Fight for $15 at McDonald’s in Champaign

On April 15, local unions held a rally at the McDonalds in Champaign, Neil&Kirby

On April 15, local unions held a rally at the McDonald’s in Champaign, Neil&Kirby

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Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

Nearly all the Republicans and the Obama administration are united on pushing through the most massive free trade agreement to date, called the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership).

The vast majority of members of Congress, in the House and Senate alike, don’t even know what’s being negotiated in the TPP except for a few insiders in both parties. Only the trade representatives and their invited guests, the representatives from global corporations, know what’s being discussed

The Obama administration is trying to get “fast track” authority. Fast track means Congress agrees with the president’s negotiating demands before an agreement is struck, voting yes or no, without any amendments. In other words, if “fast track” passes, whatever the President’s trade negotiators agree on will quickly become law of the land. Corporate America in particular likes “fast track.” It means whatever anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment deals are agreed to at the negotiating table cannot be challenged, amended or reversed by Congress when the vote comes up.


The Trans Pacific Partnership ( TPP ) would :

Send millions of American jobs overseas

Ban efforts to save jobs such as the “Buy America” campaign

Block green job creation and other needed economic development

Overrule local, state and federal laws and regulations, as well as any voter referendums

Strip away consumer, labor, and environmental protections

Increase the prices of prescription drugs

Lead to the privatization of Social Security and Medicare

Prevent the enactment of a desperately needed Medicare for All Single payer health care system

Threaten our food and water safety

Allow corporations to censor and restrict access to the internet

Fast Track trade authority is the way that the public and Congress got steamrollered by trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO that left millions of families slammed by job offshoring, floods of imported tainted meat, and rising medicine prices.

· As public and congressional opposition to the TPP is growing, corporations and their bought and paid for politicians know Fast Track is the only way to force the TPP into effect.

· The Obama administration is well-aware of the vast opposition to the TPP and fast-track trade authority so it is intentionally trying to deceive the public.

· The Obama administration even attempted to stop the Seattle City Council from opposing fast-track legislation and the TPP, but instead got a unanimous vote against them from a major port city that trades with Asia.

· The Obama administration has been caught attempting to mislead on an important fast-track or TPP issue. Indeed, dishonesty seems to have become a tactic. The U.S. Trade Representative has been making false claims that the TPP will create 650,000 jobs.

Because we now have the NAFTA ( North American Free Trade Agreement ) experience, passed into law by Bill Clinton in January 1994, many people understand how corporate free trade impacts their lives. Over 2-MILLION manufacturing jobs that paid decent wages and benefits were shipped overseas because of NAFTA. In addition, NAFTA resulted in a downward pressure on other manufacturing wages, resulting in 20 % decline in wages and benefits in real terms since 1994. The TPP is much bigger than NAFTA and we know what NAFTA has done – lost jobs, lower incomes, a bigger wealth divide, higher trade deficits, undermining the environment and increased migration. People now know trade agreements have created terrible consequences for their lives.

TPP Secret Exposed by Wikileaks
By David Johnson

Wikileaks recently emphasized in a press release:

“The TPP document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations.”

It is bad enough to negotiate a law in secret and pass it through Congress with no hearings but then to keep the law secret until four years after it becomes law. Would anyone think that a country that passed laws with such secrecy was a democracy? A novel about a government like this would not be about a democracy – it would be about a dictatorship of corporations where the people are serfs to corporate power.

What does the text show? Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa writes “corporations could sue the U.S. or other countries included in the deal if they didn’t like their laws. Such challenges would be handled by an unaccountable international arbitration forum. And taxpayers would end up paying the tab if the private sector wins.”

“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that would undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Food and Water Watch, which opposes fast track and the TPP because of its threat to food and water, summarized the leak saying it will prevent “commonsense public health, environmental and consumer safeguards” by providing “special rights for corporations at the expense of the public interest, letting foreign companies demand financial compensation”

Under the TPP only foreign corporations can sue governments (domestic corporations do not share in that power), while people have no recourse. If dangerous food is imported and people are poisoned, they cannot sue in the tribunal; if fracking or a burst pipeline destroys the water supply of a community, they cannot sue; if workers lose their jobs to low-paid foreign workers, the workers have no recourse; if websites are forced off the Internet because of violation of extremist copyright provisions, they cannot sue. On issue after issue, people will be harmed by the provisions of rigged corporate agreements but they will have no recourse, while corporations can sue thereby ensuring increased risks to all of us.

This allows corporations to sue governments in a tribunal that supersedes the US judicial system when a law passed in the public interest would undermine their profits. Corporations can sue for the profits they were expecting to make in rigged trade tribunals where corporate lawyers play the role of judges and there is no right to appeal or take the case to another court for review. Even the US Supreme Court cannot overrule the corporate judges.

Tell your Representative and Senators to oppose “Fast Track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

U.S. Congressman Rodney Davis – 217-403-4690

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk – 217-492-5089

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin – 217-492-4062

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“Not Anti-Union”: Shaking Up Springfield, Shaking Down the State

“I’m probably .01 percent.” – Bruce Rauner, asked if he is part of the wealthiest 1%

Chicago equity “salesman” Bruce Rauner succeeded in his first ever election last November with 50.3 percent of the vote, spending nearly $36 per voter according to the Chicago Tribune (which endorsed Rauner), on a vague platform of lowering taxes, attracting business, and “shak[ing] up Springfield.” His plan was short on details even by the usual low political standards. “Maybe,” wrote Carol Felsenthal in a deep-digging biography in the Chicago Magazine, the “mystery” is “part of the plan.”

Mystery Solved

Former Illinois governor Jim Edgar, a fellow Republican who endorsed another candidate in the primary, had implied doubt whether Rauner could “hit the ground running.” But that is exactly what the new Governor did. Rauner’s first action was a hiring freeze and a halt to whole categories of state spending, excluding of course his wife’s chief of staff ($100,000), the 25-year-old sister of his top campaign aide ($70,000), or his new education aide ($250,000).

Unions and other economic justice advocates had warned that Rauner’s election would finally spell the arrival of a reactionary national agenda pushed by the Koch brothers, Chambers of Commerce, and other wealthy special interests. Former labor strongholds in nearby Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Indiana, recently joined Iowa as so-called “right-to-work” states, where workers who do not join but are represented by unions pay no fee while receiving the same representation, pay raises, and benefits of unionization for free.

These laws undermine unions’ ability to attract dues-paying members and stretch the unions’ finances to the breaking point, a fact of life that is not lost on union opponents, even those like Rauner who are “not anti-union.” Not coincidentally, wages in “right-to-work” states are lower and working conditions worse. A recent University of Illinois study found that Illinois wages are 13 percent higher than neighboring “right-to-work” Indiana, and a University of Michigan study found that occupational fatalities are 34 percent higher in “right-to-work” states. There is no discernable difference in job growth between “right-to-work” states and “free bargaining” states.

Rauner has repeatedly said he does not support a statewide “right-to-work” law, which the state legislature would almost surely resist. Yet Rauner has been personally touring the state, speaking at commercial clubs and $1000 a plate dinners, promoting “empowerment zones,” in which local city and county governments could decide to become “right-to-work,” in direct violation of federal law. The same University of Illinois study found the likely result would be lower incomes, increased racial inequality, and shrinking local economies, including tax bases.

‘Empowerment’ for Some

Gov. Rauner’s first state of the state address declared war on unions, and his budget followed up with deep cuts to everything from higher education (30%) to services for the homeless, autistic, mentally ill, and others ($423 million) – some programs, such as assistance to orphans, losing funding altogether. Presumably these Illinoisans did not feel empowered but the opposite. Rauner’s cuts to Medicaid alone total $1.5 billion, including adult dental care, dialysis, and hemophilia care, among other programs that actually save the State money in the long run by heading off emergency room visits and other more expensive care.

As a candidate, Rauner promised to lower local property taxes. As Governor, his legislative package links lower property taxes to “empowerment zones,” which Rauner touts as “empowering” communities to determine “how they negotiate” with employees – in other words, saving money by lowering employee pay. Another Rauner proposal, however, would cut into these same local budgets by as much as 20 percent, according to the State Register Journal, by slashing hundreds of millions from the Local Government Distribution Fund. Small towns would likely be hit hardest, and many would be forced to choose between reducing police and firefighters or raising taxes.

As a candidate, Rauner blamed high workers compensation insurance rates for driving business out of Illinois, the sole evidence being that rates are higher in Illinois than other states. But according to a March 4 study by ProPublica and NPR, this comparison is misleading. Since 2003, as many as 33 states have slashed workers comp benefits and passed laws making it harder for injured workers to claim compensation. Florida alone has cut payments to its most severely disabled workers by 65 percent. The reality is workers comp insurance rates are at a 25-year low point nationwide. As a result, simply by remaining the same, Illinois rates would appear “higher.”

All over the country, legislative assaults by the billionaire Koch brothers and their many affiliated organizations have meant a wholesale denial of help to injured workers when they need it most, driving many into poverty, and a massive shift of cost from employers to taxpayers. As governor, Rauner has proposed many of these same changes for Illinois: restrictions on which injuries are compensable, new limits on the amounts of compensation, and raising the standard of causation, so that an employee must prove that the injury was primarily and not only partly caused by workplace accidents or conditions.

‘Not anti-union,” just anti-worker

Rauner soon signed an executive order banning the “fair share” fees that nonmember employees legally must pay for union representation. He may have assumed the new state comptroller he appointed, Republican Leslie Munger, would back him. She did not, declaring that she would follow state law and collect the “fair share” fees. Rauner then ordered that nonmember pay in his department be reduced by the ”fair share” amount, violating labor contracts, throwing the nonmembers’ taxes and accrual of benefits into chaos, and causing unions to defend the nonmembers. Former nonmembers lined up to join their presumptive unions.

Rauner’s austerity plan further includes repealing the State Prevailing Wage Law. “Illinois sets minimum ‘prevailing wages’ for workers on state and local construction projects. These prevailing wages are significantly more than minimum wages. Over the years, prevailing wages have generally been set to match the union scale, even though a majority of construction workers in Illinois are not part of a union,” explains Rauner’s legislative proposal – as if this were a bad thing. This law provides significant wage protection for all workers, union or not, and guarantees local economic health. Without it, state and local governments would be pressured to undercut union wages by hiring the lowest bidder in a race to the bottom, many Illinois workers would earn significantly less, pay less in taxes, and spend less in their local communities.

(Part Two continues in the next issue with Gov. Rauner’s eyebrow-raising career in wealth, connections to the billionaire Koch brothers and their nationwide rightwing agenda, political bullying of his own party, and the exorbitant costs of access to the new administration, as well as why he hates unions so much)

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Public historians, this is your moment!

In the past few weeks, statues of male historic figures in public places in South Africa have been splashed with poo and paint of all hues. It has become a veritable underground movement. Cecil Rhodes’ statue has been removed from the University of Cape Town, but around the country, George V, Louis Botha, General Fick, Mahatma Gandhi and Andrew Murray have all had rude paint baths. People have been arrested for crimes against art and history.

South Africa is blessed with a cadre of excellent historians who study the places where the rubber of history meets the road of public perception. They are public historians, who study the ways that history is made visible outside of libraries and classrooms: in statues, monuments, museums, public performances, art, etc. Wait — did I say statues? Oh my! Can it be that a group of academics in the much-defunded and reviled field of the humanities actually has something to contribute to society? Good heavens!

A statue is a hunk of shaped metal. Public historians study how that metal becomes splashed — literally of late, but usually only figuratively — with meaning, and how those meanings change over time. If there was ever a moment to demonstrate the importance of public history to South African society, it is right now. I hope the National Research Foundation is taking notice of the current turmoil over these statues. Increased funding for science and technology is well and good but Rhodes, George, Botha, Fick, Gandhi and Murray show that there are issues and problems that maths and engineering cannot solve. Forward with public history, forward!

My own research has to do with a liberal, apartheid-supporting (yes, supporting) philosophy professor at the University of Cape Town who embodied all the — here comes a bunch of words dear to the heart of academics — contradictions, complexities and nuances of South Africa’s apartheid past. His name was Andrew Murray (1905-1997). The person whose statue was splashed with paint in Wellington last week was his grandfather, Rev Andrew Murray Jnr (1828-1917). In the course of researching the UCT professor, I’ve read up on the Murray family. Into the twists and turns of South African history I have crawled!

From newspaper reports, white residents of Wellington seem perplexed as to why Rev Murray’s statue was splashed with red paint. He was “just” a religious man, a person who had no connection with colonialism, they sigh; ah, these vandals who have no appreciation for simple, godly virtue.

I can’t speak for the motivations of the statue-splashers, but they may have had a very different assessment of Rev Murray. A builder of institutions and movements, a supporter of the Boers in the South African War, he was a pivotal figure in the history of the Dutch Reformed Church — all marked in 1978 by a postage stamp to honour the 150th anniversary of his birth. In his 19th century heyday, he preached with so much inspiration, power and fervour that a movement of ecstatic revivalism was ignited on the veld. In district after district, ordinary white folks got the fever — in droves they suddenly began to speak in tongues and collapse in divine hysteria. He was the first headmaster of Grey College in Bloemfontein.

Nationally, Rev Murray was the elected head of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) at a moment when it had to decide what to do about its coloured congregants — in or out? He argued that the DRC should be formally segregated into the white “mother” church and the coloured and African “daughter” churches. The souls of coloured folks and Africans could be saved by DRC missionaries wielding the Good Book, as long as they remained under the thumb of the white man. Ask Rev Allan Boesak or the DRC’s many historians. They’ll tell you all about it. I’m sorry to break this to the historically challenged residents of Wellington but the DRC’s deep roots of segregation — inspired by Murray — became central elements in the character and conduct of colonialism and white supremacy in South Africa. That might be what some people see when they gaze at the statue of that godly man.

Does this mean that red paint should be aimed at Rev Murray’s statue? Who am I to say? I am quite sure, however, that this is a spectacularly appropriate moment for South Africa’s able cadre of public historians to lead open discussions and seminars across the country about the changing meanings and significance of South Africa’s historical monuments.

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Reflecting on the Rag: A Feminist Herstory of Pandora’s Rag on the U of I Campus

In the spring of 1998, a handful of women’s studies students decided to start a feminist publication for distribution on campus and in the Champaign-Urbana community. Pandora’s Rag was a feminist zine (self-published, small circulation publication) that aimed to generate conversations about feminism, gender, and justice. They met weekly at the Women’s Studies House and produced a zine full of articles, rants, poetry, critiques, and editorials that ignited conversations about sex, liberation, and gender. Pandora’s Rag offered roughly 2 editions each semester for about 5 years, before the last edition came hot off the press.

This spring, students in the National Organization for Women UIUC-Chapter noticed the yellowed pages of the old Pandora’s Rag editions resting on the Women’s Resources Center library shelves and concocted the idea of reviving the zine. A few weeks later, they hosted an event at the Illini Union Bookstore’s Author’s Corner where excerpts from a myriad of editions were read by current U of I students and a call for submissions was launched for a Pandora’s Rag Revival Edition to be distributed this May.

Two members of Pandora’s Rag, Ross Wantland and Janelle Skaloud, tell the story of what it was like to be “on the Rag:”

Why did you join Pandora’s Rag?

Ross:  I had heard about Pandora’s Rag (P-Rag) from a few of my Women’s Studies classes/classmates, but I wasn’t really involved in any on-campus organizations. I ran into someone passing out flyers and came to an informational session. I have some vague recollection I was the only guy there, and I was really mindful/worried. I asked one of the leaders if it was okay if I was involved – I didn’t want to seem like I was pushing myself into a space I didn’t belong. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it became a way to say some of the stuff that was on my mind: about rape, about male privilege, about all that crap. Plus, it was community. I had my classes, and I had volunteering at the rape crisis center. But this was community in a different way.

Janelle:  I had labeled myself a feminist since I was in high school.  In my experience, it was fairly obvious that women were treated as inferior to men in a variety of ways.  IMO, people who didn’t see that either thought it was right, or wanted to pretend it wasn’t that way. At the U of I, I was drawn to what was then called the Women’s Studies program. It was there that I heard of a student who wanted to start a feminist magazine. I immediately thought — I want to do that. I want to give voice to women’s experiences.  For me, feminism is about many things, but primarily it is about supporting and empowering women.

What did you see as the mission of Pandora’s Rag?

Ross:  I think for me, it showed me that there were some particular things to articulate out about how feminism was part of our everyday lives. I think it is how I would describe the call to write/author that it inspired in me.

Janelle:  We were really were trying to figure out what it all meant.  And we did that by talking about our experiences, our ideas, our outrage, our goals, and about feminist theories. I think that by doing that, you move the conversation forward, and that’s how you make change.

Ross: When I look back on it, our articles were about love, sex, pop culture, politics, more sex, more pop culture, and trying to figure out where the hell we fit.

Janelle:  A lot about sex! Women need/ed to particularly be empowered about that.

Ross:  Yeah, you’re right. And I think (about sex) we were articulating a counter narrative to Maxim and Cosmo. Remember our motto, “good girls read Cosmo, bad girls read Pandora’s Rag!”

Janelle:  Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it never needed to be. It was, above, all, a learning and growing experience—for us and for our readers. There was no one else doing anything like it, on a campus as big as the U of I. And now more than ever, when I feel like the “feminist” label is even more maligned in pop culture, I just can’t imagine there isn’t still a lot to say, and people who want to hear it, and people who need to hear it.

Ross: College was one of the places where we were figuring this stuff out. Perhaps that’s why we were so adamant, because it was our unfolding reality.

What did Pandora’s Rag bring to the U of I campus?

Ross:  P-Rag articulated a counter to some of the mainstream ideas about how men and women (and men and men, and women and women) should relate to each other. And it also voiced a political articulation calling out the ways women were treated in society and locally on campus. Basically, we shook shit up.

Janelle:  We told it as we saw it. I think people needed to hear what we had to say.  Some people loved it, some people hated it. It made people think, for sure.

Ross:   I think we also saw our role as people who would piss others off—happily sometimes. We were provocative, spouting off about clitoral orgasms and equal pay.

Janelle:  Oh my, yeah. You can’t play it safe. You have to grab people’s attention. Listen, feminism gets such a bad rap, people are afraid to embrace the label. But there are a ton of feminists out there, they just don’t know it yet. It’s our job to show them.

Tell me about your favorite memory from Pandora’s Rag.

Ross: I have so many fond memories of working with the wonderful people of Pandora’s Rag. One of my favorite things we did was the “Men Who Bake” Sale fundraiser (which was maybe slightly false advertising, but it was challenging stereotypes). At the bake sale, we would have people draw “identities,” such as Black female, Latino male, white man, and would ask them to pay a percent on the dollar for what that group makes compared to white men. We had so many angry dads on school visit days, and it was so much fun doing that subversive education!

Janelle:  Honestly, I have to be a little general and say it was the feeling of community.  I was so frustrated before I found P-Rag—like I was the only one who felt that there was some serious injustice going on in the world. I drew strength from joining voices to write about it, and draw about it, and laugh about it. There is strength in numbers, and it’s hard to have a movement of one.

Ross and Janelle were both original members of Pandora’s Rag in the late 1990s. Ross is a father, partner, and social justice educator living in Champaign. Janelle is an attorney and mother living in Chicago.

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‘Race’ to Borders or Why Brown Death Matters

The mass detention of would-be refugees in Texas, recently covered in The New York Times Magazine, is but the latest cruel episode in the material histories of international borders and state-mediated racism. Central American women and children who’ve fled criminal violence in their homeland are being warehoused in GEO owned detention camps while they await asylum hearings. These practices reveal how certain populations are deemed less worthy of life, safety, and security. All too often, these families are banished to their crime-ridden homelands.

I must underscore that to analyze ‘race’ demands the critical explanatory power of racism. Human beings show a remarkable genomic and phenotypic plasticity. It’s structured across geographic space and time. But to mistake this for race commits one to the ideological power of racism. Race in and off itself is a fallacy, a bankrupt concept, ridden with inaccuracies, the fodder for weak analysis, and mystifications of problematic analytic and political import. Conversely, to analyze the materialist histories of racisms serves to demystify power and its accompanying taken for granted rationalizations. It’s to capture how certain groups become racialized, how they are born into or inherit impoverishment, ill health, and all sorts of scales of violence. These fatal couplings of power and difference constitute racism.

rosas pic 2

In this respect, the hardening of borders across the West, the prominent calls for increasing the use of enforcement in the Americas or in Europe, is inextricably linked questions of imperialism. The pernicious collapsing of domestic concerns about immigrants and alienage with international concerns about terrorists, and criminal elements, where inequalities, specifically the rights of some populations to thrive while Others are situated closer and closer to death, become naturalized as part of global order of things. They converge in a profound sensibility that borders are out of control: our citizenship and sovereignty under duress. And, they legitimate tactics such as channeling non-citizens who cross the southern border of the United States without documentation into ‘killing deserts,’ where some 5,000 plus have died of exposure or other environmental causation, since the late 1990s, or channeling them into sewer tunnels, where they become subject to the depredations of abjected populations, as I discuss in my award-winning book. They legitimate the mass incarceration of families to discourage―if not terrify―future immigrants.

rosas pic 3

Indeed, it’s telling the intensification of lethal military technology and tactics by domestic police forces in the United States, as in Ferguson, begins in the US-Mexico border region with the institution of the Border Patrol, our nation’s largest police force. The militarization of the US-Mexico border, particularly the Border Patrol, draws on strategy, tactics, and technology rooted in the imperial and genocidal adventures of the Reagan administration backed wars in Central America. Ronald Reagan once famously held that ‘terrorists and subversives are just two days’ driving time from Harlingen, Texas.’

The children of these wars are the mothers and their offspring now detained in Texas. Brown death matters in it marks the return of the imperially repressed. Brown death matters―and the privilege of white, sanitized upper class existence―are inextricably tied to an endemic, imperial racism, crystallized at international borders.

Gilberto Rosas, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This piece was originally published in Border Criminologies and is reprinted with permission from the author.

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FirstFollowers Reentry Program Opens Doors


Bethel AME in Champaign where FirstFollowers is located.

Governor Bruce Rauner has pledged to reduce the state prison population by 25% over the course of the next ten years. At present there are over 400 people in Champaign County on state parole. If Rauner makes good on his promise (or even half good), we can count on several hundred more people fresh from prison in our community. While freeing people from the Department of Corrections would be a great step forward, such a move would prompt another important set of challenges: how do people find their way back into the community after being away for so many years? To make matters worse, people with felony convictions face many unique obstacles. Many are banned from access to SNAP (food stamps for life). In Champaign, certain categories of people returning from prison are not allowed to live in public housing, even if their family resides there. Although Illinois has officially banned the box (that question on job applications that asks about criminal background) many employers still balk at the prospect of hiring anyone with a criminal record, especially if they have committed what is considered a violent crime.

FirstFollowers, a new reentry program in Champaign County, aims to address some of these issues. The project grew out of years of discussions within the county board and in the community about the need for more reentry programs. Two key initiatives sparked the foundation of FirstFollowers. First, the local group, Citizens with Conviction, mobilized people with felony convictions to testify before the City of Urbana’s Human Relations Commission to get the box taken off all employment applications in the city. In late 2013, dozens of people came forward to speak out about their experience of being turned away by employers simply because they checked the “yes” box on an employment application, indicating they had a felony conviction. Moving testimony by the formerly incarcerated, their family members as well as employers demonstrated how answering “yes” often meant the application was discarded. The testimony by these individuals convinced the city powers to pass a special ban the box measure in Urbana which is even stronger than the state measure. No employer, private or public, is allowed to ask about a person’s criminal background until a concrete job offer is on the table. Violation of this can lead to a fine against the employer.

Second, FirstFollowers was the product of lengthy deliberations within the county board’s Community Justice Task Force. In 2013 the Community Justice Task Force, which included Carol Ammons, the newly elected local state representative, recommended the formation of a reentry program based on the principle of peer mentoring. According to the Task Force report.

First Followers aims to follow the peer mentoring model, using formerly incarcerated people as the organizers of the program as well as the providing the direct support to clients. The principle of peer mentoring means that those who have been through the process of doing time in prison and subsequently turning their lives around post-incarceration, are the ideal people to mentor those who are just beginning their transition back to the community.

Marlon Mitchell, who grew up in Champaign, has been the driving force behind First Followers. In a recent interview with Seon Williams on his WEFT radio program, “Unity in the Community,” Mitchell explained his motivation, “I come from the community. It’s affected me, my family directly.” He described how in 2012 he started attending county board meetings where the discussion was focusing on building a $20 million jail. Mitchell went home and spent time analyzing the county jail website, looking at the population that was incarcerated. He found that more than 50% of the people were Black. “I started to educate myself as to why these things are happening.” From then on, Mitchell began to meet with a range of people in the community to punt the idea of a reentry program.

The program launched in February of this year with a well-attended gathering at Bethel AME Church in Champaign where First Followers in based. Another FirstFollowers volunteer, Tamika Davis, also spoke to the crowd at the launch. She talked about how after spending eight and a half years in federal prison she came home determined to re-connect to her family and avoid the situations that would land her back behind bars. Davis now works at the University of Illinois and views FirstFollowers as an opportunity to help other young women get their life “back on track.”

At present FirstFollowers offers drop-in sessions on Tuesday and Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. They are open to all people returning from prison, as well as the family members and loved ones of those touched by incarceration. Their current activities focus largely on assisting people with searching for employment, getting proper identification and re-connecting with their families. In the future, they also intend to mobilize people impacted by incarceration to advocate for their own rights to be treated as fully-fledged citizens, as people who have paid their debt to society and deserve equal opportunity in the worlds of employment, education and all other spheres.

Those who wish to avail themselves of the services of FirstFollowers or who would like to help the organization can email or drop by Bethel AME Tuesday or Friday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m. Bethel AME is located at 401 E. Park St. (corner 4th) in Champaign.




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Solving the College Tuition Problem Is Easy

Rosenstein headshot 2015

Center for Advanced Study Professor of Media & Cinema Studies Jay Rosenstein is the award-winning filmmaker of In Whose Honor? (1997), The Amasong Chorus: Singing Out (2004), and The Lord is Not on Trial Here Today (2010)

I have solved the college tuition problem, and it was easy.

Ok, not exactly. I haven’t solved it for every college. But I have solved it for the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). And all the other public Big Ten schools as well.

The problem, of course, is that the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed. Students, and their families, are getting buried deeper and deeper in debt trying to pay for college. Public universities, once havens of affordable, quality college education, have been hit the hardest. Almost every state in America has cut, and/or is cutting funding for higher education. It is a problem that has fast become a national crisis.


But I have solved it.

President Obama has an idea for a solution. He wants to give everyone two years of college, tuition free. It’s a great solution, except for one small problem: he has no idea how to pay for it. Right now, it’s a pipe dream.

But my solution doesn’t have that problem. I know exactly how to pay for it. In fact, not only do I know how to pay for it, it will cost nothing.

My solution does not require even one additional taxpayer dollar. It doesn’t require state legislators to reallocate any of their funds, or raise taxes, or have to find any additional revenue. Not one additional state or federal dollar is necessary.

And there’s more.

The University will not have to make one single cut. Not even one employee will have to lose his or her job, not one program, major, or class will have to be eliminated. No furloughs. Not one salary will have to be lowered. Everything at the university will be exactly as it is today.

Not. One. Single. Cut. And tuition will be lower.

How much lower?

Here at UIUC, using the current admission and tuition numbers, 11.5 percent lower base tuition and fees for all in-state juniors. Or, 11.5 percent lower base tuition for all in-state seniors. Not bad, huh?

There are, of course, other ways the savings could be divided up; this is just one way.

Ok, I admit it’s not a perfect solution. An 11.5% tuition cut certainly isn’t as good as a 25% tuition cut. And a one-year discount isn’t as good as a four-year discount. So it’s not perfect. But on the other hand, it doesn’t cost a thing.

Jay chart

And, as promised, it’s easy. As easy as four letters, mostly.

E S P N.

That’s right, the sports television network.

ESPN can become both “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” and “The Worldwide Leader in Tuition Relief.”

Here’s how:

The Big Ten conference’s current football and basketball TV contract with ESPN expires at the end of the 2016-17 basketball season. And according to the Chicago Tribune, “One thing is certain: the Big Ten should be in line for a windfall.”

You read that correctly: a windfall.


Since the conference’s current contract with ESPN is a ten-year, $1 billion deal (that’s “b” as in billion), and the Tribune expects the next contract to be a “windfall” (its word), an additional $1 billion – an increase to $2 billion — is certainly not out of the question.

And the best news is, teams don’t have to make the playoffs to get the payoff. They don’t even have to win any games. They don’t have to do anything. The schools are just going to get the money.

Dividing that increase among the fourteen schools in the Big Ten (that’s not a typo; don’t ask), the new TV contract should mean at least an additional $7.2 million per year, per school.

That’s on top of the nearly $27 million the schools received from the Big Ten conference in 2013-14. Plus an extra $3 million that is expected for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

That’s an extra $10 million per year, minimum, free and clear, no strings attached, coming to UIUC. That money could easily be used to provide long-overdue tuition relief for Illinois families.

But what about the athletic department, you might ask?


Well, without any of this new money, the athletic department already has enough to pay the three highest public employee salaries in the entire state: the head football and basketball coaches, at $1.8 million per year each; and the athletic director, $568,000 per year, before his bonuses. Plus, six of the nine highest paid employees at UIUC are in the athletic department (in order: the head football coach, men’s head basketball coach, athletic director, football offensive coordinator, football defensive coordinator, and women’s head basketball coach).

Clearly, they’re already doing pretty well.

Not only that, the athletic department also collects a mandatory fee every semester from every student. So tuition-paying parents have already been paying for athletics.

Isn’t it time to give those parents a break?

But no one is going to touch any of that income. The athletic department will continue to keep all the revenue they have now. No cuts.

That’s a win-win no matter how you look at it.

Like I said, this is not a pipe dream. It’s real, and it can be done. You can find all the details of this plan at

So here it is, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that’s never been done in the lifetime of UIUC: lower tuition.

Eleven and a half percent lower tuition for all in-state juniors or seniors.

No cost.

No cuts.

Everybody wins.

I told you it was easy.


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Our Sorry State

Welcome to Illinois: where the Republicans are extremists, and the Democrats are DINOs (Democrats In Name Only).

In the current state budget that runs until June, Governor Bruce Rauner faced a $1.6 billion hole– a hole that would not exist had the 3.75 percent state income tax remained at five percent, which the media conveniently forgets. But instead of raising revenue to balance the budget, Rauner-the-Reamer has cut, cut, and cut a lot more.

Rauner’s fiscal conservatism does not extend, however, to the salaries he rewards those near and dear to him. His take-no-prisoners business practices were clear before his election. In one case, he allegedly told former business associate Christine Kirk, “If you go legal on us, we’ll hurt you and your family.” Rauner also allegedly threatened her through a third party: “I will bury her. I will make her radioactive. She will never get another job anywhere, ever. I will bankrupt her with legal fees.” For this and other stories, journalist Dave McKinney left the Chicago Sun-Times after a 19-year career. After his 2014 election, Rauner threatened his Senate Republican colleagues, allegedly telling them to vote in favor of all 10 issues on his agenda, “not five, not seven,” and anybody who did not was going to have a “fucking problem” with him.

Governor Rauner’s “shock and awe”


Current stopgap budget cuts – to which the DINOs in Springfield acquiesced – are only the shape of things to come if Rauner has his way on next year’s budget. He has already made his “shock and awe” strategy explicit. Investigative journalist Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine (2007) lays it out presciently. Her quintessential case is the “shock and awe” perpetrated on Iraq beginning with George Bush’s 2003 war of aggression. First, the “shock and awe” bombing campaign. Second, wiping the slate of the state clean: disbanding the Iraqi army, firing Saddam’s Baathist bureaucracy. Third, the Provisional Authority encouraging in its place unfettered, regulation-free, crony capitalism to run rampant. Besides Iraq, Klein shows how this neoliberalism-with-a-vengeance shock doctrine has been put into effect all the way from Chile 1973, through to South Africa 1994, on to New Orleans post-Katrina 2005 — and we could add Scott Walker’s Wisconsin 2011.

“Crisis creates opportunity for change”

This is what the Reamer is doing right this minute in Illinois. By refusing to generate revenue through taxes, his cuts are manufacturing a crisis, making already bad problems much, much worse. “The opportunity to bring big structural change is right now, as part of the 2016 budget,” is the snake-oil Rauner is peddling. “Now is the opportunity to drive change along with the budget.” And the clincher: “Because crisis creates opportunity for change.” He drove his message home to a belief-suspending Chicago Tribune editorial board: “Crisis creates opportunity. Crisis creates leverage to change … and we’ve got to use that leverage of the crisis to force structural change.”

His piling-on, worsened crisis will be resolved once so-called “structural reforms” are made. It is clear what those structural reforms are: herding state workers into 401(k) pensions, enacting right-to-work-for-less, ban “fair share” union dues payments to give a “free ride” to non-union workers, cutting workers’ compensation costs for job-related injuries, continuing a regressive instead of a progressive state income tax, refusing to raise the minimum wage in real terms, and slashing social services. Regarding social services funding, Rauner has said, “I just had to put the brakes on.”

It is important to point out that many of Rauner’s cuts cost more in the longer-term than ephemeral savings in the short-term. His supporters argue cuts are required to restore state fiscal health. Yet study after study has shown that cutting such programs as Medicaid drives people to seek higher-priced health care, for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Same with the UIUC budget. Every dollar in funding generates high returns on the state’s investment, the University argues.

Such rational calculations do not faze our reality-challenged, powered-by-ideology governor, who hired Donna Arduin as his CFO, a supply-sider who applies Arthur Laffer’s Reagan-era “voodoo economics” that have been thoroughly debunked over the last 30 years. Let me spell out the argument: The only problem with so-called “job creators” is that they do not create jobs. When consumers have living-wage jobs, they buy goods; when they buy goods, the economy grows; when economic demand grows, employers hire workers, that is, “create jobs.” Through tax and social policy – sometimes going into debt (“deficit spending”) to stimulate demand — government jumpstarts the economy; only then do debt- and risk-adverse “job creators” react by increasing production by hiring workers. Empirically-proven Keynesian economics (1930s) trumps demonstrably false, wishful thinking, “trickle-down” neoliberal nostrums (1980s on).

Which is worse: Rauner’s shock and awe strategy? Or the fact that it has not been recognized, and criticized for what it is by DINOs, and the media? And related to this: why did people and the press let Rauner get away with his “squeaky clean” claims during the gubernatorial campaign given his documented business practices and philosophy? Why do people and the press let him get away with post-election “bringing ethics to government” and “reforming government” claims that are in fact class warfare and crony capitalism, nepotism and conflict of interest at their worst? It is not far off the mark to say, as one commenter does, that

Rauner is the same person who clouted his own daughter into one of the highest rated public schools in the state (with unionized teachers no less), wants to subject the rest of the state to a failed private charter school model.

Rauner is continuing his attempts to run Illinois government like he ran his private equity company: benefit himself and burn everyone else. His loose command of facts and radical disempowerment agenda is an attempt to put more power in the hands of rich people, like himself, who already have far too much.

Rauner, the same person who made $60 million in 2013, wants to drive down the wages and retirement security of women and African Americans and wants to keep low-income workers poor for an extended period of time.

Rauner, the same person who owns nine homes, refuses to address the real elephant in the room: Illinois’ insufficient and regressive revenue generation policies. Rauner’s approach is not to strengthen government at his “make or break time” but instead to break it and strip it for parts to be sold off to his rich corporate cronies.

Rather than reaching across the partisan aisle, Rauner is throwing Molotov cocktails. Responding to such a partisan, scorched-earth approach, News-Gazette editorial writer Jim Dey dishonestly urges “statesmanship” on both Democrats and Republicans. Surely, this is the first time dismantling the state has been called “statesmanship.”

UIUC budget cuts are “an opportunity for us to do other things as a state”

Downstate Republicans are keeling over after having drunk Rauner-the-Reamer’s Kool-Aid. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) is pleased that “This [budget cut to UIUC] is an opportunity for us to do other things as a state.” Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), whose district includes Eastern Illinois University, says “he would support many of Rauner’s budget proposals, including the reductions in higher education support.”

They may think again after they recover from their ideologically-induced hangover from drinking too much Tea Party brew. Among the Reamer’s proposals are cuts up to 20 percent to local governments. The majority-Democratic Champaign County Board has already passed a resolution opposing Rauner’s budget ideas 15-5, a resolution that split the nine Republicans present down the middle: five voting against, and four voting with the Democrats and against Rauner.

In Champaign, newly-elected mayor Deborah Frank Feinen was backed by the Champaign Chamber of Commerce, which pushes for downsizing government and tax breaks for the wealthy. As with some other conservatives and Republicans, Feinen describes herself as a “fiscal conservative” and “social moderate.” Yet these two positions are intrinsically contradictory. Think about it: social moderates believe in certain public sector programs which the private sector does not provide, because there is no profit to be made. When money is tight and budgets are cut, however, fiscal conservatism trumps funding social programs. Regarding Rauner’s proposed cuts to Champaign, “It’d be all well and good if the city’s share [for social programs] was completely restored,” Feinen says, “but without everybody in the community also being healthy budget-wise, that’s a problem.” Social problems are nice, but just not affordable, say Raunerite Republicans. So, just how will Mayor Feinen vote: the Republican party line, or her civic responsibility to the city?

Wise: “No, I haven’t” talked to Rauner about “devastating” cuts

UIUC Chancellor Phyllis Wise is in the same position. Rauner has proposed cutting next year’s higher education budget 31.5 percent, which means slashing UI $208 million, and reducing UIUC anywhere between $86 and $114 million. These cuts would take the UI system back to 1950s funding levels in inflation-adjusted dollars.

A presumptive Republican – Wise keynoted a Republican Congressman Rodney Davis event at the iHotel in Champaign last summer during his electoral campaign, and was a member of Rauner’s transition team — she appeared at an April 13 Senate Appropriations committee hearing on campus in her other role as Chancellor. Asked if she had talked to Rauner about his “devastating” cuts, she said “she had not had a personal conversation with the governor about the proposed cuts.”

2015 04 11 Rauner and Wise pass food boxes

Governor Bruce Rauner and Chancellor Phyllis Wise pass food boxes, Urbana, April 11, 2015.  One Facebook post commented, “That’s so fucked up he just cut funding for feeding the needy.”

Too bad she had not taken the opportunity to do so at a Rauner presentation January 29 at the iHotel – well before he announced his budget cuts in February when it might have made a difference. Too bad she did not take the opportunity two days before the Senate hearing when both volunteered at a food drive.  One hour volunteering at Wise’s salary ($549,069 plus $290,000 as Nike board member) cost her $403.40, while Rauner’s five minute stint at his 2012 earnings rate of $25,672/hour comes out to $2139.

Noblesse oblige trickle-down, like supply-side economics, is so much cheaper than actually providing government programs that feed people. “It is consistent with the neoliberal agenda that as governor, Rauner will continue to privatize and monetize the public sphere while attacking unions,” writes local activist David Green. “It is also predictable that Phyllis Wise will gladly lend assistance in this endeavor: In neoliberal parlance, ‘There is no alternative.’”

What is most serious about our worsening political polarization is that people are talking past one another. When critics argue against budget cuts — especially to social services — without raising revenue, Rauner acolytes respond that cuts are bad, but what are you going to do? For all too many, incessant, insistent attacks on government have convinced them that government is ipso facto bad, further delegitimizing it.

Increasingly, the one percent respond to the incontrovertible, continuing-to-pile-up evidence of income and wealth inequality – the worst in nearly a century – by blaming the 99 percent victims, and denigrating so-called “dependent” individuals receiving “government handouts” as if they are 3/5 citizens. Insidious competing narratives harden into fixed character traits pitting “passive” aid recipients refusing to accept “personal responsibility” against “active” corporate bosses who have known how to take advantage and get rich quick.

Welcome to Illinois, turn your clocks back 100 years

What passes for Rauner’s “financial acumen” actually amounts to cut now, pay more later, enrich me and my friends all the time. The real question is what are the DINOs going to do, how are they going to respond to Rauner — or, more precisely, how is power broker Michael Madigan? The Reamer’s “Turnaround Illinois” slogan amounts to “turn Illinois back.” Welcome to Illinois, turn your clocks back 100 years.

April 24, 2015


David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI History Department

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The Creation of Frankenstein in the Middle Eastern Region

The Creation of Frankenstein in the Middle Eastern Region

Al Kagan

Al Kagan

Al Kagan is African Studies Bibliographer and Professor of Library Administration Emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign.

Media coverage of the destruction of antiquities in northern Iraq during March 2015 has aroused the indignation of people around the world. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has initiated this destruction and used it in a propaganda campaign to promote its interests throughout the region. This destruction is based on its crude fundamentalist version of Islam.

Libraries with unique collections, with some items going back to 5000 BC, have reportedly been ransacked in Mosul, and there are reports that many of the books were burned. Archeological sites at the ancient cities of Hatra, Nimrud, and Dur-Sharrukin have reportedly been devastated, and museum artifacts have been destroyed including the Winged Bull, which used to stand at the gates of Nineveh in the 7th century. There are also reports that ISIS is selling invaluable artifacts for profit.

It is a sad commentary that the world is so war-weary that it takes the destruction of ancient cultural artifacts to again shock the world. Let me suggest that we think of ISIS, the various branches of al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram in Nigeria as Frankenstein monsters created by the failed foreign policy of supposedly smart US government and corporate elites, along with the collaboration of friendly European and third world elites. The Frankenstein metaphor works because these extreme Islamist groups have been brought to life by mad scientist-like calculated policy decisions by US and allied governments that have failed miserably. Others have called this blowback.

Iran and Afghanistan

We might start with the Cold War and the 1953 US-engineered overthrow of the popularly elected, nationalist, and progressive government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh in Iran. That government was overthrown when it moved to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. So instead of a progressive and nationalist government, Iran ended up with a pro-Western brutal Shah (or king). Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the 1979 popular revolution, which was eventually controlled by Islamic extremists who hated the US for its role in the 1953 coup and subsequent repressive policies.

Now consider the Cold War struggle in Afghanistan. A Soviet-backed 1979 coup installed Babrak Karmal along with Soviet military occupation. The CIA immediately began to train the mujahedeen “holy warriors,” including Osama bin Laden, to fight the Soviet “Evil Empire.” The US referred to the mujahedeen as “freedom fighters.” Soviet troops were withdrawn in 1999 after a peace agreement. The US-backed war killed at least 1.5 million people and injured countless more. Islamic fighters ousted President Najibullah in 1992, and civil war resulted. The Taliban established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996, and provided a home for the growth and development of Al-Qaeda. The direct US war against Afghanistan began in 2003, and US troops are still there. More than 200,000 Afghanis have died.

 Iraq and The Project for the New American Century

The Project for the New American Century was established as a non-profit educational organization in 1997. These neo-conservatives thought they could overthrow all Middle Eastern states not allied with the US and end up with Western oriented and corporate-friendly governments. The Project provided the impetus for the George W. Bush administration’s war policies. Although the U.S. had generally supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq from 1979 to 1990, the situation reversed after the 1990 Gulf War. Strict US-organized UN economic and other sanctions led to the death of perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children by 1996, when Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “we think the price was worth it.” The Project called for the overthrow of Iraq’s President Hussein as early as January 1998, but the Project initiators did not get their wish until after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Nine-eleven provided a convenient excuse to attack Iraq based on non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” Iraq was a brutal dictatorship that tortured its opponents, but it was also a mostly stable and secular middle-income country fueled by an oil-based economy. Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq, opposition was not tolerated, and freedom of speech was very limited. One consequence of the authoritarian state was that radical Islamist groups had no presence in the country. The US-led invasion led to the destruction and systematic dismantling of Iraq’s government and army along with the bombing of crucial infrastructure. The chaos that followed led to the recruitment of competing ethnic militias, and massive “ethnic cleansing” of both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods and regions. Al-Qaeda was able to establish a presence in the country only after the US-led invasion. After some time, Al-Qaeda morphed into ISIS, which now controls large parts of northwestern Iraq. Perhaps one million Iraqis have died.

 Syria, Libya and Israel/Palestine

Syria has had an anti-US and Arab nationalist government since at least World War II. From 1970 to 2000, Syria had a secular government under President Hafez al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad became President after his father’s death. Syria was a mostly stable repressive regime under the Assads until recently. According to a cable released by WikiLeaks, the US funded the Syrian opposition until at least 2010. As part of the Arab Spring, peaceful protests began in 2011 but were quickly quashed by the army. This fueled a violent opposition led by army defectors, and then civil war. President Obama called for Assad to step down in 2011, and the US, UK, and France are again providing military and political support for segments of the armed opposition. There are now more than 6.5 million refugees including 4 million who have fled to neighboring countries. Over 200,000 have died. As in Iraq, the civil war has opened up space for ISIS, and they now control about one-third of the territory and most of the oil and gas-producing areas.

As with Iraq and Syria, Libya was a stable secular repressive state under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Arab Spring protests led to repression of the non-violent struggle. When opposition forces took up arms, NATO led by the US overthrew the regime in 2011. There are presently two separate governments, with ISIS controlling part of eastern Libya. In addition, much of Gaddafi’s army and weapons crossed borders, fueling Islamist groups in the Sahel region including Mali, and in the Sahara including Algeria.

There is no space here to discuss Israel/Palestine, but suffice it to say that massive US military, economic, and political support for Israel has continued to inflame the region, and has directly led to the election of the radical Hamas government in Gaza.

Demand Peace

Instead of consistently supporting human rights, the US has flooded the region with weapons and supported authoritarian regimes. The main US interest has been strategic with a steady eye on access to oil, not support for democratic movements. In a candid March 17th interview with Shane Smith of Vice News, President Obama stated that “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” and that it is an “example of unintended consequences.” Whether boots on the ground or through drone attacks, the US is continuously making the situation worse. New extremists are created when the U.S. military kills or maims civilians or destroys their homes and livelihoods. US foreign policy has indeed created a Frankenstein monster. Massive anti-war protests at various times seem to have had little effect, but may have prevented a full-scale US invasion of Iran. The people of the US must look for new ways to demand peace, which is the only way to defeat the monster.



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