David Sirota of Pando Daily has written an excellent article on Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and his plan to “reform” pensions for public workers. According to Sirota, the city has not made its share of contributions to pension funds for the last 14 years. At the same time it has built up TIF (Sirota calls them “slush”) funds that could have covered a good part or all of the missing pension contributions. I urge you to read this article because, as Sirota says, this is not a problem unique to Chicago. Across the U.S., political leaders of both parties are claiming pension funds are in crisis. What they almost never discuss is how the crisis came to be and who should be responsible. The rule of our time seems to be: Workers must pay, so the rich and their government representatives can play.
Yesterday the big story was that 2.5 million workers could drop out of the labor market because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, a.k.a., Obamacare). This story is another example of craven politics and lazy reporting. The 2.5 million people cited are currently employed. Most would be replaced by their employers, so job loss would be minimal. Some of those leaving employers will start businesses of their own, which will create jobs. No reporters asked the simple questions. They like the big numbers and bad news. The political opponents of the ACA will use any number to claim the bill does not work. These are the same people – conservative Republicans – who oppose any measure that helps working people: unemployment benefits, increased minimum wage, government-sponsored jobs, high speed rail, and green jobs. Based on my experience with Blue Cross Blue Shield and how busy that company seems to be, the ACA is generating jobs. Beware of falling for scary stories that make no sense. Those who want to control working people want to keep us afraid and uninformed.
Daily Kos explodes the lies that the mainstream media missed.
I’m on a mailing list from the Chicago Teachers Union, which is a great source of information not heard in the corporate media. Today, I received the following analysis by Kenzo Shibata, the union’s New Media Coordinator:
“Why do Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Board of Education and Chicago Public Schools officials blame Springfield for the district’s budget woes? Why is the target of their concern being shifted to state legislators? It polls well but makes little sense. Let’s examine why.
FACT: The Illinois General Assembly has provided Chicago Public Schools with every opportunity to make their budget work by giving the district a 13-year break from paying pensions. FACT: The district has failed to lobby for a more equitable funding formula, search for new revenue streams or reform programs like TIF that could work better for school districts and redevelopment.
FACT: The city and the Chicago Board of Education’s answers to the revenue crisis have been to cut, and this year, the cuts will have a devastating impact on classrooms across the city.
FACT: Pensions are NOT the problem.
The problem is a pronounced lack of leadership from the mayor and his handpicked Board of Education.
The state legislature, beginning in 1995, provided CPS with the tools to plug its budget issues and time find new revenue streams and reform the TIF program. The timeline looks like this:
1995—The Illinois State Legislature gave then-Mayor Richard M. Daley the ability to use the once restricted pension levy for operating costs to ensure balanced district budgets. The school district enjoyed a 10-year “holiday” from making any payments into the pension fund. The fund prior to 1995 was funded above 100 percent. It wasn’t until 2005 when the fund dipped slightly below 90 percent that the district resumed payment.
2010—The Illinois State Legislature gave Chicago Public Schools a pension holiday that provided the district with more pension relief so the classrooms in Chicago would not feel any negative financial impact. CPS also was granted additional federal funding from a stimulus appropriation; the district still laid-off more than 1,300 teachers despite pension relief from the state and an infusion of money from the federal government.
2012—The Illinois State Legislature gave CPS an extension on the deadline to publicly announce which schools were slated for closure. CPS stated that schools needed to be closed because of a looming budget crisis and that closing schools would help stymie the deficit.
2013—The Illinois State Legislature did not move on the moratorium on school closings proposed by Chicago legislators, citing that the state wanted to provide newly minted CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett with the opportunity to govern the district. In short, the consensus was that the state legislature did NOT want to micromanage the school district.”
Shibata’s analysis leads us to ask again: Did teachers cause this problem? No. Why are they being asked to pay for it, to suffer during their retirement? We need to remember that Detroit is the blueprint. Chicago looks like it could be the next stop on the bankers-rip-off-workers express. We need to stop this train – now.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond jobs and career.]
NPR – One-sided on Detroit?
I was listening to NPR’s Weekend Edition this morning, and what I heard upset me. The program featured two stories on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to appoint an Emergency Manager [Financial Dictator] for its largest city, Detroit. Snyder was given ample time to defend his decision, which he did using rhetoric that combined strong leadership and sunny optimism.
The only challenge host Scott Simon put before the governor was the sad, softball question, “Why now?” Snyder answered with a list of numbers and story about a consent agreement. The most impressive number was a $14 billion long term debt. This was a clear point that should have been challenged. Yes, pension funds, among other things, have caused governments on all levels to have huge long term debts. These debts are real, but is Snyder’s plan the only way to address them? Similarly, Synder said that the city did not meet the terms of a consent agreement it signed with the state. Host Simon did not ask the governor to outline any of those terms, nor did he interview any other guests who might have a different point of view.
Rather than do this Simon asked questions about politics and race, given that Detroit is run by Democrats and its population is mainly African American. Snyder said his motives have nothing to do with politics or race. I’ll grant that this is probably true. Privatization campaigns are all about taking revenue from public sources and transferring them to public hands. That’s the question Simon should have asked. A son of Chicago, he should know what our Democratic Mayor Richard M. Daley did in leasing the Skyway and parking meters. Neither of those deals has helped the city. The only winners are those investors who now benefit from what was a public good.
After the interview, there was a follow up report on the Detroit’s financial crisis and why it merits the appointment of an Emergency Manager. Several times the report raised the fear of Detroit going bankrupt. In fact, one guest was a specialist in municipal bankruptcy. The question not raised was: So what? If there are experts in municipal bankruptcies, it must mean that this circumstance happens. Why is the Emergency Manager needed? Also any recent change in the level of the city’s debt was not discussed. Over the last two years, the American auto industry has boomed. One would imagine that the city’s revenues have improved along with the auto industry. Does that assumption have any merit? Is the city worse off today than it was in 2010? Journalism should ask questions, not rewrite press releases or enable politicians to make unchallenged claims.
My biggest problem with this story and Governor’s Snyder’s action is that they fall into a pattern of rhetoric used by government officials for over a decade. Naomi Klein calls it the “Shock Doctrine.” Governments proclaim a crisis and based on that claim assume emergency powers. Is Detroit any worse off than Cleveland or Gary? How much worse is it than Chicago or Atlanta? Every level of large government has debt obligations. The question is how to meet them while still providing services people need. Intentionally or not, NPR and Scott Simon have given into shock doctrine thinking. They did not ask if the crisis in Detroit is based on legitimate financial data, nor did they seek out any possible dissenting voices like Lansing Mayor Virg Benaro or former Governor Jennifer Granholm. We often hear corporate journalists crying that “both sides” are the same. Too often, as in this case, they present stories that only give one side. That’s not journalism. It’s P.R.
Postscript: Groups in Detroit are rallying in opposition to the governor’s actions. What is at stake? If an emergency manager is put over Detroit, more than half of African Americans in the state will be living in cities run by unelected managers. How can anyone – including the governor [or Scott Simon] – call that democracy?
[On Sundays, Career Calling looks away from careers to other aspects of life and work.]
Scary Things – Good & Bad
Boo! It’s Halloween, and children are dressed as ghosts, goblins, and superheroes. The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t detract from the happy squeals of young people chasing candy and other goodies. Adults celebrate this holiday more and more each year. I was out with friends yesterday, and we saw many interesting costumes, including men dressed as a nurse and Wonder Woman. Halloween is funny – scary fun.
We’ve seen a different kind of scary work over the past few months – political commercials. It seems that all politicians from both main parties can do is try to tear each other down. We as voters have the great responsibility of hiring our leaders. How is that possible when all we get are attempts to scare us that the other “guy” (or gal) is a monster. I think of this in the context of what I do every day as a career coach and resume writer. My job is to discover and sell my clients’ strongest talents and skills. Our politicians today do the opposite to their opponent. Tear the other guy down, and hope the employer will pick me. What employer would hire such a person?
We are a society more and more driven by fear. Some tales of fear (horror movies, vampire tales) are just entertainment. We suspend our disbelief and let go in a world of monsters and terror. However, that same emotion has taken over the way many adults view all aspects of reality. The mere mention of 9/11 sends many people back to the emotions they felt on a tragic day nearly 10 years ago. Their fears often twist into paranoid political arguments and shrill anger. In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has shown how these emotions let cynical politicians make voters dance like puppets on a string.
In some ways, children are braver than adults. They go through the haunted house without being scarred. They’ll go back next year and enjoy the same dark rooms and ominous music. Too many adults have come to be paralyzed by fear. They accept a belief that gives them comfort, and then they refuse to test or challenge that belief. Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying that he felt fear when he was on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.” That’s a Halloween problem with serious consequences (not for Williams, of course, because Fox gave him a $2 million a year contract extension). People wearing turbans (Sikhs, not Muslims) have been beaten because ignorant, fearful people think this is “Muslim garb.” As many of Williams’ detractors have pointed out, the terrorists on 9/11 were not dressed in any kind of ethnic clothing. They looked like every young male on the plane. However, that fact will not sway the fearful adult mind, especially in this political climate where ignorance rule. Fear trumps facts. Emotions overwhelm reason.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are many legitimate factors causing Americans to be afraid: unemployment, foreclosures, wage cuts, and a broken political system. My problem is that we are not solving those problems the right way. Most historians point to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as two of our greatest presidents. Lincoln, facing a war that could split the country, called on his fellow citizens to live with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” FDR, at the height of the Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They challenged the American people to be better, stronger. Too many of our leaders today (following the example of snake oil salesmen like Glen Beck) want only weakness and fear.
Tomorrow the Halloween decorations will start coming down. Happily, the next night the political commercials will stop running (except here in Chicago where we have a mayoral election in February). Children will start looking forward to Christmas. Ghosts will give way to Santa Claus. Their scary days will be gone for a year. Sadly, for too many adults, being scared is all they know any more. It’s all cynical politicians want them to know. Boo! Don’t vote for the other guy – he’s a monster (or a Kenyan, or a socialist). Fear-fueled insults and name-calling have become a type of political discourse. The grown ups need to take a hard look at the kids – and grow up.