Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Response to the Chicago Tribune and the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago Diversionary Attempts

Are the articles in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune (October 23) regarding Steven Preckwinkle, David Piccioli and Reg Weaver just another blatant, diversionary attempt to shift blame for the financial woes of this state on the Teachers Retirement System and the other public employees pensions?

What is the purpose for publishing such stories when, in fact, the average TRS recipient receives a pension of $46,452 a year and does not receive Social Security? Perhaps the Chicago Tribune should publish what the typical pension amount is for a Civic Committee retiree and how it “feeds into the cynicism about all the deals, that [it is] an insider’s game and that the system is rigged” and completely “manipulated for personal gain?”

Are the articles an attempt to prove a faulty cause-and-effect understanding of the State’s budget deficit? Does it seem fair and reasonable to stoke the blind and misinformed anger of the people of Illinois by publishing purposely- incendiary pieces about three individuals? Does the Chicago Tribune believe that its readers are that stupid to believe three people drawing an exorbitant pension are representative of the whole of which they constitute? Is it rational to believe the state’s public pension systems are yet the cause for the state’s chronic budget deficit and that these three men are relevant to it?

Is the real issue that corporate liars and thieves do not want teachers and other public employees to have a pension and the financial sectors would love to get their greedy hands on that money?

It is the way of thieves “to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers… from speculators [and corporate CEOs and bankers] on Wall Street who looted the U.S. Treasury…, [who] stymied any kind of regulation… and [who] avoided criminal charges” (Chris Hedges, from “The Promotion of Liberty”).

Teachers and other public employees are constant victims of the fallacy of selected instances, illicit composition, and diversion perpetrated by Sam Zell’s Chicago Tribune and Tyrone Fahner and his Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and their obverse group, Illinois Is Broke: they simply “imply that all public-sector retirees who receive large pension payouts are representative of all public-sector pensioners, and that is the cause of [the State’s financial mess]” (Government Finance Review).

Of course, influential, wealthy businessmen such as Fahner and other members of the Civic Committee, billionaire Zell, (and some of his sycophants such as R. Bruce Dold, editorial page editor; Troy Hunter, chief executive officer of the Chicago Tribune and a member of the Civic Committee; Ray Long, reporter, et al.) and the Tribune’s WGN and its news reporter, Mark Suppelsa, are promoting the imbalanced messages of the Tribune and Illinois Is Broke.

We can assume that these subordinates’ intentional, eager and biased reporting are meant to perpetuate the ignorance and indifference of the public and manipulate legislators, via Fahner’s, Madigan’s and Cross’s pending legislation (SB 512) that will redistribute exorbitant amounts of money to the financial sector (of which 40 percent of the Civic Committee membership are affiliated); even though such legislation will cost the Illinois taxpayers an additional $34 billion according to Buck Consultants, “one of the world’s leading actuarial firms,” as well as increase pension benefits for some public employees who remain in the defined-benefit plan despite the proposed, continual increases in their contributions.

Is it possible to measure just how much money some corporations are currently pocketing from the majority of Illinois citizens or calculate how much of their profits are the result of “subsidy economics” or “corporate welfare?” Could it be more than the Civic Committee’s fabricated, absurd, and unproven claims that Illinois is “$140 billion short” and that the pension systems will cost “$30,000 per household?”

“All [the state] needs to do to correct this problem is require sound financing of [the pension plans]. That means setting aside enough money each year for the benefit that each worker has earned and then investing that money... The problem for [some] representatives and senators is that the simplicity of sound financing would mean a loss of fees for investment advisors and others who get rich off the current system. In turn, that would mean a reduction in the flow of campaign contributions…

“To business owners and executives, the cost of campaign contributions is chump change to the benefits of shortchanging pension plans. Government rules permit and encourage a vicious cycle. To the extent that pensions are not fully funded, that their true costs are not paid each year, it means that corporate profits are inflated. Inflated profits mean that share prices for company stock are inflated because they should represent the profitability of companies. And inflated stock prices mean, in turn, that executives cash in their options for more than they should get.

“Many hundreds of billions of tax dollars [across the country] have been diverted to the rich, leaving our schools, parks, and local government services starved for funds. Jobs and assets are going offshore, sometimes to the detriment of not just the economy but to national security…

“It is the rich who are gorging themselves on the government with giveaways, favors, contracts, rules that rig the economy, tax breaks, and secret deals [and not the majority of citizens in Illinois, many of whom are public employees with hard-earned pension plans]” (David Cay Johnston: Free Lunch, How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill).

At the Chicago Tribune’s suggestion, here is some fertile “dirt” dug up without the “tools [of the] Tribune reporters’ [biased and bungling] investigations”:

What should be published in the jaundiced Chicago Tribune? How about a full, investigative story regarding the state’s public employees' retirement systems and why they are not responsible for the state’s budget deficit or for the underfunding of public sector funds?

Here’s a lead for the story: State employees have contributed responsibly and consistently to their pension funds. Most of them will not receive Social Security when they retire, and they will have worked for lower wages and without “corporate bonuses” throughout their career for the promise of a guaranteed pension.

What should be published is teachers, policemen, firemen, and other state employees are not to blame for the wasteful spending, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcy, poverty, and other financial disasters that have occurred. Wall Street “robber barons” are the culprits.

What should be published and further investigated in the Chicago Tribune is that last year, “state and local governments gave nearly $70 billion to corporations. [These are] massive subsidies and welfare for these large corporations… even though corporate profits have increased 60 percent, and corporations have almost $2 trillion in cash… [Corporations] are not investing this money. They are not creating jobs. They are hoarding this money that they have pulled out of the economy” (David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist).

What should also be published and investigated is billionaire real-estate investor and Chicago Tribune’s Chief Executive, Sam Zell, is well known for his “vulture investing” and is “the storied ‘grave dancer’ who scooped up hundreds of discounted assets during the real-estate collapse of the early 1990s” (The Wall Street Journal, June 2011).

What should be published and investigated is the government of the State of Illinois has a plausible complicit partnership with the Civic Committee and that there is a consolidation of powerful oligarchic relationships among the Civic Committee’s CEOs and many of the state’s legislators.

What should be published is whether the Illinois state government should continue to allow “certain businesses” to become ridiculously rich—despite the whining of “45 chief executives of top Illinois-based public companies” that the Chicago Tribune editorial board had surveyed and then published in its Sunday’s editorial page—while the rest of us become poorer and are forced to go without needed services.

What should be published is the state’s underfunding of the pensions for several decades, interest payments for debts incurred, and its resultant tax breaks for the wealthy and decrease in tax revenues. Bank and corporate fraud and greed and the resultant stock-market crash have largely contributed to the budget problems in Illinois.

What should be published is the injustice of some legislators and the lawyers of Sidley Austin LLP (who are also Civic Committee members) that want to change the existing State and United States’ contractual laws (Article XIII, Section 5 of the Constitution of the State of Illinois and Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States of America), a so-called pension reform that would compel public employees and retirees to accept a diminishment and impairment of their benefits and rights, a reform that would not only destroy the future of hundreds of thousands of people but subsequently increase taxes for everyone else in Illinois. What should be published is that past legislators of Illinois had diverted its “constitutional and obligatory” contributions to other “operating expenses” and “special” interests for several decades.

What should be published is that the public pension systems of Illinois have depended mostly upon income from its own responsible investments and its contributions from its membership throughout these years; that it is an injustice to break the trust among individuals and the pension systems into which they have elected to participate (Article XIII, Section 5 of The Constitution of the State of Illinois; Article I, Section 10 of The Constitution of the United States of America; and Articles 22 and 23 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

What should be published and investigated are the avarice, arrogance, irresponsibility, recklessness, corruption, and cronyism of the corporate and financial sector’s chief executives and that they should have been prosecuted in a court of law. What should also be published and investigated is that these same billionaire and millionaire bankers and CEOs, these "vulture" opportunists, have paid themselves million-dollar bonuses with the taxpayers’ bailout money and should be held accountable for their larceny.

-Glen Brown

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