Friday, November 27, 2015

We fail ourselves every day


    

     The state of Illinois is cracked. Our government is broken and no one can fix it. Our leaders bicker and squabble and waste day after day after day. We can't approve a budget, never mind balance one. The figures are astronomical: Illinois has a public worker pension obligation of $111 billion dollars.
     That's equal to the gross national product of Morocco. 
     The politicians are rigid, unyielding. Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan are twin bookends: grim, rigid, lipless men, holding firm while the state slides further and further to hell. Rahm Emanuel seems increasingly irrelevant, like the form of a man far away in the distance, silhouetted against the horizon. But you can't blame them because they've had so much help, from all the politicians in the past.  They signed a check we couldn't cash, then skedaddled.  And we let them.
      The problem is so complex, so enormous, spanning decades, billions of dollars, thousands of employees. Often the mind just wants to reject it. There's no point in keeping track because nothing happens anyway. It just somehow keeps getting worse and worse. The more they try to fill the hole, the deeper it becomes. It's a puzzle, a conundrum; who can make sense of it?
    And then suddenly the whole problem presents itself in front of you in a clear and unmistakeable fashion.
     I was waiting for my wife to get off work at the Attorney General's office one Friday late last month, standing in front of the Thompson Center, Helmut Jahn's elephantine salmon and baby blue monstrosity, which the state is in the process of selling off because, as I mentioned, we're broke. 
     And as I stood waiting — she takes her work very seriously, and would no sooner leave before 5 p.m. than she would steal reams of copy paper — I glanced down, at the tableau below. The stone slabs in front of the building had cracked, no doubt from shoddy construction and years of neglect, and someone had slapped a strip of silver duct tape over a crack.
     You can see how well that worked.
     I had noticed duct tape used in the building before—in the governor's office, embarrassingly. Visitors to the governor of Illinois find themselves in a waiting room where the threadbare, 40 year old carpet is ripped and patched with duct tape.
     That's bad, but this repair out front on the public sidewalk was worse, because at least the duct tape on the thin carpets worked. Some state employee — or perhaps one of the contract employees we hired to do what we can no longer do — saw the crack and thought, "Better slap some duct tape on that one." A half-assed half measure that didn't half work. An oozing bandage poorly applied over our gaping civic wound.
     Isn't that the story of the state of Illinois? How can we be afraid of terrorists striking us when we so effectively strike at ourselves? Our creaky government entities collapsing around us, our public roads crumbling, our bridges coming down on our heads. Where was the pride of the guy in a blue coveralls kneeling down and yanking off a strip of duct tape, perhaps nipping it with his teeth before he tore off a strip, pressing it down upon the stone? Where is the pride of we who pass it? Illinois is a laughingstock, the sick man of the United States, on the bottom of the pile. How could we allow it? How can we? We plan meticulously to face disasters that may never come, while our own self-created disaster gets worse and worse, swelling before our eyes in broad daylight. We keep not doing what we have to do, fighting over who gets a bigger slice of a pie that's crumbling away into nothing. Our leaders fail us, but then that's apt, because we fail ourselves, eyes wide open, every hour of every day.  
    

22 comments:

  1. I'm sure your wife & all the rest of the government employees in Illinois, C[r]ook County & Chicago will hate this, but defined benefit pensions are unsustainable!
    We must put all the pension funds into bankruptcy, payout to the employees whatever they put in & then put them all on Social Security, like the rest of us!
    Then we need an entirely new state constitution, as the current one was written by a group headed by a North Shore elitist, named Sam Witwer. Witwer didn't believe in term limits or unlimited citizen initiatives, such as California & Massachusetts have. He thought the public was too stupid for that.
    We also need total redistricting by a unbiased panel & an end to the absurd games played by the politicians to kick their opponents off the ballot. It must become much easier to get on the ballot, so the pols can't select their voters, instead of the other way around.
    We also need a Congress that will overturn Citizens United & the earlier idiotic Supreme Court decision that allows billionaires & millionaires to spend unlimited money on their own campaigns.

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    1. So it's come to that with the duct tape? What a sad joke our city and state has become.

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    2. The filthy rich governor should pay with some of those repairs with his own deep pocket funds.

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    3. Rauner complains that the governor's mansion is falling apart & the state won't fix it.
      He could pay for the entire repair job with just .001% of his own wealth.
      But like all greedy, rich bastards, he always wants someone else to spend their money, never his!

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    4. That's why deep down, I'm a Socialist.

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    5. Like the Ricketts family who wanted taxpayers to help pay for some of the Wrigley upgrades. "greedy, rich bastards" is right.

      And the middle class gets the pinch. Would love to see a Bolshevik type revolution on these types, without the side effects to the consumer and human rights. Too bad Marx's words got twisted. Love that Dr. Zhivago film but in real life, the Leninists/ Stalinists screwed things up.

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    6. Regarding "total redistricting by a unbiased panel":

      1) Unless the panel will be staffed by humans who just walked out of the convent or monastery where they were raised their entire lives, it will always be "biased."

      2) I'd still be willing to do that...the day after Texas and every other state controlled by Republicans abolishes their gerrymandering.

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    7. Good point about TX, Scribe.

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    8. Even under bankruptcy, I don't think it could be a simple matter of returning what people had paid in and put them into Social Security. Most employed people now look forward to pensions earned through a combination of Social Security and tax-deferred savings (usually Section 401k of the Internal Revenue Code). It would seem that a bankruptcy judge would have to account for that element of equity. In 1986 the Federal Government shifted to such a system but employees who were already vested in their defined compensation plans could elect to remain in them. That was not a problem because those employee contributions plus the government share (which the Federal Government had kept up, unlike the State of Illinois) were sufficient to cover the obligations.

      The pension problem does seem dire indeed but will begin to be solved when the Governor and the legislature decide who is going to shoulder the blame for a tax increase. Illinois taxes are too regressive and overly complex, but this is not a high tax state. I grew up in Wisconsin and still pay taxes on property there. I'm reasonably certain that my total tax burden would be higher if I lived over the border.

      I agree that redistricting is a kind of Holy Grail, easier sought than attained.

      Concerning term limits, count me a skeptic. based on experience as a middle manager in a sometimes controversial Federal program. where I learned that much of the work of the Congress is done by professional staffers who are there year in and year out (although they sometimes shift to being lobbyists when their guys are out of power,) They are smart, sometimes unscrupulous, know the issues and understand the system. A new Congressman is a baby in their arms, and term limits would only increase their influence.

      Unlimited citizen initiatives have, I believe, been as often as not, been a disaster in California.

      It does seem the gloomiest of outlook, but cheer up. We could be living in Mississippi. Or in neighboring Louisiana, which is also hot and buggy and from which Bobby Jindahl will soon depart leaving behind a fiscal mess the equal of ours.

      Tom Evans

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    9. NJ is one of the states that has high property taxes.

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    10. Informative info, Tom, about the professional staffers.

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  2. Spot on, Clark. We're about to become an embarrassing national example of the price to be paid for voter apathy.

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    1. I'm not sure 'voter apathy' is the correct term. Our politicians of both party learned some time ago that if you didn't pander to the electorate by promising benefits that couldn't be paid for without raising taxes you wouldn't get reelected. As a wise possum once put it: "We have seen the enemy and he is us."

      Tom Evans

      Tom Evans

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  3. You are very well informed, Clark but too bad those good ideas won't be implemented by the crooked and or wealthy powers that be. Still and all, the comments could have been said without getting personal.

    AG

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    1. Neil brought up his wife, not me. I had no idea she worked for the state.

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    2. I just mentioned it because it was apt -- I was loitering outside of the building because she works there. I like to mention it from time to time, just so people don't accuse me of hiding anything (they do, anyway, but I can't help that).

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  4. To hell with those like some unknown persons the other day who accused you of that, NS. You don't owe explanations on personal matters.

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  5. Winter's coming!
    Enjoy.

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  6. Perhaps some one has a cynical sense of humor.

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  7. I guess I should have referred to "non-voter apathy" because the voters obviously cared enough to show up. The fact that our Guv thinks that getting just a little more than half of the one third of the registered voters gives him a "mandate" ( his words), then bankruptcy (his business motto) is what the state has to look forward to.

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  8. I the duct tape is hysterical .I suspect it more of an editorial comment rather than a real attempt to repair but either way it is telling. Hauntingly so...

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  9. I the duct tape is hysterical .I suspect it more of an editorial comment rather than a real attempt to repair but either way it is telling. Hauntingly so...

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