The Bleader | Blog + Reader, Politics blog posts


Friday, July 20, 2018

Does the Second Amendment apply to black people?

Posted By on 07.20.18 at 07:17 AM

Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15. - COLIN BOYLE/SUN-TIMES
  • Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
  • Police and protesters confront one another the day after the shooting of Harith Augustus on July 15.

With all the attention focused on the police shooting of Harith Augustus in South Shore, the silence coming from the gun rights groups is deafening.

I mean, just about everyone else has weighed in, one way or the other, on the July 14 shooting, including Black Lives Matter activists, Mayor Rahm, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

But not a word from the normally loquacious spokespeople for the National Rifle Association, like Dana Loesch, Oliver North, or Wayne LaPierre.

And it's weird, 'cause if ever there were a case tailor-made for the NRA to join—or even lead—it would be this one.

Consider what we know from the footage released by Chicago police.

It's Saturday evening. Augustus is standing on the sidewalk outside the barbershop where he works, on 71st street near Jeffery Boulevard in South Shore.

Several police officers approach him. We don't what they're saying because there's no sound in the body camera footage released by the police department.

It looks as though one officer is asking Augustus for an ID. Augustus reaches for his wallet. Another police officer reaches for his arm, as if to handcuff him. Augustus breaks for the street. As he turns, his shirt lifts, revealing what looks to be a handgun holstered at his waist.

It's then that he's shot by a probationary officer, who's not been identified.

Defenders of the police say Augustus was reaching for his gun, so the cops had no choice but to shoot him before he shot them.

Putting that matter to the side, the great unknown is why the police approached Augustus in the first place.

I mean, he was doing no wrong. He was bothering no one.

He was not a known offender. He had no arrest record apart from "three minor arrests" dating back years ago, as the Tribune put it.

The official police explanation, offered by spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, is that Augustus was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

But that's no crime—owning a gun. In this case, Augustus even had a firearm identification card.

Furthermore, it's not hard to understand why he would own a gun. He's a barber—a cash-heavy business—in a relatively high-crime area.

It's at this point in the discussion where the NRA's voice is noticeably absent.

Because as Loesch, North, and LaPierre never tire of saying, there's nothing wrong with owning a gun.

Quite the contrary, as they see it, it's a fundamental right, enshrined by the founders in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which of course states: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I've heard NRA members invoke the sacred gun-owning liberty every time anyone calls for gun control, even in the aftermath of horrific mass murders. Such as when . . .

Adam Lanza shot 26 people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Or Dylann Roof shot nine people during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

Or Stephen Paddock shot 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

And so on.

The right to bear arms is championed by all the leading Republicans in the land, including Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, the judge he's just nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In fact, a few years ago, one Chicago police officer caused a stir when he allowed himself to be photographed holding an American flag and standing behind a sign that read: “I stand for the Anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president and the 2nd Amendment.”

And yet the police approached Augustus, as he stood on the sidewalk bothering no one, because they thought he was "exhibiting characteristics of an armed person."

This case should boil the blood of any self-respecting Second Amendment advocate. Indeed, Loesch, North, and LaPierre should be marching with the Black Lives Matters activists in their demonstrations for justice.

But you know how it goes. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's anti-union Janus decision, it's obvious that Republicans think the First Amendment is only supposed to protect the speech of conservatives—certainly not football players, like Colin Kaepernick, who kneel during the National Anthem.

And apparently, the NRA thinks the Second Amendment only applies to white people.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Rauner showers praise on Mike Pence, leaving no doubt how he feels about gay marriage

Posted By on 07.16.18 at 06:00 AM

Governor Bruce Rauner and Vice President (and former Indiana governor) Mike Pence - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Governor Bruce Rauner and Vice President (and former Indiana governor) Mike Pence

It's been almost a week since Governor Rauner was outed for attending—maybe even officiating—the wedding of a gay friend.

And he still hasn't commented on it.

The Sun-Times ran a picture featuring Rauner reading something from his cell phone at a recent wedding ceremony—either the wedding oath or some sort of celebratory speech or poem.

Maybe he was reading "Funeral Blues," by W.H. Auden, always a favorite at gay weddings.

For all I know Four Weddings and a Funeral—where that poem plays a key role—is Rauner's favorite movie of the 90s.

Though if you asked him, I'm sure Rauner would probably say it was Goodfellas—you know, something more in line with his all-out effort to convince Trump-loving voters he's really one of them.

Obviously, the governor's hoping the whole gay marriage things blows over really fast so he can get back trying to woo the far-right vote he needs to defeat J. B. Pritzker in November's election.

Good luck with that, governor.

After the wedding story broke on the Illinois Review, a conservative website, Rauner's been blasted by right-wingers.

First he supports HB 40—the abortion rights bill—and now gay marriage! What's next, the abolition of ICE?

"It's clear that the governor has learned nothing from his near-loss in the Republican primary this year," the Illinois Family Institute's executive director, David E. Smith, told the Illinois Review. "He's not interested in attracting social conservatives to get out and vote Republican this fall."

Reading Smith's lament makes me realize yet another double standard of the right.

Conservatives love to mock liberals for their political correctness. But liberal PC is tame compared to the straitjacket that shackles Republicans like Rauner, who feels compelled to drop his g's, pose in working-class Carhartt gear, ride a Harley, and talk up his love for weaponry—anything to divert attention from the fact that he actually has a gay friend, much less that he attended that friend's gay wedding.

To drive home the point, Rauner made sure he was on hand at Friday's Republican fund-raiser in Rosemont, featuring Vice President Mike Pence, one of the most notorious homophobes in the Trump White House.

In 2015, when he was governor of Indiana, Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an abominable attempt to legitimize discrimination against gays on the grounds that you can't compel someone to serve someone if it violates their religious convictions.

Jim Crow-loving racists all over the south much have been thinking—religious liberty? Dang, man, how come we didn't think of that?

Rauner opened the fund-raiser in Rosemont with the following ode to Pence . . .

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

Oh, wait—that's the Auden poem. My bad.

No, here's what Rauner actually had to say: "Mike Pence, along with President Trump, are doing it for every American right now. Let's hear it for them."

I guess desperate times require desperate measures. Rauner's always walked a tightrope around social conservatives and Trump. In 2014, he ran as though he were agnostic on social issues—said he had no social agenda—in the hopes of winning suburban moderates and social conservatives.

For the longest time he wouldn't mention Trump's name or even say who he voted for in 2016.

But now, down in the polls and worried about losing Republican voters to state senator Sam McCann, who's running as an independent, he's openly in the president's arms.

So he throws his friends under the bus to win the votes of bigots. Shame, shame on you, Bruce Rauner.

I realize that President Obama went through his own evolution on gay marriage.

At first, back in the 1990s, Obama was for it—when he was running for state senator from liberal Hyde Park.

Then he was against it, when he was running statewide for Senator in 2004.

And then, once he was safely reelected as president for his final term, he was for it again.

But I’ll give Obama this. He finessed the issue to try to get elected so he could do something noble, such as pass an universal—if watered down—national health-care plan.

Rauner's playing the role of a bigot in order to get reelected so he can go back to his main agenda of destroying public education and eradicating unions.

The governor's behavior is just one example of the way we’ve regressed as a civilization in the age of Trump.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Father Pfleger, top cop Johnson, and a tinge of hope for the city’s future

Posted By on 07.13.18 at 12:00 PM

Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday. - ASHLEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES
  • Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
  • Father Michael Pfleger and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson at the protest that shut down the Dan Ryan last Saturday.

At the risk of sounding hopelessly naive, I must say the sight of Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson and Father Michael Pfleger walking arm in arm down the Dan Ryan at last weekend's protest march left me with a tinge of hope about the future of Chicago.

Oh God, I feel really naive just writing that.

Yes, I realize Johnson was at the march only at Rahm's permission.

And of course, I understand that Father Pfleger has generally been an ally to Emanuel, as he was to Mayor Daley—despite the major roles both have played in perpetuating the economic inequities Pfleger denounces.

But as long as Johnson and Pfleger are united in demanding that something must change to lessen the inequities in this town, I'm eager to join the chorus.

So allow me to direct them to the giant cookie jar the mayor doesn't want any of us to know even exists.

It's called the tax increment financing program, and each year upwards of $500 million or so of property tax dollars pours into it. Last year, the take was $566 million. The county has'nt itemized this year's TIF take yet.

Basically, state law allows the mayor to slap a surcharge on the property tax we pay for things we want—like schools and cops. And then that money gets diverted into bank accounts controlled by the mayor, who's pretty much free to spend it on things we might not want.

One of the worst parts of the TIF scam is that the money is not evenly distributed ward by ward. Instead, most of the money goes to gentrifying communities, even though the program was intended to eradicate blight in low-income communities.

For example, there's the North Branch South TIF district near North Avenue and the Chicago River—in one of the hottest areas of town, where Jeff Bezos is thinking of moving his second Amazon headquarters.

Since it was created in 1998, it's gathered about $89 million in property tax money.

In contrast, there's the 79th Street Corridor TIF, which was also created in 1998. Pfleger's church, Saint Sabina, happens to be located in that TIF district. It's gathered about $12.7 million.

So let's get this straight. In the same 20 years, the booming north-side community has collected $89 million and the struggling south-side neighborhood has collected $12.7 million in TIF dollars.

In what universe is that fair, just, or right?

Pfleger's community isn't the only victim of the TIF scam. TIF dollars are diverted from all Chicago's schools, parks, libraries, and police.

I tend to focus on how schools have been shortchanged by the TIF program. But the police department could also use some of that money.

Wednesday's Sun-Times had a somber story by Fran Spielman about Brandon Krueger, a 36-year-old police officer who committed suicide last Sunday while sitting in his squad car in the parking lot of the Calumet District station.

"Officers have very high rates of exposure to trauma similar to the communities in which they serve," Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Sun-Times. "You wear your vest. You carry your weapon. You make sure you go home at the end of the night. We do everything to mitigate physical injury to our law enforcement. We have to do the same for their mental wellness."

And yet, according to the Sun-Times, the CPD's "employee assistance program has only three full-time counselors to provide mental health services to 13,500 employees and their families."

You could hire a whole lot of police counselors with just a little of the TIF cash that flows into the one north-side district.

Just to remind you, Mayor Rahm infamously closed mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas as part of his infamous budget, unanimously approved by the City Council in 2011.

There wasn't enough money to keep the clinics open, the mayor said.

Apparently, black people have more in common with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods than anyone realized.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Rahm and Rauner's phony Ryan feud: Don’t be fooled by the Twitter barbs

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 06:00 AM

Protesters took over the Dan Ryan this weekend. - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • Protesters took over the Dan Ryan this weekend.

With all the faith I have in the sophistication of Chicago voters, I'm confident no one will be fooled by the phony-baloney "feud” that has supposedly erupted between Mayor Rahm and Governor Rauner over Father Michael Pfleger’s great Dan Ryan protest.

What's that you say? You don't really believe I have any faith in the sophistication of Chicago's voters?

OK, it's true I believe they blew it in the mayoral election of 2015.

And 2011.

And 2007.

And, now that I think about it, every mayoral election since Mayor Harold Washington took office in 1987.

However, that doesn't mean I think they're dumb enough to believe Rahm and Rauner are really feuding.

In case you've forgotten, let me remind you that Rahm and Rauner are more than good pals who once shared expensive bottles of wine while vacationing at Rauner's Montana ranch.

They were also business partners, each helping the other make millions on a 2001 deal back in 2001, when Rahm was an investment banker and Rauner ran a private equity company.

Continue reading »

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Boots Riley on the ‘regular’ revolutionary messages of his radical debut film

Posted By on 07.06.18 at 06:00 AM

Boots Riley on the set of his debut film Sorry to Bother You - ANNAPURNA PICTURES
  • Annapurna Pictures
  • Boots Riley on the set of his debut film Sorry to Bother You

Boots Riley had been waiting nearly three decades to make a movie. The Chicago-native turned Bay Area resident studied film as an undergrad at San Francisco State but didn't immediately become the next Spike Lee. He earned a record deal in the early 90s and focused instead on spreading his leftist messages through the medium of hip-hop. Riley released half a dozen raucous party rap/funk-rock albums with the group the Coup starting with 1993's Kill My Landlord while managing to balance his art with political activism and community organizing—most famously as the public face of the Occupy movement in Oakland. But that doesn't mean Riley ever gave up on his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

Eight years ago he penned the script for Sorry to Bother You, a surrealistic satire about his own experience as a telemarketer, and hustled his ass off for years to get it made. Eventually, he won over comedians David Cross and Patton Oswalt, and McSweeney's editor Dave Eggers—who published the screenplay through his book-publishing house in 2014. That led to some financial support and interest from a handful of actors, including Jordan Peele and Donald Glover. In the end, Riley cast Glover's Atlanta costar, Lakeith Stanfield, as the director's surrogate and shot the film over 28 days last summer.

The result feels like 30 years of Riley's ideas stuffed into one nervy and provocative 105-minute feature that simultaneously feels like a kaleidoscope of cinematic influences (critics have most commonly compared it to Get Out, Office Space, Being John Malkovich, and Brazil). It's a magical realist, sci-fi horror comedy with commentary on race and Marxist messages about class relations and the soul-sucking machinations of capitalism, and quite possibly the most bat-shit insane union recruitment video ever.

Riley, a self-described communist, says the movie's ideas aren't "revolutionary," they just seem that way. Over the last generation, he says, the political left abandoned the working class and union halls in favor of the university and the professional class, in doing so influencing speech, art, and self-expression, but not money or real political power. This movie, he insists, offers a way of path toward changing the status quo.

Sorry to Bother You opens in seven cities—including Chicago—today, and nationwide next week. Riley celebrated with the opposite of a red-carpet event. He spoke Thursday night at Socialism 2018, a four-day conference of 2,000 leftists that meets annually in Chicago, and then did a postscreening Q&A in the South Loop. The Reader chatted with Riley on-site at Socialism 2018 about Hollywood, class politics, and more. ✖

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Is it easier to renew a gun permit in Illinois than a notary public's license?

Posted By on 07.04.18 at 06:00 AM


Finding a notary can be tough when you need one to OK your ID in an emergency.

It just might get tougher in Illinois, if the experience of several veteran notaries attempting to renew their commissions is any indication.

Desiree Grode, a notary for 28 years, says the process has gotten to be like Franz Kafka’s The Castle—on the surface, an endlessly frustrating battle against a faceless bureaucracy, and on a deeper level an allegory about an individual’s futile struggle for recognition and acceptance.

It also means lost business for notaries—charged with confirming your signature on official documents or ID cards, in order to prevent fraud— stuck in the labyrinth.

Grode’s first effort to renew her commission—

 was rejected May 21 in an e-mail from the National Notary Association, a nonprofit that checks notaries’ applications before they’re sent to the appropriate state agency. It read: “[The] notary’s signature does not match seal on Notarial Oath. New application required.”

Apparently the woman who’d notarized Grode’s signature on her renewal application had added a little squiggle to her own signature that the National Notary Association determined “didn’t match” the woman's notarial oath. The association advised Grode that, because of the errant squiggle, the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State would reject her application.

Surprised to hear this, Grode followed up with a supervisor at the notary association, who thought the rejection was unfounded but advised her to submit a second renewal application in any case.

Grode’s second application—notarized by someone who’s been doing it for 18 years—was rejected on June 6. This time the notary association said this second notary’s stamp had an initial while her name on the secretary of state’s website did not.

Yet prior website entries showed that the second notary had consistently used her initial.

After she got the second rejection, Grode instructed the notary association supervisor to try submitting her first renewal application to the secretary of state’s office after all.

“I have no doubt that I could submit a renewal application ten times notarized by ten different notaries and have the same rejections,” she says.

Now Grode has to wait four to six weeks to see whether her application will be accepted by the state.

And she’s not alone in having to bide her time—one new notary applicant says it took her ten months to get her application approved, and Grode says a new notary applicant told her that several others had found the procedure long and complicated.

Similar stories have made the rounds on social media.

In contrast, the Illinois State Police are recommending gun owners send renewal applications in for Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) cards one to two months in advance this year, several news outlets have reported, because a change in state law could lead to a glut of renewals.

The man responsible for reviewing applications that pass the notary association is David Weisbaum, director of the index department at the secretary of state’s office. He acknowledges that applications go through lots of hands. But he says the notary association is doing people a favor by making sure their applications are correct so they don’t waste time sending one that’s unacceptable to the state agency.

On top of that, Weisbaum said that for three years the secretary of state’s notary data has been hooked up to the Cook County Clerk’s office to speed things up for applicants during the next stage of the process.

“When we complete the application, the notary information and/or a notary certificate is sent to the county clerk,” he said. “The county clerk then contacts the notary and tells him or her that he has to submit a registration form with his or her signature and a fee within 30 days. If that doesn’t happen, the county sends out another reminder.”

That may still sound like a bureaucratic nightmare, but Weisman says that over the next several years his office is looking to speed things up further: “We’re working on letting people file electronically for the certificate and setting up a kiosk at the clerk’s office.”

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Rahm makes a joke out of Quinn's term-limit push, but voters could have last laugh

Posted By on 07.03.18 at 06:00 AM

Pat Quinn - SUN-TIMES
  • Sun-Times
  • Pat Quinn

If Mayor Rahm loses next year's election, we'll have no need to worry about what he’ll do next—clearly, he has a great future in comedy.

At the very least, Rahm's appearance last week with host Paris Schutz on Chicago Tonight demonstrates he's worked up hilarious new material on the issue of ballot initiatives.

OK, I realize that's not generally the source of great comedy. But in Rahm's hands—man, it's knee-slapping hilarity.

To appreciate the joke you have to realize that the law limits the city to three advisory ballot questions per election.

So if the mayor wants to keep voters from weighing in on a policy he opposes, all he has to do is command the City Council to cram the ballot with three questions he doesn't care about.

And so he kept us from getting to vote on an elected school board by asking us if we want a say in where medical marijuana dispensaries are located.

Like anybody would be against that.

This year Rahm had to figure out a way to keep former governor Pat Quinn from placing a binding mayoral term-limit question on November's ballot.

If it passed, Rahm couldn't run for reelection next year.

Quinn has enough obstacles trying to round up the 50,000 valid signatures by the August 6 deadline.

But just to throw another roadblock in his way, Mayor Rahm had the aldermen place three nonbinding questions on November's ballot.

So voters will get to decide, among other things, whether they want to ban plastic straws or whether they want the state to give them a property tax break.

Hmmm, do voters want to pay less in taxes? That ought to be a real cliff-hanger of a vote.

On his WTTW show, Schutz pointed out that most people see this for what it is—a thinly disguised attempt to thwart Quinn by cramming the ballot with frivolous questions.

Goodness no, the mayor responded, as though he were horrified Schutz would even suggest such a thing. Instead, Rahm said he was just "seeking guidance from the voters."

See what I mean about great material? Oh, my god, Mr. Mayor, you're killing me. I haven't heard so many funny jokes since I was up late last night, watching Rodney Dangerfield YouTube clips. ("My wife and I smoke after sex. I haven't smoked in a month. She's up to a pack a day.”)

How about this for a ballot question, Mr. Mayor?

"Does Mayor Rahm give a damn about what we think on, oh, anything?"

Even the mayor would have to vote no on that.

The mayor certainly never asked us what we thought about offering more than $2 billion to Amazon or giving Elon Musk the green light to build an express train to O’Hare.

Just to name a couple of proposals Rahm's trying to stuff down our throats, no questions asked.

The third question on November's ballot is whether money from legalizing marijuana should help pay for mental health services.

This is an example of darkly biting cruel Rahm humor.

First, Mayor Rahm's resisted efforts to legalize marijuana. Second, it was Rahm who unilaterally closed mental health clinics in high-crime, poor areas—where they were desperately needed—back in 2011.

The mayor never asked us whether he should close those clinics.
No, at one point he dashed out a back door rather than meet with patients and activists who were begging that he'd keep those clinics open.

Obviously, Mayor Rahm must be running out of ballot-stuffing questions, if he suddenly wants to know what we think about mental health services.

Here's the kicker. Quinn says the law gives his term-limit question ballot preference because it's a binding—not advisory—referendum.

If a judge rules Quinn's way, we would get to vote on mayoral term limits, no matter how many advisory questions the mayor stuffs on the ballot. A simple majority vote would knock Rahm out.

In other words, ultimately the joke could be on Rahm.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

When local school councils go rogue, can anything be done?

Posted By on 07.02.18 at 06:00 AM

A student voices his frustration to King College Prep's local school council chair Kwesi Kuntu outside the school in May. - PAT NABONG
  • Pat Nabong
  • A student voices his frustration to King College Prep's local school council chair Kwesi Kuntu outside the school in May.

By Emmanuel Camarillo and Hannah Hayes

On a spring afternoon inside the cafeteria of South Loop Elementary School, parents filled the small lunch tables for a local school council meeting. Before official business began, Jason Easterly, a longtime member, stood up and abruptly resigned his post.

Days before the meeting, outrage over the LSC’s attempt to renew principal Tara Shelton’s contract had escalated to the point where Easterly’s home address had been posted on Twitter. "I can't guarantee the safety of my family anymore," he said. "As such, I am resigning as a member of this LSC."

It was a dramatic moment in the controversy over Shelton's contract, which the LSC sought to renew in her third year rather than the customary fourth. The situation in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood was already volatile: The district announced in April that nearby National Teachers Academy would close and be converted into a high school, while younger NTA students would be moved to South Loop Elementary by fall 2019. Some NTA parents contended that the early contract renewal was meant to exclude their voices from the principal selection process.

But did the LSC's actions amount to a violation of law? And if so, whose responsibility is it to police this situation? It's a murky area for Chicago's local school councils, a unique form of local governance under which elected volunteer boards choose principals and make budget decisions at many CPS schools. It calls into question whether the structure—which was meant to give local communities more control over their schools—is accomplishing what it set out to do.

When the state passed the Chicago School Reform Act in 1989, creating the LSC system, there was a lot of energy in the community for school reform. Mayor Harold Washington had galvanized Chicagoans into a citywide summit on the issue, and the first LSC elections were incredibly popular, with 227,262 Chicagoans voting on 17,256 candidates. The Reform Act had included public and private funding to recruit candidates and train them.

According to Pauline Lipman, a professor of education policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has followed and written about LSCs since their inception, Chicago’s LSCs collectively represent "the largest elected body of people of color of any elected body in the country." However, Lipman says that LSCs "never fully reached their full potential because they never had the support they need. [Those serving on a council should get time off work to go to educational conferences, have professional development—they're making important decisions.

Enthusiasm for LSCs has waned over the years. Although statistics for the most recent election are not yet available, in 2016 only 73,369 people voted, and 395 out of 514 schools didn’t have enough candidates to form a full council. As participation and funding has decreased, it has become harder to stick to the rules, current and former LSC members say.

"I'll be honest, sometimes I didn't remember what the rules were," said a former parent representative at a Bridgeport elementary school who asked not to be named. "One time we got in trouble because an [Office of] LSC Relations representative came by our meeting."

The LSC had failed to post the meeting's agenda on the school’s entryway, and the doors were locked, both violations of the state's Open Meetings Act, which LSCs are supposed to follow. "So he came in there and really let us have it," said the ex-LSC member. "He pretty much declared our meeting invalid."

The official just happened to stop by that meeting. "There's not as many as there used to be, so they're not going to as many LSC meetings," the former LSC member said. In 2014, budget records show that the office had 20 employees, but by 2018 that number had been reduced to 12.

A CPS representative can steer a meeting in the right direction, but according to the former Bridgeport LSC member, a former science teacher and now education activist, LSCs usually aren't penalized for those violations. "I have not heard of any LSCs being punished or reprimanded. I have never heard of that," she said.

Then there's the matter of whether an LSC has really crossed the line or not. In the case of South Loop Elementary School, though state statutes say that LSCs should work on contract renewals in a principal's fourth year at the school, nothing in the law prohibits an LSC from renewing it earlier. Since the LSC ultimately withdrew its motion to renew the contract early, however, the question was never resolved. (CPS officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how often LSCs have been found to have violated rules or what happens if they do.)

That doesn't stop a school's community members from speaking up when they think there’s a miscarriage of justice. At the April meeting, one NTA parent told the LSC she "was confused and hurt" when she heard contract talks were already under way.

Victoria Dietrich, who attended South Loop Elementary as a child, said, "People should know why the principal evaluation process was accelerated," adding that "moves like that are going to look suspicious because it’s an election year." Though the LSC was never reprimanded for the contract renewal, the South Loop/NTA merger remains under scrutiny. A group of NTA parents filed suit this month to stop it, alleging that the school district based its decision on racially discriminatory metrics.

Several current and former LSC members point to training as a main issue for LSCs. According to Jill Wohl, founding board member of grassroots education group Raise Your Hand and a former LSC member, funding for training "has almost all but evaporated" in recent years.

According to its website, CPS offers in-person sessions for a couple of the nine LSC trainings required, and all are available online. New LSC members (elected in April) have until December to complete training.

Cassandra Chandler, a former LSC parent representative at King College Prep, said CPS needs to be more proactive. "They leave it up to each individual to figure out how to complete the trainings," she said. "There’s not a way to enforce that people complete those trainings."

Early this year, King's LSC voted not to extend its principal's contract, and parents alleged that it was done without community input. Chandler became disillusioned with her fellow LSC members, calling their actions "underhanded." So she went to the Office of LSC Relations to check whether they had completed their training. According to Chandler, the official told her “if somebody doesn’t complete all of the training there are really no repercussions for that.” However, another group of parents filed a Freedom of Information request and discovered that half of the LSC members had not completed all of their training, according to newly elected parent representative Natasha Erskine. The office's website states that LSC members may be removed by the Chicago Board of Education if they haven’t completed training—but, Wohl said, if the district purged LSC members for not complying with training, "hardly anyone would be left standing."

CPS also did not respond to questions on how many LSC members have completed training or whether there are any consequences for LSC members who fail to complete it.

At King, as was the case at South Loop Elementary, the LSC didn't technically violate any rules; the council posted notice of its meeting to vote on the principal’s contract within the required time limit, although it was during CPS’s winter break. "While it wasn't an issue of the LSC doing things illegally, many parents felt the LSC could have been more transparent," said Marcellus Moore, the community representative at the time.

In several meetings that followed, the LSC chair refused to put the principal vote back on the agenda despite student protests and requests from other LSC members to reconsider, and frequently put public comment last, which critics saw as an attempt to quash their voices. The controversy attracted the attention of Guillermo Montes de Oca, the director of CPS's Office of LSC Relations, who attended a meeting in May. De Oca told the frustrated crowd that it was not within his office's authority to interfere in LSC business, as nothing it had done was illegal. "We recommended they give it [the decision] to the new council, but they said no thank you," said Montes de Oca.

While conflicts within schools, LSCs, and the communities they represent are not rare, they’re not as common as people might think. "A well-functioning LSC is really boring, and that's why they don't make the news," says Michael Scott, the community representative at Murray Language Academy, a magnet school in Hyde Park.

Scott, who was also an LSC chair at William H. Ray Elementary school when he served as a parent representative, says the key to functioning well is broadening community participation. He points to the principal selection process at Ray in 2008 when the longtime principal retired. "We had 21 parents and teachers on that committee, and while the LSC ultimately made the decision, the process was driven by a much larger group."

But when community members don't believe their concerns are being taken seriously, as was the case at King College Prep, they have minimal recourse apart from showing up at the polls and voting those LSC members out. That's what happened at King this April. There all but one member was replaced, but it was already too late for supporters of the principal who’d been voted out, since control remains in the hands of the old LSC’s members until their terms expire in July.

Caleb Mitchell, a junior at King, spoke passionately to de Monrwa Oca after one of the LSC's many contentious meetings: "Why can’t you do something? This is so wrong!"

"This is democracy," Montes de Oca explained. "You voted them in and you trusted them with this decision. Then when you don’t like what they do, you vote them out. And that’s what you did."

This report was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Sy Hersh on his rough-and-tumble Chicago past: ‘At some point I realized I was in a tyranny’

Posted By on 06.29.18 at 06:00 AM

Seymour Hersh was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1970. - BOB DAUGHERTY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Bob Daugherty/Associated Press
  • Seymour Hersh was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1970.

If Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour "Sy" Hersh is the closest thing that print journalism has to a superhero, then his origin story can be found in the first few pages of his new memoir, the aptly titled Reporter.

In 1959—a full decade before he broke the story of the cover-up of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam—the 22-year-old south-side native was a shoe-leather journalist pounding the Chicago pavement for the famed City News Bureau.

Hersh describes one night on the job when he sped to the scene of a fire not far from his father's cleaning store on the southwest side. There he discovered that an entire family, five people in all, lay dead among the burning embers of the shabby wood-frame house—possibly due to a murder-suicide. What a story, Hersh thought. But before he could file it, an editor butted in to ask if the victims were "of the Negro persuasion." When Hersh replied that the deceased family was black, his boss said to "cheap it out," which meant relegating the story to a single line in the next day's newspaper: "Five Negroes Died in a Fire on the Southwest Side."

"That was shocking to me," Hersh writes.

During another late shift, he overheard two cops discussing a robbery suspect who'd just been shot and killed, reportedly while trying to avoid arrest. One police officer, Hersh recalls, said something like, "So the guy tried to run on you?" The second cop replied, "Naw, I told the [N-word] to beat it and then I plugged him." Hersh later obtained a coroner's report and found that the suspect had been shot in the back, but when he wanted to write up what looked like a murder committed by Chicago police, his editor again told him no, there was no story. Hersh didn't push the issue any further, and the matter died there. It left him feeling "full of despair at my weakness and the weakness of a profession that dealt so easily with compromise and self-censorship," he writes.

Hersh learned a hard lesson by the end of his seven-month stint in his first journalism job: black lives on the south side didn't seem to matter as much as white lives on the north side. More broadly, he learned that those in power regularly prey on the powerless, and that the profession he was "smitten" with—journalism—often lets them get away with it.

"At some point I realized that I was in a tyranny," Hersh says.

Hersh, now 81, has spent much of the last six decades of his career as America's preeminent investigative journalist, doggedly exposing abuses of all kinds of power. He's shined a much-needed light on the excesses of the U.S. military (from My Lai to the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib in 2003); the deep state and intelligence community (such as the CIA's illegal surveillance of citizens); high-ranking government officials (he was especially a thorn in the side of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Dick Cheney); and massive corporations (e.g., his 2001 New Yorker story on Mobil Oil's role in the corrupt world of oil acquisitions).

It hasn't always been easy. Hersh's combative style and take-it-or-leave-it philosophy with editors and others have meant a lot of burned bridges, and they're why he's jumped around to so many publications over his long career. In a review of Reporter, the New York Times (one of his former employers) labels Hersh a "lone wolf" for his tendency to hunt alone for the kind of difficult stories that helped take down presidents and change the public's attitudes toward wars—no matter which political party is in charge.

In an interview, Hersh expanded on the metaphor, explaining that he's a hunter and most people in the journalism world—or otherwise—are meat eaters. "The meat eaters are the guys who receive what the hunters get, but they don't quite understand the hunters. They don't really like them," he says. "I'm always going to have trouble as a meat eater. I'm always going to be the guy throwing dead red full of life on an editor's desk."

The Reader spoke with Hersh about his early life and career in Chicago and how it shaped him, the sad state of modern media, and, yes, Trump.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Locking up Cubs legend Yosh Kawano also got Supreme Court OK

Posted By on 06.27.18 at 11:56 PM

Japanese-American internment camps were also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Japanese-American internment camps were also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In one of those quirky fates of timing, Yosh Kawano died the day before the U.S. Supreme Court approved President Trump's travel ban on people from several Muslim countries.

As any longtime Cubs fan can tell you, Kawano, 97, was the ageless clubhouse attendant made famous over the years by Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, Lou Boudreau, Harry Caray, and other legendary TV and radio broadcasters.

How many times did we hear Brickhouse allude to Kawano, followed by a cutaway to the man in his instantly recognizable white floppy hat, perched on the dugout bench?

He ran the clubhouse for more than 60 years, welcoming the likes of everyone from Ernie Banks to Ryne Sandberg to Kerry Wood.

What Brickhouse and the other announcers didn't mention was that Kawano—born in Seattle and raised in Los Angeles—was unceremoniously, unfairly, and most unconstitutionally plucked from his home and interned in a concentration camp during World War II. It was the same for thousands of other Japanese-Americans.

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