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Thursday, June 29, 2006 05:09 pm

Cap City

Presbyterians’ balancing act, the Green spin machine, casting a wide net

Presbyterians now say investing makes more sense than divesting when it comes to matters of peace and justice in the Middle East. A new policy, adopted June 21 in Birmingham, Ala., by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), requires that the church’s investments in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank be made only in “peaceful pursuits.”

Two years earlier, the assembly decided that “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” was the way to go. Among the corporations targeted for divestment were Schaumburg-based Motorola and Peoria-based Caterpillar, whose earth-moving equipment is used by Israel to clear Palestinian land [see R.L. Nave, “Cat nipped,” June 8].

The 2004 resolution directly addressed divestment; the Birmingham resolution recasts the debate in terms of positive investment, says the Rev. Jerry L. Van Marter, spokesman for the PCUSA. Divestment, he says, would be a “last resort.”

George M. Sisk, chairman of the Springfield Jewish Community Relations Council, says, “Overall, the new policy is a step in the right direction.”
“The PCUSA now sees the damage that was caused by the 2004 policy, and has taken significant and appropriate steps to right a wrong,” Sisk says.

However, Van Marter says that the latest action should not be construed as a reversal, he says the PCUSA “hastened to assure our Palestinian Christian partners that this is not a retreat of our historic support of the rights of Palestinians to live in secure borders.

“Whenever you’re dealing with the Middle East, it’s a balancing act,” Van Marter says.

It’s no secret that the Green Party has no love for Democrats or Republicans — even if the Greens have the same knack for spin.

This year, the party is attempting to land its first-ever statewide slate a spot on the November ballot, for which the signatures of at least 25,000, registered Illinois voters had to be submitted [see Rich Miller’s column, this issue, page 8].

On Monday, the Greens apparently succeeded. But at a Statehouse press conference, Green gubernatorial hopeful Rich Whitney wouldn’t say exactly how many signatures the party collected, only that the number was “thousands and thousands over.”

Whitney explained to reporters that he couldn’t give a precise figure because petitions were still trickling in. Last week, Illinois Times received a news release from the Greens stating that the party planned to submit more than 35,000 signatures — short of the 45,000 the Green Party announced earlier this year that they hoped to collect but impressive nonetheless.

Why so tight-lipped all of a sudden? Jennifer Rose, Whitney’s campaign manager, says that the Greens’ attorneys have advised the party not to make the number public, though she does say it was “more than 35,000 but less than 45,000.”

On Tuesday, a representative for the Illinois State Board of Election said that the number of signatures the Greens submitted was closer to 33,000.

If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

So it was that Cap City, armed with a laptop, ventured to the heart of downtown to see whether it’s true that the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has started up free Wi-Fi service at the Old State Capitol and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

First stop, the library lobby. Check — we were Googling in two minutes. Then to the lobby of the museum. We were opening the carrying case when a stern-looking security guard, complete with badge, asked what we were holding.

It’s a computer. What are you doing? Trying to get online. You’re not allowed to do that here. What do you mean? There are no bags allowed in the museum. We’re not going inside; we just want to stand here in the lobby and use this computer. Bags aren’t allowed. You can search it if you want.
We lifted the laptop from its case and allowed him a look inside. Then we told him that he was welcome to watch while we powered up — and we did. No signal. No Google. And so we left. He watched us all the way out.

Next stop: Old State Capitol. We arrived just as a busload of grandma-and-grandpa types was departing. Same question as at the museum, except this time much nicer, as if these volunteer guides really wanted to help us. They seemed bemused when we said that we were trying to get online. No one had seen this before. “We get more canes than computers here,” one guide said. A woman offered to call her supervisor and ask whether Wi-Fi service was available.

Everyone looked doubtful. After calling her supervisor, the woman assured us that we’d been misinformed. There’s no free Internet access in this building, she said.

Except there was. Within a minute, we were online. About a half-dozen folks who worked there seemed much impressed. Free Internet was news to them. This signal must be coming from a nearby café, they said. Except it wasn’t. The state had started free Wi-Fi service but hadn’t bothered telling employees in the buildings where it’s available.

So much for promoting free Wi-Fi at Springfield’s biggest tourist attractions.

Staff writer Bruce Rushton bounced around the country last year, living in Phoenix and then Seattle before landing in Springfield last fall. He has recently been honored in Arizona and Washington for work he did in those states.

Competing against newspapers of all sizes, Rushton received third-place honors in growth-and-development reporting from the Arizona Press Club for a story published in Phoenix New Times that details exactly what goes on deep inside the burgeoning Phoenix sewer system. In Seattle, the Society of Professional Journalists placed Rushton third in business reporting for a story published in Seattle Weekly revealing that a fundraising arm of a community college, ostensibly a charity, had transformed itself into a credit-counseling agency, shipping more than 98 percent of the money it received from debtors to private interests and drawing scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service. Rushton’s work was judged against stories published in alternative newspapers in five Pacific Northwest states.

— From staff reports

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