WBEZ | Politics http://www.wbez.org/news/politics Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en US announces protections for transgender workers http://www.wbez.org/news/us-announces-protections-transgender-workers-111265 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flag.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &nbsp;&mdash; The Justice Department is now interpreting federal law to explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination against transgender people, according to a memo released Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder.</p><p>That means the Justice Department will be able to bring legal claims on behalf of people who say they&#39;ve been discriminated against by state and local public employers based on sex identity. In defending lawsuits, the federal government also will no longer take the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans sex discrimination, does not protect against workplace discrimination on the basis of gender status.</p><p>The memo released Thursday is part of a broader Obama administration effort to afford workplace protection for transgender employees. In July, President Barack Obama ordered employment protection for gay and transgender employees who work for the U.S. government or for companies holding federal contracts.</p><p>The new position is a reversal in position for the Justice Department, which in 2006 stated that Title VII did not cover discrimination based on transgender status.</p><p>&quot;The federal government&#39;s approach to this issue has also evolved over time,&quot; Holder wrote in the memo, saying his position was based on the &quot;most straightforward reading&quot; of the law.</p><p>The memo covers all components of the Justice Department as well as all U.S. Attorneys&#39; offices. The Justice Department does not have authority to sue private employers, and the new memo does not affect that.</p></p> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/us-announces-protections-transgender-workers-111265 With Sony hack, nation-state attacks go from quiet to overt http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/sony-hack-nation-state-attacks-go-quiet-overt-111264 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP809914660283.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>NPR has confirmed from U.S. intelligence officials that North Korea was centrally involved with the recent attacks against Sony Pictures. And the company says it is pulling its comedy film The Interview from the box office. It was supposed to debut on Christmas. These are major developments in what we may now call cyberwarfare.</p><p>The White House hasn&#39;t come out and said it yet, but intelligence officials tell us that the North Korean government was in fact involved in this hack against Sony, where everything from social security numbers to executive salaries and celebrity gossip got leaked.</p><p>Yes, it&#39;s the confirmation that many people have been waiting for. Though it&#39;s also really important to note that we don&#39;t exactly know what that means &mdash; and I&#39;ve spoken with security experts who remain skeptical.</p><p>That said, if it&#39;s true, it really is extraordinary. North Korea is one of the poorest countries on Earth. Its people don&#39;t go online &mdash; they&#39;re cut off from the Internet. But its government has allegedly launched an overt cyberattack &mdash; and even secured a decisive victory &mdash; against one of the biggest companies on Earth.</p><p>Repeat: overt.</p><p>That&#39;s a key part here &mdash; the fact that you and I and everyone else knows about it.</p><p>I want to compare this with another cyberattack &mdash; one that was carried out by nation-state actors: Stuxnet in 2010. That&#39;s when the U.S. and Israel used some very sophisticated code to dig their way into nuclear facilities in Iran and damage the actual physical centrifuges.</p><p>In that case, the hackers caused physical damage in the real world &mdash; but they did it covertly. While the news eventually broke, it&#39;s not like the U.S. was sending out press releases.</p><p>In this case, the hackers &mdash; who might be North Korean officials or backed by the regime &mdash; have been very vocal from the get. Using the name &quot;Guardians of Peace,&quot; they&#39;ve even threatened to hurt people who go to see the movie in theaters.</p><p>Theater chains that were supposed to screen The Interview decided not to, and Sony canceled the Christmas Day release.</p><p>So, effectively, the hackers grabbed a ton of attention through an online attack &mdash; one that was nowhere near as sophisticated as Stuxnet. And they leveraged all that attention, that power, to pivot &mdash; and make a physical threat that people suddenly felt was credible.</p><p>This whole chain of events has experts inside the cybersecurity industry really concerned. I talked to a few people whose job it is to ward off these kinds of attacks. And they have different takes on whether Sony, by caving, made the right decision for itself.</p><p>But across the board, they&#39;re worried that the company is sending the wrong message by handing off a huge win to a disgruntled state with very limited resources.</p><p>So the concern is that we&#39;re going to see copycats or a new trend on the horizon.</p><p>Cyberattacks happen every day. At this point, they&#39;re nothing new.</p><p>I was talking to this one security expert in Moscow, who pointed out that during the height of tensions between Russia and Ukraine, there were plenty of cyberattacks &mdash; online skirmishes with one side taking down the other side&#39;s media outlet or defacing websites.</p><p>Now this Sony episode is showing what a disproportionate impact a small, angry entity can have &mdash; and how an attack online can spill over to physical-world consequences.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/12/18/371581401/with-sony-hack-nation-state-attacks-go-from-quiet-to-overt" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:34:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/sony-hack-nation-state-attacks-go-quiet-overt-111264 Durbin leaving Congressional roommates behind http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-leaving-congressional-roommates-behind-111261 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP602936696661.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>For Senator Dick Durbin, the upcoming session of Congress marks the end of an era. And it&rsquo;s not because the Senate is turning from blue to red.</p><p>After more than 20 years, the number two Democrat will be forced to find a new place to live. Durbin has been sharing a Capitol Hill row house with two Democrats: New York Sen.Chuck Schumer, and Rep. George Miller of California, who is also the landlord. Other members of congress have stayed there through the years, including Marty Russo of Illinois, Leon Panetta of California, Sam Gejdenson of Connecticut, and Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.</p><p>But in 2015, their landlord won&rsquo;t be returning to the Hill. Representative Miller announced at the beginning of this year that he wasn&rsquo;t going to seek a 21st term in the House of Representatives, and so he decided to sell the now somewhat famous frat house.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s the end of an era,&rdquo; Durbin said. &ldquo;And as I said to one of the other <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/us/after-decades-lawmakers-are-roommates-no-more.html" target="_blank">interviewers</a>, it&rsquo;s the end of America as I have known it. It is a new nation. I don&rsquo;t know, it&rsquo;ll be fine.&rdquo;</p><p>Durbin says he went out and got himself a little apartment that he&rsquo;ll move into in a couple weeks when the new session starts.</p><p>But the Senator didn&rsquo;t seem too thrilled about the change of pace, as he says he&rsquo;ll miss his roommates.</p><p>&ldquo;Coming home at night, late at night, and just sitting around, on the couch, talking about what happens and how it&rsquo;s seen differently in the House than it is in the Senate. You know, I miss that. And plus, we became friends, family friends.&rdquo;</p><p>Durbin has told stories in the past about the lack of cleanliness in the apartment. He says Miller would chide Schumer for leaving his bed unmade for &ldquo;7,000 nights.&rdquo; Durbin says his new Washington digs will be much cleaner than his last.</p><p>&ldquo;I am just an average clean up guy, and I stood out in this house as way above the rest,&rdquo; Durbin said.</p><p>If the vision of three, not just grown men, but powerful lawmakers, living together in a DC apartment sounds to you like the makings of a sitcom, you&rsquo;re not alone.</p><p>&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t tell you how many times people say, &lsquo;that would make a wonderful TV show.&rsquo; That story, I can just see it now,&rdquo; Durbin said, in a previous interview. &ldquo;And I said, understand there&rsquo;s no sex and violence here, so this is not likely to be very popular.&rdquo;</p><p>A few attempts at that show were made early on, including one by a then young comedian named Al Franken, but none were successful until last year, when Amazon produced a web series called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-HD/dp/B00CDBTQCW" target="_blank">Alpha House</a>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/durbin-leaving-congressional-roommates-behind-111261 Chicago 'petcoke' handler says it'll enclose piles http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-petcoke-handler-says-itll-enclose-piles-111252 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rahm Petcoke 1_0.jpeg" alt="" /><p><p>CHICAGO &mdash; A company storing petroleum coke on Chicago&#39;s southeast side says it plans to build a huge structure to contain the grainy black piles and keep them from blowing around.</p><p>KCBX Terminals said Tuesday that it&#39;ll build a $120 million structure about 1,000 feet long, 200 feet wide and 100 feet tall to comply with a city requirement to enclose &quot;petcoke.&quot;</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-pet-coke-handlers-not-wanted-chicago-109694" target="_blank">Emanuel says pet coke handlers &#39;not wanted&#39; in Chicago</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Construction would begin next fall and take two years &mdash; even though the city requires that petcoke piles be enclosed by 2016. The company is asking the city to waive that timeline.</p><p>Petcoke is a byproduct of oil refining often used as industrial fuel.</p><p>Many residents want the piles removed, saying they worry about their health. A proposed city ordinance would limit the amount of petcoke stored in Chicago.</p></p> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:22:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-petcoke-handler-says-itll-enclose-piles-111252 Obama re-establishing US relations with Cuba http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-re-establishing-us-relations-cuba-111251 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP561226672451.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>WASHINGTON &mdash; President Barack Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and an easing in economic and travel restrictions on Cuba Wednesday, declaring an end to America&#39;s &quot;outdated approach&quot; to the communist island in a historic shift aimed at ending a half-century of Cold War enmity.</p><p>&quot;Isolation has not worked,&quot; Obama said in remarks from the White House. &quot;It&#39;s time for a new approach.&quot;</p><p>As Obama spoke, Cuban President Raul Castro addressed his own nation from Havana. He said that while profound differences remain between the two nations in such areas as human rights and foreign policy, they must learn to live with those differences &quot;in a civilized manner.&quot;</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/us-and-cuba-brief-history-tortured-relationship-111255" target="_blank">A brief history of the US relationship with Cuba</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Obama&#39;s action marked an abrupt use of U.S. executive authority. However, he cannot unilaterally end the longstanding U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was passed by Congress and would require action from lawmakers to overturn.</p><p>Wednesday&#39;s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba, including clandestine meetings in Canada and the Vatican and personal involvement from Pope Francis. The re-establishment of diplomatic ties was accompanied by Cuba&#39;s release of American Alan Gross and the swap of a U.S. spy held in Cuba for three Cubans jailed in Florida.</p><p>In a statement, the Vatican said Pope Francis &quot;wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.&quot;</p><p>Obama said Gross&#39; five-year imprisonment had been a major obstacle in normalizing relations. Gross arrived at an American military base just outside Washington Wednesday morning, accompanied by his wife and a handful of U.S. lawmakers. He went immediately into a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry.</p><p>As part of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, the U.S. will soon reopen an embassy in the capital of Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the governments. The U.S. is also easing travel bans to Cuba, including for family visits, official U.S. government business and educational activities. Tourist travel remains banned.</p><p>Licensed American travelers to Cuba will now be able to return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. This means the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars is over, although there are still limits.</p><p>The U.S. is also increasing the amount of money Americans can send to Cubans from $500 to $2,000 every three months. Early in his presidency, Obama allowed unlimited family visits by Cuban-Americans and removed a $1,200 annual cap on remittances. Kerry is also launching a review of Cuba&#39;s designation as a state sponsor of terror.</p><p>Obama said he continued to have serious concerns about Cuba&#39;s human rights record but did not believe the current American policy toward the island was advancing efforts to change the government&#39;s behavior.</p><p>&quot;I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,&quot; he said.</p><p>There remains a divide on Capitol Hill over U.S. policy toward Cuba. While some lawmakers say the embargo is outdated, others say it&#39;s necessary as long as Cuba refuses to reform its political system and improve its human rights record.</p><p>Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the new U.S. policy would do nothing to address those issues.</p><p>&quot;But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come,&quot; Rubio said.</p><p>U.S. officials said Cuba was taking some steps as part of the agreement to address its human rights issues, including freeing 53 political prisoners.</p><p>Cuba also released a non-American U.S. intelligence &#39;asset&#39; along with Gross. Officials said the spy had been held for nearly 20 years and was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursed in recent decades. That includes convicted Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes, Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers and a group known as the Cuban Five.</p><p>The three Cubans released in exchange for the spy are part of the Cuban Five &mdash; a group of men who were part of the &quot;Wasp Network&quot; sent by Cuba&#39;s then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S.</p><p>Two of the five were previously released after finishing their sentences.</p><p>Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship.</p><p>Bonnie Rubinstein, Gross&#39; sister, heard the news from a cousin, who saw it on television.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re like screaming and jumping up and down,&quot; she said in a brief telephone interview from her home in Texas.</p><p>Cuba considers USAID&#39;s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.</p><p>Gross&#39; family has said he was in ailing health. His wife, Judy, said in a statement earlier this month that Gross has lost more than 100 pounds, can barely walk due to chronic pain, and has lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye.</p></p> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-re-establishing-us-relations-cuba-111251 Topinka remembered as honest, tough at memorial http://www.wbez.org/news/topinka-remembered-honest-tough-memorial-111250 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/topinka_0.png" alt="" /><p><p>COUNTRYSIDE, Ill. &mdash; Late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has been remembered as a tough, honest leader with a signature sense of humor.</p><p>Crowds filled a union hall in suburban Chicago on Wednesday to pay respects. Individuals included the state&#39;s top leaders, lawmakers, local leaders and Illinoisans who knew her for more than 70 years.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213">Judy Baar Topinka in her own words</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Gov. Pat Quinn says Topinka took on tough challenges in life. She was also a former state treasurer, GOP head and lawmaker.</p><p>Portraits of Topinka lined an entrance, along with photos of past campaigns, her family and dogs.</p><p>Former Gov. Jim Thompson says Topinka would have appreciated the bipartisan crowd gathered at the memorial.</p><p>Topinka died last week after suffering complications from a stroke. She had won a second full term in November. A replacement hasn&#39;t yet been named.</p></p> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 11:07:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/topinka-remembered-honest-tough-memorial-111250 Vatican signals new tone on US nuns http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/vatican-signals-new-tone-us-nuns-111243 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP475133071654.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An unprecedented Vatican investigation of U.S. women&#39;s religious orders that alarmed Roman Catholic sisters when the inquiry began years ago ended Tuesday with a report signaling a softer approach under Pope Francis.</p><p>The report praised sisters for their selfless work caring for the poor and promised to value their &quot;feminine genius&quot; more, while gently suggesting ways to serve the church faithfully and survive amid a steep drop in their numbers. There was no direct critique of the nuns, nor any demand for them to change &mdash; only requests that they ensure their ministries remain &quot;in harmony with Catholic teaching.&quot;</p><p>&quot;There is an encouraging and realistic tone in this report,&quot; said Sister Sharon Holland, head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella organization for most U.S. religious orders. &quot;Challenges are understood, but it is not a document of blame, or of simplistic solutions. One can read the text and feel appreciated and trusted to carry on.&quot;</p><p>The laudatory language contrasted sharply with the atmosphere in which the review started under Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Franc Rode, who in 2008 initiated the nationwide study when he led the Vatican office that oversees religious orders, said there was concern about &quot;a certain secular mentality that has spread in these religious families and, perhaps, also a certain &#39;feminist&#39; spirit.&quot;</p><p>Rode left the post while the review was still under way, and his successors had said they wanted a friendlier relationship with the sisters.</p><p>Still, many nuns remained concerned about the outcome of the investigation under Francis&#39; still-young pontificate. Some nuns had taken legal steps during the inquiry to shield the financial assets of their religious orders in case of a Vatican takeover.</p><p>The report expressed hope that sisters would take &quot;this present moment as an opportunity to transform uncertainty and hesitancy into collaborative trust&quot; with the church hierarchy. Many sisters have complained that their work often went unrecognized by priests and requested improved dialogue with bishops to clarify their role in the church and give them greater voice in decisions, according to the report.</p><p>Before the news conference releasing the report in Rome, leaders for the sisters and the nun who oversaw the review, Mother Mary Clare Millea, attended the pope&#39;s daily Mass in the Vatican hotel where he lives and spoke with him briefly, where he offered his blessing.</p><p>Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, based in Maryland, said in a statement the document signaled &quot;a hope for future dialogue and communion among and between women religious and church leaders.&quot;</p><p>&quot;The report is clearly focused on cooperation. It&#39;s clearly focused on dialogue, which I think is not necessarily what people expected back in 2008 when this issue came up,&quot; said Jana Bennett, a specialist in Catholic theology and ethics at the University of Dayton, Ohio.</p><p>Still, American nuns are dealing with the fallout from a separate investigation from a different Vatican office. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 ordered an overhaul of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of U.S. sisters. The doctrine office said the organization strayed from church teaching and promoted &quot;radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.&quot; Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain was appointed to oversee the Leadership Conference, potentially through 2017.</p><p>Holland said she was &quot;working hard and working well&quot; with Sartain and other Vatican-appointed delegates, and the process might end sooner than originally expected.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re moving toward resolution of that,&quot; she said.</p><p>Both investigations prompted an outpouring of support from many rank-and-file American Catholics who viewed the inquiries as a crackdown by the all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion&#39;s share of work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.</p><p>Theological conservatives have long complained that after the modernizing reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women&#39;s religious orders in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith.</p><p>The nuns insisted prayer and Christ were central to their work.</p><p>Along with praise, the report offered a sobering assessment of the difficult state of American religious orders. The current number of 50,000 U.S. sisters represents a fraction of the 125,000 in the mid-1960s, although that was an atypical spike in U.S. church history.</p><p>Financial resources to care for sisters are dwindling as they age, and the orders have struggled to attract new members. The report asked the sisters to make sure their training programs reflect church teaching and their members pray and focus on Christ.</p></p> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:49:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/vatican-signals-new-tone-us-nuns-111243 Chicago mayor's commission unveils plan for a safer Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-mayors-commission-unveils-plan-safer-chicago-111241 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP973232440855.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The city of Chicago released <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/supp_info/the-mayor-s-commission-for-a-safer-chicago.html" target="_blank">a report</a> today with 28 recommendations to address the city&#39;s youth violence problem.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Mayor&#39;s Commission for a Safe Chicago released the report. The recommendations include adding eight &quot;peace rooms&quot; in Chicago Public schools for conflict resolution and connecting families with counseling.</p><p>&ldquo;Every child in the city of Chicago deserves a childhood, and that childhood cannot be stolen from them,&rdquo; Emanuel said in unveiling the plan. &ldquo;And every adolescent deserves their adolescence free of violence. So I hope we take this work &hellip; not just as another report [but as] a call to action.&rdquo;</p><p>While it is billed as a strategic plan for 2015, most of the report&rsquo;s 64 pages are dedicated to celebrating past accomplishments by the Emanuel administration. Of the 60 violence prevention programs highlighted in the report&rsquo;s executive summary, 13 of them are new or updated for 2015.</p><p>One of the new ideas presented in the plan calls on the Chicago Police Department to explore alternatives to arresting first-time juvenile offenders.</p><p>&ldquo;We recommend exploring possible alternatives to arrest for first-time juvenile offenders such as tickets or &hellip; community service,&rdquo; said co-chair Eddie Bocanegra with the YMCA.</p><p>And the written report says the police department will do just that in 2015. But spokesmen for the mayor&rsquo;s office and CPD declined to provide any specifics on the plan.</p><p>The commission&rsquo;s plan focuses on youth violence because, according to the city, people 29 and younger have made up more than 60 percent of Chicago&rsquo;s homicide victims over the past five years. It aims to decrease crime by treating youth violence as a public health issue. That means a focus on education, trauma therapy and youth employment.</p><p>Emanuel pointed to <a href="https://soundcloud.com/afternoonshiftwbez/new-study-reveals-local-summer-jobs-program-reduces-youth-violence" target="_blank">a recent study by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the University of Pennsylvania</a> that showed the One Summer Plus youth jobs program helped reduce arrests by more than 40 percent over a 16-month period.</p><p>This is the first report by the Mayor&rsquo;s Commission for a Safer Chicago. It was written after three forums held over the summer attended by government representatives, faith groups and community organizations.</p><p>The commission also sought out opinions from about 200 young people in more than a dozen Chicago communities.</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter and producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.</em></p></p> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:28:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-mayors-commission-unveils-plan-safer-chicago-111241 Unions sue to stop Chicago pension overhaul http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-sue-stop-chicago-pension-overhaul-111239 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/city hall chicago flickr daniel x o nell.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Current and retired city workers and their labor unions have filed a lawsuit arguing a law overhauling Chicago&#39;s pension systems is unconstitutional.</p><p>The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court also asks a judge to stop the law from taking effect Jan. 1.</p><p>Chicago has the worst-funded pension system of any major U.S. city.</p><p>Legislation approved last year seeks to eliminate a $9.4 billion unfunded liability in two pension systems by increasing contributions and cutting benefits. It would affect about 57,000 laborers and municipal employees.</p><p>The plaintiffs are 12 current and former workers and four unions, including AFSCME Council 31 and the Illinois Nurses Association.</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the law is constitutional. He says the changes are needed to ensure pension funds remain solvent and retirees receive benefits.</p></p> Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-sue-stop-chicago-pension-overhaul-111239 Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka dies http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213 <p><p>Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the first woman in Illinois to serve in two state constitutional offices, died early Wednesday, less than 24 hours after having a stroke, according to her office. She was 70.</p><p>She served as state treasurer and comptroller, and had a humor and political style that could pump up&nbsp; Illinois&rsquo; sometimes stuffy political scene.</p><p>&ldquo;I am a Republican. I&rsquo;m also a conservative, but I&rsquo;m not crazy,&rdquo; Topinka told a crowd supporting same-sex marriage last year.</p><p>That style helped her get elected to the state legislature in the 80s.</p><p>She ran statewide in the 90s and became the first female state treasurer, a job by all accounts she valued.</p><p>&ldquo;Judy Baar Topinka was someone who was both financially conservative, but also very reasonable in wanting to make sure that the State of Illinois paid its bills on time,&rdquo; said Laurence Msall, who heads the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog group. He said even in the 90s, Topinka was warning about bad spending and borrowing habits of state government and some of the practices that have earned Illinois its poor financial reputation.</p><p>As she won more elections, Topinka became more involved in the state Republican Party, becoming its chair. In 2004, she led the party to a candidate who would spectacularly lose against Barack Obama for the U-S Senate seat.</p><p>Remember Alan Keyes?</p><p>Two years later, Topinka made the decision to quit her post as treasurer to run for higher office. She ran against Rod Blagojevich for governor. It was an ugly, negative campaign. But after the fact, Topinka said she&rsquo;d felt an obligation to take on Blagojevich.</p><p>&ldquo;I gave up a job I absolutely adored. I loved being state Treasurer,&rdquo; she told WBEZ in January 2009. &ldquo;I was good at it. But he had to be stopped. I thought I could do it and I thought that good would triumph over evil. Obviously it did not.&rdquo;</p><p>Topinka lost that election.</p><p>After Blagojevich was arrested - when she was not a candidate for office - Topinka talked in a way most politicians don&rsquo;t: challenging the voters who went for Blagojevich, who eventually went to prison for corruption.</p><p>&ldquo;It makes us all look like a bunch of bozos,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Not only that we got taken to the cleaners by this guy for four years, but that we were stupid enough to elect him for a second four years. I mean, what does that say about the people of the State of Illinois?&rdquo;</p><p>But she didn&rsquo;t stay away from politics for long. In 2010, Topinka&nbsp; won the race for state comptroller, the person who writes the checks for the government.</p><p>Pat Brady, the former chair of the Illinois Republican Party, said her bounce-back - and moderate politics - should be a model for other Republicans running statewide.</p><p>&ldquo;In Illinois, if you want to win, look at the Judy Baar Topinka model, which is the model that Mark Kirk followed. Somewhat the model that Bruce Rauner followed,&rdquo; Brady said.</p><p>Pat Pavlich says her stands on politics were grounded in her neighborhood life. Pavlich used to be township supervisor for Riverside, Topinka&rsquo;s home community, and she&rsquo;s a long time friend.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know if you&rsquo;re familiar with the Houby Day Parade, but that was a favorite of Judy&rsquo;s. It was a part of her Czech heritage coming out,&rdquo; Pavlich said.</p><p>Pavlich says even in more recent years, when she&rsquo;d need a cane or walker, Topinka couldn&rsquo;t be kept from walking that Houby Day Parade, a festival about mushrooms.</p><p>Topinka had her vices. She smoked. She liked caffeine.</p><p>She also liked polka, and Pavlich says she just liked taking care of people and her beloved dogs. And she thrived on the theater of politics and the responsibility of government.</p><p>There were others interests, too. In the few years she was out of politics, Topinka returned to her early training - journalism - and briefly had her own radio show on a small west suburban-based station, WJJG. She called it The Judy Show.</p><p>And it was all she needed to let that charismatic personality come through.</p><p>Lawmakers who shared the political stage with Topinka spoke warmly of her public and private personality.</p><p>&quot;I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka,&quot; Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. &quot;Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature (who) paved the way for countless women in politics.&quot;</p><p>Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called Topinka one of the state&#39;s &quot;all-time greats&quot; and noted her &quot;one-of-a-kind personality (that) brought a smile to everyone she met.&quot;</p><p>Topinka, a Republican and native of the Chicago suburb of Riverside, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor. She always described herself as someone who knew state government inside and out.</p><p>&quot;I know who makes things run. I know who talks and doesn&#39;t make things run. I know what agencies could be doing that they&#39;re not doing,&quot; she told the AP in 2006. &quot;I&#39;m just a worker bee.&quot;</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></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/topinkabush.png" title="President Bush is introduced by Republican candidate for Illinois Governor Judy Baar Topinka, left, at a campaign fundraiser at the Drake Hotel, Friday, July 7, 2006, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)" /></div><p>Topinka previously served three terms as Illinois state treasurer, was a former Illinois GOP chairwoman and ran for governor in 2006, losing to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Judy Baar Topinka in Her Own Words</span></p><p>If you followed Topinka&#39;s life and career in Illinois you probably have heard her spout off. WBEZ gathered a few of our favorites here.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/180866235&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Topinka remembered</span></p><p>Many in Illinois politics offered their rememberances of Topinka Wednesday morning in statements and on social media</p><p>For Illinios state senator Christin Radogno, a fellow Republican, it was Topinka&rsquo;s refreshingly non-political style that first drew her in years ago:&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I wasn&rsquo;t particularly political at that time at all, but she really struck a cord with me. She was very blunt, honest, but always humorous&mdash;not an angry kind of a person.&nbsp; I mean, we have people who are blunt and honest but that have an angry undertone but she never had that. She definitely struck a cord with me, she was always blunt and honest.&quot;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. <a href="https://twitter.com/CompTopinka">@CompTopinka</a> was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply.</p>&mdash; Bruce Rauner (@BruceRauner) <a href="https://twitter.com/BruceRauner/status/542639529447141376">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her leadership improved Illinois &amp; paved the way for women in politics.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542664979452022785">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. Today the entire state mourns the loss of one of the greats.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542665109550948352">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Statement from Mayor Emanuel on the passing of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka <a href="http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp">http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp</a></p>&mdash; ChicagosMayor (@ChicagosMayor) <a href="https://twitter.com/ChicagosMayor/status/542687348832866304">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>IL politics lost its Polka Queen last night &amp; I lost a friend. Judy Baar Topinka was one of a kind. My prayers go out to her family.</p>&mdash; Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorDurbin/status/542685698244243457">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Saddened on passing of my friend Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a trailblazer for women. Prayers are with her family</p>&mdash; Dan Rutherford (@RutherfordDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/RutherfordDan/status/542647672667373568">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>One of the great ones, Judy Baar Topinka sure knew how to have fun. <a href="http://t.co/hWEAmSbLSf">pic.twitter.com/hWEAmSbLSf</a></p>&mdash; Chicago City Clerk (@chicityclerk) <a href="https://twitter.com/chicityclerk/status/542687756812828672">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Illinois s lost a great public servant, and Illinoisans lost a champion and a good friend with passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.</p>&mdash; Bill Brady (@Bill_Brady) <a href="https://twitter.com/Bill_Brady/status/542679222347911168">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka wasn&#39;t just a trailblazing woman; she was fun. Here, in second-hand duds. And slippers. :) <a href="http://t.co/RbIQx2FtYQ">pic.twitter.com/RbIQx2FtYQ</a></p>&mdash; Amanda Vinicky (@AmandaVinicky) <a href="https://twitter.com/AmandaVinicky/status/542682008481042432">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213