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A More Perfect Union: Connect the dots of race and intelligence

Mon, 2016-04-11 10:16
I recently watched a video of a young Barack Obama dating back to 1995, giving a lecture at a Cambridge Public Library, about his newly published memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

In the book, Obama recounted a time when his maternal grandmother, a White woman, was having a disagreement with his grandfather. His grandmother had asked his granddad to take her to work. During the debate, Obama had offered to simply take his grandmother in an effort to curtail the back and forth, only to find out that the issue was much deeper than just a ride to work.

His grandfather explained to him that his grandmother was quite upset because a man was peddling her for money and suddenly felt uncomfortable taking the train to work, like she typically insisted on doing. Obama expressed through reading a passage from the book, that from his grandfather's vantage point, the sudden displeasing of her taking public transportation wasn't just because of the man peddling her; it was because the man was Black, a sentiment that his white grandfather did not appreciate. Needless to say, Obama, a bi-racial man, describes an agonizing "punch in the gut" feeling with this revelation.

On March 18, 2008 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Personally, it is my favorite speech by him because it hit all the marks about our beloved country's ills on race relations. He goes on and describes the true and false perceptions some people feel about one another via the prism of race.

He titled the speech, "A More Perfect Union."

Of, course, this is in reference to the Preamble of the United States Constitution. In that speech, he explains his disdain towards his own grandmother who raised him because of some of her views of black people. He also articulated why he identify himself as a black man.

There have always been conversations about how a person should identify him or herself when they are of mixed race. How does one choose who they are? Is it the culture you were reared in or, is it what your parents tell you who you are and when you become an adult, you just follow suit based on how you were raised? President Obama is hardly the first to have this issue, as our country is made up of several bi and multi-racial people, many have risen in the spotlight and tackle the question head on, like Tiger Woods and Soledad O'Brien. Actually, Soledad O'Brien spoke about how one time Jesse Jackson question her ethnicity of how she wasn't black enough.

In polite company, within the black community, there have always been whispers and mumbles as to the "blackness" of an individual based on their current lifestyle or the way they may master the English language, which is perplexing in its own right. This disdain causes concern, at times, for those black men or women who are highly educated, reared in affluent neighborhoods, possessing a certain job title, articulate or simply carrying him/herself in a certain way. Some folks want to question his/her allegiance to the black community; or as some would put it, are they for their "own people." This mindset is sickening and divisive to say the least.

The mentality of questioning someone's "blackness" is not exclusive to common folk in the community. There are also signs and symptoms of this type of discontent with highly educated black folks whom themselves are often looked at with a side-eye by many others and their sense of awareness of being a black man.

Dr. Cornel West, an acclaimed intellect and professor on politics, race and theological matters, directly from the halls of two of the nation's most elite institutions of higher learning, Harvard and Princeton, has been on a tirade about President Obama and his perceived lackluster performance for the betterment of black people. I find it very ironic because like West, who received a PhD from Harvard, President Obama is also a graduate from Harvard earning a law degree.

So, when are we going to see someone for whom they are and what they stand for as oppose to what their skin color is? Can't a black man be intelligent, well to do and articulate without him having to explain how he still qualifies as being a "real black man?" Will we ever see the day when it's not unusual to see men of color as a part of high society without thinking they were part of some affirmative action program? Time will tell and God-willing we will see the day.

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Survival 101: Thou Shalt Not Snitch

Mon, 2016-04-11 08:07
Snitching can get you killed. That much I understood growing up in the 'hood. In kindergarten, I was taught not be a tattletale. But to tell on bad guys, on the criminally minded, especially those who breathe bloody murder, is a more serious matter than being a little, tattling toddler.

Lately here, particularly in light of the senseless violence that continues to claim innocent lives in Chicago, I have heard the lambasting of the good people of terrorized neighborhoods for not readily coming forward with information on murders. I have seen some shaking their heads, shoulder shrugging, and essentially blaming those unwilling--at least reluctant--to tell, as being in some way complicit.

Some even seem roiled that someone might witness a murder and be reluctant to come forward to police. And, in fact, they convey the sense that those unwilling to be witnesses are somehow less human, less feeling and less willing to assume responsibility, less eager to play a role in helping turn their neighborhoods around.

In my experience of growing up in an impoverished Chicago community like those under siege, it boils down to an issue of trust. And many who live in the city's most murderous neighborhoods--who have also witnessed police and political corruption and a trail of broken promises--simply don't trust the authorities enough to come forward and by doing so, potentially laying their lives on the line.

Whenever gunfire thundered in the night in my old neighborhood,
I was always grateful when the scene was blocks away, relieved
that any blood spilled had not come nigh my front door.

It isn't that people don't want to tell. They do. And it isn't the case that they aren't concerned about their neighborhoods. They are. Nor is it simply a matter of fear, but the fact that to come forward is to risk everything, even in a world where "safety" is always relative.

In poor black neighborhoods, we have seen the revolving door of criminal justice. We have come to understand that there is a new breed of serial killer--young men who kill and kill and kill again. And we also know this: That when the feds seek witnesses in high-profile cases to bring down notorious mobsters and crime families, they at least have the good sense to offer witness protection.

They understand what's at risk for those who come forward. They also recognize the compelling need to end the scourge of America's most dangerous.

In my old West Side neighborhood, "body snatchers" are real. There, I have known of masked gunmen to creep upon their prey in the still of night as they sit on a porch unsuspectingly, to kick in doors and hold people at gunpoint, or else to kidnap, maim and murder.

They have come for a known gang leader in broad daylight, stuffed him in the trunk of a car while bodyguards watched helplessly. From a child, I have witnessed gunplay and gangs and drug dealers and pimps in shiny Cadillacs, glaring like the sun, and the police drive by street corners--where hustlers hawk their wares--and do nothing.

The Law--the police--in certain neighborhoods isn't necessarily the law. Once the flashing white-and-blues disappear, we who were left behind understood that we were then at the mercy of the lawless or at least left to protect ourselves by any means necessary.

For some, our insurance was God. For others, it was the gun. For others still, a little bit of both. But seldom did we consider the police.

Would someone who gave vital information to police stand more to gain, or more to lose? And if the bad guys should come for them, masked and under the cover of night, which of us could they then call? Would the cavalry arrive too late, if at all?

And furthermore, as in the shooting of LaQuan McDonald, 17, shot 16 times in October 2014 by a Chicago police officer, which of his police officers on the scene that night "snitched" on Officer Jason Van Dyke, later indicted in the incident on six counts of first-degree murder? And which city or county official snitched about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's apparent suppression of the McDonald case and also of the police dash-cam video that captured the shooting? Where was the line of snitchers then? Why should snitching be a one-way street?

And given the historic marginalization of black and brown life--and death--why would anyone ordinary citizen in one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods think that losing their life for having been brave enough to speak out might somehow make the difference? What would prevent them from simply becoming like the scores of murder victims whose names week in and week out don't even make the newspaper's police blotter?

And yet, I have heard them--politicians, police and pundits--reviling the people of these neighborhoods for not coming forward. And I think to myself, "Easy for them to say. Let them lay aside their bodyguards, their chauffeur-driven limousines and their legal sidearm, and let's see just how brave they'd be." Instead we all leave the 'hood and go safely home.

Whenever gunfire thundered in the night in my old neighborhood, I was always grateful when the scene was blocks away, relieved that any blood spilled had not come nigh my front door. Except in a way, I always realized it was never that far away. That every evil that happened in my neighborhood, in one sense or another, always happened to us all.

I also remember wishing there was someone we could tell, someone who might be ready, willing and able to do something to end the violence and crime, in essence, to be able to snitch in a way that would not jeopardize our lives and our family's once the bad guys learned we had ratted them out.

What would happen if we diminished the risk and created a greater sense of assurance that the law would do their job in actually making the streets safe as well as protecting those who decide to turn killers in?

They still might not be lining up to testify. But I'll bet you'd find some willing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


A man outside the funeral of a murdered child in Chicago hoists a sign.

Memorials of balloons, teddy bears and other mementos have become an all too familiar sight in Chicago's West and South Side neighborhoods.
(Photos: John W. Fountain)

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These Jimmy John's Workers Were Fired Illegally. Five Years Later, They Might Get Their Jobs Back.

Sat, 2016-04-09 07:08

It's been five years since Mike Wilklow was slinging sandwiches at a Jimmy John's shop in Minneapolis. No longer a 20-something activist, Wilklow is 31 years old and punching the clock as a computer programmer, earning far more than he did during his fast-food days.

And yet, thanks to some recent legal developments, Wilklow now finds himself pondering a return to Jimmy John's to dress Totally Tunas for next to minimum wage.

"I definitely don't need the money," Wilklow told The Huffington Post. "But I'd go back. Maybe just work the weekends. I'd do it out of bitterness, if nothing else."

In 2011, Wilklow and five of his friends were fired by the Jimmy John's franchisee they worked for, a company called MikLin Enterprises. The group had led an effort to unionize roughly 170 Jimmy John's employees who worked at 10 shops in the Minneapolis area, coming painfully close to notching a landmark labor victory in the union-free world of fast food. The group of workers -- let's call them the Jimmy John's Six -- were fired after publicly shaming the company for not providing employees with paid sick days.

Wilklow and his buddies maintained that the firings were illegal retaliation for union activity. They filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, asking for their old jobs back, with backpay. So far, the powers that be have agreed with the workers every step of the way. In 2012, an administrative law judge determined Wilklow and the gang were illegally fired and should be reinstated. In 2014, the NLRB affirmed the judge's ruling. And just last week, a federal appeals court upheld the board's decision.

MikLin Enterprises can drag out the case even further by appealing the latest ruling to the Supreme Court, but that doesn't mean the justices will choose to hear the case. The company is running out of options in this fight. In a statement sent to HuffPost through a spokesman, the company said it was "disappointed" by the decision and is "currently evaluating its options for continuing to protect its interests." It declined to comment beyond that. (Illinois-based Jimmy John's itself did not employ the workers, so it is not a party to the case.)

On its surface, the case would seem to be an example of the system working -- protecting vulnerable, low-wage employees who exert their rights in the workplace. But instead, the case shows just how weak labor law really is.

If you're an employer who wants to snuff out an organizing campaign, there isn't much to stop you. Workers have a right to what's called "protected concerted activity," but the penalties for violating those rights are pretty meager. If the labor board finds you at fault, you owe the worker backpay and reinstatement. That is, you owe her whatever wages you would have paid her since her firing -- minus any wages she collected after getting hired elsewhere. And you must offer to reinstate her at her old job, where management despises her enough to have fired her in the first place.

"The workers have won, technically. But in reality, have they?" asks Moshe Marvit, a labor lawyer who co-wrote a book, Why Labor Organizing Should Be a Civil Right, arguing that employers need to be subject to stiffer penalties for union-busting. "They can come back to a job that very few of them will come back to. And even if they do come back, it's sent a message to other workers that you may have legal rights, but what does that matter if you'll not be able to keep your job?"

Given the weak penalties for it, retaliating against union agitators becomes a rational economic decision for businesses to make, Marvit said. "Even if you're not anti-union, you're just looking at the bottom line," he said. "Look at the costs and benefits of violating a worker's rights, and it makes sense to."

Even when workers prevail in these cases, it often takes years to win their jobs back or finally see those back wages, thanks to appeals. By then, the wind has long since fallen from the sails of the original organizing campaign. The employment rolls have turned over, and the workers winning reinstatement have already moved on with their lives. Just consider the case of Jimmy John's.

Max Specktor is one of the six workers who the judge ordered reinstated. His commute to the Minneapolis Jimmy John's won't be easy. He now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska. He moved there in June and found work in a diesel mechanic's shop. Like most people who light out for Alaska, Specktor was looking for a fresh start -- not necessarily a return to making Vito Italian subs back home. And yet he said he was excited to hear about the appeals decision last week.

"I guess we'll cross that bridge when it happens," Specktor said of the possibility of working again at Jimmy John's. "A lot of people are interested in going back. A few still live in Minneapolis. Maybe I could help long-distance. I don't know."

Specktor said the delays and complications in their case are "by design," to help employers rather than workers.

"We already knew this is what the system is set up like," he said.

His friend David Boehnke agrees. At 30 years old, Boehnke still lives in Minneapolis, now working as a high school teacher. In his spare time he's still an active organizer, trying to improve conditions for workers in prison. He said the prospect of donning the Jimmy John's apron again intrigues him.

"I think it just depends on whether or not there's an ability to get something done," Boehnke said. "Clearly, people still need a union in fast food. We'll have to see what's possible." As for the legal system they face, "It wasn't built for us and it's not going to run for us. It's the context we have to live and work in. It's clearly set up to stop organizing."

"I feel like the whole situation is absurd and we should have been back at work long ago," said Erik Forman, another fired worker. "This is extremely dysfunctional. Justice delayed and justice denied. It's a textbook case."

Still, Forman said he would not hesitate to return to Jimmy John's -- even though he is now a high school history teacher in the Bronx. "We're excited to go back to work and finish the job," he said.

"It would be like getting an aging rock band back together," offered Wilklow. "I'm in my 30s now. I could probably do union organizing, but I'd be an old guy there now."

If this crew seems surprisingly open to a Jimmy John's reunion tour, the union they're affiliated with could help explain why. The Jimmy John's organizing effort is a project of the Industrial Workers of the World, a.k.a. the Wobblies, a union that has radical roots and resides on the fringe of U.S. organized labor. Membership-wise, the IWW is a shadow of its early 20th century self, but its militant members are still organizing in a hard-to-organize corner of the U.S. economy: fast food and retail, particularly Jimmy John's and Starbucks. The union is scrappy; the Jimmy John's Six did much of their own legal work before getting pro-bono assistance, according to Forman.  

After their firings, the group mocked up a picture that captured their flinty, irreverent ethos. It featured their portraits, along with some self-congratulations for getting canned. "After fighting for paid sick days and better working conditions for all Jimmy John's workers, they've all been granted unpaid vacations!" the picture read. It asked "just how far" MikLin Enterprises would go "to screw over their employees," and said the workers now had "all the time in the world" to fight to win their jobs back.

The IWW may not be taken all that seriously by mainstream unions who get an audience with presidential candidates. But in many ways, the Jimmy John's campaign was ahead of its time. Unions face immense barriers in trying to unionize fast food, including the fragmentation of the industry through franchising, and the sky-high turnover rate among employees. And yet the Minneapolis Jimmy John's workers almost pulled it off. In 2010, they lost a heartbreaker of an election -- 85 yes votes to 87 no -- following what the workers described as an intense anti-union campaign by MikLin Enterprises. 

The idea of organizing fast food doesn't seem so quixotic anymore. In 2012, fast food workers launched what's become known as the Fight for $15. The workers have periodically gone on strike in cities around the country, protesting low pay and shaming the likes of McDonald's and Pizza Hut. It is undoubtedly one of the most successful labor campaigns of modern times, shaking the entire industry and spurring minimum wage hikes around the country. In recent weeks, both New York and California passed $15 state minimum wage laws -- a development that seemed preposterous just three years ago.

The Fight for $15 campaign has been coordinated by the powerful Service Employees International Union, which boasts 2 million members and vastly deeper pockets than the IWW. (Unlike the IWW, SEIU has not filed for union elections at individual fast-food restaurants, renouncing a piecemeal approach through the labor board.)

Watching the triumphs of the Fight for $15 has been heartening, Boehnke said. "I know they paid close attention to the work that we did. Insofar as [we made] a contribution to that, it's an important thing."  

The Jimmy John's campaign was prescient in another way: The workers publicly embarrassed their company for not offering paid sick days. Sick leave has since become a cause du jour for labor and its allies. The Jimmy John's workers wisely argued that their lack of sick leave was a threat to public health, since they handled food for a living. They hung up posters that featured two identical photos of a Jimmy John's sandwich, one purportedly made by a healthy worker, the other by a sick worker. "Can't tell the difference?" the poster asked. "That's too bad because Jimmy John's workers don't get paid sick days."

That aggressive bit of shaming precipitated their pink slips. With the loss of a half-dozen lead organizers, the Minneapolis Jimmy John's campaign fizzled. There hasn't been another attempt at an election there since. (The IWW campaign is still active elsewhere, however, particularly in Baltimore.)

"I take the long view of the whole situation," said Forman. "We see what we were part of as the beginning, in a lot of ways, of a broader movement in fast food. People said this was crazy. Now, it's almost common sense that this needs to happen. I'm happy we carried the torch in that first little stretch."

If MikLin Enterprises declines to appeal the most recent ruling, the company will be compelled to offer the six workers backpay and reinstatement on the job. Most -- if not all -- of their old colleagues would be gone if they returned, a natural result of industry turnover. How much backpay they're owed would depend on how quickly they found new jobs. Given that they were making fast-food money to begin with, the payout will inevitably be modest.

For a computer programmer like Wilklow, the money is now beside the point anyway.

"They killed the union campaign," Wilklow said. "They can't give us that back."

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Chicago Senator Wants To Waive $150 GED Fees For Homeless Students

Fri, 2016-04-08 08:32

What often stands between a homeless student and a high school degree is just a couple of hundred dollars. That’s why a Chicago senator is calling for fees for equivalency exams to be waived for homeless youth.

Youth homelessness is on the decline in Chicago, but those struggling with the issue face increased risks for sex trafficking, abuse and hunger. To give this demographic the chance to climb out of poverty, Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) sponsored legislation that would exempt homeless youth from paying for their GED exams, CBS Chicago reported.

The fees usually range from $120 to $150 and would be covered by the school districts.

“I think that’s not too much to ask,” Silverstein told the news outlet.

There were 1,422 homeless individuals under the age of 18 in Chicago last year, according to last year’s point-in-time count. That was a 13 percent drop from 2014. 

Other lawmakers have already implemented this cost-saving measure.

Last September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits the Department of Education and testing companies from charging exam fees to homeless people younger than 25.

Granting homeless youth the opportunity to get a diploma helps them expand their job opportunities and also improves the economy on a larger scale.

California loses $3.2 billion in contributions from the more than 75 percent of homeless youth who don’t graduate from high school, according to Community Education Partnerships, a group that supports education programs for homeless kids in the Bay Area. 

"Homeless youth face impossible barriers that make it difficult to graduate from high school, and yet we make it even more challenging for them to receive a diploma at a later date," Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the California bill, told Edge Media Network. "This legislation removes the financial obstacle that keeps many homeless youth from earning a diploma, which will help increase their chances of getting a job and contributing to their families and communities."

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Democracy Free-for-All

Thu, 2016-04-07 15:08
Here in America, we celebrate democracy by staying in touch with the lack of it. What better way to honor our ancestors' struggles to win the right to vote -- and have that vote counted -- than to have to struggle ourselves for the same thing?

Considering that, as I wrote four years ago, "democracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful," and that apathy is the national curse, I remain amazed that we're having a presidential race this year that cuts so deeply -- to core human values -- and is worth enduring a sort of bureaucratic totalitarianism to participate in.

This is not the intention of our system's alleged guardians, of course, and they need to be watched far more carefully than the mainstream media regards as necessary. What we live in is not so much a democratic republic as a sociopolitical free-for-all, not quite in anyone's control.

The forces of political centrism, which includes the mainstream media, like to think that they're in control, and endlessly purvey the message that America-brand democracy is the best in the world. Because this message is straight-on public relations (which used to be called propaganda), it's untarnished by reality, e.g.:

"The frustrating waits," according to the Associated Press, "come after the Arizona legislature slashed funding last year for counties to carry out the presidential election. Election officials in Phoenix responded with scaled-back polling, citing a lack of money and the belief that people would vote by mail."

How much is democracy worth?

On March 22, as we know, Arizona's primary election degenerated into a fiasco in Phoenix's Maricopa County, where County Recorder Helen Purcell (a Republican) had cut the number of polling places by a stunning 70 percent, from 211 in 2112 to 60 this year, one polling site for every 108,000 residents of the ethnically diverse (non-majority-white) city. Many determined voters had to wait in line five or six hours to cast their ballots and some of the polling sites didn't close till nearly 1 a.m.

And, oh yeah, the state's independent voters were totally shafted. Their votes didn't count at all, apparently unbeknownst to those who waited hours in line. Only registered Republicans or Democrats could cast a primary ballot. Thus, as many as 24,000 provisional ballots were thrown out, election analyst Ari Berman told Amy Goodman at Democracy Now.

And this, too, is what democracy looks like: determination pushing, not always successfully, against power and bureaucracy. Democracy is an inner urgency far more than it's a settled political system. The United States does not embrace the idea that the more eligible voters who actually vote, the better we are as a nation. Indeed, beyond voting rights for white, male property owners, voting eligibility has accrued only to those who claimed it after a long, bitter struggle. Deep wariness of actual democracy is still very much who we are as a nation.

For a serious bloc of the nation's power holders, democracy is primarily a dangerous energy flow that has to be gamed and controlled, not accommodated. What matters is maintaining power, not making it easier for have-nots to vote.

Democracy, I wrote during the last presidential go-around, "asserts that public policy is everyone's business, and that the concerns of even the most financially and socially marginal citizens are equal to those of the most elite. Indeed, no one is marginal in a democracy -- a concept we embrace as a nation but don't believe. And thus citizens are marginalized all the time."

Meet, for instance, Wisconsin resident Dennis Hatten, one of the 300,000 or so registered voters in the state whose enfranchisement may have been thrown into jeopardy by the state's controversial new voter ID law. These are the people I call the complexly struggling: economically and perhaps physically marginalized people for whom transportation and various bureaucratic costs, which may run more than $100 (to get such things as new birth certificates), are extremely difficult to meet and constitute a latter-day poll tax.

As ThinkProgress reported recently: "Thanks to an error on (Hatten's) birth certificate, the formerly homeless Marine Corps veteran spent months working with the voting rights groups Citizen Action and Vote Riders, finally obtaining a state ID just in time to vote."

The ordeal "involved countless phone calls, assistance from volunteer lawyers, and trips to the DMV. If he had children, he said, or multiple jobs, he may have given up."

Allegedly, such laws are meant to control voter fraud, the power elite's red herring of the moment -- as though people voting twice were a real problem. Federal Judge Richard Posner wrote in a dissent to the Wisconsin law that "since 2000 there have been only ten cases of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by photo ID laws. Out of 146 million registered voters, this is a ratio of one case of voter fraud for every 14.6 million eligible voters -- more than a dozen times less likely than being struck by lightning."

But you've got to cut democracy-wary pols and their corporate puppeteers some slack. They can't just ban certain classes of likely hostile voters from the voting booth, like they could in the old days. They have to operate under the cover of democracy-protecting legitimacy -- just as the U.S. military, which maintains a bottomless budget even as state legislatures slash funding to hold elections, has to keep telling us it's protecting the country from terrorists.

As Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman wrote recently, there does remain a second option for the powerful: "flipping" the vote on electronic voting machines. The electronic vote count simply cannot be verified.

"Virtually all these machines are 10 years old or more, and can easily be hacked," they write. "Swing states Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Arizona, among others, have GOP governors and, except for Florida, secretaries of state who can easily flip the vote counts, once they are cast, without accountability or detection. Also, private partisan voting machine companies have unlimited access to the electronic poll books, voting machines and central tabulators."

In 2016, democracy is doing its best to survive the free-for-all. So many Americans -- the young, the impoverished, the watchful -- in their determination to safeguard the democratic process or, simply, to cast their votes, are, let us hope, causing the arc of change to bend beyond the reach of the powerful.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Black Lives Matter Educates Chicago's Teachers

Thu, 2016-04-07 13:14
Towards the end of a powerful day of striking across this city on April 1, Page May, leader of Assata's Daughters, a black women's empowerment group, came on stage at the CTU led rally at the Thompson Center and proudly said, "F*ck the Police!"

Her three words have caused a tidal wave of discussions in this city among all groups of people. Many of these discussions have been necessary and difficult. Sadly, some of these discussions have made her the target of terribly racist and violent threats.

Since the rally that Page spoke at was in large part a CTU rally, we teachers have been forced to talk amongst ourselves, in person, on social media, and list serves about her three words, the meaning and the implications.

Many teachers have said things like, "That was not the place to make a statement like that. April 1 was about building unity to fight Rauner and Rahm and her comments created divisiveness, not unity, during what was an otherwise powerful day." Or "We need to work with other public sector union employees, like the police in our struggle to get more funding, but now the police hate us."

We blamed her essentially for putting a black cloud over what was "our" beautiful event.

The Black Lives Matter Movement has been successful at bringing issues of police brutality to the forefront of the American conversation over the past few years. Educators as a whole have been receptive and supportive of the movement.

But this comment has pushed us educators to discuss the movement in ways that many of us never have.

This is the apparent beauty of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

We teachers are on the front lines, advocating for our students, our schools, and communities. We consider ourselves forward thinking, social justice orientated and anti-racist.

Studies show that the teaching profession has become more and more white, which means we (white educators) also do not know what it is like to deal with the police the way our students do, day in and day out.

I struggled with Page's comment too at first. I thought to myself the timing wasn't right, the event wasn't right, maybe she wasn't right, because surely there are many good police officers, too. I have not had very many negative experiences with the police. When I call the police, they come and they don't bother me unless I am doing something that I shouldn't be.

These three words, "F*ck the Police" have made me re-examine all of that.

I have current and former students who have shared story upon story of police abuses with me. I know that in many of the situations that my students share with me, my students were not doing anything wrong and did not deserve the police encounter. But somewhere deep inside my brain, sometimes my privilege creeps. It whispers things like, "Surely, they must have done something or the police wouldn't have bothered them," But then my Chicago education (taught to me by students) overpowers that privileged thought, and I hear my students saying to me, "Mr. Stieber, all I did was walk down the street, while being black."

If you live in Chicago, and are young and black, you probably deal with the police -- or are tense because of the police -- daily. I only have to deal with this tension when I choose to listen to black youth.

In my mind, I was trying to operate in a world where police and black youth could exist in the same space. Thanks to Page, I am beginning to see differently. I now realize that if we teachers cared as much about why so many of our black students have a hatred towards the police to begin with, as we do to Page saying, "F*ck the police" at a rally, we would be much closer to stopping police brutality.

Many more discussions need to be had, but the Black Lives Matter movement (led in Chicago by BYP100, Assata's Daughters and others) as a whole sees to it that all white people have to grapple with these issues, even when we don't think it is appropriate or timed right.

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Director Atom Egoyan on his Film, Remember</em>, and Working with Christopher Plummer

Thu, 2016-04-07 13:03
Academy Award nominated director, Atom Egoyan, joined me for the the most recent episode of The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano. His film, Remember, is out this Friday nationally.

Over some incredible dishes from Armenian-influenced Michelin starred chef, Carrie Nahabedian of Naha, Atom and I discuss our food heritages, the plethora and difficulty of Armenian dishes, how food is woven into identity, and the incredibly powerful performance of a vibrant Christopher Plummer, now 86, in Remember. A meditation on memory and unresolved history from the end of World War II, in Remember, Plummer's character, Zev, struggles with dementia and yet wants to carry out an act of revenge that he knows is fundamentally true, even if the details are unclear. Remember is a study on what the mind chooses to remember.

Enjoy this podcast as Atom shares his love of food and his reactions to the initial feedback from early screenings of Remember. It is also a joy to hear Atom explain in truly unscripted sincerity his long-felt admiration for Plummer and what, for him, makes a great story.

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Rauner Wants Dems, GOP Working Together 24/7 To End Illinois Budget Crisis

Thu, 2016-04-07 11:27
By Gov. Bruce Rauner

Gov. Bruce Rauner meets with legislative leaders to discuss the state budget on Dec. 2, 2015. It was the first meeting involving all five in six months.

This week marks the first time in more than a month that both the House and the Senate will be in Springfield for legislative session. We have all been disappointed in the lack of action on the crises facing our state. Now is the opportunity to put partisan differences aside and work together on solutions for the people of Illinois.

In the short term, we must address the crisis facing higher education and social services. For the long term, we must enact a balanced budget alongside job-creating reforms that grow our economy and drive more value for taxpayers.

Numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced in both the Senate and the House that would fund universities, community colleges and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to ensure no school shuts its doors and no student is financially harmed. I've proposed ways to fund MAP grants by enacting procurement reform. Social service providers cannot survive a months-long payment backlog which is why we've proposed funding vital services through savings generated by enacting pension reform.

These spending proposals aren't empty promises -- they are linked to key government reforms that generate taxpayer savings; and they would provide universities, community colleges, students and providers the assurances they need to plan for the months ahead.

Passing spending bills with no money to pay for them is simply exacerbating an ever-growing problem while giving students and communities false hope. We need to assure taxpayers that we are not continuing a broken system where we promise to spend money the state doesn't have.

Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Chicago State doesn't close its doors. Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Harper College don't lay off employees -- so that IIT students don't get charged for their MAP grants and no social service provider cuts off services to our most vulnerable.

Let's start negotiations immediately -- whenever, wherever -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- on a bipartisan, balanced budget with a mix of reforms, cost reductions and revenue.

We can and should come together to increase state support for our K-12 schools by, for the first time in seven years, fully funding the General State Aid foundation level.

Fixing the funding formula should be a priority; it's going to take time to bring all stakeholders together to negotiate a long-term, fair and equitable agreement. In the meantime, we need to give school districts the certainty they need to start planning for the next school year by increasing the funding level for every student in Illinois while protecting districts from the devastating effects of proration.

This impasse has lasted long enough, but none of us can end it on our own. Only by working together will we be able to enact a balanced budget that makes Illinois both compassionate and competitive for years to come.

It certainly won't be easy, but let's be optimistic and persistent so that we can get this done -- we owe it to the people we serve.

Let's get to work.

NEXT ARTICLE: Lawmaker introduces two new bills to address the Illinois heroin epidemic

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Dennis Hastert Accused Of Sexual Abuse By At Least 4, Sources Say

Thu, 2016-04-07 11:17

For months, federal authorities have hinted at the motive behind the hush-money payments former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has admitted to making: the sexual abuse of a teenage boy when Hastert was still a suburban high school teacher and wrestling coach.

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Lisa Madigan Could Hold The Key To Unlocking The Budget Impasse

Thu, 2016-04-07 10:18

The main reason the Illinois budget impasse has endured into its 10th month is an appellate court decision from last July that said all state employees could be paid even without a budget authorizing their paychecks.

At the time, Comptroller Leslie Munger said failure to continue paying the 63,000 employees would put the state out of compliance with federal labor law and would incur steep penalties. (The state could have stayed in compliance by paying the federal minimum wage only to employees deemed essential, but Munger's office argued that state government's data systems are so old and inefficient that payroll could not be broken down as required.)

Attorney Genera Lisa Madigan had argued that the state constitution states clearly that state government can't spend without authorization from the General Assembly. A Cook County judge sided with Madigan, but a St. Clair County judge a few days later ruled that failure to pay the employees would violate the state's protection of contracts.

Thus, the dreaded "government shutdown" in Illinois never really happened. With employees still on the job at drivers license facilities, state universities, state parks and other state government offices, the vast majority of government appeared to function just fine. With that source of public pressure removed, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan could pursue their protracted standoff without large-scale repercussions. Only recently has unrest over lack of state funding at public universities begun to generate widespread concern over the budget deadlock.

But that could change in a hurry after a March 24 Illinois Supreme Court decision that appears to reject the reasoning of the St. Clair County courts.

In the lawsuit, AFSCME Council 31 sued the state for payment of contractually promised pay raises from 2011 that had never been delivered because the state said it didn't have the money. This led to a series of court actions (detailed on pages 3-6 of the decision) that ended up before the Illinois Supreme Court.

But the Supreme Court sided with the state, saying essentially that without a budget appropriation from the General Assembly, the state was not required to pay. The court cited "a well-defined and dominant public policy under which multiyear collective bargaining agreements are subject to the appropriation power of the State, a power which may only be exercised by the General Assembly."

In other words, the contractual protection cited in the St. Clair County case does not supersede the "dominant public policy" by which the General Assembly authorizes spending tax dollars.

Armed with this ruling from the state's highest court, Lisa Madigan would appear to have a strong foundation to revive her lawsuit from last summer. That could lead to a halt to state employee paychecks, which would lead to immediate and intense public outcry as the "mainstream" portions of state government abruptly closed.

That would lead, almost certainly, to a swift resolution of the budget impasse that is now into its 10th month.

"Currently we're reviewing the court's decision," said Madigan spokeswoman Annie Thompson.

Last summer, the offices of comptroller, aligned with Rauner, and attorney general were hostile toward each other as one sought to secure state employee pay and the other tried to stop it. Look for a return of hostilities should Madigan pursue this.

NEXT ARTICLE: Lawmaker introduces two new bills to address the Illinois heroin epidemic

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Chicago-Based Artists and Musicians Work Together to Benefit Mental Health Resources

Wed, 2016-04-06 18:42
On April 28th, Chicago's artists, musicians, and businesses are coming together for one event at Restock Shop in Wicker Park to benefit mental health resources in underfunded neighborhoods.

If you live in Chicago - or you've heard anything about us on the news - you know that not all of our neighborhoods have the same level of funding. Chicago can be a great place to live - it is safe in many places and full of music, theater, and trending restaurants. We love our teams, we tolerate our winters, and we enjoy all the entertainment this city has to offer.

But while there are perks to Chicago's lifestyle, there are many neighborhoods with limited resources - especially mental health resources. According to the Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation, Illinois ranks third in the nation when it comes to states with the highest dollar amounts cut from mental health programs. 35-40 percent of children in Illinois are considered to have a behavioral or mental health concern but Chicago has shut down 6 of 12 mental health care facilities, including facilities in "the heart of the African-American community on the South Side," according to ILCHF.

The mental health care system in Chicago is broken, which is why artists throughout Chicago are banding together to host the first Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event on April 28th at Restock Shop in Wicker Park. Guests can shop art and designer fashion or dance to the music of Blue Mud and Riverhorse. All proceeds benefit Dynamic Counseling - an organization whose mission is to cultivate the accessibility and quality of Chicago's mental health care.

Dynamic's Co-Founder, Katie Jackson, explains, "We're passionate about breaking down any barriers that someone might have to access mental health services. It's hard enough to reach out for help without worrying about finances." That is why Katie, and Co-Founder, Lauren Rabin have decided to put together the Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event to jumpstart the organization's mission.

If you are a Chicago resident you can contribute simply by enjoying the event. There are limited tickets available so don't wait to check it out.

Dynamic Artwork will not be the effort of only one organization. The event is being made possible by the work of many local businesses including the contribution of hor dourves by Eat Purely - a company that is giving Chicago access to healthy food anywhere, anytime.

Each and every sponsor is a business, artist or musician from the city of Chicago who is invested in bettering the community's resources.

Here are some additional Chicago sponsors making the event happen: Desserts donated by West Town Bakery and Goddess and the Grocer; Beer donated by Revolution Brewing; and amenities such as an open bar thanks to sponsors like The Green Pet Shop and Filter Cafe .

Of course, you can't have an exhibit without art nor a party without live music. Scroll down to see some of the art and music Dynamic Artwork guests will experience on April 28th.

Learn More About Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event | Buy Tickets

Love is Free by VersAnnette Blackman LMT |

Self Portrait by Lina Caro |

Rural towers by Corn Addict | Mixed media on 24" x 36" canvas | Instagram @cornaddict

Making Trouble by Uncle Harvey | Instragram @uncleharvey_

By Karen Parisian |

Watch live performance videos by musical guests, Mike Jacoby & Rob Owen of Blue Mud and Riverhorse right here

For more details on Dynamic Artwork, contact Lauren Rabin:

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Larenz Tate's 7 Secrets about 'Game of Silence'

Wed, 2016-04-06 14:59

Native Chicagoan Larenz Tate came home recently to promote the gritty new NBC series, Game of Silence. Tate, flanked by his brothers, actors LaRon and Lahmard, met fans at a free event at Xfinity and later hosted a table of journalists.

In Game of Silence, the boyishly handsome Tate portrays complicated character Shawn Cook:
"Shawn is one of a few childhood friends who had a tough experience when they went to a juvenile detention center," Tate says. "They've been holding this secret about some of the things that occurred to them; 25 years later, they band together to try to right the wrongs of their past because they've been harboring some secrets for a long time."

Tate adds with a smirk, "That means they may do some things that may not be legal to do."

With refreshing candor, Tate discussed the drama series and why he was compelled to be a part of it. Here are 7 secrets about Game of Silence

1. It feels like a movie--or a gritty cable series.

"NBC was really cool about taking a big leap and doing a show that's really ready for cable," Tate explains. "It's a made-for-cable kind of show. It's very gritty, dealing with the subject matter, none of the characters are one-dimensional. It's serialized, so you're going to have to look at the show in order."

2. There are some heavy weights behind the scenes.

"Our executive producer came from CSI; we also have a producer that came from Friday Night Lights...we have a great pedigree. And the story line is compelling; it's strong brotherhood, friendship and loyalty."

3. Larenz had several options.

"NBC actually sent a couple of shows to me, I felt like this show was the one that would go into series, and the other two didn't. So, I'm happy that I chose this one, I just had a really good feeling about it."

4. Larenz's character is the glue that holds the group together.

"Shawn's the spirit of the group; he's the guy that's still holding on to the past when they were innocent kids. We want him to be the life of the party in a way that you can understand why they're friends with him in the first place. With Shawn, we can take a bit of a breather from the heavy weight of the show so you can see what makes these guys friends."

5. Somebody snaps.

"What these boys experienced was tormenting, so they got out and they decided to make a pact to never talk about this because of the shame that they had. They never wanted to discuss these things, 25 years later, some of them moved away some of them remained friends, but that past showed up on their doorstep. Meaning, one of the friends saw a person that tortured us, and he flipped. Something switched in his mind as an adult, to see his torturer and he went crazy, and got himself locked up. And now the other friends are going to come to his aid to try to get him out."

6. The cast met with the writers and Larenz discussed race relations.

"Once we got into a series, the executive producer allowed us to come into the writers' room, a very diverse group with more than 20 people, just so that we could hear what they were talking about.

And I wanted to be very clear, I said listen, 'my friends reflect a very diverse kind of group. So we in this room, we're going to talk about race, but don't feel weird because I'm the brother that's on the show, if you will, because I don't judge them for their race.'

The characters Gil and Shawn are like brothers. I like that we can dispel the idea that black folks and white folks can't be like legitimate friends and brothers in a real way. But also, we're going to talk about issues about how things can happen to me, that won't happen to them.

Some real cool storylines are going to come up that address that, and I said that's timely. We've gotta talk about that. We don't have to harp on it, but things that happen to me ain't gonna' happen to some of my white friends. We had a real honest conversation and they listened and it worked."

7. The Popeyes Chicken lady makes an appearance.

"Deidrie Henry is a wonderful actress and she also has the campaign for Popeyes. So, I'm on the set, and I didn't even know that was her--and we shot a whole pilot together. One day, she's taking a photo with a camera phone that had a Popeyes emblem on it. And I asked her what that was about. That's a great thing, because she's not the person that you see on this Popeyes campaign, and she's dope."

The special 2-night premiere of Game of Silence begins Tuesday, April 12 at 10/9c on NBC.
Photos via NBC, used with permission.

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Top 25 Biggest Pensioners in the State Universities Retirement System

Wed, 2016-04-06 14:13
Taxpayers United of America recently released a new analysis of the State Universities Retirement System -- the second-largest of the five Illinois pension funds.

The Chicago-based organization, which advocates for tax relief and pension reform, routinely publishes lists highlighting the state's biggest pensioners. Its latest analysis focuses on the retirement system for academics and staff at public universities and community colleges in Illinois.

"SURS is in dire need of significant pension reform, much like the other Illinois state pension funds. But since individual SURS retirees are some of the highest paid employees, and therefore biggest pensioners in Illinois, the need for reform is all the more serious for both beneficiaries and taxpayers," said Jared Labell, the organization's director of operations.

As of June 30, 2015, SURS had a funded ratio of 44.2 percent with $22.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, according to a report published in March by the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

SURS at a glance

  • Defined benefit active members: 69,381

  • Average defined benefit active member salary: $50,103

  • Self-managed plan active members: 11,928

  • Total retirees: 51,631

  • Employee contribution: 8 percent (not eligible for Social Security)

  • Average age of retiree: 62.6

  • Average pension: $38,070

  • Years of service at retirement: 19

Source: Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability

The average annual pension payout in SURS is the second-lowest behind the State Employees' Retirement System, but the vast majority the fund's top pensioners are distinguished medical professionals and former higher education executives.

However, as the Better Government Association reported in 2013, many of the biggest pensioners were University of Illinois at Chicago employees who retired, began collecting their pensions, and then were rehired after waiting the required 60 days in order to work part-time for a smaller salary.

More from TUA:

"Taxpayers were forced to pay 467 percent more into the SURS pension fund than the multi-millionaire SURS retirees paid into their own government pensions. That means that for every dollar that an SURS government employee contributed to their own retirement, taxpayers were forced to match them with a subsidy of $4.67."

Here are the Top 25 retirees in SURS with the largest annual pensions, according to the analysis.

The list also includes each retiree's title, employer, estimated lifetime pension payout, employee contributions, highest annual earnings and pension benefits collected to date, among other figures.

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Chicago To Pay $4.9 Million To Family Of Man Dragged In Handcuffs

Wed, 2016-04-06 12:27

The city of Chicago has agreed to pay the family of a black man who died after being dragged by handcuffs from a cell in a police lockup and down a hallway more than three years ago, an attorney for the family said on Monday.

Philip Coleman, 38, was arrested for domestic battery against his mother on Dec. 12, 2012.

After he refused to go to court the next morning, several police officers struggled with Coleman inside a cell, and he was Tasered, court records showed. In an incident caught on video, an officer dragged a motionless Coleman by his handcuffs.

Coleman later died at a hospital, according to court records. The Chicago Tribune reported that an autopsy showed he died of a reaction to an antipsychotic drug and also had bruises and abrasions on his body. Reuters was not able to confirm the cause of death.

Ed Fox, a lawyer for the family, told Reuters by phone that Coleman's family and the city of Chicago had reached a settlement over the family's civil rights lawsuit, but declined to confirm media reports that it was for $4.9 million.

The city's law department declined to comment.

If the city council approves the settlement next week, the amount will be public.

Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been under national scrutiny since protests erupted last year after the release of a video showing the November 2014 shooting of a black teenager.

Protesters have called for Emanuel to resign over the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who is white, has been charged with murder, and Emanuel has apologized for the slaying.

In the wake of the protests, Emanuel fired his police chief and the Justice Department started an investigation of the Chicago Police Department to see whether there was a pattern of excessive use of lethal force.

In the Coleman case, a federal judge ruled in a December opinion that Officer Keith Kirkland and supervising officer Sergeant Tommy Walker were liable in their treatment of Coleman. Walker could have stopped the actions of Kirkland and intervened, but failed to do so. Both officers are black, Fox said.

Coleman's family has said he had mental health issues.

Emanuel announced reforms in January to address how police and other emergency workers respond to the mentally ill, after a police officer shot dead an emotionally troubled college student and an innocent bystander.

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Obama, Biden Endorse Tammy Duckworth For Senate

Wed, 2016-04-06 09:10

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for Senate on Wednesday.

"I'm proud to support Tammy Duckworth for the seat I once held in the United States Senate," Obama said. "Few people fight as passionately for our veterans as Tammy. Soon after I was first elected president, I asked her to join my administration and serve her fellow veterans at the VA. She served with purpose and distinction -- service that continued when she ran for Congress and won.  And I was proud to sign one of Tammy's signature pieces of legislation -- the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act -- into law."

"When her nation calls, Tammy Duckworth answers, and I’m proud to support her in this next mission: running for the U.S. Senate," Biden said. "She supports programs that make college more affordable, including free community college for deserving students, and that's the kind of voice we need in the U.S. Senate."

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and two-term congresswoman, is trying to unseat Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in one of the most competitive races in the country. Polling from last summer showed Duckworth with a slight lead. She also raised more money in the last quarter of 2015 -- $1.6 million to Kirk’s $1 million.

There's been some suspicious activity during their race. A "protest" last week at a Duckworth event included people who said they were being paid and didn't know if the congresswoman was a Democrat or a Republican. In November, Kirk supporters were caught using a fake minimum wage petition to put his name on the ballot. The Kirk campaign denied any involvement.

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