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Thursday, October 27, 2016

The story of Cook County's pursuit of back taxes from small music venues descends into the surreal

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 06:15 PM

Beauty Bar is one of the venues still defending itself from Cook County's claims that it owes back amusement taxes in the six figures. - MAD LAB PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Mad Lab Photography
  • Beauty Bar is one of the venues still defending itself from Cook County's claims that it owes back amusement taxes in the six figures.

On Wednesday, October 26, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved an amendment to county tax rules making clear that all musical performances—including most DJ sets—should be considered "art" for the purposes of assessing the county's amusement tax.

Commissioner John Fritchey, whose proposal of the amendment had already been widely reported, touts the change as a win-win for the county, its small music venues, and the musicians who rely on those venues. The code now makes explicit that the county is not in the business of deciding what is and what is not "fine art." But at the same time, the county's Department of Revenue is still going after some of those same small Chicago clubs for back taxes and fees totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece—and the hearings inexplicably continue to foreground the question of whether potentially exempt performances qualify as fine art.

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Second City does Wagner for its second hilarious collaboration with Lyric Opera

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 04:37 PM

Travis Turner, Randall Harr, Tim Ryder, Alice Stanley Jr., and Sayjal Joshi - TODD ROSENBERG
  • Todd Rosenberg
  • Travis Turner, Randall Harr, Tim Ryder, Alice Stanley Jr., and Sayjal Joshi

You don't have to know anything about composer Richard Wagner to laugh your head off at this season's collaboration between Lyric Opera and Second City, Longer! Louder! Wagner! And if you do, you'll also have a great time. The talented folks behind this irreverent spoof (and on the stage) have managed to make it work for everyone.

Except maybe those who don't like jokes about Germany. Since the subject is the 19th-century genius/jerk whose music is known as Hitler's favorite soundtrack, everything from the glockenspiel to Angela Merkel is fair game, along with the composer's silk undies and the ardor of his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria—which might have led to "the first known case of gay for pay."

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#SayTheirNames: a dance performance draws connections between Sandra Bland and two black women activists

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 02:26 PM

Vershawn Ward in #SayHerName - COURTESY LINKS HALL
  • Courtesy Links Hall
  • Vershawn Ward in #SayHerName

Sandra Bland’s death is shrouded in tragedy and mystery. In July 2015, Bland was driving on a rural Texas road when she was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal. An argument ensued and the 28-year-old was jailed for assault on an officer. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell of an apparent suicide, triggering a national outcry. Last month her family settled a wrongful death suit for $1.9 million.

In #SayHerName, one of two solo performances in “The Body Wails, The Body Restores” at Links Hall, Vershawn Ward of Red Clay Dance Company draws parallels between the circumstances surrounding Bland and the controversial criminalization of two black female activists: Angela Davis, a scholar who joined the U.S. Communist Party in the 1960s, and Assata Shakur, aunt of Tupac and a member of the Black Panther Party, who was convicted of killing a state trooper on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 (she escaped from prison in 1979 and lives in Cuba, where she’s been granted political asylum).

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My Favorite Thing Is Monsters lost at sea—literally [UPDATED]

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 09:06 AM

COURTESY FANTAGRAPHICS
  • courtesy Fantagraphics

This week we were supposed to run a review of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, a graphic novel by Chicagoan Emil Ferris about a precocious ten-year-old who becomes embroiled in the political turbulence of late 1960s Chicago as she tries to investigate the murder of her Holocaust-survivor upstairs neighbor. The reason we are not is because Fantagraphics, Ferris's publisher, informed us last week that the entire print run of the book, 10,000 copies, is stranded on a cargo ship that has been seized at the Panama Canal.

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Police prepare for potential World Series chaos in Wrigleyville, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 06:00 AM

Cubs fans celebrate a victory outside Wrigley Field in 2015. - AP PHOTO/PAUL BEATY
  • AP PHOTO/PAUL BEATY
  • Cubs fans celebrate a victory outside Wrigley Field in 2015.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Thursday, October 27, 2016.

  • Weather: The sun comes out again

After a cloudy, rainy, gloomy Wednesday, the sun will return Thursday. There will be periods of sunshine throughout the day, with a high of 54 and a low of 47. [AccuWeather]

  • How the police plan to keep Wrigleyville safe—and under control—during the World Series

All sworn Chicago Police Department officers must be ready to respond to Wrigleyville if the crowds get too large or unruly during the upcoming World Series games at Wrigley Field. "All units of the Department will be in regulation field uniform and be prepared for deployment with soft body armor, helmet, baton and rain gear," says a police memo obtained by the Sun-Times. [Sun-Times]

  • Aldermen complain that they can't buy Cubs playoff tickets at face value

Many aldermen aren't happy that the Cubs had to withdraw their offer to sell City Council members playoff tickets at face value after the city's ethics board banned the deal. Alderman Milly Santiago called the new rule "insulting, humiliating, embarrassing," according to DNAinfo. [DNAinfo Chicago]

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Can an algorithm erase bias in Cook County bond courts?

Posted By on 10.26.16 at 05:24 PM

Circuit Court of Cook County chief judge Timothy Evans has walked a fine line between respecting his judges' autonomy in setting bond and recommending new computerized assessments for them to consider. - RICHARD A. CHAPMAN/SUN-TIMES
  • Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
  • Circuit Court of Cook County chief judge Timothy Evans has walked a fine line between respecting his judges' autonomy in setting bond and recommending new computerized assessments for them to consider.

On a Tuesday morning in mid-September, new arrestees approached a glass-enclosed room in the basement of the Cook County Jail. One by one, they sat down on a stool, opposite a court employee at a computer on the other side of the glass. Over the next 30 minutes to an hour, their past criminal record and history of court appearances would be scrutinized in detail. 

This is a computerized risk-assessment test, and in the end, each arrestee was assigned a score rating the likelihood that he or she would show up for his or her next court date, and the likelihood that he or she would commit a new offense if released on bail.

The Public Safety Assessment is the latest change to bond court procedures in Cook County. Previously, court staffers used paper forms to calculate whether a defendant was a flight risk by asking questions about the person's residence, arrest history, employment, and drug use. Unemployed, unstably housed people with drug abuse issues were rated more of a flight risk—an evaluation experts consider to be unfairly biased against people of color and the poor. In contrast, the PSA, fully implemented in central bond court proceedings as of last spring, relies solely on documented evidence of failures to appear and past convictions. 

The PSA represents a growing trend of court systems around the country using computerized risk-assessment to inform bond-setting and, in some places, even sentencing decisions. Some experts are welcoming the PSA as a tool for potentially counteracting racial and class bias in judges' bond-setting—a bias that's seen as contributing to the disproportionate pre-trial incarceration of poor, African-American men in the Cook County jail. But critics are concerned that bias persists even in the PSA's supposedly neutral algorithm. And the whole debate is potentially moot in the face of a larger question: are Cook County judges even paying attention to the PSA's scores?

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Why I'm rooting for Jason Kipnis in the World Series

Posted By on 10.26.16 at 04:32 PM

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis - JASON MILLER/GETTY IMAGES
  • Jason Miller/Getty Images
  • Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis

If I'm going to root for one player above all others during the World Series, it won't be one of the Cubs. And I mean no disrespect to the Cubs. 

To explain, I have to start with the story of the 2007 trial of newspaper magnate Conrad Black. The CEO of Hollinger International, which owned the Sun-Times and London Telegraph among other papers, a member of Britain's House of Lords, and a hobnobber with international elites, Black is the reason the trial made headlines, although he wasn't the only defendant. Grandiose and imperious and incapable of taking seriously the obligations of corporations to shareholders, Black was one of four Hollinger executives who stood accused of defrauding their investors. The feds argued—and the jury agreed—that Black, his business partner David Radler (publisher of the Sun-Times), and two others pulled a fast one when Hollinger sold off most of its newspapers; they signed noncompete contracts with the new owners as a way of funneling some of the proceeds directly to themselves, when that money should have gone to the company.

There was one other defendant. Mark Kipnis, the corporate counsel, didn't make a dime from the sales, but he'd drawn up the noncompete contracts, and the feds threw him into the pot. There's nothing improper per se about a noncompete contract, and even Radler—who pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecution—told the jury that Kipnis had simply been doing the legal work he'd been asked to do. But the state did its best to make his role seem sinister. 

"If there is a document to be signed to complete this scheme, you'll see that Mark Kipnis has a pen," said a prosecutor in his opening statement. Like the others, Kipnis was convicted of fraud.

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How to remove Joe Buck from your life [UPDATED]

Posted By on 10.26.16 at 02:37 PM

The most hated man in baseball - SLAVEN VLASIC/GETTY
  • Slaven Vlasic/Getty
  • The most hated man in baseball

Because I am too cheap to pay for cable, last night's World Series game between the Cubs and the Indians was the first one all season I've been able to watch on TV in the peace and comfort of my own living room. Usually it's my custom to listen to Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer on the radio, WSCR (670 AM). Though I still miss the original Ron—Santo—Pat's voice never fails to comfort and soothe me, even when the Cubs are irrevocably losing.

Still, the prospect of being able to see one of those Javy Baez saves for myself was seductive. But halfway through the first inning, I started to feel depressed. It had something to do with Corey Kluber's string of strikeouts, but mostly it was the Fox announcing team.

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Vic Spencer calls himself ‘the worst rapper from Chicago’ while proving otherwise

Posted By on 10.26.16 at 12:00 PM

loveforvicphoto.jpg

Vic Spencer
opens his new single, "Love for Vic," with the lines "Vic Spencer the worst rapper from Chicago / They want me out the city, as far as the Chi go." If you follow Spencer on Twitter, you may have noticed his proclivity for, um, starting shit—and the trash talk that often comes back at him as a result. Sometimes he ends up kicking off a good-natured, playful back-and-forth, like when he provoked Lupe Fiasco into a sort of freestyle battle on Twitter early last year—that is, insofar as anyone can freestyle on a platform that allows users to self-edit before dropping the hammer. At other times, though, Spencer's tweets result in something less friendly, as was the case when he started an argument with rapper Mick Jenkins last fall—both MCs recorded dis tracks, but thankfully the heat appeared to die down after that.

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The last and final ‘Trump Plaza’ sign will be removed, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 10.26.16 at 06:00 AM

Activists gathered near the Trump Tower in July to protest GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. - ASHLEE REZIN, SUN-TIMES
  • ASHLEE REZIN, SUN-TIMES
  • Activists gathered near the Trump Tower in July to protest GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Wednesday, October 26, 2016.

  • Weather: Rainy and dreary

It will rain off and on throughout the day and evening. It will also be cool, with a high 53 and a low of 48, but it might feel like the temperature is in the 40s all day. [AccuWeather]

  • City Council officially strips Trump of his honorary street designation

The City Council Transportation Committee unanimously voted to remove GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump's honorary street designation near his Chicago tower. "We can actually use his own words against him: 'When you hit us, we hit back,'" Alderman Anthony Beale said. One of the honorary "Trump Plaza" signs was already stolen, so the city only has one sign to officially remove. The city can't legally do anything to remove the massive "TRUMP" sign off of the tower's south end, but that hasn't stopped Alderman Brendan Reilly from asking Trump Tower residents to ask Trump to remove the sign. [Sun-Times]

  • Clinton's campaign team considered attacking Rahm Emanuel

The campaign team for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton considered attacking Clinton supporter Mayor Rahm Emanuel after her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, slammed the mayor in a tweet, according to campaign chair John Podesta's hacked e-mails. "Bernie is beating us up over Rahm's record on schools in Chicago," senior policy adviser Ann O'Leary wrote in an e-mail before weighing options for a response. [Politico] [h/t Politico Illinois Playbook]

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