Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability

C.T.B.A. (or quaere verum)

Latin: The phrase “Quaere Verum” means literally “to seek the truth.”   C.T.B.A. is the abbreviation for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bi-partisan not-for-profit research and advocacy think tank that promotes fair, efficient and progressive tax, spending and accounting.  Led by Mr. Ralph Martire, the C.T.B.A. has made many presentations and appearances to provide reasonable and alternative answers to solving the pension debt issues in Illinois.   The C.T.B.A. also provides research and various white papers on a variety of monetary issues made available at their website  More than any other person or organization, Martire and the C.T.B.A have been the force behind the truth:  "Illinois faces a revenue problem, not a pension problem."

Last evening on WTTW’s McLaughlin Group, moderator John McLaughlin tried to convince Eleanor Clift that the results of the national election of Barack Obama as President proved that the Supreme Court Citizens United decision made no difference in politics whatsoever.  Clift was having no part of that cynical observation, and she replied that it was indeed having a major influence by flooding the political scenes on all levels – especially the states – with obscene amounts of money in order to undermine the democratic process.  She couldn’t have been more right.

The Koch brothers and other groups will spend barrels of money to bend the truth or shift the playing field for millions of the middle-class.  Never mind that so many $ billions were lost trying to defeat Barack Obama.  There’s plenty more where that came from, and if you believe “trickle down” doesn’t work, think again.  What a PAC like FreedomWorks cannot achieve on the national level is not so important as what it does on the state level.  Multiply that with many more PAC's and...   The influence of money works on the state level quite well, and Illinois is certainly no exception. 

Organizations like the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, the Chamber of Commerce, etc., can and do pump enormous amounts of money into the political system and media machinery to provide self-promoting and convenient forms of truth; specious slants on numbers and outcomes; and a callous disregard for facts, morality or honesty.  Witness their constant mantra that Article XIII, Section 5, of the Illinois Constitution cannot withstand successive outrageous proposals to ignore the contractual promises made by the State of Illinois to those who toiled for the public interest.  Remember also, with those vast sums groups like the Civic Committee can enlist the aid of confederates like Sidley Austin LLP to construct potential frameworks for ignoring the legal promises made to public sector workers in our state.

I believe we desperately need groups like the C.T.B.A. to seek truth and promote an accurate and alternate vision against those who would purchase the power, influence, and political connections in Springfield.  I urge you to make a donation.

Thanks for the reminder, Glen.  See you in Springfield!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Chained CPI? Et Tu, Brute?

Chained C.P.I. (and the fine print taketh away)

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the surviving political triumvirate finds themselves wondering aloud how “to cut off some charge in legacies.”  Marc Antony and others may have controlled Rome, but they had bills to pay.  Of course, 44 B.C. was a time before actuaries, so most monetary promises to maintain benefits or payments were neatly avoided by using a sharp sword or sweet-tasting poison.  Case in point, you’ll remember their political issues regarding revered leader Julius were answered with some 47 wounds to the body.  They were speedy in 44 B.C. unlike today, but then again not really much different when it comes to eliminating  “some charge in legacies.”  It takes a little longer nowadays, but the effects on earlier promised benefits will often be the same.  And with actuaries, it can even seem logical?

On the state level, especially here in Illinois, legislators in search of money work feverishly to find ways to eliminate or reduce the promises of future cost of living expenses. Historically, COLA’s have always been the hedge against the ravages of inflationary increases on people’s lives, and the Consumer Price Index is what calculates COLA’s.  The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.    The increase is represented in an annual percentage.

Of course, the nature of the “market basket” is and has been important to all of us.  Currently, the basket represents what we would find urban dwellers purchasing, and that “includes all urban consumers, urban wage earners, and clerical workers” (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  This accounts for nearly 87% of Americans.  Non-metropolitan or rural areas are not represented; so for example, increased costs in agricultural machinery would not be found in the “basket.”  On the other hand, fuel to run machinery or automobiles would be.  By the way, this method of calculation is called the CPI-U (Consumer Price Index – Urban). 

But it’s not just what’s in the “basket” that counts.  Another important aspect of the CPI is the math that configures the eventual percentage.  As any budding actuary will remind you, anything – including inflation – can be measured in many different ways.  And herein is the issue.

On the federal level, President Barack Obama has been lately offering the use of a Chained (or hedonic) CPI for calculation of Social Security COLA benefits.  Prior to this executive proposal, social security increases have been figured using the CPI-W (Consumer Price Index – Urban Wage Earners).  The Chained-CPI (or C-CPI) is calculated not on increases to the cost of living but also the spending reactions of those receiving social security to increased costs.  Here are some examples:

My elderly neighbors on social security are making adjustments to the price increases this year for food, for transportation, for electricity, etc.  As a result, they drive less, take no vacations, eat at home with items from the garden, etc. The Chained CPI (C-CPI) takes into account the effects of choosing less expensive or descending life-styles.  Contrasting the CPI-U or the CPI-W, the Chained CPI therefore is much more sluggish in response to increases in prices.  In a logical twist, if you cannot afford it and you choose to purchase something less expensive, then you have adjusted for inflation yourself.  Get it?  It’s the new reality of “less is more.”

According to Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post, “That adds up to a big cut in Social Security benefits.  Imagine, for example, a person born in 1935 who retired at full benefits at age 65 in 2000.  According to the Social Security Administration, people in that position had (benefits of) $23,832 a year.  But under a chained CPI, the sum would be… $22,650 a year.  That’s a cut of over 5%, and more as you go further and further into the future” ( ).

In result, Obama’s acceptance of a Chained CPI for Social Security calculations as part of his willingness to deal with the other side – which you’ll remember would have had Social Security in the hands of Wall Street in 2006 – will possibly provide cuts for a program which is unconnected to the budget deficit, remains self-funded through the workers’ wage taxes, and a lifesaver for millions of Americans since 1936. 

“Et Tu, Brute?”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

NRA - The Far Right to Bear Arms

N.R.A. (…or...the far Right to Bear Arms)

The National Rifle Association was first chartered after the Civil War in New York State, as a result of the previous war’s length, possibly owing to the inability of the Northern soldiers to shoot accurately.  It was estimated that the greater number of shots fired by Northern troops during the war and the lesser amount by Southern forces indicated an inability of the former to hit anything.  Of course, in extended retrospect, it may have been the result of an economic necessity.  Subsequent emphases by the newly organized not-for-profit N.R.A. organization included marksmanship, hunting, and target shooting for the years leading up to World War II.  Even after World War II, the N.R.A. was an organization promoting the appropriate use of firearms for hunting and shooting

Sounds almost rational.  That was then…this is now.

Recent History - During the late 1960’s, the more pastoral and idyllic pursuits of the earlier organization to pursue hunting rights and sport shooting had led the N.R.A.  to consider moving from Washington DC to Colorado.  Not so.  Other reactive leadership planned a coup, and a new leader Neal Knox emerged in the late 1970’s confronting a befuddled and diverse membership with the opportunities and challenges to become truly a “gun lobby.” 

After that, the paranoiac 1970’s were punctuated by fears of revolution (SDS, Black Panthers), social unrest (Vietnam), federal intervention (Pine Ridge), etc.  In fact, the evolution of the N.R.A. to a politically powerful enterprise proved so successful that Mr. Knox remained at the helm for nearly two decades in a stormy relationship, which included his leaving and returning to the N.R.A. on several occasions.  In 1997, the election committee dethroned Knox and his associate Harlon Carter to provide ultimate leadership for then executive vice president Wayne La Pierre.  From the beginning, LaPierre was clamorous about the N.R.A.’s real power, “the greatest fund raising engine this country has ever seen” (Knox, Neal. Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War: Dispatches from the Front Lines 1966 - 2000.  MacFarlane Press. 2009).  The N.R.A. we have all come to know was born.

Big Money Talks - If anyone understood the significance of money and its influence, it was Wayne LaPierre, who himself later underwent audits for his questionable fiscal relationships with business groups connected to the N.R.A.   Even today, LaPierre is careful to maintain his over $1 million salary (Charity Watch).  In 1995, LaPierre, historically infamous for throwing verbal accelerant on fires (see his latest ludicrous speech regarding the appalling tragedy in Newtown), also publicly described the federal agents who went into the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidian camp as “jack-booted government thugs.” The negative reaction was swift.  Even the former N.R.A. President Bush I resigned his membership. 

In order to avoid the pressures of scrutiny or (worse) investigation on front pages, the organization was quick to appoint a new vice-president and spokesman in the character of one Charlton Heston.  They needed a front man.  You might remember Heston’s famous speech at the 2000 NRA convention, the former Planet of the Apes star attacking Al Gore and, while brandishing an old flintlock, announcing “From my cold, dead hands.”   Enough of the ludicrous, but it worked. 

And now.  While Wayne LaPierre, especially in his latest incoherent diatribe this last week against every possible influence but the N.R.A., wants us all to believe that he and his organization are not a party to, not responsible for, not complicit in, nor even capable of ameliorating our nation’s recurrent bloodletting in any way, a clear memory proves differently.  Quite the opposite, the ground underneath us falls away at even a short-lived list of the events that took the lives of so many innocents in Newtown, Ct; the Sikh Temple members in Oak Creek, WI; the movie-goers in Aurora, CO; the coffee shop in Seattle, WA; the five African Americans in Tulsa, OK; the seven at Oikos College in Oakland, CA; and those killed and injured in Chardon, Ohio; twelve in Carson City, NV; a congresswoman and others in Tucson, AZ;  - - - - Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech., Omaha Mall, Littleton, Colorado, etc. and etc. and etc. 

Complicit?  Here is a short but sobering collection of what Wayne LaPierre and his N.R.A. have been responsible for doing in just the last twenty years:

Opposing an attempt to prevent those on the “no fly” list (possible terrorists) from gaining possession of guns (

Opposing any gun dealers from reporting to the ATF multiple sales of shotguns or rifles of any type including those who sell to criminals(

Spending over $2 million last year on political activity  – nearly $30 million since 1998, including significant sums last year to prevent the election of Barack Obama

Blocking the selection of a director to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms regulatory commission of the Federal Government for more than half a decade.  Their paid puppets in the Senate use the filibuster rule to prevent any discussion of an appointment, leaving the bureau without any teeth to enforce rules ( ).

Killing any attempt by the ATF to keep, maintain and report gun dealer records from a centralized computerized data- base, to analyze gun sales for trafficking patterns

Reducing the inspections of gun dealers by the ATF to no more than once per year

Exempting ATF’s gun-trace database from the Freedom of Information Act through the Tiahart Amendment.  [See Todd Tiahart – Republican Rep. from Kansas]  The bill makes the search, pursuit and arrest of individuals involved in purchasing and selling of illegal guns almost impossibly difficult ( ).

Maintaining a bizarre and inappropriate anti-Obama website which demonstrates a paranoia even Karl Rove would avoid.  Get there fast, because they are about to dismantle this insane artifact.  ( )   .

Pushing the House Democrats as well as others to “actively avoid” any effort to restore the assault weapons ban for fear of their own re-elections.  65 Democrats indicated to Attorney General Holder they wanted no changes to the Assault Weapon Ban  (

Finally, I remained unsurprised that the latest executive board member – of all people – Grover Norquist  on Sunday, December 23, 2012, ABC’s This Week, attempted to defend LaPierre’s latest invective : “We ought to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.  President Obama has been president for four years. If he thought some gun control could solve this problem, he should have been pushing it years ago” ( ).  Grover and Wayne’s similar urgings that more guns for protection against a tide of evil doers was the best answer had all the theater of a Dr. Strangelove moment – except for the dead-on seriousness and tragedy we all face.

Tired of it all yet?  Had enough of this cyclical self-destruction?  Why not call your senator or representative to tell them “I have had enough.  Do something.  And, by the way, expose those who would undermine the ATF!”

Contact your Federal Legislator!

Disclosure:  I hold an F.O.I.D. card.  I have hunted in my past.  I was a rifle-trained Boy Scout.  I believe in the Second Amendment, but that we must limit access to weapons of mass murder, allow for the open research of misuse of weaponry in our country, and create appropriate and careful oversight for access to any weapons. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Inaugural Ball 2.0 - Dancing with Corporate Stars

Obama’s decision to involve corporate influence and money in this event “prioritizes a lavish celebration over the integrity of the office.”  It demonstrates his “turning away from a principled approach to money in politics.” – John Wonderlich, Policy Director of the Sunlight Foundation.

Inaugural Ball 2.0 (…or...Dancing with the Corporate Stars)

Did you get your invite to enter the lottery for $5 to win a trip to the inauguration for Obama?  I did.  Guy Cecil of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee wishes me luck at a chance to donate $5 and possibly win an opportunity to “be at” the Inaugural Ball.”  I’m just a grassroots supporter, yet I am made to feel really important in his email invite.  Guy ends by saying, “Hope to see you and your guest in Washington, DC soon – and don’t forget your dancing shoes.”  Let’s be honest.  My chances are pretty slim, but I know who will be there to have a conversazione (Italian for influential face-to-face with VIP’s). 

According to recent reports, President Barack Obama will accept unlimited corporate donations for his upcoming January 21st Inauguration. 

This is not the way it was supposed to be.  Remember Inaugural Ball 1.0 (2011) – no corporate influences allowed? 

Although Obama had barred corporations from donating during the last inauguration, flip-flops in this earlier position were caused – according to his handlers – by the unequal expenses of this last campaign which has left donors less likely to be holding extra cash to negotiate into political play.

Last time around, the 2009 Inauguration Ball cost nearly $47 million and the short time between election and January 21st makes “raising that ($) in a matter of six weeks too difficult without throwing open the flood gates, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity “(   

Of course, some politically polite mannerisms will be observed this upcoming year.  Any corporate sponsorship for the event will not be accompanied by branding <!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->privileges, so we probably won’t see any corporate logos visibly present on pennants or banners.  On the other hand, unless they are deemed liable to pose a conflict of interest, they’ll all be there in physical presence if not in influence. is also quick to remind that the practice of accepting corporate sponsorship for a Presidential Inauguration is not nouveau.  Unlike his carefully drawn line during his “Hope and Change” run and original Inauguration Ball in 2009, “in some ways, Obama is returning to tradition.  Previous Presidents accepted large corporate donations for their inaugurations.  George W. Bush, for example, took a slew of $250,000 checks from companies that included Bank of America, Pfizer, and Exxon Mobil” ( ). 

Defenders of the President’s decision to return to accepting corporate donations remind that such a civic event as the Inaugural Ball is no different than others; for example, the Cherry Blossom Festival takes corporate sponsorships as do many museums and charities.  Yikes, even the small animal shelter where I volunteer would welcome a corporate sponsorship – on the other hand, we don’t ever get any.  Is it because we don’t federally and locally legislate?

What if you want to go to the ball?

Check your coin jar.  As donator, $250,000 will get you a top level package called appropriately the “Washington.”  The same package for a corporate entity – although remember they’re people too – will start at $1 million.  The packages come with numerous tickets for the inauguration, including two tickets to a benefactors reception, an invitation to the finance committee ‘Road Ahead’ meeting, two tickets to the children’s concert, two tickets to the co-chair’s reception, and four tickets to the candlelight celebration”( ).  Other lesser packages range downward into the tens of thousands with catchy names like the “Adams, Jefferson, or Madison.”   One wonders if there is a Fawkes package?

The Inaugural Committee, like every other group in political Washington, drew lines to eliminate conflicts of interest, which are flexible if not totally elastic.  A conflict of interest for a corporation might include looking for a federal contract, but not necessarily trying to secure a large tax subsidy.  The same committee bars PAC’s and lobbyists, but top clients of the same lobbying groups (e.g., General Electric) can participate.  Of course, we may not actually see a Microsoft banner above the swearing-in, as the committee outlawed corporate branding, but you might expect that big-package executives will gladly trade such displays for face-to-face encounters with federal legislators.  Have another drink, Senator?

Unlike earlier inaugural fund-raising efforts, Obama’s committee is providing an evolving list of personal and corporate donors prior to the event – not after as is normally done.  With that in mind, it is indeed an eye-opening journey through the extensive lists of donors already on board and receiving their special “packages” for attendance

As you might expect, a large segment of the individual guest lists paying $50,000 (Crowns, Pritzkers, etc.) include those in Illinois who work to promote and influence the undermining of public education or the destruction of the public sector workers benefits. 

You will find the growing guest list of the 1% at the following site.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reprise: Charter Schools

“But the internal document, prepared at a time when school leaders faced a December deadline to make their decisions public, lays out multiple scenarios for closing neighborhood schools and adding privately run charters – a key component of Emanuel’s plans for improving public education.” – Ahmed-Ullah + Chase.  CPS had closings draft months ago.  Chicago Tribune.  19 December 2012)

Charter Schools (Rahm’s Uncovered Plan for the “Fat Cats”)

Recent developments have pushed Mayor Emanuel’s emphatic need to close public schools, open profit-making charters instead, and create selective non-union schools.  We’re not supposed to know this secret plan, but if you’re looking to invest in a money making operation, this reprise vocabulary may help in your decision to choose the Rahm’s “new normal” for education in Chicago. Later we'll review what one can make running one of these privatized paradigms.  

Charter School - noun – A Charter School is an institution of learning with accountability to a specified, written charter developed to outline certain expectations for its students, often tailored to more specific outcomes than normally found in public schools.  For example, a Charter School may emphasize a certain field of study like visual art, mathematics, or science.  On the other hand, some Charter Schools may instead promote a more general curriculum.  Whatever the desired effects, the summative target is described in the written charter of the institution. 

Like public schools, charter school students are expected to also participate in state mandated requirements – testing, for example.  The differences, however, are also worth noting.  They also cannot charge tuition, unlike like parochial schools, for they are still considered “public” schools – even though charter schools may be quite selective about their admissions process.  Furthermore, the very ambiguity of their nature – public/private, curricularly- isolated /comprehensive, selective/inclusive, privately funded/publicly funded (or both), etc., create a hierarchy of creatures only Carl Linnaeus might fully comprehend. 

Finally, almost all charter schools in Chicago operate outside and away from the collective bargaining of public unions.  Any attempts at unionizing a charter school must be done in affiliation with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers, not with recognized public unions like the AFT/IFT or NEA/IEA; consequently, herein lies the slippery slope for anyone seeking to organize an opportunity to bargain collectively with the administrative leaders of a charter school for improvements in evaluations, health care, pay, class-size, building improvement, etc.  When suggesting collective bargaining as a possible benefit, teachers or staff at Charter Schools face the immediate scrutiny of the CEO’s who run these operations, operations like Green Dot, Noble Network, or (in New Orleans, believe it or not) Capitol One Bank.  At times, scrutiny without the benefit of due process (tenure) can be unsettling.  By the way, the CEO of Noble Network (our specific case in this vocabulary) receives an annual salary of well over $200,000 per year.  Something is working well in “charter” education.  In fact, according to, at least 10% of charter schools are managed by for-profit companies (5 Oct. 2004.  “Privitization of Public Education.”

Let’s review what happened at one charter school, Chicago Math and Science Academy, a couple of years ago when one teacher became so bold as to suggest organizing her fellow teachers in order to provide for the students’ and faculty’s benefits.  Indeed, the issue is still unsettled today. 

While meeting with her principal, in June of 2010, the teacher, a specialist in adapting curriculum for lower-level learning students, was given a glowing performance evaluation by the principal Mr. Yilnaz.  Teachers annually meet with the principal regarding performance and retention at the end of each year.  Later in that day, the same teacher joined other hopefuls in the faculty as they assembled in the principal’s office to present, in sorts, a petition (results of a card check union election) to acknowledge their wish to join the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers, a subsidiary of the IFT/AFT.  At that time the same Alliance represented eight other charter schools in Chicago (Lydersen, Kari.  9 Aug. 2010.  “Firing of Pregnant Chicago Teacher…” 

Surprisingly or not, the same teacher, instrumental in organizing the group of concerned teachers in order to assist students and improve working conditions was summarily released due to “reductions in state benefits,” although the same school later hired additional teachers for the next year.   The lesson was clear. 

Despite the desire to organize for their students’ improvement – “I didn’t like the climate when it came into going in there on my own to talk to the principal who it seemed was very hostile to any kind of improvements that I wanting in my working conditions – improvements that would certainly benefit the learning conditions of my kids” (Lutton, Linda.  18 March 2011) --  not much happened, and not much is likely, at least for awhile.  Chicago Math and Science Academy hired an expensive union-busting attorney Seyfarth Shaw, an expert at fighting collective bargaining and extending these battles into long and protracted epics. 

And today?  The results are still not in, as the National Labor Relations Board wrestles with CMSA’s issues, including the stance that they are not necessarily “public” despite taking over $23 million in public funds since opening in 2004 (16 Feb 2012.  “Chicago Charter School in union battle” 

The school’s attorney has argued that public funding is not the only mark of a public institution, suggesting that charter schools are established by private citizens and government has little if any sway over their operations, expenses or curriculum.