Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rauner: A Quick Glimpse and Confirmation

Illinois’ Governor Rauner: Past as Prologue

(Given recent events, this is a revised blog first released in February of 2016.)

 Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) early on recognized his enormous wealth could buy him an army and quite possibly the consulship of ancient Rome.  In fact, his military victories over rivals and enemies allowed the proscription (seizure) of their assets for his own – a swift kind of vulture capitalism with a sword. 

On his way to seek what he believed to be his earned right as consul of Rome, businessman Marcus Crassus had the Appian Way adorned with the crucified bodies of slaves who had been bold enough to revolt: exactly one hundred and seventeen paces between each, seventeen crucifixions per mile on either side, six thousand suffering souls along three hundred and fifty miles of roadway.

Twenty of the slaves were held up along the march to Rome, so they could construct the crosses, unseen by their fellows marching ahead.  After they were done with their toil, they were crucified. 

Like today’s business-savvy politicians, he well knew the importance of coercive control and hidden agendas. The last thing Crassus wanted was another revolt, another Spartacus – a cornered adversary. 

Now, according to released emails in which Rauner characterized CPS principals and “managerially incompetent” and instructors as “illiterate,”  his spokesperson Lance Trover has been forced to admit that the governor’s thoughts were hasty or intemperate or even “inaccurate.”  If you are a public school teacher – especially in Chicago – it’s kind of like the dutiful Roman soldier dealing with a horrified group of captives who had happened to look back too soon. 

And now it’s out.  Hidden tantrums and vicious slanders between Rauner and his wealthy advisors/friends – Zell, Pritzker, Emanuel, Griffin, etc.  A man who has accidently uncloaked his naked, venomous aversion for all things public – schools, workers, human services.

In Robert Harris’ historical narrative Imperium, Cicero recalls how the savvy Crassus lined the pockets of his close friends by sending teams of slaves into burning neighborhoods and offering to buy the owners’ endangered homes for next to nothing.  When the owners agreed and ran away with their belongings, teams of slaves with water pumps would arrive and quench the flames.  The buildings could then be sold to friends at a profit but still cheap enough to provide for their own later fiscal enhancement. 

…Like promising to declare bankruptcy once one takes over the Chicago Public Schools while CPS is desperately seeking bond purchases to pay for much-needed cash.  The resultant jump in interest rates will cost the taxpayers dearly but earn capitally for fellow investors. 

Ironically, just like 73 BC, in 2016 AD it’s good to have friends in high places; but the repeating of history can also have its darker and quirkier sides.

For while Marcus Crassus hoped to be named singular consul of Rome, the highest political office of the state upon his return from various victories, he was instead forced to share that power with his most-hated rival Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus), who upon return to Rome declared his own victories surpassing those of Crassus’. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  All we need at this point is a Turnaround Agenda…

But if past is indeed prologue, can we expect much to happen differently when Governor Rauner takes the podium – one week after Obama’s return to Springfield and the President’s call for a cessation of partisan bickering – to give his annual State of the Budget speech to the General Assembly?

Probably not one iota (sorry, it’s a Greek theme – so, blame the Field Museum).

During his campaign to become Governor, it is estimated Rauner personally spent nearly $36 per vote (or nearly $24 million of his own wealth in the last three months of his race for the gubernatorial race).  By the way, according to Rauner that would be less than 5% of his assets.

“Overall, Rauner's campaign spent $65.3 million since it began in March 2013, and the Republican received more than 1.8 million votes in his general election victory compared with nearly 1.7 million votes for Quinn, who was seeking a second elected term. That translates to $35.83 per vote for Rauner…The documents also showed Rauner raising more than $40 million the last three months of 2014, including $22 million from Oct. 1 to Election Day.
Of that $22 million raised, Rauner accounted for nearly $13.5 million out of his own pocket. That amounted to nearly half the $27.6 million in personal funds Rauner contributed.
Since winning election, Rauner has given his campaign fund an additional $10 million in personal funds and two wealthy allies, hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin and businessman Richard Uihlein, combined for another $10 million. The $20 million is aimed at helping promote Rauner's still-unstated agenda as governor and helping buttress Republican state lawmakers to support it.”

More personal money and generous gifts by Sam Zell provided for additional $millions in anti-Madigan commercials during the spring and summer of 2015.  In one of his earliest interviews before the election of 2014, Rauner described in absolutes just what he will do when elected.  “We need to end the current pension structure and protect it…and we should offer them a range of choices so they can choose for themselves what sort of retirement they’d like to have…” 

International Business Times reported in August of 2014 that candidate Rauner had said as early as 2013 that as Governor he “might have to take a strike and shut down the government (in Illinois) for a few weeks and kinda redo everybody’s contract.  That’s a possibility I will do proudly.”  Later on, Rauner rescinded his comments.

By June of 2015, the Sun-Times reported Rauner had changed his mind once again, and he had instead instituted an agenda (or rescinded his earlier rescission)  that would administer pain to many “but the change will be worth it.”

The other afternoon on the radio, Representative Lou Lang of Skokie reviewed Rauner’s wasteland of broken services in Illinois: “He (Rauner) is holding college students hostage; he’s holding universities hostage; kids with epilepsy or autism; people with mental health needs; legal immigrants who need services from the state; senior citizens – in short, he is disrupting the social service community in Illinois to the extent where services are closing.  Folks who provide addiction programs everyday are shutting down, and not only are we not providing these services but we’re losing jobs in Illinois because the Governor who says he’s the ‘Jobs Governor’ is actually purposely shutting down those businesses.”

But if you are a Marcus Crassus – like the commercial suggests – it’s what you do.

Back to where I started:  While crucifying slaves along the way to Rome, Crassus often encouraged those who would work with him in his political future to come out and meet him – see his work. 

Demanding approval from a very nervous and captive young orator named Marcus Cicero for his brutal actions along the highway, Crassus suggested pointedly that his violence would at least prove a deterrent for those who might disagree with him in any way. 

A startled Cicero shrewdly agreed that no one, not any great general or statesman throughout civilized history, could have come up with such a plan.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

VP Mike Pence; Another One of Rauner's Idols

Indianathema – Pence, Daniels & Rauner

This post from March of 2015 is a reminder of the bizarre political philosophies that drive dangerous characters like soon-to-be-named VP candidate Governor Pence of Indiana and their fellows in other states – like Illinois. 

Governor Rauner’s “role model.”, according to Crain’s editorial board, is Mitch Daniels.   He told them so in March of 2014. In addition, the private equity manager/governor of Illinois has hired the chief legal counsel from Indiana (Jason Barclay) in order to have the same man who whispered in Mitch Daniels’ ear murmuring in his.  

Wisely, Rauner is circumspect in emulating his idol Daniels, now the president of Purdue University, where the past governor has been battled for his attempts to remove Howard Zinn’s works from the curriculum…and now, for too swiftly moving the university’s professorial staff into a standardized corporate style testing of students’ growth per year – one linked to performance measurements for them and teachers.

In the last week, Indiana passed into law a religious objections bill, one that has come with some rather unexpected opposition from corporations and businesses that realize isolating and then condemning a particular segment of a population is not wise fiscally (and, perhaps, morally?).  That last concept eluded Governor Pence as he stumbled through explanations on the talk show circuits Sunday.

You might also remember that candidate Rauner was careful to avoid any response to the equal marriage law that passed in Illinois, although he later quietly admitted that he would have vetoed it.   

His idol Daniels responds to the passage of last week’s Indiana’s religious objections bill just as ambiguously.

“Well, I’m not going to take any position on it, consistent with Purdue’s policy of not doing so in issues like this,” Daniels said. “You’re within your rights to ask the question, but not for me to answer.”

I haven’t seen any questions to our new Illinois governor on the subject of Indiana’s religious objections bill.  The answers would be enlightening, but probably not unexpected.  

The Indiana bill, signed into law by Republican Governor Mike Pence, will allow companies and services to refuse or decline doing business with individuals who “ask for materials or assistance” which the business might find objectionable on religious grounds.

On the other hand, it seems to me most fundamental religions contain so many taboos  - from food, alcohol, associations, menstruation - that I can’t imagine myself able to shop or purchase services easily in my own little town in Illinois.  But let’s be honest.  This bill is not written for those exotic and esoteric religions in, of all places, Midwestern Indiana.  It’s to keep those LGBT people outside. 

“Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter praised the new law, saying it would give abortion opponents legal recourse if they are pressured to support the procedure.  The organization circulated an online petition to thank Pence for signing the bill.”

It isn’t often that you find a government legislative body willing to provide the legal elements for one group of its citizenry to hate another, but welcome to the state that is “kickin’ our tail” – Indiana.  The state Rauner emulates. 

While supporters of the religious objections bill are quick to cast the bill as an attempt to prevent any government from compelling an individual or business owner from having to do something religiously unacceptable, the inherent and likely application of the law will likely be detrimental to an already marginalized minority of gay or same-sex couples.  In essence, then, the state of Indiana does not boldly claim to discriminate – more sinister – Indiana creates a tacit permission for its citizens to discriminate based upon self-described “religious” principles.  If anything, this entire ethos is antithetical to the teachings of most if not all religions, especially Christianity.  

While Rauner has not yet built the kind of support and majority in the GA that would assure this specious singling out a particular group for punishment under the guise of “religious freedom,” he has already clearly outlined his unrelenting abhorrence of all things collective bargaining.

In Rauner’s on-line diatribe The Illinois Turnaround Agenda, he outlines in a bullet-point simplicity just what he plans to do:

It’s not pretty – and its not discreet.

Promise:  “With voter empowerment, Illinois can become a great state, a competitive, compassionate state again.”

We’ve seen the extent of our new Governor’s compassion, especially for the vulnerable and the marginalized in our state.  If you’d like an unsettling and open list of just how he would marginalize you (compassionately?) for being part of a union or collective bargaining unit, read his agenda here:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Something Wicked (Pension Reform) Comes This Way Again

Something Wicked This Way Comes Again: The Convoluted Convolutions of a Political Mind

I talked to former Governor Pat Quinn the other day. 

You might remember him as the affable and avuncular Governor of Illinois who signed SB1 (the Pension Reform Bill) into law, got himself harassed off the stage by public sector workers at the Illinois State Fair shortly thereafter, and lost the next election to Bruce Rauner, who spent $22 million of his own and $24 million of his friends to get into office.

The Tribune – which generates weekly billet-doux for the Governor– figured the cost of his campaign to win at $36 per every voter.      

Quinn, who you’ll remember from his days as spearhead of the Citizen’s Utility Board, is now back with petitions in hand anew to limit Chicago Mayoral terms.  While he promoted his new website access, I had a chance to ask him how he felt about the recent past. 

Given what has happened in the last year with Illinois’ new Governor, you might miss at least the stability Pat Quinn. 

But then, maybe not.

Question: Welcome back to basic political advocacy, former Governor Quinn.

Pat Quinn:  Thank you, John.  It’s good to be back.

Question:  I have two questions for you, the first being politically personal and the second being one asking for your political experience.  Would you mind?

Pat Quinn:  Not at all.

Question:  Currently we have what seems the very essence of evil incarnate at times in the office of governor in Springfield, a man who paid millions in order to get himself elected into that position.  Yet he won that office over you by a bit over 150,000 votes.

Pat Quinn: That’s right.

Question:  Was there ever a time after you lost the election that you looked back at your dreadful signing of SB1, the Pension Reform bill that was later found totally unconstitutional on May 8th by the Illinois Supreme Court, that you thought about the over 100,000 teachers and many more public workers who did not and would not vote for you after what you did?  People, I must say, like myself – a retired schoolteacher.  Did you ever wonder that you had done the wrong thing?

Pat Quinn: No, John, not at all.  I believe we did the right thing in developing that bill.  We had reached a critical moment in the state’s ability to deal with mounting debt, and we needed to find some way to curtail the expenses we could not meet.  There was nothing that told us that our bill would be found unconstitutional, and we needed to find out whether or not this very necessary step would be acceptable.

(Thought: You mean, the many Illinois Supreme Court antedated cases didn’t concern you?  You mean, you thought Article XIII, section 5 of the Illinois Constitution was legally vaporous?)

Pat Quinn: So you see, John, we had to find out.  And as a governor, I have to tell you I am very proud of my accomplishments while in office to restrain further pension payments.  For example, I signed into law a bill that provided savings of billions of dollars in savings for pension liabilities by changing the terms of pension payments for new hires after the year 2011.  I’m very proud of that. 

(Thought:  Are you delusional? You put on the backs of new hires an egregious payment to receive a capped retirement without a compounded COLA at a cost to them that will exceed what the Social Security Administration will consider equivalent to basic Social Security (the Safe Harbor explanation) and Illinois will be on the hook for even more money!)

Pat Quinn: Yes, I think I did my part…

Question: Hello?  Hello?

(Thought: Did he just hang up? – By Golly, he did.)

And now, we have a sudden “stopgap budget,” which Rauner contends was hammered out with a reluctant Michael Madigan because it included a promise to once again develop a new and improved  “pension reform” by January of 2017. 

In his July 6th  interview with the Kaergard of the Peoria Star, Rauner looked at his momentary budget deal and added his expectations. 

 “And the other critical thing that you referenced, we got agreement for the first time on a bipartisan basis that reforms — significant reforms, especially pension reform — are necessary and are on the table, and we’re going to vote on those this January. We had never had that full agreement before, we got that done. That’s a huge step in the right direction. We passed a pension parity bill with bipartisan support, but that will only come to my desk in conjunction with broad-based reforms for pensions and other pro-growth, pro-taxpayer initiatives that are essential for our long-term balanced budgets and prosperity.”

According to the Tribune, Madigan fears he will be caught in some deal he will not want.  According to the Tribune, Rauner is working with Cullerton to recreate a deal like the compromise he suggested with the help of chief counsel Eric Madiar before SB1 was signed into law (unconstitutionally).  According to the Tribune, Madigan will come to heel once Cullerton and Rauner have developed their plan.  According to history, the Tribune – unlike Crain’s, the Civic Federation, and other media – still clings to the aspiration of an Indiana-like Illinois. 

On WTTW's Chicago Tonight, the four NO votes for the temporary budget deal –  Reps. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), David McSweeney (R-Cary) and Thomas Morrison (R-Palatine) – all described necessary “pension reform” as indispensable to their acceptance of any budget deal at anytime. 

As a retired public school teacher, I don’t need tea leaves to realize that another attempt at Pension Reform (THEFT) will once again be upon us by the New Year.  It may be another version of “consideration” cut out of a more clever cloth by the re-hired Eric Madiar.  It may be another bold relentless attack to crush unionization by the Republican Governor Rauner.  It may be some slippery version produced with the craftiness of an aging Speaker.

But it will be back.

What will our unions do?

I wonder…

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Digression: Report from Yellowstone

Digression: Report from Yellowstone

(I departed Illinois last month for a few weeks to travel with a very good friend and former colleague Dennis in search of sites in Western lore that had fascinated us, but for which we had never had or made the time to explore.  I reported back to my close friends and family what we learned each day.  This is just one day.) 

Bear Spray: On Sale at $49.99
The rage in Montana and Wyoming this summer is a new product called Bear Spray.  Frightening commercials jump out at you on the radio, the television, or billboards as you drive along the wilderness.  Bear Spray is supposed to stop a Grizzly when it attacks you while you are on the trail, strolling along the edge of a forest or shopping in a local convenience store.  

The ads come on in fifteen-minute intervals, and even the Park Rangers have taken up the cause by providing warning tips in their handouts before you enter the park.

From their brochure: “If you encounter a bear (common) stand your ground.  If the bear charges at you (rare) stand your ground and use bear spray.  If a bear charges and makes contact with you (very rare) fall onto your stomach and ‘play dead.’”

In the store, Bear Spray costs $50 a canister.  And the packaging clearly boasts that a man who survived a bear attack made it.  There is a ferocious image of a bear on the package, but no images of the survivor/creator.  Cosmetically, probably not a good idea.

The Park Service further suggests: “If a bear charges at you, (1) remove the safety clip, (2) aim slightly downward and adjust for wind, (3) begin spraying when the bear is 30 - 60 feet away, (4) spray at the bear so the bear must pass through the mist.”  Later on in the same information, the article describes a Grizzly Bear’s ability to burst up to speeds of forty miles per hour.  

That’s a lot to do in the three seconds you might have before something like a furry and toothy Honda Civic hits you.  Act fast!

View of Yellowstone R.
The Absaroka Inn where we are staying is named after the Crow Indians in their language and the host behind the office counter is very knowledgeable about the Grizzlies in the area.  We asked him this morning before we left if we should do something special, like buy some Bear Spray.  His name is Donald.

Donald:  There’s no point in buying that.  Bears will attack when surprised.  You just need to let them know you are coming and they will leave you alone.  In fact they will usually leave the area.

Dennis:  How can we do that?

Donald:  I sell these smaller sleigh bells.  You clip them to your belt or pants trousers and the noise will make the bear aware that you are coming.  They’ll leave.  This is very important to do if you are in bear territory. 

John:  How will we know if we are in bear territory?

Donald: You’ll see their scat.

Dennis: Scat?

Donald:  Bear poop.

Dennis:  How will we be able to tell if it’s bear poop, and not some other animals’?

Donald:  You’ll see the all the bells in it.

Seriously, we saw no bears today, but we spied just about everything else, including a 35 minute wait on the road while Rangers tried gently to coerce a herd of Buffalo bulls to move their girlfriends off the asphalt.  

We took pictures from the car.  A few people got out with tripods and photographic equipment even National Geographic would covet. to get closer.  

Like most places, people are crazy here.

Buffalo do not see very well (we learned that when we went to the Buffalo talk in Custer State Park), but they can hear and smell very well.  When you get within 70 feet of them, they will extend their long blue tongue, wag it back and forth, and grunt aggressively.  This is native Buffalo for “Back off, my friend, whatever you are.”  Dennis and I listened carefully, as bulls are over 2000 pounds and up to 10 feet at the shoulder. We stay in the car and play mute.  

Evidently an Australian visitor last week did not learn this, or he didn’t comprehend the body language, so he tip-toed up to 3 feet away to snap a big bull's picture. He’s recovering, as is the young girl prodded by her parents last week to stand next to a Buffalo lying on the ground.  Brave girl.  When Mom and Dad asked her to turn around so they could take a picture of her and the Buffalo next to her she was gored badly.  You can’t fix stupid - probably the words on the poster on the wall of the Park Rangers’ changing area.

Today, Dennis and I watched elk in herds lying on the grass. coyotes crossing in front of us, young ospreys in a nest over a canyon gorge, a white-tailed deer walking through the middle of town.  But we also saw much more.

I imagine it must have been the same for those first explorers like John Colter and David Thompson who came through the surface of a seething caldera and witnessed a geological demonstration unlike most anything else on earth.  Nearly 3500 square miles of protected land sitting atop gurgling, steaming geothermic activity.

Native American points washed up on the Yellowstone River, date back to nearly 11,000 years where we sleep tonight.  The Yellowstone River, from which the park got its name.  

There’s a scene that old Ridley Scott film “Bladerunner” (which Dennis and I both love) when the dying Replicant exclaims his parallel mortality to a persistent and ignorant mortal: “I’ve seen things you people would never believe.” 

One day, while an ambulance and several Ranger vehicles speed by us in the opposite direction to search for the remains of a 28-year-old park visitor who decided to leave the carefully constructed, protective path around the hot geysers and slip into the bubbling turbulence, we went to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring.  The spring is a bubbling geothermic kaleidoscope that produces various minerals, bacteria, and super heated water, which in turn engenders a combination of color and radiance that “you people would never believe.”  Heck, we were there and we didn’t believe it.

We arrived at Old Faithful about one half hour before it erupted.  Four tres jolie jeune filles sat down in front so we could snap pictures.  Over 4 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, so it should come as no surprise that many, very many are international.  Nevertheless, I was often surprised at the myriad numbers of languages encountered on even a single small path leading to something naturally beautiful. Wherever we went, languages fell about our ears from distant countries.  I greeted a woman with “bienvenu” at the artist paint pots today.  She said, “Enchante.”  I felt like a smitten diplomat.  

Finally, we wandered along the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon before coming home, standing as far as we dared along the earthquake shattered cliff face that asked us not to step any further.  We didn’t.

Going to bed tonight.  Hiking with all these bells on is exhausting.  Hoping Dennis will come back soon.  Have not heard from him or even his bells lately.