Make me a wedge issue.


We had the family over for bagels yesterday morning during the inauguration.  I had it streaming with the sound off. It may have been the best way to to watch it.

Although it meant we missed George Stephanopoulos thinking Bill Russell was Morgan Freeman.

Well. You know.

It meant I had to read Obama’s speech later.

Oh. Did I mention that Anne and I consider Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together our song. Whatever “our song” means. We consider it our song. 

Jennifer Hudson’s version is okay. Barack and Michelle are welcome to it.

Anne and I are keeping the Rev. Green’s version, however. It’s ours.

Just like Beyonce’s version of At Last for the first inaugural ball was really good. But I prefer the soulful Etta James.

But back to Obama’s speech.

Democrats loved it. It was the classic New Deal Democratic speech. With the addition of adding Stonewall to Selma and Seneca Falls and not quite mentioning same-sex marriage specifically. Instead he talked about our brothers and sisters being treated like everyone else. So, we knew.

I think I’m getting the strategy.

Obama will adopt the decades-old Republican strategy of using wedge-issues.

The Democrats have discovered two things: Basing yourself on what old white guys want doesn’t give you a ruling majority anymore. And to hold power you don’t have to actually do anything. You just have to talk the talk. This gets the wackos in the GOP all riled up so they talk about things like legitimate rape and how if Martin Luther King were alive today he would be for guns.

It’s working. The Republicans have become the incredible shrinking Party.

This is what some progressive Democrats have been asking Obama to do for the last four years.

So, now we’ll see.

Of course, actually walking the walk would be better.

And add some more wedge issues:

Like the ending the use of drones.

And  ending market-based school reform.

Now that would have gotten me away from the bagels.

Increasing revenue, not cutting services and promised benefits. An idea so crazy it just might work.


As the Illinois General Assembly starts a new session, the level of frustration among my retired teacher friends increases.

As much as those in the corporate Illinois Policy Institute and the Civic Committee want to paint the state’s public pensioners as greedy and fat (Hey. I’m working out four days a week), it just ain’t so.

But to many of my colleagues it seems as if the train is unstoppable and the politicians will pass a COLA cut. It will go to the courts, of course. And even though we think and hope the courts will find that a cut to COLA or other benefits violates the pension protection clause of the Illinois Constitution, who can be sure?

In the meantime the Teacher Retirement System has already sent an email to all TRS members informing us that if the General Assembly passes a pension bomb that impacts our COLA, our benefits will be frozen until the courts decide.

This is what causes frustration and fear among retired teachers and other state employees who planned and budgeted carefully.

We pension activists have repeated the mantra: This is a revenue problem, not a pension problem.

It seemed like it fell on deaf ears.

But maybe not.

Today the influential Springfield Journal Register called on Governor Quinn to avoid the state’s version of the fiscal cliff and called for a graduated income tax.

I reprint the editorial in full:

The numbers in Gov. Pat Quinn’s three-year budget projection are stark and a reminder of Illinois’ own impending fiscal cliff, starting in 2015.

The 2011 income tax increase that raised the individual rate from 3 percent to 5 percent expires at the end of 2014, which is midway through the 2015 fiscal year. That means the budget lawmakers are supposed to pass by June of this year, FY2014, will be the last containing a full year of the increased revenue.

The governor’s budget office projects that state sources of revenue (the corporate and individual income taxes, the sales taxes and other miscellaneous sources) will dip from $29 billion in FY2014, to $27 billion in FY2015 to $24.8 billion in FY2016.

That means nearly $4 billion more in cuts at a time when health-care costs and required pension payments continue to rise and education and health care have already been whacked.

There was chatter at the Statehouse that Quinn would nudge the legislature to make the income tax increase permanent during the recent lame-duck session, but such an effort didn’t materialize after Senate President John Cullerton iced the idea, saying whether to extend the increase is an issue for the 2014 election.

It wouldn’t have to be if Quinn and the legislature decided to tackle reforming the state’s tax system before then.

Illinois’ tax structure is an archaic relic of the economy of 30 years ago. The state sales tax doesn’t tax the growing service sector. It doesn’t effectively tax online sales. Both the sales tax and our flat income tax disproportionately hit the poor and middle class. Two-thirds of the state’s corporations don’t pay the corporate income tax, partly because of special treatment afforded them in the tax code.

Indiana, the panacea for pro-business politicians looking for a model state for other policy reforms, has a modern tax structure. It applies its sales tax to both retirement income and many services that Illinois does not. The Senate Democrats analyzed Indiana’s tax structure and determined that if Illinois had the same framework — before the income tax increase — the state would have $5.6 billion more in revenue. Illinois raised $6 billion to $7 billion by raising its income tax.

For his entire political career, Quinn has been for a progressive income tax, but in his four years as governor, he has never offered a serious proposal to institute one. His 2010 primary opponent, Dan Hynes, did offer a plan, one that would have spared 97 percent of taxpayers a tax increase, taxed some services and raised $5.5 billion in new revenue.

There’s a grand tradition of politicians stealing their opponents’ ideas after the election. Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar famously swiped Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch’s plan to overhaul school funding but couldn’t get it through the General Assembly.

Quinn ought to say today he won’t seek to extend the temporary income tax increase when it expires.

The governor should dust off Hynes’ plan and make it his own. He should urge legislative Democrats, who now have supermajorities in both chambers and can place a constitutional amendment on the ballot without Republican support, to flex their political muscles. Quinn ought to ask the legislature to send voters an amendment in 2014 that would allow for a progressive income tax and then run alongside it as a permanent budget fix. He ought to couple that with a comprehensive plan to reform the state’s tax structure from top to bottom.

Quinn, who has indicated he plans to run again, continues to have low approval ratings. The sharks are circling. Recent weeks have brought rumblings from Chicago that former White House chief of staff Bill Daley is serious this time about running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Attorney General Lisa Madigan might also jump into the fray.

Quinn could get a jump on both by offering a fresh idea and some hope that Illinois’ fiscal state won’t continue to circle the drain.

The governor talks a lot about the need for bold solutions to problems. This is one. And it happens to be good politics, too.

Can it be that they are listening?

The in box. Reasons to vote no on the Illinois Constitutional Amendment.

On the November Ballot, Illinois voters will be asked if they believe the Illinois Constitution should be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system. Please vote NO on the proposed Constitutional Amendment (HJRCA 49). This Constitutional Amendment would also require that any local collectively-bargained agreement be approved by a three-fifths majority if those agreements had incentives or additional compensation increases beyond salary.

Reasons to VOTE NO:


ü  It is mostly the legislators’ fault that the pension systems were poorly funded throughout the decades. That diverted pension money was used for other state services and legislators’ “pet” projects instead;
ü  The constitutional amendment will make public employees’ ability to fight for fair contracts much harder (Illinois Education Association, IEA);
ü  This constitutional amendment will limit the bargaining power of employers and employees (IEA);
ü  There is the possibility of disagreement on what constitutes a benefit increase” (Jesse White, Secretary of State). The COLA and other “earned” benefits will most likely be reinterpreted in this regard;
ü  This constitutional amendment would make it nearly impossible to remedy the Social Security issues with the passage of Senate Bill 1946 in April, 2010 (IEA). This is unfair to any new teachers hired after January 1, 2011;
ü  This constitutional amendment will make it harder to attract the best possible college candidates for the teaching profession (IEA);

ü  This constitutional amendment “does not reduce the state’s pension systems’ current $83 billion unfunded liability” (caused primarily by the state’s legislators); “it fails to address the real fiscal issue caused by the state’s outsized pension debt—how to amortize the $83 billion debt owed to the pension systems” (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability);

ü  Most significantly, as stated by the State Universities Annuitants Association (SUAA), this constitutional amendment “would grant unprecedented powers to government that will undermine protections contained in the pension protection clause [Article XIII, Section 5] and eliminate the uniform laws that now exist for [all] state employee benefits and obligations in the Illinois Pension Code” (Letter from SUAA, April 25, 2012);

ü  Note: if you do not vote at all, your absent vote will make it easier for a majority “Yes” vote.


The question on the November ballot will ask, “…If you believe the Illinois Constitution should not be amended to require a three-fifths majority vote in order to increase a benefit under any public pension or retirement system, you should vote NO… on the question. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election must vote “Yes” in order for the amendment to become effective on January 9, 2013.” Please join us in voting NO against the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.  
Thank you from Dave Madsen, Glen Brown

Posted By Glen Brown to teacher/poet/musician glen brown

Social media outrage brings down anti-union Kenneth Cole billboard.

The billboard, featuring a woman exposing a lot of cleavage combined with an attack on teacher unions may have baffled some. But it pissed off enough people that Kenneth Cole, the sponsor of the sign, is taking it down.

The outrage on blogs, Twitter and Facebook proved too much for the shoe monger.

This weekend teachers and advocates responded, in a flurry of posts on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, and a petition 600 signatures strong, calling for a boycott of Cole’s clothing company. Even national union leader Randi Weingarten waded into the fray with Twitter posts criticizing the company, which is headed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s brother-in-law.

The company has now responded. This afternoon, Kenneth Cole Productions used Twitter to send a public message to the creator of the petition, a D.C. teacher-turned-activist, Sabrina Stevens Shupe, that it plans to remove the billboard.

“We misrepresented the issue – one too complex for a billboard – and are taking it down,” the company posted from its Twitter account, @KennethCole.

It wasn’t all that complex. Good work Sabrina!

Saturday coffee.

Retired teacher Ken Previti leaves these cards around to show the impact of teacher pensions on the Illinois economy.

The transition from active to retired teacher has been an eye opener for me.

I don’t think that Quinn, Madigan, Cross and Fahner get who they’re dealing with.

The movement of retired teachers and other state employees who only have their state pensions to live on is big and getting bigger.

People are angry.

And they are organized. And getting more organized.

This is what I have discovered the past few weeks.

There are the two formal organizations of retired teachers: IEA-Retired and the Illinois Retired Teacher Association.

And then the informal networks of retired teachers. People with emailing lists of hundreds. Dozens of these email lists.

Do you think that 1,000 active and retired teachers just happened to show up to hear and question TRS Executive Director Richard Ingram in Orland Park the other night?

Or the 2oo in Naperville on Thursday?

There are 363,000 TRS members in Illinois.

Over 80,000 retired.

And their families.

I’m not even talking about whether Quinn’s proposals are constitutional, sustainable or fair.

They’re not.

I’m just talking old-fashioned politics.

Tell nearly a half million voters in the state that you are about to screw them bad.

I want to see these politicians, Dems and Republicans, run a campaign on that.

Then sit back and watch those emails fly.

People ask me what I’m going to do after June 8th?

I’ll have more time.

Who knows? You might even find some retired teachers occupying the Governor’s office.

The in box. “So few people understand function, and its dependencies, so they focus on form, on which anyone may opine.”


I still recall the important phrase “form follows function” from my introductory engineering design class thirty years ago. So few people understand function, and its dependencies, so they focus on form, on which anyone may opine. As I approach my fifth decade, the reality that those in power know so little is most disconcerting. To see through the charade played out on the floors of Congress, state, and local assemblies; in the halls of government departments (Arne’s World); and in city halls across America makes me long for the idealism of youth. At the same time, that equates to sticking my head in the sand, which I refuse to do when I know better. Shame on all pols who know better and pursue policies that benefit themselves, or their supporters and lobbyists, versus the great people of this country.

Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Life in Rahm’s Chicago. For most teachers, it’s a ten hour day.

University of Illinois labor researcher Robert Bruno.

Rahm says he is willing to pull back on his plan for a seven and a half hour school day. He’s now pushing for a seven hour day.

He still has offered no clue as to compensation or a plan for instructional use.

The truth is that for most teachers it is already a ten hour day, according to a new study by  University of Illinois researchers.

The claim that Chicago public school teachers aren’t working enough hours during the school day are unwarranted at best and intellectually dishonest at worst, according to research from a University of Illinois labor expert.

The contentious debate between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis over the length of the school day has focused on Chicago public schools having the shortest official day of any major city – five hours and 45 minutes for elementary school students, and six hours and 45 minutes for high school students. But Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, says when you account for time outside of the contractually obligated instruction, a teacher’s day is almost twice as long.

“We wanted to show just how long, and just how many actual working hours, are involved in being a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public School system,” Bruno said. “What we found is that teachers are spending almost 10-plus hours per day at the school, and then putting in roughly another two hours at home. So their workday is absolutely not five hours and 45 minutes but almost twice that – and that’s not even including weekends.”

Bruno, along with Steven Ashby, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, and Frank Manzo IV, a research assistant and graduate student at the University of Chicago, are co-authors of a paper that surveyed 983 Chicago Public School teachers. The study profiles a teacher’s standard school-day workload and the time they devote to the job.

The findings include:

  • Teachers work 58 hours per week on average during the school year.

  • Teachers work for 10 hours and 48 minutes on average during a standard school day, and spend almost an additional two hours working at home in the evening.

  • Teachers work another three hours and 45 minutes on school-related work over the weekend.

“It’s at minimum a 58-hour work week, which is more than 800 hours a year beyond what is contractually obligated,” Bruno said. “Teaching in a Chicago public school is well beyond a full-time job.”

The in box. “The new reality.”


Welcome to the “New Reality” where those who serve the public, are trusted with our state’s children every day, and never missed their payments are the ones to blame and on who’s backs solutions will be foisted.

In this “New Reality” Illinois legislators offer corporations earning billions in annual profits millions in tax breaks to remodel their bathrooms while public schools crumble.

The “New Reality” features Illinois legislators kowtowing to corporate “job creators”, giving millions in tax breaks to appease their threats just as schools districts near their corporate headquarters contemplate budget cuts that negatively impact education.

And thanks to this “New Reality” these corporate “job creators” fire hundreds of employees locally, and thousands nationally, after Illinois legislators vote overwhelmingly in their favor.

This “New Reality” see Illinois legislators following the rational that the only way to fix the state’s budget issues is through cutting spending. Discussion of permanent new revenues such as a graduated income tax, reform of TIF districts, or elimination of corporate welfare are not seriously considered.

The economics of this “New Reality” see Illinois legislators focusing squarely on austerity measures without any acknowledgement or realization of the economic impact cutting earned benefits of hundreds of thousands of middle class citizens will cause, nor how such cuts will remove millions from the state’s economy further reducing needed state revenues.

In this “New Reality” Illinois legislators claim that constitutional language such as “shall not be diminished or impaired” is somehow unclear, imprecise language that needs to be challenged.

To those in the Illinois legislature, the “New Reality” means that a “contractual relationship” doesn’t really mean “contractual” or “relationship” and can be renegotiated at any time after being entered into.

In fact, the “New Reality” stops even pretending that Illinois legislators will follow the very laws they pass, even if it causes the insolvency of the pension systems hundreds of thousands who are ineligible for Social Security rely upon as their sole source of retirement savings.

But most surprisingly, this “New Reality” believes that those the Illinois legislature is looking to scapegoat and deprive of their earned benefits will trust legislators who won’t even follow their own laws with any new deal they propose moving forward.

Reform Springfield.


Teachers in a position to reward friends and punish enemies on pension fight.

The Chicago Way.

Don’t be shocked when you read this. I have my criticism of the IEA leadership.

But at the IEA RA last week, when I was asked to vote on giving more money for the fight against anti-union legislation and defending our pensions, I said yes. Yes. Yes.

Now I want the IEA to use it well. Reward friends. Punish enemies.

Greg Hinz reports on who the big spenders were in the Illinois primaries.

Who had the deepest pockets? Mike Madigan, Chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and long-time Speaker of the State House. He spent $213,914. Interestingly, it was spent on Democrats in order to beat other Democrats.

No. 2: Illinois Education Association PAC, the political arm of the big teachers’ union, at $201,500. It was followed closely by Health Care Council of Illinois PAC ($201K) and Associated Beer Distributors ($200K).

Among other biggies:

• Stand For Children, a business-backed group that tends to be on the opposite side of the teachers’ unions, spent $139K.

• Illinois Senate Democratic Fund, Senate President John Cullerton’s campaign arm, $134K.

• Personal PAC, the abortion-rights group, $120K.

• Chicago Teachers’ Union PAC, $110K.

• Service Employees International Union, the big government workers group, $97K.

 Looks to me like the unions out-clouted the business guys when it comes to campaign cash — at least in this go-round.


Now let’s see if it pays off.

I always want to be able to look at this list and see that the unions spent the most. And then I want to see what we paid for.

Reward our friends. Punish our enemies. That’s the Chicago Way.

Saturday coffee.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie.

Yesterday was the first day of Spring Break. Then all next week. Thursday I head for Brooklyn to see kids and grand kids.

With the teacher haters Tweeting me about how overpaid and underworked teachers are, I feel compelled to explain that none of these days off are paid holidays.

“What?” you say.

Teachers are paid a per diem. No paid holidays. If the legislature were to pass a Fred Klonsky Day with schools closed, our district would tack a day on to the end of the year. We’re paid for 185 and we work every one of them. And we’re not paid for the days we are off.

So, on my unpaid day off yesterday I went over to Joe’s for a shave.

Two dad’s were getting their baby boys a first haircut. They didn’t even know each other. Just a coincidence. The one kid was up in the chair, a tear drop running down his face. But he was getting into it and he had seen the other kid get a lollipop when he was done.  The dad pulled out an envelope to put a lock of his boy’s hair in. He looked sheepishly at us old guys who were waiting for our turn. We all grinned and waved him off, as in, ” No need to feel silly. We all did it.”

Now that I think of it, I didn’t do it. I cut my girl’s hair myself until they were old enough to say no more.

Meanwhile we are all waiting for next week for the final tally on the 39th house district choice between good-guy Will Guzzardi and bad Toni Berrios. Will is 111 votes down with some absentee and late-registering voters’ votes to count. They are less than 1% apart.

Some folks have been critical of the low turn-out throughout the city. But not me.

Of course more people should have come out for Will. I know a few neighbors who call themselves progressives who didn’t do much. But they make it way too easy to be cynical about these elections. The biggest contest was for Clerk. What does the Clerk do? And why should most people care?

They let us vote for Water Reclamation District, but not for school board.

That’s a recipe for cynicism.