Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Tribune finally got its 'IL Duce'

Joe Biden says that at least one foreign leader he spoke with compared Trump to "Il Duce".

This should make the Tribune editorial board very happy. Remember when the Tribune called for a project manager or turnaround specialist that had to have "Mussolini-like powers to execute and implement."

Could they have even imagined two years ago, that an American IL Duce would take hold of the reins of power nationally?

What Paul Vallas learned early about the school reform biz

Rauner gives Vallas fat contract to fix Chicago State.
“High-performing individuals with decades of specialized experience and knowledge do not limit their ability to contribute to the greater good." -- Paul Vallas
Paul Vallas was never an educator, but he was a quick study. He learned from the start of his stint as Mayor Daley's schools CEO in 1995, the power of government contracting and that there was good money to be made in the school reform business. He also came to believe that the future of school reform belonged not to the system's bureaucrats, but to the outsider corporate reformers, wealthy, powerful, self-interested billionaires and outside consultants who they patronized.

After Daley gave him the boot from Chicago and through a series of unremarkable stints as district school chiefs in Philly, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Vallas assembled a team of loyalists (mostly former Chicago school bureaucrats) and developed a strategy for injecting himself and his brand into struggling urban school districts, in order to do "the greater good". The game plan involved using political clout to place his lieutenants into power in selected districts and in return, having them bring in the big-ticket Vallas Group to "reform" district schools from the top-down. It also included a heavy dose of replacing public schools with privately-run charters and weakening or completely eliminating union collective-bargaining agreements.

It was a plan that included perks and kick-backs to district leaders as in the case of former Vallas partner Gary Solomon, who along with former Chicago schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is now doing heavy prison time on fraud and corruption charges in the Chicago SUPES scandal.

Byrd-Bennett worked as a consultant and lead teacher for The Supes Academy and worked as a consultant for Synesi Associates, the consulting company founded by Vallas and Solomon. Vallas not only hired Solomon and his companies when he worked in Philadelphia, but brought Solomon with him to New Orleans.

From an earlier Sun-Times story:
Urging that the then-newly formed Synesi be hired in 2007, Vallas told officials the New Orleans school system didn’t have anyone who could do the work, according to documents from the New Orleans district. And in his “justification for an external contractor” letter, he urged that Solomon’s company be hired without seeking competitive bids.
Sun-Times reporter Dan Mihalopoulos broke a story Friday, exposing the unlikely relationship between Vallas, the erstwhile Chicago Democrat Party machine operative, and billionaire Republican and future governor of IL, Bruce Rauner. Actually, a bit of old news. But he evaded the whole Vallas/Solomon connection.
Nearly seven years ago — when Rauner wasn’t yet a politician, just a wealthy private investor with an interest in public education and a friend in the mayor’s office — Vallas corresponded with and met with him, offering to help create what he described as an “ambitious new school district” in Chicago.
In three letters to Rauner in 2010 and 2011, Vallas offered to work for with Rauner and city officials. Vallas said that school “buildings would be provided to the charters at no cost.”
“Concerning our potential partnership, I would welcome the opportunity to contract with you to assist with your school reform efforts in Chicago,” Vallas wrote to Rauner in February 2011, when Vallas was the top schools official in New Orleans.
 “You once told me that if I ever decided to launch a domestic education business, you would be willing to invest,” Vallas told Rauner. “Based on my research and years in the education field, I firmly believe this is a can’t miss.”
Vallas now claims that nothing came of the plans he and Rauner discussed for the Chicago schools and that his offers to assist CPS, "were rebuffed, as leadership chose to follow Barbara Byrd-Bennett’s vision for the district."

A lot has changed since Vallas first solicited Rauner. Vallas lost his bid to become Lt. Gov of IL and in the process, became a factor in Pat Quinn's election loss to Rauner in the governor's race.

Under the15-month contract Rauner has given Vallas to lead an economic recovery at Chicago State, he is still allowed to continue his private work with the Vallas Group.

Here's what Mihalopoulos' story left out...

Actually BBB's "vision" was Gary Solomon's vision and Solomon's vision was Vallas'. Same dreams but different beds. Solomon’s consulting company advertised that it had “the exclusive rights to Paul Vallas’ model of education reform.” In Philadelphia, he marketed the consulting company as using the “Paul Vallas method of school reform.”

In Chicago, Solomon used his former partner's strategy of installing BBB as schools CEO and then kicking-back to her after she gave SUPES and $20M contract to do principal training.

Solomon later said he used Vallas’ name without permission and it was a “mistake.”

But Vallas had used a similar approach in Rockford, St. Louis, Philly, Rochester, Peoria and other districts and greased the wheels for the Synesi group. Synesi landed two no-bid contracts worth nearly $893,000 in New Orleans during Vallas’ time running the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011.

Vallas calls his involvement with Solomon in New Orleans a “non-story.” He also says, “New Orleans honored me with the key to the city, while those involved in CPS are about to be locked up.”

He's right and this says a lot about our justice system and media's reluctance to make the connection.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Tom Balanoff
SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff 
“Your recent singling-out of  [Hannah] Jubeh highlights a sexist mindset toward women that has no place in politics, the labor movement or anywhere else in society. It denotes a hostility toward women who refuse to ‘fall in line’ with their male counterparts. … We demand an apology for your unacceptable behavior.” -- Letter to AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan
Rex Tillerson
"I checked. I’m fully intact." -- AP Wire 
Paul Vallas to Bruce Rauner
 “Concerning our potential partnership, I would welcome the opportunity to contract with you to assist with your school reform efforts in Chicago....“You once told me that if I ever decided to launch a domestic education business, you would be willing to invest. Based on my research and years in the education field, I firmly believe this is a can’t miss.” -- Sun-Times 
King County Executive Dow Constantine
 “Being a billionaire right-wing donor should not give you license to take a sledgehammer to the foundation of equal opportunity. No, it should not. But here she is. American prosperity, really American democracy, are built on the bedrock of universal education.” -- At DeVos protest 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Amazon's promise of '50,000 new jobs' for Chicago is bunkum

Amazon warehouse 2008 2

A week ago I posted about Amazon not being the kind of company Chicago needs. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner continue to grovel before the king of e-commerce offering huge tax and real estate giveaways that will only push the state and city into more debt, hurting schools and wiping outpensions. All this in the hope that Amazon will bring "50,000 jobs" to the city.

Sadly, most local pols, including Democrats running to replace Rauner, have drunk the Amazon jobs koolade. So has the media for the most part. On Friday, a planted Amazon good-news story claims the company is about to hire 10,000 holiday workers in IL.
Amazon is hiring more than 120,000 seasonal workers nationwide, including 10,000 new employees in Illinois. That means jobs at local fulfillment centers, sortation centers and customer service sites — and some of those positions could become permanent, according to Amazon. 
What's left out of the Patch piece is that these are non-union, mostly minimum-wage jobs offering most of these workers little or no chance for full-time employment. The work is mind-numbing and repetitive. 50-hour weeks are not uncommon and managers are continually relocated.

As for the claim that thousands of seasonal workers were given full-time jobs last year, it's important to remember that good-paying "full-time" jobs with Amazon are not usually permanent jobs and that those few who are hired full-time are usually replacing some of the thousands who quit or are fired each year.

In fact, Amazon has the second highest worker/turnover rate of any of the Fortune 500 companies. Turning over a big chunk of the workforce each year (most new-hires are gone after just nine months) saves the corporation millions of dollars on benefits like medical coverage and paid vacation days.

Amazon has built its empire around fast shipping speeds and generous return policies. But little is said of it's "dangerously intense internal company culture".

Last year, Bloomberg reported that the company was using flat-screen televisions in its warehouses to shame workers for alleged theft. The workers are not identified by name; rather, they are shown as black silhouettes with the word “terminated” or “arrested” emblazoned before an account of what they stole from the company and how they got caught. In the absence of a TV monitor, workers told Bloomberg that similar information was posted on walls or bulletin boards around the office.

A former Amazon contract worker wrote this, in an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos:
There’s a lot of talk about how Amazon is a great place to work. They have showers in the basement. You can get your bike serviced while you work. And there’s food trucks! But if you really want to create a positive work environment and generate productivity and employee loyalty, give your employees some job security.
That's not likely to happen. Amazon, stay away.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Despite moratorium on school closings, CPS still at it

Maybelline why can't you be true?
You've started back doin' the things you used to do
-- Chuck Berry

Like Maybelline in the Chuck Berry classic, Rahm Emanuel and his lieutenants, Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson just can't seem to be true. They just keep on doing the things they used to do -- like closing neighborhood schools populated mainly by African-American children. Only now, instead of taking the heat for the closings, they're claiming that the "community" made them do it.

Why can't you be true?

CPS continues to try and wiggle around it's own five-year school closing moratorium imposed in 2013 after massive protests in response to the closing of a record 50 schools, mainly in African-American neighborhoods. Rahm's hand-picked board (this has to change) has found new ways to close a few more, and are about to shut down four high schools in Englewood after agreeing to replace them with a brand new $75 million school. They claim it's all because of dwindling enrollment as black families continue their massive out-migration from the city.

But actually, the mass closings, along with the closing of health facilities and cuts to city services, have only served to push more poor and people of color out of the city.

Just check out this letter from Claypool/Jackson in response to protests by the Austin schools community, denying there was any talk about school closings in the west side community.
The pair have been implying that the CTU started the school closing rumors to stir up the community. Actually, it was Sun-Times Lauren Fitzpatrick who reported last week that, "proposed rules CPS released late Friday afternoon could allow more unpopular closures after June if they’re proffered by principals, parents or yet-to-be-defined 'community members'". 

NTA visits Rahm's house in Ravenswood
Fitzpatrick reported that meetings had taken place with pols like state Rep. La Shawn Ford and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) about more school closings. Austin community leaders and activists then responded, making it clear as day that they opposed any more closings.

Mitts has been little more than a Rahm tool when it comes to closing schools in her ward and replacing them with privately-run charters. But Ford and about 30 community members, including the Westside Health Authority, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), the NAACP, and staffers from local schools, including charters, agreed to send a letter to school officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announcing their unity in demanding no more closures in Austin, which bore the brunt of the last round.

More Fitzpatrick: 
“We agree that no schools should close any more in Austin, can we do that together?” Ford asked at a community meeting Wednesday, prompting all hands to raise. “That’s an accomplishment right there.”
Longtime Austin activist and CPS mom Wanda Hopkins added that “We closed enough schools, we got extra dollars. Leave those schools alone.”
 Dwayne Truss, a member of the Austin Community Action Council, said that “CPS came to several of us to go float the idea of, we’re going to close four schools in order to build this one state of the art elementary school. And it was like, ‘No, if you want to build an elementary school, build an elementary. Why close existing schools? We’ve been there and done this.’”
So there is little doubt that CPS is initiating the new school closing drive. They certainly aren't just sitting back and waiting for "the community" to ask them to close more schools. 

Tomorrow on Hitting Left, along with our in-studio guest, Josh Fox from Indivisible, we will get an updated report from Niketa Brar who's part of the parent/community movement protesting the planned closing of the National Teachers Academy elementary school in the South Loop neighborhood.

On Monday, they took the protest right to Rahm's front door. 

Check out these NTA students, speaking out in defense of their school at yesterday's city council meeting. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jemele Hill is right about Trump. His Columbus Day proclamation is more evidence.

Jemele Hill
ESPN's Jamele Hill is right on about Trump. He is a white supremacist and proves it over and over again every day. Her suspension is nothing more than another message sent out to black women (and men) journalists and sportscasters, from the White House and corporate media boardrooms. "Don't get too uppity or speak out too loudly against racism and injustice or you will be jobless." It's the same message that's long been sent to black athletes.

But the resistance grows.

I for one, will not watch or listen to a second of ESPN until Hill is back on the job and I encourage others to do the same and let it be known.

Claiming the "new world" for God and Spain
More evidence that Trump is a white supremacist... His proclamation that Oct. 9, 2017 is "Columbus Day". Since DT issued the proclamation with no congressional approval, and years after the verdict on Columbus had been reversed by historians and educators, he takes full ownership of it's racist content.

Trump demonstrates his white blindspot and offers his Eurocentric version of history:
The permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great Nation.  
Then come this bit of fake news:
 More than five centuries after his initial voyage, we remember the "Admiral of the Ocean Sea" for building the critical first link in the strong and enduring bond between the United States and Europe.
Of course, 500 years ago, there was no such thing as entity as Europe, nor the United States. Europe officially became Europe in 1842. Italy actually became Italy 20 years later. So, it's really a stretch to call CC an Italian or a representative of Europe building links to the U.S. Rather, he was a citizen of Genoa who sold his services to the Spanish royalty and set out to explore and plunder the land he thought was India.

Here it is in his own words:
These Natives are so nice, we’d be crazy not to enslave them! This excerpt from Columbus’ diary describes the Arawak people who greeted him and his men:
They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
The history of his brutality towards the indigenous people he "discovered" did indeed "change the course of history". But unfortunately, it set the stage for the wave of colonialism, the slave trade and genocides that would come to characterize European intervention in the "new world". Not a change we should be celebrating.

Jemele Hill is right.

Monday, October 9, 2017


Neo-nazis, white supremacists march again in Charlottesville.

Carl Bernstein, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist
“This president is the president of his base... We’ve never seen this kind of chaos in a presidency before. This is different because it goes to the character and competence — a feeling that the president of the United States, including among those on the White House staff, may be unfit to hold the office.” -- CNN
Republican senator Bob Corker 
“He’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were under way by tweeting things out. A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act under way, but that’s just not true.”  -- New York Times 
Erika Whitfield, St. Louis teacher
Issues of race and policing are not abstractions for my seventh-graders...I can’t ignore that my students are growing up amid high-profile police brutality. -- Washington Post 
Joshua Bitsko, Las Vegas police officer
"We were trippin' over guns. Trippin' over long guns inside. There was so many." - CBS News
Yasmin Tayag
Tom Petty is the joint they share in a starry backyard in Brooklyn the night they kiss. He’s the beer they drink brazenly on a crowded beach as cops amble by. He’s the band playing to a backwoods dive bar and the shrug when nobody stays to watch. He keeps playing anyway. -- Medium 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why Amazon is not the kind of company Chicago needs

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner are BFFs again. What brings the pair of Republicrat drinking buddies back together after some highly publicized spats, including personal name-calling, are school vouchers, more and bigger tax breaks for the rich, and Amazon.

Both of them, along with all but a few state and city pols, have been prostrating themselves before the Seattle-based king of global e-commerce, offering up some of the city's best real estate and a virtual tax-free existence if the low-road, parasitic company will only agree to open its second headquarters in IL, and bring "50,000 jobs" to Chicago.

Where have we heard those kinds of wild promises before? Think Olympic Games or Boeing's move here from Seattle in 2001, which, despite Mayor Daley's overblown promises, produced only a few hundred jobs and little in the way of taxes.

Ben Joravsky writes:
While 50,000 jobs sounds great, Chicago's got a checkered history when it comes to companies making good on job promises. The most infamous case was Republic Windows and Doors. In the 1990s, the city gave Republic more than $10 million in tax increment financing money to build a factory on Goose Island that would employ at least 610 people. In 2008, Republic closed the factory but got to keep the TIF cash.
Amazon's founder, CEO and Trump clone, Jeff Bezos  claims that his company is going to invest more than $5 billion to create a second headquarters in a city like Chicago. He says the move will produce thousands of high-paying jobs over the next 10 to 15 years. And all he wants in return is free land and billions in corporate tax incentives. Bezos has been playing the same game for years.

When Bezos was first deciding where to base his new e-commerce business in 1995, Seattle was not his first choice. Instead, according to Newsweek, the CEO of Amazon, now the world’s largest online store, eyed a Native American reservation near San Francisco that would have considerably lowered his tax bill.
The state of California quashed that scheme, but Bezos’s zeal for tax avoidance did not stop there. Throughout much of Amazon’s more than 20-year history, he has carved out competitive tax positions for the company as it expanded globally. His business acumen in that regard has even attracted the wrath of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who earlier this year accused Bezos of buying The Washington Post to gain political influence and avoid taxes. During a speech in Texas, Trump said, “If I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” 
Boy, did he lie. Bezos, with a net worth of more than $45 billion, pulls down and annual salary, including stock options, of nearly $2 million. That's a small part of what's local taxpayers are paying for if Amazon is allowed to ride virtually tax-free.

More from Newsweek:
Amazon’s IRS case in the U.S., which could force it to pay more than $1.5 billion in unpaid taxes, has revealed some findings that are, at best, awkward for the company. According to court documents, Amazon hired an economist from the global financial advisory company Deloitte in 2001 to review the various approaches that could be adopted to reduce its taxes.
Bezos is also a big backer of charter schools and other school privatization schemes in the state of Washington. According to a report in the Nation, the Bezos Foundation has donated to Education Reform Now, a nonprofit organization that funds attack advertisements against teachers’ unions and other advocacy efforts to promote test-based evaluations of teachers. Education Reform Now also sponsors Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Other education philanthropy supported by the Bezos Foundation include KIPP, Teach for America and many individual charter schools, including privately funded math and science programs across the country.

Both Rahm and Rauner, facing upcoming elections, see landing Amazon as a feather in their respective caps and are eager to jump at the bait. Bezos' name popped up in recently-released Rahm emails. In January 2013, Emanuel emailed Bezos, asking for more information about the possibility of the online retail giant locating a facility in Chicago.
"While this is below you, this is very important to me and would like to know if there any chance to set up a phone call with you to discuss?" Emanuel wrote the billionaire, who also owns the Washington Post. "Hope you had a Happy New Year."
Bezos responded by adding one of his executives to the email, "who leads our global fulfillment." Amazon has built multiple facilities in suburban collar counties, but only one in the city.

While the city needs jobs, it's questionable whether all, or even most of those promised jobs will go to Chicagoans or to those in communities with the greatest need or highest youth unemployment rates. More likely, Amazon would move many of its existing staff and top execs here from other cities. It's not even clear that these execs will live in the city or in the burbs.

Secondly, there's the question of the negative impact this giant tax giveaway will have on public education and the current pension-debt crisis? America's corporate tax rate is 35%. But Amazon is one of 115 companies along with Boeing on the S&P500 that pay much less -- around 4%..

Finally, there's the problem of Amazon's unethical and even criminal modus operandi. The company was just hit with a $293 million fine from the European Union for failing to pay its tax obligations there.

According to the International Business Times, Amazon is far from alone in shrinking its effective tax rate by racking up state subsidies and credits — as those same states struggle to keep their public pension funds afloat. It cites a study released Wednesday by the advocacy group Good Jobs First and the National Public Pension Coalition which makes the connection between the huge tax breaks used to attract giant corporations to states and cities and their growing pension-debt crisis.
Greg LeRoy, the founder and executive director of Good Jobs First, said the best policy solution for governments looking to attract companies to their states is to prioritize small startups with high growth potential, rather than flocking to well-established behemoths, as well as choosing firms that require a lot of human capital, as opposed to those based mostly on automation. Either way, he said, the bottom line is there needs to be a clear payoff to not just the company but the surrounding economy — in which access to stable retirement income plays a significant role.
Mr. LeRoy makes a lot of sense.

In short, writes Joravsky,
 ...bringing Amazon to town will probably cost untold millions in tax credits—money diverted straight from the state's coffers. That spells a tax hike for everyone else as the state jacks up taxes to compensate for the money it's giving to Amazon.
 I'm hoping the Rahm/Rauner deal with Amazon goes the way of George Lucas' Star Wars Museum.