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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, May 25

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The Mechanics

Social Issues Tue Jul 21 2015

Staying Safe in Chiraq

News video startup TouchVision today released a short documentary titled Brave in Chiraq: Countdown to Summer, focusing at how youth leaders with the ARK of St. Sabina are attempting to keep young people safe this summer.

Andrew Huff

Environment/Sustainability Sun Jun 21 2015

Touring the Deep Tunnel and Thornton Quarry

The Thornton Reservoir
Construction equipment on the bed of the future Thornton Reservoir. Trucks on the Tri-State Tollway can be seen above the quarry.

On Saturday, I joined the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) on one of its tours of Chicago's goliath infrastructure. The tour featured the future site of the Thornton Composite Reservoir, the largest such reservoir in the world, and a Deep Tunnel pumping station 350' below ground at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. Both are part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)'s gargantuan Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar project designed to protect the Chicago region from the flooding and pollution caused by overflowing sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

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David Schalliol

Gender Fri Apr 17 2015

Black Trans Lives Matter

By H. Melt

On March 30 at DePaul University — one day after the Trans 100 event and one day before the Transgender Day of Visibility — CeCe McDonald and Monica James, two black trans women from Chicago, gathered to share their thoughts about the current state of the trans movement, their experiences of violence and incarceration, and how the power of community saved their lives.

In front of a packed lecture hall, McDonald began by discussing her Chicago roots and how the city influenced her. Born and raised in Chicago, McDonald attended Clara Barton Elementary and Percy L. Julian High School on the city's South Side. At the age of 14, she was given the ultimatum by her religious family to either suppress her trans identity or leave home. McDonald left home and moved to Minneapolis, where she began to transition.

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Event Thu Mar 26 2015

Your Kids Are in a Crisis: Robert Putnam's American Dream

"Everybody who went to college raise your hand," said Dr. Robert Putnam from the stage of Cindy Pritzker Auditorium. Without exception, every hand of the 400, white, middle-aged professionals in attendance went up. "You're who I'm talking about when I say 'rich kids,'" Putnam jested. The audience laughed at the recognition that, yes, they were all members of a privileged social strata. Putnam nodded and turned toward the PowerPoint behind him, "Today, I'm going to be talking about inequality."

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Sam Rappaport

LGBT Fri Feb 27 2015

Transgender Teens Face New Struggles, Options

By Laura Bartusiak, James Wendt & Maddie Mathie

Naperville North junior Adam Beaty sat in the back of a classroom with a group of friends giving him a pep talk. A teacher who knew Beaty before he transitioned to male stood at the front of the room.

"I was terrified. My heart was racing and I was like, 'This is going to go horribly,'" Beaty said. "I went up and I was like, 'So, about the name and everything.'"

But before he could finish his sentence, the teacher asked Beaty his preferred name, to which he responded, "Adam." Today, Beaty identifies as male, but he was born female.

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Environment/Sustainability Fri May 23 2014

GMO Labeling Fails to Take Hold in Illinois, So Far

ALex Camerin Flickr.jpg
Photo by Alex Cameron via Flickr

Calls to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are sweeping across the country. Last year, more than 20 state legislatures were considering GMO labeling bills. Studies show the majority of Americans support this effort. But in Illinois, the call for GMO food labeling has proven a fruitless endeavor thus far.

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Emily Brosious

Education Mon Feb 24 2014

CPS Schools Move Away From Zero-Tolerance Discipline Policies

cps_oldlogo.jpgLast Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett showed off changes in discipline policy in Chicago schools, claiming CPS schools have been successfully moving away from zero-tolerance discipline, toward a more holistic approach where, according to Byrd-Bennett in a DNAinfo article, "suspensions must be the last resort."

Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett argue that the new initiative in Chicago focuses on being proactive, rather than reactive in terms of student behavior. According to Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett, the policy de-emphasizes mandatory punishment rules, and instead focuses on fostering community through teacher and peer involvement.

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Rachel Anspach

Health Care Fri Sep 13 2013

Chicago Culinary Kids Initiative: Bringing Healthy Back

In a culture where spare time is scarce and fast food is plentiful, healthy eating habits can be a bit tricky. This is especially true for young people.

Children today are constantly bombarded with flashy advertising and friendly mascots pushing chips, sprinkles, sugary beverages, and other generally non-nutritious food products. This rise of junk food has taken a considerable toll on children's health. Here in Chicago, nearly one-third of sixth graders and one-fifth of kindergarteners are clinically obese, putting them at risk for conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Chicago City Clerk Susana A. Mendoza and Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka are out to change that with the launch of their Culinary Kids Initiative. The Clerk and Comptroller partnered with some of Chicago's top sports teams to release their new "Culinary Kids Healthy Nutrition Guide", a cookbook and activity guide aimed at promoting healthy diet and lifestyle habits to grade-school kids citywide.

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Emily Brosious

Whittier Elementary Sat Aug 17 2013

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolished

As we broke in Merge, the Wittier Field House was demolished Saturday morning. The field house, which came to be known as "La Casita," developed into a vibrant community center after a parents from the community and nearby school demanded it be turned into a library and gathering place rather than demolished in 2010. The parents are now demanding a new field house.

A few photographs from the demolition follow. More information will be added as the situation evolves.

Whittier Field House (La Casita) Demolition

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David Schalliol

State Politics Wed May 22 2013

Saying Hello to Medicinal Marijuana in Illinois

medical_marijuana.jpgHouse Bill 1 may not be the top priority for the General Assembly when it comes to passing legislation before the summer recess, but it's on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk and, with it, medicinal marijuana appears to be on its way to legalization in Illinois.

Here's a quick overview of the bill and some context in medicinal marijuana laws across the United States.

• It's gonna happen.

Illinois has been working toward legalization of medicinal marijuana for the better part of the last decade, and it's going to pass this year, barring a big surprise from Gov. Quinn.

The big move came last Friday, when the State Senate passed the legislation by a 35-21 margin. The bill becomes law when Gov. Quinn signs it, although he is expected to sit on it for a bit before giving it the green light. Still, a conversation he had with the Chicago Tribune this week indicated he'll almost certainly give it the go-ahead in the coming weeks.

Illinois will become the 20th state to approve medicinal marijuana, and there's little question that this is the right thing to do, both from a democratic standpoint and in observation of studies on the issue. Various polls show that more than 60 percent of Illinois voters approve, and the bill has support from a wide variety of groups in the medical community. Additionally, studies show that the concerns of critics (such as increased usage among youths) have not materialized in other states with similar laws.

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Jake Grubman

Social Issues Wed Apr 03 2013

Sen. Kirk believes "the government doesn't belong in the middle." Women's Rights, Anyone?

Sen. Mark Kirk joins the ranks of other Republican elected officials who have announced their support for same-sex marriage. His stance was the opposite during his 2010 Illinois senate race citing religious reasons.

He states, "Same-sex couples should have the right to a civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited; I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back--government has no place in the middle."

He is the fourth Republican congressman to split from his party's adamant stance on gay marriage along with Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

His unexpected stroke last year has truly humbled him and made him more open-minded to the demands of American citizens. I applaud Kirk for being bold in his party; however, the quote, "the government has no place in the middle," makes me think of other places the government has no place: a woman's body.

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Sydney Corryn / Comments (3)

Crime Thu Mar 28 2013

Political Celebrity is not Enough to Combat Violence

The First Lady of the United States is returning home to focus on the issue of escalating violence. Michelle Obama is addressing community leaders at a luncheon April 10, titled, "Working Together to Address Youth Violence in Chicago," hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Everyone loves it when first lady comes to town; it reminds us that we can produce greatness in the midst of raging chaos.

Her speech is bound to be encouraging but will civic organizations and business participation help alleviate the socioeconomic factors in street violence? It's no longer about sunny appearances, glitzy fundraisers and networking opportunities but initiatives and changes that will transform even the most broken.

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Sydney Corryn

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

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Jeff Smith

Crime Thu Jan 03 2013

Our Kids Are Safe: Schools and Guns

handgun on bricks
Photo by Joselito Tagarao
Empathy, which lets us understand and experience others' feelings, including anguish and grief, is a critical definer of our humanity, pivotal to our civilization. So are the impulses to protect children, to want to right wrongs, and to be outraged at unfairness. It's both natural and appropriate that in the wake of horrors such as the recent Sandy Hook massacre, we privately and publicly give voice to our empathy, and to our protective, outraged, and corrective impulses. Yet it's also important to check these impulses as the basis for policy when their cause is an outlier, an extreme. Emotion drives poor governance. Policy needs to have a cool head as well as a warm heart.

Multiple shootings by deranged individuals inevitably command enormous media and public attention. In such cases, heart tends to shove head out of the way. That's apparent when mothers in the midwest say they rushed to pull their children out of school when they heard of the carnage in Connecticut 1,000 miles away, organizational leaders propose stationing armed guards at schools, or otherwise reasonable commentators say we need to jettison part of the Constitution, just to cite three examples. The circumstances make such reactions fathomable emotionally, but the facts don't support them logically. Overall, our schools are very, very, safe, and violent gunplay is a sensational but statistically small threat to our children.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (7)

GLBT Mon Dec 10 2012

Inclusion Wins and Woes: Interview with Caitlin Huxley, President of the Log Cabin Republicans of Illinois

By Rachel Angres

With the recent Lambda Legal lawsuit filed against the Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of 25 gay couples who wish to be married in Illinois and the Supreme Court's clandestine meetings over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8, the path for legalizing same sex marriage in Illinois is far from clear. Proponents of same-sex marriage are in most cases liberal organizations and individuals, with one exception: The Log Cabin Republicans.

Log Cabin Republicans of IllinoisThe Log Cabin Republican Group is a national grassroots organization made up of conservative to moderate libertarian Republicans in the LGBT community and their "straight allies," who fight for equal rights. Based on their motto that "inclusion wins," LCR members share the common understanding that the GOP is stronger without alienating its LGBT members along with their friends and family through antigay ideologies and policies.

I recently spoke with Caitlin Huxley, president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Illinois, about the organization's role in the GOP and its position on DOMA and civil unions.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Media Wed Sep 19 2012

Why is Vice Using CeaseFire to Sell a Game About Revenge Killing?

chicago interrupted - vice documentary ceasefire cureviolence

Last Wednesday, controversial violence prevention group CeaseFire announced it had changed its name to Cure Violence.

Just a couple days prior, the also-controversial Vice magazine posted the first episode of their two-part documentary, Chicago Interrupted, about the organization on their website. Like last year's critically-acclaimed documentary, The Interrupters, the web mini-series interviewed local "violence interrupters" Tio Hardiman and Ameena Matthews while showing raw footage of their attempts to mitigate brewing street conflicts. After playing audio of off-camera gunfire at the end of a botched interruption attempt, the second part (released Monday) ended with Matthews expressing hope to Vice's film crew that their documentary would start conversations and compel people to stand up against the cycle of violence. She added, "I don't want people, America, Chicago to get what's not right."

As it turns out, Vice is using Chicago Interrupted to start conversations. Unfortunately, those conversations are less about Chicago violence and more about a fantasy action video game called Dishonored. In fact, the CeaseFire doc is a prominent part of a special multimedia program Vice created just to market the game.

The program's name? Eye For An Eye. The game's tag line? "Revenge Solves Everything."

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Jason Prechtel

Health Care Wed Jul 18 2012

Wheaton College Sues Over "Preventative Services" Mandate

Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, is filing a lawsuit alongside the Catholic University of America in opposition to a birth-control-related mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate requires most employers to provide health care that includes birth control coverage.

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Tyler Davis

Chicago Wed Jun 27 2012

What Uruguay's Marijuana Legalization Bill Means For Chicago

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's recent proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana sparked wide debate in the media. The Chicago Tribune questioned it, Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader called for full legalization, and Whet Moser of Chicago Magazine questioned whether legalization in Chicago was really possible.

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Jason Prechtel / Comments (6)

Crime Fri Jun 15 2012

Mayor Emanuel Backs Weed Decriminalization

Give it up for Mayor Emanuel, who, faced with a shortage of public safety resources (which moved the police union to put up a billboard demanding more officers), has come out publicly in support of legislation that would make possession of less than 15 grams (about 0.5 ounces) a municipal infraction subject to fine, but not arrest unless circumstances otherwise warrant them. Mick Dumke of the Reader has done yeoman's work on the issue of marijuana arrests and all the resources they suck up (and the needlessly long rap sheets they generate).

Police Superintendent McCarthy has said that arrests for small quantities of marijuana tied up 45,000 hours of police time last year. The movement to decriminalize possession (as opposed to trafficking) is growing, with fifteen states decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Fraternal Order of Police has not yet issued a statement about the possible legislation.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Mon Mar 05 2012

My Birthday Wish for Chicago: Desegregation

Chicago is huge. Geographically, very, very big for an old city. At 225 or so square miles, it could fit four Bostons inside it. New York is only 75 square miles larger, despite being almost three times as populous. Excepting Alaska, there are only three cities north of the Mason-Dixon line that are larger. I don't take seriously critiques of Chicagoans' parochialism; we live in a city of neighborhoods and Chicago's sheer scale makes comprehensive circulation throughout the city prohibitive. Besides, New Yorkers tend to stick to their boroughs.

But the city turned 175 this past week, and there is one wish I'd make as we blow out the candles: to make a serious commitment to desegregating the city.

chicago-segregation-map.jpgChicago's desegregation is stubborn. It persists for a variety of reasons, as many invisible as visible, and not all attributable to official political policy or market pressures. But the fact is somewhat inescapable that 44 years since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, almost 50 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there is an easily identifiable white Chicago, Latino Chicago, and Black Chicago.

Polls show that Black Chicagoans in particular are willing and in fact desirous of living in more integrated communities. The lip service our politicians pay to diversity suggests there is at least superficial political support for diverse neighborhoods. But the segregation problem seems intractable. Why?

For one thing, it may be because in our public rhetoric segregation is not seen as a problem. This was particularly conspicuous during the ward remapping debate; the fact that it is still so easy to draw lines around massive areas of the city with homogeneous racial populations didn't seem to raise any questions about our supposedly progressive city.

My little enclave of Noble Square is somewhat integrated. There are still "white ethnic" families, and Mexican and black families despite the strong lacing of white professionals and college students that usually augurs turbo gentrification. Taking my inexhaustible puppy for a long walk around our neighborhood this weekend, one reason for this island of diversity occurred to me: at either end of the neighborhood are large low-income housing developments, with a senior public housing high rise smack in the middle. In between are two high schools and at least two elementary schools, a park, and two- and three-flats with only a smattering of single-family homes and condo blocks.

Could it be that Chicago's segregation problem is a zoning problem?

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Social Issues Fri Feb 10 2012

Gloria Steinem Visits Columbia College

By Joycelene Fernandez

On Tuesday, Columbia College welcomed Gloria Steinem as the second guest in their "Conversations in the Arts" program. Steinem, a seasoned journalist, speaker, and feminist activist, started off the night with a light joke that the auditorium was in fact the "smallest biggest place on a campus" that she had ever lectured within. But regardless of how big or small the space, Steinem found herself facing a completely full house — just another aspect that sets Steinem apart from the average septuagenarian.

Not that Steinem is your "average" anything. A co-founder of Ms. magazine, a bestselling author and founder of several women's rights organizations, Steinem's long career has not only been prolific, but pivotal in the fight for human rights. For over half a century, she has contributed years of work in helping change the world, and all for the better.

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Social Issues Mon Jan 09 2012

Nina — Prostitution, Recovery and the WINGS Court

By Sarah Ostman

"Nina" smoked crack and sold sex on Chicago's South Side for 33 years, racking up dozens of arrests, spending years in prison and losing custody of her seven children. One morning in November 2010, she tried to sell sex to an undercover police officer and wound up in jail again. She thought she was heading back to prison, but instead, she was offered a spot in an experimental new courts program aimed at rehabilitating prostitutes.

There are an estimated 16,000 to 25,000 prostitutes in the Chicago area, and their stories are remarkably similar. Most were sexually abused as children, started using drugs early and ran away from home. Most started selling sex between the ages of 12 and 14, oftentimes after being recruited by pimps. And most get arrested repeatedly -- dozens, even hundreds of times -- before they get off the streets, if they manage to get off the streets at all.

In January 2011, Cook County started handling these cases in a new way. Instead of prison time, women convicted of felony prostitution are now offered drug treatment, job training and other services in the community. The program -- called WINGS (Women in Need of Gender Specific Services) -- is based on a growing belief that women in the sex trade should be treated not as criminals, but as victims.

This is Nina's story.


Sarah Ostman is a freelance reporter and audio producer. She lives in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood. This piece was supported with a Local Reporting Award from the Chicago Community Trust.

Read more about sex trafficking in Chicago on Gapers Block.


Chicago Sun Dec 04 2011

Occupy Chicago Joins Motel Occupation

Visitors to Pastor Corey B. Brooks Head onto the Roof

At 7p.m. tonight, Occupy Chicago will hold its first overnight occupation on the South Side following a general assembly on property owned by New Beginnings Church. The church is hosting the event in conjunction with its own occupation of the derelict Super Motel at 6625 S. Martin Luther King Blvd, which is across the street from its main sanctuary. Its pastor, Corey B. Brooks, has been camping on the roof of the motel for a dozen days and fasting on water alone. He plans on camping on the site until the church raises $450,000 to raze the former motel and build a community center with mixed-use, mixed-income development on site.

Pastor Brooks said that he was "excited" when contacted by Occupy Chicago. "I think that anybody who -- especially when they're not from this area -- wants to come lend support, we've got to be open to that." Ultimately, the pastor hopes that he can play a role mediating between the group and Mayor Emanuel. "I want to have good relations with everybody. We are the church. We're not supposed to be at war with anybody ... We bring about peace."

Follow developments in the motel case on the Project H.O.O.D. website and through Pastor Brooks' Twitter account, CoreyBBrooks. Occupy Chicago is online at

Additional photographs follow.

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David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Race Thu Oct 27 2011

"You Even See White People on 43rd Street Now": Income and Segregation in Chicago

by Daniel Hertz

On a recent sunny afternoon, "John," 25, was hanging out at the Lake Meadows shopping center at 35th and King Drive in Bronzeville. He is a new resident of the city's oldest black neighborhood, formed in the first quarter of the 20th century by southern migrants searching for better jobs and living conditions in the North. John is also a migrant: he moved to Bronzeville from southwestern China earlier this year. And, in doing so, he became part of the slow breakdown in the racial order of Chicago that has been taking place for the last few decades.

It is not news that this city, like most northern industrial metropolises, is an especially egregious case of American racial segregation. Separation was never explicitly enforced by law, but restrictive housing covenants, social pressure, and violence, both random and coordinated, managed to create very real boundaries outside of which few blacks dared to live. Successive waves of migrants following World War II expanded the black ghetto to encompass much of the south and west sides of the city, while the severity of segregation worsened.

But it is less often noted that since peaking around 1970, black segregation in Chicago has been on a slow, but notable, decline. Now, new data from the 2010 Census gives an in-depth portrait of a still-divided city's tentative steps away from the kind of apartheid that earned it the nickname "Beirut on the Lake" in the 1980s. In neighborhoods like Bronzeville and Woodlawn on the South Side and Garfield Park on the West Side, white, Latino and Asian Chicagoans have cracked open the door to integration. Likewise, black families have started to move into pockets of the northwest and southwest sides where African Americans often made up less than one percent of residents just ten years ago. In some of these places, African American populations have grown by factors of two, three, or even ten since 2000.

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Social Services Wed Oct 19 2011

The Challenge of Catholic Charities, Foster Care, and LGBT Equal Rights

Illinois' foster care system is responsible for approximately 15,000 children. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) contracts with agencies to provide case workers for the children and find, process, and work with willing foster families to place children under their care. It is one of the most humane and important functions of the state, protecting children and finding homes for those in the unimaginably painful condition of being without a loving family. It is an awesome responsibility for any organization to assume, and the public is rightfully grateful for it.

This summer, the state of Illinois informed one of its oldest partners in the foster care program, Catholic Charities, that it was going to terminate its decades-old contract with them. The Catholic Charities' strictures against placing children with homosexual couples conflicted with the civil unions bill, 750 ILCS 75, passed earlier in the year. The statute provides in pertinent part,

Sec. 20. Protections, obligations, and responsibilities. A party to a civil union is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil or criminal law.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Good Government/Reform Thu Sep 29 2011

Occupy Chicago, in Photo and Video

It's now been a week since a small group of Chicagoans descended on the Federal Reserve (by way of a brief stint at the Willis — neé Sears — Tower) to stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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Megan E. Doherty

Chicago Thu Aug 11 2011

Action Now Tries to Help BofA but Member is Arrested Instead

Earlier this week Action Now board member Marsha Godard tried to deliver a stack of violation notices to Bank of America headquarters. She entered as customer trying to receive assistance and help bring attention to the plight of vacant homes on the South Side. Instead of simply accepting them and calling it a day, Bank of America called the police and had her arrested for criminal trespassing.

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Aaron Krager

Race Thu Jul 21 2011

A Black Class Divide and a Generation of Rage?

In These Times senior editor Salim Muwakkil, as part of a series called "The Other Chicago", has published a piece, "Black Chicago Divided" looking into how the recession has sharpened a class division among black Chicagoans, and in particular is starting to turn many young black Chicagoans against institutional leadership. Muwakkil sees growing discontent and rage among a generation that has even fewer opportunities than their parents had, with little to no help coming from elites. In his piece he highlights the variety of opinions about the efficacy of current leadership, their goals and practices. In general, Muwakkil identifies a failure of elite leadership in Chicago to work for greater prosperity.

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Ramsin Canon

Social Issues Tue Jul 19 2011

Persons, Inc.

contributed by Brian Reilly

"OK, so these are the things converging with us," Annabel Park says over the phone from suburban Washington, DC. "One is the corruption, the level of corruption in Washington that really is impeding progress on just about every single issue that concerns the American people. So I think from climate change to campaign finance to Wall Street reform, all these issues that progress is desperately needed, is impeded by the influence of money in our government."

Park is a documentary film maker who in 2010 turned a primal scream of a Facebook post about incivility at Congressional town hall meetings into a national organization called the Coffee Party movement. In less than two years the Coffee Party movement claims to have an e-mail list of 75,000 people and 378,158 Facebook participants.

The Coffee Party has taken up the cause of bringing individuals back into the political process through what they consider to be a more civil and reasoned approach to discussing and advocating for issues. As Park sits down to talk, the Coffee Party has taken on the issue of getting banking watchdog Elizabeth Warren nominated to head the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

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Education Fri Jun 17 2011

CTU and School Board Butt Heads

"Lies, damn lies and statistics."

During tough debates both sides try to spin facts and statistics to fit their point of view and provide a stronger foundation to their own argument. The current fight between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board is no different with the new school board president pointing out the following:

* Even without the four percent previously-negotiated raises, 75 percent of all teachers will get automatic raises of between 1 percent and 5 percent for adding another year of experience or for increasing their credentials.

* Based on base salary alone, the minimum CPS starting teachers salary of $50,577 is No. 1 among the nation's 10 largest cities. Its maximum salary, requiring a master's degree, of $87,673 is No. 2, behind New York City. Its average salary also is among the top one or two, Human Capital Officer Alicia Winckler told board members.

CTU responded with their own stats pushing their own side.

Lewis called some of Winckler's numbers "ridiculous'' and claimed the added pay for another year of experience or added credentials amount to. at most, $35 to $50 more in take home pay every two weeks over 26 pay periods. "People tell me, `Oh, I thought I would get a raise and it's only 20 bucks,'" Lewis said.

She also noted that across the state, CPS teacher pay is not that competitive. Lewis cited a May 31 Chicago Sun-Times report that found that CPS high school teachers average total compensation, with benefits, ranks No. 71 in the state. CPS elementary teachers came in No. 38.

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Aaron Krager

Immigration Wed May 18 2011

Opening the Door to America

by Brian Reilly

America, since even before its birth as a nation, has been defined as a place for seekers; a home where a variety of peoples, values, and aspirations can belong. Defining citizenship is part of defining America. Rather than melting into the national identity, each group of seekers has struggled their way past gatekeepers vigilantly guarding their own vision, interests and identity.

Carving out a place and claiming the rights that come with it is a political fight between those who stand on either side of the doorway to America. Who belongs? Who gets in? Who stays out? Who decides?

"Profanely." In a word, that is how Joshua Hoyt intends to address an announcement from Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn's office that services to immigrants will be cut by up to 74 percent in the proposed budget. Hoyt, as Director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), has a meeting with Quinn's senior staff and he intends to be direct.

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Health Care Thu Apr 14 2011

Nurses See Extra Burden in South Side Emergency Rooms

This article was submitted by freelance journalist Samantha Winslow.

nurserally1[1].JPGReasheal Lehmann joined the line of people on East 59th Street in front of the University of Chicago Medical Center. An emergency room nurse at the hospital, Lehmann wore bright red scrubs emblazoned with her union's logo, National Nurses United; others wore raincoats and parkas, trying to stay warm on an unusually cold March evening. As the sun went down, the University buildings glowed with yellow light like a cathedral. More nurses ended their shifts and they also came outside.

Staff nurses at the medical center, which is affiliated with one of the nation's most prestigious universities, are in union negotiations with the hospital and one of their key issues is staffing levels. The candlelight vigil was intended to bring public attention to what they say is a crisis in emergency room care on the city's South Side.

"It's already a tough situation to begin with," Lehmann says, "We are seeing not only a bigger volume of patients but a higher acuity of patients." She says patients are coming in often with multiple illnesses, and a higher severity of illness. The risks of overcrowded emergency rooms are not having enough nurses and staff to assess and treat patients in a timely manner.

Their concern is if there aren't enough nurses in an emergency room to handle a high volume of very sick patients, people could slip through the cracks. Last year, UCMC paid a $50,000 fine after a 78-year-old died after waiting 4 hours in the emergency room.

Many people say the status of South Side emergency departments has been grim for a long time, with seven area hospitals closing in the past 25 years. But for Lehmann, the situation in the emergency room is more critical now than ever. Provident, a county-run hospital less than two miles away, has downsized over the years and in February, closed its doors to admissions by ambulance.

"Since Provident closed, the situation has been exacerbated," Lehmann says.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

News Thu Mar 10 2011

The End of Capital Punishment in Illinois

On Wednesday, Governor Quinn signed legislation abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. Here's a round-up of some memorable commentary from news outlets and organizations across the country:

"We have lived with the illusion that we can reserve capital punishment for the so-called worst of the worst -- the most heinous, brutal or repetitive murders. What we have failed to realize is that those very crimes stir our deepest anxieties and outrage, and thus are hardest to deal with in the kind of rational, highly deliberative way that taking a life should require."
-Chicago attorney and author Scott Turrow, writing in The Chicago Tribune

"One new interesting wrinkle in this eternal debate over crime and punishment is, not surprisingly, a financial one. Strapped for cash and budget room, more and more state lawmakers around the country, and even victims rights groups, are understanding more clearly just how expensive capital punishment is relative to its deterrent value."
-Andrew Cohen, writing in The Atlantic

"Moving from moratorium to abolition allows resources to be redirected toward proven crime prevention measures - and holds Illinois up as a beacon for human rights."
- Debra Erenberg, Midwest regional director for Amnesty International USA, according to a press statement

"We all have our opinions, but as far as I am concerned, if we have the death penalty let's use it, not argue about it."
-Evelyn McGann, leader of the Contra Costa/East Bay Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle

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Sheila Burt / Comments (1)

Column Thu Jan 13 2011

Children, Too: Chicago HOPES Making a Difference for Homeless Children

By Katherine Tellez, Julie Sammarco and Mollie Zubek

NOTE: Children's names have been changed to protect their identities.

Kindergartner Nina Phillips uses the whiteboard to do her work. Adam Conway says HOPES tries to provide as many learning materials as they can, though says, it's not the ideal situation. Photo by Julie Sammarco

On a typical weekday, Chicagoans will pass dozens of children with their backpacks heading to school.

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Mechanics / Comments (6)

Housing Tue Dec 21 2010

The Story Behind One Cabrini-Green Eviction

This article was written by Rory Fanning.

Stepping out of the elevator onto the 14th floor of the Richard J. Daley Center, Sheriee Woodland was greeted by a world-famous panorama of high-rise architecture.

The Chicago Temple Building, Holabird & Root's 23 story, neo-Gothic masterpiece; Kohn Pederson Fox's "Birthday Cake Building" at 311 S. Wacker; and The Legacy, Solomon Cordwell and Buenz's 72-story condominium tower of ocean-blue glass, were a few of the many well-maintained buildings that looked back through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

But Woodland was at the Daley Center because of a different high-rise. She was on her way to eviction court.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Housing Wed Dec 01 2010

The End of High-rise Housing in Cabrini-Green

Moving Trucks at 1230 N. Burling

The Chicago Housing Authority recently surprised residents of the last Cabrini-Green high-rise by moving their eviction forward by several weeks. The new date? Tuesday.

While some residents indicated they would resist leaving 1230 N. Burling, moving trucks slowly filled and drove to new residences. By evening only a couple of families remained -- and it was unclear if they would stay the night.

See Mary Schmich's recent piece at the Trib for more information about Tuesday's evictions.

A few photographs from the scene are below.

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David Schalliol

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Nov 17 2010

"Social Justice Isn't Just For Rock Stars -- It's For Workers, Too."

As part of an effort to re-brand itself, Loyola University Chicago launched a clever ad campaign in 2006 called "Loyola Values," consisting of bold, simple ads that usually contained no more than one sentence. "It's Always Cooler By the Lake," reads one that can be seen on the sides of CTA buses, referencing the main campus's lakefront location; "Learn to Use Your Ethics As Much As Your Blackberry," implores another posted around campus.

Another can be recited by heart by almost any student activist on campus: "Social Justice Isn't Just for Rock Stars." The implication, of course, is that students should join celebrities in concern with the "least of these," to use a biblical aphorism. Indeed, there is a social justice component in the school's core curriculum, required for every student, and the school has one of the few masters programs in social justice in the country.

Which seems to make it all the more strange to some students that a vital part of the school community, the cafeteria workers, have recently come forward with tales of low wages, prohibitively expensive health insurance, dangerous working conditions, and an atmosphere of intimidation. A recent headline in the school newspaper quoting a cafeteria worker read, "You're talked to as if you're an animal."

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Micah Uetricht / Comments (1)

National Politics Mon Nov 01 2010

A Chicagoan's Trip to the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear

The following photographs are by Waleeta Canon, a Chicagoan who traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear on Saturday. Some are already suggesting that the event could be remembered as one of the most important events in modern political history. Regardless of its ultimate consequence, crowd estimates put the turnout at over 200,000, or two and a half times the number of people who turned out for Glenn Beck's D.C. rally.

The following photographs document scenes from the crowd while paying special attention to participants' signs.

Additional photographs from the satellite Chicago rally by GB flickr pool contributor Michael Courier are available here.

David Schalliol

Housing Mon Oct 25 2010

Not One More Eviction

This article was submitted by Keeanga-Yamahatta Taylor

ON OCTOBER 14, members of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC), in an act of protest and street theater, presented Cook County Sheriff and mayoral candidate Tom Dart, with a six-foot-tall "five-day notice."

A five-day notice is a court order given to tenants that declares they have five days to pay their rent or risk being taken to eviction court. The CAEC's five-day notice gave Dart five days to "halt...the dozens of evictions processed by his office each day."

Approximately 100 evictions are carried out in Cook County each day. Moreover, there has been an almost 70 percent increase in the number of foreclosure filings in the county. Thirty percent of all foreclosures are on non-owner occupied property--meaning they are rental property. In fact, the impact of foreclosures on tenants prompted Dart to levy a moratorium on evictions for two weeks in 2008.

News stories uncovered how landlords who were in foreclosure and on the brink of losing their property neglected to tell their tenants while they were still collecting rent. Renters were coming home to find their belongings piled on the sidewalk, having no idea that their landlords had been using them like ATM machines.

Dart said then:

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

IL-GOV Wed Oct 06 2010

March of the Morons: Brady on Evolution and Creation

Darwin_ape.pngI have one question that I believe should be used to disqualify people from running for executive office. It is, "Do you accept the theory of evolution?" Anybody who says no should be disqualified. No, it's not a religious test that would violate the Article VI prohibition. It's a moron test. We could also ask, "Are you a moron?" but then we'd be less likely to get an honest response. This way we could actually root out the morons.

This has nothing to do with conservative/liberal, Democrat/Republican. Evolution is a fact--in fact, it's more than a fact. It is a theory built upon literally millions of facts. Believe whatever other thing you want, but denying that evolution took place--maybe not exactly how science now conceives, but that it took place in some way--is absolutely no different than denying gravity. Newtonian physics got the mechanics of gravity wrong, but that didn't make gravity itself wrong. If you think "the jury is out" on evolution, you're not particularly bright, willfully ignorant, or poorly educated (which may not be your fault, but still--probably shouldn't be elected to executive office).

Bill Brady thinks it's okay to teach Creationism in schools. By doing so, he betrays his claim that he accepts "both" creationism and evolution. Accepting both as equivalent to be taught is like saying you accept "both" the theory of electromagnetism and fish are delicious. I don't care about any of the rest of his politics. How can you vote for a person like that? Creationism in schools? Really? We want the US to create well-educated kids prepared to tackle the most significant problems of the future--not to mention stay on the cutting edge of science--and we're going to allow school districts to teach Creationism? How stupid is this guy?

Apparently immensely.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (25)

Education Fri Oct 01 2010

Whittier Field House Library Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Parents of students at the Whittier Dual Language School opened a new library in the occupied Whittier Field House on Thursday, September 30, with the help of the Chicago Underground Library and donations from as far away as Florida. The following photographs are from the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the library at 5pm with speeches, song, prayer and -- of course -- some reading.

Read Cinnamon Cooper's piece about the field house occupation for background information.

Putting Finishing Touches on the New Library at the Whittier Field House
Putting finishing touches on the new library.

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David Schalliol / Comments (1)

Education Mon Aug 30 2010

Catalyst Report On Charters Demonstrates Duncan's Record of Failure

That Arne Duncan is a professional failure has never really been up for much debate. He achieved precisely zero of his objectives as head of the schools in Chicago, and failed upward into the President's administration mainly for his skills at self-marketing and the President's bizarre desire to appear "tough on teachers".

Catalyst Chicago in its latest issue[PDF] is digging into what teachers and parents have known since at least 2005: that the Renaissance 2010 program is a disaster, that privatization and charter schools have done nothing but increase opacity, decrease accountability, and aggravate the bifurcation of the school system; and that whatever improvement CPS has seen since the Mayor took over the school system in 1995 is due not to the free market unicorns sneezing their econowoozle magic on the evil teachers unions, but to gentrification.

As opponents of public school privatization have warned for years, the fascination with "innovation" and "entrepreneurial spirit" is hanging the hopes of a generation on buzzwords and sloganeering. There is no evidence, nor has there ever been, that introducing profit motive and private sector slash-and-burn sensibility would add value to education. Indeed, it hasn't been. What a surprise: firing master teachers and destabilizing the work force has NOT lead to an improvement in retention in poor schools and has not somehow magically improved classroom instruction.

As the Catalyst study points out:

  • On average, charters lost half of their teachers over the past two years, a turnover rate that rivals many low-performing neighborhood schools.
  • Only 16 of 92 new schools have reached the state average on test scores. Of those 16, just eight are charters. The rest are new magnet schools or new satellites of existing magnet and selective schools.

Just as public education advocates have been saying, introducing private operators into the school system with little oversight simply accelerates the problem of bifurcation. Charters are competing with each other for the best students and leaving the public school system to educate kids with poor performing kids, kids with learning disabilities, and kids from the poorest communities. Oh, and kids from multi-lingual households: Latino kids are particularly left behind according to the Catalyst study. The proportion of Latino kids attending high-performing schools has not increased at all since Renaissance 2010 began in 2004.

And, just as predicted, charters inherently prejudice students with highly involved parents, as this story heartbreakingly illustrates:

This spring, Charise Agnew was forced to confront the lack of school options in Roseland as she made an agonizing decision about where to send her older son, Dorian Metzler, to high school. Dorian was one of the top 8th-graders at Lavizzo, one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. In 2010, only about 44 percent of students met or exceeded state standards on the ISAT. Agnew had her heart set on Dorian attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep, a selective enrollment school just to the west of Lavizzo. She had him apply, and then she waited. But Agnew didn't know that Dorian needed to take an entrance exam. Few students at Lavizzo score above the 70th percentile on the ISAT, the cutoff to take the selective enrollment test. So there was no buzz in the hallway. A teacher might have asked about it, but the original 8th-grade teacher was fired and the class had a substitute for two months.

The end result is that no one tapped Dorian or Agnew on the shoulder to tell them about the entrance test. "I just had no idea," Agnew says.

Brooks is the only higher-scoring high school in the area. Agnew's first reaction was to take Dorian's transcript up to Brooks and try to talk to the principal. But selective enrollment school principals can be inundated with pleas from parents to offer their child a slot. Schools set up shields, and Agnew didn't make it past the foyer.

A woman like Charise Agnew is undoubtedly an involved and interested mother. But in an education system perverted by the neoliberal fascination with competition and markets, even her children end up losing out.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

GLBT Thu Aug 12 2010

"They Are Not Functioning According to Their Natural Design": Notes from an Anti-Gay Conference

Setting the Stage

Peter LaBarbera looked drained. His glasses drooped in weary harmony with the sandy hair barely populating his head, and even his suit seemed poised to crumple and fold. The soft-spoken conservative had clearly worked long hours trying to galvanize his newest venture, a group called Americans for Truth about Homosexuality (AFTAH).

The non-profit, which describes itself as "a national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda," has done very little since its formation. Until last week, AFTAH mostly peppered its web site with opinion pieces on homosexual activist infiltrations, from Ronald McDonald to the DoubleTree Hotel.

LaBarbera must have wanted to escalate. Last week, AFTAH launched an ambitious three-day "Truth Academy" in Arlington Heights. Nine speakers were flown in from around the country to "answer the myths, lies and misinformation of the nation's Homosexual Lobby." For a daily $50 fee, Academy attendees were handed binders, name-tags and a discounted price on any DVD recording of the event. LaBarbera expected the Truth Academy would be "one of the most important and comprehensive pro-family conferences on homosexuality that has ever been held in the United States."

Groups such as AFTAH may be marginal, but they are ruthlessly dedicated to their cause. Their tautological arguments against gays and lesbians begin with religion and end with the archetypal homosexual scapegoat, that they are responsible for undermining the military and the government through an agenda that is at once elite and socialistic. These theories are neither new nor politically effective. Similar ideas took hold during the McCarthy era, but in the 1950s gays and lesbians were much less visible. In the past 30 years, the LGBT minority has been largely emancipated and openly accepted into the American mainstream. Anti-gay ideas are resurging today because of an environment of fear, exacerbated by a bad recession and perceived threats to national security. Exploiting these conditions gives groups like AFTAH what little power they have, and therein lies their potential for harm.

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Timna Axel / Comments (19)

Budget Thu Jun 17 2010

Time for Chicagoland Residents to Take Control of the Country's Fiscal Future

An Op-Ed Submitted by Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield and Herman Brewer

Some experts and policymakers believe our country could do more to prevent problems before they occur. In particular, instead of postponing our response to the nation's budget problems, we should use our resources today to prevent them from becoming worse. New reports show that current patterns in U.S. spending and revenue can't be continued in the long run. Decisions must be made about the goals we want our country to meet and how we raise the money to meet them; there are steps we can take today to prevent fiscal problems from becoming bigger and more costly to fix. The solutions we come up with will be important to all Americans.

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Mechanics / Comments (2)

Immigration Thu Apr 29 2010

Immigrant Rights Picket at Wrigley Field: Boycott Arizona!

Wrigley picket

Immigrants Rights Activists Picket outside Wrigley Field.

Chicago is finally getting some spring weather. In Wrigleyville, thousands of fans are enjoying the weather and catching a baseball game. Jeering the other team has a long history in sports, but today over 200 supporters of immigrants rights picketed outside Wrigley Field to protest against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Arizona's anti-immigrant SB1070 law.

The law forces law enforcement in Arizona to stop "suspected illegal immigrants" and make them prove their citizenship in order to avoid arrest. Leone Jose Bicchieri, the executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative explained that the law would "only increase racial profiling in Arizona." Describing what the law tells police to do, "You better go out today and you better stop suspected undocumented immigrants. When you say, 'Well what does that mean?' They say 'well you know, suspected undocumentented immigrants.' That means dark people."

Immigrants and civil rights groups across the country have begun a nationwide boycott against the state of Arizona in order to pressure the state to rescind the law and to prevent other state from passing similar laws.

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Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Wage Theft Tue Apr 27 2010

Wage Theft Crime Spree: What Will Stop It?


Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.

You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."

Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."

Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.

However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.

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Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Social Issues Mon Apr 05 2010

Sex Trafficking In Chicago: "Victimless" Crimes & Their Victims

Maria is lying on the bed. She's been trying to get up, lifting her head, maybe rolling over onto an elbow, but she's gotten nowhere. Another half attempt to sit upright. She reaches in her pocket and fumbles with a cell phone. She wants to call her best friend Tammy, but her fingers forget where they're going and never make it past the US Cellular logo above the keypad. "Tammy, you wouldn't believe what I'm about to do," she'd tell her. But she can't get as far as calling her.

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Danny Fenster / Comments (7)

Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Finkelstein Lecture Controversy

Norman Finkelstein was once a popular professor at DePaul University. He was on the tenure track and was publishing books critical of the occupation of Palestine and the use of the Holocaust to silence critics of Israel's human rights record.

Finkelstein was denied tenure in a dramatic confrontation, where Harvard law professor and torture apologist Alan Dershowitz lobbied DePaul and students supporting Finkelstein occupied the office of the President of DePaul for three days before being kicked out under threat of arrest.

Since that time, controversy has not failed to follow Finkelstein. He was set to speak at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on April 16 about his new book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

However, on March 24, event organizer Shirien Damra received a letter from the church.

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Matt Muchowski

The Left Sat Mar 20 2010

Reflections on Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq

Eugene Cherry from Iraq Veterans Against the War Speaks at Chicago's Anti-War Rally.

Every year around March 20th, I attend an anti-war rally. On March 17, 2010 over a thousand people rallied at Federal Plaza and marched on Michigan Ave. It came as President Obama is intensifying the war in Afghanistan. The protesters seemed to be mocking Mayor Daley's challenge, "Where are the anti-war people? They disappeared! They stopped marching!" No, we never did stop marching, even as Daley has continued to antagonize us.

It was March 20, 2003, seven years ago, that shock and awe began and our country invaded and began to occupy Iraq, the second largest source of oil in the world, a country with a civilization that dates back to before the bible was written. I was arrested that day at a protest, like 900 Chicagoans, and many more around the country were.

It was a scary time. Less than two years since 9/11, and it felt like the whole country was against the anti-war protesters. I had nightmares that I was thrown in Guantanamo Bay. Today, the majority of the country is against war in Iraq and most of the country has it's doubts about the war in Afghanistan.

I asked a friend if he was going to attend this year. He would rather apartment hunt. He asked me what difference going to the rally would make. Would it end the war? Would it stop the bloodshed? After we had such massive anti-war rallies before the invasion and those failed to stop it, what difference would this one rally seven years later, 95,000 dead Iraqis later, make?

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Matt Muchowski / Comments (3)

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Mar 18 2010

Warehouse Workers Demand Justice


Warehouse Workers for Justice Rally Outside the Housewares Show at McCormick Place.

On Sunday, March 14, Warehouse Workers for Justice rallied outside the McCormick Convention Center, which was hosting the International Home & Housewares Show, to demand justice from Bissell, a vacuum manufacturer. Clergy, warehouse workers and community members rallied to call attention to Bissell's role in the firing of workers who were trying to organize a union.

Warehouse Workers for Justice was founded by the United Electrical Workers union and helps warehouse workers organize and fight for their rights. The group has had substantial support from churches in the Joliet area; Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic and Unitarian Universalist have all provided support for the Warehouse Workers for Justice.

According to United Electrical workers organizer Mark Meinster, Bissell is one of hundreds of manufacturers that store their goods in the Centerpoint Intermodal Center in Elwood, Illinois. Since Chicago is the only place on the continent where all of the major rail lines meet, corporate America has made Chicago the third largest storage warehouse hub in the world, after Singapore and Hong Kong. The Centerpoint Intermodal Center is actually a designated foreign trade zone, so corporations like Wal-mart and Bissell do not have to pay duties on the products shipped through the center until they are shipped out of the center and toward retail outlets.

The companies that store their goods in the warehouses use a system of contractors and sub-contractors to employee temporary employees instead of full time employees. According to Meinster, "It's very easy for these employers to hide behind other companies in terms of liabilities for labor law violations. And that's what Bissell is trying to do here." Warehouse Workers for Justice have filed several complaints with the Department of Labor, and their attempts to meet with Bissell have been blown off. Which is why they felt it was important to take their message to the public, Meinster says. They want to "make sure those retailers [at the convention center] know that they are selling a sweatshop product."

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Matt Muchowski

Event Mon Feb 22 2010

Neve Gordon at Oak Park Library Tonight

Among the small network of Jewish mothers in suburban Detroit that all played a part in raising me (my mother, my best friend's mothers', my mother's best friends) an email made the rounds last week. It contained a video of some young people at a Trader Joe's somewhere boycotting the sale of Israeli-made goods. The young people posted stickers with images of bombs on the products and informed shoppers about their boycott, asking that they not support a nation who occupies and oppresses a people.

In other words, they were voicing a very common human rights concern by non-violent means.

Of course, this being an email circulating among middle-aged suburban Jews, the comments on the video were filled with vitriol. "How could Trader Joe's let this happen," "This is hard to believe and harder to watch."

I don't know what the moment feels like when a generation reaches the point that it turns to its progenitors, at eye level and not looking up, and engages as an equal in dialog. In fact, I suspect that that may never fully feel right. The reverence and respect I have for the mothers in my life makes it even harder to think they are wrong. But I think in the Jewish community--at least in my Jewish community--there is a divide between the ages that needs to be discussed. Many of our parents refuse to see the err in any Israeli action. Many of them are far closer to the pain that brought about the state of Israel.

We can argue over the use of words like apartheid and occupation--and certainly those are arguments that ought to be had--but to become enraged at a boycott of a controversial nation that the international community has routinely condemned is to act blindly and of the same base sense of identity the worst acts have been done to us.

I have much family and many friends in Israel, which makes it even the more painful to see the logic in criticisms of Israel. Harder, in fact, than to challenge my mothers. It is also painful to hear the opinions of those living in Israel when speaking about certain other human beings. There is a deep and pervasive sense of racism in daily life in Israel, and I suspect that's a fact more widely known in my community than revealed. Those ties--familial, religious, emotional--should not cloud discussions of justice and policy. We sit on a priviledged perch, us American Jews, the better to see the world and its shades of gray (not my line), a luxury spared most Israelis.

Anyway, Neve Gordon is an Israeli that is trying valiantly to help Israel treat all people justly. A lot of Israelis don't like him for that. He will be at the Oak Park Public Library tonight, and was on Worldview earlier today. Please go listen to him, and hear about the important "binational solution."

Danny Fenster / Comments (4)

Neighborhoods Mon Jan 25 2010

Digital Divides the Neighborhoods

Htun-Htun Thing (pronounced: toon-toon ting), a 16-year-old refugee from Burma, spent a recent Sunday afternoon chatting with friends online. His friends are in New York and Florida, Australia and Kuala Lumpur -- anyplace that has taken in members of the ethnic Chin population who have fled the country in the face of human rights violations. Communication is filtered through the standard QWERTY keyboard, so not only are Htun Htun and his friends connecting and preserving a sense of community, they're also becoming more literate, strengthening their written and spoken English with every keystroke, whether they realize it or not. He lives on the North Side of the city, in Albany Park, a neighborhood scattered with immigrant populations from Sarajevo to Seoul, and where broadband access is plentiful.

When Htun Htun was done talking to friends on Sunday, his 10-year-old brother Jacob used the computer to stream episodes of "South Park" online. Later, they used Google and YouTube to teach me about Burma and the Chin population there. Like most people reading this, they know how to search for and find information online.

But just a couple miles to the south, in Humboldt Park and Pilsen, the computer access and fiber optic networks that connect much of the North Side to the opportunities inherent in Web 2.0 dry up. Mexican-born Alfonso Vargas doesn't have a computer or an internet connection. More importantly, he doesn't see the benefit to be gained by having either. He travels from the Humboldt Park studio he shares with his brother and cousin to Truman College, in Lakeview, four days a week for English classes and works in a kitchen in the Loop. "The job is good," he says, "but I need something more. More hours, more money." He makes $8 an hour and found the job by walking the Loop and filling out applications; he has no idea there's a website of classified ads listing jobs by the hundreds, or that he could learn and practice English from his couch, saving on the bus fare to Lakeview.

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Danny Fenster / Comments (1)

Chicago Mon Jan 11 2010

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The trafficking of human beings from foreign lands into the United States has caught plenty of media attention. The narrative of young women from Eastern European and South Asian countries being promised work in America, only to be forced into labor- or sexual-exploitation is familiar.

But homegrown trafficking is just as serious. Because of the illicit nature of the industry, numbers are hard to come by. The legal and academic literature on the matter is littered with phrases like "to an unknown extent" and "ambiguity in scope." But in Chicago, many women are forced into prostitution by family members and boyfriends, pimped out for money by force, or worse.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness day, and the Chicago group Traffick Free is spreading awareness tonight by screening the film Cargo: Innocence Lost, followed by a Q&A with local experts on the matter. The event takes place at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St., at 7pm. See Traffick Free's website, linked above, for more information.

Danny Fenster

Social Issues Mon Nov 30 2009

"I'll Just Go Back to Grad School"

My social, family and professional networks allow me to move pretty regularly through very diverse groups of people: people of color, WASPs, the poor and working class, immigrants, wealthy businesspeople, creative professionals, the highly educated and completely uneducated. So when one day, in line for coffee, I overheard the following, I was completely floored: a woman, about my age (late 20s) was complaining about some job she did not get. Off-handedly, she said, "I guess I'll just go back to grad school, like everybody else."

She was just being glib, but the profound wrongness of that statement and the inability of her or her friend to see the irony in it--I looked back; they weren't smiling--really shocked me. Did they understand how unbelievably fortunate they were to even be able to think about going to graduate school? How that made them among a very tiny group of human beings on the planet with that kind of opportunity?

Consider for a minute that less than 30 percent of American adults have a bachelor's degree. So more than 70 percent of Americans have no college degree. That is an enormous majority. Of those 70 percent, a clear majority never even attend college.

I think about that conversation often; it snaps into my mind anytime I come across a statistic that should remind people of just how many Americans don't have anything like the "equality of opportunity" crowed about by conservatives and neoliberals.

Think of the last eight friends or family members you talked to on the phone or over email. Is one of those eight people surviving on food stamps?

If not, you move in very fortunate circles. Because one out of every eight Americans can only get enough food to eat with the assistance of food stamps.

There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times.

The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.

In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. -- Everytown, U.S.A. -- nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.

Peoria is "Everytown, U.S.A." thanks to Richard Nixon and his phalanx of conservative ideologues, who coined the expression "Will it play in Peoria?" when designing their particularly pernicious brand of hateful identity politics. That original army of conservatives still infect our political class. That 40 percent of children in Peoria now survive only because of the social safety net that movement is intent on eroding to nothing is an irony that would surely be lost on them. Besides, when their children fall a little behind, they just go to grad school. Like everybody else.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Social Issues Wed Nov 25 2009

Thanksgiving for a Thousand on South Michigan Avenue

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Chris Gray, an independent journalist in Chicago.

The north end of Michigan Avenue boasts the Magnificent Mile, where on Friday shoppers will clog the sidewalks aside the gilded skyscrapers as they seek the perfect gifts.

At the south end of Michigan Avenue, the Kids Off The Block will be happy just to have a warm turkey dinner for Thanksgiving on a normally somber, city-owned lot.

Dozens of plaques like headstones are stacked in a pyramid across from the Kids Off The Block youth center. The plaques start with Blair Holt, shot to death when a gangbanger aimlessly opened fire on the 103 bus in Roseland in May 2007.

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Andrew Huff / Comments (3)

Social Issues Tue Nov 24 2009

Help Homeless Teens...Virtually

Chicago's homeless problem isn't going away anytime soon, and in recent months there have been some heartbreaking stories about an increasing number of homeless teens searching for a support network. While the problem isn't easily solvable, here's one really easy way you can help out in the next few weeks: Vote for Teen Living Programs, a nonprofit in Bronzeville that helps homeless teens with housing, job training, educational support, mental health counseling and health care.

Organizers with the program are asking for "virtual volunteers" to vote for Teen Living Programs on Facebook as part of the Chase Community Giving event - an online event to help Chase Bank identify recipients for $5 million in charitable donations. Virtual volunteers can help by becoming a fan of Chase Community Giving and then voting for Teen Living Programs to receive a donation. The nonprofits with the most votes win and move on to the next round.

According to Nia Tavoularis, director of development and communications for Teen Living Programs, Chase is donating $25,000 to 100 organizations in the first round of giving, and then $100,000 to five organizations plus $1 million to two organizations in the second round. Voting in the first round ends on December 11.

Tavoularis tells Mechanics that on top of seeing more homeless teens hit hard by the recession, Teen Living also has seen a drop in charitable giving from corporations as a result of the economy. This has affected the number of staff members the program can hire and all current staff members have received pay cuts. She says $25,000 would help get the program back to the "right direction of regular funding before the recession hit." The program serves 500 homeless youth every year, she adds.

But the group is really aiming for the $1 million award. "That would add a tremendous amount of stability to get us through the rest of the recession," Tavoularis says.

You can also help by becoming a fan of Teen Living on Facebook, following the group on Twitter and checking out its YouTube channel.

Sheila Burt

Social Issues Tue Nov 17 2009

Are Illinois Inmates Receiving Proper Health Care?

IMG_1329.JPGAre inmates' health care needs being met behind bars in Illinois? This question was posed Monday afternoon to a panel of three experts -- Dr. Michael Puisis, chief operating officer for Cermak Health Services, Benjamin S. Wolf, associate legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Frank H. Easterbrook, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The John Marshall Law School student chapter of the American Constitution Society, the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society and the ACLU of Illinois co-sponsored the lunchtime event.

Mechanics listened in to hear what the experts had to say about the health care (or lack thereof) that inmates receive in prison. The short answer: it doesn't look pretty and the problem stems from the same hurdles free citizens face in receiving proper health care. Here are some highlights as to why health conditions in prisons are so poor:

Puisis: In 48 states, convicted persons can't vote. In 33 states, if you're on parole you can't vote. And in 28 states, if you're on probation you can't vote. That totals about 13 percent of African Americans and about 5.3 million people are disenfranchised. So indeed, this a closed society that has not many alternatives to pressure politicians to make choices. Because prisons are closed, it's tough for them to make movement. In addition, there's very little sympathy for inmates. So the first question is whether a shrinking budget actually affects medical care for inmates? The answer is 'Yes, it does.' And there's not a lot that can be done about it. The prison population wasn't always as high as it is today. America incarcerates at a higher rate than any country in the world. I just want to put in some historical context to keep it local:

In 1975, the Cook County Department of Corrections was formed by the merger of the House of Corrections and the Cook County Jail. The combined population of that jail in 1980 was 3,800 people. So for half a century, the population of the jail increased by 200. Well, over the next 20 years - and I was at the jail during some of that time - the population of the jail increased from 3,800 people to over 11,000. That's a 189 percent increase. At the same time, over the past 30 years, the population of jails in America has increased over 500 percent. Now, we have 2.3 million people incarcerated and many millions more either on parole or probation. So that's a significant number of people who are disenfranchised. That explosion in jail population has meant that the existing population has to be cared for in the older facilities that existed. What's that meant practically is that many of the clinics and medical facilities in jails are really in...rooms that were not meant for their intended purposes. These are not meant to be healthcare facilities. So sometimes, you'll walk into a clinic, and it's an old property room. In the Cook County Jail, the inmates' center was a property room and it wasn't meant to accommodate those kinds of activities and it doesn't have the necessary plumbing, etc.

I want to state unequivocally that federal intervention really is, in my opinion, responsible for improvement in health care for the last 30 years. And it's only through that intervention that medical care in this population has improved. So what is the solution? Should we have mass incarceration forever? I would prefer not to incarcerate at all...there's no question that federal intervention is going to be the primary mover to improved inmate health care. [In addition] we are faced with an increasing inmate population based on drug laws and mandatory drug sentencing that has resulted in huge population swelling. But we can change it and it doesn't have to go through the federal courts [if we] can go through laws that change the way we incarcerate people.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Local Government Wed Oct 14 2009

Mapping the Plan for Transformation

With the Chicago Housing Authority's Plan for Transformation in full swing, it's hard to keep track of the location of new mixed income developments -- not to mention which of the old family developments haven't been demolished. Because the CHA website doesn't have the entire listings, I submitted a request for the full data and mapped it.

The family developments are indicated by blue markers, while the mixed income developments are indicated by targets. Additional information listed on the mixed income development tabs state which public housing project was the original development. Approximate addresses have been substituted where the exact addresses of developments were not listed by the CHA.

View CHA Properties in a larger map

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

Chicagoland Thu Oct 08 2009

Chicago Metro 2020 Briefing Calls for Big Picture Answers

I had the pleasure yesterday, in between e-mail and a client meeting, to take in the 7th Annual lunchtime media briefing by Chicago Metropolis 2020. CM2020 is a non-profit organization originally established by the Commercial Club of Chicago "to promote long-term planning, better regional cooperation, and smart investments in the Chicago region and its people." The briefing, attended by a number of notables on the Chicago journalism scene, promised presentations on criminal justice reform; campaign finance limits; housing policy, early childhood education, and the Burnham Plan Centennial.

Adele Simmons, VP of the Burnham Plan Centennial, combined a general welcome with an overview of the mission of the Centennial, which is to carry on the legacy of legendary planner Daniel Burnham by focusing on innovative regional solutions for the Chicago metro area, saying, "The choices we make today will shape the future." While that statement might seem tautological at first, the emphasis was on bringing to the forefront of our decisionmaking the long-range, rather than short-term drivers.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Education Thu Oct 08 2009

Arne Duncan Should Justify His Existence

During his time here, Arne Duncan had little detectable effect on our schools. In fact, he left behind a mess, according to Chicago Magazine's profile of Ron Huberman. He accomplished little to nothing. His program of privatization has put and is putting unqualified, terrified teachers in front of students who have no faith in the adults around them.

Now people are wondering: Does the policy of school "turnarounds" that guts schools of all its leadership, denigrates teachers, alienates parents from schools, and destabilizes school life for kids, have something to do with the increased chaos and poor performance? (Yes.)

Was Arne Duncan not only ineffective but detrimental to our schools? If so, then how the hell did he get a promotion?

The tragic beating death of Derrion Albert of Fenger High School brought national media attention to Chicago's failing schools. Electing a guy who was a "community organizer from the south side of Chicago" will get you that kind of attention. They are starting to ask the question we've been asking here: what qualified Arne Duncan to be the national leader of our public schools, other than his playing basketball with the President?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Social Issues Mon Oct 05 2009

A Victory for Rogers Park Family Facing Eviction

IMG_1142.JPGTo say the least, Erica Bledsoe has had a tough year. Last September, her 48-year-old mother, Rosetta, died suddenly of a massive stroke, leaving Erica as the new legal guardian to her nephew and two nieces -- ages 14, 12 and 9. A month after her mother's death, Erica received an eviction notice from Northpoint, the company that leases her Section 8 apartment in Rogers Park. The letter stated that the family must leave the apartment because the lease is under Rosetta's name, even though Erica's nephew and nieces are listed as tenants.

Erica got a lawyer -- Matt Monahan of the Legal Assistance Foundation-- and concerned community members in Rogers Park began rallying for her cause, forming the Committee to Support the Bledsoe Family. Erica's story even caught the attention of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who wrote a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in May, asking that the family be allowed to stay in their home. No representatives from HUD or the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) ever responded to the letter, so activists decided to rally outside the offices Monday afternoon. They held up more than 500 signed postcards/petitions in support of the Bledsoe family.

After more than a year of courageous fighting, Erica's year finally got a little better -- she received word Monday that HUD has stepped in, and arrangements are being made so that her family will be able to stay in her apartment. A court hearing is still scheduled for October 8 on the issue, but Erica, speaking outside of HUD's offices at 77 W. Jackson Blvd., told a crowd of supporters Monday that, "It's been a long struggle, but for the best, so I can't complain. I'm glad it's over with...I never thought so many people cared. So many people showed support, and I want to say thank you to people in my community and outside my community."

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (3)

Social Issues Fri Oct 02 2009

Rep. Quigley on Supreme Court Guns Case

The Supreme Court will be making a major decision regarding Chicago's handgun ban. Gun rights is an issue that I've moved on over the years. I'm not certain that we want the Supreme Court to err on the side of collective rather than individual rights.

Congressman Mike Quigley, who I agree is sounding a touch Mayoral, discusses the case:

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to review McDonald vs. City of Chicago, a case that challenges whether or not Chicago's local handgun ban is legal. It is a development that deeply concerns me.

Since 1983, it has been illegal to purchase or own a handgun within Chicago's city limits. Over the course of the 26 years since, Chicago has seen the number of registered handguns drop from more than 400,000 to fewer than 200,000. Guns have become scarcer, saving lives and creating safer neighborhoods in the process.

But the threat of gun violence has by no means dissipated. Chicago communities are still reeling from losses of neighbors, children and friends -- innocent bystanders caught by a stray bullet, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. The last thing our city needs is more guns on the street and more children fearing for their safety.

Ramsin Canon

Event Mon Sep 21 2009

Fighting For Children With Incarcerated Parents

IMG_1085.JPG"Sometimes, people need help. And when people are asking for help, they normally want it." Darlene Horton says this to Mechanics just outside the James R. Thompson Center Friday afternoon. Dozens of community activists and supporters are crowded around the Center, getting ready to attend a legislative hearing on an issue they all view as urgent: legislative reforms to protect children with incarcerated parents. These children, they argue, are too often left alone, struggling to understand what happened to their parents.

On Friday afternoon, the rally brought together advocates and community leaders to discuss reform for the nearly 90,000 children who have an incarcerated parent, according to the Community Renewal Society, a social justice group that organized the rally. Afterwards, advocates packed the 16th floor of the Center to attend a legislative hearing on the issue. Mechanics spent a few hours at the rally and hearing to listen to some stories.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (1)

Social Issues Fri Sep 18 2009

Local Conservatives and Libertarians Debate the War on Drugs

On Wednesday night I moderated a lively debate on drug policy between the conservatives and libertarians who comprise the Chicago chapter of America's Future Foundation (AFF). I asked the question: "Is the War on Drugs good public policy?"

As you'd expect, there was disagreement between the two libertarians and three conservatives on the panel. I introduced the debate with a picture of the War on Drugs 40 years on.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (3)

Chicago Thu Jul 16 2009

The streets are hot. What's the solution?

...the Olympics, of course.

Seriously though, crime in Chicago is on the rise. Entire neighborhoods are turning into killing fields, and no part of the city is inured to this. Crime moves. Danger moves. The Daleys of the world tend to think the solution is just to privatize security--in other words, make sure just the well off are protected. Privatizing public space is his thing, after all. But the best crime fighting program is secure, well-paying entry level jobs.

Check out this breathless report from the Sun-Times:

Three men were fatally shot. One man was fatally stabbed. Police shot one man and at least seven other people were wounded by gunfire -- including an 8-year-old boy sitting in his bedroom -- during an especially violent six hours late Wednesday and early Thursday mainly on the South and West Sides.


About 12:30 a.m. Thursday, a man in his 20s was shot in the head at 1109 N. Wood St. -- less than a block from numerous busy Division Street bars and restaurants, police said.

At 12:37 a.m., a 24-year-old man was shot at 7935 S. Cottage Grove Ave, according to police, who said the shooting appears to have been over a $15 debt.

About 12:50 a.m. Thursday, a male was shot in the leg during an argument with a person he knew in the 3500 block of South Western Avenue, police said.

Near northwest side, southwest side, south side--this violence is everywhere and spreading. I don't know what the answer is--but I do know that the Earned Income Tax Credit and community college are not it. This is a class problem and requires a class solution.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

Social Issues Wed Jul 15 2009

Illinois Parental Notification Law Upheld

Yesterday, in the case of Zbaraz v. Madigan, the Seventh District Court found in favor of the plaintiff. I know right? Crazy. If that wasn't enough to make obvious what went down, I guess I can explain further; the courts upheld a law from 1994 that has been left unenforced under the assumption that it was unconstitutional; a parental notification law that would require women under legal age to notify their parents before they could seek an abortion. Privacy advocates had argued that this would endanger women who were the victims of incest in particular; the bill had a clause that would have allowed women (girls?) to bypass the notification requirement by getting permission from a judge; this was considered overly onerous by opponents of the bill. Zbaraz v. Madigan settled the matter, and the Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1994 is now law.

Anti-abortion activists: Yay! (though not Yay! enough to get the name of the case right).
ACLU: Boo!

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Jun 30 2009

Panhandling is (Not) a Crime

I visited my favorite (slightly overpriced) bakery in Hyde Park yesterday. The bakery had a white 8.5"x11" sign on the door that usually portends some sort of neighborhood crime alert, which it did. Surprisingly, the sign was not about a rash of burglaries or strong-arm robberies, but rather to alert us to the fact that panhandling is a crime and that we should call 911 if we witness it happening.

I left the bakery quite conflicted as I chewed on some flaky, buttery, chocolaty goodness. On the one hand, that stretch of 57th Street, while nowhere near the panhandling obstacle course other stretches of real estate in Chicago can be (I love working downtown during the Taste of Chicago, don't you?), it is still, or at least was, home to a couple of pretty aggressive men scamming for change. They were generally less annoying or vaguely threatening as the gentlemen who pull you aside and tell you their life story, but still it was always important to not make eye contact or at least whip out your cell phone while walking that block, a strategy which doesn't seem to work with the Environment Illinois folks, incidentally. There is something to be said for just being able to walk down the street on a nice summer day and not have to be made to feel guilty for not having some spare change.

On the other hand, is annoying people on the street really a crime? At some point, yes, some professional panhandlers can get aggressive and down right scary, but if we make panhandling a crime in general, then what other options do those folks have? Should they just "get a job," should we foist them off on an already overburdened social welfare system, should we lock them up in some sort of modern-day debtors-prison? I suspect that part of the annoyance that panhandlers bring for a lot of us is the ambiguous moral and ethical position they put us in every time we walk by them. I know I am privileged to live in a nice neighborhood and suckle at the teat of the social welfare system of the university. I know that families, men and women live all around me who can't say the same, who have to bust their humps and hustle just for a Polish and a pop, I just wish they wouldn't intrude on my world to do so. And so I am left with, much like I imagine most of us are, no overwhelming set of principles to guide every action, just the ambiguity of every individual experience with panhandling demanding a different reaction.

Maybe I should just see it as a character-building exercise. The persistence of the urban poverty and inequality that leaves so many with no (perceived or real) option other than to beg for charity outside bakeries in the bright light districts is only matched by our efforts to put that poverty and inequality on reservations as far away from our imagined communities of prosperity as possible. Maybe it's an advantage of city living to have to deal with it. Or maybe I should just not carry cash and always have an excuse.

Jacob Lesniewski

Chicagoland Wed Jun 24 2009

No Tea Bags Here: Responsible Budget Rally VIDEO

P1030823.JPGTV typically only carries a few seconds of action from an event. One or two pictures in print media are all that we can usually expect. This is not a rap on those media, just acknowledgment of their limits, especially in an economy this stressed.

Since I was downtown at the Responsible Budget rally last week, I thought I'd post this short (3-min.) clip, which gives more of the real size and flavor. It was the biggest rally I've ever seen for a tax increase. No doubt there are still places to cut the budget, but that doesn't negate the reality of needing to do something responsible to prevent the hurt that will occur if the draconian cuts threatened take place.

The video includes the remarks by Bill McNary of Citizen Action as well as those of working mother Gloria Gonzalez. You may have better luck viewing without interruption if you go directly to YouTube.

Jeff Smith

Illinois Tue Jun 16 2009

"Cutting Spending" Just Won't Work

The Daily Herald just went up with a piece about the state government and why all the "cut spending" talk is likely just more nonsense that will gut government services for working and middle class families.

Anders Lindall, of AFSCME Council 31, makes the point:

"You could shut down state government tomorrow and release 45,000 inmates, and say we're not going to provide any protection for abused kids, and we're going to turn our backs on the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled, we're going to close all the state parks, we're going to shut down all state services, and you would still have an $8 billion deficit," Lindall said. "Those who say that you should cut, it just doesn't square with the facts. There's no way to cut yourself out of this hole."

I'm all for seeking and destroying inefficiency, but public spending generates the services that make communities safe for business and families. Slashing it will have negative effects on our economy--first by further harming demand (layoffs) and then by degrading the infrastructure and services that keep people productive members of the economy.

Not all public services are created equal--but laying off working people is not the solution to a collapse in demand in the economy.

Here's Jim Tobin of National Taxpayers United of Illinois:

"I think they should lay off all the state troopers. I think they're a total waste of taxpayer money," Tobin said. "We have too many cops and state police have proven time and time again they're glorified Keystone Kops. We won't miss them one bit."

Tobin said lawmakers should also make state employees pay more into their pensions and pay more for retiree health care.

Ramsin Canon

Social Issues Sun Jun 07 2009

Life of a Homeless CPS Student

Very sad story about a homeless CPS student and her mother that aired on WTTW's Chicago Tonight on the day of May 27th, 2009. Via Uptown Update!


Social Issues Fri May 29 2009

Leftists To Gather, Dialectics Likely

Much has been made of the Rasmussen Poll indicating that among young people especially, socialism and capitalism enjoy about equal popularity. If this poll is to be trusted, something like 110,000,000 adult Americans would prefer something else--for about 40,000,000 of them, socialism--to capitalism.

This may disappoint some of my socialist friends, but I honestly think that those results reflect the tendency of conservatives to call every public activity not performed for the purpose of further enriching the wealthy "socialism"; to call all social or public activity "socialism" and to decry all secularist tendencies as "socialist"; to call raising the top marginal tax rate on the plutocrats by 3% "socialism"; to refer to efforts to cut defense spending "socialism"; to make Medicare available to all "socialism"; to give workers the right to organize a union without fear "socialism", etc. As a result, I think, people, particularly younger people who have no real world experience with socialism, think "socialism" just means a mixed economy.

If you're one of the 47% of Americans who are seeking an alternative to capitalism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) will be holding its annual conference here from June 18th to 21st (and in San Francisco from July 2nd to 5th; just like a buncha socialists to ignore the 4th of July!). You can register to attend and be dialectic-ed into believing that social relations structure all human institutions and that the contradictions of capitalism are inherent and will necessarily lead to its destruction. Also, refreshments.

Socialism2009's slogan is "Building a New Left for a New Era". Speakers will include Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Sportswriter Dave Zirin of The Nation, and journalist Jeremy Scahill, among others. Seeing Goodman and Zirin speak is worth the price of admission. Also, Heather Rogers (author of Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage) will be giving a talk on the difficulties of having a truly green economy in a capitalist system that will be interesting for those of you who not only have socialist tendencies, but also may be hippies.

*Drab clothing, pince-nez glasses not required; monocles, top hats discouraged.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Illinois Thu May 28 2009

Medical Marijuana Bill Passes Senate

I'm not going to attempt to make any annoying puns or sly references to recreational drug use; just wanna say that the Medical Marijuana bill, called the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, narrowly passed the Senate yesterday 30-28-1. There are lots of people suffering from chronic illnesses who could use the relief that marijuana provides. This is a good move by our state government, so kudos. Here is the roll call vote. Check out the IPI's Tweet Illinois feed to follow legislators' chatter.

Given the rapidity with which marriage equality has gained acceptance in a country that has for years been called essentially conservative (or "center-right"), this gives me a glimmer of hope that decriminalization is just down the road.

Also, dude, weed.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (13)

Social Issues Tue May 26 2009

Trust Fund Babies Want To Teach You a Race Course

Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, for many reasons, are distasteful to the left as well as the right. Not the least of which was their role in destroying the class-based coalition on the left in the 1960s and introducing the era of rich white kids competing for radical chic points in academia. Now they're trying to waste our time with their views on race, with a book annoyingly titled Race Course: Against White Supremacy. Don't get me wrong; being brown, I also am "against white supremacy." I'd just rather not attend any "race course" taught by a guy whose daddy was the CEO of Commonwealth Edison, and sat on the boards of Northwestern University and the Tribune Company, and who never spent a day in the clink for something anybody not benefitting from "white supremacy" would have done decades for.

As if to confirm my distaste, Bernardine Dohrn is quoted in the Sun-Times as saying this,

"Fifty-seven percent of white voters did not vote for Obama....That was the impetus for writing this book. We've got a big job to do to change those numbers."

I tried to figure out how to take those words out of context--that maybe she wasn't being fairly quoted. The ellipsis is only to exclude exposition from the reporter--that's the quote. Seems pretty clear. My follow-up questions for Bernardine Dohrn would have been along the lines of, what percentage of white people voting for Mr. Obama would have been acceptable to them? Forty-nine percent? Fifty percent plus one? Seventy five percent? What percentage of white people voted against John Kerry? What percentage of white people voted against Bob Dole in 1996? Didn't Mr Obama win the election? Do she and Mr Ayers believe that only white supremacy kept him from winning 400 electoral votes?

Obviously his race was a factor for lots of voters, including a lot of racist voters. But it was obviously not a major factor, given his lopsided victory over possibly the whitest guy in America, the Arizonan Scotch-Irish husband of a liquor magnate heiress. But radical chic has nothing to do with material reality, it has to do with impressing your friends at cocktail and cheese parties in Hyde Park.

Ramsin Canon

State Politics Sat May 23 2009

Mandatory DNA Collection: What The Innocent Have to Fear

With Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) saying, "we're approaching George Orwell's '1984' right now,"HR0935, a bill that would would require the involuntary surrender of DNA information from anyone arrested for a felony, was narrowly voted down this week. After passing by a wide margin in the Illinois House, where it had been introduced by Susana Mendoza, the Illinois Senate, where Matt Murphy was the chief proponent, showed more respect for civil liberties.

Never mind that many felonies have absolutely nothing to do with physical crimes or bodily fluids, where DNA evidence could neither incriminate nor exculpate the accused. The more troubling suggestion is the repetition of that old canard, "the innocent have nothing to fear." Under that same Orwellian illogic, we might as well repeal most of the fourth amendment to the United States Constitution.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (2)

Democrats Thu May 14 2009

If I were James Meeks

Here is the first speech I would give after announcing that I was going to run for governor:

I am a man of faith, I am the pastor of a large church in Chicago, a large Christian church. I know however there are people of faith who do not support my canidicy because of my views on some social issues.

I want to take this opportunity to reach out to them and point out how the faith we share can point us in a new direction as a state...

I am reminded of the word of the profit Ezekiel 16:49

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy"

-- Nothing there about the sins we more commonly associate with Sodom, but "she did not help the poor and needy", the same sin this state has been guilty of for to far long....

We have children in this state who are underfed, undereducated because of the neighborhood they were born in. We fail these children as a state and perhaps more importantly as Christians. I call on all of you to work with me to solve this problem. Christ spoke much more about how we treat the least among us than and of the issues that divide us.

You may feel uncomfortable with my stands on other issues, too comfortable to support or vote for me, fine I can accept that.

But what I can not accept as a Christian and as a leader in this state is a desire to ignore these issues and do nothing. That is why I decided to run for Governor as an independent, not to attract voters because of party labels but to attract voters who agree that something needs to be done. That the status quo can not be maintained, that we need to act as a state more like the Samaritan and less like the Pharisee.

Don't know if he is going to run for governor, but if he does, I would toss the gauntlet down and toss it hard.


Chicago Wed May 13 2009

UIC Responds to Concerns Over Clinic Closure

Yalda Afshar sent us an upddate on the UIC Healthcare Students Against Disparities fight against the university's decision to close The Center for Women and Families at Pilsen. Afshar, a fourth year medical student and MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program, wrote in an e-mail to Mechanics that:

In response to the outcry, John DeNardo, CEO of the UIC Healthcare System, has promised future ties with an existing Pilsen community clinic, the Alivio Medical Center. As of our May 1st meeting, DeNardo is discussing the provision of specialty services to the Pilsen community through Alivio, as an alternative to the primary care that the UIC clinic provided.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Chicago Sat May 09 2009

Wind Power Ain't Blowin' Smoke

windpower1.JPGI was fortunate to be able to spend a little time at Windpower 2009, the just-concluded 4-day expo at McCormick Place. There was surprisingly scant local coverage of the world's largest windpower conference being held here in the Windy City, of all places, so I'm posting these notes, because it was an amazing event. From a gathering that, longtime attendees told me, had about 200 people here 10 years ago, and only 1,000 attendees as late as 2001, this has grown into a massive conference, sprawling across the entire South Hall of the expo center. According to The American Wind Energy Association, the conference had 23,200 attendees, close to double the size of last year's gathering, and over 1,200 exhibiting companies.

In keeping with the green theme of the conference, I took a multimodal route to get there: I biked to the Metra, took the train downtown, walked to a bus stop, then took the CTA to McCormick Place. I was glad I made the effort. Any policymaker, activist, reporter, or general member of the public who stopped by this show would have come away convinced that wind is no longer, in any fashion, an "alternative" energy source or science fiction. Rather this is a burgeoning industry with tremendous growth ahead.

In addition to the five governors who came by the conference, speakers included Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, financier T. Boone Pickens, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu (via video). Illinois Governor Pat Quinn used the conference to announce an agreement by which the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) will purchase all of its energy for facilities in the capitol from wind-generated sources, through the city of Springfield.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

Column Wed May 06 2009

State Stays Stingy While Artists Reel from Recession

The arts have been brutally hit by this severe economic downturn. The creative sector of the economy is caught in a double-bind. It's suffering from lower revenues like many industries, because consumers treat art as discretionary spending rather than a necessity. But arts also have taken a hit because, in recessionary times, private donors, who provide up to 40% of arts funding, tend to scale back their generosity more for arts than for, say, a soup kitchen. Government, too, has been yanking back its dollars.

The result has been that artists are losing jobs fast and furiously. The National Endowment for the Arts ("NEA") estimated that roughly 129,000 U.S. artists were unemployed during the fourth quarter of 2008, a rate twice that of other professional workers. Unemployment in the arts is also growing faster than in other sectors - many artists are simply calling it quits. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the national artist workforce shrank by 74,000 workers.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Chicago Wed Apr 29 2009

UIC Students Continue Fight Against Clinic Closure

Last week, we posted on a rally that members of the University of Illinois at Chicago Healthcare Students Against Discrimination were holding to protest the university's decision to close The Center for Women and Families at Pilsen.

We checked in with Yalda Afshar, a fourth year medical student who helped organize the protest, to talk to her about the group's hopes and plans for the future.

"The events were incredible," said Afshar, a MD/PhD candidate in the Medical Scientist Training Program. "Both events were really well attended...[and] it was a very, very mixed group in terms of professional background, which brought a lot of power to it."

Afshar estimates that between 75 to 100 UIC students attended the rally, which was held in front of the Outpatient Care Clinic, along with 20 to 30 physicians and staff. About 150 adults and 50 children attended the vigil, which was held in front of the Center later in the evening on Thursday.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt

Social Issues Fri Apr 24 2009

Federal Troops to Quell Urban Violence?

I can't believe I missed this column. I normally like Mary Mitchell, but I don't always think to check out her columns anymore. Not sure why, but this column from last month was pretty good.

BTW, I'm not sure if I'm reading this correctly, but I see on her blog that she's suffering from cancer and was successfully treated for that. That's great news and I expect nothing less than to be able to read her columns for the foreseeable future.

Anyway back to her column:

Obviously, President Obama can't read the tons of mail he receives. But there's one letter floating around the White House that I hope he reads.

That letter is from Edward G. Gardner, a prominent Chicago businessman and the founder of Black on Black Love, the city's pioneering anti-violence campaign.

Gardner is asking Obama to send federal troops to urban areas that are now under siege by domestic terrorists fighting gang wars.

Our children are dying in the streets.

Yet so far more attention has been paid to the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Continue reading this entry »


City Council Thu Apr 09 2009

Government for What?

Ben Jovarsky and Mick Dumke's dogged reporting has produced a fascinating, if predictable tale of Mayor Daley ramrodding questionable billion dollar privitization schemes through the City Council. It's no surprise that the Mayor and the pliant council are loath to engage in any sort of real public debate, but other news stories this week make the details Jovarsky and Dumke unearth much more troubling. Over and over again, the Mayor and his staff justify the quick and unexamined sell off of the city's assets for more funds for things like social services or neighborhood parks. But other stories this week seem to indicate that the Mayor has no intention of creating robust, quality city services. In other words, the Mayor and his staff are selling off revenue-generating city assets for no clear purpose.

The ChiTown Daily News first reported on the closing of four city mental health clinics, all on the South Side of Chicago. Budget director Paul Volpe, health commissioner Terry Mason, and Mayor Daley all cited state budget cuts as the reasons for the closing of the centers.

Continue reading this entry »

Jacob Lesniewski

Chicagoland Thu Apr 09 2009

Sandoval Timing Right on Transit Funding Proposal

It's become almost cliché that mass transit was "saved" last year through a sales-tax funded revenue scheme, amended by Gov. Blagojevich to include, among other things, free rides for seniors. Something, anything, needed to be done to keep the trains and buses running, and my state Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) rightly got credit for brokering a deal between Springfield factions who didn't often play well with others. However, I suspect that most of those lauding the fix don't actually ride mass transit very often.

Given typical political schedules, I doubt many opinion leaders have spent as much time as you and I have standing on windy, freezing, sometimes-scary platforms, held hostage in tunnels or "slow zones," or stranded in the Twilight Zone of a bus stop for 40 minutes on a route that's supposed to provide service every 15. I wonder how many legislators have picked up a copy of Metra's February newsletter, On the Bi-Level, which spells out how their lack of capital funding for the last 5 years now imperils the very rails on which we ride.

State senator Martin Sandoval, acknowledging what has become clear, that last year's so-called save of mass transit was only a band-aid that avoided yet one more "doomsday" scenario, and after first criticizing the recent "mini-capital" bill as allotting insufficient monies for transit, has called for a three-part solution to address transit funding on a permanent, not stopgap, basis:

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Social Issues Sat Apr 04 2009

Support for Concealed Carry

Gimbu Kali in this video discusses the possibility of concealed carry in Illinois. It's a good discussion even with the typical cliche in support of concealed carry. That is gun control makes it easier for the criminal element to have guns and victimized those who aren't armed.

What do you think? Should citizens of Illinois be allowed to carry a gun for their own self-defense?

Levois / Comments (2)

Op-Ed Wed Mar 25 2009

OP-ED: Support the Illinois Reproductive Health and Access Act

The following is an op-ed by Edwin C. Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Yohnka is the primary spokesperson for the most prominent civil rights and civil liberties advocacy organization in the State of Illinois, an organization with more than 23,000 members.

As policy-makers and special interest groups in Washington debate various proposals to extend health care to millions of uninsured Americans, the Illinois General Assembly has an opportunity during its current session to expand reproductive health care in the state. House Bill 2354 — now on the floor of the House of Representatives — reflects an effort by a broad coalition of organizations (the Campaign for Reproductive Health and Access) to move beyond the decades-long, contentious debate in our society focused on abortion and engage a more comprehensive discussion about the need to expand access to reproductive health care for all women in Illinois.

The Illinois Reproductive Health and Access Act offers a woman a continuum of choices throughout her reproductive life — from honest, medically accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education to access to quality birth control, prenatal care, information about adoption and, if necessary, the right to choose abortion based on her individual circumstances and concerns. It is clear that we need to ensure that a woman has as many responsible options as possible when it comes to making important decisions about her reproductive health care.

In an organized effort to reduce unintended pregnancies, House Bill 2354 requires that all public schools teach medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education. Such education is needed in our public schools to reverse the dangerous effects (including skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted disease among teenagers) that have resulted from an overuse of abstinence only until marriage programs funded with federal taxpayer dollars. Any parent in Illinois would be allowed to remove their children from the sexual health education classes if they do not want them to participate.

Additionally, the RHAA guarantees everyone in our state the ability to use or refuse contraception without government interference. It puts control over reproductive health care in our state clearly and directly in the hands of women, rather than in the hands of politicians driven by ideology.

The RHAA is both comprehensive and popular. A recent poll of 600 registered voters in Illinois found that 71 percent of all voters support the measure — a broad consensus with strong support among many demographic groups.

Despite this broad support, we have seen a good deal of hyperbolic, highly rhetorical language aimed at this legislation. Some have claimed that the bill would force health care workers who are morally opposed to abortion or contraception to leave the practice or perform abortions they oppose. This is not true. Instead, the act protects both patients and doctors. It allows individual health care professionals to object to providing certain services, while still ensuring that patients receive timely, accurate and complete services as well as information about care options.

Others have claimed that the bill would strip away any regulation of abortion and allow for late term or so-called partial birth abortion. But the truth is that these regulations still will apply, including the ban on so-called partial birth abortion that was adopted at the federal level and upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

This measure is an important move forward in our state. We hope that all persons in our state will reach out to their state representative and urge support of House Bill 2354. You can find more information by going to

Andrew Huff / Comments (2)

Daley Wed Mar 25 2009

State Rep. pushes for child gun saftey education

I like this idea of gun safety education, but reading this story from Newsradio 78 it appears Daley doesn't even want that! Most of us already knows Daley's position. Guns are bad no matter what and I suppose one can conclude that if Daley had his way no one would even know what a gun is.

Well let's start with the legislation in question:

State Rep. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) said she believes that education is the key to gun safety, and said a hands-on approach is the key to taking away the mystery and allure of guns.

"Downstate they teach you that guns are meant for hunting, for protection," she said. "Here in the urban cities, all they see are guns on TV and they gun down people."
Collins said she suggested gun education to help gain passage of House Bill 48, a measure that would require universal background checks prior to the purchase of guns and would ban private handgun sales.

Like was already stated Daley was opposed to it:

"It's the silliest position I've ever heard taken," Daley said.

Daley said putting guns in the hands of more children is the last thing the city of Chicago needs.

"It would be different if they have an interest and the family takes them so they're going out hunting," he said. "Don't you think we should concentrate on math, science, reading, attendance, keeping children in school, after-school programs? I think the representative should put her priorities in order."

Daley said there is already too much gun violence on Chicago's West Side, and said he believed Collins' proposal would only fuel it.

"If (she thinks) more guns on the West Side is going to help those people, she is greatly mistaken," Daley said.

I could agree, but Daley seems to assume that anyone with a gun=automatic criminal. That's not true, but it has been argued that gun control can only benefit those who choose not to obey them anyway. A person who is without a gun to protect themselves or their home might largely be defenseless against a criminal who would do great harm to them.

The Mayor doesn't appear to have great faith in this idea of a responsible gun owner. If Daley doesn't have faith in the citizen then does he have faith in his police? They carry guns and every now and again we hear stories that might cause people to lose faith in the police. Such as this story about the cop who loses it at a bar and he's about to go on trial.

Anyway, let's hear from you. Might it be beneficial to teach gun safety to young people? If we can educate them now, perhaps, they might be more reticent in pulling a gun on anyone. Hopefully they'll know that this isn't Hollywood and a gun is a very dangerous tool.

Let's not misunderstand guns are dangerous. They certainly don't belong in everyone's hands, but is it smart to not even allow some people an opportunity to understand gun safety?

Via 2nd City Cop who titles their entry "Common Sense Rejected".

Levois / Comments (2)

Social Issues Thu Mar 19 2009

Illinois state police defying expungement orders?

That's what Mary Mitchell is saying in her column today:

An investigation by the Chicago Reporter, a monthly investigative publication on race and poverty, found that the state agency has refused to enforce about 1,800 of 21,000 expungement and sealing orders mandated by state judges.

Earlier this week, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan demanded the State Police immediately conduct an audit to determine the exact number of orders at issue, to comply with court orders and to devise a strategy to reach those people impacted by this issue. "They are not following the law. I am curious about their reasons," Madigan said during an interview. "We've sent off a letter to the director trying to find out what is going on."

Four years ago, Illinois lawmakers who represent districts with large African-American and Latino populations were celebrating legislation that was designed to make it easier for ex-offenders to re-integrate into society.

It was a hard-fought victory.

Expungements and the sealing of criminal records of people with low-level felony or misdemeanor arrests or convictions were viewed as critical to urban communities where unemployment figures were double-digits long before the country sank into a steep recession.

If you're up on a Saturday morning at about 10:30 AM watch some cable access programming. You might see what's going on, especially if there programs may have either a lawyer or a politician as a guest.

That was when I figured out that for a lot of blacks this is a huge issue. Usually the callers are guys who may ask questions about a conviction that they had in their youths. This conviction is holding them back in their lives and perhaps this conviction can be expunged from their records.

Here's what else was found in the investigation:

•  •  Statewide, about 1,800 of the 21,000 sealing and expungement orders issued after the amendment, between 2006 and 2008, went unenforced.

•  •  An additional 900 or so orders went unenforced before theamendment, starting in 1991, when some ex-offender advocates believe the practice began.

•  •  Statewide, 5 percent of the 412 court orders issued in 2008 went unenforced.

•  •  Paul P. Biebel Jr., presiding judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County Criminal Division, got overruled about 13 percent of the time in 2007.

Our ousted ex-governor figured into this article. Larry Trent, the current director of the State Police was appointed by him in 2003. According to Mitchell, Trent may have himself picked up some bad habits. Another thought from Mitchell:

Because African Americans account for about 61 percent of Illinois parolees, it is the group most impacted by the arrogance of this state agency. So, it is quite ironic that it was black community leaders who publicly supported Blagojevich during the corruption scandal that jettisoned him from office.

The failure of the Illinois State Police to expunge and seal criminal records when ordered to do so by a judge also has likely resulted in people who honestly thought they had complied with the law losing their jobs after a background check.

Also, since applying for an expungement costs $60 -- a fee that many applicants are hard-pressed to come by -- the state agency has effectively scammed these applicants when it refused to obey the judge's orders to seal or expunge the records.

Now that we have Gov. Quinn in office and an environment that seeks to break from the past, I hope that we can see some change on this issue. Yeah I know the best way to avoid this is to not commit a crime, however, for those who have paid their debt to society, they should be able to expunge a crime from their record that was only a past offense. Especially if it was a minor one.

And we need for the state police to follow the orders of judges!


Social Issues Wed Mar 04 2009

U.S. journalist with Chicago connection held in Iran

A U.S. journalist with ties to the Chicago-area is being held in Tehran's Evin prison under unspecified charges.

Roxana Saberi, 31, a freelance journalist, has reported from Iran for BBC, NPR and ABC News, among other news outlets, for six years. According to reports, she called her father on February 10 and told him she had been arrested for buying alcohol, but her family has not heard from her since then. A spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Saberi filed stories illegally from Iran after her press credentials were withdrawn.

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (1)

Column Tue Mar 03 2009

Checking in: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Mechanics checked in with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who have the challenging task of fighting for the people who are probably most at risk during this economic recession -- the homeless.

On its Web site, the Coalition is urging people to contact their State Representative and express their opposition to HB0955, which would require students who move in the middle of the academic year to leave school at the end of a grading period as defined by the local school board. This bill doesn't specifically target homeless students, so what's the connection to the homeless?

Continue reading this entry »

Sheila Burt / Comments (4)

Chicago Sun Feb 08 2009

STOP: Stop Closing Mental Health Clinics

Why is the city closing down mental health clinics on the South Side?

Displacement? Gentrification? Making parts of the city superficially pretty for the International Olympic Committee?

My tendency is to think "all of the above" or, maybe, "six of one, half dozen of the other."

Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community group that does just what its name implies, came to that same conclusion when they began fighting the closures last year. Closing mental health clinics is a common way to attack a community's social safety net. Having grown up in and around Chicago, I remember the stories of the closures of mental health facilities in Uptown that led to an increase in homelessness for the most at-risk.

But more than that, it's just cruel. Providing this kind of health care benefits communities; it doesn't drain them. STOP intends to take that message directly to the Mayor on Tuesday, at 10am, at his City Hall office.

For more information.

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Feb 04 2009

How Not to Advocate Charter Schools: A Case Study

There are many excellent arguments in support of charter schools -- including nearly 17,000 in the form of students voluntarily enrolled in Chicago's charters from 2006-2007 -- but I've never encountered a bad one.

Until now.

Today's Southtown Star features an opinion piece by Fran Eaton in which she suggests Chicago parents should support charter schools because incoming Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman is gay.

Say what?

Eaton writes:

There are few choices for dissatisfied Chicago parents. Either move to another school district, find an alternate means of education for their children, or get over their concerns, accept homosexuality as normal and admit to themselves they are abnormal for thinking anything different...One way is to establish more charter schools.

Eaton quotes the director of the Illinois Family Institute's Division of School Advocacy, who thinks Huberman's appointment portends certain doom -- or gayness -- for CPS students:

"First, Huberman will be called upon to superintend issues related to how homosexuality is addressed in Chicago public schools," Higgins wrote. "Second, Huberman serves as a public role model. His open, unapologetic, unrepentant appropriation and affirmation of sexual deviance as morally defensible and central to his identity vitiates any legitimacy as premier educational leader in Chicago that his admirable qualities may have otherwise conferred on him."

(Hypothetically speaking, would Huberman be more acceptable as CPS's CEO were he to apologize for his sexuality? Just how silly is that question?)

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (8)

Chicago Thu Jan 29 2009

Geoghegan, Advocate Settle Suit on Billing

The area's largest health care provider, Advocate Health Care, has received a steady stream of bad publicity over the last few years, as revelations about their charity care, staffing rations, and treatment of workers have been brought under public scrutiny.

This week legendary Chicago labor and employment attorney Tom Geoghegan settled a suit with Advocate on behalf of low-income uninsured patients who were being forced to pay higher rates than insured patients (presumably because they weren't being represented by a large firm that could bargain for cheaper rates).

Geoghegan is also a candidate for the Democratic nominaton for Rahm Emanuel's seat in the Fifth Congressional District.

Ramsin Canon

Social Issues Wed Jan 21 2009

Score one for secularism we're only down by ten thousand.

A federal judge has ruled unconstitutional a law passed by the Illinois legislature requiring the state's schools to require a moment of prayer or reflection on the day's activities.

Via Huffington Post.

Ramsin Canon

Education Mon Dec 22 2008

Community Coalition Interrupts Duncan's Love Fest

On Wednesday, December 17, the Chicago Board of Education held its regular monthly meeting, one day after Barack Obama announced his nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education. The meeting began with a standing ovation for Duncan, local champion of school "turnarounds" and school choice. The board praised Duncan for his work in Chicago. Principals from various CPS schools were on hand, each giving their iteration of how Duncan was wonderful for Chicago and will be wonderful for the nation.

The public comments portion of the proceedings, the time when community members are given the chance to weigh in on their proposals and reactions to the CPS, sharply contrasted the preceding love fest. In this time, a coalition of teachers, parents, and students was there to voice its concerns over Duncan's model for urban education. The groups, including members of CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators), PURE (Parents United for Responsible Education), and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization took to the mics during the public portion of the meeting to voice their concerns about the school closings, school turnarounds, and Mayor Daley's educational piece de resistance, Renaissance 2010.

Most on the list of forty-four speakers spoke critically of the policies under Arne Duncan. One notable exception was the principal of Namaste Charter School , who proposed a renewal of her school's charter, citing a decrease in the Body Mass Index of her students. Two foci of Namaste are continual assessment of students and yoga.

Continue reading this entry »

Kenzo Shibata

Chicago Tue Dec 02 2008

What is Good Government?

Last month I posted a blog that spring-boarded off an article from this website I like to read, The main thesis of this article is that the government by its nature isn't "liberal" and it doesn't do what it is supposed to do.

Well, needless to say, LewRockwell is a libertarian website that would say that there are some functions that government assumes but these functions are better served by the market. Well, the reason why I write this post isn't at this moment to argue about what offers the best services: private entities or the government.

I wanted to somehow relate that article with the state of government -- well, mostly in the city, since city government is delivering most of the services we rely on. We could expand this topic to talk about county government or state government. But let's focus on city government for now.

It has often been said that the residents of the city of Chicago will tolerate a certain amount of corruption as long as city services are delivered and government is well run. Never mind what the U.S. attorneys or anyone else might discover as far as something illegal in city government.

But perhaps someone should ask the question: What does good government entail to those of you who live in the city? Or indeed I could ask about any aspect of government in Illinois. What is good government?

A better question: What do you expect from your government?


Social Issues Mon Nov 24 2008

Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage: It's Not Just for Nobody Anymore

A brilliant bit by blogger William Smith regarding Illinois' continued acceptance of "abstinence-only-until-marriage" funding from the federal government, at a point when half the nation has rejected such funding on the admittedly insane grounds that every available reliable study has shown such sex ed curricula "don't work."

Perhaps the state's decision to continue accepting Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding is based on the private interests of certain people involved in the movement in Illinois. Not only does Illinois receive one of the largest chunks of abstinence-only-until-marriage funds, but it hosts two of the largest providers of the curricula which seep into schools, organizations, and after-school programs nationwide. For example, Scott Phelps, who got his start in anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers in the Chicagoland area, is the founder of the Abstinence and Education Marriage Partnership in Wheeling, and co-author of three of the most popular abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, Game Plan, Aspire, and Navigator.

Go read the whole thing.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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