CTU should be more careful with its wishes

This morning as I was walking IMG_2346.JPGmy children to school a popular teacher enthusiastically handed me a flyer about the upcoming “Day of Action.” As I read it I was interested to note the things the Union hopes to accomplish on behalf of my children on April 1.

  • Demand: Tax the rich!
  • Expect that education and social services be properly funded
  • Put TIF money back into schools

Now first, I take exception to the idiotic and inflammatory “tax the rich” mantra. Our school is located in a neighborhood where the average home price is over $1 million dollars. Is the Union or that friendly teacher really hoping to hurt the parents of his students? Last I checked, they were already paying some of the highest taxes in the country. In addition, these are the most generous donors to the school. Whenever I hear these statements, I wonder if the writer believes that those better off really need to give more or if they need to be punished just for making more. But maybe I digress.

The rest of this all seems good. More for education means books, additional programs, a school nurse, and reduced class size. TIF Funds means physical improvement to the schools, improved HVAC, water fountains that work, and a general all around reduction in our school’s dumpiness. These are things I can get behind.

Unfortunately, in today’s newspaper the exact same CTU claims that Friday’s Strike (note their changing choice of nouns) is legal because it is in protest of the CPS’s failure to pay “raises based on experience and educational attainment.” (Chicago Tribune, 3/30/2016).

So in the document to get the parents on their side, CTU says that Friday is a day-of-action in support of better educational services and nicer schools. Yet to the courts, CTU says they are striking to get raises! Which is it?

If history is a precedent, the answer is pretty clear. Last time we had a strike, there were ten things on the strike priority list, the last two were compensation and job security. I wish I still had the list, but smaller class sizes, facility improvements, and even central air conditioning listed higher. Not surprisingly, when the strike was over, the only things that were addressed were issues compensation and job security – the only thing the Union really cares about.

This (in particular) is not a criticism of the Union. It is their job. The pipe fitter’s union doesn’t care about the lives of pipes. They are paid to care about electricians. By the same token, the teacher’s union is not paid to care about children, they are paid care about teachers. Now, do teachers care about students? Absolutely! But there is occasionally a conflict between what is best for a student and what is best for a teacher. The Union’s job is to take the teachers’ side, play the hardball, and protect the teachers from the associated ugliness.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Union is playing a game that they can win only if the city loses. Property taxes (for those paying them) have skyrocketed this year. City service fees have similarly jumped, while the actual services offered have been reduced. The only way to give the Union what it wants is to further increase taxes or further slash services. This environment of rising taxes and falling services is exactly what precipitated the exodus of the middle-class from Detroit.

People argue that this won’t happen here. People in Chicago are loyal and they love it here in spite of the machine politics, union corruption, and high taxes. Yet only days ago the Tribune ran this headline…

Chicago area sees greatest population loss of any major U.S. city [or] region in 2015

Be careful what you “demand,” CTU.

Chicago’s Game of Bags benefits no one

Much of the difference between common sense conservatives and common sense liberals is how much faith each group has in the government’s ability to solve problems. Liberals tend to think that a group of thoughtful politicians can influence people’s behavior through properly crafted legislation. Conservatives tend to believe that even well-meaning legislation is likely to be botched by unintended consequences. It is tough to imagine a law that makes the conservative point more soundly than Chicago’s ban on disposable shopping bags.

The problem, as it was described by the City Council and advocates is that too many disposable plastic shopping bags are produced, used and discarded. These flimsy menaces create litter, increase our carbon footprint, fill our landfills, and are largely unrecyclable.

The solution was to require retailers to offer only bags with handles that could be reused at least 125 times. The thinking is that stronger bags are less likely to be discarded and could be reused many times. Stores are given the choice between selling them and giving them away. Most give them away and those that don’t charge such a negligible amount for them – say 5-10 cents – that no one notices.

But this foolish law which regulates only bags and retailers seems to be predicated on the assumption that bags reuse themselves and fails to acknowledge the actual decision maker in the problem – the consumer. Some consumers have long chosen to reuse bags and others throw them out.target bags

The law does not provide any incentive for those who chose to discard their bags to change their behavior. As a result, those who reused bags before the law continue to reuse them and those who discarded them before the law continue to discard them. Many pet owners depend on shopping bags to discard pet waste and have little option but to continue the practice. Even well-intentioned shoppers often forget their bags and after accumulating more than they need are forced to discard bags. The difference is that now they are throwing away thicker, bigger bags, with larger carbon footprints, and which take up more space in the landfill.

As a result, this well-meaning piece of legislation has likely accomplished the opposite of what it intended – due to unintended consequences or just lack of intelligent conception.

Let’s be clear, I support a law that accomplishes the goal of reducing disposable bags. It’s easy to design and it looks like this:

  • All bags must be made out of cloth or pressed cloth-like material.
  • All bags must be a standard size so customers don’t have to store multiple sizes.
  • All bags must be sold at a price which incents consumers to hold onto them – say two dollars each.
  • Cheaper or free plastic or paper bags cannot be sold or offered as an alternative at checkout.

But the problem with a properly-crafted disposable shopping bag ban is that it is effectively a regressive consumption tax. Because the value of the goods put into bags by poor people tends to be lower, they pay a higher tax rate than their wealthier neighbors which isn’t cool with our City Council.

So now we see that the problem as it was described was only half the problem. The other requirement was that it could not place a larger burden on the poorer south and west sides – areas that couldn’t care less about disposable plastic bags – than it does on the North side – where the wealthier residents and image-conscious mayor were seeking a solution. Creating a Chicago-wide law that accomplishes both of these objectives is simply not possible. They are in conflict. As a result, we end up with a stupid law that penalizes all citizens equally but offers benefits to no one.

This point goes to the common sense conservatives.

Wasted opportunities in Chicago

When I first learned that the red light, speeding, and school zone cameras were to be erected around Chicago I was in favor of the idea. What better way to plug the city’s budget deficit than fining people who were actually breaking the law. My thinking continued that it should force everyone to be more conscientious drivers. The fact that it wouldn’t affect driving records or insurance premiums made it seem all the more innocuous. Besides, as a good driver who has never had a ticket, I appreciated not being the target of a government revenue program for once.

And then I realized I was very much the target. It turns out that the city wasn’t after just the scofflaarlington_red_light_cameraws that were driving recklessly, ignoring signs, and putting people’s lives in danger. They were after every penny they could squeeze from this new resource. In situations that would have generated no tickets in the past – like a pattern of traffic where everyone is driving a bit above the limit – the City can now efficiently issue a ticket to everyone. In school zones when no children are present, no real cop would ever pull a driver over, but robot cameras can facelessly issue tickets to everyone who passes through. As for the appeal process? There is one and you are encouraged to follow the process. A few weeks later, you will get a nondescript “NOPE!” (and an implied “HA HA!”)

No, the red light cameras were not erected to segregate taxation between the scofflaws and the lawful. They were erected with the assumption that every citizen is presumed guilty and any punishment the City chooses to heap upon them is deserved.

Interestingly, this revelation parallels the one I have gone through with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I was a pretty big support of Rahm up front. I liked the idea of a guy waking up every morning with a list of whose ass he was going to kick that day. It struck me that there were a lot of bad guys in politics around here and on the City’s payroll and I was darned happy to have a fighter coming in to bop some of them in the nose, get rid of others, and ebb the tide of corruption.  Finally, a “my guy” I could vote for mayor.rahm-emanuel-305x263

But instead of putting his gumption to use to eliminate Madigan’s spending shenanigans he has used it to shove through a property tax that forces you and me to pay for more of them. He sort-of stood up to Karen Lewis, but lost to her PR machine and came out looking like a bully with no financial improvements to show for it. His hand-picked staff which should have been a Justice league of no-bullshit straight-shooters has been string of lightweights, buffoons, and hand-in-the-cookie-jar criminals.

Meanwhile, gun violence in four small south-side neighborhoods – Auburn Gresham, Grand Crossing, Chatam, and Englewood, approaches the level of countries at war. Four neighborhoods! Less than 5% of the City’s total area. How hard can it be to augment the police presence in such a small area to the point where the neighbors don’t shoot children? Certainly these are communities have many problems, but in the short-term, is there a reason why the Illinois National Guard can’t be used to stop the shooting?

I still think Rahm Emmanuel is a smart man, and I believe he wants Chicago to be a better place. But the voters need to be convinced that everything in between there and here is more than just a nuisance to him. A teacher’s strike, black people killing each other, and all us irritating citizens expecting something for our tax dollars need to be things he becomes passionate about. If he can’t do that, it’s going to be tough for any of us to see him as “my guy” next time around.

Question your elders. All of them.

The metaphorical work water cooler. Where ever it is in the office, it is the gathering place for criticizing our employer. We discuss how our fellow employees have been treated, how thing could be better, and even our relative salaries.

We also criticize our government leaders. We have ample candidates to choose from (well, except maybe in Chicago), and we are given the opportunity to toss out the stinky ones. We even have whole television stations dedicated to finding and highlighting the flaws of our President.6c82a0ed48fb4a95c1c3dfb0861433a5

We criticize our community elders, our parents, the talking heads on TV, and we have even – just recently and in the wake of the priest sex scandals – begun scrutinizing and criticizing our religious leaders.

Yet why is it that any criticism of a union leaders is considered an attack on the working class or worse and attack against America. Why can’t criticizing union leaders be an active and accepted part of the American dialog?

It’s not because the middle class is made up of union members. In fact only 11% of all Americans are members of a union which breaks down to 4% of Americans are in private unions and 7% are government employees. So who is the working class? Well, it’s everyone above the poverty line and everyone below the so-rich-they-don’t-need-to-work line.

Looking at the bottom first, the percentage of Americans living below the poverty rate in this country has held pretty constant at 15% over the last 50 years. So the working class is above the bottom 15% of American wage earners. Looking at the top, we may have some debate. The 99%ers, or Occupy Movement stated that only the top 1% is richer than requiring work. However, we can be more conservative and say that everyone below the 90% line still gets up every morning, drives to work and puts in a full day.

So everyone in between that top 10% and the bottom 15%, or the middle 75% of Americans is working class. But again, only 11% is unionized. Let that sink in. The union is not the middle class, it is in fact less than 15% of the middle class. It is also very privileged, and it is supported by the greater middle class who pays for union benefits they do not receive through higher taxes, yet unfunded pensions, reduced government services, strikes, and over-billed government engineering projects.

The greater middle class, to which my family and likely your family belongs, has every right to criticize, scrutinize, and question the use of our tax dollars. And when one small slice of the group is getting disproportionate attention, we are all welcome at the discussion table.

Support your teachers – I do. But question their union leaders. I’d love to see our teachers better paid, but I’d also like to see nurses, doctors, musicians, scientists, curators, and baristas better paid. In fact I would like to see everyone who does a good job and is nice get a raise. However, in a world of limited resources, not everyone can get everything. Before you jump on the unconditional support for Karen Lewis band wagon, ask yourself, how much of what you love about Chicago are you willing to give up for it?

Criticizing the union and our union leaders, is not un-American. It is in fact what makes America strong. Find an opinion, learn to politely articulate it, and bravely join the discussion. In the mean time, I will be doing the same.

Editorial note…
The original headline of this piece was “Union criticism fits fairly into the civic dialog”. That headline was boring, pedantic and preachy and I was embarrassed . Believe me it happens. It is my job to make this blog both fun and thoughtful. Man, my apologies.

What do Chiraq and Paris have in common?


On Monday November 4th, Tyshawn Lee, a 9-year old child was lured into an alley and shot multiple times in the chest and head by a member of the Terror Dome faction of the P Stones. The killer apparently used some sort of bait, possibly candy, drew him around the corner, and then fired mercilessly, at point blank range, execution-style. Children are in general trusting of adults and the cold-hearted killer likely watched the boy’s eyes go wide with disbelief before going dark forever.

Poor Tyshawn was a pawn in a game the P Stones and their rival, the Gangster Disciples, are playing. The game-play is to terrorize rival gang members and the community while the goal is to force residents to take a side. If you pick the wrong side horrible things will happen. But if you refuse to fight, even worse things can happen.

As a parent of a child of similar age, this story brings me to tears. This can’t happen! When our children can be assassinated by gang insurgents, our way of life is under attack. As good-hearted Chicagoans who love our city, we must find the courage and fortitude to empower our law enforcement community to stop this violence before more children die. We need bravery from the men and women of the South Side. We need them to forego the code of silence and point law enforcement in the right direction as we bring these killers to justice and help all of us restore order to their community. We are all in this together.

Last Friday, eight Islamic extremists assisted by at least three others launched an attack killing nearly 150 innocents in beautiful and formerly peaceful Paris. This follows twin suicide bombings in Beirut the day before, a Russian passenger liner blown out of the air the week before, and a long list of other Islamic terrorists attacks against innocents. In all cases, the dead were regular people doing nothing but going about their daily business. If you want the whole list, here it is.

Paris was targeted because it is high profile and France is an easy target.   The refugee crisis has opened borders, the people are largely trusting, and they are relatively unsophisticated in terror intelligence compared to the UK and the US. Their “French culture is better” attitude and their laws against religious expression are irritating (not just to Muslim residents), and they have been designated “most hated country in Europe” by the Islamic State. But that’s still nothing compared their ISIS’s hatred of the leader of Western ideals: given the opportunity, they would prefer to spill blood on US soil more so than any other.

By whatever name, Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, this organization is a gang. They are terrorizing innocents in an effort to oppress and control populations of innocent people.  Their enemy is all Western governments who believes it has a right to interfere with their ideology, in this case its calling to worship as they wish, exert ownership over their daughters and wives, kill their neighbors for worshiping the wrong god (or the right god wrongly), turn back the clock on technology, sell illegal heroine, and put an end to Israel. In many ways, this hatred of the West is their reason for being, and whatever we do, these radicals will  poke, kick, kill, and slaughter, begging for us to try to stop them. For – as they believe – when that war finally comes, their god will ensure a quick death to their enemies.

And as they continue their affront, America’s repeated response is to distance ourselves from the engagement. The single most empowering event in the history of ISIS was the American exit from Iraq. Just as ISIS was gaining regional relevance we gave them a terrific graduation present by refusing to come to the aid of the democracy-friendly Syrian rebels. Before a year passed, they had created one of the biggest states (caliphates) in The Middle East, and established beheading Westerners as the national sport.  Now we have Hillary Clinton saying in last night’s debate that “this is not our fight” and suggesting that the incompetent militaries in Iraq and Syria should be able to handle it with us offering little more than a pat on the back.  Although politically expedient, this strategy constitutes dangerous isolationism that will only put the US National Security at additional risk.

The majority of Middle East residents want peace and the removal of the gangs that threaten their lives. They also know that the only way to overcome these villains is collaboratively where they provide the intelligence and the US supports them with military force. Without our support, they cannot possibly defeat ISIS. Yet we continue to ignore their requests for help.

If we continue this course, ISIS will continue its attack on our allies in an effort to engage America. They will launch opportunistic attacks around the world as they continue to seek the chink in our armor. Innocents – and innocent children – will die with each attack, and the death toll will grow overseas. Eventually they will figure out how to hit us at home and we will pay a dear price. History will punish us for not acting earlier.

The victims of gang violence are too often targeted because they represent well-meaning intentions of their Chicago communities. In a similar way, the attacks of ISIS are intended to terrorize the family of nations that share western values and in particular the United States. We must protect the members of the besieged Chicago neighborhoods by eliminating the gangs who terrorize them. By the same token, we cannot sit on the sidelines as ISIS continues to attack the world and searches for an opportunity to deal real damage to the United States. We need our government to act forcibly and rapidly if we wish to stop the slaughter of innocents.

With contributions from Dan Rice: President, Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point; Co-Author “West Point Leadership: Profiles of Courage”