The Public Square

WILL - The Public Square - March 06, 2009

Rob McColley, Independent Candidate for Mayor of Urbana, on penalizing landlords for tenant behavior

Hi. This is Rob McColley, the independent candidate for mayor of Urbana.

The last few months of Urbana City Council meetings were enlivened by weekly protests from citizens, representing all points of the political spectrum, voicing outrage over Urbana's so-called "criminal nuisance" ordinance.

This is the law which would penalize landlords for the behavior of their tenants.

My cynical response is that the outraged citizens shouldn't worry. Urbana does not enforce its nuisance laws anyway.

In 1972 the U.S. Congress established the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, or ONAC. But in 1981, the Reagan Administration defunded ONAC -- giving the responsibility back to the states, and cities like Urbana.

Non-auditory effects of noise exposure include elevated blood pressure, loss of sleep, increased heart rate, cardiovascular constriction, labored breathing, and changes in brain chemistry. According to the World Health Organization's Guidelines for Community Noise, “these health effects, in turn, can lead to social handicap, reduced productivity, decreased performance in learning, absenteeism in the workplace and school, increased drug use, and accidents.”

Study after study has shown that children who live in neighborhoods with chronic noise nuisance perform worse in school. As usual, the victims tend to be from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and minorities.

Right now, the Urbana police will shut down a kegger if it's keeping you awake. But there's no city officer responsible for quieting chronic noise nuisance -- whether it's barking dogs or modified exahust systems on cars, and motorcycles.

It's not really a police matter anyway. It's a community development issue.

If you seek quiet enjoyment of your home, Urbana expects YOU to do the work. YOU have to stand up in court and face your neighborhood bully. Even if you have three children to watch over, even if you are confined to a wheelchair, even if you are 80 years of age and not as nimble as you once were.

Some cities have an Ombudsman -- a public advocate. Other towns have "Livability Court." In either case, it's not the victim who's expected to enforce the ordinance. It's the professional. Urbana can have that, too.

Government taxes citizens. In return, it provides services. One of these services is upholding and enforcing the law.

Government usually does not ask the people to police, and prosecute law breakers. But that's how Urbana handles nuisance issues.

It's a bad idea. It's a dangerous idea.

Would you care to know how many innocent victims have been assaulted, or KILLED, because they confronted bothersome neighbors?

The judges who adjudicate disputes between neighbors will tell you "when it's neighbor versus neighbor, it's never over."

That's why I decided to run for Mayor of Urbana. Urbana is a lovely place to live, raise children, and grow old. I'd like to make sure that it's lovely for everybody.

For more information on this, and other issues, please visit robmccolley.com

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WILL - The Public Square - February 13, 2009

Durl Kruse, Green Party Mayoral Candidate in Urbana

Hello, my name is Durl Kruse and I am running for Mayor of Urbana as a Green Party Candidate.

Several days ago as my wife was getting her hair cut, she mentioned to her stylist that her husband was running as the Green Party candidate for the mayor of Urbana. Befuddled, the hair stylist responded: But, what is the Green Party?

Unfortunately this was not a surprising or unusual response. Many people have never heard of the Green Party, much less considered voting for a Green candidate. Sadly my wife's hairstylist is not alone.

One must ask, what happens to the vibrancy and health of local participatory democracy when over time only one or two parties dominate the public conscience and political discourse of a community? Does citizen interest in local government grow or decline? Do more or fewer citizens run for local office? Is voter turnout higher or lower? Are elected officials held more or less accountable? Do fewer or more creative ideas enter the public discourse?

During the last four Urbana municipal elections voter turnout has steadily declined from 34%, to 21%, to 18%, to 12%. That's a decline of 22% over the past sixteen years. There also have been 16 unchallenged city races during this time. In the upcoming 2009 municipal election, four city council seats and the city clerk's office are unchallenged. There is no Urbana primary contest being held this spring because of the lack of intra-party candidates. Most startling, in recent municipal elections, several precincts have had voter turnout as low as 1-2%.

Clearly these trends and statistics are not signs of a healthy vibrant democracy in Urbana. Citizen interest and participation is waning. For too long voters have been given too few choices and limited party options.

Would a viable third party help improve this sad state of affairs? As Greens we believe so and that is why for the first time in Urbana three green candidates are running for city office We believe citizens should be able to have a robust and open discussion of local issues, be able to ask questions of the candidates, and be able to voice their concerns to the candidates.

Have you heard the Green Party's ideas for local economic development? It's position on environmental sustainability? Its thoughts on expanding community governance? Isn't the general public entitled to know the Green Party's positions on these and many other local issues of concern?

With this goal in mind, we invite the public and other candidates to join us in a series of community debates or discussions regarding each party's vision for Urbana. Until then, the voters can learn more about the three Green Party candidates running for local office by linking to the Prairie Green website at www. Prairiegreens.org

Don't you agree it's about time that voters have more than just the two traditional parties to choose from. And when voters hear a Green is running for local office it will seem normal.

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WILL - The Public Square - January 09, 2009

Conrad Wetzel on Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence.

My name is Conrad Wetzel, and I am resident of Champaign and a member of AWARE, the local Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort. My comment is about "Renewing America's Promise of Peace and Justice."

This year Martin Luther King Day is on Monday, January 19. On April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year before his assassination, Dr. King gave his prophetic speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence." In this speech, King spoke strongly against the United States' role in the war in Viet Nam, contending that our country needed larger and broader moral changes. He stated, "A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth that goes hand in hand with this war."

Some of King's friends in the civil rights movement tried to persuade him that his focus on the Viet Nam war would distract too much from their efforts in the civil rights movement. But King insisted on a direct relationship between the war and the oppression and poverty of the black people, arguing that the war took money and resources that could have been spent on social welfare services like the War on Poverty. The U. S. Congress was spending more and more on the military and at the same time less and less on anti-poverty programs. King stated, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death". King's message continues to be highly relevant to our current engagement in wars in the Middle East.

Martin Luther King Day falls on the day before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is calling on Americans across the nation to volunteer in the Martin Luther King Day of Service on January 19. Obama said, "I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I am president of the United States."

On Sunday, January 18th, 2-4 PM at the Champaign Public Library, AWARE will be hosting an event, "Renewing America's Promise of Peace and Justice." This will include King's speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence," followed by a panel of speakers looking at current American policy in light of what King pointed out forty two years ago. Please join us for this event on Sunday, January 18th, 2-4 PM at the Champaign Public Library.

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WILL - The Public Square - December 19, 2008

Robert Naiman on the The Employee Free Choice Act

Hi, I'm Robert Naiman, and I work with Jobs with Justice, a coalition working to promote workers' rights.

Employees have the right by law to choose to be represented by a union in negotiations with their employer over wages and working conditions. But for many Americans, this is a right that exists in law, but not in practice. The Employee Free Choice Act seeks to ensure that this right exists for all workers, in practice as well as in law.

Currently, employers often do not accept a union when there is majority support. Between a demonstration of majority support in the form of authorization cards and an election ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, employers often mount intimidation campaigns, using fear to thwart the will of the majority. This is tied to the second problem: there is no real punishment for violations of the law by employers. Union supporters are often fired in retaliation for union organizing. Finally, although employers are required by law to bargain in good faith, there is no punishment for failing to do so, and a first contract can be delayed indefinitely.

The Employee Free Choice Act seeks to address these issues by the following: first, employers would be compelled to recognize a union when the workers have demonstrated majority support through authorization cards - "card check." Second, employers would face fines if they violate labor law. Third, if negotiations failed to produce a first contract, either side could appeal for mediation and if that failed, for binding arbitration. This would guarantee that workers who form a union could achieve a first contract.

This is an issue that affects our community. In Effingham, mental health workers at Heartland Human Services formed a union in February 2006. After being on strike for a year, and locked out for six months, they still do not have a contract. In Bloomington, two union supporters at the Pantagraph newspaper were fired.

The Urbana City Council is currently considering a resolution in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. If you live in Urbana, please contact your Alderman to express your views.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 17, 2008

Yael Taylor on Urbana-Champaign Books to Prisoners

I am Yael Taylor, a volunteer at UC Books to Prisoners, and I want to tell you about our organization and our book sale coming this weekend, October 17 - 19 at the downtown Urbana Post office, Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway, Urbana, Illinois.

UC Books to Prisoners provides free books to inmates in Illinois prisons, as well as a lending library at the two Champaign County jails. As of 1994, all prisons throughout the our state of Illinois have been under budget restraints and cuts. This has affected all the educational programs and the libraries in prison. The maximum security prisons do not allow friends and family to send used books to inmates. So our organization is sometimes the sole source of reading material for prisoners. As of today, October 17, 2008, we have sent 28,030 books to 4,379 different inmates in our four years of operation, solely with volunteers. We think you will agree with us that education through reading is a good thing for prisoners returning to our communities from prison or jail.

In order to ship the donated books to the prisoners, we have a book sale twice a year. It is called "Pages for Pennies" because you can buy any hardback for $1 and paperbacks for 50 cents. Please stop by and see for yourself at the Urbana post office, 202 S. Broadway, on Friday, October 17, from 4-8pm, on Saturday, 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM or Sunday from 11 - 1PM. Please come to our Books to Prisoners' book sale, October 17, 18 or 19.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 10, 2008

Juan Alvarez on how the two major parties hide the rest of the presidential candidates

I want to point out the complete disregard that the U.S. news media and the two major parties have for democracy, for the third party and independent candidates for president, and for their supporters.

Over 45% of the voting age population in the U.S does not vote. Could this be due to the fact that they don't identify themselves with either one of the two major parties but they are unaware of the existence of the other candidates? If more than half of these people voted for one of the other candidates, he/she could win because currently the two major parties win with less than 25% of the possible votes.

I am not here to convince people to vote for third-party and independent candidates. I am here to ask you to demand that all voices be heard so that everyone can make an informed decision, whichever that may be. Demand that the media cover all six candidates. Demand that the debates include all six candidates.

Consider the recent bailout. Were there Congressional hearings with economic experts from all sides? The hearings involved only the current administration's members. Don't you think a better solution could have come from a broader discussion? Don't you think there needs to be a broader discussion of the issues in the electoral arena as well?

Naomi Klein talks about the 'shock doctrine' as a means by which capitalism uses a crisis to coerce people into supporting policies that will be in their detriment because they are in shock. The initial support for war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the FISA law are clear examples. I think this can be extended to the Democratic party tactics which use the shock of a Republican administration to coerce the supporters of third-party and independent candidates into voting for the lesser of two evils instead of supporting candidates that would truly benefit their well-being.

Some rationalize this decision with arguments like 'things would be worse under the Republican candidate', or 'this election is too important to have the Democratic candidate loose it because votes were taken away from him by the other candidates'.

The notion of 'taking away' votes assumes that the candidate owns or is automatically entitled to these votes and hence others take them away from him. This entitlement is further supported by the fact that the two major party candidates do not campaign on all 50 states, only on the so called 'swing' states and those states where they can raise a lot of money. The votes in the remaining states are taken for granted because they feel entitled to them and will go their way no matter what.

There is a big difference between the liberal and conservative groups. Conservative groups get what they want from the Republicans, while Democrats get what they want from the liberal groups. Conservatives threatened not to vote for McCain and forced him to shift further right and even choose Palin. What did the liberals get for supporting Obama, who has even voted against their interests? They hope to get some crumbs from Obama I guess.

What do you want your vote to do for you? Support you or betray you?

Be informed and don't fall for the Democratic party's shock tactics. You've got Ralph Nader as an independent candidate, Cynthia McKinney for the Green Party, Bob Barr for the Libertarian Party, and Chuck Baldwin for the Constitution Party. Visit the candidates' websites and compare their positions on the issues.

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WILL - The Public Square - October 03, 2008

Barbara Kessel on the privatization of war, emergencies and everyday life

My name is Barbara Kessel. I am a member of A.W.A.R.E. (The Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort), the Socialist Forum and Jobs with Justice.

My concern today is privatization, the selling of government functions to private, profit-making, interests.

There are three huge problems with such privatizations: 1) Costs increase ? since the private company needs to make a profit 2) the service previously provided to the public goes only to those who can afford them - e.g. residents of the County Nursing Home 3) the accountability disappears.

We can see this in the wars we are waging in the Middle East, where military contractors are paid at least five times that of a U.S. soldier for doing the same work. Still, the money for their services comes from federal government contracts which is our taxes. If our military pays $36 for a six-pack of Coca Cola because it is provided by Halliburton under federal government contracts, how and to whom does one complain? Protective gear, such as helmets, goggles and vests, are provided at great expense by military contractors, but they did not make enough so that many soldiers had to purchase their own "from home," sent over by relatives. When Blackwater, the largest private military contractor, massacres civilians, as they did a year ago in Nisour Square, Baghdad, they are not accountable since they cannot be prosecuted under Iraqi law, under U.S. Military law, or in American courts. Costs go up, service goes down and accountability disappears.

As our health care system has become ever more private, with public hospitals disappearing, the mounting health costs are stunning. Less people can afford health care, even in emergencies, and the only way to challenge these costs is now through legal threats and lawsuits. People here in Champaign County know that if the county Nursing Home is privatized, it will cost more and serve less people.

To learn more about how all this works and what we might do about it, come to hear historian Dan Kenney. He will give two talks, next Friday, October 10 entitled "Privatization: Outsourcing our Sovereignty and your Rights". The first talk will be noon to 2P.M. in 123 English Building on the UI Campus, sponsored by the History Discussion Group. Dan Kenney will also be speaking Friday, October 10, at 7:00 PM at the Urbana City Hall Auditorium, 400 S. Vine Street. That talk is co-sponsored by A.W.A.R.E., the Socialist Forum, Jobs with Justice, and the I.W.W.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 19, 2008

Teri McKean of ABC Counseling on fundraising to support child sexual abuse counseling

From January of 2000 to the present, there have been over 75,000 reports of child sexual abuse in the state of Illinois, not taking into account the large percentage of unreported cases. Studies show that 1 in 3 girls, and 1 in 5 boys, will be sexually abused by the age of 18; more than 80% of these youth will have been abused by someone they know. The problem of child sexual abuse is pervasive and it does not affect just one race, religion or socioeconomic status. Sexual abuse does not discriminate in these ways and instead can, unfortunately, affect any child.

ABC Counseling & Family Services has made it their mission to help the youth affected by sexual abuse. Since first forming in 1992 in Normal, ABC has served more than 2,500 families and has grown from one office to four, including one here in Champaign. The staff of ABC strives every day to bring justice, healing and wholeness to the people they serve and aim to enhance the quality of people's lives. It is the hope of ABC that one day their services will no longer be needed.

As a non-profit, ABC relies heavily on community support. ABC is pleased to announce their second annual fundraising event to specifically benefit the Champaign-Urbana community! Putt Fore Kids is a family friendly event to be held this Saturday, September 20, from 9am to 1pm at Old Orchard Links in Savoy. Any ticket purchased includes miniature golf, pizza, drinks and entry into a raffle. This event also features a silent auction with a variety of packages. You can help combat child sexual abuse by attending this event. For more information, please contact our office at (217) 403-0790. You may also visit our website, www.abccounseling.org, for more information about ABC or to donate via Paypal.

If you have concerns about a child you know, you may contact ABC at (217) 403-0790 or you may contact the DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE to report incidents of child abuse.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 12, 2008

Walter Matherly on Health Care Reform

My name is Walter Matherly, and I am a volunteer with the Champaign County Health Care Consumers.

As the elections approach, we once again begin to hear about the rapidly escalating cost of medical care in the United States. Perhaps the most daunting concern I see for me and my own family in the upcoming years is making sure our health care is affordable.

Health care reform is sorely needed, and any proposed health plan needs to be comprehensive and fiscally responsible. We need to treat health care as a basic human right, and deliver a plan that benefits everyday people.

Specifically, health coverage must be guaranteed to the entire population, thus correcting the errors inherent in the present private insurance patchwork.

Similarly, a just system must eliminate co-payments and deductibles, which often act as hurdles to accessing health care services.

Finally, a comprehensive health care system must be able to pay for itself from the beginning. The present method employed to do this by the private insurance industry includes many excessive, unnecessary, and redundant marketing and actuarial costs that a new program should eliminate.

It is the good fortune of Illinois residents to have a piece of legislation in the General Assembly that would provide for just such as system. House Bill 311 – the Health Care for All Illinois Act – would create a single-payer health insurance program for all Illinois residents. The program would provide coverage for doctor, hospital, long term, and mental health care, as well as dental, vision, and prescription drugs. The program created would have no premiums, co-payments, or deductibles. And finally, this program would pay for itself by eliminating wasteful private insurance administration and profit, which currently accounts for over 24% of every health care dollar spent.

You can learn more about this legislation at a Community Legislative Hearing scheduled for Thursday, September the 18, 2008 at 6 p.m. at the Illinois Terminal Building, 45 East University Avenue in downtown Champaign. Please come, listen, and talk. Understand what promises to be the most critical issue to emerge from the elections.

For more information, contact Champaign County Health Care Consumers at 217-352-6533 or visit www.healthcareconsumers.org.

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WILL - The Public Square - September 05, 2008

Conrad Wetzel on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

My name is Conrad Wetzel. I am a resident of Champaign and a member of AWARE, the local Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort. My concern is about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and its effects on our troops and our community.

War greatly disrupts the lives of our U.S. military personnel, their loved ones, and their communities. This has never been made more evident than by the large number of men and women who currently suffer from PTSD as a result of their military experience in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a terrifying ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, such as those to which our troops are exposed in warfare. People with PTSD repeatedly re-experience that ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, reminiscent of the trauma. Various severe physical symptoms are also common in people with PTSD. These effects of PTSD make our veterans' re-entry into civilian life very difficult. Many have been unable to obtain adequate medical and counseling services through the Veterans Administration, taking a heavy toll on the veterans themselves and their families and communities. Some are even reluctant to seek help, following instead a progression of self-medicating with alcohol, then job loss and homelessness.

Learn about this little understood trauma of war and its effect on the lives of people living in our community at a panel presentation at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, September 7, at the Urbana Free Library Auditorium. The panel will include returned veterans, who suffer the effects of PTSD, along with professionals who provide counseling for such veterans and their families. This panel presentation, entitled "PTSD: Our Troops, Our Community," is cosponsored by AWARE and the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Please join us for this important panel at 2:00 P.M. on Sunday, September 7, at the Urbana Free Library Auditorium.

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