Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pot Still Illegal--45 Years Later!

NO WEED IN THE WINDY CITY!  Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado voices his opposition to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's proposal to decriminalize marijuana.

When I was a kid, I thought it was normal for my Uncle Harold to throw my drunken Uncle Frank out the front door and into the snow on Christmas night every year.  I would stand in the bay window at the Knox farm and watch Uncle Frank trying to stand up, patches of snow on his balding head.  Then I'd run to my mom and tell her that Uncle Frank was outside in the snow and couldn't get up.  "I know, I know, Jimmy," she'd say.  "Just stay close to me."

So I would stick close to my mom and later stood, holding onto her skirt as my aunt swilled vodka right out of the bottle under the stairs in the farm's pantry.

I've seen a lot of drunks in my family, blog readers--too many!

My favorite first cousin Tommy was found dead drunk in a skid row apartment in Waukegan by his two sons in February of 1987.  He had been dead for two weeks when they found him.

There are lots more stories of alcohol abuse on the Irish side of the family.  Heck, there are even booze death stories on the German side, my dad's side.  My dad's brother Donny owned a bar in Crystal Lake and died drunk on his lounger in my grandparents' living room in 1952 at the ripe old age of 34. 

So as I've watched the pissing contest in Chicago about marijuana possession and whether or not possession of a small amount of pot should be decriminalized, I've been amazed at the vitriol.  Let's face it, pot is much less dangerous than alcohol.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not want to legalize pot; he just wants to have Chicago police issue a ticket for those caught with a small amount of the green, leafy substance.  After listening to the opposition, you'd think he wanted to allow kilos to be brought to Daley Plaza and sold to the highest bidder.

And all of this comes 45 years after the Summer of Love when America first turned on to marijuana.  45 friggin' years!  Unbelievable!

No one ever got thrown out in the snow on Christmas for smoking too much marijuana.  No one ever died in a skid row apartment in Waukegan because of smoking too many joints.

When President Jimmy Carter first talked about legalizing marijuana in the late 1970's, I pictured Americans stopping at a convenience store after work, picking up a joint for a dollar, and heading home to smoke the joint as they watched Walter Cronkite.

Boy, was I wrong!

The latest game here in Galesburg is to have the Galesburg cops bring drug sniffing dogs to the Amtrak station and have the dogs examine the luggage of passengers getting off the California Zepher.

The cops have had numerous busts, and some of the "criminals" are from states that have medical marijuana laws and claim they are carrying the pot legally.  The police arrest them anyway.

Now tell me, in a town with unemployment over 10% and the poverty rate at Galesburg High School between 50 & 60%, don't the cops have better things to do than bust train passengers carrying pot?  How about community outreach programs, guys?  How about walking beats in the poor neighborhoods and getting to know the citizens?

So even though I bashed Mayor Rahmbo in my last posting, Mr. Mayor, you are right on with the decriminalization of marijuana.

It's about damn time!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mayor Rahmbo is Nothing but a Union Buster and a Bully!

THE UNION BUSTERS.  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public School Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard

Well, fellow teachers, it looks like Chicago has become ground-zero in the fight for fair and equitable contracts for teachers.  Chicago teachers have finally drawn a line in the sand, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now spewing quotations about how hard teachers work and how much he respects teachers.

Don't believe him!

When 90% of Chicago teachers authorized a strike last week, it was like punching Mayor Bully Boy right in the nose.

And remember, downstate and suburban teachers, if Emanuel, his hatchet man Jean-Claude Brizard, and the rich billionaires that bankroll Advance Illinois win, then you in Bloomington and Naperville will be the next ones to be tested, and already signed contracts that you think are perfectly safe will fall like dominoes, just as the teacher contract in Chicago did last year.

Bully Emanuel threw away the 4% raise for the last year of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) contract, extended the work day for teachers, and continued to take taxpayer money and put it into privately run charter schools.

I'm amazed he's gotten away with his actions this long!

Then when CTU Present Karen Lewis told Mayor Bully Boy that teachers wanted a 30% raise and were going to take a strike vote, Advance Illinois, funded by some of the same rich corporate hacks who fund the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, unleashed a radio and robo-call blitz trying to convince Chicago teachers that the strike vote should be moved until after school was out.

Or course if the vote had been moved to July, all the Chicago teachers would have been spread hither and yon, and the 75% mark would not have been met.

So even though Karen Lewis comes off as a weak CTU president, she did the right thing by holding the vote before school dismissed for the summer.

And can you believe the gall of these millionaires and billionaires who continue to stick their noses not only into CPS matters but are also trying to take away my cost of living allowance or health insurance as a retired teacher?  As Ringo would say in William Faulkner's novel The Unvanquished,  "The bastuds!"

My questions for Advance Illinois and for the Civic Committee is "Have you no shame?" and "Does your greed know no bounds?"

The answers to the above two questions are, "No," and "No!"

Since about half of the students in my freshman English classes at Dominican University last year were graduates of public high schools in Chicago, I have a unique perspective on what's going on in high schools in the city.

And it ain't pretty, boys and girls.

Emanuel has moved all the money to charter schools and to magnet schools in Chicago, and he has let the every-day public high schools languish.  Did you see the mayor parading around the stage at the charter school graduation last week, bragging that every one of the African-American graduates was going to college?

Parade around the stage at Kelvyn Park, Crane, or Dyett, big boy!  You won't because these schools have a 75% drop-out rate.  There are just a handful of graduates in those schools, and they are barely literate.

I had a students tell me last year that I wouldn't believe how bad it was in their high schools.  The CPS grads had big problems adjusting to an atmosphere of free discussion and reaction at Dominican.  One boy told me, "Mr. Wyman, you wouldn't believe how bad it is."  And he was at a magnet school in the city!

Until Emanuel and his lap dogs, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, promote improvement of ALL Chicago schools instead of just a few, the present situation will prevail.

There is only one way to stop a bully--punch him in the nose.  A strike this fall will be a good first step, or should I say punch!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Evan Massey and Galesburg Girls Basketball

Evan Massey has been teaching and coaching at Galesburg High School since 1974

Pam and I attended the Silent Auction and had dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings Wednesday night, which benefited the Galesburg High School girls basketball program.

I've been calling the GHS girls games on WGIL and WAIK radio stations off and on since 2007.  When I first started, one of the females at WGIL questioned my motives for announcing girls basketball.  She thought I was just doing the games because I couldn't do the boys games.  She didn't know I love girls basketball.

One of the reasons for my preference for girls basketball is coaches like Galesburg's coach, Evan Massey, who has been coaching the girls team at GHS since 1977.

I knew about Coach Massey when I was teaching at Fremd H.S. because Galesburg's girls team was consistently good and was always state-ranked.  I did the public address announcing for the boys basketball games at Fremd, but every once in a while I'd announce a girls game.  Evan Massey's name was always getting thrown around in conversations with Fremd coach Carol Plodzien or Buffalo Grove coach Tom Dineen.  Massey was legendary!

And that name--Evan Massey--it just had a basketball feel to it.  You couldn't forget the name once you heard it.  I had this image of Evan Massey as this super coach who walked on water.

However, when I first met Evan in 2005, I was somewhat taken aback.  Roger Coleman, my old radio boss in Galesburg, introduced me to Coach Massey on a Saturday morning at Swedo's Donuts, a former local hangout on Fremont St. in Galesburg.  I was there having coffee with my union hating rich Republican neighbors who are too cheap to go to a gourmet coffee joint.

Jerry Leggett
Evan Massey sure didn't look like a super coach like I thought he would.  I was expecting him to look like Jerry Leggett, the former Quincy boys coach.  However, Massey looked like a college professor--quiet and reserved.  He was polite when we met, asking  me about Coach Plodzien and what I thought of her.  Then he moved on.  I couldn't believe that this was the same Evan Massey I had read about for the last twenty years.

I was completely underwhelmed!

Flash forward to 2010.  Quincy moved its girls games to a smaller gym, and our broadcast position moved to right behind the Galesburg bench.  I had a chance to watch Massey actually coach a game close-up while I called it.  Man, was I impressed.  What a tremendous coach!  Quincy had a new coach, and the Blue Devils were supposed to be much improved. The Quincy Herald-Whig said the Quincy girls could give the Silver Streaks a game. Galesburg just dismantled them!

Dorothy Gaters
I've seen some pretty good high school coaches in my day:  Galesburg's John Thiel, Maine West's Daryl Kipp, Marshall's Dorothy Gaters, Elgin's Bill Chesbrough, Leggett, but Evan Massey can stand with any of them.

Massey took his 2010-11 team to the Class 3A supersectional, losing to Hillcrest, which finished second in the state.  We media prognosticators predicted before the season that Galesburg might make it to the regional championship game and would probably finish around .500.

We underestimated Evan Massey. . . a big mistake!

Coach Massey is an innovator.  He adopted the Grinnell College "system" of pressing the entire game and launching three-point shots every time up the court.  The "system" also features line changes where four or five players substitute for one another every two or three minutes--just like ice hockey.   I thought Massey was crazy when he first tried "the system" at a game in Bloomington in 2009.  Wrong again, Jim!  Massey was a genius.  The players bought into to the "system," and now I wonder if he'll ever desert it.

However life in basketball hasn't been all sunshine and flowers for Evan.  His 2008-09 team never lived up to its potential.  There were personnel changes on the team.  You heard whispers in the coffee shop that "Maybe it was time . . . "

But Evan Massey just kept going.  He loves what he is doing, and it shows.  I'll certainly never second guess him again.

And I've come to find out that Massey is funny too!  His sense of humor is wry, like White Sox manager Robin Ventura.  Last year he picked up a few technical fouls in consecutive games.

"What happened on the technical yesterday?" I asked him. 

"I was just trying to help him [the official] out," he responded with a twinkle in his eye.

I feel sorry for Coach Massey because there are two radio stations covering every game, plus the local newspaper and the Quad City and Peoria papers.  Evan has to tape pre-game interviews with both stations and then speak with all the press after the games.  My partner Jimmie Carr sometimes keeps him for 20 minutes on the post-game show.

And  after a tough loss coming on the radio is difficult.  We ask stupid questions, and we repeat ourselves. Jimmie doesn't, but I know I do!  Evan always responds graciously. 

I'm just fortunate that I've been able to be associated with Evan Massey and the girls basketball program over these past five years.  He may not look like Jerry Leggett, but Massey is cut from the same coaching cloth.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm Sticking with the Union!

Our Galesburg house is smack dab in the middle of the Soangetaha Country Club's golf course, and all my neighbors are union hating, rich Republicans.  Since we bought the house in 2004, I've been listening to my neighbors bitch and moan about how the labor unions are responsible for killing the job market in Galesburg, a town of 30,000 residents that once had a population of almost 40,000.

Finally a week ago last Monday at the neighborhood picnic I decided I'd heard enough.

As I sat with Wayne and Marv having a cocktail, I listened to their stories about how Outboard Marine Company would not have moved out of Galesburg if it wasn't for the company's union demanding so much.

Then it was Maytag's turn.  Marv said that Maytag would still be producing refrigerators in Galesburg, but because of the union, the company moved its operations to Reynosa, Mexico. 

Now in the past I would have just sat there and listened (You know, respect your elders and all that horse bleep!), but I've been hearing this anti-union rant for almost eight years now.  I quit going to coffee at Hy-Vee with my neighbors in the mornings because three times a week they would sing the same old song that Galesburg would still be a healthy town if it weren't for the labor unions.

So I finally spoke up!

"Galesburg was a healthy town BECAUSE of the unions," I said last Monday.  "When I came to town in 1971, the middle-class had lots of money, and business was booming.  The new shopping mall was built, and downtown Galesburg was full of shoppers.  If you guys had your way, everyone would be making minimum wage."

Wayne responded with a story about how he saw a professional wrestling match in Galesburg in the 1940's, and when one of wrestlers pushed the other wrestler's head into the light bulb over the ring and broke the light bulb, the union boys in the crowd wouldn't let the wrestling promoter change the bulb.  They had to wait until a union guy changed it.

"That's an extreme example, Wayne," I countered.  "The fact is it takes two to sign a labor contract.  If management feels that the proposed contract is not going to make the company money, then management should not sign the contract.  Labor can strike.  Management can lock labor out.  It's a delicate balance, but it used to work until Clinton signed the NAFTA treaty.  That's what sunk Maytag; it wasn't the union!

"Besides," I continued, "There are no labor unions left in Galesburg now except for the teachers, cops, and firemen.  The unions are all gone so why don't you stop bitching about them."

But Wayne and Marv went on and on telling anti-union stories from Galesburg's past.  Finally I had had enough so I got up and went over to the grill to talk weather or sports with Phil, the grill master.

I'm the proud son of a life member of the Railway Clerks Union.  My dad started working for the American Express Company, which later became Railway Express, in 1940.  He retired in 1968 with a disability pension because of lingering injuries he suffered while being held for over two years in three different German prison camps during World War II.  My dad wouldn't have received that pension if it wasn't for his union.

After my dad received his pension, he was able to work part-time as a security guard and later as an instructor for senior citizen driver education courses.  His pension was less than what he would have had if he had worked until the retirement age of 65, but it was decent.  In fact my mother received half of my dad's pension for the sixteen years she lived after my dad's death--until 2006.

That Railway Clerks Union sure helped my family.  The union helped put me through college!

I am now a member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and my wife is a member of the Illinois Education Association, the two much maligned teachers unions in Illinois.  In my case, the union changed my life.  When I was hired at Fremd High School, the principal asked how I was going to be able to absorb the salary cut going from radio to teaching.

"Salary cut?" I said.  "Heck, I'm getting a $3,500 raise by becoming a teacher!"

The principal couldn't believe it because I had been working full-time in radio for 9 1/2 years.  But small market radio has no unions.  My pay was a paltry $105 a week when I started in radio in 1971.  The guy who hired me for my first radio job recommended I live in the basement of the Galesburg YMCA.  Nice!

I was married with a three-year old child when I jumped out of full-time radio in 1980.  I started teaching at Fremd, and the Palatine-Schaumburg District #211 School Board had just become progressive because Board president Robert Creek believed that the district had to pay top dollar for good teachers.  Later, District 211 teacher salaries were tops in the state.  Sure, there were tense negotiations between the school board and the teachers union after Bob Creek died, but there was always respect.  Now companies look for any tactic to greedily line their pockets.  There is no thought for union members' families or for the communities where the companies are located.

And after what happened in Wisconsin yesterday, the future looks bleak for public employee unions.  In fact all unions are under siege.  The machinists union at Caterpillar in Joliet is just trying to hold the line against the company's continual cuts to union benefits.  CAT has already busted the United Auto Workers Union.  And it's not like CAT isn't making any money.  Cat is rolling in money thanks to tax breaks from the State of Illinois.

Maybe the pendulum will shift back towards unions, but I'm not hopeful.  Galesburg is ground zero in the struggle, and here things are bleak.  In addition to Maytag, Butler Buildings and Gates Rubber have either closed, reduced the work force, or moved to another country.

That middle class that make these country club members rich back in the 1950's through 1970's is gone.  Now over 50% of the students at Galesburg High School are on free lunch.  Things are so bad that the school district is required by the state to offer kids free lunch at neighborhood schools during the summer vacation.

I don't know how many Galesburg residents are on welfare, but the number has to be astronomical.  About half the time I'm checking out at the Hy-Vee supermarket, the person in front of me has an Illinois Link Card, which is used in place of food stamps.

Why can't there be national laws in place that require companies to unionize?  The idea that Maytag can just dump its Galesburg work force and move to Reynosa, Mexico is crazy.  But that's what happened.  It's happening other places every day.  Companies are moving to states that are anti-union.

Wayne and Marv weren't at the neighborhood picnic last night, but I'll be looking for them next week.  I've got lots more to say to them about unions!  Like Norma Rae, I'm sticking with the union!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Getting the Truth Out on Pension Reform

Your fate is in their hands.  Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and Republican Minority Leader Tom Cross discuss the pension bill.
Now that the smoke has cleared, and the state legislature has adjourned, it is time to assess what has happened, or not happened, to teachers' pensions.  There are many lies going around about pension reform. I've been busy the past week correcting people like Neil Steinberg, Terry Savage, and other reporters of the Chicago Sun-Times.  But today, let's get back to the blog and sort out the truth from the lies.

First, the Illinois House and Senate did not have the votes to pass pension reform, pure and simple.  The Republicans objected to the state shifting the burden of paying retiree pensions to the school districts, which the Republicans said would raise property taxes.  The Democrats wouldn't vote for the bill without the shift in payments to the school districts.  Now the legislature needs a 3/5ths instead of a simple majority to pass any pension bill.  That will be hard to achieve.

Who's right on the pension payment shift?  Probably the Democrats.  Former Palatine District 15 superintendent John Conyers is collecting a yearly pension of $226,000, and that pension is being paid by ALL of the state taxpayers.  Taxpayers in District 15 are paying the same for Conyers' pension as taxpayers in Rock Island are.  That is unfair!  If school districts want to give administrators excessive end-of-career salary bumps, then those school districts should pay for them.  

But the State of Illinois owes public schools, community colleges, and public universities millions of dollars in state aid.  How in the world are school districts going to pay for employee pensions when the state can't get already promised state aid to them on time?

Second, retired teachers DO NOT receive free health insurance from the State of Illinois.  This is a myth that has been perpetuated by Governor Pat Quinn and picked up by reporters and columnists.  The Teachers Retirement System (TRS) is the largest by far of the state pensions.  TRS consists of active and retired teachers from downstate Illinois and the Chicago suburbs.  Chicago Public School teachers are not members of TRS--they have their own retirement system.

When TRS teachers retire, they are given a choice for their medical insurance of an Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plan or a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO).  The PPO costs more, and with a PPO retired teachers can pick their physicians.  Most teachers, such as those in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District #211, choose the PPO option when they are active teachers and then continue with the state's PPO when they retire.

In our family, we were forced to choose the PPO option because both my wife and I have pre-existing medical conditions which are treated by specialists.  So my wife and I pay $450.00 apiece per month for the PPO coverage, and the State of Illinois chips in an additional 25%, which is $112.00 apiece, per month.  As you can see, this is expensive; we pay almost $11,000 a year in medical insurance premiums.  We never received a medical tax deduction on our Federal Income Tax before we retired, but last year our deduction was $3,000 for medial expenses.

State employees who worked for the State of Illinois for 20 years or more DO get free medical insurance from the state.  But there are far less of these retirees than there are retired teachers.

The tactic has been to lump retired teachers in with retired state employees and say that retired teachers are receiving free medical insurance.  Steinberg, Savage, and Governor Quinn have all done this, and saying that teachers receive free health insurance in retirement is simply a LIE!

Third, the coverage that retired teachers receive from CIGNA, the state's PPO provider is loathsome.  I'm not sure how CIGNA can deny a woman coverage for a mammogram when she has breast cancer, but CIGNA does.  CIGNA also denied her coverage for an MRI to check for bone cancer.  I just had surgery on my big toe in January, and CIGNA denied me coverage because my Galesburg foot doctor was not in the CIGNA network.  Unbelievable!

Plus, the State of Illinois is not paying the 25% of our premiums to CIGNA on time so CIGNA is not paying physicians on time.  My family doctor wrote me a note telling me that CIGNA told him he would get his money when the State of Illinois paid CIGNA.  Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago just threatened me yesterday with a collection agency if I didn't pay my bill that CIGNA was supposed to pay. 

Fourth, if the current pension bill passes this summer, retirees will be forced to make a one-time choice between receiving an annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) or enrolling in the state's HMO or PPO.  Currently, retired teachers receive a 3% raise on the January 1st after their 61st birthdays.  Plus, if the teacher retired at age 55, the raise is retro-active to when the teacher retired.  I was 59 when I retired in 2007, so when I turned 61 in 2009, I received a 6% increase in my pension.  Now I get a 3% raise every year.  The current system bases the 3% raise on a teacher's current pension amount.

The new plan under consideration freezes the pension amount so if a teacher retires with a $55,000 pension, that amount will ALWAYS be used to figure the 3% raise.  There will be no compounding as there is now.

Making teachers choose between the insurance and the COLA is unconstitutional.  Here's what the Illinois State Constitution says: 
Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any  unit of local government or school district, or any agency or  instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. (1970 Illinois Constitution, Article XIII, Section 5).
When I began teaching in 1980, I became a "member" of the Teacher's Retirement System.  Therefore, my benefits cannot be "diminished or impaired."  The politicians think that the choice option takes them off the hook, and they argue that other states have been able to dodge their commitments.  This quotation from our constitution looks awfully clear to me.

Plus, Governor Quinn promised that he would NOT propose any changes to retiree pensions.  Then last week, under the cover of the Memorial Day holiday, he proposed the COLA/Health Insurance Choice for retirees.  I would be laughing now if I weren't so angry.

Fifth, notice how quiet the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago has been these last few days.  The president of the group, who is also the former Illinois Attorney General, Tyrone Fahner, pretty much disappeared from the headlines.  Fahner did say that he supported moving the pension liability from the state to the school districts, which is against what his fellow Republicans want.  

It is pretty clear that Fahner and his billionaire buddies in the Civic Committee don't really care about the Republicans.  All they want is to keep their fortunes.  These are the people that the politicians should be looking at for money to shore up the pension system.  Picking on downstate retired teachers with an average pension of just over $33,000 and no Social Security benefits is criminal.

Look at all the tax breaks that the companies who are members of the Civic Committee have received.  Motorola, Caterpillar, A T & T, McDonalds, the list goes on and on.  Cat is in the process of busting out the local union in Joliet, and the company has already savaged the UAW contract.

I recommend taking away these corporate tax breaks as a first step to pension stability, and then legislating away all the tax loopholes that Civic Committee member companies enjoy.  After that, come talk to us. 

I've found my state senators and representatives eager to listen to my arguments.  All four are Republicans, but Kay Hatcher and Don Moffitt both pledged that they would vote not to change the pension formula.  Don't be afraid to call your legislators.  They want to hear from you!

Governor Quinn said this morning that he plans to meet with legislative leaders and call all the members back to Springfield in June to pass a pension bill.  Make sure when this gets close that you call your state senator and state representative.  We must succeed in stopping this unconstitutional pension grab.

This has been a wild ride, and it's not over yet!