Friday, April 29, 2011

Flash Mobs for Justice

There's a pro-labor flash mob happening in Urbana-Champaign, 5/1. Check out the Peace and Justice calendar at Just BloNo for detailed info. After seeing a few of them on Youtube this week, I have to say that I'm a huge fan. I thought I'd post one here, a recent one in San Francisco.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Real-Life Sopranos: The Peseks

This article from the Chicago Sun-Times is the most intriguing I've read in a newspaper in awhile. The Pesek brothers have quite a little mob business running in Cicero, detailed well by reporter Steve Warmbir. The ways the brothers and their family receive jobs and kick-backs from the government is quite disgusting, but it shouldn't be forgotten that corporations do pretty much the same sort of business, all legal.

Cicero officials linked to criminals - Chicago Sun-Times

Saturday, March 26, 2011

IEA Report: Gearing Up to Resist

A few weeks ago I attended the Illinois Education Association Representative Assembly as a delegate from the Bloomington Education Association. This is my report, with an eye for what our union and supporting community can do to defend teachers and other public sector workers from right-wing attack.

The attack against public sector workers, and specifically teachers, has gone into overdrive this year. Scott Walker's attack epitomized the struggle, and even though we lost there, public sector workers are fighting. At the IEA RA, the union struggle against these attack was front-and-center. Teachers are gearing up for a number of fights this year, including ---

1. Renewal, at the national level, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), now known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This was only alluded to at the convention, without details provided, except that we need to be involved to influence the outcome. I suspect that the IEA leadership means phone calls and emails to representatives by "becoming involved," when what we need are mass protests. Obama's plan looks bad, with its proscription of school take-overs for the "lowest 5%" of schools, insuring that schools serving the poor and English language learners in the city will still be targeted.

2. The attack on teacher pensions will occur this year. Having failed in its contributions for many years, the state now wants workers to shoulder more of burden in contributing to the state pension system, amounting to a large pay cut. The IEA is planning on resisting the worst proposals.

3. The IEA has drawn up their own teacher accountability proposal to ward off the anti-union proposals coming from billionaire-backed organizations, the same organizations pushing for the destruction of unions in states across the country. In January these organizations tried to gut collective bargaining rights by making it illegal to bargain on many issues related to school conditions and making it illegal to strike. In short, they tried to turn Illinois into a "Right to Work" state. Any new info will be posted here.

4. Community organizers and unions are gearing up for a week of actions beginning April 4th, timed to commemorate MLK Jr.'s support of striking janitors in Memphis, but focusing on the fight-backs against the billionaire-back right-wing. Click here for the local event in Bloomington, and here for the overall website coordinating national events.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Solidarity Forever at the Wisconsin capitol

For more video of the protest, check my youtube channel at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wisconsin stands up!

The corporate media is blacking out the Wisconsin fight for union rights and working-class living standards, which is why we need to publicize it ourselves. Here is a collection of articles, some mainstream and some not, covering the rebellion in Wisconsin.

LA Times
NY Times article (not good coverage, but coverage nonetheless)
Progressive article Wisconsinites Rally

Labor Notes article (February 17th), by Lynn Glueck, Madison teacher

One campus group that is organizing for Wisconsin workers is Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), which looks to have grown in strength in recent years. Here is a video of a 2010 SLAC protest against Nike sweatshops.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Obama going down supporting enemies of democracy

The events in Egypt, with the people demanding democracy against an intransigent dictator, throw a spotlight on the global power arrangements - especially those between this dictatorship and the U.S. It looks like Obama will go down supporting the enemies of democracy to the very end. His actions are dressed in pragmatism, harkening back to Bush Sr.'s mantra "must be prudent." Really, what is most evident, is Obama's firm anchoring within the power dynamic of America-led global capitalism.  I just hope liberals who voted for Obama, and declared him to be on the side of the people, are paying attention.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Roekel's good defense

The attack against teacher working conditions is heating up. Maybe this is what explains why a leader of a teacher union finally did a decent job defending us against the attacks. Dennis Van Roekel performed well in this NY Times article, defending teacher tenure as a basic right of protection against arbitrary dismissal. Maybe I haven't seen enough performances of the top brass, but Randi Weingarten's performance on Bill Maher's Real Time during the Central Falls debacle was abysmal. Back to the article, the claim by opponents of tenure that only bad teachers have an interest in tenure is beyond absurd.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roller Derby in Peoria!

I went my first roller derby this past weekend, with the McLean County Missfits battling the Peoria Push Hardknocks. I had a great time, and learned the rules of the sport, as we cheered on some friends on the team. My partner, Rachel, took some great pictures. The one I include here is our friend Becca. (If you know me, see if you can find me in the picture). Visit her Rachel's Flickr site, De Bokeh En Bokeh, to see the rest of the derby photos!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Even more good news in Illinois

That Rahm Emmanuel got kicked off the ballot for Chicago mayor is more good news in what has been a month of favorable news in Illinois. We can only hope that the Illinois Supreme Court keeps him off. Rahm is on the wrong side of almost every important political question, and has received recently a lot of money from billionaires and other wealthy contributors who want to take away teacher rights in Illinois and eventually privatize the public school system.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mother Jones Books

I've started Mother Jones Books in Bloomington-Normal. I'm selling progressive literature at political events, and selling online, with the hope of one day being able to open a collective in town. Check out the website for Mother Jones books!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some Illinois victories

In a sea of what is usually dismal news, here in Illinois we've had a spate of what are clearly political victories for progressives. It began late last year with the passage of the Civil Union law, which allows gay and lesbian couples many of the rights afforded to married, heterosexual partners. Then, in the first few weeks of February the Illinois Senate passed the abolition of the death penalty (yet to be signed by the governor) and an income tax increase of 2%. While I don't have a good analysis of the tax increase, of how it could've been more progressive, I still count it as a victory when the state isn't funding basic operations like schools.

UPDATE: Turns out the Governor Quinn still hasn't signed the bill to end the death penalty in Illinois. This is definitely the time to give Quinn a call and demand that he sign this important bill!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Peorians hold vigil for peace

Fellow activists in the Peoria Area Peace Network hold a vigil for the people hurt and killed in Arizona and for peaceful politics.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dump the Pantagraph in Bloomington-Normal

Our local paper in Bloomington-Normal is absurdly right-wing, featuring columns from idiots like O'Reilly and Cal Thomas. They routinely report on items that fit their agenda and leave out items that don't, earning them the derogatory name The Slantagraph. The other day I couldn't take it anymore and finally discontinued my subscription. Their reasons for supporting Kinzinger and Johnson, two Republicans, were pathetic, especially their claim that Johnson represents the values of District 15. It needs to be said that the Slantagraph doesn't represent a good number of people in this town and deserves to by boycotted.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's to blame? Illinois political corruption or Illinois' bad spelling?

My partner and I didn't know if we should laugh or cry when we heard that Rich Whitney's name was spelled incorrectly on the Chicago ballot sheets for the upcoming gubernatorial election. Rich Whitney is the Green Party candidate for Illinois governor. He's already been excluded from the debates by the League of Women Voters, facing the same discrimination encountered by third party candidates everywhere in the U.S. (In California, as one example, the Green Party gubernatorial candidate was also denied access to the debates, due to the rule that candidates must achieve a 10% threshold in polls. Never mind that the surveys in California have respondents choose between three options - between the Republicans, Democrats, and Other.) But misspelling Mr. Whitney's name as Whitey, leaving off the 'n,', takes the cake. In a city that is 35% African-American and working-class, there is the choice on the ballot of a "Rich Whitey".

 Immediately after the error was made public, many people were speculating that it was no mistake at all. Chicago is still run by corrupt machine politics of the Democratic Party and dirty tricks are probably more the rule than the exception. However, my wife and I aren't sure if corruption is the right explanation or just the consistently bad spelling on the part of Illinois bureaucrats. While I lean toward the former (Come on! Rich Whitey?!), the two of us have experienced the spelling problems of the state firsthand. After two years of living here, our names have been consistently misspelled on official documents, by both private and public institutions. It seems Illinois bureaucrats have a spelling problem. My first health insurance card from here came back as Cory Mattsoon (two errors, not just one), after which it has been mistake after mistake.

So which is it, typical Illinois corruption or the problems Illinois bureaucrats have with standard spelling?

Friday, October 15, 2010

End the wars - Spend our money on human needs

Tomorrow I'm traveling to Chicago with the Bloomington-Normal Citizens for Peace and Justice to protest the U.S. wars and occupations in the Middle East. This protest is what we've been working on for the last month, and even though most progressives are fixated on the upcoming election and not movement politics, we've managed to organize a decent contingent from central Illinois. In the next few days I'll include posts and pictures of the march and what I experienced.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bloomington-Normal Ready to Take Action on Anti-War Agenda

The anti-war movement is again on the move. 800 activists from around the country attended a national conference, the United Anti-war National Conference, and have produced an action program. We'll be meeting here in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to discuss how to end the wars, working to implement the national program in central Illinois.

If you're interested in attending, the Bloomington meeting will be at the Unitarian-Universalist Church, located 1613 E. Emerson Drive in Bloomington, at 4 pm on September 12. Together we can end the imperialist wars and occupations destroying our country.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Social media revolution

I posted here an interview I saw on Democracy Now!, broadcasted from Las Vegas, covering a conference on social media being held there. This interview highlights the role social networking can play in democratizing the media, taking the news away from the corporate deceivers of CNN, FOX, MSNBC, the New York Times, Washington Post....   

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What does a "failing school" look like?

This NPR interview exposes the lie of what it means to be a "failing school," both under Bush's No Child Left Behind and Obama's Race to the Top.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Internal crises of capitalism animated

While the discussion here is somewhat abbreviated, and there are competing Marxists theories of the exact nature of capitalist contradictions, I thought this animated talk was a nice introduction to the discussion (and it's fun to watch!).

Thursday, July 08, 2010

FĂștbol fever, is it contagious?

I watched this game, Spain vs. Paraguay, with a friend from Spain. He was excited when Spain scored the game-winning goal, but he didn't quite match this level of excitement. (My embed here loads too slow, as it turns out. To get the real effect, go to Youtube to view.)

BNCPJ Educational on Community Organizing

Bloomginton-Normal Citizens for Peace and Justice is having an educational on community organizing. We will be showing Bill Moyer's last PBS production, his profile of the community organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which is very similar to our own Illinois People's Action here in Bloomington. You can find event details by downloading the flyer here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My union leadership, all bluster?

I didn't go this year to the National Education Association (NEA) Representative Assembly, but having gone twice, I have a sense of the results by looking at the new business items passed by the delegates. I was particularly interested in how the NEA would respond to the increased attacks against teachers and our unions, specifically with Obama's Race to the Top and his horrible plans for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (titled NCLB under Bush).

With the attacks suffered by our teacher unions this year, there is no better time than now to start fighting back.

In his keynote address, NEA head Dennis Van Roekel thundered, "We must not allow another bad ESEA. Because if they take the old NCLB, fancy it up and call it the new ESEA, I think we ought to just call it TNT and blow the whole damn thing up!”

But a look at the passed business items suggests that the NEA leadership does not intend on leading a grassroots mobilization, but rather plans on continuing with their ineffective support of Democratic Party politicians and lobbying efforts.

Van Roekel does call for state affiliates to organize a Day of Action against Obama's plan for ESEA, which in my opinion is even worse than Bush's NCLB. But such devolution of organizing to state bodies insures a mediocre effort. The New Business Item that would have committed the NEA to a national mobilization in the streets failed, undoubtedly due to the leadership's opposition to it.

More tellingly, New Business Item 95, passed late in the proceedings by the delegates, assists state affiliates in attracting Race-to-the-Top grant money, apparently contradicting the NEA position laid out in NBI A. NBI A commits the NEA to opposing "federal educational funding through competitive grant models" like that of Race-to-the-Top.

What we need is a national leadership willing to lead by mobilizing the ranks. Instead, once again, I suspect that we are getting fiery rhetoric with no substance. That said, we need to nevertheless influence our state affiliates to organize a Day of Action against Obama's ESEA. But it should be a real Day of Action by marching in the street, not worthless texting or call-ins.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Dale Watson in Chicago

This past weekend, 4th of July weekend, we visited Chicago with our friends and saw Dale Watson at Martyr's. I have to say, it's a little different to see a performer drink himself under the table while on stage! We did our share of carousing around town, eating at a number of different establishments - burgers and beer at BadDog's, sushi at Tank, and Italian at Topo Gigio's.

Walking and driving around town, I also ran into some interesting bookstores that I will review on my Indie Bookstore Travelogue. The best one I happened upon is Tres Americas, which specializes in books in Spanish, the best I've seen in the country.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Help us! Which shingle color looks best?

We need help! Which shingle color looks best on our house? Look at the pictures below (click on picture to enlarge), choose your favorite, and then navigate up to just below the blog title and vote! (In case the picture and name of shingle type don't line up below, they are listed in the same order as the poll (and alphabetical order): 1. burnt sienna, 2. colonial slate, 3. cottage red, 4. hunter green, 5. terra cotta).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rank-and-file teachers win in Chicago

The most promising political news of the year has to be the victory in the Chicago Teachers Union of the Caucus of Rank-and-file Educators. This grouping was formed two years ago to contest the closing of Chicago neighborhood schools due to No Child Left Behind.

For anyone who has worked in an urban school, it is obvious that the NCLB-mandated tests are entirely unfair to schools with diverse school populations. I won't go into the details, except to say that I support accountability, and what we have with NCLB has nothing to do with accountability. The sad reality, though, is that the leadership of our teacher unions are retreating from the battle. Finally we have a union leadership willing to fight back, and do so by promoting democracy and grassroots mobilization of teachers and community members.

Right away, the CORE-led Chicago Teachers Union has a big battle ahead over layoffs. I couldn't believe that the Chicago Board of Education voted to layoff teachers, not by seniority, but by their evaluations! As if evaluations can be compared, and as if they are always to be trusted! While I have had good principals, I know teachers who have not. There goes our right to speak our minds and exercise professional judgment, when our future is held in one person's hands!

Blues festival trip 2010

Here are a few pictures of the Chicago Blues Festival, which I've attended now for the second year. I tend to like the acts during the day the best. The night brings some well-known people, and some tributes like the one this year to Hubert Sumlin, but I never have a chair and sitting in grass - with or without a towel - isn't that fun. This year, though, I got to see Jimmy Johnson in a performance at B.L.U.E.S bar on Halstead Street, and saw Mike Wheeler, an up-and-coming performer in Johnson's band.

The picture outside of the Chicago Museum of Art (where we saw the Matisse collection) is not of the blues festival, but shows the pride demonstrated in the city over the Blackhawk winning the Stanley Cup.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tea baggin' blame game

Two weeks ago I submitted a letter to the editor to the Pantagraph (or Slantagraph, as I like to call it, our very conservative-leaning local paper in Bloomington-Normal), defending undocumented immigrants from attacks by the right-wing. You can find the letter, along with its discussion forum, via this link. From these debates online, including others involving other letters and articles, I couldn't help but notice that there is some dislike of big corporations out there. But this fledgling perspective is dwarfed by the blame game directed at people who are by no means the problem. Many contributors have bought into the blame game promoted by FOX News and other corporate media outlets. Top in the people to blame for our society's problems:

---undocumented immigrants (or as racists and xenophobes put it, the "Mexican invasion"; they definitely top the list for right-wing ire)

---teachers (heaven forbid that they want decent working conditions and pay, after all they already have their summer's off!)

---teacher unions (by promoting a decent standard of living for teachers, they are stealing our money, and thus "destroying the public system of education in the U.S"!)

---liberals (they're after our money and guns!)

---socialists (Obama is a socialist! He wants to redistribute the wealth. Never mind that he was elected by Wall Street and has pro-corporate policies.)

---traitors (If you think differently than me, or don't love the flag more than humanity as a whole, you are a traitor. "How does it feel to be a traitor, Corey?" By your definition of traitor, GREAT!!!)

I imagine that these views are characteristic of the Tea Baggin' movement, which if they had better organization and competent leadership, would represent a threat. Now they are just one more obstacle, albeit huge, to building a decent country and world.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What kind of comprehensive immigration reform do we want? More enforcement or social justice?

With many pro-immigrant rights organizations calling for immediate comprehensive immigration reform, a group of those organizations is calling for an open debate on the proposals on the table. The Grassroots Immigrant Justice Network published on Open Letter criticizing the Democratic Party proposals. The problem with these reforms, including the Gutierrez bill, is that it strengthens the punish and enforce stance of the government - further militarizing the border, putting in place an e-verify system, and making the path to citizenship very difficult for immigrants.

I agree with those on the Left who say that the primary purpose of the considered proposals is to garner votes for Democrats among the pro-immigrant rights crowd, not bring about humane reform for immigrants living and working in the U.S.