New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Congratulations to NTHS Senior Jaine Archambeau – 2018 Bill Crowley Award Recipient

New Trier High School senior Jaine Archambeau received the eighth annual Wilbert F. Crowley Citizenship Award for exemplary community awareness, involvement, leadership and scholarship.  The non-partisan honor is named for retired New Trier Township Democratic Committeeman Wilbert “Bill” Crowley and was presented by current committeeman Dean Maragos.

According to her advisor, Jaine Archambeau is extremely intelligent taking five AP courses, integrated studies, tutoring other students, an Oxford experience, and having ultimate respect for learning and independence, and intense intellectual curiosity.  She also overcame devastating family financial struggles to attend and commute to NTHS.

Advisors, teachers and Crowley Award reviewers were absolutely impressed with her qualifications and spirit.

Dictator Envy

One of these weeks I would love to write about a subject that includes no reason to mention Donald Trump. – Maybe something about inspiring developments in the world of science. Or a local story about young (or old) New Trier people engaged in positive stuff. Or, perhaps simply some thoughts on an important subject like friendship or aging.

But once again, not this week. Certainly not with all the media noise about President Trump’s meeting with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

Was it a major diplomatic breakthrough? It depends on who’s judging. Trump Administration spokespersons are positioning it as a major diplomatic event in the Trump presidency. His strongest supporters have hailed it as an unprecedented and courageous act of diplomacy that no past American president had the guts to initiate.

On the other hand, people who make up Trump’s political and philosophical opposition see what he started during his few hours with Kim in Singapore as, at the least, a self-serving and reckless international initiative. They fear it may damage our relationship with long-time allies like Japan and South Korea for years while it strengthens China’s geopolitical leverage and prestige worldwide.

And neutral observers (is it possible to be “neutral” in the world Trump is shaping?) – former career diplomats, academics and authors who have spent years observing far eastern politics – pretty much agree that the odds are high North Korea will not live up to whatever promises Kim Jong Un might yet make to President Trump and the U.S.A. They base much of their pessimism on the past behavior of both Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong Il.

However in my opinion, beyond the historic evidence cited, there’s another specific reason that we should remain skeptical. Any agreement worked out personally between Donald and Un will never hold up because both men are unscrupulous, egotistical liars with track records full of deceit. Neither of them possesses a sense of shame.  Continue reading Dictator Envy

Disenchanted Democracy

Last night the NTDO Executive Committee held its monthly meeting. Among items on the agenda, President Judy Mandel announced that the Committee will have the month of July off to enjoy a brief summer recess. (She is a much more humane leader than the Senate’s Mitch McConnell.) But seriously, it was a good meeting that included the organization’s plans for the summer and fall and also several stimulating discussions and positive reports.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Political Director, Ben Head, was there along with our 17th District’s Democratic candidate for State Rep., Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. Ben, a well-respected pro, will now be guiding Jennifer’s campaign toward victory in November. We know it will be a tough race as she will be facing a Republican opponent with tremendous financial support from right wing organizations. Keeping the 17th District blue will require support from every one of us as volunteers and donors.

The highlight of the evening, however, was a report from Committee member Mark Caras’ daughter, Georgia Caras. Georgia, a Boston University student, graduated from New Trier last year where she was active in the Young Democrats organization (and really active as the coxswain for the medal-winning New Trier rowing team).

Georgia gave an informal report on the political climate among students at Boston U in this election year. It was interesting to hear that the great majority of her student friends, including those with conservative fiscal views, are social liberals. The divisive tactics being used by the Trump Party (formerly the Republican Party) are a turn-off for most of those young potential voters.

But getting the crucially important votes of students in November is far from a done deal. Ms. Caras described how so many students have become disenchanted with the entire political process. There’s no guarantee they’ll even go to the polls. Continue reading Disenchanted Democracy

The Notorious RBG

A few days ago, some friends invited my wife and I to join them at the Wilmette Theater to see “RBG,” a profile-documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I admit now that I didn’t expect much more than a factual film that gave me a clearer idea of who Justice Ginsberg is.

I was expecting a film historically interesting but dry. What I got was a terrific movie, entertaining, eye opening, inspiring. It left me in awe of Justice Ginsberg, not just as a judicial mind but as a human being. She is one of those extraordinary figures in our history that comes along every few decades and “changes everything” for the better.

Before RBG, the rights of American women were still viewed under our constitution as a separate category of human beings, naturally placed in a different position on any diagram of human rights. Since RBG came on the scene, America’s courts, legislators and society in general have been much more sensitive to gender inequities. Discussions of equal pay, equal opportunity, equal protections for women are no longer treated as liberal pipe dreams. Of course none of this progress is happening without pushback from some who are anxious to maintain the status quo.

In fact, the film reminded me how thick-skulled even bright, highly educated people can be (sometimes even Supreme Court justices) when confronted with irrefutable logic that challenges their cultural norms. The 98-minutes of “RBG” fly by — entertaining, revealing, thought-provoking, If you have the time, go see it. It’s in a bunch of local theaters and it’s a piece of American history we should all know and appreciate.

One thing I learned from the film is that Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s courtroom arguments as a lawyer and later her opinions as a federal judge and eventually a Supreme Court justice have consistently displayed a masterful use of logic, facts and the English language. Her brilliant choice of words has proven to be one of her most formidable weapons. Continue reading The Notorious RBG

Wilmette Minimum Wages

This week I’m going to narrow the focus of my comments to an issue involving just one New Trier community, Wilmette. Although in a broader sense I know this local controversy is relevant to not only every town in our region but every community in America.  

I’m talking about Wilmette’s debate over its village board’s decision to opt out of the Cook County government’s minimum wage mandate for employees of businesses in our county. (That opt-out also included not adopting a sick days policy for hourly workers.)

In case you are aren’t already familiar with the details of this debate, here they are: Presently, Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. Cook County’s “home rule status” has allowed its board to increase that minimum wage for workers in our county (a more expensive place to live than Macomb or Decatur). The first increase, to $10 an hour, took effect July 1, 2017. This summer the minimum will rise to $11. It will go up to $12 in July 2019 and hit $13 an hour in 2020.

Subsequent annual increases will be at the rate of inflation, not to exceed 2.5 percent. Lower wage provisions have also been made for new employees during a trial period, for student part-time workers and for workers earning tips. The new sick time policy mandates that hourly employees are eligible for five days of paid sick leave (non-cumulative) per calendar year.

When the county board established these new standards, all Cook County suburbs were given the option to opt out of participation. The Wilmette Board did. To some extent, the Board’s decision was surprising since it seemed to go against the will of Wilmette voters who had already expressed their support for some level of “reform.”

In the November 4, 2014 election, voters were given the opportunity to vote “Yes” or “No” on the following advisory, non-binding referendum question: Shall the minimum wage in Illinois for adults over the age of 18 be raised to $10 per hour by January 1, 2015? Over 66% of New Trier voters said “Yes” and nearly 71% of Wilmette voters were for it.

The same support was shown for “Earned Sick Time” in the November 8, 2016 General Election: Nearly 70% of New Trier voters and nearly 74% of Wilmette voters voted “Yes.”

In the months since the Board’s original opt-out decision, Wilmette Board President Bielinski has called for further study of the situation. A “working group” of well regarded volunteers – some I know and respect – was commissioned to take a deeper look, gathering data for the board’s use. Continue reading Wilmette Minimum Wages

A Trip To D.C.

This week, I spent a few days in Washington D.C. I was there to attend a conference focused on our country’s ongoing battle to combat mosquitoes – particularly those that carry West Nile Virus, Zika and other nasty diseases. On Sunday, although I wasn’t there to sight see, I had a free afternoon. So, I took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop, walked across the Mall, soaking up the feel of that grand expanse, and then paid a visit to the National Museum of American History.

If you have never been to that particular D.C. museum or haven’t visited it recently, I think you’ll find it interesting. The exhibits, graphic presentations, narrations etc. are quite modern, unlike those dusty old museums from another era. Its three floors vividly cover our nation’s history from pre-Revolution to virtually the present day. The rooms also include displays covering the history of specific facets of our American society such as money, inventions, industry etc.

One aspect of the museum that was especially interesting to me was the choices made in selecting key events to tell America’s story. Whoever made those decisions didn’t shy away from some of the darker moments in our nation’s past. Slavery, unnecessary wars, stripping away of selected citizens’ rights each received varying levels of coverage. However I did feel that the wording of some of the narratives was careful not to upset certain American visitors who remain comfortable living with some level of denial.

Even so, I know that designing a museum’s narrative for presentation to an audience of 320 million assorted Americans is no simple task. You won’t walk out of the Museum of American History with a deep and thoroughly objective knowledge of our nation’s past, but you will come away with a stronger appreciation of the things that have made our United States so remarkable. And if you’re in D.C. with children grade school age or above, I think you’ll all enjoy many of the exhibits the museum has created.

Visiting a place dedicated to presenting America’s unique story was a fitting start for my D.C. conference experience. The next two days offered repeated examples of our country’s diversity and its distinctive approach to operating a complex society with a mix of large and small government, private enterprise, local oversight and volunteerism. It also gave me a taste of how our representative government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is designed to work. Continue reading A Trip To D.C.

Pulling Ourselves Together

Last week I saw a movie that kicked off a train of thought I didn’t expect. The movie was “The Rider.” It’s a “small” film, done on a relatively small budget but it is creating some buzz in the film festival world. In the coming months you may hear more about it and maybe even see it.

The movie isn’t especially unusual in a general sense. It involves difficulties faced by a young man who must make a life-altering personal decision. It takes place in the wide-open spaces of America’s West. And it portrays warm friendships as well as family tensions and ties. – I’m sure we’ve all seen plenty of films with those ingredients.

But this film’s young director, Chloe’ Zhao, who also wrote the screenplay, draws performances from the cast of amateurs, all local people, that are so completely natural I felt like somehow I was peering in on real lives. And they were lives in a part of America completely unfamiliar to me.

The young men in the film are immersed in the culture of rodeo riding, and the protagonist is not only a rider, he is a “horse whisperer.”

However, beyond those “exotic” characteristics, the friendship between the young men, their small talk, their roughhouse games make them pretty much the same as young guys anywhere else in America. I liked them.

Relatively early in the film, after getting acquainted with characters from a culture completely new to me, the camera cut to a wide shot of the vast land and endless sky of the Dakotas. It was at this point that I thought to myself, ” My God, our United States is a huge country! And the diversity of its people is breathtaking. How could any political party or candidate ever think they could get their arms around this mass of humanity?”

(Right here I want to clarify that I didn’t keep thinking such political thoughts throughout the rest of the movie. Thankfully, I haven’t become that completely obsessed with such stuff.)

But in the days since seeing “The Rider,” I have thought more about that question that popped into my head. How does a nation as large and diverse as ours achieve a level of cohesion that will see us through the perils of the 21st century? The divisive rhetoric of the Trump Administration and the far right Republicans controlling Congress  certainly aren’t helping.  Continue reading Pulling Ourselves Together

18 Months of Chaos

This past week, like virtually every week since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, we’ve been hit with daily news items involving the disturbing activities of someone connected to the Trump Administration — either in it, hoping to be in it, or abruptly leaving it. We’ve seen stories about extravagant spenders, reckless drinkers, cold-hearted hypocrites. In fact, the variety of flaws Trump appointees have displayed over the past year and a half is quite impressive — but not in a good way.

In my lifetime, which covers a lot of U.S. presidents, I’ve never seen anything like the instability of this administration’s staffing. One unfortunate result of this endless White House chaos is that it distracts the American public from dozens of daily developments and discussions that deserve much more attention.

I think President Trump likes things this way. And not just when it comes to diverting the public’s attention. I think he just likes to always keep things a bit uncertain. He surely adds to such distraction regularly with his own personal actions. His childish tweets, his unexpected (even by his own staff) pronouncement of major public policy, his continued use of heated and divisive campaign rhetoric all keep things unsettled.

To his fans, his unpredictable behavior is the shrewd approach of a skilled wheeler-dealer. An approach that keeps his adversaries off-balance as he steers them into taking the action he desires. However, I suspect the truth is that in Trump’s eyes, every human being he’s ever met has been viewed as an adversary. (As Donald would say, “That’s so sad.”) It’s just the way he’s learned to operate from a very young age.

This approach worked for him as a businessman – some of the time. But it also led to plenty of bankruptcy declarations and a lot of people whose lives were permanently damaged. The truth is, it’s not the smartest way to run a business. And trying to translate this “from-the-gut” business style into a way to run a government, is a very shaky concept. It should scare all of us.  Continue reading 18 Months of Chaos

The Invasion of America

This commentary is being written days before the usual Wednesday NTD News issue. So it may be completely out of sync with what is actually occurring in America on April 25, 2018. However, I’m going to gamble that in the days leading up to the 25th, Donald Trumpwill not be called before a Grand Jury by Robert Mueller, or make headlines attempting to fire Mr. Mueller, or resign from office “to spend more time with his family.” I’m betting America will have simply continued to stagger forward for one more week under the bizarre Trump Presidency.

Today I’m just going to comment very briefly on a public phenomenon that has me baffled. For a number of months, starting soon after candidate Trump’s victory, we’ve seen a string of revelations pointing to Russian involvement in our 2016 elections. At first it was just a few scattered narratives that spoke of Internet hackers in Eastern Europe. They were suspected of messing with social media in the U.S.

Then there were reports that the computers of certain political campaigns and their operatives had been compromised. The stories kept expanding. A “hacking factory” in St. Petersburg was revealed. Apparently some of our states had their election systems probed. Dozens of Internet “news and opinion” websites turned out to be totally phony. Finally, first hand reports, leaked documents, and actual confessions verified that in 2016, the Russian government attempted to influence our 2016 Presidential Election. The evidence was undeniable (unless you happen to believe Vladimir Putin and his appointed deniers).

Now, I’m not going to get into any discussion of President Trump’s “no collusion” assertions. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. For this commentary, that is beside the point. What baffles me is how so many Americans, from average citizens to members of Congress to high ranking Trump Administration officials, have been so casual about disturbing revelations that they all now accept as fact.

It’s no longer a matter of the right and left having opposite views. Political commentators, whatever their wing, make references to the Russian meddling. The same now goes for the majority of American voters. Even President Trump and his spokespeople now comfortably refer to the Russian attempts to interfere in our elections as they repeat their “no collusion” mantra.

It seems to me that even if it is true that President Trump and his campaign team had absolutely no connection with what the Russians did, what occurred should now have every American infuriated. – But they aren’t.  Continue reading The Invasion of America

Crimes & Punishments

Yesterday, there were two news stories on NPR that, although seemingly unrelated, got me thinking about the threads that do connect them. One story was about the South Carolina prison riot that killed seven inmates. The other was about a patient care crisis facing America’s hospitals.

Reporters who covered the riots said the Lee Correctional Institution, housing some of the state’s most violent criminals, was severely understaffed. The prison has over 1,500 inmates. Forty-four officers (I assume not all are guards) were on duty when the rioting began. These numbers underscored the general view presented on NPR that over-crowding and understaffing is the problem facing prisons across the United States. And exacerbating this problem is the fact that too little interest is being shown by legislators to oversee and fix the situation.

But listening to this discussion, it seemed to me that too much of the focus was on the shortage of guards and prison space and not enough focus was on the shocking number of prisoners in the United States presently requiring more guards and space.

According to ACLU data, “The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people.” Our incarceration numbers are much higher than any other nation on earth. A report from 2012 notes, “The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.”

Today it is generally accepted that the Reagan era “war on drugs” played a role in our soaring prison numbers. Tragically that new national agenda was followed soon after by the appearance in the U.S. of super-addictive crack cocaine in our cities – especially in neighborhoods of color. Then in the following decades small town America began to experience the gradual devastation of their job markets, and not by coincidence an increased use of methamphetamines in those communities.

Of course those aren’t the only reasons we now have so many more Americans in our prisons, but drugs in general, have played a big part. In a report written by Lauren Booke Eisne and Inimai Chettiar for the December 9, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, they found that “approximately 39% of the nationwide prison population (576,000 people) is behind bars with little public safety rationale. And they can be released, significantly and safely cutting our prison population.” They went on to say, “364,000 people, almost all non-violent, lower-level offenders, would be better served by alternatives to incarceration such as treatment, community service, or probation.

This approach probably wouldn’t apply to the rioters in South Carolina. They’ve been characterized by that state as their most violent criminals. However if the overall population of our prisons could be intelligently reduced this would logically result in more guards being available for an understaffed prison like Lee Correctional.

Perhaps a national dialogue about this problem will be spurred on by the South Carolina riot. If so, America’s struggles with drugs should certainly be a part of that discussion.  Continue reading Crimes & Punishments