- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

May 31, 2015

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Thibs, Hastert, Strong and our rush to judgment

If you follow NBA basketball, you’ve probably got an opinion about the firing of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We certainly do.

We’ve got an opinion on who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy in all of this, and we’re not alone. Almost every Bulls fan and pundit and sports blogger has an opinion, too.

Note, we and most of the other people with opinions don’t know how well Thibodeau relates to his players, don’t know whether his bosses Gar Forman and John Paxson micromanage or whether Thibodeau resists the slightest suggestions, don’t know how coachable the coach is or isn’t, how reasonable or unreasonable he is. We don’t know if he’s a team guy or a me guy. In reality, we don’t know much at all beyond what we see on the court and what we know of the Thibodeau caricature of obsessive work ethic.

But that doesn’t stop us from having opinions.

It’s hard for any of us to admit it, but we often form opinions and then look for or create the facts to support them. This isn’t horrible when it comes to arguing about whether a basketball coach should have been fired. It’s part of the fun of sports.

But consider the indictment of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a son of Chicago’s suburbs who rose from a position as a high school wrestling coach to become one of the most powerful political figures in America.

Can we see a show of hands of anyone who thinks Hastert may be innocent?

If you ask that question, you not only will see only a rare few hands, but most people will think you’re naive to have asked it in the first place.

The point here isn’t to defend Hastert. We’re in no position to know whether he deserves defending. The point is that we’re also in no position to know that he’s done anything wrong.

In America, we declare that we believe “innocent until proven guilty,” but if that’s true at all, it’s true only in the strictest theoretical legal sense.

Last week, Lake County authorities dropped charges against Jason L. Strong, who had spent 15 years in prison on a conviction that he had killed a Carpentersville woman in a Wadsworth motel room.

He’s the sixth person to be cleared of a wrongful conviction in Lake County since 2010. Something was amiss in those prosecutions, but the authorities are not solely to blame. In a way, most of us are unknowingly complicit.

When Strong was charged with murder in 1999, the assumption most of us probably made was that he was guilty. Why wouldn’t he have been? The police, we assume, don’t arrest innocent people.

How easy it is to convict when a prosecution begins with that rush to judgment.

___

May 29, 2015

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Rauner matures, Madigan pouts

Being surrounded by so many children must be frustrating for Gov. Bruce Rauner. And the neonates are tasked with funding the state.

The General Assembly, particularly the House, has devolved over the past two weeks into preschool recess. And Speaker Mike Madigan is an accomplished playground bully.

Rauner, for his part, has repeatedly shown an interest in compromise. The Republican governor and Legislature’s Democratic leadership have been at odds since Rauner stepped into the governor’s mansion. But, in recent days, it’s been the political neophyte Rauner who’s been acting his age.

He scuttled his doomed right-to-work zone idea. He’s indicated he’d support an obviously needed tax hike. And he’s shown a sudden willingness to sit, in good faith, at the negotiating table. All he requires is a victory or two. It’s called compromise and it’s how the system works. And it’s not like he created this mess in the first place.

Meanwhile, Madigan is ramming through his own go-nowhere budget, complete with a $3 billion deficit. Illinois’s venerable speaker continues the string of farcical embarrassment votes on less-than-accurate representations of Rauner’s actual agenda. Madigan is too busy trying to own the swing set and protecting his buddies. And, like any bully, he’s looking like an insecure child.

Let’s be honest, we’re not thrilled with much of Rauner’s sometimes draconian agenda. But, unlike his legislative counterparts, Rauner’s list of so-called reforms prove that he recognizes the state’s deeply seated structural failings. It’s true that unions and special interests have helped craft an unsustainable public sector. It’s true that worker’s compensation costs are unnecessarily high in Illinois relative to other states. It’s true that many local governments are tax-eating Goliaths where tough choices are avoided by property tax hikes. Reform is needed. But Madigan won’t even debate the issues.

College presidents live lavish lifestyles and are thrown a golden parachute when they fail, says a recent state report. The prison system is a chaotic tax suck that, according to an independent study, can’t even provide medical care for inmates befitting of the developing world. Yet, we’re spending $40,000 a year on each and every prisoner. Where does that cash go? It goes to inflated wages for prison guards. It goes to overtime abuse. It goes to sweetheart deals with the campaign-making unions. It goes to the very special interests Madigan relies on to maintain his power.

Rauner at least acknowledges the failings. The years of compounding, unbalanced budgeting must end. Anything less is an unconstitutional dereliction of duty. And lawmakers know it. Cowardice is the real problem.

Rauner has accepted reality, a welcome signal of political pubescence. He knows what’s possible and is willing to make it happen. Madigan, on the other hand, is too busy defending his turf — and his cronies — to even act his age.

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May 27, 2015

Joliet Herald-News

State budget ‘insanity’ continues

As the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Such is the case with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his proposal for a new state budget.

Madigan and state Democrats unveiled a budget plan Monday - in advance of Sunday’s scheduled end to the legislative session - that calls for spending more than $3 billion beyond what the state anticipates bringing in. Republican feedback was absent.

“Our plan is to pass a budget this week for the next fiscal year that takes a balanced, responsible approach,” Madigan said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Madigan’s “balanced” and “responsible” budget spends $3 billion more than anticipated revenue.

The Democrats’ $36.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins in July avoids about $5 billion in cuts Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed. Madigan said the Legislature is committed to “work with the governor” to raise the funds needed to protect vulnerable residents.

Here’s the problem: Illinois residents aren’t interested in Democrats working with the Republican governor on ways to raise funds, which is a nicer way of saying, “Raise taxes.”

Been there. Done that. It doesn’t work. Illinois is an economic laughingstock because of Democrats doing the same thing over and over again.

If Illinois residents wanted more of the same, they would have voted for Pat Quinn in November. They didn’t. They voted for Rauner, who promised smaller government and to run the state like a business.

We can’t trust lawmakers with more money. Last time we gave lawmakers more money after a shady, lame-duck vote to raise taxes, they didn’t use the money the way they promised.

Illinois needs to examine spending, not look at ways to find more money so it can spend more money.

Democrats likely will continue the insanity this week and pass a budget along partisan lines. Rauner then has the ability to sign, reject or amend the Legislature’s plan it presents him.

Here’s hoping Rauner rejects it and stands firm on promises he made to voters. Stop the insanity.

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