Quick Hits – Conservatives still take the outrage cake

Just when I thought the liberal outrage machine had all but sewn up the 2018 self-righteous indignation trophy, leave it to conservatives to snatch the title away with a scant 32 days left in the year.

In the midst of a somewhat heated Springfield House discussion regarding attorneys’ involvement in the ongoing lawsuits over the terrifying deaths of 13 residents at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, Democratic Aurora State Rep Stephanie Kifowit said the following to outgoing Republican counterpart Peter Breen:

“I would like to make him a broth of Legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved one, so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting aspirin instead of being properly treated and ultimately die. And we are talking about our nation’s heroes.”

As you might imagine, wishing pestilence, suffering and death on a peer’s family didn’t go over very well, with the exception of it going viral and being picked up by every bleepin’ media outlet in the country.

Kifowit

Stephanie Kifowit

Of course, those General Assembly Republicans had a field day indulging in all sorts of shrieking, howling, and rending of garments as they called for Kifowit’s head. Not to be outdone in the outrage festivities, their conservative lackeys demanded Kifowit’s resignation as they compared her to Hitler, Stalin, and gasp, Hillary Clinton.

Was it the right thing to say? Of course not! And when Jeff Ward says it’s the wrong thing to say, it’s the wrong thing to say!

Did our State Rep initially err in trying to convince folks she was misinterpreted when it was etched in stone in the official House record? Yes, she did!

Was it a mistake to wait a day before finally issuing an apology? Yes, it was! But she did apologize.

But is it utterly disingenuous for Republicans and the conservative rabble to get completely bent out of shape over what they damn well know was a poorly chosen metaphor? You bet it is!

Under the guise of being the taxpayers’ flag bearer, Breen got a little flip when, in regard to the Quincy Home lawsuit issue, he quipped, “And, yes, we know the personal injury lawyers are going to make out like bandits, which they tend to do anytime they come to the General Assembly.”

Breen

Peter Breen

Hey Peter! There’s nothing quite like reducing 13 veterans’ deaths from blatant neglect to a financial equation, is there? You’re lucky Kifowit rescued your smart ass BS by saying something much worse.

It was at that point that Kifowit, a former marine who holds veteran’s causes near and dear to her heart, took offense at Breen’s cavalier attitude and issued her ill-chosen remark. Though I’m not defending her, and I’ve taken Ms. Kifowit to task on a number of occasions, because I actually have a brain, I understand why she said it.

We’re talking about a criminal investigation which may well result in murder charges against some high-level Rauner officials. Do you know what it’s like to die of pneumonia from Legionnaire’s disease? You basically drown in your own lungs. It’s a horrifyingly slow and painful death.

Furthermore, my good friend, decade long debate partner, and head of the Pro-Life Action League, Eric Scheidler, clearly understood what Kifowit was trying to do. He said, “Was she stating an actual intention? Of course not. This was hyperbole. But it crossed the line, and she should apologize.”

Exactly! And if Eric and I can finally manage to agree on something, it’s gotta be the truth! This was an error in judgement borne of passion, an apology should’ve been immediately issued, and that should’ve been the end of it.

But no! Republicans and conservatives just had to prove they can outdo the liberal Taliban.

Though it certainly doesn’t justify her comment, Agent Orange has issued a slew of similar proclamations, not the least of which was inciting violence against journalists. And the resounding silence from Republicans and conservatives everywhere has been quite deafening.

Make no mistake, that kind of silence is complete complicity.

I hold Kane County Auditor Terry Hunt, my State Rep Keith Wheeler, and my State Senator Jim Oberweis in the highest esteem, but I’ve been waiting two long years for  them to disassociate themselves from the plethora of President Trump’s similarly uncivil declarations, but it never seems to happen. Yet they had no problem piling on Ms. Kifowit yesterday.

I’m beyond disappointed in all of them.

You think you’ve seen everything in 12 years of journalism, but then you suddenly realize that’s not the case. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Republicans and conservatives would be exponentially more outraged by a politician’s utterly misguided statement than by the needless and criminal deaths of 13 veterans at the hands of the Rauner administration.

My fondest wish is, someday, those folks will redirect their artificial outrage into the same kind of passion Ms. Kifowit has for veterans’ well-being.

As it stands now, Republicans clearly love children until they’re born, and they love soldiers until they come home.

Quick Hits – Postponed!

As a result of pursuing two stories all morning, Quick Hits will be postponed until tomorrow at which time we’ll discuss State Rep Stephanie Kifowit’s truly unfortunate use of a metaphor and the state of Elgin’s unconscious bias training program.

Until then!

Postponed

Quick Hits – The liberal Taliban strikes again!

I’ll say it again – I’m a man without a country. While I’m certainly no social conservative, every time my liberal brethren and sisteren speak, like a football fan embarrassed by his team’s dismal performance, I want to put a paper bag over my head so I can’t be identified as a fan.

This time, the progressive perpetual outrage machine targeted Sarah Michelle Gellar of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ fame. Apparently prone to Thanksgiving overindulgence, Ms. Gellar tweeted she’d post the ensuing 2007 photo of her semi-scantily clad self at various locations around her house to fend off that overeating urge.

Sarah

And then the liberal Taliban immediately attacked her, accusing the actress of downright fat-shaming her overweight compatriots. One leftist loon responded thusly:

“Projecting the idea that we should restrict ourselves from eating food to be skinny is a dangerous and damaging mindset which clearly plagues the minds of many, including celebrities as it’s pretty apparent here.”

Oh, holy bleep, it’s called a flippin’ sense of humor. Hasn’t Donald Trump taught us that not every Tweet is a harbinger of impending social collapse? She wasn’t talking about “restricting food,” she was talking about not overeating.

First, if I was Ms. Gellar, I’d walk around naked everywhere, and I mean everywhere! The house, grocery store, post office, McDonald’s, Walmart, the symphony, and the DMV because something that magnificent should never be covered up. Before you hit the send button ladies, I’ve seen you swoon at a shirtless Chris Hemsworth faster than Donald Trump wilts at the sight of Vladimir Putin.

So, don’t give me any of that misogynistic crap – you’re just as bad!

Second, it was a joke intended to encourage herself and others to consider their health before going at the turkey like a starving leopard on a wounded wildebeest. And it was funny, too! The fact that she had some fun with the fact she’s not 30 any more makes her that much more adorable.

But no! The liberal Taliban, always ready for a new and interesting way of taking offense, just had to chime in and accuse Ms. Gellar of being the only reason young women have eating disorders. As is par for the course, Gellar issued the following mea culpa:

“I love Thanksgiving and unfortunately my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, and I tend to eat so much I make myself sick. This was a joking reminder to myself not to do that. I’m terribly sorry that people were offended by my attempt at humor.”

And we spiral down into the least common denominator one more time.

When 60 percent of American women are obese or overweight, and obesity is a leading cause of death, a humorous and self-deprecating reminder that moderation and reasonable exercise aren’t a bad thing can’t possibly be a bad thing.

Unless you’re a member of the liberal Taliban that is. Then you insist upon putting a figurative burka on Ms. Gellar because folks who don’t understand when to put the fork down might be offended.

This isn’t about fat shaming, it’s about being healthy and not dying before your time. Of course everyone should accept themselves for who they are because that’s the only place change starts, but an amusing reminder that we can all be a little bit better certainly isn’t cause for a verbal stoning.

To be offended by that tweet and photograph takes that special kind of Taliban entitlement mentality which demands that no one dare hurt my delicate feelings, even if it clearly wasn’t their intent. It demands the kind of bland sameness to which burkas always reduce their wearers.

I used to tell my conservative friends that the left wasn’t nearly as bad as the Tea Party, but I was wrong. And we somehow still manage to believe we’re so much better than the countries that marginalize women in that way. Trust me, we’re not, and this is all the evidence you need.

God, liberals suck!

Quick Hits – Happy Thanksgiving!

The ghost of journalism past

So, last night we went to see author and humorist David Sedaris at Aurora’s splendiferous Paramount Theater. If you haven’t enjoyed the rare privilege of watching Mr. Sedaris masterfully apply satire, I would heartily encourage you to leap at the very next opportunity.

And I do love the Paramount, but I digress.

Only my longer-term readers will truly understand the irony of this, but as we turned right from our seats into the main aisle after the show, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with none other than former Kane County chairman and former state senator Karen McConnaughay.

McConnaughay 3

For those who don’t know, Ms. McConnaughay may not have invented the art of pay-to-play, but she certainly perfected it, and former Beacon-News reporter Dan Campana and I exposed the former chairman for exactly who and what she is.

And the pallor that quickly engulfed her face as I stood a mere two feet from her was a clear indication that she was not at all happy to see me at all. And I’m such a nice guy, too!

The other unmistakable irony is, Mr. Sedaris’ dry and piercing wit is not unlike my own, but Ms. McConnaughay utterly failed to appreciate it when it was applied to her.

 

I’m thankful that the conversation continues

I know there are days I want to move on from this non-paying journalistic endeavor, but as my favorite holiday rapidly approaches, even after 12.5 long years of going at it, I’m incredibly grateful that you, dear reader, are still interested in what I have to say.

Thanksgiving

Not only that, but my favorite former managing editor called me yesterday to say the recent comment-based blog conversation was, as he put it, “superb.” And whether we agree or disagree, isn’t that the entire point?

Like so many of you, I’m bleepin’ tired of all the partisan shrieking, so it’s kinda nice to have a venue where the discourse is rational, civil, and frequently fascinating. And I certainly couldn’t do that without you!

So, it’s in that very vein that I must insist you all have an exceptional Thanksgiving. Quick Hit’s will resume Monday, November 26.

Quick Hit’s – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Three

I swear this is going to be the final installment of this already-too-long three-part series even if we have to go into overtime!

To briefly review, in part one we covered the series of events that put the Geneva Teacher’s Union at the brink of a strike. Part two considered some of the letters D304 teachers sent to the School Board. As promised, part three will examine a real solution to a problem that needlessly pits teachers against taxpayers.

Geneva Teachers

But before we go there, I’d like to clear something up first. A couple of blog commenters challenged me to point out the 2015 contract paragraph that stipulated the end of step and lane.

But that’s not what I said!

I simply noted the clause by which the union and board agreed to discuss the current D304 salary structure. That conversation, by definition, infers change because there’s really no need to negotiate an issue that’s already settled.

And the fact that the committee managed to get nowhere in 18 months of deliberations certainly seems to indicate some disingenuousness on the union’s part.

With that out of the way, onto the solutions:

1. Decouple school funding from local property taxes

This is the heart of the issue! This is what Geneva, and all Illinois teachers, should really be fighting for. Five Illinois counties – Lake, McHenry, DuPage, Kendall and Kane – are ranked in the top 30 property taxed counties in the country, so when I said “we’re all taxed out” in part two, there’s all the evidence you need.

If Michigan and Indiana can make a major shift in the funding reform direction, then so can we. We have a Democratic governor beholden to no one who enjoys the kind of General Assembly majorities to finally get the job done, too.

Perhaps the proceeds from legalized marijuana could ease property tax pain. It might mean a state property tax, too, but I’d take that over the current broken system hands down. A statewide property tax (with a healthy reduction in the local tax rate) would also provide a much more equitable school funding mechanism.

2. Break up the student loan-college tuition Ponzi scheme

And that’s exactly what it is – a Ponzi scheme by which colleges and universities can send tuition soaring as a result of an abundance of government backed money loaned to students at usurious rates.

As a college education continues to become less critical to future earning earnings, this “system” will eventually collapse under its own weight. But that doesn’t help the educators drowning in a sea of student debt right now.

Some federal Democrats have tried to get the loan reform ball rolling, but those recalcitrant Republicans have consistently blocked them. Ah! But there’s a new Congressional crew on their way to Washington and, as those midterm results indicated, anti-GOP sentiment is at an all-time high.

I’m not advocating for complete forgiveness, but there are several bills on the table that would greatly reduce the financial burden on those 44 million Americans facing $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

This is another battle cry teachers should be taking up.

3. Market forces are in your favor

Though this isn’t the kind of solution where a collectively applied willpower will work, it’s worth noting that fewer teachers seeking jobs means salaries will naturally rise.

When my wife was hired by East Aurora in 2013, the district could pick and choose from up to ten candidates. Fast forward to 2018, and they can’t hire teachers. It’s gotten so bad that my wife was moved from math intervention to honors classes with a long-term sub taking her old spot.

Considering how conservatives love to use teachers as a punching bag, Texas is putting up interstate billboards to try to lure teachers to that state, Kansas can’t find enough teachers to fill their classrooms, and California is offering $7,000 bonuses plus moving expenses for educators willing to go west.

 

Our point three will have to unfold naturally, but were I a teacher, you better believe I’d be fighting for property tax and student loan reform. And teachers have the kind of unions and lobbyists that can really get that ball rolling. Just ask outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He may have broken that state’s teacher’s union, but it was those well-organized educators who certainly had the last laugh.

It doesn’t necessarily take unions and lobbyists to effect that kind of change, either. When my wife was attending National Louis University, a Tribune expose on errant early graduation practices incited Illinois into banning the practice where a student could graduate one class short of a master’s degree.

The statutory shift was so devastating that a number of her classmates quit without finishing their degree. They knew that diving into the teacher pool with a master’s in the aftermath of the Great Recession was a great way to stay unemployed.

Not one to give up without a fight, one of my wife’s classmates and I worked very closely with NLU President Nivine Megahed to get Springfield to reverse course. And much to our surprise, they did!

Now, I’m sure other folks and other schools entered the fray, but it still amazes me how we made such an impact. Considering what Wisconsin teachers just did, and if a determined trio can pull off that kind of thing, I’m sure Illinois teachers are more than up to the task.

Because the teachers’ real enemies are an antiquated education funding mechanism and a student loan industry that’s more than willing to saddle college student with unsupportable debt. They certainly aren’t the Geneva School Board, whom I believe are doing their best, or the Geneva taxpayer, who’s already tapped out.

The truth is, teachers, taxpayers and school boards should be working toward the common goal of ensuring our children have the best possible educational opportunities before they walk into a global economy and deal with dizzying 24/7 digital world.

The bottom line is, after almost 3,000 words on the subject, I hope Geneva teachers are smart enough to find a way to avoid a strike. Because, like I said. the real battle has yet to be fought.

Quick Hits – The arrogance of the KCSAO is beyond the pale

My regular readers are well aware of the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request battle I’ve been waging with the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office since May. To be fair, a miscommunication between the Attorney General’s Office and myself caused some delay, but Civil Division head Joe Lulves is responsible for the rest of it.

mcmahon

My goal is to get 200 pages – that’s right 200 pages – of sexual harassment complaints against a particular former prosecutor, who was terminated for his misogynistic behavior only when I finally caught onto him. Of course, the KCSAO is doing their damndest to keep those documents out of my hands.

The good news is, I’m winning the legal fight. The Public Access Counselor arm of the Attorney General’s Office found my appeal of the KCSAO FOIA denial so compelling they took the case under review.

To wit, you can find the KCSAO’s FOIA appeal defense here, and my rebuttal here.

And while it’s utterly fascinating to regularly beat Mr. Lulves on his own legal playing field, I want you to pay particular attention to the last paragraph of his appeal defense:

To be clear, this office will not release and does not authorize the release, of any of the document encompassed by Mr. Ward’s request for sexual harassment complaints absent a court order.

What Mr. Lulves is essentially saying is, should the Attorney General find in my favor, he will completely ignore that ruling and force me to take the KCSAO to court. Please think about that for a little while…

My entire theory about the KCSAO has been that they believe that, since they apply the law, it doesn’t apply to them. And that single sentence in Lulves’ reply says it all. They don’t give a rat’s ass if the Attorney General finds in my favor, they’re gonna do exactly what they want to do.

Of course, when you, my fellow Kane Countians are facing criminal charges, the KCSAO has an entirely different view of the situation. So, the next time you find yourself in a Kane County courtroom, I would encourage you to use my case as a defense. Because if the law doesn’t apply to them, then it certainly doesn’t apply to you, either!

Quick Hits – Anatomy of a Teachers Strike – Part Two

On Tuesday, we covered the underpinnings of the current stalemate between the Geneva teacher’s union and the School Board which may well lead to a strike. I put the probability of a walkout at 50 percent, but having read the letters a variety of D304 educators sent the School Board, those odds increase every day there isn’t a settlement.

As promised, we’re going begin to get into why the Geneva Education Association is tilting their lances at the wrong windmills. Since this complex issue will likely lead to a lengthy column, and possibly a part three, let’s persist with our numbered list methodology. It’s much easier to digest this tough topic in smaller chunks.

D304

But before we continue, let me, once again, clearly stipulate that my wife is a math interventionist in the East Aurora School District. So, I really don’t want to hear any of that anti-teacher bleep. I couldn’t possibly be more sympathetic to their plight, but unless we start from the truth, it’s much more difficult to make positive headway.

With that in mind, let’s consider those missives to the Board first:

1. Educational choices have consequences

About a year ago, a young Facebook friend was very excited about her decision to be an art history major. My response, “So, you won’t mind waiting tables for the rest of your life,” made her so mad she blocked me. That may have made her feel better, but I was telling her the truth.

Considering the insane cost of a college education (we’ll get to that), whenever I hear someone say they’re going to get a master’s in English literature, a philosophy Ph.D., or a journalism degree – and they’re gonna pay for it all with student loans – I want to beat them with a 2 by 4 until they come to their senses.

So, while I certainly admire the Geneva teacher who had the wherewithal to acquire two master’s degrees, if you really want your salary to be commensurate with that education, becoming a teacher was a really bad choice.

And I can say this with certainty as I sit here, once again, plying my beloved journalistic trade for free! Talk about a career change that didn’t work out well! But you don’t hear me bitching about it, either.

Do I think there’s a vast dichotomy between a teacher’s educational requirements and what they’re actually paid? Yes, I do! But my wife, and every last Geneva teacher, knew that going in. Sometimes doing what you love means sacrifice.

2. A troublesome entitlement mentality

One of the most difficult concepts to impart unto those formerly striking Kane County probation workers was, just because the County had a budget surplus, it doesn’t mean that money automatically goes to you. As it is with all government entities, there’s a long line of folks waiting for their slice of the pie.

So, when some sympathetic folks published that D304 had the money for raises without raising property taxes on Facebook, I wanted to quickly point out the flaw in their logic, but they’d turned off the comments on those posts.

BTW, spreading propaganda – and it was propaganda – without allowing comment is a really bad idea. How do I know? Because a surprising number of Genevans extended their utter dismay regarding that tactic through private means.

Thanks to the pre-Great Recession Mary Stith led school boards, D304 continues to face a mountain of debt from inexplicably building too many schools. The current board has done a magnificent job of paying down that debt, but those capital expense chickens will continue to come home to roost.

And as sure as McKinley Avenue will be packed at 7:30 every weekday morning, the state will continue to thrust unfunded mandates upon all school districts, older buildings will have to be maintained and updated, and support staff will want raises, too.

I’m not saying Geneva teachers don’t deserve more. In fact, I firmly believe educators should be paid far more than they are now (we’ll get to that). But one has to understand that teachers are but one of a School Board’s many responsibilities.

Considering that fiscal balancing act, to say salary increases won’t eventually affect property taxes is the worst kind of wishful thinking. And trust me, Genevans are all taxed out!

3. We’re all in the same economic boat

One of my favorite Geneva teachers lamented that he and his wife were driving cars with 190,000 miles on them. Welcome to the club! I’m driving a 2001 pickup truck with 130,000 miles and my wife heads to East Aurora every day in a 2008 Honda with 120,000 miles.

A number of those letters to the Board described the burden of student loan debt. I know! We’re paying off my wife’s student loan right now.

Another teacher complained of having to work summer jobs so she and her fiancé could make ends meet. But her base pay is $60,000 which is 15.4 percent more than the average American worker makes. So, that argument certainly won’t gain any traction.

Another common theme was that it’s very expensive to live in Geneva. I know! I live here too! But you all keep reelecting a mayor who never met a tax increase or fee hike he didn’t like. And because they help him campaign, he generally gives the city employee unions everything they want.

Meanwhile, 13 of the 21 Geneva Township precincts went for Governor Rauner who’s as anti-teacher and anti-union as it gets. It would seem that some teachers have no problem voting against their own best interest.

But the bottom line is, we understand because we’re right there with you.

4. The board is not playing games

This is the point that bothers me the most. While I fervently believe some Geneva School Board members have far more merit than others, I’ve never doubted their dedication to the district, their constituents, or D304 teachers.

Serving on a school board is an incredibly difficult and thankless task because you’re dealing with folks’ two most precious commodities – their children and their bank accounts. Not only that but, done correctly, that non-paying gig can quickly turn into a full-time endeavor.

So, when I hear Geneva teachers say the school board is playing games with the union, my sympathy for their cause plummets dramatically. What point would there be to engage in the kind of gamesmanship that would likely result in a strike? No one comes out of that unscathed.

5. Public sentiment is not on your side

Who doesn’t love Geneva teachers? And I’m sure it’s gratifying to see all those supportive signs on front lawns. But as a reasonably successful campaign manager, I tell my candidates that, just because someone says they’re behind you doesn’t mean it’s true.

Voters will tell you what you want to hear just to get rid of you and get back to their lives. But then they tell me how they really feel. And what they’re really thinking right now is teachers deserve some sort of raise, but if they strike, that sympathy will rapidly shift to the school board.

Put more simply, if D304 teachers do walk out, it will take them at least a decade to recover politically. Please understand, I’m simply the messenger and not the message.

 

So, there will be a part three likely on Monday (11/19). In that installment we’ll cover the real answer to the teacher salary structure conundrum and those usurious student loan payments.