Where Are They Now?

and who DID frame Roger Rabbit?


Two items on a similar theme, the first by an animator whose work I really do like, Steve Cutts:

and, less amusing:

This second video was done by Harry Chaskin, who seems to have a thing for monsters and stop motion.

How Robin Hood Helped Save New York

Originally published in New Ground 167, July — August, 2016.

by Bob Roman

“Ford to City: Drop Dead,” the New York Daily News headline famously proclaimed when President Gerald Ford, in October of 1975, promised to veto any legislation intended to prevent New York City’s impending bankruptcy. The New York City fiscal crisis lit the bonfire of the middle class in America and its consequences lead directly to atrocities like the poisoning of the Flint, Michigan, water supply. It was an experiment, now a fashionable practice, in putting local government under the control of an appointed board that preempts the authority of elected officials.

There are differences from then and now. For one thing, neither the organization of the Municipal Assistance Corporation to manage municipal debt nor the Emergency Financial Control Board that intervened more directly in management and policy assumed New York City’s problem was entirely the result of local incompetence. (One is tempted to ponder racism at this point, but let us continue.) New revenue was part of the solution then, unlike today when it is popular to assert that deficits can be resolved by eliminating waste and fraud. And maybe cutting taxes as well.

It’s here that Robin Hood makes his appearance. New York State has something resembling a Robin Hood Tax on the books, the Stock Transfer Tax, and it’s been on the books since 1905. There are differences in this law from contemporary Robin Hood Tax proposals. The New York tax is a stamp tax (think of the revenue stamp on a cigarette pack as an example) and the rate is tiered by price. There is a ceiling on the number of shares in a trade that it applies to and it is limited in applicability by the location of the trade. The legislation was written for the time when nearly everything went through brokers. The tax was phased out by 1981; it is now rebated immediately to the tax payer. According to New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, the state currently rebates something like $12 billion dollars in annual revenue from the tax.New York Tobin Tax

In 1975, the Stock Transfer Tax was very much a going revenue stream, and it was one of the taxes New York State diverted to pay New York City’s bondholders. In 1976, New York collected $287.6 million in revenue from the tax, roughly $1.2 billion in 2015 money. This amount was no where near a majority of the monies required by the Municipal Assistance Corporation that year, maybe 10 to 15 percent, the rest being conventional sales taxes generated within New York City and portions of state per capita aid.

Okay. It wasn’t New York that Robin Hood helped save. It was the bondholders. It is interesting that the only time Robin is allowed on stage, even in a supporting role, is when it’s Capital’s ass in peril. But that’s capitalism. The rich get the gold. We get the pee.


Chicago Afire?

Originally published in New Ground 163, November — December, 2015.

by Bob Roman

Dry tinder, high wind, and a persistent spark is all you need for one hell of a fire. Ask any Chicagoan, where the Great Fire seems to have epigenetically impressed itself on the heredity of the natives. And in 2015 we have Bruce Rauner, a fanatically right-wing plutocrat Governor plus the huffing and puffing of a mostly cynical Democratic legislative leadership, and the dry tinder of a state in fiscal paralysis. With distress rising from the downtrodden into the business class, all it would take tonight is a pissed off cow. Two demonstrations this month suggest fire and smoke.

On November 2, Moral Monday Illinois held the latest and possibly the largest of its Moral Monday protests. Well over 500 people gathered at the Thompson Center in the Loop and marched to the Chicago Board of Trade. They shut it down. Several dozen people were arrested. Some went with the police cooperatively. Others were carried. This was not the scripted kabuki performance typical of many labor demonstrations of late. Those arrested do face charges, not a ticket, and Moral Monday Illinois was collecting for a bail fund.

The militancy was impressive and calculated to get the attention of the business class, media, and politicians, but the primary demand was more important: It was for a “LaSalle Street Tax”. Also known as a Robin Hood Tax or a Tobin Tax, it amounts to a small sales tax on trades done on the exchanges. It is something that Chicago DSA and our friends at the Chicago Political Economy Group have been promoting for years, and it’s an example of how this idea is making its way into political discussion, even legislation. Representative Flowers has a bill before the Illinois House and plans are afoot for a Senate bill in next session.

On November 10, Fight for 15 called a nationwide strike of fast food workers and others for a $15 an hour minimum wage and, for many, a union. I have no idea how many such workers walked out on Tuesday, but that is a close second in significance to the noise and visibility generated by demonstrations in 270 cities across the nation.

November 10 demonstration
Peg Strobel, Alec Hudson, and Bill Barclay were among the many DSA members at the November 10 demonstration

In Chicago, we had several actions. Two in the morning on the south and west sides were directed at workplaces. The grand finale was a very large, media oriented demonstration at the Thompson Center. It filled the plaza. These demonstrations are akin to high school pep rallies, but they do have a cumulative affect. It was not so long ago that a demand for a $10 an hour minimum was considered the radical edge of the possible. And by repetition, working conditions and collective bargaining may soon be placed on the agenda, too.

Arise Chicago organized a bus to the demonstration from Oak Park that Greater Oak Park DSA, several west suburban congregations, and fast food workers helped fill. Chicago DSA mailed a few hundred postcards that promoted the bus and the demonstration to the usual suspects in the greater Oak Park area. We also did a similar mailing to people and organizations in downtown Chicago. And we promoted the event using the web, including Facebook, and with emails.

Where does that leave us? In mid-air with a dozen plates in play. This is a work in progress, and we invite your incendiary participation.


Independent Electoral Action Conference

Originally published in New Ground 160, May — June, 2015.

by Bob Roman

Over the May Day weekend, May 2nd and 3rd, nearly 200 people gathered at Teamster City on Chicago’s near west side to attend “The Future of Left / Independent Electoral Action in the United States” conference. The conference aimed at promoting independent political action, building cooperation among groups and individuals so engaged, and developing the means for continued networking and cooperation. Partly as a result of DSA’s work in Jorge Mujica’s campaign for Alderman, Chicago DSA was invited to endorse the call for the conference, and we did. I was recruited to attend. I did not want to go.

By the end of Saturday, I had developed quite an enthusiasm for the event. True, the attendees were largely typical of a lefty conference: older, majority male, minorities mostly as program participants. There were more women than usual, and many were strong personalities. Depending on the time of day, young adults were a somewhat larger proportion than usual. But three things really won me over. First, there was little of the speechifying that comes from people hungry for the soapbox. Most of the questions were just that: inquiries for more information or clarification of something not quite understood. Second, the panels that I attended were very grounded in the realities of running for office and of governing. The election skills workshops, for example, may not have given someone contemplating a run for office all the information needed for conducting a campaign, but they did provide an outline of what that person would need to learn. And third, the conference was formally polite in dealing with probably its most divisive issue: Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic Party nomination for President.

It’s not as if they had much choice in how they dealt with the issue. The organizers had invited Sanders’ home base, the Vermont Progressive Party, to participate in the conference. And when the question of Sanders came up early on Saturday, the session chair, out of curiosity, asked for a show of hands by those who would be working on his campaign. A large minority, perhaps a third, raised their hands: something of a shock to the others, I think. Even if most of the rest of the room were thinking dark judgments, they also weren’t ready to spoil the party.

It wasn’t long into Sunday that my enthusiasm began to wane. Speeches began to creep in among the questions and dogmas began to run loose in the hall. More than that, my original sense of hope was partly based on the idea of a growing competency learned from experience. But not that many attendees were young people, and they were mostly very, very new to electoral politics. Given the average age of the conferees, we should have been movers and shakers, representing significant constituencies. But with a few exceptions, the attendees pretty much represented themselves. There will be exceptions, but these geezers have mostly gone about as far as they will go.

The conference, however, did fulfill more than a passing need. There is a need for a venue where the left, unencumbered by the Democratic Party brand, can gather to schmooze about elections and governing, where people interested in joining campaigns and elections can be introduced to them and mentored. That doesn’t completely describe what this event was about, but the overlap is considerable.

election day
John Jonik, http://jonikcartoons.blogspot.com/

Toward the end of the conference, attendees were asked to formally resolve that the ad hoc organizing committee continue and plan another event, possibly in 2016. It passed unanimously with but 4 abstentions. This conference was a sterling example of how much can be accomplished on a shoestring with dedication. But all volunteer operations are fragile, depending on commitment and trust among a few. A year can be a very long time in politics, and some of these organizers tend to be as much dogmatists as they are ideologues. We’ll see: Perhaps a Labor Notes conference for politicians?

A Small Battle in a Larger War

Originally published in New Ground 159, March — April, 2015.

Mujica Money

by Bob Roman

The usual practice for lefties defeated in electoral politics is to claim victory, victory in the sense of having spread the word, victory in the sense of building an organization, victory in the sense of whatever plausible argument comes to hand. In the case of Jorge Mujica’s campaign for 25th Ward Alderman, we can safely assert it was a successful proof of concept: The “socialist” label, in some neighborhoods, is not a handicap even if it is not an asset. Begging your pardon but I’ve been saying as much for years. Through our participation, Chicago DSA did earn a reputation as an organization that delivers on its commitments. But the campaign intended to establish a socialist presence in Chicago government and that requires victory.

Chicago's 25th Ward, 2015
Chicago’s 25th Ward: Darker Areas = Greater % Votes for Mujica. Graphic by Roman

Chicago’s 25th Ward is a gerrymandered district that was drawn for the benefit of the incumbent, Danny Solis. Solis is an erstwhile community organizer of the Alinsky school gone over to the dark side. The ward is located just southwest of Chicago’s downtown, forming an upside down “U” wrapped around the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. The west wing includes parts of the largely Mexican Pilsen neighborhood. The apogee includes parts of Chicago’s well-to-do, professional near west side then swoops down through the Union Station rail yards to include much of the south side’s Chinatown. The previous ward boundaries made a district heavily Latino. The current ward has a bare majority of Latinos, Mexican mostly, with some Puerto Ricans and other Latino nationalities.

The ward ended up with three other candidates in addition to Solis and Mujica. Roberto Montano is a businessman and, in the past, Solis’ Chief of Staff. It’s hard to say why he was running though it may have had something to do with Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson. Byron Sigcho was the other credible left of center candidate. An immigrant from Ecuador, a doctoral candidate in Education at UIC and very much a student politician, he had done some significant research into charter schools. Sigcho had the endorsement of Reclaim Chicago, the electoral coalition backed by National Nurses United. And finally there was Ed Hershey, a member of a small obscure Trotskyist sect. Was that redundant? In any case, Hershey seemed to feel the campaign needed a real socialist.

Mujica’s campaign grew out of the Chicago Socialist Campaign (CSC). The CSC was organized in response to Kshama Sawant’s victory as a socialist in Seattle. Initially there was interest from several possible candidates for alderman. Ultimately, three ran for office. One won. Only Jorge Mujica decided to run as a socialist.

Meetings of the CSC sometimes were as large as a hundred people, many of whom were not members of any socialist organization. Unfortunately this did not translate into election workers. Those who did volunteer were often totally without experience in election campaigns and most did not live in the district. It’s easy to be snide about this, and people have commented about leftists who like to sit and complain about Democrats. But Mujica pointed out that the CSC drew people from across the city. If he had been running for a citywide office, as Sawant did in Seattle, there would have been opportunities to be involved near at hand for everyone. Instead, there were often important contests closer to home.

And it’s not as if Mujica himself was able to put in the time a campaign requires. He’s not a rich man and had to work most of the campaign season. Otherwise, Mujica himself is reasonably credible as a candidate for city council. He was one of the organizers of Chicago’s huge May Day immigrant rights marches several years ago, and that’s just the most visible of the organizing he’s done. He’s been involved in Mexican electoral politics, and the aldermanic campaign was his second campaign in the U.S. Mujica is a personable fellow with a lively personality, articulate in both Spanish and English, and easy to look at even if he is rather more shaggy than the bourgeois image of an official. Well this is a socialist campaign, yes?

Money was a problem for the campaign. It did have a paid campaign manager. The campaign did manage two bulk mail drops targeted at voters in the Pilsen neighborhood. And the campaign did have a good social media campaign directed at that same constituency. AFSCME Council 31 endorsed Mujica, as did a council of Chicago area CWA locals, bringing some mainstream credibility and money to the campaign. Chicago DSA raised over $1600 in early money and not all of it from DSA members.

The mayoral contest also was a problem for the campaign. The Mujica campaign made no endorsement for Mayor. But many election activists in the ward were committed to working for Jesus Garcia’s campaign for Mayor. An endorsement of Garcia by Mujica might have attracted some of those campaign workers but then again maybe not because it was clear that Garcia’s campaign was not likely to endorse Mujica. The 25th Ward is in the backyard of Bob Fioretti, another a liberal candidate for Mayor, and neutrality left open the possibility of some support from his people. Ultimately though, the CSC, with its commitment to independent electoral politics, mostly felt Garcia was too much of a “Democrat.”

A great deal has been said about voter turnout. It was considerably less than the municipal election four years ago, but it was actually not much different than the municipal elections eight and twelve years ago. The 25th Ward was near the median for this election. The Board of Election did have its thumb on the scale, though. It set up the Ward’s early voting site in Chinatown. Solis escaped a run-off election by only several dozen votes, prompting the Sigcho campaign to file for a recount of several precincts. A few of the items listed in the complaint may have plausibly been voter fraud but most of it sounded like sloppy inattention to procedure. Whatever the case, it made no difference. The official results put Solis at 3811 (51.07%), Sigcho at 1383 (18.53%), Mujica at 907 (12.15%), Montano at 748 (10.02%), and Hershey at 614 (8.23%).

Of the groups participating in the CSC, the International Socialist Organization, Solidarity, and Chicago DSA came through. DSA raised money, provided opposition research, did issues research, provided mailing services, and had a dedicated handful of members who gathered petition signatures, canvassed voters, blitzed precincts, leafleted L stations, and did election day work. I think we could have done better, particularly with recruiting more people to work, but it’s also true that Chicago DSA has no members in the 25th Ward. Will this coalition effort be duplicated in future elections? It would be a good thing if it were, but I’m inclined to be skeptical. Chicago DSA is open to the possibility. We’ll see.