Keeping retirement weird. 403(b)s and the teacher pension rip off. And the NEA.


My state teacher pension alone would never be enough to pay for the retirement travel that Anne and I have been looking forward to, and are enjoying at this very moment.

Tomorrow we will celebrate our 4oth wedding anniversary in the small French village of St. Emilion, in the region of Aquataine.

But in addition to the public pension I earned over 30 years of teaching, we have other savings, including the money I pulled out of my paycheck and placed into a defined contribution annuity called a 403(b).

This article in the New York Times is a must read for teachers who invest, or who invested, in one of these annuities. The Times includes among those who rip off teachers with these less regulated retirement investment plans, NEA Member Benefits.

First, a personal story about the role of the NEA.

When I first became president of my NEA local I received several phone calls from sales reps of NEA approved annuity companies selling 403(b) investments. I was asked to set up times in each building that would be good for these sales reps to set up tables and market their plans.

“Not a chance,” I told them. “I teach and I’m way to busy to handle your scheduling.”

“We are approved by NEA Member Benefits and we always go through the local president,” I was told the first time I got one of these calls.

“I’m not a salesman. I don’t work for NEA or NEA Member Benefits. If you want to set up a time to come, call the school secretary,” I said.

I then received a call from NEA Member Benefits telling me to cooperate with these salesman. I simply hung up on them.

That was without even knowing what a pension theft this arrangement was.

And I personally lost retirement money in this deal

Most Americans who save for retirement at work have 401(k) plans, which are generally offered by companies and must by law provide a mix of prudent investment options. But millions of Americans — public school teachers, clergy members, employees of religious institutions or nonprofits, and some charities — are not offered 401(k)’s. Instead they typically must rely on what are known as 403(b) plans, many of which are more lightly regulated.

As a result, the people who do the most good in the world, spending their careers helping others in exchange for modest paychecks, often get the worst retirement plans. In fact, millions of people who save in 403(b) plans may be losing nearly $10 billion each year in excessive investment fees, according to a recent analysis by Aon, a retirement consultant.

“It’s a wealth transfer from those who don’t know any better — Main Street — to those who do: Wall Street,” said Scott Dauenhauer, a financial planner who works with public schoolteachers and as a consultant to school plans. “What makes me the most angry is that public school employees are not protected the same as their private sector counterparts.”

Named for a section of the tax code, many 403(b) accounts are riddled with complicated, expensive investment products that can cost their owners tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, over their careers. The 403(b) accounts that many workers contribute to are not subject to the more stringent federal rules and consumer protections that apply to 401(k) plans. In fact, of the $879 billion in total 403(b) assets, more than half is not subject to federal retirement plan rules, according to  Cerulli Associates, a research firm.

As for the NEA:

The union representative recommended a sales agent affiliated with the retirement program run by the National Education Association, a union with three million members.

But the union’s products weren’t much different from what the teachers already had.

The N.E.A.’s Member Benefits group, a subsidiary, exclusively endorses a set of products from Security Benefit, a financial services company with nearly $32 billion in total assets that creates fixed and variable annuities and offers mutual funds. (The union’s program for teachers receives at least $2.7 million from Security Benefit each year, according to regulatory filings, which it said it paid to operate the program.)

The products include an array of mutual funds, various annuities — and one lower-cost option in which investors can choose inexpensive index funds without a broker’s assistance. But most new money from school employees is invested in the mutual funds sold by brokers, according to Gary Phoebus, chief executive of N.E.A. Member Benefits.

Fees in that program range from 0.35 to 1.25 percent. But that doesn’t include another layer of expenses for the underlying investments, which run from 0.59 to 2.11 percent, according to Security Benefit, and in some cases additional sales or surrender charges

For comparison, total costs at a typical large 401(k) generally fall under 0.5 percent.

Mr. Phoebus defended the program, saying it offered a wide variety of options “to meet the diverse needs and comfort levels of members.” The goal, he explained, was to balance fees while providing access to advice.

However, some employees of the union itself, as opposed to its subsidiary, do receive a better deal. Many are offered a 401(k) retirement plan managed by Vanguard, a mutual fund company known for its low costs.



I did not get $1500 to protest Trump. That would be about €1650.


Anne and I have been saving up for our 40th anniversary trip to Paris and Bordeaux for a while.

It’s not cheap. In Paris they charge you to pee.

So I was unhappy to read that Donald Trump claims protesters at his rallies were getting $1500 from the Democratic National Committee.

$1500 is equal to €1650 right now. It would have come in handy. At Paris prices we could have bought an extra bottle of wine for dinner.

Okay. Things aren’t that expensive.

I was at the first Trump protest in Chicago last Spring. Along with about 10,000 others.

First of all, I didn’t get $1500. I was free. So was Anne.

Second of all, I wouldn’t give to or take $1500 from the Democratic National Committee.

Not at any price.

Most of the rest of the crowd were Bernie supporters and based on what I have been reading in WikiLeaks,  I doubt the DNC was pumping much money into that bunch.


Sunday chowdah.



Red Warrior Camp GoFundMe. #NoDAPL



Emory Douglas: My daughter’s mother worked with me designing for The Black Panther newspaper. There was also Tarika Lewis, who was the first artist that worked with me on the newspaper as an artist. And then there were many other women who contributed to the production of the newspaper. The women depicted in my artwork are a reflection of the party. Women went to jail and were in leadership roles. Women started chapters and branches of the Black Panther Party as well. When we used to read some of the stories, you would see women in the Vietnam and Palestine struggle and in the African liberation movement. Women were an integral part of those movements so all that played into how I expressed them in my own artwork. New York Times.


We spend a lot of time agreeing and asserting that school is a super-important factor that will Make All the Difference and therefor is of Utmost Importance, and if we’re not careful, we kind of forget to check with students to see if they got the memo. It would be easy to see why they might not have– there’s plenty of evidence that their future trajectory has more to do with their family’s class and not educational achievement, and that translates into their vision of the future being defined by what they see around them. Plus, there’s that whole future thing (“This education biz will pay off maybe in ten years or so? Are you freaking kidding me, old person?”)

But mostly they are kids, with lives. We have this weird tendency to forget that children still have lives of their own, even if they are children. Occasionally we take a super-toxic approach to the issue (What is the no excuses approach except a demand that students suppress, ignore and otherwise drop all concern in their own actual lives).

They are small people with lives, concerns, priorities, fears, issues, struggles and questions about how to sort it all out. These are all important to the students in our classrooms. One of the worst things I can do in my classroom is demand that in order to be heard, seen, or cared about, students must drop their own list of life concerns and substitute the list that I thrust in their faces. But some of us (even the best of us on bad days) get really pissy about this business. The child is lazy. The child is obstinate. The child is oppositional defiant. The child is an ass.


There are just more important things. Peter Greene, Curmudgucation




WikiLeaks. All was not going well with the early, no-strings NEA Clinton endorsement. The vote was nearly delayed.


Hillary Clinton and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.

An email from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta to Hillary Clinton described how things were not going smoothly  for the NEA endorsement within the National Education Association leadership. The email was part of the Podesta WikiLeaks dump.

Many among rank-and-file NEA members were critical of the early endorsement and the way it was shoved down the members’ throats.


Here’s the status of things, which you may already have been briefed on. Executive Committee of 7 (3 officers and 4 others)) voted unanimously to endorse. Next step is the PAC Committee, which is weighted by PAC participation and the votes are there to endorse. Final step is a vote of the full 120 member Board where the threshold for endorsement is 58%.

Sanders forces are working furiously to put off an endorsement. We do not have certainty on hitting the 58% threshold despite the intense work of Lilly and John Stocks. You are scheduled to see the full Board on Saturday morning. John’s assessment is that your appearance is critical if they are going to get the endorsement this weekend. There is some risk though that you show up and they remain uncertain of a successful vote so that they put it off for further work by the leadership.

They will not call the vote unless they are certain that they will hit the threshold. Downside is that the Sanders people will spin that notwithstanding the PAC Committee recommendation, the Board delayed action. All here assess that it’s worth the risk and that you should show up and try to get the endorsement now. If the vote is delayed, Lily and John will say this is a multi-layered process and good progress was made by securing the PAC Committee recommendation. I wanted you to have a good sense of the state of play, because they have to let people know that you will be there no later than tomorrow early am. I and the rest of the team think you should confirm participation, but wanted to give you a chance to discuss if you have a different view.

Keeping retirement weird. Paris. Thank you Gino DiVito.


Starting Monday and for the next two weeks my postings will be intermittent.

In about a week, Anne and I will be celebrating 40 years of marriage.

We will be celebrating in Paris and the wine region of Bordeaux.

We are fortunate that our retirement gives us time to travel, although most of our travels are to be with family.

But traveling in Spring and Fall rather than in the summer high season makes it more affordable and we still have to work off of a tight budget. And Anne has here retirement income.

For single retirees, it is much harder.

None of this would have been possible had Michael Madigan, John Cullerton, Pat Quinn and the Democrats in the Illinois legislature gotten away with the theft of public employee pensions.

Through all the years that we fought for our contractual and constitutional right to receive our full retirement pension, I tried not to even give a thought to what what our own lives would be like if we lost. It would have cost us a lot.

More than a trip to Paris for our 40th wedding anniversary.

I tried to stay focused on the bigger issue and the impact pension theft would have on the tens of thousands of current retirees and current public workers.

I wasn’t being altruistic. I think it would have been too stressful if I thought too much about the personal impact of losing.

It was only when the Illinois Supreme Court announced that pension theft was illegal that we sat down to calculate the meaning of the ruling on us.

Sometime next week, Anne and I will be having a glass of wine in a little town in France’s Bordeaux wine country.

It won’t be a bottle of $100 Mouton Rothschild.

But it will be good.

And we will raise a glass to Gino DiVio, the lawyer hired by the Illinois Retired Teachers Association who argued our case before the Supreme Court.

And we will toast all the retirees and organizations that battled for pension rights.

Because I know we’re not done.

WikiLeaks. The Democrats have a Rahm problem.


It didn’t take an insider to know that up until now Hillary Clinton wanted no photographs of her and Rahm Emanuel together.

He was toxic.

He had shut down 50 public schools, the largest public school shut-down in American history. Almost all of them in African American communities.

He had provoked a 2012 teacher strike.

Right in the middle of the presidential campaign it was exposed that he had buried the video tape of the killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year old African American , shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke.

For Democrats who knew that Clinton’s nomination and election depended on African American voters, Rahm was a disaster.

“Separate big time,” emailed Neera Tanden,  who runs the Democratic Party think tank, the Center for American Progress.

The email was sent to Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. His emails were in the recent WikiLeaks dump.

There has been a rehabilitation of Rahm in recent weeks. He has been allowed to show up at some recent campaign rallies.

It’s a big mistake. He will screw up again.

The WikiLeaks dump: Podesta and Clinton were not happy about the anti-Trump rally at UIC in March.

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Thousands protest and chase Donald Trump out of town when he tried to rally at the UIC Pavilion last March. Photo: Fred Klonsky

When we went to protest Donald Trump at his planned rally at the University of Illinois Chicago campus last March it was because we recognized a fascist when we saw one.

Thousands took part in the peaceful protest outside while Trump goons attacked protesters inside.

It seems that Clinton supporters didn’t take Trump all that seriously back in March.

Part of the WikiLeaks John Podesta email dump included this one:


The context for this email is important. Three weeks earlier Clinton had a a major lead over Bernie Sanders in polling for the Illinois primary. But Sanders was closing fast.

Clinton won Illinois with 50.56 percent to Sanders’ 48.61 percent of the overall vote. Of the 102 elected delegate spots in Illinois, Clinton won 52 and Sanders 50, almost a tie.

Podesta and Clinton saw the mass mobilization of anti-Trump protesters in the streets as helping Sanders and hurting the Clinton campaign. They were right about that.

So much so that they begged President Obama to give “a nod” in favor of Hillary.

There was no nod from Obama.

Sanders nearly won Illinois.

Trump was chased out of town leading to similar protests around the country.

But Hillary was far more worried about Sanders than she was about Trump.