Sunday, June 18, 2017

Monday is Juneteenth Day

Monday: Juneteenth

Monday, June 19th is Juneteenth.  152 years of Juneteenth Independence Day.

The date celebrates the June 19, 1865, announcement of the loss of the Civil War and the abolition of all slaves in the state of Texas.  This was two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1st. 

In Chicago, many events will be held on the weekend, and a free concert will be held in Millennium Park at 6:30 p.m.  Customary celebrations, like those held in Texas in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s provided an opportunity for simple freedoms like singing, dancing, and readings from worshipped artists.

In Aurora, The Juneteenth Freedom and Heritage Foundation will hold a celebration  at Farnsworth Ave., and Grand Blvd.   This event is free to the public and will feature entertainment, singing, dance, spoken word, moon jumps, basketball tournament, games, chess, entertainment, motivational speakers and fun for the whole family.

Why June 19th?  It was on that date in 1865 that Union soldiers under the command of General Granger finally washed ashore in Galveston to inform the Texans of what had transpired.  By and large, Texas and its citizens were not impressed.  The limited size of the Union force and the increased numbers of slave-holders fleeing southern states to Texas as the war ravaged their plantations made for little response or acceptance of the news.

Other stories and conspiracy theories, most likely apocryphal, surfaced as reasons for the delay in the announcement for over two years after the President’s Proclamation.  The soldier sent to carry the news to Texas was murdered by those who wanted to prevent such information from reaching the fields.  Plantation owners kept the information from their work force to maintain order and production.  The Union soldiers were complicit in keeping the information from slaves to assure cotton crops were picked before freedom.

In fact, slaves worked and tilled the fields for over two years after they had been acknowledged free men and women in the Capitol.

Despite the Lone Star pushback, after Lee surrendered in April of 1865, it was only a matter of time before the tide of change would sweep across the nation.  Texas Supreme Court decisions in the next decade reaffirmed the status of freedom for those brave African Americans who had cautiously celebrated their liberty in June in the streets of Galveston upon first hearing the news.

Other racial justice organizations will mark the day remembering the horrific history of the slave trade and its everlasting impact on a people and two continents separated by over 5000 nautical miles. 

Over 2 million died while crossing the Middle Passage into America. 

At least as many others perished during the forced transportation across West Africa to the waiting ports.

Estimates of total captives brought to America for slavery run as high as 12 million.

Several hundred captives were chained together below decks in deplorable conditions, suffering cramped contagion and death on the journey.

Insurance brokers provided for coverage in cases of drowning, but not simply deaths.  As a result, some historians visualize the Atlantic sea bottom marking the exact paths of ships with the mountains of bones left from throwing strings of sick or unwanted slaves overboard. Deplorable.

It’s small wonder that Juneteenth will likewise mark the strong, resentful argument for reparations by racial justice organizers like the Black Land and Liberation Initiative.  They and others symbolically revisit the issue by highlighting General William Sherman’s original order in 1865 by recognizing a national day of action.  According to writer Aviana Willis, “In 40 acres across 40 cities black people will take nonviolent direct action to occupy and reclaim spaces such as abandoned schools and empty lots, with the goal of putting these spaces into service of the community.”

Black Land and Liberation Initiative states it clearly:  “We are people who have been enslaved and dispossessed as a result of the oppressive, exploitative, extractive system of colonialism and white supremacy.  In this system, our labor and its products have been taken from us for generations for the accumulation of wealth by others.”(

General William T. Sherman
“We have been taught in school that the source of the policy of “40 acres and a mule” was Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, issued on Jan. 16, 1865. (That account is half-right: Sherman prescribed the 40 acres in that Order, but not the mule. The mule would come later.) But what many accounts leave out is that this idea for massive land redistribution actually was the result of a discussion that Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton held four days before Sherman issued the Order, with 20 leaders of the black community in Savannah, Ga., where Sherman was headquartered following his famous March to the Sea. The meeting was unprecedented in American history.
“Today, we commonly use the phrase “40 acres and a mule,” but few of us have read the Order itself. Three of its parts are relevant here. Section one bears repeating in full: “The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns river, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes [sic] now made free by the acts of war and the proclamation of the President of the United States.”
“Section two specifies that these new communities, moreover, would be governed entirely by black people themselves: ” … on the islands, and in the settlements hereafter to be established, no white person whatever, unless military officers and soldiers detailed for duty, will be permitted to reside; and the sole and exclusive management of affairs will be left to the freed people themselves … By the laws of war, and orders of the President of the United States, the negro [sic] is free and must be dealt with as such.”
“Finally, section three specifies the allocation of land: ” … each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel, with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves, or until Congress shall regulate their title.”
“With this Order, 400,000 acres of land — “a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast,” as Barton Myers reports — would be redistributed to the newly freed slaves. The extent of this Order and its larger implications are mind-boggling, actually.” (
Stanton had gone to a group of African American preachers and ministers at the conclusion of the war, asking what would be an appropriate payment for the debasing of a race and people.  The answer was the assurance of future economic freedom by receiving land on which to farm, land that had been taken in Sherman’s march along the southeastern coast of the United States.  Sherman later threw in the single mule with the 40 acres – as many of the pack animals were now available after the war.
“And what happened to this astonishingly visionary program, which would have fundamentally altered the course of American race relations? Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer with the South, overturned the Order in the fall of 1865, and, as Barton Myers sadly concludes, “returned the land along the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida coasts to the planters who had originally owned it” — to the very people who had declared war on the United States of America.”
Only a small handful of states – Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota – do not recognize the date as a day for observance, a ceremonial holiday or state sanctioned holiday.  45 other states, including Illinois, recognize the date’s importance and its observance of the participation and achievements of African-Americans in the progress of our country.  Senator John Cornym of Texas is sponsoring an effort to make Juneteenth a national Day of Observation this year.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Humpty Dumpty in Illinois...

“Couldn’t Put Illinois Together Again…”

Less than a week ago, the Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza reminded all of us that since its inclusion into the Union the state of Illinois has never undergone a single year without a budget.  Since the inauguration of the Rauner administration in Springfield, the state has had no fiscal budget for going on three years now.

Rauner calls this a “dereliction of duty.”

It’s more than that.

Seniors  will continue to lose meals on wheels and in-home care. People experiencing mental illness will be denied treatment. Survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse will be left without services vital for their safety and well-being. The list of suffering goes on.
The providers of these services have exhausted their funding options, including their reserves, lines of credit and grants from angel donors. Most have received no state payments since last fall. They simply cannot survive; a rash of new closings will likely occur; the state’s social service infrastructure will continue to erode. Meanwhile, a number of school districts across the state are facing the reality that they might not be able to start school on time in the fall.
Moreover, Illinois will also continue its tumble deeper into debt, building on its mountain of unpaid bills, and falling into junk bond status—a crisis that threatens the long-term health of the entire state.” 
(Responsible Budget Coalition:

The downgrades to Illinois’ bond ratings continue.  Now we have approached junk-status.

Under Governor Pat Quinn there were nearly as many downgrades as for Rauner, but Quinn’s were the result of unfunded liabilities – NOT self-inflicted wounds as a result of forced impasses.  Did Rauner really expect a Democratic Majority in both houses to buckle under his demands or else?

Or else what? 

Creating unimagined suffering for the marginalized and infirm?  Razing the universities’ educational systems and funding?  Snowballing a stockpile of unpaid bills into an Everest of nearly $15 billion, which will drain successive general revenues for decades?  Shaping a beast of interest payments, which could have been used for easing real obligations?

The Responsible Budget Coalition continues: “Fiscal experts from across the political spectrum—from the Civic Federation to the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago to the Center on Budget and Tax Accountability to the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children—all agree that Illinois must adopt a budget that includes substantial new revenue in order to get out of this mess.
“The Senate Democrats should be commended for voting for substantial new and permanent revenue.  But too many of our elected officials lack the courage and honesty to support what they all know is needed.”

And, yet, the Senate Leader Cullerton reminds us all, “He hijacked the grand bargain in the middle of the process. Told the Republicans to vote no and didn't give the support and the same thing happened in the House and as a result we don't have a budget." (

Even though offerings of property tax freezes and workmen’s compensation reform were added. Rauner has disdained these offerings.  They “don’t move the needle” enough, he now says. 

“It's well past time to stop making preconditions, pointing fingers, making excuses, and cynically seeking to gain political advantages.”  The Coalition continues: “ And, as we’ve said since the outset of this impasse, the Governor shouldn’t place more importance on his non-budget Turnaround Agenda items than doing his basic duty of proposing and approving a balanced budget and working to fund vital services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Meanwhile, the Governor continues in his Griffin-sponsored run for office in 2018, splicing together a fallacious argument on the broken government he leads in his faux workshop with reams of duct tape. 

The current backlog of bills is nearly half of General Revenue with a tax increase.  How many years and what size tax increase will be necessary once Rauner is gone?  What kind of payments will we all make to amend this disaster?

Feeling marginalized yourself?

Resist, Illinois.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ernesto & Mulvaney: Starve the Beast

Mulvaney: Cutting Aid to the Poor Is Compassionate for Those of Us Who Pay for Them...

I was digging out variegated hosta for Ernesto when he showed up the other day to pick up some bundles and the starters of Persian Shield he so much loved to spark some of the edges of his large garden.  I’d happened across a bunch of the Burmese tropical plant, a serrated leaf with iridescent purple splashes of color against a verdant green.  Good stuff.

I recommend it for its color, not its recent political history.

Ernesto had just come from south of my home, along Harlem Avenue at about 143rd Street.  That’s an especially telling corner these days.  In the middle of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, that beautiful collar bequeathed by Daniel Burnham, the intersection has become the place where each corner is occupied by sign-holding panhandlers. 

Because it is in the depth of the forest preserve, not the various villages surrounding the place, the only block facing those seeking handouts here will be the occasional Cook County Sheriff vehicle that pulls over and shags them away.  Other than that, they’re there each and every day. Each and every hour.  And a few moments after the Sheriff squad pulls away.

Ernesto: It is so wrong to see these people begging along the corner out there.  Especially the Santy Claus guy with the sign attached to his chest saying he’s homeless. 

I totally agree, Ernesto.  I’ve known that man for more than a decade, and he has become a sorry product of his situation.  He’s an outcome of Cook County jail and our broken system of medical carelessness for one who is suffering mental illness. 

Ernesto: Mental illness?  He seems fine to me.  He should be working instead of begging.

I totally agree again, my friend.  But he cannot.  He is off his meds and is not likely to find an employer who wants to hear someone talking to himself in Biblical verse for periods of time while he – what? – packs something into boxes?  Didn’t you notice he is talking all the time he is roving between the cars for handouts?

Ernesto: I don’t roll down the windows.  But I have heard from friends he has a car.


Ernesto:  And an apartment.  A place to live, so he may say homeless on his coat, but he’s not. 

You know, Ernesto, as I work with those who are truly homeless, they – like you – mythologize this man.  Indeed, he does look like Santa Clause, and he does work the corners of the street in Harlem.  The truly homeless tell exaggerated tales of his climb to greatness and wealth.  They imagine he has an annual income of well over $100,000 per year.  They covet his new Infinity SUV.  In fact, one woman who gave him some money one day saw him in an SUV and began chasing him on Facebook, trying to find out his apartment, etc., and decrying his falsehoods as homeless.

Ernesto: Don’t give me that one please, it’s too big.  You should keep it for yourself.  But back to Santy.  So, you admit, he’s not homeless, my friend.  And his car, he parks it in the forest and walks to his corner.

Of course, Ernesto.  That’s easy, and in fact, I’m proud of him for it.  Despite a state which birthed him out of Cook County’s jail system and offered him no support and cast him from the queue of needy people with mental illness (thank you, Governor Rauner), he survives.  He even has a place to stay.  He might even have a white, beater SUV.  And how?  He works in the rain and the snow and the heat and the cold on a corner.  He wraps his feet in strips of cloth and walks on the muddy street’s edge and between the traffic to achieve a dollar or even more.  Maybe many more.

Ernesto: So you admit this homelessness is a total scam.

Scam?  But, Ernesto, my friend, he cannot work.  Do you understand?  He is incapable of work because he hasn’t the support system for on with a mental illness to do so. He works alone.  He panhandles.

Ernesto: But he’s not homeless.  He chooses not to work.

Yes, for the moment he’s not.  But he’s always on the verge.  And he’s up every morning at 5 a.m. to get to the corner so others who are trying to do the same thing and encumbered with the same problems cannot push him out.  And believe me, Ernesto, they will.  He’s surviving, and he’s working as only he is able.  Isn’t that enough?

Ernesto: You know that some of these people actually have whole families out there.  They park their cars and send everyone – the kids and wife – to separate corners to get as much money as they can.

I would imagine you’re right, Ernesto.  Do you believe that is a scam too?  Are all the poor a scam unless they draw a check?

Ernesto:  Of course.  They could have jobs.  If they wanted.

It’s good we have these talks, Ernesto.  They open both our eyes. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poison at Your Farmers Market?

What Does Kill You Won’t Make You Stronger…

My wife washes lemons with soap and water.  Oranges and limes too.  Grapes and avocados sit in soapy water and await their final rinses after an hour or so. 

“Even if we don’t eat the skin or surface part,” she warns with her wagging Buddhist forefinger, we are handling those parts of the fruit where pesticides or insecticides have been applied or contacted during the journey to the local store or farmers market. Wash them and your hands too.” 

In fact, any fruit or tree nut that is consumed totally is given the treatment – and that’s quite a few spring and summer items we put into our mouths, isn’t it?

News Release from the EPA on 3/29/2017:

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed an order denying a petition that sought to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide crucial to U.S. agriculture.

“We need to provide regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Pruitt. “By reversing the previous Administration’s steps to ban one of the most widely used pesticides in the world, we are returning to using sound science in decision-making – rather than predetermined results.”

“This is a welcome decision grounded in evidence and science,” said Sheryl Kunickis, director of the Office of Pest Management Policy at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “It means that this important pest management tool will remain available to growers, helping to ensure an abundant and affordable food supply for this nation and the world.  This frees American farmers from significant trade disruptions that could have been caused by an unnecessary, unilateral revocation of chlorpyrifos tolerances in the United States. It is also great news for consumers, who will continue to have access to a full range of both domestic and imported fruits and vegetables. We thank our colleagues at EPA for their hard work.”

The Market name for the insecticide Mr. Pruitt has allowed back into the food chain is Vulcan, the god thrown from heaven by Zeus/Jupiter for failing to reveal the end of his dominion.  Ironically, especially in this case, bug-killers like Vulcan will be the likely end of our dominion over earth.

The Trump EPA decision supposedly “grounded in evidence and science,” as Director Kunickis blithely points out, is in fact just the opposite.  According to a recent Mother Jones article: “Stephanie Engel, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina and a co-author of the Mount Sinai paper, says the evidence that chlorpyrifos exposure causes harm is "compelling"—and is "much stronger" even than the case against BPA (bisphenol A), the controversial plastic additive. She says babies and fetuses are particularly susceptible to damage from chlorpyrifos because they metabolize toxic chemicals more slowly than adults do. And "many adults" are susceptible, too, because they lack a gene that allows for metabolizing the chemical efficiently, Engel adds.

A ban on the use of Chlorpyriphos was finally achieved during the Obama Administration after a decade-long review of its use and the concerns on those who worked with the insecticide, manufactured by an Agri-Scientific sub company of Dow Chemical called MANA (not the Biblical succor that falls from the sky).   A Federal Appeals Court demanded a final stop to the use of the chemical at the end of March 2017; Vulcan was outlawed for use by the general population in 2000.    Note Pruitt’s timely intervention on March 29th. 

Reprise 2017?
Chlorpyriphos is classified as an organochloride insecticide.  If you’re old enough, you might remember the generous smells of DDT on warm evenings as village trucks rolled down the avenues spraying the treetops for mosquitoes.  If you’re younger, you might recall the decimation of various animals and especially bird species whose eggs were compromised by the shell-thinning effects of DDT and the later behavioral aberrations caused by PCB’s. 

Both of these chemicals were banned, of course, but it’s early in the Pruitt/Trump Administration. 

According to the EPA Release: “The public record lays out serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps in the proposal. Reliable data, overwhelming in both quantity and quality, contradicts the reliance on – and misapplication of – studies to establish the end points and conclusions used to rationalize the proposal.

The USDA disagrees with the methodology used by the previous Administration. Similarly, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also objected to EPA’s methodology. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) also expressed concerns with regard to EPA’s previous reliance on certain data the Agency had used to support its proposal to ban the pesticide.

And, of course, we didn’t have to wait too long.  On May 15, 2017, in Bakersfield, California, more than 50 workers were exposed to Vulcan sprayed upwind of them while they were picking cabbages in their fields.  The orchard next to the cabbage pickers was sprayed, but the drift of the insecticide affected the many workers.   The spray had been applied the night before, but like many persistent insecticides, the residual amount was lifted into the air during winds the next day and arrived on top of the workers in the fields.  Vulcan is considered toxic by ingestion, inhalation or even touch.

But the EPA now allows it.
Here in the Midwest, we can expect the new “tool” from the EPA to provide Vulcan for use on soybeans and corn.  To the north, apples, peaches, asparagus, and other delicacies will be subjected. 

In 2012, product manager, Keith Miller, celebrated the possibilities and competitiveness of Vulcan. “With new formulations like Vulcan performing as well as or in some cases better than competitive EC based formulations, we’re determined to answer grower and retailer requests for continued use of highly-effective solutions like chlorpyrifos,” Miller says. “Through aggressive research and innovation work, we plan to launch eight new formulations of proven products currently in our portfolio by 2013.”
Chlorpyrifos is one of the most widely-used agricultural insect control solutions worldwide. First registered in the U.S. in 1965, it has been on the market for more than 40 years. Today, chlorpyrifos is registered in about 100 countries worldwide.

In fact, before 2000 Chlorpyrifos was the most widely used insecticide for family gardening.  By 2000, the then EPA had seen enough to ban its use for the general public. 

Not scared yet?

According to Tom Philpott’s article in Mother Jones: “In an analysis of the risks posed by chlorpyrifos released in November 2016, the EPA crunched data on residues found in food and compared them to the levels at which the chemical can harm the most vulnerable populations: kids and women of child-bearing age. The results (found on page 23 of the EPA doc) are startling. Natural Resources Defense Council researchers turned them into this handy graphic:”

If you’d like to place a call to Scott Pruitt, you can do so at this number:

“Hello, Mr. Pruitt.  The use of persistent and virulent organichlorides was a chapter in our natural history I do not care to return to again and one in which we cannot afford to do so.  We decimated populations of wildlife and likewise threatened ourselves with chemicals designed to increase production without concern for dangerous effects on our children and our planet.  Your decision to provide Vulcan for dusting the very fruit and vegetables that will be consumed by our families is unconscionable.  You should be ashamed as well as eventually held accountable.”