Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tribunes and Thievery (Reprise)

“And we’ll be in the office extra early on Wednesday. One never knows what the Illinois corruption beat will serve up next.”  – Editorial Board of Chicago Tribune in April 18th (2012) editorial on Dixon official’s embezzlement of $30 million.

“The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” –William Butler Yeats on our future in “The Second Coming.”)   

Tribune (Watchdogs of Duplicity)
Noun – an officer in ancient Rome who was elected by the common people (plebians) to protect their rights from the arbitrary and injurious actions of the the wealthy or powerful (the patricians)  

Today, Valentine's Day, Rita Crundwell will be sentenced for what the Tribune Company calls "the greatest theft of government funds in Illinois history."  Wrong.

Back on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, the Chicago Tribune Editorial page sarcastically trumpeted its frustration and exhaustion in yet one more routine day on “the Illinois corruption beat.”  “The real shocker of the day,” says the editorial board is what has happened to poor Dixon, Illinois, where the chief financial officer has allegedly misappropriated over $30 million in city funds for her own purposes (“Hall-of-Infamy corruption?”  Editorials. Chicago Tribune. 18 April 2012).   We found out later it was far more - as much as $50 million. It is now apparent that one Rita Crundwell (pictured at right) had maintained an extravagant lifestyle and collection of ultra-expensive vehicles and accessories.  In fact, as more information came to light, amounts of money taken exceeded $50 million.  According to the St. Louis Today news, Rita “pocketed the equivalent of almost one-third of Dixon’s $9 million general fund budget every year for 21 years – about $3,300 for every man, woman, and child in town.  If true, it would be one of the biggest public embezzlement schemes ever” (McDermott, Kevin. In tiny Dixon, Ill., a theft for the ages.  13 May 2012).  Actually, that is incorrect.  One of the greatest public embezzlement schemes was and continues to be perpetrated on the public workers in Illinois by the politicians– at least since 1953.

Let me explain.

Surprisingly, Dixon is a microcosm (small world representation) of Illinois and its citizens; the same Tribune editorial reminded its readers that the little city’s median household income in 2010 was only $35,720 (Hall-of-Infamy).  Sadly, the diminutive size of the town is reflected in its financial holdings as well as it severe pain for its lost from stolen money.  “The size of the losses represents a staggering hit for the small northwest Illinois town with a budget of only about $8 million to $9 million a year, leaving residents bewildered (Grimm, Andy & Jenco, Melissa.  “$30 million theft case staggers small town.”  Chicago Tribune.  18 April 2012).  BEWILDERED is indeed the operative word, and one that describes perfectly the sense of loss that an individual must feel once he or she has been duped or the victim of a huckster, schemer, or canard.  

And what happens to Crundwell, a world famous breeder of quarter horses?  She could face “a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine…” (Hall-of-infamy corruption?).  By the way, that's exactly what she received.  Hooray!  We all hate a cheat!  Those who prey upon the unknowing and the trusting deserve our contempt and punishment.  Just imagine if it were the other way about?

Yikes! Uncle Bernie Madoff would be faultless; and instead, the idiocy and naiveté of the investor would be outlined in vicious told-you-so’s.  Bernie Ebbers, the scoundrel head of WorldCom who inflated his company’s assets by nearly $11 billion would be simply a pawn of the company’s investors.  And in Dixon, could we imagine a situation where a Tribune remarked, “it is the fault of the people of Dixon for “Nobody watching the store…We don’t have the checks and balances” (Grimm & Jenco)?   Or even worse: Actuarially, the people of Dixon are simply living too long…?

In the greatest perversion of the titular term, the TRIBUNE has promoted the concept that teachers themselves are to blame for the refusal and now inability of the State of Illinois to pay for its past crimes against a middle class of hard-working individuals who jumped through every fiscal hoop; invested naively in the future of the promises given; and gave their creativity, ingenuity, and professional effort to the betterment of the state’s children.  And who were the Madoff’s of the public pensions’ misappropriation?  If not the General Assembly, certainly the leaders of the State of Illinois who decided for their own political gain to forgo payments required to keep the pensions systems solvent:

Adlai Stevenson (1949 – 53): a steady decline to an approximately 40% funding;
William Stratton (1953 – 61): a roller coaster funding record to approximately 60 percent
Otto Kerner (1961-68): a roller coaster funding record to approximately 70percent (Kerner was imprisoned for conspiracy and perjury);
Sam Shapiro (1968-69) a decline in funding to approximately 65 percent;
Richard Ogilvie (1969-73): a roller coaster funding record that was as low as 33 percent to as high as 60 percent;
Dan Walker (1973-77): a steady climb of funding to approximately 80 % (Walker was imprisoned for bank fraud);
James Thompson (1977-91): a roller coaster funding record from a high of approximately 90 percent then down to 30 percent;
James Edgar (1991-99): a roller coaster funding record down to approximately 25 percent to as high as 70 percent;
George Ryan (1999-2003): a roller coaster funding record to approximately 65 percent (Ryan is currently in prison for fraud and racketeering);
Rod Blagojevich (2003-09): a roller coaster funding record down to 35% and than as high as 70 percent (Blagojevich is currently imprisoned on 18 corruption charges);
Patrick Quinn (2009 - ): the state has funded the Teachers’ Retirement System, though it has borrowed the money to do so; thus, the state debt’s service continues to grow” 
(Brown, Glen. A View of the Illinois Public Pension Dilemma, Pt. I. 14 April 2012).

One might think that someone like Bernie Madoff or  Kenneth Lay of Enron might feel badly about what he’s done? Fat chance.  

Here’s what Governor James “Big Jim” Thompson, close personal friend to Ty Fahner of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, had to say about his use of money saved by taking pension holidays during his terms (see above).

“And here, here is our proudest accomplishment.  In the last 13 years, state government has delivered efficiently more services in more areas to more people than at any time in our history.  Whole programs that didn’t even exist in 1977 thrive now.  And yet, the share of dollars that we take from our people’s income in Illinois to do all that is lower, not higher than it was in 1977" —Governor James Thompson in his 1990 State of the State Message to the General Assembly (Wheeler III, Charles N., Illinois Issues, 16 Dec. 1990).

Thanks for all your work, Tribune.

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