Stay Healthy

October 3, 2020

Health Care is a human right! In the US health care has been constructed as a product to be sold at the marketplace, and a trail of tears has accompanied that dismal metaphor—the twisted and insane logic of capitalist health care kills, wounds, maims, destroys, and disrupts. “Company-sponsored health insurance” is wasteful, fragile (Got laid-off? Sorry!), and expensive (adding in effect a 50% tax on a 15-dollar-an-hour job).Let’s not be greedy: I want the exact health insurance plan that members of congress can access, and if I get badly ill, I want the identical level of care offered to the Criminal-in-Chief.

COVID-19 Comes Home

October 2, 2020

It’s difficult, but I’m resisting the impulse to say, “We told you so, stupid!” I’m also not joining the chorus pretending that “We’re praying for you.” Please! Talking to friends this morning—some too happy, some too sad—I took this message: The White House is a crime scene. The criminal-in-chief—the Godfather—has been like a mass shooter at the mall, and now he’s wounded himself. Not a tragedy, a crime.

Vote NO on Michael Toomin

October 1, 2020

Yes, it is election season and on some days it feels that democracy is holding on by a thread….. Yet you have an opportunity to make a difference by voting NO to retaining Judge Michael Toomin, the presiding judge of Cook County Juvenile Court, Juvenile Justice Division. To date, the Democratic Party, the Judicial Accountability PAC and IVI-IPO (Independent Voters of Illinois Independent Precinct Organization) have all evaluated Judge Toomin and determined that he should not be retained. During his 10 years in Cook County’s Juvenile Division, Presiding Judge Michael P. Toomin has NOT exhibited leadership ability, has NOT adequately distinguished or protected youth as youth, and has NOT prioritized rehabilitation and reform. As a result, Judge Toomin’s policies, practices, and abdication of responsibility have damaged youth, made our communities less safe, and are the foundation of the case against retaining him in office for another six-year term. Be sure to Punch #206 Vote NO — all we need is 40% + 1 and spread the word to ten or twenty friends, colleagues or fellow justice seekers.THE CASE AGAINST RETENTION OF JUDGE MICHAEL P. TOOMIN A century ago, Cook County was the birthplace of the juvenile court – a recognition that there are developmental differences between children and adults and that juveniles charged with crimes should go before judges who understand those differences and emphasize responsibility and rehabilitation. Respected national research confirms that teenagers should be treated differently than adults. Teens often have poor impulse control, are vulnerable to peer pressure and don’t think through the risks they take. In short, they act like teenagers.The presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, Juvenile Division must be a leader advocating fair treatment of children as children, not adults and insisting all judges in juvenile courtrooms considering the need to restore victims AND what is best to rehabilitate youth and help them find success in life.Judge Michael P. Toomin, presiding judge of Cook County’s juvenile division, has NOT exhibited that leadership ability, has NOT prioritized rehabilitation and – now in his 40th year as a judge – Toomin will NOT demand the courts treat kids as kids.FACT: Unlike court officials in more than 40 other counties in Illinois, Toomin has not been willing to submit a funding proposal that meets the requirements of Redeploy Illinois, the state’s grant program to divert some youth from state prisons. Toomin refused to follow the program’s guidelines and resisted state efforts to help him craft a plan that could be approved. His opposition has prevented Cook County from receiving up to $1 million annually – money that could have provided care to youth in need and improved public safety by offering necessary services to youth and their families.FACT: The coronavirus spreads fast through prison settings, but Michael P. Toomin moved slowly or not at all. When lawyers for youth held in the JTDC filed emergency motions for hearings to get them out of harm’s way and back home, Toomin sat on his hands. He didn’t consider a global pandemic to be an emergency.FACT: Toomin is a true believer in the widely discredited “scared straight” approach to changing juvenile behaviors. In 2016, he created a phony courtroom in a Chicago police station where judges – without lawyers present – were to “scare kids straight.” The sham hearings were stopped, but this is an example of the culture he has allowed to fester in juvenile courtrooms.FACT: During his years on the bench in criminal court, Toomin was reversed on appeal many times, including his rulings favoring police in trials relying on coerced confessions of men interrogated by detectives working under Jon Burge, the notorious and disgraced CPD commander.


September 30, 2020

Another note on fascism (generally) and the rise of US fascism: powerful and continuing nationalism; identification of enemies and scapegoats to unify a base; rampant corruption; election fraud and voter suppression; the rise of paramilitary forces to support the leader…Trump to the Proud Boys: Stand by; Trump to his right wing and white supremacist supporters: Go to the polls and keep an eye on them; Trump to African Americans: shut up and stay in your place; Trump to women: The government has a right to control your bodies. The right to life in Trump’s America is the right to grow up in a world scarred by fire and storm as catastrophic capitalist climate collapse marches on.

Episode # 10: Under the Tree

September 24, 2020

History Matters

The  conquerors and the occupiers—the victors—are always the ones who write the history, and so we’re left with stories of the glorious conquest of the American west against “savage Indians,” the “Lost Cause” of the “valiant” Confederacy, or the acclaimed creation of “a fragile democracy” in the backward Middle East—“a chosen land for a chosen people.” Each of these accounts is sharply contested, and in that narrative battle we see a protest and hear an appeal: look more deeply, uncover the silenced voices—flawed and partial, contingent and fragmentary—discover a larger and more honest understanding of events. We’re joined today by Aaron Dixon, a former Black Panther Party leader whose journey winds forward from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, and whose decades of experience and accumulated wisdom can help us answer that appeal.

From the IXNAY Podcast

September 22, 2020

Educators Fight Imposed Ignorance!!

September 21, 2020

Mental Traveler: A Father, A Son, and a Journey Through Schizophrenia

September 21, 2020

Tom Mitchell’s double memoir—his own powerful story of parenting two talented children with his inspired partner, and a brilliant account of his dazzling son, Gabe, who took his own life when he was just 38-years-old—is at once excruciating and delightful, frightening and inspirational, smart and funny, sad and filled with joy. Mitchell accomplishes what all memoirists aspire to, but can’t always achieve: he takes us into a distinct and unrepeatable world, makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange, and, without benefit of hindsight, invites us to experience that world from the inside. In the process Gabe Mitchell is brought to life as a full human being: induplicable, the one-of-one, trembling, and real.

Clearing Away the Lies

September 20, 2020

President Trump announced that the mission of his White House Conference on American History is “to clear away the twisted web of lies in our schools and classrooms.” I’m for clearing away the lies.Start with this brilliant bit of satire by the legendary Pete Seeger: What Did You Learn In School?

What did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?What did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?I learned that Washington never told a lieI learned that soldiers seldom dieI learned that everybody’s freeAnd that’s what the teacher said to meThat’s what I learned in school todayThat’s what I learned in schoolWhat did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?What did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?I learned that policemen are my friendsI learned that justice never endsI learned that murderers die for their crimesEven if we make a mistake sometimesAnd that’s what I learned in school todayThat’s what I learned in schoolWhat did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?What did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?I learned our country must be strongIt’s always right and never wrongOur leaders are the finest menAnd we elect them again and againAnd that’s what I learned in school todayThat’s what I learned in schoolWhat did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?What did you learn in school todayDear little boy of mine?I learned that war is not so badI learned about the great ones we have hadWe fought in Germany and in FranceAnd someday I might get my chanceAnd that’s what I learned in school todayThat’s what I learned in school

Notorious RBG!Rest in Power!

September 19, 2020

Fred Klonsky writes about Howard Zinn and SCOTUS:
The late historian Howard Zinn was the target of a Red-baiting attack by Trump last week, although it is hard for me to believe the Trump even knew who Howard Zinn was.
Stephen Miller must have written the final solution of Trump’s speech
Trump’s historical knowledge is so limited that it led them to think Frederick Douglass was still alive.
The attack on Zinn was in the context of Trump’s attempt to make law and order a campaign theme, blaming the silliness of a national Left-wing public school curriculum where cadres of history teachers are trained to encourage sedition.
All of it just hokum.
Howard Zinn wrote the powerful The Peoples History of the United States, which many history and social studies teachers use in their classroom as an alternative to the mythology of the standard issue history texts
So, this morning I’m thinking about what Howard Zinn might say about the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fight for the Supreme Court, even though he died 10 years ago.
I’m certain he would want us to fight against a right-wing fascist take over of the Court and would encourage us to take the fight to the streets, to the ballot, on whatever level and with every tool we could muster.
The stakes in this fight are high.
It is not too much to say that lives hang in the balance.
I also certain that Howard Zinn would use this opportunity to teach us some history of the Court, to give us some perspective, as they did in 2005 when writing about the John Robert appointment as Chief Justice.
There is enormous hypocrisy surrounding the pious veneration of the Constitution and “the rule of law.” The Constitution, like the Bible, is infinitely flexible and is used to serve the political needs of the moment. When the country was in economic crisis and turmoil in the Thirties and capitalism needed to be saved from the anger of the poor and hungry and unemployed, the Supreme Court was willing to stretch to infinity the constitutional right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. It decided that the national government, desperate to regulate farm production, could tell a family farmer what to grow on his tiny piece of land.
When the Constitution gets in the way of a war, it is ignored. When the Supreme Court was faced, during Vietnam, with a suit by soldiers refusing to go, claiming that there had been no declaration of war by Congress, as the Constitution required, the soldiers could not get four Supreme Court justices to agree to even hear the case. When, during World War I, Congress ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech by passing legislation to prohibit criticism of the war, the imprisonment of dissenters under this law was upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court, which included two presumably liberal and learned justices: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis.
It would be naive to depend on the Supreme Court to defend the rights of poor people, women, people of color, dissenters of all kinds. Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel, and violate the law in order to uphold justice.
The distinction between law and justice is ignored by all those senators—Democrats and Republicans—who solemnly invoke as their highest concern “the rule of law.” The law can be just; it can be unjust. It does not deserve to inherit the ultimate authority of the divine right of the king.
The Constitution gave no rights to working people: no right to work less than 12 hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance.
The Brown decision on school desegregation did not come from a sudden realization of the Supreme Court that this is what the 14th Amendment called for. After all, it was the same 14th Amendment that had been cited in the Plessy case upholding racial segregation. It was the initiative of brave families in the South—along with the fear by the government, obsessed with the Cold War, that it was losing the hearts and minds of colored people all over the world—that brought a sudden enlightenment to the Court.
The Supreme Court in 1883 had interpreted the 14th Amendment so that nongovernmental institutions—hotels, restaurants, etc.—could bar Black people. But after the sit-ins and arrests of thousands of Black people in the South in the early Sixties, the right to public accommodations was quietly given constitutional sanction in 1964 by the Court. It now interpreted the interstate commerce clause, whose wording had not changed since 1787, to mean that places of public accommodation could be regulated by Congressional action and be prohibited from discriminating.
Soon this would include barbershops, and I suggest it takes an ingenious interpretation to include barbershops in interstate commerce.
The right of a woman to an abortion did not depend on the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. It was won before that decision, all over the country, by grassroots agitation that forced states to recognize the right. If the American people, who by a great majority favor that right, insist on it, act on it, no Supreme Court decision can take it away.
The rights of working people, of women, of Black people have not depended on decisions of the courts. Like the other branches of the political system, the courts have recognized these rights only after citizens have engaged in direct action powerful enough to win these rights for themselves.
This is not to say that we should ignore the courts or the electoral campaigns. It can be useful to get one person rather than another on the Supreme Court, or in the presidency, or in Congress. The courts, win or lose, can be used to dramatize issues.
On St. Patrick’s Day, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, four anti-war activists poured their own blood around the vestibule of a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and were arrested. Charged in state court with criminal mischief and trespassing (charges well-suited to the American invaders of a certain Mideastern country), the St. Patrick’s Four spoke their hearts to the jury. Peter DeMott, a Vietnam veteran, described the brutality of war. Danny Burns explained why invading Iraq would violate the U.N. Charter, a treaty signed by the United States. Clare Grady spoke of her moral obligations as a Christian. Teresa Grady spoke to the jury as a mother, telling them that women and children were the chief victims of war, and that she cared about the children of Iraq. Nine of the 12 jurors voted to acquit them, and the judge declared a hung jury. (When the federal government retried them on felony conspiracy charges, a jury in September acquitted them of those and convicted them on lesser charges.)
Still, knowing the nature of the political and judicial system of this country, its inherent bias against the poor, against people of color, against dissidents, we cannot become dependent on the courts, or on our political leadership. Our culture—the media, the educational system—tries to crowd out of our political consciousness everything except who will be elected president and who will be on the Supreme Court, as if these are the most important decisions we make. They are not. They deflect us from the most important job citizens have, which is to bring democracy alive by organizing, protesting, engaging in acts of civil disobedience that shake up the system.
Let us not be disconsolate over the increasing control of the court system by the right wing.
The courts have never been on the side of justice, only moving a few degrees one way or the other, unless pushed by the people. Those words engraved in the marble of the Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Before the Law,” have always been a sham.
No Supreme Court, liberal or conservative, will stop the war in Iraq, or redistribute the wealth of this country, or establish free medical care for every human being. Such fundamental change will depend, the experience of the past suggests, on the actions of an aroused citizenry, demanding that the promise of the Declaration of Independence—an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—be fulfilled.
Published in The Progressive • November 8, 2005