By John Ruberry

I hate to interrupt your day by veering away from such issues, well, issues to some, such as the Donald Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia or that nation’s reputed hacking of the 2016 presidential election, but there is something more important that the mainstream media is only nibbling at the edges of: the Great American Pension Swindle.

What is it?

Underfunded pension plans in blue states, well mostly blue states.

Here are some media headlines from just this month:

I could go on and on.

As for that last one, many bond firms rate Chicago Public Schools’ bonds as junk. The collateral for its latest loan, and that’s a generous use of the term, is money owed to CPS by the state of Illinois, the Puerto Rico of the Midwest. Illinois’ public-worker pension plans are just 29 percent funded. Chicago’s pensions are worse–at 25 percent funded, the worst among 15 large cities surveyed.

I don’t have Schadenfreude over this situation. On a personal level the spouse of a friend of mine and one of my cousins are collecting Illinois State Police pensions. They were promised these retirement plans and they didn’t pay into Social Security when they worked for the state. There was no opt-out option for them in regards to these pensions. And their union, unlike AFSCME, wasn’t showering Illinois politicians, mostly Democrats, with copious campaign contributions while the state was shortchanging and even skipping payments into pension funds.

Now what?

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

I suspect bankruptcies in all but name, which I wrote about earlier this month in this space, are coming to Illinois and other states who see pensions as a reward system for political sponsors such as AFSCME. Here’s another possibility: run-of-the-mill taxpayers, many of whom are just getting by financially and have no pensions of their own, nor the ability to retire in their 50s, will have to cough up even more in taxes to bail out public worker retirement funds.

This tragedy is not the fault of the Russians. Vladimir Putin didn’t hack the pension funds.  But too bad that’s not what happened. Then perhaps MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times might devote more time to the Great American Pension Swindle.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Liberals and members of the mainstream media–okay, other than how they earn their paychecks there isn’t much difference between the two–have many intellectual flaws. But I’m going to zero in on just one here–their predilection to view all events through the sphere of the ’60s. For this discussion I’m going to bend time a bit–and call the ’60s as the years of 1964-1974, the period that covers Vietnam and the anti-war protests, the Civil Rights movement, and the Watergate Scandal. Richard M. Nixon, by the way, was elected to the presidency in 1968.

Older journalists looked back at the first and second Gulf Wars with nostalgia, especially when the anti-war protests broke out and during the pre-surge quagmire of 2005-2007. Younger journalists felt cheated by their absence from that first quagmire, Vietnam, and they didn’t want to miss out on what they saw as a second one.

Very few reporters who were on the job during Watergate are still working in journalism, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. who is 74, is a notable exception, so those in the biz now are hoping that President Donald Trump’s firing of embattled (yes, embattled) FBI Director James Comey is their Watergate, which of course crescendoed with Nixon’s resignation before his almost certain removal from office by the Senate.

Watergate was of course much more than the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, it was the cover up as well as the side scandals, such as the White House Plumbers, the dirty tricks, and the slush funds that made it America’s gravest political scandal.

Trump’s firing of Comey was ham-handed. If he had canned Comey shortly after being sworn-in, there would have been muted criticism from the left, as many Hillary Clinton supporters blamed Comey for her defeat last fall. Comey of course, in 2016’s October Surprise, reopened the investigation of Clinton’s reckless and illegal use of a home-brewed email server while she was Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Many prominent Democrats called for Comey’s resignation. When Trump did fire Comey last week, the White House didn’t know where to find him–Comey was in Los Angeles. And he learned of his dismissal from a television news report. And Trump, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, contradicted the explanation from his deputy press secretary as to why he fired Comey. Finally, Trump’s hint that he may have taped one of his conversations with Comey doesn’t help the president’s case the public.

The media of course is drawing parallels to Comey’s firing to that of Richard Nixon forcing the dismissal of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Yes, Trump cited “this Russia thing” as one of the reasons for getting rid of Comey, but what is this “Russian thing?” Collusion? Meanwhile James Clapper, Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence said only a few hours ago that there is no evidence of any Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

And who seriously believes that Russia hacked the presidential election?

Rather it appears “this Russia thing” was invented by sore losers within the Hillary Clinton campaign.

So repeat after me. “Russian collusion” is not Watergate. James Comey is not Archibald Cox. Donald Trump is not Richard Nixon. While we’re at it, Black Lives Matter is not the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and the regular anti-conservative riots at Berkeley are not the Free Speech Movement.

So what does Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate scandal for the Washington Post, think about the Comey controversy? While conceding on Fox News Sunday this morning that there are some questions on Russia that he wants answered, he also told host Chris Wallace, “This is not yet Watergate. Not a clear crime.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Lake Michigan at Evanston, IL. Is Puerto Rico’s present Illinois’ future?

By John Ruberry

If you believe that states–and commonwealths–cannot declare bankruptcy, you are technically correct. But last week a commonwealth, Puerto Rico, filed for bankruptcy in all but name, utilizing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2016.

That bill of course was written for Puerto Rico in mind, but with Republicans in control of all levels of the federal government, similar bills can be proposed for the fifty states, or just some of them, including California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois. Those three are among the states that have fallen victim to what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dubbed the “labor-electoral complex” in his farewell address four years ago.

What’s that? It’s when public-sector unions, consisting of workers on the taxpayer payroll, cajole politicians–almost always Democratic ones–to increase their salaries or defer their pay hikes by way of generous yet unaffordable pension plans.

And of course these pols are cajoled by these unions through campaign contributions.

Puerto Rican flag flies between two abandoned Chicago homes

Many local government workers don’t pay into social security and many of them have no other pension plans. In states like Illinois, if you work for the state government, funds deducted for your retirement only go to one place–an Illinois retirement plan. So far so good–unless the politicians neglect to properly fund those pension programs.

And that has been the sad case in those blue states I mentioned earlier, as well as Kentucky.

Now that Puerto Rico has declared, well, something, investors will very likely take a closer look at sinking cash into what may be sinking ships. Puerto Rico has negative population growth. So does Illinois. That means fewer taxpayers are participating in funding these failures. And it’s the productive citizens who are leaving Illinois and Puerto Rico.

Yesterday Puerto Rico announced it was closing 184 schools and there is speculation that commonwealth retirees may suffer a 20 percent cut in their pensions. Expect much more bad news from there.

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

It doesn’t have to end up this way in states like Illinois–if corrective action is taken immediately. Let me define “immediately” for those politicians who may be reading this post.

Immediately means 2017, not ten years from now.

Ten years ago the financial situation in Puerto Rico wasn’t as dire.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

IDOT facility, Northfield, IL

By John Ruberry

You’ve heard of “Deep State,” right? If you haven’t, it’s the powerful yet anonymous cadre of senior bureaucrats within the federal government who are toiling to undermine President Donald J. Trump. They are “the swamp” Trump wants to drain.

In Illinois, where I live, we have Deep Corruption.

Last week in my own blog I reported on Deep Corruption when former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett received a 4 ½ year prison sentence for wire fraud for her role in a bribery scheme with a former employer, a contractor. Her old boss there likely engineered her hiring as the boss of CPS.

In 2014 as Illinois’ financial situation was clearly dire–it has gotten worse since then–a political hiring scandal broke at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Over 200 unqualified people were hired as “staff assistants.” The title sounds innocent enough, but staff assistants in Illinois government are supposed to be policy-making posts, which makes those positions exempt from anti-patronage rules. Most of these so-called policy makers were hired during the six-year term of so-called reformer Pat Quinn, then the Democratic governor of Illinois. But candidates with backgrounds such as managing an ice cream store, laying bricks, and working for the Democratic Party were hired as staff assistants at IDOT. Well, these hires were diverse that’s for sure. Once on the state payroll, naturally these unqualified employees were given duties that matched their modest skill set. Many of them now hold new titles and are exempt from being discharged–except for extreme indiscretions–because of union rules.

Meanwhile, Illinois has the worst credit rating and the worst-funded public pension system of the fifty states. It currently has $11 billion in unpaid bills.

But under Quinn money was available to place political cronies on the state payroll.

Last week a court-ordered monitor issued her report on the political hiring scandal, or what should be called the Hack Pol Job Fair. The unqualified candidates of course had one thing in common: connections, often family ties, to a Democratic politician.

Rauner: Shake Up Springfield, Bring Back Illinois

Fed up Illinois voters threw Quinn, out of office in 2014, replacing him with Republican Bruce Rauner, who eliminated the staff assistant job classification but has been largely stymied in his attempt to “Bring Back Illinois” and “Shake Up Springfield” by state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Seven staff assistants with Madigan ties were hired by IDOT.

Chicago talk radio host and onetime gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft likes to say “Illinois isn’t broken–it’s fixed.” True, very true.

Quinn’s office was the clearing house for the IDOT job scandal and this episode should finally destroy his undeserved reputation as a reformer. In 1996 a prominent Illinois Democratic politician accused Quinn of being a ghost payroller for the Dan Walker administration. You probably never heard of Walker, but he’s one of those Illinois governors who later served time in federal prison. Public pensioner Quinn now says he’s working on ending gerrymandering in Illinois, yet he approved the current disgraceful gerrymandered map that created supermajorities for the Democrats in the General Assembly.

Who was that politician who called Quinn a ghost-payroller? It was US Sen. Dick Durbin. And the senior senator from Illinois’ office tried to get “Candidate 5” a job “with various state agencies.” And after pressure from Durbin’s office, “Staff Assistant 47” was hired at IDOT.

There is some good news in regards to this scandal, besides its exposure. Honest Illinois state employees alerted authorities of these abuses.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

And those were illegal abuses, I’d like to add. Who will be indicted for these crimes?

On personal note, my mother passed away three weeks ago. As is natural for someone going through a parental loss, my thoughts have veered to the past of late. Years ago my mother told me about a conversation she had with my father–he’s gone now too. My dad declared to my mom that his goal was to enter politics, which of course meant Illinois politics as they lived in Chicago. “That will never work out,” she explained to him. “You’re honest.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Abandoned plant in Harvey

By John Ruberry

Contained in my inbox this morning was an email from Crain’s Chicago Business touting an article by Dennis Rodkin, “Can Chicago’s Southland Be Rebuilt?” In short, “probably” is his answer. Mine is “no.”

Chicago’s Southland covers the city’s South Side and its southern suburbs, some definitions include the Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs. I grew up in Palos Heights, a southwest suburb, after spending my early childhood on Chicago’s Far South Side.

After several readings–I want to make sure I’m right before pointing fingers–I was surprised, but not shocked, to learn that three words were missing from Rodkin’s piece: Corruption, cronyism, and graft. While Illinois is a very dishonest state, and Chicago and Cook County are the epicenter of  its dishonesty, Chicago’s Southland is the rottenest apple in this foul orchard. Five of the last six sitting or former Chicago aldermen convicted of crimes were South Siders. The two most recent Chicago City Council indictments are for Ald. Willie Cochran, whose predecessor went to prison for bribery, and former alderman Edward Vrdolyak, who has already served time in the House with Many Doors. Do you want to guess what part of the city they are from?

Vacant Far South Side home

South of Chicago is Harvey. While surprisingly light on convictions, Harvey is considered the most corrupt town in Illinois, which is saying a lot. For years the Daily Southtown, among its front web page tabs such as “Weather” and “Sports,” there was another, “Harvey.” Next to Harvey is Markham. Earlier this month voters foolishly elected a convicted felon as its mayor. The Cook County state’s attorney office is suing to prevent the mayor-elect from taking office. Nearby is Dolton. Four years ago its village president told CBS Chicago, “Over the past few weeks we’ve heard reports of ghost payrolling, vehicles being purchased without authorization, unauthorized overtime and the unauthorized use of village gas.”

Cochran was indicted last year

Illinois’ second congressional district covers much of the Southland. In 1995 its representative, Mel Reynolds, was found guilty of crimes centered around a sexual relationship with an underage campaign volunteer. He was later convicted of a slew of financial crimes. His successor was Jesse Jackson Jr, who, along with his wife, a South Side Chicago alderman, went to prison for spending campaign cash on personal items.

The most notorious Chicago Southlander is Michael Madigan of the Southwest Side. Illinois’ financial situation has descended to the point that it is functionally bankrupt. Because of generous public-sector pension commitments, which were never properly funded, Illinois is over $200 billion in debt, despite a balanced budget requirement in the state constitution.

Yes, Chicago’s Southland is majority black. Which means African Americans are being robbed the most by these so-called public servants who see government not as a higher calling, but as an opportunity to dishonestly enrich themselves and their cronies.

Much of the Southland is blighted. But there is still plenty of money to be made there, but for the most part, only if you are a crook and if you know the right people. Or if you pay off the right people. Or if you hire that politician’s brother-in-law to remodel your office so you can get that zoning variance passed.

Rodkin does touch on the soaring property tax rates in the south suburbs. But he misses the point. As people leave the Southland–and yes, they are leaving–there are fewer people left to pay the bar bill for these corrupt-and-drunk-with-power politicians in Illinois’ Corruption Corridor.

Public graft is expensive.

Oh, 600 words or so into this piece, and I didn’t even, until now, mention the region’s problems with rampant violence.

Every politician I mentioned so far is a Democrat, except for Vrdolyak, is once was chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Blogger in Harvey

In related news, last week the 14 year corruption sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is not from Chicago’s Southland, was upheld by a US Appeals Court. That’s bad news for course for Blago, but good news for law-abiding Illinoisans–yes, we do exist. If Chicago’s Southland–and the rest of the state–has any hope of receiving honest government, long sentences such as the one Blagojevich was given just might be the cure. Fear of a long stay in a federal prison might scare some scoundrels straight–or better yet, frighten dishonest people away from a career in government.

But at least in the short term, I predict things will get even worse in Chicago’s Southland–and in the rest of Illinois.

John Ruberry, a lifelong Illinoisan, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Some kind of mask at the Chicago Moons the Trump Tower rally two months ago

By John Ruberry

On Saturday, three days before the deadline to file 2016 federal income tax returns, there were a couple of dozen rallies across the nation that called for President Donald J. Trump to release his returns to the public.

The republic somehow managed to survive nearly 200 years before Richard M. Nixon, under pressure by the way, became the first president to release his federal tax returns.

Yesterday I worked. I was building my income for next year’s tax deadline date, so I cannot pass on my eyewitness observations on any of yesterday’s anti-Trump rallies. But as with another tax-related anti-Trump gathering, one that I did see in person, Chicago Moons the Trump Tower, according to media reports, there were many colorful costumes, including masks, as well as meticulously designed signs. Leftist rallies are part protest and part Mardi Gras. For the progs these festivals are nothing more than a way to blow off steam, and a less expensive method than a session at a shrink’s office, unless, of course, you spent a lot of money on your Trump mask with devil horns, bright orange hair, and a Hitler mustache.

The mainstream media, that is the anti-Trump media, fawned over this springtime Festivus, unlike the dismissive tone they took with the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party rallies, which were arguably the halcyon moment of the Tea Party movement, that is, until Trump’s election last year.

Blogger running the Boston Marathon in 2004

“Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over,” Trump tweeted this morning. And yes the election is indeed over. Despite last year’s haranguing by the Democrats and their media allies, Trump still won the presidency even though he didn’t make his returns public. That bus left the station. Very few Americans passionately care about Trump’s tax returns, unlike such concerns as keeping more of their income.

But there is an upside to Saturday’s frivolities. At least those leftists who designed those striking Trump masks already have their Halloween costume in hand. Make Halloween Great Again.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

 

By John Ruberry

Barack Obama’s Model United Nations style foreign policy of be-nice-to-rogue-nations-and-they’ll-be-nice-to-you is a failure.

Five years ago Syria’s thug president, Bashar al-Assad, crossed Barack Obama’s red line by using chemical weapons against his own people.

Obama did not retaliate.

Last Tuesday the brute crossed that red line–and on Thursday President Donald J. Trump fired 59 cruise missiles at the Syrian base from where those chemical weapons were launched. This happened the day after an emergency session of the UN Security Council called in response to this cruel attack predictably achieved nothing.

The spoiled fat boy who savagely rules the starving nation of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, keeps firing missiles in tests, those weapons violate numerous United Nations resolutions. For years the rogue state has been building a nuclear weapons program, one that can possibly be used to attack the United States.

Trump is responding to the aggressiveness of the Norks by dispatching an aircraft carrier to Korean waters. He’s reportedly considering deploying nuclear missiles in South Korea.

Obama did nothing of consequence in regards to the North Korean threat.

Trump understands the lessons of the playground that Obama and his fellow leftists never learned. Bullies only back down when confronted with force, or a credible threat of force. For bullies weakness is an opportunity to be exploited. The historical examples of strongmen attacking their own people and more powerful nations plundering weaker ones are so plentiful that I won’t insult the intelligence of my readers by listing them. And if you need examples, then you are too far gone, my friend.

There is some good news–America’s eight-year long vacation from reality is over.

Oh, is there any hope for the UN? No. Add me to the list of people who believe that the United States and other freedom-loving nations, such as Great Britain, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and lets say Chile, need to band together and form a League of Democracies.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Doughboy monument, Morton Grove, Illinois

By John Ruberry

This week marks the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, then known as the Great War. Much of Europe had been engaged in widespread slaughter since 1914 when Congress, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson, voted to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

After the armistice ended the war on November 11, 1918, America was a transformed nation.

The war caused an American agricultural expressed a boom. Obliteration of farms and a lack of manpower in Europe created a huge demand American grain. After the war rural America was hit with an economic downturn that ran contrast to the robust industrial expansion in cities like Detroit–and many farms were foreclosed. Bold farmers who borrowed money to plant crops in marginally arable areas such as the Great Plains first endured falling commodity prices and then the Dust Bowl of the 1930s–and of course, foreclosures.

While the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North may have begun a few years before the declaration of war, the demand for factory workers in northern cities clearly hastened it. Black soldiers fought the Germans in France–and like all American soldiers they were celebrated as heroes by the grateful French and Belgians. When these black troops returned home, they discovered that white American racial prejudices remained, perhaps they were even worse than before the war. A series a race riots swept America in 1919, known as Red Summer. The deadliest riot occurred in Chicago, with 38 fatalities. It began after an African-American man floating on a railroad tie on Lake Michigan unwittingly drifted into a white section of a segregated beach.

Victory Monument honoring African-American World War I soldiers, Chicago.

These riots were a precursor of the urban unrest of the 1960s.

While it’s now considered impolite to ask a person their ethnic background, especially if you don’t know that person well, it wasn’t in the 1970s and 1980s, at least in the Chicago area, where I grew up. For instance, one of my neighbors from my youth had an Anglo last name. But that name was changed, I was told, in 1917, from a German one when their grandparents had to close their business and move to a different part of Chicago because they feared for their lives after being victims of anti-German violence. Thousands of others–maybe tens-of-thousands of others–also changed their surnames and cut ties to their pasts. I know about a dozen people whose ancestors dropped their German last names during that time and picked ones that were more “American sounding.”

If you take one of those Anscestry.com DNA tests and you surprisingly find German blood in your veins, it could because you unlocked a Great War family secret.

During the war many German-Americans were jailed on flimsy evidence as America, for a while, forgot it was a free country. And that’s not all. Irrational fears of communism after the Russian Revolution, itself a result of World War I, brought about the civil rights abuses of the Red Scare of 1917-1920. Wilson, a progressive Democrat, signed the Sedition Act of 1918 into law, which made criticism of the war or the nation illegal. In response to all of this madness, the far-left American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920.

Later that year Americans overwhelmingly elected Republican Warren G. Harding as president. He promised a “return to normalcy.”

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Germans in the United States in the early part of the 20th century were stereotypically viewed as beer guzzlers and saloon owners. The Prohibition movement was already strong when the war began–but the progressive teetotalers preyed upon this new bigotry as they sealed their deal with the passage of the 18th Amendment two months after the end of hostilities. Speakeasies replaced bars–and jazz music, often performed by black musicians who were part of the Great Migration–was the music of choice in many of these illegal establishments. This was not a return to normalcy–it was a new normal.

Europe never completely recovered from World War I–America was the world’s most powerful nation after the armistice was signed.

And it still is.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.


By John Ruberry

Most of the main characters in Hell on Wheels, my last Netflix binge-watching adventure, were shaped, and scarred, by the American Civil War.

In this BBC 2 television show, Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, England beginning in 1919, World War I casts its shadow over the lead characters.

Three seasons have been released so far. The action–and the violence–is centered upon the Anglo-Gypsy Shelby family, led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a decorated Great War tunneller who returns home a new man–and a better suited one to run the family business, Shelby Brothers, Ltd, a bookmaking operation set in the grimy and noisy Small Heath section of Birmingham. But the gang is generally called the Peaky Blinders by members and their enemies. His oldest brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is clearly more psychologically damaged from the war than Tommy, but he’s better suited to serve as the enforcer for the family. “I think, Arthur. That’s what I do,” Tommy explains to him. “I think. So that you don’t have to.” Third son John (Joe Cole), another World War I veteran, is also employed in the muscle side of the operation, while Finn, the youngest Shelby, is only 11-years-old when the series begins.

Tommy has a sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), who is married to communist agitator. But she’s still loyal to the family.

While the Shelby men were fighting in France–the family business was run by Elizabeth “Aunt Polly” Gray (Helen McCrory), a kind of a Rosie the Riveter of the underworld. Tommy quickly takes over from Polly, who serves as his senior advisor. Like Edward G. Robinson’s legendary Rico character in Little Caesar, Tommy becomes a small-time-hood-makes-good-by-being-bad by playing one gang faction against the other, first in Birmingham then in London, while largely ignoring Aunt Polly’s warnings.

When the Peaky Blinders stumble upon a large machine gun shipment in an otherwise routine heist, that gets the attention of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman in the first season, Richard McCabe in the second), who dispatches Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) from Belfast to find the machine guns. Those guns give Tommy power and respect–and enemies. Not only do Churchill and Campbell want those weapons, but so does the Irish Republican Army.

Campbell sends in an Irish domestic spy, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to work at the neighborhood pub owned by Arthur, appropriately named The Garrison. She quickly becomes its de facto manager.

In season three, which is set in 1924, Tommy, at Churchill’s request, gets involved in another armaments caper, this time with members of the Whites faction who haven’t ascertained that the Communists have won the Russian Civil War. Arthur warns Tommy to stay out of “this Russian business.” It’s too bad the script writers didn’t take their own creation’s advice. As was the case with season four of Sherlock, what follows is a collection of tangled and confusing plot lines. Possibly realizing their mistake, the writers include quite a bit of gratuitous nudity to accompany the Russian adventure, including a bizarre orgy scene which does nothing to advance the storyline.

On the other hand, the Russian diversion is loosely based on a 1924 scandal that brought down Great Britain’s first socialist-led government.

At least two more seasons are coming.

The cinematography of Peaky Blinders is masterful. Imagine Tim Burton creating a remake of The Untouchables television show and setting it in 1920s Birmingham. And this is an ugly Birmingham. J.R.R Tolkien lived in the city before the Great War and his reaction against it was his creation of Mordor for The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Eye of Sauron looked upon that evil realm–the sparks and the ashes of the foundries oversee the Midlands metropolis here. And the industrial roar is always there too.

Blogger in his flat cap

Without getting into spoilers it’s a challenge to bring a description of Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into this review, but his portrayal by Tom Hardy is too good to overlook.

Oh, the name. Peaky Blinders? There was a Birmingham gang by the same name who gained that moniker because its members supposedly sewed razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. And in fights the hoodlums went for the eyes.

And finally, the music deserves special mention too. Anachronistic goth rock dominates, the unofficial theme song is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” You’ll find selections from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and the White Stripes too.

And Johnny Cash sings “Danny Boy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven.

By John Ruberry

Last week President Trump released his proposed fiscal 2018 budget. Not included in it was funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The left, which dominates the arts, responded predictably, acting as if art itself was being attacked.

Sit down and breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Now relax. If the NEA and the NEH disappear–there will still be art. Even after eight years of economic dormancy under Barack Obama, the United States is still a fabulously wealthy nation with plenty of disposable income, some of which will of course be spent on the arts.

Do you feel better now? Good. I knew you would.

Art is everywhere. In fact it’s right in front of you now–my post at Da Tech Guy and all of the others here are artistic endeavors, albeit not funded by the federal government.

Yes, the NEA and the NEH, as far as I know, no longer funds exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs showing genitalia of pre-pubescent girls or a display of Piss Christ, but this Great Society mutation of royal patronage of the arts–didn’t we fight a revolution against a king?–makes little cultural or economic sense, as George Will explains.

David Marcus, artistic director of a Brooklyn-based theater project and senior contributor to The Federalist, says the NEA produces “perverse market incentives” that explain why many arts institutions “are failing badly at reaching new audiences, and losing ground.”

“Many theater companies, even the country’s most ‘successful,’ get barely 50 percent of their revenue from ticket sales. Much of the rest comes from tax-deductible donations and direct government grants. This means that the real way to succeed as an arts organization is not to create a product that attracts new audiences, but to create a product that pleases those who dole out the free cash. The industry received more free money than it did a decade ago, and has fewer attendees.”

The arts community is incestuous, especially within its foundations and boardrooms. You scratch my Cubist back and I’ll massage your western yodeling feet. You’ve heard of crony capitalism. There is also crony arts.

As usual, I don’t have to look beyond my own grossly mismanaged state of Illinois–when we had budgets they made about as much sense as a Jackson Pollock painting–to find an example of cronyism in practice. The Illinois Arts Council Agency, which as you can tell by its name, is a state agency and it is a recipient of National Endowment for the Arts cash. It was founded in 1965, which not coincidentally, was when the NEA began. The chair of the Illinois Arts Council Agency is Shirley Madigan, the wife of state House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Boss Michael Madigan. Their daughter is Lisa Madigan, Illinois’ attorney general.

The Illinois Arts Council Agency boasts that nearly 100 percent of the state’s legislative districts receives some IACA funding. It’s all about spreading the wealth around. As for those legislative districts, the geographic contortion created by Michael Madigan’s gerrymandering just might be worthy enough to be put on display at the Art Institute of Chicago adjacent to those Pollock-esque state budgets, but that’s another matter.

The NEA and the NEH also operates under the same spread-the-favors-around–I mean wealth, mindset–which is why defenders of these groups cite federal funding for events such as the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada and the Hip Hop Initiative in North Carolina as justification for these agencies.

Blogger on a self-funded trip to the Vicksburg battlefield

The NEH provided funding for Ken Burns’ acclaimed 1990 Civil War documentary that was broadcast on PBS, which is another success boasted by supporters of the NEH. Oh, Trump’s budget wants to eliminate for that network as well as NPR. Have you seen Burns’ Civil War? It’s fabulous. But what of the money for sales of Ken Burns’ Civil War book, or the Civil War DVDs and CDs? Or Civil War digital downloads? How much does the federal government get from those sales?

How much does Ken Burns collect?

Sure, NEA and NEH funding is a very small piece of federal spending–$148 million is the expenditure for this year. But proper budgeting means saying “No” a lot. America is wealthy–but not infinitely so.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

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