Biden’s dumb defense budget: Six trillion dollars over eight years.

Bernie has “concerns” with Biden’s war budget.

When President Biden announced his infrastructure budget of nearly two trillion dollars over the next eight years, Democratic liberals got excited and Republicans not surprisingly attacked it

But I expect that they will have no trouble passing his defense budget of seven hundred billion. That’s six trillion over the same eight years.

In an opinion for CNN, Fareed Zakaria explains how this war budget is stupid, bloated and can only be perceived as aggressive by China.

Biden’s war budget when compared to what the Chinese spend is illustrative.

China spends less than one-third as much on its military as the United States.

China has fewer than one-tenth as many nuclear weapons, for example. The United States has 800 military bases outside of our borders. China has four.

Rather than spending wasted dollars on a bloated military, China has decided to compete with the United States by implementing support for infrastructure throughout the developing world. It is known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Even The New York Times gives evidence that Joe Biden has decided to take a very different path than China.

Look at who he has brought into his administration.

Mr. Biden, with minimal controversy, has appointed a defense secretary, General Austin, who served on the board of Raytheon Technologies.

It’s not just General Austin. Mr. Biden’s deputy defense secretaryworked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank whose funders include Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As Mandy Smithberger at the Project on Government Oversight has noted, more than a dozen members of the Biden administration — including his top Asia adviser at the National Security Council and the official leading the Pentagon’s China strategy review — have ties to the Center for a New American Security, which according to a report by the Center for International Policy received more funding from defense contractors between 2014 and 2019 than any other think tank the group analyzed. Before becoming Mr. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken advised a private equity firm that focuses on the defense and aerospace sectors, among others.

These are not people interested in cutting defense spending or expanding domestic infrastructure spending.

Bernie Sanders has a different idea.

“At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined, it is time for us to take a serious look at the massive cost over-runs, the waste and fraud that currently exists at the Pentagon,”

Sanders chairs the Senate Budget Committee.

He joins other progressives in speaking out against the proposed 1.7 percent boost in defense spending.

“We need a fundamental shift in how we address national security issues and invest in climate action and pandemic response,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), calling the proposal disappointing.

Kentucky teachers are pissed with the NEA. I get it.

First a betrayal by the state’s NEA affiliate. They helped write the Republican teacher pension theft bill.

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear vetoed the pension bill that the Kentucky union helped write. The Republican legislature then overrode the veto.

You may recall that it was three years ago that Kentucky teachers were one of the loudest groups in the Red State Teacher Revolt against pension theft.

School districts across Kentucky were forced to close by a massive wildcat strike.

Through all this the NEA was invisible. The largest NEA local, the Jefferson County Education Association went AWOL.

The target of the wildcat strike, the pension theft bill, was thrown out by the state court.

The Republicans came back this year when teachers were distanced by the pandemic and passed another pension theft bill that the union helped craft.

Yep. That’s what the union did.

The 2018 Kentucky revolt was led by local long-time activists and young rank and file teachers on social media, not the NEA.

Many are disgusted and through with the NEA. Many want to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers.

In 1998 I attended the NEA convention which voted to reject a merger of the AFT and the NEA.

I was the only Illinois delegate to my knowledge to vote in favor of merger.

I have always stood in favor of labor movement unity.

But I understand the anger and frustration of rank and file Kentucky teachers.

The NEA betrayal was nothing short of a disgrace.

I’m not sure that the AFT would be any better.

I’m not even sure that the AFT and the NEA leadership wants to get into a jurisdictional fight over representation of Kentucky teachers in the right to work state.

But Kentucky teachers are pissed.

And, boy, do I get it.

JB signs two bills and I have concerns.

As a long-time, now retired teacher, union activist and elected local leader, I totally support the Governor signing the bill expanding what are mandatory subjects for bargaining between the Mayor of Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Sure. It may make it tougher for the Mayor. But she can deal with it.

Limiting Chicago teachers – and only Chicago teachers – to what must be negotiated was always grossly unfair.

The truth is that when the late CTU President Karen Lewis first negotiated with Mayor Rahm and then led the historic 2012 strike, she never let the restrictions on subjects for bargaining get in the way.

“You want to talk to us about salary and benefits, then bargain with us on working conditions and more,” the leader of the CTU told the Mayor of Chicago.

And after over a week of striking, that is exactly what he did.

Still, it’s better when we have the legal right to expansive mandatory subjects of bargaining. Our teacher unions should never be forced to bargain with one hand tied behind our backs.

Some have complained that the same legislators who voted to expand mandatory subjects of bargaining when it comes to teachers want to limit bargaining rights for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

I support those efforts to remove certain due process language out of the category of mandatory subjects of bargaining with the FOP.

The due process language of the contract between the City of Chicago and the FOP is an obstacle to legally prosecuting cases of police brutality, misconduct and murder.

No union contract should have that kind of reach into the criminal prosecution of wrong-doers on the CPD. No other union contract has that kind of reach.

No mayor should be forced to negotiate with the racist FOP over how the criminal behavior of any employee should be dealt with.

Comparing the bargaining rights teachers have won with shielding police misconduct is just wrong.

I have questions about the bill Governor Pritzker signed last week increasing Chicago fire fighter pensions.

To me it seems Mayor Lightfoot has a point in asking where the money is coming from. No money for this

I’ve been fighting for public pensions for a couple of decades. But to me this is just the same old same old.

Public employees earn their pensions, as Chicago fire fighters certainly have.

But the state takes no responsibility for funding them.

Instead they invent new categories that reduce the benefits and lengthen the time until public employees must work to qualify.

It seems to me that the Governor wrote a check on somebody else’s bank account.

Madigan and Solis get a pension because they’re not in jail. That’s a problem with the criminal justice system, not the public pension system.

The so-called Watchdogs at the Chicago Sun-Times ran this breathless report the other day about former state rep, Speaker of the House and Democratic Party chair Michael Madigan receiving his first pension check of $7K and change.

The corrupt alder, Danny Solis, has already collected $170K since leaving the City Council presumably wearing his FBI wire.

I’m suspicious of this concern with their pensions.

Is this an attempt to link pubic pensions with corruption in the minds of the Sun-Times readers?

The problem here is not with the pension system.

The problem is that after years of public corruption, Madigan and Solis are walking free.

The law is clear about this.

Convicted public officials cannot receive their public pension.

By the way, Minnesota does not have a pension forfeiture or garnishment law. Thus, Derek Chauvin, one of the Minneapolis police officers formally charged with killing George Floyd, will be entitled to his full, partially taxpayer-funded, pension benefits when he’s eligible for the benefits—even if convicted of killing Floyd.

That is unacceptable to me.

Illinois does have a pension forfeiture policy. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich for example lost his $65,000 annual state pension because he was convicted of felony crimes stemming from his time as governor. As WMAQ reported at the time:

In her 10-page statement (.pdf), [Illinois Attorney General Lisa] Madigan relates Pension Code to the charges with which Blagojevich was ultimately convicted: “None of the benefits herein provided for shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his or her service as a member,” Section 2-156 of the Pension Code states.

But what about Jon Burge, the CPD commander who was convicted of perjury in the cases of torture committed by Burge and his subordinates?

Burge did receive his cop pension while in prison until the day he died.

In a gross decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in a suit filed by then AG Lisa Madigan, the court ruled that Burge’s crime of purjury was committed after he no longer was a cop and so wasn’t subject to the garnishment.

That was an immoral decision, even if it was legal.

But that is not true for Madigan and Solis.

In both cases their corruption was undeniably committed on the job.

In Illinois, the state with the oldest forfeiture laws dating back to 1955, the Supreme Court has ruled by stating that the policy of pension garnishment was designed for the purpose of “ensuring the public’s right to conscientious service from those in governmental positions.”

The solution is obvious. Indict Madigan, throw him in prison and his pension is forfeited.

GM Lordstown. The 1972 strike and lessons for Amazon.

Lordstown, Ohio. March, 2021.

It is Easter Sunday and I’m wondering when the Department of Labor will announce the union vote by workers in the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Alabama.

As we drove back and forth through Ohio this past week I was reminded of the 1972 strike by young workers at the General Motors factory in Lordstown, just west of Youngstown.

Every other trip – and we’ve taken this drive dozens of times – the Lordstown GM plant was running, the parking lot full of worker’s cars.

This time it was quiet. There were no cars in the parking lot. The building sits there empty, waiting while some talk of a future producing something not made by GM and not by UAW members.

Each time we drove by the empty Lordstown factory I kept thinking about the Bessemer vote and Amazon because in 1972 GM Lordstown was a lot like Amazon.

Lordstown, 1974.

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about Lordstown in 2018.

America’s then-newest big auto plant used state-of-the-art technology with the ambitious — perhaps overly ambitious — goal of rolling 100 new cars off the line every hour and (a few years later) to stay ahead of the smaller cars from Japan that were just making their first tiny dent in the booming American market.

But what passed for robotics in the mid-1960s didn’t prevent GM from needing roughly 8,000 auto workers, and sometimes more, to run the line in three shifts. Nobody knew it at the time, but this was the peak — and the beginning of the end — of a post-World War II era of America as the world’s undisputed global economic powerhouse driven by blue-collar union clout forged in often long and occasionally violent strikes. Many of the men — and it was mostly men — who filled the job rolls at Lordstown held two-year and four-year college degrees, because the roughly $6-an-hour pay topped all the other jobs in eastern Ohio, and offered the eventual promise of a sturdy ranch house with an affordable mortgage, a kids’ college fund, and maybe a boat or vacation home in middle age.

“I had to take a pay cut to become a school teacher,” recalled John Russo, who worked for a short while in the late 1960s at a nearby Oldsmobile plant and who later became an authority on Lordstown history as (now retired) director of Youngstown State  University’s Center for Working-Class Studies.

The stereotype of the early 1970s is that union workers were hard-hat-wearing conservative “Archie Bunkers,” looking to wail on anti-war hippies. And yes, those things did happen, but the reality could be much more complicated, especially at Lordstown where the late 1960s hiring surge created a workforce heavy with baby boomers, and an average age of just 24.

This new generation of factory workers soaked up the patchouli-scented, bell-bottomed culture that was in the air all around them. Some grew their hair down their shoulders and sprouted beards or mustaches. Some used their coffee breaks to go out and get high. Almost all chafed at authority, not just from the factory bosses who were constantly on their case to speed up the assembly line, but also their UAW union leaders who didn’t “get” this new breed.

The young lords of Lordstown found the assembly line — 35 second bursts of a dull, repetitive task, and a 5-second break before the next Impala or Vega rolled up — to be soul-crushing work. Botched cars — some of them slashed, deliberately sabotaged by angry workers — piled up in the giant lot outside the factory. A good chunk of the labor force had little fear of conflict with their bosses because they’d recently returned from the front lines in Vietnam.

Russo recalled that during his later research he asked a Lordstown employee if he’d been afraid of losing his job during the 1970s labor strife. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” the man responded. “I just had 500,000 Vietnamese trying to kill me. You think I’m scared of GM?”

It’s Easter Sunday, 2021 and I’m waiting for the Amazon union vote.

Governor Pritzker signs legislation expanding teachers’ bargaining rights.

This past week Governor Pritzker signed legislation expanding the bargaining rights of the Chicago Teachers Union.

It was a big win, the first significant victory in the fight for expanded collective bargaining rights since the Illinois legislature’s phony 1995 reforms under Governor Jim Edgar.

That year the legislature and Edgar, with the support of the state’s teacher unions, created the disastrous pension ramp which led to the current pension debt crisis.

It also limited the subjects of mandatory bargaining between the Chicago School Board and the union and solidified Mayor Daley’s mayoral control of the school board.

Mandatory subjects of bargaining must be negotiated and can be the subject of strike action.

Permissive subjects of bargaining cannot be subject to a strike and therefore management cannot be forced to negotiate them.

The 1995 reforms expanded the areas of permissive bargaining and undermined union bargaining rights.

The restrictions to mandatory bargaining were solidified in the reforms of 2011 and SB7.

SB7 was supported by the IEA, the IFT and, at first, the CTU, and was terrible in several ways.

It required the CTU to have 75% membership approval for any strike action.

It created teacher evaluation criteria that tied teacher performance reviews to student test scores.

And it reinforced the limits on mandatory subjects of Chicago Teacher Union bargaining to essentially salary and benefits.

When CTU members heard what SB7 meant, they directed the newly elected CORE leadership to reverse the CTU position of support, which it did.

The Chicago Teachers Union ultimately opposed SB7, but it was too late.

Governor Pritzker has now approved a bill passed last year that requires CPS to bargain with the union on subjects including class sizes, outsourcing, non-teaching staff positions and more.

Significantly it does not include as a subject of mandatory bargaining the length of the school day or year. This is important because of the pandemic. Mayor Lightfoot opposed having the length of the school day included as a subject of mandatory bargaining.

She is wrong on this.

Teacher unions should have the right to bargain and, if necessary, strike over how long they are required to work.

I should make clear that the legal restrictions of permissive bargaining has never kept the CTU from actually bargaining subjects beyond salary and benefits.

Since 2016 the CTU has gone on strike twice over subjects that were considered permissive.

But the statutory expansion of bargaining rights is an important legal win.

The supplemental income divide in Medicare.

From Mark Miller’s Retirement Revised.

Most Medicare enrollees are protected from high out-of-pocket costs in one way or the other. In a new brief, the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that roughly 40% are in Medicare Advantage plans, which have built-in caps on out-of-pocket outlays, usually around $5,000 annually. The rest are in traditional Medicare, which does not have a built-in out-of-pocket cap. Most get that protection from Medigap, retiree coverage or Medicaid. 

But here’s the striking thing about the chart above: 10% of Medicare enrollees have no protection from this risk. They’re in traditional Medicare but have no supplemental coverage.

Kaiser reports that the supplemental divide is defined by income:

Compared to all traditional Medicare beneficiaries in 2018, a larger share of Medigap policyholders had annual incomes greater than $40,000, had higher education levels, were disproportionately White, and were in excellent, very good, or good health . . . A larger share of beneficiaries with no supplemental coverage had annual incomes between $20,000 and $40,000, were under the age of 65 (and eligible for Medicare due to having a long-term disability), and were men.

“What we’re starting to see is sort of an income divide in Medicare,” said Tricia Neuman, director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation during a webinar this week sponsored by the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “People who can afford to purchase Medigap or have retiree benefits – which tends to be higher income people – are in traditional Medicare. But there are five million people in traditional Medicare with no supplemental coverage. These are people who are especially exposed to high out of pocket spending.”

Medicare Advantage enrollment shouldn’t be viewed as complete protection against high out-of-pocket costs. After all, $5,000 ain’t nothing. In fact, over time, I’ve come to understand Advantage as a form of high-deductible/lower premium health insurance with a managed care feature. 

Kaiser reports that Advantage enrollees tend to be lower income and less educated. They also are more likely to be people of color.

Bottom line: Medicare enrollment patterns reflect our society’s broader income divides and wealth inequality. Those who can afford it enroll in traditional Medicare with a Medigap plan or other supplemental coverage. That’s a smart move – this combination is the gold standard in Medicare coverage. Those with lower income or wealth pick Medicare Advantage for its lower upfront costs – or they are going without supplemental coverage at all. The Medicare Advantage solution works well in some cases, so long as you’re willing to accept the provider network limitations and risk of shelling out thousands of dollars annually in the event of high health care costs.

But the supplemental income divide underscores once again the need for a more level playing field between traditional Medicare and Advantage. The two options should have a unified, low out-of-pocket ceiling without the need for supplemental coverage.

Kentucky legislators override Governor’s veto of pension theft. Where was the KEA?

Kentucky Republican legislators voted Monday to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that would create a tier 2 for newly hired teachers.

The House and Senate, both with GOP supermajorities, voted to override Beshear’s veto of House Bill 258. The bill would create a “hybrid” pension tier which would include a defined contribution component for new Kentucky teachers hired starting in 2022. 

Illinois teachers already know about this. Our legislature did their version of tier 2 which they created in 2010.

That means teachers hired starting next January would be required to pay more toward their retirement and work longer before they can earn full benefits.

Opponents said HB 258 would make it more difficult to recruit people into teaching. Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, said the measure would make it necessary for new teachers to “work longer, pay more and end up receiving fewer benefits in the long term.”

Pension activist and teacher Randy Wieck along with many other union teachers expressed their disgust with their union which seemed to go along with the Republican efforts.

Republican Rep. C. Ed Massey of Hebron, Kentucky, pointed out the same thing, claiming that the union was involved as the bill was crafted.

“To say that this is against teachers is just a false narrative,” he said. “What this body needs to know is that the (Jefferson County Teachers Association), the (Kentucky Association of School Superintendents) and the Kentucky Department of Education asked the governor not to veto this bill.” 

Some union teachers are now calling for disaffiliation from the NEA.

Hearing is a basic right. Costco is no substitute for government health care.

If you are a regular here you know I am constantly pointing out that three things basic to elder health care are hearing, dental care and vision, none of which are covered by Medicare and only sometimes covered by a private Medicare Advantage plan.

Buying cheaper hearing aids at Costco is no substitute for government health care.

Seniors having to bargain shop their health maintenance should be an embarrassment to a country with this much wealth.

And Bernie agrees.

He wants to include an expansion Medicare expansion in the next phase of the Democrats’ economic recovery plan.

He wants to lower the eligibility age for coverage to either 60 or 55 from the current 65.

And Bernie also wants to ensure Medicare covers dental visits and glasses, among other medical needs.

Sanders wants to include the provision in Democrats’ next budget reconciliation bill.

This can be done with no Republican votes in the Senate split 50-50 by party.

No need to worry about a filibuster.

Sanders has long supported a single-payer “Medicare for All” insurance system and said Medicare should be able to directly negotiate drug prices. He and Biden clashed during the 2020 presidential primary over how aggressively the U.S. should expand insurance coverage. But Biden has adopted a number of progressive concerns as his own.

I like what I’m hearing.

Is Biden listening?