Saturday, December 31, 2016

My advice to the Dept. of Homeland Security on malware protection

I see where two of my favorite journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Shaun King, are being accused by Twitter trolls of being "cheerleaders for the Russians" over their skepticism of the Putin fever now sweeping the country. I'm equally skeptical. But they can't pin that label on me.

I've been expressively down on the Gulag "socialists" since the '60s and the Czech invasion. That is, except for a brief stint playing and coaching baseball there during the final days of the Soviet empire in 1990. But that's a whole other story.

But even I have to admit I was shaken by news this morning that the Russians had hacked Vermont's electrical grid. For one thing, I didn't even knew Vermont had a power grid. I thought all you had to due to cut power to Burlington or Brattleboro was to snip the hoses leading from the pig's methane pits to the light bulbs. Oops, sorry Bernie and Howard.That was a bad joke.

The WaPo story goes as follows:
A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe [I used to play ball with a guy named Grizzly Steppe -- m.k.] by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.
 Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy issued a statement warning: “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter.
 While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter [Now see that's a problem. Loose lips...], the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the U.S. government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.[Yes, I hear both sides have been doing that since the Cold War].
But a careful read of the story shows that one laptop at the Vermont utility -- not connected to the grid -- was found to have been infected by this malware, which is available for purchase by anyone through the criminal, underground marketplaces for hacking tools.

But for argument's sake, let's say that the Ruskie hackers did penetrate the system and plant their malware. How did they do it? Simple. According to the WaPo story, they wrote fake letters.
According to the report by the FBI and DHS, the hackers involved in the Russian operation used fraudulent emails that tricked their recipients into revealing passwords.
That's right, fraudulent letters. I imagine they went something like this:
Tovarich, I mean recipient. I am a high school student doing my term paper on Vermont's power grid. Pleas send me all your пароли, I mean passwords. Thanking you in advance for your help. Spasibo, Boris
Now I'm no expert, but I've come up with a few relatively easy-to-follow suggestions for the Dept. of Homeland Security on how to avoid Russian malware and password theft, short of a no-win cyber war with the Russians, Chinese, Israelis, ISIS and the rest of the rest of the worlds' hack crazies.
  1. Send a memo out to all state electric company personnel advising them not to give out their passwords over email, especially to high school students named Boris. 
  2. Change passwords every so often. 
  3. Subscribe to malware protection. I use Norton. They're pretty good. Runs me about $49/yr. 
To all the rest of us, I suggest we get our eyes back on the prize. 

See you on Jan. 21st. #ResistTrump

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The specter of war on civil society

To paraphrase Karl Marx, a specter is haunting America, Europe and the world. No, it's not the "spectre" of communism Marx was signifying in his Manifesto, but rather the specter of Trumpism. 

The rise and seizure of political and military power by a narrowly-based clique of white supremacists and neo-fascists, in the U.S. and much of Europe, combined with an inadequate response on the part of liberal democrats, is plunging the world closer to a global conflagration than it's been since World War 2 and Trump hasn't even been inaugurated yet. The Trumpists are too weak and their base too narrow to rule primarily through diplomacy and negotiation. Their strong suit is their control of military (including nuclear capacity) and police powers (including an apparent willingness to use torture). 

Like the German revanchists following that nation's defeat in WW1, the Trumpists are waving the bloody flag from U.S. military defeats in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan with their call to, "Make America Great Again", while scapegoating the emerging "minority majority" and immigrant workers as the supposed cause of American job loss. 

In the past week alone, the Trumpists have declared "war" on the United Nations. Their Israeli counterpart, Netanyahu has declared "war" on New Zealand. And in response to Trump's apparent partnership with Putin and his oligarchs, outgoing Pres. Obama is threatening a new Cold War with Russia.

Then there's the Trump's war on the press; trade war with China; Betsy DeVos's war on public schools; Trump's war on science; Trump/Pudzer's declared war on labor unions; Trump/Perry/Tillerson's war on the environment; Sessions' war on civil rights; and so it goes.

The Trumpists' predisposition to war on civil society puts them in conflict with the great majority of people here in the U.S. and worldwide. The U.N. vote condemning Netanyahu's expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the dropping of a 2-state solution as a peace plan, demonstrates this broad-based opposition to the drive towards war. The resolution passed 14-0 in the Security Council (U.S. abstained incurring Netanyahu's wrath) with Britain, France, Russia, China, Japan, Ukraine, Angola, Egypt, Uruguay, Spain, Senegal and New Zealand all voting yes. This broad coalition of nations shows the global potential of the resistance movement.

As for teachers and educators, we have a significant role to play in resisting the Trumpists drive towards war and in defense of civil society. War is the enemy of education, families, children, women, and democracy. Resistance to Betsy DeVos' war on public education will be a key part of the opposition movement. Defense of public space and of public decision-making, teaching students to think critically and to become shapers of their own future, are some of the essential pieces of the resistance movement based in the schools.

It all begins on the day after Trump's inauguration on January 21 with the Women's March on Washington. Millions of people in more than 30 cities worldwide are expected to take part.

Trump on global warning in 2012...
Prophetic Trump in 2014...

Monday, December 26, 2016


"Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King." -- RNC Chairman Reince Priebus
Thom Hartman
With so-called “unregulated free markets,” the rich become super-rich, while grinding poverty spreads among working people like a heroin epidemic. This further polarizes the nation, both economically and politically, which, perversely, further cements the power of the oligarchs. -- Salon
Donald Trump
"Let it be an arms race...We will outmatch them at every pass... and outlast them all.”-- CBS News
Rahm Emanuel
 “Golf memo for Potus.” -- Rahm emails reveal secret golf course planning 
Delia Arreola, Noble Charter Exec. Asst. 
“Hello!! Happy early xmas!!!” Arreola wrote to the principal and vice principal of her school. “I have the list of rising 8th graders for the fall and wanted to send it your way so we can hit the ground running on recruitment for next year’s freshman class. Enjoy!!” -- Sun-Times
Rockette Phoebe Pearl
“Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed ... I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts #notmypresident.” -- CBS News

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rahm's email dump tells little we didn't already know.

Brother Fred captures Rahm boasting about pension theft. 
Yes, he did use his personal email to conduct city business. So if Rahm ever runs for president (not likely), he will never hear the end of it. But if you were hoping Rahm's forced email dump would produce some new revelations or deep insights into the workings of the Chicago mayor's anything-but-transparent regime, forget about it. This was no Wikileaks, but rather a carefully planned dump of personal emails that mostly reads like a collection of the mayor's news clippings assembled by his overstaffed press office. Nothing revealing about the mayor's cover-up in the Laquan McDonald killing.

What is revealed is the easy access to the mayor for the state's corporate and hedge-fund muckety-mucks (Pritzker, Rowe, Griffin, Rauner...), especially on matters of privatization, unions (CTU) and pension-busting and the privileging of charter schools (especially Noble Network) over neighborhood public schools.

Here, for example is a missive from former Exelon CEO John Rowe to Emanuel on public school reform efforts.

The first line has Rowe coming to bury former Mayor Daley, not to praise him, in a statement that reads like it was from Shakespeare's Caesar. 

Here's another by former ComEd CEO Frank Clark, now President of Rahm's hand-picked school board.

And another from Clark bashing union teachers:
From: Frank Clark []
Sent: Monday, September 10, 2012 4:25 PMTo: Rahm EmanuelCC: Spielfogel, DavidSubject: Schools
I strongly support CPS's position with CTU. The strike is regrettable but could have been avoided if representatives for the teachers put education for kids ahead of job protection and outdated seniority rules.
Interesting side-note here. Both Rowe and Clark have a Noble charter school bearing their name.

And then there's more Rahm boasting to city billionaires about how he screwed city workers.
From Chicagoist: 
Emanuel’s controversial call to phase out Chicago’s retiree health program will leave some 10,000 of workers on the hook for coverage—a move he publicly touted as a regrettable but necessary cost-saving measure. In the email, however, Emanuel comes off as downright boastful about the move. Wealthy investor Henry Feinberg asks, “Since when did Rahm Emanuel let a judicial ruling get in his way and not find a creative work around solution[?]” Emanuel replies, “Never which is why I eliminated health care. Only elected official to eliminate not cut or reform a benefit. Thank you vey much. A 175 million saving!”
There's a few other interesting tidbits, like Rahm's Public Affairs Director Lisa Schrader assuring the mayor that indeed, the SUPES/Byrd-Bennett scandal is a big story.

Rahm’s email dump can be found here. You can search by subject. For example, put Rauner in the search box.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Was Moskowitz running to Trump for cover?

Last month, charter schools' biggest hustler, Eva Moskowitz, who pulls down a half-million/year as the operator of N.Y. Success Academies, was in the running for Trump's Sec. of Ed post. She didn't get the job. Trump gave it to fellow plutocrat and religious zealot Betsy DeVos instead.

The Trump transition team may have been frightened off by the spate of negative press about her schools' discipline practices and internal workings and the ongoing federal investigation conducted by the Office of Civil Rights, as well as mounting criticism from local elected officials. It is unclear whether Moskowitz could have even been confirmed as a cabinet official of an agency that is investigating her schools.

But that didn't stop Mokcowitz, a Clinton supporter, from swearing loyalty to Trump and his plan for market-driven public schools.

Moscowitz bought the ground floor for $68M
Then, no sooner had she plopped down $68M in school money for the purchase of ground-floor classroom space in a glitzy Midtown tower, when the auditors caught up with her.

Today she is under fire for financial mismanagement and allegedly ripping off the taxpayers and even her own Success Academy schools for millions of dollars, including thousands that were supposed to have been spent on services that were never delivered to students with special needs.

The Observer reports: 
An audit  by city Comptroller Scott Stringer discovered rampant inaccuracies in the financial reports of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter school chain—including internal assessments that created the appearance of lower administrative costs, bills to the city for special education services the company could not prove it ever provided and duplicative payments that the chain’s management arm collected from its schools.
 The audit found that in fiscal year 2015, Success Academy schools paid the Success Academy Network an extra $624,342 for services that the Network should have provided in exchange for its $18.3 million management fee. Those services include staff training and professional development, printing, copying and student assessments.
All this has me wondering if this was the real purpose of the Moskowitz's flirtation with Trump. Was she running to him for cover, offering fealty and rendering unto Caesar in exchange for protection? Was she looking at a possible job in the Trump administration as an escape route from the arms of city prosecutors?

We'll soon find out if her gambit worked.

Cross-posted at Schooling in the Ownership Society blog.

Monday, December 19, 2016


New Yorker 

Pres. Obama

"You've got a situation where they're not only entire states but also big chunks of states where, if we're not showing up, if we're not in there making an argument, then we're going to lose," Obama told NPR. "And we can lose badly, and that's what happened in this election." -- CNN
John Podesta, Clinton campaign chairman
" know I'm not saying that it's everybody else's fault. We bear responsibility for the outcome as well...So it will take a while. But I think we owe it to our supporters to say what we think we did right, what we think we did wrong. I think Wisconsin, we could have done better. There's no question about it... And-- but there's no question that we didn't make every right decision." 
Reporter Yamiche Alcindor responds
"What struck me most was the fact that he sounded really flustered when you asked [Podesta] about Wisconsin, and you asked him about their decision making within the campaign... He had all those other answers, but when it came to his own campaign and how it was run, he wasn't as strong." -- Meet the Press
 Thomas E. Mann, resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies
“The old notion that somehow there are all these impostors out there, people not eligible to vote that are voting — it’s a lie. But it’s what’s being used in the states now to impose increased qualifications and restrictions on voting.” -- New York Times
Mitchell Robinson, MSU Prof
Let me explain why giving Betsy DeVos and school choice “a chance” is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.-- Why we must NOT give Betsy DeVos and school choice “a chance”
Columnist Ryan Cooper
 Just look at how North Carolina Republicans kicked out the public and the press before passing their anti-democratic bills. They know what they're doing, and many are probably ashamed, deep down. They would wilt before a popular front of sufficient size and power. -- The Week

But spelling is not his main problem. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

If teacher unions are the problem, why are wealthy suburban parents trying to clout their kids into CPS?

Rauner wasn't the first or last to game the system.
QUESTION... If Chicago Public Schools are so awful -- the fault of the teachers union of course --why are so many wealthy suburbanites trying to get their kids into CPS/CTU schools through the back door?

Yes, we all know how our billionaire Gov. Rauner did it back in '08 when he made his now-famous phone call to then-CEO Arne Duncan. 

From Greg Hinz at Crain's:
Mr. Rauner changed his voting residence from Winnetka, where his wife continued to live, to a condominium on East Randolph Street. I kept asking why, not content with the answer I got back that the Rauners just were getting more active in the city.
As it turns out, in establishing residence in the city, Mr. Rauner also established the right of his daughter to attend a Chicago public school. But not just any school. She could have gone to New Trier, since mom still lived in Winnetka and New Trier is pretty highly rated itself. But Payton is rated better.
There only was one problem, the sources say: Her test scores, academic record and other factors weren't good enough to get her into Payton...Her application was denied. So dad called Mr. Duncan, a Duncan aide called the Payton principal and she was admitted. 
IG Tom Sullivan claimed he investigated but never released his report. Something about "privacy rights". Then Rauner made the whole thing go away when he dropped a $250,000 donation on Payton.

Now IG Nicholas Schuler says that rich parents are still trying to game the system.
Eighteen students were caught trying to get into selective schools using sham addresses within Chicago to give them an advantage by disguising their wealthier addresses in neighborhoods like Edgebrook, Forest Glen and Beverly. One family even changed their address to one in a poorer neighborhood after their son received results from his admissions test.
 The public school system affords more leeway in its admissions to poor children to give them a fair shot when competing against wealthier families for a spot in one of the district’s elite test-in high schools. But Schuler called CPS’ requirement to prove residency once, when the child applies, instead of looking at the family’s historic socio-economic situation is a “critical weakness of the tier-selection system.”
No, they're not trying to buy or clout their way into the host of non-union, privately-run charter schools, not even the one that bears the governor's name. It's the limited spots in the selective-enrollment schools they're after. A better class of students, they think. And after all, isn't that what a two-tier, market-driven education system is all about?

S-T's Lauren Fitzpatrick's addendum to the story:
Noticeably absent [from Schuler's report] were updates about two pending cases: The contract fraud case of former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, who awaits sentencing on a federal fraud charge in April, and a separate probe into possible ethics violations by the board’s general counsel, Ronald Marmer, who, the Sun-Times has reported, has overseen work awarded to his former law firm that continues to pay him severance.
In an unusual public airing of grievances, Schuler told Board of Ed members last week that the Marmer case had stalled after CPS officials withheld documents and witnesses, citing attorney-client privilege.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Big Pharma's Baxter replacing laid-off CPS teachers with retired execs

In line with the times, CPS is moving further into the ownership-society orbit.

The latest is the board's deal with pharmaceutical giant Baxter Int'l. The Sun-Times reports that Baxter will be funneling retiring execs into CPS classrooms to teach health science classes. This while 1,000 teachers and staff has been pink-slipped.
The company was introduced to the idea by Alan Mather, who heads CPS’s Office of College & Career Success. He worked with Baxter when he was principal at Lindblom Math & Science Academy, where he was honored with a Golden Apple award.
 The idea came about more than a year ago when Mather was in New York. It was a personal trip, but he made time to visit with IBM to hear how it pays employees to go back to school to become teachers. “I thought it sounded like something we could try,” Mather said.
How it works: Companies contribute $15,000 for employees nearing retirement or preparing a career change to earn a teaching certificate. 
They’ll then move into the classroom, where they can talk from personal experience about how these technical subjects are used in the real world.
Real world, indeed. I doubt that CPS students will be learning much about global health care or health industry ethics from these Baster execs.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to single out Baxter and there's nothing wrong with Chicago companies contributing money and personnel to help support public schools.

Baxter's role in CPS goes back to the Daley administration. They should do more of it. Paying their fair share of taxes would be a great start.

The problem comes in when we turn public schools into beggars, more and more dependent on corporate support for survival, and when corporations move their retirees in as replacements for existing teachers and their training programs in as replacements for existing programs which have been destroyed by budget cuts.

Looking back on when Rauner clouted his kid into an elite selective-enrollment school.
In the same vein (no pun intended),...CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler says that wealthy families are still scamming their kids into the city's selective enrollment schools. Nobody is really shocked at such news. We remember how Gov. Rauner made that notorious phone call to Arne Duncan to make sure his unqualified daughter would be put on Duncan's secret VIP list for back-door admission to selective Walter Payton High School. And it wasn't just Rauner. The city's rich and powerful clouting their kids into elite schools worked then and is still working says Schuler.

CPS's Emily Bittner basically told Schuler to stuff it.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Glenn Greenwald
THE PHRASE “FAKE NEWS”... lacks any clear definition, it is essentially useless except as an instrument of propaganda and censorship. The most important fact to realize about this new term: those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it. -- The Intercept
Bob Dylan
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?” So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer. -- Nobel Prize acceptance speech
Donald Trump
“The African American community was great to us. They came through big league. And frankly, if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote. And that was almost as good. Because a bunch of people didn’t show up, because they felt good about me.” -- Think Progress
Anti-pipeline activist Tabitha Tripp  
“I think it’s important for people to realize that … we don’t have to drive 17 hours to North Dakota to see the extraction issues that are causing so much pain to people in our communities. We don’t have to look far to find issues to work on locally that have to do with water rights and protecting our environment for the next generation, which is what the people at Standing Rock are doing.” -- Southern Illinoisian 
Bernie Sanders
In defeating the Dakota Access Pipeline, we had to take on the entire fossil fuel industry and, once again, a majority of Congress. When faced with a strong grassroots movement, led by the Native American community and environmentalists all across the country, President Obama did the right thing — and deserves credit for it. -- Blueprint for defeating Trump
Rev. Dr. William Barber II
Along with much of the rest of the country, North Carolina fell victim this year to the extremism we’ve not yet experienced in Donald Trump. But we could not be deceived by the extremism we have endured under Pat McCrory. Though we know too well that America faces some tough days ahead, this moral victory should give all Americans reason to hope that we can revive the heart of our democracy and move forward together to a more perfect union. -- The Nation
Author Steve Coll on Exxon
But when the question involves the human factor, building trust with your communities where you’re drilling, or convincing people that fracking is not going to ruin their water, or dealing with political environments in 150 different countries with lots of supply problems, or dealing with violence on the ground around your oil fields in Africa — in all of those areas, I think they have a habit of not really taking anybody’s advice. They keep the windows closed." -- New York Times

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump's charade

No, it's not the companies he's after. It's their workers' standard of living. It's a political bait-and-switch. On the campaign trail, the billionaire populist rails against against corporations on behalf of the "little people". But it's all done with a wink and a nod.

Trump's staged fight with Carrier was never about exporting jobs to Mexico. Carrier is still doing that and will continue to do that, or threaten to do it with impunity under the Trump regime. The very threat sparks a Trumpian sweetheart deal including fat government contracts for giant parent company United Technologies and a whopping tax break in exchange for a promise to retain a relative tiny number of those jobs here.

In the case of Carrier, many of the "saved" jobs were never going away in the first place. To put it another way, I'll quote USW Local 1999 Pres. Chuck Jones, whose union was never even consulted in the negotiations between Trump and Carrier.:
“But he got up there,” Jones said Tuesday, “and, for whatever reason, lied his ass off.”
Turns out, there were never any 1,100 jobs on the line. But those whose jobs were "saved" are grateful for Trump and Carrier's benevolence. It's as if having a job that pays a living wage is some sort of gift to workers from the almighty "job creators". The media buys the narrative, without even looking at the real numbers. The phony war ends up being a win-win for Trump and the company.

The same hold's true with his phony spat with Boeing over the $4B price tag on the new Air Force 1. There was never a $4B price tag. Trump made that up. In fact, the plane they were talking about won't even be in production until 2020. Trump has no intention of voiding the Boeing contract. Trump even flies around now in his own private Boeing-made jet. It's the one he charges taxpayers $1.6M to fly his secret service protectors around on.

So what is this staged fight really all about? It's just another way to put downward pressure on wages and living standards of those "greedy workers" and their unions (what's left of them). Trump is and will continue to blame union workers "forcing" companies like his own, out of the country.

Cases in point...

Since Trump went after Pres. Jones on Twitter, Jones has received hundreds of death threats. No one knows how the cowardly callers got his phone number. You can guess.

Yes, Trump's fight with the company was just a charade.

Federal workers hold one-day strike in D.C. 
But lots of workers aren't buying it. Yesterday in D.C. hundreds of federal contract workers held a one-day strike calling on Trump to fulfill his campaign promises to American workers.

This from Think Progress:
While workers across the country are fighting for a higher minimum wage and better benefits, federal contractors said their situation is particularly dire. The federal government funds more low-wage workers than McDonald’s and Wal-Mart combined, according to a 2013 study. And a report released earlier this week found that federal contractors stiff workers of billions of dollars each year by violating minimum wage laws, misclassifying workers as “independent contractors,” and denying them paid leave and other benefits.
Of course, this isn't Trump's doing. But it's a sign that working people and their families, including many of those who voted for him, are going to hold Trump's feet to the fire. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dems leave teacher unions hanging on DeVos

IEA graphic.
Hillary has her picture on milk cartons since she went missing after election day.  SNL even picked up on it. Seems like the entire old-guard leadership must be out in the Chappaqua woods with her, especially when it comes to resisting the Trump juggernaut.

Most notably, at least from this educator's perspective, is their deafening silence around Trump's nomination of Betsy ("Make America Christian Again") DeVos for Ed Secretary. While NEA and AFT leaders, Eskelsen-Garcia and Weingarten, have been outspoken in the opposition to DeVos, they have been left dangling in the wind by the very Clinton wing of the party they risked their reputations for with their premature endorsements of Hillary.  

As you might expect, this rift is reflective of much broader post-election inner-party conflicts over who will lead the Dems forward towards the mid-term congressional elections. Of note is Weingarten's defense of Keith Ellison who represents the Sanders/Warren progressives against the Podesta old-guard faction, for party chairman. That seems like a big shift to me. But time will tell. 

For the unions, it's not just a matter of the mid-term elections. DeVos represents an existential threat to public education itself as well as to the entire teaching profession. Her history in Detroit as an active supporter of privatization, Christianization, and vouchers has even garnered support from supposedly anti-Trump reformers and think-tankers like Fordham Institute's Michael Petrilli and former Arne Duncan aide, Peter Cunningham who calls DeVos the "champion of choice".  

Thankfully, the teacher unions aren't alone in their defense of public ed from the Trump/DeVos assault. The NAACP and other civil rights groups like Black Lives Matter and the Journey for Justice Alliance, have also been clear in their opposition to the DeVos program of vouchers and un-capped charter expansion.

Think-tankers go thumbs up on DeVos

Monday, December 5, 2016


Victory celebrations at Standing Rock. Struggle continues. 
Tom Goldtooth
“This isn’t our first rodeo with the forces of genocide,” said Goldtooth, a great-grandfather with long black braids sticking out from under the hooded sweatshirt ...Capitalism feeds on unlimited growth. It’s like this monster that’s always hungry and thirsty and devouring the earth. That’s what our message is here: We have to live in balance; otherwise we’re going to perish.” -- Voices from Standing Rock
Jim Peterson, leader of a delegation of more than 120 WA veterans
“There is a lot of praying, singing, dancing, fireworks; the camp right now is kind of a madhouse. There are so many people showing up, busloads, it’s mass confusion. But there is so much love.” -- Seattle Times
Energy Transfer Partners & Sunoco Statement
"Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way." -- Business Wire
Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser Center for Strategic and International Studies
 “My guess is that Trump himself doesn’t have clue...Having this mishap occur before he is president is better than having it occur after he is president. I expect Beijing to find a way to give him an education on Taiwan.”  -- China blasts 'petty' Taiwan call
Peter Cunningham, former aide to Arne Duncan
DeVos "has a lot of influence in the reform community. She is unequivocally a champion for choice."  - The Case for Betsy DeVos 

Friday, December 2, 2016

The bailout of Exelon nukes comes right out of the schools

Jobs creators -- 30 years after the nuclear meltdown, the Great Arch at Chernobyl is finally completed.

Natasha Korecki in this morning's IL Playbook: 
It’s probably fitting that the Legislative veto session concluded Thursday with just about everyone going nuclear. Gov. Bruce Rauner dropped the first bomb by vetoing a Chicago Public Schools bill that blows a $215 million hole into the school’s budget... Then there were the actual nukes. A bitterly divisive Legislature came together to pass a massive bailout of two unprofitable nuclear plants...
Almost the exact amount...
The measure provides Exelon with $235 million a year as a reward for the carbon-free energy its nuclear reactors produce — a prize Exelon argued it was just as entitled to as the "clean" energy producing wind and solar industries. Without the money — financed by an increase in electric rates — the company threatened to close nuclear plants in Clinton and the Quad Cities.
Yes, "carbon-free." Tell it to the people of Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island.  Yes, a taxpayer bailout for nuclear giant Exelon, who raked in $29.45B in revenue last year. Yes, another assault on teacher pension funds.

CPS Board Pres. Frank Clark.
So there you have it. An even swap. Nukes for schools. A win-win for former Exelon CEO Frank Clark who now is president of Chicago's Board of Education and even has a privately-run Noble charter school named after him, as does current Exelon CEO, John Rowe, and Rauner himself.

I'm sure Democrats in the Legislature and environmental lobbyists believe they did the best they could. I might agree with them on the school budget. This was the work of our Trumpian governor and his fellow Republicans, buoyed up by Trump's victory last month. And Dems no longer have a veto-proof majority in Springfield (not that Boss Madigan was ever strong enough to use it when they did).

I'm sure IL Dems (even the progressives) will tell us that rates would have gone up or that they saved some jobs that would have been lost if they voted NO. That's questionable. Nuke plant closings are labor-intensive and take years. But giant taxpayer bailouts of unprofitable nukes (like private prisons) are not a solution to structural unemployment. The towns around the nukes all suffer from high unemployment and Exelon doesn't hire many unskilled workers. DeWitt County and Quad Cities unemployment remains higher than the national average despite the presence of the nuke plants. Maybe that's because of massive cuts to school budgets and the laying off of thousands of teachers and school staff and social workers statewide. There's also no guarantee that these plants will stay open long after the bailout or that layoffs won't happen.

I'm sure Dems and even some environmental groups like the People's Lobby, will say that I don't understand realpolitik and will explain how they managed to finagle millions in green money into the bill for wind and solar R&D and that nukes are cleaner than coal. I guess that's an example of the kind of choices we're faced with these days. A touch of green in exchange for corporate bailouts of potentially devastating nukes and lung-choking, cancerous coal companies (now supported by the Trumpians). Look at this as a follow-up to the Trump scam in IN with Carrier and United Technologies.

Democrats nationally have long been complicit is this charade. It was Pres. Obama who, in 2013, made G.E. Chairman Jeffery Immelt, a Republican, his top outside economic adviser as head of the now-defunct Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. G.E., the largest corporation in the U.S., a giant in the nuke industry, and a company that rakes in about $15 billion/yr., yet pays not a penny in U.S. taxes. They're also a big underwriter of corporate-style school reform. Funny how things work out that way.

It's lose-lose for the people of IL, especially children and parents of CPS and the rest of us living downwind from the leaky and dilapidated nukes.

WHERE IS THE HUMAN SERVICES BAILOUT? -- The National Association of Social Workers released this statement: “We commend the hard work put into the bailout for a corporation who posted a 2.27 billion profit last year, but humbly ask where is the bailout for the human service sector providers who are running up large amounts of debt to cover the state’s commitments? … We applaud the environmental groups who are getting entirely new spending on green initiatives through a ComEd rate increase, but inquire from the general assembly where is the bailout to pay for the spending for contracts that human service providers have already delivered on?”

I would add -- and for schools?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No more blockades

Havana yesterday
A step backwards...Shame on POTUS for not sending an official delegation to Fidel's funeral. Even though he has taken important steps forward in normalizing relations between our two countries, and ending the failed blockade, this snub will be taken as another insult to the Cuban people and the people of Latin America and the Caribbean for whom Fidel is a symbol of independence and anti-colonialism.

It shows that Obama is still too worried about what the Trumpy Republicans think about him to do the right thing. It's that fear, which helped paralyze his administration up until this, his last year in office, that will forever remain as part of his legacy.

It will now be left to the Republicans to move past Trump's alt-right rhetoric and finish the job of normalization (and take credit for it). If they fail and cave into Trump's campaign promises to roll back Cuba policy to the Cold War era, this country -- and not Cuba -- will be the losers. Chinese and European competitors will more than fill the void.

Remember, it was IL Republican Gov. George Ryan who lead our state's delegation to Cuba in 1999. The trip made the Republican Ryan the first sitting U.S. governor to travel to Cuba since the revolution 40 years earlier.

Ryan initially described the five-day trip as a way to foster a trade relationship someday between Cuba and Illinois, but the Bush regime frowned on that. It later was billed as a “humanitarian mission” to help Cubans and Illinoisans build bridges with one another. This was no "concession to communism" as the untra-right claimed. The delegation of about 50 included lawmakers, educators and officials from Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc., Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland and other businesses.

Ryan's trip cleared the way for my own officially sanctioned trip months later, accompanied by 30 American educators. We brought with us a trunk load of school supplies, visited schools and met with teachers and ed policy leaders across the island. We discovered that despite the U.S. embargo that meant children often coming without notebooks, pencils or erasers, Cuban schools had produced the highest literacy rate in the Caribbean. Having free, universal health care and college tuition helped.

I'm hoping the events of the past week will lead to many more such educator and people-to-people exchanges. The people of both countries have nothing to gain from Trump's anti-Cuba bluster.

Another blockade. No, this time not in Cuba... N.D. Gov. Dalrymple, taking a page from the Cuban blockade, attempted to block food and supplies from entering the Oceti Sakowin camp yesterday. His strategy, to starve or freeze the 6,000 water protectors into submission. Under national and international pressure, he was forced to pull back the physical blockade but is now threatening fines for those carrying badly-needed supplies to the camp.

If anyone is planning on driving up to Standing Rock from the Chicago area, I have two cartons of thermal blankets that need to be delivered. Please contact me before you go.

A SmallTalk Salute goes out to the 2,000 veterans on their way to Standing Rock to serve as human shields for the water protectors. NYT reports:
The veterans’ plan coincides with an announcement on Tuesday by law enforcement officials that they may begin imposing fines to block supplies from entering the main protest camp after a mandatory evacuation order from the governor. Officials had warned earlier of a physical blockade, but the governor’s office later backed away from that, Reuters said. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why did Antwan Wilson leave Oakland for D.C.?

Oakland former Supt. Antwan Wilson seems nonplussed by parent/community protest. 
A friend in D.C. asked me why I thought Oakland Supt. Antwan Wilson would leave his $400K/year job to take the job in his town. Here's what I told him:
I'll tell you why he's leaving. Oakland (like the A's) is the farm team to the major leagues. They sent us Tony Smith to IL to do Gov. Rauner's bidding. DC is a plum job for pay and visibility (Wilson did ok in Oakland, pulling down a tidy $400K/yr. Look for him to make about the same in D.C.). Heartbeat away from the DOE and Ed Sec job (if Dems make a comeback). Oakland’s schools have been led by 8 people in the past 16 years — some named by the school board and others appointed amid state takeover. It's the Broad Academy MO. Make a quick hit, chop heads, and get out before the shit hits the fan. Collect golden parachutes along the way. D.C. will be Wilson's third. 
Good luck.

If you want to understand how this game of musical chairs is played, consider this. Wilson is being hired because of his alleged "success in raising achievement [test] scores" in Oakland. But remember, Wilson only lasted two years and left in mid-year. So they must be crediting him with raising scores on tests that were given before he got there.

Here's the real deal on Wilson according to Post News:
Wilson’s tenure in Oakland has been marked by conflict with parents, community groups and students over school privatization, the superintendent’s support for the expansion of charter schools and his close alliance with pro charter school organizations.
They left out Wilson's attempt to dismantle special education, which caused the loudest parent protests. Look for him to do the same in D.C.

WEEKEND QUOTABLES ... No chances for Trump

DFER Pres. Shavar Jeffries
“DFER congratulates Betsy DeVos on her appointment as Secretary of Education, and we applaud Mrs. DeVos’s commitment to growing the number of high-quality public charter schools. -- Press Release
Lee Saunders, chairman of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s political committee
"We underestimated the amount of anger and frustration among working people and especially white workers, both male and female, about their economic status." -- New York Times
Donald Trump
 “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” -- Washington Post
Frayda Levin, chair of Americans for Prosperity
“In creating the Koch network, I don’t think that we ever envisioned that we would be supplying staffers to this semi-free market, semi-populist president." -- Politico
Stephen Bannon's former co-writer, Julia Jones
 Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.
“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’" -- New York Times
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
“I like to compare this to conscientious objector status.We are not going to use our resources to enforce what we believe are unjust immigration laws.” -- New York Times

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Civil Rights group critical of recount efforts in WI and NC


National Civil Rights Organization Notes that Recount Efforts Do Not Address Impact of Voter Suppression on 2016 Election Cycle
In response to recounts underway in Wisconsin and North Carolina, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke issued the following statement:
“Current recount efforts do not address the discriminatory impact of voter suppression laws during the 2016 election cycle.  Wisconsin and North Carolina are states that were part of a coordinated campaign to make voting more difficult, particularly for African American and other minority voters. Wisconsin’s restrictive photo id law and North Carolina’s sweeping voter suppression law were among the most discriminatory efforts instituted prior to the November 2016 election.  The laws in both states were the subject of protracted litigation because of their impact on African American and other minority voters. It is no surprise that these states are places where some now feel a grave injustice has occurred. Yet, none of the recount efforts underway focus on the impact of voter suppression efforts or attempt to account for those who were blocked or deterred from voting as a result of voter suppression laws in those states.
Throughout this election cycle, we received complaints from voters in Wisconsin about the state’s strict photo ID requirement which a federal court found would impair the rights of 300,000 registered voters.  It is no surprise that Milwaukee County, Wisconsin shows that 51,554 fewer voters were able to participate in 2016, compared to 2012. In North Carolina, a 4th Circuit found that the state’s voter suppression law was discriminatory in purpose and effect. Yet, after the ruling on the state’s law, party official Dallas Woodhouse issued a directive encouraging local election officials to undermine the 4th Circuit’s ruling by using their discretion to cut early voting locations and hours down to a bare minimum. Officials across North Carolina heeded the call, resulting in long lines in many counties during the early voting period.
The recount efforts underway do not address pervasive discrimination that threatens American democracy.  The way to strengthen public confidence in our elections and to promote transparency is to lift barriers that lock out eligible Americans from the process.  This requires litigation and advocacy efforts that will uproot ongoing voting discrimination and voter suppression in our country. Among the most pressing needs is work to eliminate strict voter ID requirements, felon disenfranchisement laws that harken back to the Jim Crow era, and intimidation and harassment at the polls. This is also a time to closely analyze the Electoral College, an institution with roots that lie in debates surrounding slavery in our county.The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law remains committed to leading this important work to strengthen our democracy.”

 About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; employment; voting; education; and criminal justice.  For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving a good day to resist Trumpism

Standing Rock
On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm thankful to be standing among so many good people willing to resist the wave of Trumpism sweeping over the land. First and foremost, the Standing Rock water protectors who are baring the brunt of it with power and dignity. We have to continue to stand with them, especially through this difficult winter.

I'm anxious to see what happens when they are joined by hundreds of veterans on Dec. 4th. Wish I could be there for that.

Pres. Obama still has the power to stop DAPL in the last weeks of his term. I hope he finds the courage. But not holding my breath.

I'm still surprised at how many liberal Clinton supporters still believe that Trump is "moderating" and are willing to "give him a chance". I don't know what else he has to do to them to show he's a for-real neo-fascist.

Trump lunches with NYTers. 
Case in point... NYT execs and staff held a lunch meeting with Trump in an attempt to find "common ground". The Times has been a favorite target of Trump, a 1st-Amendment denier.

Thomas ("Earth is flat") Friedman left the meeting somewhat assured that Trump was "rethinking" his extreme positions. Ie. on torture, not prosecuting Hillary Clinton,  and on environmental issues.

Not having any of it was NYT columnist Charles Blow who didn't attend the meeting but was overwhelmed by the "slime factor" as he read the transcript.

Writes Blow:
I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

DRESSED TO OPPRESS... Michelle Rhee and husband, Kevin Johnson leave Trump's golf club after being turned down for the Sec. of Ed job in favor of Betsy DeVos. Rhee assured Trump she's still on board with his program. 
On the eve of Trump's appointment of anti-"government school" extremist Betsy DeVos to the post of Ed Secretary, N.Y. charter bigwig Eva Moskowitz was still assuring us that, “There are many positive signs that President Trump will be different from candidate Trump.” Of course a positive sign to Moskowitz is Trump assuring her in a private meeting, that millions of dollars will continue to flow away from public schools and into the pockets of private charter operators like her.

And then, there are those corp-style school reformers like Peter Cunningham, who look at Trump purely from charter school perspective and wonder aloud, "is he really for "choice" or not? If he shows that he is -- and he will -- they will likely get on board the Trump train, even though he didn't hire their choice, Michelle Rhee as Ed Sec, and even while thousands of students (including their own charter school students) are being rounded up and deported.

I've also noted some cracks in their wall. First with a critical, but nebulous statement from the corporate-reform group Teach For America, following the DeVos appointment. Then from DFER Pres. Shavar Jefferies, calling on his people not to work for Trump.

But I wonder what TFAers and Jefferies will say and do when Trump and DeVos are pushing the very same legislation on charters and vouchers that they have supported all along. Tough choices ahead for them of they want to keep their base.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

N.Y. Dems try and regroup behind Cuomo after the Clinton debacle

Gov. Cuomo

Fallout from the Clinton debacle.

N.Y. Gov. Cuomo, is not wasting any time. He's positioning himself for 2020 and trying to prevent a takeover of the party by progressives.

Daily News' Kenneth Lovett reports:
Gov. Cuomo this past week met separately with a group of powerful union leaders and a group of donors to talk about how to move forward in the Donald Trump era...
...Among those in attendance were SEIU Local 1199 President George Gresham, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York head Gary LaBarbera, state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, Hotel and Motel Trades Council President Peter Ward, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum, and Transit Workers Union head John Samuelsen...
...Also present were city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew and his predecessor, Randi Weingarten, who now leads the American Federation of Teachers. Both were warring with Cuomo just two years ago...
...And he told the group he discussed with California Gov. Jerry Brown that if the two states and their federal delegations banded together “they can really make a huge difference from the coasts.”
Strategic plan include keeping control of the party apparatus, stopping Trump on Supreme Court appointments and taking power back the Congress in the midterms. Cuomo will also have to decide if he'll run for gov again in 2018.

Look for similar moves here towards a new "united front" here in Chicago, to take down Gov. Rauner.

One question is, can this bloc unite with Schumer/Sanders/Warren/Ellison/deBlasio to keep the party together? It's doubtful. Without their progressive base, Dems are headed for more defeats. Look for sharp inner-party struggle in the next few weeks, months, years.

Who can lead? Buckle up.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Corporate ed reformers throw in with Trump

Ivanka Trump visits Eva Moskowitz' Success Academy Charter School. 
It looks like they've dropped their phony rhetoric about charter schools being "the civil rights issue of our time." Following the Democrat's devastating loss to Trump, one by one, the corporate reformers and champions of privately-run charters are jumping the Dems' ship and throwing in behind the racist, anti-immigrant Trump education movement.

For some, the move is nothing new. Former D.C. chancellor, Arne Duncan fave, and Waiting for Superman star Michelle Rhee for example, turned to selling her talents to the far right as soon as voters ran her and Mayor Fenty out of town. She went to work advising FL Gov. Rick Scott on school privatization and union-busting matters.

Now that she's stepped down from leadership of her anti-union ed group, Students First,  she's considering leaving her new position with a national fertilizer company if Trump offers her the job as his secretary of education. Her problem is that she's a proponent of Common Core. Trump isn't. But either of them can easily accommodate the other's position since Rhee sees Common Core's value mainly in its testing provisions, enabling teachers to be evaluated, hired and fired on the basis of student test scores. There should be a basis for unity with Trump there somewhere.

And her scandal-ridden past, including her connection with D.C. test-cheating scandal shouldn't bother the Trump transition team too much considering the rest of his recent scandalized appointees and advisers. Not to mention, Trump's own $25M pay-off to make the Trump Univ. suit go away.

But Trump also has to placate his base. Upon hearing about his possible choice of Rhee, the right-wing group, Parents Against the Common Core, wrote Trump and open letter calling on him to cut federal funding of public schools, dismantle the D.O.E. and appoint someone like former Bush aide Williamson Evers to the top post.

BTW, Trump also met with Rhee's husband KJ, the disgraced mayor of Sacramento. They have some legal problems in common. Something about teenage girls. But let's not even go there right now. I just ate.

Then there's New York's own charter-hustler supreme, Eva Moskowitz who is now pulling down nearly a half-million a year for managing the city's Success Academy Charters. EM met with Trump last week, but reportedly turned down the Ed Sec job. Some NY friends told me she couldn't afford the pay cut. The Secretary of Education's salary is a measly $186,600. Others say, she has her eyes on the NY mayor's office. But she left the meeting on good terms, promising Trump that she would get behind his school reform plan.

So far, Arne Duncan has carefully avoided any mention of Trump. His successor, John King has  mainly followed suit, advising the nation's teachers simply to keep their heads down and "focused on the students." Duncan's former assistant Peter Cunningham, who now runs Eli Broad's Education Post blog, says he "skeptical" about Trump, but seems to be keeping his option open.

Can Joel Klein be far behind?