#MazeSaid Reviews “United Shades of America” featuring W. Kamau Bell

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by

Maze Jackson

 

This past Thursday, April 7th, I had the opportunity to attend the Rolling Out Chicago screening of comedian W. Kamau Bell’s new CNN series, “United Shades of America.”  The scripted reality series features Bell placing himself in situations that the audience would not expect to find a Black person in.  The première featured Bell meeting with modern-day members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The entire concept of a Black man meeting with KKK members in full regalia is sensational and attention grabbing to say the least.  When the episode opened and Bell was forced to meet a Klansman on a dark deserted road, I did feel the pace of my heart speeding up as all of my childhood fears of the Klan were rekindled.  The placement of the first commercial cliffhanger kept me in suspense for the first break.  And that’s where the whole thing came apart for me.

I was already trying to figure out what self-respecting Klansmen would allow themselves to be interviewed by a Black comedian on camera?  After the first interview, my suspicions were confirmed…these were not self-respecting Klansmen, but local trailer park dwellers looking for their shot at reality star fame, Bo0-Boo Kitty meets David Duke style.  I found it hard to take a Klansmen visibly wearing shorts and flip-flops under the his robe seriously. I. JUST. COULDN’T.

The climax of the show was the ceremonial cross burning, the ultimate symbol of terrorism against Blacks in America, but somehow the show found a way to make it anti-climatic.  In fact, instead of being terrified or angry, I thought it looked kind of cool in the night sky.  So much for Black terror.

Immediately after the screening was a Q&A Session with Bell and Rolling Out Publisher Munson Steed.  During the Q&A, I got a better understanding of Bell’s goal for the show, which was to have uncomfortable conversations, something that I like to do in my social media life as well, so that part of the show I appreciated.  Where I think the episode missed the mark was the fact that the Klansmen came off as buffoons and non-threatening which I think could be dangerous in the long run.

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There are real hate groups out there, who can cause real damage and harm in the Black community.  We saw it with Dylan Ruth during the Charleston Massacre in South Carolina in which nine innocent Black people were killed.  There are real hate groups out there, and they are neither cute nor funny, they are dangerous.  I did not appreciate Bell making them seem funny and dimwitted.  Oh wait, he’s a comedian, so perhaps that was the goal.

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Nonetheless, in spite on my distaste for the first episode, I do look forward to future episodes that deal with more realistic issues. It’s hard to take a Black man interviewing the Klan seriously, it felt very Dave Chapelle-ish.  I will give “United Shades of America” three episodes to get it together, because I really like the concept. My hope is that the show will get better as it takes on more realistic issues in future episodes.

United Shades of America gets 2 and 1/2 stars.

#mazesaid

 

Chicago Budget Fix Relies on Dysfunctional Springfield

(as published in the October 7-13 Chicago Defender)

by

Maze Jackson

Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)
Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be proposing over a $588 million property tax increase in the city of Chicago, a collective groan was heard across the neighborhoods. While many knew that the day of pension reckoning was finally upon us, the shock of actually hearing Emanuel deliver the message was palpable. While he discussed a wide range of services savings and cuts, most Chicagoans fixated on the $500 million property tax increase.

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A $588 million increase that equates to an approximate 58.1% increase over what Chicagoans had been paying. That increased property tax assessment could potentially have a dire effect on the Black community whose property values are rapidly increasing, while their incomes are not. Combine that with the fact that the Black community has not fully recovered as quickly as others from the recession, while struggling to hold on to their homes. At the same time, White developers are buying every bit of property they can get their hands in anticipation of the Obama library on the South Side, and Silicon Valley 2.0 which is being built on the near West Side.

In an effort to provide some relief from the enormous tax increase, and prevent some of those things from happening, Mayor Emmanuel proposed an exemption for homes that are valued under $250,000. The move was hailed as an attempt to ensure that the cities most vulnerable homeowners would be spared the massive increase that would eventually drive them from their homes and communities, a fact that members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus applaud.

“I believe it will encourage investment, while lessening the impact on people with less income,” said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. who represents a portion of the West Side and West Loop, where high-income development is booming.

(photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)
27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)

But to get the necessary relief, the mayor’s budget relies on approval from a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to pass its own budget. As a matter of fact the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past five months with no solution in the foreseeable future. In spite of that, Burnett remains optimistic that “Governor Rauner will do the right thing, help the city of Chicago, and low income residents.”

While all parties would agree that the city of Chicago is on the brink of financial peril all parties do not agree on the solution, the most important of which is Governor Rauner, who has called for a statewide property tax freeze. Combine that with the fact that when Governor Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council back in July, he made it perfectly clear that if Chicago expected to get any relief from the state he expected that they would make concessions in Springfield. Regardless of Rauner’s ominous statements, Springfield insiders remain optimistic that they will be able to pass the property tax exemption and get Governor Rauner to sign it.

(photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)

Assistant Majority Leader Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago) is one of those insiders. “Most of the constituents I represent would benefit from the exemption and I am for it. It’s progressive which is something that we should look at on the state level as well. Those who can pay more should,” Turner states.

 

(photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)
Assistant Majority Leader Arthur Turner, Jr. (photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)

“The City of Chicago is the largest economic engine in the state, and while I think it will be tougher to get through Springfield, I am confident that the Governor understands how important Chicago is to the rest of the state. Mayor Emanuel has taken the first step in fixing the situation, but because he and the Governor have a working relationship and talk regularly, I think we will get a bill passed and signed,” Turner explained.

Turner’s optimism is based on Emanuel and Rauner’s relationship, because Rauner’s relationship with Democratic leaders in Springfield is tense to say the least. Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan are currently locked in a budget fight to the death over who will control Springfield, and neither seems willing to compromise. But if the city of Chicago hopes to plug its budget holes and pension problems, it must rely upon cooperation with legislators, leaders and the Governor to get it done. But so far no party has shown any willingness to give, which is what makes Emanuel’s role in the situation so crucial.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)

Mayor Emanuel has stated, we must fix the “structural deficit” and we cannot “kick the can down the road any longer” as he has so often accused the previous administration of. And, while he is careful not to blame the Daley administration by name, one only need listen to Emanuel talk about the city’s financial situation to know that he will not wear the jacket for the massive property tax increase alone.

One thing is clear, if the City of Chicago wants to keep growing, it must tackle the financial woes created by years of underfunding police and fire pensions. The intentional underfunding of police and fire pensions have reduced Chicago’s bond ratings to junk status, driving the cost of borrowing money to unmanageable levels. But with the property tax increase, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council still have to convince voters why they should accept such a large property tax with very few to no new services.

To combat the perception, Emanuel has also proposed using a rare state law that allows the city to levy a $45 million school improvement tax to ease the tensions associated with such a large increase. Emanuel has also tried to make the increase more palatable by phasing it in over 3 years, with increases being $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017, and $63 million in 2018.

But none of that will make a difference if he can’t get Springfield to work together, something they have been unable to do for the last five months. Emanuel needs them to if he hopes to save Chicago from being devoured by its pension obligation.

Black Caucus-Governor Rauner…”Together?”

(from The Weekly Intelligence Report)

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Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.

As the state budget impasse continues with little to no progress, the state budget battle is shaping up to be a battle of egos between two of Springfield’s “five tops,” holding the rest of Illinois hostage until someone blinks. I sat down with the Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford on The Maze Said Radio Show and Podcast, and I got the distinct impression that some members of the Black Caucus were willing to negotiate with Rauner, depending on the terms.

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Kimberly A. Lightford
Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Kimberly A. Lightford

On the flip side, sources inside the Rauner camp tells me Rauner wants the support of the Black Caucus so bad, he would be willing to fund Black Caucus priorities AND grow Black business opportunities with in each of the districts. Of course, that would mean supporting Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.” Black Caucus members remain skeptical, preferring Rauner to bring business to the state before they consider cutting a deal, but they did not rule out the possibility of a deal, which is intriguing.

Gov. Rauner and Rev. James Meeks, who Lightford implied sided with Rauner after being frustrated with Democrats treatment of Blacks.
Gov. Rauner and Rev. James Meeks, who Lightford implied sided with Rauner after being frustrated with Democrats treatment of Blacks.

A Black Caucus/Rauner alliance would not solve the budget crisis, but it would change the balance of power in Springfield, giving the Black Caucus a bigger voice in directing where the state’s funding goes.   The Senate President John Cullerton has already shown some willingness to work with the Governor, but as Lightford acknowledged, has not been as “involved” in the battle as the Governor and Speaker Madigan. She also acknowledged that it would be more difficult to gather the same support in the House.

Sources inside the Caucus inform me that Rauner has been quietly meeting with Black Caucus members in the House. Democratic leaders were so nervous about Black Caucus House members meeting with Rauner, they requested written confirmation of the meetings. Members balked at the suggestion, but clearly there are concerns that the Black Caucus will begin to leverage the power of their numbers.

Gov. Rauner talks with Sen. Napoleon Harris at State Budget Address. (photo courtesy of Reboot Illinois)
Gov. Rauner talks with Sen. Napoleon Harris at State Budget Address. (photo courtesy of Reboot Illinois)

But “we are looking at it,” Lightford answered when I inquired why not cut the best deal for the Black people. “The Governor has a list,” she continued, “but we need to look at that list together” and pick which things “we can live with.”

“I’m not for term limits…that’s what elections are for,” she goes on. “Maybe some people have been there too long, I get that,” which is why they need to look at the list together she reasons.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.

In a state where Blacks continually do less that 2 percent of the state’s business and cuts to vital services in the Black community are always on the table, the fact that the Black Caucus is talking about looking at a plan TOGETHER with Rauner should be of grave concern to the people Lightford said have built “legacies” while not letting the Blacks participate equally.

I don’t know whom she was talking about, but they better be concerned…

#mazesaid

 

Cook County Goes Back to the Future

by

Maze Jackson

 

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle prepares to raise the Cook County sales tax by one penny, she should consider that it was that same penny that got her predecessor “lynched in the media.”

On December 4, 2006, Todd Stroger was sworn in as Cook County Board President. He replaced the interim Board President Bobbie Steele, who had only been in office since August 4th of that same year, completing the term of Stroger’s father. John Stroger had been County Board President until he was incapacitated with a stroke.

New County Board County Board President Stroger only had three months to craft an $3.1 billion budget that had a $500 million deficit . “The apparatus was in place to put a budget together, but no one took responsibility during the interim presidency,” Stroger said during an interview.

Stroger consulted his advisers, who all agreed that county government needed to be reformed. Stroger mandated across-the-board cuts of 21% for all 28 departments under his control. He requested the same from the other county officers, who all generally complied, with the exception of the Sheriff’s and State’s Attorney’s Offices.

Was former Cook Count Board President Todd Stroger right all along? Will it lead to a political comeback? (photo courtesy of ABC7 Chicago)

When Stroger directed the hospital system to make “$90 million” in cuts, they recommended closing Provident and Oak Forest Hospitals.   “Oak Forest was in the South Suburbs, and our flagship hospital, the County Hospital is 45 minutes away from Robbins. Our (Black) people needed that hospital, especially with so many Blacks moving to the South Suburbs,” Stroger stated.

“And when you look at Provident, that hospital was the biggest economic engine in that community, plus Michael Reese (hospital) was going to close. It was just too important to close, so we went back to every department and scraped together every bit of money we could, and we kept those hospitals open and balanced the budget in our first year.”

In Stroger’s 2nd year, Cook County found itself $238 million in the hole again because “the union agreement increased every year. We had to solve the problem.” So Stroger along with Ralph Martire and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability came up with a plan that “paid the bills without taking it out on the employees or over burdening the taxpayers, but we knew we needed revenue.”

In 2007, after trimming as much waste as possible, making almost every reform suggested by advisers and critics alike, and even voluntarily signing on to the Shakman decree, President Todd Stroger passed a balanced budget that included a one penny sales tax increase.

“Not only was the budget balanced, it addressed the structural deficit created by the labor agreements that continue to increase every year, “ Stroger said. “When President Preckwinkle came in she basically replicated my plan, but when she cut the sales tax, she found herself back at square one.”

As Preckwinkle seeks to pass the same one-penny sales tax that many say was the deathblow to the Stroger Presidency, she is finding unlikely opposition.

“The sales tax may be the easiest for the County Board to pass, but it will be hardest on the working families when everyday purchases  – diapers, toothpaste, kid’s clothes – get more expensive. And it will be hardest on businesses who risk losing customers to Indiana or Will County. Cook County needs revenue to provide quality health services and a just criminal justice system, but a tax that hits the hardest on the hardest hit is not the way to go,” County Commissioner Bridgette Gainer (D-10) emphasized.

Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer opposes the “Toni Tax”

The “Toni Tax” as it is being called will likely pass, but no politician ever wants their name directly associated with a tax. Just ask Stroger.

“The newspaper and media made my name and tax synonymous. Say tax and people said Stroger. Water, property…any tax was The Stroger Tax, and I only asked for one penny,” Stroger finished. “At least I kept the hospitals open for that penny.”

What’s in It for the Black People?

WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE? This question is the litmus test through which we as BLACK people must view every aspect of our collective lives, if we want to thrive in this country. To change the game, we must be dispassionate to the needs of those outside of the BLACK community until they can satisfactorily answer the question, WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE?

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So many times, proposals, plans and propositions are presented to us, AFTER the work has been done. They can plan for the building, the parking, and even plan the beautification, but when do THEY plan for the Black people, And when they bring the plan, it’s for the so-called “community.” Well Black people need to separate ourselves from the so-called “community” and start asking specifically, “WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE?”

Just imagine, if EVERYBODY, and I mean EVERYBODY that came into OUR community, whether it was to open a business, get a vote, do a project, or open a school had to answer the question, WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE, how different THE BLACK COMMUNITY would be?

But who is REALLY willing to ask, WHAT IS IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE? The answer should be everybody! So many times when I am at high profile events, BLACK folk are more interested in selfies and appearing intelligent than asking the essential question. When someone like me ask, “WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE?” Everyone gets scared and offended.

Well “WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE should be the starting point when anyone comes asking Black people for support for anything, and its EVERYBODY’S responsibility to ask.

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So the next time you’re at an event, meeting, or gathering and someone is seeking what appears to be the support of the Black community, before you go into a long winded soliloquy, remember to ask, “WHAT’S IN IT FOR BLACK PEOPLE?” If they can’t demonstrate contracts, jobs, investment, and targeted community development, there are no more questions necessary, and everything else they are talking about should fall on our collective deaf ears.

Is Self-Resegregation the Answer?

The word segregation conjures up all types imagery in the minds of Black folks.  “Whites Only” water fountains and lunch counters, police dogs, Bull Connor, the images are stark and by all accounts we as Black people have come a long way, only to end up precariously close to wear we started.  Yes, Black people have been on a 50 year, 360 degree journey back to a place where we are the lowest on America’s totem pole.

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Am I suggesting that we go back to an era where the color line was strictly enforced but the harsh rules of Jim Crow?  Not at all, but I am suggesting that Black people consider retreating into our own communities and become more self-reliant.  During a time when the country continually reminds us the black lives do not matter, it seems like we are continually asking the government and other communities to “help” us or do the “right” thing, to no avail.  So I am suggesting that instead of continually asking someone to treat us right, that we do it ourselves.

I am starting to believe that it may be better for our community as a WHOLE, if we were forced to live, work, and play with each other, regardless of economic level, because it would raise the standards f the entire community.  Quite frankly, living in Chicago, segregation really never ended in socially or residentially.  Desegregation did occur economically, because as consumers Black people got the ability to spend their money with all races as long as we returned to our community.

We have enriched EVERY race but our own in our pursuit of equality.  At least when we were segregated, we had OUR own banks, merchants, restaurants, entertainment, economy, and our own system of accountability.  Now, all of that is gone and we are left with unemployment, crime, and murder.

Maybe self-imposed segregation might not be such a bad thing…as long as WE are making the choice.

Thoughts?

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