Last night on WGN. Talking peace and justice.


Justin Kaufmann, host of The Download on WGN and the Brothers Klonsky.

It was more than a little strange walking into the Tribune Tower on north Michigan Avenue last night. The gothic lobby is imposing, as it was meant to be. Engraved quotes from the captains of capitalism surround you like bible verse.

My friend and fellow teacher, Mark Stefanik texted me as the show began, “McCormick is spinning in his grave at the sound of your ideas on his radio station,” referring to the Trib’s founder Colonel McCormick.

It was imposing until Justin Kaufmann, host of the nightly The Download (7-11, 720 AM and streaming over the internet) came bounding into the green room to greet my brother Mike and me.

My brother and I had been invited by Kaufmann to be on his show to talk about Martin Luther King and our history of political engagement.

I remember WGN from the days of Wally Phillips and Roy Leonard, when it was rare to find a listener of the station under the age of 60.

Kaufmann is no Wally Phillips. Wally Phillips would never have had me or Mike on his show. Maybe Milt Rosenberg, the old University of Chicago traditionalist who did a nightly show back in the day. But not Wally.

So, thanks to Kaufmann. He is relaxed, engaging and smart. So is his show. I am now a fan. Kaufmann has worked in the radio business for a couple of decades so he makes doing four hours of conversation every night look easy. It’s not easy.

But I’m thinking doing a radio show might be a good retirement gig. Who knows?

Our hour of talk can be heard here.

One of the topics we touched on was Trump’s Friday inauguration and the protests surrounding it, particularly what promises to be a huge Women’s March on Saturday.

Two things impress me about the march and protest on Saturday:

So many of those who I have talked to who are going (Anne will be in D.C. I will march at the Trump protest in Chicago) have never attended a protest before.

Apparently Trump is a huge motivator.

The second thing is the notion in the media and among politicians that protesting the inauguration is a new thing.

Even President Obama keeps talking about our tradition of peaceful transition of power.

Now, I know President Obama is talking about the election process. But I can’t help thinking there is more than the usual content and concern to this phrase this time.

Congressman John Lewis is not the only one who questions the legitimacy of Trump’s election.

And aside from all that, transitions of power in the U.S. have not always been peaceful.

I believe the election of Lincoln helped provoke civil war.

Chicago in 1968 had the whole world  watching as the Democrats chose Hubert Humphrey to replace Lyndon Johnson in the White House. And there was nothing peaceful about that process of transition.

100,000 showed up to protest the second inauguration of the crook, Richard Nixon.

We protested at Reagan’s inaugurations as well.

As for George W. Bush?

Many of the demonstrators were upset by the ballot procedures and Supreme Court ruling that led to George W. Bush’s becoming president. Others demonstrated over issues like global trade, civil rights, abortion, capital punishment, rain forests and corporate power.

As President Bush’s limousine passed, many waved signs proclaiming ”Hail to the Thief.” Others carried American flags with corporate logos replacing the 50 stars. An egg was thrown at the president’s car.

Along the parade route, the jeers often drowned out the cheers for the president.

Saturday’s protest is planned and determined to be non-violent.

But the opposite of violent is not peaceful.

It will be loud and in opposition.

Like the next four years.

No justice. No peace.

Pension theft. From the west suburban front.


Rep. Sarah Feigenholz (D – Lakeview)  and Senate President John Cullerton.

-By Karl-Heinz Gabbey

The good Senator seems to be concerned only with the legalities of Heaton v. Quinn. I’m gratified to read he doesn’t want to cause us “anguish,” and that he’s accepted the verdict of the Illinois Supreme Court as the final say in the matter of unconstitutional pension cuts. I’m troubled by a lack of remorse on his part in which he forced individual retirees to contribute, in many cases, hundreds of dollars out of pocket to fight a case that was clearly unconstitutional and morally indefensible. That doesn’t include the anxiety and the sleepless nights that he cost us. Many of us also spent countless hours attending meetings, protest actions, and making phone calls to him, Nekritz, and the rest of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses to lobby against SB 1. Through it all, he remained unmoved.

In a real gesture of reconciliation and unity, especially at a time when the Republican Party has proved to be a far greater threat than ISIS to the health, safety, and security of not only every Illinoisan, but every American, it might be nice if the good senator would acknowledge in “truth and reconciliation” fashion his mistake. Until he does that, there will always be a dark cloud of distrust hovering over his head.

Rep. Sarah Feigenholz (D – Lakeview)  appeared on Dick Kay’s “Back On The Beat” on January 7, during which she listed “pension reform a la SB 1” as an “accomplishment.” To his credit, Dick Kay reminded her that the high court ruled it unconstitutional. Without providing detail, Rep. Feigenholz shot back that the General Assembly was working on a “constitutional” version of “pension reform.” I guessed that it was a rehash of John Cullerton’s SB 2404, now called “consideration.” Then came the appeal from the IRTA for contributions with the message about SB 17 and “consideration” as the next possible round of idiotic “pension reform.” At that point, I hit the ceiling…

There was a time I believed that our Democratic lawmakers in Springfield were at least shrewd enough not to bite the hands that mark the ballots during elections. At a time when we’re facing a dangerous, existential threat from Republican terrorists, including Trump’s Mini-me in the governor’s mansion, and we need all hands on deck, our Springfield Democrats are determined to sabotage any unified front against a horde that wants to destroy us all. Will we face the next election again wringing our hands with the choice of voting for the party that’ll kill us more slowly than the Republicans? Great timing, guys and girls! Please pinch me! I want to exit this nightmare…

Karl, your Democratic precinct captain from the West Suburban front



-Mark Stefanik is a middle school language arts teacher. He writes frequently and poetically for this blog. I try to get him to do it more often.

It’s a weekend for dreamers.

I wonder how many of this readership still dream.

I’m aiming for the Boomers whose freedom to dream was unprecedented in American History.

You know who you are.  Fairy tales did come true and they happened to you.

Civil Rights affirmed and expanded.  

A Great Society that owned the care of the poor, the sick, and the old.  

Ending a war whose victims included not just people, but our moral center.  

Equality for women (at least a start).

Stewardship of the environment.

Not a bad legacy for a decade disparaged. Not a bad reminder for a generation dismayed.

I’m aiming for the Boomers whose chances to dream remain alive in retirement.

Frank Smith once wrote, “Reality is a fantasy that works.” His idea haunts my world view and sustains what little efforts I make.  

Again, as we enter a weekend that celebrates one of our greatest dreamers, as we prepare for the hand-off of one fantasy to another, I wonder how many of us still dream.   As I begin my glide path to retirement this June, I reflect upon what I’ll do with the dream time afforded me by that decision.  

Hope is key(‘ A good thing, maybe the best of things’).  I hope to be purposeful.  I hope to build upon the dreams bestowed upon me for my children and theirs.  I hope that, no matter what,  I’ll participate, not abdicate (got a little MLK fever with that one).  I hope to be better, not bitter.

I confess that I am still under the illusion that my best days, our best days, lie ahead. We Boomers have witnessed the dizzying power of the transformation of fantasies into realities.

We have played a role in much of this.  Why stop now?

I am torn between hitting ‘delete’ or ‘send’ with this piece.  Some of my inner editors are shrieking, “Sappy…preachy…a relic of a failed philosophy.”

Above the din, though, I hear another voice singing a lyric:

“Here’s to the ones that dream

Foolish as they may seem.

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make.”

Sunday morning coming down.

Other Democrats as well as anti-Trump Republicans are reluctant to acknowledge the scale of our crisis, because our institutions may not be strong enough to cope with it.

On CNN, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former campaign manager, said he was “not comfortable” with Lewis’ words, making an argument that echoed Rubio’s. “The greatest triumph for Russia would be to legitimate their charges about our democracy,” he said. “I worry about our institutions. I worry that we’re in this mad cycle of destruction. I understand the outrage. But where is this all going?”

This is a legitimate fear: Nobody knows where this is all going. Democrats particularly are in a difficult position, because they want to uphold basic political norms, but doing so alone, while the other side shamelessly flouts them, puts them at a constant disadvantage. The peaceful transition of power is a cherished value of our democracy. But it’s not the only value, or the highest one. It should not require us to sleepwalk into authoritarianism. If the price for preserving our democracy is pretending that our would-be god-king-emperor has clothes, then it’s already rotted beyond repair. Michelle Goldberg, Slate




The Illinois Democratic County Chairmen’s Association’s executive board voted recently to endorse U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Doug House of Rock Island County, president of the chairmen’s group, said in a news release that Ellison “has the experience, ability to unify, the vision and fundraising experience with grassroots and large donors” to lead the DNC.

“All eyes will be on Illinois in 2018 as we take on millionaire Governor Bruce Rauner,” House added. “We are looking forward to working with Congressman Ellison as we take back the governor’s office in 2018, and in 2020 take back the White House.”

Neither the Democratic Party of Illinois nor its chairman, House Speaker Madigan, has taken a position on who should be the national party chairman, Madigan spokesman Brown said. Bernard Schoenburg, Springfield State Journal Register





Tromain Collier was looking for work last year when he heard about an opening at Ceria M. Travis Academy, a private K–12 school in Milwaukee where student tuition was funded by taxpayers. He was hired and started at the beginning of October. Collier, 33, had an online bachelor’s degree in business and experience as a security guard and basketball coach. He figured teaching couldn’t be that much harder.

He was assigned to teach a split class of third- and fourth-graders. The school, he says, offered him no curriculum and no record of what the previous teachers had taught. He started punching search terms into the computer such as “third grade reading” and “Common Core”—academic standards he’d heard of on the news. The classroom bookshelf held a total of five science books, which Collier recognized from his own elementary school days. They still listed Pluto as a planet, though it was demoted more than a decade ago. Erin Richards, American Prospect

Quincy teachers vote to strike.


Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel president Jen Drew.

Quincy, Illinois is about 300 miles southwest of Chicago on the Mississippi River.

Teachers there belong to the Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel.

Union members have voted to strike on January 17th.

The issue is fair compensation.


Quincy Public School and the Quincy Federation officials walked away from over seven hours of negotiation without a contract agreement, and union officials announced the strike date – January 17.

The announcement came after after 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, following a marathon session of negotiations. Quincy Federation Teacher Subgroup President Jen Drew says with this strike, it will effectively shut down the district.

Officials say they tentatively agreed on all the language items for the contract, but could never reach an agreement on compensation. Drew says the union feels disappointed heading out of the final scheduled meeting.

“Disappointed in that we feel like what we’re asking for is a fair wage for our employees,” Drew said. “We feel like the numbers are correct and that they’re able to offer us what we’re asking for.”

Board President Sayeed Ali says the sides took big steps forward, but not enough to make a deal happen.

Messages of support can be sent to the Quincy Federation.

Keeping Retirement Weird. Senator Biss’ view on pension theft seems to have changed. Activism works.

Back in 2013, Skokie Senator Dan Biss’ name was synonymous with pension theft.

He was then, and is now, a liberal Democratic member of the Illinois General Assembly.

Some suspect he is one of those who has his eyes on the Governor’s Mansion now that Governor Rauner is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country.

Before the Illiinois Supreme Court ruling affirming the pension protection clause, Biss had plenty of opportunities to defend his pension theft position. Trust me, we retirees can be a pain in the ass.

As in the video above of our 2013 visit to the Senator’s Skokie office..

Recently a retired teacher activist  forwarded to me a letter she received from Senator Biss after she asked him about his current position on pensions.

Thank you for writing; it’s good to hear from you again. The courts have been extremely clear about the pension issue, and I certainly do not want to put everyone through a similar ordeal again. Recognizing that, I will oppose any effort at reform that I believe will only waste time and taxpayer money in the courts and cause anguish to beneficiaries. Attempting to kick the can further down the road by passing legislation that we know won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the courts will only guarantee greater future pain.


Senator Daniel Biss

9th District – Illinois

Well, thank you Senator Biss.

But you know me. I’m always skeptical unless every i is dotted and every t is crossed. And though I like Dan Biss personally, politicians can be wiggly.

So I wrote him.

What did he think of the consideration model that his Senate President, John Cullerton and the governor are proposing. How would he have voted on SB 17?

“I would have voted against SB17 had it come to the floor. My constitutional concern isn’t with the concept of consideration, which is a standard part of contract law, but rather with the question of whether this bill meets that test as it applies to future raises counting toward the pension,” the Senator wrote back.

SB17 never had time to get to a vote before the new legislative session began on Wednesday. But I imagine it will be back in the new session as part of some Grand Bargain to resolve the state’s budget impasse.

Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan seems to be saying that there is no interest in this version of pension reform.

Now I will differ with the Senator over whether Cullerton’s proposal meets the criteria of consideration, which as he points out, is a standard part of contract law.

Consideration requires in order to change the conditions of a contract, an exchange of equal or greater value. SB17 is a choice between two diminishments.

And Senator Biss would probably say that his change of views about causing anguish for beneficiaries is a result of the ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, not activists knocking on his door.

But I also think it is due to pension activists causing a ruckus.

Plus there would have been no court case without us.

The lesson for now is that activism works.