Arlington Heights Daily Herald. May 22, 2021.

Editorial: Time to pass news literacy bill

Let’s start this editorial with a question: What would you say is the biggest threat to our democracy?

No, that is not meant to be a leading question heading us down a partisan rabbit hole. Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, AOC and Tucker Carlson do not qualify as correct answers. If you said any of them, please erase and try again. Only in broader terms.

You could say voter suppression is a big threat, and we get that. A reasonable contention. Or maybe you’d say the money in politics. Again, not a bad answer.

But we would argue that the biggest threat to our democracy is polarization and misinformation.

Don’t we all feel that these days? Don’t we know people whose facts don’t mesh with our facts? Don’t we all feel like we know people who are living on a different planet?

An informed citizenry is the heart of a democracy.

Without it, we the people -- as the architects of our government -- are subject to manipulation, unsound decisions, poor choices.

News literacy matters.

And particularly in this era of rumor, social media lies and falsehoods, algorithmic digital marketing, Orwellian politics and yes, news media bias, it has become central.

Our greatest hope is that today’s youth grow up to be discerning citizens, that they develop a healthy skepticism of the information they receive, that they understand how to vet what they read and hear and that they pride themselves on being open to considering ideas that may challenge their views.

Those are the ingredients of responsible citizenship, the ingredients too of a healthy democracy.

And hopefully, those ingredients provide a light at the end of the tunnel of our dysfunctional polarization.

Yes, news literacy matters, as we have said in this space in the past.

So we’re disappointed that legislation in Springfield to require a news literacy curriculum in our schools has become another partisan issue.

We do not understand that. We do not understand why Republicans would oppose citizenship education. Our schools are meant to prepare our kids for the adult world. In a democracy, what preparation is more important?

The curriculum does not spell out who or what to believe. It develops thinking skills. That’s not partisan.

The legislation has passed the House on a party-line vote. We commend suburban co-sponsors Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, Joyce Mason of Gurnee and Janet Yang Rohr of Naperville.

A vote is expected this week in the Illinois Senate, where Karina Villa of West Chicago is the primary sponsor, with Laura Ellman of Naperville and Laura Murphy of Des Plaines among the co-sponsors.

We encourage area Republicans to get on board. This is a vote for good government. This is a vote to protect our democracy.


Chicago Tribune. May 19, 2021.

Editorial: No more side-eye for the maskless

For more than a year, we’ve been trained to follow the science on COVID-19 transmission: Stay 6 feet apart, wash your hands, wear a mask.

So now that science from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates we can drop masks if we’re vaccinated, we should expect to move through our daily lives maskless in most settings — and without side-eye. If you’re vaccinated, the science says you can’t spread the disease, and the chances of getting sick are extremely low.

But can we do it? Trust the honor system that when we see people maskless in public, they’ve been safely vaccinated? For those who considered mask-wearing a political statement, this might be a challenge. It shouldn’t be.

Our Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, is following the federal guidelines that say “fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance,” according to the CDC website.

June 11 is the target date for a full reopening of Illinois, but only if cases of COVID-19 remain flat. Chicago is on a slower schedule, aiming for a full reopening by the July 4 holiday.

In a statement Monday, Pritzker said: “With public health experts now saying fully vaccinated people can safely remove their masks in most settings, I’m pleased to follow the science and align Illinois’ policies with the CDC’s guidance. I also support the choice of individuals and businesses to continue to mask out of an abundance of caution as this pandemic isn’t over yet.”

So let’s proceed, masks on or off based on our personal comfort levels, without disapproval.

In Indiana, most counties have dropped mask mandates completely. The state of Michigan is following the CDC guidelines for mask-wearing with businesses able to implement stricter rules. Wisconsin establishments have been dropping mask mandates, prior to the CDC recommendations, after a state Supreme Court ruling two months ago struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ mask mandate.

In Illinois, the mask rules are not universal; local governments and businesses still can implement their own policies, and many have. If your gym wants to kick you out for not masking up, it can. If your grocery store keeps a mask policy in place, you still have to follow it. And if you’re in any health care setting, the CDC strongly recommends a continuation of face coverings.

But the shaming — the confrontations and the glaring at people not wearing masks — comes to an end. Right?

In a letter to the editor published online Wednesday by the Tribune, Chicago resident David Whiteis suggests public health officials encourage unmasking for vaccinated people as a measure to protect our mental health.

“Now, though, with scientific data clearly showing that the vaccines not only protect us against contracting the disease but also lower the risk of transmission significantly, I believe that we should begin looking at unmasking (for most people) as essential to our public mental health, just as masking and distancing have been essential to our physical health and survival for over a year,” he writes.

Sounds like a plan. We’re making strides toward a return to normalcy. Let’s embrace it — safely. Normalcy is just as important to our well-being as getting through the pandemic.


Chicago Sun-Times. May 18, 2021.

Editorial: Good riddance to a bad Illinois law that punishes people for being HIV-positive

The Illinois Legislature is likely this week to abolish the criminalization of HIV transmission. Thirty-three other states should do the same.

Josef Michael Carr’s mother was an assistant principal at a Catholic school in Chicago until she was dismissed in 1991.

Her offense?

She was a lesbian with HIV.

That was 30 years ago, yes. And society’s fear and loathing of people with HIV/AIDS, especially those who are gay, is by no means as extreme as it once was. But there is fear and loathing still, even written into Illinois law.

“My wife and I still have close friends who will not disclose their HIV status because they are fearful of mistreatment, discrimination and possible assault in this toxic cultural climate,” Carr, who is state chair of IVI-IPO, the good-government group, told us. “We need to protect HIV/AIDS citizens from criminalization.”

As a matter of law in Illinois since 1989, a person who transmits HIV to another person can be charged with a crime and, if found guilty, incarcerated. The police also can gain access to a person’s HIV status despite a separate law, the AIDS Confidentiality Act, meant to protect people from having their HIV-positive status used against them by employers or others.

But that’s about to end.

The Illinois Legislature, in a historic and symbolically powerful gesture, is likely as early as this week to abolish the criminalization of HIV transmission. House Bill 1063 sailed through the House in April, with bipartisan support, and looks certain to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Illinois then will have joined five other states since 2014 — California, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and North Carolina — that have put an end to the criminalization of HIV transmission and it will be setting a fine example for 33 other states that still have such laws.

Fear, even hysteria

To understand how the laws came to be in the first place — how a public health crisis became a matter for cops and prisons — it helps to recall the fear, even hysteria, that swept the country in the early 1980s as Americans became aware of a mysterious and deadly new disease, AIDS.

People feared they could catch the bug just by touching somebody, and there were no effective medical treatments. Some state laws criminalized biting or spitting by an HIV-positive person, though saliva was not a probable transmission risk.

Adding to the fear was the loathing. Homophobia, more intense then than it is today, made it easier for legislatures to write laws that treated people with HIV — mostly gay men — as criminals rather than victims. No other sexually transmitted or communicable disease, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis or syphilis, could put you in line for jail.

But if the anti-gay bias at the heart of the Illinois law was not obvious then, it is now.

“We would not put a law on the books today that will criminalize COVID for people who refuse to test,” state Rep. Carol Ammons told a House committee in April. “We would not then criminalize people for knowingly passing COVID.”

Ammons, D-Urbana, is the lead sponsor of HB1063 in the House. Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, is the lead sponsor in the Senate.

Current law ineffective

Not one study has shown that the criminalizing of HIV transmission reduces the rate of transmission. On the contrary, research shows, criminalization has discouraged testing, treatment and disclosure, all of which are key to preventing the spread of HIV. The law, according to House witnesses, has been used in 22 criminal cases since 2012.

Strictly from a medical perspective, the continued criminalizing of HIV fails to account for major advances in care and treatment.

“HIV disease is in most cases today a manageable long-term condition,” states the American Academy of HIV Medicine, taking a strong stand against criminalization laws. “However, prosecutorial precedent still treats transmission of the disease as the equivalent of a death sentence.”

Medical advances also have dramatically decreased the risk of transmission.

“A person who is HIV positive, but who takes medication regularly stays virally suppressed,” Tom Hughes, executive director of the Illinois Public Health Association, told the House committee, “and is effectively no risk for the transmission of HIV.”

House Bill 1063 needs no push from us. It’s looking like a sure thing.

We merely want to mark this moment — and encourage every other state legislature to do the right thing, too.