joseph Berrios, is believed to be looking at Pritzker. Berrios is the former chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine. Berrios has long ties to Madigan and it’s generally believed that Madigan was the impetus for Berrios’ unanimous election as chairman of the Cook County Dems in 2007.

A billionaire, Pritzker and his wife, MK, had the toilets removed from a Chicago Gold Coast mansion that he owns and that is adjacent to the one he lives in. Allegedly the commodes were removed so JB’s residence could receive a $330,000 property tax break because the mansion next door was “uninhabitable.” Also on Friday, news broke about the investigation of the Cook County assessor’s office involving other 100 properties. Many of the tax appeals filed were handled by a small law firm where Boss Madigan is a name partner. A law firm where Chicago alderman Ed Burke is a partner–he is under indictment for racketeering–handled some of the other appeals.

The Pritzkers later paid the county back the $330,000 he saved. JB and MK deny any wrongdoing. However, the Cook County inspector general called the toilet removal appeal a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers such as myself.

Back to Madigan.

The jobs Madigan allegedly pressured ComEd to hand out allegedly include a real plum, a board of directors seat at ComEd. That person, not named by the feds, got the seat but he is no longer on the board. Some students who live in Madigan’s Chicago ward received internships from ComEd. While internships may not involve a paycheck, job offers can follow. Madigan’s office even directed the utility to hire meter readers for ComEd.

According to someone prosecutors named Individual A, “We hire these guys because [Madigan] came to us. It’s just that simple.”

Boss Madigan is widely considered to the man behind the fiscal crisis that has destroyed Illinois. The Prairie State is burdened unsustainable public-worker pension debt. Public-sector unions have been a loyal cog for Democrats in Illinois for decades. Madigan’s fingerprints are on every Illinois budget since the early 1980s. Yet Madigan somehow finds the time to tell which meter readers ComEd should hire.

Illinois has $4.8 billion in unpaid bills, the lowest amount since 2015. But a $1.2 billion federal loan designed for COVID-19 relief deserved the credit. Loans, by the way, are supposed to be paid back.

Illinois has been annually losing population since 2014.

As for alleged Madigan strong-arming, the feds aren’t just looking at Commonwealth Edison. Madigan’s state office was subpoenaed on Friday, allegedly authorities were seeking records involving AT&T (disclosure, I worked for them for 11 years), Walgreens, Rush University–and a whole lot more.

Through a spokesperson Madigan denies any wrongdoing.

While Donald Trump’s chances of winning Illinois this fall are miniscule–part of that reason is the Illinois conservatives are demoralized because of Madigan’s obscene gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts–reelecting Trump may be the best way to ensure a thorough prosecution of Democratic corruption in Illinois. Americans, we’re all in the same boat. A Joe Biden pick for the Chicago area’s chief federal prosecutor might be less enthusiastic about going after Madigan and the Illinois culture of corruption.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

My wife and daughter escaped the Illinois lockdown and traveled to Wisconsin

By John Ruberry

As I wrote a couple of posts back the unemployment rate is 67 percent in the Marathon Pundit home here in suburban Chicago. Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, they were furloughed from their jobs.

Obviously in possession of free time Mrs. Marathon Pundit and Little Marathon Pundit decided to travel on this holiday weekend–they headed to Wisconsin. I stayed here to work.

Illinois, run by a Democrat from Chicago, J.B. Pritzker, remains under lockdown. You cannot enter supermarkets or any store with out a mask. Up in Wisconsin, its state Supreme Court struck down its shelter-in-place order made by its Democratic governor, Tony Evers. And its mask requirements.

Wisconsin is a free state. Illinois is a lockdown state. It’s that simple. My wife and daughter’s money is being spent not her3 but north of the Cheese Curtain. In a way they remind me of Poles in the last years of the Cold War visiting West Germany.

Illinois, according to WalletHub, has the most restrictive COVID-19 restrictions in the nation.

I just got off the phone with Mrs. MP. She enthusiastically told me about her first dine-in restaurant experience in two months. The restaurants in Illinois that are open are open for take-out only. On Friday outdoor dining will be allowed in the Prairie State. What if it rains? What if these diners aren’t equipped for al fresco serving? What if they don’t have the necessary permits? What if the restaurant owners can’t apply for an outdoor dining permit because their village hall is closed because of the coronavirus lockdown? Thanks for next-to-nothing, Pritzker.

Then my wife told me about their arrival yesterday in the small town of Mineral Point in the southwestern part America’s Dairyland. There was–wait for it–a parade! One for recent high school graduates. While the graduation ceremony was cancelled, grads in Mineral Point received their moment of glory on the streets. As far as I can gather all parades scheduled in Illinois in spring or early summer were cancelled. “A few people wore masks,” she told me of the people participating or viewing the parade, “but most didn’t.” Some stores are open–mostly the locally-owned ones as opposed to the big chains. “When you go in those places, you don’t have to wear masks,” she enthused.

My wife and daughter went inside, yes inside, a coffee shop, and drank coffee, although a sign outside of that establishment said, “Masks are recommended.” But masks weren’t even recommended when they entered an ice cream parlor.

Many other Illinoisans have escaped to Wisconsin too. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke to one refugee from the Pritzker Lockdown who journeyed to Lake Geneva. “‘All for it,” said Dave Gragnani of McHenry, Illinois, who said he planned to visit a coffee shop and skatepark without any mask or hand sanitizer. “People should have a choice. I’m having a wonderful time.'”

Good for you, Dave!

As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Not as much as Wisconsin, but Indiana is opening up too. And of course the welcome mat is open there for Illinoisans fed up with the lockdown. I’m sure Iowa, where my family traveled last month, as well as Missouri and Kentucky, the other states that border Illinois, are enjoying an influx of cash-flush Illinoisans.

Yes, I’m aware that nearly 100,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, although nearly every one of them already had serious health problems. Nursing homes, hospitals, and senior centers need extra protection. 

It’s time to open up the rest of America. And the world. 

Dennis Prager earlier this month wrote that the worldwide COVD-19 lockdown might be biggest mistake in history

John Ruberry regularly writes at Marathon Pundit.

Masks dehumanize us

Discarded medical mask, Miami Woods, Morton Grove, Illinois

By John Ruberry

On my way to work here in Illinois–where Democratic governor JB Pritzker says I have to wear a mask–I was listening to Dennis Prager’s show when he said something along the lines that people connect to each other by way of seeing their faces. Very true. The most obvious example is by way of dating sites, nearly all of the profiles include face pics. Whether you are old or young, thin or heavy, bald or hairy, every expert on creating profiles for LinkedIn recommends using a quality head shot on that employment networking site. 

Faces are how we remember people. When you think of Angelina Jolie her lips come to mind. With Jay Leno it’s his prominent chin. With John Bolton his bushy mustache is his visual trademark. If they are wearing masks you won’t see their distinctive facial features. 

A masked face doesn’t allow you to see smiles.

It’s unclear how effective masks are in preventing the spread of COVID-19, with the exception of the N95 mask, which gets its name because it’s supposed to block 95 percent of small particles.  

What is clear is that the projections of the death total from the novel coronavirus have been alarmist. The most dire one predicted 2.2 million COVID-19 deaths in America–and that prediction likely led to many shelter-in-place orders being put in place, including the one that was extended by Pritzker, most likely illegally, until the end of May. The latter order opened a few more places, such as golf courses, but added a mask requirement for businesses open to the public, such as big box stores. Dine-in restaurants, hair salons, and health clubs remain shuttered. Churches too. 

Humans are primates and primates are social beings. We’re not cats. While there are a few among us who choose the life a hermit, even existences commonly connected with solitude, such as that of a monk or a nun, involve a community where people see each other. Monks typically live in monasteries with other monks. Nuns dwell in convents with other nuns. 

So far COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly as the 1918 Flu Pandemic which killed anywhere from 50-100 million people worldwide–and many of those who died of it were in their twenties and thirties who were otherwise healthy. It is not the Asian Flu of the late 1950s which killed roughly two million. While every death of course is a tragedy, so far 300,000 people have died of COVID-19. In 1918 the world population was about 1.6 billion, in 1958 it was a bit short of 3 billion. Today’s world population is 8 billion. 

A few weeks ago I questioned whether the draconian methods to shut down our economy were worth it, bankruptcies and unemployment are common triggers for substance abuse, depression, spousal and child abuse, and suicide. Since that post we’ve learned nearly all of the coronavirus fatalities suffered from pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. 

Now because of masks we are becoming the faceless, like the disturbing images in the “Life of Julia” Obama-Biden campaign video from 2012 that preached to the masses–not to individuals–the inherent power of a government that does everything for you. But remember Barry Goldwater’s warning, “Any government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”

Like Prager, I’m not a conspiracy nut. But a couple of weeks ago he wrote that the coronavirus overreaction is a dress rehearsal for a police state. Chicago’s vast expanse of lakefront parks–which is 18 miles long–have been closed for six weeks and counting. Churches and dine-in restaurants are closed statewide, as I mentioned earlier. In regards to the latter, for health reasons will the state or local governments in Illinois retain the power to shutter restaurants that serve, let’s say, too much high-fat food? That possibility is no longer far-fetched. 

The lakefront parks won’t be closed forever. But I can easily see Lori Lightfoot or a future Chicago mayor limiting Lincoln Park or Jackson Park to a few hundred visitors each day–with government workers with internal passports first in line of course–in the name of nature preservation or fighting global warming. It will of course all be done in the name of the faceless masses. 

I’m running low on orange juice. I may need run to the supermarket. Where is my mask?

I’ll be less of a human wearing that mask. Is that the plan?

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

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.

My suggestions for Illinois’ bankruptcy auction

Blogger at the Damen Silos

By John Ruberry

Last week I suggested that Illinois, arguably the most broke state in America, put itself under receivership to fix its dire financial problems, which include nearly $8 billion in unpaid bills and an astounding $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations.

I chose receivership as bankruptcy is not a legal option for the fifty states. Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered bankruptcy as a possibility, so it appears he’s open to changing the law so financially reckless blue states, Illinois, as well as New York and California, can call into one of those 800 lines that advertise on television late at night offering Chapter 11 as a salvation. (Okay, I’m kidding on the 800 line.)

Oh, Mitch, your home state of Kentucky also has a financially anemic public worker pension fund.

So state bankruptcy is no longer a pipe dream, although Illinois and New York’s Democratic governors, J.B. Pritzker and Andrew Cuomo respectively, immediately dismissed McConnell’s sound idea. But right now these blue states are acting like old-money aristocrats who believe bankruptcy is beneath them even though their income stream has dried up and their trust funds are depleted.

When there is a bankruptcy there is often a liquidation sale. Illinois has many valuable assets. Not enough to cover the $7 billion in unpaid bills–let alone the $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations–but the Land of Lincoln has to begin somewhere to dig itself out of the hole created by irresponsible politicians from both parties. So here are my suggested on what needs to go.

The Damen Silos: Illinois has owned the abandoned grain silos at Damen on the Sanitary and Ship Canal on Chicago’s South Side since the 1970s. It’s a popular spot for urban explorers–I’ve been there–and for graffiti-taggers. An explosion scene for Transformers: Age of Extinction was filmed at the silos. But the state has owned it four over four decades. Get rid of it. The location is also near Interstate 55. While demolishing the site will be pricey for the new owner which will drive down the selling price, every dollar counts during Illinois’ financial emergency. As it stands now, the Damen Silos are a towering monument to Illinois incompetence.

Illinois’ governor mansion: The last Illinois governor to live full-time in America’s third-oldest governor’s mansion was Republican Jim Edgar, he of the failed “Edgar ramp” pension rescue. He left office in 1999. Another Republican gov, one-termer Bruce Rauner, led the recent private efforts to restore the residence, which was in poor shape. The renovation cost $15 million. The project was completed last July. Four months later Pritzker trounced Rauner in his reelection effort.

Sell the mansion. It can be central Illinois premier luxury B&B. In fact it can be America’s premier luxury B&B.

When Illinois’ governor needs to be in Springfield there are plenty of hotel rooms to choose from there. Or the state can buy a humble bungalow for the governor.

A whole bunch of state parks: Illinois has 142 state parks. Many are tiny and little-visited. Illini, William G. Stratton (named for a governor who was indicted for tax evasion), Jubilee College, and Gebhard Woods state parks immediately come to mind as expendable. At least of half of Illinois’ state parks need to go on the auction block. Illinois has a very popular state park that I’m thinking of that I’ll talk about later.

The former Tinley Park mental health facility: Governor Pat Quinn shuttered the sprawling 250-acre site in 2012. There are toxic wastes that need to be cleaned up. But in real estate, of course, the most important concern is location, location, location. And the old asylum has a great one, at Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street in southern Cook County a few blocks away from an Interstate 80 exit.

Illinois Department of Transportation snow plows: Snow removal and the spreading of salt on roads where IDOT bears maintenance responsibility should be privatized.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield: The Disney-esque ALPLM was the brain-child of Julie Cellini, the wife of longtime state contractor and power-broker William Cellini. A Republican, William got caught up in the Rod Blagojevich scandals which earned him a short stay in federal prison. Julie envisioned the state-owned library and museum as a way to upgrade Springfield as a tourist destination as opposed to merely being a two-hour detour and bathroom stop for travelers on I-55 who visited the Damen Silos in Chicago earlier in the day. It hasn’t worked. And it appears that the ALPLM was conned when it purchased $25 million worth of Honest Abe artifacts, the centerpiece of that swag was a stovepipe hat that was said to be worn by our 16th president. Except that there is no evidence that Lincoln ever wore that hat. At onetime the ALPLM owned a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Who knows what other unrelated treasures that are gathering dust in closets there? Well here is one: There are five copies in Lincoln’s handwriting of his Gettysburg Address. All of them are considered priceless but a since-fired ALPLM director lent the one the library owns to a tiny museum owned by Glenn Beck for a paltry $50,000.

Illinois is incapable of running the ALPLM.

Lincoln’s New Salem: A twenty-minute drive north of Springfield near Petersburg is Lincoln’s New Salem. This was Lincoln’s first home away from his parents. The town lasted only ten years but it is central to Lincoln lore. This spot, consisting mostly of rebuilt log cabins, has many visitors, primarily kids on school field trips, but its value to buyers grows if it is packaged with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Young Americans for Freedom owns the former Ronald Reagan Ranch in California. Perhaps they might be interested in the above sites tied to our first Republican president too. Hey, Disney might want to grab them for a Lincoln Land attraction. Is that a dumb idea? Well it is not as dopey as buying a Marilyn Monroe dress for a Lincoln museum.

The James R. Thompson Center in Chicago: Colloquially known as by its original name, the State of Illinois Center, it was designed by renowned German-American architect Helmut Jahn. Great artists are capable of colossal flops, after all Prince released several unlistenable albums, and Jahn’s Thompson Center is the turd in his career punch bowl. The heating and cooling systems have never worked well and they are expensive to operate. Its marble floors are slippery when visitors bring in snow from their shoes and it snows a lot in Chicago Ironically its atrium is supposed to be a monument to openness in government. But under the decades-long tenure of Boss Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the speaker of the Illinois House, government in Illinois has not been transparent at all. The building is named for James R. Thompson, the Republican governor who signed the three-percent annual compounded pension raise into law. Governors back to Blago have suggested selling the white elephant, which sits on prime real estate in downtown Chicago.

Starved Rock State Park: Illinois’ crown jewel in its state park system is Starved Rock in LaSalle County. Desperate times call for drastic action and that is why the Prairie State needs to sell its most-visited state park, which includes an NPS-style lodge with cabins. Private industry can do a much better job running the park, which has crumbling roads, and perhaps new owners build a couple of more lodges. What did I say about location earlier? As with the former Tinley Park mental home, Starved Rock is a short drive from I-80.

What are your suggestions for things and places for divestment by Illinois?

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.