WTTW’s Paris Schutz and the myth of averages.

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 9.19.20 AM
Paris Schutz. WTTW’s pension beat reporter.

Chicago Tonight’s Paris Schutz is at it again.

Last month I wrote about the lazy reporting Schutz does on his pension stories. Schutz will more often than not simply repeat Illinois Policy Institute talking points. IPI is a pro-corporate think tank which frequently is called upon to be the experts on pensions by public television’s WTTW.

Schutz breathlessly reports on the high pensions that Chicago “teachers” receive.

The average Chicago teacher pension is about $49,000 a year, but there are more than 1,100 teachers who take home six-figure pensions.  

Schutz is no math expert. It doesn’t take much math expertise to know that if 1,100 pension system members are receiving six figure pensions and the average is $49,000 a year, there are a hell of a lot of teachers whose pensions are less than the average.

This is the myth of averages.

Schutz reports:

The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund excludes most CPS administrators, who receive their pensions through the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund instead.

But there on the list of the highest pensions is that of Manfred Byrd, former CPS superintendent.

Plus:

Barbara Eason Watkins, who served as chief education officer behind Arne Duncan and Ron Huberman until 2009.

Schutz suggests that CPS teachers are getting off easy on their pension payments.

Also, since 1980, Chicago teachers contribute relatively little to their pension: only 2 percent per year.

A good reporter would have pointed out that the reduced pension payment by CTPF members was originally bargained between the CTU and the CPS board in lieu of a salary increase back at a time when they were in bigger financial trouble than they are now. That deal was the CTU offering CPS a life-line.

A unilateral attempt by the CPS board to end the pension pick-up in 2016 was challenged by the CTU as an unfair labor practice. The CPS board then withdrew their attempt to end the pension pick-up.

What is behind Chicago Tonight and their reporter Paris Schutz to focus on pension payment outliers?

To his credit, Schutz relies on the Center of Tax and Budget Accountability’s Ralph Martire to explain the source of the problem.

From 1995 to 2005 CPS did not pay a dime of what they owed to the pension system. It went from being fully funded to 50% funded in 20 years.

That is why taxpayers are on the hook now. Pension payments were diverted by this and previous City administrations to pay their bills. Pension payments were kicked down the road.

Yet Schutz then counters Martire’s historical explanation with the corporate Civic Federation’s Larry Msall who says that what drives the problem is yearly pension increases.

I suppose this is WTTW’s idea of fair and balanced.

Hearing aids print money and executives steal it.

best-dsc8241_1200xx3840-2160-0-65
Starkey ex-president Jerry Ruzicka, charged with embezzlement.

I turn 70 this year and my hearing – as I have posted about before – is terrible.

Whether it is function of old age or too much loud Rock and Roll in my youth, it is what it is.

I have lots of friends my age who are just like me.

I wear hearing aids.

They make things a little better, but I still use closed captioning while watching TV.  In a movie theater I miss about a third of the dialogue, unless it’s a foreign film with subtitles.

Because they require a prescription, they are expensive. Mine cost me $5,000 three years ago. They were my second pair. Lose one and most companies will only replace the one once. They are easy to lose.

The cost to produce them is minor compared to what they charge. Congress has called for opening the market to non-prescription over-the-counter hearing aids, but that will not happen for years.

And of course, they are NOT covered by Medicare.

Although your phone can start your car and lets you talk face to face with your children and grandchildren in Brooklyn while you are in Chicago, the hearing aid technology seems not to have improved in years.

Why should it? Even with a growing baby boomer population with hearing loss, it is a small group of producers protected by pro-business regulations. There is no reason I can’t buy hearing aids at CVS and Walgreen’s like you buy reading glasses.

As a result, the industry prints money.

Enough to steal.

Two former executives from America’s largest hearing aid manufacturer, Starkey Hearing Technologies, are set to go on trial this week in Minneapolis on charges of fraud and embezzlement.

Starkey’s longtime former president Jerry Ruzicka, chief financial officer Scott Nelson and vice president of human resources Larry Miller were all fired in September 2015 by Starkey’s billionaire founder and CEO Bill Austin. Ruzicka and Miller filed wrongful termination lawsuits within months of being fired. Those suits were put on hold after the U.S. attorney’s office of Minnesota, where the company is headquartered, indicted the pair along with Nelson and two other former business associates on Sept. 21, 2016. Federal prosecutors allege that, among other charges, Ruzicka “orchestrated a scheme” to steal more than $20 million from Starkey between 2006 and 2015.

In related note, Amber Smock from Chicago’s Access Living will be our guest on Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers on Friday. 11am. 105.5fm CST. Streaming live at Lumpenradio.com and later on our podcast.

 

On this Martin Luther King Day my now-retired teaching pal reflects on the vulgar and profane.

mark Stefanik

-By Mark Stefanik. Mark is a retired middle school teacher who contributes his talents to this blog.

On MLK day 2017, I wrote about dreams.

On MLK day 2018, I write about profanity. What a world, what a world…

On a national holiday that commemorates struggle and love and dreaming, we are debating vulgarity and obscenity and profanity. I confess to having practiced all 6, but space and timeliness will limit me to the latter 3.

Raised in an Irish Catholic household on the South Side, my early language usage was governed by the Lace Curtain proprieties of my Mother. Threats of having my mouth washed out with a bar of palmolive dissuaded me from vulgarities and obscenities, and fear of eternal damnation kept me from the profanity of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

I stayed pure of tongue until high school; soap and fire had lost their power. Even so, I did not ‘cuss’ in all environments. The church, the classroom, and the dinner table remained free of vulgarity and obscenity.

By mid-high school, however, profanity had become an essential part of my character. I challenged the religion in which I had been raised quoting Marx: “religion is the opiate of the masses” and adding my own take: organized religions seek to franchise morality. In saying these things, I profaned; I was irreverent, and at times disrespectful, to ideas that those about me held sacred.

As an English Lit. major in college, my world of profanities and obscenities expanded. Classroom lectures on D.H. Lawrence could be filled with both. Obscenity laws which censored the likes of Lawrence and Joyce in the 1920s were fuel for laughter and scorn and new profanities in the Knox College classes of the 1970s. These were erudite discussions where rarely was heard a vulgar word.

It would take my 10 year career in the Chicago trading pits for me to master vulgarity. The fear, the predatory nature of the exchanges – which a friend and former Chicago Bear summed up as ‘every day is game day.’ – and the split second speed with which fortunes could be made or lost shredded any sense of language etiquette. Forget filtered speech: the convection of emotions, impulses, and timing gave rise to the crudest of communications. It didn’t matter that many of the traders didn’t have college degrees. Under the circumstances, dermatologists, Harvard grads, lawyers, and teachers all spoke the language of the pits.

My favorite example of pitspeak involved two traders in a heated argument over a trade. They just couldn’t agree, and when one dismissed the other, the second fellow’s parting shot was “Fuck you, you fucking fuck.”

As an English major, I had to comment. “That’s brilliant, boys. You’ve just managed to use a monosyllabic Saxon vulgarity as a verb, a noun, and an adjective, all in the space of a 5 word imperative sentence.”

To this day, my speech is laced with some of those vulgarities, although I have made an effort to use ‘feck’ and ‘shite’ to soften the Ango-Saxon words they reference. In my mind, that raises them from the merely vulgar to the modestly obscene.

To traffic in these words is, for the most part, a deliberate choice. In 25 years in the Middle School classroom, I never ‘dropped the F-Bomb.’ Given that, on any day an event could, and often did, occur that would invite the exclamatory release of slamming one’s finger in a door jam, is all the evidence necessary to confirm this discipline.

The same is true for my 18 years as a teacher union contract negotiator. Behind closed doors, I might have been more than a wee bit obscene and profane, but at the table such language wouldn’t be effective so I refrained.

There is a joyfulness to swearing among middle-schoolers whose proclivity to irreverence lures them into profanity. I never practiced nor tolerated obscenities in my classroom, but while on playground duty I’d often hear them. Sometimes, kids would say to me, “Did you hear that, Mr. Stefanik?”

“Yes.”

“Well, aren’t you going to give them a detention?”

“No. It’s the playground.”

“If we can swear out here, why can’t we swear in the classroom?”

“First of all, would you swear at Grandma’s house during Thanksgiving Dinner?”

“No. That’s different.”

“You are very right, and you have learned that there’s some places where such language doesn’t fit. But there’s another reason. I want you to have the power of language. I want you to know the difference between anger, and rage, and disappointment. I want you to have the words so that you have the power over them. Vulgarity robs you of these understandings at your age. Grow a great vocabulary and have great power. Limit yourselves by cussing and you limit your ability to reflect, judge, and persuade.”

That was my playground speech for 7th graders which leads to my thoughts about our President, our other leaders, and the grossly incongruous situation we find ourselves in on MLK Day 2018.

Defenders of the President’s latest words, frame ‘shit hole countries’ as, at worst, an obscene vulgar term – crude, unfortunate, but nothing more. And, if that were the case, this pit- trading English Lit. major would probably agree.

But it’s not the case. His words are profane. They disrespect the great shared conventions of democracy that the world expects from us and that the Constitution demands.

His words profane the spirit of our country. His words erode our freedoms.

A very warm and thoughtful MLK Day to all.

When the board wanted our school district to get a waiver honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King.

chi-washington843-19840207
Collins High School student Samantha Whitside presents a T-shirt to Mayor Harold Washington, who appeared at the school for a Black History Month address in 1984. The shirt said “Living the Dream” and showed Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Ovie Carter / Tribune historical photo)

There is a good article in today’s Chicago Tribune about the role Mayor Harold Washington played in making Martin Luther King’s birthday an official holiday in Illinois.

The article once again shows what a man of principle Harold was and – as I always say on our radio show – that it is possible to have a social justice mayor in Chicago.

There has always been this debate about school holidays. Some well intentioned people continue to argue that it is better for our children to be in school learning the history of the fight for Civil Rights, racial justice and and our country’s history of racial injustice.

Others with less well intentioned agendas have other reasons for opposing celebrating Dr. King with a school holiday.

That agenda has been on daily display recently with our current President.

Who is a racist.

I often have to explain that teachers work a specific number of contractual days. In our case it was 185 days. We are paid essentially on a per diem basis. If the state legislature or federal government enacts a school holiday, then a day is added to the school calendar. No days are lost. No teacher is paid for a day not worked.

One year, our suburban school board decided they wanted a waiver from the state board of education and not close school for Dr. King’s birthday.

In order to get such a waiver, the teacher’s union local had to agree.

As a leader of the local I was absolutely opposed.  A holiday recognizing Dr. King and the Movement he represented and led had been won through hard struggle, as the Tribune article about Harold Washington shows.

And, besides,  our children should be learning about social and racial justice every day.

But not only did I refuse to go along with the waiver request, I sent out word to all our teacher union members. They responded with a flood of emails to members of the board, many with heartfelt stories about the importance of Dr. King to their work as teachers.

Not because they wanted a day off.

As I explained, we work a contractual school year, no matter the holidays.

Our members, like me,  wanted to honor Dr. King and the Movement.

As they did so often, our union members made me proud to be a teacher and a teacher union member.

The board withdrew its request for a waiver.