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Are You Ready to Buy a Franchise? 8 Tips to Consider

Fri, 2016-05-13 10:43


If you own a business, you might think that expanding it with a franchise means surrendering your position as the boss. For several years, I operated my own successful water and fire damage restoration company in Chicago, but I knew that I was ready to move to the next level.

After careful research and planning, I partnered with a national franchise that demonstrated a proven track record. The business model has its challenges, but it's also been very rewarding for me and my growing family of employees.

Because my experiences have been positive, I'd like to share what I've learned over the years. If you're thinking about buying a business franchise, I offer these eight points for your consideration.

1. Research Your Options

As an independent, you handle the trial and error process of doing business by yourself every day. Think about how much you invest in self-reliance, and balance that against the potential to expand your success.

You never make a big decision without diligent research, so explore the options within your industry. I found that buying a franchise made my business part of a larger business that offers national brand recognition and an established customer base.

2. Know What to Look For

Franchise agreements vary from one industry to another, but they all outline company requirements and levels of support. Compare the details in different agreements, and weigh them against your expectations.

Once you narrow your options to two or three companies, look for a solid reputation, robust financial growth and a partner-friendly franchise agreement. The research takes time, but it's an investment in your future.

3. Know What to Look Out For

You can learn a lot about a franchise before visiting its website. There are a number of franchisee associations that network online and provide candid snapshots of organizations with questionable reputations.

The FTC requires that franchise businesses make a Franchise Disclosure Document available to prospective buyers. Visit a company's site, and download its FDD to learn about turnover and failure rate details.

4. Plan for a Financial Transition

While the idea of buying into a franchise seems expensive, it can cost less than financing a new business on your own. My company was already established, but I considered my franchise license as an investment, and it paid off well enough that I recently purchased a second license.

You also pay franchise royalties, but you receive a lot of support in return. Don't expect to make money the first week. Instead, work out financial plans that let you transition smoothly to your new business model.

5. Expect Plenty of Support



A successful franchise maintains its strong market position by making sure that you have the training and tools you need to deliver the best products or services. This support helps my cleaning and disaster restoration company stay up to date with the latest industry certification, techniques and equipment.

You should also expect a strong franchise network that provides cutting edge marketing and financial strategies through conferences and workshops. This kind of collaboration builds professional relationships, generates leads and increases your customer base.

6. Be Prepare to Meet Standards

I work closely with my business development manager to make sure that my operations meet franchise standards. I understand my responsibilities to deliver my best and maintain the company's reputation.

While there are a few restrictions on how and where I do business, they never compromise the professional commitments I have to my customers or the quality of my work. Most potential franchisees are surprised at the freedom that comes with a buy-in.

7. Know That You're the Boss

When you become part of a franchise, you're expected to uphold company standards and meet financial obligations, but you're still the boss. Hiring and firing are up to you, and you make all the day-to-day decisions.

As an independent operator, you do everything by yourself. You have to keep up with the latest industry trends while you handle marketing, juggle finances and expand business. As a franchisee, you do everything with the backup of a partner organization that wants you to succeed.

8. Be Ready for the Challenges

Because ServiceMaster is a nationally recognized brand, its big name implies that I make hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Sometimes, new customers think that I own the company. They're surprised to learn that I run a small, family-owned and operated business with my two franchise licenses.

When you operate a franchise, you go through the same hard times and face the same problems that affect independents. However, you're generating your own revenue and building your own success with a backup system that's there for as long as you're in business.


Solid Support Makes the Difference


Running a company isn't easy, but you can go further and achieve more when you have solid support. The level of security that comes from buying a franchise can make a big difference in your future.

I operate ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba for myself and my teams, but we're not by ourselves. Even my employees think of our franchise as an extension of our professional family. That tells me that this business model is working very well for my company, and I look forward to moving up to the next level of success.

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Top 20 Best-Run Public High Schools in Illinois, Ranked by Niche

Fri, 2016-05-13 10:14


Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics and its own parent/student surveys, Niche.com has released its updated ranking of the nation's best-run public high schools in 2016.

More than 9,500 public high schools were ranked based on the overall quality of its administration and policies. Of the 100 Illinois high schools included in Niche's ranking, 10 were among the Top 100 best in the nation.

The vast majority of schools ranked by Niche are located either in Chicago or the surrounding suburbs, where property tax wealth typically is the highest. And while a school's education-administration expense ratio and expenses per student are among the factors taken into consideration, Niche's parent/student surveys and "overall experience grade" were given the highest weight (you can read more about the methodology here).

But as with any school ranking, it's important to take these findings with a grain of a salt. For example, several high schools in Lincoln Way CHSD 210 made the cut, despite ongoing spending questions and financial difficulties within the district.

Following are 10 of the top 20 Illinois high schools that are perceived to have the best administrations and policies, according to Niche.

20. Lane Tech College Prep High School | Chicago

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.9/5 (246 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $14,246

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 14:1


19. Maine East High School | Park Ridge

  • Overall experience grade: A-

  • Parent/student surveys: 4/5 (40 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $23,000

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 14:1


18. Walter Payton College Prep | Chicago

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.8/5 (37 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $14,246

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 14:1


17. Lincoln-Way East High School | Frankfort

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.9/5 (41 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $14,238

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 20:1


16. North High School | Downers Grove

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.8/5 (34 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $20,168

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 20:1


15. Lincoln-Way North High School | Frankfort

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.8/5 (34 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $20,168

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 20:1


14. Grayslake Central High School | Grayslake

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 4.0/5 (41 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $17,161

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 17:1


13. Wheeling High School | Wheeling

  • Overall experience grade: A

  • Parent/student surveys: 4.0/5 (29 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $21,005

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 17:1


12. John Hersey High School | Arlington Heights

  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 3.9/5 (32 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $21,005

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 17:1


11. Neuqua Valley High School | Naperville


  • Overall experience grade: A+

  • Parent/student surveys: 4.0/5 (110 respondents)

  • Expenses per student: $11,676

  • Education-admin. expense ratio: 14:1


You can see the state's Top 10 high schools, which are the 10 that ranked nationally, here.

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Lawsuit Filed to End Citizen Initiative for Illinois Redistricting Reform

Fri, 2016-05-13 09:55
A lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court says the Independent Map Amendment redistricting reform plan is unconstitutional and should not be allowed on the November election ballot.

The suit also seeks an immediate halt to the Illinois State Board of Elections' verifying of petition signatures filed last week by Independent Map Amendment, citing the "waste of public funds" involved in the signature review.

The plaintiffs, members of the group People's Map, have opposed the citizen-led redistricting effort as a threat to minority representation in Springfield, though that aspect is not specified in the lawsuit. Independent Map Amendment has said its system will enhance protections for minority representation.

The suit comes six days after Independent Map Amendment filed 65,000 pages of petitions bearing more than 570,000 signatures from people who want to create an independent commission to re-draw state legislative district boundaries every 10 years following the U.S. Census. Proponents of redistricting reform say politicians too often have used their map-drawing power to enhance their own power and punish political rivals.

As the petitions were being filed on May 6, Independent Map Amendment CEO Dennis FitzSimons predicted there would be a lawsuit from "entrenched interests" who want to preserve the current system, in which receiving the power to draw the new legislative district map is viewed as the ultimate political prize.

FitzSimons reiterated that belief in a statement after the lawsuit was filed Thursday:

"Political insiders want to deny voters the chance to reform Illinois government. Independent polls show close to two-thirds of Illinois voters are ready to vote 'yes' on an independent, transparent and impartial process for drawing state legislative maps. Springfield insiders aren't willing to risk those odds and would rather cynically preempt at the courthouse what they cannot win at the ballot box.

"Plain and simple, this lawsuit is a struggle for power. It is Illinois politicians struggling to retain the power to manipulate elections versus citizens demanding reform. We knew this lawsuit would be the response to our submission of 570,000 petition signatures from Illinois voters, and we are ready to aggressively defend the constitutionality and fairness of the Independent Map Amendment."

Two years ago a lawsuit against a similar citizen ballot initiative called Yes for Independent Maps found that a provision of that effort -- a requirement that no member of a remap commission be elected to the Legislature or various other offices for 10 years after serving -- violated the constitution's rules for what citizen initiatives can change in the state constitution. (That decision is here with the violation explained on page 10.)

The 2014 effort failed on two fronts. First came the ruling from Judge Mary Mikva that found the 10-year service provision unconstitutional. Then the state board of elections ruled that Yes for Independent Maps had not gathered enough verifiable voter signatures to be certified for placement on the ballot. Having been ruled ineligible for the ballot, the group did not appeal Mikva's ruling.

This time, organizers took more care in gathering signatures and turned in nearly twice the required 290,000 on their petitions.

The new lawsuit asks the court to halt the board of elections' work on verifying signatures while bringing up old and new constitutional challenges.

Some, like whether redistricting is even allowable for change by citizen initiative, were rejected by Mikva in 2014. But the new suit also challenges aspects of having a redistricting commission that is overseen by the Illinois Supreme Court. This opens entirely new questions that have no precedent.

Regardless of the ruling in Cook County, appeals that carry the suit to the Illinois Supreme Court are all but certain.

The lead lawyer in the 2014 suit, Michael Kasper, also is part of the team in the new filing. Though Kasper is a longtime associate of House Speaker Michael Madigan and regarded as being among the top election law attorneys in the state, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan is not involved.

"People want to make this look like a Madigan operation. I think there's some confusion there," Brown said.

Last week, Madigan voted for a redistricting proposal sponsored by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, that Franks said was a more powerful reform because lawmakers can make greater changes to the constitution than can citizen-led efforts. But that bill never was called for a vote in the Senate. Friday was the deadline for constitutional amendments to be approved for the Nov. 8 ballot.

"He supported Franks' bill because it was a clear plan that would meet the Voting Rights Act requirements," Brown said.

People's Map found a strong ally in Madigan, who handed out its press release opposing the Independent Map effort in February, a week after President Barack Obama had addressed the need for redistricting reform in a speech before the Illinois General Assembly:



The new lawsuit is here: Hooker et al v ISBE et all petition

The ruling that disallowed the 2014 redistricting plan is here: Redistricting opinion 2014

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois budget proposal with multi-billion tax hikes, cuts sent to top officials

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Quiet War, Sleeping Nation

Thu, 2016-05-12 18:41
And the race goes on. So does the war, but you'd never know that the one had anything to do with the other.

Even when the mainstream media trouble themselves to acknowledge that the primary season remains open on the Democratic side, that Bernie Sanders -- and his millions of supporters -- are still in the race, the Bernie revolution is never portrayed as addressing foreign policy and the still-failing, still-catastrophic war on terror.

Yet the war is there, shredding the national economy as it shreds much of the Middle East and, indeed, the whole planet.

Noam Chomsky, in his new book Who Rules the World?, quoting terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, says the Iraq War "generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third."

Perhaps this is something to think about as we watch and read the "news": America's quiet, background war, having burned through a few trillion dollars so far and resulted in perhaps 2 million deaths, continues unchecked and unquestioned even as it perpetuates terror, the very thing it's purporting to eliminate. This war is not only wrecking lives well beyond the national zone of awareness, it's arguably contributing to, if not causing, the economic chaos roiling the political status quo in this election season.

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

Our news purveyors purport to analyze the mood and will of the electorate via polls and apparently secret access to conventional wisdom, which somehow links the collective public mind with the nation's political movers and shakers, e.g.:

"For Sanders," according to CNN, "West Virginia offers a chance to leap back into the political spotlight and confound hardening conventional wisdom that he is an afterthought in the race . . ."

But at least this tidbit of information keeps Hillary's challenger alive. Much of the election coverage has already moved well past what's left of the primary season to the general election, where Hillary Clinton's primary task is deciding whether to reach out blatantly to Republican voters who hate Donald Trump or continue doing her best to appease Bernie supporters so that they won't go Green or stay home.

Sanders' vow to stay in the race through the entire primary season and, even if he fails to win enough delegates to be nominated, to fight for the insertion of progressive values into the Democratic Party platform -- in the process, perhaps interfering with Clinton's efforts to woo Republicans -- at least establishes the point that elections are about values. Even a point this wan and miniscule represents progress compared to recent presidential races, though, alas, hardly sufficient to turn the Democrats into the party that eschews perpetual war or stands up to Big Money and the interests of the corporate elite.

This is the logical progression to cynicism, something that worries me as much as anything else about American democracy. So once again I quote Chomsky:

"Returning to the opening question 'Who rules the world?' we might also want to pose another question: 'What principles and values rule the world?' That question should be foremost in the minds of the citizens of the rich and powerful states, who enjoy an unusual legacy of freedom, privilege, and opportunity thanks to the struggles of those who came before them, and who now face fateful choices as to how to respond to challenges of great human import."

The point I'm struggling to make is that democracy isn't easy. Peace isn't easy. Those who wage peace have to do so independent of global political and economic structures, and independent of much of the mainstream media.

What principles and values rule the world?

This question is so easily belittled by those who are troubled by it, so easily dismissed from coverage and discussion of the presidential race. But something remarkable has indeed been happening this time around.

On one side of the aisle, so to speak, the Trump campaign surges forward with bombast and ego, led by a candidate who, with sheer irreverence for political correctness, ignites the hope of those who remember the scapegoats of the good old days and forges political unity out of the possibility of their return. The Republicrat status quo, having abandoned these voters in all but rhetoric for so long, is forced to confront its own breakdown. The media ogle the spectacle.

On the other side of the aisle, the Sanders campaign has forged a far different sort of unity, out of the question Chomsky asks: What principles and values rule the world? This is a unity that transcends obvious, ego-fixated self-interest and reaches beyond nationalism, corporatocracy and the inevitability of war.

Bernie has planted the question at the level of national politics. If he fails to gain the nomination, how do we keep this question politically alive? Let me know what you think.

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

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

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Fish Oil for Dogs and Cats: Six Benefits

Thu, 2016-05-12 14:58
Fish oil is one of the most popular dietary supplements purchased by pet owners for their pets. It has many health benefits but only if it's the right formulation, produced by a reputable company, and administered at the correct dose.

What is fish oil?

The two main ingredients in fish oil are eicosapentoaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) fatty acids. Both EPA and DHA are long chains of bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms with a carboxyl group on its end. These acids are also called Omega 3 fatty acids because the first double bond occurs after the third carbon atom.

In nature, EPA and DHA are bonded to a three- carbon backbone structure called glycerol. Together this molecule is called a triglyceride. Fish oil is a triglyceride.

The Six Benefits of fish oil:

1. Protects the heart.

Fish oil has been found to reduce the heart's vulnerability to developing an
irregular heart rhythm, called atrial fibrillation. Additionally, it can act as an
anti-coagulant and prevent blood clots from forming in cats with heart
disease.

2. Provides support for dry, flaky skin in allergy pets.

Giving fish oil to pets with allergies may reduce their itching by decreasing their body's production or release of potent stimulators of inflammation, called cytokines.

3. Helps slow down the progression of kidney disease.

In failing kidneys, fish oil may lower elevated blood pressure, decrease undesired protein loss in urine, and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory substances that aggravate kidneys.

In a study of 146 cats with kidney disease, cats fed diets supplemented with omega 3
fatty acids lived a median of 17 months compared to 7 months for those who were not
supplemented.

4. Aids arthritic joints.

Fish oil decreases the production of potent prostaglandins that stimulate inflammation in the joints. Arthritic dogs and cats given fish oil are more comfortable and agile than those not supplemented.

5. Improves neurologic development and cognitive function.


A Hill's Pet Nutrition 2012 study found supplementing puppies with DHA increased their ability to learn and retain certain skills when compared to those not receiving additional DHA.

Older pets suffering from cognitive dysfunction had improved recognition of
family members and other dogs when supplemented with fish oil.
Additionally, it decreased pattern-pacing behavior in these pets.

6. Lowers blood triglyceride levels.

Supplementing patients with fish oil may decrease harmful triglyceride levels in some patients. This is especially critical in pets suffering from heart disease, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.


What should I buy?

* Buy the triglyceride formulation.

There are two formulations of Omega 3 fatty acids. The natural formulation is the triglyceride formulation. In this product, three fatty acids are bonded to a glycerol backbone. The triglyceride form of Omega 3 fatty acids is the formulation you should buy and this information should be visible on the product label.

The manufactured formulation is the ethyl ester formula. In this product, one fatty acid is bound to one alcohol group. When compared to the triglyceride product, the ethyl ester product is usually less expensive but its health benefits are inferior: less stable, at least 40% lower in bioavailability to pets, and is less palatable. Frequently, my clients complain that their pet may be a bit "gassy" after taking the ethyl ester formulation. I believe this may be the result of the body cleaving the fatty acid from the alcohol group creating ethanol gas.

* Buy from a reputable company

Not all fish oils are created equal. They are not FDA regulated and fall under the poorly regulated category of nutritional supplements. In fact, in June of 2013 a study by Ritter, Budge, Jovica looked at 16 top selling fish oil supplements available for humans and found over half of the supplements did not meet their label claim for EPA and DHA, and a quarter exceeded recommended limits for peroxide value (meaning it was rancid!).

At Animal Medical Center of Chicago, we recommend the following three fish oil products - Omega Benefits by Veterinary Recommended Solutions (VRS), Wellactin by Nutramax and Omega by Nordic Naturals. These products have been independently analyzed for purity, accuracy and safety.

*Cod liver is not recommended.

Cod liver oil is a good source of fat-soluble Vitamin A and D. However, I do not recommend it as a supplement for EPA and DHA. I fear that I may exceed the daily-recommended dose of Vitamin A or D when using cod liver oil to meet the pet's EPA and DHA recommended dose.

I also do not recommend flaxseed, flax meal or flaxseed oil as a source of EPA or DHA in pets. Flaxseed products contain high concentrations of alpha linolenic acid, (ALA). Dogs have a very limited ability in converting ALA to DHA or EPA. Cats virtually have no ability in converting ALA to DHA or EPA.

We are just at the beginning of understanding the full benefits of supplementing pets' diets with fatty acid supplements. Its anti-inflammatory properties may soon be used for other medicinal purposes, like in pets with inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.

Please ask your veterinarian if fish oil is right for your pet. If yes, it is critical that you use the triglyceride formulation of this product and give the proper amount. For most of my patients, I recommend 40 mg of EPA for every kg of body weight and 25 mg of DHA for every kg of body weight once daily. For a
10 kg (or 22 lb) dog, I would recommend a daily dose of 400mg EPA and 250 mg DHA. If it's in the liquid form, don't forget to keep it refrigerated and be cognizant of its expiration date to achieve its full benefit.


Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to the doctors@animalmedicalcenterofchicago.com.

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How I Learned to Be Proud of Having Mexican Immigrant Parents

Wed, 2016-05-11 14:58
When I first applied to UCLA, I wrote in my personal essay that I didn't have any positive role models in my violent neighborhood.

Having grown up in East Los Angeles' Ramona Gardens housing project, I wrote that most of the adults represented gang members, drug dealers, thieves, tecatos (heroin addicts), alcoholics, felons and high school dropouts (or push-outs). I also wrote about my disdain for housing authority officials and government workers for behaving like prison wardens and guards toward us: project residents who depended on government aid or welfare.

Moreover, I decried the police abuse that I had witnessed and experienced, like the time when a cop pointed a gun at me. My crime: being a 15-year-old making a rolling stop while learning how to drive.

Lastly, as the product of low-performing public schools, I highlighted the low expectations most teachers and counselors had for their poor Chicano students. Fortunately for me, I excelled in mathematics.

While I was eventually accepted to UCLA, I should have been more truthful in my essay. In fact, I did have positive role models: my Mexican immigrant parents.



Salomón Chavez Huerta and Carmen Mejía Huerta. Mexico, 1954

But why didn't I give them credit? Did they represent drug dealers, criminals or rapists, as some buffoons want to us to believe? No. They never committed a crime or received a parking ticket. It's difficult to get a ticket when you can't afford a vehicle.

Did they migrate to this country to take jobs from American workers? No. My father, Salomón Chavez Huerta, first arrived in this country as a farmworker in the Bracero program -- a U.S.-Mexico guest worker program from 1942 to 1964. He also worked as a janitor and day laborer.

My mother, Carmen Mejía Huerta, worked for more than 40 years as a domestic worker, cleaning the homes and taking care of the children of white, middle-class families. Like millions of Mexican immigrants, my late parents took jobs that most American workers reject due to dismal pay, lack of upward mobility and low social status or stigma, i.e., immigrant jobs.

In retrospect, I should have written about their remarkable stories of hard work, sacrifice and resilience in a hostile society. It's amazing how two Spanish-speaking parents with only a couple of years of education in a small rancho raised eight children, sending four of them to elite universities. This includes raising the most accomplished Latino artist, Salomón Huerta, in the United States.

Instead of being proud of my Mexican parents, I was ashamed of their low social status.

Actually, since I grew up in segregated neighborhood where all of the residents received government aid, like most of my childhood friends, I never thought of myself as Mexican or poor. As a kid, I assumed that all parents spoke only Spanish and kids wore hand-me-downs. I also considered food stamps to be the common currency for all Americans when purchasing food.

It wasn't until being bused to a white-majority junior high school, Mt. Gleason Jr. High, in the suburbs that I first experienced overt racism and realized that I was poor. For the first time, I was different than most people. Not only was I different, but also labeled as inferior by my white classmates. It was the first time in my life that I was called a "wetback," "beaner" and "low-rider."

This idea of being different or inferior followed me to college. I will never forget my first summer class at UCLA, for instance, when the professor asked us to share about our parents. While we had other racialized minorities in the class, I was the only Chicano student from the mean streets of East Los Angeles.

"Both of my parents are UCLA alums, and they're both attorneys," an African American student said with pride.

"My mom is a doctor, and father is an engineer," a Latina student boasted.

"I'm a foreign exchange student from Latin America, and my father is a diplomat," another student said with delight.

I panicked. What should I say, I thought to myself? Should I say that my mother cleans homes and father sweeps floors in a factory?

Not being able to compete with my privileged classmates with their professionally accomplished parents, I uttered something general like, "My parents are workers in the U.S."

While I will never forgive myself for not giving my parents credit for motivating me to pursue higher education, growing up in a society where brown people are scapegoats for America's failures, it makes sense that I would feel embarrassed about my Mexican roots and working-class background.

While Mexicans in el norte have become convenient targets for American politicians like Donald Trump, there's a long tradition of Mexican-bashing in the United States. Since the military defeat of Mexico in 1848, American leaders and public figures have treated Mexicans in this country as second-class citizens and social burdens or threats.

For example, as an influential public figure, the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington famously argued in his 2009 article "The Hispanic Challenge" that Mexicans and other Latinos represented a threat to the U.S. Where was the public outcry over his racist thesis?

Enough!

As the largest ethnic group, accounting for more than 55 million U.S. residents, Latinas and Latinos in this country deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

As a Chicano scholar with degrees from UCLA and UC Berkeley who, as a teen, internalized the pejorative narratives against brown people and the working class in this country, I have a clear message to Latinas and Latinos, especially young people: Don't allow a bully like Trump or other American leaders to make you feel inferior due to your ethnic heritage or ashamed of your social status.

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How Did Your Senator Vote On The School Funding Reform Bill?

Wed, 2016-05-11 10:55
The Illinois Senate on Tuesday passed a major overhaul of the formula by which Illinois school funding is distributed to local school districts.

For Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who sponsored the bill, it was the culmination of three years of work to construct a plan that would repair a system that virtually everyone in state government agrees unfairly deprives students in less affluent school districts the quality education they deserve.

But the future of school funding reform -- and, for that matter, school funding for the budget year that begins July 1 -- remains as unclear and contentious after the Senate vote as it was before.

The roll call above shows that Manar's bill split the Senate not just on party lines (which it did; only one Republican, Sam McCann of Plainview, voted for it) but on geographic lines as well. Three suburban Democrats voted no and two others voted present. The 31-21-3 vote was one more than the 30 votes needed to pass, but well under the 36 needed to override a veto should it reach Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk and be vetoed.

School funding is an especially touchy subject for lawmakers who represent districts that contain affluent school districts where property owners pay high property taxes to provide most of their school funding. Those districts already receive a lower portion of state aid and homeowners fear loss of state aid will be made up on their property tax bills.

Manar's bill contains a "hold harmless" provision to prevent any loss of funding in the first year, but it would be phased out over four years.

In addition to the fairness issue, the dismal condition of Chicago Public Schools also factored into the debate. Some Republicans argue that Manar's bill, which gives Chicago $175 million more than in the current fiscal year, amounts to a state bailout of a failing school district. Gov. Bruce Rauner had sought for state control of CPS and advocated for a bankruptcy filing to deal with its tremendous debt, though the Illinois State Board of Education said recently that a takeover is unwarranted.

The bill's fate in the House is unclear, as House Speaker Michael Madigan earlier this year formed his own task force on education reform. Rauner has not said what he would do should Manar's bill make it to his desk.

All this will need to be sorted out swiftly. The deadline for the General Assembly to pass a budget is May 31, and a school funding bill will be part of it. The question is whether all of those, including Rauner, who have long complained of the unfairness of the current system will do something about it.

Check the chart below to see how your senator voted. Then use our Sound Off tool to contact your lawmakers, Rauner, Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and the Republican leaders in the General Assembly to voice your opinion on fairly funding all Illinois school districts regardless of their zip codes.





NEXT ARTICLE: These 25 Illinois school districts spent the most and least per student in 2015

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Reboot Illinois' Doubek Wins Two Lisagor Journalism Awards

Wed, 2016-05-11 10:09


Reboot Illinois Publisher Madeleine Doubek won two prestigious Peter Lisagor awards in the 39th annual journalism contest sponsored by the Chicago Headline Club.

Doubek won the award for best individual blog post for her commentary about the killing of a 16-year-old Chicagoan, "Laquan McDonald's killing and the judgment for all of us." Doubek reflected on the killing of McDonald, shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, and how it is symptomatic of a pattern of corruption in our public institutions in Chicago and throughout the state.

She also won a Lisagor award for best continuing blog post for a series of posts dissecting divided government in Illinois, including "Dear Gov. Rauner, Let's talk about your turnaround for Illinois," "Quiet, please. Speaker Madigan is about to deliver his very important messages about Illinois spending," and "Rauner, Madigan and caucus leaders responsible for wrecking business foundation."

The Lisagor awards honor the best in Chicago and Illinois journalism across print, online, television, radio and independent media platforms. They are named for Peter Lisagor, who served as the Chicago Daily News Washington bureau chief from 1959 to 1976.

Doubek and the Reboot Illinois staff also will be honored at an annual benefit dinner hosted by the not-for-profit children's advocacy organization, Voices for Illinois Children to be held Thursday, June 2, in Chicago.

Voices for Illinois Children will honor Doubek, Chicago Sun-Times Columnist Mark Brown and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio State Politics Reporter Tony Arnold for work covering state challenges that affect children and their families. The event will feature a panel discussion moderated by CBS Chicago Anchor Rob Johnson.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois Senate passes school funding reform measure

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Why Inaction on Illinois Progressive Income Tax Actually is a Good Thing

Tue, 2016-05-10 10:12
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

We've now gone 11 months without a state budget. It's been one year and five months since our personal state income tax rates dropped from 5 percent to 3.75 percent after the expiration of a temporary income tax increase. It's been one year since the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously rejected the state's first attempt at saving its pension funds.

And what do we have to show for all of that time? Zero.

No real talk of any pension-saving alternatives while we carry $111 billion in pension debt. No discernible progress toward a state budget that anyone is willing to reveal. Despite a few weeks of hoopla, no movement toward getting a progressive income tax amendment on the ballot for a vote in November and, therefore, no floor debate or vote on a separate bill to set different income tax rates on varying incomes.

Thank goodness. On that last point about progressive income tax rates, thank goodness for no progress.

My colleague, Reboot Illinois Editor Matt Dietrich, recently argued that by foregoing the progressive income tax ballot question last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois lawmakers were losing a useful tool for the tall-order-task of getting Illinois back on track toward fiscal reality. To that I say, you must be joking.

Why in the world would anyone give Illinois lawmakers more power to set different tax rates for different people? Why give them the ability to raise those rates and create more of them any time they choose with nothing more than a simple majority of both chambers and a governor's signature?

Yes, Illinois needs to forge a budget compromise. Yes, it needs to start testing other ways to get pension debt addressed. Yes, that is going to take tax increases, but no way should we give lawmakers the huge power to set varying rates by majority vote.

The previous vote for a temporary income tax increase occurred in 2010 in the dead of night, during a lame-duck session, on the strength of only Democratic votes and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. Quinn and others argued it was needed to deal with a state debt of $6.4 billion in unpaid bills, but the increased rates expired four years later and the state's debt then still was $4.3 billion.

At about that same time, the debacle started that now is known as Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative allowed $53 million of our tax dollars to be spent with little to no oversight. An audit four years later offered more than a hint that the program was little more than a way to pay people to get out votes for Quinn. And that's just the highest-profile example of grant fraud to come along in recent years.

And yet we're going to give many of these same people the power to set more than one tax rate by just a simple majority? We're going to give them more of our money to mismanage?

Dietrich is right when he says the tax increases are coming, so yes, we are going to be giving them more of our money. And if you aren't telling your lawmakers what you think about that, well then I'll just say you darn well should be.

Rauner has said nearly since his 2015 inauguration that he will sign off on tax increases and knows they're needed once he gets some reforms. So far, though, lawmakers won't give him any, not even changes to the state's purchasing laws that might save us all a few bucks.

And what do you think would happen if we changed our constitution to allow for multiple rates and we once again had one-party rule in Springfield?

As it is, we've gone 11 months without a state budget, with no real effort by legislators to cut spending or find a drop of budget fat. We've also let the weeks fly by since the 2014 governor's race with no substantive public debate of what kind of spending, taxes or tax system we ought to have.

All this time with little talk and no action. It's too late now for this election cycle for a vote on a progressive tax system. That means less power for our politicians. For once, inaction is a good thing.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois road fund 'lockbox' only constitutional amendment to make it out alive

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Springfield: Stop the Destruction of Police Misconduct Records

Mon, 2016-05-09 15:32
Chicago paid out $642 million for cases of police misconduct from 2004 through 2015. More recently, in April 2016, the city authorized a $6.5 million payout for two cases of egregious police misconduct.

Now, more than ever, the public is scrutinizing the Chicago Police Department, or CPD. But Chicagoans and watchdogs face a major hurdle when it comes to keeping an eye on bad actors within the force - that's because the Chicago police contract mandates that CPD destroy disciplinary records. What's more, the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, actually filed a lawsuit in 2014 to prevent the release of records more than four years old and destroy decades' worth of records, arguing CPD officers would experience "public humiliation and loss of prestige in their employment" if the information came out.

The Illinois General Assembly had the opportunity to consider four bills during its spring session that would have banned the destruction of disciplinary records. Two of those bills, House Bill 6266 and Senate Bill 2233, showed some movement this legislative session, and there's still a chance the issue could come up for a vote before session ends May 31 if politicians want it to.

Records are crucial in preserving officer integrity

Already, the contract between the FOP and CPD requires the department to destroy disciplinary files within five or seven years, even though an officer may still be on the job and displaying a pattern of misconduct during that time. In spite of this provision, CPD has kept records dating back to 1967.

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into CPD following first-degree murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke for shooting and killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the 2014 FOP lawsuit to destroy records stalled. Van Dyke was accused of misconduct 20 times, according to data from the Citizens Police Data Project, or CPDP. One brutality complaint alone cost the city $530,000 in damages and legal fees, according to city data dating back to 2011. Despite this, none of the complaints against Van Dyke resulted in disciplinary action.

According to available data, however, most Chicago police are good actors, doing difficult work in a challenging climate. Officers with more than 10 complaints account for just 10 percent of the Chicago police force, according to CPDP data published by CBS Chicago. And that 10 percent of officers accrued 30 percent of all complaints, with an average nearly four times higher than the number of complaints per officer throughout the rest of the force.

Yet it's nearly impossible to fire that small contingent of bad actors from the city's police force.

Why?

It all goes back to the CPD contract.

The CPD contract protects bad cops at the expense of the public - and good officers

The CPD contract's mandated destruction of disciplinary records essentially tells leadership to disregard wrongdoing after that misconduct reaches its contractual expiration date. But identifying patterns of misconduct is crucial in preventing erosion of community trust, as well as wrongdoing that ends in grievous harm and million-dollar settlements.

That's not the only part of the contract that gets in the way of protecting the public and allowing officials to remove bad officers from the force. The contract also allows for:

  • Delays in investigations: Officers can get up to a 48-hour delay once a disciplinary interview is requested (for non-shooting complaints).

  • Notice regarding interviews: The manner of interview is highly regulated, and officers are informed of the procedure and investigators ahead of time.

  • Transcripts of previous statements: Officers receive copies of their previous statements before being re-interviewed.

  • False statements and video evidence: It's nearly impossible for officers to be found guilty of a false statement violation; if an officer makes a misstep, he's allowed to see video footage and fix his statement accordingly.

  • Polygraph protections: Officers can refuse polygraphs and get access to interview questions prior to taking a polygraph exam.


These examples show how the contract rigs investigations to protect officers from discipline. Provisions such as these stand in the way of police accountability and effective investigation of officers. CPDP data show that 95 percent of the 56,384 allegations available from 1967 to present were found "unsustained."

It's time to reform the CPD contract

CPD's current contract expires in 2017 - an excellent opportunity to adopt a better contract that removes discipline from bargaining and enhances transparency.

More than anything, Chicago needs reforms to restore faith in its police force. In the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, tensions between the police and the community are strained; and the public is especially skeptical of the union, given that the FOP hired Van Dyke after he was stripped of his police powers.

Even before contract negotiations begin, state lawmakers have an incredible opportunity to prevent the destruction of vital police misconduct records.

Illinois General Assembly members can pass HB 6266 and SB 2233, both of which would prevent the destruction of invaluable police records going forward.

After that, next steps should focus on how the contract handles police discipline. Chicago would be wise to follow New York's lead - discipline and disciplinary procedures cannot be part of collective bargaining in New York City, Westchester and Rockland counties, and for the New York State Police.

Without reform, Chicago's police force can't regain the public's trust - and taxpayers will continue to be on the hook for the bad behavior of the officers the contract protects from consequences.

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Top 25 Illinois School Districts That Spent the Most and Least Per Student in 2015

Mon, 2016-05-09 11:03
With the latest school funding reform effort coming to a halt, we took a look at fiscal year 2015 data to get a sense of how much is spent on Illinois students and how those figures differ among school districts.

The average operating expense per pupil in Illinois during the 2014-15 school year was $12,824, according to the most recent data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

This figure takes into account district expenditures like transportation costs, instructional costs and student resources, among other things.

The amount spent per student can vary greatly depending on a school district's location because of differences in property taxes and cost of living, as well as the type of district. For example, the average cost per high school student in 2015 was $16,494, while elementary school districts spent $12,182 per student. Spending also tends to be higher in districts with more property tax wealth. As shown in the chart and map below, some of the districts with the highest operating expense per pupil are more than double the statewide average.

Using the board's 2015 figures and the Illinois Report Card, we've sorted out the Top 25 school districts that spent the most and least per student. In order to provide some context, the chart shows each district's total operating expenses, total number of full-time teachers and their average salaries, average administrator salaries, student-to-administrator ratio, percentage of low-income students, and academic performance indicators such as graduation rates and PARCC scores (click here to see PARCC participation rates for each district).

Statewide averages

  • Operating expense per pupil (OEPP): $12,824

  • Average teacher salary: $62,609

  • Average administrator salary: $100,720

  • Pupil-administrator ratio: 173:1

  • PARCC: 33 percent

  • Graduation rate: 86 percent

  • Low-income students: 54 percent




Here are the 25 school districts that had the highest and lowest operating expense per pupil in 2015.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 10 best states for working moms

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What's Going To Happen With Illinois' Income Tax?

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:50
This week's "Only in Illinois" starts with a flashback to the Jan. 2, 2014, "Only in Illinois" in which I made a prediction about the future of the Illinois income tax.



At the time, the big question was whether the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn would make the 2011 temporary income tax increase permanent. That increase, passed in the waning minutes of a lame-duck session in January 2011, raised the personal income tax rate in Illinois from 3 to 5 percent. The intent was to erase a mountain of unpaid bills that had the state many months behind in paying its creditors before the rate fell to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, 2015, and then 3.25 percent on Jan. 1, 2025.

But the state was making little headway on its fiscal status even with record tax revenue coming in. If the rates were allowed to decline as scheduled, the state would lose around $1.8 billion in FY 2015 and more than double that amount in years to follow. There was a strong belief that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly soon would make the 2011 rates permanent.

With the governor's race at the time just getting under way, I predicted the General Assembly would take no action on the temporary tax increase until after the 2014 gubernatorial election. If Quinn was re-elected, the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate would extend the higher rates and make things easier on themselves and the newly re-elected Democratic governor. If a Republican won, they'd let the tax rates drop and let him deal with the fallout.

The latter scenario played out, and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner urged the General Assembly to allow the 2011 rates to sunset as scheduled.

From Rauner's perspective, the financial trouble caused by losing a hefty chunk of tax revenue would pressure Democrats to bargain with him on issues like workers' compensation, property tax relief, term limits, redistricting reform and -- at the time -- establishing right-to-work zones.

Also, even though the Democrats had not made the higher tax rates permanent during Quinn's last months in office, they passed a budget that assumed they had. Rauner knew coming in that the Democrats' FY 2015 budget was $1.6 billion out of whack, and that created an opportunity to force negotiation.

The Democrats, too, saw an advantage to letting the tax increase expire. Rauner had pummeled them for irresponsible taxing and spending throughout his campaign. If he believed he could pass a balanced budget with roughly $4 billion less revenue in FY 2016, they were willing to let him try.

What should have happened in all this is that Rauner and the Democrats -- which is to say, Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan -- should have come together a year ago and hammered out a budget that mixed cuts and saving with the tax increases that both sides had said was necessary.

What happened instead was Rauner in June 2015 vetoed almost all of the budget proposal Democrats sent him. He said it was $4 billion out of balance and he had no choice but to veto it. For their part, Democrats had said all along their budget was imbalanced and asked Rauner to work with them on cuts and revenue. Rauner said he would not do so until the Democrats passed reforms he said are necessary to restore Illinois' economy in the long-term,

Thus, we've got a state operating with no budget and spending far more than it's bringing in. The total could reach $10 billion by June 30, according to Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger.

Then, in February, Rauner issued his budget plan for FY 2017. He admitted it was $3.5 billion out of balance and urged Democrats to work with him to find cuts and revenue to balance it. But first, they'd need to pass some of his reforms. The Civic Federation, in an analysis released this week, said Rauner's budget actually is out of balance by more than $3.5 billion.

So now we have the absurd situation of both sides having submitted wildly out-of-balance budgets, both sides having admitted that a tax increase will be needed to close the gap but neither side willing to say a word about what state income tax we'll be paying next April.

In January 2014 it was pretty easy to predict what would happen with the Illinois income tax the following year. There were only two choices. This year I'm making no predictions, but I do some explaining on this week's "Only in Illinois."

You can also listen to the podcast here or through iTunes:



NEXT ARTICLE: 1970 Con-Con research assistant explains why Illinois has a flat income tax rate

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May the Force Be With You...Or, Maybe Not

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:38
Despite the relentless efforts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration, it appears the Lucas Museum may not have its debut here in Chicago--at least not at this present moment.

Friends of the Park (FOTP) often mocked as "friends of the parking lot"(you'll see the significance of this a little further down), is a non-profit organization that gate keeps and preserves parks throughout Chicago. They have been in a locked horns battle with Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to build the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront property.

According to the Lucas Museum's website, it will be a barrier free museum where artificial divisions between "high" art and "popular" art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling. But there's only one problem, FOTP does not think the museum should be built on lakefront property.

Currently, the site is a parking lot.

Yes, it is literally a parking lot, settled between Soldier's Field and McCormick Place.

It's not a park.

No landmark status. Not even grass.

It's a parking lot that does not get used a majority of the year.

So let's examine this for a moment, shall we?

George Lucas, the multi-billionaire creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was willing to write a check for over $700 million to leverage a $1.2 billion bond sale to kick start the project. The loan payment would be made with funds generated by the museum, making the risk nearly zero for taxpayers.

You read that right; No taxpayer funds needed to build the museum. No risk to taxpayers, with the largest contributor to building costs being Lucas, himself. There is a golden opportunity for the cash strapped city of Chicago to generate revenue, without raising taxes. Am I missing something here?

In my opinion, Mayor Emanuel got this one right.

This museum will be built; either in Chicago or some other city. Why not build something that will create construction jobs and many permanent jobs as well? What is the harm in building this museum?What's the real motive behind Friends of the Park?

Kyle Hillman, a former board member of Meetings Professionals International, a social media consultant and community organizer had this to say;

"Losing the Lucas museum is unfortunate because it will genuinely hurt the dedicated workers in the service area who need the city to invest in new tourist attractors. However, the utter collapse of Choose Chicago should be a greater concern. Chicago can't afford to lose momentum; our city relies too heavily on service industry to help people move into the middle class. We can live without Lucas, but we can't continue to disinvest in tourism and conventions."

Choose Chicago is the tourism bureau that's charged with marketing and attracting tourist and major conventions. The board is made up of business and civic leaders as well as a few elected officials. Under the leadership of CEO Don Welsh, Choose Chicago was able to increase visitation to Chicago significantly.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and Choose Chicago faced a financial hardship when Springfield withheld $7.2 million due to budget crisis. Welsh, consequently, had to lay off nearly 25 percent of the employees. And just a few months ago, Welsh left Choose Chicago to become CEO of the Washington D.C based tourism advocacy group called, Destination Marketing Association International.

Needless to say, tourism is an important factor for Chicago. It is a way to raise funds without "nickel and dimming" the taxpayers.

When it's all said and done, the court battle between Mayor Emanuel's administration and Friends of the Park, is all over the utilization of a parking lot.

In ten years, I hope we won't be celebrating the time we almost got the Lucas Museum, like we are this year, with the Olympics....we have to do better.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

May the Force Be With You... or, Maybe Not

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:25
Despite the relentless efforts from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration, it appears the Lucas Museum may not have its debut here in Chicago -- at least not at this present moment.

Friends of the Park (FOTP) often mocked as "friends of the parking lot" (you'll see the significance of this a little further down), is a non-profit organization that gate keeps and preserves parks throughout Chicago. They have been in a locked-horns battle with Mayor Emanuel in his efforts to build the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront property.

According to the Lucas Museum's website, it will be a barrier-free museum where artificial divisions between "high" art and "popular" art are absent, allowing you to explore a wide array of compelling visual storytelling. But there's only one problem, FOTP does not think the museum should be built on lakefront property.

Currently, the site is a parking lot.

Yes, it is literally a parking lot, settled between Soldier's Field and McCormick Place.

It's not a park.

No landmark status. Not even grass.

It's a parking lot that does not get used a majority of the year.

So let's examine this for a moment, shall we?

George Lucas, the multi-billionaire creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was willing to write a check for over $700 million to leverage a $1.2 billion bond sale to kickstart the project. The loan payment would be made with funds generated by the museum, making the risk nearly zero for taxpayers.

You read that right; No taxpayer funds needed to build the museum. No risk to taxpayers, with the largest contributor to building costs being Lucas, himself. There is a golden opportunity for the cash-strapped city of Chicago to generate revenue, without raising taxes. Am I missing something here?

In my opinion, Mayor Emanuel got this one right.

This museum will be built; either in Chicago or some other city. Why not build something that will create construction jobs and many permanent jobs as well? What is the harm in building this museum? What's the real motive behind Friends of the Park?

Kyle Hillman, a former board member of Meetings Professionals International, a social media consultant and community organizer had this to say;

Losing the Lucas museum is unfortunate because it will genuinely hurt the dedicated workers in the service area who need the city to invest in new tourist attractors. However, the utter collapse of Choose Chicago should be a greater concern. Chicago can't afford to lose momentum; our city relies too heavily on service industry to help people move into the middle class. We can live without Lucas, but we can't continue to disinvest in tourism and conventions.

Choose Chicago is the tourism bureau that's charged with marketing and attracting tourist and major conventions. The board is made up of business and civic leaders as well as a few elected officials. Under the leadership of CEO Don Welsh, Choose Chicago was able to increase visitation to Chicago significantly.

Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished and Choose Chicago faced a financial hardship when Springfield withheld $7.2 million due to budget crisis. Welsh, consequently, had to lay off nearly 25 percent of the employees. And just a few months ago, Welsh left Choose Chicago to become CEO of the Washington D.C based tourism advocacy group called, Destination Marketing Association International.

Needless to say, tourism is an important factor for Chicago. It is a way to raise funds without "nickel and dimming" the taxpayers.

When it's all said and done, the court battle between Mayor Emanuel's administration and Friends of the Park, is all over the utilization of a parking lot.

In ten years, I hope we won't be celebrating the time we almost got the Lucas Museum, like we are this year, with the Olympics... we have to do better.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Liberating Black Women: The Fight to Save Chicago State and Fire Killer Cops

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:21
After 149 years of public education, Chicago State University escapes last month's deadline for closing -- but the university faces grave uncertainty past July 1. The state's refusal to act in a meaningful way is just an example of the Anti-Black actions and policies that are harming Black people in Illinois.

For months, the university, whose students are predominantly Black, has been in crisis due to Illinois' failure to pass a budget to provide funding for the school. At the end of April, CSU received partial funding of $20,107,300 under an emergency funding bill for higher education. This money only keeps the University open for the next four months and does not fund the approaching fall semester.

We will not stand for this. Pink slips have gone home to 300 staff members -- a full third of the school's employees -- and students' educational futures are in peril, as our billionaire governor, Bruce Rauner, is sitting pretty. We demand that our communities are invested in and that CSU be fully funded.

Our collective met with CSU students on April 25, 2016, days before the university's 358 commencement. We heard testimonies from students who are directly impacted by the looming closer of Chicago State. We listened to a young mother from the surrounding area talk about how CSU has given her the opportunity to provide a better future for her daughter. She will more than likely have to drop out of college if CSU closes because of higher tuition cost at other institutions, lack of child care, and the fact that Rauner also viciously cut the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and other financial aid. This mother's story is just one account.

At a symbolic ceremony, students this week burned faux degrees to represent the very daunting fact that they may never walk across the stage at a CSU commencement. As they gathered around the quad, Charles Preston, a CSU student just shy of graduation, said, "Tonight we take these diplomas to self-determine our own futures, burning them is a representation of the struggle that is going to happen after tonight." The crowd then chanted, "Save CSU, Black Education is good for our health, Save CSU budget or else!" We cannot let their academic futures burn in ashes.

Many people are to blame for the budget impasse and CSU's position, among them being Governor Bruce Rauner and Rauner-appointed Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education Reverend James T. Meeks and Rauner-appointed CSU trustee Reverend Marshall Hatch. It is disturbing to anyone who cares about Black life and public education that this is our reality in Chicago. Despite the faux-concern that many of our city and state leaders, both elected and undemocratically appointed, claim to have for Black Chicagoans, the efforts to provide for our well-being are minimal at best.

Just over 83 percent of CSU students are Black. 71.5 percent are women, and many are parents and nontraditional students. The school is ranked first in the state in awarding bachelor's degrees to Black people in the physical sciences, health professions, hosts unique projects like Emmanuel Pratt's Aquaponics Facility, a vertical farm that trains students in green entrepreneurship. Over the course of its existence on the South Side, it has provided thousands of students and community members with tools they need to survive in a world that does not believe in or provide options for Black people. The campus is used a space for community organizations, is the area's largest public library -- accessed by all community members, and the campus provides a safe space for South Side residents, almost all Black, to exist in a world that has never welcomed them.

As we fight for CSU's funding, we are fighting to get a killer cop off the city's payroll once and for all. Four years ago, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was murdered by off-duty police officer Dante Servin. Rekia was simply hanging out with her friends in a park. While Officer Servin still is being paid by the Chicago Police Department -- a Department that receives $4 million a day, nearly 40 percent of the Chicago budget -- we are fighting to keep open a public space. Clearly there is no regard for Black life in this city. CSU requires just $5 million a month to run, and we spend almost that amount daily on an institution that is killing our people.

The political system as it stands is a failure for Black people and it is especially harmful to Black women, whether we seek higher education or not.

Servin, if fired -- there is a hearing at the end of May to decide this, is likely to receive a pension that will be paid for by the tax dollars of Chicago and greater Illinois residents. When there is money for cops who murder but not for public education that benefits Black people, we see who our governing bodies truly serve.

It is undeniable that our current political system in Illinois is stacked against Black people at every level, and we see the ways that Black women in particular bear the brunt of this violence and then are forgotten. Shame on Illinois. We demand that the city and state Remember Rekia: stop wasting our tax dollars on police officers who kill and otherwise brutalize Black people and instead make full investments in institutions like Chicago State University. Our futures depend on it.

#RememberRekia #SaveCSU #DontPayDante

-Kofi Adamola Xola
-Joan Fadayiro
-Imani Jackson
-Tess Raser


Photo credit: Shay Horse

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Putting Moms In Prison Punishes Their Kids, Too

Mon, 2016-05-09 10:10

CHICAGO -- It's been two months since 13-year-old Malik was able to give his mom a hug. He recently got the rare opportunity, but first he had to travel to a strip mall parking lot on Chicago's South Side, ride a bus for nearly three hours and then pass through security at the Decatur Correctional Facility in downstate Illinois.


"The hardest thing is not talking to her. She was a very funny person," Malik said of his mom, Latonya, whose legal representatives asked that her last name not be used to protect her safety. Latonya has been an inmate at Decatur for two years.


"I miss her jokes, her laughs," said Malik, who was dressed in a crisp white shirt and a small gold cross necklace for his visit on Saturday. "I miss everything about her."


Malik is among the more than 2.7 million American children with a parent in prison, according to the most recent Pew Charitable Trust figures. Put another way: If all of the nation's children with an incarcerated parent were a city, it would be the third-largest in the U.S.


Though nearly 1 in 28 American kids have a parent in jail, the problems facing separated families remain at best misunderstood and at worst ignored.


Despite perceptions about convicts -- especially incarcerated mothers -- Malik said his mom and most of the people at Decatur are not bad people.


But convincing prospective employers, landlords and policymakers of that fact is not so easy. 


Even the very reunification ride program that enabled Malik -- and several dozen children ranging from toddlers to teenagers -- to visit their mothers this weekend has been largely forgotten by lawmakers during Illinois' 10-month budget impasse.


Keeping mothers in touch with their families during incarceration is key to reducing recidivism and ensuring they can be successful and productive upon release, according to Collete Payne, a community organizer with Cabrini-Green Legal Aid, which is among the groups that facilitated the ride.


"I know for a fact, when you send women to jail, it divides the family," Payne said. "It hurts the whole community."



Though fathers remain incarcerated at a rate roughly 10 times higher than mothers, according to Pew, women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population.


Incarcerated mothers also report receiving fewer visits than fathers throughout their imprisonment, according to CGLA. 


"When women aren’t able to see their children, not only does it hurt their spirit, their children are the ones most affected," Payne said. Payne, who previously served time in Decatur, noted that her son's grades dropped when she was incarcerated but showed improvement when he was able to talk to her regularly. 


Children of incarcerated parents can struggle with a range of issues that include poverty, poor grades, behavioral issues and depression, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.


Even when mothers return home, the children aren't always able to immediately accept them. 


“I know I broke my children’s hearts over and over again with my mistakes, so I couldn’t just expect to jump into their lives and say ‘OK, I’m mom, I’m going to take over now,'” Payne said. "Women reentering society face a lot of rejection." 



When you send women to jail, it divides the family. It hurts the whole community."
Colette Payne, community organizer with Cabrini-Green Legal Aid


That rejection can manifest itself in the form of job and housing discrimination and social stigma, all of which make resuming parental mode and reintegrating even harder. 


"A lot of times you hear, 'if you've done the crime, you do the time,’ but the world needs to know that even though we’ve been incarnated -- which is supposed to be a form of rehab -- it’s damaging,” Payne said.


"And then they go back into the same community with no resources, no support, and have people who look down on us or our incarceration," she added. "If we don’t have that support, people will recidivate again, because that’s survival mode."


Mental health support, job opportunities and affordable housing are among the key issues prisoner and family advocates say returning citizens need to be successful. 


“You have the same challenges you went in jail with -- whether it’s suffering from a mental disorder or drug abuse or sexual abuse -- and if that’s not addressed when you’re [incarcerated], you can’t expect to come back to the community and have those issues be fixed," Payne said.  


"If those issues aren’t addressed, how are you supposed to function as a whole human being?"



Payne said she and other advocates are pushing for reform that would eventually allow women convicted of non-violent crimes to serve their time in their communities rather than at prisons that are so far away they involve costly and time-consuming measures for families to stay in contact. 


Simply lacking the money to make phone calls or visit a distant prison like Decatur is just one of the daily struggles Sheila Hatchett faces.


Hatchett accompanied her great-niece and great-nephew on Saturday's reunification ride to visit the children's mother in Decatur. Without the program, visits only happen when her car is in working order and there's enough money for gas to make the nearly 200-mile trip. Even a phone call requires a minimum balance of $25 in the inmate's account.


But the impact a visit has on the children is undeniable, Hatchett said. 


"[My niece's] daughter wakes up moping and crying -- this morning she woke up and jumped right out of bed." 



The children visiting the prison Saturday had roughly five hours with their mothers. In honor of Mother's Day, they were able to visit in the prison rec area and eat a meal prepared by the inmates.


Kamaya, 5, and Kristan, 2, saw their mother for the first time in prison on Saturday. Kamaya swung in her mom's arms, while her usually stoic younger brother cuddled with his mom.


On the return to Chicago, Malik was clearly happy with his visit, too. 


"I have her a big hug and a big kiss. I feel good that I went to go see my mom. I can't wait to see her again," Malik said. When it was time to go, she dispensed a little motherly advice.


"She told me to keep my head up and stay smart."

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How Oreos Explain The 2016 Election

Mon, 2016-05-09 07:34

Last year, Michael Smith learned that his middle-class factory job on Chicago's South Side was headed to Mexico. The news stunned Smith. After all, his factory made an iconic American product: the Oreo cookie.


Soon, real estate mogul Donald Trump took an interest in Smith's plight. Every chance he had, the front-runner for the Republican nomination pilloried Mondelez, the snack conglomerate that produces Oreos, Ritz crackers and other treats, for its decision to offshore the 600 Chicago jobs. Trump vowed never to eat another Oreo again.


Then it was the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, defending Smith and his colleagues from the left. Supporters of the Vermont independent held a rally outside the Mondelez plant in Chicago, demanding that the factory jobs stay put. A Sanders surrogate called the layoffs "an all-too-typical story about greed."


Finally, Smith and his colleagues heard from Hillary Clinton. The factory workers got much more than just a shout-out from the presumptive Democratic nominee. In March, she personally visited Smith and six of his colleagues in an hour-long, closed-door meeting to talk about their layoffs. Clinton told the workers that she personally called Mondelez's CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, and urged her to keep the jobs in Chicago.


"You could have felt the chill in the room when Secretary Clinton said she called Irene Rosenfeld," recalled Smith, a 59-year-old with five years at the plant. "That will be ingrained in my heart forever, wherever her campaign takes her."


This election cycle, bashing companies that offshore work is the one thing the candidates have been able to agree on. Mass layoffs like the ones at Mondelez aren't exactly uncommon, but Americans take notice when jobs making what's been called "America's Favorite Cookie" are relocated to Salinas. Voters see robust corporate profits going to executives -- Rosenfeld raked in $19.7 million in total compensation last year, and $21 million the year before, according to the company's proxy statement -- and stagnating or disappearing wages for everyday Americans.  


Trump has become the presumptive GOP nominee by stating ad nauseum that deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have devastated American workers -- even though the benevolence of free trade is part of modern Republican orthodoxy. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has hung in with Clinton in a surprisingly competitive Democratic primary by hammering home more or less the same trade message as Trump. And Clinton, viewed by many on the left as weak on trade, is now promoting a tax plan that would claw back tax breaks for companies that offshore jobs.


"Politics makes for strange bedfellows, doesn't it?" said Jethro Head, vice president of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents 4,000 Mondelez workers in the U.S. "Although [Trump] doesn't have the facts right, he has the issue right. We're tired of losing work to Mexico. We're tired of American companies sending products from Mexico back here for us to consume. There's not six degrees of separation on this. It's not even a degree. Everybody knows somebody who's lost a job that's been offshored."


One day last year, a Mondelez plant manager in Chicago called a town hall meeting for all employees. According to Leonard Aiello, a mixer who made dough headed to the bake floor, the manager said the factory would lose several lines if the workers couldn't find a way to save the company $46 million annually on labor costs. That is, $46 million "in perpetuity," Aiello said. If they could sacrifice that much in pay and benefits, their jobs would stay, and the company would add more lines. If not, half the plant would be laid off the following year.


Aiello considered the offer "ridiculous."


"My own personal feeling was they were never going to put the lines here," said Aiello, a 57-year-old who had four years in at the plant. "What they wanted us to do and wanted us to agree to was not possible. It couldn't be done. I kind of got the feeling they thought we were stupid."


According to Head, the offer was indeed not realistic. Shaving $46 million a year would have equated to a 60 percent cut in pay and benefits for the workers, he said. And even entertaining such a demand could have weakened the union's bargaining position with Mondelez and others. In fact, Head believes that was the motivation behind the company's proposal. The union was about to start negotiations for a master contract covering Mondelez workers around the country. The company may have wanted to see if the union would signal its willingness to make concessions before they were even at the table.


In an email, Russell Dyer, a Mondelez spokesman, said that the company was operating "in a very challenging macro environment," and that it was focused on "improving the efficiency of all aspects of our business." He said Mondelez had pumped $450 million over the last four years into upgrading its U.S. manufacturing footprint, including adding new lines in New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois. He stressed that some Oreos would still be made at three other U.S. facilities, and that the Chicago plant would still employ 600 people.  


"Our Chicago bakery will continue to play an important role in our manufacturing network, remaining one of our larger manufacturing facilities in North America," Dyer said.


That's little consolation for the half of the factory being laid off. In interviews with five workers who already lost their jobs, a few clear themes emerged. They all viewed Mondelez as a healthy company that doesn't need to move the production lines to Mexico, except to pad its profits. And they blame their predicament largely on a generation of policymakers who they believe have encouraged corporations to offshore production in order to cut costs.


"How is this country going to survive if you keep taking all the good jobs overseas?" lamented Titus Banks, 52, who was among those laid off in March. "Why are the middle class cut out of being middle class, and the folks who are already rich are just getting richer?"


The term NAFTA is practically a slur among the Mondelez workers. The 1994 deal, signed by President Bill Clinton, loosened trade barriers between the U.S. and Mexico, enabling American companies to seek out cheaper labor south of the border, and produce cheaper goods for American consumers. Smith said that as much as he appreciated the visit from Hillary Clinton -- "I thought it was a real class act on her part" -- NAFTA was very much on his mind. "We were aware that it happened under her husband's administration," he said.


According to Smith, Clinton told him and the other Mondelez workers that she didn't succeed in getting Rosenfeld to reconsider the line closures. Clinton's campaign did not respond to questions about the call with Rosenfeld, or the meeting with the Mondelez employees. A Mondelez spokesman confirmed the phone call with Clinton, saying only that Rosenfeld "reinforced our commitment to the Chicago bakery and the U.S. market overall."


To Laura Martinez, Mondelez's move to Salinas reflects the broader disappearance of decent blue-collar jobs that can sustain families. For eight years, Martinez worked in a plant for Bake-Line, the cookie and cracker maker. She was laid off from that job, and went to work at a Wrigley plant producing gum. She was laid off from that job, too, and went to work at Mondelez eight years ago. In March, she was laid off once again. She said she now wonders if any good work remains in American food manufacturing.


"We have to pay the mortgage. We have to live," said Martinez, who is 52 years old and whose husband has bone cancer. "I'm already looking for a job, and a lot of companies only pay $12 an hour or $10 an hour. That's not enough."


The union has launched a boycott of all Oreos produced in Mexico, urging buyers to check the label on boxes to determine where they were produced. (The union does not discourage people from buying Oreos still made in the U.S.) The boycott has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, a federation of more than 50 unions.


That makes for another case of strange bedfellows: The most prominent promoter of an Oreos boycott has been Trump. Organized labor on the whole has come out hard against the GOP front-runner and his brand of politics. And many of the Mondelez workers in Chicago happen to be Mexican-American, like Martinez. Trump has called Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "criminals," and demanded that a giant wall be built on the southern border and paid for by Mexico.


Martinez said she harbors no ill will toward the Mexican workforce, especially as someone born in Mexico. "A lot of people there need jobs, too," she said. But she believes the workers there are paid at exploitative wages, while American workers like herself lose their wages altogether.


"They want to pay workers two dollars an hour, and still send the product back to the United States," Martinez said. "Well, how are we going to buy the product if we don't have jobs?"

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75 Illinois High Schools Among Nation's Most Challenging

Fri, 2016-05-06 09:25


Seventy-five high schools in Illinois rank among the nation's most challenging, according to the Washington Post.

The Washington Post's annual ranking assesses nearly 2,300 high schools across the U.S. based on a formula it calls the "Challenge Index" ratio, which is calculated by taking the total number of advanced placement, international baccalaureate and advanced international certificate of education tests administered at a given school in 2015 and dividing by the number of seniors who graduated that same year.

A ratio of at least 1.00 means a school had as many tests in 2015 as graduates, but only 10 percent of the roughly 22,000 public high schools in the U.S. reached that standard and earned a spot on the list, according to the Washington Post.

More about the methodology:

We do not include any magnet or charter high school that draws such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country. This year, that meant such schools had to have an average SAT score below 2023 or an average ACT score below 28.5 to be included on the main list.

The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests. It does not work with schools that have no, or almost no, average students. We put those schools on our Public Elites list.

Following are the Top 25 most challenging high schools in Illinois, along with each school's national rank, the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career -- referred to as equity and excellence (E&E), the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for subsidized lunch and the Challenge Index ratio.

*Denotes private high school

25. Grayslake Central High School | Grayslake

  • National Rank: 858

  • E&E: 50.7%

  • Subs. Lunch: 12%

  • Challenge Index: 2.732


24. J.S. Morton West High School | Berwyn

  • National Rank: 852

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: 81%

  • Challenge Index: 2.742


23. Highland Park High School | Highland Park

  • National Rank: 843

  • E&E: 80%

  • Subs. Lunch: 10%

  • Challenge Index: 2.753


22. Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep* | Waukegan

  • National Rank: 769

  • E&E: 25%

  • Subs. Lunch: 88%

  • Challenge Index: 2.904


21. Buffalo Grove High School | Buffalo Grove

  • National Rank: 758

  • E&E: 46.8%

  • Subs. Lunch: 16.2%

  • Challenge Index: 2.924


20. Elk Grove High School | Elk Grove

  • National Rank: 705

  • E&E: 48.1%

  • Subs. Lunch: 33.5%

  • Challenge Index: 3.014


19. Libertyville High School | Libertyville

  • National Rank: 668

  • E&E: 53.4%

  • Subs. Lunch: 5.5%

  • Challenge Index: 3.093


18. Hinsdale South High School | Darien

  • National Rank: 667

  • E&E: 43.1%

  • Subs. Lunch: 32.2%

  • Challenge Index: 3.098


17. Prospect High School | Mt. Prospect

  • National Rank: 642

  • E&E: 56.7%

  • Subs. Lunch: 9.7%

  • Challenge Index: 3.145


16. Universal School* | Bridgeview

  • National Rank: 579

  • E&E: 76%

  • Subs. Lunch: 32%

  • Challenge Index: 3.306


15. Hinsdale Central High School | Hinsdale


  • National Rank: 533

  • E&E: 59.3%

  • Subs. Lunch: 8%

  • Challenge Index: 3.422


14. Riverside Brookfield Twp High School | Riverside


  • National Rank: 526

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: n/a

  • Challenge Index: 3.431


13. John Hersey High School | Arlington Heights

  • National Rank: 517

  • E&E: 100%

  • Subs. Lunch: 12.7%

  • Challenge Index: 3.451


12. J.S. Morton East High School | Cicero


  • National Rank: 489

  • E&E: n/a

  • Subs. Lunch: 94%

  • Challenge Index: 3.626


11. Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School | Chicago

  • National Rank: 467

  • E&E: 30%

  • Subs. Lunch: n/a

  • Challenge Index: 3.626


To see the Top 10 most challenging high schools in Illinois, click here.

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How The NRA Is Making Bank Off Of Urban Gun Violence

Thu, 2016-05-05 17:02



Chicago’s long-standing bad rap on gun violence drew fresh attention in the first months of 2016 when early numbers suggested that the city was facing one of its worst homicide rates in years. 


Throughout the decades-long debate over the city’s seemingly intractable gun violence problem, there's little consensus on what's behind the scourge; citizens have blamed everything from gang members to gun regulation to scrutiny of the police. In his new documentary, filmmaker Robert Greenwald suggests a different root cause: the NRA. 


In the recently released "Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA," Greenwald explores how the lucrative gun industry and the powerful gun lobby puts profit over people by scuttling legislative efforts to address even the most common-sense gun law reforms.


"There’s a profit motive here,” Greenwald said. "Many of these parents are paying a terrible price for it.”


The film eschews policy experts and talking heads in favor of those who have been directly affected by gun violence. Among them is Pam Bosley, a Chicago mother whose 18-year-old son, Terrell, was shot on the steps of his church en route to choir practice.



Bosley's name is one of several -- like Hadiya Pendleton, Jonylah Watkins and most recently, Tyshawn Lee -- that have become shorthand in national headlines for Chicago's gun problem. Yet the pervasive nature of the killings has done little to shift the national dialogue around guns.


Particularly in Chicago, Greenwald said the NRA and other gun lobbyists have long exploited racial stereotypes to shape perceptions of urban gun violence by talking in coded terms that tie the problem to “thugs” or “gun runners.” 


“They talk about Chicago being the Wild, Wild West and there’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a strong racial bias that’s not stated overtly,” he said.


Father Michael Pfleger, the city's most politically active Catholic priest, takes exception to the way the NRA and its pro-gun sympathizers characterize Chicago's gun violence victims.


"Some of the things they say about our kids -- being gangbangers and whatnot -- it's unbelievable," Pfleger said during a March screening of the film at his St. Sabina church on the city's South Side. 


The false narrative that urban gun violence is exclusively "gangbangers shooting gangbangers" is just a convenient excuse to not empathize with the problem -- and it lets people wave it off as unrelated to the efforts of the gun lobby, Pfleger said. 


"The NRA has been a master at convincing people 'guns make you safer,'" he said. "Until we connect the dots that what happens on the South Side, or Newtown, or to Gabby Giffords can happen anywhere, anybody is a target." 





Greenwald brought his film to Plfeger's church, where more than half of the attendees at the screening raised their hands when asked if their lives had been touched by gun violence. 


"We want to connect personal pain with public policy," Greenwald said. "It’s important to connect them to the fact that legislation would have stopped Pam’s son from being shot on the steps of the church."


Bosley repeatedly has said that there was no accountability following Terrell's death. Last year, Bosley and the mother of another shooting victim filed a lawsuit against three suburban gun stores. They argued the stores don’t adequately regulate gun sales near the city-suburb border with Chicago, where gun laws are comparatively stricter.


"If her son had had an accident on a rusty nail, there would be more possible accountability," Greenwald said. "But a lethal weapon? There is no accountability. No legal or moral repercussions." 


The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.



It’s hard to think rationally when your paycheck is written by the devil.
Robert Greenwald, filmmaker


Outside of Chicago, Greenwald's film argues that people have lost their lives due to the gun lobby’s efforts to remove any hindrance to buying firearms. Because of the NRA’s opposition to firearm regulation — including gun storage laws or waiting periods — the film argues children have been injured in gun accidents, domestic violence victims have been killed by abusers, and overall, everyone has easier access to deadly weapons.


"In any one of these tragedies, in any one of these incidents, take away the gun and look how different the situation is,” Greenwald said. 


Data indicates that the NRA remains so steadfastly successful in its mission that even the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in the 2012 Newtown school shooting couldn't slow its efforts. Nationwide, states actually trended toward weaker gun laws in Newtown's wake. 


"The NRA has made us think they are all-powerful. Really, they are just the mouthpieces of these companies that have the money to buy members of Congress," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has an F rating from the NRA on pro-gun issues. 


Fledgling and struggling politicians are especially susceptible to the NRA’s powerful draw, Greenwald said.


"If you're a politician and you align with the NRA, you know you’re going to be well-funded and you’re going to have passionate people behind you," the filmmaker said. 


"It’s hard to think rationally when your paycheck is written by the devil," he added. "Not that money explains everything, but the money certainly does distort one’s perspective.” 


The famously secretive lobby wasn't always that way, Greenwald said. 


"A shift happened around 1971 or 1972; there was a sort of a takeover by a more radical faction," Greenwald said. "Instead of hunters and conservationists, [members] were lobbying for the gun companies." 


The film names Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, as one of the gun advocates who orchestrated the shift. (Greenwald noted LaPierre and other NRA leaders were “not really interested” in talking to him about the film.) 


Greenwald said he hopes the film, which can be screened for free, will help build the kind of momentum that eventually prompted life-saving regulations in the once-untouchable tobacco and auto industries. 


"The solutions are so varied and so simple in some cases that it’s truly mind-boggling," Greenwald said. "We’ll look back on this, our grandchildren will look back on this, and wonder that this even existed."

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Cowardice and Exoneration in Kunduz

Thu, 2016-05-05 15:51
"The people are being reduced to blood and dust. They are in pieces."

The doctor who uttered these words still thought the hospital itself was a safe zone. He was with Doctors Without Borders, working in Kunduz, Afghanistan, where the Taliban and government forces were engaged in hellish fighting and civilians, as always, were caught in the middle. The wounded, including children, had been flowing in all week, and the staff were unrelieved in their duties, working an unending shift.

Their week ended at 2 a.m. last Oct. 3 when - as the world knows - a U.S. AC-130 gunship began strafing the hospital, the crew apparently acting on the mistaken belief that this was a Taliban compound. The strike lasted for an hour, continuing even though the humanitarian organization contacted the Pentagon and pleaded that it stop.

A total of 211 shells hit the hospital. The Intensive Care Unit was wiped out. Every patient in the unit except for a 3-year-old girl was killed, some burning to death in their beds. A total of 42 people - patients, staff and doctors - died because of this lethal mistake.

One of the dead was Dr. Osmani, the young doctor quoted above, who had just begun ophthalmology training in Kabul but still worked at the MSF facility in Kunduz on weekends, according to an eyewitness account by Kathleen Thomas, another doctor there, an Australian, who survived.

"Our colleagues didn't die peacefully like in the movies," she wrote last month in The Guardian. "They died painfully, slowly, some of them screaming out for help that never came, alone and terrified, knowing the extent of their own injuries and aware of their impending death. Countless other staff and patients were injured; limbs blown off, shrapnel rocketed through them, burns, pressure-wave injuries of the lungs, eyes and ears. Many of these injuries have left permanent disability. It was a scene of nightmarish horror that will be forever etched in my mind."

Some mistake.

This is all news again, of course, because the U.S. government, having investigated the incident, has just released a 3,000-page, mostly classified report, uh, exonerating itself. This comes as no surprise.

Well, it admitted the bombing was an unfortunate mistake and 16 military personnel involved in the incident have received "administrative actions" as punishment. Also, since the tragedy, the U.S. has made "condolence payments" to the victims: $6,000 to families of the dead, $3,000 to the injured.

It seems to me all this requires a moment or two of profound silence, as we try to absorb both the tragedy and the absurdity of these events, which unite in a sort of horrific shrug of indifference to the predictable consequences of war.

The New York Times, for instance, informs us: "Still, the release of the investigation's findings and the announcement of the disciplinary measures were unlikely to satisfy Doctors Without Borders and other human rights groups, which on Friday reiterated their calls for an independent criminal investigation."

Of course Doctors Without Borders will not be "satisfied" with these findings, as though, my God, any finding or any action whatsoever by the U.S. military - gosh, the payout of six grand per dead Afghan or the stern punishment of a few scapegoats - could bring balance and resolution to the horror Kathleen Thomas describes. Just the use of that word - "satisfied" - trivializes the infliction of suffering, whether intentional or merely recklessly accidental, beyond comprehension.

But this is the language of war, as spoken by those who wage it and those who uncritically report it: a language of implicit moral relativism.

The same Times story, describing the report's account of what happened, explained: "The aircrew appeared to be confused by the directions from the Americans on the ground in the minutes leading up to the attack. At one point, the crew was told it would need to hit a second target after the strike it was about to commence, and 'we will also be doing the same thing of softening the target for partner forces,' that is, Afghans."

This is the reality: An action that wound up killing 42 hospital workers and patients -men, women and children, some of whom were burned alive in their beds - was instigated in order to "soften the target" . . . which is nothing less than linguistic exoneration of murder. Or rather, pre-exoneration.

And this is war. This is what the United States allots 54 percent of its annual discretionary spending - some $600 billion - to perpetuate. I'm quite certain this money would be unspendable, and the game called war would be unplayable, if it weren't for the linguistic pre-exoneration that removes all humanity from those who will die (think: collateral damage) and all responsibility from those who will kill.

But with the exoneration solidly in place, anything goes. Every side in war plays with the instruments of hell. The Times also recently reported that war zone hospitals everywhere are more vulnerable than they've ever been and the "rules of war" seem to be in tatters.

Maybe this is because war can't be contained by "rules."

For instance, not only have there been six attacks on hospitals in Aleppo, Syria - perpetrated by both government and rebel forces - in the past week, but also: "In 11 of the world's war zones, between 2011 and 2014, the International Committee of the Red Cross tallied nearly 2,400 acts of violence against those who were trying to provide health care. That works out to two attacks a day."

What might "satisfy" Doctors Without Borders or the maimed and grieving victims of the Kunduz tragedy? In my view, nothing less than an American commitment to global demilitarization.

This is called atonement.

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

© 2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

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