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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Illinois newspapers

December 20, 2019 GMT

Dec. 17, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times

Hallmark learns just who’s the ’real’America

Three items in the news:

“Sesame Street” is 50 years old this year.

The new prime minister of Finland was raised by two moms.

The Hallmark Channel on Friday pulled an ad showing a lesbian wedding, buckling to pressure from a conservative group, then on Sunday restored the ad in the face of a backlash from millions of other Americans.

We think those three stories are related — in a good way.

We see further proof that what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1956 is true: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are reminded again that changing hearts and minds, so often the work of pop culture, matters as much or more than changing laws.

“Rainbow family”

Sanna Marin, who was elected the prime minister of Finland earlier this month, was raised in a working class family by her mother and her mother’s female partner. She credits her “rainbow family” for her confidence as a woman, her achievements and her values.

“For me, people have always been equal,” she told The Guardian. “It’s not a matter of opinion. That’s the foundation of everything.”

But though Marin is young — just 34 — she grew up in less accepting times and has experienced that slow bend toward justice. As a school child, she never talked about her family, aware of the stigma attached to LGBTQ people. Only “now in the 21st century,” she told the Guardian, are families like hers discussed in Finland “quite openly.”

Hallmark buckles to pressure

In a similar way in the United States, full equality for LGBTQ people remains a distant shore, but gains have been made and there’s no going back — as Hallmark has learned the hard way.

On Friday, the Hallmark Channel made a decision to pull advertising for the wedding site Zola that featured same-sex couples. Hallmark did not pull Zola’s ads featuring different-sex couple.

Hallmark’s decision followed pressure from One Million Moms, a part of the conservative American Family Association, that complained about the ads to Bill Abbott, the CEO of Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media Family Networks.

One Million Moms claimed on its website that Abbott said the ads “aired in error.”

Where’s the error? We can’t find it.

Are LGBTQ people an error? Is same-sex marriage — the law of the land — an error?

Hallmark gets schooled

Crown got an earful all weekend from advocacy and civil liberty groups and ordinary outraged Americans. In a tweet, the talk show host Ellen Degeneres asked Hallmark and Abbot, “What are you thinking? Please explain. We’re all ears.”

On Sunday, Crown and Hallmark backed down and reinstated the ads.

“The Crown Media team has been agonizing over this decision as we’ve seen the hurt it has unintentionally caused,” Hallmark CEO Mike Perry said in a statement. “Said simply, they believe this was the wrong decision.”

We’re not privy to the inner sanctums of decision-making at Hallmark, but we’d bet two things turned the bosses around.

First, it’s all about money. Hallmark figured out the company would lose more viewers and customers by killing the ads than by running them.

Second, you can bet that hundreds of employees let it be known they had a problem with working for a company that would so easily buckle under. Corporate recruiters have learned that values matter when recruiting the best and brightest young employees.

Hallmark might have thought that One Million Moms speaks for mainstream America, but the group does not. It doesn’t speak for even 1 million moms. It has only 96,000 followers on Facebook.

Meanwhile, 63% of Americans, according to a Gallup Poll, support the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Diversity is just life

Which is where “Sesame Street,” and the power of popular culture in general, come into this.

Several generations of American children have grown up absorbing the show’s message of kindness and acceptance. They have met a Muppet named Lily who was homeless, a Muppet named Ari who was blind, and a Muppet named Julia who had autism. They have met Muppets and human beings of all colors and abilities — and disabilities.

Diversity on “Sesame Street” is just how life works.

“Sesame Street” has never included an overtly gay character, whether human or Muppet, unless you think of Bert and Ernie that way. But we like to believe — we would hope — that its message of inclusion and kindness has washed over 50 years of children in a more general way, helping to make them more compassionate adults.

It’s not just “Sesame Street.” It’s also “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And, when the kids got a bit older, pioneering shows like “Will & Grace” that made gay people just folks. And pioneering people like DeGeneres.

We could go on and on, but the point is made: Pop culture at its best is changing hearts and minds.

Hallmark’s initial mistake was to see One Million Moms as the “real” America and those who champion equal rights for LGBQT people — and people up against it in every way — as the elitist fringe. They got it backward.

We are a better nation than we give ourselves credit, regardless of groups like One Million Moms and the moral ugliness of President Donald Trump.

It will be our salvation, we can only hope, in next year’s presidential election.

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Dec. 10, 2019

Rockford Register-Star

Community leaders need to keep doors open for refugees

It is morally and economically right to accept refugees into our communities.

We should welcome people who have nowhere else to go. They have fled wars and persecution and are grateful to still be alive. All they have is hope — and the clothes on their backs.

President Ronald Reagan used to refer to America as a “shining city,” and in his farewell address to the nation after eight years in office he went on to say: “And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

We commend Winnebago County Board Chairman Frank Haney and Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara for reaffirming their local commitment to keeping doors open to refugees with the “will and the heart to get here.”

The affirmation was necessary because of President Donald Trump’s executive order declaring refugees will be resettled only with the consent of state and local governments.

Local governments have the option of saying no, an option that — so far — none has exercised. Local governments across Illinois must send letters to the federal government affirming their consent by Dec. 25. The Christmas countdown means a bit more to refugees this year.

Refugee resettlement tends to be an emotionally charged discussion as opponents fear a drain on resources and a change in the fabric of the community.

But as a practical matter, the number of refugees who have entered — and are expected to enter — the Unites States is small.

Nationwide, about 190 communities resettle refugees. California, Texas, Ohio and Washington took in the most during fiscal year 2017, with between 2,000 and 5,100 each, according to State Department data.

Refugee admissions have been capped at 18,000 for 2020, down from 30,000 this year. That’s not enough to sell out an NBA arena and hardly addresses the worldwide need.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 25.9 million refugees have been forced from their home countries because of religious persecution, wars in Syria and Afghanistan and economic deprivation in Africa.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Evangelical Immigration Table and the U.S. commission on International Religious Freedom oppose the reduction in refugee resettlement numbers.

In Illinois, more than 123,644 refugees from more than 60 countries have been resettled since 1975. More people than that go to Wrigley Field on a summer weekend.

Most refugees use help from social service agencies to become self-sufficient.More than 90% of employment-eligible refugees are employed within 120 days of arrival. They pay taxes and are engaged in our communities.

They are needed, especially in a state that is losing population.

Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers whose lives have been thrown into chaos through no fault of their own because of conditions in their native countries. We encourage all cities and counties in Illinois to reaffirm their local commitment to keep their doors open to refugees.

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Dec. 19, 1919

The News-Gazette (Champaign)

Chicago casino plan still stalled

If Illinois is to allow widespread gambling, why isn’t there a casino located where it would do the most good?

Just in terms of the revenue potential alone, it makes perfect sense for the State of Illinois to locate a casino in Chicago.

Located in the midst of one of the world’s great cities, a site that draws tourists from all over the United States and beyond, a Chicago casino would generate many millions of dollars in new revenue for the city and the state.

So, nearly 30 years after casinos were allowed in Illinois, why isn’t there a casino in Chicago?

One obvious reason is that all the other casino owners here, particularly those relatively near Chicago, don’t want the brutal competition a casino in the city would represent.

That, of course, raises question about the massive gambling expansion bill passed this past summer by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The legislation, in addition to allowing sports gambling and permitting the state’s two race tracks to offer casino-style gambling, also authorized six new casinos, including one for Chicago.

At least it authorized one for Chicago on paper. Reality has proved to be a different story.

Legislators added so many expensive conditions to obtaining a casino license that the total cost became prohibitive for prospective operators.

There’s a $250,000 up-front application fee, a $15 million “reconciliation” fee and up to $120 million in gambling position fees. In addition, the state wants to impose a 33.3 percent “privilege” tax on top of the existing tax rates other casinos pay.

A Las Vegas consulting firm retained by the Illinois Gaming Board to study the situation contended that “the reconciliation fees alone would wipe out any profits generated for many years.”

In other words, the conditions amounted to killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Those conditions raise questions about the legislative process that produced these onerous conditions.

Were legislators oblivious when they signed off on requirements that would blow up the permit process before it got started? Or were opponents playing a more stealthy game — appearing to permit a casino while really working to block or delay one?

In Illinois, one never knows.

But Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made it clear the rules need to be revised by legislators. So she made an appearance in Springfield during the recent three-day veto session to get that done.

What happened? Nothing.

Lightfoot noted the arrest of state Rep. Luis Arroyo on bribery charges proved to be a major distraction. But she also complained that her request for changes in the gambling bill as it affects Chicago prompted other interests to seek their own changes.

“They saw this piece of legislation, particularly around casinos, as their one opportunity to get something that they felt they were promised,” she said. “People came out of the woodwork with their ‘letters to Santa.’”

Whether there really were too many mouths to feed or that was the appearance given to justify doing nothing, Chicago again was denied the opportunity to get its casino project off the ground.

Whether their tactics are deny, deny, deny or delay, delay, delay, those in the gambling business benefit from each day that Chicago offers no competition.

Legalized gambling has proved to be a mixed blessing for Illinois.

It was originally billed as a tourist draw that would help beleaguered communities hosting casinos to generate more revenue. Instead, the facts showed that those living near the casinos, not visitors to the area, patronized these venues.

In that respect, it did not generate significant economic development. Instead, it redirected local dollars that would have been spent on the local economy to the casinos.

Nonetheless, our legislators keep going back to the gambling well, hoping in the face of the facts that the revenues generated will bail the state out of its financial woes. That hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen.

If new revenue really is the goal, Chicago is the logical place for a casino. That it hasn’t happened yet is a source of wonder and suspicion.