Posts Tagged ‘culture of corruption’

By John Ruberry

Five years after the fictional story of the Naperville, Illinois crime family, the Byrdes, began streaming on Netflix, Ozark has come to an end. 

Late last month the final seven episodes, comprising of Season 4 Part 2, were released. 

If you haven’t heard of the Byrdes, the family is headed by Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman), a financial planner whose firm makes the fatal mistake of laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel run by Omar Navarro (Felix Solis). Marty is married to Wendy (Laura Linney), a former Democratic Party operative, although the word “Democrat” hasn’t been mentioned for the past two seasons. Their children, Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), are reluctant partners in the family business, which is based in the Lake of the Ozarks region of Missouri. A riverboat casino is the centerpiece of their laundering operation.

Leaving an organized crime network is much harder than joining one. But that’s what the Byrdes continue to strive for, looking back at the Chicago area as a safe haven. For real. Clearly, the Byrdes haven’t been keeping an eye on the dramatic rise of violent crime here. 

The Byrdes have formed a shaky alliance with a member of a local small-time crime family, Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner). A two-time Prime Time Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for that role, Garner is simply fabulous. Marty and Wendy can’t protect and grow their operation, let alone leave it, without assistance from other villains, convenient and tired ones, including a former Republican US senator from Illinois, Randall Schafer (Bruce Davison), and the CEO of a Chicago-based pharmaceutical corporation, Clare Shaw (Katrina Lenk). Yawn. Republicans bad, pharmaceutical firms, also bad. The money laundering Brydes? Not so much, at least according to the scriptwriters. Wendy, to protect their rackets, finds herself a reluctant participant in a Midwestern vote-suppression scheme that Schafer is behind. 

In real life, between the release of Part 1 and Part 2 of Season 4 of Ozark, the decades-long Democratic boss of Illinois, Michael Madigan, was indicted. But never forget, in television land, the GOP is evil.

Oh, what was that about Netflix losing subscribers?

A character introduced in Season 4, a disgraced former Chicago Police detective with good intentions, Mel Sattem (Adam Rothenberg), confronts the Byrdes over their hubris gained from their power and money, equating them with the Kennedy family and the conservative Koch family from Wichita. Slow down there. There is no Koch-equivalent to the Kennedys using their influence to allow Ted Kennedy to walk away with only a hand slap after arguably murdering Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick

Okay, I’ve hit the things that I didn’t enjoy with Ozark. Back to the good stuff–and there is plenty of it. 

The Navarro family has its own struggles. Omar’s nephew, Javi Elizondro (Alfonso Herrera), has plans that don’t coincide with those of his uncle. One of the many appeals of Ozark is the shifting of alliances–and the betrayals that accompany them. And of course, so are the performances–led of course by Garner–of the major characters and minor ones. One of the minor characters, Rachel Garrison (Jordana Spiro), makes a surprise return.

The cinematography of Ozark is at a feature-movie level. 

While of course set in Missouri, Ozark except for some Chicago scenes in Season 1, is filmed in the Atlanta area. In Part 1 of Season 4 I noticed a light rail train in what was supposed to be downtown Chicago. What were called streetcars way back when haven’t been running in Chicago for decades. In Part 2 of the final season, I spotted what appears to be a cabbage palm tree in front of Ruth Langmore’s Lazy-O Motel. That tree cannot survive a Midwestern winter.

And what about Wendy and Marty Byrde? As I remarked in a previous review, they are the television version of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, who in The Great Gatsby “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness.”

All four seasons are available for streaming on Netflix. The series is rated TV-MA for graphic violence, drug use, nudity, and obscene language.

Earlier post:

Review: Ozark Season 4 Part 1.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit.

Blogger in Big Bend Ranch State Park last week

By John Ruberry

After a ten-day vacation I’ve returned home to Illinois, which should be renamed ILL-inois.

Since I was born–let’s just say for the same of humility it was a really long time ago–Illinois and Texas had roughly the same population. The Land of Lincoln had slightly more than 10 million residents then, while the Lone Star State had about half-a-million fewer people. According to the 2020 Census, Texas was the home of 29 million people, with Illinois at just under 13 million. Overall, in the same time period the overall US population soared from 179 million to 329 million. 

Texas has prospered and continues to do so; Illinois has gone from stagnation to decline. The Prairie State has been losing population every year since 2014.

I know of many Illinoisans who have bailed on this state and moved to Texas. The most noted departure was that of Roger Keats, a former Republican state senator and onetime candidate for Crook County–oops I meant Cook County–board president. In his 2011 farewell letter to suckers like my wife and I, who remain here, titled “Goodbye and Good Luck,” Keats wrote, “I am tired of subsidizing crooks.”

Since I was born four Illinois governors, three Democrats and one Republican, have served time in federal prison. No Texas governors have suffered that indignity. Last month, Michael Madigan, who was Illinois’ most powerful politician until he was ousted as Illinois speaker of the House in 2021, was indicted on a whole slew of racketeering charges. Madigan, except for two years in the 1990s, served as House speaker beginning in 1981. From 1998 until 2021 Madigan was also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. Overlooked in the rundown of Boss Madigan’s career by journalists after his indictment is this ironic nugget: his predecessor as speaker was George H. Ryan, a Republican, who is one of Illinois’ felon governors. 

While the numbers might be slightly different today, here are more highlights from Keats’ Parthian shot: 

Illinois is ranked 50th for fiscal policy; 47th in job creation; first in unfunded pension liabilities; second largest budget deficit; first in failing schools; first in bonded indebtedness; highest sales tax in the nation; most judges indicted; and five of our last nine elected governors have been indicted. That is more than the other 49 states added together!… “We are moving to Texas where there is no income tax while Illinois’ just went up 67%. Texas’ sales tax is half of ours, which is the highest in the nation. Southern states are supportive of job producers, taxpayers and folks who offer opportunities to their residents. Illinois shakes them down for every penny that can be extorted from them.

While flying into Dallas Fort-Worth Airport I saw numerous suburban subdivisions under construction. I remember those halcyon home building days in Illinois. But the biggest boom I saw was in the oil industry towns of Odessa and Midland on the Permian Basin. Homes, office buildings, and hotels are popping up there like dandelions in spring. Or like Illinois politicians in prison.

Southern Illinois could be a lucrative area for oil fracking. But our state’s Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, says he supports “clean energy” and it’s believed he opposes fracking. He’s up for reelection this year. Why aren’t his Republican opponents calling for fracking in Illinois?

No place is perfect, not even Texas. It has its own power grid, heavily dependent on wind power, which works great, until it doesn’t, as was the case after a large ice storm last year. Millions of Texans were without power for several days after that storm. But twice in the last decade, I was without electricity for several days, as were hundreds-of-thousands of others in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Unlike the Texas outages in 2021, this was not a national news story. My provider for electricity is Commonwealth Edison, which has been implicated in the Michael Madigan scandals.

Illinois is misruled by con-artists like Professor Henry Hill, the scoundrel from the play and the movie The Music Man, only our grifters are bereft of Hill’s charm.

We may not end up relocating in Texas, but Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I will leave Illinois. My family roots here reach back to 1850. When my great-great grandfather, another John Ruberry, arrived in Illinois from Ireland, this state was the land of opportunity. Illinois is now the land of corruption, high taxes, and decline. 

Like Keats, my wife and I are sick of subsidizing these crooks.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Morton Grove, Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Boss Madigan graphic courtesy of the Illinois Policy Institute

By John Ruberry

Last week, yes know it’s a cliche, but hell froze over in Illinois when Boss Michael Madigan was indicted on 22 corruption counts. I was a common assumption that Madigan never used email–after all, the feds might be reading those messages.

But the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, led by a Donald Trump appointee, John Lausch, got the job done

Coded language didn’t work. Madigan cronies, in secretly recorded conversations, would avoid Madigan’s name, referring to him as “our friend” or “a friend of ours.” Ironically, the mafia name for themselves is “La Cosa Nostra,” which roughly translates from Italian into “our thing” or “this thing of ours.”

I’ve written about Madigan many times at Da Tech Guy. In short, he’s the man who destroyed Illinois. When Madigan was first elected as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, Illinois had 26 electoral votes. For the 2024 presidential election the Land of Lincoln will make do with just 19. Illinois has lost population every year since 2014 and over 100,000 people bailed on Madiganstan from July 2020 thru July 2021.

Corruption is rampant in Illinois. And Illinois faces a millstone with Madigan’s dirty fingerprints all over it, unfunded state pension obligations, among the worst among the fifty states. Madigan was more interested in rewarding his public-sector union pals than properly funding their pension plans.

In 1983, Madigan was elected by his fellow Democrats as state House speaker and served, with the exception of a two-year span in the 1990s when the Republicans won control of the lower chamber, until last year, when the hint of scandal finally caught up with him. In 1998 Madigan was elected chairman of the state Democratic Party. Madigan remains committeeman of Chicago’s 13th Ward, a post he’s held since 1969. That seems like an insignificant position, but in 2007 when another ethically challenged pol was elected of as chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, “the Machine,” there was just one nomination–for Joseph Berrios. Madigan nominated him.

Since the 1970s, the Boss has been a partner in a small but lucrative Chicago law firm, Madigan and Getzendanner, which specializes in property tax appeals. Who sets property tax rates? Politicians of course, most of whom are Democrats in Blue Illinois.

There is the Machine–but then there is what the federal indictment of Madigan calls “the Madigan Enterprise.”

From that indictment:

Defendant MICHAEL J. MADIGAN, defendant MICHAEL F. McCLAIN, the Office of the Speaker, the Thirteenth Ward Democratic Organization, Madigan & Getzendanner, and others known and unknown together constituted an enterprise as that term is defined in Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961(4), that is, a group of individuals and entities associated in fact (referred to herein as the
“Madigan Enterprise” or the “enterprise”). The Madigan Enterprise was engaged in,
and its activities affected, interstate commerce. The Madigan Enterprise constituted
an ongoing organization whose members functioned as a continuing unit for the common
purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise.

The purposes of the Madigan Enterprise included but were not limited to:
(i) to exercise, to preserve, and to enhance MADIGAN’s political power and financial
well-being; (ii) to financially reward MADIGAN’s political allies, political workers, and
associates for their loyalty, association with, and work for MADIGAN; and (iii) to
generate income for members and associates of the enterprise through illegal activities.

The illegal activities committed by members and associates of the Madigan
Enterprise included, but were not limited to: (a) soliciting and receiving bribes and
unlawful personal financial advantage from persons and parties having business with the
State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, or otherwise subject to the authority and powers
vested in MADIGAN and other public officials acting on MADIGAN’s behalf; (b) using
MADIGAN’s powers as Speaker, including his ability to affect the progress of bills in the
House of Representatives, as well as his control over the resources of the Office of the
Speaker, including its staff, in order to cause third parties to financially reward
MADIGAN, his political allies, political workers, and associates; (c) using threats,
intimidation, and extortion to solicit benefits from private parties; and (d) using facilities
of interstate commerce to coordinate, plan, and further the goals of the enterprise.

In short, Madigan, according to the feds, was running a racket. Madigan supporters, the indictment alleges, were given no-show or little-show jobs, and the graft goes beyond state and local government. Much of the indictment covers Madigan and his associates allegedly strong-arming Commonwealth Edison, the electric utility for Northern Illinois, in exchange for legislation favoring the company.

Madigan was typically unanimously or near-unanimously reelected House speaker and party chair. The rest of the Democratic Party was along for the ride. All the while they were calling Republicans evil, racist, and lots of other things.

More from that indictment.

MADIGAN utilized his position as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois to influence and garner loyalty from legislators by providing or withholding staff and funding to legislators and their
campaigns
[bold print emphasis mine]. MADIGAN utilized his position as a partner in Madigan & Getzendanner to reap the benefits of private legal work unlawfully steered to his law firm. MADIGAN
directed the activities of his close friend and associate, McCLAIN, who carried out illegal
activity at MADIGAN’s direction.

McClain, by the way, is a former member of the state House and a longtime Madigan crony.

As for Madigan, politically he is a soulless person, other than maybe thinking of himself as an FDR/JFK New Deal/New Frontier Democrat. Madigan was all about the power and the money to keep that power, reminiscent, not of the political bosses of old, such as New York’s Willam M. Tweed or his idol, Chicago’s Richard J. Daley, but as a political version of V.M. Varga from Season 3 of Fargo. That villain was fabulously wealthy, but Varga wore the same cheap business suit every day–he slept every night in a tractor trailer. Yes, Madigan lives well, but his first love, perhaps his only one, is power.

For sixteen years of Boss Madigan’s reign of error and terror, Illinois’ attorney general was his daughter, Lisa.

And do you seriously believe that his fellow Illinois Democrats didn’t smell the stench? After all, Madigan, who was also a master gerrymanderer, was good to them. With Madigan in charge in the state House and their party, they almost always won. Only when the Commonwealth Edison scandal got too close to the Boss did the Dems in the state House dump him. Madigan resigned his party chair post shortly after his ouster from the speaker’s post.

Illinois Democrats knew Madigan was running a cronyism machine. They always did. And they didn’t care.

Madigan won’t be on the ballot in Illinois this fall. But the Little Madigans will be.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit and is a Commonwealth Edison customer.

By John Ruberry

“He crossed state lines with an AR-15” is a typical bellyache from leftist pontificators about Kyle Rittenhouse traveling from his home in Antioch, Illinois to help protect a business in Kenosha, Wisconsin during the riots (oops civil unrest) there last summer. 

The northern city limits of Antioch end at the Wisconsin state line. So for many people, including for Kyle Rittenhouse, travelling to Wisconsin is a daily trip. He worked in Pleasant Prairie, which is sandwiched between the Illinois state line and Kenosha. And Rittenhouse’s father and other relatives of his live in Kenosha.

Rittenhouse of course was found not guilty–and it was the correct verdict–of charges surrounding the self-defense shootings of three rioters (oops mostly peaceful protesters) in Kenosha last summer.

Do you need to fill up your gas tank? Only naive fools top off their vehicles in Illinois when there is a Wisconsin choice a short drive away. For instance, last month Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I visited Illinois Beach State Park in Zion. On our way out of the park I told Mrs. Marathon Pundit, “Let’s head up Sheridan Road and fill up our car.” And so we did. At the BP station there–which is just 50 yards north of the Illinois border, we paid 40 cents less per gallon than we would have south of the Cheese Curtain. The BP station is a large one–there were about ten vehicles filling up. And each one had Illinois license plates.

What about permanent moves to America’s Dairyland?

Just north of that border you see many manufacturing facilities and warehouses, most of them are newly built. Many of them are businesses that formerly called Illinois home. U-Line has a massive warehouse in Pleasant Prairie, they moved there, bringing 1,000 jobs, from Waukegan, Illinois in 2008. That facility has many neighbors that are equally massive. But on the Illinois side you see farms and some small scale businesses.

Why are they leaving?

Writing for the Badger Institute in 2019, Mark J. Perry said, “On 14 different measures of labor market dynamism, economic growth, various tax burdens, business climate and fiscal health, Wisconsin comes out ahead of neighboring Illinois on all but one of those measures — state individual income tax rate.” Perry added, “On net, Wisconsin has gained 116,000 Illinois residents between 2006 and 2017, an average of nearly 40 residents every day from 2014-’17.” 

Illinois has other substantial problems. Its public pension system is the second-worst funded of the 50 states–at just 39 percent–while Wisconsin’s public worker pensions are the best-funded at over 100 percent. Only an amendment to the Illinois constitution to eliminate the pension guarantee clause, a default, or hyper-inflation can solve the pension crisis. Illinois regularly contends for the title of most-corrupt state. Since I was born four Illinois governors have served time in federal prison. No governors of Wisconsin from that period have suffered the same disgrace.

Violent crime and robbery is a growing crisis in Chicago and its inner suburbs. Chicago will probably exceed 800 murders this year–numbers that the city hasn’t seen since the crack-fueled street gang wars of the mid-1990s. According to Hey Jackass there have already been over 1,400 carjackings in Chicago–nearly double than the yearly total of 2009. Flash mob robberies are occurring not just in Chicago but also the suburbs, such as this outrage where a gang of thieves on Wednesday filched over $100,000 in merchandise from a Luis Vuitton store in DuPage County. Two days later in Chicago’s downsized Magnificent Mile a flash mob of shoplifters struck Neiman Marcus–filling up three cars of merchandise. Wow, up until recently finding even an illegal parking spot was nearly impossible on the Mag Mile. Of course no one has been charged in these flash mob thefts. 

So crossing the Illinois state line into Wisconsin isn’t just a common occurrence. It’s the safe and smart move for people and businesses. 

Who knows? Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I might make that migration north too. Without a rifle. We only own a handgun.

John Ruberry regularly blogs just forty miles south of the Wisconsin border at Marathon Pundit.