WBEZ | Politics http://www.wbez.org/news/politics Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Quinn had marijuana recommendations, didn't act http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-had-marijuana-recommendations-didnt-act-111456 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/3326238955_c9bec05717_z (1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Newly released documents show former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn received recommendations on which businesses should receive lucrative medical marijuana licenses but did not act on them before leaving office.</p><p>Gov. Bruce Rauner&#39;s administration released the material to The Associated Press and other news organizations in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.</p><p>A Rauner spokesman says aides will review the evaluation process and forward their findings to the attorney general.</p><p>Quinn&#39;s administration had said he would issue the licenses by the end of last year. A Quinn spokesman said Monday that the former administration made &quot;substantial progress&quot; in evaluating applications but decided to hand it over to Rauner for &quot;proper review.&quot;</p><p>The documents appear to show the agencies made recommendations to Quinn around Dec. 25.</p></p> Mon, 26 Jan 2015 10:59:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/quinn-had-marijuana-recommendations-didnt-act-111456 Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah dies http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-01-23/saudi-arabias-king-abdullah-dies-111448 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/King Abdullah.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-03c4e882-17c2-1d25-93e4-be52a7c6de4a">King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died at the age of 90. </span>His half-brother, Salman, has been confirmed as the new king. We&rsquo;ll take a look at his legacy and his successor with Joseph K├ęchichian, a senior writer for <a href="http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/dr-joseph-a-kechichian">Gulf News</a> and the author of several books on Gulf affairs.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/the-death-of-king-abdulla/embed?border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/the-death-of-king-abdulla.js?border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/the-death-of-king-abdulla" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: The Death of King Abdullah" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 09:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2015-01-23/saudi-arabias-king-abdullah-dies-111448 Emanuel introducing ordinance to use park land for Obama library http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-introducing-ordinance-use-park-land-obama-library-111427 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rahm-file_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he&rsquo;d move &ldquo;heaven and earth&rdquo; to bring the Obama presidential library to Chicago. At Wednesday&rsquo;s City Council meeting, he officially offered up parkland to help bolster the University of Chicago&rsquo;s bid.</p><p>The U of C originally pitched three locations to the Obama foundation as part of their application for the library. That plan is in the running for the coveted library alongside the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as Columbia University in New York City and The University of Hawaii.</p><p>The U of C&rsquo;s bid is eying two sites controlled by the Chicago Park District: Washington Park and Jackson Park. But there was word earlier this month that the Barack Obama Foundation was hesitant.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago was not in its best position we did not have our best foot forward because of questions raised by the foundation,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;We can address those questions. So I&rsquo;m gonna take the necessary steps to do that so we can gain the jobs, the economy and the cultural enrichment that would come with it.&rdquo;</p><p>The step Emanuel took Wednesday would transfer that parkland to the city of Chicago, but he promises they&rsquo;d replace whatever open space is used up by the library. For example, Emanuel&rsquo;s ordinance suggests that the library would only take up five acres within the 21 and 20 acre Washington Park and Jackson Park, respectively. That means five acres of open space would be placed elsewhere in the neighborhood.</p><p>The proposal still needs to be voted on by both the City Council and the Park District Board. Over twenty aldermen have already signed on to Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal. At two public hearings hosted by the park district last week, South Side residents came out in droves to share their opinions on the matter. While many said they wanted the library no matter where it was, some stressed the importance of preserving public park land.</p><p>Cassandra Francis, president of the nonprofit group Friends of the Parks, called the mayor&rsquo;s proposal both &ldquo;unprecedented&rdquo; and &ldquo;dangerous.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;The attempt to confiscate this parkland for this use is something that has really galvanized people to focus on this issue. And not just related to real property, but other public trust assets and transfers of those out of the hands or the benefit of the public into things that would not necessarily prioritize public use,&rdquo; Francis said.</p><p>Francis said she personally would be thrilled if President Obama chose to bring the library to Chicago, but says it doesn&rsquo;t belong in a public park.&nbsp;</p><p>Francis wouldn&rsquo;t say for sure if Friends of the Parks or any national groups would take legal action over the mayor&rsquo;s proposal.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 08:41:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-introducing-ordinance-use-park-land-obama-library-111427 State of the Union primer: What President Obama proposed http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-primer-what-president-obama-proposed-111426 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/sotu_wide-456588d57da3d41fbdf48da8113282bc3bbe242a-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Facing a Republican-controlled Congress in his sixth State of the Union speech, President Obama took credit Tuesday for an improving economy and focused on proposals aimed at advancing the middle class.</p><p>After years of recession and war, Obama claimed &quot;the shadow of crisis has passed.&quot; In its place, he asserted, is a future marked by &quot;a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production.&quot;</p><p>Here&#39;s what Obama proposed on the policy front:</p><p><strong>Economy</strong></p><p>For years, Obama has been wary of cheering too loudly about the nation&#39;s economic recovery for fear of seeming out of touch with hard-hit Americans or being caught short by another slowdown. It&#39;s happened before. But after what he called a &quot;breakthrough year,&quot; Obama is setting caution aside.</p><p>&quot;The shadow of crisis has passed,&quot; Obama said. &quot;Tonight, we turn the page.&quot;</p><p>The president has reason to celebrate. Last year saw the strongest job growth in 15 years. The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent. Inflation was a non-issue. And with gasoline selling for just over $2 a gallon in many parts of the country, drivers are expected to save hundreds of dollars at the pump this year.</p><p>Polls show Americans&#39; attitudes about the economy are also improving &mdash; and that in turn has boosted the president&#39;s own poll numbers.</p><p>Wages remain stagnant, though.</p><p>The president has offered a variety of prescriptions to address that, and in his speech, he grouped those ideas together under a new label: &quot;Middle-Class Economics.&quot;</p><p><strong>Middle-Class Economics</strong></p><p>Obama&#39;s budget proposal will call for a number of new and expanded tax credits to help working families. He also wants Congress to require paid sick leave for the 43 million American workers who don&#39;t already have it. And because many jobs now require some form of higher education, Obama wants to let anyone attend community college for free, so long as they keep their grades up and graduate on time.</p><p>The president suggests paying for these proposals by raising the top tax rate on capital gains to 28 percent, and extending it to cover inherited wealth. The White House says 99 percent of the additional taxes would be paid by the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. The idea is almost certainly a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Congress. But Democrats will use it as a rhetorical weapon to campaign on.</p><p><strong>Infrastructure</strong></p><p>The first bill the new Republican Senate took up this year would green-light the Keystone XL oil pipeline, carrying oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the United States. Obama has threatened to veto the measure, saying his administration needs more time to decide whether building the pipeline is in the national interest.</p><p>Critics say the pipeline would worsen the problem of climate change by encouraging development of the carbon-intensive tar sands. In his State of the Union address, Obama downplayed the pipeline controversy to focus on broader infrastructure needs, including modern ports, faster trains, and affordable broadband Internet.</p><p>&quot;Let&#39;s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline,&quot; Obama said. &quot;Let&#39;s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year and make this country stronger for decades to come.&quot;</p><p><strong>Trade</strong></p><p>One area where Obama may have gotten more applause from Republicans than from Democrats was his call for &quot;fast track&quot; authority to negotiate two big trade deals &mdash; one spanning the Pacific, the other the Atlantic.</p><p>Many members of the president&#39;s own party oppose the trade deals, and Obama openly acknowledged their skepticism. &quot;I&#39;m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven&#39;t always lived up to the hype,&quot; he said. &quot;But 95 percent of the world&#39;s customers live outside our borders, and we can&#39;t close ourselves off from those opportunities.&quot;</p><p>Republican congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have identified trade as one of the few areas where they think they can find common ground with Obama.</p><p><em>&mdash; Scott Horsley</em></p><p><strong>National Security</strong></p><p>&quot;Stopping ISIL&#39;s advance&quot; is how President Obama described the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State fighters in both Iraq and Syria, with the aim to &quot;degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.&quot; The president touted the U.S. leading &quot;a broad coalition&quot; including Arab nations &quot;instead of getting dragged into another ground war.&quot; Translation: The U.S. will keep fighting an air war while others battle at ground level.</p><p>The president&#39;s apparent resolve not to send in ground troops may help garner support from Congress for the new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) he called on lawmakers to pass. It may also draw opposition from hawks, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, who say U.S. ground forces are needed to push back the gains Islamic State fighters have made this year.</p><p>One other unresolved question about the AUMF: Who&#39;s going to draft (and thus own) the measure?</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner says he wants the White House to send such a proposal to the Hill; Obama simply says he has committed to both parties to working on a text for the AUMF. One thing all parties agree on is that the two AUMFs, from 2001 and 2002, currently being used to justify the air war against ISIS are obsolete and need to be replaced by a measure that has a clear expiration date.</p><p>The president departed from his prepared text in proclaiming, &quot;It&#39;s time to close Gitmo!&quot; &mdash; a task he set for himself at the beginning of his presidency. Obama said he has reduced the prison population at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by half &mdash; and that&#39;s true. What he did not say is that even he thinks there are several dozen detainees being held there who are too dangerous to be set free, but against whom there is insufficient evidence for a court conviction. He did not propose what their fate should be.</p><p><em>&mdash; David Welna</em></p><p><strong>Foreign Policy</strong></p><p>President Obama is defending his new approach to Cuba, saying he&#39;s ending a policy that is &quot;long past its expiration date.&quot; He used his State of the Union address to urge Congress to lift a decades-old embargo on Cuba. Knowing that is unlikely, he has already chipped away at the embargo, easing many travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and sending Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, to Havana this week to begin talks on restoring diplomatic ties and reopening embassies.</p><p>Opponents of the president&#39;s new policy invited some Cuban dissidents to the chamber to remind Obama of the ongoing human rights abuses on the island. The White House guest list included Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor who was freed in December after five years in a Cuban jail for trying to provide Internet services on the island; Gross&#39; release opened the door to these warming ties. He stood up to say &quot;thank you&quot; as the president spoke about his case.</p><p>On Iran, diplomats trying to resolve the nuclear issue have missed a couple of deadlines, but Obama says there is still a chance between now and the spring to negotiate a &quot;comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran.&quot;</p><p>&quot;There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed,&quot; Obama said in his State of the Union, but he warned lawmakers that any new sanctions will &quot;all but guarantee that diplomacy fails.&quot;</p><p>Obama has made this case before, arguing that the sanctions under consideration would divide the U.S. and its partners. The Obama administration has been working with the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China and has tried to keep up a united front. Lawmakers that support new sanctions argue that it took economic leverage to get Iran to the table in the first place.</p><p>As he outlined his broader foreign policy agenda, Obama said he plans to lead &quot;not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.&quot; He touted his efforts to work with partners and not to get &quot;dragged into another ground war in the Middle East.&quot;</p><p>Obama says the U.S. is leading a broad coalition to stop the advances of the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, supporting Iraqi forces and the &quot;moderate opposition&quot; in Syria to help. However, in Syria, the situation is far more complex. The opposition and some U.S. partners are less focused on countering ISIS than on countering Bashar Assad&#39;s regime.</p><p><em>&mdash; Michele Kelemen</em></p><p><strong>Cybersecurity And Technology</strong></p><p>Obama called on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation &mdash; something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he&#39;s open to moving on (unlike immigration). So it&#39;s a good&nbsp;<em>political</em>&nbsp;move. But Obama may be missing the mark in terms of substance &mdash; maybe even making it easier for the private sector to pass the buck.</p><p>In this digital age, as companies throw people&#39;s data into the cloud, they have to treat that data like banks treat money &mdash; with real protections.</p><p>Obama wants more information sharing between the government and companies. But experts say that could give companies an excuse to just wait for federal dispatches or &quot;most wanted&quot; lists, and not vigilantly monitor their own networks for malicious software (malware) and other attacks.</p><p>Obama also wants consumers to be told, in 30 days, if their credit card number was stolen. But, critics say, the retailer Target sending customers a letter doesn&#39;t solve the problem of mangled internal practices.</p><p>And the president is throwing stones from a glass house. So far, government audits indicate that&nbsp;<a href="http://gao.gov/assets/670/662227.pdf" target="_blank">federal agencies are failing</a>&nbsp;to protect Americans&#39; data too, and tell us about it.</p><p>Another concern is that Obama&#39;s move to make tougher criminal justice laws, through changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, will be &quot;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/01/14/obamas-proposed-changes-to-the-computer-hacking-statute-a-deep-dive/" target="_blank">too severe</a>&quot; on low-level hackers (some of whom are in fact white hats &mdash; the good guys telling companies about flaws in systems we use).</p><p>It&#39;s unclear how Obama plans to partner with other countries to take down cybercriminal rings and build international norms. But that&#39;s key, given how the Internet works.</p><p>While the president laid out a cybersecurity platform of sorts, he talked about technology a lot more in terms of economic growth. Just like the manufacturing sector is creating new jobs, he said, &quot;there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn&#39;t even exist 10 or 20 years ago &mdash; jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.&quot;</p><p>It&#39;s not clear what he&#39;ll expect from Silicon Valley in the coming year. Obama says businesses should connect with community colleges. But his plan has been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2015/01/13/if-community-college-is-going-to-be-free-coding-boot-camps-should-be-free-too/" target="_blank">criticized</a>as an ineffective, indirect route to getting young people into tech when he could just support coding boot camps.</p><p><em>&mdash; Aarti Shahani</em></p><p><strong>Justice</strong></p><p>President Obama made only brief reference to ongoing policing controversies in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., perhaps because the deaths of two black men in police-involved incidents remain under federal investigation.</p><p>But he reiterated his call for criminal justice reform, an issue his attorney general and several GOP members of Congress have been advocating at least since 2013. States have been leading the way.</p><p>The president also urged lawmakers to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, an issue he&#39;ll press in a March 7 visit to Selma, Ala. But voting legislation is all but moribund in the House, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte last week said he did not see that any fixes were &quot;necessary&quot; following a sharply divided Supreme Court ruling that gutted the decades-old system for requiring many mostly Southern states to get federal approval before making elections changes.</p><p><em>&mdash; Carrie Johnson</em></p></p> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 08:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-primer-what-president-obama-proposed-111426 Study projects Illinois deficit growing to $14 billion by 2026 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-projects-illinois-deficit-growing-14-billion-2026-111420 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/capitol_1.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs says there is no easy to repair Illinois&#39; chronic annual deficit.</p><p>An analysis released by the university&#39;s Fiscal Futures Project indicates Illinois currently faces a $9 billion annual deficit that will grow to $14 billion by 2026.</p><p>Co-Director Richard Dye compares the state&#39;s fiscal status to that of a person in deep credit card debt. He says the state hasn&#39;t paid debt totaling $159 billion. He says that is more than twice the inflow of revenue in a single year.</p><p>Dye says solving the debt problem will require a long-term fiscal plan that includes tax increases, spending cuts and economic growth. But those alone won&#39;t solve the state&#39;s fiscal problems. It says changes in expectations and policy are needed to restore fiscal balance.</p></p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 08:37:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-projects-illinois-deficit-growing-14-billion-2026-111420 State Of The Union: 5 things to watch http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-5-things-watch-111419 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ap107344952338_custom-5a245bf3a994f32a35a8bf64bfc05290653e9088-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Even in the era of declining television audiences, President Obama&#39;s state of the union address is still the biggest audience he&#39;ll have all year. Historically, seventh-year state of the union speeches have a short shelf life. Every one of the five lame duck presidents (that is, presidents constitutionally barred from running again &mdash; Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama &mdash; have all had opposition congresses, making the prospects for passing major parts of the president&#39;s agenda slim to none.</p><p>But on Tuesday Obama will try to use his speech to frame the debates for the next two years and set the table for the 2016 election.</p><p>Here are 5 things to watch:<br /><br /><strong>1. How does the president talk about the economy?</strong><br /><br />We know he will make &quot;Middle Class Economics&quot; the centerpiece of his speech, with a tax plan that raises taxes on the wealthiest and the biggest banks in order to pay for tax breaks for working families. How will he convince the country that his policies have led to an economy that&#39;s growing fast enough that it&#39;s now time to move beyond the debate about deficits and stimulus?<br /><br /><strong>2. What tone will he take toward Congress?</strong><br /><br />The president&#39;s tax plan is a not-so-subtle populist challenge to the new Republican majority. Will they dare to defend tax breaks for inherited wealth &mdash; like what the White House is now calling the &quot;trust fund loophole?&quot; The president&#39;s tone is important. Will he reach out to his old golf buddy John Boehner in the spirit of compromise? Or will he treat the GOP leadership the way he did the Supreme Court in his state of the union address after the&nbsp;<em>Citizens United</em>&nbsp;ruling (the one that prompted much head shaking from Justice Samuel Alito)?<br /><br /><strong>3. Will Obama challenge his own party?</strong><br /><br />With his tax proposals, the president is finally giving Democrats the middle class economic agenda they&#39;ve been missing. Will he also challenge them on trade? Getting &quot;fast track authority &quot; through Congress is one area where there is potential for bipartisan action. But most Democrats are opposed. On Tuesday night the president can show he&#39;s willing to push his own party on this issue, or he can make it clear he&#39;d rather let Republicans do all the heavy lifting on trade votes.<br /><br /><strong>4. How does the president avoid looking like the &quot;small-ball&quot; president?</strong><br /><br />President Obama famously said he didn&#39;t want to play &quot;small-ball&quot; &mdash; referring to Bill Clinton&#39;s agenda of narrowly focused items like midnight basketball, or school uniforms. Now, though, the president has rolled out a series of bite size proposals and executive actions like expanded access to high speed broadband, mortgage relief, and free community college tuition. Can he wrap them all into a compelling agenda for the middle class that is bigger than the sum of its parts?<br /><br /><strong>5. How does he talk about Iran, ISIS, and the new terrorist threats?</strong><br /><br />This was going to be the year that Obama ended two wars and made a legacy-cementing deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. But the world isn&#39;t cooperating. Watch how the president talks about the attacks in France, the negotiations with Iran and the so far unsuccessful efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq.</p><p><strong>NPR&#39;s reporters will be covering the speech, and here is some of our related coverage:</strong></p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/19/378289335/white-house-rolls-out-tax-proposals-before-state-of-the-union-address">White House Rolls Out Tax Proposals Before State Of The Union Address</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/18/378080969/obamas-trouble-articulating-the-economy">Obama&#39;s Trouble Articulating The State Of The Economy</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/17/378028524/obama-to-propose-tax-changes-in-state-of-the-union-address">Obama To Call For Tax Hike On The Wealthy In State Of The Union</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/20/377715976/working-3-jobs-in-a-time-of-recovery">Working 3 Jobs In A Time Of Recovery</a></p><p>&mdash;&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/01/16/377611438/iowas-sen-ernst-grabs-spotlight-thats-often-proven-too-hot">Iowa&#39;s Sen. Ernst Grabs Spotlight That&#39;s Often Proven Too Hot</a></p><p><em>-via <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/01/20/378486364/state-of-the-union-5-things-to-watch">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 08:24:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-union-5-things-watch-111419 Gay marriage: High court sets stage for historic ruling http://www.wbez.org/news/gay-marriage-high-court-sets-stage-historic-ruling-111416 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/750px-Flickr_-_USCapitol_-_Supreme_Court_of_the_United_States.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; Setting the stage for a potentially historic ruling, the Supreme Court announced Friday it will decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry everywhere in America under the Constitution.</p><p>The justices will take up gay-rights cases that ask them to declare for the entire nation that people can marry the partners of their choice, regardless of gender. The cases will be argued in April, and a decision is expected by late June.</p><p>Proponents of same-sex marriage said they expect the court to settle the matter once and for all with a decision that invalidates state provisions that define marriage as between a man and a woman. On the other side, advocates for traditional marriage want the court to let the political process play out, rather than have judges order states to allow same-sex couples to marry.</p><p>Same-sex couples can marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.</p><p>That number is nearly double what it was just three months ago, when the justices initially declined to hear gay marriage appeals from five states seeking to preserve their bans on same-sex marriage. The effect of the court&#39;s action in October was to make final several pro-gay rights rulings in the lower courts.</p><p>Now there are just 14 states in which same-sex couples cannot wed. The court&#39;s decision to get involved is another marker of the rapid change that has redefined societal norms in the space of a generation.</p><p>The court will be weighing in on major gay rights issues for the fourth time in in 27 years. In the first of those, in 1986, the court upheld Georgia&#39;s anti-sodomy law in a devastating defeat for gay rights advocates.</p><p>But the three subsequent rulings, all written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, were major victories for gay men and lesbians. In its most recent case in 2013, the court struck down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law in a decision that has paved the way for a wave of lower court rulings across the country in favor of same-sex marriage rights.</p><p>The court is extending the time it usually allots for argument from an hour to two-and-a-half hours. The justices will consider two related questions. The first is whether the Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The other is whether states must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.</p><p>The appeals before the court come from gay and lesbian plaintiffs in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The federal appeals court that oversees those four states upheld their same-sex marriage bans in November, reversing pro-gay rights rulings of federal judges in all four states. It was the first, and so far only, appellate court to rule against same-sex marriage since the high court&#39;s 2013 decision.</p><p>Ten other states also prohibit such unions. In Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas, judges have struck down anti-gay marriage laws, but they remain in effect pending appeals. In Missouri, same-sex couples can marry in St. Louis and Kansas City only.</p><p>Louisiana is the only other state that has seen its gay marriage ban upheld by a federal judge. There have been no rulings on lawsuits in Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska and North Dakota.</p></p> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 15:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/gay-marriage-high-court-sets-stage-historic-ruling-111416 Fundraising for future Obama library picks up http://www.wbez.org/news/fundraising-future-obama-library-picks-111408 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP401486246971.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; The nonprofit raising money for President Barack Obama&#39;s future library has picked up the pace of its fundraising, with up to $4.4 million rolling in during the final months of 2014, records released Thursday show.</p><p>All told, the Barack Obama Foundation has raised at least $3 million and possibly as much as $6.2 million since its formation nearly a year ago. The largest checks have all come from donors in Chicago, which is working aggressively to shore up its bid to host the presidential library and museum.</p><p>Two universities in Chicago have been competing vigorously with schools in Honolulu and New York to build the project, and the president and first lady Michelle Obama are expected to announce their decision within the next few months. Building the library is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, financed mostly by donations raised by Obama&#39;s foundation.</p><p>Contributing most generously to the project have been longtime Obama supporters who gave or helped raise hefty sums to Obama&#39;s presidential campaigns. Many were repeat donations from those who have given to the library project before.</p><p>Fred Eychaner, founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., gave the foundation between $500,000 and $1 million in the last three months of 2014, records show. A major Democratic fundraiser, Eychaner gave almost $8 million in the last election cycle to liberal groups and has hosted fundraisers for Obama at his home.</p><p>The foundation&#39;s only other donors to exceed $500,000 came from Cari and Michael Sacks, also of Chicago. Michael Sacks is a business executive with close ties to Obama&#39;s former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Obama appointed Cari Sacks to the Kennedy Center&#39;s presidential advisory panel in 2010. The couple previous gave the foundation more than $250,000.</p><p>Two members of the Obama foundation&#39;s board &mdash; Kevin Poorman and board chairman Marty Nesbitt &mdash; have also given sums of less than $100,000 to the nonprofit.</p><p>Obama&#39;s foundation is voluntarily disclosing large contributions in ranges of dollar amounts. While it&#39;s already raising money to cover its own costs, the foundation has said most of the funds to build the library won&#39;t be raised until after the Obamas leaves the White House. Obama and the first lady have pledged not to raise money for the foundation until after they leave office.</p></p> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 14:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/fundraising-future-obama-library-picks-111408 House votes to undo Obama immigration policies http://www.wbez.org/news/house-votes-undo-obama-immigration-policies-111400 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP408512381832.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; Shunning a White House veto threat and opposition within their own party, House Republicans approved legislation Wednesday to overturn President Barack Obama&#39;s key immigration policies and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion from the U.S.</p><p>The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide $39.7 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year, legislation that lawmakers of both parties said was sorely needed to pay for counterterrorism, cybersecurity and other priorities at a moment when the Paris terror attacks have underscored dire threats.</p><p>Democrats accused Republicans of putting that money at risk by attaching veto-bait amendments on immigration, and some Republicans voiced the same concern. But House GOP leaders and most of their rank and file accused Obama in turn of reckless and unconstitutional actions on immigration that had to be answered.</p><p>&quot;This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,&quot; said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. &quot;The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.&quot;</p><p>But Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the Republicans were simply pandering to the far right.</p><p>&quot;Shame on Republicans for attacking the Latino community,&quot; Sanchez said. &quot;Republicans are consciously targeting millions of families who work hard, contribute to our communities and are just trying to give their children a chance at the American dream.&quot;</p><p>One of the immigration amendments, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief and work permits to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally, mostly people who have children who are citizens or legal permanent residents. The amendment also would cancel earlier directives to immigration agents aimed at giving them discretion in focusing deportations on criminals.</p><p>A second amendment would delete Obama&#39;s 2012 policy that&#39;s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children under age 16. That measure passed narrowly, 218-209, as 26 of the more moderate Republicans, some representing large Hispanic populations, joined Democrats in opposition.</p><p>The underlying bill passed on a mostly party line vote, with 10 Republicans voting &quot;no&quot; and two Democrats voting &quot;yes.&quot;</p><p>But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces tough sledding there. Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation, and some GOP senators have argued that the Homeland Security bill shouldn&#39;t be the vehicle for a contentious debate on immigration.</p><p>Within the House GOP, too, there&#39;s frustration from some centrist lawmakers that two weeks into a new session of Congress, with a bigger party majority in the House, the most conservative lawmakers are still calling the shots, successfully pushing leaders for a vote to undo the 2012 policy dealing with younger immigrants known as &quot;Dreamers.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If we were just specifically dealing with the November overreach of the president, you&#39;d have Democrats who&#39;d be voting with us on that piece of it but we&#39;ve gone well beyond that,&quot; said Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif. &quot;We&#39;re passing a bill for political reasons, a bill that has no ability to pass the Senate.&quot;</p><p>Before leaving town for a two-day retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Republicans also steered the House to approval of legislation to ease the landmark Dodd-Frank law, which aimed to rein in banks and Wall Street. The new legislation would give U.S. banks two extra years to ensure that their holdings of certain complex and risky securities don&#39;t put them out of compliance with a new banking rule. The Dodd-Frank changes, approved 271-154, also face an Obama veto threat.</p><p>Given the growing importance of Latino voters, Wednesday&#39;s immigration votes could end up raising questions in the 2016 presidential election for the eventual GOP nominee. Potential candidates weren&#39;t touching the issue Wednesday. Requests for comments from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former GOP nominee Mitt Romney went unanswered. At an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky refused to say if he would back his House colleagues&#39; efforts.</p><p>Democrats, on the other hand, were eager to weigh in.</p><p>Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois warned Republicans they were igniting &quot;the mobilization of an immigrant community throughout this nation that will be the death knell to the future of your party.&quot;</p><p>Wednesday&#39;s votes were set in motion late last year, after Obama infuriated Republicans by announcing executive moves on immigration not long after the GOP swept the midterm elections. Republicans passed full-year spending bills for most of the government but kept the Homeland Security Department on a short leash in order to revisit the issue when they would be in full control of Congress.</p><p>Yet given Obama&#39;s veto pen and Senate rules granting significant rights to the minority party, it&#39;s not clear that the GOP has much more leverage now than it did before. House and Senate Republican leaders have ruled out a government shutdown or any disruption to Homeland Security funding, so it appears likely that once the House bill is rejected by the Senate or vetoed by the president, the House will have to accept a version with less contentious language on immigration.</p><p>Current Homeland Security funding expires at the end of February, so House leaders have given themselves more than a month to find a solution. It&#39;s expected to be a topic of debate at the Hershey retreat.</p></p> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 11:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/house-votes-undo-obama-immigration-policies-111400 Indiana's veterans service officers help vets get more benefits http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398 <p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso016_custom-e39d107fe13df481bde64af40dd8510467f310ea-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 427px; width: 620px;" title="Grant County Veterans Service Officer Bob Kelley, right, works with World War II Army veteran Frederick Kern at the Grant County Government Building in Marion, Ind., on Monday. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p><em>NPR &mdash; along with seven public radio stations around the country &mdash; is chronicling the lives of America&#39;s troops where they live. We&#39;re calling the project &quot;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/series/363340041/back-at-base">Back at Base</a></em><em>.&quot; This story is Part 2 of a three-part&nbsp;</em><em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/13/376134776/va-data-show-disparities-in-veteran-benefits-spending" target="_blank">series</a></em><em>&nbsp;about veteran benefits.</em></p><p>The latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show Indiana &mdash; which has the 35th highest number of veterans in the U.S. &mdash; receives $4,935 per veteran each year. If they received as much as Utah &mdash; which has the 35th highest return &mdash; Indiana vets would receive on average another $558. And if they received the national average of $6,088, that&#39;s another $1,153.</p><p>Retired Brig. Gen. Jim Bauerele has spent years working to match veterans with their benefits.</p><p>&quot;I think Indiana has neglected veterans,&quot; he says. &quot;I think veterans are uneducated as to what their benefits are, and there has been little effort undertaken to communicate and get that to veterans.&quot;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/map-va-benefits-in.png" style="height: 462px; width: 320px; float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Source: NPR analysis of Department of Veterans Affairs data Credit: Robert Benincasa and Alyson Hurt/NPR" />Back in 2010, a VA survey found that nationwide&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/SURVIVORS/docs/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf" target="_blank">fewer than half of veterans</a>&nbsp;understood their benefits, whether it was medical care, college tuition or pension and disability payments.</p><p>There are all sorts of reasons why veterans in one area may not receive as many benefits as veterans in another. Veterans from different eras, such as Vietnam or Iraq, can receive different amounts. Older vets might receive more benefits.</p><p><a href="http://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/Applying.asp" target="_blank">VA applications</a>&nbsp;are also notoriously difficult to complete. Vets don&#39;t always get the help and guidance they need.</p><p>Bauerele says one reason for the poor showing in Indiana can be traced to what are called&nbsp;<a href="http://nacvso.org/" target="_blank">veterans service officers</a>&nbsp;(VSOs). County-level VSOs are part of a system operating in 28 states, and they&#39;re supposed to help vets get the benefits they&#39;ve earned. Some VSOs operate on the state level, and veterans groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have their own VSOs, which operate in most states.</p><p>Some county-level VSOs in Indiana operate on a shoestring.</p><p>&quot;Some counties have an officer who is part-time, works three days a week, part-time and doesn&#39;t even have an office or a computer,&quot; Bauerele says.</p><p>So depending on where they live, one vet might find an office with a full-time staff trained to file paperwork with the VA, while another might find a closed office, or a VSO who can&#39;t navigate the system.</p><p>And without help, filing a VA claim can be tough.</p><p>Tom Nichols, a 29-year-old Indiana National Guard veteran, has struggled to file his disability claim. After returning from Iraq in 2010, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Eventually, he landed in treatment for PTSD.</p><p>Not only does Nichols not understand his benefits &mdash; he doesn&#39;t really know the best way to get them, either. He hasn&#39;t tried a VSO because he says it&#39;s too much trouble.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve got to go to some VFW to track down this guy, and it&#39;s only the first Thursday of every month,&quot; Nichols says.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/indianavso014_custom-2468c15859245a2a7f6c60de83e60d06824a0531-s1500-c85.jpg" style="height: 405px; width: 620px;" title="Pamphlets detailing services available to veterans are displayed in VSO Bob Kelley's office in Marion, Ind. Aaron P. Bernstein for NPR" /></div><p>So he filled out the paperwork himself. To some of the medical questions, he just wrote &quot;ask my doctor,&quot; which could be part of the reason his claim didn&#39;t go through. Advocates say the VA rejects claims for reasons as simple as using an outdated version of the form.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s basically on me to go out there and receive this,&quot; Nichols says.</p><p>But a trained VSO can cut months and years off the time it takes veterans to receive benefits from the VA.</p><p>&quot;You never want to apply for benefits on your own, unless you have some experience with it,&quot; says Bob Kelley, the VSO for Grant County, one of the Indiana counties receiving the most from the VA.</p><p>The VA&#39;s own data show&nbsp;<a href="http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/surveysandstudies/state_variance_study-volumes_1_2.pdf" target="_blank">vets who give VSOs power of attorney</a>&nbsp;receive more than double the disability benefits of vets who file their own claims.</p><p>David McLenachen, acting deputy undersecretary for disability assistance for the VA, agrees that VSOs routinely help the system work.</p><p>&quot;It can be overwhelming for somebody to prepare a claim and submit it,&quot; he says. &quot;The VSOs can be very successful at helping with the claim process.&quot;</p><p>Kelley also goes to nursing homes and Veterans of Foreign Wars halls to tell veterans about their benefits, often on his own time. He would do more, but his county won&#39;t pay for an assistant until January.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not a career,&quot; Kelley says. &quot;In the state of Indiana, it&#39;s not a career. When I retired from the military after 25 years, I was hired on at $28,000, and that&#39;s the average salary.&quot;</p><p>But the state is trying to give VSOs more resources in order to ensure all veterans have access to them.</p><p>In the past year, the state paid for software and training so county VSOs could file claims electronically. And for the first time, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs set up workshops to explain federal benefits to vets.</p><p>Bauerele is part of the Military Veterans Coalition of Indiana, which is pushing to reform the system in Indiana. He&#39;d like to see better pay for county officers, and he wants the state to offer more help. VSOs like the American Legion already process thousands of VA claims.</p><p>&quot;Every dollar you give a veteran is new money from outside the state coming into the state,&quot; Bauerele says. &quot;That&#39;ll pay for a lot of Cadillacs, a lot of homes.&quot;</p><p><em>NPR&#39;s Robert Benincasa contributed to this report.</em></p><p>-<em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/14/374055310/indiana-s-veterans-service-officers-operate-on-a-shoe-string">via NPR News</a></em></p></p> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 08:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/indianas-veterans-service-officers-help-vets-get-more-benefits-111398