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Protect the Mahomet Aquifer

Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) needs your help and support to protect drinking water in Central Illinois from toxic contamination. As unbelievable and irresponsible as it seems, drinking water for more than 750,000 residents in 14 counties in Central Illinois is under threat of contamination from toxic chemicals because of the greed of a single corporation – PDC/AREA Disposal, which owns the Clinton Landfill and its toxic waste dump, which sits above the Mahomet Aquifer.

Recently, thanks in large part to citizen involvement and local government action, there have been important victories in the effort to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from chemical waste at the Clinton Landfill. But the victories are temporary stays, and more action is needed to create a permanent solution to protect our Aquifer.

Despite our recent victories to halt toxic chemical dumping at the Landfill, the owners of the Clinton Landfill are still planning to fight for, and seek the necessary permits to allow dumping of Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) waste and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) waste, and other toxic chemical wastes in their Landfill. And the decision to issue these permits starts with the DeWitt County Board – unless we can create a state solution to permanently protect our Aquifer.

Central Illinois residents must continue to fight to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from irreversible contamination from toxic chemicals allowed in the Clinton Landfill’s toxic waste dump.

The effort to permanently protect the Mahomet Aquifer will have to take place on several fronts – from pressuring the DeWitt County Board, to pressuring the Governor, state legislators, and state agencies to do the right thing.

About the Mahomet Aquifer

The Mahomet Aquifer is an ancient underground repository of pure water that lies below the fields of Central Illinois. The aquifer was formed at the end of the last Ice Age when the retreating glacial formations began to melt, depositing large amounts of sand, gravel, and water in a large valley formation called the Mahomet Bedrock Valley. Over 120 communities in 14 counties rely on the Mahomet Aquifer’s water for their drinking, cleaning, agricultural, and industrial needs. About 750,000 people use an average of 57 million gallons of aquifer water per day, just for drinking alone.

PDC/AREA Disposal Company’s Clinton Landfill and its “Chemical Waste” dump

Peoria Disposal Company (PDC)/AREA Disposal owns the Clinton Landfill, located just outside of Clinton, IL in DeWitt County. The Landfill sits immediately above the Mahomet Aquifer. The landfill has historically stored municipal and household waste collected by local waste haulers (including PDC/AREA Disposal Company).

In 2007, Clinton Landfill sought a special permit from the IL EPA to receive “Chemical Waste” at its Clinton Landfill #3. In a series of moves that many allege violated the law and were done improperly, Clinton Landfill obtained local siting approval from the DeWitt County Board to operate a chemical waste landfill, and then obtained approval from the IL EPA to allow the disposal of MGP waste and PCBs at their Chemical Waste landfill. Until this past August, the Clinton Landfill had been receiving MGP waste since 2011, but had been awaiting final approval from the US EPA to receive PCB waste. The U.S. EPA had granted draft approval to Clinton Landfill for toxic PCB waste in 2011, but, thankfully, because of citizen and local government actions, had not finalized the permit for PCBs.

Now, recent actions by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IL EPA) have resulted in temporary bans to the dumping of MGP and PCB waste.

Recent victories result in temporary halt to dumping of toxic waste at Clinton Landfill

A chain-reaction of important victories in the effort to prevent toxic waste from being dumped at the Clinton Landfill took place this July and August, as a result of actions by citizens and local governments who called on Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to take action.

Here is a summary of the victories:

  • Gov. Quinn and IL EPA rescind the permit for PCBs at Clinton Landfill;
  • Gov. Quinn and IL EPA rescind the permit for MGPs at Clinton Landfill and call for immediate halt in dumping anymore MGP waste;
  • US EPA says that it will not consider Clinton Landfill’s permit for PCBs, given the actions by the IL EPA.

But these victories – as important as they are – are temporary, and the Clinton Landfill owners plan to continue to pursue the necessary permits to allow dumping of toxic Chemical Waste. In fact, Clinton Landfill currently retains the permit and designation to receive Chemical Waste – it simply lacks the permits for the specific MGP and PCB wastes. This must be changed.

Why more action is needed

Currently, IL law does not prohibit the creation of these landfills above our aquifers. In fact, the law is written in such a way that the Clinton Landfill owners simply have to go back to the DeWitt County Board to seek proper approval for siting this Chemical Waste landfill.

In other words, unless Illinois state law is changed, the decision about whether a Chemical Waste landfill can exist above the Mahomet Aquifer comes down to the decisions made by a local unit of government – the DeWitt County Board.

We CAN win this fight to protect our Aquifer, and you can help – take action now!

We have to work on all fronts to protect the Mahomet Aquifer. You can help by taking these actions:

1)        Add your name to the petition calling on the DeWitt County Board to deny Clinton Landfill’s next application for a siting permit to receive chemical wastes like MGPs and PCBs. The DeWitt County Board is stacked with Landfill supporters and needs to hear from as many Central Illinois residents as possible that their local actions can irreversibly affect an entire region of the state, for generations to come.

2)        Add your name to the petition calling on Governor Quinn to fully rescind Clinton Landfill’s permit for “Chemical Waste.” While Gov. Quinn’s actions in July and August were of paramount importance, his actions simply resulted in not allowing the specific MGP and PCB forms of Chemical Waste, but did nothing to rescind Clinton Landfill’s permit for Chemical Waste.

3)        Add your name to the petition calling on state lawmakers to create a state law to permanently protect the Mahomet Aquifer. There ought to be a state law that protects the drinking water for an entire region of the state!

4)        Join or support the boycott of AREA Disposal, the company that owns Clinton Landfill. CCHCC and the members of the multi-county coalition that are working together to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, are calling for a boycott of AREA Disposal. If AREA Disposal (PDC/AREA) is your garbage hauler, please consider changing hauling companies. CCHCC can provide you with information about alternative haulers.

5)        Help spread the word. Share our information and use e-mail and social media to help inform your contacts. Get your bumper stickers to help create awareness!

There is no greater environmental or public health threat facing Central Illinois than the possible toxic contamination of the Mahomet Aquifer. To take action to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, please visit CCHCC’s website at or contact CCHCC by phone at (217) 352-6533 or by e-mail at



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The Assault on Gaza

obama-ukraine-gazaThroughout the current Israel’s assault on Gaza, President Obama, the Congress, and the media have been sounding off the mantra of “Israel’s right to defend itself” against rockets from Gazaa self-evident right, if Israel were indeed the innocent victim of a military aggression, and not its perpetrator. The right to self-defense actually belongs to the Palestinians, who, as the indigenous population of Palestine, have been subjected to ethnic cleansing since 1947-8. This project will continue unless the US stops vetoing UN Security Council resolutions, which condemn Israel’s illegal actions and take punitive measures against them—so far, 42 such vetoes.

As of July 29, Israel’s bombing campaign and the more recent addition of a ground offensive have killed 1100 and seriously wounded 6000 Palestinians80% of them unarmed civilians, including over 200 children. The Netanyahu government and the Obama Administration blame the high civilian casualty on Hamas, claiming they use civilians as “human shields” and place their military installations among civilians. They know very well, though, that Gaza, having the world’s highest population density, doesn’t have enough space to place its rocket-launching facilities away from civilians. Moreover, as Israeli journalist Amira Hass writes, Israel itself has its military headquarters in civilian areaspotentially putting its population at risk of being hurt during rocket attacks.

There is ample evidence that Israel’s strategy is not just targeting militant Islamists and their military installations, but using their war machine to instill terror in the hearts and minds of children and adults, trapped in these killing fields. Norwegian physician Dr. Mads Gilbert, who’s been treating the injured in Gaza, describes the extreme damage that Israel’s US-made dense inert metal explosives (DIME) inflict on their victims: “…people are torn apart. I mean, they’re split at their midlevel. They lose their arms and legs, and they’re killed. They’re charcoaled by the burns, if they are hit by these DIME explosives.”

Furthermore, the Israeli army, which boasts of the precision of its targeting, has killed many civilians who could not have been mistaken as militants: nine young men were torn into pieces, and fifteen more wounded, as they were watching a World Cup game in a beachfront café on July 9. On July 16, four small children who were playing on the beach were killed by two rounds of shelling. Civilians who had taken refuge in a UN school were denied time to leave before the school was bombed, killing dozens. This is nothing but terrorism, and America is its financier and sponsor.

Besides the loss of life and severe injuries, Israel’s destruction of the infrastructure left over from its 2008-9 and 2012 attacks will further harm the health and the ability of Gazans to make a living. People have irrevocably lost the use of 60% of their agricultural land. The vast majority of their chicken coops, water tanks and sewage treatment facilities, and their only flour mill, have been targeted and destroyed. Gone too is most of their electricity-generating capacity.

The harsh maritime, aerial and ground blockade that Israel has maintained over Gaza since 2007 has made it next to impossible for the people to acquire the needed material to fix damages to the infrastructure and their sources of livelihood. In addition, the blockade has deprived Gazans of the nutrition they need to sustain themselves. Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, has documented that in 2008 Israeli health experts had calculated that in order to prevent malnutrition, 170 truck-loads of food should be allowed into Gaza. Less than half this number of trucks were entering Gaza with foodstuffs before the siege. The Israeli officials have even lowered this minimal number, to 67, doubled the number of trucks filled with nutritionally poor foodstuffs, and have drastically reduced the amount of milk, fruits and vegetables allowed into Gaza. A Red Cross report leaked in 2008 has concluded that “chronic malnutrition is on a steadily rising trend and micro-nutrient deficiencies are of great concern.” Before the start of the current military campaign, 80% of Gazans were already dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

Given this dire situation, it isn’t hard to understand the level of desperation and hatred toward Israel. The new round of mostly ineffectual rocket attacks on Israel started as a warning to Israelis and world powers that the suffering of Gazans cannot be ignored any more, especially since in late April John Kerry had admitted to the failure of the US to even initiate a “peace negotiation,” and had blamed the Israeli settlement-building for it.

The Israeli regime has shown repeatedly that it willingly accepts the cost of the occupation and the siege, specifically rocket attacks, in order to get sympathy from the West, and to complete its colonization project of almost the entirety of Palestine. As befits him, Netanyahu took advantage of the renewed rocket attacks, and exploited the horrific murder of three young Israeli settlers, in order to score several political points. Chief among them being, once again, to sabotage the creation of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, declared in April 2014, and blessed by the Quartet (representatives of the UN, US, EU, and Russia).

Hamas has been blamed for rejecting the ceasefire “plan” drafted by Egypt’s military rulers without input from Hamas. Hamas correctly maintained that a brief ceasefire and return to the status quo would be meaningless. They pointed to the ceasefire deal of November 2012, which was to lead to the easing of the siege of Gaza, but which Israel flouted with the usual impunity. This time, Hamas says, they will only accept a ceasefire based on the recognition of the short-term demands of the Palestinians. Among those are the permanent lifting of the Israeli blockade; placing international forces at Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt; and non-interference of Israel in the formation and workings of the Palestinian unity government. Without due pressure, Israeli policy makers will not accept these conditions, despite the fact that they are within the framework of international law and past consensus. The key to the success of this first step toward a just peace between Palestinians and Israel is the US, which is still unwilling to act as an honest broker.

This situation leaves Americans with only one ethical option: to heed the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) against Israel until it decides to join the international community and live in peace with its Palestinian cousins. In the meantime, we have no right to tell Palestinians living under siege and occupation how they can and can’t resist.

Niloofar Shambayati is a lecturer in Humanities at Parkland College, specializing in modern Middle Eastern history and politics.

This article is a variation of a Commentary that appeared in the News-Gazette on Sunday, July 27.


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A Faculty Union at UIUC: the State of Play

Since the first part of this article appeared in the last Public i, UIUC non-tenure track faculty have conducted a six-week card drive, turned in the requisite number of cards mid-May, and after surviving a challenge by UI administration, have been certified as a union July 8. In what follows, I pick up the story from the May/June issue.

The distinction anti-union folks make between themselves and other workers exudes more than a whiff of elitism, an attitude of “I’ve got mine, too bad for you.” “Excellence” is a term that crops up over and over, while its antithesis, “mediocrity,” is a term critics commonly hurl at unions. It is no coincidence that Jeff Brown, Nick Burbules, and Joyce Tolliver originally invited only the highest-paid and most prestigious faculty to sign their letter, “Preserving Excellence at Illinois.”

Anti-union folks go so far as to attack the very nature of unionism, namely, “fair share” union fees, and to distort how a union actually operates as “forced unionization.” “A vote to unionize our faculty would be a vote to require every faculty member in the campus bargaining unit to be represented by the union,” according to their “Preserving Excellence at Illinois.” “[F]aculty would also be required to pay union or ‘fair share’ dues whether they support unionization or not. We do not believe that faculty members should be forced to support an organization financially that they have not personally agreed to join.” This is a tissue of half-truths and misstatements wrapped in deceptive language. Yes, everyone would be represented by the union. No, faculty would not be forced to join. Yes, non-union faculty would be required to pay “fair share” fees to cover costs for negotiating a contract that benefits everyone. No, full union dues would be paid only by union faculty. All this is Union Political Economy 101.

Coming from union families, Burbules and Tolliver know full well that not paying “fair share” fees is a dagger driven into the heart of unionism, because it severely weakens, if not destroys, unions. Opposition to “fair share” fees is a hallmark of those who favor so-called “right to work,” which amounts to the “right to work for less.” In fact, the anti-union group is making exactly the same argument as conservatives like Governors Mitch Daniels and Rick Snyder who signed “right to work” statutes into law in 2012 in Indiana and Michigan, respectively. Furthermore, Burbules repeated his anti-union sentiments in an article, tellingly titled, “Over 150 professors fight forced unionization at University of Illinois,” in Campus Reform, a right-wing blog affiliated with the right-wing group, Leadership Institute. Burbules’ emailed comments to the author appeared alongside those of a spokesman for the right-wing National Right to Work Committee. Furthermore, in Harris v. Quinn (June 2014), the Supreme Court’s five male, right-wing justices agreed with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation – which is connected to the Koch brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the John Birch Society, and the Walton family, among others — and outvoted the four more liberal, Democratic jurists. They argued that home-health workers in Illinois who are paid by their employers with Medicaid funds cannot be required to pay fair share union dues. A definite blow against unions, this supposedly narrow ruling came close in fact to overturning the settled legal precedent of fair share payments established decades ago in Abood (1977). Burbules and Tolliver, who have consistently argued against fair share dues payments, apparently agree here with Justices Alito, Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy.

Rhetoric and Reality

You can be anti-union without being against paying “fair share” fees; the former does not require the latter. The difference between pro- and anti-union folks at UI could not be more stark. As self-identified progressives, how can Burbules and Tolliver take such a hardline position? After talking to both of them, it is still not clear to me. In fact, this criticism has stung, and they have undertaken damage control in an attempt to burnish their tarnished progressive credentials. “We feel no need to justify our own progressive credentials or to respond to absurd allegations that we’ve gone over to the dark side and are now lackeys of the Koch Brothers.” They adamantly reject the criticisms, yet they do not address a single one. Instead, they have doubled down.

Burbules, Tolliver and others are, without question, utterly sincere in the positions they take. Certainly, they have the best interests of the institution at heart. It’s just that others with the same intentions disagree on what those best interests are. For Burbules and Tolliver, their positions flow from their experience piloting the Academic Senate, commonly referred to as the faculty Senate, between the Scylla of administration misdeeds and the Charybdis of unionizing efforts. So it comes as no surprise that their zealous opposition to a union manifests itself in the tone and rhetorical strategies they employ. Let me say clearly that neither side is as pure as driven snow. Regrettably, both sides have engaged in name-calling; hopefully, this, and more generally, the overheated rhetoric will be dialed back. Indeed, there are signs that this is happening. CFA no longer responds to every No Faculty Union claim, and Burbules and Tolliver have toned down at least one post from the original. Yet more than pro-union folks, what is striking about union opponents is the extent to which they employ the full panoply of rhetorical strategies to make their case including unsubstantiated assertions, hearsay and circumstantial evidence, making it personal, specious arguments, “chicken and egg,” moving the goalposts, “he said/she said,” tendentious arguments, and pulling a Karl Rove.

Unsubstantiated assertions. The best example is the point-by-point rebuttal to Prof. Burbules’s commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the AAUP’s Ernst Benjamin, on facing pages.

Hearsay and circumstantial evidence. “I have heard people tell me that they would leave if the campus unionized.”

Making it personal. “Those of you in the [Academic] Senate have seen this shift of rhetoric from union advocates serving in this body. A tone of suspicion, hostility, and even disrespect has been on frequent display in their comments toward campus and university administrators. Look: when you treat people like adversaries they react like adversaries. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Specious arguments. “The University of Illinois at Chicago formed a faculty union in 2012. Since that time, the UIC union has been unable to negotiate a salary increase.” Yes, because UIC administration refused to implement the previously-determined campus salary increase during union negotiations, an increase since put into effect. Actually, this is a case of “blaming the victim,” a favorite conservative ploy, as when Paul Ryan blames the unemployed for being unemployed.

Chicken and egg.” “The Chicago campus of the UI was on strike recently for two days [February 18-19, 2014]. Reports reach us that the atmosphere of collegiality is gone from that campus. That strike is a damaging and indelible embarrassment…” Did unionization lead to the disappearance of collegiality, or did the disappearance of collegiality lead to unionization?

Moving the goalposts. “At a time of diminishing state revenues, the problem is not ‘bosses’ who refuse to pay workers more, but the budgetary constraints imposed on the university by the state of Illinois.” This is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough, because the key question is how resources that reach the campus are distributed, an issue pointedly not addressed.

“He said/she said.” Exhibit A. CFA organizers talking to faculty one on one “… clearly believe it is to their advantage to adopt a process in which they control the parameters of the conversation, where they control what information and arguments you hear, and where they can selectively present their version of the facts without debate…” Exhibit B. “If a majority of all faculty, not just College of Engineering faculty, sign cards to unionize, a union will be created and all faculty will be represented and charged union dues, even if they do not wish to be members.” (College of Engineering Executive Committee to College of Engineering faculty, February 24, 2014). Who is intimidating whom?

Tendentious arguments. “We now have a perfect petri dish up at UIC to see what life with a faculty union looks like…[The February 2014 strike] harms students, stokes anger, and alienates parents, taxpayers, and supporters of the university all across the state.” To claim that a union at Urbana would be exactly like the one at Chicago is to argue by implication, and to conclude too much from too little.

Pulling a Karl Rove. “The purpose of this blog [No Faculty Union] is to deconstruct the rhetoric and strategies of faculty union advocates at the University of Illinois. A consequential decision like this [whether or not to form a union] must be based on facts, not spin.” Given their own rhetorical strategies, this statement is a classic example of Karl Rove’s tactic, “accuse the opposition of doing precisely what you’re doing,” which is doubly ironic since Prof. Burbules on his other blog, Progressive Blog Digest, does a masterful job of documenting this Rovian strategy.

Given their considerably greater rhetorical flourishes than documented reasons and substantive arguments, the anti-union position seems to boil down to “we don’t want a union, because we don’t want a union.” Such rhetorical strategies suggest that concerns are rooted in deeper-seated issues of status anxiety. Presumably, union opponents perceive blue collar and low white collar workers as lower, as lesser, than their own more elevated, “professional” status, which does allow them to manage certain aspects of their work. But managing certain tasks — organizing classes and teaching students – differs from the kind of management that professional administrators perform all the time. “I fully appreciate the good the unions have done for unskilled laborers and for skilled tradespeople,” writes engineering Prof. Richard Blahut. “However,…a faculty… is not the blue-collar class for which unions were created.” Status anxiety historically occurs when lower level white collar workers are fearful of skidding down out of the middle class into the working class. Fear of such downward leveling is clearly expressed by those who link “mediocrity” with unions. Furthermore, prestigious, highly-paid faculty, who interact at close quarters with administrators may be seen as akin to de facto foremen — more than a worker, less than a boss. As such, they inhabit a liminal, in-between state. It is admittedly snarky, but for a staunchly anti-union administration, the tireless efforts of faculty like Burbules and Tolliver is a gift that keeps on giving.

Deeper Differences

Changes on both sides have occurred over time. Anti-union folks now pointedly oppose a tenure-stream union, but not explicitly a non-tenure-track (NTT) one. “BECAUSE [caps in original] we are progressive academics from the working class… we oppose unionization for UIUC tenure-track faculty members,” write Burbules and Tolliver. “This doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious problems and inequities to work on, especially for our non-tenure-track colleagues.” But as occurred earlier during the Chief Illiniwek debate, we are now at the point where both sides have dug in their heels and are largely talking past one another. Viewed in a longer perspective, however, a faculty union likely “would not be as bad as union opponents fear, and not as good as union proponents hope,” as one faculty member remarked. While a NTT union would be a progressive step forward, it will not solve all NTT issues. While a tenure-stream union would redistribute power somewhat between faculty and administrators, it is no panacea for stemming corporatization. A faculty union would be reformist. It would not alter the fundamental distribution of power in the academy, any more than a union alters the fundamental nature of capitalism.

At the end of the day, there exists a significant philosophical difference between the two sides. The anti-union argument amounts to sauve qui peut, every person for him/herself, each individual taking their chances in the academic marketplace. This is an agonistic, one-on-one contest with clear winners (so-called academic “stars”) and losers; it is a zero-sum game. Eliminating “fair share” union fees benefits the employer, and stockholders, at the expense of employees. The right-wing says that if you are in the minority in a workplace, the majority of whom voted to unionize, you should not have to pay fees. Unionists counter that in a democracy majority rule carries the day, that a democratically-elected union works for everyone, and, therefore, it is undemocratic and unfair for a minority not to pay their fair share. The pro-union vision is a collective one, rooted in solidarity, we’re all in it together. Granted, there are rights in conflict here. The minority right to not pay “fair share” fees is trumped by the majority vote to form a union mandating such payments. So, too, for example, the minority right of business owners to not serve gays and lesbians, or provide contraceptive health coverage for their employees is, or ought to be, trumped by everyone’s right to equal access under the law.

Union supporters stress majority over minority rights. In responding to the anti-union “Preserving Excellence at Illinois” letter, historian Jim Barrett points out, satirically that “Many of the letter’s objections are… to the whole notion of majority rule. It’s true that majority rule applies here [in a vote to unionize] — as it does in state, local and federal elections. That’s a corner we turned a couple of centuries back and most Americans still support the principle.” History professor Mark Steinberg sums it up best. “For me, a faculty union is about democracy (real participatory power for everyone involved in the life of this university and its educational mission, which is itself essential to a democratic society), justice (for each individual regardless of background and rank), and unity (remembering that I am here not only for myself).”

(This is part two of a two part article.)


David Prochaska taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI history department before retiring.


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The Anatomy of Gray: A Reflection on Willie Craft, Sr.’s Case

Note: On October 9, 2013, Willie Craft, Sr. suffered a diabetic crash while driving and killed Mimi Liu and injured Spandana Matravadi. Both women were students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 9, 2014, Craft was charged with reckless homicide and sentenced to 42 months in prison by Judge Richard Klaus.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Violence will only increase the cycle of violence.”

When I began assisting with Willie Craft, Sr.’s case, I wanted to remain silent because the complexity of the case is so immense and the grief remains palpable for countless individuals. I still see posts about Mimi nestled within my Newsfeed on Facebook. The flowers that line Mimi’s tree on Lincoln Avenue are still replaced on a regular basis. I feared that I couldn’t possibly write something that would completely honor both the complexity and grief surrounding this case.

But when I saw the dispersion of violently hateful messages across news websites and social media, I found my hands shaking as I read message after message about how Craft is a reckless public menace that deserves to be locked away. I couldn’t remain silent any longer. While the fear that I mentioned earlier still remains within me, the lack of empathy and respect that I have observed has urged me to at least attempt to encourage less violent communication. I am choosing to break my silence because fastened tongues do not nurture deeper understanding. Instead, the seeds of deeper understanding are sown by thoughtful dialogue and peaceful communication.

With this being said, this article is not meant as a chastisement but merely as an encouragement for us to pause. There is no precise destination I wish for you to arrive at the end of this article, for I have no right to dictate your opinion. But I do ask that we try to blend the black and white into greys and meditate.

On October 9, 2013, Mimi Liu’s life was taken, and Willie Craft, Sr.’s life as he knew it ended as well. At the time of the accident, Craft was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Craft experienced a diabetic crash that caused him to black out, his blood sugar to severely drop and him to lose his memory. Up until the accident, Craft took careful precautions with his health condition and was successful for 59 years.

However, on that day, Craft caused a tragedy, and we need to honor that. Mimi is gone forever and I know her loved ones still grieve to this day. Last Wednesday at Craft’s sentencing hearing, I watched Mimi’s father tell the court how his family still feels the pain of their loss. Mimi’s death is a void in her family’s lives that continues to interrupt their ability to resume their lives. Her death is still an unbearable truth in their lives. I watched him hold back tears as he talked about how beautiful, intelligent and talented Mimi was. He spoke about how friends and family from near and far gathered to celebrate her life and mourn her death. I sat behind Mimi’s mother and watched her shoulders tremble as she held back tears. The pain that I witnessed cannot be fully expressed in words.

At the same time, Craft is not a monster. As with anyone else in the world, he is a human being, and we also need to honor that. While Mimi’s father gave his testament, I watched Craft wipe away tears from his eyes. When he was finally allowed to speak, all he could say was, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Craft was pained as well because he knows what it is to have a beautiful, intelligent and talented daughter. With less than a high school education, he worked tirelessly as the sole guardian of his granddaughter. He knows what it is to have an enduring, loving relationship with a daughter. His 14-year-old granddaughter bore witness to this after the lawyer asked her what she and Craft do at home, and she replied, “We eat ice cream. We watch TV. We laugh together. We talk together. I’m there for him and he’s there for me.” I watched his granddaughter leave the courtroom partway through the hearing, and heard her sobs echoing through the hallways. The pain that I witnessed cannot be fully expressed in words.

On October 9, 2013, a horrific accident between three human beings occurred. Humans beings that loved/still love and are loved. To see this case as black and white risks the possibility of dehumanizing all parties. The reason is that as humans, we are not black and white. Our lives, our tragedies, and our mistakes are not black and white.

We need to pause and honor the complexity of this case. I understand that this is no easy task because, in grief, we search for solid ground. Very often we believe that our pain can be alleviated by rigid conclusions. Despite this, we owe every party in this case to strive to ruminate in this ambiguous, often unfamiliar territory of grays. Because to acknowledge the grays is to acknowledge the humanity of all involved.

Amanda HwuAmanda Hwu is a senior at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also the President of the Prison Justice Project, a student organization dedicated to creating safe, productive spaces for students and community members to engage with social justice issues relating to incarceration. After attending graduate school, Amanda hopes to work for a grassroots organization that serves juvenile delinquents.

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How the Criminal “Justice” System Compounds Human Tragedy and Suffering

This article is about two cases in which the State’s Attorney’s office entered into a criminal plea agreement with individuals and then brought them before the DUI court of Judge Richard Klaus for sentencing. The first involved Katheryn Daly, a 24-year-old white woman from the Philo area, who was sentenced on May 16 of this year to 3 ½ years in prison for reckless homicide. The second involved Willie Craft, an African American man from C/U who was given the same sentence for the death of one person and “great bodily injury” to another.

The Katheryn Daly Case

The facts of the Daly case are that she had been at a party on the family farm near Philo. She and other members of her family had been drinking and her alcohol blood level was over the 0.08 level at which the state determines that a driver is intoxicated. At about 3 a.m. she took her cousin on ride on a Gator, which is a small farm utility vehicle made by John Deere. The Gator tipped over as she turned the corner from a paved country road onto a smaller gravel road. Her cousin suffered fatal injuries. Daly was arrested and charged with reckless homicide. In this case, States Attorney Julia Reitz joined with Daly’s attorney in asking Judge Kraus to grant her probation, i.e., no prison time. Despite leniency pleas from her aunt and uncle, who were the parents of the deceased cousin, Judge Klaus gave the harsh 3 ½ year sentence. Daly is a nurse, and several medical personnel at Carle, as well as a Parkland instructor, testified to her character. She has a 20-month-old son. She has had no prior criminal or DUI record.

The Willie Craft Case

The facts of the Craft case are quite different. Willie Craft, a 59-year-old retiree from the University of Illinois, is a diabetic. He had not driven for three years. For some reason, he decided to drive on October 9, 2013, without eating anything beforehand. When he was driving his truck southbound on Lincoln Avenue, he lost control of the vehicle, which went up on the sidewalk near Illini Grove and killed U of I student Mimi Liu and seriously injuring another student, Spandana Mantravadi. The presumed cause of the accident was his going into a diabetic coma caused by his not having eaten. He was charged by the States Attorney with reckless homicide. Rather than pleading for probation or other leniency as she did in the Daly case, the State’s Attorney simply asked for no more than 3 ½ years prison time. Judge Klaus, making the claim that Craft had used his vehicle as a weapon, said that the maximum 3 ½ year sentence was necessary to deter others from doing what Craft did, i.e., “employing a vehicle as a lethal weapon.” Like Daly, Craft had no prior criminal record. While Daly shared child care with her husband, Craft was the sole care-giver of a granddaughter whom he had adopted.

Willie Craft, Jr., who was in the courtroom, was obviously stunned by the severity of the sentence given to his father, who had already been sitting in the county jail for six months awaiting trial. After yelling an explicative at the judge and being taken out of the courtroom by deputies, the judge ordered that he be returned to the courtroom. Upon his reentry, he protested to the judge “That man had an accident! Do you know that? This isn’t justice!” The judge thereupon gave him 6 months in the county jail for his outburst.

Detrimental Effects

The major issue that I want to raise is whether the criminal justice system is benefiting the community and the individuals most involved in these cases, or whether it is causing more harm to people who have already been suffering. I believe it is doing the latter. The Daly family now has to grieve not only the accidental death of one family member, but also the imprisonment of another. Their impact statements were testaments of how much they loved Katheryn, considering her more as another daughter rather than a niece, and wanted her to remain with them. Instead, they lose Katheryn to incarceration after losing their daughter forever. Kathryn’s son is now deprived of the loving presence and care of his mother at a crucial developmental stage in his life. An already tragic accident is made even more tragic by criminalization and disregard of the further devastating impact on the day-to-day lives of this family.

In the Craft case, the judge apparently took little or no account of the testimony of professional witnesses, who pointed out that when people are ill they don’t always think as clearly as people who are physically well. For the judge to say that Craft should have known that he should not be driving before he ate, and should have reflected that students were likely to have been walking on the sidewalk next to the street on which he might be driving (if he even had any idea of where he was going), and nonetheless criminally went on to use his vehicle as a “weapon,” does not take into account the limited reflective ability of many people who have serious physical illnesses. It has to be granted that the ill man was not “thinking straight.” But was the cause under his control? It also has to be granted that there was no intentionality to harm anyone else. So now, Mr. Craft’s adopted granddaughter is deprived of his care and Mr. Craft is consigned to a prison which, from the perspective of both the afflicted Mr. Craft and the overburdened institution, is a terrible place for an ill person to be. In addition, his son, stunned by hearing such a sentence, cries out in anguish and anger against it and winds up being sent to jail himself.

How much longer will people of this county tolerate a system that, with the stated intention of “protecting” the community, refuses to understand that prosecution and imprisonment is not always the best way to deal with terribly tragic accidents, and in the process compounds the suffering of good and caring people and their families?

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Why Aren’t Nicaragua’s Children Fleeing to the United States?

by The Nicaragua Network

(In the 1980s, the Peoples Alliance on Central America (PACA), which was affiliated with the Nicaragua Network, was a very active local Central American solidarity group that opposed both the US attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the US’s support of right-wing governments and death squads in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Those of us who worked in PACA can justifiably take the following statement by the Nicaragua Network as vindication of the solidarity work that we did over two decades agoBelden Fields)

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) presented in Nicaragua on May 19, 2014 its Regional Report on Human Development for 2013-2014 on security matters, and classified Nicaragua as “atypical” because of its low rates of homicide and robbery. Juan Pablo Gordillo, adviser on security at the Latin American Regional Services Center of the UNDP, said that “[t]he case of Nicaragua is an important achievement at the regional level,” adding that because Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, it breaks the myth that poverty causes violence. Nicaragua’s homicide rate dropped to 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. Honduras, with 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, has the highest murder rate in the world. El Salvador has 69, Guatemala 39, Panama 14.9 and Costa Rica 10.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Speaking in San Salvador at a regional conference on community policing, Nicaraguan National Police spokesman Commissioner Fernando Borge said that the proactive, preventative, community policing model of Nicaragua’s police has helped make Nicaragua one of the safest countries in Latin America. He described “a model of shared responsibility, that of person-family-community” which shapes all the areas of police work. In 2013, out of each 100 cases reported to the police, they have been able to resolve 79. This compares to the almost complete impunity for crime, especially politically motivated crime, in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

The problem of the children migrants is blowback from US policy in the 1980s, when our government trained and funded Salvadoran and Guatemalan military and police to prevent popular revolutions; and more recently, when the US supported the coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Those countries were left with brutal, corrupt armies and police forces, whereas Nicaragua, with its successful 1979 revolution, got rid of Somoza’s brutal National Guard and formed a new army and a new police made up of upstanding citizens.

Who consumes all those drugs that are causing all that violence and corruption in Latin America? Who has militarized the Drug War and is funding and training repressive militaries and police in the countries from which the children are fleeing? In both cases, it is the United States.

Respected Latin American polling firm M&R Consultants’ polls show that, at the end of 2013, 72.5% of Nicaraguans approved of government economic management; and President Daniel Ortega’s personal popularity stands at 74.7%, the most popular in Central America. Why? According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Nicaragua ranks second in Latin America and the Caribbean after Venezuela as the country that most reduced the gap between rich and poor in recent years.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Nicaragua’s predicted 2014 GDP growth rate will put it among the five fastest-growing countries in Latin America. Why? Because Nicaragua invests in poverty reduction, education and health care.

During the past seven years, agricultural workers’ income and wages grew, showing the effectiveness of programs for the rural sector, which is where there are higher rates of poverty and malnutrition, and taking away the economic reason for migration.

Nicaragua is the only country in Central America that managed to return to the pace of economic growth that it had before the international crisis of 2008-2009. This not only has been recognized by ECLAC, but also by the International Monetary Fund in its latest assessment. Why? Because the Sandinista government forced the IMF to support its poverty reduction programs, and to like it!

Nicaragua’s successful poverty reduction programs have caused multilateral agencies and governments to become more interested in the effective implementation of programs that cater to the poor and allow more Nicaraguans to have free access to health and education.

The Vice-President of the World Bank for Latin America, Hasan Tuluy, called projects in Nicaragua one of the best run portfolios of projects in Latin America.

Pablo Mendeville, representative of the UN Development Program (UNDP), has said that Nicaragua is striving to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of social policies to halve global poverty and could achieve this by the end of 2015.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recognized that Nicaragua is among countries that achieved ahead of time the goals set by the Zero Hunger Challenge and lowered the national poverty level. Official data from the Nicaraguan Institute of Development confirm this: in previous years, the level of “poverty was more than 40%, and that of extreme poverty was 17.2%; today we are calculating extreme poverty at 7.6%.”

Nicaragua recorded indisputable achievements in terms of disease prevention and health promotion, with a program of immunization which is an example for Latin America, with coverage as high as one hundred percent in children under one year old, and more than 95 percent in general. It has an effective campaign to prevent 16 serious diseases that can affect the population, such as diarrhea and pneumonia.

The maternal mortality rate of 93 per 100 000 live births in 2006 was lowered to 50 per 100,000 live births in 2013.

Educational programs have resulted in a school retention rate of approximately 96 percent of the students enrolled. In addition, the government achieved 100 percent coverage of students receiving school meals, thus benefiting students of public preschools, community schools and subsidized Catholic schools throughout the country.

Nicaragua is the country with the most gender equality in Latin America and the Caribbean. and tenth worldwide, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This means that Nicaragua is one of the countries where women have greater access to health and education, while they have more political participation and economic inclusion, said the study.

In the report Climatescope 2012, Nicaragua won second place after Brazil, due to its policy of clean energy, the structure of its energy sector, low-carbon business activity and clean energy value chains, as well as the availability of green credits.

According to the Executive, investments from 2013 to 2016 will raise the national rate of electrification from 76 percent of households to a little over 87 percent, as part of efforts toward economic development with social inclusion. In 2006 electricity supply barely reached 54 percent, and there were rolling blackouts averaging 14 hours a day.

The director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Jose Graziano da Silva congratulated the government for the effectiveness of programs implemented against poverty and hunger at the end of a 2013 visit to the country, after visiting various locations to check the value of plans such as Zero Hunger, Family Gardens and the Production Packages, aimed at promoting the development of the agricultural sector and guaranteeing the security of national food consumption.

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Monumental Struggles in Hungary

After midnight on Saturday, July 19, dozens of workers with heavy machinery, protected by hundreds of special-unit police, installed the Monument to the German Occupation on Szabadság (Freedom) Square in central Budapest. The surprise nighttime action and heavy police presence was necessitated by widespread opposition to the monument, which commemorates Hungary’s occupation by Nazi forces 70 years ago, on March 19, 1944. Demonstrators, many of them descendants of Holocaust victims or survivors, or survivors themselves, had maintained an over 100-day presence at the site since construction began (after the foundations and the background and supporting columns were put in, the work had been at a standstill for weeks). The press speculated that the just-begun Israeli invasion of Gaza provided the necessary distraction for the government to pick this moment. The demonstrators argue that the memorial is part of the regime’s campaign to “falsify history” and absolve Hungarians of blame for the murder of over half a million Jews and thousands of Roma (‘gypsies’). Their counterpart, a “living monument,” has produced a line of personal mementoes and statements fronting the site, and a daily program of discussions on themes of history, memory, activism and democracy.

The plan to commission the monument was first announced on December 29; by January 17, the government had already decided on its erection and the form it would take: the Archangel Gabriel, representing Hungary, being assaulted by a German imperial eagle. Public memorials treating issues of national significance usually go through years of design competitions, commission meetings, assessments by historians and public art experts, commentary in the media, and public debate (and, inevitably, controversy) before a final design is settled on—witness the just-completed Ground Zero memorial in Manhattan, the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington, DC, or the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. In this case, there was none of that: the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán simply imposed his will in a fait accompli. Faced with an explosion of outrage in the opposition and independent media, and in particular in Mazsihisz, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Hungary, Orbán postponed the unveiling date and promised to conduct a dialogue with the organization. But, two days after his Fidesz party won a second four-year term over a weak and divided opposition in the April 6 elections, work commenced, with no dialogue and no retreat.

The idea behind the monument is expressed in the preamble to the new Constitution pushed through by Fidesz almost immediately after taking power in 2010, specifying the March 1944 date as the beginning of Hungary’s “loss of sovereignty”—which, in its view, continued right through to the end of communist rule in 1989. Though Hungary had been a loyal ally of the Nazis since signing on to the Axis alliance in 1940, aristocratic-conservative ruler Regent Miklós Horthy’s attempts in early 1944 to switch to the clearly winning Allied side prompted Hitler to order the Wehrmacht in. The Germans forced Horthy to name a submissive prime minister and government. Less than two months later, the Nazi-ordered deportation to Auschwitz of Hungary’s provincial Jews began. This is the basis for the country’s depiction as an innocent angel subject to the ravages of an aggressive attacker, a conception that, in the eyes of critics, puts all responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust on the Germans.

It is true that the over 800,000 Jews in Hungary, including around 70,000 refugees from Poland, had until the occupation mostly been able to preserve their physical integrity, though deprived of their livelihoods and social standing by a series of anti-Jewish laws. But Hungary was responsible for several pogroms and massacres of Jews before 1944, including the late 1941 deportation of some 17,000 by Hungarian authorities over the border into German-occupied Ukraine, where they fell victim to the first mass killing of the Holocaust. And Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann set up his offices in Budapest in March with less than 200 compatriots from Berlin. The registration, ghettoization and transport of over 430,000 provincial Jews within a few weeks would have been impossible without the active cooperation of tens of thousands of Hungarian police and other officials—including midwives, who were employed to search women for fragments of the “national wealth” hidden in body cavities. This is not to mention the hundreds of thousands who benefited from the looting of the Jews’ property: apartments, furniture, even bedding and clothes. And Horthy himself was not removed from power, which is why he was able to halt the deportations at the borders of Budapest, after evidence of the deportees’ fate and pressure from foreign representatives became overwhelming. Eichmann was thrilled with the enthusiasm of Hungarian participation, who got rid of their Jews like “sour beer.”

In contrast to this reality of collaboration, agreed on by most serious historians, the memorial, dedicated to “all the victims of the German occupation,” treats Hungarian victims and perpetrators as one. The view of Hungary itself as a victim of its neighbors and history is one with long roots. The interwar Horthy regime made Freedom Square a centerpiece of its campaign against the post-World War I Trianon settlement, which gave two-thirds of the lands historically under Hungarian rule to the surrounding states, installing several monuments to ‘greater Hungary’ and the nation’s pain. This issue was the motivation for the alliance with the Nazis, the European power most likely to upend the status quo—and indeed, Hitler did force the return of large parts of the lost territory, though they were taken away again at the end of the war.

The monument is only one aspect of government attempts to shape history and public space. A number of other major squares—most notably, the one in front of the Parliament, formerly a site of regular protest but now tightly regulated and guarded—have been or are being reconstituted to their pre-World War II state, complete with statues of interwar politicians (including Horthy himself). Plans for a new Holocaust museum, the “House of Fates,” and the Veritas Historical Institute have also caused broad unease, with, again, independent historians and the Jewish community excluded from planning. Consequently, Mazsihisz broke off all cooperation with the government’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust this year, which designated 1944, typically misleadingly, as the “year of saving lives.” 30 US Congressmen and the US and German Embassies—since the eagle was not a specifically Nazi symbol, and still stands for Germany today—have protested the monument.

When I went to the site the day after the government’s action, around 200 protesters were venting their anger, some by throwing eggs, as dozens of police looked on. There were rumors that the dedication ceremony was about to take place; the government later announced that “it didn’t want to gloat,” thus there would be no public dedication. Gabor, a regular at the protests, told me how he heard the noise of the final construction (he lives nearby), and went out immediately to show his opposition: “only a dictatorship would do this; democracies don’t build such a monument, without discussion, using taxpayers’ money for historical lying.” Speakers pointed out the monument’s retrograde aesthetics and confused symbolism, as well as the mistakes in the Hebrew (which used a word denoting animal sacrifice instead of human victims), English and German inscriptions. Later, there was a circle discussion involving not only the demonstration organizers, but representatives of the far-right nationalist Jobbik party—who advocated that the government should rather put its effort into dismantling the 1946 memorial to the ‘heroic liberating Red Army’ at the other end of the square, in front of the US Embassy—and passersby with wide-ranging opinions about the monument and the historical issues. A history teacher remarked that this kind of open, public give-and-take, about concerns past and present, is exactly what Hungarian society (still) lacks. The Prime Minister’s forthright declaration on July 26 that he aims to build an “illiberal democracy” shows how much depends on such public debate and participation.

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Privatization Comes to the Postal Service, Protest Comes to Champaign-Urbana

Staples Protest-2For the past few years you may have seen headlines about threats to close post offices and reductions in postal service and delivery hours. Now, the Post Office faces another threatprivatization.

Over the past several months the US Postal Service has launched a pilot initiative to privatize a portion of its services by moving them to the office-supply store Staples. The pilot program allowed 82 stores to provide basic postal services and sell items like stamps to customers.  There are plans to expand this program to more of Staples’ 1,500 stores. This initiative is part of an alarming trend of privatizing public services and eroding public sector unions.

Staples workers are not paid the same wage scale as postal employees.  Staples workers also do not receive the same training in handling the mail, are not required to take the same sworn oath to public service that postal employees take, and ultimately are not accountable to the American people.  This jeopardizes the privacy and security of our mail. Citing the rise in electronic communication and bill payments, the Postal Service has characterized these cut proposals and the partnership with Staples as necessary responses to a changing world.  They also cite billions of dollars in losses faced by the Postal Service as a reason for these moves.

Yet, a significant portion of the deficits faced by the post office are due to the fact that Congress has required the U.S. Postal service to pre-fund the entirety of future retiree’s health benefits—a requirement made of no other government agency.  This requirement has severely exaggerated the financial plight of the postal service and has served as a justification for privatization.

Such privatization will negatively impact communities. Rural areas, where the post office is an important public space for the fabric of community life, have been targeted for many of the proposed service reductions. Postal service jobs have been an important employment sector for building the middle class, and in particular in building the black middle class.  Starting after the Civil War, the postal service allowed entry to African American workers, and over the years the Post Office has become an important place for employment for black veterans. By 1970, when the postal workers were first recognized as a union with collective bargaining rights, black workers comprised one-fifth of the postal service work force.  Reduction in public-sector jobs, such as this current movement of living-wage postal service jobs to low-wage Staples jobs, disproportionately impacts black workers.

The Postal Service has claimed that the partnership with Staples is not a move toward privatization, but rather is meant to improve customer convenience.  Yet in California, some post offices are already reducing hours and directing patrons to visit Staples stores.  Clearly this does not add to customer flexibility, but instead directly replaces a public service with one operated by a private company. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) has been leading the effort to fight back against this privatization, joining with other unions and concerned community members in protests at Staples stores throughout the country.  The AFL-CIO has officially boycotted Staples stores and products.

Staples Protest-1In June these protests came to Champaign-Urbana, at the Staples store on Prospect Avenue. Attendees of the Midwest School for Women Workers, who were in town for a week-long conference, coordinated the June 25th protest. Leaders from the Illinois APUW, members of Central Illinois Jobs with Justice and the Graduate Employees Organization, and the president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) local joined the protest, chanting “U.S. mail is not for sale!”

“The postal service is the only personal, private communication that exists in the United States,” explained Linda Turney, APUW National Business Agent, Chicago. The Staples-Post Office partnership is bad for communities, bad for mail safety, and bad for the middle class.

To learn more about joining the effort to stop the privatization of the posts office can visit

Stephanie Seawell is a past member and co-president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO, 6300).  She recently graduated from the University of Illinois with her PhD in History. She is currently working on revising her dissertation, The Black Freedom Movement and Community Planning in Urban Parks in Cleveland, Ohio, 1945-1977, into a monograph.  In her research she examines the importance of public space and urban parks to African-American community building and working class environmental activism in Cleveland, Ohio during the post-World War II Black Freedom Movement.

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Books To Prisoners 10 Years/100,000 Books Party!


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