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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Elections -- November 8, 2014

Elections and their potential to greatly alter political landscapes have captivated much of my attention recently. Last week, Ukrainians voted for control of parliament. It was the first time sweeping elections were held since the revolution when their corrupt puppet president and his party were cast out. Despite pro-Western parties winning in a landslide, Russian forces continued to consolidate power in the east. U.S. President Barack Obama unwilling to assist Kiev militarily instead sought further unpersuasive economic punishment. On Tuesday, Americans went to the polls to vote on liberals' weak foreign policy and socialist domestic agendas. Democrats' policies were overwhelmingly repudiated by the public and Republicans took the Senate and will have the greatest House majority in over half a century. The GOP also won many state gubernatorial elections including Illinois. There is immense anticipation for change, however, I expect divided government will prevent any significant shift except possibly within the IDOC.

On Sunday, I awoke at sunrise. An orange-red glow slowly filled the sky. From the prison cell, it reminded me of the coming of a new dawn. I expected Republicans to win by large margins in Congress and set the stage for a complete takeover in 2016. I also expected Democratic Governor Pat Quinn to lose. If state Republicans could just win a couple of seats in Springfield, the new governor would command some authority or at the least check Michael Madigan's grip on power. Regardless, a Bruce Rauner victory will have a dramatic effect on the state's prison system. Governors have almost unbridled power over the IDOC and I wondered how he as well as the outgoing governor will use it. Governors throughout the U.S. wait until their last week in office to grant pardons and commutations they are politically restrained from doing during their tenure.

After my cell workout, I watched the remnants of the Sunday news programs. The political commentary I saw all agreed the Republicans would hold onto their control of the House. However, there was disagreement if the Senate could be flipped. I contemplated if these news reporters just sought to hype a close race or were biased. In the USA Today newspapers I read, it was obvious their writers were slanted hard to the left. I thought they were either trying to blind the public or were blind themselves. A great tsunami was approaching the U.S. coast and it was going to drop on the capital. The electorate was fed up with Barack Obama and his cohorts in the Senate.

The only football game I cared to watch this week was between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. This was a battle which most likely would decide what AFC team went to the Superbowl. Incredibly, the Patriots were 3 point underdogs at home. The casinos in Las Vegas must underestimate the dynasty put together by Bill Belichick. My money was on New England and with much fanfare I watched them crush the Broncos. Julian Edelman had a touchdown reception as well as an 84 yard punt return into the end zone. Tight end Rob Gronkowski broke through tackles repeatedly for over 100 yards and a touchdown whereupon fans at Gillette Stadium chanted "Gronk, Gronk, Gronk...!" The offensive line was probably one of the best in the league and allowed quarterback Tom Brady to eviscerate the Broncos defense. Contrarily, Peyton Manning was under tremendous pressure forcing him to make bad passes including an interception to Ninkovich. In the end, the Patriots won decisively 43 to 21. It was the same unequivocal victory I expected for American patriots come Election Day.

After the game I called my mother who was home alone except for the dog. I was concerned how she was making do without my father and if her property was vandalized on Halloween. Surprisingly, she had bought candy for trick or treaters on what she used to call the "Devil's Day," however, very few kids stopped by. In fact, no one rang the door bell after 6 o'clock. The town passed an ordinance that dictated the hours for trick or treating, but she was not aware of it until the following day.  Although I ridiculed the law, she exclaimed it was dangerous for kids to be out at night without adult supervision. She went on saying they could be kidnapped, crime rates were soaring, and times have changed since I was free. What she said was preposterous. There was no serious crime in her area let alone kidnappings. Crime rates were plummeting to all time lows since 1990 across the nation and only a sensationalistic news media made it seem otherwise. What had changed since my arrest was the rise of the police state where individual liberty has been stripped away.

Monday morning prisoners at the maximum security facility were treated to a large strawberry pastry. These types of baked goods are donated to the IDOC. The wholesalers are given tax write-offs for perishable foods they could not sell and the prison system is more than happy to take them to fill holes in their budget. Before my cellmate left to work, he sat at the desk and ate his pastry like it was some type of delicacy. I cringed when seeing him lick his fingers with a look of almost joy on his face. The man lived in a cage and was condemned to die in prison and yet the sweet pastry seemed to make him content.

Monday was commissary day and convicts gave my cellmate a variety of goodies which made him even happier. The prisoners were giving him cookies, cakes, and sodas as a gesture of appreciation for the help he gave them. Unlike these men, I did not go to store. I was saving my money for a private investigator and in any event, there was no food I could be sold that would overcome the misery I felt. Later, though, I would barter over a slightly used pair of gym shoes and sweat pants. The shoes were too small and I gave them back. The sweat pants I bought, although they were too big and I had to pull the drawstring tightly around my waist. My cellmate saw me walking about the cell and stopped to laugh. He said it looked like I had parachute pants on. Jesting, I told him they were my "Hitler pants" and I was going to wear them until I won the war. (The leader of Nazi Germany was occasionally mocked for his big military fatigues he tucked into his boots and were fastened tightly around his waist with a belt.)

While in my XXXL sweatpants, I read a newspaper from last week that had an extensive article about the election in Ukraine. The pro-western parties won handily, however, no single party had a majority. President Petro Poroshenko would have to form a coalition government with that of the prime minister, Arsenly Yatsenyuk. The Popular Front surprised most political observers with their large showing and ability to win the same number of seats in parliament. The results were not unexpected to me, though. Poroshenko was not aggressively responding to the Russian invasion in the east. He was also not as conservative as Yatsenyuk's party.

For months, Russia has made no attempt to hide its insurrection in Donetsk and Luhansk. Their forces have poured over the border along with tanks and all types of heavy military hardware. There is even talk nuclear warheads may have been moved into the region. President Barack Obama failed to prevent the unfolding events along with the U.S. treaty obligation to defend Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, however, it seems he is attempting to ratchet up economic sanctions. The price of oil has been plummeting and various journalists have written that Saudi Arabia was oversupplying world markets to undercut the U.S. oil fracking revolution which is now producing 10 million barrels of oil daily. Unlike conventional drilling done in the Middle East, companies which use fracking technology require higher prices to make a profit. What these news writers do not consider though is the special relationship the U.S. has with the House of Saud. The monarchy is flooding the market to punish Russia. The Saudis were also happy to undercut the government revenue of Iran which is their Middle Easts enemy. America has a huge economy and oil sales make up only a small percentage of its GDP. Furthermore, cheap energy can stimulate overall U.S. growth. This is not true for Russia which derives over half its government revenues from oil and natural gas sales. Unfortunately, hitting Russia in the pocket book will not prevent Vladimir Putin from seizing parts of Eastern Europe.

Tuesday morning, I was excited it was Election Day in the U.S.  Federal and state congressional seats as well as the office of governor in Illinois were being voted upon. No, I could not vote and I was probably going to die in prison regardless of the outcomes. However, like many Americans, I felt a huge dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. There was a dire need for new leadership to stop the U.S. from falling into the abyss. If I was ever released, I did not know if I would even want to remain in this country. It was not the country I recalled from the 1980s before my arrest. Ronald Reagan had not just toppled the Soviet Union and in fact the tenants of communism were taking hold here along with its economic ruin. Socialism had weakened the republic and caused a staggering $18 trillion debt.

For the last couple of weeks, television has been filled with vicious attack ads against Bruce Rauner. Tuesday morning it was much more of the same as incumbent Pat Quinn desperately tried to hold onto power. These ads could not change the record of the governor and a state capital dominated by Democrats. They increased taxes during the lame duck session in 2011 without a single Republican vote and they were certain to do so again if Quinn won another term. House majority leader Michael Madigan and others claimed it was only temporary to pay for pensions without further borrowing as well as to pay interest on the debt. However, not a dime was used for those purposes. Illinois has the worst pension funding and obligations surpassing $200 billion. Direct debt owed was soaring also and because of this the state paid the highest 30 year interest rates (5.75%). Illinois also has the highest unemployment rate and businesses as well as its residents were fleeing. Under these dire circumstances, I was amazed Quinn's campaign staff continued to try to impugn Rauner as a successful businessman. The Marxist tactics of class warfare rang hollow.

After the first 20 minutes of TV news, I began my day as usual. I exercised, bathed, and read. I did not leave the cell even for meals. Around noon, my cellmate brought me an extra tray from lunch. I went to fill my plastic mug with sink water to wash down the soy burger and discovered it was a dark brown-orange color. When a guard passed by he mentioned a pipe had burst in B House the day before and plumbers were currently trying to fix it. There is so much wrong with Stateville, I am occasionally surprised the dilapidated buildings do not just fall in on themselves. Already a few buildings were razed and two are condemned. Other than funding more unionized guards, there is little money flowing to support the growing number of prisoners. They are just crammed into smaller spaces with less or inferior food, shelter, clothing, and health care. Democrats in Springfield meanwhile will do nothing to change the criminal statutes including much needed sentencing reform.

Towards 7 p.m., I made a large meal of burritos and nacho chips. I shared the food with my cellmate as well as my neighbors. The food was for me to snack on as I watched election news. There were 36 gubernatorial and Senate seats up for grabs. Initially, CNN began by making it a contest if the GOP could gain control of the upper congressional chamber, but this changed to how much of a majority they would have. The liberal news station almost begrudgingly made projections of Republican victories. They also tried to cast doubt in various senate races including Kansas, Georgia, and even Mitch McConnell's long held seat in Kentucky. They furthermore debated Louisiana's runoff election despite how there was almost zero chance of Democrat Mary Landrieu winning. The Republicans were sweeping the South and in fact when I saw the wall map of all the congressional districts, the entire country looked to be painted red. The only smudges of Democratic blue were around large cities, the West coast, the Northeast, and those pesky Norwegians in Minnesota who still clung onto socialism many generations after they migrated to the U.S.

Knowing the GOP would have solid control of the Senate and a House majority not seen since 1947 during the Truman administration, I turned stations to watch coverage of elections in Illinois. Judy Baar Topinka was the first Republican to declare victory in a contested state wide race. I assumed the popular comptroller would retain office despite her opponent being the Lt. Governor Sheila Simon. Bob Dole I was glad to see win against the most virulent campaign. Ironically, the more I saw the attack ads, the more I hoped he took back the 10th District from Brad Schneider. Jim Oberweis ran a pathetic campaign, and I was not surprised the far left liberal Dick Durbin won his 4th Senate term. Tom Cross had stepped down from his position as House minority leader to run for the office of state Treasurer. Considering how Democrats under Michael Madigan dominated Springfield, he probably thought he would have more influence elsewhere. The election was close and as of the time I am writing this, votes are still being counted.

By far the most important race was for governor. Democratic governors were required to dominate in Chicago because the rest of the state by and large was solidly Republican. In 2010, Pat Quinn had won a squeaker over Bill Brady simply by taking two counties: Cook and Alexander. After closing the supermax Tamms, Quinn was not going to win Alexander again. Thus when WGN broadcast that Bruce Rauner was getting over 20% of Cook County, I knew he was Illinois' next governor. By 10 p.m. the Associated Press and other news agencies were declaring his victory. However, despite 99% of precincts reporting and a 150,000 vote deficit, Pat Quinn refused to concede. His spokespeople claimed provisional and mail-in votes would put him over the top. This was ridiculous, but as I went to sleep, I head a sergeant and strong union backer yelling angrily that Quinn should not have conceded until every vote had been counted.

On Wednesday there was little talk about Republicans' sweeping victory in the U.S. Congress. On both prisoners and guards' minds was the flip in the governor's mansion and what it meant to them. Bruce Rauner had run on a campaign of shaking up Springfield including curtailing the power of state unions. Prisoners could not help but spite their captors who had lavish salaries, benefits, and almost lifetime job security. When "Sonic Hedgehog" unlocked the cell door to let Anthony out for work I asked him somewhat sarcastically if he voted for Bruce. He said, "Hell, no. I like to be wined and dined before I get fucked." Ironically, I thought the AFSCME and other state unions had been wined, dined, and much more for years.

When I returned from a visit, I stopped by Psycho's cell. He was very interested to get my opinion of what a Bruce Rauner administration meant. I told him it depends if the Democrats in Springfield maintained their super majority. With the power to override the governor's veto, he will be basically impotent regarding legislation. This seemed to make Psycho unhappy but then I told him regardless the governor still has full control over the IDOC and upon him taking office he will replace the director as well as other administrators. I also assume after conducting a full audit of the state's finances, they will be making budgetary cuts wherever possible to deal with the runaway spending and debt. Because Rauner has said he will reopen Tamms, I speculate he will close Stateville and open Pontiac CC to general population. Because contracts with the union are constitutionally binding, he will not be able to take away promised pensions. However, I am certain he will reduce staff which is ridiculously redundant. Psycho said his kitchen supervisors were worried the new governor would privatize the IDOC or parts of it. This was leverage Rauner could hold over the union to agree to concessions, but I did not think he would privatize the entire prison system.

Close to 3 p.m., I was rudely awakened by the counselor. The guard who was being paid extra money to act as a liaison asked me if I needed anything. She was unwilling to do a lot of things other counselors will do for prisoners claiming it was not her job. I do not know exactly what their duties are, but I never had any expectations from them. All I wanted her to do was not wake me out of a dead sleep. After she moved on to annoy other convicts, I made a cup of instant coffee and turned on my television. There was breaking news and all local stations broadcast Governor Pat Quinn make a brief 3 minute speech. He seemed very bitter, but conceded it was clear he did not have enough votes to win the election. The gap in votes from Tuesday had actually widened to 170,000 or 5%.

President Barack Obama was also not taking the loss of the Senate very well. Incredibly, after his party platform was repudiated across the country, he was claiming a mandate on behalf of people who did NOT vote and threatening to use his executive power if the newly elected Congress did not do what he wanted. The president made it very clear he will veto any legislation he does not like and will nullify immigration laws to allow millions of illegal aliens to stay. Wednesday night I listened to the Rick Savage radio talk show and was amused when he called Obama a "Lilliputian." Lilliput was a fictional kingdom created in Swift's Gulliver's Travels inhabited by a race of diminutive people, albeit who thought they were very important. The president was a very pompous and conceited man despite his diminished political authority.

While listening to Rick Savage, I could occasionally hear prisoners yelling from their cells. They were of the consensus that any changes in the IDOC would be good. One black convict even exclaimed he did not care if he had to bust rocks in a chain gang so long as sentences were reduced. When I spoke to Psycho earlier, we spoke about how criminal statutes had only become more expansive and extreme over our decades of incarceration. The living conditions had also become worse. We concluded that when you are at the bottom, there was nowhere to go but up. This I believe was the same thought of many people in Illinois, although they may be disappointed by the governor's lack of power to carry through on his promise to "shake up Springfield".

Thursday morning, I listened to another WLS talk radio show. John Kass and Laura Cohn had Illinois' new GOP minority leader on as a guest. Jim Durkin said the Democrats would not renew the increase in income and corporate taxes during the lame duck session. They actually took delight in Bruce Rauner trying to manage the fiscal disaster left to him without extra revenue. The talk show hosts asked Durkin how Rauner will deal with it. He said the governor could not propose a budget without a full audit of the state's expenditures, debt, liabilities, etc. He also will probably be stymied by Michael Madigan. The Democrats had managed to hold onto their super majority and could override the governor. John Kass asked why Republicans could not just win one more House seat. Durkin went on to explain how Democrats had gerrymandered the districts. "But Kankakee?!" Kass implored. The Republican challenger had lost by less than 100 votes.

On the prison yard, it was cold and windy with occasional wisps of rain. Along with a small group of black convicts, I lifted weights with the bent and rusted scrap iron. Two men argued about whether it was the federal government or Springfield which caused the detrimental changes in the IDOC as well as the justice system. After getting annoyed by the exchange, I told the younger and ignorant prisoner that except for federal appeals, everything was due to state politics. Then they debated what the new governor had in store for them. I did not say a word, but when I received a surprise visitor, they joked I had a Bruce Rauner victory party to attend. Apparently, I wear my ultraconservative beliefs on my sleeve.

Republicans flipped the Senate 44/56 and increased their dominance of the House. Their landslide victory was a clear message by the electorate to change course. However, despite the GOP's mandate and new power, the president is a socialist ideologue. He will not compromise and will veto all legislation passed that he disagrees with. Similarly, the same situation exists in Illinois. Voters elected a new governor to alter the downward spiral of the state yet Democrats with their super majorities in both chambers of the legislature can continue to do what they want. The only change which will come is in regards to divisions of government under his direct control including the Department of Corrections. After languishing in the dungeons of maximum security penitentiaries for over 2 decades, I look forward to the change. Ironically, though, the biggest change I can hope for is with the outgoing governor. Before he leaves office, he can grant my petition for executive clemency. My life will never be the same again.