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The Mascot: March 27, 2022

Tracking autocracy, SCOTUS nomination, Chicago Public Schools, and the Sunshine Protection Act.

By News

A wide-mouthed character tilts its head back and gobbles up a variety of news briefs and debris. Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Illustration by Jade Sheng.

While the world reacts to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s leader Xi Jinping keeps his eyes on Taiwan

When Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the world press scrambled to make sense of it. Putin had been seething over Ukraine for roughly thirty years by then. While there is no singular answer to “why now?” Western media was rattled into seeing something from Putin’s view that had been dismissed until then: a window of opportunity. Putin understood too well the fragile veil of peace beneath which the West rested comfortably since the end of the Cold War.

With a politically divided West and the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan opening fresh wounds, Putin saw a chance to strike. Now, a month into the war, with Russian troops slowing to near stalemate and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeatedly calling for talks with Putin, some media are pulling back the camera, watching China’s leader Xi Jinping watching Putin. 

In an article in “The Atlantic” published last November, journalist Anne Applebaum dove into the interconnected networks of autocracy — from Russia, to China, to Venezuela, to all countries affected or soon-to-be affected by their leaders. “Nowadays, autocracies are run not by one bad guy,” Applebaum wrote, “but by sophisticated networks composed of kleptocratic financial structures, security services (military, police, paramilitary groups, surveillance), and professional propagandists.” Which is why Xi Jinping can’t take his eyes off Ukraine; what happens to Russia will likely inform Xi Jinping’s moves in Taiwan. (Sidenote: This week also marked the 26th anniversary of Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election).

Meanwhile in Chicago, Ukrainian refugees, including a group of 16 students, have begun arriving. Those students are being supported by Chicago-based Big Shoulders Fund, which is taking ongoing donations to provide resources to Ukrainian students forced to flee. As more Ukrainians land in Chicago, check out WTTW’s list of ways for Chicagoans to help. And, if you have the space, host refugees through the Ukraine Take Shelter registry. The ripple effect of the war will be felt around the world.

Eight small figures drawn with wiggly black lines. Stand horizontally next to each other. Not recognizable creatures, but do have characteristics of known animals and humans.

Illustration by Michaela Chan.

Law of the Land

On Monday, confirmation hearings began for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.  Say it with me: 𝘬ə-𝘛𝘈𝘏𝘕-𝘫𝘦𝘦. The confirmation has been filled with all of the posture-heavy shenanigans to be expected of US Senators, including Senator Ted Cruz grilling Judge Jackson about whether she thinks babies are racist. 

Despite the predictable pushback from a few Republican Senators, the likelihood that Jackson will be confirmed is high. The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote. Should Judge Jackson be confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to sit on the high court. 

But that is not the only reason Jackson stands out. She is also the only Judge with a background as a public defender, or as Irin Carmon puts it in New York magazine, the only Judge who hasn’t made her way by exclusively defending the rich and powerful. This is significant, as presidents for years have shied away from nominating judges with a public defense background, out of the fear that the nominee’s former clients’ sins would be weaponized by the opposition. As a public defender, you do not get to pick and choose your clients.

Her commitment to public service is consistent with her academic record. She wrote her Harvard undergraduate thesis (“The Hand of Oppression”) and subsequent Harvard Law Review articles about unfairness in the Justice System. She will also be one of three justices who did not attend private Catholic school. 

Eight small figures drawn with wiggly black lines. Stand horizontally next to each other. Not recognizable creatures, but do have characteristics of known animals and humans.

More money, no problem

At a monthly school board meeting on Wednesday, board members urged the Chicago school district to spend more money. The district has received three rounds of federal funding to support maintenance and recovery during COVID times. So far, of the $1.8 billion received under the American Rescue Plan, only 7% has been spent. CPS has also spent only 12%, or $62.9 million, of its half-billion dollar “Moving Forward Together” initiative, according to Chalkbeat Chicago.

Board president Miguel del Valle called the state of CPS an “emergency,” while Board member Luisiana Melendez expressed discouragement about how slowly the funds were being put to use. The overall sentiment of school board testimonies was one of frustration. 

Officials defended the funding’s pace, noting that the delta and omicron variants diverted energy away from what was supposed to be a “recovery” effort, and that “The Great Resignation” has made it difficult to staff the positions required for new programs.  

Little contour people. Drawn with black lines. Have human and animal characteristics but are unrecognizable as anything familiar.

To Lighten the Mood

A few weeks ago I wrote a whole newsletter about snow. Since the Spring equinox rolled through last Sunday, March 20, I thought it would be appropriate to balance things out with some sunnier stories.

First off, the US Senate voted in favor of the Sunshine Protection Act, eliminating our bi-annual shift of the clocks and making Daylight Savings time permanent. The Act still has to be signed by President Biden to go into law, but just the fact that it quietly and speedily made its way through the Senate proved that Washington politicians can still agree on some things, especially when a bill dons a super cute name.

Meanwhile, the Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier, an indoor acre of equatorial foliage including 90 live palm trees, remains dormant. The glass-domed getaway has provided Chicagoans and visitors a mid-city nature free-of-charge for more than twenty years. Last Fall, the Gardens closed citing pandemic-related losses. Its proposed replacement is the “Illuminarium,” a digital, immersive nature experience that features its own exotic attractions such as an African safari and a $50 ticket charge. As F News photographer Nadgee Rivera reported, an online petition was started to save Crystal Gardens, and has so far gathered the support of more than 20,000 people.

In the meantime, you can always hit one of the many trails in the Chicago area

Parker Yamasaki (MANAJ 2023) is the managing editor at F Newsmagazine. She is looking for a sunnier place to sit.

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