August 20, 2020

By Robert C. Koehler

“There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear . . .”

Or is it?

Day one of the Democratic National (virtual) Convention. Bernie Sanders had just told his supporters: “Together we have moved this country in a bold new direction,” pointing out that “all of us . . .yearn for a nation based on the principles of justice, love and compassion.”

Then Michelle Obama spoke: “Empathy: that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes; the recognition that someone else’s experience has value, too. . . .” But now our children “see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protestors for a photo-op.”

And then day one concludes with a Billy Porter rendition of the Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth,” with Stephen Stills himself on the guitar. And instantly, as the first notes fill the air, the ’60s leap into the present moment . . . my God, that time of hope and change (at least for the boomers watching all this)! As Porter sings, background images of chaos and unrest swirl — and then a peace symbol pops up, hovers for ten seconds for all the world to see.

Huh? A peace symbol? Suddenly the orchestrated nonsense pulled me back to reality. This was the DNC, apparently “reaching out” to the former hippies (and Bernie voters), the ones who marched against the Vietnam War, acknowledging with a quick shrug, yeah, you were right then. That was a hellish disaster. But c’mon, we’re the new Democrats: progressives and centrists and independents. We embrace empathy and compassion, and we all hate Trump.

The point, so it seemed, was to reduce the peace symbol to an icon of nostalgia for the good old days — the days of weed and Woodstock and dancing naked in the streets. After five-plus decades, it’s finally safe to welcome those good old days into the party. But what was missing — from the national convention, from the halls of Congress, from the party as a whole — was any official stance against war. By which I mean, today’s wars.

“There’s a man with a gun over there/Telling me I got to beware/I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound/Everybody look what’s going down . . .”

Yes, there are progressive, antiwar Democrats out there, gaining power, getting elected to office, almost winning presidential primaries — scaring the bejesus out of the Democratic establishment — but the party itself still stands firmly in the middle of nowhere, fully in favor of empathy and compassion and yet, somehow, fully supportive of the endless wars most of its own voters hate and utterly unwilling to challenge the bloated and ever-expanding defense budget.

Citing the analysis of William Hartung and Many Smithberger, the Milwaukee Independent described that budget thus: “As of 2019, the annual Pentagon base budget, plus war budget, plus nuclear weapons in the Department of Energy, plus military spending by the Department of Homeland Security, plus interest on deficit military spending, and other military spending totaled $1.25 trillion . . .”

This is untouchable money — not just to Trump and the Republicans but to most congressional Democrats.

Indeed, as Alexander Sammon points out in the American Prospect, Democratic majorities were crucial this summer to the defeat of three separate bills, introduced by progressive Democrats, to reduce military spending and/or undo the militarization of police departments. These included amendments in both the Senate and the House to the National Defense Authorization Act, diverting 10 percent of the Department of Defense budget to health care, education and jobs; as well as a Senate proposal to end the 1033 Program, which allows the Pentagon to transfer military gear to the police. The amendment’s defeat in the House was especially an outrage, Sammon notes, in that the Dems hold a majority in the House and could have passed it.

“If Democrats are going to enact anything that resembles their own agenda,” Sammon writes, “they’re going to have to aim way higher than cutting defense to near Obama-era highs. Taking military spending not to pre-Trump but to pre-9/11 levels should be a starting point. Democratic voters abhor the War on Terror; it’s what helped deliver Obama the presidency back in 2008. It’s incumbent on Joe Biden to deliver on that preference, not just to end engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan but to bring an end to the bloated defense budgets of the War on Terror era. His silence on the proposal even in the thick of a campaign against Trump sends a troubling message.”

War, militarism and the insanely bloated defense budget are never — never! — addressed with serious political pragmatism. Thus to see a peace symbol, the icon of a world beyond war, flicker meaninglessly for ten titillating seconds at the Democratic convention, was . . . well, discombobulating.

The world is slowly changing, but there’s nothing here to celebrate. Consider another piece of related news: As Common Dreams recently reported, 11 Democratic senators are demanding accountability from the Pentagon for refusing to specify what measures it’s taking to ensure the safety, from Covid-19, of the 40 men still indefinitely detained at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon’s refusal to give any details bolsters the case for shutting the place down, according to the senators.

All of which throws me into a frenzy of, once again, discombobulation. There was zero national debate about opening Gitmo — an American torture site for detainees with no rights whatsoever — but the national discussion about whether or not to shut it down has been going on, pathetically and absurdly, for two decades. Maybe the place is cruel and pointless, but, well, we can’t just shut it down because of logic and morality.

Why not?

If only the Democratic Party — not just a few outliers, but the party as a whole, acting with the full force of the voters it represents — were capable of asking that question. And demanding an answer.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him or visit his website at commonwonders.com.


PLEEEZE Subscribe…episode # 6 drops tomorrow

August 18, 2020



August 14, 2020

In difficult moments like this, we can’t let bad faith attacks set our community back. What our families need are resources and investment, not more police on the streets.

Our Chicago community has been through a lot — from Rekia Boyd to Laquan McDonald to the uprisings we’ve witnessed in recent weeks. After these difficult moments, the media and politicians point fingers and dole out blame, rather than ask the most important question: How did we get here in the first place? Why is it that the city with the most police per capita suffers from so much pain and violence?

The story we’ve been told is that police and prisons make us safer, but this has never been true — not in Chicago, not anywhere in the country. Safety looks like a roof over your head and food on your table. It looks like caring teachers, mental health counselors, and recreation centers. Yet, at every turn, city leaders have chosen to funnel more resources into the Chicago Police Department, instead of addressing what’s really hurting our communities.

Many of the people arrested during the uprisings in recent days have no criminal record or history of violence. They’ve been pushed to their limits by racialized policing and police violence, by the lack of direct federal relief, and by a deadly virus that has disproportionately affected Black and brown families.

Cynical opportunists want to leave Cook County District Attorney Kim Foxx holding the bag. But it’s because of Foxx’s policies that the situation isn’t worse. By holding police accountable, overturning wrongful convictions, and clearing tens of thousands of marijuana convictions, she’s helped to restore trust between the community and the District Attorney’s office.

It’s clear that Foxx’s policies are working. Incarceration rates fell by 19 percent between 2017 and 2018, while cases of violent harm dropped by 8 percent. In 2019, before the pandemic, Chicago recorded the lowest number of shootings since 2014. Foxx’s bond reforms have also been successful, reducing the number of people held pretrial in Cook County Jail and helping to close the race gap in pretrial decisions. In spite of these numbers, proponents of the Chicago Police Department, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, are pushing for a return to the failed “lock-’em-up” policies of the past.

Reversing decades of bad criminal justice policy was never going to be easy, and there is admittedly still much work to do. Mass incarceration has taken a devastating toll on my constituents and their families. People have lost parents, children, and loved ones to the carceral system. They’ve seen their communities torn apart.

Those of us who serve in the State Legislature have a responsibility to right the wrongs of the past, and work to dismantle systemic racism in the justice system. One concrete step we can take to accomplish this is ending money bonds in Illinois. Money bonds create a two-tiered justice system. While wealthy people can pay their bond and go free, people without means are left to waste away behind bars, even though they are legally innocent. It has created a debtor’s prison that punishes our poorest and most vulnerable, while doing nothing to make us safer.

The danger of money bonds has been apparent throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, with 1 in 6 COVID-19 Chicago cases connecting back to Cook County Jail. The need to end mass jailing is more urgent than ever as we work to slow and contain the virus.

In difficult moments like this, we can’t let bad faith attacks set our community back. What our families need are resources and investment, not more police on the streets. As a city, we’ve been here before, but unlike the response to uprisings of the past, today we can choose a different course.

Link to article: https://theappeal.org/after-recent-unrest-chicago-leaders-are-pointing-fingers-in-all-the-wrong-places/

State Senator Robert Peters

“My Awesome Gettysburg Address”

August 13, 2020

My fellow American patriots, Welcome to this historical monument and this even more historical occasion, because today your favorite President is accepting his party’s unanimous nomination to continue to lead our beloved country to even greater heights, now that we have the China virus under control.
You know, many people said that I should come to Gettysburg or Mt. Rushmore to accept the nomination. But I’ve already been to Mt. Rushmore, and I hear that someday I will be there forever, along with Abe and the other greats.

No president in history had to face what I have faced: The Russia hoax, the China virus, Fake News, Nasty Nancy and a lot of other nasty women, and now Sleepy Joe and that woman he just picked, the nasty one with the strange name that sounds a lot like ‘Camel.’

“People, Man, Woman, Camera, Television.” I’ll bet Sleepy Joe couldn’t pass that test! I dare you, Sleepy Joe!

Honest Abe made a famous speech here at Gettysburg, which my loyal aide Steven Miller read to me the other day, the one where he said “Four score and seven…” That’s how I learned that ‘score’ has another meaning than the one I’m used to.

Some people in the Democrat party or the ‘Fake News’ have criticized me for coming to what they call “Hallowed Ground” to accept your unanimous nomination, but I remind them that I am the President, and the Constitution says I can do whatever I need to do. In other words, I decide what’s hallowed and what’s not, and not some left-leaning Democrat. Get used to it, Democrats, the Commander in Chief is in charge of hallowing!

Besides, do you think that Robert E. Lee or George Washington gave a fig about fighting on “Hallowed Ground,” when they were deciding the Civil War? No, they ignored those “Please Do Not Fight on Hallowed Ground” signs and went right at it.

By the way, there were good people on both sides.

Abe spoke for just a few minutes, and I think he said the world wouldn’t remember what he said, but he was wrong because people are still talking about his Gettysburg Address. Well, this is my Gettysburg Address, your reminder that no President in history has accomplished as much as yours truly. And I promise you, that in the next four years I will remake America, so much so that you won’t even recognize it.

Onward to victory. Let’s Make America Great Again for the second time…..

John Merrow

TWO CITIES: Separate and Unequal

August 13, 2020

TWO CITIES: Separate and Unequal



August 11, 2020

Important and useful explanation of De-funding from the Abolitionist Alec Karakatsanis:


ATTN: Chicago Educators and Citizens

August 10, 2020

REMOVE POLICE FROM Chicago Public Schools –

At the August 2020 meeting the Chicago Board of Education will – again – vote on whether CPS should terminate their relationship with the CPD. It is past time to remove police from schools. Please read and consider endorsing this letter that was prepared for the June 2020 meeting.

The letter also lists other actions or residents of Chicago or CPS alum – such as making a meeting with BOE members or your Chicago alderperson. Please read and consider signing, adding comments, and forwarding to colleagues.

And, most centrally, our young folks and community based organizations have been leading the way.
Follow their campaign and support their initiatives: https://copsoutcps.com

Abbie Speaks

August 8, 2020

“We’re headed towards the middle ages. This is the decline of the American empire. This is what decline looks like—middle class vanishes, plagues sweep the earth, droughts, locusts in Georgia, the dumbing of the country, lack of leadership at the top, unstuck youth at the bottom, high suicide rates, homeless people in the streets—I could go on and on… Maybe good riddance to bad rubbish… Somebody once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western Civilization—he said it was a good idea, somebody ought to try it someday.” ~~Abbie Hoffman 1988


August 6, 2020

75 YEARS AGO today, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed three days later by an atomic attack on Nagasaki—the only time nuclear weapons were ever deployed against people in war. This was one of the worst war crimes in history, and surely the largest terrorist attack ever undertaken in a single day. Against all evidence and ethical considerations, US political leaders to this day justify that horrendous act as necessary, and, more alarming, the US is actively destroying nuclear arms limitations agreements, and maintains a “first use” policy to this day. Beware the “stable genius!” #hiroshima #nonukes

Congratulations, Barbara!

August 5, 2020

Professor Barbara Ransby named MacArthur Chair
July 30, 2020

Barbara Ransby, distinguished professor of African American studies, gender and women’s Studies, and history, and director of the Social Justice Initiative at UIC.
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), has been named a John D. MacArthur Endowed Chair, University of Illinois System President Tim Killeen announced Thursday.

Ransby is a professor of History, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Black Studies, a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences distinguished professor, and an award-winning author. She becomes the first endowed John D. MacArthur professor at UIC and only the second in the history of endowed MacArthur chairs in the U of I System.

The MacArthur chairs at the University of Illinois were created in 1981 through a gift from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which also sponsors the well-known MacArthur Fellows or “Genius Grant” program. Prior to his retirement in 2019, Urbana-Champaign Physics Professor Emeritus and Nobel laureate Anthony Leggett was the only MacArthur chair.

MacArthur chairs are nominated by their chancellors and awarded by the president of the U of I System after a review by the MacArthur Chair Review Committee. Chairs are faculty members who are internationally recognized scholars and who “give promise of making a substantial impact” on their department and university. The chair includes $65,000 in funding for salary and research.

Killeen praised Ransby and called her an influential scholar whose work has documented the racial inequity and divisions at the heart of much of the current American discourse.

“It gives me great pleasure to recognize Professor Ransby and her work with this richly deserved honor,” Killeen said. “She is an accomplished historian and writer whose voice has long helped shape our understanding of issues around race, class, justice and fundamental civil rights. And today, her scholarship is ever so vital in helping us move toward structural and systemic changes at the state and national levels.”

Ransby said she is both honored by the recognition and eager to use it to magnify the impact of her work.

“I am appreciative of this recognition and the resources that come with it,” she said. “In these precarious times, I intend to lend these dollars to the collective social and racial justice projects that I am a part of.”

Ransby is an asset to UIC, and to Chicago and the state of Illinois, UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said.

“This honor recognizes the profound impact of Professor Ransby’s work and her stature in her field,” Amiridis said. “As Chicago’s largest and only public research university, with one of the most diverse university communities in the nation, UIC has a unique responsibility to drive meaningful change that lifts up African Americans who remain underserved and under-represented in nearly every aspect of their lives. During this difficult moment in history, when we are witnessing the greatest social upheavals in half a century, Professor Ransby’s scholarship will continue to inform our path forward, and we are immensely fortunate to have her voice guiding our efforts.”

Ransby has published dozens of articles and essays, in both popular and scholarly publications, part of a career-long commitment to reaching audiences beyond the academy.

“My research focuses on African-American women’s political and intellectual history and the creation of archives that tell their stories,” she said. “I am also deeply committed to engaging a larger public, and providing scholarship that contributes to the ongoing struggles for greater freedom and justice in the world.”

Ransby is also the author of three books, including an award-winning biography of civil rights activist Ella Baker, “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision.” The book, published in 2003, has been recognized with eight national book awards, including the Liberty-Legacy award from the Organization of American Historians; the Joan Kelly prize from the American Historical Association (AHA); and the James A. Rawley Prize (also from the AHA). In 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education called the book “one of the most influential books of the last twenty years.”

Ransby’s most recent book is “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century.” It was published in 2018 and touches on themes behind some of the most urgent issues of 2020. In the book, Ransby weaves together the common threads behind the Black Lives Matter movement.

She also is the author of the 2013 award-winning book “Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson,” which explores Eslanda “Essie” Cardozo Goode Robeson’s career as an anthropologist, journalist and advocate for women’s rights, as well as her influence on her actor, singer and activist husband’s early career. The book received the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial prize for the best book in African American women’s history from the Association of Black Women Historians.

In addition to the book awards, Ransby has been widely recognized for her scholarly leadership.

This year, she was elected as a fellow to the Society of American Historians.

In 2017, she was honored as “one of the top 25 women in higher education” by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Angela Y. Davis Prize from the American Studies Association for scholarship in service of the public good, and was also honored that year by the Society of Professors of Education with the William H. Watkins award. And in 2016, Ransby was elected to a two-year term as president of the National Women’s Studies Association.

In 2015, she served on a three-person jury for the Pulitzer Prize in biography.

Ransby has also published and lectured widely at conferences, community forums and on more than 50 college campuses.

Outside of her academic work, Ransby was an initiator of the African American Women in Defense of Ourselves campaign in 1991, and a founder of Ella’s Daughters, a network of women working in Ella Baker’s tradition. She is also a co-founder of Scholars for Social Justice, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago.

A native of Detroit, Ransby earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Columbia University and a master’s degree and PhD in history from the University of Michigan.