The desecration of the Cook County Forest Preserves

By John Ruberry

One respite from the hectic way of life in Chicago and its suburbs are the 70,000 acres that comprise the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. I run on trails there that are near my home. I take nature photos there. Others walk, ride bicycles, or just sit and collect their thoughts. Some picnic in the preserves, whether it’s a family or a group of hundreds.

On there is a seamy side too. Some parking lots at the preserves are popular spots for romantic hookups, once in a while some of those large picnics turn violent, occasionally the bodies of murder victims are dumped there, and the Forest Preserve District has a reputation of hiring otherwise unemployable Democratic Party patronage workers. Charles “Cap” Sauer ran the preserves for years. He once confided to Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko about some of his workers, “They know that if they are going to receive a day’s pay, they must give me at least a half a day’s work.”

Despite little or no evidence that outdoor activities pose COVID-19 risks, the FPDCC is making using the preserves more difficult and less enjoyable for the owners of them, that is taxpayers, even though exercise is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health. 

Many forest preserve parking lots, which are often strewn with potholes, are closed on weekends and even daily in some cases because of alleged overcrowding. Oh, if a parking lot is full, drivers do what? They leave. Public washrooms are closed. Where are people supposed to relieve themselves? As a runner, I know how to, let’s say, improvise a short distance from a trail. Let’s say you’d like to sit down during a long walk and you don’t care to plop down on the grass. There’s a rare bench here and there but during normal times people find a picnic table. At most of the preserves near me the tables are now stacked. wrapped in police tape, and barricaded by snow fences. There are “snitch signs” placed all through the preserves asking those full-bladdered visitors to rat-out large groups. Even though for most people their forest preserve experience is a solitary one, as it is with me, or it’s done in twos-or-threes.

Story continues below the photograph.

Barricaded picnic shelter with stacked tables at St. Paul Woods Forest Preserve

Water fountains have not been turned back on after being shut off last year for the winter. Yes, today is the last day of May. Oh, there is no shortage of FPDCC workers–none have been laid off.

Those most revealing sign is one outside St. Paul Woods here in Morton Grove. “Keep it moving. No picnicking. No congregating.” Or as Dean Wormer famously phrased it in Animal House, “No more fun of any kind.”

How did it come to this situation? Yeah, I know, the coronavirus outbreak. Cook County has over 5 million residents. There have been 45,000 confirmed cases of it in Cook with about 2,100 confirmed deaths. And of course most of those fatalities consist of people who were already quite ill.

But we got here because Cook County voters elected a hardened leftist,  Chicago Democrat Toni Preckwinkle, as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Part of that job is overseeing the Forest Preserve District. Leftists remind me of the smug titular character in the underrated Coen Brothers movie Barton Fink. He loves “the people” but Fink doesn’t like people. The same goes with Preckwinkle and other leftists in government. And their idea of government is that we are a government with a people, not the other way around. 

These are their woods, not ours.

Stay out of my parking lot! 

Stay away from other people! 

No water fountains for you!

Hold your bladders!

No more fun of any kind!

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

My wife and daughter escaped the Illinois lockdown and traveled to Wisconsin

By John Ruberry

As I wrote a couple of posts back the unemployment rate is 67 percent in the Marathon Pundit home here in suburban Chicago. Because of the COVID-19 epidemic, they were furloughed from their jobs.

Obviously in possession of free time Mrs. Marathon Pundit and Little Marathon Pundit decided to travel on this holiday weekend–they headed to Wisconsin. I stayed here to work.

Illinois, run by a Democrat from Chicago, J.B. Pritzker, remains under lockdown. You cannot enter supermarkets or any store with out a mask. Up in Wisconsin, its state Supreme Court struck down its shelter-in-place order made by its Democratic governor, Tony Evers. And its mask requirements.

Wisconsin is a free state. Illinois is a lockdown state. It’s that simple. My wife and daughter’s money is being spent not her3 but north of the Cheese Curtain. In a way they remind me of Poles in the last years of the Cold War visiting West Germany.

Illinois, according to WalletHub, has the most restrictive COVID-19 restrictions in the nation.

I just got off the phone with Mrs. MP. She enthusiastically told me about her first dine-in restaurant experience in two months. The restaurants in Illinois that are open are open for take-out only. On Friday outdoor dining will be allowed in the Prairie State. What if it rains? What if these diners aren’t equipped for al fresco serving? What if they don’t have the necessary permits? What if the restaurant owners can’t apply for an outdoor dining permit because their village hall is closed because of the coronavirus lockdown? Thanks for next-to-nothing, Pritzker.

Then my wife told me about their arrival yesterday in the small town of Mineral Point in the southwestern part America’s Dairyland. There was–wait for it–a parade! One for recent high school graduates. While the graduation ceremony was cancelled, grads in Mineral Point received their moment of glory on the streets. As far as I can gather all parades scheduled in Illinois in spring or early summer were cancelled. “A few people wore masks,” she told me of the people participating or viewing the parade, “but most didn’t.” Some stores are open–mostly the locally-owned ones as opposed to the big chains. “When you go in those places, you don’t have to wear masks,” she enthused.

My wife and daughter went inside, yes inside, a coffee shop, and drank coffee, although a sign outside of that establishment said, “Masks are recommended.” But masks weren’t even recommended when they entered an ice cream parlor.

Many other Illinoisans have escaped to Wisconsin too. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spoke to one refugee from the Pritzker Lockdown who journeyed to Lake Geneva. “‘All for it,” said Dave Gragnani of McHenry, Illinois, who said he planned to visit a coffee shop and skatepark without any mask or hand sanitizer. “People should have a choice. I’m having a wonderful time.'”

Good for you, Dave!

As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

Not as much as Wisconsin, but Indiana is opening up too. And of course the welcome mat is open there for Illinoisans fed up with the lockdown. I’m sure Iowa, where my family traveled last month, as well as Missouri and Kentucky, the other states that border Illinois, are enjoying an influx of cash-flush Illinoisans.

Yes, I’m aware that nearly 100,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, although nearly every one of them already had serious health problems. Nursing homes, hospitals, and senior centers need extra protection. 

It’s time to open up the rest of America. And the world. 

Dennis Prager earlier this month wrote that the worldwide COVD-19 lockdown might be biggest mistake in history

John Ruberry regularly writes at Marathon Pundit.

Masks dehumanize us

Discarded medical mask, Miami Woods, Morton Grove, Illinois

By John Ruberry

On my way to work here in Illinois–where Democratic governor JB Pritzker says I have to wear a mask–I was listening to Dennis Prager’s show when he said something along the lines that people connect to each other by way of seeing their faces. Very true. The most obvious example is by way of dating sites, nearly all of the profiles include face pics. Whether you are old or young, thin or heavy, bald or hairy, every expert on creating profiles for LinkedIn recommends using a quality head shot on that employment networking site. 

Faces are how we remember people. When you think of Angelina Jolie her lips come to mind. With Jay Leno it’s his prominent chin. With John Bolton his bushy mustache is his visual trademark. If they are wearing masks you won’t see their distinctive facial features. 

A masked face doesn’t allow you to see smiles.

It’s unclear how effective masks are in preventing the spread of COVID-19, with the exception of the N95 mask, which gets its name because it’s supposed to block 95 percent of small particles.  

What is clear is that the projections of the death total from the novel coronavirus have been alarmist. The most dire one predicted 2.2 million COVID-19 deaths in America–and that prediction likely led to many shelter-in-place orders being put in place, including the one that was extended by Pritzker, most likely illegally, until the end of May. The latter order opened a few more places, such as golf courses, but added a mask requirement for businesses open to the public, such as big box stores. Dine-in restaurants, hair salons, and health clubs remain shuttered. Churches too. 

Humans are primates and primates are social beings. We’re not cats. While there are a few among us who choose the life a hermit, even existences commonly connected with solitude, such as that of a monk or a nun, involve a community where people see each other. Monks typically live in monasteries with other monks. Nuns dwell in convents with other nuns. 

So far COVID-19 is not nearly as deadly as the 1918 Flu Pandemic which killed anywhere from 50-100 million people worldwide–and many of those who died of it were in their twenties and thirties who were otherwise healthy. It is not the Asian Flu of the late 1950s which killed roughly two million. While every death of course is a tragedy, so far 300,000 people have died of COVID-19. In 1918 the world population was about 1.6 billion, in 1958 it was a bit short of 3 billion. Today’s world population is 8 billion. 

A few weeks ago I questioned whether the draconian methods to shut down our economy were worth it, bankruptcies and unemployment are common triggers for substance abuse, depression, spousal and child abuse, and suicide. Since that post we’ve learned nearly all of the coronavirus fatalities suffered from pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. 

Now because of masks we are becoming the faceless, like the disturbing images in the “Life of Julia” Obama-Biden campaign video from 2012 that preached to the masses–not to individuals–the inherent power of a government that does everything for you. But remember Barry Goldwater’s warning, “Any government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”

Like Prager, I’m not a conspiracy nut. But a couple of weeks ago he wrote that the coronavirus overreaction is a dress rehearsal for a police state. Chicago’s vast expanse of lakefront parks–which is 18 miles long–have been closed for six weeks and counting. Churches and dine-in restaurants are closed statewide, as I mentioned earlier. In regards to the latter, for health reasons will the state or local governments in Illinois retain the power to shutter restaurants that serve, let’s say, too much high-fat food? That possibility is no longer far-fetched. 

The lakefront parks won’t be closed forever. But I can easily see Lori Lightfoot or a future Chicago mayor limiting Lincoln Park or Jackson Park to a few hundred visitors each day–with government workers with internal passports first in line of course–in the name of nature preservation or fighting global warming. It will of course all be done in the name of the faceless masses. 

I’m running low on orange juice. I may need run to the supermarket. Where is my mask?

I’ll be less of a human wearing that mask. Is that the plan?

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

The Pritzker disaster in Illinois

Apple River Fort State Historic Site last month in Elizabeth, Illinois, located in a county that has 18 reported cases of COVID-19 as of May 10, 2020.

By John Ruberry

Illinois has the wrong governor at the wrong time. 

Oh, I’m not talking about the political positions of Chicago Democrat J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire who was elected governor in 2018. 

Let’s first discuss how he was elected. Largely because of support of unions, who probably fell in love with his wallet, as well as the tacit support of the most powerful politician in Illinois, longtime state House speaker Michael Madigan, Pritzker won the Democratic gubernatorial primary. That’s quite ironic as the Pritzker family has had a troubled relationship with organized labor, starting with the Pritzker-owned Hyatt hotel chain

Pritzker largely self-funded his campaign. So did his hapless general election opponent, multi-millionaire Bruce Rauner. The one-term Republican achieved nothing as governor, other than get bested by Boss Madigan, the mother hen of Illinois’ pension bomb

Illinois’ shelter-in-place order in response to the coronavirus was eased a bit earlier this month. Golf courses, those germ cesspools, are now open. Dine-in restaurants, health clubs, hair salons and the like are closed. Nearly one million Illinoisans, including my wife and daughter, are newly out of work. 

When things get back to what we might call normal, many of businesses won’t be here anymore. Pritzker is a trust fund baby who has never had to worry about economic survival. I’m sure he’s had a few setbacks, but he could always reach into that perpetually-full cookie jar of a trust fund or his accounts in the Grand Cayman Islands. Contrast that situation to the husband and wife who met while working as servers at a restaurant twenty years ago, then saved their money and took out a second mortgage on their home to open their own restaurant. They’ve laid off their servers and bussers, and only half of their cooks kept their jobs. Revenue has plummeted. Taking a third mortgage out on their home to bail out their restaurant isn’t an option. So their dream business, their livelihood that supported children may have only one destiny. Closing down. And then they’ll have no choice but to declare bankruptcy. 

Pritzker doesn’t get it. 

Since the governor issued his shelter-in-place order nearly two months ago most state offices were shuttered. Yet every state employee is being paid. Let’s zoom in on Illinois’ secretary of state office, which is mainly what other places call the DMV. Driver’s licenses aren’t being issued or renewed, the same goes with license plates, unless, with the latter, you are buying a car as most car dealers in Illinois have the ability to provide at the very least temporary state tags. 

Why haven’t state employees like these been laid off? Union rules just might prohibit that but we are told by Pritzker that Illinois is facing an emergency. I’m sure if he wanted to he’d find a state law to justify layoffs. But Pritzker couldn’t simply buy the governor’s office two years ago, he needed votes to win and unions supply lots of voters. And Pritzker, who is not the most dynamic campaigner–he comes across as an arrogant jerk because he is one–will need labor support again if he chooses to run for reelection. 

Sales tax revenue is of course way down in Illinois. Because of that and the state’s mountain of unpaid bills and its appallingly-underfunded public worker pension plans, last month Fitch lowered Illinois’ bond to one level above junk

Unlike its governor, Illinois has no trust fund to bail it out nor does it have bank accounts in the Grand Caymans. Courtesy of Boss Madigan Illinois hasn’t had a rainy day fund for years. 

Pritzker is facing several lawsuits challenging his shelter-in-place order. But his wife violated that order by leaving the state for the refuge of their Florida equestrian estate, in the manner of a medieval royal escaping a plague. 

It’s good to be king. It’s better to be a billionaire living off a trust fund who can use that cash to be elected governor and then lecture people like me as to how I should live my life. He’s been doing so in his daily press briefings on live television that pre-empt talk shows and soap operas. What fun! The Great Oz has spoken!

Rural Illinois has been particularly devastated by Pritzker’s shutdown. Many Illinois counties have fewer than ten reported cases of COVID-19. Three of them have none. 

With great fanfare and expense–$65 million–Pritzker transformed Chicago’s cavernous McCormick Place Convention Center into a hospital because he told us our existing hospitals would be overwhelmed by the coronavirus and there’d be no more hospital beds. After treating 37 patients the McCormick Place hospital closed down. Pritzker took bad advice from so-called experts.

Whether the shelter-in-place order in Illinois and other states worked–or perhaps it was never needed–the lockdowns need to end, with exceptions such as preventing visitors at places with vulnerable people, such as nursing homes. Densely populated cities such as New York and Boston–but not Chicago–probably need to keep up additional protections against COVID-19.

As I wrote a few weeks ago here, a new epidemic is coming. Perhaps it’s here already. One consisting of addiction, spouse and child abuse, and suicide. Economic hardship often brings out the worst in people. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

My suggestions for Illinois’ bankruptcy auction

Blogger at the Damen Silos

By John Ruberry

Last week I suggested that Illinois, arguably the most broke state in America, put itself under receivership to fix its dire financial problems, which include nearly $8 billion in unpaid bills and an astounding $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations.

I chose receivership as bankruptcy is not a legal option for the fifty states. Then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered bankruptcy as a possibility, so it appears he’s open to changing the law so financially reckless blue states, Illinois, as well as New York and California, can call into one of those 800 lines that advertise on television late at night offering Chapter 11 as a salvation. (Okay, I’m kidding on the 800 line.)

Oh, Mitch, your home state of Kentucky also has a financially anemic public worker pension fund.

So state bankruptcy is no longer a pipe dream, although Illinois and New York’s Democratic governors, J.B. Pritzker and Andrew Cuomo respectively, immediately dismissed McConnell’s sound idea. But right now these blue states are acting like old-money aristocrats who believe bankruptcy is beneath them even though their income stream has dried up and their trust funds are depleted.

When there is a bankruptcy there is often a liquidation sale. Illinois has many valuable assets. Not enough to cover the $7 billion in unpaid bills–let alone the $138 billion in unfunded pension obligations–but the Land of Lincoln has to begin somewhere to dig itself out of the hole created by irresponsible politicians from both parties. So here are my suggested on what needs to go.

The Damen Silos: Illinois has owned the abandoned grain silos at Damen on the Sanitary and Ship Canal on Chicago’s South Side since the 1970s. It’s a popular spot for urban explorers–I’ve been there–and for graffiti-taggers. An explosion scene for Transformers: Age of Extinction was filmed at the silos. But the state has owned it four over four decades. Get rid of it. The location is also near Interstate 55. While demolishing the site will be pricey for the new owner which will drive down the selling price, every dollar counts during Illinois’ financial emergency. As it stands now, the Damen Silos are a towering monument to Illinois incompetence.

Illinois’ governor mansion: The last Illinois governor to live full-time in America’s third-oldest governor’s mansion was Republican Jim Edgar, he of the failed “Edgar ramp” pension rescue. He left office in 1999. Another Republican gov, one-termer Bruce Rauner, led the recent private efforts to restore the residence, which was in poor shape. The renovation cost $15 million. The project was completed last July. Four months later Pritzker trounced Rauner in his reelection effort.

Sell the mansion. It can be central Illinois premier luxury B&B. In fact it can be America’s premier luxury B&B.

When Illinois’ governor needs to be in Springfield there are plenty of hotel rooms to choose from there. Or the state can buy a humble bungalow for the governor.

A whole bunch of state parks: Illinois has 142 state parks. Many are tiny and little-visited. Illini, William G. Stratton (named for a governor who was indicted for tax evasion), Jubilee College, and Gebhard Woods state parks immediately come to mind as expendable. At least of half of Illinois’ state parks need to go on the auction block. Illinois has a very popular state park that I’m thinking of that I’ll talk about later.

The former Tinley Park mental health facility: Governor Pat Quinn shuttered the sprawling 250-acre site in 2012. There are toxic wastes that need to be cleaned up. But in real estate, of course, the most important concern is location, location, location. And the old asylum has a great one, at Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street in southern Cook County a few blocks away from an Interstate 80 exit.

Illinois Department of Transportation snow plows: Snow removal and the spreading of salt on roads where IDOT bears maintenance responsibility should be privatized.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield: The Disney-esque ALPLM was the brain-child of Julie Cellini, the wife of longtime state contractor and power-broker William Cellini. A Republican, William got caught up in the Rod Blagojevich scandals which earned him a short stay in federal prison. Julie envisioned the state-owned library and museum as a way to upgrade Springfield as a tourist destination as opposed to merely being a two-hour detour and bathroom stop for travelers on I-55 who visited the Damen Silos in Chicago earlier in the day. It hasn’t worked. And it appears that the ALPLM was conned when it purchased $25 million worth of Honest Abe artifacts, the centerpiece of that swag was a stovepipe hat that was said to be worn by our 16th president. Except that there is no evidence that Lincoln ever wore that hat. At onetime the ALPLM owned a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe. Who knows what other unrelated treasures that are gathering dust in closets there? Well here is one: There are five copies in Lincoln’s handwriting of his Gettysburg Address. All of them are considered priceless but a since-fired ALPLM director lent the one the library owns to a tiny museum owned by Glenn Beck for a paltry $50,000.

Illinois is incapable of running the ALPLM.

Lincoln’s New Salem: A twenty-minute drive north of Springfield near Petersburg is Lincoln’s New Salem. This was Lincoln’s first home away from his parents. The town lasted only ten years but it is central to Lincoln lore. This spot, consisting mostly of rebuilt log cabins, has many visitors, primarily kids on school field trips, but its value to buyers grows if it is packaged with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Young Americans for Freedom owns the former Ronald Reagan Ranch in California. Perhaps they might be interested in the above sites tied to our first Republican president too. Hey, Disney might want to grab them for a Lincoln Land attraction. Is that a dumb idea? Well it is not as dopey as buying a Marilyn Monroe dress for a Lincoln museum.

The James R. Thompson Center in Chicago: Colloquially known as by its original name, the State of Illinois Center, it was designed by renowned German-American architect Helmut Jahn. Great artists are capable of colossal flops, after all Prince released several unlistenable albums, and Jahn’s Thompson Center is the turd in his career punch bowl. The heating and cooling systems have never worked well and they are expensive to operate. Its marble floors are slippery when visitors bring in snow from their shoes and it snows a lot in Chicago Ironically its atrium is supposed to be a monument to openness in government. But under the decades-long tenure of Boss Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), the speaker of the Illinois House, government in Illinois has not been transparent at all. The building is named for James R. Thompson, the Republican governor who signed the three-percent annual compounded pension raise into law. Governors back to Blago have suggested selling the white elephant, which sits on prime real estate in downtown Chicago.

Starved Rock State Park: Illinois’ crown jewel in its state park system is Starved Rock in LaSalle County. Desperate times call for drastic action and that is why the Prairie State needs to sell its most-visited state park, which includes an NPS-style lodge with cabins. Private industry can do a much better job running the park, which has crumbling roads, and perhaps new owners build a couple of more lodges. What did I say about location earlier? As with the former Tinley Park mental home, Starved Rock is a short drive from I-80.

What are your suggestions for things and places for divestment by Illinois?

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois should put itself under receivership over pensions

Blogger two years ago

By John Ruberry

“As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.” Chicago Tribune Editorial Board in 2016.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Rahm Emanuel in 2009.

Last week the president of the Illinois state Senate, Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), sent a letter the state congressional caucus, a gerrymandered lot–more on that latter–asking for $41 billion in aid in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The devil is in the details–Illinois is a hellish place—and in that letter from Harmon is a request of $10 billion to fund its woefully-underfinanced public pension plans.

Illinois’ pension crisis goes back decades. In 1989 Governor Jim Thompson, a Republican, signed into law an annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living-adjustment for the state’s public pensioners. But the funding wasn’t there. His successor, Jim Edgar, another Republican, seemingly placed a fix into the system in 1994, “the Edgar ramp,” which started with low payments for the 15 years of his plan. But by that time, when the “ramp” was to kick in, Great Recession arrived. And there were “pension contribution holidays” before then. When the 2008 economic collapse hit Rod Blagojevich, who was as bad as math as Edgar and Thompson, was governor.

In the early 1990s pension payments consumed four percent of the Illinois budget–now it’s 25 percent. The state-controlled public pension plans are only about 30 percent funded.

All that time–except for two years–powerful Chicago Democrat, Michael Madigan, has been speaker of the state House.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, 19,000 state pensioners collect more than $100,000 annually. On average these pensioners paid a paltry $160,000 into their retirement plans. What a great deal!

New Jersey and Kentucky have public pension funding issues that are as bad, or perhaps slightly worse, than that of Illinois. Will they be asking for pension bailouts next?

Cutting the three-percent COLA has been tried–it was ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court because of the pension guarantee clause in the state constitution. Repealing that clause is the smart thing to do but it’s a politically tall hurdle. Such an amendment would likely have to pass both chambers of the General Assembly. Thanks to Madigan, a skilled gerrymanderer who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, there are Dem supermajorities in both chambers. Two attempts by petition to effectively ban gerrymandering by way of a constitutional amendment was struck down in court. Allies of Madigan were behind the anti-Fair Map suits. The petition process to amend the Illinois constitution is deeply flawed. 

The organized labor wing of the Democratic Party, the public sector unions, won’t remain quiet if pensions are challenged. Hey there unions, you contributed to this problem too. In 2005 most public service unions signed on to that year’s pension holiday.

Last week Fitch lowered its bond rating for Illinois to BBB- with a negative outlook. That’s one level above junk.

I’m against an Illinois pension bailout by the federal government. For the most part. But if such aid comes in the form of an International Monetary Fund-style rescue package with conditions that Illinois cleans its fiscal house, such as dropping the 3-percent COLA and taking aim at the top pension earners, those six-figure retirees, I’m willing to listen. 

But receivership is best. Okay, let me dream a bit. As Chicago architect Daniel Burnham said a century ago, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I know, states are viewed as sovereign entities and cannot, as Detroit did in 2013, declare bankruptcy. But what if Illinois agrees to a strings-attached receivership deal? An emergency manager can be appointed. Pritzker, or whoever is governor if receivership comes about, can still handle the ceremonial stuff, such as ribbon cutting for a new bridge and placing bets with other governors when Chicago sports teams are playing for a league championship.

Oh, I’m thinking loans from the feds, not handouts.

As badly funded as Illinois’ pension plans are, many local government pension systems are in worse shape. Illinois municipalities and government agencies, unlike those in Michigan, cannot do so under current state law. That needs to change too.

On a personal note, several friends and relatives of mine are collecting state pensions. Money that was taken from their checks every two weeks for their retirement was instead spent on lord-knows-what. They deserve to be angry and that fury needs to be directed at every Illinois governor from Thompson through Blagojevich. And of course at the Where’s Waldo of Illinois failure, Boss Michael Madigan. He deserves the most rage.

Let me be clear: I don’t take my pension reform views lightly.

Prior to Harmon’s bailout request, the latest pension fix idea was a constitutional amendment to eliminate the Illinois flat income tax guarantee and replace it with a graduated one. That amendment will be presented to Prairie State voters in November. My guess is that it will fail. And even if the graduated income tax amendment passes, the additional revenue won’t be enough. Illinois, which has had negative population growth for six straight years, can’t tax its way of the mess.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit

Bloodletting the American economy

By John Ruberry

I am living in the third week of Illinois’ shelter-in-place order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The streets are quiet, the parking lots in many retail spots are either empty, if it’s a mall, or less crowded if that shopping area has a grocery store.

At home there are three of us. I’m the only one with a job. I’m a commission sales person but income is down. Mrs. Marathon Pundit, after getting laid off a month ago, drove Uber until the shelter-in-place order was put in place on March 21. She filed for unemployment for her first time the following week. Little Marathon Pundit’s employer shut down when the shelter-in-place order went into effect. She was paid until she was informed by a letter yesterday that she was furloughed–then she promptly filed a jobless claim. Hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have done the same recently.

We are holding up okay. We are healthy and not suffering from anxiety. I’ll have more on mental health later.

As of Easter morning there have been nearly 20,000 confirmed novel coronavirus in the Land of Lincoln with 677 deaths. Each person was loved and will be missed. Each death is a tragedy.

Yet most of the COVID-19 fatalities already had illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Or they suffered from unhealthy underlying factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. Or they smoked. Let me repeat, each death is a tragedy.

Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about what I still believe is an overreach in Chicago in response to coronavirus. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, among other things, has closed Chicago’s sprawling lakefront to even solitary walkers, runners, and cyclists. Barbershops and hair salons, along with many other businesses, have been viewed as non-essential by Governor JB Pritzker, although that didn’t stop Lightfoot from getting her  hair done.

But Lightfoot’s reaction is mild compared to what is going on in a nearby state, Michigan. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a Democrat like Lightfoot and Pritzker. While she hasn’t run out of things to ban or shutter, Whitmer, who is supposedly on Joe Biden’s shortlist of running mates, might reach that millstone.

Travel between homes–even walking across the street–is banned in the Great Lakes State, unless it involves checking on someone’s health. Stores deemed essential are open, but in a bizarre overreach, garden center sections in those open retail outlets are cordoned off, including seed displays. Gardening, generally a solitary pursuit, is a fabulous mental health salve.

Yes, Michigan has one of the highest coronavirus rates in the nation. Cases are concentrated in the Detroit area, which by all accounts has disproportionately more residents suffering from the underlying health issues I mentioned earlier.

There is speculation over a second wave of COVID-19 coming later this year. If that’s the case in between there will be a mental health crisis. Joblessness and money troubles are a reliable predictor of suicides

Not every family is a happy one. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has already decried the “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” now that much of the planet is enduring a lockdown. Alcohol sales are up since the shelter-in-place orders began. Will this lead to a higher rate of alcoholism? Will problem drinkers who kicked the habit suffer a relapse? Will there be a hike in narcotics abuse?

Liquor stores are open in everywhere where they were before the pandemic–I’m not calling for their closure. In Michigan you can buy booze and visit a marijuana dispensary. But stay away from that seed aisle at the local big box store! Governor Gretchen Whitless is watching!

Lee Chatfield, a Republican, is the speaker of the Michigan House.

Flint, which is no stranger to economic turmoil, issued a 9am-6pm curfew as long as Whitmer’s shelter-in-place order is effect. Violators face up to $2,000 in fines and six months in jail. Even the ACLU is rolling its eyes over the Flint curfew. I’ve been to Flint. Take my word for it, most residents of the Vehicle City don’t have $2,000 lying around. 

Two hundred years ago  bloodletting was viewed by most physicians as a valid and effective medical treatment for a variety of illnesses. George Washington, a believer in bloodletting, was arguably killed by his doctor who bled him as he was suffering from a throat infection. That cure for Washington and countless others was worse than the disease. 

Now I fear we are bloodletting the American economy. I fear the wide-ranging shelter-in-place orders could trigger an economic depression with the horrible health repercussions I described above. And more. 

President Donald Trump is right. We need to re-open the American economy as soon as possible. 

Our collective health depends on it. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Review: Season Three of Ozark

By John Ruberry

Late last month Season Three of Ozark began streaming on Netflix. The center point of the story is the Bryde family, father Marty (Jason Bateman), a former Chicago financial planner, mother Wendy (Laura Linney), a onetime Illinois Democrat political operative, and their children, teens Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz), and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner).

In the first season Marty, talks his way out of assassination by convincing his killers that he can be of great use to his Mexican drug cartel client, who turns out to be Omar Navarro (Felix Solis), by laundering even more money for him in the Lake of the Ozarks region of southern Missouri. He does that of course for self-survival, but also for his family.

If you haven’t seen Ozark yet the following paragraph and the trailer contains minor spoilers.

But being the money guy–with bloody hands–is a strain for the other Byrdes, even though Wendy is for the most part a willing participant as the family moves up from laundering cash though a failing restaurant, then a fledgling church, and finally a casino boat, which is how the second season ends–the final shot is a sepia still of the Byrdes–with none of them smiling–at the grand opening. 

Warning: “F bomb” in the trailer.

The second season introduced the cartel’s lawyer, the cold-blooded Helen Pierce (Janet McTeer), another Chicagoan. Like the Byrdes, she is facing a challenge by balancing her criminality with her family, specifically her teen daughter Erin (Madison Thompson). Helen and Erin in Season Three move to the Ozarks for the summer.

The primary new character in the third season is Wendy’s troubled younger brother Ben Davis (Tom Pelphrey), who offers the best performance so far in Ozark in an Emmy-worthy performance. Laura Linney is superb again too.

Meanwhile the Navarros are at war with another cartel. And as with most of the major European wars since the 17th century, the battles cannot stay contained in a tight geographic area. The cartels are always “all in” in their fights–and the title of the last episode of the third season is “All In.”

The FBI, which is not shown in a favorable light throughout the series, remains hot on the heals of the Byrdes. Which means Marty and Wendy not only have to balance their money laundering and shell companies with the needs of Navarro along with the demands of parenthood, but they are also under the constant scrutiny of the FBI, this time led by an agent of better character than what we’ve seen before here, Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes). 

One one more headache for the Byrdes is the Kansas City mob.

Of course there was criminality in the Ozarks before the arrival of the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of Missouri, Marty and Wendy, who as F. Scott Fitzgerald said of former in The Great Gatsby, “smashed up things and creatures.” Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), the leader of that family’s small-time criminal family, is now an integral member of Bryde Family Enterprises. But the other homegrown female crime leader, Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery), an avowed enemy of the Brydes, revs up her operation after a respite.

This is the best Ozark season yet. The penultimate episode, “Fire Pink,” is the most powerful one and it contains an homage to the film noir classic The Killers, which starred Burt Lancaster. The 1964 remake, a thriller with John Cassavetes in the Lancaster role, is worth a look too. It was Ronald Reagan’s last dramatic film appearance. 

Ozark is rated TV-MA. It contains graphic violence, torture, obscene language, and nudity.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Lockdown in Illinois goes from smiling faces to a preview of tyranny

Blogger running on a Cook County Forest Preserve trail earlier this month

By John Ruberry

Illinois is now in its eighth day of lockdown as part of Governor JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Life is anything but normal here.

There’s not much good to report.

On the other hand a few days ago I planned to compose a feel-good entry focusing on the the few good things to report on from where I live in Morton Grove, Illinois about coronavirus. But things quickly turned south. And now we just might have a preview of the damage an overreaching government that claims to be looking out for us can inflict.

I’m a runner–and I’ve not let the lockdown cut back on my hobby. (Oh, Peter Da Tech Guy has been begging me to write a running post for a while–here you go!) After all outdoor activity, including running, is allowed according to Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, as long as I practice safe-distancing, which I do. During my runs through the Cook County Forest Preserve trails near my home, I’ve seen more people on the paths, including entire families, since the issue of the shelter-in-place order. When the coronavirus crisis fades away, some of those folks might pick up a new appreciation of nature and become physical fitness enthusiasts as well.

I’ve also seen more people smiling at me and waving during my runts. And I reciprocate.

That was through Wednesday.

In Chicago in the early part of last week, particularly on the lakefront, the parks and paths were packed with runners, walkers, and cyclists. There were picnics and barbecues and basketball games. Which caused Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, to freak out.

“You cannot go on long bike rides,” the Democrat scolded. “Playgrounds are shut down. You must abide by the order. Outside, is for a brief respite, not for 5Ks. I can’t emphasize enough that we abide the rules.”

“If we have to … we will be forced to shut down parks and the entire lakefront,” the mayor said that day.

And so she did. In a condescending press conference the following day, Mayor Tenderfoot announced, while upping her warning that training for marathons was also not allowed on the lakefront during the lockdown, that all Chicago parks along the lakefront, along with the 606 Trail on the North Side, were closed and would be barricaded. Violators of Lightfoot’s order face a citation and a $500 fine.

Okay, I get it. COVID-19 can be deadly. Playing close contact sports such as basketball is stupid. But cooping people up in home will be psychologically demanding. And what will happen if the internet in Chicago slows down to a trickle because of an overwhelming demand in residential areas?

Will spouse abuse instances spike? And child abuse?

And it’s not just a Chicago issue in Illinois. At a large park in Skokie, the town just east of me, a friend of my daughter’s was playing tennis with her boyfriend. Someone living next to the park called the police, they them to told stop playing and leave. The cops also cleared out the rest of park. There were no gatherings there of more than ten people. Just a few people here and there, I was told.

On Friday Lightfoot encouraged people to call the non-emergency 311 line to inform on businesses that are deemed non-essential that remain open. Employees can rat out their bosses. Violators face up to a $10,000 fine.

What we are witnessing in Chicago is a preview of life under a Green New Deal tyranny-of-the-enlightened-few led by know-it-alls like Lightfoot. Because of “climate change,” the city’s lakefront could be closed for weeks during the summer. After all, many people drive to the lakefront parks and the adjoining neighborhoods.

On a national basis industries such as travel could be altered and possibly destroyed. Travel by jet spread the virus. So let’s shrink the airline industry, which produces greenhouse gases. What about the jobless pilots, machinists, and the flight attendants? Force them to attend a green jobs training program doubling as a re-education camp.

If the government goes after jet travel will the automotive industry be next? What about recreational boating? Why not shutter restaurants that serve food deemed as unhealthy? Who hasn’t heard obesity called an epidemic?

Does a family of four really need a huge house? Do you really need to take an out-of-state vacation?

Presumably in a Green New Deal America the running trails near my home will still be open and I can train for a marathon if I choose. But I’ll expect to see fewer smiling faces there.

Yes, I’m taking COVID-19 seriously. I’m washing my hands and drowning them in hand-sanitizer. I’m keeping safe distances.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Jussie Smollett’s protector Kim Foxx faces Cook County voters in two weeks

By John Ruberry

February was a nasty month in Chicago. Not the weather, as it was pretty good. Just a day or two of sub-zero weather and no major snowstorms.

No, I’m talking about crime. Just as there are contested primaries in Cook County for state’s attorney, which consists of Chicago and its inner suburbs, on both the Democratic and Republican sides. There are three challengers to Kim Foxx in the Democratic side, two GOPers are battling for their party not.

Bill Conway seems to be the leading Dem challenge to the incumbent prosecutor.

Foxx, best known for her still not-fully explained decision to drop charges against alleged hate crime hoax charges against Jussie Smollett. A grand jury empowered by a special prosecutor issued new charges against the former Empire star last month, 

Murders of have been decreasing in Chicago since 2016 when there were 762. But last month there were 34 murders–ten more than in February, 2019, a 41 percent increase.

In 2019 there were 123 shootings in February. This February there were 166.

Carjackings are up too. As with murders in Chicago, the clearance rate is abysmally low, year to year, according to Hey Jackass, hovers around ten percent. But that clearance rate is declining. 

There are no figures on gangs of shoplifters in Chicago, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate there are more of these roving mobs. Twice last month the ritzy North Michigan Avenue was hit. Both times no one was arrested. 

Foxx, a leftist, refuses to charge shoplifters with a felony who are caught steeling less than $1,000 in merchandise. The Illinois threshold is $300. Crime seems to pay in Chicago and suburban Cook County as long as you don’t get caught and especially if you don’t get too greedy.

Northeastern Illinois seems to be part of the wave that I called here the Age of the Criminal.

Election Day is March 17 here. Of course I’ll be taking a Republican ballot. 

UPDATE March 19: Cook County voters proved to me just how dumb they are. Foxx easily was won renomination two days ago. The Republican nominee is Pat O’Brien, who has my support.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.