Employer-provided health insurance is the problem, not the cure. Nobody should die because they lost their job.

Wakarusa, Indiana. 2009. Photo: Fred Klonsky

If all goes our way on November 3rd, the Democrats will control both the Congress and the White House.

Yesterday, about 150 hotel workers who’d been laid off rallied in Grant Park Friday to call on their employers to continue providing health insurance.

They are among about 7,000 Chicago hotel workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 1 who are out of work, most since March.

It is obvious that if we had a system of national health care, some form of Medicare for all, those hotel workers would not be dependent of employer based health insurance.

They would have access to health care now, while we are in the middle of a pandemic.

We would not be debating pre-existing conditions or whether your family dependents were covered.

Joe Biden’s proposals for the existing Affordable Care Act are insufficient.

The position of the national leaders of unions who insist of preserving employer-provided health insurance is the problem, not the fix.

I’m looking at you AFT President Randi Weingarten.

If Joe Biden wins – and that’s not certain a week away from the last voting day – there will be a lot that Trump has done that needs to be repaired.

I voted for Biden even though Illinois is a blue state in which his winning all our electoral votes was never in doubt.

If there is a huge turnout out is as expected, it needs to be interpreted in part as a rejection of Trump’s non-policy for our people’s health care needs.

But we need to move beyond that and fight for health care as a right for every American.

Nobody should die because they lost their job.

Griffin attacks Pritzker as “master tax avoider.” Threatens to leave Illinois to avoid taxes.

Tax avoider, hedge funder Ken Griffin.

What can I say to convince my retired friends that the graduated tax amendment on the current ballot has nothing to do with taxing retirement benefits?

The tv ad campaign paid for by Citadel hedge fund boss and one of Illinois’ wealthiest people, Ken Griffin, got the jump on the pro-fair tax people in framing it this way.

It was always snake oil.

But Griffin gave the lie away by attacking Governor Pritzker as a “master tax avoider.” Pritzker ran for governor promising to put the amendment on the ballot and he has kept his word.

Griffin shouldn’t be so modest. When it comes to tax avoidance, Griffin is no less a master.

He has threatened that if the amendment passes he will move Citadel to Texas or Florida or wherever to avoid taxes.

Say what?

Shia Kappos in Politico:

“I am not willing to stand by as, once again, spineless politicians try to sell a trick disguised as a solution. Particularly not from a governor who, having inherited a great deal of wealth, has worked so diligently to avoid paying taxes himself,” Griffin wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune, which was verified by a company spokesman.

Griffin also offers a veiled threat that his company could leave Illinois for a place with friendlier tax rates. “Governors of Florida, Texas and other states have made compelling pitches for businesses — like Citadel — to leave Illinois,” he wrote.

If it passes, the amendment would change Illinois’ flat personal income tax system to one where wealthier residents pay a higher rate. Supporters say people who earn $250,000 or less make up 97 percent of Illinois residents, and would pay the same or less in taxes.

The impact on wealthy residents must be profound if you consider the eight-figure amount Griffin has spent just trying to defeat the ballot measure.

We are a week and a half away from the last voting day.

No doubt many retirees like me have already voted.

I hope they didn’t fall for Griffin’s baloney that the graduated tax is about retirement income being taxed.

It’s about billionaires being taxed.

Period.

Now that the second debate is done, the end is in sight. 500 children are still separated from their parents.

A boy from Honduras is helped by representative of the Southern Poverty Law Center as he is reunited with his father in Phoenix.

I said all along that they should just do the second debate with no restraints on Trump.

Keep that microphone on. Let him be the bully he is. His polling numbers dropped big after the first debate. Nobody likes a bully.

Now the analysts and pundits are saying how much better Trump was and how much more substantive the debate was.

I watched. I didn’t catch that part.

To me, it was political discourse at its worst. The best you can say about Biden was he made no gaffes.

But with only 11 days to go, it may be too late to save Trump’s butt. 50 million votes have already been cast.

Still 500 children that were separated from their families by the Trump administration remain separated and may never be reunited.

It is monumentally criminal.

Trump, as usual, refused to take responsibility.

The American Civil Liberties Union said on Tuesday that they have been unable to contact parents of 545 children who were separated at the border by the Trump administration.

While the Trump regime eventually placed the children with sponsors, a federal judge ordered the government to track the whereabouts of the parents — a difficult task because the government failed to adequately track the families in the first place, according to a government watchdog office.

The ACLU said that close to 5,500 families were separated.

“Each one of these children is its own story,” Lee Gelernt of the ACLU said. “And those stories are absolutely heartbreaking.”

“One 4-year-old from Honduras had glasses,” he continued, telling the story of one family. “The boy’s parents had been able to get him a case to protect the glasses.” Gelernt said the “glasses case became the most important thing in their life because they knew if the glasses broke, they might not be able to get him another pair.”

When the boy was separated from his mother, he had his glasses, but he didn’t have the case.

“All day long, all the mother thought about was, ‘Can my little boy see?'” Gelernt said.

Good and bad news from the state IRTA board meeting.

There is good and bad news coming from the state board meeting of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association.

The IRTA has about 40,000 members statewide. Many are retired administrators. The IRTA is not just made up of retired teachers.

I have to say, speaking bluntly, that while the IRTA as an organization was courageous when we were fighting for pension rights, it was like pulling teeth to get a principal or other administrators to get on a bus to Springfield or take any stand even though it was their pensions under attack too.

As usual, teachers do the heavy lifting.

So the IRTA board reaffirmed their non-militant stand of neutrality on the issue of the graduated income tax amendment.

The vote was 22 to 4 to reaffirm no position.

The good news is that Area 2 former Lake County president Wendet Weigers, former TRS board member Bob Lyons and John Anderson, all of whom represent politically active IRTA members voted for the IRTA to support a yes vote on the amendment.

The rest of the board apparently bought the nonsense about taxing retirement income, or were afraid to confront members who did.

John Anderson reports that he and Bob talked long hard, “but fear of taxation won the day.”

AFSCME retirees endorsed the Fair Tax a year ago.

I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and then I voted against Donald Trump.

On the first day of Chicago neighborhood early voting I cast my ballot against Donald Trump.

A few days after hearing from my doctor that I had a lump in my left kidney that was probably cancerous, Anne and I drove to our local voting location on the first day of Chicago neighborhood early voting and safely put our ballots in the drop box.

If the polls are right and the Democrats don’t screw it up – and that is no sure thing – I will no longer have my left kidney AND Trump will be defeated, both by the beginning of November.

My doctor expects me to have a full recovery within a couple of weeks after surgery. I will be back on my feet well before inauguration day.

I’m afraid the country will take longer to recover from Trump.

As far as my kidney goes, I am extremely lucky. My cancer has not spread and I have another kidney to pick up the load. Illinois retired teachers have good health insurance. It is a benefit I believe is part of the pension benefit that the Illinois Supreme Court ruled was constitutionally protected.

A nephrectomy, the removal of a kidney without complications, costs around $40,000.

It will cost me no more than $1100 out of pocket.

Many working Americans are not as lucky as I am.

I worry about those without health insurance and the millions more who have depended on employer-based health insurance and are now without it.

Millions of people across the United States have become uninsured after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn.

Trump is not responsible for my kidney cancer. He is responsible for the bungling response to the pandemic, the fear many have about seeing a doctor or treating an illness at a hospital or even access to health care.

In July, during the first COVID peak, researchers found that 21.9 million workers in the U.S. lost their jobs, and an estimated 5.4 million subsequently became uninsured. They noted that this number does not include workers’ family members who may have also lost health insurance.

According to the researchers, the increase in the number of uninsured adults in this 3-month period was 39% greater than any previously recorded annual increase, including the 2008 to 2009 increase, when the number of uninsured adults jumped by 3.9 million in the U.S.

Now, with winter coming on, we are heading into another COVID peak and more people will lose jobs and access to health care.

No COVID-19-related federal legislation signed into law has included attempts to restore or preserve comprehensive health insurance.

And Trump’s attempt to dismantle even the minimal relief of ACA and his corruption of the CDC and other federal health programs have made things so much worse.

“Based on several careful studies carried out over the past 20 years, we know that for 769 people who are uninsured, 1 person will die each year,” says David U. Himmelstein, professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health at Hunter College. So, 5.4 million newly uninsured translates to about 7,000 extra deaths this year.”

Himmelstein says “Medicare for All is the only reform that can really address the health care crisis. Lesser measures will cost more and deliver less.”

We can start organizing for that after November.

I’ll be ready.

The Chicago Tribune’s assault on Illinois tax fairness.

Tribune founder Colonel Robert McCormick.

By Lee Talley, retired teacher.

On November 3rd Illinois voters will decide if they want to replace the state’s flat tax with a graduated income tax.  We’ve been bombarded with ads from both sides, exhorting their positions, sometimes with false and misleading information.  

Of course, one of the leading voices against the graduated income tax has been the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.  They’ve been on a crusade for years about the state’s deficit, placing most of the blame on the underfunded pensions as the cause.

I decided to do a study of the Tribune’s editorial pages from September 4th to October 18th to determine how many of their editorials, Op-Eds, letters to the editor, and editorial cartoons were in support of the amendment or not in support of the amendment. 

Here’s what I found.

There were two editorials for (both written by Tribune columnist Eric Zorn) and eight against the amendment.  There was also one neutral editorial by Zorn discussing the voting process concerning the amendment. 

There was only one Op-Ed in support of the amendment while seven were against it.

There were six editorial cartoons against the amendment versus none for it.

There was also a total of 216 Letters to the Editor during this timeframe.  Fourteen where in favor of the amendment and a whopping 56 were against it.  Two were neutral, asking voters to carefully consider both sides of the argument.
    

Twice during this time the editorial pages were expanded to include six additional “against” letters each time, giving the impression that there were a lot more voters against the amendment than for it.  This is an old editorial trick that newspapers use when they want to push a their own agenda on voters.

The Tribune decided to trot out the “usual suspects” to write Op-Eds against the amendment, some using scare tactics or “it’ll be the end of the world” scenarios.  These included:  Billionaire Ken Griffin, owner of the Citadel hedge fund, who has spent nearly $50 million to fund the fight against the amendment;  Matt Paprocki, (President) and Austin Berg, (V-P of Marketing), both of the Illinois Policy Institute;  E. Scott Santi (Chairman) and Kelly R. Welsh (President) of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

Also:  Andy Shaw, former head of the Better Government Association; Christopher Burnham (Center for Pension Integrity, who is also connected to Duetche Bank); Ed Bachrach (former CEO of Bachrach clothing, who for the past decade has been pushing moving state pensions to individual 401k retirement accounts);  Frederic Hickman, who is related to the Tribune’s general manager;     
    

And my favorites, John Klingner, Ted Dabrowski and Mark Glennon, officers and the main driving force of Wirepoints, which states it is an “independent, non-profit research & commentary” organization.  All there men are still members of Illinois Policy Institute.  So much for being independent.
    

The only Op-Ed in favor of the amendment was written by Dr. Michael Pine, a member of the Patriotic Millionaires, which supports increasing taxes on the wealthy

So much for the Tribune being objective, impartial, and in the words of Fox News, “Fair & Balanced.”

As Fred has mentioned, there are Republicans like Dan Proft, a senior fellow at the Illinois Policy Institute, who co-founded the newspaper chair Local Government Information Services.  These include the North Cook News, whose roots are in the Chicago suburbs and now extends cities like Carbondale, Rock Island and Peoria.

Brain Timpone, a conservative businessman operates a network of over 1300 “pseudo-local” news websites posing as legitimate local news outlets.  The New York Times found that Timpone’s “operation is rooted in deception, eschewing hallmarks of news reporting like fairness and transparency.”  His sites publish articles for pay from outside groups and do not disclose it.

Other conservative news sites include LocalLabs News Service are linked to Pro-Republican groups.  On the television and radio side, there’s conservative media groups like Sinclair Broadcasting and Salem Media Group which have been airing ads against the amendment.

The one question that I would like answered is:  If the Tribune Editorial Board, the groups and people opposing the amendment, why do they feel the need to show ads and write editorials with false and misleading information?

Back in the early 1980’s I worked in the film industry in Los Angeles.  My first job was at Orion Pictures.  I had to meet with its president Mike Medavoy.  He asked me, “What do people with money like?”  He waited for my answer, paused, then said, “More money.”  In essence, beware of what the rich tell you when it comes to money and your best interests. 

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association should get off the fence on the graduated income tax. Retirees. We should look at who is really for taxing our savings.

Last year Griffin and the Civic Federation was for taxing retirement income. Now he says we should vote no because a graduated tax will mean taxing retirement income.

I hear that the Illinois Retired Teachers Association (IRTA) board is meeting this weekend.

I’ve been a decades long member. I’m VP of a local chapter. The board honored me a few years back for my efforts at preserving pension benefits and my blogging on the subject. I am still proud of the work that the IRTA did in refusing to concede anything on our constitutional pension guarantees when our two state teacher unions were ready to throw in the towel.

I bring all this up to show how disappointed I am that the leadership of the state IRTA has refused to support the graduated tax amendment. They have chosen to stay neutral.

Our local chapter of the IRTA has voted to support the amendment for tax fairness.

A friend called the other day. He’s also a retired teacher.

He has also been calling retired friends to vote yes on the amendment. He’s grown frustrated with those who have been bamboozled by the billionaire backers of a no vote.

Like Ken Griffin and the Civic Federation.

“What do you say when they believe that the amendment will mean taxing their retirement income?” he asked.

It’s tough because $50 million spent by the opponents on TV ads started early and framed the issue with this lie.

What’s that old saying?

“A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots.”

Rich Miller, the publisher of Capitolfax.com posts a statement of opposition to the graduated tax amendment from the Civic Federation.

Billionaire Ken Griffin is a hedge funder and a trustee of the Civic Federation. His money is paying for most of the ad buys.

As Miller points out, these are the same guys who have been supporting taxing retirement income all along.

Fake news is the source of right-wing disinformation about taxing the rich and the graduated income tax amendment.

I’ve been spending some of my time recently sending out emails and making phone calls to retirees around the state in support of the ballot measure changing Illinois’ flat tax to a graduated income tax.

I’m hearing a lot of support for the amendment. But I’m also hearing those who have only heard that the amendment will lead to taxing retirement income.

Which is total nonsense.

Still, I got an email response this morning: “No! It will lead to taxation of our pensions! Do not trust Illinois politicians!”

To be clear. I don’t trust Illinois politicians. And if there were a ballot measure to not trust Illinois politicians I would be all in.

But where do my retiree friends get this stuff about the amendment leading to taxing our pensions? Taxing retirement income is something Illinois politicians could do right now if they wanted. It would be political suicide. But they could do it even without a constitutional amendment.

The source of so much disinformation about the Fair Tax amendment and other political issues is the network of phony right-wing news outlets, most serving small towns and downstate communities. This fake news network is exposed in an investigative story in The New York Times today.

The network is largely overseen by Brian Timpone, a TV reporter turned internet entrepreneur who has sought to capitalize on the decline of local news organizations for nearly two decades. He has built the network with the help of several others, including a Texas brand-management consultant and a conservative Chicago radio personality

The Chicago radio personality is Dan Proft. Proft’s fake news outlets were profiled in a Chicago Tribune article in 2018.

Recently obtained documents and interviews show that an organization called Think Freely Media helped fund the operation that produced the article for the East Central Reporter’s website. As a nonprofit, Think Freely is forbidden by federal law from engaging in politics, and it has described the articles it funded as news.

But State Board of Elections records also show a political committee, Liberty Principles, paid the same private company to publish the story in a print newspaper and mail it. That group, which state law says must spend its money on politicking, has labeled such content political ads.

What these organizations have in common is one of the state’s most visible and controversial political figures, Dan Proft. Though Proft is known for backing conservative candidates for office through Liberty Principles, recent tax, business and campaign filings illuminate how other organizations with ties to Proft helped spread his political views through publications that showcase candidates he supports.

The New York Times investigation reveals that our old friend John Tillman from the Illinois Policy Institute also has connections to Timpone.

John Tillman, an activist who once led the Illinois Opportunity Project and whose other groups have paid Mr. Timpone’s companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, said in an email that some of the payments to Mr. Timpone were to underwrite his news operation. Mr. Timpone, he said, allows “community leaders and influencers” to “pitch (not ‘order’) story ideas.”

This web of right-ring influencers and the rise of fake news disinformation outlets is not surprising as real newspapers and real reporters have become more scarce.

It is one more reason why I make the phone calls and send out the emails to my list of retirees. I still believe that personal contact by those of us with facts can win against even these billionaire-backed phonies.

I am guessing that Paul Vallas will do for the Fraternal Order of Police what he did for urban schools. Except he will screw them for free.

The City of Chicago is at an impasse in their bargaining with the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

The FOP and their Trumper president, John Catanzara, refuse to bargain police accountability.

I don’t think the Mayor should have to bargain police accountability. The collective bargaining agreement of the FOP is used to shield Chicago cops from prosecution for abuse and murder.

It is a stain on the bargaining process. Every union member should reject the authenticity of the FOP as a union.

The Illinois legislature should act to remove accountability as a subject of bargaining.

No way should Mayor Lightfoot have to negotiate with John Catanzara over whether cops are above the law.

And in walks Paul Vallas.

Yes. THAT Paul Vallas.

Paul Vallas has headed school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Connecticut and New Orleans and has been chased out of every one of those cities.

He has offered to advise the FOP for free, pro bono.

Paul Vallas helping the FOP might be good news for the Mayor.

He is a reverse Midas. Everything he touches turns to shit.

When Pat Quinn ran for governor against Bruce Rauner he picked Vallas as his running mate. That sealed Quinn’s fate who was beaten by the Republican Rauner in one of the bluest state’s in the country.

When Vallas ran for mayor in the last election he barely got 6% of the vote.

FOP president John Catanzara says that Paul Vallas acting as a free consultant in their bargaining with the city is a game changer.

“When it comes to budgets and numbers, Paul Vallas is in a class of his own. That was the point of having him involved, to basically let the city know we weren’t playing games. We were going to bring experts,” Catanzara said.

Mayor Lightfoot was not impressed.

“The new FOP contract will contain accountability and reform proposals. Rather than being obstructionists, the FOP should come to the table with seriousness about the reality of the current world of policing,” the Mayor’s office responded

“To no surprise, President Catanzara remains focused on political stunts and preening for the media rather than having any sense of urgency about concluding negotiations.”

“I will help them pro bono,” says Vallas. “They want me to give them financial advice, help them ask for the right information, ask right questions and give them an honest, informed assessment of the city’s financial options.”

He’s worth every dime they’re paying him.