Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fact Check: Rauner Says AFSCME Is Highest Paid in U.S.

FACT CHECK: Rauner Says AFSCME Highest Paid Workers in the U.S.

A now-timely cartoon in the UTNE Reader years ago showed a grim-faced human resources manager behind a desk strewn with resumes and looking down on prospective applicant in a small wooden chair sitting before him.

HR Manager: You will be given an unbearable workload, your colleagues will harass and abuse you, any materials provided will be insufficient, there is no time off, you’ll never find advancement, vermin will bite your ankles, and you get health care.

Applicant:  Health care?  I’ll take the job!

So, what actually makes a job a worthy exchange for your labor?  Is it just the pay?

Novice Governor Bruce Rauner, who is girding up for his forced strike with the 38,000 AFSCME employees would drew a line in the sand concerning pay:  We have the highest paid state employees in America.  We need a fair system.” 

We can debate the beginner Governor’s concept of “fair” later, but do we really have the highest paid state workers in the country?  That’s an interesting claim.

According to a recent American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy released by Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, the answer is “not so much.”

The research “Overpaid or Underpaid?  A State-by-State Ranking of Public Employee Compensation” provides a detailed review of how the cumulative packages of benefits, salaries, pensions, security, and sundry other elements add up in the fifty states which utilize public unions to provide for the general welfare of their people.  It is clear from the onset that “highest paid” is a vague and nebulously emotional term. 

According to the authors, to say unequivocally that one state’s employees receive a higher or highest compensation is overly simplistic: “The compensation premium is not uniform across the nation. Many states pay government employees at market levels. Others pay huge premiums, and still others fall somewhere in the middle. Because there are large differences from state to state, broad generalizations and national-level analyses are not especially useful to the policymakers who must make budgetary decisions for their own states.”

Indeed, public sector workers like AFSCME in Illinois do not hold a “highest” or even “most expensive” position in terms of workplace benefits.

First, when we look directly at salary (Figure 1, p. 62) – as the Governor would adjure us to do – we will find as we always suspected that the dollar and cents premiums we provide our state workers fall significantly behind those working comparable jobs in the private sector.  Well, that is, unless you happen to reside in Connecticut.   Illinois does not lead the way, but public sector workers in Illinois certainly fare better than our neighbors in Indiana – a state that provides a model for Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda demands.  Indeed. There exists an almost 10% differential in Illinois wages in contrast to Indiana state employees.

But if you have job security (think tenure or due process), doesn’t that move the advantage needle for workers in the public sector?

We find also Illinois still does not outpace other states.  Note that in Fig. 13 – p. 74,  “Total Compensation differential versus comparable Private Sector Workers – Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania lead the way in double digit numbers when contrasted with Illinois.  We’re not only NOT the highest paid in Illinois; public sector workers like AFSCME fall significantly behind other states. 

In another later graph, throw in the added value of “Job Security” and those same states accelerate past Illinois, along with California, Michigan, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Finally, when we look at the same data but add in the values of a Defined Benefit, a Defined Contribution and/or a Pension, Illinois still does not exceed other states (Figure 3 – p. 74) .  In fact, the states in which public sector employees receive a greater or same “integrated value for a year’s work” include the following 19 other states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. 

So, why the hyperbole?

Rauner’s long-standing beef with AFSCME (which he refers to as Af-Scammy) is not with their overpriced salaries, not at all.  It is the simple fact that they are a union, and especially a public sector union.  That is what aggravates him to blindness and pushes his administration into an unrelenting refusal to negotiate with the leaders of AFSCME – no different than with the state budget and the General Assembly.

The researchers went on to “show that state government employees in most states receive greater total compensation than similarly educated and experienced private-sector employees who work for large employers.

“Public-employee wages in nearly all states fall below those paid in the private sector, but fringe benefits – in particular health and retirement benefits – are significantly more generous in government than in the private sector. In addition, public employees in every state have greater job security than they would likely enjoy outside of government.”

As you may already know, Rauner believes the Illinois Labor Board’s unanimous November ruling of an impasse in contractual talks between his administration and the union renders additional discussion unnecessary.  Rauner expects only the implementation of his “last” offer. “The time for talking is over.”

AFSCME (the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) is seeking a court ruling, and has taken a membership vote on a job action, receiving an over-80% willingness to strike. 

Areas of disagreement included length of a work-week, increased health insurance coverage costs, freezes in salaries for four years, a merit pay system, and the administration’s plan to outsource work to private companies competing with the workers’ union through competitive bidding. 

In fact, reports indicate that Rauner and his staff are working feverishly to identify replacement workers when and if a strike does occur. 

Executive Director AFSCME Roberta Lynch
Executive Director of AFSCME Roberta Lynch is hoping that her rank and file’s strike response to Rauner’s intractability will serve some measure of incentive to the administration’s reconsider hammering out some commonalities. 

I personally hope a strike can be avoided, but it seems very doubtful to me.  Rauner is a man whose obdurate leadership, or lack thereof, has veered a state through half a dozen investor bond downgrades and an Everest of unpaid bills reaching beyond $12 billion.  His non-involvement in the Senate negotiations is an indication of his inability to lead, to embrace the concept of compromise, and to the toxicity he brings to any civil discussions.

Like his current business counterpart in the White House, he leads by generating conflict and crises.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Donald Trump & Captain Queeg

The Caine Mutiny 1954 Humphrey Bogart Court scene - YouTube
Donald Trump: “Who Ate the Strawberries?!”


Watching an hour's interaction between Donald Trump and the press this afternoon during his contentious exchange with the media reporters gathered in the room was reminiscent of one of my favorite films:  The Caine Mutiny.

In the film version of Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of 1951, Humphrey Bogart plays Captain Queeg, the deranged and delusional leader of the Navy destroyer S.S. Caine, leading his ship through heavy seas.  The Captain’s increasing and frightening paranoia finally ends in a takeover of his command by some honorable and some self-serving lower officers of the deck.  

Think of “heavy seas” as North Korea firing missiles, Iran threatening to restart its nuclear warfare program, Afghanistan in danger of losing ground to the Taliban, Russian low-level flyovers of our fleets again in the Baltics, European concerns that NATO agreements may not be honored, an over-heated Wall Street bubble-like response to the initial euphoria of a Trump win, the increased polarity of a nation uneasy with the new leadership, and much more.  Bigly. 

The ship? Well, you get it. 

If you’d like a good look at where we are headed (or perhaps already arrived), it won’t be the now newly popular 1984 by George Orwell.  Life was miserable for poor Winston Smith, but at least the Inner Party actually operated like a 'well-oiled machine.'  One could count on a strict re-education plan with an unexpected mask of rats as a surprise for thinking outside the party’s edifice of false political catechism.

Looking back, the Party and O’Brien may have been sinister, but they weren’t crazy.

Captain Queeg, on the other hand, is demonstrably “crackers.”

And the Inner Party weren’t so delusional as to describe an administration grinding and chafing with thoughtless executive orders and politically reckless cabinet picks as “a well-oiled machine.”

Queeg’s journey into a self-made mare’s nest concludes in a bizarre self-defense based on “geometric logic” and the overabundance of “disloyal officers” he cannot trust.  Sound familiar?

The news conference today was also “crackers.”  Geometric logic declares over and over again “I was the winner, not Hillary.”  The number of Electoral votes continued to be regurgitated to demonstrate his eminent and unshakeable position.  “I got 306…”  

Trump finds the leaks illegal, not the actions of his Security Advisor. 

Questioned about recently resigned National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Trump was quick to point out that Flynn’s firing was for not telling Vice President Mike Pence of his misdeeds – that is, for unadvisedly contacting Russian government officials regarding sanctions before Trump’s inauguration into office. 

In fact, Trump was unable to find any culpability in Flynn’s actions at all. 

“I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence…very simple… I would have directed him (Flynn) to do it, if I thought he wasn’t doing it…but I didn’t, but I would have directed him because that was his job…no, I didn’t but I would have…if he didn’t.”

Like any amoral argument, I am only guilty of you catch me.  And even then, I can’t see myself as guilty of anything. Ever.

It goes on…and on.

“The news is fake…I don’t mind bad stories.  I can handle a bad story better than anybody.  As long as it’s true.  Over the course of time I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly, but I’m okay with that…but I’m not okay when it’s fake.”

“The public doesn’t know if it (news reporting) is true or false.  Because they’re not involved.  I’m involved.  I’ve been doing this stuff all my life, so I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not.

“I’ll tell you what else I see.  I see tone.  The tone is such hatred.  I’m really not a bad ,person by the way.  The tone is such…I do get good ratings; you do have to admit that. 

“I’m changing you (pointing to a knew reporter) from fake news to ‘really’ fake news.” 

Particular media stations are “full of anger (at me).  My favorites (Fox and friends) are very honorable people.

"Nobody mentions Hillary’s cheating.  If I (did that) it would be the electric chair…”
…”we do have other people (to talk here)…and your ratings are not as good as the other people..”

“I could shoot that ship (Russian) that’s 30 miles off shore if I wanted to... I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do (to that ship).”

Abuse of reporters from other nations:  “Yeah, I know…you’re a beauty… (to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation representative).”

“Russia is a ruse…”

To an African American reporter: “What’s the CBC?  Why don’t you arrange a meeting with them for me (Congressional Black Caucus).  Your people lock themselves into apartments…”

Blustering about the Senate Minority Leader: "Schumer?…a Lightweight."

But the feeble comparison of film to reality falls far short of the absolute terror anyone should feel for our nation and its Rule of Law, having witnessed the performance of the imbalanced and narcissistic pendragon in today’s news conference. 

Only the ball bearings are absent.  


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Over Half of Trump Supporters: Ignore the Courts

Over Half of Trump Supporters: “Ignore the Courts.” 

I made a critical mistake the other day at my fitness center.  I brought The New Yorker to read while I schlepped along on my elliptical runner.  It was a great article: How to save youth football from injuring itself into extinction.

It wasn’t the article that caused my later issues.  It wasn’t even the cover design, because let’s face it; the New Yorker can put out some crazy political covers.  Witness the eight years of Barack Obama.

Did you know that Half Price Books takes the New Yorker in trade or cash and will pay more for those politically spectacular moments?  That “fist bump” with the President and Michelle fetched at least $3.

This cover was entitled “Waterways” and was a dark watercolor image of ship lights on the Hudson River, I suppose – or maybe the lights at Ellis Island in the wet darkness.  Whatever, it was the bold white letters “New Yorker” across the banner that did me in.

I had inadvertently peeled off my fa├žade – my uniform whiteness, my Southside camaraderie, my required participation in seething anger.  The guy behind me riding his stationary bicycle and watching one of the four big screen stations tuned to Fox News noticed the magazine’s title.

Let me get back to that “Anger.”  Have you noticed that the strongest Trump supporters are not happy, relieved or even appeased with the tycoon’s election as President?  They’re still angry.

Remember in 2008 when Obama won and so many felt that momentary elation?  That lightness of being?  That perhaps maybe we could, “Si se puede?”  The audacity of hope and that gathering in Grant Park? That illusory feeling that we were once again likely to be a whole country; after all, the country had just elected the first Black man to the highest office?  What else could we all accomplish?

How different this time ‘round.  Not happiness or even self-justification. 

On the screens Sean Spicer stutters an excuse to the press, and my nearby runners talk loudly across exercise furniture and through other sweating clients about how President Trump had the (testicles) to make a raid into Yemen unlike that weakling Obama, how that witch Elizabeth Warren got put in her place nicely by McConnell, how the news – even Fox – cannot be trusted…  They're loud - on purpose.

There’s a fascinating observation in the current New Yorker by Adam Gopnik which identifies the psyche of the Trump Administration and its “inner circle” adherents.  Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers. There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history. Regimes with an authoritarian ideology and a boss man on top always bend toward the extreme edge, because their only organizational principle is loyalty to the capo. Since the capo can be placated only by uncritical praise, the most fanatic of his lieutenants end up calling the shots. Loyalty to the boss is demonstrated by hatred directed against his enemies.”

It’s the February 13th edition of The New Yorker with an image of Lady Liberty’s torch extinguished and sadly smoking.  I’ll bet one of these days – if we all live that long – that the magazine brings at least $3. 

But in this election it appears to me, especially after having outed myself, this reverberation of loyalty to the Leader vibrates down to the lowest and least levels – even a gym.  As the Republican Party evades the responsibilities of true leadership, and the unending fascination of the media remains shackled to the narcissism of the midnight Tweeter, those who supported Trump gladly embrace his imagined or alternatively factual disdain for the Rule of Law and the U.S. Constitution.

“Screw the Appeals Court,” loudly muttered one elliptical runner near me, “just go ahead and stop ‘em all.”

‘Em?  Checks and balances be damned?  Authoritarian government?  “We don’t have to listen to your findings?”

“Badges?  I don’t need to show you no stinkin’ badges.”

According to latest tallies by Public Policy Polling, nearly a quarter of Americans believe that Trump should ignore the Appeals Court findings.  But over 50% of Trump supporters would applaud the novice President’s refusal to follow the judicial finding. 

We shouldn’t be surprised by Trump’s own contempt for the judicial branch.  After all, his own past is a documented panoply of suits and counter suits in various courts, states and countries around the globe.  He sues anyone and everyone.  He loses and pays off with sealed non-disclosure clauses – in order to maintain his haughty and bullish attitude of divine fiat in all business dealings.  His universities, his land schemes, his utilization of his surname to draw in investors and bilk them of millions.  The courts have always been an enemy of the man who defrauds and bamboozles his way to riches.  

A close friend of mine suggested a few weeks ago that I get out of my manicured and polished political universe.  She said I might try to understand the other side’s position.  Perhaps, I could abandon my progressive and left-wing positions just long enough to share discourse with my Trump flag flying neighbor, or partake in Fox news once in awhile. 

Tall order.  But that’s my friend. 

And, really, I do.  I talk to several people with whom I work – ardent Trump supporters from early on.  Also I listen carefully to those who arrive at my retail work place politely, as an attentive and congenial representative would be expected.  (Maybe I share more with Paul Ryan than I know…or want.)

A unique commonality among them all is their unfinished desire “to blow it up.”  To destroy it all.  To demolish the system that has left them in anger and unable to feel safe – from financial penury in old age, a nagging sense that their children will not be safe after they have left the world, that they are not really responsible for their own dissatisfactions. 

And, I think, they have succeeded in finding exactly the right agent for testing every facet of the gossamer that holds together our country, the Rule of Law, a unique attempt to harness the ever-selfish minds of men in a document written so very shortly ago.

“Democratic civilization has turned out to be even more fragile than we imagined; the resources of civil society have turned out to be even deeper than we knew. The battle between these two shaping forces—between the axman assaulting the old growth and the still firm soil and deep roots that support the tree of liberty—will now shape the future of us all.” (Gopnik) 

Read “Americanism” by Adam Gopnik.  It’s truly a razor sharp look at where we are.

And get some exercise…but take your headphones.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Rauner: Term Limits for All?

Rauner: Term Limits for All (except Leslie Munger)

According to opponents to term limits, each time a politician comes up for election, the people (voters) have an opportunity to end the pol’s holding an office; ergo, a built in term limit. 
Don’t like him or her?  Dislike their policies? Vote them out of office.
For Bruce Rauner, a rookie governor of Illinois who came into office with a plan to shake things up, term limits were one necessary item on his Turnaround Agenda if we were to Make Illinois Great Again.  Or at least economically competitive.  Or – in actuality – get him to agree to an annual state budget.
Others included pension reform, lessening workmen’s compensation, cutting mandates, local tax control, property tax freezes, ending collective bargaining…
Last summer, Rauner toured to promote his argument for term limits: "The only way to overcome entrenched political power is for the people of Illinois to never give up, to keep pushing forward for reform. That's why we're here today."
Of course, Rauner’s continuously mentioned and identified target is Speaker Michael Madigan, whom Rauner argues is his political equivalent of the evil Illuminati in the State’s General Assembly.   You’ll remember a procedurally faulty attempt to include term limits in last election’s state referendums failed, and Rauner doubled down on getting some traction this year as the state once again approached a budgetary deadline. 
Under Rauner’s leadership – and the lack of a budget for more than two years – Illinois has built an immeasurable amount of debt which generates additional bills in meeting the interest payments for not owing providers.  “See those big-box pharmacies on the corners?” one state official told me.  “”Just remember Illinois owes $millions to them each time you pass by one on a corner. And at 1% APR, that becomes a continual $10,000 out of our pockets for absolutely nothing…” 
Last year at this time, the Chicago Sun times reported that a year’s deadlock in the state budget generated an additional $6.2 billion in debt.  One percent of that?  $620 million in a single year.  …for absolutely nothing…
But that's leadership under businessman Rauner, and Change causes pain,” reminded Governor Rauner in an interview with the New York Times in 2015.  Moreover, term limits are non-negotiable when it comes to the changes he wants.
The Wingman 
That is, unless you happen to be his “Wingman,” previous Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger. 
Munger, financially backed by Rauner in her losing proxy war against Susana Mendoza was as much a victim of Rauner’s immovability in refusing a budget bargain with Dems as her own vocal attachment to an increasing unpopular governor. 
She lost her election.  

But now the Governor has hired Munger to a post as deputy governor in Illinois.  In her position, Munger will be responsible for the long-term budget processes and helping the human services in Illinois trying to manage with the lack of any budget.  In that capacity, she will receive an annual salary of $135,000. 
That’s not cronyism.  That’s protecting your wingman.
And, really, if you can stretch your thinking into strange an unfamiliar shapes, for Bruce Rauner that’s throwing a bone to the many, too many people suffering in Illinois from lack of human services as a result of his own intractable positions in every budget offering. 

In surreal Springfield, Munger get "selected" to a political position again, and the poor and marginalized in Illinois are "helped" by the man who threatened their well-being.  What's wrong with that kind of leadership.  
How about this?  Let’s add the recent drop of credit rating for Illinois by Fitch to near “junk bond” status.  Triple B?  Because of Rauner's refusing a budget compromise for two, and now maybe three years?
Term limits?  Change causes pain?  I’m for workin’ families? 

Hypocrisy, thy name is Bruce.