Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Ella Fitzgerald. Born on this day in 1917.

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
ELLA FITZGERALD sang jazz in a voice so pure and perfected that it admitted no pain -- and America loved her for it. In her sound we soared over the darkest passages of our nation's history, to a place where race and class lost all dominion. -- Nina Bernstein, New York Times
Growing up in poverty and a shattered home life, Ella survived on the streets of Harlem by hustling and engaging in petty crime. Smithsonian Curator of American Music John Hasse says they were terrible days. "It was a really tough time: segregation, the Great Depression, poverty, unemployment."

She was confined to a reformatory for more than a year after she was an orphaned teen-ager.

According to Bernstein, 
The unwritten story survives in the recollections of former employees of the New York State Training School for Girls at Hudson, N.Y., and in the records of a government investigation undertaken there in 1936, about two years after Miss Fitzgerald left. State investigators reported that black girls, then 88 of 460 residents, were segregated in the two most crowded and dilapidated of the reformatory's 17 "cottages," and were routinely beaten by male staff.
At a time of renewed calls for institutions to rescue children from failed families, this lost chapter in the life of an American icon illuminates the gap between a recurrent ideal and the harsh realities of the child welfare system.
Like Miss Fitzgerald, most of the 12- to 16-year-old girls sent to the reform school by the family courts were guilty of nothing more serious than truancy or running away. Like today's foster children, they were typically victims of poverty, abuse and family disruption; indeed, many had been discarded by private foster care charities upon reaching a troublesome puberty.
Later, E.M O'Rourke, one of Ella's teachers remembered her as a model student.
"I can even visualize her handwriting -- she was a perfectionist," she recalled. There was a fine music program at the school, she said, and a locally celebrated institution choir.
But Ella Fitzgerald was not in the choir: it was all white.
"We didn't know what we were looking at," Mrs. O' Rourke said. "We didn't know she would be the future Ella Fitzgerald.
After her talent was finally recognized, Ella was paroled to Chick Webb's band. The rest is history.

Food for thought for teachers... Her former school superintendent Thomas Tunney recounts:
If she was almost lost to us, how many like her have been? "How many Ellas are there? She turned out to be absolutely one of a kind. But all the other children were human beings, too. In that sense, they are all Ellas."
How many Ella's are sitting in your classroom?

Monday, April 23, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Photo: Sporting News Archive, Sporting News Via Getty Images
Dave Zirin
It’s not for us to forgive Jack Johnson. The opposite is the case. -- The Nation
Ben Green, a fourth-year PhD student in applied math.
“The main thing that we [Harvard grad students] really want is to have a greater say, greater democracy, in our working conditions. By joining with UAW, we’re also joining with these other universities organizing with them. We’re building power not just for graduate workers at Harvard, but for graduate workers across the country.” -- Boston Globe
Colin Kaepernick on winning AI's Ambassador of Conscience Award
“In truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force." -- Guardian
Franklin Bynum
“Yes, I’m running as a socialist. I’m a far-left candidate. What I’m trying to do is be a Democrat who actually stands for something, and tells people, ‘Here’s how we are going to materially improve conditions in your life.’” -- New York Times
Leonard Pitts, Jr. 
 But racism is more than prejudice. It is, rather, the system by which prejudice is encoded into the laws and customs of a society so that, to take an example not quite at random, two black men can be arrested for waiting quietly on a prospective business associate to arrive for a meeting at Starbucks. -- Miami Herald
Mark Rudd
 The central role played by the Student Afro-American Society has never been acknowledged in accounts of Columbia ’68. The story has been about the white kids of the New Left, the S.D.S. and myself, as a singular protest leader. Ray Brown called the media’s erasure of the black students’ role “strategic blindness.” -- New York Times

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Educators have no business supporting war

Damascus after the attack. 
War is the enemy of education, of children and families. Education leaders have no business supporting war or encouraging war-mongering politicians or militarists to invade or bomb other countries. But this is exactly what happened Thursday when Trump bombed Damascus and other Syrian cities in response to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons in it's war against rebel groups.

Without getting congressional approval, and with Gen. Mattis, and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders admitting there was "no conclusive evidence" the Assad regime had used those weapons (a day before inspectors from the OPCW were attempting to enter Syria) the U.S. launched, what turned out to be a largely symbolic missile attack on selected targets. Those targets may or may not have had anything to do with chemical weapons production.

Symbolic as the raid turned out to be, gaining no U.S. military or political advantage and obviously more for domestic political consumption, one can only imagine the terror felt by Syrian children and families as missiles rained down upon their already war-torn cities. So far, U.S. missiles have already reportedly killed more than 6,000 Syrian civilians. If anything, the attack seemed to rally more Syrians in support of Assad.

WaPo reports:
Hours earlier, civilians and soldiers gathered in Ummayad Square in Damascus for a show of support, waving Syrian flags and dancing to songs that praised the army.
More than that, the missile attack threatened to turn the cold war with Russia into hot war and lead to Israeli-inspired military action against Iran. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. Reportedly, Pentagon generals were on the hotline with their Russian counterparts before the raid.
[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dunford said the only communications that took place between the United States and Russia before the operation were “the normal deconfliction of the airspace, the procedures that are in place for all of our operations in Syria.”
You got to love this new word added to the war lexicon, "deconfliction".

Trump has personal interests in avoiding confrontation with Russia. More accurately, he's in bed with Putin and the Russian oligarchs. See how he pulled the rug out from under Nikki Haley after she announced Russian sanctions at the U.N. Meanwhile top Democrats and neocons continue to push for regime change in Syria and expansion of the Syrian conflict to include Russia and Iran.

The thing that angered me most was seeing support for Trump's bombing raid coming from top Democrats and AFT leaders like Randi Weingarten and Leo Casey. Their criticism of Trump was that his attack on Syria "didn't go far enough".

Weingarten called the illegal bombing raid, "a retaliatory strike" as if the U.S. was attacked by Syria.
Then she signaled approval for the attack with this tweet:
None of this is really news. Here's AFT's official statement from a year ago when Trump bombed Syria.
WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on U.S. attacks on Syria:
“Syria’s barbaric use of chemical genocide required an immediate response, which President Trump’s missile strikes accomplished last night. While we believe Trump should have gone to Congress first, I find it curious that many members of Congress who are applauding the U.S. strikes had opposed former President Obama when he sought congressional approval for similar action.
Casey went even further, referring to those opposed to the missile attack as "isolationists" and "America Firsters", even accusing anti-war activists of being silent on the settlement of Syrian war refugees. A ridiculous charge.
Pretty vile stuff.

When confronted with the illegality of the attack and it's violation of international law, Casey echoed Trump, tweeting:
As expected, support for the bombing also came from top Dem leaders like Nancy Pelosi. 
“Tonight’s strike in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the the regime’s use of chemical weapons. -- Fox News
Shades of '68. It seems, there are now two pro-war parties in the U.S.

Monday, April 16, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

"And all the boys there, at the bar, began to sing along..." -- Dixie Chicken (Little Feat)
Donald Trump
“Mission Accomplished!” Trump tweeted a day after the allied assault on Syrian facilities that the United States, Britain and France say are part of a large chemical weapons program. The phrase was the same one the last Republican president, George W. Bush, employed to his regret in 2003, when the Iraq War was far from over. -- Washington Post
Owen Jones
It was those who opposed war who were placed in the dock, our contemptuous prosecutors demanding: “What is your alternative, then?” We were deemed heartless in the face of despicable atrocities, and the useful idiots and dupes of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi who – unlike many of the warmongers themselves – we had always opposed. -- The Guardian
Laura Washington
We have forgotten how to add. In this multi-racial city, we have forgotten that disciplined, multi-racial coalitions can prevail. Harold Washington’s “new Democratic coalition” was a combine of African-Americans, Latinos and “progressive whites” who found a common cause to beat the Democratic Party machine. Washington’s coalition disintegrated after his death and was never revived. -- Sun-Times
Wade Lead in the water
“Chicago’s water consistently meets and exceeds the U.S. EPA’s standards for clean, high-quality drinking water,” says Megan Vidis, a spokesperson for the city’s water department. -- Chicago’s drinking water is full of lead, report says
Working Families Party state director Bill Lipton 
“For eight years we tried to work with Andrew Cuomo to transform New York into a truly progressive state. For eight years he broke his promises and kept the Republicans in the State Senate, blocking critical legislation for affordable housing, women’s equality and criminal justice reform.” -- Politico
Joe Scarborough
 Despite playing tennis, golf and football during his college days, Trump took five deferments, four for college and one for bone spurs in his feet. On the day Trump graduated from college, 40 Americans were killed in Vietnam. -- Washington Post

Avery R. Young's "Lead in da Watah" (re-visited negro spiritual) from Elyse Blennerhassett on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

My favorite Ryan moment


Is anyone buying Paul Ryan's stale excuse for jumping ship? No, he doesn't really want to spend more time with his children. He hires people to do that. After years as a corporate shill, busting his state's unions and putting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into his wealthy patrons' pockets through regressive taxation, Ryan is joining the mass exodus of Republicans from DT's sinking ship for one reason only. He knows his day of reckoning is near.

My favorite Ryan story took place back in 2014, when he was called out by a Wisconsin high school, social studies teacher named Al Levie, who had been one of three recipients of a Martin Luther King Jr. humanitarian award. During a celebration honoring the late civil rights leader, Al refused to accept the award from Rep. Ryan, who he correctly called, "a lackey of the one percent". He then told the audience,  “I can’t in good conscience accept this award, as a humanitarian, Paul Ryan stands for everything I don’t believe in.”

After Ryan spoke, Al criticized the congressman’s policies before being walked off the stage. He had earlier made it clear that he would like to see collective bargaining restored in Wisconsin, fair immigration reform and a fair tax system and more.
“Paul Ryan had no business at a Martin Luther King event, it’s totally hypocritical. On the one hand he votes to slash health care, while on the other hand, King dedicated his life and he died for it — for people to have adequate healthcare, to have adequate jobs.”
I imagine, Al is smiling a little today, both at the news of Ryan's imminent departure and of the rolling teacher wildcat strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and more.

Then there was the time in 2012 when V.P candidate Ryan ventured down to Chicago to counsel his pal, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to break a teachers strike.
"I've known Rahm Emanuel for years. He's a former colleague of mine. Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues, but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teacher's union strike is unnecessary and wrong. We know that Rahm is not going to support our campaign, but on this issue and this day we stand with Mayor Rahm Emanuel." 
Then Ryan artfully called out Pres. Barack Obama, who, in the middle of his re-election campaign, and worried that his support for the striking teachers would split his Democratic Party base, was trying to walk the center line  in the epic battle between the CTU and MRE. A sign of things to come.

My favorite Ryan quote came from another visit to Chicago a year earlier. Speaking at the city's Economic Club, Rep. Ryan said that Obama's attempt to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans amounted to “class warfare” and "class envy".  Ryan only wanted to make sure that class warfare remained one-sided.

As NYT columnist Charles Blow put it:
Ha! The war is already being waged against the poor and vulnerable, and the envious have-nots didn’t start it. The right and its cabal of economic cannibals did.

Monday, April 9, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Kentucky Wildcats
A wildcat strike action, often referred to as a wildcat strike, is a strike action undertaken by unionized workers without union leadership's authorization, support, or approval; this is sometimes termed, an unofficial industrial action. Wildcat strikes were the key pressure tactic utilized during the May 1968 protests in France. -- Wikipedia

Attica Scott, first African-American woman to serve in the Ky Legislature in over 20 years
She explained how the Republican-controlled Statehouse gutted the state pension program last week, surreptitiously changing a sewage treatment bill: “On the Thursday before Good Friday, that morning, it was a sewage bill. And by that afternoon, it was the so-called pension reform bill.” -- Democracy Now
Rev. James Lawson.
“We cannot make our democracy succeed, be effective, if you do not have working people in organized units who can care for their economic benefits … who can care for the issues of justice.” --Democracy Now
Thomas Frank
“Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly,” is how the Atlantic journalist Franklin Foer put it in 2014, and what he said then is even truer today. -- Guardian 


Maria Villegas, who cleans Sayre Language Academy Elementary in Galewood
Says she has been told ahead of time by her supervisor when an inspector was coming. As a result, Villegas says, “When there is an inspection coming, we leave some things that we [normally] do daily. We leave them to clean the stairwells really well, they’re [inspectors] going to enter through there. Clean the first couple of bathrooms because they’re going to check those. The person who inspects enters the first floor checks the bathrooms, checks the stairwells — but doesn’t go to the upper floors.” -- Sun-Times 
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Attempts to silence players who refuse to accept their assigned roles fits right in with owners’ smarmy manipulation of the women cheerleaders through discriminatory Jane Crow “laws”.  -- The NFL's Plan to protect America From Witches

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Where's the progressive coalition in Chicago's race for mayor?

Who will get the anti-Rahm vote?
The thing I worry about is that the Chicago mayor's race will be an expensive governor's race redux without a progressive/left coalition ready or willing to back an anti-machine candidate strong enough to take advantage of Rahm Emanuel's obvious vulnerabilities and at least make it to a runoff.

The Sanders-left seemed to have gone underground leading up to the gov's race, leaving us with tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum and tweedle-Pritzker to choose from. One unimaginable scenario in the mayor's race has the unions and community groups rallying behind Rahm or Vallas as the winnable lesser of evils.

The expensive part of the race was already assured when perennial candidate Willie Wilson gave his own campaign $100K, thus erasing all state-imposed fundraising limits. Not that there was any doubt, but now MRE and his growing field of challengers will be able to raise unlimited amounts of money. Of course, this favors Rahm and big-money candidates like Paul Vallas and Garry McCarthy just as it favored billionaires J.B. Pritzker and Bruce Rauner in the gov primary.

Natasha Korecki writes in Politico:
This time, as viable candidates line up to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2019 and slice up vote totals, there’s a prevailing theory: a runoff election already looks like an inevitability. Emanuel is sure to be one of the two top candidates who make it to the second round. 
So then the question really becomes this: who in the field (announced and unannounced) can take out the mayor in a one-to-one matchup? Three years ago, Garcia spent the opening weeks of the runoff on the road working to raise more money. The cash-flush Emanuel pounced to quickly quell Garcia’s momentum with oppo research dumps and subsequent negative TV ads. 
The political dynamics have dramatically changed for the mayor in this post-Laquan McDonald era. But if Emanuel squeaks into a run-off and is still the better-funded incumbent to beat, who is best suited to exploit his vulnerabilities, particularly within the African American community?
The growing list of candidates will badly divide the anti-Rahm votes, leaving him in position to win the opening round with only 30% of the votes. The word is that Vallas and McCarthy have already cut a deal, assuring that the one with the least votes will back the other in a runoff election.

Troy on Chicago Tonight
My choice so far, but campaign long-shot, Troy LaRaviere, did a nice job telling Chicago Tonight's Phil Ponce why he wanted the job.

As always, Troy was sharp on ed issues.
He spoke out against the privatization of school janitorial services, charter schools and the lack of sufficient funding for special education. He was especially critical of the use of what he said were excessive standardized tests to judge school and student performance.
 He also made it clear that the pension issue couldn't be resolved without a progressive tax and revenue system that didn't put the entire burden on the poor while ignoring those "who have more money than they can spend in their lifetime".

But aside from being able to garner black and Latino community support, unite the progressive movement (including the CTU, SEIU and other unions) behind his campaign and raise a hefty number of millions in his war chest (he told Ponce, he hasn't started fundraising yet), Troy's team needs to develop a solid campaign strategy. He's got to convince the unions and other potential backers that he can run with the big dogs. He's also got to take on more than Rahm, but Vallas/McCarthy as well, if he is even to make it into a runoff. The danger is that Vallas, the least vetted of the candidates, will skate unscathed into second place.

Troy has been a two-time guest on Hitting Left. Here's a podcast of an earlier appearance.