General Interest

10th District candidates debate gun control and climate change among contentious topics

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-10th) called for crossing the partisan divide on everything from health care to immigration reform during a debate Sunday with GOP opponent and computer consultant Douglas Bennett.

Schneider added that he is part of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to “fight for the values and priorities of our community” and identify common ground between parties for policy solutions moving forward.
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“Dancing for community” at the 65th Annual Chicago Powwow

By Katie Rice
Medill Reports

Poised on their toes, the dancers pivot around the room to a thrumming drum beat. Jingling bells accompany their movements as feathers sway from fans, regalia and headdresses in a whirl of color and texture.

The celebration echoes far beyond the gymnasium of DePaul College Prep High School into the balmy October afternoon.
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DASH diet helps pregnant women control weight gain

By Colleen Zewe
Medill Reports

Many pregnant women struggle with weight gain, but those who begin pregnancy overweight or obese risk developing diabetes, high blood pressure and other serious prenatal conditions that can cause harm to their unborn babies.

Many of these women fear harming their unborn babies if they gain too little during pregnancy. But a recent Northwestern medical study helped pregnant, overweight women limit their weight gain, and found that obese or overweight women can safely restrict their calories to prevent health conditions without causing harm to themselves or the baby.
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Wildcats winless streak continues in scoreless draw with Penn State

By Nicholas Hennion
Medill Reports

Northwestern University’s soccer struggles continued Saturday night as the Wildcats failed to find the back of the net in a pivotal Big Ten matchup against Penn State, with the game ending in a 0-0 draw.

Entering the fixture on a three-game losing streak, the Wildcats are now 0-4-2 for the team’s last six contests. A win on Saturday would have moved the Wildcats into a tie with Penn State’s Nittany Lions in the Big Ten standings.

Even though the Wildcats offense produced no goals, head coach Tim Lenahan saw positive steps from his side.

“For most of the game, our side was the protagonist,” Lenahan said. “Up until overtime, we really dictated the tempo.”

Even in a scoreless game, the Wildcats created plenty of quality scoring chances. Junior Sean Lynch and sophomore Tommy Katsiyiannis generated quality opportunities in the first half for the Wildcats, who held the opposition without a shot on target in the opening frame.

The best chance for either side came in the 58th minute for the Wildcats. Forward Jose Del Valle fired a shot from a tight angle that rebounded to Bardia Kimiavi, who then forced Penn’s State keeper to make another save. A third shot on target from midfielder Connor McCabe earned the Wildcats one of its six corners.

The overtime frame proved to be difficult for the Wildcats, who were outshot 7-3 during those 20 minutes of play, though nobody scored. Lenahan said the Wildcats seemed to lose focus and weren’t very sharp.

“I think we lost our discipline and we played tired,” Lenahan said. “You want to stay disciplined and find your chances, but we were pretty well outplayed in overtime.”

The man of the match for the Wildcats was certainly goalkeeper Miha Miskovic, who recorded his seventh shutout of the season. Miskovic finally faced a shot on target in the 71st minute of the match and ended the night with four saves.

The sophomore said the team’s defense was solid all night in terms of denying Penn State quality opportunities.

“The guys in front of me didn’t allow many shots [tonight],” Miskovic said. “I do my part, and they do their part to help earn a clean sheet.”

Lenahan said having a year under his belt has proved beneficial for Miskovic, who currently sits tied for 3rd nationally with his seven shutouts.

“He’s been terrific for us [all year],” Lenahan said. “He sometimes toes the line between calm and too casual. I know it’s part of his personality, but I like the calm, I don’t like the casual.”

After starting in only four games last season, Miskovic has seen his save percentage rise 12 percentage points from 64.3 percent to 76.5 and his goals against average fall to under a goal per game.

Even with Miskovic recording seven shutouts, the Wildcats find themselves under .500 for the first time this season. Northwestern has not recorded a winning season since 2014.

Northwestern will have its first chance to get back to .500 Tuesday against DePaul University with its next Big Ten matchup Friday at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Photo at top: Northwestern Goalie Miha Miskovic takes a goal kick in a 0-0 draw against Penn State.(nusports.com)

Van Dyke suggested shooting McDonald before arriving on scene

By Becky Dernbach
Medill Reports

A defense witness revealed this week that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was talking about shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald before he ever saw him.

“Why don’t they shoot him if he’s attacking them?” Van Dyke asked when he first heard the radio reports that McDonald had popped a squad car’s tire with a knife. Still a block and a half from the scene, he said to his partner, “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”

Psychologist Laurence Miller, an expert witness in forensic and police psychology, confirmed these comments during cross examination. He testified that Van Dyke reported these reactions to him in an interview about the night of the fatal shooting, Oct. 20, 2014. Van Dyke confirmed the comments as well during cross-examination when he took the stand Tuesday in his own defense.

The prosecution in Van Dyke’s murder trial repeatedly stressed these comments in closing arguments Thursday before sending the officer’s case to the jury. The jury of 12, including just one black member, is now deliberating the fate of Van Dyke, the white police officer who shot black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct. The jury also has the option to consider charges of second-degree murder, an option offered during jury instructions by Judge Vincent Gaughan in Cook County criminal court. Continue reading

Star-Studded global climate summit mobilizes action plans to combat climate change

Aaron Dorman
Medill Reports

If climate activists and local governments can’t work with Washington on climate change, they plan to work around it. More than 300 U.S. cities including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have vowed to uphold the Paris Agreement – bypassing the Trump Administration’s intention to withdraw. And now dozens of cities worldwide made or renewed commitments moving toward zero carbon emissions by 2030 at a global climate summit in San Francisco last week.

Against the backdrop of deadly Hurricane Florence and accelerating climate change, hundreds of leaders in government and business are taking solutions into their own hands. They came to the Global Climate Action Summit, a week-long series of events in the Bay Area to mobilize efforts that could put the planet on a path towards lower (or zero) carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of global warming. A wide range of players from indigenous groups focused on preserving forests, to billionaire investors committed to financing a transition away from carbon fuels committed to more than 500 action steps during the summit.

Thousands of delegates, speakers and reporters convened in calls to action by some of the most prominent figures in the environmental movement – former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Vice President and “Inconvenient Truth” author Al Gore, naturalist and animal rights activist Jane Goodall, and actor-turned-environmentalist Harrison Ford, currently vice chair of Conservation International’s board of directors.

“Cities are where it’s happening,” Al Gore said during a kick-off event hosted by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. “Cities are where the solutions are being found. For reasons I don’t fully understand, but some of you may, cities are far more responsive and creative in finding policy solutions.”

“You wouldn’t know it from reading the headlines that we are making progress,” said Bloomberg, a co-chair and one of the main organizers of the summit. “The headlines focus on the political fights in Washington. But the real action is happening in cities, states and the private sector. And the good news is those groups are positioning the United States to uphold our end of the Paris Agreement no matter what happens in Washington.”

Bloomberg and California Governor Jerry Brown, among others, spoke of the urgency of the climate crisis at the main summit plenary events on Thursday and Friday. The summit focused on ways to aid and inform the parallel climate negotiations of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The calls to action focused on five key areas that cities and regions could undertake to bypass inaction by parent governments: healthy energy systems, inclusive economic growth, sustainable communities, land and ocean stewardship, and transformative climate investments.

“Since the White House announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, more than 3,000 U.S. cities, states, businesses and other groups have declared their commitment to the Paris agreement,” wrote Brown and Bloomberg in a Los Angeles Times op-ed during the summit. “Together, these groups form the third-largest economy in the world, and they represent more than half the total U.S. population. They have been ramping up actions to cut carbon pollution and move toward the goals in the Paris agreement, just as the rest of the world is doing.”

Summit leaders view inaction at the top acute in the United States, where President Donald Trump’s Administration has vowed to back out of the Paris Agreement while threatening to undermine the Clean Air Act and roll back President Barack Obama’s clean power agenda.

Bloomberg set the tone by stressing that solving climate change was an economic opportunity. “California is a great example of how fighting climate change and growing the economy grow hand in hand,” Bloomberg said. “That’s something we also saw in NYC. We created a record number of jobs while at the same time reducing our carbon footprint by 19 percent.”

Some of the major new commitments announced during the summit include:

  • 12 major cities—including Tokyo, Seoul and Oslo—joined an existing network (now of 26 municipalities) pledging commitment to the C40 Cities’ “Fossil Fuel Free Streets Declaration.” This means using zero-carbon buses by 2025 and “ensuring a major area of the city is zero emission by 2030.”
  • 72 cities committed to adopting a climate action plan by 2020 and become emissions neutral by 2050.
  • A coalition of companies launched of the “Climate-Resilient Value Chains Leaders Platform,” including Coca-Cola and Mars that will assess climate risk in their supply chains.
  • Some 277 cities and counties committed to upholding the Paris Agreement as part of the summit’s “We Are Still In” initiative, among them cities that originally backed the accord when Trump announced plans to withdraw in June 2017.

The business-friendly attitude of the summit proved problematic at points. On Thursday morning, entrance to the plenary sessions in the Moscone Center was blocked by protestors critical of California Governor Jerry Brown, who they believe has not done enough to move away from the state’s substantial oil and gas portfolio. California in particular has suffered in recent years from the effects of climate change, experiencing a mix of intense drought and historic wildfires that have ravaged the interior of the state.

Nevertheless, the choice of locating the summit in San Francisco was strategic, as both the city and the state of California itself have become leaders in supporting renewable infrastructure and industry. “My plan is an integrated plan built up over time,” Brown said. “And we welcome any suggestions but I believe California has the most far reaching plan to deal with emissions as well as oil and production.” Brown also reminded attendees that if California was a country, it would have the third largest economy behind China and the US.

Later this year, the U.N. Climate Conference will be held in Katowice, Poland. Earlier this year, a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned that we are very close—less than one degree of global warming away—to producing a series of positive feedback loops that will generate what was ominously described as a “hothouse Earth” scenario.

“We are all rich or poor,” Harrison Ford said in a speech during the opening plenary. “Powerful or powerless. We will all suffer the effects of climate change, and we are facing what is quickly becoming the greatest moral crisis of our time.”

Photo at top: California Governor Jerry Brown called for urgent action to control climate change at  the “Global Climate Action Summit” on Friday. (Aaron Dorman/Medill)

A teen’s fall and death during the last ice age

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Yucatan Peninsula. Even the tropical jungle of the Yucatan Peninsula reveal traces of the last ice age. The remains of them mammoth animals of the Late Pleistocene are safe and sound, not buried but submerged in the water-filled chambers in underground caves.

Cave divers discovered the skeletons of ice age animals that roamed the Earth before their extinction – giant ground sloths, saber-toothed cats, elephant-like gomphotheres and other megafauna. And then researchers discovered a young woman they call Naia,  preserved as one of the oldest human skeletons found in North America and the most complete. She is under 5 feet tall and may have been about 15 or 16 years old when she fell to her death some 13,000 years ago.

At the Yucatan Peninsula, freshwater from the underground cave system is the main source of water. In the search for fresh water, Naia’s people and the Late Pleistocene animals they hunted during the last ice age entered the cave, wandering slick passages. With a wrong step, they fell into a bell-shaped pit hole, now named Hoyo Negro, Spanish for “Black Hole.” The chamber is more than 100 feet deep and 200 feet at its widest.

Beddows, an expert cave diver, joined the research team that studied Naia and published their findings in Science magazine.

Today, Hoyo Negro is filled with water. But about 13,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the sea level was some 250 feet lower than it is today, Sea levels drop in the grip of ice ages. And so did the water level in the caves.

Underwater caves and Pleistocene animals. (Tiffany Chen/MEDILL)

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Feral cats hunting down lizards in the Yucatan

By Tiffany Chen
Medill Reports

Quintana Roo, Mexico – The lush forests, cobalt  blue waters and and rich biodiversity leaves the tourists in awe in the Yucatan Peninsula. Yet, over the past 20 years, locals and tourists at the coastal town  of Akumal noticed a drop in the population of lizards. And stray cats are to blame.

Something rattled in the bush. A cat with a grey-speckled coat gazed intensely into the green. Tip-toeing towards a tropical bush, the cat lowered its shoulder-blade making its belly closer to the floor. It stopped. It pounced. And it turned towards me. There, a gecko- looking reptile, waved its limbs and squirmed between the cat’s teeth. The cat held the amphibian hard enough so it couldn’t escape and light enough, so the cat didn’t kill it. I thought I’d just witnessed a lion hunting an antelope in the safari. But for these cats, the hunt isn’t for food, necessarily. It’s for sport.

Domestic cats are listed among the “100 of the world’s worst invasive alien species” in many areas, according to the Invasive Species Specialist Group. An estimated 1.4-3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals are killed annually in the U.S. by feral cats who have shed domestic life. These cats are posing threats to birds, amphibians and small mammals around the world.

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Sputnik Coffee Company: A bona fide coffee business burgeoning in Back of the Yards

By Hayley Prokos
Medill Reports

A small homage to Soviet glory is bringing life to a barren corner of Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Four enterprising friends have opened a bustling coffee business and café on W. 51st and Hoyne Avenue, calling their business the Sputnik Coffee Company.

With few cafés nearby, Sputnik has become a convenient and affordable place for residents and those who work in the area to get a caffeine fix and custom pastry.

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Female Founders and Funding

By Alexa Adler
Medill Reports

Female founders receive less than 3 percent of venture capital funding. In this TV special, Alexa Adler interviews industry experts Nicole Yeary, Samara Mejia Hernandez, Desiree Vargas Wrigley and Sam Yagan to learn more about this disparity.

Photo at top: Alexa Adler hosts a TV special about gender related funding disparities for founders. (Alexa Adler/MEDILL)