Champaign News-Gazette. July 18, 2021.
Editorial: Another inspector general faces reality, says goodbye
What’s the point of trying to do a job that can’t be done well?
Former appellate court Justice Carol Pope last week became the latest in a series of legislative inspectors general to describe her post as “essentially a paper tiger” and question legislators’ commitment to enforcing ethical conduct.
As a consequence, Pope submitted her resignation.
She’s right, of course. But what else is new? The obvious purpose of her office, which was created in 2004, is to create the illusion of an institutional commitment to honorable conduct in office, not the real thing.
Appointed in 2019, Pope came into the office with her eyes wide open regarding the inspector general’s independence.
Her mistake, apparently, was believing Democratic and Republican legislators could be embarrassed into making changes providing more leeway to pursue allegations of misconduct.
But history demonstrates that Illinois politicians, particularly members of the House and Senate, are incapable of being embarrassed. If they weren’t, they’d have fallen all over themselves to make some of the changes suggested not only by Pope but Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
After all, Illinois currently is awash in criminal investigations involving legislators, most prominently former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
Some voters may recall Pritzker’s speech last year to members of the General Assembly when he implored them to approve tighter ethics rules, particularly concerning legislators’ ability to moonlight as lobbyists.
But by the time the General Assembly adjourned in May, legislators produced a shell of an ethics bill designed only to fool the public into thinking they had made substantive changes.
That’s why Pope, in her resignation letter, criticized the measure now awaiting the governor’s inevitable signature.
“This last legislative session demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority. The (Legislative Inspector General) has no real power to effect change or shine a light on ethics violations,” she wrote.
Under Illinois law, Pope’s post is overseen by a bipartisan panel of eight legislators divided equally between Republicans and Democrats.
The equal number allows one party to block action by the other party, and that matters because the inspector general needs the panel’s approval to initiate an investigation. Even if the inspector general gets the committee’s approval and conducts a substantive investigation that uncovers misconduct, public disclosure of that misconduct is forbidden by law.
Restrictions like that, she said, leave her “unable to remain in a position where I cannot be as effective as I hoped to be.”
Republicans were quick to blame super-majority Democrats for refusing to take strong action on ethics, a fair criticism because Democrats control state government in Illinois. Unfortunately, there has long been a bipartisan lack of enthusiasm for writing rules that restrict legislators’ ability to feather their own nests.
Pope offered to stay on for a few more months to give legislators time to fill the post. But they won’t be in a great hurry.
After former Inspector General Tom Homer resigned in 2014, they left the post vacant for three years.
Arlington Heights Daily Herald. July 17, 2021.
Editorial: How the state can help schools deal with mask edict
How did a flimsy piece of pleated blue or purple polypropylene become such a divisive symbol?
To wear or not to wear protective face shields against COVID-19 has provoked arguments, physical fights and specious claims about false mask-wearing dangers.
Vaccinations are quieting that storm -- until last week, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put forth guidelines for schoolchildren contemplating the first near-normal semester since fall 2019.
There’s much to praise in the CDC guidelines, which safeguard those who are not fully under vaccines’ protective umbrella because of age or illness.
The agency acknowledges some mitigation is needed in the face of a still-lurking reservoir of coronavirus while offering some flexibility in the specifics. And the rise of the Delta variant is especially worrisome in its implications for young people.
But we sympathize mightily with the burden those guidelines place on school administrators -- and the burden they place on school board members -- those unpaid champions who have navigated uncharted waters only to be met with personal attacks, pickets and all sorts of vitriol from people who disagree with their decisions about safe schooling.
In broad strokes, the CDC says those who are vaccinated do not need to wear masks in school -- but they recommend that those who are not vaccinated should mask.
The common sense in that approach breaks down over the details. One big one is that because COVID-19 vaccines aren’t required, schools don’t know who’s had one. Children 11 and under are not yet eligible for vaccination, so the CDC advises elementary school kids to mask. Middle and high schools would be a different story, with a potential chaotic mix of masked and unmasked students and adults with no way to sort out whether students or teachers are following the guidelines.
In the worst case, you could have some students feeling self-conscious or being harassed about their vaccination status while some aren’t truthful about whether they’ve had the shot, potentially endangering others. Keep in mind that even some who are vaccinated remain vulnerable because they are taking certain medications or have certain illnesses, such as cancer. Their safety cannot be set aside.
Illinois officials should help schools by developing a standard way for students to report if they are vaccinated and thus win freedom from masks.
Meanwhile, let all of us give school boards and administrators a break and some civility as they design the rules.
School’s coming back, and if the biggest barrier to normalcy is a face mask, that’s a win.
Chicago Tribune. July 15, 2021.
Editorial: Illinois Olympian takes her moment of dissent, awkwardly
When the U.S. Olympic team competes in Tokyo later this month, Illinois-born track and field star Gwen Berry, a Southern Illinois University graduate, is scheduled to participate, despite recently — and quite literally — turning her back on the U.S. flag and national anthem.
After taking third place in the hammer throw late last month at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, Berry turned away from the U.S. flag during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in what she later described as an act of protest against racial injustice. She also draped over her head a T-shirt that read “Activist athlete.”
That moment in sports history, flashed instantly around the world, turned out to be oddly awkward because, as Berry explained later, she had been assured that the anthem would not be played. When it was, she says, she felt betrayed — “set up,” as she put it — and showed it.
Reaction was ferocious in some circles, especially among some prominent politicians. U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, said on “Fox & Friends” that Berry should be removed from the team, adding that the “bare minimum requirement” for representing the U.S. in the Olympics is that “you believe in the country.” Sen. Ted Cruz, also a Texas Republican, chimed in on Twitter by repeating one of his choice put-downs: “Why does the Left hate America?”
Fortunately, criticizing one’s country has not been outlawed in this country, nor is it the same as hating one’s country. Quite the opposite; it is a sign of this country’s strength that it protects the right to peacefully protest and raise public awareness in ways that can lead to productive change.
That was a hard message to swallow in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started what would become a national wave of protests in the sports world by sitting and later taking a knee during the national anthem. He aimed to protest the killings of unarmed African Americans by police.
His gesture reminded many of the historic and iconic image of Black U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos atop the medal podium during the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, each with a leather-gloved fist raised high in the air.
Much of America reacted with shock. Both athletes received death threats and were ostracized at the time. Typical of the media demonization of them in those times, a young Brent Musburger, then a young sports columnist for the Chicago American, called them “black-skinned storm troopers.”
But, over time, widespread praise. Among other tributes today, their raised-fist moment is frozen in time with a larger-than-life-sized statue in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Kaepernick’s was an act of outrage over the status quo without a particular action plan. But other athletes followed. Some have knelt during the anthem; others have locked arms or raised fists.
Berry also took a public stand at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. After winning the gold medal in the hammer throw, she raised her fist on the medal stage at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in protest, she said, against injustice in America “and a president who’s making it worse.”
Earlier at the games in Peru, American fencing team member Race Imboden, who won gold and bronze medals, took a knee during an awards ceremony. He said in a tweet that he was protesting racism, mistreatment of immigrants and President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. Each was handed 12 months of probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) for their protest gestures.
But something happened in 2020 that gave new energy to Kaepernick’s crusade against abusive police: the recorded murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
In June 2020, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reversed the league’s attempts to ignore players’ complaints about police brutality. His new position actually encouraged more peaceful protests and condemned “the systematic oppression of Black people.”
Similarly, the USOPC praised athletes who began protesting after Floyd’s death and said it will not sanction Team USA athletes for peacefully protesting “in support of racial and social justice for all human beings.”
“Activist athlete” Berry responded by demanding an apology for the apparent double standard — or changing standard — that led to her 12-month probation. She has a point. So, for that matter, does Kaepernick, who has remained without employment by any NFL team since his protests began, despite his pre-protests reputation as a rising star.
As Berry’s actions illustrate, the significance of Smith and Carlos’ gesture spread beyond the world of men’s sports.
When Megan Rapinoe took a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick during the national anthem before a 2016 women’s soccer match against Thailand, U.S. Soccer, the sport’s governing body in America, chastised her with a reminder that “representing your country is a privilege and honor.” She responded: “I truly feel like I’m representing my country by doing this.”
And she was, at least in the sense of expressing her social and political views defiantly, yet also peacefully.
“I love America more than any other country in this world,” Black novelist James Baldwin wrote in “Notes of a Native Son.” “And, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Whether it comes from an “activist athlete” or any other concerned American, taking a stand peacefully for something you believe in shouldn’t be punished or slammed as anti-American. It’s one of the most all-American things that an American can do.