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Love and Boxing: The Coach Changing Lives on Chicago's West Side

Wed, 2016-03-30 13:33
Chicago has become an almost automatic citation by police brutality apologists: when a cop kills an unarmed citizen anywhere in America and faces the backlash one rightly receives when executing a human being, the defense (if one can call it a defense) is "What about gang violence and crime in places like Chicago? People should fix their own communities before criticizing police!" And aside from the fact that this is a derailing tactic that in no way answers for out of control cops, the answer is simple: Chicagoans already are trying to address the issues of its communities, and has been for a long time. There's Chance the Rapper and his efforts to address homelessness. Black Youth Project, Kids Off the Block, and many organizations designed to end violence and achieve harmony. And then there's Jamyle Cannon.

Cannon is a teacher on the West Side of Chicago at DRW College Prep, a school where four shootings happened nearby last Monday alone, and he knows firsthand what his students are up against. Gang violence. Poverty. Food deserts. Traveling through hostile territory just to get to school. But there are other battles they face, he says, that aren't often mentioned when the media discusses the world of his kids, and he's seen that firsthand too: education inequality, its impact on the outcomes of black and brown kids, and a nation that seemingly refuses to grant them the luxury of being kids.

"We've had kids from 12-17 years old, and no matter how tough the exterior, it doesn't take long to find that they're all just kids," Cannon says. "They have huge dreams for themselves and no clue how to catch them. They can finish a fight without a problem, but can be brought to tears if I express disappointment in them."

Cannon knew there were things his students weren't getting, and this is what led him to start a boxing program, he says: he wanted to create a safe space and a place for nurturing and growth. But he never expected the results to be as mind-blowing as they are.

"Students in the boxing club, despite starting the school year with below average GPAs, ended the first semester with an average GPA of 3.32, compared to the school-wide 2.7. Students in the boxing program through Semester 1 grew 14 percent more on standardized tests than the student population. Last year, male students entering the boxing club in Semester 2 received 52 percent fewer discipline reports than they received in the semester before entering the club. The longer students are in boxing, the stronger their results. One of the longest lasting students just had his ACT score grow seven points."

As incredible as the scholastic outcomes are, Cannon notices even bigger gains in ways that can't be measured by GPA. Kids come to his club thinking they're going to learn to fight, and instead learn how to control those impulses. They develop life skills that prepare them for college -- with Cannon providing special shirts to kids who have been accepted into colleges, who are then recognized by their peers. They learn sportsmanship and grace.

"I have a million stories like this," Cannon says. "Our longest standing member, Tyler, now a junior, competed in the Golden Gloves recently. He lost. There was only one decision booed by the crowd, and it happened after the judges gave a win to the opponent Tyler had clearly beaten for three rounds. But while the crowd booed? Tyler congratulated his opponent and helped him out of the ring. You can't tell me this program doesn't work. That same kid -- Tyler -- has been selected into the Peace Exchange program, a highly selective program that sends proven student leaders across the world to learn strategies that advocate peace in order to implement them in their communities."

Like most athletic programs, getting the funding for the club is difficult, but the parents and community see the difference Cannon is making, and the club has raised $19,000 to date.

"The majority of the money went toward equipment," Cannon says. "The sheer amount of stuff needed to run a gym is unbelievable, and the implications of working in a school that's a historic landmark only adds to the list. Our school was at one point the coal powerhouse for the original Sears Tower. It's not meant to be a gym."

And added to that: the students keep coming. As word spreads about the DRW Boxing Club -- a place to learn skills, a place to learn strength, a place to be cared for -- new students approach Cannon every day. On the bus stop. In the hall. He tells them the only thing they have to do to join is show up. And they do.

"This program has made me take a critical look at the level of disservice we are willing to tolerate for our children in America. All of our kids are poor and black or brown, and we seem to have a pretty high tolerance for the suffering of people who fall into those categories. We'll let poor kids go without lights and proper nutrition. We'll let black and brown kids feel ostracized, feared, and undervalued. For a kid on the West Side, the stakes are high. For all of the people working to better the community, it still stands that being somewhere at the wrong time could literally change or end a life. In a way, this club is a space where I get to say, 'Come, be a kid. Have fun. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Be your best self.' I want people to know what all kids are capable of if we invest in them -- if we stop letting them go without their basic needs of safety, belonging, and love. Things don't have to be like they are."

Click here to learn more about the DRW Boxing Club and read the full interview with Jamyle Cannon here.

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Top 25 School Districts Doing The Most Deficit Spending in 2016

Wed, 2016-03-30 10:11

Nearly 60 percent of Illinois school districts are expected to be deficit spending during fiscal year 2016, according to new data from the Illinois State Board of Education.

In FY15, school districts issued $307.2 million in new debt in their operating funds, a decrease of $49.3 million from $356.5 million in FY14. While that's almost a 14 percent drop over the year, the board of education says the majority of districts rely on borrowing to generate cash flow.

Based on revenue and expenditure projections submitted by school districts for their FY16 budgets, the number of districts operating with deficits will increase slightly to 499 (58.6 percent) from 490 (57.2 percent) in FY15, according to the board's recently released School District Financial Profile Scores report. Deficit spending is calculated by analyzing a district's four main operational funds: educational, operation and maintenance, student transportation and working cash.

Here are the Top 25 largest surplus- and deficit-spending school districts in FY16, according to the most recent data from the board of education.

The number of schools and students enrolled in each district as well as the operating expense per pupil (OEPP) are from Illinois Report Card. Cash reserves figures are from districts' 2015 annual financial reports and show the total amount in unreserved funds as of June 30, 2015.

NEXT ARTICLE: These 32 Illinois school districts have the worst financial health in 2016

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When Will Chicago Teachers and Illinois Politicians Act Like Grown-Ups and Actually Think About Our Kids?

Wed, 2016-03-30 10:04
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

My family has been quite, um, productive lately.

I mentioned quite a while back that I come from a big family. I'm the youngest of eight kids, so it's not all that surprising that the next generation, my nephews and nieces, would be adding to the family about now. But it's funny how it seems to happen in spurts.

Jim and Denise will have their hands full when they add twin boys this summer to their family that already includes first-born toddler, James Mario. Julie is bringing her second son into the world in late May, giving Jack a baby brother. Frank and Danielle just revealed they're joining in and will welcome a sibling in the fall for Nora Cathleen. Add these babes on the way to the other twins and 10 other marvels we have already in that generation and, by the dawn of 2017, we'll be up to 16 in the extended clan.

Nothing better in the world, right? Well, darn right! Still, I can't help but worry about all of them. These new additions will live in Illinois, as do a few other great nieces and nephews who already are here. And really, I mean, what are we doing to them and all the others like them?

I don't get it. I check Facebook for the latest updates on all those families and then I consider what else I see. Headlines like these: "Cook County shows biggest population decline in U.S," "Chicago area sees greatest population loss of any major U.S. city, region in 2015."

Meanwhile, Chicago teachers are supposed to walk out of their classrooms on April Fools Day and could go out on a full-fledged strike in May. Our public universities are collapsing, along with our pothole-filled streets. Gang warfare is out of control in certain Chicago neighborhoods. Our state politicians sit on their hands, making up excuses about how they're slaves to their leaders, while the leaders argue over whether one of them called and asked to meet with the other.

Wait. So, who are the children here?

And why aren't there more of us with children we love in Illinois raising more of a ruckus over all this nonsense by the adults who play pretend at being our leaders?

Our lives and our futures all are intertwined, unless or until we leave Illinois. Don't you see?

None of us trust government and its history of political corruption in Illinois. We're in month nine of no state budget, so many businesses aren't going to take a risk by adding jobs or expanding in this shaky climate. That adds to joblessness.

Chicago's finances are a mess. Its credit just was downgraded two more notches by an independent agency. Chicago's debt is skyrocketing. Illinois' finances are a mess and its debt is skyrocketing without a budget. It was a mess in Illinois before any of that, with the worst pension debt in the nation.

And yet, Chicago teachers are walking out, believing they aren't being treated fairly. I come from a family of teachers, but I just don't get it. One day isn't going to do too much damage to our children, but why walk out on them? What message does that really send? As President Obama likes to remind us, our children will watch us. Children will listen. They will learn from our actions. I get that a lot of union members believe they've been wronged and they don't believe the numbers, but I think we're a lot closer to trying to squeeze blood from the turnip than they do.

It's all intertwined. We don't trust government. Government fails us. That hurts jobs and fewer jobs means less tax revenue to pay teachers and cops and firefighters. Mostly, it hurts the children.

Nearly one quarter of every dollar we send to Springfield goes to pay public workers who no longer work. They're retired. That quarter is going to pay their pensions. That leaves 75 cents for all the public grade schools and high schools and universities and state police and parks and health care and everything else.

So, as the politicians sit on their hands and refuse to make a move until after the November elections, we're hit with teacher walk-outs and word that our most populous city and county are hemorrhaging people.

It's all intertwined. The more people leave Illinois, the more the few who remain will have to pay in taxes to cover the cops and firefighters and teachers.

The more we let the politicians we elected dicker around and shirk their duties, the harder it will be on those babes in the wombs in my family and yours.

I don't want to do that to Jimmy and Jack or Declan and June or Nora, nor to any of those babes in production. What about you and yours?

NEXT ARTICLE: Time for the Chicago Housing Authority to do its job, Andy Shaw writes

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A 'Protest' Against Tammy Duckworth May Not Have Been Real

Tue, 2016-03-29 18:46

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was greeted by a few dozen African-American protesters outside a Monday gathering in Chicago. They held up handwritten signs accusing the Senate candidate of ignoring their community and chanted that it was time for her to go.

But when they started talking to the press, something was off.

One demonstrator asked a Chicago Tribune reporter "whether Duckworth is a Democrat or a Republican" and said he was being paid "by the man who sponsored" the protest. Before he could say more, other demonstrators nearby told him to stop talking. The group then refused to answer questions about why they were there or if they were supporters of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), whom Duckworth is trying to unseat in November.

Blue Nation Review, a progressive blog, reported that an attendee at Duckworth's event recognized some of the protesters as residents of a local homeless shelter. Demonstrators were also fine with accepting food from Duckworth's campaign. The Chicago Sun-Times observed that staffers brought out bacon and eggs after the event ended, and protesters munched away.

So who was leading these protesters, and were they being paid?

Sean Savett, a spokesman for the Illinois Democratic Party, passed along a video of the Kirk campaign's field director, Matthew Custardo, offering coffee and donuts to those demonstrating against Duckworth. Savett said a Democratic colleague who was at the event witnessed Custardo "organizing and encouraging the protesters."

Kirk campaign spokesman Kevin Artl said the campaign didn't organize the protesters or pay them. He confirmed that Custardo was there, but said he wasn't directing operations. Artl said Custardo was there as a tracker, filming the scene outside Duckworth's "unity breakfast" with local black leaders. Some Democratic state officials had planned to boycott the event because they didn't think Duckworth had done enough to prioritize the black community.

"We don't have a large staff, so the only one we assigned to track that event from our campaign was Matt," Artl said in an email. "We were trying to get a good idea of who was attending the breakfast and who was boycotting."

But Savett noted that former Kirk campaign staffer Jeff Coleman, who previously did urban outreach for the senator, was mixed in with the protesters. Savett also pointed to a second person in another video who he claimed comes to Duckworth events "all the time" to track activities for Kirk. That individual, who Savett said works for the conservative group America Rising, appears to be carrying a camera at Monday's event.

Artl emphasized that that tracker "is not on our campaign" and said it is "totally inaccurate" to say that Custardo was there to do anything but document people going in and out of the meeting. He also said there was nothing unusual about Custardo mingling with protesters and offering them coffee.

"There were 60 people outside protesting Tammy Duckworth -- you better believe we were going to talk to them, and I have no qualms about buying them a cup of coffee either," Artl said.

A Duckworth campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

This isn't the first time that things have looked sketchy in the Kirk-Duckworth race. In November, Kirk supporters were caught using a fake minimum wage petition to put his name on the ballot. The Kirk campaign denied any involvement.

The Illinois Senate race is shaping up to be one of the closest and most expensive races of the year. Polling from last summer showed Duckworth with a slight lead, and she raised more money in the last quarter of 2015 -- $1.6 million to Kirk's $1 million.

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Your Favorite Museums Are Sharing Their Deep, Dark Secrets On Twitter

Tue, 2016-03-29 15:45

It's #MuseumWeek, an occasion that happens mostly on Twitter, but also in the very real hallways of institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Bilbao.

From March 28 to April 3, 2016, a regiment of hashtags is meant to raise awareness of the people, places and things that make art go 'round in the 21st century. Curators are sharing stories, famous havens are revealing secrets, audiences are recommending new ideas. All the conversations happening online, though, are aimed at directing you from your computer screen to the front lines of exhibitions. Get thee to an art museum!

So far, 45,000-plus tweets have mentioned at least one of the eight hashtags designated for this year's Museum Week. Our favorite -- and the first to be deployed -- is probably #SecretsMW, for which museums have been airing their deep, not-so-dark private affairs. Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to name the Guggenheim building in New York City the "Archeseum"? Neither did we.

Art nerds, here are some random facts you never knew you need in your life:

Did you know we have honeybees on our roof? #secretsMW #MuseumWeek #NewWhitney

— Whitney Museum (@whitneymuseum) March 28, 2016

Two of our #Hoppers keep @POTUS company in the Oval Office. #secretsMW

— Whitney Museum (@whitneymuseum) March 28, 2016

Did you know The Met has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the U.S.? #SecretsMW

— The Met (@metmuseum) March 28, 2016

The Met has the oldest piano in existence created by the inventor of the piano. #SecretsMW

— The Met (@metmuseum) March 28, 2016

A Jenny Holzer Living series plaque is tucked away on Fl 2 near the bookstore. #SecretsMW

— Museum of Modern Art (@MuseumModernArt) March 28, 2016

A Ferrari 641 Formula 1 racing car hangs in our education building. #SecretsMW

— Museum of Modern Art (@MuseumModernArt) March 29, 2016

What's (literally) behind Rauschenberg’s fabled "Erased de Kooning Drawing"? #secretsMW

— SFMOMA (@SFMOMA) March 28, 2016

Frank Lloyd Wright wished to name the Guggenheim building the “Archeseum:” #SecretsMW

— Guggenheim Museum (@Guggenheim) March 28, 2016

Each of our sculptures in storage has its own preferred sleeping position. #secretsMW

— Hammer Museum (@hammer_museum) March 28, 2016

Each morning at the Gallery begins with a thorough dusting session from our Framing team #secretsMW

— Portrait Gallery (@NPGLondon) March 28, 2016

Our oldest portrait is of King Henry VII (1505), probably painted for an unsuccessful marriage proposal #secretsMW

— Portrait Gallery (@NPGLondon) March 28, 2016

There's #fossils in the marble floor of the #NationalArchives! Do you know what this one is? (We don't!) #secretsMW

— US National Archives (@USNatArchives) March 28, 2016

What does #backstage of the Globe theatre look like? Like this> #SecretsMW.

— Shakespeare's Globe (@The_Globe) March 23, 2015

The Museum is a ship sailing the river to unload all its art #SecretsMW

— Guggenheim Bilbao (@MuseoGuggenheim) March 29, 2016

Did you know that the gallery in which Richard Serra’s works are exhibited is as big as a football field? #SecretsMW

— Guggenheim Bilbao (@MuseoGuggenheim) March 29, 2016

The stamps on this poster indicate that it isn't a replica—this print actually hung at the Moulin Rouge! #SecretsMW

— SD Museum of Art (@SDMA) March 29, 2016

When building was finished & the lake was filled, the water drained out & flooded the underground. Oops #secretsMW

— Barbican Centre (@BarbicanCentre) March 28, 2016

We were founded by 25 women who sought to bring a different sort of culture to the cattle-focused city. #secretsMW

— The Modern (@themodernfw) March 29, 2016

Our resident egret Edgar follows visitors around each day, keeping two steps closely behind. #SecretsMW #MuseumWeek

— Morikami Museum (@morikamimuseum) March 29, 2016

Our walls are painted in a custom shade of white called "HMA White" #secretsMW

— High Museum (@HighMuseumofArt) March 28, 2016

Our resident hedgehog, Bill Spikes is our best kept secret. He lives down in the basement kitchen #secretsMW

— Dickens Museum (@DickensMuseum) March 28, 2016

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To 'Trifling' Brothers: Time To Man Up

Tue, 2016-03-29 15:27
CHICAGO--I stood in the flickering light, warming my hands by a trashcan that a few men in line with me had stuffed with wooden sticks and assorted debris--anything that would burn.

The night was cold, sometime during the Reagan years when there seemed little hope of trickle-down economics ever reaching ghetto America. And yet, we had hope that night, if only a glimmer, raised by the prospect of a new company opening.

So we stood, scores of men, all night long, warming ourselves as best we could. Motivated by the prospect of a job, we hovered, smoke seeping into our clothes and nostrils as we awaited daybreak just to put in an application with no guarantees.

I have seen superwomen, children in tow,
braving the elements and life's circumstances alone.

I was about 20. But I never forgot that night, how the smoke lingered in my skin for weeks and hung stubbornly on my clothes, like the stench of poverty.

The necessity of my presence in that line was for me at the time a source of shame. I thought I deserved better than a near minimum-wage job. I was smart. I had big dreams of being a professional someday. Except dreams don't pay the bills or put shoes on my children's feet.

I learned a long time ago that a man's got to do what a man's got to do.

And yet, I am reminded by the stories of far too many sisters and by the cold hard statistics on single working mothers--that far too many men aren't doing what we are supposed to do.

I am reminded that we live in a time where many men check in for the making of babies but check out for the taking care of them; a time when full-grown males--of voting and working age--and other sorry brothers, now nearer to social security than to their high school prom, have grown accustomed to leaching off some hardworking sister--in some cases, their own mamas.

They simply exist. No job. No prospects. No plan. No drive. And no shame. Only excuses.

I have heard some sisters' tales of sons, husbands and lovers exercising their daily ritual of chilling in the basement, smoking blunts and drinking forties and thumbing the Xbox 360 or PlayStation while the woman of the house "holds it down."

Or it is like a scene from "Baby Boy" where the spoiled mama's boy, who is the movie's main character, drops his girlfriend off at her job--in her car--then joyrides for much of the day.

In real life, maybe a sister takes the bus. At dawn, she arises to get the kids fed and dressed for school or the babysitter, then trudges off to work, managing a smile for yet another day while the "man" in her life plays a disappearing act. And when she arrives home after a hard day's work, there is no scent of hot supper spilling from the oven, or of bleach and pine cleaner--only nothingness.

Some sisters are enablers and trifling too, I know. But that is a story for another day. All I know is that brothers have no excuse.

And yet, I have seen superwomen, children in tow, braving the elements and life's circumstances alone. And I can think of a few choice words for my trifling brothers and other irresponsible men of all races: If you're a man, stand up. If you're in the basement, get up. And if you really care, man, show up.

That night I warmed my hands until by the fire I never did get a call back, not even an interview. But I'd do it again a thousand times. Whatever it takes to man up.


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The Man Flu. Give Me a Freaking Break.

Tue, 2016-03-29 14:27
There was a report on the news the other morning that the man flu is a real thing. My husband, Beau, couldn't wait for me to get out of the shower to tell me this. I haven't seen him that happy in a long time. Like all he's ever needed was some goof to come out with a study stating men are big babies.

I wonder how much that guy was paid to do that study. And yes, of course, it was conducted by a man. I guarantee you I could have done my own study for half the price.

This was not a revelation to me. I know all too well that the man flu is a real thing. I've experienced it. All too often. Starting back when I was a kid.

When I think back now on my childhood I can remember every single time my Dad had the man flu. He only owned one single pair of pajamas and he only wore them when he was sick. Looking back, this was his way of letting the world know he was sick. We just didn't have a name for it then. But if those pajamas were on, he was suffering from the man flu.

Funny. I don't recall my mom being sick. Ever.

Now I'm a mom. So that means I've been puked on. Peed on. Pooped on. Sometimes all three at once. Sometimes by multiple children all at once. But I'll take all four kids simultaneously puking, peeing, and pooping on me over my husband having the freaking man flu any day.

First of all, let's define man flu. It's what women commonly refer to as the sniffles. If you're a woman, you go on with your day. Maybe you throw a few extra tissues in your pocket. But besides that, you continue taking care of business.

One time, I was lying in bed with a 103 degree fever. I also had strep throat. I was also pregnant at the time. With two babies at home. Beau rolls on through the door after being away all day and tells me he thinks he's coming down with "something."

The only thing he was about to come down with was my foot right up his ass. Bless his heart.

I'm lying there, in a pool of my own secretions, burning up with fever, my throat feeling like a million razor blades are ripping it apart every time I swallow. And this sonofabitch had to blow his nose today and wants to call an ambulance.

This normally goes on for days. The man feeling as though he's coming down with something. I'd prefer if they actually came down with it already. You feel like something is coming on? You're either sick or you're not. You don't get three days to complain that you think you might be soon.

And if you ask me again to take your temperature you're going to have to bend over. Oh that's not how your Mom used to do it? I'm not your mom. Call her.

I can also see this in my kids. My son flaps around on the bathroom floor. Tears falling from his face. As he misses the toilet every time. Just like a real grown man.

I can remember one time in particular that he was really sick with the flu. We were in the bathroom and in between pukes, he tells me that he's yelling at God in his head to make it stop but God isn't listening to him. Well, God is a man. Perhaps He's got a case of the sniffles Himself and isn't answering prayers right now.

On the other hand, I love it when my daughter gets sick. She's amazing. Like a machine. She gets up, walks into the bathroom, and yaks her brains out without so much as a splash. She rinses her mouth out after wiping down the toilet with a Lysol wipe for good measure. She then declares she's better and goes about her day until it's time to puke again. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Women are the stronger sex. We all know this. It's not a secret. We are the ones who give birth for a reason. Because we can freaking handle it.

We don't run to the doctor every time we get a cold. We do a shot of DayQuil and get on with our day. Unless our fever is over 102 degrees, we don't even sit down, let alone lie down.

To quote one of my all time fave movies, Follow That Bird: A man is crying and is told to, "Be a man." The crying man responds, "But I don't want to be a man." Exactly.

Read more by Eileen O'Connor at No Wire Hangers, Ever blog.

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What's the Point of the Chicago Teachers Union Walkout?

Tue, 2016-03-29 12:51

Public protest is an honored tradition in our democracy. From the American Revolution to Black Lives Matter, speaking out for fairness, justice and freedom is in our national character and protected under the First Amendment.

But protest without purpose can be counterproductive, leaving the public, the media and even the participants confused. That seems to be the case with the planned "strike" by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on April 1.

The union's website talks about the governor, the mayor and "the 1 percent," "threats" to cut pensions, more funding for public education, higher wages for private sector workers, support services in schools and communities, higher taxes, smaller classes, a promise of no budget cuts, restrictions on charter schools and an elected school board.

It's unclear how the walkout makes any of these outcomes more likely.

The website acknowledges that many of the union's demands were met by Chicago Public Schools' (CPS) last contract offer but a union bargaining committee rejected the proposal citing lack of "trust." Instead they have chosen to strike.

Under state law, the union is technically not allowed to strike until the middle of May after a 105-day "fact-finding" period. But, the union's house of delegates voted 486 to 124 to authorize the walkout, regardless of whether it is legal. In a body that is often unanimous, it is notable that 20 percent of the delegates voted against it. Nevertheless, CTU President Karen Lewis declared the union "united."

But are they? The Tribune quotes teacher Jim Macchione (who also appears in the video above) asking:

"Is it really worth it? Is it going to make that much of a difference for your ultimate goal of getting more funding?"

In a blog post, another CTU member tried but failed to make sense of the CTU's decision.

DNAinfo, an online media outlet in Chicago, quotes several teachers opposing the strike who are fearful they could be kicked out of the union for crossing the picket-line. One teacher put it bluntly: "I think we are being used as pawns."

Meanwhile, the kids, who are already losing a day of learning because CPS can't pay its bills and has ordered furloughs, will now lose another. The parents of more than 300,000 students will also have to make accommodations.

CPS is arranging activities for kids at parks, libraries and schools. And, while there probably won't be much teaching and learning taking place, the students may take from the whole experience a few lessons about adult dysfunction.

On the other hand, they may see the day as an important civics lesson and a chance to voice their frustrations. Student protests have had an impact on education politics in cities like Newark and Boston recently, though it's not clear how much they were genuine expressions of student voice or whether they were put up to it by activists.

Attentive parents may also notice that, while their traditional public schools are closed on April 1, Chicago's 130 charter schools, including the 25 percent that are unionized, will be open, serving about 60,000 kids. The walkout may in fact fuel demand for more charter schools, which is one of the things the union is fighting.

It could also feed the agenda of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, who is openly encouraging CPS to consider declaring bankruptcy in order to get out from under teacher contracts and pension obligations and restructure debt.

Let's also remember that CTU President Karen Lewis faces a union election in May and despite her apparent desire to cut a deal with CPS and avoid a strike, Lewis is being pushed by hard-liners to take a tough stand. Maybe that's the point after all. Despite rhetoric about economic inequity and educational injustice, maybe this walkout is really just union politics.

If so, it will be a missed opportunity for labor and management to come together, pressure Springfield, and secure a real and lasting victory for Chicago.

Let's hope.

This blog post originally appeared at Education Post under the title What's the Point of the Chicago Teachers Union Walkout This Friday?

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The Stripped Word and Naked Girls

Tue, 2016-03-29 12:47

When I was asked to participate in a reading of my current book Goddess of Love Incarnate (the biography of stripteuse Lili St. Cyr) at the flagship salon of Naked Girls Reading in Chicago, I was intrigued. Naked Girls Reading sounded like a fabulous evening; naked beauties sitting around reading literature to a paid audience. What a novel idea for a literary salon. But which came first, the nudity or the literature?

(Michelle L'amour - photo by Don Spiro)

NGR was started by international burlesque artist Michelle L'amour and her husband Franky Vivid after an inspired afternoon at their home. Franky was admiring his well-read wife who happened to be reading in the all-together. Something clicked. Beauty. Naked. Literature. About a year later their salon commenced. The readings would be theme-based (my event is Goddesses, naturally) and the first was "courtesans." Many years later and NGR salons have sprouted up in Warsaw, Tasmania and Cape Town, just three of the 25 active chapters throughout the world.

In the 16th century those sensual Italians who, if not invented the salon certainly fostered it. Many countries eagerly took up the tradition, with the French perhaps the most well known today.
The word salon first appeared in France in 1664 (obviously the root being salone, or sala, an Italian word for a large room in which to receive guests). Before the end of the 17th century these gatherings were often held in the bedroom of the hostess, who usually lay in bed with friends and patrons surrounding her. In their research L'amour and Vivid kept "stumbling upon all this artwork throughout history depicting naked women reading." I'm assuming these were the very same hostesses above-mentioned, reclining in all their glory.

(Kiss night at Naked Girls Reading - Chicago)

Salons were held not only to amuse guests, but to cultivate the hostesses' taste and increase knowledge through readings and conversation. As the Roman poet Horace claimed the goal of poetry (writing, art, etc.) was "either to please or to educate." These hostesses, or salonnières, knew how to do both. The salon came of birth in a time of great change in the 17th Century, a time of advancement, ideas and the widening gulf between the classes. Often it was the only safe place to express and foster radical ideas.

Salons were a sort of casual "university for women in which women were able to exchange ideas, receive and give criticism, read their own works and hear the works and ideas of other intellectuals. Many ambitious women used the salon to pursue a form of higher education." (Research study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, by Hannah Zundel, Sophie duPont, Emily Olsen and Marisa Rondinelli) This allowed women in a male-dominated society to safely share their opinions and their work, effectively having a very real influence on the world in which they lived; one of the only ways in which they could impact their world. Salons were in fact so influential it is believed the French Revolution was born in the salons of France, headed by forward-thinking women. Salons would also open the way for the women's movement.

The salon was mostly under the rule of the salonnière, a woman who not only encouraged writers and artists but supported them. It was rare for a playwright, poet or author to find success without the help of a salonnière and the society she invited to her home to introduce the artist and his work to.

The Marquise de Rambouillet in her Chambre Bleue

One early salonnière of note was Marquise de Rambouillet, Catherine de Vivonne. The Roman born beauty married at the age of 12, moved to Paris where, sometime around the 1620s she began to invite prominent guests and artists to join her in her chambre bleue, a small intimate room with blue walls where her royal and artistic friends could mingle together exchanging beliefs and carry on lively conversation. So powerful was the Marquise that her influential salon lasted nearly 50 years.

In the mid-1600s the multi-hyphenate (as in author and courtesan) Ninon de Lenclos supported both Molière and Voltaire along with playwright Racine. Of her many lovers was the French King's cousin. She was said to be brilliant with refined taste. It was at her hôtel (home) that Molière first read Tartuffe, before an exultant audience which included the Italian born composer, and master of the baroque style, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Racine. Tartuffe is considered to be the greatest comedy Molière ever wrote, scandalously attacking religious hypocrisy, banned by church and King Louis XIV.

The fiercely independent Ninon forswore marriage, dying at the age of 84 with great wealth, convinced she neither had a soul nor a need for one.

The Marquise du Deffand

In the 1700s the Marquise du Deffand hosted a salon in Paris that attracted and fostered scientists, writers, wits, and all who were of any consequence in the world of letters and in society. She too was a close friend of Voltaire.

Mme. du Deffand's distinction besides being one of the most brilliant women of her day was that of a cutting wit she used like a sword, slaying those in less command of the language in which she dealt. Born in the reign of Louis XIV, she witnessed the birth of the Enlightenment and died a few short years before heads began rolling on the Place de la Concorde. Like so many women of her time, du Deffand was married at an early age to a near stranger. Later she was said to have had an affair with Louis XV's cousin, Philippe II of Orleans. Ironically this mistress of royalty ran her salon in the Convent of St. Joseph in Paris. She influenced France's literati for nearly four decades.

Skipping forward several centuries we cannot leave out American-born, French-living writer Gertrude Stein who brought together Picasso, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thornton Wilder, to name just a fraction of talent she mentored. Her Saturday salon at 27 rue de Fleurus were formal, commencing in the evening, allowing Stein time to write during the day, uninterrupted by impromptu guests hoping for her mentorship. It was Stein's lover, Alice who took up the role of salonnière, attending to the wives and girlfriends of the geniuses clinging to Stein's skirts in a separate room away from the lesser minds assembled.

Distractions soon brought the death of the formal salon petering out by the 1940s; there would be WWII, radio, television. People would prefer to gather around their personal devices in the years to come. Exchanging of ideas happened over the internet.

NGR will be reading Goddess of Love Incarnate April 1st

Thus it is a pleasure and a relief to see the Naked Girl Readings thrive and grow in popularity, bringing together an exchange of ideas, fostering talent, with "actual feel-in-your-hand books." Brava Michelle L'amour. L'amour noted that after her first salon it was obvious something big had just happened, something spiritual. Emails started coming in from cities all over the country from ladies interested in starting their own literary evenings. The NGR salon are stripped, exposed, "intense vulnerable" says L'amour who cares little about her exposed body, but more about exposing feelings and ideas and a shared experience. And more importantly "Reading is sexy. Books are sexy," L'amour says. "You know that smell of a great old bookstore or of a library? It's a smell of knowledge, passion, creativity and excitement."

And with that . . . I hope to see you all April 1st at Studio L'amour in Chicago.

Naked Writers Writing? Author Zemeckis in celebration of Naked Girls Reading

April 1, 7:30 pm. 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave., Suite 205, Chicago. Tickets and information

Leslie Zemeckis is the author of "Goddess of Love Incarnate; The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr" and "Behind the Burly Q", the definitive history of burlesque. She is the director, producer of the award-winning documentary Bound by Flesh, about Daisy and Violet Hilton of Sideshow fame. Her next project is a documentary on legendary tiger trainer Mabel Stark, out in 2016 and is currently writing her third biography on some influential women in burlesque. Zemeckis owns one of the largest collections of burlesque memorabilia. Follow her on instagram, twitter and facebook @lesliezemeckis,

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Duckworth Launches 112-Day Campaign To Tie Kirk To Trump

Tue, 2016-03-29 10:44
Here are a few facts about Mark Kirk's election to the U.S. Senate in 2010:

  • He defeated Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias by a slim margin of 1.6 percentage points; 59,220 votes among 3,704, 473 votes cast

  • Giannoulias throughout the campaign was dogged by the circumstances surrounding the April 2010 failure of his family's bank, Broadway Bank, where the candidate had been a senior loan officer before his election as treasurer

  • The Green Party candidate received 3.2 percent of the total vote (117,914 votes), at least some of which may have been protest votes against Giannoulias' candidacy

  • Kirk and Giannoulias were running to replace Roland Burris, who had inherited the Senate seat after accepting a controversial appointment from Rod Blagojevich following Blagojevich's arrest for, among other things, trying to sell the appointment to the highest bidder. Thus, public confidence in Democrats in this race already was impaired

That's a long way of saying that Kirk didn't exactly ascend to the U.S. Senate on a wave of popular support in 2010. He was helped considerably by questions, fair or unfair, about his opponent's business dealings and various other factors.

Which is why Kirk, perhaps more than any Republican candidate in the nation, has reason for concern if Donald Trump becomes the Republican presidential candidate. Historically, Democratic voter turnout is higher in Illinois in presidential election years.

Given Trump's polarizing effect -- not to mention the genuine fear he instills in many voters -- his presence atop the ballot on Election Day will provide even more incentive for Democrats to get to the polls.

No one is more acutely aware of this than Kirk's Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, whose campaign on Monday launched a blistering effort to tie Kirk to Trump in as unforgiving a fashion as possible.

In less than a minute, the video links Kirk's statement that he'd support Trump if Trump is the Republican nominee with many of the more ridiculous statements Trump has made during the campaign. Mexican rapists, John McCain not being a war hero because he was captured, comments about Fox's Megyn Kelly bleeding "from wherever," Obama being a foreign-born Muslim... all those statements are there, interspersed repeatedly with the same NBC5 Chicago interview in which Kirk says that he'd support Trump as the GOP nominee.

The video ends with the kicker title, "Kirk and Trump: Making America great?"

The video no doubt will galvanize the 557,000 Republican voters who helped Trump earn a solid victory in the March 15 primary. In all, 1.4 million Illinois Republicans cast ballots in the primary.

But Hillary Clinton received 1.02 million votes on the Democratic side, where the vote total was 2.02 million. There were a whole lot more Democratic voters out for the primary, and Kirk will need to win a good number of them -- as he did in 2010 -- to defeat Duckworth.

And if the prospect of beating back a Donald Trump presidency isn't incentive enough to give Democratic voters extra motivation, a new election law passed in the final weeks of Gov. Pat Quinn's administration will expand early voting and same-day voter registration for the November election. The changes are thought to benefit Democrats in getting out the vote.

The video kicks off a campaign called "112 Days of Trump," in which the Duckworth camp plans to count down the remaining days until the Republican National Convention in Cleveland "to highlight how the embarrassing duo of Trump & Kirk won't make America great again," says a press release.

The Washington Post this month reiterated its opinion that the Kirk re-election race was the No. 1 race to watch among all Senate incumbents. With the launch of his opponent's effort to portray him as just short of Trump's running mate, this race just got even more interesting -- and perhaps more challenging for the incumbent.

NEXT ARTICLE: Is the Chicago Teachers Union walkout legal?

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Anti-Trump Street Art Reminds Us There Is Still Some Good In This World

Tue, 2016-03-29 09:59

Street artists are fighting back against Donald Trump.

Various murals, stencils and posters depicting the GOP front-runner in assorted unflattering ways -- comparing him to Adolf Hitler, Donald Duck and a piece of poop, among other things -- have appeared on walls and sidewalks across the world in recent weeks.

Below, we've rounded up some of the notable pieces of public art critiquing Trump, from the scathing to the scatological.

Seen any anti-Trump street art? Email the image, location and artist's name to

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

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A Voter's Work Is Never Done: An Electoral Autopsy

Mon, 2016-03-28 15:36
The general election can't get here fast enough. As exhausting as the season has been, what do voters need to do now?

More than a year ago, the Cook County medical examiner's autopsy revealed the true story of Laquan's death. Last week, an electoral autopsy revealed a vote of no confidence in government's performance in poor communities, as a new political chapter buried 7-term incumbent State Representative Ken Dunkin, and gave life to the historic ascendancy of Democratic nominee for Cook County State's Attorney, Kim Foxx.

Dunkin's "People over Politics" campaign boomeranged, severing and exposing itself for what it really was ---- a racialized and well-financed "Politics over People" campaign failure that used chicanery, and personality-vilifying to distract a majority African American electorate from focusing on draconian policies that stand to exacerbate the downtrodden condition of the many. Dark money can't buy an enlightened and engaged electorate. The voters called the campaign out: one that sold its constituency out by wrongfully assuming it could play them for stupid. Dunkin's lost was a wake-up call for the marginalizing few.

On the other hand, Laquan's killing fast became a rallying cry, as Foxx's "restoration of fairness and credibility" campaign became a white horse, antithetical to government misconduct, illegality and hypocrisy in marginalized communities of color.  Millennials fueled this spirit, as it also fueled them.  It ignited a movement, aided and abetted by a litany of local and national events magnifying government oppression.  Government tyranny can't mute the voices of the people forever.

Pundits harshly asserted Foxx won because of Laquan.

No. Laquan pulled bureaucratic corruption from under the rug of government secrecy.  Voters demanded more and better from a colluding group of agencies intentionally unresponsive to poor communities and riddled with ineptness. Foxx's nomination is a therefore, not a whereas; a consequence of government malfeasance exposed, not because of Laquan. 

The Dunkin and Foxx campaigns are flip sides of the same victory coin.  But not to be celebrated ad nauseam.

"I understand the excitement, but let us not get lost in the gravity of the work that is ahead of us," Foxx stated during her victory speech.

The marginalized have been here before.  Where, in the wake of victorious social and political battles, jubilance became a distraction from staying the course. As a result, today's marginalized are still fighting to win a war over the same ideals, beliefs, and legislation from yesteryear.

The Tortoise and the Hare reminds us that steady wins the race.  In the short-term, a movement can be like the hare; energetic, exciting, making things happen, and outpacing the lethargic nature of a tortoise-like campaign. But, in the long term, when movements bask too long in the afterglow of a one lap victory, a campaign with staying power wins the race, leaving the movement and its supporters behind, with a consolation prize of inspirational folklore, scratching their heads, asking, "What just happened?"

As Foxx faces a general election in November, the movement, the marginalized and those opposed to government corruption must stay the course. 

There are several mandatory steps.

1. Remain civically engaged. Government disregard of poor people was a match that lit a forest fire of protests in the form of countless marches, sit-ins, die-ins, and rallies. Global peace activist Helen Caldicott is right. "Sometimes it's appropriate to scream at them." Citizen participation brought attention to issues previously cast aside or ignored by the status quo. Staying the course requires consistently and unabashedly defining the issues, taking a position, and mobilizing support with and on behalf of the marginalized.

2. Focus on the "what" not the "who." It is more profitable for the marginalized to pay more attention to the policies a candidate supports, and less on the personality a candidate purports. Dunkin tried to distract voters from the policies endorsed by his benefactors by focusing on the personality of his opposition's donor, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, to no avail.  Voters saw through the campaign's trickery, focusing more on the regressive policies and the negative impact on their daily lives, including but not limited to the potential closing of the state's community colleges, universities, and social service provider agencies.

3. Vote your interest, not special interests. The ballot box is democracy's microphone for the marginalized. The more people access it, the louder the crescendos of opportunity, fairness, and equality become. On March 15, Cook County broke its early voting record.  Voter turnout for Chicago was over 50 percent. 26,000 voters registered. Exit polls showed African American turnout was 150 percent higher than 2014, and higher than normal in Latino communities.  In the wake of local organizations drawing attention to abusive government toward African Americans, Foxx won in areas where they were the largest population. And despite his attempt to convince the electorate otherwise, a vote for Dunkin was a vote for regressive policies hurting a majority of his constituents.

4. Hold elected officials accountable. Maintaining political pressure forces elected officials to comply with what's in the best interest of the electorate. Years after electing President Obama, pundits in the African American community, regret not holding him more accountable to addressing issues specific to the African American community. Caught in the rapture of the country's first black President, observers opined that marginalized communities gave Obama "a pass," relieving him of addressing the specific interests of the marginalized group of which he is a member.

For the marginalized to remain complacently satisfied with the status quo, and drunkenly jubilant over short-term victories, is a recipe for a repetitive and dizzying cycle of oppression. Long term victory requires the marginalized to confront two perpetual realities: The path never ends and the steps never cease.     

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Donald Trump Inciting Violence

Mon, 2016-03-28 14:43

Why is Donald Trump inciting violence across the United States? There is no reason for this Republican Frontrunner to be concerned about securing the nomination because he is winning the majority of delegates. The Republican Party would be going against the grain by not giving the nomination to Donald Trump.

The violence that has taken place at some of Donald Trump's rallies is unacceptable. There appears to be some hostility coming from the Trump Camp that incites violent behavior and divisive tactics. It's a waste of time to divide people in terms of race because the United States was built on the principles of one nation under God. The Trump Rally in Chicago was canceled due to violence and the threat of more violence. People are becoming increasingly frustrated with politics. There's no excuse for a Presidential Candidate to play on the frustration of the people by making statements about the possibility of riots if he does not receive the Republican Nomination.

Donald Trump is doing a great job of dividing the people based on his campaign rhetoric. He would leverage himself better without criticizing everything that President Obama has done while in office. It's obvious that the voters are looking for a new candidate that can lead the country to a higher level. With all of the crazy things happening across the world (such as terrorist attacks, high incidents of police brutality, Flint Water Crisis, dealing with Homeland Security, and many more issues), most candidates should focus on the key platform issues. Inciting violence is wrong for any person running for political office. This particular problem could only get worse if Donald Trump does not publicly denounce any kind of violence from his supporters.

People that support a particular person will go out of their way to defend that person. The problem with this mindset is when people run for political office. There will always be criticism and we should never take things personal. One must possess tough skin to run for a higher level office.

This is a major moment in the history for the Republican Party because a new comer appears to be taking over the party by speaking his or her mind and not showing any remorse in their inflammatory statements. For example, Donald Trump stated on Twitter that he "will spill the beans on Ted Cruz's wife." The days of political correctness are over.

Donald Trump entered the presidential race at the right time to offer something new to the voters by being different. Candidates that offer hope with the promise of making America Great Again will capture the minds of the people. This can happen without the threat or use of violence. Let's show the world that we can lead by example by promoting peace and goodwill throughout the United States.

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Why Democrats May Avoid Sending Bruce Rauner Another School Funding Bill

Mon, 2016-03-28 10:29
One reason the Illinois budget impasse has gone on so long is that elementary and high schools have received their full share of state funding for the current academic year.

The bill that contained funding for elementary and secondary education was the only budget bill among 20 last year that Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law. He vetoed everything else sent to him by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly last June. That was a shrewd move, as it meant that public schools statewide could open on time and operate throughout the school year without the disruptions imposed on other entities when their funding ended as of July 1.

With schools functioning and, thanks to a court order, state government employees paid, Illinois government appeared to most Illinoisans to operate smoothly even without a state budget. Thus, Rauner could work his "no reforms, no budget negotiation" strategy without the threat of massive public outcry that would have come had the school year been disrupted.

Pennsylvania this week became an example of how things might have gone for Illinois had Rauner not signed the school appropriation bill. Illinois and Pennsylvania had been the only states to not enact budgets for FY 2016, which enters its final quarter on April 1. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf wanted to raise taxes to close a $2 billion budget gap while the Republican-controlled Legislature was dead set against any tax increase.

But Wolf had vetoed the entire Republican-approved budget, and school districts in Pennsylvania were forced to borrow heavily just to keep their doors open. This week school districts said they could not keep going much longer without state funding. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

On Wednesday morning, a group of administrators convened by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials gathered in the Capitol rotunda to ask for the completion of the budget. David Wytiaz, superintendent of the Aliquippa School District in Beaver County, said that as of May 1, the district would have less than $1,000 in its general fund checking account and be unable to meet payroll, obligations to vendors and a $1.1 million bond payment due June 1.

"As you can see, the present status is extremely fragile," he said. "We can no longer accept this stalemate to continue."

Had Rauner not funded Illinois schools, it's likely a similar scenario would have played out here and forced an end to the budget impasse.

With the 2015-2016 academic year winding down and FY 2017 approaching, the question is whether Rauner will receive a school funding bill for next year from Democrats in the General Assembly.

That's our topic on this week's "Only in Illinois."

Now you can enjoy "Only in Illinois" on the go with our podcast edition. Get it at SoundCloud or iTunes. Happy listening.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 25 largest surplus- and deficit-spending Illinois school districts in 2016

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Ignores Police Board, Picks His Own Top Cop

Sun, 2016-03-27 19:53

CHICAGO -- In a surprise move, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has rejected the city police board's three picks for a new police superintendent and selected his own candidate from within the force to replace the current interim top cop.

The Chicago Sun-Times and NBC Chicago, citing unnamed sources, reported that Emanuel will appoint Eddie Johnson, a well-regarded veteran cop who currently serves as CPD's head of patrol, to the role of interim superintendent.

The pick comes at a critical time for both Emanuel and the Chicago police force. The mayor remains deeply unpopular. He and the CPD continue to face criticism in the wake of the Laquan McDonald scandal, while morale is low among the department's rank and file.

The previous police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, was unceremoniously ousted in December as fallout continued from the killing of McDonald, a black teenager. Even considering longstanding tensions between the department and the city's black community, McCarthy faced especially harsh criticism for his handling of the killing. Dashcam footage of the incident showed a white officer shooting the black teen 16 times.

A spokesman for the CPD said the department had not been formally notified of the mayor's actions and referred comments to Emanuel's office. A spokesman for the mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

If Emanuel does want Johnson for the job permanently -- not just as interim superintendent -- the unusual move appears to be a roundabout way of securing his own pick. 

Per city law, a vacancy in the superintendent role is filled only after the Chicago Police Board nominates three candidates to the mayor. If the major rejects them, the board nominates another round of candidates until the mayor selects one and the city council confirms the candidate.

Johnson reportedly did not apply for the top job, nor was he among the board's chosen candidates. For him to legally assume the job permanently, he would need to apply for the next round. At that point he would presumably be selected by the board, approved and ultimately confirmed by city aldermen, who overwhelmingly vote in step with the mayor's wishes. 

Dr. Cedric Alexander, police chief of DeKalb County, which encompasses Atlanta, was one of the first-round candidates. He said Emanuel initially offered him the job Thursday but called him late Saturday and rescinded the offer.

"At the end of the day, the decision was made. I accept it as it is and move forward," Alexander said, according to Atlanta's Live 11 News.

Sources told the Chicago Tribune that Police Board Pressolisident Lori Lightfoot backed Alexander's hiring and that he had also impressed the mayor. But after calls came into to City Hall seeking to confirm Alexander had the job, Emanuel became "infuriated," according to the Sun-Times. Upon returning to Atlanta, Alexander told a journalist he thought he had locked in the job, the Sun-Times reported. 

The two other candidates were CPD Deputy Police Superintendent Eugene Williams and Anne Kirkpatrick, a retired police chief of Spokane, Washington. 

John Escalante, McCarthy's deputy who assumed the role of interim police chief in the wake of his boss' firing, was passed over and is due to return to his former position as deputy superintendent. That angered the Chicago City Council's Latino caucus, who said the job should go to Escalante permanently. The first round of candidates did not include a Latino, though it included two black men and one white woman.

"The fact that there wasn't a Latino in the final three candidates, that's not only disappointing, it's insulting," 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis told ABC Chicago.

"We are tired of the Latinos being used for interims," said 31st Ward Alderman Millie Santiago. "They are very good enough to be the leaders in certain situations -- especially where there is a crisis in Chicago -- but then they are not good enough to be promoted." 

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Top 5 Reasons Why Pennsylvania Offers No Hope For Illinois Budget Crisis

Fri, 2016-03-25 11:32

Until this week, Illinois and Pennsylvania shared a spot in the national news cycle as the only two states to make into the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2016 with no operating budget in place.

Now Pennsylvania has left the Illinois budget impasse alone in the fiscal dysfunction spotlight, as Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, announced he'll allow a budget approved by Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled General Assembly to become law as of 12:01 a.m. March 28.

Identifying parallels between the budget struggles of Pennsylvania and Illinois -- two states of similar size and demographics with partisan divides between governors and legislatures -- made for a tempting narrative over the past eight months. Unfortunately, those looking to extend those parallels beyond the twin impasses likely are out of luck. There's almost nothing in Pennsylvania's budget resolution that signals a similar path for Illinois.

Still, the narrative is too tempting to ignore, so here are five things that make the Illinois budget impasse more intractable than Pennsylvania's.

5. Governor's surrender

Pennsylvania's budget resolution was a product not of across-the-aisle compromise, but of Wolf deciding the state needed to "move on" and look toward the FY 2017 budget. Wolf didn't sign a budget; he merely agreed to take no action on a Republican-passed plan that he says is $2 billion out of balance.

In Illinois, there is no sign that Gov. Bruce Rauner will back down from his pledge that he won't discuss tax increases -- which all parties have acknowledged are needed to repair state finances -- unless they are paired with business and political reforms. While some observers interpreted results of two key primary election races as indicators that voters have rejected his budget position, Rauner disagrees. Here he explains why:

4. Defectors

Pennsylvania's budget passed with help from 13 Democrats, who broke from their Democratic governor. That's not going to happen in Illinois, where two such defections brought swift and severe reprisals from Rauner (who tried unsuccessfully to oust Republican Sen. Sam McCann in the March 15 primary) and House Speaker Michael Madigan (who successfully engineered the defeat of disloyal Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin).

3. The Madigan factor

It's been more than three months since Rauner and four legislative leaders met on the budget. Rauner said this week he wants a one-on-one meeting with Madigan on the budget:

But when Illinois Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky sought an answer from Madigan about whether and when such a meeting had been discussed, it became clear that Madigan does not share Rauner's enthusiasm for a sit-down on the budget:

So I did my own reaching out to Madigan, by calling his spokesman, Steve Brown and asking.

"I really don't have a way ... I don't have any information on that claim so I don't really have any comment one way or another on that so," Brown said in response.

Okay then. The Speaker's spokesman -- one of his right-hand-men - doesn't know whether the governor has called Madigan's office to ask for a meeting. Or if he's just made the offer through the press.

Translation: A meeting with Rauner is not high on the Speaker's agenda at the moment.

You can see the last two reasons why Pennsylvania offers no hope for the Illinois budget impasse here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois Supreme Court throws out Chicago pension reform

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Potlucks Are Cool Again, And Here's How That's Good News For Your Health

Fri, 2016-03-25 10:58

There was a time not too long ago when the word “potluck” conjured images of congealing casseroles with varying levels of warmth piled side-by-side on long tables in musty church basements. For some, this remains the case.

But, newsflash to the uninitiated: Potlucks today appear to be more popular than ever, even if they aren’t usually called that anymore.

Instead, we have Friendsgivings and cook-offs, feasts and “fests.” And in addition to getting more people back into the kitchen to cook -- something most of us could use some help with -- they could also be helping us eat better.

In the words of Anne Genduso, associate director of consumer communications at No Kid Hungry: "The potluck is back."

Last year, No Kid Hungry launched a national Friendsgiving initiative where participants could host a holiday group dinner and raise money for the anti-hunger non-profit at the same time. A spokeswoman for the program said its inaugural offering was a success.

Of course, to describe a potluck as “trendy” would be a stretch because the concept is definitely not new. As a Straight Dope column noted in 2005, the phenomenon dates all the way back to at least the Middle Ages in Europe, when the owners of inns and taverns would keep their leftovers warm in a pot in order to have something to offer to their guests. Those guests, in turn, were relying on the luck of the pot to get fed.

Jonathan Brumberg-Kraus, a professor at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, whose work focuses on meals and religion, argues that the concept of a potluck has roots that go back even further, to biblical times.


In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament, Brumberg-Kraus points out, Paul writes that well-off and poor members of a first-century Christian community were divided based on the quality and amount of food they brought to meals. To help bring the group together, Paul calls for the symbolic offering of bread and wine.

“They don’t call it a potluck, but that appears to be what’s happening,” Brumberg-Kraus told The Huffington Post.

Of course, today’s potluck is a little bit different.

Not only are most gatherings agnostic when it comes to faith, but also when it comes to types of diet. This is a place where potlucks excel when compared to a more traditional dinner party -- even if a group of gluten-free, Paleo, vegan and omnivore eaters were to come together for a potluck, if they each brought a dish that adhered to their own personal dietary preferences or requirements, they would each have at least one thing to eat.

“The good thing about that is it encourages people to be much more inclusive and aware," Brumberg-Kraus said. “You want everyone at the meal to feel a part of it and have something to eat.”

More often than not, it’s going to be something at least somewhat healthy at that, so long as it was homemade. Research has shown that home cooking is key to a healthier diet because meals made at home tend to be healthier than food consumed in restaurants. And yet the number of Americans who regularly cook at home began to decline in 1965 and has failed to improve since the mid-1990s, though low-income families appear to be cooking more than higher-income ones.

According to Cynthia Harriman, director of nutrition strategies at Oldways, a non-profit that promotes healthy eating, preparing a dish for a potluck, and particularly after receiving positive feedback for it, can serve as a confidence booster for people looking to get back into the kitchen.

And, because there will be so many dishes to choose from, there’s less pressure for hosts and guests alike that other guests will enjoy their dish.

“It takes so many layers of what people perceive as the pressures of cooking a meal literally off the table so that we can relax and say, 'Wait a minute, it’s just about getting together with friends and having a good time,'” Harriman said. 

The simple act of gathering with others to eat homemade food has real value, Harriman added. And it’s something she said the current generation has moved away from.

“Getting together with other people is an important part of eating well,” Harriman told HuffPost. “If you eat really healthy food and you’re eating it all by yourself or out of the cupholder of your car, that’s not necessarily a healthy, sustaining experience for our body.”

Ready to plan a potluck of your own? Below are a few tips from this writer:


  • Consider trying a theme. Sometimes potluck invitees might find themselves somewhat overwhelmed by the endless possibilities of foods they could bring. A theme -- such as a certain cuisine or recipes from a particular cookbook -- could help everyone feel more confident their dish will be a hit (or at least that they’ll be in on the experiment).

  • Planning is essential. Creating a shared Google doc that your guests can edit is essential. Having guests sign up in advance to bring certain dishes will ensure a balanced meal, especially if you indicate the courses -- salads, main dishes, vegetable sides, etc. -- you want represented at the meal. Alternatively, these potluck-organizing apps could prove helpful. And don’t forget to plan ahead for who will require access to the stove top and oven to warm up their dishes.

  • Make sure there’s something for everyone. On that same Google doc, or perhaps through checking in over e-mail or the phone ahead of the meal, be sure to have your guests indicate any dietary limitations or food allergies and communicate that to fellow guests so you know what to expect.

  • Don’t forget about drinks. Having both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available for your guests is the primary responsibility of you, the host. But it can also be a good option to offer to any guests who don’t feel comfortable cooking. Above all, just make sure no one’s glass will be empty.

  • Take care of those leftovers. Offering your own takeaway containers to guests can help reduce food waste and allow your guests to get a second taste of dishes that they enjoyed. You can purchase relatively affordable plastic food storage containers or recyclable cardboard takeout containers to send extra food home with your guests.

  • Above all, don’t stress. Just think, you’re only responsible for one dish yourself, so you’ll already well ahead of the game when it comes to hosting duties. And these folks probably wouldn’t be coming to your home if they didn’t enjoy your company in the first place, so go ahead and have fun with it.

Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email


Do you want to be more mindful about eating healthy foods that’ll keep your mind and body at their best? Sign up for our newsletter and join our Eat Well, Feel Great challenge to learn how to fuel your body in the healthiest way possible. We’ll deliver tips, challenges and advice to your inbox every day. 

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Alderman Introduces Ordinance That Would All But End Uber Ride-Sharing In Chicago

Fri, 2016-03-25 10:45
Opinion by Marco McCottry, general manager of Uber in Chicago

Last week, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) introduced an ordinance that would force Chicago's 35,000 uberX driver-partners to get chauffeur's licenses. These are designed for full-time, professional drivers. And they would spell the end of ridesharing in Chicago as we know it today.

The Alderman claims these changes are needed to level the playing field with taxi. Most everyone agrees that taxis in Chicago are over-regulated. But the answer is to introduce new common-sense rules for taxis, NOT to impose the same bureaucratic regulations on ridesharing apps like Uber.

Hurting one industry to help another is the wrong approach. We believe that taxi and Uber can coexist. Many people are trying to get from A to B in Chicago. And our peak times are when the bars and clubs close, cabs are at their busiest, and public transportation is most limited.

Serving the Underserved

Uber is serving many communities where taxis are nowhere to be found. Fifty-four percent of uberX trips in Chicago begin or end in an area deemed by the City as underserved by taxi and public transportation. In fact, Uber trips on the south and west sides have grown 30 times over the last two years . At the same time average wait times have halved (to four minutes) in these neighborhoods. And all the while, we are creating economic opportunities in communities that need it. More than 20% of uberX driver-partners live on the south and west sides, including many areas plagued by the city's highest unemployment rates.


Taxi, Competition and Choice

Taxi continues to play a key role in our city's transportation system. For example, they have the exclusive right to pick up riders who hail a cab on the street and have dedicated lines at busy places like hotels and train stations. Many people still prefer to pay cash. The street hail is a popular way for people in the busiest parts of Chicago-like Michigan Avenue-to get around. Sometimes grabbing a taxi is the quickest option because it is right there in front of you.

And, thanks to competition, taxi service has improved to the benefit of consumers. According to a recent study by the Technology Policy Institute, taxi complaints in Chicago about air conditioning, "broken" credit card machines and rude drivers have dropped with the recent rise of rideshare services. Last summer, the city announced a universal app to bring the on-demand experience to taxis.

The answer to the pressures faced by the taxi industry should not be one that harms Chicagoans by denying them transportation choices and flexible work. Yet that's exactly what Alderman Beale's ordinance does. By requiring rideshare drivers--the majority who drive less than 10 hours a week--to jump through additional hoops designed for full-time chauffeurs, this ordinance destroys the community benefits Uber is creating. The opportunity for thousands of women and men in underserved neighborhoods to earn money on their own time would be gone. The option to get an affordable ride on demand in the city's transportation deserts would also be gone.

If the City Council really wants to help taxi companies, they should look to reduce that industry's costs rather than limit passenger choice by imposing bureaucratic new rules on apps.

In the age of GPS and live traffic apps, is it necessary to force taxi drivers to spend six days in class studying map reading at a local community college? Could some of the training be administered online? Given that taxi drivers are on the hook to lease a vehicle and pay all expenses, should they have to start even deeper in the hole by paying $500 to acquire a chauffeur's license? And does it make sense to have a cap for taxi medallions today, which stifled demand and led to inequitable service that left underserved communities behind?

Common sense regulations combined with new technology can help ensure that taxis and apps like Uber live side by side. It's the best of both worlds. Whether they want to hail a cab on the street or push a button and get a ride, Chicagoans should be free to choose.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois Supreme Court throws out Chicago pension reform

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Recovering From Militarism

Thu, 2016-03-24 15:37
The pols cry glory and revenge. They cry security. They cry greatness.

Then they stick in the needle, or the missile or the rifle shell, or the nuclear bomb. Or at least they imagine doing so. This will fix the world. And they approve more funding for war.

U.S. militarism, and the funding -- and the fear-mongering -- that sustain it are out of control . . . in the same way, perhaps, that stage four cancer is out of control.

We talk about "the Pentagon" as though it were a rational entity, hierarchically in control of what it does, dispensable as needed to trouble spots around the world: a tool of America's commander in chief and, therefore, of the American people. The reality, undiscussed on the evening news or the presidential debates, is something a little different. The American military is an unceasing hemorrhage of cash and aggression, committed -- perhaps only at the unconscious level -- to nothing more than its own perpetuation, which is to say, endless war.

As Ralph Nader has noted recently:

. . . the military -- this huge expanse of bureaucracy, which owns 25 million acres (over seven times the size of Connecticut) and owns over 500,000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world -- is beyond anybody's control, including that of the secretaries of defense, their own internal auditors, the president, tons of GAO audits publicly available, and the Congress. How can this be?

The Department of Defense, which consumes over half the nation's annual discretionary spending, has never been audited. The money disappears into a black hole and much of it is simply never heard from again. The situation is so outrageous that a congressional coalition of progressives and conservatives have launched an initiative, H.R. 5126, called the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2014.

According to the legislation's sponsors:

The Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 requires every federal agency to pass a routine financial audit each year. The Pentagon is the only cabinet agency that is 'unauditable,' according to the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. In the last dozen years, the Pentagon has broken every promise to Congress about when DoD would pass an audit. Meanwhile, Congress doubled Pentagon spending.

But this is only a small part of the hemorrhaging, metastasizing mess. We need to heal ourselves from, not simply audit, U.S. militarism.

"And no, the military doesn't win wars anymore. It hasn't won one of note in 70 years." Gregory Foster, a West Point graduate and professor at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., wrote recently at TomDipatch.

The dirty wars in the shadows it now regularly fights are intrinsically unwinnable, especially given our preferred American Way of War: killing people and breaking things as lethally, destructively, and overwhelmingly as possible. . . .

"Instead of a strategically effective military," he adds:

What we have is quite the opposite: heavy, disproportionately destructive, indiscriminately lethal, single-mindedly combat-oriented, technology-dominant, exorbitantly expensive, unsustainably consumptive, and increasingly alienated from the rest of society. Just as important, wherever it goes, it provokes and antagonizes where it should reassure and thereby invariably fathers the mirror image of itself in others.

No, this is not the military the presidential candidates invoke so recklessly, but this is the military we have. And it is not stagnant. It's growing, growing, growing -- eating up the American budget and most members of Congress and most of the media, which at most are tepidly critical of the excesses of military spending ($640 toilet seats, $137 million F-35 Joint Strike Fighters) and the occasional moral lapses that reach public attention (rape, murder, Marines urinating on enemy corpses).

Despite the lost wars and the endless consumption of money, despite the failures of security and horrific growth of global terrorism since the U.S. began its war on terror, the country continues to militarize, both internationally and domestically.

Indeed, every outbreak of terror feeds the cancer, e.g.: "We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized," presidential candidate Ted Cruz declared in the wake of this week's Brussels bombings, stoking the fears of his potential supporters and heedlessly tossing them a scapegoat.

Fear consumes intelligence. And militarism is all about simplistic solutions: Identify an enemy and kill him. Problem solved!

The more people militarize their thinking, the stupider they get.

But the world is extraordinarily complex. Simon Jenkins, writing this week in the Guardian, talked about "seeking to alleviate, or not aggravate, the rage that gives rise to acts of terror," which can only happen by seriously de-escalating our own aggression.

Maybe, as Foster put it, our only alternative is to "reconsider the very purpose and function of the military and to reorient it accordingly. That would mean transforming a cumbersome, stagnant, obsolescent, irrelevant warfighting force -- with its own inbuilt self-corrupting qualities -- into a peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-response force far more attuned to a future it helps shape and far more strategically effective than what we now have.

". . . this would mean seeking to demilitarize the military."

I call this trans-military thinking: a take on personal and national security that is not centered on aggression and dominance, but on diplomacy and, my God, understanding. Is such a level of social reorganization impossible? Only if we concede that we have no future.

- - -

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


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I Just Saved Rahm and CPS Millions During My Lunch Period

Thu, 2016-03-24 15:07
Dear Rahm,

You live in a fantasy world. Don't you realize that by canceling school and making teachers take an unpaid furlough day on March 25th that you shortchange the learning of our students? Yet now you want to criticize us for having no options left but to strike.

We teachers have tried darn near everything to get you to realize that there are many ways to get additional funding for our schools and you refuse to do them. So we are left with no choice but to strike.

We do not want to strike. We wanted to negotiate with you, which is why there are 50 teachers representing us on the big bargaining team (that is called Democracy) when we negotiate.

We teachers work with students every day. We communicate with parents constantly.
Unlike you, we are parents of children in CPS. We work in the neighborhoods that you only visit when it is time for an election photo op.

So Rahm, we will shut down Chicago on April 1st in attempt to force you and your buddy Bruce down in Springfield to hear us.

Make no doubt we would rather be teaching our students. Make no doubt that we do not want to strike, but we will do it because we know that seems to be the only option left to get you to hear us.

There are ways to fix this and avoid future strikes. Start with finding funding for our schools.

Here are some options on how to fund our schools.
1. Ask your buddy Rauner to stop with his austerity budget.

2. Man up and ask your bank buddies to renegotiate the toxic bank deals that have and continue to steal money from our schools, our neighborhoods, and cities. This has cost CPS over $500 million dollars.

3. Use TIF surpluses to help our neighborhoods and schools instead of just siphoning the money downtown in an attempt to beautify an already beautiful downtown. There is $350 million in unused TIF money.

4. Cancel Aramark's contract. Clearly our schools are dirty and privatizing our custodial services cost the district money and does not keep our schools clean. This would save $260 million. Yes, we would need to hire back many custodians, but they would be hired back by the schools and it would still be less expensive.

5. Relinquish your power of Chicago Public Schools. Your last CEO cost our district $20 million and the CEOs (I hate that title, no one in charge of schools should be called that) you appointed before as well as your current appointment continue to harm, not help our city.

6. It is time for an elected school board. The voters who have been allowed to have a say overwhelmingly demand an elected board. 90 percent of voters who were allowed to vote on this issue want an elected school board.

7. Stop paying the military $17 million a year to be in our schools. Our streets are violent enough, we do not need the military model of solving conflicts taught to our students.

8. Require that the Mercantile Exchange pay a transaction tax. This would create $2 billion in revenue annually.

9. Take the Chicago Police out of schools and instead train teachers on Restorative Justice practices so we can teach our students how to de-escalate situations more effectively. This would also reduce some of the violence across our city as well as save money.

10. Don't fund DePaul (a private university) to build a basketball stadium. This would save $173 million.

11. Stop building the new Obama High School. Savings of $60 million.

12. Get Teach for America out of CPS. The majority of them are only here for two years anyway. This is not the way to build relationships with parents and students. This would save $1.5 million.

13. Stop the incessant amount of standardized testing that wastes instructional time and costs the district millions.

14. Listen to the people, if you would've done that you wouldn't have closed 50 schools. This contrary to your lies actually cost and still costs the district money. Still costing CPS $3 million per year.

I am sure there are many more ways to save money. I just wrote, researched, and brainstormed this list during my lunch period. This list not only saves money by cutting costs, but it also creates revenue options. Now you don't need to threaten to cut our paychecks by 7 percent. Schools can hire back all the staff that has been cut. We can fully fund our schools with teachers, counselors, security, and librarians. We can have programs and opportunities for our students.

Surely your "experts" can come up with your own or figure out ways to make these ideas work. Or better yet you can listen to the experts, us teachers, who through the Chicago Teachers Union's research have come up with solutions.

Teachers are problem solvers and we are working to solve the issues that your policies have created. But until you listen to us we will have to Shut Down Chicago on April 1st to fight for funding.

P.S. Rahm if you do decide that you like my ideas, you can show your appreciation by paying me for this lunch period. I could've been planning or grading papers, but I was instead solving your problems.

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