COVID-19 lockdowns must end for the sake of our overall health

Outside a store in Wisconsin earlier this month

By John Ruberry

Who else besides me is fed up wearing a mask when shopping at a supermarket?

Or at work?

Or a restaurant? 

I haven’t eaten inside an Illinois restaurant–or in a tent–since Governor JB Pritzker instituted his first lockdown in March. I’ve picked up take-out meals only.

Who has had enough of lockdowns?

As a person with a strong libertarian bent I don’t like being bossed around, pestered, or nagged. 

But I’ve been coping with all of that for months. 

I know ten people who’ve contracted COVID-19. Only two of them told me they were very ill. Two were asymptomatic. All of them are still with us–in fact, they’ve all returned to their jobs as if nothing happened. 

Last month the Centers for Disease Control released the survival rates for those who have contracted COVID-19.

  • Age 0-19 — 99.997%
  • Age 20-49 — 99.98%
  • Age 50-69 — 99.5%
  • Age 70+ — 94.6%

So if you are over 70, and most people already know that seniors are more prone to death from COVID-19 than everyone else, you have a 94.6 percent of surviving. President Trump is one of those septuagenarians who has recovered. Yes, COVID-19 is serious, because those stats also say those 70 and over have a slightly higher than 5 percent chance of dying from it. 

Here’s another situation where that percentage, 94 percent, comes in to play. Nearly two months ago the CDC said of those deaths from the novel coronavirus, 94 percent had “multiple chronic conditions.” In other words, they were already unhealthy. Every death is tragic. But part of life is getting sick, getting injured, getting old, and yes, passing away. You can fool, perhaps, your neighbors or co-workers about your true age with hair dye and plastic surgery, but never can you hoodwink Father Time. 

Humans are intensely social animals, as are all primates. It’s in our genetic makeup. The most watched television shows and movies are centered on personal interactions. One of the most popular TV programs ever aired is “Friends.” There is not a show entitled “Hermits,” there is no interest in producing such a program because few people would want to watch it. 

The death rate from COVID-19 is very low for the very young. Yet many of our schools are closed except for cold and impersonal Zoom sessions.

Usually our first and most lasting impressions with others of our species is by way of their faces. But the mask requirements in many states, especially blue ones like mine, take those connections away from us.

The lockdowns have led to an increase in drug overdoses and possibly suicides. Among young people, the CDC says, the death rate for young people is higher for overdoses and suicides than for COVID 19.

That wave just might be beginning. For instance, Chicago, which is just south of where I live, just instated another curfew because of an uptick in COVID cases. All businesses deemed non-essential for the next two weeks must close between 10pm and 6am. Bars and restaurants, already reeling from being closed down this spring, will be hit especially hard. Some of these businesses, especially those struck by looting this summer, will never re-open. Which means of course more people will be prone to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. The workforce in the food and beverage industry is disproportionately young.

Mrs. Marathon Pundit was an early victim of the COVID-19 lockout layoffs. She’s fine–she has a new job in a different field. But her former boss was forced to downsize his business, which I believe his home mortgage was tied into. He sold his home this summer and moved into a much smaller residence.

There are millions of former business owners facing similar situations across America. And not all workers, such as Mrs. Marathon Pundit, will be able to land on their feet. 

One “fix” to the drop in revenue for brick-and-mortar restaurants is to set up plastic tents next to them. Diners instead of eating indoors will be eating, sort of, outdoors in these tents, but still breathing each other’s air. Alongside them in cold weather climates, in the winter, will be space heaters, which are a well-known fire hazard. 

Follow the science. 

Take a deep breath before reading this next paragraph.

Based on my current age, overall health, and family history, I’ll probably live another 25-years. I do not want to spend those years wearing a mask. I don’t want to go running outdoors–and this really happened–as I run 50 yards past a couple who, in horror, hurriedly put their masks over their faces as I move, maskless, down the street that I live on as if I am Typhoid Mary. According to federal government data, there have been 624 positive cases of COVID-19 in the town I live in, Morton Grove, which has a population of 23,000.

Who frightened that Morton Grove couple? Not me, well not initially that is.

Will the mask mandates return–if they ever go away–when a more virulent than usual strain of the flu strikes?

Follow the science. 

This is not a distress from me call but instead a call for action. For the sake of our overall health–while maintaining strict safety controls in places such as senior homes and hospitals–these lockdowns must end. But I suspect many politicians–such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago–don’t want the lockdowns to end. They are too in love with power. Lightfoot and Gov. Pritzker told us we needed the lockdowns to “flatten the curve” in the spring so hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Now they want to prevent all of us getting sick, which as we know is not possible.

The goalposts keep moving.

Years ago I read in a book about marathon training that stated that distance running, all things being equal, does indeed lead to a longer life expectancy. But more importantly, those extra years on this planet for runners usually mean they are enjoyable years. Who is going to sign up for an additional ten years of life if those years will consist of living in a nursing home in need of 24-hour care?

The quality of life for myself and millions of others is diminished because we are ordered to wear masks and to avoid each other.

End the lockdowns.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the Unfair Tax Amendment

By John Ruberry

I’ve mentioned this profound sentenced from a 2016 Chicago Tribune editorial several times here before at Da Tech Guy. “As a result, Illinois government,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote, “is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.”

It’s actually worse than than that. Illinois is a racket where elected politicians, many of them legislators in gerrymandered districts created by longtime party boss Michael Madigan, rewards pals with unionized jobs. Those unions are public-sector unions such as AFSCME and SEIU, which plow campaign contributions from dues money into the coffers of Democratic politicians who protect unaffordable pension plans from any cuts. Okay, I know, in accordance with the state constitution pension benefits cannot be lowered. An amendment to that document to allow pension reform is vehemently opposed by Illinois Democrats. 

Instead the Dems are pushing what they call the Fair Tax Amendment which will allow for a state income tax with graduated rates, currently only a flat rate is prohibited. Eight states, including Florida, Nevada, Texas, and Tennessee, which coincidentally are popular destinations for escapees for Illinoisans, have no state income tax. Most Illinoisans, we are promised by the pols hawking the Fair Tax Amendment, will see a tax cut, albeit one that is a pittance. If what I call the Unfair Tax Amendment passes, the “rich” will pay more but mark my words. Springfield politicians are liars and the tax rates will reach down in a few years to the middle class and the working poor. That’s because the rich will leave and those left behind will get stuck with the bill. Oh, the others will leave too. Don’t forget, Illinois has lost population every year since 2014.

The Fair Tax Amendment is on the ballot for Illinois voters to decide in November.

As I’ve also mentioned here before, Michael Madigan, the state House speaker for 35 of the last 37 years, has had his fingers on every state budget, and every failed pension fix, for decades. Those “fixes” for the most part kinda-sorta solved the pension crisis for five years or so. Which means they solved nothing.

If you trust Madigan to fix Illinois’ pensions and finances then you are a fool. The Prairie State’s second-most powerful politician, another Chicago Democrat, Governor J.B. Pritzker, was arguably put into office by the Madigan machine. Illinois’ lieutenant governor, Juliana Stratton, first run for public office, a state House seat, was a victorious one. In a very expensive race Stratton defeated another Democrat who dared to cross Boss Madigan. The Boss of Illinois even convinced Barack Obama to go after Stratton’s opponent.

In a conference call on Thursday Stratton threatened Illinois residents with a twenty-percent across the board income tax hike if the Unfair Tax Amendment fails. In 2017 the General Assembly overrode Republican governor Bruce Rauner’s veto to raise income taxes by 32 percent. Still at the end of 2019, Illinois’ unfunded pension liability went up by $3.8 billion to nearly $140 billion. Well, that tax hike didn’t work. Keep in mind Pritzker’s heavy-handed COVID-19 lockdown, which has severely impaired state revenues, promises to provide more financial shocks. 

And I want to be clear, some Republicans, namely governors James Thompson, Jim Edgar, and George Ryan, deserve some of the blame for Illinois’ predicament. Democrat Rod Blagojevich, the recently freed convict who supports Donald Trump for president, was equally irresponsible in fiscal matters during his time as governor. Edgar supports Joe Biden over Trump. Man, oh man, is Illinois a crazy place.

Illinois cannot tax itself out of this human-made disaster. A Fair Pension Amendment, one that protects modest pensioners and Illinois taxpayers, is the best way out. Followed by a Fair Map Amendment. Madigan’s Picasso-like gerrymandering skills in drawing maps puts his lackeys in office in the General Assembly. For the most part the Illinois legislature functions like a private country club, one that allows a few Republican members inside to make it look genuine. Twice in the 2010s hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters signed petitions to put a Fair Map Amendment on the ballot. Twice an attorney with ties to Madigan successfully sued to block it

How adept at gerrymandering is Madigan? In 2014, GOPer Rauner won 101 of Illinois 102 counties and defeated the incumbent Democratic governor. But Madigan didn’t lose a single seat in the state House that year and he kept his supermajority in the lower chamber. Yes, I’m aware that the GOP gerrymandered districts in 1991. That’s wrong too.

Illinois government is a failure.

And one party does not have all the right answers. Yes, that includes Republicans. Which is why we need two parties.

The Fair Tax Amendment is really a public-sector worker pension plan bailout where millions of Illinoisans, who don’t have a fixed-benefit pension plan, will pay for ones who do.

As I wrote in my own blog last week, “If Illinois politicians are ever given an unlimited budget–they will exceed it.”

The cure for a heroin addict isn’t a larger dose of heroin.

Illinoisans: Vote “No” on the so-called Fair Tax Amendment. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Feds strike at Democratic corruption in Illinois on two fronts

By John Ruberry

As WIND-AM radio host Dan Proft says, “Illinois isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”

And the biggest fixer of all in Illinois is Boss Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997, speaker of the Illinois House, except for two years, since 1983, and Democratic committeman of the 13th Ward since 1969.

As I’ve mentioned many times before in this space, Madigan, among many other things, is a walking advertisement for term limits. I didn’t call him a walking-and-talking advertisement for term limits, because Illinois’ most powerful politician infrequently speaks to the media.

On Friday Boss Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, part of the Exelon Corporation. ComEd, in a deferred prosecution agreement, is charged with one count of bribery. ComEd, according to the filing, admitted that it gained $150 million in rate structuring over the last eight years. Which means that Illinoisans like me have to pay more for electricity.

ComEd has to pay a $200 million fine. If the utility behaves over the next three years the bribery charge will be dropped.

The bribe scheme involves the utility rewarding contracts and jobs–some of them allegedly little-or-no-work—to Madigan cronies. Madigan is not named by the feds but he is widely believed to be the person labeled Public Official A in their paperwork.

Illinois’ weaselly Democratic governor, JB Pritzker, the state’s second-most powerful pol, had this to say later on Friday about the man whose political machine arguably gained him the Democratic nomination in 2018, and hence the governor’s office in the general election, “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore.”

But Pritzker has his own legal problem. The aggressive U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, in an investigation involving the former Cook County assessor, Joseph Berrios, is believed to be looking at Pritzker. Berrios is the former chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine. Berrios has long ties to Madigan and it’s generally believed that Madigan was the impetus for Berrios’ unanimous election as chairman of the Cook County Dems in 2007.

A billionaire, Pritzker and his wife, MK, had the toilets removed from a Chicago Gold Coast mansion that he owns and that is adjacent to the one he lives in. Allegedly the commodes were removed so JB’s residence could receive a $330,000 property tax break because the mansion next door was “uninhabitable.” Also on Friday, news broke about the investigation of the Cook County assessor’s office involving other 100 properties. Many of the tax appeals filed were handled by a small law firm where Boss Madigan is a name partner. A law firm where Chicago alderman Ed Burke is a partner–he is under indictment for racketeering–handled some of the other appeals.

The Pritzkers later paid the county back the $330,000 he saved. JB and MK deny any wrongdoing. However, the Cook County inspector general called the toilet removal appeal a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers such as myself.

Back to Madigan.

The jobs Madigan allegedly pressured ComEd to hand out allegedly include a real plum, a board of directors seat at ComEd. That person, not named by the feds, got the seat but he is no longer on the board. Some students who live in Madigan’s Chicago ward received internships from ComEd. While internships may not involve a paycheck, job offers can follow. Madigan’s office even directed the utility to hire meter readers for ComEd.

According to someone prosecutors named Individual A, “We hire these guys because [Madigan] came to us. It’s just that simple.”

Boss Madigan is widely considered to the man behind the fiscal crisis that has destroyed Illinois. The Prairie State is burdened unsustainable public-worker pension debt. Public-sector unions have been a loyal cog for Democrats in Illinois for decades. Madigan’s fingerprints are on every Illinois budget since the early 1980s. Yet Madigan somehow finds the time to tell which meter readers ComEd should hire.

Illinois has $4.8 billion in unpaid bills, the lowest amount since 2015. But a $1.2 billion federal loan designed for COVID-19 relief deserved the credit. Loans, by the way, are supposed to be paid back.

Illinois has been annually losing population since 2014.

As for alleged Madigan strong-arming, the feds aren’t just looking at Commonwealth Edison. Madigan’s state office was subpoenaed on Friday, allegedly authorities were seeking records involving AT&T (disclosure, I worked for them for 11 years), Walgreens, Rush University–and a whole lot more.

Through a spokesperson Madigan denies any wrongdoing.

While Donald Trump’s chances of winning Illinois this fall are miniscule–part of that reason is the Illinois conservatives are demoralized because of Madigan’s obscene gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts–reelecting Trump may be the best way to ensure a thorough prosecution of Democratic corruption in Illinois. Americans, we’re all in the same boat. A Joe Biden pick for the Chicago area’s chief federal prosecutor might be less enthusiastic about going after Madigan and the Illinois culture of corruption.

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.

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.