Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On election day: It's not about, in pols we trust.

Biss on Hitting Left
It's election day in Illinois and in the governor's race, the choices are woeful. Like many on the left, I had hoped that Bernie Sanders' stunning performance here in his statewide 2016 race against Hillary Clinton, would have led to movement-backed, candidates (preferably not just rich, male and white). But the divisions in the progressive left and in the labor movement, the powerful hold of old Democratic machine politics, and fear of Republican Bruce Rauner's billions in this, the most expensive gov's race in history, left us where we are now on election day. We've got three traditional Democrats to choose from. 

Let me say upfront that I early voted for State Sen. Daniel Biss in the Democratic primary. I say that unapologetically, even though I've been among the sharpest Biss critics ever since he and state Democrats engineered passage of an unconstitutional bill that would have slashed the pensions of public school teachers. But given the choices and the fact that Biss came on our radio show and was openly and sincerely self-critical about his vote and his "succumbing to the culture of Springfield", I gave him my vote.

A pol who feels our heat, responds to criticism and changes their position and their votes, is the best we can hope for. Much better, in my opinion, than campaign promises by born-again "progressives".

If you know me, you know I couldn't have voted for billionaire J.B. Pritzker (my god, he's got millions invested in the oil pipeline company we fought in Standing Rock) or for former U of I chief Trustee Chris Kennedy (reasons here. I even tried my best to defend him here, but...). Many liberals are still enamored with the Kennedy family name. Not me. And as an educator, I was repulsed by his attempt to destroy the careers of U of I faculty with whom he disagreed politically.

I also voted for or supported other progressives like: Chuy Garcia and Marie Newman for congress, Fritz Kaegi for county assessor in his run at machine boss Joe Berrios, Brandon Johnson for county board, Aaron Goldstein for AG, Delia Ramirez, and others in local races.

Yesterday on FB, my friend and announced 2019 mayoral candidate Troy LaRaviere, proclaimed his support for Kennedy for a reason that bewilders me.
I found myself going back and forth between two of the three frontrunners, unable to make a choice about whom to endorse. Then one morning, my partner, Margaret, said to me “Forget about endorsements for a minute…. If the election were today, which one would you vote for?”
Without a moment of hesitation, I said that name. Kennedy
Then she asked an even more important question: “Why?”
“Because I trust him.”
Now as we head into the final day of voting, with the Democratic governor's race tightening (only single digits separate Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss in the latest polls) and with no longer any guarantee that Democrats can come back together and defeat Rauner, I'm left with this thought.

Politics is not about "trust". It's not a spectator sport where we vote and then hope to god that the Democrats we elect will do the right thing. They rarely do. And when they do, it's because we are there, as always, in the streets or on the picket line, ready to take them on when they don't.

Harold Washington told us that, the day after he was elected as the city's first black mayor.

Monday, March 19, 2018

WEEKEND QUOTABLES 50 years ago, My Lai...

Journalist Seymour Hersh recounts the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam
Fifty years ago, on March 16, 1968, U.S. soldiers "went from house to house and killed and raped and mutilated, and that just went on until everybody was either run away or killed". -- Democracy Now
Ex-CIA chief John Brennan on Trump
“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history." -- Guardian
J.B. Pritzker on putting $69.5 million into campaign 
“We simply are trying to make sure that we’re paying the bills in the campaign, and we’re very excited about the opportunity to simply get our message out.” -- Tribune
Vincent Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights
Gina Haspel should be arrested, not promoted, and the Senate, if it has a single shred of respect left for the law, should not confirm her. -- Guardian
Gary Younge
The problem with Democrats looking on Donald Trump’s presidency as a slow-motion car crash is that it concedes they are spectators at a moment when they should be in the driving seat – and that, when we come to survey the wreckage, there will be many innocent victims. -- Guardian
Kate McKinnon doing Betsy DeVos
 Analyzing the merits of public schools and charter schools, McKinnon said: “I don’t like to think of things in terms of school. It should be up to the states. In Wyoming, for example, which has many potential grizzlies, there should be a school for bears. And in Louisiana, crocodile crossing guards. And in North Carolina, stop being trans, and that’s what’s best for them.” 
As for the school shooting issue, she added, “We are working hard to ensure that all schools are safe learning environments for guns.” -- SNL

Thursday, March 15, 2018

PA election another hopeful sign for Dems in midterms

Emergence of Women's March and new student (anti-gun) movements could be key to midterm elections. 
“Just two years ago, Trump won this district by 20 points. Two years before that, Democrats didn’t even bother running an opponent against the Republican incumbent. You know, I’m really enjoying this radical new Democratic strategy called ‘trying.’” — Samantha Bee
Trump and the GOP suffered another major defeat this week with the election of Conor Lamb over wing-nut Republican Rick Saccone in the PA congressional race. While the vote was close, there was no way, under ordinary circumstances, that a Democrat, even a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat -- a Republican wolf in Democrat sheep's clothing (sorry) -- like Lamb, could have won. But these are anything but ordinary circumstances.

Actually, Lamb only carried one of the four counties (Allegheny) in the district. But it was enough. He owes his victory to an aggressive field operation, strong union support and the reality that he was running against Trump more than Saccone.

The overwhelming Trump vote here in 2016 belied that fact that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district. Trump's win was key in his carrying the state by less than a percentage point, or about 40,000 votes. Clinton's loss in PA was key to the Democrat's defeat  despite Clinton winning the popular vote by nearly 4 million votes.

The difference now was that Democrats "really tried" as Samantha Bee pointed out, and that many white district Trump  voters have become disenchanted and either stayed home or voted for Lamb.

Trump won whites with some or no college education by 39 points, a wider margin than any candidate since at least 1980.

NPR reports:
There are no exit polls to know for sure how this group voted Tuesday, but Lamb made clear appeals to them and it would be impossible to make up a 20-point gap without at least some crossover. In fact, dozens of precincts went more Democratic than in the 2016 election.
Lamb benefited from Saccone's history of supporting "right to work" legislation in the state Legislature. The district has a sizable number of union households that might have been willing to support a different Republican candidate, but unions and the Lamb campaign were able to define Saccone as anti-union.
Black women voters were key in AL election win. 
Lamb's win, on the heels of Doug Jones' narrow senate race victory over Trump-backed, white nationalist, child molester Roy Moore in Alabama could signal a Dem tsunami in midterm elections. That win came as a result of huge black voter turnout organized mainly by African-American women.

The difference in this western PA district of 700,000 is that only 2% are African-American. Seventy-one percent of residents (500,438) are registered to vote. Democrats hold a majority — 46% to 41% Republican voters.

Note that there are 118 Republicans sitting in seats Trump won by less than the 18th Congressional District in PA. Dems need to flip a net of 24 seats to take back control of the House.

Of course, Democrats are quite capable of a blowing it, even while riding the anti-Trump wave. Encouraging signs for them are the emergence of the "me too" and Women's March movement (Trump won among white women voters in 2016) along with a new post-Parkland youth and student movement.  Both of which should produce a wealth of new anti-Trump midterm voters.

However, if the Democrats are banking on more pro-gun, anti-abortion candidates like Lamb, they will suffer the consequences.

Monday, March 12, 2018


 Father of a Stoneman Douglas shooting victim painting a mural in his son’s honor: abc7.ws/2tAsQPr
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was killed at Stoneman Douglas
“This time, the gun rights crowd messed with the wrong community, the wrong kids and the wrong dad...I have dedicated the rest of my life to fighting for the cause of gun safety.” -- Guardian
Betsy DeVos
 Lesley Stahl: Have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they're doing?Betsy DeVos: I have not-- I have not-- I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.Lesley Stahl: Maybe you should.Betsy DeVos: Maybe I should. Yes. -- CBS 60 Minutes
Jeff Biggers
As the son of a union teacher and the grandson of a union coal miner, I believe the West Virginia teachers have renewed a strategic call for other movements engaged in what we have called a “resistance” against the onslaught of policies decisions and regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration. -- Guardian
Stable Genius on NBC's Chuck Todd
 “He’s a sleeping son of a bitch." -- At Penn rally
Megyn Kelly
“I would not say that Putin likes Trump,” she said. “I did not glean that at all from him. I did glean that perhaps he has something on Donald Trump." -- The Hill

Friday, March 9, 2018

Will the Janus decision buy labor peace? Doubtful.

Lorraine Forte on Hitting Left.
On Hitting Left today, one day after International Women's Day, we spoke with Chicago journalist  Lorraine Forte, newly appointed member of the Sun-Times editorial board. We led off with a discussion of the current role of women in the labor movement and in the recent wildcat strike of West Virginia teachers.

The most interesting aspect of the just-ended, victorious strike, where women were the main and leading force, is the spark it appears to be providing to teacher militants in Arizona and Oklahoma. It's not just a coincidence that all three are so-called "right-to-work states" with decimated labor unions and no collective-bargaining rights guaranteed to teachers and other public employees.

Some would expect that this weakening of the unions would lead to fewer strikes and more compliance on labor's part. This certainly has been the plan behind the Janus case, now in the hands of an  supreme court where the fix is in now that Trump-appointed union hater Neil Gorsuch provides the deciding vote on the likely decision. That will make it much more difficult for unions to collect dues from all the workers they represent.

The case could have a devastating effect on what's left of organized labor in the U.S. Or, it could be the harbinger of new forms of labor militancy and solidarity.

Currently there are about 14 million union members in the U.S., compared with 17.7 million in 1983. The percentage of workers belonging to a union is only 11%, compared to 20% in 1983. The rate for the private sector about 6.7%, and for the public sector 35.3%. The two national teacher unions, the AFT and the NEA are now the largest unions in the country.

So public employee unions, the kind that Dr. Martin Luther King gave his life defending 50 years ago, are now the last bastion of unionism left. Thus Janus.

In WV, public workers, mostly women, had to take on both the male-dominated state legislature and their own submissive union leadership at the same time and were still able to win.

Is this an omen of things to come? Or will this further erosion of collective-bargaining, virtually turning the entire country into a big "right-to-work" state, really bring about a new era of labor peace?

Joseph A. McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University, tells the New York Times:
“Unions have tended throughout most of their histories to be forces that seek stability, not unrest. When they are weakened, we’re more likely to see the re-emergence of instability and militancy, and the kind of model that we’re seeing happen in West Virginia.”
AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten,  one of the movement's most persistent proponents seat-at-the-table politics, echos McCartin:
 "A loss of collective bargaining would lead to more activism and political action, not less," AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten told the Washington Post. "Collective bargaining exists as [a] way for workers and employers to peacefully solve labor relations." 
She's mainly right. The history of organized labor is one of both relative peace and open class warfare. In recent years, that class warfare has been decidedly one-sided with corporate power battering the middle class and working poor and placing unions, including teachers and public employee unions in particular, on the strategic defensive.

What will this mean in a post Janus world?

Of course, peaceful collective bargaining is preferable to open battles. Teachers in particular hate to go on strike. Strikes disrupt schools and the lives of students and their families. But without them, teachers and workers, both public and private, have little to bargain with.

Post-industrial economy has succeeded in blurring over class distinctions and minimizing open class struggle. We are all supposedly "middle class" now, despite living in a time when the chasm between the wealthy and poor is the widest it's ever been. But while the crippling of unions as we know them, will widen the gap even further, it may also lead to a new heightened sense of class awareness and the development of new forms of organization and struggle.

Thank you WVA teachers, for showing us the way forward.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An International Women's Day salute to West Virginia strikers

On this International Women's Day, a special salute goes out to the women who played a leading role and were the main force in the victorious West Virginia teachers wildcat strike.

WV strike leader Olivia Morris will be conversing with CTU Political and Legislative Director Stacy Davis Gates tomorrow in Chicago, in a program hosted by the CTU.

Congrats to teachers and paras at Namaste Charter School on Chicago’s south side who, despite strong admin resistance, just voted to unionize. Another important victory for Chicago ACTS and the CTU.

One of my Twitter followers is worried that the victory, will do more to say--"charters are public schools"? My answer, as I've been writing about since back in '09: Charters are public schools, handed over to private (often for-profit) companies, but operated with public funds, to the detriment of regular public schools. For the past decade, it has often been the charter operators themselves who, trying to evade NLRB rules regarding the collective-bargaining rights of their teachers and staff, claim that charter teachers are not public employees.

The real point here is that whether you consider charters public or private, teachers should have the right to collectively bargain. The merger of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS) points the way forward.

For more on this, listen to the podcast of our Hitting Left show from last June featuring Stacey Davis Gates from the CTU and ChiACTS Pres. Chris Baehrend.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Kids now asking about the real Black Panthers

From Max S. Gordon's review of "Black Panther"
An article published this weekend in The Guardian suggests that “Black Panther” has already raised consciousness about black political prisoners. It’s exciting to imagine a generation of black children asking the question, “Who were the real Black Panthers?,” and learning that the party was created to monitor police brutality in Oakland, and expanded to include fights for healthcare, and provided free lunch programs for children; conversations that would ordinarily take place in African-American studies classes at major universities, now being taught to children in the fifth grade. 
Brother Fred and I will be doing a special edition of Hitting Left on March 21st as part of our year-long 1968 retrospective. In-studio guests will be Cha Cha Jimenez from the Young Lords Organization, Billy "Che"Brooks from the original IL Black Panther Party and former SDSer Susan Klonsky. We'll be talking about the old (original) Rainbow Coalition that turned the old Mayor Daley's Chicago upside-down in '68.

Lorraine Forte
Note to the Pearsons: Next time you're giving away $100M to help the cause of world peace, come talk to me first. U of C is the last place you should turn. They're much too busy promoting the likes of war-mongering racists like Bannon and Lewandowski.

Upcoming Friday on HL we'll be talking media/politics with Lorraine Forte, newly-hired member of the Sun-Times editorial board. Lorraine has served as the executive editor of The Chicago Reporter and editor-in-chief of the Reporter’s sister publication Catalyst Chicago.