Er, ahem, shall we do some math?
Let’s start with recent headlines. First, “Chicago Proposes Closing 54 Schools” plus “Jury Convicts William Beavers of Tax Evasion.”
What does this equal?
At a quick glance, the two stories may not share much except their sensational nature. But the closings of 54 schools and the conviction of the Cook County politician are the results of a long, enmeshed system that gives the mayor unprecedented power and breeds corruption, both big and small.
Yesterday, during the “Afternoon Shift” interview Rick Kogan and I did with LaWanda Thompson-Sterling, I heard myself admitting that the ordeal of her son’s murder – a story I followed on and off my WBEZ blog for two and half years – had sometimes been too much and that, because I could, because I’d had the privilege, I’d backed away and taken some distance at times.
Jeremiah Sterling was murdered July 15, 2010, his killer arrested almost immediately. For LaWanda, the murder didn’t just occur on that sunny day, but was kept alive with every new twist and turn of the case, with every new rumor that hit her doorstep, with every interview we did, with every visit from her son’s friends.
"All I could think about was, now what?” she said. “Now what do you do?”
A few days after the trial, having a sandwich on 47th Street with a friend, Thompson-Sterling still looked tired.
“It’s just that nothing is different,” she said. “Except I don’t have the burden of going to 26th and California to the trial. I prepared myself for a not guilty verdict. I was very nervous when the jury came back and I said, ‘Lord, help me to deal with it if it’s not guilty’.”
But even though she’d been longing to hear the guilty verdict, the words seemed to go right through her. She slept away a good portion of Saturday, and again on Sunday.
The death of Hugo Chávez is a turning point and an opportunity -- regardless of who wins the first post-Chávez election April 14 -- for Venezuela. The image and concept of Chávez himself, practically beatified by some some, reviled by others, is part of this next stage. Chávez was a confounding man: committed to a particularly immediate and hands-on brand of social justice, he reduced poverty by 50 percent in Venezuela and helped Latin American unite, addressing hemispheric problems away from the long shadow of the U.S. But Chávez was also a bully, appropriating domestic media, terrifying investors.
"If something should happen that I might be incapacitated in any way, I want Nicolás Maduro to finish my term, as the constitution dictates, but also -- and it’s my firm opinion, as clear as a full moon, irrevocable, absolute, total -- that if you’re obliged to hold new presidential elections, you should elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said, holding a copy of the constitution. “I’m asking this with all my heart.”
Two days later, Chávez boarded a plane to Havana and was never seen or heard from in public again. He was never even sworn in to his new presidential term, thanks to a ruling from the Venezuelan Supreme Court that said the new term was, essentially, a "continuation” of the old term.
Amidst the news of Hugo Chávez’s death yesterday, his vice president Nicolás Maduro also announced that he’d expelled two American diplomats from Venezuela for plotting against the government. Maduro also said that Chávez had been poisoned.
"We have no doubt that Commandant Chávez was attacked with this illness, we have no doubt whatsoever,” Maduro said. “The established enemies of our land specifically tried to damage our leader’s health. We already have leads, which will be further explored with a scientific investigation.”
Where did Maduro get this idea? Well, from Chávez himself. Back in December 2011, he gave a speech shortly after he’d been diagnosed with cancer and heard that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, also had cancer, in which he proposed the possibility that the U.S. had targeted progressive Latin American leaders through some kind of cancer-inducing chemical warfare.
(Above: In this 2012 video to his constituents, Rep. Peter Roskam extolled the Violence Against Women Act. Last month, he voted against it.)
Everybody knows the Violence Against Women Act passed last week -- after major controversy because of Republican objections over an expansion of tribal court jurisdiction (to pursue non-Natives who commit rape on Native lands) and the inclusions of LGBTQ people. In the end, a bipartisan effort helped move the bill through.
Everybody also knows every single vote against it was Republican.
Here, however, are a few things to consider about the vote, the VAWA, 2016 and Illinois Republicans.
* Though the VAWA passed by a bipartisan majority, it’s being maimed by the sequestration. More than $20 million -- a 5 percent cut across the board -- will be slashed from programs, leaving as many as 34,000 victims without service in the next budget year. At the state levels, programs could see additional cuts of more than $5 million, potentially abandoning thousands more. So the program, which has seemed like the lonely bipartisan light in the 113th Congress, could turn out to be more symbolic than substantial.
On Sunday, Raúl Castro announced that he would serve as Cuba’s president for one more five year term, as had been widely predicted (including here). And almost as anticipated, Ramón Machado Ventura, his First Vice President, was kicked to the curb in favor of a fresh face, Miguel Díaz Canel.
The naming of Díaz Canel to be the country’s number two caught most observers by surprise. He was widely rumored to be under consideration for the post of President of the National Assembly, roughly equivalent to the U.S.’s Speaker of the House, and few had imagined him in the Biden role. (The presidency of the National Assembly went to Esteban Lazo, a longtime loyalist, the first Afro-Cuban to reach such a high post, and the assembly’s first new president in 20 years.)