Keeping retirement weird. What trees do we plant?


I kept thinking about 1968 this morning.

Following the anti-war protests at that year’s Democratic Convention, a commission headed by the future Governor Dan Walker declared the violence in Chicago that August was a police riot.

Mayor Richard Daley, the first, issued a response entitled, “What Trees Do They Plant?” suggesting the protesters were nihilists or something.

This morning dozens of my neighbors of all ages planted trees.

There is a bit of irony in this story. It was back in the days of Mayor Daley, the first, that Ash trees were planted on our neighborhood blocks to replace the Elm trees that had all died from Dutch Elm disease.

Now the Ash are all infected with an Ash borer. Half the trees on our block have been cut down. The rest of the Ash will die too, including the two in front of our house that have been there for 30 years.


This is the problem with planting one kind of tree. If one gets diseased, they all will get diseased.

I suppose we could ask Mayor Richard Daley, “What trees did you kill?”

A while ago, our neighbor Karen applied for a grant from Openlands to plant 28 trees on the park strips in an 8 square block area of our neighborhood.

Karen got the grant, and after talking to neighbors to see who wanted them and who didn’t, and after having the gas company come out and mark up where the gas lines were, and after notifying all the bureaucrats that needed to be notified, we planted trees this morning.

All different kinds of trees.

As in all things, diversity is better.


Steve, an older tree guy volunteer from the Morton Arboretum worked with our group.

He made sure we planted them right so they will survive and grow up strong.

One of the neighbors who got a tree also just recently had a baby.

That seemed right.

Mayor Daley, the first, isn’t around to see our new trees. But in a metaphorical sense we have always been planting trees.

This morning they just happened to be 28 real ones.


Illinois school funding and HB 2808. What’s wrong with the Evidence Based Model?


-Bev Johns and Fred Klonsky

The Illinois House is currently considering HB 2808 which was passed in the Senate as SB 1.

The House version is currently co-sponsored by Rep. William Davis, Robert W. Pritchard, Linda Chapa LaVia, Al Riley, Emanuel Chris Welch, Sue Scherer, Camille Y. Lilly and Will Guzzardi.

The bill claims to shift state funding to poorer school districts in the state, but with no new significant education funding, the money is being taken from direct and dedicated funding for teachers of students with special needs.

The House bill refers to funding using an Evidence Based Model.

What is that?

EBM is a theory – no state has actually done it – based on 27 elements that supposedly have research to prove that they work in schools.

What is wrong with that?

Some of the 27 things are supported by research and  some are not. For example, the plan for special education is based on a study done for the State of Vermont that was so flawed that even Vermont rejected it.

SB 1 and HB 2808 are about how to make do with inadequate state school funding. It is redividing an existing inadequate pool of money and calling it equity.  In the name of extreme local control, school districts do not have to do any of the 27 things. School districts can spend the money in any way that they wish, although funds for English Language Learners is restricted and funds for special education may be spent on on anything a school district calls special education.

SB 1 and HB 2808 repeal all sorts of current laws and parts of the school code, again in the name of extreme local control.

There has been almost no discussion or debate on this in House or Senate Committees nor has there been much public discussion.

Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. #17


This week we had our first real adventure in live radio.

We were so pleased about having our old friend Prexy Nesbitt on our show. Prexy has been to South Africa over 40 times and has much to share.


Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. Jamie Trecker, Mike and me.

Following up on last week’s show with Jerry Harris, head of the Global Studies Association, we wanted to get into what is happening in the third world, particularly Africa in the age of Trump and globalization.

But weather in New York and at La Guardia had a different plan and Prexy couldn’t get a flight out.

Which we found about, through no fault of Prexy’s, a few hours before our live show.

But my bro and I are nothing if not light on our feet, even if a few steps slower these days.

Did I mention Mike had a birthday yesterday.

Alderman John Arena called in to talk about the fight for affordable housing in the 45th ward, where opponents think too much density is an acceptable euphemism for racism and segregation.

It’s not.

And we spent the rest of the hour talking about our favorite topics: Schools, funding, choice, vouchers and Betsy DeVos.

Some live listeners (not all – so that’s weird) reported they couldn’t hear the De Vos sound bite. But it is all here on our podcast.

Best. Show. Ever.

The wheels of justice turn slowly for Laquan McDonald. Nearly three years and counting.


It is nearly three years since sixteen bullets were fired into Laquan McDonald’s body, fourteen of them fired after McDonald was on the ground.

Nobody is doing time for the murder even though it was declared a homicide and we know who fired the bullets that killed Laquan McDonald.

The video of the killing was locked up for a year by the Mayor and former States Attorney Anita Alvarez.

This is recent history.  Some Chicago aldermen seem to have forgotten this story in their eagerness to praise the mayor, nearly endorsing him for re-election.

Even before he asked for it.

Jason Van Dyke appeared in court yesterday. He was not there for a trial.

It has been eighteen months since Van Dyke was indicted.

Van Dyke’s attorney asked the judge to dismiss the charges. “It was business as usual,” he told the judge.

It think that is true. Just not cause for dismissal of the charges.

A Chicago cop pumping sixteen bullets into a unarmed Black man walking away from him is business as usual in Chicago.

Van Dyke’s attorney compared it to a fireman opening a hole in the roof to get into a burning house.

Sixteen bullets fired at a unarmed Black man posing no threat to the officer was no different than that, said the defense attorney.

Van Dyke’s attorney complained that Van Dyke would not be in court yesterday if not for the publicity and public outrage.

In arguing his point Thursday, Herbert blamed the news media for creating “this fury in the public” over the video.

He also implied that the state’s attorney’s office had been swayed by public opinion to criminally charge Van Dyke.

I agree. And thank goodness for that.

The Mayor and the former State’s Attorney never wanted this case to be pursued.

It was the thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters who put Van Dyke in handcuffs.

Yet justice in the McDonald case has hardly been swift.

It was different for a man in the court room yesterday who snapped his fingers in approval after the judge rejected Van Dyke’s request for a dismissal of the charges.

That man was brought up before the judge, found guilty of contempt of court and and ordered  jailed on $40,000 bail.

Swift justice.

In Jefferson Park the opposition isn’t about density. Here is a test about the issue of density: What ward do the richest people in Chicago live in and how does it compare in density to the ward where the poorest people in Chicago live?


45th Ward Alderman John Arena.

Friday’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers will include Alderman John Arena from Chicago’s 45th ward.

John has been fighting a battle for affordable housing which includes a building that would guarantee units at below market rates for CHA residents, veterans and those with disabilities.

A reader writes:


Have you seen the lot this development is going to be built on? It’s tiny. This level of density is ridiculous.


Yes, Vicki. I’ve seen the plan.

This level of density is what cities are about.  If you want a big lawn and a long drive to get a quart of milk, that is what they invented McHenry County for.

At least the readers of the Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown are honest about their opposition to this project.

It isn’t about the density of the project. It’s about the color. And  if you have doubts about that, read his column today.

Here is a test about the issue of density:

What ward do the richest people in Chicago live in and how does it compare in density with the ward where the poorest people in Chicago live?

Trust me. If the city’s millionaires like density, density isn’t a problem.

Listen to Alderman John Arena and long-time activist Prexy Nesbitt on Friday’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. 11AM. Friday. 105.5FM. Live streaming on and podcast on every platform that links to podcasts and


Chicago is a union town, charter schools are no exception.


I heard this morning that the teachers at Passages charter in Chicago won a late night agreement on a union contract. If they hadn’t, Passages would have been the first charter school strike in the United States.

“Chicago has become the epicenter of charter union organizing in the country,” complained Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools.

We’re number one!

Andrew should have known. Chicago is a union town.

WBEZ reports that the Passages contract gives their teachers a 21% pay increase. More details will be released later.

Chicago Tribune:

“It’s not about destroying charter schools,” (CTU President Karen)Lewis said. “Charter schools are here; they’re not going anywhere. So the key is, how do you make them a bitter pill to their management companies? It’s the management companies we have the issues with, not the charter teachers, not the students, not the parents. The key is, organize people to fight for fairer conditions of work, and then that’s good for everybody.”

The CTU, which represents traditional public school teachers, is supportive of the separate union representing charter schools. That union is the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers and a statewide affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Chris Baehrend, president of Chicago ACTS Local 4343, said, “A growing number of teachers are coming to a realization that when they are organized, we are in a better position to protect conditions in the classroom.”

The Chicago charter union said it represents about 1,000 teachers at 32 charter schools in Chicago, which is about 25 percent of charter schools citywide. That’s double the national percentage: About 12 percent of charter schools nationwide are under a collective bargaining agreement, according to Aviva Bowen, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

If the school privatizers are going to use charter schools as a weapon to destroy teachers unions, Chicago is as good a place to make our stand as any.

We are a union town.

A remarkably clear explanation of Illinois public pension issues.

Blond Boy Crying

There are two things that happen when Illinois’ pension problem gets brought up in my presence.

I start talking.

Everyone in the room’s eyes glaze over.

Some old friends have been known to cross the street when they see me coming.

Dogs bark.

Little babies start to cry.

I can’t quit it.

Crain’s and the Better Government Association provide a remarkably clear explanation of the root of the problem and the current situation.

Bullet points:

  • The median pension in 2017 for retired suburban and Downstate teachers stands at $52,016, the analysis shows, while the median for general state workers is $28,946. For university workers, the median pension stands at $26,101, while for non-public safety municipal workers outside of Chicago it is $9,064.

  • Just five of the 17 pension funds—those managed by the state for public university workers, suburban and Downstate teachers, general state employees, judges and legislators—collectively face an unfunded liability of $130 billion.
  • A recent analysis by the legislature’s economic forecasting arm, a bipartisan body akin to the Congressional Budget Office, vividly illustrates the central role played by the state’s chronic failure to meet its pension funding obligations in the explosion of debt at those five state funds.

  • TRS, the largest of the state’s pension funds, possessed more than $45 billion in assets to cover its pension obligations in fiscal 2016, according to data from the legislative commission. Even so, the commission pegged the cost of long term pension obligations at the fund at more than $118 billion, resulting in a funding ratio of just 37 percent.

  • As a rule of thumb, pension experts generally consider a pension fund healthy if it has on hand at least 80 percent of the financial resources it needs to cover future obligations to retirees. There are some exceptions, but most big pension funds in Illinois are nowhere close to meeting that benchmark, with many in the sub 40 percent category.
  • In fiscal 2016 alone, the state obligation to TRS and the other four employee pension funds it maintained was $6.8 billion, an amount so large it consumed more than 26 percent of the day-to-day operations budget of Illinois government, according to Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

    But Martire said only $1.6 billion of that amount, less than 24 percent, was needed to cover the so called normal cost of pensions, benefits actually earned by employees in 2016. The other $5.2 billion amounted to late payment charges.

    “The real problem is a debt-service problem and a tax-policy problem,” said Martire, whose Chicago-based think tank contends Illinois finances are being crippled by insufficient taxes.


Podcast: Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers #16.

Democracy in Chicago? It’s complicated.


“He’s a proxy,” CTU President Karen Lewis said of Claypool.

When the members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted overwhelmingly to express no confidence in CPS CEO Forrest Claypool they were actually voting no confidence in the Mayor.

CTU President Karen Jennings Lewis made that clear when she spoke yesterday at the City Club.

“He’s a proxy,” Lewis said of Claypool during a press conference that followed her City Club speech.

Why not a vote on the Mayor?

“What could we do about that right now?” said Lewis.

For those readers who live in functioning democracies this may seem confusing.

The CTU members voted against someone doesn’t stand for election and didn’t vote this past week against somebody who will.

Maybe he will.

In Chicago we are permitted to vote for people who run the water district but we are forbidden to vote for the people who run our schools.

If you live in a functioning democracy, you may find that odd.

So the teachers’ no confidence vote is symbolic.

Symbols can be powerful things.

I remember one year in my old suburban district when, quite out of the blue, a kindergarten teacher stood up at a general membership meeting of the local and moved for a vote of no confidence in the superintendent.

Another teacher jumped up and seconded the motion.

We were always a democratic union local and although we were all taken by surprise, the motion was moved and seconded. A vote was taken and the membership approved the motion unanimously.

The board of education had no immediate response.

Except at the end of the year the superintendent’s contract was not renewed.

Of course, our little suburban district had an elected school  board.

Not so in Chicago.

In a couple of years we will get to vote on Claypool’s boss.

Not by proxy.