Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers. Episode #48. Amber Smock, people with disabilities advocate and activist.

We had our production meeting over coffee at Bridgeport Coffee. Apparently so does Alderman Eddie Burke. He is the one wearing the pin-stripe suit at the table behind us.

We had more important things to discuss than the guy in pin-stripes.

We were getting ready for episode #48 of Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers with our in-studio guest, Amber Smock.

Amber is director of outreach for Access Living, an important Chicago institution that, among many other fine works, advocates for those with disabilities.

We got into issues of policy, language, education, movement building, self-identification and tons more in what is a fast-moving hour.

This was my first solo flight at producing.

Station manager Jamie Trecker described it as “true community radio.”

I think that means that on listening to the replay I counted at least half a dozen production mistakes.

Jamie probably counted more.

I will get better at it.

Meanwhile, I think Amber’s message game through loud and clear.

That’s what’s important.

You can hear and download the podcast here.

Ahead of Janus, union haters are collecting teacher names.

Is a group with connections to the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei using FOIA to gather names of union teachers in Illinois?

In a memo that was passed on to me, IEA locals around the state are being asked to closely monitor any FOIA requests.

The state union is warning local leaders that it is an “urgent” situation since the Supreme Court could rule on the Janus case as early as May. Janus would deprive unions of the right to fair share and agency fees in exchange for the right to due representation of members. If the court rules against teacher unions, it would be a devastating blow.

The IEA memo mentions a shadowy group called the Parents Foundation for Education as the one filing the FOIA request.

PFA has ties to the conservative Opus Dei.

This is to let you know that the Parent’s Foundation for Education has sent a FOIA request to a significant number of Illinois school districts asking for:
·  Campus (or office building name, for staff)
·  First Name
·  Middle Name
·  Last Name
·  Position
·  Grade Level(for teachers)
·  Subject Area taught (for teachers)
·  Certified in Area of Instruction (for teachers)
·  Any state certifications such as “LBS1, LBS2, ELL, etc.”
·  Home Address
·  School Email
·  Personal Email
·  Personal Phone Number
·  Gender
·  Race/Ethnicity
·  Hire Date
·  Years of Experience
·  Current Salary
Some of the districts received these requests as early as September 2017 and they are continuing across the country.  Because of that, the IEA is recommending the following:
1.       Find out from your district if they have received the request, and if so, ask for a copy of the request and the district’s response.
2.       Ask your district that it give you notice immediately after such requests for member information are made and provide you with a copy of the request.  Check your CBA for any language already mandating your district to provide your local with such information.  If your CBA has such language, make sure the district complies with the contractual obligations.
3.       If you determine that such requests have already been made or are made in the future, you should take the following actions:
a.       start 1:1 campaigns, in which every member is talked to by a local leader/supporter;
b.      conversations should include the value of their locals-IEA-NEA and unions in general;
c.       in these conversations, share that “Out-of-state” groups or “In-state” groups, such as the Illinois Policy Institute, affiliated and funded by out-of-state groups will likely be contacting them about dropping their membership;
d.      point out that these groups are funded by billionaires who are making decisions about their profession(s);
e.      talk about how these groups want to take away their freedom to join whatever professional groups members want to join;
f.        implicate corporations which want to harm working people who devote their careers to helping people;
g.       explain that these groups want to take away their pensions, paychecks, benefits, and voice in their workplace and before state policy makers;
h.      do NOT use the terms “right wing” or “conservative” to describe these groups.
These steps need to be taken now.  There is no time to spare.  These groups are ready to attack your membership as soon as the Janus decision is issued, which could be as early as May.


9,000 teachers are among those that face deportation without DACA.

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If Congress fails to extend DACA, and Trump refuses to agree, over 800,000 Dreamers, non-citizens who came to the U.S. as children and who have lived their entire lives here, face deportation.

From a fact sheet published by the Migration Policy Institute: 

With DACA holders set to begin losing their protection in growing numbers starting early next year—MPI estimates about 915 people on average will fall out of DACA status each day beginning March 6, 2018…

The study finds that college enrollment among Dreamers is roughly the same as the population as a whole.

55% of Dreamers are employed. Most DACA participants (62 percent) who are not in the labor force are enrolled in school.

ƒThere are about 9,000 DACA recipients employed as teachers or similar education professionals, and another 14,000 in health-care practitioner and support jobs.

Removing 9,000 Dreamers from the nations teaching corps will be brutal.

There should be no Continuing Budget Resolution without saving DACA.

Hold Senate Democrats’ feet to the fire on this.



WTTW’s Paris Schutz and the myth of averages.

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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.


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.

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.

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-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?”


“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.