Don’t call it “diversity.” Call it “racial segregation.” And “powerless.”


The map on the left shows how Chicago wards voted in the last election for mayor. Green wards voted for Mayor Rahm. Red wards voted for Chuy Garcia. The map on the left shows segregated Chicago. Blue is white. Green is Black. Orange is Latino. The line up perfectly with the results of the election.

This morning I found two pieces of data that I think are interesting and that I wish to share with you.

The New York Times has published a map and data that shows that if you are born in Cook County and poor, the odds are you will stay poor your entire life.

They call that lacking income mobility.

A passive phrase. Like shit happens.

This is a timely piece of information because I just got into one of those Facebook exchanges with a friend over the idea of American exceptionalism and the ability to pull yourself up by your boot straps if you just tried hard enough.

This is a myth. In America most poor kids grow up to be poor adults.

Friday, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver posted an article with data about the relationship of diversity to segregation.

At some point the words racial integration became the word diversity.

I can’t pinpoint the moment. But there was a point when I noticed it. Maybe 1982.

Maybe it was around the same time we changed the way we pronounce the name of the planet, Uranus.

We no longer had racial segregation. We had a lack of diversity.

Segregating people was an active phrase. It was something we actively did.

Lacking diversity was a passive phrase. As in, how did that happen? It was like that when I got here.

The change in language led to things like corporations having diversity training.

Which never challenged racism.

Nate Silver’s data shows that Chicago is an incredibly diverse city and an incredibly segregated one.

It is diverse because lots of different kinds of people moved here.

It is segregated because of intent and policy.

What Silver doesn’t mention is how the policy and practice of segregation impacts political power.

As in our last election for Mayor.

The votes of four Lakefront white wards elected Mayor Rahm.

In fact most white Chicagoans have never voted for a mayoral candidate of color.

I believe that before something can be addressed, it must be named.

Like racism.

Destroying neighborhoods.


Don’t miss reading my brother Mike’s post on Baltimore on his Small Talk blog.

How many times this week have I heard or read somebody say something about how pointless it is for people to destroy their own neighborhoods?

A distant cousin who I have no memory of every actually meeting posted on Facebook, The solution to a pattern of inappropriate police behavior is not rioting in the streets, looting businesses, damaging property, creating fear in neighborhoods.”

I posted back, “What have you done instead?”

There was no reply.

It has been three decades since I have been to Baltimore.

Even then the city was dying.

The steel mills closing.

I haven’t been to Baltimore lately. But I live in Chicago.

Saturday I heard my Network for Public Education panel-mate – Bronzeville community organizer Jay Travis – as she talked about the destruction of African American neighborhoods in my city.

It is destruction that is the result of both gentrification and policies of neglect.

Our neighborhoods are being destroyed by a mayor and corporate elite that watches over the post-industrialization of Chicago by design, corruption and the promotion of out-of-control market forces.

If you condemn the looting of a CVS, what of the closing of dozens of neighborhood schools?

There are entire blocks of Chicago where there is only one house standing. There are many blocks that have no homes left.

City blocks that have returned to prairie.

African American families once lived here in houses and three-flats that stood from corner to corner.

But as the union jobs left and neighborhood schools closed, the families left.

Thousands of families left.

Hundreds of thousands of people left.

Neighborhoods destroyed.

And not by a teenager with a brick.

Charter dumping in Chicago’s Rogers Park.


– By Tim Furman. Tim is a long-time blogger, school activist and public school technologist. He lives in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.

Dragging myself off the sidelines here..

I heard that over at Everyblock, the activist Megan Cusick has called upon Alderman Joe Moore for some answers.

Alderman Moore:

I recently learned of a proposal to bring yet another charter high school to Rogers Park. This requests that you:
-oppose the specific proposal for a Noble Street school in Rogers Park;
-oppose bringing any additional charter schools into Rogers Park;
-bring proposals for any new schools to a local, public forum in which you and officials from the school are present to address constituent concerns.
Thank you.
Megan Cusick

Apparently Noble Street has applied for a charter in Rogers Park.

Now, Everyblock is an anonymous commenter haven, so I usually stay away, but I think it’s important for people to understand that the alderman has been asked a question, and the people in the ward are waiting for an answer. I, too, look forward to the answer.

In Rogers Park, we already have CMSA and UNO Rogers Park, and people in the ward remember lack of public process by which Juan Rangel appeared one day, having moved into St. Scholastica’s campus. It was almost as if– and can you imagine this– deals were made behind closed doors.

It’s obvious where I stand on this matter: I think that a ward with three charter high schools is a ward with a weak alderman, beholden to the mayor. If you look directly to the south of us, you find an alderman who has said in the clearest terms, No. In this ward we are trying to build up the neighborhood schools, not dilute them down to death. Here in the 49th, we’ve become a charter school target. The combination of concentrated poverty, along with the compromised alderman, seems to be the “secret sauce” for the undermining of neighborhood schools.

And I know that there is a small pocket of people in every ward making the “choice” argument, the one that conveniently leaves out the choice of building up the neighborhood school, of adding programs and resources. You’ll notice that they’re not trying to put this charter school down in Lincoln Park, or anywhere else where middle class and wealthy people are concentrated. You’ll note they’re expanding Walter Payton; they’re not plunking down a charter school there.

And I also know that there are people who are going to make an argument based on race, and I’m ready for that when it comes. The underlying idea is that neighborhood schooling just doesn’t work for certain kinds of kids, and that those kids need to be separated into their own groups. And I believe that the idea further goes that certain kinds of kids can’t handle a progressive, comprehensive type of education, that what they need instead is a mandated posture, demerits, fines, and silence in the halls.

I reject all that, just like I reject the idea that choice for the sake of choice is a good thing in public education. There is a reason the high-scoring suburban districts don’t balkanize their schools and neighborhoods. There is a reason those very same people prefer democratic access to ed policy.  Here in the city, people like Rahm, people like Joe, have figured out that when you set groups of people against each other, it works out nicely at the ballot box, and that is what is behind this charter frenzy in Chicago, if you ask me.

Like it says at the top of this blog, 87% of the voters in this ward voted for an elected school board, which the alderman rejects. So it isn’t clear to me that there’s going to be any kind of honest neighborhood conversation about how many more high school seats we should create and outsource here in the neighborhood. I’m guessing that Joe will figure out something that looks like a process, but which will in fact be a rubber stamp for a pre-determined conclusion. And it will not include his participation.

For me, nothing less than the alderman leading this conversation is acceptable. Particularly in a town where nobody is quite clear on the alderman’s role in the process. Who really makes decisions about our schools? Nobody knows, because there isn’t an elected board.

So he needs to take personal charge of this conversation, and not pin it on some committee.

Another thing. It’s clear to me, and evidently clear to people in the ward more connected to the Democratic Party, that Joe has a number of anti-labor, anti-teacher people in his constituency, and it’s likely that they will be saying horrible things about unions and about teachers in the coming debates. That’s fine. What I’m asking people to do is to pay attention to the alderman’s tacit acceptance of those remarks. I think that’s the actual camp he’s in, is what I’m saying. Just watch.

More later. I’m going to get on the phone and see where people stand on this. If we don’t get a democratic process from the alderman, someone’s going to have to take that on, and if it has to be me, so be it.

The wink.

Duncan And Emmanuel Promote Education Dept's Summer Reading Initiative

Rahm just gave us white folks the wink.

Some pollyannas probably thought we could get through a Chicago election without the wink.


You can always count on the wink when the polls show a dead heat.

And the last polling of the Chicago race for mayor shows a dead heat.

Bill Clinton had his wink. They called it his Sister Souljah Moment.

Ronald Reagan winked at us white folks when he began his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Some of you younger readers may not have been around for the first George Bush’s wink. It was named Willie Horton.

And I always loved Richie Daley’s wink: “Chicago needs a wet mayor,” he later claimed he said.

“A wet mayor!” I kind of miss Richie.

But then I don’t.

Give Rahm some credit. He tried to avoid the wink. In the primary. He just answered every reporter’s question and every debate topic by saying, “I’m for the kids.” 

Now that things have tightened up though, he has reverted to form.


There it is. That’s the wink.

Eddie Murphy did this classic bit on SNL called White Like Me. He put on white face make-up and discovered that when Black people weren’t around then white people gave everything away for free to each other.

The kernal of truth in that comedy bit is the wink.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk endorsed Rahm this week:

“It’s a concern if we had one of the less-responsible people running against him,” Kirk said at the event in Chicago. “None of them could command the respect of the bond market. The collapse of Chicago debt — which already happened with Detroit — would soon follow if somebody who is very inexperienced replaced Rahm. …You’ve got to have a strong, capable leader and the people I’ve seen running against the mayor are not that leader.”

There it was.


And I don’t think for a moment this wasn’t part of the Rahm election strategy.

Kirk is a north shore Republican.  Rahm is from up there too. They don’t use the other word when talking about people of color. At least not in public.

Up there they say things like the “less-responsible people” who are “very inexperienced”  and will turn Chicago into “Detroit.”

But you know what he means. You know who he means.


Who is claiming easy victories?


Nothing easy about this. Carlos Rosa wins the 35th.

I read In These Times regularly.

And so should those who want to follow what is going on in the Progressive Movement.

I say that not just because they have published a column by me a couple of times.

So, I was surprised to read an article on their online edition suggesting Chicago progressives were claiming an easy win over Rahm Emanuel.

“The City’s Progressives should claim no easy victories,” warned the pundit.

The warning to claim no easy victories come from the Guinean anti-colonial leader and revolutionary Amilcar Cabral.

“Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”

This is good advice whether you are making revolution in Guinea or working on electing an alderman in the 35th ward.

I could not help but wonder what progressives the pundit was referring to.

Who was claiming this easy victory?

I didn’t think any of this was easy, even for the victories we did win: Carlos Rosa in the 35th, five of the seven Progressive Caucus alderman, two more incumbent progressives surviving a $2 million campaign assault by the mayor. Diane Dalieden’s amazing 40% against Pat O’Connor, the mayor’s man in the City Council. And the many runoffs that those aldermanic water carriers for Rahm must now endure. And possibly lose.

It was a continuation of the change in the political landscape the CTU President Karen Lewis called for. We are building on Will Guzzardi’s electoral win last Spring. And the surprising showing by Jay Travis against Christian Mitchell.

Certainly a number of national observers noticed that Rahm did not win and that Chuy did what had not been done in Chicago in 30 years.

The real question, instead, was whether he’d be able to win more than 50 percent of the vote, and thus avoid an April runoff election. Historically, this is something Chicago’s mayor has almost always accomplished with relative ease; it’s even more perfunctory than when an incumbent president “runs” in his party’s primary before the general election. Yet despite his national profile, the backing of the city’s formidable Democratic machine, an ungodly sum of money, and the support of his former boss (and fellow Chicagoan) President Obama, Emanuel fell short. Experts on Chicago politics described his failure as “a huge embarrassment.”

I guess we can argue all day on what constitutes a victory. There are all kinds of victories. There are moral victories, symbolic victories, real victories, false victories and partial victories.

But nothing that happened last week was an easy victory.

What did happen is the result of the hard work of a new generation of young activists knocking on doors in white, Latino and African American wards with energy for an election not seen in this town since 1983.

I think they deserve a pat on the back. And more than that.

Another victory April 7.

Logan Square to BK: Mayoral Control, John Kass on Waguespack and the Chicago race for mayor in the NY Times.


 John Kass at our Logan Square meeting with Alderman Waguespack. Photos: Fred Klonsky

We are spending a week with family in Brooklyn. The weather reports forecast a windchill of minus 30 in Chicago on Thursday. In Brooklyn they talking 40 by the weekend.

It ain’t Miami. But we will take it.

Meanwhile Rico Gutstein, UIC Professor of Mathematics Education, has sent me a copy of a report by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education on mayoral control. On Tuesday many voters in Chicago will be voting on an elected school board. The results of the Collaborative’s study are clear. Vote yes for an elected school board.

Last Saturday I was at a Logan Square neighborhood meeting for our neighboring 32nd ward alderman Scott Waguespack. As an outspoken member of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, Scott has in some ways been alderman for all of us who live in wards represented by the toadies of the Mayor.

Like my alderman, Rey Colon.

I’m working to have a real alderman in my 35th ward by next week. His name is Carlos Rosa.

The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass was at the meeting with Scott Waguespack too. Kass is hardly a progressive. But there is no love lost between him and the mayor who he calls Rahmfather.

Today Kass’s column focuses on Scott and another Progressive Caucus member, Nick Sposato. Sposato was the 36th ward alderman but got redistricted for not bending over for the Mayor. Now Nick is running in the 38th.

John Kass writes about Scott Waguespack:

Rahm’s multimillion-dollar political action committee has already come out to pound Waguespack with negative ads, which proves to me Waguespack is seen as a threat.

“Why does he have to spend all that money? He wants no dissent,” Waguespack says of Rahm. “He wants no democracy. And that’s unacceptable to me.”

We were in an apartment in Logan Square where concerned neighbors gathered to hear Waguespack; professionals, working people, newcomers. Also there were organizers for United Working Families, the labor and community coalition that sprouted in response to Rahm’s elevation by the anti-union oligarchy that runs things.

People asked the alderman about everything from tree trimming, taxes, city finances and ethics, and Waguespack handled it all seamlessly.

That’s why for years I’ve thought, and still do, that Waguespack could — and should be — mayor of Chicago. He knows city finances. He’s thoughtful. He wouldn’t treat the city like so many toy Gumbys to bend to his will.

And he stood up to former Mayor Richard M. Daley back in the day when few would, leading the criticism on that ridiculous parking meter deal, the one that forced Daley to step down and pick Rahm as his caretaker.

“Sometimes the secrecy at City Hall can be overwhelming,” Waguespack tells them. “The secrecy of the red light cameras, and the $1.7 billion in TIF (tax increment financing) funds.”

Listening to him, I got the sense that Rahm guards it all as if he were a dragon in a cave.

“That’s unacceptable,” Waguespack says. “It wouldn’t be acceptable in any other city. I don’t know why it’s acceptable in Chicago.”

– – – – –

Even though I am in Brooklyn this week it is hard to get away from the Tuesday election (I early-voted the first day). The Chicago Mayor’s race is on the front page of this morning’s New York Times.

Tracey Lasenby of South Shore has yet to decide. “Look, I believe that the city has become a great tourist destination under Mr. Emanuel,” she said. “But what’s the sense of building a park if my child can’t play in it because they’re going to get shot? What’s the use?”


Three Little League stories.


The 1955 Cannon Street All Stars, Charleston, South Carolina.

Excerpted from Baseball Dreams Deferred: The Story of the Cannon Street YMCA All Stars.

Seated comfortably in the bleachers amongst the bevy of excited spectators were John Rivers, John Bailey, Vermont Brown, Carl Johnson, and Leroy Major—members of the 1955 Cannon Street Y.M.C.A. All-Stars, an African American youth baseball team from Charleston, South Carolina who, until this week, were the “most significant amateur team in baseball history.” Nattily attired in matching polos, khakis, and baseball caps, the men loudly cheered every hit, catch and strikeout of their slightly younger historical counterparts. It was a highly emotional, joyous moment. For one team member in particular, the dungeon of his darkest childhood memory shook and his chains fell free. “I felt kind of exonerated,” John Bailey told a reporter after the game. “To see the boys from Jackie Robinson represent and do the things we could not do in 1955, I finally felt closure.”

There have been few such moments of exaltation for the All Stars, key figures in a racial controversy that forever changed youth baseball in the American South.  Nearly 15 months after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional, officials with Charleston’s “Negro” Y.M.C.A. (later known as Cannon Street) entered the team into the “whites only” Charleston Little League tournament. They faced opposition from white city recreation officials, who eventually canceled the event.  Winners by default, the All-Stars prepared to compete in the South Carolina state tournament.

In a show of “massive resistance,” white Little League officials, coaches, and parents gradually organized a mass boycott.  The Cannon Street team was ultimately denied the opportunity to compete in the LLWS but was invited to attend the final game as guests of then Little League president Peter J. McGovern.  The following year, teams in seven southern states seceded from Little League and formed “Little Boys’ Baseball, Incorporated,” a segregated youth baseball organization that later became known as Dixie Youth Baseball.  This “Civil War” within youth baseball, sparked by the Cannon Street effort, remains a pivotal yet often overlooked moment in the African American freedom struggle in South Carolina and the nation.

From George Schmidt. George publishes SubstanceNews.

Thanks for noting that the purpose of the game is to have fun, and that good coaches make sure that everyone gets into every game. Regardless of skill level or whatever it might be called. Every year for the past two decades or so, our family has had kids playing organized baseball (it’s really not baseball unless someone is umpiring, etc.) and every year we’ve had to deal with one or two monster parents (and now and then, a coach) who go overboard. But usually it’s what you narrate above.

However, Chicago has many many other problems with baseball, the biggest of which, which I discuss below, is that the economics are tilted away from the poor and working class. Not only can the kids not afford the equipment, but they are also barred by league fees and other barriers.

The corruptions of “Little League” by adults hasn’t begun or ended with this latest bit of dishonesty. Go to and you will find that to play “Little League” at Chicago’s Portage Park this summer, you have to pay $200 for the bigger kids (our 13 year old) and $190 for the younger ones (our ten year old). That’s officially “Little League,” Chicago-style, 2015. And just as a reminder, I’ll check out to see whether “Little League” still officially requires that any kid can play. (My memory of the history of Little League, no quotes, is that its founding rules demanding that any kid could join a team; founding being during the Great Depression).

Chicago 2015 reality also means that just about every team draws from a wider area. Kids we know play at Horner Park (if they want that punishing 40-game schedule) or over at Dunham Park (both in Chicago and on the North Side). Nobody has mentioned “boundaries” to me in more than a decade, and by sons (the eldest of whom is now 25 and a successful engineer in San Francisco) have been in “Little League” for the better part of 16 or 18 years.

When I read about the challenges to the integrity of the Jackie Robinson West victory, my first thought was “Danny Almonte.” Danny who? Look him up. He’s still famous. When my eldest was playing lots of baseball (back in the days when I could catch two or three times a week; unlike today when my legs can’t do it anymore), I read the New York Times one morning and there was a front page story that a Little League pitcher had pitched a PERFECT GAME for a team from the Bronx in Williamsport. Wow! Anyone with a baseball kid in the family read that and said, to be duplicative, “WOW!!”

… until, of course, the second look. The first question was how a 12-year-old could be throwing an 80 mph fastball. My son Dan, who won the frosh soph City Championship game for Whitney Young over Lane Tech in 2005, only began to hit 80 mph at age 15 or 16. That is what most kids who play hard do. We had one kid at Whitney Young in those days who threw his four-seam over 90 mph, but as a senior.

And 80 mph fastball on a 12-year-old sounded suspicious.

And, sure enough, Danny Almonte was pitching for that Bronx team because of a forged Dominican Republic “birth certificate.” By the time he pitched that “perfect game” he was 14 or so.

And so, in the course of time, the game was thrown out and the team disqualified. And some people in the Bronx said the disqualification was racist. Etc.

So now Chicago is now, and we have another issue with whether the rules are the rules for everyone and whether inner city kids should get the chance to play a very very complex game beginning when they are little and regularly. Because very few kids can master all the skills necessary to play high school ball without having done some games as a youngster. And that means, usually, Little League or even “Little League.”

Back ten years ago, I did a study of the reasons why Chicago kids were not getting as much baseball as suburban kids. Summers, my older kid was on a travel team, and playing in the suburbs (or Northwest Indiana) was enough to make you cry. Chicago’s baseball fields are a mess, and the pitcher’s mounds especially are rutted and dangerous. A few years ago, CPS, as always facing an “austerity” budget, eliminated funding for pre-varsity baseball coaches in the city’s public high schools. I covered the press conference at which Ron Huberman said that was a necessity because, after all, the money just wasn’t there.

If Chicago wants to encourage all kids — and not just those who are willing to pay $200 for a season of “Little League” this summer — to play baseball, Chicago has to pay coaches to coach and make sure every baseball field is safe to play on. When I watched Rahm Emanuel hype himself during those heart warning JRW games last summer, I asked loudly whether he was going to put the maintenance of the fields and the paying of the coaches into Park District and CPS budgets.

But of course that hasn’t happened. And so, today, anyone who wants to watch the latest examples of Chicago hypocrisy can go to the city’s varsity baseball fields (the ones with pitcher’s mounds and 90 feet between bases) and do what I did. Stand on the mound and lurch forward and see what happens to your legs (ankles, knees, hips) when you land in one of those many Chicago Ruts instead of on the smooth surface that every suburban field and every suburban public school field guarantees for its kids.

I’ll stop now and publish our updated photo essay in about six weeks, when the latest Chicago (Park District and CPS) field neglects become visible with the coming of Spring.

As to the latest “Little League” scandal.

Let’s just not pretend it’s Little League until every kid who wants to can play — even if her or his parents cannot afford the dollars to buy into a season at some Chicago park.

Lastly, from my friend and teacher, Glen Brown. Glen’s writings can be found at Teacher/Poet/Musician

Thanks Mark and Fred. Here’s a memory I have playing pony league in Niles…

Just Not Fast Enough

I tied a league ball in it,
roped it around twice with jute twine
after greasing the pocket with Vaseline,
and stuffed it in between
my mattress and box spring
each fall.

By spring, my Wilson A2020
“Nellie” Fox baseball glove
was primed for another season.

Through May and June,
the days rang with Hey, batter, batter.
Swing batter, swing!
I swung a Duke Snyder Adirondack,
but I was Louis Aparicio at the plate—
a singles hitter and fast—
a sure steal on the base paths.

In one game, the rain fouled up
my fifth stealing attempt,
as second base became a buoy.

The game was called,
and my father and I
navigated out of the bog
in his new ’64 Oldsmobile Starfire,
until he asked about my muddy spikes.

We torpedoed across traffic
and slid across shoals.
He popped open the trunk
and hurled my baseball spikes
high into the air.

I watched them descend—
the long, mucky laces twisting
in slow-motion, my mitt tied to them—
then hit the street with a dull splash.

I held my breath for an eternity;
as if dreaming, I dodged
the gloom of headlights
bearing down Dempster Street
with quick resolve
to swipe one last time,
‘til I watched the entire season
disappear suddenly beneath
a semi-trailer’s tires
five times.

Mark Stefanik: A memory of Little League.


By Mark Stefanik. Mark is a regular contributor to this site. He is a middle school Language Arts teacher and union activist.

It’s summer 1964. JFK is dead. 3 college age voting rights activists are missing in Mississippi. More and more American soldiers are being sent to a distant land called Viet Nam.

These things matter very little to me, though, because something of far more importance is happening.   At the age of 11, I am the first baseman for the Cubs, one of six teams in the Brighton Park Little League. It doesn’t matter that Brighton is on Chicago’s South Side, home to my beloved White Sox, and when the wind is right, within hearing distance of Comiskey Park’s exploding scoreboard. It doesn’t matter that I wear number 14 and play the same position as the iconic Ernie Banks. It doesn’t matter that I’ve traded my Louie Aparicio infielder’s glove, for a Joe Pepitone first baseman’s mitt – I’m playing Little League Baseball, the only game in town for boys my age.

For two summers, I’d been on the sidelines. In a 9-12 year olds league, few 9s make it past tryouts. 10s are the usual draftees, but they ride the pine. At 11, after a season of brief, sporadic visits to right field, my bat had earned me a starter’s position. It was 2 years of sports joy. I turned some double plays. Caught line drives. Garnered bubble gum cigars for each home run hit. And, always, always wore my BP baseball cap wherever I went.

I don’t think a Super Bowl ring could bestow more self-esteem on a football player than that sweaty, dusty hat provided me.

After Little League, I never played formal organized ball again.

It’s summer 1994. I’m a Dad. I’m a teacher. I’m a Little League coach. And, with every decision I make, I remember Brighton Park. I remember the pride of making a team. I remember the fear of making an error. I remember being at bat, being at the center of the game’s universe. This shaped my practices.

The fact is, for most kids, Little League is the last time they’ll play organized ball. Purely by the numbers, the opportunities diminish for all but a talented few. Where I live, there are thousands of slots for boys and girls to play on teams from ages 5 to 14. By high school, a varsity boys and a varsity girls team have openings for about 30 players combined to serve a population of 4,000 students.

This is not a call for more baseball opportunities. Most kids lose interest in the game or prefer other sports or other activities. That’s normal. No, this is about those little fields of dreams that dot every community. This is about making memories.

When I coached, I knew this. I knew that Little League was about dreams and democracy. The game was one of hopes and character. It was a canvas for the limitless imagination of the young. If you build it, they will come.

Fluid batting orders. Infield as well as outfield innings for everyone. You want to pitch? Practice with your Mom or Dad and you’ll get an inning…maybe more. All of this took a structure of course. Give a poor fielder his infield innings at second base? Put the starting shortstop in right field. Pitchers walk off the mound after 3 outs or 4 walks…whichever comes first. No one bats last for 2 games in a row. Glory. Pressure. Failure. Accomplishment. Teamwork.

All players matter. That’s the democracy part. It’s Little League. And, oh yeah, we won more than we lost. Winning matters, but doing your best matters more. It’s Little League. Memories matter the most.

It’s Little League.

It’s a near perfect ecosystem for the imagination of the young. Near perfect, because, unfortunately, sometimes the adults screw it up. This is not news. Politics. Ego. Ambition. Gerrymandering. Ringers. Malfeasance. These are the grown-up pollutants.

50 years after my best baseball summer ever, Little League Baseball captured our hearts in Chicago, then broke them. Maybe the adults can reflect on where it went wrong. It most certainly wasn’t the game or the players.

Pitchers and catchers report this week.

Hope springs eternal.

Keeping retirement weird. Putting a face to pension theft.


Unless you read Jeff Johnson’s guest post on this site yesterday (and several thousand of you did based on my count) you may not know that there is a trial going on in Chicago to enjoin Rahm Emanuel from stealing city retiree pensions.

Last year the Mayor went to his pal Michael Madigan and got the slime down in Springfield to allow him to cut and freeze pension benefits. They wouldn’t wait for the Illinois Supreme Court to rule on their earlier pension grab called Senate Bill 1.

Some city union leaders put their stamp of approval on theft. But not the CTU or AFSCME.

Four unions went to court on behalf of retirees and two retirees testified yesterday.

Mark Brown writes a column for the Chicago Sun-Times.

He drank Rahm’s Kool-Aid that pension theft is needed to balance the city budget.

But even Brown cannot turn away from the faces of real retirees and what pension theft means to them.

Today he writes:

City of Chicago retirees Mary J. Jones and Barbara Lomax took turns hobbling to the witness stand Friday in a Daley Center courtroom to help make the case against reducing city pension benefits.

Jones, 62, and Lomax, 65, are among thousands of retirees whose annual cost-of-living increases took a trim Jan. 1 under a new state law intended to rescue two struggling city pension funds.

Their pensions continue to grow, mind you, just not by as much as they were promised when they retired.

Because of that broken commitment, their lawyers say the legislation negotiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel with some city unions should be declared unconstitutional.

In the meantime, the retirees want its provisions set aside temporarily until the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled on a similar challenge to a new state pension law.

The Emanuel Administration counters that the law is sound and halting its implementation would risk a financially disastrous negative reaction from credit ratings agencies that want the city to fix its pension problems.

The examples of Jones and Lomax are reminders that, despite what we know to be the bloated pensions of many city workers, little people also will get hurt in the process of cleaning up the mess — although arguably not as badly as they might if the pension funds were allowed to continue on their previous path to insolvency.

But the two grandmothers’ pensions also are a reminder of the foolish mistakes that got us into this jam in the first place.

Jones and Lomax were both beneficiaries of early retirement programs, magical deals in which city workers were allowed to retire early with full benefits.

City officials touted such programs as resulting in an overall taxpayer savings as older workers were replaced by less-costly new hires.

The savings was a mirage, resulting only from the fact the city wasn’t legally required to pay enough money into the pension funds to support the benefits that would eventually have to be paid. It was just one of many such short-sighted decisions now coming home to roost.

Jones was 51 and Lomax 54 when the city offered them what they saw as an attractive retirement package in 2004. They’ve been drawing a pension ever since.

Under the 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living adjustments applicable under the previous law, those pensions are now some 34 percent greater than when the women retired.

Jones, who spent 33 years working for Chicago Public Library, is scheduled to receive a pension of $42,163 this year. That’s $360 more than she got last year, but $900 less she would have received under the old law. She does not receive Social Security.

Lomax, who worked 19 years in various city clerical jobs, is due a $27,922 pension in 2015 — $235 more than last year but $600 less than previously scheduled. She also gets $56 a month in Social Security.

As you can see, neither woman is on easy street. Jones lives with her mother and two grandchildren and says she is their primary financial support. Lomax lives alone with her chihuahua and two birds and takes 10 medications daily for her blood pressure, congestive heart failure and asthma. Both women tell me they never worked politics.

The new cost-of-living adjustment will pay retirees only 0.85 percent more this year and does not compound. Retirees will receive no adjustment at all in 2017, 2019 and 2025.

Depending on the size of future adjustments, someone with even a relatively modest pension benefit such as Jones and Lomax will lose tens of thousands of dollars over a 20-year period. That’s why the small change results in a huge savings to taxpayers.

Lomax, for one, doesn’t seem so sure she’ll live that long if the city doesn’t restore the full increase, which she calls a “life-or-death situation” because she can’t afford to pay for all her medication.

Retirees emphasize the reduced pension payments are coming at the same time the city is phasing out their subsidized health insurance, which means their net pay is lower than it was last year.

If you’ve followed my coverage of this issue, then you know I’m sympathetic to the needs of state and local governments to pare back the pensions, and I believe Emanuel has struck a reasonable approach.

But we should never lose sight of what a lousy thing it is to take away pension benefits from people who are already retired and were counting on the promises made to them by the people we elected to represent us.

And then there is the question of why we keep electing those people when they don’t represent us?

Jeff Johnson: Chicago city pensions in court.


Chicago’s CFO Lois Scott took the stand to defend pension theft.

– By Jeff Johnson. Jeff is President of the Municipal Employees Society.

Is it diminishing or impairing your pension if we save it?

This was an argument put forth by the cities attorney as a reason why retirees shouldn’t receive an injunction. The city also argued that pensions are a contract and subject to breaking it under police powers.  The judge asked why then would they insert a special clause for pensions in the state constitution and not leave it out and assume it’s a contract? The city attorney answered that pensions where different then backtracked into pension being like any other contract. There have been three court dates thus far with both sides laying out their claim.

Retirees lawyers have argued going from 3% cola to .85 is a diminishment to their pension. While the city is claiming that to give 3% cola raises during the pension case would cause irreparable harm in that it would damage their credit rating and the city would never see that money back. Retirees attorneys argued back that Moody’s has recommend if the city raised taxes to fund pensions it would raise their rating.

CFO Lois Scott has been on the stand for two days testifying to the cities financials. Ms. Scott gave an interview in which she claimed Chicago would not end up like Detroit and that pensions were not the problem with ratings downgrades, the fact the city hasn’t funded them is the problem.

They have gotten away from diminished and impaired and have focused on police powers due to the financial ramifications. Ms. Scott will be on the stand today resuming her “rehabilitation testimony” with the cities lawyer.

There has been some notables in the audience, a few reporters including Mark Brown of the Sun-times. Chief Legal counsel for the city  Stephen Patton. Pension trustees and a good showing of retirees affected by SB1922.

The final hearing on an injunction is set for Feb 11th at 11am.