While they’re stealing teacher pensions: How the 1% lives!

October 27, 2011

Excerpt from Fred Klonsky’s blog:

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf pays the State of Illinois $1.5 million a year for using The Cell.

On a good weekend he probably sells that much in beer.

He got that deal from former Republican Governor Jim Thompson. Thompson headed the Illinois sports authority, which owns The Cell. Need I tell you that Jim and Civic Committee President and former Illinois Attorney General Ty Fahner are close pals.

Fahner created Illinois is Broke, the Civic Committee front group that is going after teacher pensions.

If Illinois is broke, it ain’t because a retired teacher is making 48 grand a year.

It is because Thompson, Fahner, Reinsdorf and the rest of the one-percenters use the state as their personal playground.


Like when Jerry used the state owned, tax-paid-for Cell to throw a private birthday party for his buddy, millionaire Andrew Berlin.

I wonder if Mary, the retiring kindergarten teacher, whose sole income is her teacher pension, can throw a retirement party free of charge at The Cell?

Cheating everywhere!

October 26, 2011

The College Board just hired Louis Freeh, former FBI director, to improve security in its testing operation. Cheating scandals are epidemic: Atlanta, Washington, Seattle, Maine, Florida. The incentives are all there for a rampant culture of dishonesty: a high test score is a magic ticket, and it dictates whether someone will have job or not, continue in school or be pushed out. In testing, one wins or dies. The obsessive focus on testing and not learning is apparently limitless, and the mindless responses will simply multiply the problem. even with a whole task force of G-Men policing the hallways.

The fig leaf is removed: Corporations are people!

October 26, 2011

The watchword of an anemic and failed democracy: Corporations are people!
We’ve long suffered the best leaders money can buy with government fully prostituted to the rich, an obvious obscenity in any authentic democracy,
Now the mask is completely removed: Corporations can buy everyone and everything, unrestrained, all the time. And here’s the kicker: Corporations can exercise their free speech rights 24/7 whenever and wherever they like; free speech for the 99% has a curfew!

Here we go!!!!

October 26, 2011

Here’s the predictable pattern: first they ignore the Movement; then they ridicule it (they dress funny; they are inarticulate); next they patronize and try to re-frame and co-opt the “leaders” and the energy; finally they take off the gloves and reach for the heavy stuff: see Oakland! In Chicago it’s clear that Rahmbo is in full dress rehearsal for May, 2012 (G-8…May 15-22…mark your calendar and be here!), and the arrests are merely warm-up. Resist! We are the 99%!!

25th Anniversary of Rethinking Schools!!

October 20, 2011


A Rag Blog Interview with Bernardine Dohrn

October 20, 2011

20 October 2011
Jonah Raskin

Bernardine Dohrn. Photo by Thomas Good / Next Left Notes.
Who doesn’t have a reaction to the name and the reputation of Bernadine Dohrn? Is there anyone over the age of 60 who doesn’t remember her role at the outrageous Days of Rage demonstrations, her picture on FBI “wanted posters,” or her dramatic surrender to law enforcement officials in Chicago after a decade as a fugitive?

To former members of SDS, anti-war activists, Yippies, Black Panthers, White Panthers, women’s liberationists, along with students and scholars of Weatherman and the Weather Underground, she probably needs no introduction.

Sam Green featured her in his award-winning 2002 film, The Weather Underground. Todd Gitlin added to her iconic stature in his benchmark cultural history, The Sixties, though he was never on her side of the ideological splits or she on his. Dozens of books about the long decade of defiance have documented and mythologized Dohrn’s role as an American radical. Of course, her flamboyant husband and long-time partner, Bill Ayers, has been at her side for decades, aiding and abetting her much of the time, and adding to her legendary renown and notoriety.

Born in 1942, and a diligent student at the University of Chicago, she attended law school there and in the late 1960s “stepped out of the role of the good girl,” as she once put it. She has never really stepped back into it again, though she’s been a wife, a mother, and a professional woman for more years than she was a street fighting woman.

Since 1991, she has served as the director of the Children and Family Justice Center at the Northwestern University School of Law. At the same time, she has never been admitted to the bar in any state in the United States and has never practiced law. Her past might not haunt her, but it certainly has haunted character committees established by the legal profession to keep lawyers in line.

I first met Dohrn in the late 1960s when she worked for the National Lawyers Guild, and from afar began to follow her radical activities as reported in underground newspapers. It wasn’t until she was on the lam, a fugitive, and went by the name Molly that I spent days with her in discussion and debate about all the global and local issues of the 1970s, and began to see the woman behind the image.

She turned out to be much more vulnerable, nuanced, and sensitive than I had been led to believe. Since then, I have heard her speak at conferences, visited her in Chicago, and continued our conversation that began more than 40-years ago.

I don’t know any other woman of her generation who has been as controversial, as optimistic and hopeful, and as committed to what I’d have to call “political struggle” as she. The word alacrity fits her better than any other single word in my vocabulary.

While many of the men around her — her husband, Bill Ayers, her former Weatherman comrade, Mark Rudd, and her own son, Zayd — have written accounts of their experiences in, around, and after the revolution, Dohrn never has and perhaps never will. Probably someday someone will write her biography and attempt to reconcile what The New York Times described, in an article about her published in 1993, as “the seeming contradictions” in her life.

That author might also attempt to show how her own personal contradictions have reflected the larger contradictions of the society to which she belongs and at the same time has opposed, confronted, and aimed to reform as well as overturn. On the cusp of her 70th birthday, I asked her if she’d be willing to be interviewed. “Sure,” she said without missing a beat. “Love to have a reason to be in touch with you.”

Bernardine Dohrn, a leader in the Weather Underground (originally the Weathermen) that grew out of SDS in 1969, was on the FBI’s most-wanted list for more than a decade.

A Rag Blog interview with Bernardine Dohrn

What would you say is the predominant thread that runs through your life?

The great good fortune to have come of age at a time of revolutionary upheaval at home and abroad, which opened a path to lifelong justice and antiwar activism. The equally predominant thread is the joy and challenge of raising our children and now, grandchildren.

Why is 2011 not 1968?

U.S. economic and social domination of the world is now obviously declining, although fierce military dominance continues to exercise a cruel grip. We now know that the damage done to the planet from unlimited plunder and exhaustion of oil, coal, and non-renewable resources may not be reversible. That reality weighs more heavily, perhaps, than the bomb in our childhood. As Dr. King said in 1967 — “the greatest purveyor of violence on this earth is my own country.” That gives us all a great responsibility.

How do you think living and working in Chicago has shaped you?

I’m such a Midwest gal, summer lightening over the lake, city-stopping snowstorms, the spirits of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Jane Addams, Clarence Darrow, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel — all the real deal, unpretentious and intrepid. Always an immigrant city but characterized by Black and white, and now Chicago has one million Mexican-Americans, plus newcomers from everywhere. Here, you can make a difference. Visiting the coasts and the south is essential but this is home.

What are your main impressions of Occupy Wall Street?

Smart, savvy, horizontal, participatory, resisting leaders, spokespeople, and demands, growing, listening, innovative and zesty. I’m in!

How have your feelings about Obama changed over the past four years?

The President was and remains a centrist, intelligent, compromising politician, first in Illinois and since in DC. As the highly financed hard right, finance titans, and the military machine have gained influence and consolidated power, politicians who try to occupy the center move right. Howard Zinn explains it perfectly, writing about JFK.

In what ways does this generation of protesters remind you of yourself and the young rebels of the 1960s?

They are smarter, more global, curious, courageous, and diverse, and open to elders at the get-go. But yes, they do remind me of our generation in their determination to act, to make meaning, to be smitten and inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, Madison and Greece, but to be local, to make art by shifting the frame of the possible.

Once upon a time we read Che, Mao, Marx, and Malcolm. Who do you read now that gives you insights and inspiration?

Vijay Prashad, Barbara Ransby, Adam Green, Martha Biondi, Grace Lee Boggs, Rashid Khalidi, James Bell, Charles Dickens. Lots of murder mysteries and spy novels.

What lessons about an underground organization do you think are worth remembering now?

I have no idea. Maybe that what looks invincible and dominant can be also vulnerable.

Sexism, racism, imperialism seem awfully powerful today. What differences, if any did we make on the society?

We helped remind people that white supremacy is tenacious, takes new forms, and has not been uprooted. The big “we” could not end the Vietnam War, but our resistance helped limit U.S. military intervention options from 1975-1990. Ditto modest constraints on the FBI and CIA, totally unleashed since 9/11. And our progeny have transformed the world we know: women, LGBTQ, Native Americans, the disabled, environmental activists, new stirrings among labor.

Why do you think Americans are so docile and so deferential to the 1% that owns 99% of the wealth?

Not docile, I don’t think. Mad, cheated, scared, self-doubting, and envious. But also poking fun, using humor to ridicule the 1%, savvy about the naked theft. The trick is to avoid cynicism. Ordinary people have the wisdom but they don’t know they have the power.

You’re about to celebrate your 70th birthday. How has aging surprised you?

Are we really still on our feet? Aren’t you 35 Jonah?

I never understood why so many 1960s radicals became lawyers and judges. Can you explain that for me?

Lawyers, teachers, and midwives, I thought. Because we needed great lawyers and we cared about justice. Law’s a great place from which to fight the power. I still love our work of representing individual youth accused of crime and delinquency and working to downsize, close, and abolish the mass incarceration/prison system.

What is your most vivid memory of the 1960s?

Meeting with the Vietnamese in Budapest and Cuba. Grasping the gravity of our location and our responsibility.

[Jonah Raskin is a regular contributor to the Rag Blog and a professor at Sonoma State University. He was active in SDS and the Yippies in the Sixties. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

Occupy Our Schools! by Rick Ayers

October 20, 2011

Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones? The sea change that is Occupy Wall Street does not have to do with the list of demands. It does not have to do with Obama’s election chances. In a perfect example of conflicting narratives, the cultural gatekeepers find it impossible to understand something that is right in front of their faces.

Occupy Wall Street is action. We have had talk, talk, talk for years, decades even. The right — the think tanks, big media outlets, politicians, foundations — thunders its dogma on a regular basis. The left – community organizers, unions, educators, activists — refute their arguments, though with a much smaller voice and very few dollars. But it has all just been a conversation.

Now action obliterates the deadlock. Whatever we have been waiting for — Obama, common sense, karma — we realized it was never coming to help us and it is time for action. Action creates facts, and facts are essential — they create possibilities and new words, fresh vocabularies. The silenced majority, the 99%, has finally been pushed so far that it is pushing back. Every movement is improbable until it happens; after the fact it so clearly was inevitable.

The bankers intone, “These people don’t understand the work we do.” The right wing bloggers ask: “Are they going to take the money away from the wealthy?” The talking heads warn, “Do they have any direction?” The answer, in brief, is we do, we will, and we have. We do understand what bankers and investors do: they run a three-card-Monte game where only they can see under the cards. They don’t add wealth to the economy, that’s done by people who go to work all over the world. They simply siphon it out. And yes we are coming to take the money from the wealthy. These people are not job creators. They are parasites who have stolen from those who actually create the wealth. And finally, we have a direction. It’s . . . oh, just watch and see.

The same type of bold action could be applied to schools. The privatizers, those who would strip down our schools to being test-prep factories training only for compliance and passivity, have made their case with all the volume that billions of dollars can buy. Wallmart’s Broad Foundation trains corporate executives with no educational experience to be school superintendents. The film Waiting for Superman articulates a demand for the destruction of teacher’s unions and the creation of privately operated schools that take public money. Secretary of Education Duncan calls for a “Race to the Top,” pitting student against student, teacher against teacher, school against school, and state against state in a Social Darwinist fantasy game worthy of Ayn Rand.

And of course we, educators and community members and students, patiently and thoroughly counter and disprove their arguments. Their data are false, from claims about charter success to attacks on teachers. Their goals are sinister, cloaked in a thinly disguised rhetoric of equity. Read Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, Debbie Meier, Monty Neill, Diane Ravitch, Bill Ayers, Kris Gutierrez, Anthony Cody. The list goes on and on.

But so far it has only been a conversation. It does not matter if we defeat their arguments over and over. They still have the purse strings, the foundations, and the big megaphone. The time has come for action. Take over these schools. Occupy them. Sit in. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We built these schools with our taxes, our labor, our commitment to students and communities. They are not just playthings for overfed business dilettantes. Instead of taking marching orders from Wall Street, we need to take these schools and make them institutions of liberation.

With students, community members, and teachers in these buildings, imagine the possibilities. Poetry workshop in one room; free clinic in another; science lab in a third. Food production. Critical pedagogy class. Strategy meetings. A kind of education that embraces deep meaning, knowledge for people’s needs, and participatory democracy. Watch these young people step up. In a liberated space, the bored and resistant students in the back of the room will be transformed. You will see them taking responsibility for their education, demonstrate their desire for ethical action, for sacrifice for the common good, and for a future they can believe in.

Can we do this? At one site? At a hundred? You can be certain that this is a discussion popping up all over the country. This is the kind of action that would trump the endless, and ultimately losing, debate we have been locked in over the past years. We can’t talk our way out of the problems in education. But we can act, together, because another world is possible.

Missile Contagion

October 18, 2011

Only the US, Israel, and Great Britain (of course) have used unarmed drones to strike targets in foreign lands. But 50 countries have now built drones, and China unveiled 25 different models at a recent air show. Independent actors–cults, sects, terrorist cells, fundamentalists of every stripe, random guys with grievances–are not far behind. The US has an arsenal of 7000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which it calls Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs). They are (relatively!) cheap and safe to use, especially from the perspective of the aggressor.

The first bombs were dropped on civilian populations in 1912, and soon all of Europe was engulfed. It’s now become a fully normalized part of modern warfare. Drones are next.

The US assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born propagandist for Al Qaeda hiding in Yemen, with a drone strike in September despite an executive order banning assassinations, a US law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights, and various strictures in the international laws of war. This was a US citizen killed on orders from the executive without a trial or any semblance of due process of law. No one in government will admit to the facts, even though it’s common knowledge, because to do so would be an admission of guilt to a criminal act. Whatever else he was Anwar al-Awlaki is now a murder victim as well. His murderers are the entire line of march from the commander-in-chief to the game-boy operator who, following orders, pulled the trigger.

The rule of law has no meaning here, and if you accept this precedent then the government can kill anyone it deems guilty without evidence or trial. Where are the strict Constitutional constructionists now? Where is the outcry? Were the Founders waffling on this point?

It’s a new day: Nazi war criminals faced their accusers and answered the evidence; Cambodian, Yugoslavians, and Rwandas suspected of crimes have all been pursued in criminal courts. No more; only might makes right. If Russia or Iran sees an enemy on US soil, following this precedent they will send a drone. The gate is wide open.

“I’m an Accountant” from Fred Klonsky’s Blog 10-11-11

October 18, 2011

It happened again Saturday night.

Anne and I were at a social event with people I didn’t know. We were seated at a table along with two other couples, both much younger than we are.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a K-5 art teacher.”

As I often point out, in the old days this answer would have produced a smile and a response like, “Oh, that must be fun.” There would be nowhere to go after that and we would move on to other topics of small talk.

Not now.

They always want to talk about tenure, seniority, firing teachers, contracts and test scores.

“You really want to talk to me about tenure,” I will ask?

And they really do.

In this case she worked at a non-teaching job at a charter school in a city I won’t name. She was young and obviously liked what she was doing. Her date smiled and sat back.

She challenged me on tenure.

I explained that tenure was not a lifetime guarantee of a job, but simply meant that a tenured teacher could be fired for cause. She didn’t know that.

She challenged me on linking teacher performance evaluation to test scores. Her school does it. Even she is evaluated on students’ test scores.

“That’s crazy,” I said. “You don’t even work with the kids. They might as well evaluate you based on the price of ham.”

She didn’t think that was funny.

She challenged me on tenure.

“We have teachers who have taught for only two years, and they’re great teachers.”

“No you don’t,” I said.


“No you don’t. Nobody is great at anything they have only done for two years. You can’t be a great painter in two years. You can’t be a great basketball player, a plumber, or a writer. You certainly can’t be a great teacher in two years.”

I finally gave up and Anne and I went to the dance floor even though the DJ was playing Why Don’t You Build me Up, Buttercup.

As we were leaving, her boyfriend came up, shook my hand and said, “Thanks. She gets mad when I tell her all that.”

“You set me up?”

He smiled.

Next time I’m at a party and someone asks me what I do, I’m telling them I’m an accountant. They will leave me alone for sure.

Troy Davis

October 13, 2011

I was in Europe when the state of Georgia murdered Troy Davis. From there the barbarity of this act is evident and universally condemned. My friend Alice Kim captured my reaction to this horrific legal lynching.

From Alice Kim, Dancing the Dialectic, September 22, 2011. For Troy

I feel numb. I feel defeated. I don’t want to read any more stories or news reports or even any more calls to action. Then I feel ashamed. I want to be strong. I want to know what the right thing to say is at this moment for this moment.

“There is nothing to say,” Ronnie Kitchen said when we talked on the phone this morning. Ronnie was the twentieth death row prisoner to be exonerated from Illinois’ death row. We’ve known each other for fourteen years. We hung on the phone for a few moments in silence. Then we remembered our visit to Savannah. In the summer of 2009, when Ronnie walked out of Cook County Courthouse a free man, we went down to Georgia to see his mom. Since we were near Savannah, we decided to visit Martina Correia, Troy Davis’ sister.

I remember sitting in Martina’s living room with her mom and sister. They were so pleased to meet Ronnie. I think they saw Troy in him. Ronnie was living proof that Troy could be free one day. This past spring, Virginia Davis passed away just days after the Supreme Court denied Troy’s appeal. With this decision, we knew that an execution date would soon be set. Martina said she thought her mom died of a broken heart.

That day, Martina took us to the scene of the crime, the Burger King parking lot where Officer Mark MacPhail was killed. She took us to the balcony of the motel where one of the eyewitnesses had supposedly seen Troy shoot the officer. We stayed on the balcony while Martina went across the street to the parking lot. In broad daylight, we couldn’t identify Martina from where we were standing, let alone a stranger in the middle of the night.

Then Martina, a gracious host, took us to downtown Savannah where Ronnie got to taste his first pralines. They were smooth and sweet and melted in your mouth. We sampled pralines from every candy store that we walked by. Amidst the beauty of Savannah, the harbor and the cobble-stone lined streets, Martina pointed out the spot where slaves were once auctioned off.

I think fondly of that day we spent with Martina. It was a hopeful time.

Now, I hear how weak Martina’s voice sounds in an interview she gave on the day of Troy’s execution. Photographs taken of her in the protest area outside the prison show tears in her eyes. She insists that her brother’s death will not be in vein. I want to honor Troy, Martina, and their family.

I wish I had deep, profound words of wisdom to offer. What I can offer is my love. In the face of this overwhelming injustice, I ask us all to love fiercely, to refuse to look away even when it’s hard, and to never forget. In Troy’s memory, in solidarity, in struggle, and in sorrow.