“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | 2 Comments

There’s a “Red Menace” Made of Ink, and We’re Drowning In It

I published the following post last December. With the defeat of the Governor’s so-called “Fair Tax” amendment, it seems an appropriate time to bring it around again.

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The Chicago Tribune has published the story of a family trying to obtain services for their autistic son, who “aged out” of Illinois’ special education system when he turned 22, and was put on the State’s “Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services” (or PUNS) list, a waitlist for disabilities services in Illinois administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). From the story:

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.“Nick is among nearly 20,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois who are on a waiting list to get into adult programs. Many of them come from families who don’t have a way to pay for home care,  job coaches or other services.

Most wait an average of seven years before they are selected, despite a court order in 2011 that Illinois shrink the list and do other things to improve how it serves developmentally disabled adults.

One family told the Tribune they signed up their child when he was just 5 and he still did not get a spot when he turned 22 this year…”

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The story goes on to describe a lawsuit filed in 2004 to require the State to provide community-based living arrangements and services to the developmentally disabled. Again, from the story:

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“While paying lip service to the value of community-based programs, defendants have made paltry efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on large institutions or to expand Illinois’ community-based programs,” the lawsuit added.

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We’re all familiar with the tragic story of A.J. Freund, the little 5-year old who had been in and out of the attention of DCFS since birth. The extent to which the agency’s systemic troubles failed him and others is a story yet to be fully told.

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I’ve recently been appointed to the “Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families”,  established by Public Act 100-879, the purpose of which is to:

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[C]reate a task force to study the compensation and workload of child welfare workers to determine the role that compensation and workload play in the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, and to determine the role that staff turnover plays in achieving safety and timely permanency for children.

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It would be an easy fix if all we were doing was paying “lip-service” to these and any number of other underfunded programs. But the real and bigger reason for this chronic underfunding is staring us directly in the face.

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.A story getting far less attention but which has everything to do with the 20,000 people on the PUNS list and excessive workloads at DCFS is the recent report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) about the state of Illinois’ pensions.

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The report discloses that the unfunded liability for its 5 pension funds as of June 30th, 2019 stands at $137.2 billion, up from $133.5 billion in the previous year and goes on to point out that in Fiscal Year 2020, the State is scheduled to contribute $9.223 billion out of General Revenue to fund those pensions.

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Debt Payment 2020

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That $9.2 billion represents 22 percent of the total amount of state spending in the current FY 2020 budget, which is scheduled to grow to $10.6 billion in 2024 and ultimately rise to over $19 billion in 2045.

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When over 20% (and climbing) of your total budget is going towards paying debt, it leaves much less for the ongoing functions of government. The size of our debt is a rough measure of how much money was diverted in the past to dispense the type of goodies that politicians are only too happy to give, goodies which blur and ultimately erase the lines between an encroaching State  and those entities and institutions in which a free people in a healthy society really live: its civic and charitable organizations, community clubs, Little League, churches and a free economy, to name just a few.

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.This is money that could be used for the types of programs that would help Nick cope with life in our broader society, allow the State to more adequately fulfill its Constitutional imperative of paying for education and create a more robust and effective program of child protection. But so long as we continue to deal with this albatross around our neck, none of this will be done.

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.I grew up at a time when the former Soviet Union was referred to as the “Red Menace”. We now live under the threat of a new Red Menace, one made of ink. We can argue all day about where the responsibility lies and whose fault it is that we’re in this mess, but when the excesses of the past continue to increasingly crowd out our responsibilities of the present and to the future, we’re going to see more stories about people like Nick and A.J. If we don’t do something about our debt and soon, we’d better get used to seeing them.

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Dems Create Circular Firing Squad With the Speaker in the Middle

For years, the Illinois Republican electoral playbook seemed to have had only one play: “Madigan up the Gut”, and for years they kept getting tackled for a loss (Go Bears!). Republicans ran the same play again this year, but for some strange reason, it worked. Sort of.

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It wasn’t because of a financially-level playing field; Republican House candidates were outspent by millions, and it certainly wasn’t because of the inspired leadership of the Illinois Republican Party, which wrote the one-page playbook and has sounded ever since like that old 33-1/3 rpm album that skipped in the same place right in the middle of Stairway to Heaven. You knew it was coming, but you’d heard it so often that you didn’t notice it anymore, just like the trains outside of Elwood Blues’ room at the Plymouth Hotel. No, it worked, sort of, because the rest of Team Democrat messed the bed, and is now scrambling to find somebody to clean it up. Who better than the wounded Speaker? It looks like they’re going to leave him on the battlefield as spoils while they try to beat a hasty and not too organized retreat.

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Why didn’t the Democrats run the table on Tuesday? There are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that a number of Democrats ran the same play, too (see image). It’s going to be fun watching the ensuing carnage as they now try to sort things out. Republicans have had plenty of practice forming circular firing squads, so we know one when we see it, and this has every sign of being a doozy.

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COVID-19 certainly played a part, but to what extent we don’t yet know. In May, the Dems rammed through legislation expanding the availability of vote-by-mail, thinking that by doing so they’d cause an avalanche of early votes, especially by a generation whose universe is bounded by the screens on their cell phones and which thinks that history began on the day they were born. It’ll be interesting to see how that worked out once the final numbers are tallied, but in my neck of the woods, there are an awful lot of voters who take Election Day seriously, and undeterred by the prospect of pandemic and buoyed by the beautiful weather, exercised their franchise in the traditional way. For that I thank them.

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The pandemic certainly hobbled the Governor, but it was his own fault. I’m not a COVID skeptic; this pandemic is real, and as one who’s a crawling mass of co-morbidity, I’m all in favor of doing the things that our public health officials have been asking us to do. That said, for months the Governor has been issuing executive orders and emergency rules which have had a devastating effect on our economy, especially on those sectors which employ such a large number of people at the bottom of the ladder. He’s doubled down with the failures of his administration to provide competent service to those seeking unemployment benefits. He’s done all this without telling us exactly what “science” is driving his decisions, and without bringing the Legislature on board. We’ve been treated like potted plants and haven’t been allowed to do our job. His go it alone attitude since March has destroyed the moral authority he needs to successfully weather the pandemic and was probably just as much of a reason as any as to why his so-called “Fair Tax” failed so spectacularly (hallelujah!). That, and the fact that the people of Illinois don’t trust the General Assembly with its money.

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No, the Speaker is merely the convenient (though deserving) target of those who refuse to take responsibility for their own failures. If we Republicans, especially in the House, have the good sense to step aside and let the Dems eat their own, we have a great opportunity to make hay in 2022. But it means that we have to draft a new playbook that brings new constituencies into the fold and puts forth a message that will appeal to those who agree with President Reagan when he said that the person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor. But it’s a long way ‘til then, and such a prediction may be nothing more than the triumph of hope over experience.

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Mask Wearing: Lessons from the NBA, NHL and MLB

On Tuesday, I voted as a member of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) to suspend an emergency rule issued by the Department of Public Health (DPH) which adds language to enforce the Governor’s statewide emergency order on face coverings and social distancing.  The rule requires all persons over age two to wear a face covering, or to maintain social distance of at least six feet, or both, and provides for enforcement through formalized, graduated means. The rule was issued in a way which had the effect of limiting statutory law. Statutes take precedence over administrative actions and thus the rule is, for that and for a number of other reasons, in my opinion unenforceable.

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There are some who interpret my procedural position on an administrative rule as saying that I voted against wearing masks. That’s not the case at all. I haven’t had the opportunity to vote on the issue of mask wearing, that’s something that is done by the Legislature, not JCAR. Perhaps those who would ascribe motives to my vote should take the time to learn something about the legislative process instead of flapping their gums about something they don’t understand.  If they did that, they would then join me in urging the Governor to call a special session of the Legislature to weigh in on the subject. That’s exactly what I told the Governor when he called me on Monday night, but he said it’d be something we’d take up in January. I have every intention of being there in January, but if COVID-19 makes a return engagement before then in a more virulent way, then all bets are off, especially if (when) his rule which flouts Illinois statutory law is itself flouted.

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While we’re on the subject, I think we can all learn a lot about the effectiveness of reasonable adherence to sensible social activities by watching what’s going on in the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball. All three leagues have begun play, with the NBA and NHL living and playing in a “bubble”, which strictly prohibits those in the bubble from leaving it. As a result, there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 in the weeks that they’ve been inside it. MLB has been pretty good about keeping itself virus-free, even though the teams are traveling from one city to another. Every team, that is, except for the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, who had players and/or staff violate team rules by going out in public and bringing the virus back to the clubhouse. As a result, the Cardinals have only played five games all season.

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I think this is pretty solid evidence that sensible measures work. We can’t all live in a bubble like the NBA and NHL, we’re more like MLB, but we should take these lessons and apply them in our own lives.

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This is now just as much a political pandemic as a health pandemic, and mask wearing is the flashpoint. I mean, how many times have you seen someone in the bathroom washing his hands and having someone tell him: “Dude, real men don’t wash their hands. If you do that, you’re just giving in to the Governor’s agenda of executive overreach!”

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No, it’s the mask that’s become the talisman of the political pandemic, because the mask is visible; if you refuse to wear a mask, you’re showing that you’re standing up to The Man.

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Leadership isn’t telling people to do things “my way or else”. That’s where the Governor and I part ways. Leadership is shown in the ability to explain why something is important and convincing people that to follow is in everyone’s best interest. At this, he’s missed his opportunity.

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Look, I’m dead set against having the police tell you to wear a mask and then turn you into a criminal for refusing to do so, but here’s the deal: there are those, including my opponent in the November election, who won’t hesitate to do that. He’s on the record (albeit behind a pay wall) as having said so. If you aren’t going to live in a bubble, then take a cue from what seems to work for those who do.  We’ll get through this, but if we don’t turn the boil down to a simmer, it’s going to take longer to both climb out of this mess and to recover. Wear a damned mask.

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Silence is Corruption – Time for Dems to Break Their Silence on Speaker Madigan

Once again the smell of corruption is wafting through the Illinois House of Representatives. This time the smell is coming from the office of the Speaker, who’s been subpoenaed as part of a bribery investigation involving Com Ed. While he hasn’t been indicted, and may never be, there’s a point at which someone has to say “enough is enough”.

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When is this going to end? How much humiliation and ridicule will we have to endure while the rest of the world points fingers at our State and says: “Oh, that’s just the way things are in Illinois, everybody knows it.”

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I’ll tell you when this is going to end. It’s going to end when Democrats, both those who are now in the House and those who hope to be in the House next session stand up and say something more than “if he’s guilty, he must resign”, if they’re saying anything at all.

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Not having been indicted or found guilty of public corruption is a pretty low bar to be eligible to hold a position of public trust. The people of this State deserve something better from those who they elect to govern them. Otherwise we get what we now have: government through the back door, legislation like the ethics bills Republicans have tried to introduce that get bottled up in the Rules Committee, a Speaker who famously doesn’t have a cell phone or email account, so he can claim plausible deniability to being directly connected to the corruption swirling around him, a State in financial collapse.

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If the Governor is serious about turning the page, he needs to call a special session of the legislature to address this issue.

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And those, like my opponent, who’ve had ample time to consider what this means, it’s time to say something, even if it’s nothing more than “if he’s found guilty…” After all, on his own website he says: “I believe we need honest, ethical individuals to represent us at all levels of government.”

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Sager WebsiteWell, Mr. Mayor, here’s your chance. But when you list the Woodstock City Hall as your campaign office, you really aren’t off to a very good start yourself. That building belongs to the people of Woodstock, not your campaign.

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Governor Pritzker Follows the Science Only Up to the Point Where It Interferes With Politics

RallyOn June 6th, Governor Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul attended a South Suburban Day of Action event in Calumet City. Yesterday A.G. Raoul announced that he’s tested positive for COVID-19. The Attorney General’s office said he had been in his Chicago office for the last couple of weeks, and most of his meetings and events have been conducted via video link, so it seems very possible, if not probable, that he contracted the virus at that event. Right after the protests arising from the death of George Floyd, health officials urged people who attended the protests to self-quarantine for 14 days to fight the possible spread of coronavirus.

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Ten days later, the Governor got a test for COVID-19, and was found to not have been infected. Good for him, and I wish a speedy recovery for the Attorney General.

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But the Governor apparently didn’t get the self-quarantine memo, because what did Governor “Don’t Second-Guess Me Because I Follow the Science” do in the intervening days? Here’s an archive of his public events from June 8th through the 15th, taken from the Illinois Playbook published every weekday morning:

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  • June 8th: At the Thompson Center for a 1:30 p.m. briefing on insurance coverage for rebuilding businesses. In the late afternoon, Prtizker will attend the South Suburban March for Justice and Love that starts at Victory Apostolic Church.
  • June 9th: At Union Baptist Church in Springfield at noon for a roundtable discussion with state Sen. Andy Manar, local aldermen, T. Ray McJunkins, and teen organizers of a Black Lives Matter march. Then the governor will tour the Decatur Boys & Girls Club’s Child Care Facility and discuss early childhood education issues.
  • June 10th: At Skip-a-Long Child Development Services at 11 a.m. in Moline with Rep. Cheri Bustos, state Rep. Michael Halpin, Mayor Stephanie Acri and others to discuss the Child Care Restoration Grants program to provide emergency relief to childcare providers. Then, at 2 p.m. he’ll be at the Rockford YMCA with Bustos, state Rep. Maurice West and others to talk about emergency relief there, too.
  • June 11th – 14th: No public events.
  • June 15th: At the Community Interfaith Pantry in Belleville at 11 a.m. to discuss grants administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity. He’ll address the grants again at 2 p.m. at the Crosswalk Community Action Agency in West Frankfort.

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The fact that the Governor tested negative is beside the point. He was violating his own Executive Order 2020-38 which limits gatherings to no more than ten people, and he was ignoring his own epidemiologists’ recommendation for self-quarantining.

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But the most infuriating thing is what he did to possibly expose other people to the virus because he had to make a political statement. The first thing out of his mouth in Calumet City was a pitch for his progressive income tax. He’s willing to expose people to COVID-19 for that? I guess following the science only goes so far.

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Those people at the Thompson Center, the Victory Apostolic Church, the Union Baptist Church, the Decatur Boys & Girls Club’s Child Care Facility, Skip-a-Long Child Development Services, the Rockford YMCA, the Community Interfaith Pantry in Belleville and the Crosswalk Community Action Agency in West Frankfurt, did they know they were at risk? Were they subject to the contact tracing that’s part of the Governor’s Phase 3 Recovery Plan? Were they told to get tested and self-quarantine? It doesn’t matter that Pritzker tested negative this week, at the time he met with these folks, he didn’t know.

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Governor, though I’ve tried to get you to allow my county, among others, to determine for themselves the pace at which they open up, I’ve been pretty supportive of your calls for social distancing and sensible personal actions to slow the spread of coronavirus. But you’re losing me and whatever credibility you had at the beginning of this pandemic with your opportunistic disregard for your own injunctions. If we get hit by a second wave in the fall, you’ll have lost that credibility just when you’re going to need it most. Elected officials don’t lead by making pronouncements and issuing Executive Orders, they lead by example. With this action, you aren’t setting a very good one.

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