Skip to content

David Sirota: Rahm exempts city pension deals from ethics rules.

December 18, 2014


- David Sirota reports on pension theft for the International Business Times and In These Times.

By most measures, Chicago’s municipal pension system is an integral part of the Chicago city government. The system is included in the city’s budget, it is directly funded by the city and its board of trustees includes city officials and mayoral appointees. Yet when it comes to enforcing the city’s anti-corruption laws, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is now arguing that the pension funds are not part of the city government at all.

The counterintuitive declaration came this week from the mayor-appointed ethics commission, responding to Chicago aldermen’s request for an investigation of campaign contributions to Emanuel from the financial industry. The request followed disclosures that executives at firms managing Chicago pension money have made more than $600,000 worth of donations to Emanuel. The contributions flowed to the mayor despite a city ordinance — and an executive order by Emanuel himself — restricting mayoral campaign contributions from city contractors.

Brushing off the lawmakers’ complaint about Emanuel’s donations from the financial industry, the mayor’s ethics commission issued a nonbinding legal opinion this week arguing that Chicago’s pension systems are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city.” The commission said its interpretation means financial firms’ business with Chicago pension funds should be considered exempt from city ethics laws.

With the aldermen’s complaint about campaign contributions generating headlines and potentially complicating Emanuel’s already tough race for re-election, the Emanuel-appointed commission was unusually frank about its motives: It said the release of its opinion was designed “to attempt to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.”

In response, one of the aldermen who filed the complaint said the legal opinion was a “weak attempt at splitting hairs.”

Read the entire article here.

Rahm says SEIU 73’s Boardman can bargain away employee pensions. I don’t think so.

December 18, 2014

Christine Boardman

When city unions filed suit against Rahm’s pension cuts, Rahm said the cuts were good because he bargained them with city unions.

Those unions included Bricklayers District Council, Carpenters Regional Council, IBEW 134, Iron Workers District Council, IUOE 150, IUOE 399, Laborers’ District Council, Pipefitters 597, Plumbers 130, Sprinkle Fitters 281 and Christine Boardman’s SEIU 73.

The unions suing Rahm because he has violated the pension clause of the Illinois Constitution are the Chicago Teachers Union, AFSCME Council 31, IFT-AFT, Teamsters Local 700 and the Illinois Nurses Association.

Boardman’s SEIU 73 is notorious for agreeing to concessions with the Mayor and is a donor to his re-election campaign.

The legal question is whether union leadership can bargain away constitutional pension guarantees.

Since no single union represents all of the members in the pension funds, the answer is no.

This is in some ways similar to what took place between the state-wide coalition of public employee unions, the We Are One Illinois, and Senate President John Cullerton.

We Are One, hoping that they could hold off a more draconian pension theft bill designed by Representative Elaine Nekritz and Speaker Madigan, bargained an alternative Senate Bill 2404.

SB 2404 did steal less of our pensions. But it conceded on the principal of the constitutional promise that public employee pensions can not be diminished or impaired.

Pension members not represented by the We Are One Illinois coalition balked at the deal. The Illinois Retired Teachers Association said that no matter what deals were cut between union leaders and politicians in Springfield, they would go to court to protect the pension protection clause.

The result was that SB2404 died. Senate Bill 1 passed. Judge Belz ruled it unconstitutional. And now we wait for an expedited ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Union leaders like Christine Boardman of SEIU 73 cannot bargain away constitutional rights with the Mayor.

No matter how much money exchanges hands.



December 17, 2014


Havana memories.

December 17, 2014


Jose was furious.

He got the windowless room in the basement that was so small he could touch two walls simply by extending both his arms.

I got the Maria Felix Suite.

The Hotel Nacional overlooked the Malecon, the broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for five miles along the coast of Havana, Cuba.

If you remember the Godfather movie where Michael Corleone goes to Havana, there is a scene in a hotel room with a balcony looking out over the city. The scene was actually filmed in Merida, Mexico. Francis Ford Coppola could not film it in Havana without breaking the U.S. embargo. But it is supposed to be Havana’s Hotel Nacional and it could have been the Maria Felix suite.

I have never stayed in a place as cool as that.

Maria Felix was the most famous Latin American movie star of the fifties. I was staying in the room that  she always stayed in when she visited Havana.

The hotel was owned by the mob in pre-revolutionary days.

Even though the rooms were assigned randomly I don’t think Jose has forgiven me even now. I didn’t even know who Maria Felix was. Jose, of course, did. It was so unfair.

To him.

In 2000 I was in Cuba as part of a U.S. educators’ tour. We were visiting Cuban schools and meeting with teachers.

Let me assure you it was not all meetings and talk.

Cuba has more parties than just the Communist one.

It seemed that all the women were beautiful, all the men were good-looking, all the coffee was delicious, all the rum was strong, the cigars tasted of palm trees and sugar cane and music came out of every window and door.

Ry Cooder had just released the Buena Vista Social Club album, and Chan Chan could be heard in every tourist bar in Old Havana. Each bar claimed to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangout and  every one claimed to be the place where the Daiquiri was invented.

Still, at the time Cuba was going through some hard times.

The Soviet Union has just collapsed and Cuba had been heavily dependent on Soviet and Eastern Bloc markets for their sugar and for loans and assistance.

They called it the Special Period.

A euphemism for very little food or money.

Our group brought pencils, books and paper to the schools we visited and the teachers were very appreciative. The daily practice was for the teachers to collect each pencil at the end of every day.

Many of the reading books were 30 years old.

At the time the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba was 40 years old. It is now 54 years old.

It was stupid then. It is stupid now.

Today’s news that Obama is moving to end it with the establishment of normal relations with Cuba fills me with genuine happiness.

And dreams of going back once more.

Tale of two cities.

December 17, 2014


25 hours of standardized testing. A question for the IEA: What ever happened to New Business Item 1?

December 17, 2014



I can’t write a better op-ed about the PARCC than this one:

Please, please, please post this essential article. It’s PERFECT. IT’S THE TRUTH.  All of this, as you know, is a corrupt, tangled web that in the end will affect ALL of us, active or retired.  As public schools are shuttered because they are “failing” and teachers are forced to work outside of the TRS system, we will all be screwed.

As you know, this past March at the IEA RA New Business Item #1 was adopted.

“The IEA RA directs the IEA Executive Director with assistance form the Government Relations department to advocate for a moratorium on accountability measures related to the PARCC exam. The IEA RA supports the Illinois Learning Standards (Common Core); however, the moratorium would prevent PARCC results for the next several years from being used as accountability measures for students, educators, or schools.”

Between now and the end of the school year, my students will be subjected to at least 25 hours of standardized testing, including the PARCC, which accounts for about 16 hours of the total. This excessive, unnecessary testing is not in the best interest of children, the teachers, the district, or the taxpayers.  This is guaranteed to interfere with real learning opportunities and experiences for students. And as we all know, standardized testing should only be used as a tool to inform instruction; it’s not reliable as a measure of student growth or teacher proficiency.

What is being done to stop the implementation of the PARCC in Illinois?  What is being done to “prevent PARCC results for the next several years from being used as accountability measures for students, educators, or schools”?  What is our school board doing to oppose this testing madness? What do parents do who want to opt their children out of the PARCC?

Teachers, administrators, and school boards are concerned.  Please view the video and read the op-ed at these links:  

- Let me teach

Why didn’t Arne make NEA’s worst of 2014 list?

December 16, 2014


This is the time of year when we get all the best and worst of the year lists.

The other day I received one from my National Education Association.

2014’s best and worst players in education.

The NEA gave an apple to Susan Bowles. She is a Florida kindergarten teacher who made a stink about giving a bunch of high stakes test to her kindergarten students.

Right on Susan Bowles!

The best also included teachers in Ferguson, Missouri.

No argument there. I can imagine being a teacher in a town with tear gas in the air and tanks on the street.

Even the onions – who the NEA called the worst of the year – made sense.

It included the Koch brothers, Campbell Brown, high steaks testing zealots and and my old friends from Democrats for Education Reform.

Just to remind you, DFER director Joe Williams once promised to kick my ass.

I would agree about giving him an onion.

The NEA also included a list of anti-education governors.

Illinois’ Pat Quinn was not on the list even though he was a major teacher pension thief. But the IEA endorsed him for governor anyway. So I’m not entirely surprised that the NEA looked the other way when they made their list of bad governors.

But the big surprise was the name that was missing from the NEA’s worst list.

Because I distinctly remember the vote at the Representative Assembly by the members of the NEA back in July.

We were in Denver.

We voted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan should resign.

You may have heard about it.

It was in all the papers.

So, why didn’t he make the NEA worst of the year?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,186 other followers