Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Two important reads: Prison Abolition and the Crisis of Capitalism

Prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore
Two important articles appeared in the mainstream press this past week. The first, is a New York Times Magazine piece, Is prison Necessary,  by Rachel Kushner about prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

The ideology and politics around prison abolition and the role of prisons as an instrument of class oppression and subjugation are nothing new. Marxists and social reformers have been on the case for 150 years or more. People like Gilmore (Golden Gulag), Angela Davis (Are Prisons Obsolete) , Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) and others, have been talking, writing and organizing around it for 30 years and have added a powerful critique of mass incarceration of African-Americans and people of color as part of the machinery of white supremacy and the legacy of American slavery.

The re-emergence of the abolition movement, with all it's differing trends and internal conflicts, has helped change the way many people think about prison, race, criminal justice and mass incarceration.

The thing I like most about Gilmore is that she sees prison abolition, not as a separate silo, but as part of a bigger strategy and set of tactics for radical social transformation.

Kushner writes:
For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, it’s both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care — all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”
The best part of the article has Gilmore struggling with a group of working class Latinx kids who challenge her by asking:  “But what about the people who do something seriously wrong?” Others chimed in. “What about people who hurt other people?” “What about if someone kills someone?”

It takes a while, with some strong evidence, to finally win them over.

The second article by Greg Jaffe, appears in the April 20th Washington Post and bears the provocative title: Capitalism in crisis: U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich. But, Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All, offers a better headline.

Jaffe's piece hits on a favorite topic of mine, the role of power philanthropy and the way, what Jaffe calls, "the business elite" use their wealth to keep the economy churning and to do an end run around government and impose policies they hope will ameliorate the crisis of capitalism. It seems that some of these reformy billionaires, who gather in Davos, each year, still want to hold the world together long enough to enjoy their wealth.

According to Jaffe, the 2008 financial crisis may have revealed the weaknesses of American capitalism. But it was Donald Trump’s election and the pent-up anger it exposed that left America’s billionaire class fearful for capitalism’s future.

Jaffe writes:
Now that consensus is shattering. For the first time in decades, capitalism’s future is a subject of debate among presidential hopefuls and a source of growing angst for America’s business elite. In places such as Silicon Valley, the slopes of Davos, Switzerland, and the halls of Harvard Business School, there is a sense that the kind of capitalism that once made America an economic envy is responsible for the growing inequality and anger that is tearing the country apart.
It's worth a read.

Monday, April 22, 2019


After more than $1billion was easily raised for the repair of  Notre Dame Cathedral, thousands marched in Paris, for the 23rd week in a row, over the lack of economic equality in France  
Father Michael Pfleger
 “It’s being reported a lot of money to rebuild Notre Dame is coming from the United States. Well, consider the fact that America hasn’t finished rebuilding the 9th Ward in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We still don’t have clean water in Flint, Michigan. We still have not rebuilt Puerto Rico since Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Up until recently, little money was raised to rebuild three black churches burned to the ground in Louisiana. Poverty is raging in communities in Chicago and the state.” -- Sun-Times
John Barnett, Boeing whistle-blower
“As a quality manager at Boeing, you’re the last line of defense before a defect makes it out to the flying public. And I haven’t seen a plane out of Charleston yet that I’d put my name on saying it’s safe and airworthy.” -- New York Times
For the first time, Chicago top execs are all women of color. 
Lori Lightfoot
 “We are very focused on making sure … that we are creating opportunities for diverse young people to get a seat at tables that they wouldn’t ordinarily have a seat at. I think that’s reflected in our transition committees — we’re matching up people who are notable with people who are laudable and unsung and everything else in between.” -- Sun-Times
Anand Giridharadas, author of  'Winner Take All"
And he lambasted the notion, frequently championed by the likes of Bill Gates and Barack Obama, that Silicon Valley’s innovations would disrupt old hierarchies and spread capitalism’s rewards. “Really?” Giridharadas asked. “Now five companies control America, instead of 100! And a lot of those companies are whiter and more male than the ones they disrupted.” -- Washington Post
Dick Simpson, political science prof at UIC
Simpson noted that the woman Emanuel affectionately called “B3” was “held out to be a reformer who was improving the schools....There should have been red flags, given some of her previous involvement, as came out in the court case, with her former employer." -- Sun-Times

Monday, April 15, 2019


Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot 
"We are a city that is a sanctuary city. We have immigrants from all over the world who call Chicago their home. They’ll continue to do that, and we’re going to continue to make sure that this is truly a welcoming community for those immigrants and we want them to come to the city of Chicago.” -- FOX News
Noam Chomsky
"Wikileaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don't like that." -- Democracy Now
Ra Joy
Transformation is sustained change, and it’s achieved when ordinary people get involved and get engaged. -- Hitting Left
Stephen Moore, Trump's nominee for the FED
"Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy. I'm not even a big believer in democracy." -- CNN 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Have unions learned their lesson on early endorsements?

In 2016, Hillary Clinton received early endorsements from the two big teacher unions. But many of their members ultimately campaigned for Bernie Sanders. 
Organized labor is still traumatized after the 2016 Democratic primary, when several unions endorsed Hillary Clinton early on, only to see the decision backfire when portions of their membership bolted for Bernie Sanders. So write Politico's Ian Kullgren and Natasha Korecki.
“Everybody’s kind of taking a step back,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former political director for the AFL-CIO who is advising unions on 2020 campaigns. “[They’re] assessing the field — meeting with them, talking with them, finding where they stand on issues that are important to working people. But I don't see any rush at this point or any movement toward any type of major endorsements.”
Yes, that's exactly what Randi Weingarten and the AFT leadership should have done in July of 2015, six months before the Iowa caucuses. They raced ahead of their own teacher members to be the first ones out there to demonstrate their fealty to the party leadership in exchange for what they hoped would be a "seat at the table." Their tactical objective was to kill off a Sanders insurgency before it got started. 

There were no negotiations with the Clintons, and nothing offered by Hillary to union teachers in return. The early endorsement also represented a show of top-down, undemocratic force directed against union dissidents who wanted Sanders, not Hillary.

The early endorsement by AFT and NEA leaders not only failed to carry the day for Clinton, but it sharpened the divide within the union where the struggle seemed to be more directed at the insurgents on the left than at Trump and the Republicans. 

A similar dynamic played out at the NEA where the Vermont union preemptively endorsed Sanders as national leaders moved to endorse Clinton.
They thought they would be with the winner, and unfortunately it was their positioning to be with that winner,” said Larry Cohen, former president of the Communications Workers of America and a close adviser to Sanders.
Now, many union leaders are vowing not to make the same mistake again. But I can't imagine Weingarten doing anything differently this time around when it comes to endorsing Joe Biden.
Unlike last time, “There’s no process in place. We’re not making any endorsements,” said Sean McGarvey, the NABTU president. “We don’t see ourselves making any endorsements any time early … if at all.”

CTU jumped out early to endorse Preckwinkle and then stuck with it in her losing run against Lori Lightfoot.
Here in Chicago, the CTU's early endorsement of Cook County Democratic Party boss Toni Preckwinkle in her primary campaign for mayor brought back troubling memories of 2015. When the endorsement carried over into Preckwinkle's runoff campaign against Lori Lightfoot, it not only forced members to foot the bill for a losing effort against an overwhelmingly popular and progressive Lightfoot, but led to a bitter, vitriolic internal campaign against Lightfoot supporters and neutrals even though Lightfoot and Preckwinkle held similar positions on education and labor issues.

CTU Pres. Jesse Sharkey claimed that the choice was made at least in part because Preckwinkle “gives us better leverage in a contract fight." Even if that were true (which I doubt), it makes the endorsement that much more suspect. I'm sure that his quote will be used by anti-union, "right-to-work" conservatives who want to take away union rights to have election PACs. 

I support unions flexing their muscles (what's left of them) to support pro-labor candidates who agree to pursue a pro-labor list of demands. But endorsements should be made carefully and only after democratic internal debate with r&f voices being heard, especially dissident ones, and then given in exchange for something tangible. 

The pathway to rebuilding a decimated union movement depends mainly on the militancy and unity of the members, not on divisive early paper endorsements in hopes of a pat on the head from elected officials. 

Monday, April 8, 2019


Mayor-elect Lightfoot asks Rahm's floor leader, Ald. O'Connor not to call the Lincoln Yards TIF vote. 
Lori Lightfoot
“Any alderman who’s gonna try to align themselves with Ed Burke at this time — we’re gonna make sure that gets very public and exposed . . . I’m going to do everything I can to shine a light on that...

“They’re gonna have to explain to the public why they’re aligning with him against the voters of this city.”-- Sun-Times
Andre Vasquez
The socialist alderman-elect who just took down the machine's 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O’Connor, tells S-T: “Where we see the influence of big money and corporations in our government, where we see the corruption in the council, where we see elected officials as bought and paid for, to me, democratic socialism is providing a counterbalance." -- Sun-Times
San Francisco AG candidate, Chesa Boudin
 I’ve seen the system’s injustices first hand and its potential to recognize that people can grow beyond their worst mistakes. My mother is one of those people. -- L.A. Times
JP Morgan chief Jamie Dimon doesn't like socialism
...who was paid $31m last year as the head of America’s largest bank and who is estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.3bn, took aim at socialism in his annual letter to shareholders, and warned it would be “a disaster for our country”. -- Guardian

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The gossip mill is churning. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Lightfoot on election night. A mandate for change. 

The confetti from Lori Lightfoot's Hilton ballroom celebration of her historic victory hadn't even been swept from the floor before the Facebook Lightfoot-haters' rumor mill began cranking out the news that Lori had appointed Arne Duncan to her transition team. Rumor central was the CTU's House of Delegates meeting where leaders were telling delegates that they had inside info about the appointment. This was followed by a wave of posts with comments like, "NOOOOOO" and "EWWWW".

I really need to stop spending so much time in the world of FB politics. You do too.

I asked several of the CTU folks who I know and respect for the source of the rumor. I would have thought a story this big would have hit the media before it was leaked to a union official. None of them had an answer. Some claimed the union got it from a leak at City Hall.

Then Mayor-elect Lightfoot posted this on Twitter:

Here's my initial thoughts on the Duncan gossip.

First, as all my readers know, I am no fan of Arne Duncan. If you're not an avid follower (shame on you) just move your eyes over to the right-hand column and down to the TOPICS column. If you scroll down to DUNCAN, you will see 431 posts (this makes 432) I have done on the former Chicago schools chief and Obama ed secretary. They go back a dozen years and are mainly exposures of his poor and corrupt leadership, locally and nationally. I doubt there's anyone who has written more about this misleader.

Second, I have no idea who the mayor-elect will appoint to her transition team and neither do you. But whoever she chooses to help with the difficult transition, they certainly do not represent a line in the sand for me. Transition team members traditionally come from a diverse range of the city's interest groups and power centers; i.e., business and labor, race, gender and political interests. It's important for the new mayor to get input from all of them. I'm sure powerbrokers, including Barack Obama, will have some input -- as they should.

Transition team members are not the policy makers or necessarily future position holders in the administration. The team itself disbands as soon as the transition is made. I'm sure, once the team has been named, I will find appointees whose names evoke my own "EWWS" as well as smiles.

Lightfoot has committed herself to an education platform that I like and that the CTU should like as well. Especially, coming off of 8 years of mayoral control of the schools by an autocratic, union-busting mayor. It's the main reason I voted for her. Her platform includes investments in neighborhood schools, early childhood and special education, opposition to charter expansion and school closings, and support for an elected school board. These are all program points that should fill CTU members, parents, students and community folks with joy and optimism and fill Arne Duncan (who, btw, supported Toni Preckwinkle), with deep anxiety. Remember, Duncan's career has been built on opposition to every one of these points.

As a lifelong union guy, I think CTU leaders are crazy for positioning themselves in such an over-the-top, oppositional way before Lightfoot even takes office. She won this historic election by the largest margins ever over the CTU's endorsed candidate, to become the city's first African-American, woman, lesbian mayor in the city's history. Lightfoot swept every ward and won in every demographic by a wide margin. In other words, she has a clear mandate for change that we all should respect.

Why the union would want to isolate itself from this huge potential base of support, especially with contract negotiations coming up, is beyond me.

Of course, this doesn't mean no criticism. Politics is not a spectator sport and we cannot afford to sit back and hope that Lori Lightfoot does the right things once in office. But struggle should be carried out on just grounds, with reason and restraint. We need to help her become a great mayor. If she fails to do the right thing, we will hold her accountable. But that's not the same as spreading disinformation, gossip and lies in advance.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Naming names...The Vrdolyak 29

Aldermen Edward Burke (left) and Edward R. Vrdolyak confer during a Council debate in 1985.  
"Mayor Washington was a friend, an ally and a mentor." -- Ald. Patrick O'Connor, former member of the Vrdolyak 29 
On Tuesday, we will elect the first black woman, either Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle, as Chicago's mayor and already there is media chatter about a new round of Council Wars. If history is any clue, we can expect a bloc within the new city council, led by the remnants of the Rahm regime and the old Democratic Party machine, to conspire against the new mayor and the rest of the council's progressives.

For those too young to remember, council wars was the term used to describe the racist resistance to the city's first black mayor, Harold Washington.

It was organized by the two Eddies, Burke and Vrdolyak, who formed what came to be known as the Vrdolyak 29. Think, the racist Republican's opposition in congress as soon as Barack Obama was elected.

The 29 flexed their muscles in the council from 1983-1986. Now, there are only two survivors left. One of them, Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) is currently under indictment for attempted extortion for allegedly using his position as alderman to try to steer business to his private law firm from a company seeking to renovate a fast-food restaurant in his ward. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison where he's likely to join his old pal Vrdolyak.

The other is Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th) who I have blogged about often, since he's served as Mayor Emanuel's floor leader and has spent much of his post-Vrdolyak years serving as the education committee chair for mayors Daley and Emanuel. He's been the ramrod pushing school closings, charters and vouchers and opposition to an elected school board. Rahm just made him chairman of the powerful finance committee, the post previously held by Burke.

Now O'Connor is locked in a fight for political survival in a runoff election against community activist Andre Vasquez. So what does O'Connor do to cover his left flank? He pitches himself as a mentee and close ally of Harold Washington. Unbelievable!

For more on O'Connor's attempt to rewrite history, here's brother Fred's blog response. 

Let's hope voters see through this charade on Tuesday and elect Vasquez.

Here's the names of the Vrdolyak 29:

Fred Roti
Edward Vrdolyak
Patrick Huels
Aloysius Majerczyk
John Madrzyk
Edward Burke
Frank Brady
Robert Kellam
Michael Sheahan
Frank Stemberk
William Krystyniak
Vito Marzullo
Michael Nardulli
George Hagopian
Miguel Santiago
Terry Gabinski
Richard Mell
Joseph Kotlarz
Wiilliam Banks
Frank Damato
Thomas Cullerton
Anthony Laurino
Patrick O'Connor
Roman Pucinski
Bernard Hansen
Gerald McLaughlin
Jerome Orbach
Eugene Schulter
Bernard Stone


Following public outcry, hundreds of families of asylum-seekers are no longer being detained in an enclosure beneath an El Paso, Texas, bridge
Shaw Drake, policy counsel for A.C.L.U.' border rights center
“We are demanding an immediate investigation by the inspector general into abuses inflicted on asylum seekers by Border Patrol agents in the outdoor facilities." -- NY Times
Latino Caucus Chair, Ald. Gilbert Villegas endorses Lightfoot
“I think you have certain pockets of the Latino community that are tired of the status quo and then you have others that feel that, taking a look at President Preckwinkle, someone who’s viewed as a powerful politician maybe potentially having the ability to do something for their community." -- Tribune
Rev. Al Sharpton at Rainbow/Push
...portrayed Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a hypocrite Saturday for criticizing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case when the mayor long was silent on the police murder of Laquan McDonald. Sharpton described Emanuel’s behavior as “Hypocrisy 101.” -- Chicago Tribune
CTU's Stacey Davis Gates declares victory
“I feel like we have already won,” said Stacy Davis Gates, the group’s vice-president, who counts as a victory the propulsion of two black women who support one of her group’s most cherished causes — an elected school board — to the runoff. -- Chalkbeat
Don Rose predicts win for Lightfoot
Preckwinkle's strong attacks tended to fizzle if not backfire--which brings us up to today. Lightfoot has become a phenomenon, which is why I make my prediction. -- Column: It's all over but Toni's concession.