Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Are You Walking Out of School Tomorrow?

Are You Walking Out of School on Wednesday?  A Basic Primer from the ALCU.

Across the nation on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., students across the country will be making the decision to walk out out of classes for seventeen minutes to protest gun violence and remember the lives senselessly lost at Parkland, a minute for each lost life. 

The ACLU offers this advice, as does other sites and organizations.

How the First Amendment Protects Student Speech
If you’re a public school student, you don’t check your constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors. But whether schools can punish you for speaking out depends on when, where, and how you decide to express yourself.

Do I Have First Amendment Rights in School?

Yes. You do not lose your right to free speech just by walking into school. You have the right to speak out, hand out flyers and petitions, and wear expressive clothing in school — as long as you don’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate the school’s content-neutral policies.
What counts as “disruptive” will vary by context, but a school disagreeing with your position or thinking your speech is controversial or in “bad taste” is not enough to qualify. Courts have upheld students’ rights to wear things like an anti-war armband, an armband opposing the right to get an abortion, and a shirt supporting the LGBT community. And “content-neutral policies” means rules that have nothing to do with the message you’re expressing, like dress codes. So, for example, a school can prohibit you from wearing hats — because that rule is not based on what the hats say — but it can’t prohibit you from wearing only pink pussycat hats or pro-NRA hats.

Can My School Discipline Me for Participating in a Walkout?

Yes. Because the law in most places requires students to go to school, schools can discipline you for missing class. But what they can’t do is discipline you more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind your action.
The exact punishment you could face will vary by your state, school district, and school. Find out more by reading the policies of your school and school district. If you’re planning to miss a class or two, look at the policy for unexcused absences. If you’re considering missing several days, read about truancy. And either way, take a look at the policy for suspensions. In some states and districts, suspension is not an available punishment for unexcused absences. And nationwide, if you are facing a suspension of 10 days or more, you have a right to a formal process and can be represented by a lawyer. Some states and school districts require a formal process for fewer days, too. Also, you should be given the same right to make up work just as any other student who missed classes.
Find out the rules so you can tell if they are being applied differently when it comes to your walkout.

What about Protesting Away from School?

Outside of school, you enjoy essentially the same rights to protest and speak out as anyone else. This means you’re likely to be most protected if you organize, protest, and advocate for your views off campus and outside of school hours.

What are My Rights on Social Media?

You have the right to speak your mind on social media. Your school cannot punish you for content you post off campus and outside of school hours that does not relate to school. Some schools have attempted to extend their power to punish students even for off-campus, online posts. While courts have differed on the constitutionality of those punishments, the ACLU has challenged such overreach.

Are My Rights Different Depending on What Grade I’m in?

They could be, because the test for whether speech is protected is based on whether what you’re doing can be considered “disruptive” to your school’s functioning. So, for example, the level of disruption caused by a certain message could be different in a high school classroom than in a middle school. Also, high school students are closer to being adults, so they are capable of hearing more provocative messages. Therefore, schools would likely have more leeway in restricting speech for younger students.

If I Participate in a Walk Out, Can the School Keep Me from Coming Back Inside Afterwards?

Locking out students is essentially the same thing as a suspension, so it depends on whether suspension is a possible punishment for missing class. If getting suspended is not a punishment for an unexcused absence at your school, then getting locked out after a walkout is not allowed.

How are My Rights Different at a Private School than a Public School?

The First Amendment applies to public schools’ actions, but not those of private schools, so unfortunately there is much less protection for students’ speech at a private school. This is because public schools are run by the government and private schools aren’t, and the First Amendment only controls what the government can and can’t do. That said, we hope that private schools will still allow students the leeway to express themselves and engage politically in the issues of the day.

Of course other questions come to mind.  Can a teacher schedule a test on the same day and moment?  Can I be asked to write or learn something before attending the walkout?  Can I be punished for participating? Can participation affect my application for college?  Another site dealing with these and other questions can be found on a CNN website:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Pension Cost Shifts for Local Districts AGAIN

"What we’ve suggested is that local districts have a little skin in the game when they hire teachers and administrators and set their salaries.  They should be required to set aside money into the pension system for their future retirees.”  Senate Leader John Cullerton (McQueary, Kristen.  Illinois schools may chip in…  NY Times 19 February 2012).

“Unlike elected officials in Wisconsin and Indiana, we work with unions in Illinois.” – John Cullerton to Phil Kadner 16 February 2012).  

“Some Skin in the Game” (…or...Making local school districts pay for pension costs).

Idiom: While many people give credit to sagacious investor Warren Buffet for the phrase “to have some skin in the game,” Mr. Buffet has strongly denied such attributions.  In essence, the idiomatic phrase means being personally, emotionally, or financially vulnerable to a possible venture and, therefore, connected to it at all levels of possible aftermaths.  According to William Saffire, the Oxford English Dictionary explains the “skin game” as a card game in which each player has one card which he bets will not be the first to be matched by a card drawn from the deck; so dealer or player all have equal chances of winning or losing 

Sadly, in the case of the public pension system, it appears to be losers all around.  The concept of shifting financial responsibility for the teachers’ pension from the State of Illinois to local school districts has become increasingly popular in the last few months.  

The president of the senate, Mr. Cullerton, sees this transfer as an opportunity to force local districts to keep the state’s increasing costs and teachers’ salary increases in check.  Costs for pensions per district would become an essential part of union contract negotiations (McQueary, Kristen).  

For Governor Quinn, the “rendezvous with reality” will also call for everyone’s sacrifice, including the local districts.  
Regarding teacher retirement benefits, the state could save nearly $1.5 billion; according to  the associated press, Governor Quinn has given the nod to those who would seek such a shift in responsibilities (http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/illinois/quinn-looks-to-shift-teacher-pension-funding-to-local-school/article_bed030a4-1a1d-56f9-bcd0-c2fedce38fa3.html). Such savings would allow the State of Illinois to continue making payments to reduce the unfunded liability, to continue to provide and improve human services, and to force local districts to enact new procedures for dealing with public unions that want better benefits for their employees.  

On the other hand, many Republicans and others - including the Illinois Association of School Boards – figure the costs would be injurious to local taxpayers as well as the districts themselves.  Such requirements might bring “an additional  $800 million in contributions toward teacher pensions,” which coincidentally is the projected amount the state of Illinois will owe to the pension system this year - without their required payment to the unfunded liability (McQueary, Kristen). In short, it may be more than coincidental that this proposal will allow the debtor (the state) to pay simply the interest on past non-payments and not the current bill that is due for 2012.  

Meanwhile, Republicans in the General Assembly realize what kind of pressure is being put on the local districts and the citizens who live within those school boundaries.   They foresee an increased burden on the local taxpayers and the school boards. “’It could either be a property tax increase or, depending on how they structure the deal, they’re going to have to cut whatever those costs are within [the] school district,’ Rep, Ed Sullivan, R – Mundelein, said. ‘So you’re either going to lose teachers or have a massive property tax.’”  
(http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/illinois/illinois-republicans-against-shifting-pension-costs-to-school-districts/article_aa4db910-5cfe-11e1-b880-001a4bcf6878.html)  Perhaps there will also be cuts in programs, such as Industrial and Theater Arts, Music and  Creative Writing? Etc.?

Some truths are still evident.  School income – also wealth – is created by a combination of three elements:

1.         Property Wealth – This is the combined value of all the real estate in a school district which, in turn, determines just how much money the local schools can generate from their property taxes.  According to Dick Ingram, Executive Director of TRS, “Illinois is a state of financial extremes.”
2.         Tax Effort – The total assessed value of real property must be multiplied by the school district’s tax rate to determine the amount of property taxes the district can receive.  Tax rates are subject to local referendums; therefore, taxpayers themselves decide whether or not to support their local schools and by how much.
3.         State Equalization Aid – The State of Illinois is supposed to provide equalization funds to compensate for the differences in local property wealth, but the dollars can never meet the vast gaps in differences.  District relying on state aid have far less than districts that can rely on wealthy property taxes.
(Illinois Association of School Boards.  Playing fair with the children of Illinois.  www.iasb.com)

Need an example?

In south suburban Ford Heights, where the median annual household income is about $16,000 and the average home is worth $42,000, the local taxpayers pay a property tax rate of 21.7 percent.  On the other hand, in Winnetka, where the average home is worth $1 million, and the annual household income is $207,955, the property tax rate is about 6%, according to statistics compiled by the Cook County clerk (Kadner, Phil. Pols pull bait and switch on teacher pensions, taxes.  Chicago Sun-Times 12 February 2012).  

Here’s a real rendezvous with reality:

Shifting the costs of the state’s pension problems to local taxpayers would break the poor but only slightly distress the wealthy.  (Personally, while I can live with the latter, I find it unconscionable to do the former).  

Augmenting that most unacceptable fact, Illinois (in 2006!) had the most inequitable education funding system in the country, with per pupil spending ranging from a high of almost $23,700 to a low of less than $4,500 (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “The current status of public education funding in Illinois,” 2006).  Today, while taxpayers in Schaumburg pay a composite tax of nearly 7.7%, those who struggle in poverty-ridden Robbins will pay property taxes ranging from 9 to 10.3%, despite an income average of at least one third that of Schaumburg.  

In the case of House Speaker Madigan, “skin in the game” means, basically, if you are a public employee, it’s your skin.  “The question is how to do that (solve the pension problem) within the confines of the state constitution, which says public employee pension benefits cannot be reduced once they are given.  Madigan outlined a potential trade-off.  ‘The question is for a person in a public job today, can we say to them “Everything you’ve earned up to today you keep, no change?” But…can we say to that person, “Starting tomorrow, it’s going to be a different deal.  It won’t be as rich.  The benefit level will not be as high, but we will save the stability and integrity of your pension system.’” (http://www.pennlive.com/newsflash/index.ssf/story/quinn-asks-lawmakers-to-put-some-skin/80c6ffd8eea873ac52a4b9427d90ce9e)

So, either the public employees sacrifice or the local taxpayers sacrifice.  Meanwhile, companies in Illinois carry on calmly claiming their rights to tax loopholes and rebates.  While the governor nods to the idea of locals paying more; remember that big-box Illinois retailers receive back 1.75% of the sales tax revenue they collect from consumers on behalf of the state (Sachdev, Ameet & Cancino, Alejandra.  Tax giveaways under a microscope. Chicago Tribune) 

Here we are again... 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Rauner Finds an Opportunity to Move Up in "Most Detested Governors" Race.

Rauner Finds Chances to Move Up in Most “Detested Governor” Race?

“Ding Dong, Chris Christie’s gone”; and suddenly the most disliked Governor in the United States ploddingly exits stage right only to leave disruption and angling for the remaining Republican Governors to jostle and elbow their way into the significantly large breach. 

Favorites to earn the most despised position, like Snyder of Michigan (51% unfavorable rating) and Walker from Wisconsin (53% unfavorable rating) are revving their engines, battling unions, minimizing wages, and stymying various efforts to provide equal rights. 

And, when I remark “favorites,” I am of course identifying the kind of Governors that Bruce Rauner emulates in commercials as the conqueror he has yet to become because he is sadly still trying to be “in charge” of the state of Illinois.  He uses the former two (as well as others) to bash Madigan in a commercial promoting the incumbent Governor's reprised run for office. 

The other governor in Rauner’s commercial taunting Mike Madigan was Republican Missouri Governor Eric Greitin, who was later accused of blackmailing a woman with whom he’d had an extra-marital affair.  Rauner’s political ad was quietly pulled from airing shortly thereafter.

As you guessed, it has not been a stellar couple months for Governor Rauner.  But – not to worry – it got worse on Tuesday.

According to the Chicago Tribune and other political pundits, Illinois Policy Institute/Representative Jeanne Ives dispatched Bruce Rauner effectively and unceremoniously a day ago in the wood paneled editorial board room.  Ouch!  And the Illinois Policy Institute was a recipient of so much of Rauner’s monetary largesse as well as hired/fired staff for his Springfield office.

Positioned in 8th place of the most disliked governors in the country -  a poll taken in 2017/see below), Christie’s departure opens a possibility for Rauner to move up; and (lucky stars, Bruce!) serendipitously another loathed Republican governor is making his way to Washington to serve in the Trump Cabinet.  Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas (66% unfavorable rating) is leaving his infamous position as second most unpopular governor behind Christie to go to Washington.

And Voila, an opportunity appears in the midst of crisis. 

Rauner may have earned a political pedigree for consistent failures and bumbling incompetence mishandling the state budget, but he’ll be hard-pressed to accomplish the kinds of disasters Governor Brownback of Kansas has wrought in poor Kansas. Rauner earned “an epic F” from the Chicago Tribune in leadership this last year.  The National Review declared Rauner probably  the worst governor this fall.  His Turnaround Agenda of nearly 50 items has been whittled unsuccessfully down to five.  His budget battles have left post secondary education institutions in tatters.  He’s found ways to lose his right wing base and job growth rates in Illinois have fallen precipitously. 

Rauner's really bad, but he’ll have to work hard to tarnish the absolute madness that is Sam Brownback.

Case in point: In preparation for his ascension to Trump’s post as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Governor Sam Brownback called for all Kansans to spend today (January 31st) fasting or/and praying.  There’s a lot to unpack here. 

Delusions of grandeur.  Religious righteousness.  Forced asceticism as political purpose.  Or, as Jenee Osterheldt of the Kansas City Star pointed out, “He has mistaken the podium for a pulpit.”

A poll by the same paper found only 3% of Kansans planned on fasting for Brownback Tuesday.  92% will not fast, and one might believe binge instead, taking comfort food in his departure.  4% say they will pray, but I recall my old-country Grandfather’s prayers for his enemies quite well.  It might go something like “Brownback, you rubbish, may you find the bees but never the honey, and may you marry one who blows wind like a stone from a sling.” 

Brownback’s Kansas is possibly a land Rauner might nave clicked his heels together and dreamed about just a few years ago:  an elimination of Medicaid expansion, an executive order to remove protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people, millions of dollars taken from public education funding, the destruction of job security for state workers, limiting wage negotiations by local unions, etc.  Since then, however, Kansas has made a quiet and complete refusal to accept the kind of trickle down and right reformed Koch policies that have left the state decimated. 

So, it appears that Sam Brownback will now get to rub shoulders with another religious ideologue – Vice President Mike Pence – and discuss the terrible dangers of a country beset by alternative religions, equality in unions, and the general blasphemy of inclusiveness. 

Nevertheless, an opening is opportunity, and Bruce Rauner may find himself able to fill that void easily – especially as Ives undercuts him, as Uihlein promotes the position of the IPI and fills Ives’ coffers, as Pritzkers swallows the media time slots, as Madigan is Madigan, and as Rauner blunders about trying to be the leader he never was. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake's Speech Denouncing Trump on 1/17/2018

A Vital Statement; A Worthy Read

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona’s speech before the US Senate on January 17, 2018.

“Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident...' So, from our very beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The founders were visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis of this ongoing idea of America.

“As the distinguished former member of this body, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, famously said: 'Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.' During the past year, I am alarmed to say that Senator Moynihan’s proposition has likely been tested more severely than at any time in our history.

“It is for that reason that I rise today, to talk about the truth, and its relationship to democracy. For without truth, and a principled fidelity to truth and to shared facts, Mr. President, our democracy will not last.

“2017 was a year which saw the truth – objective, empirical, evidence-based truth -- more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine 'alternative facts' into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. 'The enemy of the people,' was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

“Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader.

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward – despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him 'fake news,' it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

“I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of 'fake news' are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their sacrifice.

“According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 journalists were killed in 2017, and a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on 'false news' charges.

“Mr. President, so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful – in fact, we question the powerful most ardently – to do so is our birthright and a requirement of our citizenship -- and so, we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality.

“No politician will ever get to tell us what the truth is and is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or manipulate the truth to his own purposes should be made to realize the mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. And that is just as Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.

“Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press is that the press usually corrects itself when it gets something wrong. Politicians don’t.

No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame -- is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger.

“Now, we are told via twitter that today the president intends to announce his choice for the 'most corrupt and dishonest' media awards. It beggars belief that an American president would engage in such a spectacle. But here we are.

“And so, 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple. And in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within us to turn back these attacks, right these wrongs, repair this damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further moral vandalism.

“Together, united in the purpose to do our jobs under the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us resolve to be allies of the truth -- and not partners in its destruction.

“It is not my purpose here to inventory all of the official untruths of the past year. But a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are trivial – such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at last year’s inaugural.

“But many untruths are not at all trivial – such as the seminal untruth of the president’s political career - the oft-repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate – to the effort to undermine confidence in the federal courts, federal law enforcement, the intelligence community and the free press, to perhaps the most vexing untruth of all – the supposed 'hoax' at the heart of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a 'hoax' – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

“Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward the United States leaves us vulnerable to further attacks. We are told by our intelligence agencies that those attacks are ongoing, yet it has recently been reported that there has not been a single cabinet-level meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America against these attacks. Not one. What might seem like a casual and routine untruth – so casual and routine that it has by now become the white noise of Washington - is in fact a serious lapse in the defense of our country.

“Mr. President, let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated.

“Mr. President, every word that a president utters projects American values around the world. The values of free expression and a reverence for the free press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps a people free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is the great leveler. And so, respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most important exports.

“But a recent report published in our free press should raise an alarm. Reading from the story:

“’In February…Syrian President Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, “You can forge anything these days, we are living in a fake news era.’

“In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being 'demonized' by 'fake news.' Last month, the report continues, with our President, quote 'laughing by his side' Duterte called reporters 'spies.'

“In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the Russian propaganda outlet, that the world media had 'spread lots of false versions, lots of lies' about his country, adding, 'This is what we call 'fake news' today, isn't it?'

There are more:

“A state official in Myanmar recently said, ‘There is no such thing as Rohingya. It is fake news,’ referring to the persecuted ethnic group.

“Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, have promised 'fake news' legislation in the new year.

“And on and on. This feedback loop is disgraceful, Mr. President. Not only has the past year seen an American president borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, but it seems he has in turn inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language. This is reprehensible.

“We are not in a 'fake news' era, as Bashar Assad says. We are, rather, in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself, to challenge free people and free societies, everywhere.

“In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be cause for profound alarm, and spur to action. Add to that the by-now predictable habit of calling true things false, and false things true, and we have a recipe for disaster. As George Orwell warned, 'The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.'

“Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news coverage we felt was jaded or unfair. But in our positions, to employ even idle threats to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put: it is the press’s obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people’s right to criticize their government. And it is our job to take it.

“What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? President John F. Kennedy, in a stirring speech on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, was eloquent in answer to that question:

“’We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.’

“Mr. President, the question of why the truth is now under such assault may well be for historians to determine. But for those who cherish American constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world -- made all the more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily disassembling of our democratic institutions.

“We are a mature democracy – it is well past time that we stop excusing or ignoring – or worse, endorsing -- these attacks on the truth. For if we compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.

“I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques, and as a young missionary in England he contemplated the question: 'What is truth?' His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that I grew up with, titled 'Oh Say, What is Truth.' It ends as follows:

“’Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first,

For the limits of time it steps o'er.

Tho the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst.

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal… unchanged… evermore.’

“Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.”

Please read full transcript and thoughts from Politico.  See below: