Skip to content

Criminal justice.

December 19, 2014


Reginald Latson is in solitary confinement for the crime of being being Black with autism.

If Reginald Latson was a white kid and did not have autism, would he be sitting in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison facing years behind bars?

Four years ago Reginald, known as Neli, went to the library.

It wasn’t open yet. So Neli, a Black 23-year old sat on the lawn in a white neighborhood of Stafford, Virginia doing nothing more than waiting for the library to open.

He was wearing a hoodie.

You know. A Black 23-year-old in a hoodie.

The white neighbors called to complain. Some reported seeing a gun.

Neli had no gun.

When the police arrived, Neli tried to leave, but was grabbed by a police officer.

Neli became frustrated and fought back.

As a teacher for 30 years of students on the autism spectrum I can tell you this is far from unusual.

I can’t even tell you the number of times I was punched and kicked by a child with autism because of their feelings of frustration over which they had no control. 

But Neli is Black and on the autism spectrum and he was facing a police officer, not a teacher experienced with autistic behavior.

It was not criminal behavior. It was autism.

Neli was arrested and put on trial for attacking the police officer. The prosecution demanded a ten-year sentence.

The judge disagreed and placed Neli in a residential facility for a few months over time served.

The staff of the group home were not familiar with Neli’s autism and when he became agitated during a visit with his mom, they called the police.

Jailed again, he was denied his medication. This caused Neli to become suicidal and aggressive.

The prosecutor who had originally demanded the ten-year sentence and was denied it by the judge, saw his opportunity and charged Neli with a felony.

And then Neli was placed in solitary confinement.

Where he remains.

To be clear. This all started with Reginald Latson sitting quietly in front of a library waiting for it to open. He was doing nothing illegal.

He was doing nothing wrong.

But he was Black and had autism.

The Governor of Virginia is Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

He could end this horror story now and release Reginald Latson.

An Illinois constitutional crisis. Who will keep an eye on our cemeteries?

December 19, 2014


Compared to the constitutional crisis over who gets to appoint the next Comptroller, not getting to see Seth Rogen and James Franco in The Interview pales in comparison.

We are told that when Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died suddenly last week we faced a constitutional crisis.

A crisis, do you hear me. A crisis.

Why is it a crisis? Because an argument broke out between incoming Governor Bruce Rauner and lame-duck Governor Pat Quinn over who who has the power to appoint the new Comptroller and for how long.

Talk about your crises. Compared to who gets to appoint the Illinois Comptroller, the fact that we won’t get to see Seth Rogen and James Franco in The Interview simply pales in comparison.

When I heard about this constitutional crisis I had three questions:

Why do they spell Comptroller that way?

What does the Comptroller do?

And why are Illinois politicians suddenly so concerned about the Illinois Constitution when on December 3rd a year ago they shredded the document when they passed Senate Bill 1, knowingly violating the pension protection clause.

I still don’t know why they spell it that way. I did find out that the main job of the Comptroller is to keep a bank account and sign checks.

And watch out for the state’s cemeteries.

So now I understand why this issue is so important.

Keeping a bank account is no small task. Anne won’t let me get near ours and she is right to feel that way. I suck at it.

The only check we actually sign anymore is for the cleaners because they don’t take credit cards.

The Comptroller regulates cemeteries under the Cemetery Care Act, and is charged with the fiduciary protection of cemetery care funds used for the care and maintenance of Illinois gravesites.

No wonder there’s a crisis.

Given all the hoop-dee-do over what the Illinois Constitution says about picking the next Comptroller, you would think they really give a squat about the Constitution.

Republican State Representative Jeanne Ives sent the following email out yesterday:

The following is information that I have received from my leadership regarding the Special Election. I wanted my constituents to have the same information. I am sure there will be more to share as special session approaches. I will continue to keep you up to date.

Statement from Senate Republican Leader Radogno and House Republican Leader Durkin:

“The Illinois Constitution requires the Governor-elect to appoint a new comptroller to a four-year term. A partisan and constitutionally-dubious eleventh hour law would face a certain legal challenge and force the people of Illinois to endure a protracted and legal battle that no one wants. The only Constitutionally responsible choice is to allow the governor-elect to appoint a Comptroller to a four-year term.”

And then Ives goes on and on about the Illinois Constitution.

This is the same  State Representative Jeanne Ives who thought Senate Bill 1 didn’t go far enough in pension thievery.

She, along with many Republicans, wants to turn our defined benefit pension system into a 401-k defined contribution plan.

And the Illinois Constitution be damned.

Glen Brown goes into the hypocricy of all this in his post today.

David Sirota: Rahm exempts city pension deals from ethics rules.

December 18, 2014


- David Sirota reports on pension theft for the International Business Times and In These Times.

By most measures, Chicago’s municipal pension system is an integral part of the Chicago city government. The system is included in the city’s budget, it is directly funded by the city and its board of trustees includes city officials and mayoral appointees. Yet when it comes to enforcing the city’s anti-corruption laws, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is now arguing that the pension funds are not part of the city government at all.

The counterintuitive declaration came this week from the mayor-appointed ethics commission, responding to Chicago aldermen’s request for an investigation of campaign contributions to Emanuel from the financial industry. The request followed disclosures that executives at firms managing Chicago pension money have made more than $600,000 worth of donations to Emanuel. The contributions flowed to the mayor despite a city ordinance — and an executive order by Emanuel himself — restricting mayoral campaign contributions from city contractors.

Brushing off the lawmakers’ complaint about Emanuel’s donations from the financial industry, the mayor’s ethics commission issued a nonbinding legal opinion this week arguing that Chicago’s pension systems are “not agencies or departments of the city, and thus firms that contract with them are not doing or seeking to do business with the city.” The commission said its interpretation means financial firms’ business with Chicago pension funds should be considered exempt from city ethics laws.

With the aldermen’s complaint about campaign contributions generating headlines and potentially complicating Emanuel’s already tough race for re-election, the Emanuel-appointed commission was unusually frank about its motives: It said the release of its opinion was designed “to attempt to ensure that no ethical clouds are hanging over any candidate’s head.”

In response, one of the aldermen who filed the complaint said the legal opinion was a “weak attempt at splitting hairs.”

Read the entire article here.

Rahm says SEIU 73’s Boardman can bargain away employee pensions. I don’t think so.

December 18, 2014

Christine Boardman

When city unions filed suit against Rahm’s pension cuts, Rahm said the cuts were good because he bargained them with city unions.

Those unions included Bricklayers District Council, Carpenters Regional Council, IBEW 134, Iron Workers District Council, IUOE 150, IUOE 399, Laborers’ District Council, Pipefitters 597, Plumbers 130, Sprinkle Fitters 281 and Christine Boardman’s SEIU 73.

The unions suing Rahm because he has violated the pension clause of the Illinois Constitution are the Chicago Teachers Union, AFSCME Council 31, IFT-AFT, Teamsters Local 700 and the Illinois Nurses Association.

Boardman’s SEIU 73 is notorious for agreeing to concessions with the Mayor and is a donor to his re-election campaign.

The legal question is whether union leadership can bargain away constitutional pension guarantees.

Since no single union represents all of the members in the pension funds, the answer is no.

This is in some ways similar to what took place between the state-wide coalition of public employee unions, the We Are One Illinois, and Senate President John Cullerton.

We Are One, hoping that they could hold off a more draconian pension theft bill designed by Representative Elaine Nekritz and Speaker Madigan, bargained an alternative Senate Bill 2404.

SB 2404 did steal less of our pensions. But it conceded on the principal of the constitutional promise that public employee pensions can not be diminished or impaired.

Pension members not represented by the We Are One Illinois coalition balked at the deal. The Illinois Retired Teachers Association said that no matter what deals were cut between union leaders and politicians in Springfield, they would go to court to protect the pension protection clause.

The result was that SB2404 died. Senate Bill 1 passed. Judge Belz ruled it unconstitutional. And now we wait for an expedited ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Union leaders like Christine Boardman of SEIU 73 cannot bargain away constitutional rights with the Mayor.

No matter how much money exchanges hands.



December 17, 2014


Havana memories.

December 17, 2014


Jose was furious.

He got the windowless room in the basement that was so small he could touch two walls simply by extending both his arms.

I got the Maria Felix Suite.

The Hotel Nacional overlooked the Malecon, the broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for five miles along the coast of Havana, Cuba.

If you remember the Godfather movie where Michael Corleone goes to Havana, there is a scene in a hotel room with a balcony looking out over the city. The scene was actually filmed in Merida, Mexico. Francis Ford Coppola could not film it in Havana without breaking the U.S. embargo. But it is supposed to be Havana’s Hotel Nacional and it could have been the Maria Felix suite.

I have never stayed in a place as cool as that.

Maria Felix was the most famous Latin American movie star of the fifties. I was staying in the room that  she always stayed in when she visited Havana.

The hotel was owned by the mob in pre-revolutionary days.

Even though the rooms were assigned randomly I don’t think Jose has forgiven me even now. I didn’t even know who Maria Felix was. Jose, of course, did. It was so unfair.

To him.

In 2000 I was in Cuba as part of a U.S. educators’ tour. We were visiting Cuban schools and meeting with teachers.

Let me assure you it was not all meetings and talk.

Cuba has more parties than just the Communist one.

It seemed that all the women were beautiful, all the men were good-looking, all the coffee was delicious, all the rum was strong, the cigars tasted of palm trees and sugar cane and music came out of every window and door.

Ry Cooder had just released the Buena Vista Social Club album, and Chan Chan could be heard in every tourist bar in Old Havana. Each bar claimed to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangout and  every one claimed to be the place where the Daiquiri was invented.

Still, at the time Cuba was going through some hard times.

The Soviet Union has just collapsed and Cuba had been heavily dependent on Soviet and Eastern Bloc markets for their sugar and for loans and assistance.

They called it the Special Period.

A euphemism for very little food or money.

Our group brought pencils, books and paper to the schools we visited and the teachers were very appreciative. The daily practice was for the teachers to collect each pencil at the end of every day.

Many of the reading books were 30 years old.

At the time the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba was 40 years old. It is now 54 years old.

It was stupid then. It is stupid now.

Today’s news that Obama is moving to end it with the establishment of normal relations with Cuba fills me with genuine happiness.

And dreams of going back once more.

Tale of two cities.

December 17, 2014



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,187 other followers