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Teacher pension investments in fossil fuels. Why are we focusing on Ben and Jerry's ice cream?
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For years I was a delegate to the state convention of the Illinois Education Association.
In the course of our union business there would inevitably be an item about our pension investments and investing to support one cause or another.
And just an inevitably the proposal would be voted down.
Delegates overwhelmingly took the position that those investing our retirement savings should base their decisions on what produced the best returns.
Over the years I was mixed about this. I think there should be some political and social component to our pension investments. But I also recognized that for many retirees this was a slippery slope.
And they weren’t wrong.
And sure enough, the Illinois legislature went and slipped down that slope when they unanimously voted to punish any company by withdrawing investment of the state’s pension dollars - including mine - that boycotted Israel.
“Jews needed a win,” wrote my progressive state legislator Will Guzzardi in explaining his yes vote.
I wrote back to Guzzardi that as one of his Jewish constituents, I didn’t consider this a win.
A similar ordinance was passed unanimously by the Chicago City Council with yes votes by even the Councils most progressive alders.
It is the power of the pro-Israel lobby.
As part of the Illinois law a special committee was established to investigate companies our pensions are invested in.
The committee’s charge was to see if companies receiving pension investments violated the no Israel boycott statute.
To head that committee, Governor Pritzker appointed Andrew Lappin, a Chicago businessman and outspoken Islamophobe.
“Between the torrent of mushrooming Islamist violence and the abrasive violation of Constitutional principles, how is it that the Congress has thus far failed to begin a vigorous debate on the logic of continuing to allow political Islam to find safe harbor under the First Amendment?” Lappin wrote in The Times of Israel.
On December 22nd Lappin’s committee will meet to decide if Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, owned by the British international conglomerate Unilever, is in violation of the Illinois law.
Ben and Jerry’s has a long tradition of supporting progressive causes and have announced they will not distribute their product in territories occupied by Israel although they all continue to do business in Israel itself.
Understand that none of this action is being done by the pensions systems or its trustees or as a result of demands by the pension members and annuitants.
This is all coming from Illinois members of the state legislature and the Governor.
The same legislators who have refused to fully fund the public pension systems for decades and have now created a $140 billion + pension liability.
I have concerns about pension investments.
I am concerned about how heavily we are invested in high risk private equity.
I am concerned about our investments in fossil fuels.
I am very concerned with the yearly failure to fully fund the systems by the legislature.
I am also concerned about the rights of Palestinians, their right to a homeland.
But a government committee investigating selling Cherry Garcia in the occupied territories?