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Greg Hinz. Both Quinn and Rauner bob and weave on pension fix.

September 1, 2014


Reader Rick Klimes points me to Crain’s Greg Hinz. Hinz says neither Quinn or Rauner are willing to say what Plan B is when the Illinois Supreme Court rules, as expected, that SB1 is a constitutional offense.

The problem for many state employees is that Quinn has a record.

Rauner’s is that he advocates for a ponzi scheme to replace a defined benefit.

Both incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn and GOP challenger Bruce Rauner barely mentioned the issue in appearances during a recent Metropolitan Planning Council luncheon, one of the few joint events and debates the two are likely to make before Election Day. Anyone who was tucking into dessert at the time probably missed most of it.

Each man has reason to avoid the subject because neither has a complete solution. But the problem is so huge—$100 billion and counting, looking only at unfunded liability in the state’s five retirement systems—that it can’t be avoided.
To put it bluntly, pension reform is not only the elephant in the room but the beast that tramples the walls and maybe the candidates, too. Voters deserve some clear answers about what each would do.

Mr. Quinn, of course, backed legislation to revamp the state’s retirement system in a way that, he says, would guarantee reduced but still healthy benefits while providing full funding over the next 30 years. He also signed into law a measure pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would revamp two of the city’s four unfunded pension plans. And he supported an earlier bill that reduced benefits and hiked contributions for anyone who joined the state payroll after Jan. 1, 2011.

All those positions—at a minimum—undercut Mr. Quinn’s standing with organized labor, a key constituency for him. He deserves credit for taking a risk and putting his heart in the right place, if on occasion somewhat inelegantly.

But Mr. Quinn’s problem is that the Illinois Supreme Court, in a case dealing with retiree health insurance, recently signaled that it might well toss out all but the 2011 law as unconstitutional. Asked at the Aug. 28 luncheon what he’d do if that occurred, Mr. Quinn replied that he’d roll up his sleeves and get busy. Not entirely reassuring, is it?

Mr. Rauner’s pension problem is bigger.

Both candidates have reason to avoid the subject.

He actively worked against the 2013 state pension overhaul, saying it was inadequate. Instead, he wants to shift all workers to a 401(k)-style, defined-contribution system. But even if you think that switch is fair and proper—under a traditional pension, the employer bears the risk; under a 401(k)-style plan, the retiree is at risk if money runs short—it still leaves the question of how to erase the $100 billion shortfall for already accrued worker benefits.

TMD. Quinn will live on the minimum wage for a week.

September 1, 2014


Labor Day.

September 1, 2014

MLK labor day

Life in Rahm’s Chicago. The death of a nameless homeless man in Logan Square.

September 1, 2014


The Kennedy overpass at Belmont and Kedzie.


A man who police say was homeless was beaten to death in Logan Square Saturday evening.

Around 10:50 p.m., the man, 59, was in an alley in the 1900 block of North Ridgeway Avenue when two people got out of their car and beat him with their hands and feet, according to Officer Janel Sedevic, a police spokeswoman.

The 59-year-old was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital where he was later pronounced dead, Sedevic said.

While the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the fatality, they were unable to provide any additional information.

No one is in custody.

In May, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) began constructing concrete anti-homeless spikes under the Kennedy expressway at Belmont in Logan Square.

The overpass had provided shelter for dozens of homeless men.

The city built the spikes so high that it blocked the view of drivers who were trying to make a turn. The construction also hid pedestrians from view, making it unsafe to walk under the expressway.

So they tore it down.

The entire project cost $42,000.

The idea for the anti-homeless spikes has become an orphan.

Avondale resident Justin Newman, who is seeking information about the planning, construction and cost of the barriers, said two Freedom of Information Act requests — one to CDOT and another to IDOT — on the project were returned to him last week. Newman had requested construction records and engineering reports for the area from July 2012 to the present, but both were effectively declined.

Newman is a technologist and information activist who frequents community meetings in the neighborhood.

“Please be advised the Department of Transportation neither maintains nor possesses any records that are responsive to your FOIA request,” reads a CDOT response to his FOIA.

Likewise, IDOT officials denied “possession” of the records, stating that “the Bureau of Construction found no records of any construction project at the site in question and, therefore, has no information of any meetings.”

But IDOT construction records for the intersection obtained by (35th Ward Alderman Rey) Colon show that preliminary plans for the pitched underpass barriers were sent to state Sen. Iris Y. Martinez (D-Chicago) distributed after a meeting Colon said took place in October 2013. Colon said the plans didn’t reach his office until after construction began.

“The information related to the construction at Belmont and Kedzie has been fairly sketchy — it’s been unclear who designed the improvements and with what input,” Newman added. “As such, I’m very curious to obtain the background information used by the state and the city to make these decision.”

TMD. Vallas.

August 31, 2014


William Greider. Happy Labor Day, Mom.

August 31, 2014

- William Greider’s column appears in The Nation.

I know this sounds absurd—it is absurd—but for some odd reason Labor Day reminds me of my mother. She was a school teacher, and I think she would have a good laugh to learn that so-called “education reformers” are accusing school teachers of being too powerful and protected. My father, who was himself a long-time member of our local school board, would probably snort at the ignorance of highly educated experts.

Together, they could set the record straight on education from the facts of their own lives. They fell in love when they were young and optimistic and talented. This was the 1920s when women had just won the right to vote, and both were newly graduated from four-year colleges—the very first in my mother’s family. My father completed graduate work in chemistry and was hired as a researcher by a Philadelphia manufacturer where he later invented useful products.

They faced one obstacle in their promising lives. My mother had to sign a teaching contract with a local school district in western Pennsylvania that would prohibit her from getting married. This crude violation of a young woman’s civil rights was commonly enforced around the country. Years later, I learned that my wife’s mother had to do the same thing to get a teaching job in Iowa. Recently, I reread the steamy love letters my parents wrote to one another during that school year of frustrated desire. I blushed for them.

At the Thanksgiving break, they abandoned abstinence and broke the school contract. But secretly. On the long holiday, they eloped to West Virginia and got married there. They told no one. My parents, I should add, were no-nonsense conservative Republicans, not given to reckless adventure or inflammatory political statements. I did think of my mother as an assertive proto-feminist. In retirement, both became Democrats because they thought Goldwater was a dangerous crackpot. In 1972, my dad declared early for George McGovern, while Mom held out for Shirley Chisholm.

Keeping the secret of their marriage may have been done to protect her eligibility for many more years as a teacher. It worked. Toward the end of her long life (she died three days short of 100) my mother got a letter each year from Ohio governors, congratulating her on being the oldest living recipient in Ohio’s teacher retirement system.

I tell this intimate story to make a point that the latter-day reformers do not seem to grasp. They have left out the human dimensions of a harsh labor market where women were regularly punished for not being men. School teachers from the beginnings of America’s public schools have been vulnerable to blatant exploitation—lower wages and harsher terms—and they have been exploited. The jobs could be filled by an abundance of educated single young women in need of incomes. Married women might have babies in the middle of the school year—an inconvenience to school administrators—so married women were banned. Similar gender biases affected nursing and other caring occupations, and to some degree still do.

The fundamental power shift for school teachers did not occur until the 1960s, when frustrated teachers rebelled against traditional school systems run top-down by superintendents and principals. As a young reporter in Louisville, Kentucky, I witnessed one of the early skirmishes in 1962.

One day I got a phone call from an organizer for the American Federation of Teachers who blithely announced that AFT intended to shut down the Louisville schools the following week with a citywide strike. I thought he was joking. AFT was based in East Coast big cities and had no more than fifty members among Louisville’s 2,000 teachers. The National Education Association (NEA) dominated most states those days, and it was run by and for the administrators, not rank-and-file teachers.

The AFT’s strike in Louisville was like a thunderclap—teachers did walk off and virtually shut down the system. Teachers were fed up. They were demanding a stronger voice and power in school affairs and school politics. In rural states like Kentucky, the poorest counties were frequently dominated by matriarchal political machines—women superintendents who controlled more jobs in their county than the men in county offices. The NEA got the message and swiftly adjusted. It became a full-fledged labor union like AFT. Instead of fronting for old-style political bosses, both organizations now try to speak for the interests of teachers and to defend them against political intrusions and other abuses.

These are the relevant facts that self-appointed billionaire reformers skip past. By demonizing the teachers unions and denouncing the tenure laws that protect teachers from arbitrary political reprisals, the do-good foundations have unwittingly cast themselves as a malevolent Daddy Warbucks ready to bury their opposition with tons of money.The Gates Foundation and some others do seem to be belatedly backing away from obvious mistakes, but the reform engine still threatens to undermine the common public school in favor of a deeply fractured system of sectarian and secular private sponsors claiming public money.

Impatient hedge-fund billionaires do not attempt to conceal their contempt for the rest of us. They are used to making money—fast—with no excuses for dawdlers. Witness what they have done to large segments of the overall economy. Education does not thrive in those conditions, because there is no standard of perfection in any schoolhouse that can survive brutal suppression of uniformity imposed by clumsy testing. A successful school not only makes room for dissent. It constantly nourishes it.

Of course, I am biased. But I think that was my mother’s teaching style. She taught first grade in an “inner city” neighborhood of Cincinnati where the students were not not poor black kids but white kids from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. They shared many of the same handicaps. Mom developed her own theories on how to teach reading to such children. It inovlved hand-eye coordination and other elements I could not follow. I have no proof that she succeeded, but I have a hunch she drove the principal nuts.

One minute video. Karen Lewis. Union Maid. Happy Labor Day!

August 31, 2014

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