Crain's Chicago Business reports today that the pension liabilities of several prominent employers have exploded just as their assets have imploded:
Boeing Co.'s shareholder equity is now $1.2 billion in the hole thanks to an $8.4-billion gap between its pension assets and the projected cost of its obligations for 2008. At the end of 2007, Boeing had a $4.7-billion pension surplus. If its investments don't turn around, the Chicago-based aerospace giant will have to quadruple annual contributions to its plan to about $2 billion by 2011.
... At Peoria-based Caterpillar, shareholder equity dropped more than 25% from the previous year after the company booked a $5.8-billion pension shortfall and its plan went from 93% funded to 61% funded.
That means Cat has to pay an additional 1.5 percentage points of interest to keep its untapped credit lines intact, according to SEC filings. Its pension assets sank 30% last year, and this year's contribution will more than double to about $1 billion. A Cat spokesman declines to comment.
In many cases these pension deficits will hurt exactly the people who need them most.
The temperature at O'Hare just hit freezing for the first time in five days. This has been the coldest winter in 23 years, and the snowiest in 30. Enough already.
A report released today says the century-old Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal is crumbling, which could be bad news for Joliet:
"We have 39 feet of water that we are holding off Joliet," [Lockmaster Dave] Nolen said, pointing downstream to downtown Joliet as he stood Thursday on a deck overlooking the watertight gates at one end of the lock. "People in Joliet probably wouldn't be able to sleep at night if they knew how devastating the flooding would be because of a breach," he said, raising his voice to be heard above the roar of 25 million gallons of swirling water being released downstream after a barge traveling up-river passed through the lock.
... "Modernizing the nation's waterways provides an incredible return on the dollar," said Jim Farrell, executive director of the chamber's infrastructure council. "It's a relatively minor cost compared to fixing O'Hare [International Airport] or modernizing the rapid transit system in Chicago." A single barge has the cargo capacity equivalent to 15 jumbo hopper freight cars or 58 large semitrailer trucks, according to transportation experts.
Of course, the Godforsaken Old Party would call fixing the locks an "earmark," so it's unclear where the money will come from.
I mentioned yesterday that my grade-school friend's restaurant got a great review in the Trib. His wife (also an old friend of mine) emailed this morning that the local ABC affilliate also mentioned it favorably.
Rich is having a special event April 14th: he's re-creating the Titanic's last meal, so to speak. Details to follow—but I've already made my reservation.
One of my oldest friends—I mean, 5th-grade-old—opened a restaurant this past fall: Mint Julep Bistro, 53 W. Slade St., Palatine, +1 (847) 934-3000. The Chicago Tribune has now reviewed it:
Without reservations on a recent Saturday, we waited in the intimate lounge where, to management's credit, nobody pushed apps or booze on us. But we wanted both, and it fortunately didn't take long to fill our order. There's plenty of bourbon and a lovely wine list by the glass/bottle. We bypassed the bourbon (we’ll be back for that) and ordered a glass of French viognier ($6.25) and a winter white ale ($4.25) to accompany an order of three scrumptious, sizable crab cakes ($10.50). Fall-apart tender and made with the prime meat from the claw, the cakes were further enhanced with the well-balanced remoulade sauce.
But don't fill up too much. The menu is big, with one tempting entree after another starring seafood, beef, poultry and a vegetarian platter. (We heard a grateful remark from a nearby diner, who hadn't expected that.) I opted for seafood, and the menu’s plainly titled Shrimp 'n Grits ($16) belied a far more evocative entree: Six firecracker shrimp elegantly plated with a trio of perfectly fried, crunchy-tender grit cakes in a velvety bourbon cream sauce. Rich and almost over the top. My companion’s butcher’s cut steak ($22), a grilled-to-order cut from meat above the filet, arrived with melt-in-your-mouth acorn squash and potato-andouille hash that offered a fresh departure from plain mashed spuds.
Both chefs made appearances throughout their restaurant, stopping at tables and chatting with the clientele. Nice touch.
It's a long haul from the city, but some of us have plans to go back up there again soon. Rich, the aforementioned friend, has a smoker, and the pulled pork is worth the trip.
California, apparently, has passed its budget, prompting The Economist's observation, "It turns out that the only way to negotiate a budget for the world’s eighth biggest economy is to issue politicians with toothbrushes and lock them in a building."
Illinois, meanwhile, is trying to pass a Senator.
(For both passings, imagine kidney stones.)
Ah, Roland, we hardly knew ye:
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris said today he is open to a Senate ethics investigation into how he got the Senate seat from ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that he has reached out to a Sangamon County prosecutor who is reviewing Burris' sworn testimony before Illinois lawmakers.
No one in the U.S. can be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, but if someone really, really wants to—say, by babbling to a room full of reporters— he is certainly allowed.
Yes, it's good to be home.
You know, after three days on a tropical island and a night in South Miami Beach, I worried I'd have some trouble getting back into the swing of things in Chicago. Nope. I'm definitely back in Illinois:
U.S. Sen. Roland Burris has acknowledged he sought to raise campaign funds for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the request of the governor’s brother at the same time he was making a pitch to be appointed to the Senate seat previously held by President Barack Obama.
Burris' latest comments in Peoria Monday night were the first time he has publicly said he was actively trying to raise money for Blagojevich. Previously Burris has left the impression that he always balked at the issue of raising money for the governor because of his interest in the Senate appointment.
In comments to reporters after appearing at a Democratic dinner, the senator several times contradicted his latest under-oath affidavit that he quietly filed with the Illinois House impeachment panel earlier this month. That affidavit was itself an attempt to clean up his live, sworn testimony to the panel Jan. 8, when he omitted his contacts with several Blagojevich insiders.
Fortunately for Burris, he's already surpassed our record for shortest U.S. Senate term set waaay back in 1830 by David Baker (served 29 days, 12 November-11 December 1830). But he is carrying on the honorable tradition of asking, "Where's mine?" and then lying about it.
I'm taking bets on how fast the indictment comes.
And as I was writing this, in what has to be a total conicidence, former Chicago alderman Ardena Troutman was just sentenced to 4 years for mail fraud.
Who says it's hard to get good people into public office?
I was traveling yesterday, which prevented me from commenting on Lincoln's 200th Birthday, Darwin's 200th birthday, and the NAACP centennial. All three events deserved recognition, but fortunately, the other seven million bloggers in the U.S. covered them just fine.
As for the travel, I have only once in my life gone someplace just because it was warmer than Chicago; today, briefly, I'm back in the same place. Tonight I press on to the Mecca (or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, depending on which monotheistic faith you follow) of aviation; photos and description to follow, I hope next week. Also, I'll be accepting donations of spare livers on Tuesday as I expect mine will need replacing by then. That is, if I ever drink again, which this afternoon seems unlikely.
Right now, though, it's 1°C in Chicago and 27°C here, so I'm going back outside now.
Yesterday's temperature at O'Hare did tie the previous O'Hare records of 16.1°C. Midway also broke a record, topping off at he same temperature. And the official low temperature also tied the warmest for the date, 6.1°C, set in 1886.
That said, while Midway was (1930s to 1958) and O'Hare now is (since 1958) the official weather station for Chicago, neither matched the 17.1°C record set in 1876—at a weather station that doesn't even exist any more.
Whatever. Yesterday's weather was just fine anyway.
We now return to our regularly-scheduled winter.