Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Who to Watch at Chicago Ideas Week 2012: Jonah Peretti - NBC Chicago (blog)

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There's a lot to wrap your mind around with the approaching Chicago Ideas Week, the weeklong invasion of super-smart and super-influential folks taking place at venues all over town from Oct. 8 to 14.

We're helping with a series of speaker profiles designed to highlight the speakers who will benefit you, the Chicago entrepreneur. There are just over 100-plus speakers announced so far, and more to come.

In this profile: Jonah Peretti

Accolades: The New York Times called him a “viral marketing hotdog,” and while I’m not really sure what the heck that means, what’s less debatable is that Peretti founded the wildly popular website BuzzFeed and was the co-founder the Huffington Post.

Why you should care: Everyone likes to take sniper shots at carps in barrels about how awful the media is doing lately, and it’s tough to blame them. The media is dying. (There’s an entire Twitter feed dedicated to it, even.) Everything is going online, but nobody has yet really cracked how to best approach it. Some of the bigger media outlets have made rather clumsy overtures into the territory, but concepts like pay gates are just a surefire way of alienating your audience and also telegraphing that you have no clue how to run a media outlet online other than by clinging onto the “hallowed” old ways.

BuzzFeed is unique, which is a word I almost never use, but it is completely appropriate here. Peretti isn’t a wunderkind -- he’s 38 -- and understands how the Internet works. Being an entrepreneur is tough enough, but making an editorial-driven site succeed is nearly impossible, even with ads. Whether you want to hear about an underdog succeed again and again or are merely curious about what goes into making a publication stay afloat on the Internet, Peretti is definitely one to watch and one to listen to.

When you can see him: Oct. 10, Albert Theatre at the Goodman Theatre, 12 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Read more here. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

Chicago-area home sales up 28.5% from year ago - Chicago Tribune

More homes were sold in the Chicago area last month than in any month since August 2007, as buyers continued to take snap up value-priced properties and take advantage of low interest rates.

Sales of existing homes in the nine-county Chicago area rose 28.5 percent from a year aearlier, to 9,240, the Illinois Association of Realtors reported Wednesday. It was the single best month for sales volume since August 2007, when 9,733 homes were sold.

Efforts to work distressed properties through the system, though, continues to be a on pricing. The median price of a home sold in the Chicago area last month was $170,000, a down 3.8 percent from August 2011.

Counties that did benefit from year-over-year median-price gains last month included Kendall, up 3.3 percent, and Will, up 1.6 percent. Median prices were down 2 percent in Cook County, 5.7 percent in DuPage, 5.4 percent in Kane and 11.7 percent in Lake.

In Chicago, sales of already built homes and condos, rose 23.6 percent from a year earlier, to 2,209 properties sold while the median price rose 3.9 percent, to $200,000.

While the number of condos sold during the month rose 35.9 percent to 1,396 units sold, the median price slipped 1.4 percent from a year ago, to $239,000.

On a month-over-month basis, Chicago median prices of condos have now dropped for two consecutive months. Single-family home prices were on par in August with their July level.

At the current rate of sales it would take less than three years to sell all homes now listed for sale, down from 3.28 years in the spring, according to Geoffrey J.D. Hewings, a University of Illinois economist. A healthy market contains about six months of inventory.

Interest rates continue to favor buyers. The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in the Chicago area last month was 3.60 percent, up from July but still well below the August 2011 average of 4.26 percent, according to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.

Also on Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association said its weekly survey of 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages rates hit a new low, to 3.72 percent and 3.03 percent, respectively.

mepodmolik@tribune.com | Twitter @mepodmolik

5 alleged Burge torture cases to get fresh look - Chicago Tribune

Gerald Reed was being questioned about a double murder in 1990 when a Chicago police detective working under then-Cmdr. Jon Burge allegedly knocked the chair out from under him, then kicked and stomped on his legs and torso while he was still handcuffed to the wall.

Reed eventually signed a confession, was convicted at trial and was sentenced to life in prison.

His claims of torture went nowhere despite jail X-rays taken shortly after the alleged beating that showed a steel rod in his leg from an old injury had been broken and two orthopedic screws knocked loose, according to court records.

Now, 22 years later, Reed's allegations are getting a fresh look. His case was one of five involving the disgraced Burge that were assigned to judges Tuesday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building after lengthy investigations by the Illinois Torture Relief and Inquiry Commission.

But even as those cases move forward, dozens of other torture claims filed with the commission since its inception in 2009 have been put on hold because the financially struggling state pulled the body's already meager funding earlier this year.

"We are pursuing various avenues to try and continue the work of the commission, but financially, if we can't do that then these will be the first and the last cases," said attorney David Thomas, the commission's former executive director.

The 40-year legacy of torture of mostly black defendants conducted by Burge's "midnight crew" of detectives continues to reverberate in the courts and the city's politics.

Earlier this year, the city approved $7 million in payments to settle lawsuits filed by two Burge torture victims, bringing the total paid to victims and in attorney fees to $45 million since the scandal began. Cook County also funded a four-year, $6.5 million investigation into the allegations against Burge that ended in 2006 without any criminal charges being filed in Circuit Court.

However, Burge, 64, was convicted on federal charges for lying under oath about the torture allegations and is serving a 41/2â€"year prison sentence.

The commission was designed to grapple with the seemingly never-ending stream of torture claims stemming from the Burge scandal. Because their allegations already have been vetted, the five defendants referred to trial judges Tuesday are on a much clearer path, Thomas said.

"In this situation, they are going before judges where an investigative body has looked at the torture claim and concluded … that these claims are credible," Thomas said. "It certainly puts a defendant in a much different position."

Reed's attorney, Andrea Lyon of the DePaul University College of Law, said his case will be helped immensely because the commission has already "sorted the wheat from the chaff."

The five cases referred to judges Tuesday all involve Burge or detectives who worked under him. One defendant, Shawn Whirl, who was convicted in the 1990 murder of a cabdriver, said Burge's subordinates slapped him and used a key to dig into a wound on his leg, records show.

The other defendants, David Randle, George Anderson and Darryl Christian, all allege they were forced to confess to murder after they were beaten and threatened with further violence, according to court records.

The funding for the bare-bones commission was pulled abruptly by the General Assembly in May, after Gov. Pat Quinn had initially earmarked $235,000 to keep it running for another year, Thomas said. In 2011 the commission spent about $150,000, he said.

"That was barely enough for my salary as executive director, my secretary's salary and a copying machine," he said.

Thomas said as many as 80 of the claims filed with the commission had yet to be investigated when its funding was pulled. Probes into 20 other cases also were suspended, but some private attorneys have taken on those cases, he said.

jmeisner@tribune.com

'Tremendous victories': Details of the teachers contract - Chicago Sun-Times

Rhubab wear 'strike' sign with his owner striking teacher Mary O'Keeffe Chicago Board Educatisupport striking teachers Tuesday September 18 2012.

Rhubab, wear 'on strike' sign with his owner, striking teacher Mary O'Keeffe at Chicago Board of Education in support of striking teachers, Tuesday, September 18, 2012. l John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 19, 2012 7:26AM

The tentative agreement between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago Board of Education has been about a year in the making.

Heated negotiations led to the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years. Tuesday evening, CTU delegates voted to suspend the strike on its seventh day, allowing 350,000 CPS students to return to class Wednesday. Union members still have to ratify the contract.

“We have tremendous victories in this contract,” the CTU said in a contract summary it sent to delegates, “however, it is by no means perfect.”

Here’s what’s in it.

Added cost

$295 million over four years, or $74 million per year. 2007 contract cost $645 million over five years, or $129 million per year.

Duration

Three years, with an optional fourth year. CPS originally sought five-year contract. CTU wanted two years.

Pay

3 percent in year one. 2 percent in years two and three. 3 percent if union approves fourth year. No merit pay. Board originally offered a one-time 2 percent raise. Preserves additional raises for extra years of service and education.

Health care

Freeze on health care premiums and copays for members in exchange for participating in a wellness program. Members pay $600 per year for each family member who opts out of the Wellness Program. There is an exception for smokers who won’t have to pay.

Sick pay

Existing sick days may be cashed out at retirement. Up to 40 future unused sick days are pensionable and may be banked for short term disability or maternity, not retirement. New short term disability and maternity benefits pay 100% up to 30 days; 80% next 30 days; 60% for third 30 days.

Time in school

7 hours of elementary students; 71/2 for high school students four days a week and shortened fifth day. 170-day school year expanded to 180 days.

Calendar

Year-round and traditional school calendars merged into one, district wide. Creates a committee of union and board members to work out details of what new calendar will look like.

Staffing

Over 600 new full and part-time positions to staff longer school day in subjects such as art, music and PE.

Evaluation

“No stakes” for tenured teachers during the first year. Establishes appeals process for bad ratings. Tops out 70 percent based on teacher practice; 30 percent on student growth in test scores. If union opts to keep contract for fourth year, student growth will count for 35 percent, the district says.

Class size

The district’s policy on class size remains in the contract. And a new “workload” committee gets $500,000 to address understaffing among clinicians, counselors and special education staffers.

Layoffs and recall

12-week payout or 40 weeks in the reassignment pool, half at regular pay, half at cadre substitute pay. Teachers displaced by a school closing who are highly rated can follow their students to their new school if there is an opening. Principals must interview any well-rated applicant from a closed school.

Also: $250 reimbursement for teachers who buy supplies. Text books guaranteed in schools by first day of class. Anti-bullying clause added for first time to prohibit principals from “abusive and demeaning conduct.”

Testimony concludes in Christopher Vaughn trial - Chicago Tribune

September 19, 2012|By Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune reporter

  • Christopher Vaughn, of Oswego, told the judge in his Will County murder trial that “I do not wish to testify.”

Christopher Vaughn, of Oswego, told the judge in his Will County murder trial that “I do not wish to testify.” (Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune 2007)

In a soft voice, Christopher Vaughn politely told a Will County judge that he wouldn't take the witness stand as testimony in his five-week murder trial came to a close Tuesday.

Vaughn, 37, is charged with killing his wife, Kimberly, 34, and their three children inside the Oswego family's SUV, which was packed for a 2007 trip to a Springfield water park. Abigayle, 12, Cassandra, 11, and Blake, 8, were buckled into their seats, surrounded by blankets and pillows when they were each shot twice â€" once in the head and once in the torso.

The lengthy trial has featured testimony from the exotic dancers Vaughn spent thousands of dollars on shortly before the shootings and a friend with whom Vaughn discussed leaving his family behind to start a new life in the Canadian wilderness. Vaughn, who was interested in druidism, wrote jailhouse poems in a runic alphabet that an FBI expert was called to decipher for jurors.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Thursday.

During the past week, Vaughn's defense attorneys have tried to convince jurors that Kimberly Vaughn killed the children and then herself. But none of the experts they called unequivocally backed that claim, testifying only that it was possible but also just as likely that Christopher Vaughn had killed his family.

The final defense witness was Tom Bevel, a blood-spatter expert who testified that bloodstains on Kimberly Vaughn's left hand are consistent with "blowback" spatter from possibly shooting herself.

She was shot once under the chin, with the muzzle of the gun either pressed against her skin or very close, according to trial testimony. Her husband's 9 mm handgun was found between her feet with the hammer cocked.

Bevel testified that though he knew Kimberly Vaughn was right-handed, he had seen cases where people commit suicide with their weak hand.

But under cross-examination, Bevel agreed with Will County prosecutors that blood evidence left in the vehicle "does not comport with" Christopher Vaughn's statement to police that he left the vehicle after being shot. Vaughn had superficial gunshot wounds to his wrist and leg.

When Assistant State's Attorney Mike Fitzgerald asked Bevel how Kimberly Vaughn's blood got onto the back of her husband's jacket if she shot herself last, Bevel said her blood might have gotten onto it in some earlier incident.

Fitzgerald also questioned why Bevel had excised from his report the opinion that Christopher Vaughn had unbuckled his wife's seat belt. Bevel removed the sentence after he was challenged to explain it previously by defense attorney George Lenard.

Christopher Vaughn's blood was found on the belt buckle. Defense attorneys argued that it got there in a struggle after Kimberly Vaughn shot her husband.

Prosecutors have argued that Christopher Vaughn's gunshot wounds were self-inflicted.

With jurors out of the courtroom Tuesday, Judge Daniel Rozak questioned Vaughn about whether he would take the stand.

"I do not wish to testify," Vaughn told Rozak in a soft voice after twice saying, "No, thank you," when the judge asked if he had any questions or needed more time to discuss his decision with his attorneys.

Prosecutors called only one rebuttal witness, Dr. Michael Shrift, director of the neuropsychiatry program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Vaughn's defense team had sought to paint Kimberly Vaughn as troubled and taking medications for her migraine and tension headaches that increased her risk of suicidal behavior.

Shrift testified that the drugs Kimberly Vaughn was taking â€" Topamax and nortriptyline â€" are commonly prescribed together. He said there is no strong evidence that either drug increases suicide risks and no evidence that, when taken together, any risk is multiplied.

sschmadeke@tribune.com

Moreno relents, will allow Chick-fil-A - Chicago Tribune

A Chicago alderman who made national headlines during the summer for opposing a Chick-fil-A in his increasingly trendy Northwest Side ward has reversed course, saying he will let the fast-food chain open a store in Logan Square.

Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st, said the restaurant has agreed to include a statement of respect for all sexual orientations in an internal document and promised that its not-for-profit arm would not contribute money to groups that oppose gay marriage.

Though Moreno said he scored a "big win," the company made nearly identical pledges in a July 19 Facebook post that went up even before Moreno took issue with Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy's opposition to gay marriage.

The statement of respect also falls short of Moreno's goal of adding language opposing discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to the company's employee handbook.

Moreno said the statement will be included in a memo called "Chick-fil-A: Who We Are" to be distributed to all corporate employees and restaurant operators. The alderman said the memo will state the company's commitment to "treat every person with honor, dignity and respect â€" regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender." It also would state that it is the company's "intent ... not to engage in political or social debates."

Company officials did not respond to repeated requests to confirm Moreno's assertions about the document or the foundation's donation policies. Instead, company spokesman Jerry Johnston emailed the Tribune a copy of the statement it first posted on Facebook with very similar language to what Moreno said will be in the "Who We Are" document.

Moreno said he achieved his goal of getting Chick-fil-A to "affirm that they do not have discriminatory policies."

"It's one thing to say that's the way you feel â€" it's another thing to put it into a company policy and an official company statement," Moreno said.

In addition, Chick-fil-A agreed to a new traffic design for its 1st Ward restaurant, something Moreno also said he wanted.

Moreno first made national headlines in July when he said he would block construction of a Chick-fil-A in the 2500 block of North Elston Avenue because of comments Cathy made during an interview published in the Baptist Press. Cathy said he was "guilty as charged" for supporting "the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

Critics questioned Moreno's commitment to free speech and whether he could legally block construction of the restaurant over the company owner's political views. Moreno insisted it was a civil rights issue.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a supporter of gay marriage, also entered the debate, saying, "Chick-fil-A's values are not Chicago's values."

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, said the "Who We Are" statement is "a step forward" but "not the endgame."

"We would still like to see Chick-fil-A adopt ... (an) anti-discrimination policy that specifically states they won't discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Martinez said.

He said his group was more pleased with the pledge not to fund groups that oppose gay marriage, adding that it will monitor donations by WinShape, a company-affiliated nonprofit group that has made contributions to groups opposing gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Illinois Family Institute Executive Director David Smith said the pledge to respect all people was simply in keeping with the Cathy family's values.

"That's just consistent with their Christian beliefs â€" that's consistent with orthodox Christian values," Smith said.

But Smith took issue with limiting how the company or foundation spent its money.

"It seems as though Moreno is asking them to handcuff themselves and to limit their speech," he said. "Why couldn't they fund whatever organization they want?"

hdardick@tribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal

Reds Roll Cubs 3-1 - ESPN

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