Understanding Illinois: A Pox on Both Your Houses

Nowlan•July 29, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest  Columnist

The relative handful who follow Illinois politics closely are captivated by the unresolved mano a mano tussle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan over the failure to enact a state budget.

The policy outcome is not in much doubt: a somewhat trimmed budget and a bump back up in the income or other taxes, to be hammered out sometime before Labor Day.

The open question is whether Rauner will, as part of the deal, achieve any of his “turnaround agenda” of business-friendly changes and votes on term limits and redistricting reform.

A related, more beguiling matter for political junkies is which combatant will come out of this adjudged the winner.

As a friend once observed, politics is “football without muscles,” so we love the political game going on.

At the moment, most of my political friends seem to think (worry?) that Speaker Madigan, the wily veteran, has the upper hand with Rauner, the feisty newcomer. But we are still in the early rounds of this contest, if I may mix metaphors.

To get an assessment of how the fight is playing out, I meandered from my home office in Toulon down the main drag to Connie’s Country Kitchen, the fount of all wisdom. Read More

Growing Up in Sullivan: Our Neighborhood

Ginther•July 29, 2015•

by Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

Many of my age group will remember the two small grocery stores on Blackwood St. One of them was Jake Marble’s grocery located just east of Seymour St. and the other, first known to me as Murphy’s grocery, was located just west of McClellan St. There wasn’t much difference in their size or the items they offered for sale, and today they would probably be categorized as convenience stores. Then, they were just neighborhood groceries owned by local proprietors who either lived next door or on the same property.

From the time I was big enough to keep up with my grandpa, I would walk with him to Jake’s store where my grandparents did the bulk of their grocery shopping. Prior to that, I could go only when he could carry me, and what he anticipated carrying home pretty well dictated that. I was on one arm and the grocery bag was on the other. That was necessary because Grandpa never had a driver’s license nor owned an automobile.

As soon as we walked in we were greeted with something like, “Good morning, Tom. I see you’ve got your sidekick with you today. Has he been a pretty good boy this week, Tom?” Of course the answer was always yes. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Health Care Costs Overwhelming Budgets

Nowlan•July 22, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The overtime budget battles going on right now in Illinois and many other states are largely caused by relentless increases in health care costs that for decades have been growing faster than the tax revenues to pay for them. And it is only going to get worse, as the Baby Boom Generation moves into old age, where they will devour health care.
As a child in about 1950, I recall coming home from grade school with a flyer that encouraged my parents to buy health insurance for me at $1 per month from a new company called Blue Cross. Back then, few had coverage, and the cost to society of health care was modest.
But all that has changed, dramatically. For example, where is the commercial growth in your nearest city? At the hospitals, I will bet, which are also often the largest employers in town. And what occupations do you encourage your children and grandchildren to enter? Again, health care, I’ll wager, as that’s where the jobs are. Read More

Moultrie County Farm Bureau Update

Harvey•July 22, 2015•

By Tyler Harvey
Mo-Do Farm Bureau Manager

As of Sunday, July 19, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) had Illinois corn condition at 55 percent good or excellent. This compares with 45 percent of the corn crop at poor or fair condition. Silking for the corn is at 75 percent which is slightly lower than the five year average of 77 percent. Soybeans are at 56 percent blooming with 16 percent setting pods. This compares with soybean condition of 47 percent in good or excellent condition and 46 percent in poor or fair condition.
In county news, the Moultrie County Farm Bureau annual meeting was held July 16. Phillip Nelson, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, was the guest speaker. Director Nelson spoke on many issues affecting agriculture including new regulations affecting the industry. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Learning How Things Work in Aurora

Nowlan•July 15, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I have long lamented that I don’t know how things work—electricity, telephone, computers, Internet. Guess I was never stimulated into such discoveries by my science teacher, who himself probably didn’t know how things worked.
This past week, however, I visited a path-breaking new public elementary school that is all about learning how things work. I had been told about the place by an impressed educator friend who said, “Nowlan, you gotta see this place.”
The John Dunham STEM Partnership School is located on the campus of Aurora University, in the rustbelt city of same name on the western edge of Chicagoland. For 200 3rd to 8th graders from surrounding, often gritty public schools, the school is devoted full-time to exciting youngsters about science, technology, engineering and math. Read More

Thinking About Health: Prescription Drug Prices Climb into the Stratosphere

TrudyLieberman-Photo•July 15, 2015•

By Trudy Lieberman
Rural Health News Service

There’s no getting around it. Americans are using more medications and spending more for them. The latest evidence just came from Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager, which acts as a middleman between drug makers and employers. The number of Americans—almost 600,000---with yearly medication costs of more than $50,000 rose 63 percent from 2013 to 2014. The group of patients with costs over $100,000 nearly tripled.
By any measure these are huge increases that don’t signal much hope that the U.S. can bring down its medical spending, which is now over 17 percent of the country’s national income. Express Scripts was frank about the long-term impact on employers and others who actually pay most of those bills. It’s an “unsustainable $52 billion a year.” Read More

Other Railroad Stories: A Train Comes to Life

Ginther•July 8, 2015•

by Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

From the second floor of the yard office I could hear the low rumble of diesel locomotives idling in the train yard below. One was the yard engine that a short time earlier had finished putting together a southbound freight. The other was the three unit engine consist of the freight train readying for its departure from Wisconsin Street Yard in Indianapolis. This was my first regular job for the Illinois Central Railroad. One of the telegraph operators had recently retired leaving an opening on the afternoon, 4 p.m. to midnight shift.
The blackness of night had settled over the yard two hours earlier. Now, all that was visible on the train were the lights along the sides of the coupled units as they sat motionless in the dark. The yard engine crew had come into the yard office to acquire updated switch lists from the yard clerk. After completion of the assembly of the outbound freight, the yard tracks would now be void of those cars. These changes made it necessary for the switch crew to get updates on what cars remained, their destinations, and on which tracks they were located. They surveyed the new lists as they waited for the outbound freight to clear the yard track it was occupying.
The outbound train crew had been in my office, picked up the train orders, clearances and messages of instructions, which I had stapled together in two sets for the crew members on both ends of the train. Each one had checked his watch with the standard clock on the wall and compared the time with each other. Finally, they checked the register to be sure that all superior trains due Wisconsin Street Yard had arrived or left. Read More

Understanding Illinois: The Fiscal Mess in Chicago

Nowlan•July 8, 2015•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest

We are in the lull before the storm in Springfield, as politicos watch intently—and rather helplessly—as the longstanding alpha male (Speaker Mike Madigan) is challenged for dominance of the pride by newcomer Gov. Bruce Rauner.
When the tussle is over, be assured that state taxes will have gone back up toward recent levels. The big question is whether the governor will achieve much or any of his business-friendly “turnaround agenda.”
Meanwhile, Chicago’s major local governments are struggling with fiscal messes that may be even worse than those in Springfield.
The problems facing Chicago, its public schools and the surrounding county of Cook mirror those of the state of Illinois—inexcusable myopia by careerist elected officials in putting off today’s budget problems until tomorrow, which has arrived. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Where Have All the Lions Gone?

NowlanJuly 1, 2015

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

My home office is in what decades ago was the dressing room for the Toulon Independent Order of Odd Fellows, adjacent to the old IOOF lodge hall (members wore gowns and regalia to lodge).
With a lineage that goes back to the guilds in 16th Century England, the Odd Fellows (which did not mean “odd” as we think of it), now mostly defunct, comprised a fraternal organization such as the Masons, and later in the U.S., more of a service club.
I am active in my local Lions Club, [another club] that does good works for our community.
But our numbers have dwindled precipitously. From a hundred members when chartered in 1948, we now gather but a handful for our monthly meetings, mostly old duffers like me.
Where have all the Lions gone, and does it really matter?
As early as the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that America was a nation of joiners, “forever forming associations.” Read More

June Rains Aid in Growth of Produce and Weeds

KimForColumnJuly 1, 2015

by Kim Riedel
N•P Columnist

This past month has kept me very busy with all the rain that we have had. Not only are the weeds racing to outgrow my garden plants by three times, the rain has also been trying to take over my basement and shop. The rain has been a full time job trying to stay on top of let alone everything else going on in my life. Although the rain has put me behind in some of the outdoor jobs that need to be done and loaded me up with a lot of unnecessary work that I really didn’t need, it has been great for the garden (a little over- doing it at times) and the plants have really grown.
In particular, June was wonderful with all the black raspberries. It made my day to go down along the outside of my fence and pick a tray full of berries. What a way to start the day. Lots of them went into our freezer to enjoy later in the year, though just as many were eaten fresh, in smoothies, and with ice cream! It has been a bit slower with the gold and purple raspberries, and the red ones were so fragile they crumbled as they were carefully coaxed off their stem...but they were all so good that many of them were eaten before even leaving the garden. Read More