Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bee Happy: Mylan CEO receives nearly $19 million gouging people in need.

CEO Heather Bresch
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch: Bee Happy!


I found out about four years ago that my most dangerous and mortal enemy actually weighs less than a gram.  And my most faithful seventy-pound friend was only able to sit down by my side and watch me die.

Yellow jacket wasps are interesting creatures that many people mistakenly regard as a kind of bee due to their color and other similarities like buzzing when they fly.  In reality, they are anything but a friendly bee.  And a bee is just one item along with many others on their menu.

Yellow Jackets eat insects – and just about anything else they can find while foraging.  Want to catch one?  Hang some dead meat on a string outside.  They’ll be along shortly – especially as we move from August into the cooler (hopefully) nights.  When the other, less sturdy and not-so-predatory bugs perish during the temperature drops, the need to find food becomes uppermost in a yellow jacket’s life – and the decreasing life of the colony.

Sorry, don't do CPR.
What was a diet of predominantly insects now becomes whatever is available – and that includes road kill, garbage cans, and dead anythings.  As a result, their stings are not only painful; they also carry infection. 

This time is also when they vigorously swarm, i.e., gather into even offensive groups to attack anyone nearing a nest – often underground in a cavity.

Sting?  Indeed, they do – and as many times as they need.  They do not lose their stinger, and each stab generates as much poison as the first one.  Even number fifty.  And, if you’re not allergic and you kill that first one that got you only once?  It has already released a pheromone that alerts the rest of the nest and they will all (usually around a thousand or more by fall) be coming for the threat which is you.

When I survived somehow, I was given a prescription for an “Epi-Pen” when the emergency room in a hospital nearly 40 miles away let me depart under the care of a friend and fellow hiker.  The cost I remember was steep – nearly $50 per pen and they come in two-packs – but I wasn’t questioning anything at that time.  But, as you are likely already aware, Pharmaceutical Company Mylan has increased the costs for Epi-pens to $600 for the same package.  Mylan purchased the rights for Epi-Pens in 2007 from Merck, and under the supervision of soon-to-become-CEO Heather Bresch they immediately began an all-out battle to own the lucrative allergy market for those susceptible to peanuts, bees, and other maladies. 

In fact, in the last nine years Heather Bresch has been able to reap an increase in her personal salary from nearly $2.5 million in 2007 to nearly $19 million in the latest reports. (http://www.snopes.com/2016/08/24/mylan-ceo-gets-pay-raise/)

I recall getting my class lists this time of year and noting the asterisks next to a name that indicated allergies, many of them for bee bites.  Well, more likely yellow jackets,
for it was those wasps in September that made their way through the open windows to hover clumsily in the air, terrorize the allergic, and provide everyone a moments escape from a lesson.

It's not us, it's insurance companies that make us do this..yeah, that's it. 
The school nurse must have had an extra supply of pens just in case someone was bitten or ingested the wrong thing at lunch.  I suppose if we can multiply that need times all the schools, universities, emergency rooms, ambulances, first responders, and parents/people in our country – well, we can understand why Mylan stock has increased nicely until this last week when it dropped $millions of dollars due to this latest price gouging.  Only the baddest little boy in pharma-suicidal history, Martin Shkreli, has defended Heather Bresch and her company’s unbridled greed.  Called the “Pharma-bro,” Shkreli says that Mylan’s in the right and the good guy.

When it happens – for me over 50 stings by yellow jackets – the world and your thinking slows down as you try to think out a plan to escape.  Then your body starts to struggle, making you logically force one foot in front of the other in an effort to move forward.  As the trees and landscape around you turn a deep purple and black, you realize you’re lying on the ground and your breath is no longer available – only short little huffs.  Very quiet.  And you smile and think, what a silly way to die.  You had hoped for something so different…and then your mind starts running through mysterious rooms and scenery…

I had a simply ridiculous theory once.  I have lots of them.  I’d look at my class lists and I’d note that my “allergic” students inhabited the higher-level classes.  The asterisks would pile up in my Honors writing classes or my upper level lit classes.  My reading assistance classes were unusually devoid of “allergies.”  I unthinkingly relaxed my mind to embrace a “smart geek” concept.  Maybe, I thought,  it might have been an indication of the mental acuity vs. the physical stamina.  After all, the preponderance of wrestlers I coached came from my reading classes, not my upper level classes – another ridiculous stereotype I quickly admitted wrong. 

So why? More likely because those in my Reading Assistance classes did not have the access to medical care than my students who came from advantaged and often (stress often but not always) had available.  And, when a company like Mylan increases life-necessary drugs to an over 100% increase in cost, I’m sure that those who are socio-economically disadvantaged will bear the pain. 

On the other hand, the market place can be just as cruel to those who try to use it for unrestrained capitalist greed.  Especially an injector containing approximately one dollar worth of epinephrine. 

According to Consumer Reports, “In most states, to get the low-cost, EpiPen alternative, you can't use a prescription for "EpiPen" from your doctor. That's because pharmacists at your drugstore likely won't be able to automatically substitute the low-cost version if your prescription is written for EpiPen. Instead, ask your doctor to write a prescription for an "epinephrine auto-injector" or "generic Adrenaclick."  If you need and Epi-Pen like I do, please read the report:
And, please register your concern and disgust with your Federal Representative and Senator.

Fight back!  Bee Angry.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Teachers Retirement System: Reality Check.

Augmenting the dismissal by the Illinois Supreme Court (4-3) of the Citizen Initiative to Redistricting, Governor Rauner is about to face another serious financial setback. 

From the IRTA: “The board that oversees the Teachers Retirement System voted today 9-0 to lower the expected rate of return on investments from 7.5 percent to 7 percent.”  

As a result, the expense to the state of Illinois for the forthcoming budget year will be palpable. 

According to the Governor (as in in 2015), this decision will result in the curtailing and lessening of “services to people in Illinois.” 

Those of us who have worked in such services – assistance for the poor, MAP Grants, medical assistance for the indigent and seniors, programs by various food delivery and assistance, food banks, autism succor, family support, dependent children support, Lutheran Services, Peoples’ Actions to Assist in Delivering Housing Assistance, etc. – and many more, have experienced this cruel message before. 

“There may be some pain,” according to the newly elected Governor Rauner.  In other words, you all get less until I get my way.  And as you have no advocates there will be no arguments to bother me. 

Now, after a year of eking by on less, you get even more "less." 

“The Governor appointed three new members to the board this morning to fill previous vacancies.  However, one of those members withdrew his nomination because of residency issues and the other two newly appointed members abstained from the vote. This alteration will mean the state of Illinois will have to pay TRS and additional $421 million in the coming fiscal year. When the board last altered the assumption from 8 percent to 7.5 percent in 2014, the state ended up on the hook for an additional $200 million in pension payments. We expect there will be a question over the legality of this vote because prior to today’s meeting, the issue was not posted correctly on the agenda 48 hours prior to the meeting as is required by the state of Illinois Open Meetings Act. If further action is taken the IRTA will send out additional updates.”

Recall, if you will, that the $111 billion shortfall in the pension funding has little if anything to do with the teachers who paid fully into the funding for the last half century.  It is instead the result of the parade of sleazy Governors who diverted matching payments in order to make themselves look good and provide services without having to request tax increases.  Ironically, if Rauner's quickly appointed members to the TRS Board had been influential in stead of wisely abstaining on the issue of lowering the expected rate, the Governor would have entered the regalia of previous political leaders who also avoided making necessary payments.  

"Unforeseen and unknown automatic cost increases will have a devastating impact on the state's ability to provide adequate resources to social service programs and education," Michael Mahoney stated in a memo sent Monday to Rauner's chief of staff. He also called the lack of public discussion ahead of Friday's vote "troubling."

Not a problem for Rauner, but a clear warning for the 400,000 TRS members that those who will indeed suffer the unconnected consequences of Illinois’ mismanaged and structural deficit will once agin be the marginalized. 

Remember that poor kid in class that you protected?  The governor could care less for him or her. 

Willin' to capitulate yet? 

So, how do we pay back what we owe in Illinois?

We don’t.  Not yet.

Instead, the business-man Governor and his team have decided to thwart payments to those already owed by forcing an apprehensive General Assembly to redouble their attempts to reduce pension payments despite the May, 2015, unanimous scolding of the Illinois Supreme Court to “stop and desist” from avoiding fixing your own self-made problem.

And the Court likewise alluded to the inclusion of contractual benefits for Tier One teachers at the instant of their working career. 

Warning: Welcome to Tier Four you new Illinois teachers in 20XX?

Other forms of revenue enhancement to be shared by all of us in Illinois (including those of us retired teachers) remain discarded on the side table: a graduated income tax, service taxes, transaction taxes, retirement taxation, etc.

Instead, the business-savvy Governor will hold firm on his business-friendly Turnabout Agenda – or else no tax increase or budget - and we will limp on, ignoring those marginalized and extremely uncomfortable mendicants who embarrass us on street corners, or sleep under highway bridges, and quietly inhabit the depths of our forest preserves.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pension Pick Up Explained Once More

Pension Pickup Explained – Once More.

I am reprising an earlier post of more than a year ago to once again clarify the CTU’s arrangement with CPS over the years with the teacher pension contribution, which will come up again quickly as evidenced by the Tribune’s Kristen McQueary’s latest misinformative rant on August 12, 2016.  “Karen Lewis would better serve CTU by standing up to its radical faction.”

I first met Ms. McQueary some years ago in the Tribune Tower with my good friends Merle Taber and Glen Brown.  She was excited about her recent membership in the Editorial Board’s writing staff. Since then, she has wrought herself and her writing to brandish boldly many of the extreme positions of the Illinois Policy Institute or other anti-union/pro-Rauner views.  

This week, McQueary unwittingly tells the reader the truth. 

“’CTU President Karen Lewis: ‘The Chicago Teachers Union has been clear.  If the Board of Education imposes a 7 percent slash in our salaries, we will move to strike. Cutting our pay is unacceptable, and for years the “pension pickup” as the board has called it was part of our compensation package.  This was not a perk.  This was negotiated compensation with the Board of Education.’” 

McQueary focuses on the word “SLASH” as a connotative grenade in the quote, but she ignores the basic truth: the pick up was part of a negotiated settlement over years that left the union receiving salary increases commensurate with expectations in the private world, but appeared to end with a lesser increase to the CTU thereby making the CPS seem all the more like frugal stewards of the taxpayers’ money. 

It happens all the time - and in districts across the state. 

Despite knowing this last truth, she piles on with “teacher salary increases far outpace the cost of living.”  But McQueary fails to consider additional material and research – like cost of living, resources, and trends for educators in the classroom.  Federal statistics show that Illinois teachers are falling each year behind the curve for cost-of-living stasis.  In fact, since 2000, there has been a 6.9% decrease in meeting trhe needs of cost of living.

And, quite often they supplement their classrooms with supplies, materials, and even lunches/breakfasts without remuneration.  

From the earlier post:

The Illinois Policy Institute is angry once again with what their editorialist Diana Sroka Rickert considers another unnecessary handout to Chicago teachers:  the Pension Pickup. 

In her December Tribune editorial last week, Rickert urged Chicago’s besieged Mayor Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool to end the current practice of providing pension pickups for the Chicago Teachers Union. 

“While (they) have busied themselves asking state taxpayers to send hundreds of millions of dollars Chicago’s way, they’re unwilling to use the $174 million that’s already available for them to use for teacher’s pensions.”

But they’re not the peculators.  The real culprit?  Read on, please.

eChicago teachers are supposed to pay 9 percent of their salaries toward their own retirement savings.  But instead, teachers pay just 2 percent; the rest of the “teachers’ contribution” is picked up by taxpayers, thanks to a clause negotiated into their contract6s in the early 1980s.”


As a retired educator from a suburban district I suppose I could feel a little miffed with having paid 9.4% of my salary each paycheck, instead of 9% like those in the CTU.  Adding to that, if CTU paid only 2% of the 9%; well, why didn’t I get such a deal?

And that’s exactly what Rickert and the IPI want all of us to do.  Let’s not think it out or look into it.  Let’s just be blind angry. 

The “deal” that Chicago teachers got in the early 1980s was actually a mandated law by the General Assembly in 1983.  And this statute (40  ILCS 5/17-130.1) provided the opportunity for retirement contributions to be considered part of the negotiating process in salary and benefit settlements during collective bargaining.  In fact, all districts in Illinois got the same deal.

“An Employer or the Board may make these contributions on behalf of its employees by a reduction in the cash salary of the employee or by an offset against a future salary increase or by a combination of a reduction in salary and offset against a future salary increase.” 

Teacher’s Union:  We’d like to ask for a 2% increase in our wage benefits across the board this next contract.

Board of Education:  We’d like to find a way to do that.  How about a ½% increase across the board, and we’ll pick up 1.5% of your contribution costs per person?

If` you’re still not sure how this works, it means that my union never debated with the Board over my 9.4% payment.  But just down the highway at another district near the airport, they did and paid only 4% of their 9.4% requirement. 

What Rickert is not telling us – and I believe on purpose – is that the statute in 1983 was not a prosperous honeyfuzzle by the unions.  The statute was a smartly designed legal mandate for flexibility for negotiators on both sides, one that might have prevented strikes.  Think of it as an offer to use pension contributions as one part of a package of benefits for working in a specific district – and in Chicago.

And if you were lucky enough to get “such a deal,” you were still on the hook for the required taxes and costs so associated.  The amount negotiated could never “exceed the employee contribution required by Section 17-130 for all employees…”  Likewise, such contributions by a Board or Employer were also to be treated “as employer contributions in determining tax treatment under the United States Internal Revenue Code.“

Now that I know a bit more, maybe the grass wasn’t so much greener over by the airport.  Or even for teachers in the city of Chicago. 

And Union leader Karen Lewis?  She knows that regardless of a Supreme Court unanimous decision acknowledging the thievery of the state and the city, they’ll still keep coming.  She knows that Claypool and Emanuel want to take the pickup away, even after it has been an integral part of contract negotiations for over 30 years.

She knows, like Rickert doesn’t want us all to know, that that 7% in contribution pickup has been traded over the three decades for give-ups in salary, benefits, and working conditions. 

And it made CPS look good.  

And this is why the Chicago Teachers Union is taking a vote this week on whether they will strike. 

They know the Mayor, Claypool, the IPI, and they understand what a pension pickup is.


Now you do too.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Rauner: A Quick Glimpse and Confirmation

Illinois’ Governor Rauner: Past as Prologue

(Given recent events, this is a revised blog first released in February of 2016.)

 Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) early on recognized his enormous wealth could buy him an army and quite possibly the consulship of ancient Rome.  In fact, his military victories over rivals and enemies allowed the proscription (seizure) of their assets for his own – a swift kind of vulture capitalism with a sword. 

On his way to seek what he believed to be his earned right as consul of Rome, businessman Marcus Crassus had the Appian Way adorned with the crucified bodies of slaves who had been bold enough to revolt: exactly one hundred and seventeen paces between each, seventeen crucifixions per mile on either side, six thousand suffering souls along three hundred and fifty miles of roadway.

Twenty of the slaves were held up along the march to Rome, so they could construct the crosses, unseen by their fellows marching ahead.  After they were done with their toil, they were crucified. 

Like today’s business-savvy politicians, he well knew the importance of coercive control and hidden agendas. The last thing Crassus wanted was another revolt, another Spartacus – a cornered adversary. 

Now, according to released emails in which Rauner characterized CPS principals and “managerially incompetent” and instructors as “illiterate,”  his spokesperson Lance Trover has been forced to admit that the governor’s thoughts were hasty or intemperate or even “inaccurate.”  If you are a public school teacher – especially in Chicago – it’s kind of like the dutiful Roman soldier dealing with a horrified group of captives who had happened to look back too soon. 

And now it’s out.  Hidden tantrums and vicious slanders between Rauner and his wealthy advisors/friends – Zell, Pritzker, Emanuel, Griffin, etc.  A man who has accidently uncloaked his naked, venomous aversion for all things public – schools, workers, human services.

In Robert Harris’ historical narrative Imperium, Cicero recalls how the savvy Crassus lined the pockets of his close friends by sending teams of slaves into burning neighborhoods and offering to buy the owners’ endangered homes for next to nothing.  When the owners agreed and ran away with their belongings, teams of slaves with water pumps would arrive and quench the flames.  The buildings could then be sold to friends at a profit but still cheap enough to provide for their own later fiscal enhancement. 

…Like promising to declare bankruptcy once one takes over the Chicago Public Schools while CPS is desperately seeking bond purchases to pay for much-needed cash.  The resultant jump in interest rates will cost the taxpayers dearly but earn capitally for fellow investors. 

Ironically, just like 73 BC, in 2016 AD it’s good to have friends in high places; but the repeating of history can also have its darker and quirkier sides.

For while Marcus Crassus hoped to be named singular consul of Rome, the highest political office of the state upon his return from various victories, he was instead forced to share that power with his most-hated rival Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus), who upon return to Rome declared his own victories surpassing those of Crassus’. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  All we need at this point is a Turnaround Agenda…

But if past is indeed prologue, can we expect much to happen differently when Governor Rauner takes the podium – one week after Obama’s return to Springfield and the President’s call for a cessation of partisan bickering – to give his annual State of the Budget speech to the General Assembly?

Probably not one iota (sorry, it’s a Greek theme – so, blame the Field Museum).

During his campaign to become Governor, it is estimated Rauner personally spent nearly $36 per vote (or nearly $24 million of his own wealth in the last three months of his race for the gubernatorial race).  By the way, according to Rauner that would be less than 5% of his assets.

“Overall, Rauner's campaign spent $65.3 million since it began in March 2013, and the Republican received more than 1.8 million votes in his general election victory compared with nearly 1.7 million votes for Quinn, who was seeking a second elected term. That translates to $35.83 per vote for Rauner…The documents also showed Rauner raising more than $40 million the last three months of 2014, including $22 million from Oct. 1 to Election Day.
Of that $22 million raised, Rauner accounted for nearly $13.5 million out of his own pocket. That amounted to nearly half the $27.6 million in personal funds Rauner contributed.
Since winning election, Rauner has given his campaign fund an additional $10 million in personal funds and two wealthy allies, hedge fund CEO Ken Griffin and businessman Richard Uihlein, combined for another $10 million. The $20 million is aimed at helping promote Rauner's still-unstated agenda as governor and helping buttress Republican state lawmakers to support it.”

More personal money and generous gifts by Sam Zell provided for additional $millions in anti-Madigan commercials during the spring and summer of 2015.  In one of his earliest interviews before the election of 2014, Rauner described in absolutes just what he will do when elected.  “We need to end the current pension structure and protect it…and we should offer them a range of choices so they can choose for themselves what sort of retirement they’d like to have…” 

International Business Times reported in August of 2014 that candidate Rauner had said as early as 2013 that as Governor he “might have to take a strike and shut down the government (in Illinois) for a few weeks and kinda redo everybody’s contract.  That’s a possibility I will do proudly.”  Later on, Rauner rescinded his comments.

By June of 2015, the Sun-Times reported Rauner had changed his mind once again, and he had instead instituted an agenda (or rescinded his earlier rescission)  that would administer pain to many “but the change will be worth it.”

The other afternoon on the radio, Representative Lou Lang of Skokie reviewed Rauner’s wasteland of broken services in Illinois: “He (Rauner) is holding college students hostage; he’s holding universities hostage; kids with epilepsy or autism; people with mental health needs; legal immigrants who need services from the state; senior citizens – in short, he is disrupting the social service community in Illinois to the extent where services are closing.  Folks who provide addiction programs everyday are shutting down, and not only are we not providing these services but we’re losing jobs in Illinois because the Governor who says he’s the ‘Jobs Governor’ is actually purposely shutting down those businesses.”

But if you are a Marcus Crassus – like the commercial suggests – it’s what you do.

Back to where I started:  While crucifying slaves along the way to Rome, Crassus often encouraged those who would work with him in his political future to come out and meet him – see his work. 

Demanding approval from a very nervous and captive young orator named Marcus Cicero for his brutal actions along the highway, Crassus suggested pointedly that his violence would at least prove a deterrent for those who might disagree with him in any way. 

A startled Cicero shrewdly agreed that no one, not any great general or statesman throughout civilized history, could have come up with such a plan.