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Opinion | Kathleen Parker: Queen Carlson wins again

If karma is a b----, justice is a beauty queen.

After recent revelations that the CEO of the Miss America Organization and its pageant scriptwriter were talking trash about past winners, the board fired them both and installed Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America 1989 and Fox News anchor, as its new chairwoman.

Carlson, you might say, was in the right place at the right time — one she basically created. It isn't exaggeration to say that Carlson launched the ongoing anti-harassment crusade when she sued her former boss, Fox News founder Roger Ailes. He left the company, and Fox settled with Carlson for a rumored $20 million.

Next, Carlson wrote a book about her experience, "Be Fierce," which shined an even brighter light on the frequent and largely ignored incidence of sexual harassment. Now she has been crowned again, this time as the head of the organization that first put her on the national map decades ago.

Although she didn't technically start the #MeToo movement that took over social media several months ago, she should be credited with helping bestir women to find their voices. An idea needs mass and energy to become a movement, and the purging of Fox's misogynist man cave seems to have been the pebble that caused the ripple that became the tsunami that led to dozens (and still counting) of powerful men being fired nationwide following accusations of sexual misconduct.

With her recent anointment, Carlson has come full circle in what must feel like justice for this Stanford graduate and world-class violinist. Always confident and a little bullheaded, by her own accounting, she was an unlikely victim. But her experience at Fox and her many interviews with other women helped her discover a greater purpose. That such nasty disrespect toward women should surface, of all places, at the Miss America Organization is alternately shocking and juicy fruit for the tartly inclined. CEO Sam Haskell and writer Lewis Friedman weren't merely disrespectful; they were disgusting. Also, one notes, stupid.

It all started in 2014 with an email from Haskell to Friedman about changing the telecast script: "I have decided that when referring to a woman who was once Miss America, we are no longer going to call them Forever Miss Americas ... please change all script copy to reflect that they are Former Miss Americas!"

Friedman replied, "I'd already changed 'Forevers' to (expletive deleted). Does that work for you?"

"Perfect ... bahahaha," Haskell replied.

This is doubtless amusing to pageant haters, but outrage from more than 50 former pageant winners muffled the chortles of those who find such remarks entertaining. These apparently included some of the board members, who also have resigned. The emails might have gone unnoticed — and, in fact, did for a few years — were it not for the fact that several million women are in a bad mood at the moment.

The irony is that feminists, including the #MeToo cavalry, might be expected to rally alongside Carlson and other Miss Americas to fight the boys-will-be-boys excuse for sexual misconduct. But we've learned from past episodes that many feminists suffer selective outrage. The rebuffing of Democratic Sen. Al Franken, notwithstanding, they are hard-pressed to align themselves with beauty queens, whose participation in contests involving a bikini strut and cultivation of an "ideal" woman (circa 1950) is viewed as a symbolic obstacle in the battle for equality.

Rallying the troops for Barbie is a hard sell as long as she's prancing around nearly naked before judges who will decide whether she's got the right stuffing. Acknowledging this conflict of interests doesn't change the reality, however, that young women who have put in the time, sweat and investment required to compete in a national competition deserve at least respect, especially from the organization that sponsors them.

The contestants may not be everyone's ideal of womanhood, but whom do they hurt? After nearly 100 years of pageants, there's no record of a Miss America posing a danger to society. Nor, one may rationally infer, has any winner felt objectified by the $50,000 scholarship money.

So, she can't be married while she holds the title. Nor can she be pregnant. Are these restrictions really so essential to full female autonomy? And, finally, who cares?! The pageant is a tradition, for better or worse. As an agnostic observer, I suspect that Carlson will make it better and perhaps lead this archaic institution toward a female role model who more closely resembles who we aspire to be.


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Guest View
Opinion | Charles Burdick: Recalling a time in history about the Civilian Conservation Corps

We live in a fast-moving world today, but occasionally we should stop and look back to some of the better things that occurred in our country.

Many of the younger generation today is not aware of some of these events. It is my opinion, given the time and conditions, that one of the outstanding events in our country was the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. This program and others were started at a time when people had no jobs. None was available because we were still suffering from The Great Depression.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was founded in 1933. Even today, we are still reaping the harvest from this program as we use our parks and many other things such as sidewalks, lodges, drainage, forestry, roads and others that was built by the CCC.

The purpose of the CCC was to provide work and training for unmarried men 17 to 23 years old who needed work. Those that signed up for this served for six months and could re-enlist for another six months.

Several different job skills were learned and applied to jobs after leaving the CCC. Many illiterates were taught to read and write. Each enrollee was paid $30 per month, and $25 of this was sent home to his family. 

During the life of the CCC, about 2,500 camps were maintained in the United States. I remember truckloads of men on their way to different work sites passing Big Hill school, which I attended up to the middle of the fifth grade before my family moved into Grand Tower. As they passed by, we all exchanged hand waves with them.

Some of the work performed by the CCC was planting trees, helping build roads and bridges. They built fire towers and fought forest fires, built parks and monuments, helped build dams, worked on erosion control, dug canals, built fish hatcheries, built fences, operated and repaired heavy equipment and performed many other task throughout our country.

The CCC was considered by Roosevelt to be his pet project, even though during this period many other programs were established — such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), The National Youth Administration (NYA) and many others. All these programs were good for the country because of the difficult times we were experiencing because of The Great Depression.

In 1942, Roosevelt’s plea went unheard to continue the CCC program and congress voted not to fund it in June of that year. Eight million dollars was approved for shut down cost — thus ending the CCC program.

By this time, World War II had begun and we were fighting a two-front war with Japan and Germany. Most of those who served in the CCC either joined the military or was drafted. There's no doubt that the training these young men had in the CCC was a great advantage to them in the military.


Columnists
Another View
Opinion | Chicago Tribune: The toughest job in state government

This editorial appeared in the Dec. 19, 2017, edition of the Chicago Tribune:

Nearly six months into the job overseeing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Beverly "B.J." Walker doesn't hesitate when asked about her most difficult moments. She describes two cases: a troubled teen whose life DCFS could not straighten out, and a toddler who died after being left alone for days.

These are the day-to-day realities of working in child protective services — stark and revolting stories of death and abuse, confounded by the strictures of bureaucracy and politics. Even for Walker, who arrived at DCFS with decades of government experience, simply getting information on specific cases has been challenging. Technology that might help staff anticipate problems isn't available in a state besieged with legacy debt. That makes it difficult to "get a gauge on how deep the mud is," she said during a recent Tribune Editorial Board visit.

That mud can seem epic. DCFS for decades has been stuck, thanks to turnover, scandal and tragedy. Can Walker turn it around?

She arrived at DCFS in June after the abrupt departure of George Sheldon, who was Gov. Bruce Rauner's first pick to oversee the agency. Sheldon, a child welfare expert from Florida, resigned amid an ethics probe into questionable contracts that were awarded to friends and former business associates. He also left during ongoing investigations into several high-profile child deaths, including 17-month-old Semaj Crosby of Joliet Township, who was found dead under a couch. Eleven DCFS investigations into her home during a two-year period did not save her from tragedy.

Sadly, that has been the pattern at the agency for years. Nine directors or acting directors have left since 2011, largely due to in-house scandals or highly publicized cases of child abuse. Directors come, directors go. Will that cycle end with Walker, who says she plans to stay no matter who the governor is? Because quality and stability at the top are crucial to improving services for kids. We believe that.

In the 1990s, Walker worked with Gov. Jim Edgar's administration to revamp social services throughout state government. She also worked under Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in the city's department of children and families. She then left for Georgia, where she led its Human Services Department. She worked in the private sector before agreeing to take over DCFS.

Walker says she is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and collaborate with front-line staff. Recently, she negotiated an agreement with the agency's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, that allows her to fill vacancies faster to alleviate caseloads. Smaller caseloads could be key to improving outcomes for kids. So please note that she negotiated the change, and a few others, without a union standoff, without a litigious grievance process, without a public fight. How? She is willing to bang down the door of the status quo. And she asked nicely.

Perhaps more importantly, Walker is trying to change the protocol-driven culture within DCFS. Yes, there are hundreds of pages of state laws that regulate child welfare, each developed to address a problem. But blind adherence often is impractical when dealing with families in crisis. We agree. Caseworkers need to be freed up to do their jobs on the ground, not from a book of rules.

Walker personally intervened in a case involving a teenager with mental health problems whose family abandoned him. Even though her aides encouraged her to release him from DCFS care once he turned 18, she insisted she "was not going to give up on this boy." Yet in spite of numerous interventions and "glimmers of hope" along the way, he eventually was arrested on charges of armed robbery. It was time to let go. That was one of her low points.

The other unfolded more recently. She awoke to a text on her phone. The mother of a 2-year-old toddler from Charleston allegedly left him alone for days in a playpen with two peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and a bottle of vitamin water with a small hole pricked in the top. He was discovered days later, dead from dehydration and starvation or a combination, according to the medical examiner.

The mother, Savannah Weiss, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges.

It's unclear how much contact DCFS had with the family. It is clear the child's death left a scar on Walker. Even decades into the mud, she still is determined to wade through. She has demonstrated grit and accountability in her six months on the job. Give her time.