Chicago Sun-Times
A dialog between Sun-Times opinion writers and our readers

November 2012 Archives

What makes a Good Samaritan?

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

Laws tell us what we can't do. A good heart tells us what we should do.

Case in point is Jack S. Douglas, an 80-year-old man from Bartlett who was hit by a car and killed out on Interstate 57 Wednesday evening when came to the aid of a stranger lying injured on the road. We don't know much more about Douglas, except that he did what was right even when it wasn't safe, and for that we'd like to pay our respects.

Every so often, some town somewhere creates a "Good Samaritan law," usually to offer legal protection to people who come to the assistance of others in peril. So, for example, if you were to pull a child out of the path of a speeding train, you wouldn't have to worry about being sued for twisting the kid's arm.

But some Good Samaritan laws go further, actually requiring people to give reasonable assistance to others in an emergency, such as in the famous final episode of "Seinfeld." Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer go to prison for failing to be Good Samaritans. We can't prove it, but we're guessing those laws don't make much difference.

Mr. Douglas was driving north along I-57, near the town of Onarga, when he saw a man lying injured on the pavement. Jimmy Lee Westbrook, 58, of Tennessee, had been hit by a car when he tried, on foot, to retrieve a tire that had rolled toward the center median.

Douglas helped a passenger in Westbrook's car pull Westbrook to the shoulder of the road. Then Douglas tried to cross the road to get his cell phone to call for help, at which point he himself was hit.

Douglas set an example for all of us. So, for that matter, did Mike Hochhauser, a young man who chased down an alleged purse snatcher on Michigan Avenue on Black Friday. And so did Dr. Donald Liu, a Chicago surgeon who drowned in Lake Michigan in August while saving the lives of two boys caught in a rip tide.

All were Good Samaritans.

GOP override vote irks Quinn forces

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Gov. Pat Quinn.jpgIt's not surprising that Gov. Pat Quinn's forces were feeling a bit curmudgeonly Wednesday after the Illinois Senate voted to restore $56 million Quinn wanted to cut from the state budget.

Quinn has long heard the Republican refrain, "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." But when they had a chance to close prisons and other state facilities, 15 of the 23 GOP senators voted the other way and one didn't vote. Quinn's people would tell you that's because they wanted to protect state spending in their districts.

How CTA saved millions on absenteeism losses

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Forrest Claypool.JPGA year ago, CTA President Forrest Claypool was complaining that rampant absenteeism was a "$40 million nut."

He complained then that work rules were too lenient.

Now, though, he admits he just hadn't read the fine print of the labor contract carefully enough. By getting out the reading glasses, he says, the agency has reduced absenteeism "significantly."

How?

Go back to sometime around last March, when "we finally figured out that we were not consistently applying discipline ... and we were losing grievance cases because of that inconsistency and managers were handling it all differently," he said.

That's where a close reading of the management-union contract came in.

"We finally realized that we had the tools," Claypool said last week at a

Coalition formed to fight concealed carry gun law

| 15 Comments | No TrackBacks

pfleger-72.jpgA new coalition wants to get any debate in Illinois about "concealed carry" out in the open - where it can be shot down.

The Stop Concealed Carry Coalition was formed by the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin and other community leaders to fight passage of a law during the legislative veto session that would allow the carrying of concealed guns. The coalition was scheduled to hold a press conference this morning at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.

Illinois is the only state that does not allow the carrying of concealed guns. Suffredin said coalition members worry that with so many lame duck legislators in Springfield until the new General Assembly is seated on Jan. 9, supporters of concealed carry might be able to round up enough votes.


Dan Duffy.JPGWhat are Illinois Republicans saying to each other after losing so big on Nov. 6 that the Springfield Democrats can pass legislation in each house without a single Republican vote?

Here's what state Sen. Dan Duffy wrote Friday to other members of the Republican Senate caucus. Duffy represents the 26th District, which takes in sections of Lake, McHenry and Cook counties and he says he is not running for Senate minority leader or governor.

"Senator [Christine] Radogno has publicly stated that the majority of my Republican colleagues in the Illinois Senate have decided they are comfortable keeping the status quo in place by re-electing her as Republican Senate Leader.

"Since I can't imagine that anyone in our caucus feels good about our failure to effectively take on the Illinois Democratic Political Machine in either the state

a-prentice-72-1.jpgAdvocates for the saving the old Prentice Women's Hospital filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the City of Chicago today. It was filed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.

The lawsuit alleges the commission improperly circumvented the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance.

Two weeks ago, the commission granted preliminary landmark status for the old Prentice Women's Hospital but then revoked it.

This afternoon, the plaintiffs will ask for a ruling that would prevent demolition of the building pending the outcome of the the lawsuit.

If successful, the suit could sent the issue back the commission for a decision on full landmarking status and then to the Chicago City Council for a final decision.

"It would allow the process to play out, as it should under the ordinance," said lawyer Michael Rachlis, who filed the lawsuit.

School board president dresses down CTU

| 2 Comments | No TrackBacks


Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale lashed out at the Chicago Teachers Union at Wednesday's board meeting.

When CTU Recording Secretary Michael Brunson rose to make a public comment, Vitale went on the offensive before Brunson could utter a word.

Vitale accused CTU of spreading lies, threatening the board and trying to intimidate the board as the union attempts to stop any school closures for next year.

"If you want us to continue to act civilly to you, you need to act civilly to us," Vitale said, noting that protesters had marched on his home, scaring his teenage daughter. CTU says they didn't organize that protest. "You should really stop lying. What kind of example are you setting for children?"

Vitale was furious at comments made by CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey at a CTU rally on Monday to protest school closings. Here's a quote from the Tribune that rubbed Vitale the wrong way. Sharkey doesn't dispute the language:

"We're here to serve notice to the appointed (school) board that if you're going to close schools, we're coming after you," Sharkey said. "We're serving notice to billionaires hoping to close our schools, if we close our schools we'll expose you. And we're serving notice to elected officials if you close our schools, there will be no peace in the city."

At the Monday protest, CTU also went after one of their favorite targets, board member Penny Pritzker, who sits on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp. A developer who is constructing a Hyatt in Hyde Park got $5.2 million in city TIF funds. Hyatt says the developer got the TIF money, not Hyatt. CTU accuses Pritzker of taking money from schools and putting it into the Hyatt.

In an interview with the Sun-Times, Sharkey stood his ground, saying the "we're coming after you" wasn't personal. "That's political, not a private statement about him...It's about holding a board accountable."

The CTU's actions are part of the tradition of the protest movement, Sharkey said.

"When the conversation is about closing 100 to 140 schools [CPS says there is no firm number], that will get an intense reaction. We are right to make a point and we're going to organize."

What do you think?

Is Vitale right to be livid? Is CTU going too far and obscuring the real conversation that needs to happen about what to do with Chicago's under-used schools?

Or is CTU right to go on the offensive to prevent closings of schools that CTU argues are under-utilized because CPS stopped investing in them? Are CPS board members being too thin-skinned?

U.S. keeps Israel in mode of militancy, author says

gregory harms.jpgPresident Barack Obama has adhered to policy orthodoxy in the Middle East, "keeping Israel in the mode of militancy," author Gregory Harms says.

Harms, an independent scholar specializing in American foreign policy and the Middle East, is the author of three books, including most recently It's Not About Religion (Perceval Press, July, 2012).

"If you think like Dick Cheney, if you think like Henry Kissinger, then the [U.S.] policies make perfect sense," he told a meeting of the Society of Midland Authors Tuesday evening at the Cliff Dwellers club in Chicago.

But that "subsurface continuity," those policies that have been little changed at root since the Truman administration, don't make sense to most Americans, he said.


Illinois students are losing edge in global competition

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

a-daleychart.jpg

William Daley, former White House chief of staff and co-chair of Advance Illinois, wants to call attention to a chart that compares academic achievements of Illinois students with those of other nations.

a-bill daley-72.jpgThe chart is part of "The State We're In: A Report Card on Public Education in Illinois," which was released Tuesday.

"We have a chart comparing our state to other countries," Daley said in a meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. "Some people have said, 'Why are you doing that? Just compare yourself to other states.' ...

"The fact is that the competitors of these kids who are in school, in the work force of the world, are in many countries. So I think it is important going forward that we continue to look at that data of how we compare to countries around the world.

"Right now we are falling behind Russia, Japan, Israel, Canada, and that is not a good statistic to see. Especially not good for future employers who may look to move plants or create businesses.

"So from a business point of view, that is a real downer. ... There is some reason for optimism just because the state and advocacy groups and teachers and parents came together on real reforms."

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@stbacktalk

What redesigned Prentice Hospital could have looked like

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The city already has given Northwestern University the go-ahead to raze the old Prentice Women's Hospital building in Streeterville for a new medical facility.

But on Thursday, the Chicago Architecture Foundation will display 71 alternative designs for preserving and adapting the building. One of the designs was posted on BackTalk on Oct. 31.

A jury of architects, engineers and designers selected three competition winners, as well as an honorary mention.

"Reconsidering an Icon" will be open from Nov. 16 until Feb. 8 in the foundation's lecture hall at 224 S. Michigan Ave. Admission is free. CAF is open seven days a week from 9:30am to 5pm.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@stbacktalk

Unopposed candidates capture Illinois Legislature

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

The real winner in Illinois legislative races on Election Day was The Unopposed Candidate.

Even if voters had decided they wanted wholesale change in Springfield on Nov. 6, it wouldn't have mattered. Most of the candidates in both the House and the Senate were running unopposed.

a-madigan-72.jpgThe state Senate has 59 members, and - because this was a redistricting year - there were races in every district. Or, at least, there could have been races in every district. But in 30 districts, only one candidate was running.

Similarly, in the House, there was no contest in 69 of the 118 districts.

And even where there were races, it's not like they were competitive battles over ideas: In 17 of them, the winning candidate got 65 percent or more of the vote.

Of course, voters are supposed to get two chances to state their preferences: in the primary election, and then the general. But the candidates who ran unopposed in the general election often were not vetted by voters in the primary races, either. As reported in an earlier post, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform found that 46 House candidates and 21 Senate candidates ran unopposed in both the primary and general elections.

Government by the people? What people?

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Anyone who has doubts that gerrymandering is the enemy of democracy in action should look at these numbers from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform:

In Illinois, 46 state House candidates and 21 state Senate candidates were uncontested in both the primary and general election this year. Effective gerrymandering by the Democrats, who controlled the process this time around, contributed to those discouraging statistics.

That's 35.6 percent of the candidates for the House and 40.7 percent of candidates for the Senate.

That's a pretty big bloc of legislators who will be sworn in on Jan. 9 without getting a single vote in an actual election campaign.

Read a Sun-Times editorial about gerrymandering here.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter

Statehouse, home of many laws, is home to fewer lawyers

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

Back in the days of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, some two-thirds of those in the Illinois General Assembly were lawyers.

Even in the 1970s, a good percentage of legislators had law practices on the side. Or, perhaps more accurately, vice versa.

But the number of attorney-lawmakers has been dropping since then. When the new General Assembly is seated on Jan. 9, there will be just 21 lawyers in the House and 15 in the Senate. That's a decline of one per chamber.

Of course, three of the four leaders - Michael Madigan, John Cullerton and Tom Cross - are lawyers. And the fourth, Christine Radogno, is married to a lawyer.

But as for the rank and file, not so much.

Many law practices are more time consuming these days, and legislators, theoretically part-time, are expected to put in more hours than in the past. So it's harder to combine both roles.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@stbacktalk

Why pols look for votes right up to the last minute

| No Comments | No TrackBacks

a-Ray Boomhower-72.jpgAs political candidates scurry around at the last minute looking for just a few more votes, they're thinking about stories such as that of Jim Jontz, a state representative, state senator and congressman who formerly represented northwest Indiana.

As Ray E. Boomhower tells it in his new biography of Jontz, on Election Day eve in 1974, two campaign workers were driving home after a long day on the campaign trail. They came upon Jontz, then campaigning for a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives in his first run for political office.

They offered him a ride, but he responded, "No, it's late, but there's a laundromat up there that's still open. I think I'll hit before I quit for the night."

Jontz was a 22-year-old Indiana University graduate with an unpaid job as a caretaker for a local nature preserve. His opponent was the Indiana House majority leader.

More prosecutors worry innocent people go to prison

| 3 Comments | No TrackBacks

More prosecutors these days are starting to admit that innocent people sometimes go to prison.

Or at least that's the observation of Samuel R. Gross, who is the Thomas and Mabel Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and a graduate of Columbia College in 1968.

a-Samuel Gross-72.jpg

As discussed in a blog post here on Wednesday, Gross is the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law.

The registry, which went into business in May, maintains a detailed online database of all known exonerations in the United States since 1989. It recently posted its 1,000th case. The rate of adding new cases could be faster, but "finding and researching and writing up these cases is a fair amount of work" and the registry has only two staff people.

"The main purpose of putting it together and making this information available was to learn more about wrongful convictions," Gross said.


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2012 is the previous archive.

December 2012 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.