Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Thursday, December 7

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

The Mechanics

Law Tue Apr 21 2015

Will Donor's Lawsuit Send Schock Waves?

The novel federal lawsuit filed April 15 against former Congressman Aaron Schock and up to 100 "John Does," seeking return of political contributions, is one of the strongest signals yet of Americans' disgust with the perversion and conversion of our own political system, and in particular Congress, into a beast we barely recognize let alone control. In part, the new lawsuit simply piles more chaos onto the train wreckage of the Aaron Schock Express, catalyzed by the relatively trivial "Downton Abbey" redecoration kerfuffle and now in the hands of a grand jury. The suit underscores that overdone office decor was only footnote to a pattern of hinky dealings by Schock. It also tests the immunity that politics has enjoyed from the courts, if not the wider court of public opinion. This latter part of the story may not be so easily dismissed, though the lawsuit may meet that fate.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Law Tue Apr 21 2015

Up In Here Fails to Live Up to Its Potential

While attending Moody Bible Institute, Mark Dostert would go with his fellow students to do the school's Practical Christian Ministry at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, more commonly known as Audy Home, on the West Side. Dostert felt he was contributing to the lives and after receiving a graduate degree in Texas, he returns to Chicago to become a "children's attendant" at Audy Home, only to realize he is essentially a prison guard and another cog in the prison complex.

Up In Here chronicles what could be a very compelling first-hand account of one man's journey inside one of the largest incarceration systems in the country, but it is hindered by Dostert's poor narrative voice and decisions as a writer.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida

Law Fri Mar 27 2015

Loophole for DUI Checkpoints?

duicheckpoint.jpgIn an effort allegedly intended to protect innocent citizens from driving under the influence tickets, a Florida attorney has developed the Fair DUI Flyer.

The flyer, created in September 2013 by Warren Redlich, reads, "I remain silent; no searches; I want my lawyer," and varies state-to-state. Eleven state versions can be found on Redlich's website,

Redlich, a New York attorney now based in Florida, said the flyer was inspired by Fair DUI: Stay Safe and Sane in a World Gone MADD, a book he published because of the experiences he had with clients in drunk driving cases and his desire for a better encounter with police.

Continue reading this entry »

Tesia Galvan / Comments (1)

Law Mon Jul 28 2014

Chicago's Attempts at Fighting Graffiti

Photo by Duncan C./Flickr

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a bill in city council on Wednesday that would double the fines for those who graffiti in the city, going from $500 to $1000. This is a measure intended to fight graffiti in the city, but it wouldn't be the first effort Chicago has made.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (1)

Crime Thu Aug 22 2013

Gun Violence Prevention Advocates Rally for Congressional Action


Demonstrators gathered Wednesday evening at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago to rally for gun violence prevention. The event, which was coordinated by volunteers with Organizing for Action, featured activists and community members who spoke out about the harmful consequences of gun violence and called on Congress to take action and support commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.

Here in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn recently passed a law requiring background checks on all gun sales. "While this is a great step in reducing guns entering the illegal market, we need a strong national law to keep guns out of the hands of criminals," said Mark Walsh, campaign director for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious

Local Government Tue Jul 16 2013

Symbol or Model? Evanston's "'Assault Weapons' Ban"

The Evanston City Council last night, July 15, unanimously passed an "assault weapons ban" ("AWB") ordinance to the cheers of many in the council chambers, and -- a rarity -- the approval of even many gun owners. The ordinance passed under a perceived municipal rush to pass something, anything, under the recently-enacted Illinois concealed-carry ordinance which purported to strip home rule municipalities of their power to regulate so-called "assault weapons" (undefined in the state law) after 10 days of the state bill's enactment. For those interested, the pre-emption section, now codified at 430 ILCS 65/13.1, begins on p. 122 of the 168-page bill.

The Council in liberal Evanston, on the North Shore where there is no political downside in supporting any gun control measure and no political upside to opposing any, previously considered a version of the ordinance at its July 8 meeting but directed staff to address complaints that the ordinance was over-reaching and, like most such legislation, mainly banned firearms on the grounds of cosmetic or user-preference features (such as thumbhole stocks) rather than lethality. The version of the ordinance ultimately passed dealt with the issue by eliminating all of those cosmetic features as a grounds for banning a rifle, and using magazine size (15 bullets or more) as the definer -- as arbitrary limits go, one that has broader acceptance. For handguns, the definitions were left largely intact, mainly banning features that allow a handgun to be transformed into a short "long gun." For shotguns, again removable magazines remained as the main differentiater.

Depending how you look at it, the maneuver was darned clever, or pointless, or both. However, the end result may be that Evanston may avoid costly litigation, an outcome devoutly to be wished.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (2)

IL-GOV Wed Jul 03 2013

Quinn Demands Stricter Provisions to Concealed-Carry Bill

At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Pat Quinn announced what he called "common sense changes" to the General Assembly's concealed-carry bill. The governor vetoed several specific measures in the proposed legislation, citing "serious safety problems" and too many provisions "inspired by the National Rifle Association, not the common good."

Quinn's revisions include a move to ban concealed weapons inside places that serve alcohol, and to limit permitted gun owners only one concealed weapon, holding a maximum of 10 rounds of ammunition, to be carried at a time. The governor also nixed a provision to prevent home-rule towns from passing assault weapon bans, tightened a partial-conceal provision to complete-conceal, and moved to give employers more regulatory discretion over guns in their businesses.

Continue reading this entry »

Emily Brosious

Federal Government Wed May 01 2013

What Were Once Vices

The summer of 1974 is memorable not only for the release of a Doobie Brothers' LP that with its hit "Black Water" would form a soundtrack for much of the coming year, but also for the resignation of Richard Nixon. As Mechanics' attorney-in-residence, and possibly the only writer here who remembers dancing to either of the aforesaid, and as a nod to Law Day, I agreed to cover the forum last night at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics in Hyde Park featuring current and past U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and John Ashcroft. Moderated by former Chicago law school dean Geoffrey Stone, the event highlighted the publication of Restoring Justice: The Speeches of Attorney General Edward Levi, by Jack Fuller. Fuller, former Chicago Tribune editor and publisher, interrupted his long journalism career to serve as an assistant to Edward H. Levi during Levi's stint as the country's top lawyer during the Ford Administration.

That 1975 appointment, of course, plucking Levi from the presidency of the University of Chicago, was a direct response to a national crisis in confidence in the Justice Department specifically, and in government generally. Watergate and related scandals saw lawyer-President Nixon impeached and resign, two of Levi's predecessors as Attorney General convicted of perjury, and the White House counsel plead guilty to obstruction of justice. Fuller's book debuts amidst the 40th anniversary of the scandals, cover-ups, shocking revelations, and legal-political drama that overshadowed much else in the nation in 1972-74. Since some of the same themes that then gripped the U.S. reverberate today -- electronic surveillance of Americans, bombings abroad ordered by the executive branch, and the power of the Presidency itself -- the forum held promise of potential fireworks and relevancy. The Institute did a pro job at logistics and presentation, and, let's be clear, is not required to offer all points of view. Unfortunately, what could have been more provocative ended up, by virtue of lack of balance, as a soft promo for continued perpetual war and expanded executive branch power, with only nods of concern to clampdown on civil liberties and ever-eroding privacy. I have to wonder if that's what Edward Levi would have wanted.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Law Mon Apr 29 2013

Eric Holder & John Ashcroft to Discuss Former AG Edward Levi at UChicago

Last Thursday's dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum brought five living US presidents together, along with a spate of articles assessing the polarizing former president's legacy.

But what often gets lost in the pages of recent political history are the legacies of men and women who serve just below the president, and subsequently impact the policies that shape the government and country in ways beyond what most Americans realize.

Tuesday, April 30, the University of Chicago Institute of Politics invites you to take a look at one such individual -- Edward Levi, the attorney general nominated by Gerald Ford to clean up the Justice Department in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Bottom of the Ballot Tue Oct 30 2012

The Bottom of the Ballot: Judging the Judges

bottomoftheballot_judges350.jpgWith only a few weeks left until the elections, you've probably heard enough about those two guys vying for the top spot on the ballot. There has been an immense amount of attention to this year's presidential election -- but what about the other positions that are up for grabs? Specifically, who the heck are all of these judges that you, as a voter, are expected to vote for (or against)?

Judicial elections are a bit awkward, democratically speaking. Most people try their best to stay as far away from judges or courtrooms as possible. And yet it is up to to Illinois voters to decide who is fit to judge; who should join the big leagues, and who should stay on the bench. Here are some tips for judging the judges.

Continue reading this entry »

Mike Ewing / Comments (1)

Anthony Abbate Jr. Mon Oct 22 2012

Court Report: Anthony Abbate, Jr. Civil Trial, Day 1

anthony abbate jr civil trialBy Julia Gray

"He was a man, in a bar, getting drunk."

Anthony Abbate Jr. said he felt threatened by Karolina Obrycka when he pummeled and threw her around Jesse's Shortstop Inn in Chicago on February 19, 2007. But, as City attorney Matthew Hurd explained at the beginning of Abbate's civil trial today, he doesn't remember because he was drunk.

But, on the same night roughly around the time Obrycka was about to get her beat-down, Abbate does remember moving a barstool from one side of the bar to the other because it was more comfortable than the stools on that side of the bar. But he doesn't remember punching his friend three times, according to Abbate's testimony today.

Continue reading this entry »


Law Mon Jul 30 2012

Dispatch from Chicago: Free Speech Meets Urban Planning at Chick-Fil-A

Should the City of Chicago deny Chick-Fil-A zoning relief because of the political opinions of its chief executive, Dan Cathy--and the political spending of the corporate parent?

Courtesy of Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a bit of an internecine row broke out amongst liberals in trying to answer this question. Immediately after the news was announced, I poked fun at the idea of using state power to punish businesses for their political activities, suggesting city officials were being a bit selective in singling out Chick-Fil-A. After all, Boeing, which was in the running to manufacture killer drones, not only is headquartered here, but is feted by the administration and receives tax incentives.

Things escalated after Adam Serwer, Kevin Drum, Glenn Greenwald and others published articles criticizing Alderman Moreno and Mayor Emanuel for setting a dangerous precedent, denying a business regulatory relief to which they would otherwise be entitled because of the political opinions and activities of its chief executive. Count me among those who think the City of Chicago has no business considering the unrelated political activities of applicants for land use relief when making a decision. This comes with several caveats and excursuses.

One threshold issue: Mayor Emanuel did not say he would deny Chick-Fil-A (and can I just take a moment to tell you how grating it is to type "Chick-Fil-A" over and over again?) any zoning relief, only that he opposed their entry into Chicago personally, in principle, because of the politics they embody. Granted, he was treading on thin ice given his rocky relationship with the Chicago Cubs and the staunchly conservative patriarch of the Ricketts family that owns them -- but expressing his displeasure at their business practices and expressing his opinion as to whether they would be welcome or not -- even encouraging a boycott -- is his own prerogative and in fact his free speech right; arguably, what he was elected to do.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Health Care Wed Jul 18 2012

Wheaton College Sues Over "Preventative Services" Mandate

Wheaton College, in Wheaton, IL, is filing a lawsuit alongside the Catholic University of America in opposition to a birth-control-related mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate requires most employers to provide health care that includes birth control coverage.

Continue reading this entry »

Tyler Davis

Media Fri Jul 13 2012

Friday Morning Worth a Read

Some items of interest for you all:

  • CPS principals and assistant principals accused of falsifying information to qualify students for free or reduced lunches after internal investigation. [Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune]
  • Local governments are feeling out how to enforce "Green" and LEED standards in the courts. [SSRN Papers]
  • Union janitors protest granting of contract to firm that laid them off last night at Mayor's Office, push for ordinance to hold contractors accountable. [Progress Illinois]
  • The President's "Midwestern Problem." [Whet Moser]
  • Mayor Emanuel's new initiative may not be so new. [Mick Dumke--Chicago Reader]
  • One for the geekertons: Why Is a 98.6-Degree Day So Miserable? [Slate]

Ramsin Canon

Law Thu Jun 28 2012

Deference and the Affordable Care Act

During oral arguments on the Affordable Care Act, Justices asked the challengers of the bill if they wanted to see a return to the "Lochner era." The bill's challengers strenuously denied this was their aim. The term refers to the era of Supreme Court jurisprudence after the turn of the last century, when the Court repeatedly struck down state statutes regulating workers hours, overtime pay, child labor, and the like, on the grounds that they violate a nebulous "freedom of contract." The name refers to the case Lochner v. New York, a case striking down a New York statute setting wages and conditions for bakers and confectioners. The Lochner era was characterized close judicial scrutiny of legislatures' determination of social ills and the best means to address them. In other words, the Justices were concerned that striking down the ACA would set a precedent of lack of judicial deference to legislatures' political judgment.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Law Mon Jun 25 2012

Supreme Court Decision on Montana Statute Could Effect Local, State Elections

Taking the opportunity to go out of lockstep, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a state statute forbidding corporate expenditures on elections or political questions, sourced in the destabilizing political power held by the state's old mining interests going back to its territorial days. The parties challenging the statute appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that the statue conflicted with the Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The case was to be decided without additional briefing or oral arguments. To the question of whether states could regulate corporate spending independently, the Court, in a per curiam decision, let out a disinterested nyope, consisting of about three sentences of legal reasoning:

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this Court struck down a similar federal law, holding that "political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation." The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. Montana's arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case...The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is reversed.

Any hopes states had of passing their own uniquely tailored legislation to keep corporate cash out of state and local elections just diminished a little bit. Justice Breyer, joined by the liberal and moderate justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, dissented.

Ramsin Canon

Technology and Politics Tue Nov 22 2011

The New Chicago Way: The Wholly Surveilled City

surveillance.jpgA friend sent me a note asking if the recent Automated Speed Enforcement system (ASES) approved by the General Assembly at the behest of Chicago's Mayor and Police Superintendent would make Lake Shore Drive fully subject to electronic monitoring, since almost the entire lakefront is a public park, and the bill was pitched as enforcing speed limits near parks and schools, "for the children." The good news is the answer is no, because Lake Shore Drive is exempted from the enacting legislation, known informally as SB956. The bad news is that Lake Shore Drive may be the only unmonitored bit of the city.

The ASES would not apply to Lake Shore Drive, but it would apply to almost the entire city. Some interesting things about the bill:

First, the way it defines an "automated speed enforcement system." That is as "a photographic device, radar device, laser device, or other electrical or mechanical device or devices installed or utilized in a safety zone and designed to record the speed of a vehicle and obtain a clear photograph or other recorded image of the vehicle and the vehicle's registration plate."

Which brings us pretty seamlessly to "secondly." Secondly, the bill defines a safety zone as any "area" that is within 1/8th of a mile (or a city block) from the property line of any public or private school or school-owned facility except central administrative buildings, and any park district owned property, except, again, for central administrative buildings. As you can imagine (see schools map below) that makes up a huge amount of the city -- because the cut-off isn't just a block. The bill also provides, "However, if any portion of a roadway is within either one-eighth mile radius, the safety zone also shall include the roadway extended to the furthest portion of the next furthest intersection." In other words, if a road falls within the a block of the property line of a school district or park district property, then the "safety zone" is extended to the next intersection, and through it.

Take a look at this map:

Chicago Elementary School Map

These are just the elementary schools.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Law Wed Nov 02 2011

Today In Coincidences

Two stories today, guys. First, this:

Solís introduced an ordinance to the City Council to issue tickets for pot possession of 10 grams or less instead of sending offenders to jail. The move would free up already bogged-down officers, he said, and put more cops on the streets.

"We are now starting the debate on what specifically marijuana usage is and what kind of system we have in terms of processing people from the beginning," Solis said, "from arrest through it being thrown out in court."

Under the proposed ordinance, offenders would face a $200 fine and 10 hours of community service instead of jail time. Solís and supporters presented statistics showing minorities currently are disproportionately arrested for small amounts of pots.

Meanwhile, over at the Sun-Times, this:

In recent years, Chicago and Atlanta have become key transportation hubs for the cartels, Riley said. Most of their pot comes to Chicago in trains and semi trucks.

A lot of that marijuana is being shipped here by the Sinaloa Cartel and protected with unthinkable violence, Riley said.

"Chapo Guzman, now that Osama is dead, is in my opinion the most dangerous criminal in the world and probably the most wealthy criminal in the world," he said. "Guzman was in the Forbes Top 100 most wealthy people in the world. His ability to produce revenue off marijuana, we've never seen it before. We've never seen a criminal organization so well-focused and with such business sense, and so vicious and violent."


"The guy sitting on the patio in Hinsdale -- smoking a joint with his friend and having a drink -- better think twice," Riley said. "Because he's part of the problem."

So no pressure or anything, but smoking a joint on your porch means you love the new Osama Bin Laden.

Ramsin Canon

Justice Fri Aug 19 2011

Chicago Says No to Erroneously Named "Secure Communities" Program

Updated with comment from Governor Quinn's office

by Shelly Ruzicka

Yesterday undocumented youth in Chicago led hundreds of families, allies, and religious supporters in a large demonstration protesting the Department of Homeland Security's "Secure Communities" program, or S-Comm. Hearings have recently been held across the country after ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Director John Morton stated that the program would be mandatory.


Not long ago, Illinois joined other states to opt-out of the voluntary program which required local police to fingerprint anyone they stopped and send that information to ICE. Shortly after Governor Quinn signed the bill opting out of S-Comm into law, Morton stated that the program would no longer be voluntary but mandatory, thereby negating the will of states to abandon the program which many say lead to racial profiling and distrust of police. Communities and county sheriffs have stated that "Secure Communities" has led to a greater disconnect between police and immigrant communities. People who witness crimes are afraid to go to police out of fear they may be questioned, fingerprinted, and deported. Women don't report domestic violence for the same reason. Workers are afraid to drive to their jobs or to pick up their children from school out of fear of being pulled over for a busted tail light or a cop who has been compelled to target "foreign" looking drivers.

Continue reading this entry »


Social Issues Tue Jul 19 2011

Persons, Inc.

contributed by Brian Reilly

"OK, so these are the things converging with us," Annabel Park says over the phone from suburban Washington, DC. "One is the corruption, the level of corruption in Washington that really is impeding progress on just about every single issue that concerns the American people. So I think from climate change to campaign finance to Wall Street reform, all these issues that progress is desperately needed, is impeded by the influence of money in our government."

Park is a documentary film maker who in 2010 turned a primal scream of a Facebook post about incivility at Congressional town hall meetings into a national organization called the Coffee Party movement. In less than two years the Coffee Party movement claims to have an e-mail list of 75,000 people and 378,158 Facebook participants.

The Coffee Party has taken up the cause of bringing individuals back into the political process through what they consider to be a more civil and reasoned approach to discussing and advocating for issues. As Park sits down to talk, the Coffee Party has taken on the issue of getting banking watchdog Elizabeth Warren nominated to head the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Continue reading this entry »


Environment/Sustainability Sun Jul 18 2010

Clean Power Ordinance for South Side Plants Gets a National Boost

This article was submitted by Chris Didato.

On Thursday, two national environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, joined Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the Chicago Clean Power Coalition in their effort to pass an ordinance that would limit the emissions of two South Side coal-fired power plants by 90%. At the press conference, held in Pilsen's Dvorak Park, with Midwest Generation's Fisk plant looming in the background, included several aldermen and community supporters, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and Global Warming Campaign Director Damon Moglen. All gave the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance their support.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward), would have the two coal-fired power plants in Chicago limit their emissions of "particulate matter" (or soot) and carbon dioxide.

Continue reading this entry »


Crime Thu Jul 01 2010

A Culture of Torture: Mark Clements, Jon Burge, and the Chicago Police Department

[This article was submitted by freelance journalist Michael Volpe.]

"Nigger boy, you gonna cooperate?" a 220lb. Chicago police officer screamed as he pounded on the chest of 16-year-old, 120lb. Mark Clements. As the beating continued, pain shot out from Clements' chest and exploded into the rest of his body. He gasped for air, struggling to breathe, in excruciating pain. Clements say the officer, whom he identifies as John McCann, had a way of getting his knuckles to the tenderest part of the bone.

Clements could barely read. He hadn't even finished seventh grade but he was smart enough to know what the cops wanted. They wanted Clements to confess to an arson that occurred at 6600 S. Wentworth six days earlier. The beating went on like this for nearly 30 minutes, but still Clements remained stubborn. He'd gotten into enough fights in the neighborhood to be able to withstand a beating.

Clements remained quiet and refused to give in even as welts grew in his chest from the officer's fists cracking his bones. Then, they stopped hitting Clements. Instead, Clements says, McCann grabbed his balls and squeezed. This was a pain he'd never experienced before. There was only one thing that would stop it.

"Yeah, yeah, I'll cooperate," Clements said, in unbearable pain. That's how Mark Clements remembers and recounted that night nearly 30 years after it occurred (neither the Chicago Police Department nor the Cook County State's Attorney's office would respond to requests for comment for this article). A few hours later, at about 2am on the morning of June 26th 1981, Mark Clements would sign a confession to an arson at 6600 S. Wentworth six days earlier that killed four people. A year and a half later he'd get four life sentences and become the youngest person in the history of the state of Illinois to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (12)

Law Mon Jun 28 2010

Chicago Handgun Ban Struck Down by Supreme Court

Based on case law that found that the Bill of Rights applies to the states as well as the federal government, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down the City of Chicago's handgun ban. Despite conservative demagoguing, the City wasn't "ignoring" or "blocking" a Constitutional right, but rather operating on the basis of an interpretation that federal courts have upheld for generations. So while this reading of the applicability of the Bill of Rights (and other amendments) to the States may be better reasoned, it isn't plainly obvious, and pretending it is reveals the ignorance of the demagogues who do so.

Specifically the ruling would vacate a few elements of the city's municipal code, including Section 8-20-50, which classifies handguns as "unregisterable" firearms, thus making them illegal to own in the city limits.

As the Supreme Court's full decision states, the lower courts were following the direction of their own decades (and in some cases a century or more) of case law that directed them to find on behalf of the city, despite the recent Heller decision which vacated a Washington, D.C. handgun ban. Heller, along with some other recent Supreme Court decisions, created the precedents that provided the framework for this decision today.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Chicago Thu May 13 2010

Chillin' with the FOIA

Mayor Daley today announced that, henceforth, City Hall would not merely log (as required by law) but post online the names, requesting organizations, and documents requested for each Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request. The log is already posted online at the City's Department of Law web page, showing, for instance, that the Sun-Times's Chris Fusco is looking into the mayor's security detail, and that the Chicago Justice Project is investigating verdicts and settlements paid by the City in civil rights lawsuits.

Posting such a log is not required by state FOIA law and was done, the City said, in interests of transparency. But who is being made more transparent by this? Someone at the City doesn't seem to get that transparency is about making what government does more visible to citizens. Here, it's citizens who are being made more visible.

Maybe such a log will help avoid a few duplicative requests. But, overall, the immediate obvious effects suggest a curtailment, rather than implementation, of the purposes behind FOI law. NBC Chicago termed the measure "turnabout" and suggested that the mayor seemed "gleeful" in announcing it.

A couple of negatives jump out. For the average citizen, this provides just one more way in which your name can get spread around the Internet. Who might make commercial or even malicious use of a list of FOIA-requestors, one can only speculate, but there's little limit to the imagination of identity thieves, privacy invaders, data-miners and worse. The only possible impact on the average citizen is a chilling effect.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Good Government/Reform Mon May 10 2010

Transparency Walk Back?

Illinois passed a pretty impressive Freedom of Information law last year. The act went into effect this year, to the tempered joy of journalists and transparency reformers everywhere.

Now a bill has been sent to Governor Quinn by the General Assembly (HB 5154) that would prohibit release of personnel records of government employees. This is of particular concern to police department watchdogs, since those records would contain evidence of discipline for abuse of power or abuse, critical tools for independent police oversight. Having a strong FOI law is so critical to transparency and so clearly in the public interest, that something like personnel records becoming public has to be considered at worst a necessary evil, and at best, a key component of improving operations in government.

That's on the one hand. On the other, even government employees should have some reasonable expectations of privacy, particularly those who are not in a significant policy-making or implementing area. These are not elected officials who opened themselves up to public evaluation. The fact that their personal performance reviews will be fully available to the public upon written request may deter ambitious climbers and subject long-time employees to invasions of privacy. That said, the Springfield Journal-Register has a pretty convincing Op-Ed that falls on the first hand: there is such a huge public interest in keeping this law strong that significant evidence should be required to constrict it, and there simply is little evidence that the disclosure of evidence would lead to abuse.

Ramsin Canon

Immigration Sun Apr 11 2010

Democrats Target Immigration Reform - How Far Will They Go?

Immigration rally

Immigration activists wave American flags at a recent rally.

Immigration rights activists held a large rally Saturday at the Teamsters Local 705 hall in Chicago. Activists were calling on Congress to act on comprehensive immigration reform, and hoped that with the health care bill passed, that immigration reform would be next on the Democrats agenda in Washington. The loud and raucous crowd had immigrants from all over the world including South America, Asian, Africa and Europe.

It seems that immigration will be the next big issue for Democrats. The rally was joined by Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate majority whip and the second most powerful senator in the country. While one speaker urged Congress to ignore "cynics like Rahm Emanual who say that now is not the time for immigration reform," it seems as though they may not have to as Emanual is now stating that he supports taking action on immigration reform sooner rather than later.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (9)

Law Tue Mar 23 2010

Supreme Court Taking a Shot at Chicago's Gun Ban

Earlier this month, Chicago's nearly 30-year-old gun ban was taken before the supreme court. In the wake of the court's 2008 decision to strike down Washington D.C.'s similar ban, Chicagoans hoping to get their hands on a hand-cannon have reason to be optimistic. Four Chicagoans, David and Colleen Lawson, Otis McDonald and Adam Orlov, are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, none of whom are necessarily the kind of person you may imagine would file this lawsuit. To quote an article on the subject from MSNBC:

"Some people want to stereotype advocates in any case, to make them look like a bunch of crazies," said Alan Gura, a Virginia attorney who will argue the case. "But these are plaintiffs who reflect the city in which they live."

The case provides a unique legal situation. The District of Columbia is technically governed federally, so in this situation the court must consider whether or not cities or states have to right to restrict firearm ownership to the degree of an all-out ban.

What do you, Chicagoans, really think about the ban? Of course Chicago typically leans left politically, but not everyone blindly adheres to whatever their political party preaches. Do you think the gun ban has been effective in reducing gun related crime? Why, or why not? Perhaps more interestingly, would you buy a gun if the ban is overturned?

Conor McCarthy / Comments (10)

Democrats Wed Mar 03 2010

The Problem with Democratic Lt. Governor Applicants

In case you haven't noticed yet, you can now submit your resume to be considered by the Illinois State Democratic Central Committee to be slated and become the nominee for Lt. Governor. You can find detailed instructions at

Perhaps more entertaining than applying yourself, is sorting through the resumes and applications of those who think that they can achieve what Scott Lee Cohen could not. Over 40 applications have been submitted so far and are posted on the Illinois state Democrats website. What seems to jump out to me is that many of these candidates, with little experience with elected office, seem to think they can play in the big leagues without going to training camp.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

National Politics Wed Feb 10 2010

Glenn Greenwald versus Kucinich on Citizens United v. FEC

Glenn Greenwald and Dennis Kucinich appeared on Democracy Now to discuss the Citizens United decision that deregulated corporate money in electioneering. Interesting (though short) back and forth:

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Feb 09 2010

Sold Out Premiere of Disturbing the Universe Impresses Chicago Crowd

On Jan. 22, William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe, a documentary about the legendary left-wing lawyer, premiered to a sold out crowd at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago. Directed by William Kuntsler's daughters Emily and Sarah Kuntsler, the film looks at the life and cases of one of America's most controversial lawyers.

William Kuntsler fathered Sarah and Emily late in life, and when he died, they were still young, so the movie became a way for them to know their father in a more adult way. It became a way for them to shed the simple childlike images of their father, and come to know him in a complex way.

The sold out Chicago premiere was hosted by the Next Gen, the young lawyers group of the Chicago chapter of the radical National Lawyers Guild. The theater was filled with activists, lawyers and law students. The amazing thing about the showing was how many people in the crowd had met or knew William Kuntsler.

National Lawyers Guild Next Gen members Sarah Gelsomino and Robert Luderman at the Chicago premiere of Disturbing the Universe.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

City Council Tue Feb 09 2010

Daley: More Power to the Inspector General!

Mayor Daley on Monday announced that he was going to introduce an ordinance to the City Council that would grant greater power to the independent Inspector General's office, granting that office power to investigate aldermen, a power currently prohibited to it by law. Good government types are supporting the measure--to wit, Michael Shakman (of Decree fame), Joe Moore (49th)--as is the Inspector General himself. Tribune City Hall reporter Hal Dardick and Todd Lightly have a run down over at Clout Street.

Alderman Berny Stone is opposed to the measure, natch. But the reason he gives is somewhat compelling--that it would give the executive branch a cudgel to use against the legislative branch. Of course, this would be a more believable rationale were it not coming from the Vice Mayor who volunteered to get batted around by Mick Dumke on Chicago Tonight while defending the honor of the parking meter deal, and also had he ever supported any limit on Mayoral dominance of the City Council ever in the history of ever ever.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Law Mon Jan 25 2010

Why the Citizens United Decision is Probably Right, and Good for the Left

News of the Supreme Court's decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was bone chilling. liberal talk radio and blogs lit up with fiery condemnations of a right-wing activist court determined to auction American democracy off to corporate power. It is likely that descriptions of the decision by a media caught in a cycle that could not have given them time to digest the 180+ pages of dense reasoning and citations contributed to the reflexive outrage. But a lay reading of the decision and the most relevant case law revealed that critics were not engaging the majority's arguments. Not only this, but much of the criticism was based on conjecture about political outcomes.

A few misconceptions about the decision arose quickly: first, that the decision was based on "corporate personhood", which it does not. Second, that the decision eliminated restrictions on direct campaign contributions. It did not: the court was looking at electioneering-style political speech (e.g., a television ad saying "Vote for Steve" or "against Heather"). Lastly, that the court was overturning some landmark Supreme Court decision or decisions: it did not. (And even if it had, so did Brown v. Board of Education overturn Plessy v. Ferguson.)

Ultimately, the court is saying that associations of individuals cannot be denied free speech rights because of their potential influence or who they are.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (26)

National Politics Thu Jan 21 2010

Illinois Dems on Supreme Court Corporate Spending Decision

Alexi Giannoulias' campaign released this statement on the Supreme Court's curious Citizens United v. FEC decision released today:

"I profoundly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling. The very corporate special interests that got us into this economic mess should be given less power to influence elections, not more. I am proud to be the first U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois history to refuse money from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists because I believe that to get our economy back on track and create the next generation of good-paying jobs, we have to break the grip of corporate interests in Washington.

"My likely Republican opponent Mark Kirk doesn't believe there is a problem. In his decade in Washington, he has taken more corporate PAC money than just about any other politician. He then voted their way on one reckless Bush economic policy after another. That is why he refused to disclose how he would have voted on the confirmation of Justice Sotomayor and that's why he still won't speak about it even today. He cannot be trusted to be an advocate for working families or the middle class."

And this from Senator Dick Durbin:

"Today's decision by Supreme Court is a triumph for special interest and judicial activism at its worst. Overturning the ban on corporate spending on political campaigns opens the floodgates for the corrupting influence and the dominant hand of special interest groups."

"At a time when the American people have ample reason to be wary of powerful corporations focused on a selfish agenda, this decision will only fuel feelings of cynicism and distrust in our system. The power of large corporations and special interests is already immense; this decision will put overwhelming pressure on elected officials to bend even more in the direction of Big Business."

"We must now create a system where we finance campaigns fairly. It is the only way can ensure that our candidates and elected officials focus on addressing the nation's problems and not on the limited interests of the wealthy and powerful few."

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

GB store


Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

Special Series

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project
GB store

About Mechanics

Mechanics is the politics section of Gapers Block, reflecting the diversity of viewpoints and beliefs of Chicagoans and Illinoisans. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Mike Ewing,
Mechanics staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15