November 21, 2019
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Science, not politics, must guide monitoring of water, air quality
A report out by the Better Government Association this week should concern every Illinoisan who cares about the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The report says, among other things, that in Region 5 of the Environmental Protection Agency — Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio — inspections for air, water and land pollution have dropped by more than 60% in the past three years. That drop is twice as big as other regions of the U.S., which average a 30% decrease in the number of inspections.
The report by BGA reporter Brett Chase adds that there are about 150 fewer scientists, technicians and other employees in the Chicago headquarters of Region 5 than before the Trump Administration took office.
It stands to reason that the fewer people you have whose job it is to protect our air and land and water, the less protection there will be.
The administration has repeatedly talked about freeing up business and industry from overburdensome federal directives. That’s not the same thing as allowing businesses — by virtue of the government carefully looking the other way — to be in a position to pollute our land, air and water.
The BGA report concludes that politics, not science, are driving decisions that will affect our health for decades and generations to come.
How is this affecting the suburbs? Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are demanding an investigation into whether politics played a part in curtailing EPA tests for cancer-causing gases at three suburban Chicago plants — Sterigenics International in Willowbrook (now closed), Medline Industries in Waukegan and Vantage Specialty Chemical in Gurnee.
And last year, areas of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana were given passing grades on air quality by environmental regulators — against the advice of their own scientific staffers — which enabled the Taiwanese company Foxconn to go forward with its flat-screen electronics plant near Racine without having to buy air filters.
“There is no credible evidence to support this,” wrote one scientist in April 2018, referencing a plan to declare southeast Wisconsin air in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act.
Despite political rhetoric to the contrary, it is possible for business to thrive — creating jobs, generating taxes and growing this state’s economy — without destroying the health of our communities. In fact, it is not only possible; it is mandatory. It won’t happen unlessthe Chicago EPA office is returned to robust staffing levels and then those people are allowed to do their jobs.
November 19, 2019
Mattoon Journal-Gazette, (Charleston) Times-Courier
Statehouse ethics must improve
State lawmakers are considering proposing new disclosure requirements for lobbyists and public officials.
As we would expect from Illinois, politicians flaunting the existing legislation has led to shocking-but-not-shocking raids, indictments and convictions.
The Harvard University Center for Ethics says Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the country, just behind Kentucky. New Jersey, you’re not trying hard enough.
Since May, in excess of a half-dozen arrest and raids were carried out against Illinois officials and insiders, all having to do with assorted investigations of political improprieties:
• Illinois House of Representatives’ assistant majority leader Luis Arroyo was arrested and charged with bribery of a state official.
• FBI and IRS agents conducted raids on the home and offices of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, who resigned his chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee.
• The FBI raided the homes of three Illinois political insiders who are members of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s inner circle.
• Chicago’s longest-serving alderman, Ed. Burke, was indicted on racketeering and extortion charges.
• Cook County suburb government offices were raided by the FBI and IRS.
• Chicago Alderman Willie Cochran was sentenced for wire fraud.
• The office of Chicago Alderman Carrie Austin was raided.
An Illinois Policy Institute’s analysis says since 2000, corruption has cost the state in excess of $10 billion.
One of the key ongoing issues is lobbying. The measure also would require more disclosure by state lobbyists.
Unfortunately, the proposal does not address one of the stickiest and corruption-inviting Illinois tradition – state legislators lobbying local governments. That’s how Arroyo got in trouble.
Predictably enough, politicians who don’t like the heat are trying to turn around the glare of the spotlights. Take now-retiring Senate President John Cullerton, who said the ethics task force should investigate news organizations and see how they’re being funded. That’s easy to find out, sir, and it works the same way – find the public records and find the receipts. No one has suggested new organizations have cost the state $10 billion this century.
Any law that clamps down on lobbying – particularly lobbying by state legislatures – would be a welcome one. The current proposal is a start, and a report is due at the end of March. By that time – and after undoubtedly more arrests, charges, indictments and convictions – maybe a closer look will shut off some of these potential problem areas.
November 22, 2019
Sauk Valley Media
Starved Rock killer should not have been paroled
Ten years ago, California’s parole board sparked a muted controversy when they denied parole to a killer who was dying of cancer and whose lawyer petitioned the Golden State for compassionate release.
Susan Atkins had been sentenced to death for a series of 1969 murders, but her capital sentence was later commuted to life in prison. By 2009 she was bedridden and no threat to life and limb by any reasonable measure; yet the parole board ruled a life sentence meant life and let Atkins die in custody.
Atkins may not be a household name, but most Americans well know the name of the ringleader who unleashed Atkins and others in a murderous spree: Charles Manson. The parole board recognized that some crimes are so heinous as to preclude clemency, even when the prisoner is penitent and at death’s doorstep. In such cases, life must mean life.
Illinois faced a similar dilemma this week when Chester O. Weger stood for parole and the people of Starved Rock Country watched anxiously to see which will prevail: Weger’s age (80) and physical decline or the obligation to adhere to the verdict and sentence imposed nearly 60 years ago.
The Illinois prisoner review board Thursday voted 9-4 to grant him parole.
Weger won’t be released for at least 90 days. The Illinois Attorney General wants him evaluated to see whether he is a sexually violent person, which could determine where he stays once he is released from prison.
For us, the choice was clear: Weger must remain behind bars.
As was the case with Atkins, there is no credible reason to believe an aged Weger poses a physical threat to society. As also with Atkins, however, the abhorrent nature of Weger’s crimes and the generational impact he had not only on Illinois but the nation as a whole demands that he serve every last day of his sentence.
Let us first dispense with the contemptible notion that Weger was framed or somehow is blameless in the triple murder. He provided a confession (later recanted) and the circumstantial evidence (forensic evidence was primitive then) corroborated Weger’s statements. He was guilty then and he is guilty now, even if he can never admit it.
For that reason, it was troubling when the Illinois Prisoner Review Board began to issue a series of eyebrow-raising votes signaling greater willingness to release Weger now that he has exceeded his life expectancy. We are equally troubled that double-murderer Henry Hillenbrand was abruptly cut loose earlier this year and we hope the board does not abruptly foist Weger onto some unsuspecting community the way Hillenbrand washed ashore in Putnam County with hours’ notice to the authorities.
Weger is not penitent. He is not reformed. He persists in self-serving statements that he was a patsy. His steadfast lies have attracted an alarming number of adherents in defiance of the facts.
That alone makes Weger a poor candidate for release and we urge the board to return to the days when life still meant life. Richard Speck died in an Illinois prison. William Heirens, the so-called “Lipstick Killer,” died in an Illinois prison. It is worth noting Heirens died at 83 while still in custody; compassionate release was rightly rejected by the parole board.
Weger’s crimes thrust him into the same bottom-feeding bracket as Atkins and Manson, who 8 years later followed Atkins to the grave and, like her, while in custody.
Weger should share their fate. Life should mean life.