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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

August 30, 2018

August 27, 2018

Chicago Sun-Times

Like it or not, the whole world is watching the cops more than ever

If the “whole world” was watching in 1968, you can bet they’re watching even more now.

Fifty years ago this week, during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the police response to all that watching was to pummel news photographers and smash their cameras. At least 17 reporters — a disproportionate number of them photographers — were physically attacked by baton-swinging officers during clashes with anti-war demonstrators.

The cops really didn’t want the world to see.

It didn’t work, though. Beating up the messenger just embarrassed our city more. And it works even less now.

Cameras are everywhere, including on the chests of officers and in the hands of anybody with a cellphone. For police officers today, whether they like it or not, candid cameras are the new reality. The whole world really is watching — every day and everywhere.

We write this now because the Chicago police don’t seem to have figured that out.

They continue to swat cellphone cameras out of the hands of citizens who dare to record encounters with the police, often enough that the ACLU has called for new procedures to investigate this violation of rights. The news media, as in 1968, continues to be targeted as well.

On the evening of July 14, a Sun-Times reporter, Nader Issa was covering a clash on the South Side between the police and a crowd that was enraged because a local barber, Harith Augustus, had been shot and killed by officers. It was an extremely tense situation in which the police moved forward in a line and scuffles broke out. Cops struck people with their batons. Protesters threw punches and glass bottles at the police.

Issa recorded it all, as best he could, and tweeted the developments live.

“I have my press badge on and identified myself as a reporter, but I got shoved to the ground by two cops who smacked my phone out of my hand.”

In a follow-up tweet, Issa reported that he had lost his balance, but could not be sure he hit the ground.

As we watch Issa’s video now, we have two thoughts:

(asterisk) The police were in a tough spot, with angry people swarming all around. If you are fair-minded, you can understand that they must have felt threatened. And while some officers may have overreacted, many others used obvious restraint, reluctant to push too hard.

(asterisk) Swatting Issa’s camera out of his hand was plain stupid. All around, as the video shows, other people were holding up their cellphones and recording, too. The cops could never swat away all those phones. The whole world was watching, and it always will be watching.

As part of a federal consent decree — a court-enforced agreement — to reform the Chicago Police Department, the ACLU has argued that all First Amendment complaints should be investigated by an outside monitor, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

When we asked the ACLU recently why such a change was necessary, they specifically cited the example of cops interfering with people with cameras.

To this day, you can invite a heated argument at your neighborhood bar by declaring that one side or the other — the cops or the protestors — were most to blame for the street violence during the 1968 convention. An official report later called it a “police riot,” but plenty of Chicagoans have always seen it differently.

We’re going to stay out of that debate for now, but we will say this: Free speech is free speech. The cops acted like thugs in 1968 when they smashed news cameras, and they’re as out of line today when they swat away phone cameras.

Every citizen, like every reporter, has a First Amendment right to record the police at work, as annoying to an officer as that can be.

COPA should investige every alleged violation.

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August 25, 2018

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Good news from higher education around region

The news for Central Illinois institutions of higher learning, for the first time in a few years, is more positive than negative.

For starters, schools are starting the new academic year with something they haven’t had for a while: a full-year state budget in place.

But the news is more than financials. Millikin University, as detailed in Saturday’s Herald & Review, expects a third straight increase in the size of its freshman class. Among the new offerings for those students is a criminal justice major. Construction at the school will continue for the next two years on a a new center for theater and dance.

Illinois State University in Normal, which graduated one of the largest classes in its history earlier this year, has international newcomers this year. More than 60 international students have been recruited through INTO University Partnerships, an agreement entered into by ISU in January. Illinois State also has its own construction going on, with the revitalization of the Bone Student Center and an addition to the Watterson Dining Center.

Bloomington’s Illinois Wesleyan University’s freshman class could be the largest in at least five years, and the school has added four new majors this fall: biochemistry, health promotion and fitness management, marketing and neuroscience.

Eureka College is offering 40 news classes. Bachelor’s degrees in organizational leadership and liberal arts will be offered at the Lincoln College main campus this fall, bringing the school’s number of degrees available to 12.

Eastern Illinois University is expecting at least a 20 percent increase in the freshman class. The university is adding six new undergraduate programs: construction management, digital media, engineering technology, exercise science, sports management and neuroscience.

That’s a fair amount of good news. But along with it comes some troubling and disconcerting reports. The state budget settlement help free up funding for the Monetary Award Program, which gives grants to college students in public and private schools. And Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law last week the measure that gives priority for MAP grants to eligible returning students. But while the new law provides greater certainty to MAP recipients that they will receive four years of support, there is uncertainty of future funding.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said only 49 percent of students who apply and qualify for a grant actually receive it. There is not enough money appropriated for the rest.

Several states are making investments in higher education, including Tennessee’s scholarship program makes a community college free at certain economic levels. The plan is working, and New York and several other states have or are considering similar plans.

The idea of free or less expensive higher education remains a contentious discussion in our current climate. It’s good to pause for a quick snapshot and take some pride in our area institutions, while considering (as they all are) what they can do to improve and extend their reach.

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August 25, 2018

Sauk Valley Media

Another way farmers make life better

Out here in rural northwestern Illinois, we understand the importance of farmers and agriculture.

Here, it’s big business. According to the 2012 ag census, the total value of agricultural products sold in Whiteside County was more than $435 million. In Lee County, it was more than $361 million. Many of those products sold end up being food on your table.

But farmers in the Sauk Valley and throughout the U.S. do other important work that often goes overlooked - land conservation.

One of the products we enjoy putting together here at Sauk Valley Media is the Ag Mag, which comes out three times a year. One of the issues we cover regularly in the agriculture magazine is land conservation issues. One story in particular we recall was published in the fall 2016 edition. It featured Adam Henkel’s rural Amboy farm, which our reporter wrote “is a veritable how-to guide on environmentally responsible farming.”

A farm pond prevents water erosion. Terraces keep water from running through and eroding the field. Cereal rye is planted as a cover crop that pulls nutrients from the ground and lays them on top of the soil. Blue spruce trees serve as a wind break.

In the story, Henkel recalled his grandfather, Joe, who started toying with conservation practices in the 1970s.

“He had the Indian philosophy: You don’t own the land. You’re just using it, and need to take care of it for the next generation,” Henkel said.

So many of our local farmers share that philosophy.

This week, another reporter had the opportunity to provide our readers with another local example of land conservation in agriculture. The Ganschow family farm in rural Walnut has partnered with ag and conservation groups to create a woodchip bioreactor that improves water quality and reduces nutrient loss in the field by directing water flow to a big hole filled with woodchips. The setup was displayed to about 3 dozen people Tuesday.

The woodchips produce a bacteria that feed on the nitrates in the water and convert them to nitrogen gas, which isn’t harmful to the environment. The process reduces nitrate losses by about 25 percent.

That’s pretty cool. But what’s even more cool is that big-picture objective - to lessen the nitrogen that runs off into the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, where fish can’t survive. So, when farmers install woodchip biofilters up here, it should lessen the problem down there.

And if you have been paying attention to environmental news in the past few years, you know we humans are exacting a heavy toll on our oceans. In addition to the growth of “ocean garbage patches,” the number of dead zones with no oxygen have quadrupled since 1950, the journal Science reported earlier this year. The number of very low-oxygen sites near coasts worldwide has increased tenfold during that same time.

That’s a significant problem - one that will require thousands of efforts large and small worldwide to combat. One such effort is occurring in Walnut, Illinois.

“Our goal is to keep our soil on this farm,” said Michael Ganschow, whose farm also has pattern drainage tile installed every 80 feet.

That literally makes Ganschow and other farmers like him throughout the Sauk Valley life savers. Now, that’s really cool!

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