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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What we learned at the Chicago Humanities Festival about witches

Posted By today at 10.30 AM

Sollée - COURTESY KRISTEN SOLLÉE
  • courtesy Kristen Sollée
  • Sollée

Last Thursday, Kristen Sollée, writer, editrix of the sex-positive feminist website Slutist, and lecturer at the New School, visited the Museum of Contemporary Art to speak about her book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. According to Sollée, witches are having a moment (politically, aesthetically, and spiritually), and it's no coincidence that this comeback is happening now.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Joravsky’s election predictions—going where the New York Times is too scared to venture

Posted By on 11.06.18 at 04:00 PM

In the battle of the billionaires, Pritzker (left) will prevail
  • In the battle of the billionaires, Pritzker (left) will prevail
On Monday, the day before the big midterm elections, when all my friends were losing their minds with angst and anxiety, Nate Cohn weighed in with his election predictions.

Cohn's the numbers-crunching computer geek for the New York Times who goes through every poll from every district in every key race throughout the country to come up with rock-solid predictions about who's going to win what.

In other words, he's the Nate Silver of the New York Times.

Actually, Nate Silver used to be the Nate Silver of the New York Times—then he cut a better deal and took his blog to ESPN.

So now Nate Cohn is Nate Silver. Leading me to wonder—do you gotta be named Nate to get a numbers-crunching job with the New York Times?

Anyway, to ease my own election angst and anxiety, I eagerly dove into Cohn's front-page story. And this is what I read . . .

"Two vastly different outcomes remain easy to imagine. There could be a Democratic blowout that decisively ends Republicans' control of the House and even endangers their Senate majority. Or there could be a district-by-district battle for House control that lasts late on election night and perhaps for weeks after."

Are you kidding me? I mean, Nate Cohn—you call that a prediction? C'mon man, take a stand!

Essentially, Cohn wrote—the Democrats might win. Unless they don't. In which case, the Republicans will win.

Dude, I could have told you that, and my first name's not even Nate!

So allow me to do what the pros, like Cohn, apparently won't dare to do—make a real prediction in several major races, state and national. You can take it to Vegas, folks . . .

Governor: J.B. Pritzker v. Bruce Rauner All things being equal—and what's more equal than two billionaires running against each other?—politics is basically a popularity contest. In this case, you've got J.B., a fairly likable fella, versus Rauner. Nobody likes Rauner—not even the Republicans. Especially the Republicans. Pritzker wins—saving us from the potential nightmare of Rauner turning Illinois into a red state by gerrymandering the legislative and congressional maps after the upcoming census.

Attorney General: Kwame Raoul v. Erika Harold You'd think this would be a gimme for Raoul, the Democrat, what with Illinois being a solid blue state. But Harold has a chance because (1) She's a woman and this is said to be another "year of the woman," and (2) I think a lot of voters will feel compelled to vote for at least one Republican, if only to prove to themselves that they're independent minded. Of course, this prediction is contingent on the notion that Illinois liberals are so clueless that they'd rush to the polls to vote against all things Trump, and then turn right around and vote for an anti-choice Republican who wouldn't have the guts to stand up to the idiotic executive orders on everything from LGBTQ rights to the environment emanating from the Trump White House. I predict Raoul.

Fourteenth congressional district: Lauren Underwood v. Randy Hultgren This suburban congressional district was gerrymandered to protect the incumbency of Republicans—in this case, Hultgren, a Trump puppet. Yet, the district's drifting left as more Democrats move to the western suburbs. Yes, in 2016 Trump beat Clinton by four percentage points in the 14th. But that's down from the ten percentage points by which Romney beat Obama in 2012. Underwood's such a dynamic and exciting new face that she's winning many important endorsements. (Well, the Tribune's editorial board didn't endorse her. But its members also couldn't bring themselves to endorse Hillary Clinton—so I think we'll all agree that the Trib's pretty worthless when it comes to election advice.) At the start of the election cycle, many oddsmakers said Underwood didn't have a chance. But over the last few weeks the polls have tightened. I'm going with my heart—Underwood in a squeaker.

Sixth congressional district: Sean Casten v. Peter Roskam For as long as I can remember, the Sixth has been filled with DuPage County Republicans—it was Congressman Henry Hyde's old district. And yet, it too has been moving left—Hillary won it by seven percentage points over Trump. Roskam is an anti-choice, climate-change-denying Trump rubber-stamper who's done as he's been told to, even when it came to voting for last year's horrendous tax bill. I don't believe a majority of voters in a district that encompasses parts of DuPage, Lake, and suburban Cook Counties would vote for a climate-change denier over an environmentalist like Casten.

Uh-oh, between this race and the attorney general's, I’m exhibiting a lot of faith in voters. Man, this prognosticating thing is tough. No wonder Cohn wimped out. I'm going with faith, gulp. Casten wins.

U.S. Senate Alas, the calendar favors the Republicans, who already have a 51 to 49 advantage. In other words, there are more Democratic incumbents running for reelection in Trump states than Republican incumbents running for reelection in states that went for Hillary. So the Republicans will hold on to the Senate—even if the Dems win in Nevada and, dare I say it, Texas. But it won’t matter so much, 'cause . . .

U.S. House of Representatives The Dems will take the House.

Yeah, you heard it here first, people.

They need to flip 23 seats, and they'll do better than that—even with all the Republican gerrymandering.

So, yes, Trump will still be able to appoint judges, thanks to his Senate rubber-stampers. But the Dems will be able to provide some solid oversight in the House. And almost as soon as this election is over, guess what? We'll be gearing up for the next one.

That's right—2020 is just around the corner. I can't wait.

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Monday, November 5, 2018

Rahm’s legacy: fictitious narratives and real obligations

Posted By on 11.05.18 at 05:35 PM

council-022317-26_67242725.jpg

As hundreds of enthusiastic Democrats packed the UIC Pavilion on Sunday to join President Obama's get-out-the-vote rally in the upcoming do-or-die midterms, Mayor Rahm never looked so irrelevant.

It's not just that he wasn't onstage with Obama, J.B. Pritzker, Susana Mendoza, and other leaders of his Democratic Party to take a stand against Governor Rauner and Trump. Or that no one particularly wanted him onstage. Or that there are still Democrats in Chicago who have a hard time forgiving Rahm for ruling more like Mitt Romney than Barack Obama in his first term.

It's just that in general it seems he's already left town since he announced a few weeks ago that he wasn't running for reelection.

So let me just point out to all those wannabe mayors—Rahm's not gone yet. He's left two things that will haunt his successor for years: a fictitious narrative and some very real obligations.

First, let's deal with the narrative, as Rahm made use of it in his final budget address on October 17. Bragging about a budget that calls for no new property taxes, Rahm did what he does best—patted himself on the back. He reminisced about the dark days of 2010, when he came home from the Obama White House to run for mayor. The city, he said, "had reached a boiling point"—"many believed our best days were behind us." Some, he warned, even predicted "Chicago would be the next Detroit."

But, he went on, the naysayers were wrong. "To those who thought demise and decay were preordained," he proclaimed, "Chicagoans showed resolve and resilience that define the character of this great city."

Nice try, Rahm. Too bad it's not true.

OK, Chicagoans do have resolve and resilience. After all, we survived eight years of Rahm.

But nobody was saying the city Mayor Rahm inherited resembled Detroit. On the contrary, most people were praising Mayor Daley—the mayor Rahm succeeded—from saving Chicago from becoming Detroit. As exhibit A, consider this glowing New Yorker profile of Mayor Daley, published in 2010, just a few months before Daley stepped down.

"Daley took office at a moment when Chicago was paralyzed by infighting and mismanagement," the story begins. "In 1987 William Bennett, the Secretary of Education, said that Chicago had the worst school system in the country—'an education meltdown.' The center of the city was a desiccating museum of masterpieces by Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan. Infant mortality in remote neighborhoods was comparable to levels in the Third World."

And, then, in 1989, Daley was elected mayor. "In the years that followed, Detroit, Cleveland, and other former industrial powers continued to wither, but Chicago did not. It has grown in population, income, and diversity; it has added more jobs since 1993 than Los Angeles and Boston combined. Downtown luxury condos and lofts have replaced old warehouses and office blocks. New trees and flower beds line the sidewalks and sprout from the roofs of high-rises. . . . Chicago is a postindustrial capital of innovation from house music to fashion—the Milan of the midwest, as the Washington Post put it last year."

Wait, wait—there's more in that profile, which was indicative of many written about Daley at that time.

Alderman Joe Moore likened Daley to "a rock star" as he recalled other mayors at a national conference rushing to "shake his hand, get autographs, just express their admiration."

Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, called Daley "the best mayor in the history of the country."

And former alderman Bill Singer, pointing to all the buildings sprouting up on the west side, proclaimed, "with wonder in his voice" that "people want to live here."

As though before Daley that thought was inconceivable.

So if Chicago had already been "saved" from going the way of Detroit (and Cleveland) by "the best mayor in the history of the country," how can Rahm get away with claiming credit for saving it again only eight years later?

Obviously, he's banking on Chicagoans—for all their resolve and resilience—having lousy memories. Or maybe he's hoping they'll believe whatever propaganda he feeds them. And we all know is that Rahm's been feeding us propaganda from the moment he walked into office.

The reality is that Chicago was not as bad as Daley's admirers say it was when Daley took over, and it wasn't so great when he left. So, yes, Rahm should get some credit for starting to confront the financial obligations that Daley ignored. Just as Daley's predecessors—Mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer—should get more credit for steering the city through some rocky times during the 80s. Like we'll ever see that happen.

Daley had a bad habit of pushing off debt to future generations, or trying to pay our bills with such scams as the parking meter deal. Anything to avoid raising property taxes. So Rahm ultimately had to deal with the backlash of raising taxes and fees—after having wasted his first four years in office trying to avoid property tax hikes.

And that brings me to the next thing Rahm's successor will inherit—the obligations. For all Rahm's talk about taking on tough challenges, he left billions of dollars of pension debt for his successor to wrestle with. His last budget is a classic election-year budget. By that, I mean it's based on rosy projections of income they expect to have on hand to spend.

Mayors love to make rosy budget projections at election time. That way they can run for reelection on a promise that they're holding the line on taxes even as they brag about paving streets, hiring cops, and offering summer jobs for youngsters.

As Mayor Rahm did in his last budget.

And then once they're reelected, they can turn right around and announce—oops, our income is less than we projected. Looks like we'll have to raise taxes after all.

Clearly, Mayor Rahm was still planning to run for reelection when he crafted this budget. At the very least, he didn't want to make his loyal aldermen have to vote on a tax hike before they run for reelection. So he resorted to a good-news budget that any incumbent would want to use in a reelection campaign.

Now that Rahm's not running, it will be up to his successor to break the bad news about higher taxes sometime next year. By this time, Rahm will be living the good life of an ex-mayor, giving speeches and writing books—probably about how he saved Chicago from becoming the next Detroit.

So it goes with mayors. You watch—in eight or so years, our next mayor—be it Lori Lightfoot, Toni Preckwinkle, Amara Enyia, Troy LaRaviere, Willie Wilson, whoever—will probably be bragging about having saved Chicago from financial ruin. If so, I only ask that he or she refrain from mentioning Detroit in that oration. Poor Detroit has been used and abused enough.

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Who's that speaking for the Sun-Times this time?

Posted By on 11.05.18 at 06:00 AM

sun-times.jpeg

When this fall the Tribune endorsed Governor Rauner for reelection, it was being true to itself. It's a Republican paper. Over the years, as the Trib endorsed Republicans I had no intention of voting for (and a few I did), I came to understand how it saw its duty: it would make the best case it could make for the GOP candidate for high office—a case usually better than the candidate made for him—or herself—and readers could take it or leave it. 

Readers (and more nonreaders) would mutter Godalmighty! at some of these endorsements. I used to be one of them, but I stopped. The Tribune knew what it was. I did join in the general ridicule two years ago when the Trib—unwilling to endorse Hillary Clinton for president and unable to endorse Donald Trump—put its editorial page behind Gary Johnson, the Libertarian. But that was the Tribune being true to itself in its fashion.

Today we consider the alternative. The editorial page of the Thursday Sun-Times observed that this time around "we endorsed all Democrats in 12 Chicago-area races for Congress. We can't remember the last time we've done that."

Just two years ago, the editorial page went on, "we endorsed [Randy] Hultgren in the 14th District . . . and we might have endorsed [Peter] Roskam in the 6th . . . had he bothered to fill out our questionnaire.

"But things have changed. Roskam and Hultgren have lost their way."

Here's what else has changed. Two years ago the Chicago Federation of Labor wasn't an owner of the newspaper. That era began 16 months ago.

It doesn't really matter what the Sun-Times remembers about its past. It isn't the Sun-Times of 2000, which endorsed George W. Bush for president and, when Al Gore appealed the count in Florida, ran an editorial that began "Desperation does not make a pretty picture" alongside a Mark Steyn op-ed headlined "Following Gore over the cliff: Democratic troops make clear their intention to stick with their fearless leader, no matter how big a fool he makes of himself" and a George Will op-ed headlined "Gore's weak case coming apart at the seams: Democrats' arguments so thin that together they still add up to nothing."

That was the Sun-Times of Conrad Black and David Radler, a Tory and a cynic, neither a friend of labor, and both—beg pardon for the digression—on their way to prison. Nor is today's Sun-Times the Sun-Times of the earlier Rupert Murdoch nor the later Michael Ferro. And it's not the Sun-Times of Marshall Field V, the young Mr. Old Money who benignly presided over the paper's golden age in the 60s and 70s.

When the Sun-Times invokes its history it's not invoking much of anything. 

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Q&A: Cook County Board candidate Abdelnasser Rashid on taxes, surveillance, and campaign finance reform

Posted By on 10.31.18 at 04:00 PM

COURTESY OF ABDELNASSER RASHID CAMPAIGN
  • Courtesy of Abdelnasser Rashid Campaign

The Cook County Board of Commissioners, which legislates for the second-largest county in the country and oversees a budget poised to hit $6 billion, is one of the rare Republican enclaves in Chicago-area politics. Though the 17-member board is dominated by Democrats, there are four Republicans representing suburban districts. Come next week, though, that number may be down to three.

Abdelnasser Rashid, 29, is a Democratic candidate from the village of Justice, which lies to the southwest of the city between Bridgeview and Willow Springs. Rashid's running to represent Cook County's 17th District against incumbent Sean Morrison of Palos Park. This is actually Morrison's first election too—he was appointed to the seat in 2015, after the resignation of Elizabeth Gorman.

The district, which stretches along the western border of the county from Des Plaines to Orland Park, is home to a growing numbers of Arab-Americans and Muslims. Earlier in the campaign season, polling showed that Rashid, who's backed by a coalition of progressive groups, had a narrow lead over Morrison. The latter came under fire in June when the Sun-Times reported that he was defending his having vouched for a former employee of his security business while the man, Anthony M. Martin, faced charges of soliciting teenage girls for sex. (Martin was allowed to travel despite the charges pending, only to be arrested in Colorado and again charged with using the Internet to solicit an underage girl for sex.)

Rashid, a Harvard graduate who worked on Jesús "Chuy" García's 2015 mayoral campaign and Bernie Sanders's 2016 presidential campaign, also spent two years as deputy chief of staff to Cook County Clerk David Orr. He hopped on a phone call with the Reader this week to discuss what that job taught him about government administration, his views of our broken property tax system, and what might be done to improve public understanding of the role of Cook County in our lives.

What do you say to people who have no idea what a county commissioner is to explain why it's a position worth caring about?

This is a great question, and I get it all the time. Cook County is definitely under the radar. People know they have a member of Congress in D.C., they know they have a state senator and a state rep in Springfield. They often don't know they have a county commissioner or what they do.

There are 17 commissioners who pass ordinances—they pass laws. They're responsible for governing the Cook County health and hospital system, which is a big chunk of the budget. They're responsible for overseeing the criminal justice system—Cook County is an arm of the state when it comes to the administration of justice, so everything from the judiciary, prosecutors, and public defenders to the Cook County Sheriff's Office and the Cook County Jail. The county also oversees property tax administration: the assessor's office, the clerk, the treasurer, the recorder [of deeds], the board of review—the entire property tax system is administered by Cook County. It's a small part of your property tax bill, but Cook County makes sure the system is actually running.

Then, of course, the forest preserve is the responsibility of Cook County commissioners. Even though it's technically a separate unit of government, the commissioners are volunteer commissioners for the forest preserve as well. And there are other items: running elections, Cook County has a huge role to play in economic development and transportation—that's not necessarily a constitutional obligation, but it is something the county needs to do given its size and the needs of the residents. So that's what I tell people.

What's a lesson from working with David Orr, who's one of the most widely respected local politicians, that you'd like to apply to legislating for the county?

I learned so much from David Orr, I absolutely loved working with him. I consider him one of the best public servants that Illinois has had. He's someone who's been able to combine understanding policy and administration. He has a big-picture view of what his office is supposed to be doing for elections, for the property tax system, for ethics and transparency . . . and he also pays attention to the details of the office, makes sure that it's running efficiently, that people are treated well, that customers are getting good service, that the office is accessible, that services are offered in different languages. What I learned from him is how important it is to hire strong, competent folks to the offices we're working in.

The clerk's office directly impacted my choice to run for county commissioner—I got to know Cook County [while working there]. Like a lot of other people, it's not like I knew everything about Cook County growing up. But being in the clerk's office, working on our budget, working with commissioners, seeing everything that the county has done I really began to appreciate and understand its role in our lives. The clerk's office gave me the exposure to Cook County that has allowed me to actually run for this office.

I was a senior official in the clerk's office, and that gave me direct experience managing people, making decisions on policies, working with our labor partners, and basically having to work every single day to provide services to residents. As commissioner, that's going to be critical to me—helping [residents] navigate the property tax system, helping them navigate the criminal justice system.

You've talked a lot about the need to make our property tax system more fair during your campaign and have supported Fritz Kaegi in his bid for the assessor's office. Making the system fair necessarily means rightsizing assessments, and as a result, wealthier property owners who've been systematically underassessed for years will have to pay more in property taxes. How are you preparing to deal with their pushback?

I think it's very simple. Assessments are supposed to be accurate, and you might be upset that your assessment for your downtown skyscraper was suddenly rightsized, as we expect to happen, but that's the right thing to do. I think there certainly will be some people, some of the wealthiest people in Cook County, who will see an increase and they may not be happy, but it's a matter of basic fairness, and I think they'll come to understand that.

The other thing is: accurate assessments and consistently accurate assessments create an environment for investment. Investors don't want to come to the Chicago real estate market when they don't know what to expect from property taxes, as is the case now. So it's actually a deterrent to investment when they don't know what's going to happen, whether one year property taxes are gonna be high, the other year low—they can't predict what profits they're going to make. And so rightsizing might decrease their profits a bit, but they will have predictability, and that creates a more positive business environment. A lot of these folks who are going to be directly impacted by this have been pushing to fix the property tax system themselves, because of what I just mentioned about the business environment. So there's strong support for fixing assessments even for many folks in the real estate business.

You've also talked about the need for progressive revenue streams for county government. The only progressive tax the county can levy is the property tax. But the commissioners froze it in 1994 so it's paying for a smaller and smaller chunk of the county budget over time. Commissioners haven't even wanted to increase the levy by the rate of inflation—which the county's entitled to under the freeze. What's your position on unfreezing the property tax? Or even just taking the inflationary growth?

I think we have to get assessments right first in order to even have a conversation about the property tax freeze. I'm completely against telling some homeowner in Orland Park or in Markham that the county needs more dollars from you when you're already dramatically overassessed. This is gonna take a little bit of time, so I think it's wrong to talk about lifting the property tax freeze when our assessments are so unfair.

OK, but the county has an ongoing structural deficit—there's no hole in next year's budget, but it's going to continue being a problem in the future. Besides property taxes, do you see any other potential progressive sources of revenue that are actually in the county's power to procure?

President Preckwinkle has made clear that the 2019 budget does not include any new tax increases. Moving forward we do need to understand that Cook County is directly impacted by policy-making decisions at the state and federal level. When the state moves toward a graduated income tax, that will help Cook County. If Congress repeals Obamacare or makes changes to the health-care system, that can hurt Cook County and put taxpayers on the hook for more money. But that is all looking toward 2020 and beyond. Right now the 2019 budget will be balanced without any tax increases.

I do think we need to look at how we use the forest preserves. I think we need to do more to attract residents to them, there's opportunity for economic growth. Progressive revenue is certainly an important thing to think about, but it's also important to look at where we can achieve some cost savings that don't hurt workers, like the way we combined the clerk's office with the recorder of deeds office. This saves $2 million in administrative redundancies, and there will be other savings because of streamlining technology. I also support merging the Cook County Clerk's election division with the Chicago Board of Elections for the same reasons. I think those can be one office, they could do the job just fine like other large counties do—that's estimated to save up to $10 million a year, according to the Civic Federation.

What's your position on Countering Violent Extremism, which has been developed as an anti-terrorism program by the federal government (and with which Cook County is involved) but has also been criticized for expanding surveillance of Muslim communities? Are you concerned about it given the history of FBI surveillance of Muslims in Cook County?

I think our federal government needs to understand that they're not going to address national security by profiling Arabs and Muslims. And it's unconstitutional, it's illegal, it's wrong, and it's ineffective. I think too often the CVE programs are a cover for that exact type of community surveillance.

CVE could mean many different things, and I think it's really important that we understand what specifically the county's role is. As commissioner I'd be interested in getting clarity from the Department of Homeland Security in Cook County and other offices as to what projects they're participating in relating to CVE. I will certainly ask questions to make sure that we are not profiling people, and if we are I'll call for us to end participation in these programs.

Is there anything you could do as commissioner to improve voter turnout for these elections?

I think as commissioner the most important thing I can do is to give voters confidence in the work that I do, to be accessible to people, for them to know that I'm transparent about my work and doing my job well and that I'm committed to serving them. I think building public confidence in our elected officials and government is one of the most important things we can do to strengthen our democracy. When everyone's' perception of Cook County is that it's "Crook County," when everyone's perception of Cook County is that it's all about corruption and money going down the drain, people have little incentive to participate in the political process, unfortunately.

There's one more obvious thing: I support small-donor financing. We need to reform our campaign finance system. Until we pass a constitutional amendment or do something to undo the damage from Citizens United, we need to rely on local measures like small-donor campaign financing to incentivize elected officials and candidates to actually seek support from the communities they're trying to represent, rather than seek large amounts of dollars from the politically connected, wealthy corporations, and special interest groups. Our political system right now is inundated with money, and that money drowns out the voices of ordinary people, and we need to do something to curb the influence of money in politics. I could do that specifically as a commissioner by supporting small-donor financing at the county level.

So in essence, creating a county ordinance that would regulate campaign donations for county elections and provide public financing?

Yes, there are existing models, like New York City has small-donor financing. Basically it's an opt-in system where a candidate commits to not accepting any donations above a certain dollar amount. If you commit to that, then any money you receive up to [$175] is matched six to one. So a $50 donation turns into a $300 donation.

And candidates who don't opt in could still take donations in any amount?

Correct. This doesn't completely solve [the problem], but it's one step to allow candidates who don't have access to large amounts of money to still be competitive by raising dollars from their constituents. It doesn't eliminate the ability of big money to still enter the political process, but it does give grassroots candidates more of a chance to compete.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Why should the government interfere with the very personal process of gender identity?

Posted By on 10.26.18 at 06:00 AM

At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • At an Intersex Awareness Day protest last year outside Lurie Children's Hospital

Transgender historian Susan Stryker wrote in her 2017 book Transgender History that the contemporary meaning of the word "transgender" is still under construction. It has been redefined often since the word was first created in the mid-20th century, but even then the very concept of moving from one gender was already very old. While Roger Severino, appointed by President Trump as the director of the office for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would call this concept "radical gender ideology," the history books and Chicago activist groups call it reality.

Severino's memo, leaked earlier this week by the New York Times, argues that gender should be rigidly defined under Title IX "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science," as a male/female binary that is unchangeable and determined by genitalia perceived at birth. HHS is encouraging the other government departments that also enforce Title IX—including Education, Justice, and Labor—to follow suit. Under this rule, genetic testing is the only option to determine a person's gender. The memo doesn't just define a gender binary as a rule, it also invalidates gender confirmation surgeries, ignoring any possibility of a person transitioning from the gender assigned at birth. The memo all but explicitly states that all people must identify as either male or female, whichever they were registered at birth. Many trans people feel this strict binary erases their identities.

The crux of Severino's argument is that X and Y chromosomes determine gender, a theory that has been disproven. And even before genetics were discovered, no one talked about regulating a person's gender expression based on anatomy. Before the 20th century, there was no standardized system of birth certificates that assigned gender. Our contemporary understanding of gender is relatively new, only dating back to physician Magnus Hirschfeld's work in early 20th-century Germany. In his studies of gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld coined the terms "transsexual" and "transvestite," both of which have changed in definition and connotation over the past century. As time passes, the terms we use to define gender change along with the way we perceive gender roles. Past cultures have used systems that have organized people into social genders through a variety of methods different from our contemporary binary, often by the work people did rather than by the bodies that did the work. Some gender systems were determined by social, legal, or religious obligations. Some people changed gender roles based on dreams or visions. Many indigenous American communities have three or more genders. Ancient rabbinical texts explain seven distinct genders once recognized in Judaism.

Gender varies by time, place, and culture, not just science. Yet another factor influencing gender identity for many people is genitalia deemed "ambiguous" at birth. With so many contingent factors, gender is difficult to explain, making it an easy target for bigotry. The memo's leak coincidentally occurred during the week of Intersex Awareness Day and protests in Chicago and New York, which aim to educate people about the often overlooked group of intersex people in the queer community.

The existence of intersex people is stark proof that bodies exist outside a gender binary. One in 100 people is intersex, possessing some combination of male and female genitalia, internal sex organs, and chromosomes. Oftentimes intersex people have combinations of chromosomes that aren't male or female, such as XXY or XO. When intersex babies are born and doctors are unable to determine a male or female gender, they often assign one to the infant. Surgeries that are considered "cosmetic," such as clitoral reductions, vaginoplasties, and the removal of functional testes are forced upon the child, and may not match their identity. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is still performing these operations, which the United Nations has deemed a form of torture.

The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children. - SARAH JI
  • Sarah Ji
  • The Intersex Justice Project protested last Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, 2017, outside Lurie Children's Hospital, which continues to perform cosmetic surgeries on intersex babies and children.

The Chicago-based Intersex Justice Project launched a campaign outside Lurie last year on Intersex Awareness Day to end intersex surgery, and will be leading another protest on this year's Awareness Day on Friday, October 26, this time organizing a train occupation. Pidgeon Pagonis, cofounder of the project, summarizes their demands: "We want a public apology for the irreversible harmful surgeries that have been done on intersex people without their consent." The group also wants sensitivity training for Lurie staff and clinicians who handle intersex children, taught by intersex individuals. They demand reparations, Pagonis says, "including free medical care that doesn't position intersex variations as problems to be fixed." This would include hormones and psychological support for intersex people and their parents.

Friday's protest, which begins at 1:15 PM at a location that is only disclosed privately on Intersex Justice Project's Instagram account, is inspired by the first (and last known) intersex protest in 1996 outside the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual convention. The idea for the train action, Pagonis says, was inspired by the Black Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Collective and #NoCopAcademy who crowded CTA Red Line cars to commemorate Rekia Boyd and chant against Mayor Emanuel's proposed cop academy, respectively. IJP's protesting arguments against "corrective" surgeries will conflict with the administration's historically and scientifically inaccurate definition of gender.

Sex defined by a male/female binary is too rigid to accurately label the many ways we express gender socially. Bodies are too varied in their chromosomal makeup and genital formation to accurately conform to the social categories a person lives in. They can't be defined on such a narrow binary. Many people—myself included—have taken years to come to an awareness of their own gender identities. Why does the government need to intercede in that already complicated, and very personal, process?

So why does the Trump administration insist on defining gender as a binary? Comments in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and even from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow speculate that it's a simple tactic to score political points before the upcoming midterm elections. Maddow framed her coverage of the story by recalling President's Bush's homophobic remarks before the 2004 election to encourage conservative voters to come out and vote against marriage equality. This is not a scientific debate on whether or not 1.4 million transgender people exist in the U.S.; this is political, using real people as pawns to gain power.

Should other government departments follow HHS, the results would be bigger than the ongoing bathroom debate. On Wednesday, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that businesses can discriminate against their own workers based on their gender identity, suddenly reversing the position of 2008's Schroer v. Billington. People may begin to face discrimination at work and while jobs-hunting. Social services and health care (including gender-affirming surgeries, hormone replacements, and other necessary care for transgender patients) could be denied. Military bans lifted during the Obama era could go back into effect. Identification documents such as drivers licenses, birth certificates, and passports might be impossible to change. Medical records would be inaccurate. The memo's broad support from the government, says Pagonis, "will only serve to give surgeons who ignore the United Nations more fuel for the already existing intersex-phobic fire. A parent of an intersex kid who (rightfully) decides they don't want to allow surgeons to 'fix' their child could be met with, 'Sorry, sex reassignment surgery is the law now.'"

Pagonis cites the colonialists who attempted to decimate the two-spirit people of indigenous communities, the medical-sanctioned genital mutilation of infants since the 1950s, and the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge the existence of AIDS in the early 80s, even as it plagued and ravaged the queer community. "Yet we fought back," Pagonis says. That might be where the Trump administration's political trick for votes goes wrong: transgender and gender-nonconforming people have historically turned out to fight and vote more so than their cisgender counterparts, and in disproportionately high numbers for Democrats.

Following the memo's leak, activist group Voices4 and Lambda Legal gathered hundreds of people in Washington Square Park in New York City, the same park where activists Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries in 1970. They shouted "Hell no to the memo!" Hundreds more protesters gathered outside the White House.

The Trump administration's definition of gender becoming policy would undo legal work to protect trans people dating back to the Minnesota state legislature's ban on discrimination against transgender people in 1993, all the way through President Obama's protection of trans identities on a variety of federal fronts. But this unprecedented setback on one vulnerable community's civil rights might not take shape should the election favor a democratic senate. With 33 Senate seats on the upcoming ballot, a shift in power might see HHS's Roger Severino out of a job.

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Warning, Democrats: a Rauner victory over Pritzker could turn Illinois into a red state

Posted By on 10.25.18 at 06:00 AM

Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016 - JODI MARTINEZ
  • Jodi Martinez
  • Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016

Got a call the other day from an old friend—a Bernie Sanders Democrat—who told me something that hit me like a blow to the belly.

Sorry, he said, but as much as I detest the policies of Governor Rauner—and I detest them very much—I can't bring myself to vote for J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee.

Instead, he wouldn't vote for governor at all—he'd leave that portion of the ballot blank. "I'm tired of voting for the lesser of two evils," he said.

Oh, brother. Democrats, when will you ever learn?

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Staffer Ryan Smith says goodbye to the Reader

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 05:15 PM

Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign. - RYAN SMITH
  • Ryan Smith
  • Bruce Rauner adopts some culturally liberal causes in service of his cruel economic campaign.

Shortly after Sun-Times Media bought the Reader, CEO Edwin Eisendrath admitted he didn't really know what an "alternative" publication in Chicago had to offer these days. Alternative to what?

In some ways, he had a point. Alt-weeklies have increasingly become a victim of their own success. The countercultural beat of weed, LGBTQ pride, edgy theater, and punk music that once set the alternative press apart have increasingly become permanently etched into mainstream urban life. The entrenched power structures that used to vehemently oppose the rights of gays—Republicans, the police, and the military—now regularly march at Pride parades. Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker wants Illinoisians to be able to smoke weed for fun. Riot Fest, punk rock's annual nostalgia fest, doesn't inspire anything resembling a riot.

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Rauner and Pritzker tout government transparency while blocking access to records

Posted By on 10.18.18 at 02:08 PM

J.B. Pritzker and Governor Bruce Rauner debate earlier this month in front of the Sun-Times Editorial Board. - RICH HEIN/CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times
  • J.B. Pritzker and Governor Bruce Rauner debate earlier this month in front of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

This story was originally published by ProPublica Illinois.

Since he first entered politics as a candidate five years ago, Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has pledged his commitment to open government.

As he put it during a debate last week with challenger J.B. Pritzker before the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board: "Transparency is great."

As he fights for reelection, making the declaration is a great move on Rauner's part—and an easy one. Voters are demanding more and more information about what their governments are doing with their tax money, and every candidate at every level is wise to speak in favor of sharing it with them.

But what Rauner means when he vows to be transparent isn't so clear, given his administration's habit of fighting against the release of information. The governor's office won't even disclose how often it blocks the release of records sought by the public.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Where and what to vote for this midterm election in Chicago

Posted By on 10.15.18 at 10:00 PM

JEFF HELSEL
  • Jeff Helsel

The spring Democratic primaries may be the hottest elections in Chicago, but there's plenty of action on this midterm ballot too. This November's    election features an opportunity to decide Illinois's next governor and attorney general, Cook County's new tax assessor, and a few contested county commissioner, state legislator, and congressional seats. Plus you can choose whether to retain dozens of judges in our civil and criminal courts.

First things first, however: registration. To vote, you must register. Luckily, you can do this at the polls. If you've never voted in Chicago before, you should bring two forms of identification, one of them with your current address—like a utility bill or a report card. You can find more information about ID requirements for voter registration here. You can vote in Illinois even if you have a felony conviction, by the way.

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