A new, bulletproof memorial for Emmett Till erected on the shore of the Tallahatchie River!

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Dear Commons Community,

A new memorial has been erected in honor of the civil rights martyr, Emmett Till.  And this time, it’s bulletproof.  Below is a photograph of the previous, bullet-ridden memorial that was replaced.  As reported by The Chicago Tribune:

“Members of Till’s family gathered yesterday at Graball Landing, the spot where the 14-year-old’s brutalized body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River after his murder in 1955. Encircled by a vast cotton field and quintessential Mississippi flora, they watched as a new Till memorial was unveiled, this one 10 times heavier than the last, and made of bulletproof steel.

Till’s lynching, which occurred after a white woman accused him of harassing her outside of a Mississippi grocery store, is largely seen as the catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.

“This marker answers the question as to what we do with our history,” said Reverend Willie Williams, co-director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, which advocated for the new marker. “Do we learn from it? Do we use it to help our society have greater respect for humanity? This answers that.”

Members of Till’s family, including his cousins Rev. Wheeler Parker — the last living witness of Till’s kidnapping ― and Ollie Gordon and her daughter Airickca Gordon-Taylor, were in attendance to christen the new marker. Unlike previous markers placed near the location, the new metallic, commemorative sign will be behind a gate and placed under the watch of surveillance cameras, according to the memorial commission.

In July, a photo circulated online showed three Ole Miss students cheerfully posing with rifles beside a bullet-riddled Emmett Till memorial. That sign and others drawing attention to Till’s killing have been frequent, literal targets for vandals wanting to obscure and destroy his legacy.

Jessie Jaynes-Diming, a civil rights tour guide and board member on the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, said the vandalism is an attempt by Mississippians to distance themselves from the state’s wretched, racist history and alleviate themselves of guilt. 

“To desecrate the commemoration ― not only of a Black person, but of a 14-year-old boy ― is heartless,” she said. “And it’s their way of saying, ‘So what? I didn’t have anything to do with it. Why are y’all dredging this up?’”

In 1955, a white shopkeeper, Carolyn Bryant, accused Till of catcalling her and grabbing her outside of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market in Money, Mississippi. Days later, witnesses say Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam kidnapped Till from his uncle’s home, then beat him, shot him in the head and threw his weighted body into the Tallahatchie River. A jury acquitted the two men that year after minutes of deliberation. Carolyn Bryant admitted decades later that her initial claims that Till harassed her were lies

After Till’s swollen body was recovered from the river, his mother, Mamie, famously demanded an open-coffin wake at her son’s funeral to publicly show the brutality of racism in the United States.”


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Trump Caves In to Criticism:  Drops Doral Resort for G-7!

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Dear Commons Community,

Responding to criticism, President Donald Trump last night reversed his plan to hold the next Group of Seven (G-7) world leaders’ meeting at his Doral, Florida, golf resort next year.  Trump’s announcement came after facing accusations that he was using the presidency to enrich himself by hosting the international summit at a private resort owned by his family.

“Based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020,” Trump tweeted. He said his administration “will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately.”  As reported by the Associated Press.

“The striking reversal raises further doubts about the position of the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who held a press conference Thursday announcing the choice of Doral for the summit. He insisted his staff had concluded it was “far and away the best physical facility.” Mulvaney said the White House reached that determination after visiting 10 sites across the country.

In the same press conference, Mulvaney acknowledged a quid pro quo was at work when Trump held up U.S. aid to Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine’s investigation of Democrats and the 2016 elections. Mulvaney later claimed his comments had been misconstrued, but not before drawing the ire of the president and frustration from other senior aides.

Trump had been the first administration official to publicly float the selection of his property to host the summit when in August he mentioned it was on the short-list and praised its facilities and proximity to Miami’s international airport. His comments, more than a month before the official announcement, drew instant criticism from good governance groups and Democrats, who said it raised concerns that Trump was using the White House to boost his personal finances

The vociferous criticism did not die down, even as Trump insisted he would host the summit at cost, though he refused to disclose financial details. The annual heads-of-state gathering would at minimum have provided good-will value to his property.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Trump’s reversal Saturday “is a bow to reality, but does not change how astonishing it was that a president ever thought this was appropriate, or that it was something he could get away with.”

An hour before Trump’s announcement, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the selection of Doral for the summit. “Hosting the G7 at Trump’s hotel? A president should never be able to use the office for personal gain,” the former vice president said.

On Thursday, Mulvaney had discounted Camp David, the government-owned presidential retreat, as the site for the summit, claiming, “I understand the folks who participated in it hated it and thought it was a miserable place to have the G-7.” He added that it was too small and remote for the international summit.

Mulvaney said then that unspecified sites in Hawaii and Utah had also been on the short list. It was unclear if they were still under consideration.”


Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Resigns:  Won’t Comply with House Impeachment Probe!

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Rick Perry

Dear Commons Community,

On Thursday, Rick Perry made it official that he was resigning by the end of the year as Secretary of Energy amid the Ukraine scandal rocking President Trump.  The former Texas governor’s entanglements in the scandal came to the surface earlier this month when sources familiar with the situation told Axios that during a recent conference call with House Republicans, Trump said Perry had arranged his July 25th call with Zelensky.

Perry also told The Wall Street Journal this week that Trump directed him to communicate with his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani about alleged corruption in Ukraine, showing how closely Perry is connected to Trump’s dealings with the foreign power.

An assistant to Rick Perry said yesterday that the outgoing Energy Secretary won’t comply with a subpoena from the House of Representatives as part of its impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.  The subpoena had also requested documents that Perry is refusing to provide.

In a letter to the three House Democrats who issued the subpoena last week, Assistant Secretary of Energy Melissa Burnison said the Energy Department is “unable to comply with your request for documents and communications at this time” and argued that items requested “are potentially protected by executive privilege” and thus require careful review before they can be shared.

Secretary Perry is getting out before he becomes completely complicit in the impeachment investigation.  He was trying to work out a lucrative energy deal for several Texas-based corporations when President Trump told him he had to go through Rudy Giuliani to negotiate it  with the Ukraine government.  Giulani screwed the whole deal up for Perry, for Trump and for everyone else involved.

They deserve to be in the same cell block when this is all over!


Chicago Teachers on Strike:  Photos!

Dear Commons Community,

On Thursday, thousands of Chicago teachers went on strike to demand lower class sizes, increases in the numbers of support staff, and racial and economic justice for educators and students.

The Chicago strike is the latest in a wave of teacher protests across the country in the last few years, and comes after months of failed negotiations between the Chicago Teachers Union, the city and the school district.

The union has put forth a list of demands that includes things like more special education teachers, nurses and social workers; lower class size caps; and teacher salary increases. The strikers are also fighting to improve conditions outside the classroom by addressing issues like affordable housing, which significantly impacts both educators and their students. 

The city’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, campaigned on issues aligned with the union but since her election has pushed back on its demands. Lightfoot has said the teachers’ contract “is not the appropriate place for the city to legislate its affordable housing policy,” according to the Chicago Tribune. She has also suggested the teachers’ demands are simply too expensive.

“I also must be responsible for the taxpayers who pay for everything that goes on,” Lightfoot said.

Since the strike, union members have put many of these issues on full display in the form of biting, playful and heart-wrenching protest signs. 

Some have pointed to the economic struggle many teachers experience and referenced the casual ways educators are often condescended to and undermined.

“Bake sales won’t cut it!” one sign read.

One teacher’s sign proclaimed he was present as an infant during Chicago’s historic teacher’s strike in 1987 ― a 19-day protest that is, to this day, the longest in the city’s history.

See more photos below.

In solidarity!




Mitt Romney:  Turkey called Trump’s bluff – ‘Are we so weak and inept?’

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Mitt Romney

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday,  Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, blasted President Trump’s decision to pull troops from defensive positions in Syria, and brought up the possibility that “Turkey may have called America’s bluff” in an exchange between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As reported in Yahoo News and other media.

“Are we so weak and inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey?” Romney said. “I believe that it’s imperative that public hearings are held to answer these questions, and I hope the Senate is able to conduct those hearings next week.”

The transcript of the Oct. 6 phone call between Trump and Erdogan has not been made public. Shortly afterward, Trump, without notifying his national security staff or State Department, unilaterally ordered the small American contingent in northern Syria to abandon their positions, and Turkey began its assault three days later.

Romney said redeploying the troops that protected Kurdish allies from the Turkish military left “a bloodstain” on American history.

“We know the truth about our Kurd allies. They lost 11,000 combatants in our joint effort to defeat ISIS. We dropped bombs from the air and provided intelligence and logistics behind the lines. The Kurds lost thousands of lives. Eighty-six brave Americans also lost their lives so tragically,” Romney said. “It’s argued that the Kurds were fighting for themselves. Of course they were. That’s the nature of an alliance. We fight together, each pursuing our own vital interest.”

A day earlier, Trump fought off criticism of his decision to clear the way for Turkish forces to enter northern Syria and battle Kurdish forces stationed there, calling the move “strategically brilliant.”

“I’m not going to get involved in a war between Turkey and Syria, especially when, if you look at the Kurds, and again I say this with great respect, they’re no angels,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday as his own vice president and secretary of state headed to Turkey to try to persuade Erdogan to halt his military offensive.

Perhaps the most outspoken Republican critic of the president, Romney saw Trump’s erratic foreign policy moves as antithetical to American values and a boon to U.S. foes.

“This is a matter of American honor and promise. So too is the principle that we stand by our allies, that we do not abandon our friends. The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history,” Romney said. “There are broad strategic implications of our decision as well. Iranian and Russian interests in the Middle East have been advanced as well. At a time when we are applying maximum pressure on Iran, by giving them a stronger hand in Syria, we have actually weakened that pressure. Russia’s objective to play a greater role in the Middle East has also been greatly enhanced. The Kurds, out of desperation, have aligned with Assad. So America is diminished; Russia, Iran and Assad are strengthened.”

Earlier in the day, Vice President Mike Pence announced that Erdogan had agreed to a five-day “ceasefire” with the Kurds on terms favorable to Turkey, and Trump celebrated that news as he departed for a campaign rally in Dallas.

“This is an amazing outcome. This is an outcome, regardless of how the press would like to damp it down, this was something that they’ve been trying to get for 10 years,” Trump said. “You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn’t get it without a little rough love, as I called it.”

Before Pence announced the short-term ceasefire that would spare Turkey from further U.S. sanctions, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a bill that would increase sanctions on Erdogan’s government well beyond those the Trump administration put in place this week.

“Mr. President, as much as I like you and want to work with you, I am going to be consistent and I will hold you accountable,” Graham said.

On Wednesday, two-thirds of Republican House members voted in favor of a resolution that rebuked Trump over his handling of the Kurdish situation. But yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked a vote on the same nonbinding resolution in the Senate.”

Could be some breaking in the Republican ranks?



Maggie Haberman Interview on Mick Mulvaney’s Admission of a Quid Pro Quo in Ukraine Scandal!

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Mick Mulvaney

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday,  Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters that the Trump administration withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate an unfounded conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. That effectively confirmed a premise of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Asked whether he had just admitted to a quid pro quo, Mr. Mulvaney said, “We do that all the time with foreign policy.” Hours later, he tried to reverse his statement, saying, “There was absolutely no quid pro quo.”

Noah Weiland, a New York Times reporter,  had a brief interview with Maggie Haberman on why Mulvaneyy admitted to a quid pro quo.  Here is an excerpt.


Weiland:  I talked to my colleague Maggie Haberman about why he said something so stunning.
Haberman:  Whoa. That happened in front of reporters at the White House.


Weiland:  The briefing was jaw-dropping by any metric. He admitted to a quid pro quo. But it showed once again something you and I talked about two weeks ago: Mr. Trump tries to shift the window on conduct by revealing stuff publicly to take the sting out of its discovery. Mr. Mulvaney insisted the terminology doesn’t matter, but he bluntly acknowledged that aid was withheld from Ukraine to get a desired outcome on an investigation. That is at the heart of what Democrats have been trying to ascertain.  Was it actually the plan for him to do this?


Haberman:  I do think it was, yes — at least in part. Remember, this happened as Mr. Sondland was on the Hill giving a closed-door deposition. So I think Mr. Mulvaney was trying to rob House Democrats of a headline and frame the events on his own, to take the air out of the sails by saying it out loud. But it’s not clear that he was actually supposed to say there was a quid pro quo. It’s breathtaking that he’s the first person they’ve sent out to expressly discuss these issues and that he said so much.
Weiland:  How might this affect the impeachment investigation?


Haberman:  He came out and admitted to a lot of what House Democrats were hoping to get from him in a deposition! I can’t imagine the White House counsel and others were thrilled. Mr. Mulvaney and the counsel’s office have been at odds lately.
Weiland:  Since we’re talking about Mr. Mulvaney, why is he the guy Mr. Trump has wanted as his air traffic controller with Ukraine and now impeachment?


Haberman: He’s what Mr. Trump thinks he needs. When he sold himself to Mr. Trump as chief of staff, part of his pitch was that he had run two agencies and that both were drama-free. But the president grinds down guardrails, and Mr. Mulvaney wants job security. He has the same problem the other Trump chiefs of staff have had, which is this concern about self-preservation that can be at odds with the needs of the president. I think he was willing to go out and be the “human hand grenade,” to borrow a turn of phrase from the Fiona Hill testimony. I’m sensing some irony in the outcome, then.


Weiland Summary:  Mr. Mulvaney’s job has been perceived as being in jeopardy. There isn’t a clear replacement for him right now, but he may not have helped himself today. We don’t yet know how Mr. Trump feels about what Mr. Mulvaney said. But if past is prelude, if it proves problematic, the president will blame Mr. Mulvaney.



Congressman Elijah Cummings, Key Figure in Trump Investigations, Passes Away at 68!

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Elijah Cummings

Dear Commons Community,

Congressman Elijah Cummings, a longtime Maryland Democrat and key figure leading investigations into President Donald Trump, died this morning at age 68.  He passed away from “complications concerning longstanding health challenges,” his office said in a statement.  As reported by CNN.

“The congressman, who had represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District since 1996, served as the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of the panels involved in the impeachment inquiry of Trump.

He oversaw a range of investigations into the Trump administration, from issues relating to the impeachment inquiry to the treatment of migrants at the southern border to the use of personal email for official use by White House officials to how a citizenship question was considered for the US census.

And it was his committee that grilled Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in a blockbuster hearing this past February.

It was not immediately clear who will succeed Cummings as chairman of the Oversight Committee or how his passing will affect the swirling impeachment investigation into Trump.

Cummings had been in failing health in recent weeks. He had been in and out of the hospital, missing votes and business in his committee. He was spotted several times with a breathing tube in his nose connected to oxygen while sitting on the House floor. When speaking to reporters, he would have to wait for 15 to 20 seconds or so to catch his breath before speaking. He would drive around on a motorized wheelchair through the Capitol and then walk in using a walker.

Although he was chairman of the Oversight Committee, he had not been in command of the investigations on his panel. His staff did a lion’s share of the work and his staff has been helping lead the charge in the impeachment inquiry.

Prominent Trump critic

As he has led the investigative efforts, Cummings also clashed publicly with the President. Over the summer, Trump tweeted disparaging remarks toward Cummings and his Maryland district, which includes much of Baltimore, calling the majority black district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Responding to some of the President’s tweets — in which Trump suggested the congressman needed to spend more time fixing his district — Cummings said on Twitter: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors. It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch. But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”

Despite that high-profile feud, Trump and Cummings did not always disagree. More than two years prior, Cummings emerged from a White House meeting with Trump and told reporters that the two men had found common ground on their shared interest in lowering drug prices.

At the time, Cummings also said he urged the President to rethink his language on African American communities after Trump repeatedly painted a grim picture of inner-city life on the campaign trail.

“I want you to realize that all African American communities are not places of depression and where people are being harmed,” Cummings told reporters, recalling his conversation with Trump. “When we hear those words about carnage and we are living in depressed situations, I told him it was very hurtful.”

In another high-profile moment earlier this year, Cummings stood up for Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, one of the President’s closest allies and staunchest defenders in Congress, in the face of accusations of racism. The chairman referred to Meadows as one of his “best friends.” When Meadows learned of Cummings’ passing Thursday, he said he was “truly heartbroken.”

“I have no other words to express the loss,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash.

Leading African American voice on Capitol Hill

Cummings, who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, had become a leading voice among African American lawmakers on Capitol Hill at the time of his passing, and his death triggered an outpouring of grief from his colleagues.

“He spoke truth to power, defended the disenfranchised and represented West Baltimore with strength and dignity,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, House Democratic caucus chairman and a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus, tweeted Thursday morning. “Congress has lost a Champion. Heaven has gained an Angel of Justice. May he forever #RestInPower.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler called Cummings a “giant of public service,” and Sen. Ben Cardin said his fellow Marylander “guaranteed a voice to so many who would otherwise not have one.”

Civil Rights

Earlier this year, Cummings discussed how, even at a young age, he faced racial violence in trying to integrate parts of his neighborhood.

“We were trying to integrate an Olympic-size pool near my house, and we had been constrained to a wading pool in the black community,” Cummings told ABC’s “This Week” in July. “As we tried to march to that pool over six days, I was beaten, all kinds of rocks and bottles thrown at me.”

Cummings said Trump’s racist remarks against four minority members of Congress echoed the same insults he heard as a 12-year-old boy in 1962, which he said were “very painful.”

“The interesting thing is that I heard the same chants. ‘Go home. You don’t belong here,’ ” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “And they called us the N-word over and over again.”

Cummings was born and raised in Baltimore — the city that is home to his district. The son of former sharecroppers, Cummings was born in 1951 and graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 1969.

He practiced law and served for 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, where, according to his congressional website, he became the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem.

In 1996, he was first elected to the US Congress. Cummings was reelected last year in the 7th Congressional District with 76% of the vote.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” that Cummings was “a mentor and someone who in every situation would do the right thing, would put his community and the cause above everything else. Including himself.”

The Florida Democrat said watching Cummings continue with his duties despite his health struggles was inspirational.

“We’ll walk in his shadow, in his shoes that will never be filled,” she said.


Nancy Pelosi: Trump Has Meltdown during White House Meeting on Syria!

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Dear Commons Community,

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked out of a meeting with Donald Trump yesterday about the crisis in Syria  after she said the president had had a “very serious meltdown” and insulted her in front of other congressional leaders.  As reported by Yahoo News and other media.

“What’s really sad about it is that I pray for the president all the time and I tell him that, I pray for his safety and that of his family. Now we have to pray for his health, because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president,” Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.

She and other members of Congress had gathered at the White House Wednesday afternoon to be briefed by Trump on his decision to pull U.S. troops from a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria, allowing Turkish forces to invade the region. It was the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Pelosi since House Democrats began their impeachment inquiry of the president in late September, and it came just hours after the House passed a resolution by a bipartisan vote of 354 to 60 rebuking the president for abandoning Kurdish militias that the U.S. had recruited to fight ISIS.

During the meeting, Trump lashed out at Pelosi, according to Democrats who attended, calling her a “third-rate politician.”

House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump “was insulting, particularly to the speaker.”

“She kept her cool completely, but he called her a third-rate politician,” Schumer said. “He said that there are communists involved and you guys might like that. I mean, this was not a dialogue. It was a diatribe.”

According to the accounts of Democrats who attended the meeting, Pelosi confronted Trump over his change of policy, saying it had allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to gain a “foothold in the Middle East,” and telling Trump that “all roads with you lead to Putin.”

Trump seems to have been caught off guard by the reaction to his decision, which was taken without consulting his Cabinet or staff after an Oct. 6 phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The next day he threatened to “obliterate” the Turkish economy with sanctions if Erdogan’s forces provoked bloodshed in Syria. And on Wednesday the White House leaked an Oct. 9 letter (see above) from Trump to Erdogan that struck observers as so out of the ordinary for communication between heads of state that for several hours journalists treated it as a possible hoax.

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way,” Trump wrote. “It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” 

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham placed blame on Pelosi and Schumer for the breakdown of the White House meeting.

“While Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country,” Grisham said.

Trump has faced fierce pressure from members of both parties, including some within his own administration, for his handling of Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish forces. Earlier in the day, he parroted Russian, Turkish and Syrian talking points when he declared that the Kurdish PKK “is probably worse at terror, more of a terrorist threat in many ways, than ISIS,” and signaled that the dispute between Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was not America’s problem.

Trump is losing it!


Chicago Teachers Announce Strike – Classes Cancelled for 300,000 Students!

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Lori Lightfoot

Dear Commons Community,

Teachers in Chicago announced last night that they would go on strike, forcing the cancellation of classes for more than 300,000 public school students in the nation’s third-largest district starting today.  This was expected as the Chicago Teachers Union and the city were not near agreement on a new contract.  As reported by The New York Times.

“The strike threatened to upend life in the city, as parents raced to make arrangements for child care and as city officials began to activate a contingency plan for supervising and feeding students in school buildings.

The strike in Chicago is the latest in a string of more than a dozen major walkouts by teachers across the country since early last year. It is an important early test for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was elected this year after a campaign in which she called for more nurses and social workers in the city’s schools — some of the very changes Chicago’s teachers are seeking now.

The city and the Chicago Teachers Union, which represents more than 20,000 educators, had been in tense contract negotiations for months, although there had been signs of progress in recent days.

The split between the city and the union stretches beyond traditional debates over pay and benefits, though representatives for each side disputed details of what had been offered during negotiations and what the exact points of contention were now.

The city said that it has offered teachers pay raises totaling 16 percent over a five-year contract, while union leaders have called for increases of 15 percent over a shorter three-year term. More pressing, union leaders say, are their calls for a promise — in writing — of smaller class sizes, more paid time to prepare lessons and the hiring of more school nurses, social workers, librarians and counselors. Other issues, including affordable housing provisions and protections for immigrant students, have also been raised.

The strike is the first for Chicago’s school system since 2012, when teachers walked out for seven days as part of a defining battle with the city’s previous administration.

About 7,500 school support employees represented by a different union also rejected a contract offer and planned to go on strike Thursday. Those workers include security officers, bus aides, custodians and special education classroom assistants.

The standoff with the unions represents one of the first significant challenges for Ms. Lightfoot, a Democrat who took office this year after an overwhelming electoral victory in all 50 of the city’s wards. The teachers’ union endorsed Ms. Lightfoot’s opponent, also a Democrat, and suggested Ms. Lightfoot was not progressive enough.

Ms. Lightfoot, who had never before held elective office, ran for mayor promising to undo inequities that have left parts of Chicago behind, including mostly African-American neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides where some schools have been closed in recent years. About 47 percent of the system’s students are Hispanic, 37 percent are African-American and 10 percent are white, according to Chicago Public Schools records; some 76 percent are economically disadvantaged.

Complicating matters is the school system’s fiscal situation, which has been dire but has improved enough to make labor negotiations even possible. With an annual budget of $5.98 billion, the system has long faced fiscal struggles, including high unfunded pension liabilities. In recent years, major credit agencies have rated the school system’s bonds below investment grade. But over recent months, its financial outlook has stabilized somewhat, in part because of increased state aid.

Ms. Lightfoot voiced frustration on Wednesday as the strike neared, suggesting that she agreed with much of what the teachers want. During her campaign for mayor, Ms. Lightfoot called for putting full-time nurses, social workers and librarians in all city schools, and promised to expand counseling services, recruit more black and Hispanic teachers and increase after-school programs.

“At every turn, we’ve bent over backwards to meet the union’s needs and deliver a contract that reflects our shared values and vision for our schools and the support of our students,” Ms. Lightfoot told reporters at City Hall on Wednesday.

But Stacy Davis Gates, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the city had failed to offer more than the status quo on some essential issues.

“Negotiating in good faith means that we get to reach a settlement,” Ms. Davis Gates said. “If she cannot land a deal for teachers for public schools in Chicago, then you have to question her ability to get work done in this city.”

She also suggested that Ms. Lightfoot’s image would depend on how the contract dispute was resolved.

“Our children deserve the best that this city has to offer,” Ms. Davis Gates said. “They do not deserve broken promises. Our South Side communities, our West Side communities are littered with broken promises, unkept commitments. This contract has to represent something different for the city of Chicago — it has got to represent something different. And she ran to do that. Period.”

Chicago was the birthplace of unionization among teachers in the late 19th century, and the heavily Democratic city has remained a hotbed of teacher activism. The Chicago Teachers Union clashed with Rahm Emanuel, Ms. Lightfoot’s predecessor as mayor, during the 2012 strike. In December 2018, Chicago was the site of the first teacher strike at a charter school network.”

Let’s hope this is not a long strike! 



Harold Bloom – Defender of the Western Canon – Dies at 89!

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Dear Commons Community,

Harold Bloom, called the most notorious literary critic in America, died on Monday.  He was a prodigious writer and a professor at Yale University and New York University.  He was best-known as the defender of the Western Canon, once declaring that Shakespeare is “God.”  His full obituary in the New York Times is below.



Harold Bloom, Critic Who Championed Western Canon, Dies at 89!

By Dinitia Smith

Oct. 14, 2019

Harold Bloom, the prodigious literary critic who championed and defended the Western canon in an outpouring of influential books that appeared not only on college syllabuses but also — unusual for an academic — on best-seller lists, died on Monday at a hospital in New Haven. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Jeanne Bloom, who said he taught his last class at Yale University on Thursday.

Professor Bloom was frequently called the most notorious literary critic in America. From a vaunted perch at Yale, he flew in the face of almost every trend in the literary criticism of his day. Chiefly he argued for the literary superiority of the Western giants like Shakespeare, Chaucer and Kafka — all of them white and male, his own critics pointed out — over writers favored by what he called “the School of Resentment,” by which he meant multiculturalists, feminists, Marxists, neoconservatives and others whom he saw as betraying literature’s essential purpose.

“He is, by any reckoning, one of the most stimulating literary presences of the last half-century — and the most protean,” Sam Tanenhaus wrote in 2011 in The New York Times Book Review, of which he was the editor at the time, “a singular breed of scholar-teacher-critic-prose-poet-pamphleteer.”

At the heart of Professor Bloom’s writing was a passionate love of literature and a relish for its heroic figures.

“Shakespeare is God,” he declared, and Shakespeare’s characters, he said, are as real as people and have shaped Western perceptions of what it is to be human — a view he propounded in the acclaimed “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human” (1998).

The analogy to divinity worked both ways: In “The Book of J” (1990), Professor Bloom challenged most existing biblical scholarship by suggesting that even the Judeo-Christian God was a literary character — invented by a woman, no less, who may have lived in the court of King Solomon and who wrote sections of the first five books of the Old Testament. “The Book of J” became a best seller.

Professor Bloom was widely regarded as the most popular literary critic in America (an encomium he might have considered faint praise). Among his other best sellers were his magnum opus “The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages,” published in 1994, and “How to Read and Why” (2000).

That record of commercial success led many in the academy to dismiss him as a populist. “Mention the name of Harold Bloom to academics in literature departments these days and they will roll their eyes,” the British scholar and author Jonathan Bate wrote in The New Republic in 2011.

The Bronx-born son of a garment worker, Professor Bloom might have been a character out of literature himself. With his untidy gray hair and melancholy eyes encircled by shadows, he was known to hold forth from what his students called The Chair, which he, of ample girth, amply filled, surrounded by stacks of books.

He was fond of endearments, like “little child.” He addressed both male and female students as “dear” and would kiss them on the top of the head.

Gorging on Words

Professor Bloom called himself “a monster” of reading; he said he could read, and absorb, a 400-page book in an hour. His friend Richard Bernstein, a professor of philosophy at the New School, told a reporter that watching Professor Bloom read was “scary.”

Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite acres of poetry by heart — by his account, the whole of Shakespeare, Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible and Edmund Spenser’s monumental “The Fairie Queen.” He relished epigraphs, gnomic remarks and unusual words: kenosis (emptying), tessera (completing), askesis (diminishing) and clinamen (swerving).

He quite enjoyed being likened to Samuel Johnson, the great 18th-century critic, essayist, lexicographer and man about London, who, like Professor Bloom (“a Yiddisher Dr. Johnson” was one appellation), was rotund, erudite and often caustic in his opinions. (Professor Bloom even had a vaguely English accent, his Bronx roots notwithstanding.)

Or if not Johnson, then the actor Zero Mostel, whom he resembled.

“I am Zero Mostel!” Professor Bloom once said.

Like Dr. Johnson’s, his output was vast: more than 40 books of his own authorship and hundreds of volumes he edited. And he remained prolific to the end, publishing two books in 2017, two in 2018 and two this year: “Macbeth: A Dagger of the Mind” and “Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism.” His final book is to be released on an unspecified date by Yale University Press, his wife said.

Perhaps Professor Bloom’s most influential work was one that discussed literary influence itself. The book, “The Anxiety of Influence,” published in 1973 and eventually in some 45 languages, borrows from Freudian theory in envisioning literary creation as an epochal, and Oedipal, struggle in which the young artist rebels against preceding traditions, seeking that burst of originality that distinguishes greatness.

Professor Bloom argued that a poem was both a response to another poem and a defense against it. Poetry, he wrote, was a dark battleground where poets deliberately “misread” those who came before them and repress their debt to them.

This was a view that ran counter to the New Criticism, the dominant literary theory in midcentury America that put aside matters like historical context and author’s intentions and rather saw literature as a series of texts to be closely analyzed, their meaning to be found in language and structure.

Professor Bloom crossed swords with other critical perspectives in “The Western Canon.” The eminent critic Frank Kermode, identifying those whom Professor Bloom saw as his antagonists, wrote in The London Review of Books, “He has in mind all who profess to regard the canon as an instrument of cultural, hence political, hegemony — as a subtle fraud devised by dead white males to reinforce ethnic and sexist oppression.”

Professor Bloom insisted that a literary work is not a social document — is not to be read for its political or historical content — but is to be enjoyed above all for the aesthetic pleasure it brings. “Bloom isn’t asking us to worship the great books,” the writer Adam Begley wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1994. “He asks instead that we prize the astonishing mystery of creative genius.”

Professor Bloom himself said that “the canonical quality comes out of strangeness, comes out of the idiosyncratic, comes out of originality.” Mr. Begley noted further, “The canon, Bloom believes, answers an unavoidable question: What, in the little time we have, shall we read?”

“You must choose,” Professor Bloom himself wrote in “The Western Canon.” “Either there were aesthetic values or there are only the overdeterminations of race, class and gender.”

His Writing Hall of Fame

Attached to “The Western Canon” is an appendix listing the works of some 850 writers that Professor Bloom thought would endure in posterity. Plato and Shakespeare and Proust are there, of course, but so are lesser-known figures, like Ivo Andric, a Yugoslav who won the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Taha Hussein, an important Egyptian writer and intellectual.

Many in the literary world delighted in trying to decipher the meanings behind Professor Bloom’s sometimes idiosyncratic choices. Some puzzled over his judgment, for example, that of all John Updike’s considerable body of work, only the novel “The Witches of Eastwick” would last. Professor Bloom’s critics noted that Mr. Updike had once referred to Professor Bloom’s writings as “torturous.” Philip Roth, a friend of Professor Bloom’s, garnered six mentions. Alice Walker was ignored altogether, but the poet J.D. McClatchy and the critics David Bromwich and Barbara Packer, all students of Professor Bloom’s, made the cut.

Later, in “The Anatomy of Influence” — a 2011 book he called, prematurely, his “virtual swan song” — Professor Bloom seemed to soften his canonical stance, conceding that a critic of any heritage is obliged to take seriously other traditions, including non-Western.

The spotlight he commanded as a powerful cultural figure did not always flatter him. In 1990, GQ magazine, in an article titled “Bloom in Love,” portrayed him as having had intimate entanglements with female students. (“A disgusting piece of character assassination,” he was quoted as telling Mr. Begley in The Times Magazine.) And in a 2004 article in New York magazine, the writer Naomi Wolf wrote that he had once put his hand on her inner thigh when she was an undergraduate student. “Beautiful, brilliant students surrounded him,” she wrote. “He was a vortex of power and intellectual charisma.”

Professor Bloom vigorously denied her accusation.

The clarity of his prose was also questioned. “Harold is not a particularly good explainer,” his friend the poet John Hollander once told The Times, adding, “He’ll get hold of a word and allow this to generate a concept for him, but he’s not in a position to say very clearly what he means and what he’s doing.”

Still, Professor Bloom won huge book advances — $1.2 million in the case of “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds” (2002), a popular but erudite work on which great books a person ought to read.

“You must choose,” Professor Bloom wrote in “The Western Canon” (1994). “Either there were aesthetic values or there are only the overdeterminations of race, class and gender.” In “Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds” (2002), he discussed which great books a person should read.

Harold Bloom was born on July 11, 1930, in the East Bronx, into an Orthodox Jewish household. He was the youngest of five children of William and Paula (Lev) Bloom, struggling immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a garment worker.

The first book Harold read was an anthology of Yiddish poetry. He soon discovered the New York Public Library’s branch in the Melrose section of the Bronx and worked his way through Hart Crane, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot. He graduated from the exclusive Bronx High School of Science — “that ghastly place,” he called it — and went to Cornell on a scholarship, where he dazzled his professors.

When he graduated from Cornell in 1951, his teachers insisted that he go to another institution for graduate school. “We couldn’t teach him anything more,” said M.H. Abrams, the eminent critic and scholar of Romanticism who was Professor Bloom’s adviser.

A Passion for the Romantics

Professor Bloom was accepted at Yale, a stronghold of the New Criticism in the 1950s. The New Critics, among them T.S. Eliot, favored 17th-century metaphysical and religious poets like John Donne and George Herbert, both clergymen. Professor Bloom found that school of thought arid.

It was “no accident,” the young Professor Bloom wrote, “that the poets brought into favor by the New Criticism were Catholics or High Church Anglicans.” He added that the “academic criticism of literature in our time became almost an affair of church wardens.”

“And I am very Jewish,” he told a reporter, “and lower-class Jewish at that.”

His heroes were Emerson and the English Romantics, but Romanticism was in ill repute at Yale. Nevertheless, he wrote his doctoral thesis on Romanticism and adapted and published it as his first book, “Shelley’s Mythmaking” (1959). He published a more comprehensive study of the Romantics, “The Visionary Company,’’ in 1961. In championing the Romantics he was credited with helping to persuade English departments to teach them again in the 1960s.

At Yale, however, he cast himself in direct opposition to the prevailing ethos, particularly with “The Anxiety of Influence,” positing that great literature is an act of rebellion against the writers who came before. Though he briefly aligned himself with the Yale deconstructionists Paul De Man, J. Hillis Miller, Jacques Derrida and Geoffrey Hartman, Professor Bloom broke with the Yale English department completely in 1977. He was appointed De Vane professor of humanities and eventually Sterling professor of the humanities, the highest academic rank at Yale, in effect becoming a department unto himself.

In 1984 Professor Bloom took on a vast project: editing some 600 volumes of criticism for Chelsea House, a publisher of scholarly works. One motive for doing so was to provide for a disabled adult son. The next year he received a so-called genius award grant from the Catherine and John D. MacArthur Foundation.

Professor Bloom took on a greater teaching load in 1988, spending part of each week as the Berg professor of English at New York University.

At his death he lived in the same rambling 19th-century brown-shingled house in New Haven that he and his wife, Jeanne, a retired psychologist in the Branford, Conn., school system, had occupied for more than 50 years and filled with thousands of books, paintings and sculptures. He had married Jeanne Gould in 1958.

In addition to his wife, Professor Bloom is survived by two sons, Daniel and David.

Professor Bloom was ultimately both optimistic, in a narrow sense, and pessimistic, in a much broader one, about the durability of great literature. The books he loved would no doubt always find readers, he wrote, though their numbers might dwindle. But his great concern was that the books would no longer be taught, and thus become irrelevant.

“What are now called ‘Departments of English’ will be renamed departments of ‘Cultural Studies,’” he wrote in “The Western Canon,” “where Batman comics, Mormon theme parks, television, movies and rock will replace Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens.

“Major, once-elitist universities and colleges,” he continued, “will still offer a few courses in Shakespeare, Milton and their peers, but these will be taught by departments of three or four scholars, equivalent to teachers of ancient Greek and Latin.”