The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - September 09, 2005

Jim Berger on Chief Illiniwek

Five weeks ago on Friday, August 5th of 2005, the NCAA Executive Committee issued guidelines for use of Native American mascots at NCAA championship events.

Some of you may have heard about that already....

Hi. I'm Jim Berger, and I'm back in town.

Yes, the University of Illinois is one of among 18 schools that the NCAA singled out as maintaining "hostile or abusive" mascots, nicknames, or imagery. And that has been the talk of the town.

The controversy made national news on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer two weeks ago on Thursday, August 25, 2005 (see This commentary was recorded on Thursday, September 8, 2005. On the News Hour, Native American Charlene Keeters fought back tears before the cameras as she recounted the shock, anguish, distress and outrage she and her two children experienced at the sight of a non-indigenous dancer, decked out in 19th-century, Native-American garb, performing at the half-time of a University of Illinois athletic event.

Indeed, the Web site speaks at considerable length about the intrinsic racism of this icon. That's right! If you actually thought that Chief Illiniwek was a wholesome symbol of a set of virtues to which we all might aspire, the racist label applies to you too.

I could go on; however, "The Public Square" affords us but three minutes together. What you can do is look to the write-up of this commentary at the community segment of the WILL Web site to glean all of the Web links to my source material. That is at

And then Google the topic to find your own leads.

Look for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I refer you to the "Retire The Chief" site ( where you will find U. of I. professor Tyeeme Clark dismissing critics of the anti-chief movement as "callous, cruel, unfeeling, and hard-headed."

I also refer you to PhD Jim Fay's posting at Chief entitled "The Roots of the Chief Illiniwek Tradition at the University of Illinois" (see The historical background of this tradition does run in defiance of those "who were determined to impose civilization on the Indians whether they wanted it or not."

Seventy years ago a lot of Native Americans did not want "civilization"-which really was nothing more than arrogant, European culture-imposed on them. Native Americans worked hand-in-hand with those at The University of Illinois who honored traditional Indian culture expressly so as to preserve that culture at a time when it was under siege.

Indeed, to this day, Chief Illiniwek remains a touchstone for thousands to those who went before us.

Well, there is so much more to explore, but my time is up.

Thank you for your consideration. And whatever you decide, may your own conclusions be informed and truly balanced.

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WILL - The Public Square - August 12, 2005

Jan Kruse on the anti-war march on Washington

My name is Jan Kruse and according to recent polls I find myself

standing with a majority and yet I am not happy about this at all.

If you go strictly by polls to find out what people are thinking about the current war in Iraq, most US citizens are not feeling very good these days. I discovered lots of facts and statistics about how over half the public thinks we were mislead in going to war in Iraq. Over half say we are not safer now. Over half say the US military can't win the war and that the majority of citizens think that we won't be able to impose our idea of a democracy on the Iraqi people either. Are our elected government leaders listening to this growing anti-war majority?

Recently my husband and I took a few hours to go around the Urbana-Champaign community to place flyers at various places of worship, restaurants, bookstores, and businesses alerting the public about a mass mobilization and march in Washington, D.C., in September. Our flyer states that A.W.A.R.E., the local Anti War Anti Racism Effort, is sponsoring a charter bus to this event on September 24. Our group will join with thousands of other concerned citizens from across the nation to protest against the continued occupation of Iraq and to bring the troops home now!

What was interesting to me was the response to our flyer. People seemed to express an even greater urgency to post the flyer for us, to ask about the details and to inquire about going. Some, who could not go, offered to put money toward a student's cost of participating. Others say they have written letter to congress, called D.C. and the presidential comment line. Yet many felt they needed to do more. Here is that chance to take a stand and to do something more! With a 50-passenger charter bus heading to DC Friday night September 23 and arriving back here early Sunday, September 25, seats will fill up fast.

If you want to join with the anti-war majority and head to D.C. with AWARE and hold the White House and Congress accountable for the deaths, lies and destruction and the toll this war is taking on our community please call 328-2789 to find out more about this event. The deadline to sign up is September 7. The US public has grown tired of the lies, destruction and death. If you want to be a part of this effort to represent our community in this national day of protest call: 328-2789; don't miss this bus ride and historic event in our nations capitol on September 24.This is your chance to do more and to stand with the antiwar majority! Join us and let your voice be heard!

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WILL - The Public Square - August 05, 2005

Kathleen Robbins on Universal Service

Universal Service

The draft is being talked about again today. The 60s draft was inherently unfair, giving the politically connected and economically privileged a way out while forcing the poor to serve. Today, the economic realities of our country are creating a similar situation.

For the first time since Vietnam, our military struggles to reach their recruiting goals. In April, for the 3rd month in a row, the Army failed to meet their recruitment target; the regular Army missing by 42% and the Army Reserve by 37%.

Isn't it time to rethink our idea of national service? What would our country be like if virtually all young men and women served their country in some way, just as our grandparents did following Pearl Harbor?

The time for consideration of a Universal Service policy has arrived. A policy in which all mentally and physically able young men and women between the ages of 18 to 26 would serve their country for two years, choosing among a variety of options such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or the military.

By fully engaging the ideas and energy of America's young men and women, we could begin to address the unfulfilled needs of our society. At the same time, changing the face of our military that is becoming increasingly isolated from the power structure of America. Finally, it would provide an opportunity for those who serve to help to shape and build the nation in which they and their children and grandchildren will live.

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WILL - The Public Square - July 29, 2005

David Green on media bias in the coverage of Israel’s occupation of Palestine

On June 30th, several newspapers carried a report from the Gaza, Palestine, similar to that of Joel Greenberg's description in the Chicago Tribune:

"Israeli youths had turned a three-story house into a makeshift outpost, daubing the words 'Muhammad is a pig' on a wall-a reference to the Prophet Muhammad.

"Jewish militants went on a stone-throwing spree, attacking Palestinian homes, drawing volleys of stones. Israeli soldiers fired shots in the air in a futile attempt to stop the fighting.

"One Palestinian youth was wounded in the head by a rock, and as he lay senseless on the ground, young settlers stoned him at close range while an Israeli soldier tried to shield him.

"'Don't touch him, let him die', shouted one settler in footage shown on Israeli television. The Palestinian was transferred to a hospital."

Compare Greenberg's account to that by NPR's Linda Gradstein:

"Yesterday, another group of extremists in an abandoned Palestinian building nearby clashed with Israeli soldiers and with Palestinians, critically wounding a Palestinian teen-ager. Last night, Israeli soldiers stormed that building and arrested the 30 activists inside." Yes, activists, she calls them.

That's it, that's all. While Gradstein provides intra-Israeli context, she glosses over this ugly and racist violence and its relation to the brutal occupation of Palestine. The Tribune does little better at providing such context, instead emphasizing the predicaments of occupying Israeli soldiers and Israeli politicians.

For a more critical analysis I therefore turn to Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

"If the media had exposed the full scope of the settlers' deeds over the years - the dubious ways in which they took over land, the huge budgets they received, their violent behavior - perhaps they would have been denounced long ago, as should be done by a healthy society. Israeli society chose to be cynically manipulated, and journalists lent a hand.

Never has there been such an impressive media success here as that of the (Israeli) right. An enterprise that was criminal from the outset was depicted as one of high principles. The rotten fruits of this distorted description are now placed at our doorstep."

But given the above references, I would suggest that regarding both Israel and Iraq, the same dire conclusion can be reached for American journalists and our right wing. It offers little solace to citizens in either society to claim that theirs is marked by marginally less journalistic cynicism in the face of overt political mendacity.

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WILL - The Public Square - July 22, 2005

Ricky Baldwin of Urbana on torture at Guantanamo Bay

My name is Ricky Baldwin.

Administration apologists can say what they like about Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, but he told the truth about torture at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Killing the messenger just won't make the bad news go away.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have repeatedly found evidence that "numerous detainees in Guantanamo - as well as in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere - have been subjected to direct torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" at the hands of US jailers and interrogators. Add to this recent FBI reports of "torture techniques" at Guantanamo.

Reports detail chaining prisoners to the floor without food or water or access to toilets, sometimes draped in Israeli flags with loud music blaring; keeping prisoners barefoot and semi-naked in refrigerated rooms; depriving them of sleep until blood ran out their noses; transferring prisoners back and forth to Egypt and other countries for weeklong beatings; and so on. Some of these prisoners are children.

Over two years after the war in Afghanistan officially ended, hundreds of prisoners of war are still being held without trial or charges, in direct violation of international law. This is behavior we regularly denounce in our enemies. The Bush Administration refuses to follow the Geneva Conventions, but they did promise the International Red Cross could interview all prisoners. They broke that promise.

Last month Amnesty concluded that the Guantanamo prison is "the gulag of our time" and "an icon of lawlessness." If we really wanted to be "the Land of the Free", we'd close these concentration camps at Guantanamo, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, immediately. And we wouldn't borrow any other country's torturers, either.

Instead, the Bush Administration is now expanding the Guantanamo gulag and giving the contract to Vice President Dick Cheney's company, Halliburton. Enough said.

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WILL - The Public Square - July 15, 2005

Al Kagan says bring the troops home now

The Beginning of Hope

Remember what Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time; You can fool some of the people all of the time; But you can't fool all of the people all the time." The so-called smoking gun has emerged in the Downing Street Minutes, which clearly state that the Bush Administration intended to attack Iraq from soon after 9/11, and decided to "fix the intelligence around the policy."

Representative John Conyers of Michigan has courageously held a hearing on the Downing Street Minutes, where one analyst called for the beginning of impeachment hearings. Lying to the American public in order to start a war is an impeachable offense. A Congressional Out of Iraq Caucus of 50 representatives was organized after the hearing, and 122 Congresspersons are calling for an investigation of the Downing Street Minutes.

Although one can't find very much about this in the mainstream media, all the polls show that the majority of the American people now think the Iraq War was a mistake. Somehow the reality is getting through. As casualties dramatically mount, every time the President or his top officials make a statement about how the US is winning the war, the majority of people again realize that the Emperor has no clothes.

People realize that the war is making us less safe since Iraq has turned into a training ground for terrorists. In a recent article in The Nation, Jonathan Schell described how he glimpsed the truth at large from a single news report. Two Washington Post reporters spent time with Charlie Company, the model unit of Iraq's new American-trained army. They found the soldiers only in the war for the paychecks, and at the cost of their self-respect. The reporters learned how the Iraqi soldiers refused to fight America's enemy because they identified with the other side. They even sang songs about the humiliation of their country and praised Saddam Hussein! So Schell tells us that the US is training the future resistance to itself.

No more lies. Bring the troops home NOW.

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WILL - The Public Square - July 08, 2005

P. Gregory Springer on why he doesn’t support the troops

I'm P.Gregory Springer, a local author who has written for Variety and the New York Times. I am completing two books on travel with my sons throughout Guatemala and Mexico.

I heard George say the other day, in his pointy finger kind of way, "I think about Iraq Every Single Day!"

And I thought, well, duh. I should be so lucky to get through even one hour without seeing those car magnets reminding me to rally around the flag. Anyway, it leads me to believe that George probably DOESN'T think about Iraq every day.

What could he be thinking about?

I am going to stick my neck out and say (please don't spray paint my house) I don't support the troops. Is that safe to say these days? Or is that a crime now? I certainly wouldn't taunt terrorists by speaking for the soldiers and saying, "Bring it on" or anything, but no, I don't support the troops. The troops are on a mission without a strategy, a mission based on falsehoods. And I would like to stop thinking about it.

I'd like to stop thinking about a world artificially divided up into two separate halves. We're not all either liberals and conservatives or black and white or boxers or briefs or good or evil or with us or with the terrorists or any other stupid football game dichotomous way of looking at the world.

In a recent letter to the New York Times, a reader wrote that, if the troops are defending the US soil by fighting terrorists in Iraq, is George's strategy to "leave the security of the United States in the hands of an inexperienced Iraqi Army as soon as we can?" "There is no higher calling," George said in his TV speech the other day, "than to join the military."

The same night, the streets of Urbana were filled with a bunch of classic cars, traveling from Washington DC to the West Coast. There were Ramblers, Buicks, 1950s Impalas, a rock and roll band and pizza. It was fun. But I still was thinking about Iraq. The exhibition was sponsored by the National Guard, which had slapped magnetic ads on every old car and set up a tent.

Dick and Donald like to say the terrorists are desperate, in their last throes. But who is really desperate? We've got George on TV and the Guard making sales pitches like a Coca-Cola campaign on a cross country tour.

After the Weapons of Mass Destruction mantra; after liberation for the Iraqi people; after the domino theory of freedom; the latest thing we're supposed to think is that we can't leave Iraq because those who have already died would have died in vain. So, just to clarify, we have to keep fighting a war we started because somebody died in it?

I know George told Pat Robertson there wouldn't be any casualties. And I guess "oops" really isn't going to cut it as an excuse.

Anyway, if you know a good way to get through the day without thinking about the mysteries of the war in Iraq, I'm open to suggestions. Shopping or Social Security or Tom Cruise or runaway brides just aren't doing it for me anymore.

I still think about Iraq Every Single Day. I could dwell on the weather. You know what they say about Illinois in the summertime, "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity." But maybe I'll just wrap myself up in the newest episode of Six Feet Under. Somehow, I don't think it's going to help.

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WILL - The Public Square - July 01, 2005

Raeann Dossett of Parkland College on Domestic Partner Benefits

Hello, my name is Raeann Dossett. I'm an employee of Parkland College and a member of the college's LGBT Ally Team. This evening I'd like to address the topic of employer-provided benefits for domestic partners.

If the phrase "domestic partner" is new to you, let me offer this definition. Domestic partners are two individuals who live together in a long-term relationship, with an exclusive mutual commitment, in which the partners agree to be jointly responsible for each other's welfare, the welfare of their children, and to share their financial responsibilities. In shorthand, a family.

The term domestic partner provides inclusion for families created by couples who choose not to marry, or gay and lesbian couples who cannot legally marry. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 5.5 million couples who were living together in mutually committed relationships but who were not married.

Why should employers care about these families?

Fringe benefits, such as health and life insurance, retirement plans and sick leave, are an important part of an employee's compensation package, and a major factor in the recruitment and retention of the best employees. For better or worse, the current health care system in the U.S. is based on insurance provided through employers. By extending health benefits to domestic partners, employers are providing a measure of security and stability to employees who are otherwise one serious accident or illness away from financial disaster.

Perhaps more important, extending domestic partner benefits to same- and opposite-sex couples demonstrates that an employer truly believes in treating people fairly and equally. Most companies have policies which bar discrimination based on gender and marital status. The extension of domestic partner benefits is one way that employers can move these ideals off paper into action, and into the real lives of their employees.

Virtually unheard of before the early '90s, there is a growing trend toward providing domestic partner benefits in this country. About 42% of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits. Locally, several employers offer some type of domestic partner benefits, including Wolfram Research, the University of Illinois, and Kraft.

I'm proud of my employer, Parkland College, who recently put a comprehensive set of domestic partner benefits in place for its employees. In addition to health insurance, Parkland went all the way to include domestic partners in other benefits, such as sick leave, personal leave, and tuition waivers. Parkland has a set of core values that emphasize fairness and just treatment, as well as policies that bar "discrimination based on race, color, sex or sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran or marital status." This move shows that Parkland walks the walk, and lives up to its beliefs.

Domestic partner benefits are about fair compensation, equal treatment, and family stability. If you're interested in working for domestic partner benefits in your workplace, an excellent place to start is with the information on the Human Rights Campaign website,

Thank you.

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WILL - The Public Square - June 10, 2005

Rachael Dietkus of the ACLU on dangerous provisions in the USA Patriot Act

Hi, my name is Rachael Dietkus.

Did you know that the Patriot Act contains more than 150 separate sections outlined in 10 major titles? About a tenth of the law expires or "sunsets" this year unless Congress votes to reauthorize it. The sections I will mention briefly are the most significant provisions that, in the coming weeks, Congress must examine as it deliberates again on the Patriot Act.

Even though many sections raise serious civil liberties concerns, the Patriot Act contained a handful of truly radical expansions of criminal and intelligence search and surveillance authority, only some of which sunset. These changes represent the most dangerous sections of the law.

These provisions also embody the ACLU's broader concern post-9/11 that the White House has demanded and received an unwarranted amount of power, which weakens the checks and balances that maintain our system of limited government and preserve our constitutional liberties.

Congress should use the debate over the sunsets to highlight these provisions in particular, but should also take the opportunity to deliberate more broadly on the state of our freedoms in the so-called "war on terrorism."

Some of the priority sections in the Patriot Act include:

- Section 213, which expands the government's ability to execute criminal search warrants (which need not involve terrorism) and seize property without telling the target for weeks or months.

- Section 215, which allows the FBI to seize a vast array of sensitive personal information and belongings - including medical, library and business records - using secret intelligence tools that do not require individual criminal activity. Although the records can only be seized pursuant to a court order, judges are compelled to issue these orders, making such judicial review nothing more than a rubber stamp.

- Section 505, which lowers the evidentiary standard for "national security letters," or NSLs, which are issued at the sole discretion of the Justice Department, impose a blanket gag order on recipients and are not subject to judicial review. NSLs can be used to seize a wide variety of business and financial records, and in certain instances could be used to access the membership lists of organizations that provide even very limited Internet services (message boards on the ACLU's website for instance).

Congressional review of the Patriot Act and related legal measures in the ongoing effort to combat terrorism is needed to ensure continued public support for the government's efforts to safeguard national security. The controversy over the Patriot Act reflects the concerns of millions of Americans for preserving our fundamental freedoms while safeguarding national security. To date, resolutions in opposition to parts of the Patriot Act and other actions that infringe on fundamental rights have been passed in 372 communities in 43 states including four statewide resolutions. These communities represent approximately 56.2 million people who are calling for reform of the Patriot Act.

Such widespread concern, across ideological lines, reflects the strong belief of Americans that security and liberty need not be competing values. Congress included a "sunset provision" precisely because of the dangers represented by passing such far-reaching changes in American law in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in American history. Now is the time for Congress to complete the work it began when it passed the Patriot Act, by bringing the Patriot Act back in line with the Constitution.

Let's remind Congress in the coming weeks that the sun should set on the PATRIOT Act and rise on our rights! Join members of the Champaign County ACLU and AWARE at the Urbana Free Library on Wednesday, June 15, 2005, at 7:00 pm, as we discuss these important issues surrounding the USA PATRIOT Act.

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WILL - The Public Square - June 03, 2005

Durl Kruse says media is losing its “public” nature

It's Time To Reclaim the Media"

Hello, my name is Durl Kruse, member of AWARE and the local Independent Media Center.

Are you as concerned about the current state of our local and national broadcast media as I am? I hope so, because our democracy is facing a media crisis of untold proportions that is threatening its very vibrancy and vitality.

On May 13-15, I, along with 2500 concerned citizens from all fifty states and ten countries, converged on the city of St. Louis for the second National Conference on Media Reform to work together to reclaim an important and endangered national resource, our public airwaves.

The media is our window to the world. It provides the information we use to form opinions and make crucial decisions about the issues we care about most - issues like health care, education, the economy, and going to war.

But today's media is dominated by a small number of powerful companies whose sole objective is making money, not serving the needs of our local community or our democratic society. For example, Channel 3 is owned by Nextar Broadcasting Group located in Irving, Texas and Channel 15 by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group located in Baltimore, Maryland.

The media system in our country is broken. Investigative journalism is declining. Commercialization is out of control with over 30,000 advertisements bombarding the average child each year.

Did you know our government subsidizes the media in the form of giveaways to huge media conglomerates like Disney and General Electric? For example TV and radio stations are allowed to broadcast on the airwaves that legally belong to the public - free of charge! Yes, the airwaves belong to us - just like a national park - yet media moguls are making billions of dollars off of them.

Unless we create a more diverse, independent, skeptical and competitive media system, all of the issues we care about will be left unheard and unaddressed.

Yet individuals like you and me can make a difference. In 2003, the FCC tried to quietly change the regulations to make it possible for one company to own virtually all the media outlets in one town - the cable system, the newspapers, TV and radio stations. And, they inadvertently started a revolution. Over two million Americans from across the political spectrum spoke up to say that they didn't want to let giant media conglomerates to get even bigger. The people won and these rule changes were stopped in the courts.

The battle is not over. Congress will soon begin debating changes to the 1996 Telecommunications Act that will define the role and state of media in our country for years to come. Will Big Media with its enormous sums of money and high paid lobbyist control the debate? Or, will the people of this country speak out loud and clear to our elected officials to protect our airwaves and our access to them.

To save our media, join in by contacting your representatives in congress, writing the FCC, and supporting local independent media movements. To learn more visit and

Don't let corporate control of media drown out our democracy.

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