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The Mechanics

National Politics Wed Sep 16 2015

Don't Bother, They're Here

Illustration by DonkeyHotey.

It's unclear at what point the clown car metaphor became too undersized, and a clown stretch minivan, with attached elephant trailer, more apt for the traveling circus that has become the Republican presidential nomination contest. What's clearer is that there are more GOP candidates than living Americans who can name them all.

The paper today said that someone named Gilmore, or Fillmore, or Milhous, was not invited to any of tonight's debates. Looking up from my coffee, I announced this with all the seriousness and sorrow I could muster. My wife, looking as if I had asked her to name the last three finance ministers of Kyrgyzstan, said "Who?!"

"Exactly," I replied.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Media Tue Mar 31 2015

Help Wanted: Politics Writers

Mechanics is looking for new contributors who are passionate about Chicago, Cook County and Illinois politics. If you are interested, we would love to hear from you.

As a contributor to Gapers Block, you would be expected to write at least one post a week for Mechanics. We are looking for writers who can cover politics in general, but we would be happy to discuss if there is a beat that interests you.

NOTE: Gapers Block is a volunteer entity; while the position is unpaid, writers benefit from building clips, receiving media access to press conferences and other events, and occasional non-political perks.

If you are interested in writing about politics for Gapers Block, please send two to three writing samples, a little note about yourself and why you would like to write for GB to with the subject of "Contributing to Mechanics."

Monica Reida

Elections Tue Feb 04 2014

The Elephants for a Day Are Coming. Are You One of Them?

An Ethernet cable. Carrie Underwood's career. What Derrick Rose does to people at the top of the key. That Nissan with the really stupid commercials. They're all crossovers. And the next big crossover is coming our way.

They'll go by a lot of different names. You can call them Grand Old Party Crashers, or One Trick Pachyderms, or maybe just Those Meddling, Conniving Democrats.

They're the Elephants for a Day. And they're diabolically plotting to pull Republican primary ballots this March even though they're not really Republicans.

And maybe you're one of them.

Continue reading this entry »

Phil Huckelberry / Comments (2)

Media Mon Dec 23 2013

Help Wanted: Politics Writers

help wantedMechanics is looking for new contributors who are passionate about Chicago, Cook County and Illinois politics. If you are interested, we would love to hear from you.

As a contributor to Gapers Block, you would be expected to write at least one post a week for Mechanics. We are looking for self-motivated writers who can cover politics in general, but we would be happy to discuss if there is a beat that interests you.

NOTE: Gapers Block is a volunteer entity; while the position is unpaid, writers benefit from building clips, receiving media access to press conferences and other events, and occasional non-political perks.

If you are interested in writing about politics for Gapers Block, please send two to three writing samples, a little note about yourself and why you would like to write for GB to with the subject of "Contributing to Mechanics."

Monica Reida

Media Wed Sep 11 2013

Help Wanted: Politics Writers

help wantedMechanics is looking for new contributors who are passionate about Chicago, Cook County and Illinois politics. If you are interested, we would love to hear from you.

As a contributor to Gapers Block, you would be expected to write at least one post a week for Mechanics. We are looking for writers who can cover politics in general, but we would be happy to discuss if there is a beat that interests you.

NOTE: Gapers Block is a volunteer entity; while the position is unpaid, writers benefit from building clips, receiving media access to press conferences and other events, and occasional non-political perks.

If you are interested in writing about politics for Gapers Block, please send two to three writing samples, a little note about yourself and why you would like to write for GB to with the subject of "Contributing to Mechanics."

Monica Reida

Urban Planning Fri Jul 26 2013

Detroit's Not Dead. It's Not Even Detroit.

detroit 2.jpgDetroit Skyline. Photo by nic_r

It's been a busy week for Detroit. As the city itself continues to chug along, all Dan Gilbert-gilded glory or 58 minutes-plus of waiting time for the cops to come, the world's been chiming in on what went so utterly wrong up in Motown.

Detroit, once powerhouse of industrial might and paradigm of American ideals and grandeur, has finally fallen from grace: a victim of poor governance, racism, lack of economic diversification, empty pension coffers, and sprawl. And America, beware. While amplified in Detroit, the same underlying dynamics that so rotted the Motor City are coming to a city near you.

This is to read the obituaries.

And yet, things are getting better all the time in Detroit. Declare bankruptcy one day and announce some green shoots in the economy the next. A $60 million mixed-use development is in the works. There's a placemaking renaissance afoot turning traffic islands into temporary beaches and creating last change. Here come the Red Wings. Let's not forget, Whole Foods just opened up in downtown Detroit.

This is to read the news.

To paraphrase a song from one of the city's most successful rappers, will the real Detroit please stand up?

Continue reading this entry »

Ben Schulman

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

Aldermen Tue Jan 08 2013

City Hall: Who has Social Media Klout?

By Myles Dannhausen and Andy Crestodina

Chicago Alderman James Cappleman (46th Ward) was taken to task on Twitter in December when he proposed a crackdown on the great scourge of Chicago — pigeons.

(What, you thought it was gang violence? Or drugs? Or deteriorating infrastructure?)

WBBM's Steve Grzanich (@steveGrzanich) called Cappleman out on his odd sense of priorities, as did blogger Dwana De La Cerna (@JustDwana), who tweeted:

To his credit, Cappleman took the criticism in stride, engaging with his constituents and inviting them to meet with him.

Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (2)

Media Fri Jan 04 2013

Tribune Co.'s New Owners Are Rahm Donors... Does It Matter?

By now, you've probably read that the Tribune Company announced its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday and appointed a new board of directors. The deal involves financing from senior creditors Oaktree Capital Management (23% equity), Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JP Morgan (holding 9% equity each), who according to the Chicago Tribune will take control of its portfolio of assets ranging from TV stations to CareerBuilder.

Most coverage of this has focused on the company's plan to focus on broadcast TV and potentially sell off its newspapers (including the Trib and the Los Angeles Times), WGN, and Chicago magazine, among other assets over a several month-long process. Prospective buyers for the newspapers include News Corp. mogul Rupert Murdoch, who has ties to several of the new board members.

However, there's another prominent figure with several links to Tribune Company's new owners -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In fact, individuals connected to all three controlling firms have previously donated money to his political campaigns.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (1)

Crime Thu Jan 03 2013

Our Kids Are Safe: Schools and Guns

handgun on bricks
Photo by Joselito Tagarao
Empathy, which lets us understand and experience others' feelings, including anguish and grief, is a critical definer of our humanity, pivotal to our civilization. So are the impulses to protect children, to want to right wrongs, and to be outraged at unfairness. It's both natural and appropriate that in the wake of horrors such as the recent Sandy Hook massacre, we privately and publicly give voice to our empathy, and to our protective, outraged, and corrective impulses. Yet it's also important to check these impulses as the basis for policy when their cause is an outlier, an extreme. Emotion drives poor governance. Policy needs to have a cool head as well as a warm heart.

Multiple shootings by deranged individuals inevitably command enormous media and public attention. In such cases, heart tends to shove head out of the way. That's apparent when mothers in the midwest say they rushed to pull their children out of school when they heard of the carnage in Connecticut 1,000 miles away, organizational leaders propose stationing armed guards at schools, or otherwise reasonable commentators say we need to jettison part of the Constitution, just to cite three examples. The circumstances make such reactions fathomable emotionally, but the facts don't support them logically. Overall, our schools are very, very, safe, and violent gunplay is a sensational but statistically small threat to our children.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (7)

Media Wed Oct 03 2012

Vice Will Move Their CeaseFire Documentary (But Won't Discuss Their Editorial Process)

Cure Violence, Chicago Interrupted, Dishonored video game Two weeks ago, I explained how Vice Media produced a documentary about violence prevention group CeaseFire (now Cure Violence) and used it to help sell Dishonored, a video game with the tagline, "Revenge Solves Everything." The hotly -anticipated game allows the player to control an assassin with magical powers in a 19th-century England-inspired fantasy setting, and will come out on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 next Tuesday, Oct. 9. Vice had partnered with the game's publisher, Bethesda Softworks, to create an online multimedia Dishonored promotion called Eye For An Eye, a website dedicated to the "world's best revenge stories." Apparently, the story of an organization trying to prevent murders caused by personal vendettas fit this bill.

As of last Wednesday, the two-part Cure Violence documentary, Chicago Interrupted, has been removed from Eye For An Eye. After several inquiries, I eventually got a Vice Media representative to officially comment on the removal. Ironically, Vice refused to answer numerous questions I asked about the documentary's production and their general editorial standards...just as they've begun a campaign to brand themselves as the future of news media.

But let's backtrack for a moment.

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel / Comments (1)

Media Wed Sep 19 2012

Why is Vice Using CeaseFire to Sell a Game About Revenge Killing?

chicago interrupted - vice documentary ceasefire cureviolence

Last Wednesday, controversial violence prevention group CeaseFire announced it had changed its name to Cure Violence.

Just a couple days prior, the also-controversial Vice magazine posted the first episode of their two-part documentary, Chicago Interrupted, about the organization on their website. Like last year's critically-acclaimed documentary, The Interrupters, the web mini-series interviewed local "violence interrupters" Tio Hardiman and Ameena Matthews while showing raw footage of their attempts to mitigate brewing street conflicts. After playing audio of off-camera gunfire at the end of a botched interruption attempt, the second part (released Monday) ended with Matthews expressing hope to Vice's film crew that their documentary would start conversations and compel people to stand up against the cycle of violence. She added, "I don't want people, America, Chicago to get what's not right."

As it turns out, Vice is using Chicago Interrupted to start conversations. Unfortunately, those conversations are less about Chicago violence and more about a fantasy action video game called Dishonored. In fact, the CeaseFire doc is a prominent part of a special multimedia program Vice created just to market the game.

The program's name? Eye For An Eye. The game's tag line? "Revenge Solves Everything."

Continue reading this entry »

Jason Prechtel

Media Tue Sep 18 2012

Karen Lewis Visits Wyoming

By Paolo Cisneros

Just one day into the strike last week, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis stepped away from the picket lines to make an impromptu appearance in a small town in rural Wyoming.

Sort of.

I happened to notice because I just moved to the Cowboy State from the corner of Damen and Wilson in Ravenswood. I'm trying my hand at a stint in the West, but Chicago will always be home.

I've been following coverage of the strike from afar because I care deeply about the state of affairs in my city. So I was infuriated to see last week that a Wyoming newspaper devoted space on its opinion page to running a political cartoon that grossly mischaracterized the nature of the movement.


Continue reading this entry »

Mechanics / Comments (8)

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

Mayor Fri Jun 29 2012

Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

America's big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America's big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally--finally!--we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor's millionaire's club, in which we pore over the mayor's daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time--and his far-reaching connections...

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor's calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago--and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.


As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor's schedule. [Amisha] Patel [Director of the Grassroots Collaborative] says her group's requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he's cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. "Let's talk about job creation but let's do it in a full way."

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness--some would say an eagerness--to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He's also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what's best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago's sui generis politics.

It's not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of...

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

NATO-G8 Thu May 17 2012

Globe Money, Globe Problems

When civic leaders like Mayor Emanuel, his billionaire backers on the World Business Council, or the Commercial Club, talk about making Chicago a "global city," they don't quite mean making it a shining beacon to the world's reformers struggling to make the world a better, more egalitarian place; they mean they want to make it attractive to the already wealthy and powerful. They want to showcase it as a potential playground for those who can enjoy its luxuries; in a piece for Huffington Post, Tammy Webber quotes Richard Longworth from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

"We ought to be known for something more than the old stockyards, smog or Al Capone, but we aren't," said Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "People are surprised when they visit, and that's why" Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted the summit.

"We have to stop being a surprise," Longworth added.

When you do that, you create a stark relief between those who enjoy the recreation and those who can't pay the price of admission.

The litany of protests planned for the NATO Summit reflect this. If Chicago is to be a locus for convening the powerful, the powerless are going to want to confront them. Activists and reformers from all over the world are targeting the NATO Summit for what it represents: war as a priority, even while a devastating recession has thrown tens of millions of families into the dread of economic insecurity.

Today, Code Pink is marching on President Obama's reelection headquarters to protest "endless war" in Afghanistan and the killing of innocent families with remote-controlled drone attacks. On Saturday, the Mental Health Movement is planning to protest in Mayor Emanuel's neighborhood against the closure of six mental health clinics at the same time the Mayor and his business supporters are raising tens of millions of dollars to provide refreshments and entertainment for some of the most powerful people on Earth.

In turn, the city has a choice; are we going to treat activists and protesters as criminals-in-waiting and militarize our public safety (and expand our already troubling surveillance state) to the same degree that we become more and more global a city? Or accept that with global money come global problems and preserve Chicago's historical place as a center of intellectual and organizational freedom?

The introduction of equipment like the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, is not a good sign. Excellent at dispersing people because of the intense pain and sometimes long-term damage it causes, LRADs win the approbation of police forces because they appear harmless, even while causing real damage--in the words of some experts, a form of "acoustic assault."

Just as the city has been thrown into turmoil for its residents--street closures leading to business closures, traffic snarls making it difficult for people to move around, and intense security cordons that are discouraging residents from moving through areas of the city they'd otherwise enjoy on a weekend.

As we become more of that type of "global city," with more permanent institutions meant for the global elite, will a sanitized corridor controlled and maintained by militarized police empowered with new surveillance tools itself become institutionalized? In other words, is this the first of occasional nuisances, or the trial run for the long-term "globalization" of a portion of our city meant to create a comfortable space for the global elite at the expense of local desires, wishes, and needs?

It needn't be. Insofar as hosting events does indeed bring needed money into the city, that's a good thing; and protests and activists are integral to reminding the city's leadership why we need that money: to promote economic security for all of us and remember our priorities.

A global city is one that provides an example to the world, not a warning.

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Mar 01 2012

President of Chicago Teachers Union and Pilsen Environmental Rights Organization on Democracy Now!

A Chicago-heavy edition of Democracy Now looks at the closing of the Midwest Gen Crawford and Fisk coal plants and the Board of Ed's high-intensity efforts to privatize the school system:

Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Thu Dec 08 2011

Don't Bad-Apple Blagojevich

A familiar trope in the wake of a high-profile institutional failure, whether private or public, is the suggestion or outright assertion that the disaster was the fault of a lone gunman, a "bad apple" whose actions shouldn't be allowed to spoil how we view the rest of the bunch. Messrs. Cheney and Wolfwitz rolled out this cliché when the horrors of Abu Ghraib surfaced. We were told that Enron was, similarly, an outlier of financial fraud, rather than emblematic of how regulatory schemes (or the lack thereof) are too often purchased in what Greg Palast has called "the best democracy money can buy." In the wake of a major environmental disaster the prompts for the "bad apple" defense are sometimes audible. And, of course, when an official misbehaves, others in the arena are always ready with the singular-fruit metaphor.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Media Thu Sep 01 2011

The Month in Review on BEZ

I imposed on Alison Cuddy's hospitality and yapped on 848's "Month in Review" yesterday, beside Financial Times reporter Hal Weitzman and Manya Brachear, who reports on religion for the Chicago Tribune.

Check it out!

Ramsin Canon

TIFs Tue Aug 30 2011

Carole Brown on Chicago Tonight Talking TIFs

What jumped out at me was Brown saying that the public was mistaken in believing that tax increment financing districts were meant only to address blight. An area being blighted is actually in the TIF statute as among the necessary conditions for creation of a TIF. Hard to see how those statements can both be reconciled.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Aug 03 2011

Richard v. Kenzo: On Public Employees

Two GB alums, Richard Lorenc formerly of the Illinois Policy Institute and Kenzo Shibata of the Chicago Teachers Union, squared off at the Bughouse Square debates this past weekend. The question was, "Should public employees have collective bargaining rights?" Both did extremely well. I'm proud to call both men friends. Enjoy.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Labor & Worker Rights Wed Aug 03 2011

The Mayor's "War" With Labor?

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 President Christine Boardman had harsh words to say about Mayor Emanuel, calling him a liar and his claims that he is working with labor leaders to find solutions to the city's stubborn budget deficit. According to a report by Dan Mihalopoulos in the Chicago News Cooperative, Boardman accused the Mayor of "spinning the press like crazy," and "not telling the truth," about his cooperative attitude towards labor, characterizing his rhetoric as "B.S." B.S. is American slang for "bullshit" by the way.

Quite an accusation; it certainly tracks with previous reports about Emanuel's general approach to labor relations, which amounts to "there's a new sheriff in town," along with "the art of media control." Taking the long view, it also jives with Emanuel's having reportedly encouraged the administration to "Fuck the U.A.W.," during the auto bailout and engineering the passage of the labor-hollowing NAFTA bill in 1993.

The local media has been characterizing Emanuel's approach as "getting tough" on labor. But of course, this is a non sequitor. Mayor Daley was hardly friendly to labor, particularly over the last ten years, with the exception of some of the building trades. The city labor force has declined by about 6,000 since 2002. The Mayor race-baited labor unions during the Wal-Mart fight and poured enormous effort into undermining the teachers' union. Unions are on their heels across the country and had little clout under Daley and even less under Emanuel.

Boardman's accusations may just be a function of her frustration rather than an accurate accounting of Mayor Emanuel's approach to public employees. The totality of his record on labor relations--an economic and social issue, not solely a political issue--should not just be ignored, as though it has no bearing or provides no context. Emanuel has a record of targeting labor as a political foe to be dictated to, not a potential partner or constituency with legitimate policy concerns.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Public Schools Wed Jul 27 2011

A Look Behind: Where and How to Send Your Kids to School

On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not be sending his children to a school run by the CPS, but to University of Chicago Lab School in Hyde Park. Reaction to this announcement varied. One question that could be raised is why Mayor Emanuel didn't send his children to one of the magnet or selective enrollment schools in Chicago.

The deadline to apply to send a child to a magnet or selective enrollment school for the upcoming school year was December 17, 2010. And the process can be challenging.

Continue reading this entry »

Monica Reida / Comments (2)

Media Tue Jul 19 2011

The Incredible Editorial of James Warren

Chicago News Cooperative's James Warren's editorial, "Warren: Rahm Exercising Art of Media Control" is not what you'd expect it to be. Or rather, was not what I expected it to be. When I see a headline like that in my reader, attributed to a well respected journalist, I expect it to be a critique. It's not; it's praise. Why would a member of the media praise a politician for controlling (really he means manipulating) the media? I'm not certain. From what I can glean, it is because Mayor Emanuel's use of this "art" will help him slay the "monsters," i.e., city workers' retirement money, et al.

Mr. Warren in his own words:

Chicago's Jardine Water Purification Plant, the world's largest filtration facility, helped make something crystal clear last week about the heat-seeking missile known as Mayor Rahm Emanuel: The Missile is playing a confidence game, all puns intended.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Whittier Elementary Thu Jun 30 2011

Whittier Update: Two Stories

A story on the on-going fight over the Whittier fieldhouse (La Casita) at the Tribune relays the Chicago Public Schools line that they are being frustrated by left wing ideologues who keep changing their demands, while a piece at the RedEye (by GB contributor Yana Kunichoff) looks at the money involved as they relate to the parents' demands:

$1.4 million: allocated to Whittier by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) from the Tax Increment Financing funding.

$364,000: The money from the $1.4 million TIF fund allocated first to demolish, then renovate the field house.

$564,000: The total amount of money raised to build a new, green field house

$750: Prize money awarded to the Whittier Parents Committee by the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO) for the environmentally friendly design of the proposed La Casita.

Priceless?: More than 50 people came out last Friday at 5 a.m. to block the planned construction of the library in the school building instead of the field house and halted the construction for the day.

Reminiscent of the first Mayor Daley blaming all civil disorder on "outside agitators," the Tribune article casts the Board of Education as helpless in the face of irrational leftists:

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Economic Development Mon Jun 13 2011

Pardon the Incredulity: Chicago Mercantile Exchange Threatens to Leave

This week the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a major commodities derivatives and futures exchange, announced it may leave Chicago and is trying to sell one of its buildings. Citing their tax burden as too onerous, they stated that they may have to move out of state to protect their shareholders. If the story seems familiar, it is because it almost identical to the story heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar played out in the press a few months ago.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Good Government/Reform Mon Jun 06 2011

"This is about trying to get information from my city government as a citizen and journalist": The Reader's Mick Dumke on His Lawsuit Against the City

Richard M. is now former Mayor Daley, hopefully moving on to projects that might challenge him a bit more than this softball governing-the-country's-third-largest-city stuff. Mayor Emanuel inherits more than a few challenges from the Daley era-one of which is a lawsuit filed in the final months of Daley's tenure as mayor by ace investigative journalist Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader. Repeatedly stymied in his attempts to glean information from the city through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Dumke took the issue to the courts, filing suit against the city claiming that their reasons for denying his requests don't hold any water.

Gapers Block recently spoke with Dumke via phone to discuss the suit, the city's apparently archaic technology, and transparency under the new mayor.

Gapers Block: What's your take on the city's reasons for denying your FOIA requests?

Mick Dumke: The city gave me two reasons for denying my requests. I find them both to be false. The first was that six months worth of the mayor's schedule would pose a security threat, because it could help establish patterns in his coming and going. To which I reply, everyone knows the building and floor where the mayor works. It's preposterous to me that giving the schedule of people he's meeting with in this office would somehow imperil him beyond the information that's already widely known. That, to me, was ridiculous.

More to the point, it's a misapplication of the FOIA. There are some security exceptions to the FOIA, but that's for information we would request about planning for terrorist attacks. It has nothing to do with protecting the coming and going or meeting schedule of an elected official. The attorney general sided with me on that argument.

Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht

Media Fri May 13 2011

The Transition Between Eras--or "Between Eras"

The Chicago News Cooperative's Kari Lydersen, Rob Wildeboer from WBEZ, and Don Washington of the Mayoral Tutorial talk transition with the great Ken Davis from CAN-TV City Newsroom:

Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Fri Feb 04 2011

Dueling Ads: Chico v. Emanuel on the "Rahm Tax"

Why would Rahm Emanuel's campaign bother responding to Chico's ad if they are as far ahead as we have every reason to believe they are?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Election 2011 Wed Jan 19 2011

The Next Mayor's Power Instinct

Miguel Del Valle is being considered the progressive candidate for a variety of reasons. His record of independence from so-called "Machine politics" is considerably free of the spots found in those of Emanuel and Chico in particular; no organizational or professional ties to Mayor Daley. His policy positions on schools and teachers, the environment, and housing position him to the left of the field. While these positions are more liberal, they are also not controversial; meaning that, generally speaking, they are probably not significantly to the left of the average Chicagoan.

But there's something deeper in Del Valle's politics that may warm the cockles of a progressive's heart while simultaneously causing the city's power players, including its media organizations, to tremble with febrile dreams.

Based on his public statements about the relationship of the Mayor to the City Council, Del Valle appears to believe that conflict compels collaboration which leads to stronger results. In other words, by formally decentralizing power so that no one party or institution can simply act-and-make-so, they will be forced to negotiate one with the other on terms equitable to each, and thereby the best feasible solution will emerge.

Del Valle told the Sun-Times this:

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (7)

Media Mon Jan 03 2011

Early And Often: Free This Week

We at Mechanics have had great fun poking through all the great information that comes out of the new Chicago politics focused news org, Early And Often. E&O is offering a free week, so be sure to check it out.

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Dec 09 2010

KassWatch: The Information Is Murder Edition

It's been a while since KassWatch has felt the need to stir--we've been observing Kass' slide into retirement with quiet deference to the march of time--but, of course, Kass couldn't help but poke us out of our winter-and-NyQuil-slumber with his piece on Julian Assange and Wikileaks today.

When Kass wrote an asinine passage comparing "bloggers" to people wearing pajamas in their mother's basement a few months back, we thought about retiring KassWatch. Kass may not have noticed, but every journalist is writing for a blog now. Sometimes that blog has a print edition called a newspaper, but you're all bloggers now. Kass' use of a moldering old stereotype to justify his insecurity at being a metro columnist in a city that is passing him by made us more sad than angry. His whipping boy, Mayor Daley, is leaving office, and now he's actually going to have to think about the city's political mechanics instead of just making insinuations about organized crime and throwing out nicknames. It's a scary world.

Kass has a sterling journalistic pedigree as a reporter that the likes of me can't take away from him with a million self-indulgent pieces like this. But now John Kass makes a comfortable living pretending to be just anudder guy from over by da udder place with front-stoop wisdom, while he actually just goes after easy targets more on behalf of his ego than on behalf of the powerless. Folksiness is just the vernacular he uses as a sort of cipher. For codebreakers like KassWatch, it isn't exactly cracking Enigma to see how this code is just meant to more safely communicate his feeling that everyone is an idiot but him.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Classroom Mechanics Mon Nov 08 2010

Classroom Mechanics on WBEZ

Morning gang! Tune into WBEZ's 848 program this morning; host Alison Cuddy will be talking to a number of guests about public education here in Chicago, including yours truly. I'll be talking about the changes at CPS and the background and future plans for our new "Classroom Mechanics" teacher oral history project. Show begins at 9am and repeats at 9pm.

UPDATE: Here's audio of the segment.

Ramsin Canon

Media Fri Nov 05 2010

The Inanity of the Objective Press

Chip Inn.jpg A year and more ago, now former Progress Illinois editor in chief Josh Kalven and I, over drinks at the Chipp Inn in Noble Square, lamented the state of political journalism. Reiterating something he'd said at a panel discussion at the Hideout, he told me that he wasn't certain why there was so much discussion about the legitimacy of bloggers as journalists in the context of their "biases." Everybody has predispositions and opinions, he said, at least readers know from what point of view so-called "partisan" media comes from. Traditional journalists aren't free of those predispositions, they are just instructed to hide them.

This was on everybody's mind in particular after an experiment by Slate wherein they disclosed for whom all their writers voted. This was supposedly a painful thing for a news outlet to do, because it would "discredit" what their writers were saying.

Just this week, MSNBC suspended host Keith Olbermann when Politico reported that he had donated money to candidates he had interviewed on his show "Countdown." Presumably, this represented some nebulous conflict-of-interest, wherein Olbermann was concealing the fact that he actively supports Democrats for public office from his audience. This reminds me of when Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf was suspended for failing to disclose he'd donated lemon bars to the Republican Guard Alumni Booster Club.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (8)

Elections Wed Nov 03 2010

Election Wrap Up: Mechanics on WBEZ

Hey everybody! Thanks for stopping by Mechanics in between booking one-way tickets to Ottawa on Priceline in anticipation of the proto-fascist Republican takeover of the federal government or researching your upcoming blog post, "The Democratic Party is Toast (For Real This Time)."

I joined Lenny McAllister of WVON and Nenna Torres of UIC to talk about last night's election results with Alison Cuddy of WBEZ's 848. Highlights include me calling Pat Quinn "a tough dude." For the record, I was this/close to calling him "one tough motherflipper." You're welcome, BEZ. Check it out.

Ramsin Canon

Elections Tue Nov 02 2010

Sports Dollars in Politics

This article was submitted by Andrew Kachel

"Money is the mother's milk of politics." -Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh

Back when Mike Ditka half-assedly ran for the US Senate then immediately backed out, he had this to say: "Five, six years ago I would have jumped on it and would have ran with it, and I know this, that I would make a good senator, because I would be for the people." Ditka said this at an impromptu news conference in front of Mike Ditka's Steakhouse on the near North Side.

Over the last two decades, American athletes and coaches as a group have been eerily quiet with their political opinions. Gilbert Arenas famously noted in the last presidential election that he wasn't voting -- both candidates were going to tax his enormous salary. When asked why he didn't back civil rights champion Harvey Gantt in the North Carolina Senate race, Michael Jordan shrewdly replied, "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

There's more than a little pressure from owners and management for athletes to conduct themselves as apolitical entities. PR coaches know this from the moment players step into their offices and ingratiate it into their psyches. Pro athletes aren't even supposed to criticize officiating (fines are inevitable when they do), so their ideas on the direction of foreign and domestic policy ride the third rail. Reporters don't ask and players don't tell.

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Mechanics / Comments (4)

Education Tue Oct 19 2010

Where Do We Go From Here on the Education Front?

This editorial was submitted by Valerie F. Leonard

The Chicago Public Schools has been under Mayoral control for the past 16 years. Under the Mayor's leadership we have had School Reform, Renaissance 2010 which called for school closings and reopening them as charter schools, and attempts to qualify for the national Race for the Top (which seems to have been modeled after the local Renaissance 2010 initiative). The changing of the guard in City Hall could have serious implications for the direction of education in Chicago.

The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting article regarding the fact that the State's standardized tests have been made increasingly simpler over the last 5 years. ("Students Can Pass ISAT With More Wrong Answers"). It should be noted that the article does not mention the fact that Chicago Public Schools lobbied the State to simplify the test 5 years ago.

At the same time, the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board is urging the next Mayor to continue the course that has been laid by the current Mayor, and suggested that the new Mayor keep the current CPS CEO on board to continue the reforms that have been made. ("Reform on the Ropes?").

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Mechanics / Comments (1)

Media Fri Oct 08 2010

Unseasonable Weather Weekend

In recognition of our unseasonable warmth this weekend, here's a stroll down memory lane to Mayor Jane Byrne's 1979 victory night, which came on the heels of a once-in-a-lifetime (well, maybe somewhere other than Chicago) blizzard:

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Election 2011 Thu Oct 07 2010

From Plebiscite to Forum

Early and Often, the new Chicago politics reporting venture, had a story about a proposed "plebiscite" of Black political and community organizations to find a single candidate to represent the interests of the Black community. This was a compelling idea that could have really started something of a groundswell and, to some degree at least, consensus. It also generated possibly the best quote of the cycle so far, from state Senator Ricky Hendon, who said the original crowded Mayoral field "looked like the Universal Soul Circus." Bless that man's wit.

One of the organizers of the meeting, NEIU political science professor Robert Starks, is backtracking or correcting the record, stating that the second meeting of organizations will be a candidate forum rather than a plebiscite:

But less than 24 hours later, the chair of the meeting, Robert T. Starks, a professor of political science at Northeastern Illinois University, said "it's not going to be a plebiscite."

"It's going to be a forum, a candidates forum," he said, sighing deeply. "There will be no vote."

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Oct 05 2010

Join Us for Remy Bumppo and Chicago Public Media's Journalism Panel: "Is the Truth Front Page News?"

On Monday, Oct. 11, I'll be joining the Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell, Chicago Reporter publisher Alden Loury, and Medill School professor Timothy McNulty for a panel moderated by WBEZ's Richard Steele on the topic "Is The Truth Front Page News?" hosted by Remy Bumppo Theater and Chicago Public Media.

The Theater is currently staging Tom Stoppard's play Night And Day.

The panel is open to the public. See press release below for details. Hope to see you there! As the "new media" representative, I will be wearing an ironic t-shirt and smudgy jeans and say "whatever" a lot.

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Ramsin Canon

Education Sun Oct 03 2010

Waiting for "Superman" -- OneMan's Perspective

Two of us Gapers Block Mechanics section writers were invited to the Chicago premier of Waiting for Superman, by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. I am not sure if we got our invitations because we write for Mechanics or have blogged about education in other places. Regardless, we thought it might be interesting to post our thoughts on the movie separately.

In order to understand my viewpoint on the movie, I think I should provide some background about myself...

I am a Republican who is in favor of vouchers. I attended public schools though my undergraduate degree (In Dolton, IL for K-12 and then NIU for my BS); my graduate education is from two private universities in the western suburbs (Aurora and Lisle). I have a MS in MIS. I have taught for credit classes (part-time) at the community college level (Introduction to Windows, Introduction to Windows 95) and a database class for credit for the on-line component of The University of Phoenix. I currently work as a computer professional. Finally, because I think it is relevant to the discussion, I grew up in a union household: my dad was a union member and, at one time, the shop steward.

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Media Mon Sep 20 2010

Around the City Reads

Some good stuff to catch up on this morning:

CBS 2: Daley Mentored Others as He Shaped Chicago: But he's still "absolutely the best mayor in the country," Berry said. "Nationally there's no question he's been probably one of the most successful and important big-city mayors in the last couple decades."

Progress Illinois: Shift Expected at CAPS: The ground continues to shift at the Chicago Police Department. On Thursday, outgoing Mayor Richard Daley said he wanted civilians rather than uniformed police officers to run the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program. Ron Holt, the CAPS director, told the Tribune that too many of the 200 to 300 officers assigned to CAPS were doing administrative and civilian tasks. Many are expected to be reassigned to patrol work.

In These Times Working Blog: Hotel Quickie Strikes Build Union, Workers' Determination for Contract Battles: Workers in Chicago, like most of these cities, are responding with overwhelming strike authorization votes, protest rallies, sit-ins and civil disobedience, campaigns to persuade organizations and individuals to boycott certain hotels, and-last week-a planned one-day strike against hotel union UNITE HERE's national target, Hyatt, in four cities.

People of Color Organize!: Solidarity With Whittier School Occupation: The Whittier Parents' Committee has been organizing for seven years to push Pilsen alderman Daniel Solis to allocate some of the estimated $1 billion in Mayor Daley's TIF coffers to their school for a school expansion - he finally agreed to give $1.4million of TIF funds for school renovation. Cynically, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has earmarked a part of this money for the destruction of the school's field house, which has been used for years as a center for community organizing and services. This would directly undermine the ability of the Whittier community to organize and struggle for educational rights. Parents are demanding to be part of the decision-making process.

Austin Talks: March against violence challenges community to fight back: Graham urged residents to take a stand against gun, gang and domestic violence. Rev. Jennie Jones of Pleasant Ridge Missionary Baptist Church led the group in prayer and pleaded for strength in the fight against violence plaguing Austin.

Chicago Union News: Adjunct faculty at Chicago college cries foul while trying to organize: With only a few weeks until fall classes begin, some part-time instructors at East-West University in Chicago's South Loop are still waiting to see if they will be hired back to teach after what has been a "messy" summer-long conflict involving efforts to unionize.

Ramsin Canon

Election 2011 Wed Aug 25 2010

Mechanics on WBEZ

Check out this morning's 848 segment on Chicago Public Radio, on which yours truly appeared and sputtered through an interesting conversation on the upcoming elections.

Ramsin Canon

Local Government Tue Aug 03 2010

Introducing the Widget...the EveryBlock Widget

Look to your left. What do you see? Probably the edge of your monitor. Look to your right? And there? Ah! Something new!

It is in point of fact a widget courtesy of EveryBlock, everybody's favorite data liberators. In partnership with Every Block, Mechanics is going to be experimenting with providing hyperlocal news and data for the city and your neighborhoods. We hope that as EveryBlock's ever growing database of, erm, data, uh...grows, Mechanics can provide you with both the microlocal and macrolocal, focusing on longer issue and policy pieces as original content while also giving you the quick local news hits that traditional media was never great at providing.

Currently the widget is set to focus on City Hall, but you can enter your own zip code and get government actions -- such as building permits, liquor licenses, etc. -- and blog and news pieces that mention your neighborhood.

For more on EveryBlock's effort to expand their reach, check out EveryBlock co-founder and friend of GB Dan O'Neil's post at the EB blog.

Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Tue Aug 03 2010

A look back at Rod Blagojevich in 2002

Today, the Capitol Fax Blog offers us a look to the past at Rod Blagojevich. As we know the Ousted governor's corruption trial has been sent to a jury and as we wait, Chicago Tonight goes into their archives for this documentary from 2002.

Blagojevich was running for governor that year and this was a pretty good look into his past up to that point. Watching this I feel like it's a shame that his political career had taken the turn that it had. Especially with his background!

Most of the people interviewed for this piece I wonder how they view him now. Even that shoe shiner turned community activist who Blagojevich befriended when he worked as a prosecutor at the police headquarters at 51st & Wentworth.

Now Rich Miller asks us about first impressions when he became the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. When it was time for me to vote in '02 for Governor all I could say was that I knew very little about him and that I didn't vote for him anyway.

All the same this is a good look back to a Governor who for most of the last decade has given us a wild ride to his current trial.


Media Sun Aug 01 2010

I Know You Got Soul

It's been a long time; I shouldn't have left you without a strong post to step to. Think of how many mind-numbing news items you slept through. Time's up, I'm sorry I kept you thinking of this, you keep repeating you miss the posts from the movable type 4 soloist. And you sit by the computer screen, hand on the keyboard, soon as you see it, down the screen you scroll. Eyes on the screen until the fairly well explicated three-point thesis blow, then plug in the headphones because there's an audio compo. Nent.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Media Fri Jul 16 2010

The FCC in Chicago: A Confused Idea of Public Protection

[This is Part Three and the last in a series. Read Part 1 and Part 2]

The floating head of Julius Genachowski echoed throughout the Northwestern auditorium, his smiling digital image projected onto a large white screen. The effect was humorous. After all, not only was he addressing a forum which had been convened in part to discuss the future of online video, but one convened by the Federal Communications Committee, the federal agency to which, as its leader, Chairman Genachowski was now blatantly flaunting his absence.

That left Michael Copps in charge, the only FCC Commissioner to show up at Tuesday's hearing. Copps has long been a sharp proponent of government regulation over the telecommunications industry, and he didn't hold back as he addressed the issue at hand; a $30 billion joint venture proposed by Comcast and GE whereby the largest cable and broadband provider in America would acquire the fourth-largest producer of news and entertainment media.

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Timna Axel / Comments (2)

Media Fri Jul 09 2010

Missing the Point: A Comical Hearing on Comcast-NBCU

[This is Part 2 of a series. Click here to read Part 1]

"I want you to know you have failed miserably."

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) looked squarely at the two executives sitting in the central Loop courthouse, punctuating an otherwise dry morning of testimony.

But Paula Madison of NBCU and Joseph Waz, Jr. of Comcast appeared unmoved in the face of their accuser and the congressional subcommittee that convened yesterday morning to discuss the consequences of a proposed $28 billion mega-merger between their two companies. The deal would give the nation's largest cable and broadband provider control over the country's fourth-largest media and entertainment company.

Officially, the congressmen were supposed to examine the merger's benefits, but the indisputable focus of the hearing was diversity. Several public interest and minority media groups have been ringing an alarm on the deal, fearing what might follow the consolidation of two media companies with bad records of diversity both behind and in front of the camera.

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Timna Axel

Media Wed Jul 07 2010

Eating Broadband for Breakfast: Doomsday Scenarios for Chicago's Media Landscape

[This is Part 1 of a series. Click here to read Part 2]

Tomorrow morning there will be a congressional hearing on Comcast and NBC Universal, and it will be smack in the center of the Loop. As I was rifling through last-minute research, it was obvious I hadn't been quite thorough enough.

So I googled, "Comcast sucks."

The litter of angry articles, Facebook pages, and dedicated web sites (not to mention niche porn) is impressive but boring - mostly people complaining about broken cable boxes or lazy technicians.

But dig a little deeper and you'll reach truly nefarious bloggings. The journalists, labor activists, techies, and musicians clamoring for Comcast's blood aren't just peeved; they're scared out of their wits. That's because Comcast, the nation's largest cable TV company and second-largest Internet service provider, is perched to gobble up the majority share of NBC Universal in a $28 billion deal that may lay off workers, kill local news, monopolize Chicago's telecom market, herald the destruction of broadcast television and prefigure the corporate hijacking of fair and open Internet - indeed, the end of the World Wide Web as we know it.

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Timna Axel / Comments (4)

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.

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Mechanics / Comments (12)

Media Thu Jun 24 2010

Comcast Would Pass Go, Collect $200 Under Daley

Despite the scrutiny of such characters as the Federal Communications Commission, Department of Justice, media advocacy groups and about 1500 Illinoisans who've filed federal complaints, Comcast is licking its lips in anticipation. The hulking media corporation wants to buy the majority of NBC/Universal from GE, and preferably soon, in what would be a $30 billion behemoth slice of the communications industry. Besides the usual fret over media conglomeration and pesky antitrust laws, critics are especially alarmed because the deal would hand the Comcast telecom company, a giant content distributor, control of a near-equally colossal content producer. If the U.S. Postal Service buys your grandmother and her stationary, then charges you extra to receive her letters on time... you get the point.

Mayor Daley likes the sound of it. He's not alone, according to a story filed Wednesday in Crain's Chicago Business:

A group of more than 200 NBC-affiliated local stations -- not including the network's six 'owned and operated' local stations in major markets, such as Chicago's WMAQ-TV/Channel 5 -- said they would support the deal if Comcast agrees to certain conditions, such as continuing to broadcast local sports events rather than switching them to cable-only channels.

It seems everyone's happy so long as the 2012 Olympics and Sunday night NFL games stay put. As for the mayor, there's plenty of room to speculate why he might support Comcast in an election year, besides their being "good corporate citizens." A few unexpected groups have also supported Comcast, like the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. But others are worried about the potential for price hikes and anti-competitive strategy. The Chicago-represented American Cable Association, for instance, filed comments with the FCC calling for regulatory conditions to be placed on the merger.

Advocacy groups for independent media like Free Press and Chicago Media Action are leading a resistance that's more ideologically tuned. They charge that the Comcast-NBCU deal would violate the core principal of Net Neutrality, the idea that there should be no discrimination in the quality and speed with which web sites and applications are delivered by internet service providers. The network provider market is concentrated in a few enormous telecommunications companies, the three largest being AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, this last one supplying about 95 percent of Chicago's cable viewers. Their ability to slow or stop certain users and sites from connecting online is the issue at stake. Comcast's bid for NBCU is only the latest and largest in a series of recent cases surrounding the issue of Net Neutrality, a new and still undefined body of law that has the power to dramatically alter the content and delivery of the internet, as well as its dependents such as the press.

For now, the Net Neutrality advocates can rest easy. The FCC has refused to continue its review of the merge until Comcast delivers in full all the documents the agency has requested, information which has remained unspecified to the public. With impeccable timing, the FCC will be holding a hearing in Chicago on July 13 from 1pm to 8pm at Northwestern University Law School's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago Ave. There will be two panels and a designated question-and-answer session beginning at 6pm.

Timna Axel / Comments (1)

Media Wed Jun 16 2010

What Mick and Ben Said

Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke, the Readers' star political reporters, had an important piece in the Reader a couple weeks back analyzing the TIF budgets and how exactly the money is dispersed. Much of what they found reinforced the suspicion that a lopsided amount of TIF dollars go to pet projects in non-needy neighborhoods, thus flouting the purpose of the state TIF statute. Interestingly, some of what they found actually overturned some conventional criticisms of TIFs, for example that it was weighted towards the clout-heavy (as an example, Finance Committee Chair and light tenor Ed Burke's 14th Ward received comparatively little from TIF funds).

Here's one important thing about their piece: it revealed no scandal.

In the larger sense of good versus bad government and policy, it certainly could spark outrage. But in the traditional sense of public corruption or betrayal of public trust or even rank hypocrisy, the Reader piece didn't serve the narrative of corrupt politicians swindling the public. Instead, it very methodically made a case that the current policy regime was ill-serving constituents, and did it in a sober (though entertaining) way. Yet even with that sober tone, it was enough to get people's cackles up.

That is the type of reporting that is threatened by the collapse of journalism. Yet, at the same time, the dailies aren't really known for this type of research and journalism--the type that doesn't look for a scandal as a hook, but rather just tries to tell the story of how the city works fundamentally, and make a case for fundamental change. That's not advocacy, that's just stripping the system down, rather than dressing politicians down. It's an important distinction.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece, Getting Past Daley, that tried to make the case that focusing on political personalities is beside the point, that the corruption that causes such outrage when it's reported in the Trib or Sun-Times is a result of material conditions and powerful institutions, not the whims of quasi-criminal elites. When we began organizing against the Olympics, we were disheartened by how much people wanted to focus on the Mayor as the problem, when the problem is clearly deeper than him.

Joravsky and Dumke in their analysis of the TIF program actually bust some myths about how the TIF money is spent--it isn't going to the clouted necessarily, it is money luring money, not petty local political clout dominating the process. By breaking down the mechanics of the process, Joravsky and Dumke create outrage out of picayune politics, not sensationalized scandal:


About a quarter of all TIF spending, or $358 million, went to a single ward, the Second, which includes much of the Loop and gentrified areas on the near south and west sides. That's more than the bottom 35 wards got altogether.

Approximately $267 million more was spent in the 27th and 42nd wards, which include the Gold Coast and near west and near north sides. Together the three downtown wards received about 43 cents of every TIF dollar spent between 2004 and 2008.

Portions of the Second, 27th, and 42nd wards are in fact struggling economically--but those areas are largely missing out too. Some aren't covered by TIF districts; in other places the TIF districts aren't collecting much money. For example, the 27th Ward reaches into parts of Garfield Park where the landscape is dominated by empty factories and vacant lots, but little TIF money has been spent there.

When we get analysis like this--and it's reasonable to disagree with the analysis itself--then we can start to really figure out how to attack the problem, including the politicians we reflexively blame for everything, despite a rotating cast of characters falling into the same pattern over and over, endlessly repeating.

Ramsin Canon

Environment/Sustainability Fri Jun 11 2010

A Gusher of Oil, A Trickle of Truth

Above: Live video of the crude oil gushing from the BP well in the Gulf, right now.

Imagine if a tanker the size of the Exxon Valdez capsized off New Orleans, unleashing a flood of oil on the magnitude of that 1989 environmental disaster. Now imagine that a crash and spill like that happened once a week for the past month-and-a-half. Would that get your attention?

The latest best estimates from the U.S Geological Service's Flow Rate Technical Group gauge the gush from the BP well at between 25,000 to 30,000 barrels per day, with a possibility of as high as 40,000 barrels per day. That's an estimate, note, of the rate before the recent cutting of the riser pipe, which may have increased flow further. In other words, tanker-size volumes of crude oil, equivalent to the 250,000 barrels that poured out of the Exxon Valdez, have been spewing into the Gulf at least every eight to 10 days since April 20, and maybe every six days. This is not just the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. waters, it's rapidly becoming one of the worst pollutings of the planet's oceans, ever, under our very noses. Yet today it was buried on p.16 of the Tribune, trailing not only the Blagojevich trial and the Blackhawks pub crawl, but stories about the Burge torture trial, a little girl whose kayak capsized, and -- this is news? -- the pope coming out in favor of celibacy for priests.

The other day, some activists demonstrating in front of Jan. Schakowsky's office for removing oil companies' liability caps (which Schakowsky supports) reported back that numerous passers-by had no idea about the BP spill. In other words, one of the worst environmental disasters of our time is ongoing, but to many Americans and much of the media, it's a yawner -- or even a non-event. How can this be?

The answer lies at least in part in the under-reporting and downplaying of the disaster that began almost immediately. If there has been a frog-in-the-crockpot lack of awareness about the magnitude of the gusher, it's in part because a flow of misinformation has accompanied the flow of oil from Day One. A review shows that this misinformation almost certainly had to be deliberate. If the threat of criminal prosecution by the Justice Department is anything more than show, the obfuscation of reality ought to be a target of the investigation as well.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (2)

Urban Planning Mon May 17 2010

Hilarious Change at the Department of Zoning

One of my favorite hyper-specific blogs, the Department of Zoning Oversight Fellowship Forum (DOZ-OFF) reports on a potentially encouraging change over at the DoZ:

Here at DoZ-OFF we were living on a prayer, fed lean from the table scraps left by Zoning, indoctrinated to believe our captors were our saviors. No more! A policy change at Zoning has opened the door for us to get fat off the land, or at least to save us the wait. Zoning no longer accepts walk-in appointments! Since May 1st, zoning plan examination reviews for building permits are scheduled exclusively through the online building permit application process. No more waiting; no more snoozing. No more subversion? Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Ramsin Canon

Aldermen Mon May 10 2010

Alderman Balcer Wins the Muzzle

Last year Aldermen James Balcer covered up a mural that depicted the Chicago Police Department's "cop-in-a-box" lightpole cameras in a critical way. Free speech and public arts advocates cried foul, but Balcer won the acclaim of...well, I'm not sure who, exactly, but probably a lot of people who still use expressions like "damn hippies" and "crumb bums".

Now he's won an actual award for his brave act of censorship: via Edmar of the Bridgeport International, we get this:

3) Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer

The private owner of the property and the artist have a right to some due process before an alderman simply orders troops out."

- Ed Yohnka of the ACLU reacting to Chicago Alderman James Balcer ordering the painting over of a mural on private property.

For claiming the authority to destroy a work of art based on his personal assessment of the work's content, a 2010 Jefferson Muzzle goes to...Chicago Alderman James A. Balcer.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Education Fri May 07 2010

The Unhelpful Voucher Conversation

Megan Cottrell at True/Slant has decided that the defeated measure to create a pilot voucher program in Chicago has "doom[ed] thousands of poor children to an inferior education." This type of hyperbole, besides being indefensible, has helped make real reform of our schools impossible. No, defeating a voucher program proposed in a vacuum is not what is "dooming" anybody. One reason is that inside of an education regime with high-stakes testing that results in ham-fisted school closures and displacement and punishes rather than fixes problems in our schools, a voucher program only takes students more likely to succeed already out of the system, and--well, should we say "dooms hundreds of thousands of poor children to an inferior education"? No, I think that's too loaded.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Media Wed May 05 2010

Use Yer Hed Part!

So, this is "Larry the Cable Guy" when he was still Dan Whitney:

Which, when you think of it, makes Larry the Cable Guy a kind of working class white guy minstrel act.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (11)

Media Tue May 04 2010

Send You Over

I don't know--are you not supposed to just post something on a blog just to tell people to go read another blog for a minute? Is this going to end up on the PowerPoint slide of some social media SEO expert with big red circle and line through this? Probably. But whatever. I want you to go check out Progress Illinois for two things:

First, an exceedingly clever study that used wage garnishment data from the Circuit Court to compare the financial situation of comparable Big Box workers. Guess who fared the worst?

Second, PI is organizing a project to provide a dedicated forum for unemployed Illinoisans. This is brilliant. Only if we understand the material, real-world living conditions of the unemployed can we design a policy to address it. Help them get it off the ground, I know we have extremely bright and creative readers, from all walks of life and ideologies, and unfortunately, likely some who may be unemployed.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Apr 27 2010

Wobblies Return to Chicago

A new tenant has moved in to a street level office space on Irving Park. Driving past the office past dark, you can see a neon sign in the window that reads "IWW." On closer inspection a number of fliers and posters are tapped up to the windows, letting passer-by's know about upcoming rallies and benefit concerts. The Industrial Workers of the World have returned to Chicago, where under the leadership of a new General Secretary Treasurer, they hope to revitalize their organization and the labor movement.

The Industrial Workers of the World, or as they are often called, the Wobblies, were founded in 1905 in Chicago. The first industrial union, they allowed women, minorities, immigrants, skilled and unskilled workers to join. The IWW was always radical, calling for a society where "from each according to their ability and to each according to their need," was a reality.

The Wobblies led successful fights in the early 20th century, organizing seamstresses and lumberjacks and leading free speech fights throughout the country. However in the Red Scare of 1919, the wobblies became a target. Many members were deported, jailed or intimidated by the FBI. For decades the IWW was a shadow of its former self. The radicalism of the 1960's gave the group some life, but since then the IWW has remained a small group which many claimed resembled a labor history club more than a real union. That most members didn't even have contracts with their employers, but were individual dues paying members, didn't help.

However in the last decade the wobblies have watched their membership rolls increase. The 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization seem to have awakened a generation of young people to labor issues and the war in Iraq seems to have radicalized them.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (3)

Education Tue Mar 30 2010

Finkelstein Lecture Controversy

Norman Finkelstein was once a popular professor at DePaul University. He was on the tenure track and was publishing books critical of the occupation of Palestine and the use of the Holocaust to silence critics of Israel's human rights record.

Finkelstein was denied tenure in a dramatic confrontation, where Harvard law professor and torture apologist Alan Dershowitz lobbied DePaul and students supporting Finkelstein occupied the office of the President of DePaul for three days before being kicked out under threat of arrest.

Since that time, controversy has not failed to follow Finkelstein. He was set to speak at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Chicago on April 16 about his new book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

However, on March 24, event organizer Shirien Damra received a letter from the church.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Housing Tue Mar 30 2010

Reporter Editor Kimbriell Kelly Breaks Down the Housing Crisis

The Chicago Reporter's editor, Kimbriell Kelly, provided testimony to a joint state and city hearing convened by the Latino Policy Forum and Spanish Coalition for Housing yesterday detailing the Reporter's research on home foreclosure's in Chicago's neighborhoods. Kelly's testimony is a challenging reminder of the depth of the crisis and the long-term ramifications for Chicago's neighborhoods of dysfunctional financial regulations--and not just for homeowners, for renters, as well.

A small portion of her testimony follows; follow the link above, as the text provides links to sources:

Much of the foreclosure crisis that we're seeing stems from subprime lending. Back in November 2007, we broke a story that the Chicago metro area led the nation with the most high-cost loans. We analyzed millions of records from the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act and found that it was the third consecutive year that the Chicago area held this distinction. Minorities carried the greater burden. Combined, African American and Latino homeowners received nearly 50 percent of all high-cost loans in 2006 compared to nearly 22 percent of prime-rate loans.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Media Thu Mar 18 2010

Amy Goodman Speaks at DePaul

On Friday, March 12, Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!, spoke at DePaul University. She was one of the best speeches I have seen in a long time. She covered a range of topics; from the history of colonialism in Haiti, where she encouraged solidarity over charity; to the anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie and her parents civil suit against the Israeli military, to former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld's home which was the same home that abolitionist Fredrick Douglas and other slaves were beaten in.

Goodman spoke about the late historian Howard Zinn and how as a teacher at the historically Black Spellman College, he incited students to become active in the civil rights movement. His reward was to be kicked out of the school. However, 42 years later Zinn was asked to return to Spellman, where he gave a commencement speech and received an honorary degree.

Goodman then pointed out that, "Times do change. I hope time changes for DePaul too. I hope it takes less than 42 years for Norm Finkelstein to be invited back," which garnered applause. Goodman described Finkelstein's research as important. Finkelstein was a professor at DePaul who was denied tenure, after he raised controversy over Israel's human rights record in the occupied territories of Gaza.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Media Tue Mar 16 2010

KassWatch: Mob Watchin'

Kudos to John Kass for reporting on Outfit machinations that influence and corrupt public institutions. I mean that seriously; despite my intense dislikes of Kass' contrived folksy jus' folks columns, He is more or less the only mainstream reporter who regularly delves into the world of high-level organized crime and its interconnections to mainstream politics. His latest piece, marking the beginning of the "DeLeo era" in the 36th Ward--given the retirement of William Banks, the former Alderman, and the death of his brother Sam--is an eye opening one that reminds Chicagoans that despite the many body blows the Outfit has received, it is still alive and well and corrupting away.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Daley Fri Mar 12 2010

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Reader Scorned

Not long ago, Mayor Daley's press office unceremoniously denied the Reader's entreaties to sit down with them for an interview that might actually force him to answer some of their many, many pieces on his administration and its shortcomings:


We respectfully decline your request for an interview.

Thank you.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Thu Mar 11 2010

Congratulations to Progress Illinois

I count myself among the readers of Progress Illinois who goes there daily not just for the latest news but for an education, particularly around state government issues. PI's small, crack staff have shown great discipline in not only reporting the news but packaging news inside of a greater educational context, to give casual readers a background that makes the latest news more than just islands of facts but the logical outcome of processes and systems. So it was with great satisfaction that I learned that PI had been awarded the Studs Terkel Award by the Community Media Workshop. The awards ceremony was last night, and PI publisher Josh Kalven had some insightful things to say about the role of local and state political reporters:

That issue -- engagement -- is one I really want to emphasize. Every day, as I manage and write and edit at Progress Illinois, I think constantly about all those readers out there who are trying to make sense of the latest news cycle -- particularly in this crazy, opaque, often-disturbing political culture in which we reside. I'm referring to the type of folks of all ages who are uninitiated and uniformed when it comes to the local political narratives. And that lack of knowledge about the backstory leaves them alienated when faced with day-to-day reporting, which often assumes so much knowledge on the part of the reader. That alienation then breeds cynicism, which keeps them away from the rallies and away from the polling booth and away from conversations with their neighbors, keeps them from becoming engaged.

Congrats guys.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Cook County Board Sat Feb 27 2010

Ald. Preckwinkle at the Interview Show

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, who recently won the Democratic nomination for the Cook County Board presidency, will be appearing at the Hideout for Mark Bazer's Interview Show. Bazer's interviews are irreverent and typically hilarious, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the unperturbable Preckwinkle. Also there will be beer there. Here's Bazer's interview with local superstar chef Paul Kahan. See you all there!


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

Elections Tue Feb 02 2010

Don't Listen to What It Means

Ah, Primary Day--campaign staffers, in a controlled panic, fly around the city and suburbs responding to every rumor and wild-eyed report, impulsively counting and re-counting their pluses against the reports from precincts. Every poorly trained election judge is suddenly a master criminal/ward boss. And as the polls close and precinct workers start pulling tape, the campaigns send feelers out to the media to try to get a jump on the narrative that will set the tone for the general election. I loose-tooth-love Primary Day.

My advice to you: don't listen when they tell you "what it means." This isn't a maudlin media-sky-is-falling lamentation. Just common sense. Politics has always had narrative elements to it. In the time of strong ideological movements and parties, the narrative was just less important. Nowadays, it is everything. And much of narrative politics is a pretension that media experts are telling you what "people" are thinking--and who "Americans" or "Illinoisans" or "Democrats" really are--when in reality they are just instructing you on how to think. Constant discussion of narratives--"Will Black voters be offended by the Harold Washington ads?"--generates the attitudes that people adopt. It is a positive feedback loop.

By using anecdotes and plausible sounding rationales for voter activity--buttressed by often specious exit polling--media opinion makers come up with a story for why things are happening that excludes every important factor, and treat elections as sort if islands of activity divorced from day-to-day reality.

Narrative politics relies on a small, rapidly-cycling media establishment. Our elections turn into brand competition and Election Day into sweeps week. Strange categories of people are created--"NASCAR dads"--that act as characters in the story, albeit flat characters with impossibly singular motivations. We want to "have a beer" with George Bush--what? What the hell does that even mean? I don't know about "real" Americans, but generally I've wanted to have beers with smart, pretty girls; not millionaire recovering alcoholics. Before the media began this "meme" about people wanting to have a beer with this guy, who was saying they preferred him because they wanted to have a beer with him? It was a categorical created by flacks that then became a justification, not vice-versa.

My George W. Bush

But the most wonderful, representative product of this narrative manufacturing process came when GOP pollster Frank Luntz was accused of using actors for his TV focus groups that supposedly gave an insight into what "real Americans are thinking". It was a crystal clear moment that laid bare what much of the media establishment unwittingly does: not investigate root causes, but dictate story lines. Luntz is not interested in studying human behavior and attitudes, nor calibrating posturing to real-world impacts. Rather, in a consumption-focused society, he wants to sell you something, and the best way to sell people something is to convince them they need it.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jan 27 2010

Matt Taibbi on Chicago's Parking Meters

True/Slant blogger and Rolling Stones reporter Matt Taibbi wants to hear from you:

Any Chicago residents out there with some strong opinions on the parking meter issue? If so, I'd like to hear from you.

I'm also interested in hearing from people in Nashville or in any other city that is planning to sell off part of its infrastructure to help pay off the budget.

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Jan 26 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I wrote previously on this blog about the state of media in Chicago, specifically that branch of journalism that goes by so many names which I shall call public accountability journalism (see last section). With traditional media in the state of disrepair it finds itself, the civic-minded are in a fit over what will become of their beloved citizen watchdog.

My previous comments pointed the way to some exciting new ventures trying to fill that void in Chicago, a motley group of start-ups with interesting but uncertain business models. But there is another sublimity to the forsaken print newspaper that has to a debatable degree been lost in the bifurcated world of online media and it's seeming preference for niche publication. This idea, which is far from new or my own, I'll call the General Reader Principle.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster

Chicago Tue Jan 26 2010

Chicagoist Reporting on Front Group

Hey guys? Why don't bloggers do real journalism? Did you know the end of the world is coming because reporting is impossible to do from your pajamas in a basement? Cell phone reception is terrible in basements, and the footys on your pajamas make it hard to put on shoes.

Yet Kevin Robinson of the Chicagoist decided to not just swallow at face value the suspicious looking pro-Beast of Bentonville "community group" that is agitating for the super retailer to come to town--and which regularly sends commenters out and about to accuse everybody else of being outsiders who don't care about food deserts. He did some digging and voila--found that it was in fact a corporate front group. He also did all this while adhering to self-imposed ethical standards, too.

This revelation could end up undermining the company's claim to organic support for the duration of their fight to take over the Chicago retail market.

Go read Kevin's work, which I don't want to quote at length.


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)

Neighborhoods Mon Jan 25 2010

Digital Divides the Neighborhoods

Htun-Htun Thing (pronounced: toon-toon ting), a 16-year-old refugee from Burma, spent a recent Sunday afternoon chatting with friends online. His friends are in New York and Florida, Australia and Kuala Lumpur -- anyplace that has taken in members of the ethnic Chin population who have fled the country in the face of human rights violations. Communication is filtered through the standard QWERTY keyboard, so not only are Htun Htun and his friends connecting and preserving a sense of community, they're also becoming more literate, strengthening their written and spoken English with every keystroke, whether they realize it or not. He lives on the North Side of the city, in Albany Park, a neighborhood scattered with immigrant populations from Sarajevo to Seoul, and where broadband access is plentiful.

When Htun Htun was done talking to friends on Sunday, his 10-year-old brother Jacob used the computer to stream episodes of "South Park" online. Later, they used Google and YouTube to teach me about Burma and the Chin population there. Like most people reading this, they know how to search for and find information online.

But just a couple miles to the south, in Humboldt Park and Pilsen, the computer access and fiber optic networks that connect much of the North Side to the opportunities inherent in Web 2.0 dry up. Mexican-born Alfonso Vargas doesn't have a computer or an internet connection. More importantly, he doesn't see the benefit to be gained by having either. He travels from the Humboldt Park studio he shares with his brother and cousin to Truman College, in Lakeview, four days a week for English classes and works in a kitchen in the Loop. "The job is good," he says, "but I need something more. More hours, more money." He makes $8 an hour and found the job by walking the Loop and filling out applications; he has no idea there's a website of classified ads listing jobs by the hundreds, or that he could learn and practice English from his couch, saving on the bus fare to Lakeview.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (1)

Media Thu Jan 21 2010

KassWatch: I'm Against Politicians!

Sometimes, John Kass can make you forget why you so dislike his column. He can write a piece of deep empathy and feeling, with genuine concern for human solidarity and understanding of the human condition.

Then he drops an editorial deuce on you like today's ridiculous piece trying to draw a parallel between Scott Brown's electoral victory in Massachusetts and Illinois' upcoming election.

Of course, Kass isn't stupid; he's got a problem: Republicans ruled Illinois for a generation on and off, with an unbroken string of governors for about 20 years. You remember their last one, he went to jail after selling fugazi drivers licenses for campaign money, and a family died behind that. Also, "Barack Obama's Senate seat" that would serve in Kass' piece as the analog to Ted Kennedy's was held by a Republican six years ago. Oops.

Instead, Kass tries to duck that problem by saying that Massachusetts represented the Tea Party's power, but, uh, we need it here in Illinois against Republicans, too. Actually, Kass's piece is wholly incomprehensible. In his unending quest for Royko-hood, he wants to be seen as being against "da bums", but its clear he's a conservative of the unprincipled kind. He doesn't want to make clear who The Powerful are, because The Powerful are the big business corporate interests that serve as paymasters for both Democrats (sorry, Kass readers: I mean "Dumbocrats") and Republicans.

Go ahead, punish yourself:

What amazes me is that for months after Blagojevich was kicked out of office, the national Republicans didn't want to see the whole picture. Almost every evening, the cable networks would run a snippet of videotape to introduce their three minutes of BlagoHate. The tape showed Blago led to a podium by a rumpled fellow who looked like a political aide. The rumpled guy walked with his head down, yet attentive. The rumpled fellow's name? Denny Hastert, former speaker of the U.S. House, a Republican. And the networks never mentioned it. Since Tuesday night, the Massachusetts debacle has given establishment politicians the ability to see the future with the clarity of the damned. Whether that clarity makes it to Illinois depends on the voters. So which taste sensation will prevail when Illinois primary voters go to the polls Feb. 2? Will it be the Tea Party of Massachusetts? Or will Illinois voters continue to sniff, as the political class salivates over all that meat a' cookin'?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Wed Jan 20 2010

Twitter and the Chicago News-O-Sphere

Woke up on the couch I call bed the other day, rolled over and popped open my Mac. Email; check. Facebook; check. Grab some coffee, head back to couch. Twitter feed; new updates from @ChicagoCurrent, @WBEZ, @chicagonewscoop, not to mention the dinosaurs.

Checking my twitter feed in the morning is sliding comfortably into that sacred place once occupied by pouring over the broadsheets, grey paper no longer splayed out across the table, coffee in hand, trying awkwardly to fold the page back upon itself.

Continue reading this entry »

Danny Fenster / Comments (4)

Media Tue Jan 19 2010

Center Square Ledger Launches Today

Last year, political consultant and occasional Mechanics contributor Mike Fourcher and former Chicagoist, TimeOut Chicago, and current Playboy editor (though not strictly speaking a playboy editor) Scott Smith organized the Chicago Media Future Conference to help new and traditional media types get their bearings and at least begin to talk about what the media was going to look like in the future.

Fourcher may know: today, along with Patrick Boylan, he is officially launching the Center Square Ledger, "Your Definitive Neighborhood Guide to North Center, Lincoln Square and Ravenswood Manor".

There are some "microlocal" (or "hyperlocal" depending on your preference) political stories there: specifically about the heated Madigan-Steans state Senate race. As local politics bleeds out of the large media outlets, local media like the Ledger will be the only place to get verified "news" (as opposed to message board or forum gossip) about these kinds of street fights. At least, that's the thinking: the reality is that the Sun-Times and the Tribune haven't been covering these kinds of politics for years, and not without good reason.

Neighborhood papers have always existed, and always provided coverage of these local street level politics that are of interest to a pretty narrow group of people. But as reporting talent drifts away from the big institutions and spreads itself across the web, outlets like the Ledger may end up not only picking up where shrinking traditional political media left off, but actually creating something new: a new strata of good political journalism at a level of focus we've never really had, and infinite availability.

Ramsin Canon

Media Mon Jan 18 2010

CLTV Reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez Passes Away

Chicago and Illinois suffered a serious blow over the weekend with the loss of CLTV political reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez. He was the type of reporter with such a sharp mind and wealth of knowledge that he made you want to know more, do more, be better. Head over to Capitol Fax for reminisces and obituaries of a great reporter and wonderful human being.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Thu Jan 14 2010

Garrard McClendon Live Talking About Double Dipping

A few nights ago I appeared on Garrard McClendon Live to discuss the potential appointment of a local political operative tot he post of Chancellor of the City Colleges. The McClendon team seems to have a scoop there they're waiting to spring.


Ramsin Canon

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Dec 10 2009

Progress Illinois Tracks the Republic Windows Story

Progress Illinois does an amazing job of putting stories into context and efficiently providing background and history on stories. A great example is the yeoman's work they did in cataloging the progress (pun, kinda) of the Republic Windows and Doors worker occupation story, which broke a year ago.

Go read. Yullah.

Here's some video Mechanics got last year.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Media Wed Nov 18 2009

Grassroots Collaborative: Media On Living Wage Ordinance Was Skewed

The Grassroots Collaborative issued a report last week looking at mainstream print media coverage of the Living Wage Ordinance that was passed by the City Council and subsequently vetoed in 2006. The research was done in conjunction with the Community Media Workshop and media researchers.

The report, "Media Box Out," which Progress Illinois also covered, has three main findings:

1. Balance was lacking in representation;

2. Balance was lacking in content;

3. Balance was lacking in presentation of problems and solutions, or framing.

Essentially, the Collaborative argues that the policy ramification of the Living Wage Ordinance was reduced to the typical power-politics analysis of "unions versus business," ignoring the deeper issues of the effect of low-wage jobs in poor and minority communities, and disregarding the opinions of supporters of the Living Wage Ordinance where they did not fit into the pre-defined (by Mayoral forces) narrative.

The most troubling fact revealed by the study was that while 75 percent of those quoted in the articles surveyed were businesspeople or politicians, only 6 percent were community residents.


Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Tue Nov 17 2009

The Talking Mirror in the Sun-Times

Hey! Mechanics contributor and co-founder of the conservative satirical blog The Talking Mirror , Conor McCarthy, was featured in the Sun-Times yesterday! Look at that grin on Conor. Attaboy!

Do not sit in the seat of mockers," one Talking Mirror critic wrote, quoting Psalms 1, after Woodyard dared to mock contemporary worship music. "I never like this kind of humor when it's applied to the church or to the work [of the] Holy Spirit."

Couldn't resist.

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Nov 12 2009

Chicago Matters Series Comes to an End

The Chicago Community Trust announced today that it is ending its funding of the award-winning Chicago Matters public information series, which it sponsored in partnership with WTTW-TV, Chicago Public Radio, Chicago Reporter and the Chicago Public Library. The Trust will conclude its funding at the end of the year as it redirects $2.7 million toward basic human needs.

"Chicago Matters has provided the most rare form of new reporting - in-depth coverage of events from multiple points of view," said Elizabeth Richter, vice president of marketing and communications for the Trust, in a press release. "Chicago Matters has served the community well. The Trust is now looking at how to leverage our limited resources to work with those fulfilling core needs of our community in a time of crisis."

Reached by email, WBEZ Managing Editor Sally Eisele said, "Our commitment to public affairs reporting remains the same but obviously, I'm disappointed by this development. Chicago Matters is the type of journalism many of people in this community right now are concerned about saving. The end of this highly acclaimed series means the end of one of the most important local journalism projects in the region. For 19 years, Chicago Matters has been a forum for the exploration of key community issues through in-depth, insightful reporting across multiple platforms. Work produced for the series has won dozens of awards, including a Peabody award -- one of the highest honors in broadcast journalism."

The Trust isn't pulling out of funding media entirely. It has provided grants for "Arts Beat" on WTTW, Chicago Public Radio's Campaign for a Sound Future and, and the Chicago Public Library's Chicago Vision Project in the past two years. It also just awarded $500,000 in grants to 12 organizations, including Gapers Block, to spur growth and innovation in the city's media landscape.

The Trust is also partnering with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to develop a set of regional indicators to track the health of Chicagoland across a wide spectrum of measurements.

It's interesting to me that the end of the Chicago Matters series occurs just as the public affairs journalism arena is heating up. The newly launched Chicago Current and soon-to-launch Chicago News Cooperative are newcomers to the field -- both might have been fine new additions to the Chicago Matters partnership, possibly breathing new energy into the series as it looks ahead to its twentieth year. Instead the participating media outlets will be left to go it alone, now with fewer funds to produce journalism that in some years was only being done as part of Chicago Matters.

Andrew Huff

Media Thu Oct 29 2009

Thursday Watch Party: WFLD "Night Owl," or, Thank You, Internet

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Thu Oct 22 2009

Thursday Watch Party: Memory Lane with Harold

I've been working on a city-based research and organizing project for the last six weeks, and in doing so came across these amazing videos.

I remember when Harold Washington died. The sense of sadness over everybody. The television coverage. I remember it. I loved Harold, despite only being vaguely aware of what a Mayor even was. He was the grandfatherly face with the big smile on the TV. Also, he kind of looked like Ossie Davis.

Let's start with a young Walter Jacobson and a young Bill Kurtis throwing it to a young Phil Ponce (and a young Robin Robinson) the night Mayor Washington took control of the City Council, thanks to a run-off victory by a fiery 26th Ward aldermanic candidate named Luis Gutierrez.

More after the jump.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Oct 20 2009

Ken Burns v. Thomas Jefferson

Documentarian Ken Burns has been all over the place, promoting his beautiful new documentary on America's national parks, America's Best Idea. Part of his regular schtick in promoting what looks like an amazing documentary series has been to mention that while the idea in the Declaration of Independence ("All men are created equal") is a great idea, Jefferson actually meant (this is a direct quote) "All white men of property, free of debt." The national parks, Burns goes on to say, are the distilled spirit of that ideal set in practice. Thus why the national parks are "America's Best Idea."

Historians have made various excuses for Jefferson's owning of slaves, but none are wholly satisfying. That said, Burns' characterization of Jefferson's intentions is not fair or accurate. While Jefferson was definitely a hypocrite who couldn't square his idealistic Enlightenment radicalism with his very human weaknesses, Burns shouldn't irresponsibly put words in his mouth and motives in his heart.

The reason this quote stands out is because one of Thomas Jefferson's animating life experiences was the fact that basically from the moment of his maturation to his death, he was drowning in debt. This was not something that slowly built on him. He was in debt essentially his whole life; in fact, among the excuses historians make for his failure to manumit (free) his slaves was that his enormous debts would have essentially meant handing his slaves over to his creditors, who he feared would treat them no better. (This would not have stopped him from any number of other remedies, of course).

In any case, could Jefferson, who never uttered this phrase Burns keeps repeating ("white men of property free of debt") really have "meant" that the group of people created equal was a set that didn't include himself?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Media Fri Oct 16 2009

Josh Kalven on WTTW-Chicago Tonight

Check out friend of Mechanics and neighbor to me Josh Kalven of Progress Illinois discussing the state budget (along with Mechanics contributor Richard Lorenc's boss John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute) on Chicago Tonight:

Ramsin Canon

Chicagoland Thu Oct 08 2009

Chicago Metro 2020 Briefing Calls for Big Picture Answers

I had the pleasure yesterday, in between e-mail and a client meeting, to take in the 7th Annual lunchtime media briefing by Chicago Metropolis 2020. CM2020 is a non-profit organization originally established by the Commercial Club of Chicago "to promote long-term planning, better regional cooperation, and smart investments in the Chicago region and its people." The briefing, attended by a number of notables on the Chicago journalism scene, promised presentations on criminal justice reform; campaign finance limits; housing policy, early childhood education, and the Burnham Plan Centennial.

Adele Simmons, VP of the Burnham Plan Centennial, combined a general welcome with an overview of the mission of the Centennial, which is to carry on the legacy of legendary planner Daniel Burnham by focusing on innovative regional solutions for the Chicago metro area, saying, "The choices we make today will shape the future." While that statement might seem tautological at first, the emphasis was on bringing to the forefront of our decisionmaking the long-range, rather than short-term drivers.

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith

Media Thu Oct 08 2009

Thursday Watch Party: Star Fox in Iraq

War is hilarious. "Are you some kind of gay dog?"

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Daley Wed Oct 07 2009

Sun-Times Line of the Day

Without commentary on the content of the rest of the piece, the Sun-Times editorial board wins line of the day:

Mayor Daley said he wants the local cut of video poker money and will devise ways to regulate the devices.

No offense to the mayor, but given his parking meter debacle, our faith in the city's ability to regulate anything shaped like a box that takes your money is not exactly high.

Hyperspecific DIS!

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Oct 01 2009

Thursday Watch Party - Dawkins v. Colbert

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Dawkins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Smug, self-satisfied secularists everywhere (like myself) couldn't be more thrilled.

Ramsin Canon

Federal Government Tue Sep 22 2009

Open Internet

Keeping the internet free from corporate consolidation is critical to the future of or democracy. Obviously democracy was fine before the internet, but our means of communication with each other should stay as free as possible. Check out the new Open Internet FCC website.

Ramsin Canon

Media Tue Sep 15 2009

Ray Hanania's Radio Chicagoland


I'll be joining Ray Hanania at 8:04 AM today on WJJG-AM 1530 (or


Ramsin Canon

Media Mon Sep 14 2009

The Mechanics Round-Up

To catch you up on last week--crossposted from Chicago Now.

His Elective Majesty, Mayor Richard M. Daley, of Ithaka Chicago
  --Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It little profits that an idle Mayor,
 by this over-priced park, among these barren potholes,
match'd with a rubber stamp Council,
I mete and dole unequal laws unto a savage race
that hoard and sleep and feed and know not me.

Ramsin Canon

IL-GOV Sat Sep 05 2009

The Worn-Out "Flip-Flop" Charge

In the 1972 election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, the Committee to Re-Elect the President - or "CREEP" as some of us fondly remember it - ran an extremely effective attack ad against McGovern. The ad, internally titled "McGovern Turnaround," paraphrased McGovern's, stands on issues with his face facing one way, then would flip the visual around to show him facing the other way, while accusing him of taking a position more recently that seemingly stated the opposite. This was repeated for a number of issues.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Media Tue Aug 25 2009

Check Out Ray Hanania's Radio Chicagoland


After a few week hiatus I was back on Ray's show this morning, had a good time as always. I'll be appearing Tuesdays at 8am, and Josh Kalven of Progress Illinois will be on on Wednesdays. Check it out here.

Ramsin Canon

Aldermen Thu Aug 20 2009

Dumke v. Stone, Cf. Globetrotters v. Generals

Watch Mick Dumke of the Chicago Reader take on Berny Stone (50th) over the Parking Meter Privatization deal. By "take on" I mean "throw confetti from a bucket on," or "pretend to throw a basketball to with a string attached to the ball and the hand". (Via Whet Moser at the Reader.)

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Mon Aug 17 2009

The Coming Chicago News Vacuum

The following is a repost from Mike Fourcher's blog, Vouchification.

The increasingly desperate straits of Chicago's news outlets is already having an impact on what - and how much - news gets covered. More cuts are coming. In the next year we should expect a significant decrease in community and political news coverage in the Chicago area. Small start-up are trying to fill the gaps, but they lack resources and readership to make up the difference.

How is this happening?

Recent studies show 2008 newspaper advertising shrank 16.4%2009 television advertising will shrink 4.6% and online advertising to grow 13%. While online advertising is growing, its starting from a much smaller base than newspaper or TV. Newspapers sold $37.9 billion in ads last year. Online sold $3.1 billion.

Last week I reviewed the financial states of Creative Loafing, Inc. and the Sun Times Media Group. Although CLI is suffering, friends from the Chicago Reader assure me their paper remains profitable - despite CLI's debt. But STMG regulatory and bankruptcy filings seem to show that the Chicago Sun Times is the major money loser among STMG properties. It seems possible - even likely - that the Sun Times may not exist in 2010.

Earlier this year the Chicago Tribune's parent company, the Tribune Company, went into bankruptcy, burdened by $12 billion in debt created by Sam Zell's leveraged buyout of the company. Although recent news suggests Zell will be muscled out and the company will become the property of creditors - especially Deutche Bank - it seems likely that the new owners will be looking for ways to increase cash, reduce expenses, prepare the company for sale, or dismember it into parts for individual sales.

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Mike Fourcher

Media Thu Aug 06 2009

Phil Ponce + Urban Planning = Pleasant Morning Viewing

You're welcome.

Ramsin Canon

Media Wed Aug 05 2009

The Reader's Mick Dumke on Chicago Tonight

In just thirty minutes (and again at midnight), check out the Reader's ace political reporter, Mick Dumke, talking politics on WTTW's Chicago Tonight.

Ramsin Canon

Media Wed Aug 05 2009

Okay, I'll Give You That One

John Kass scores a good one.

In recent days, the job of bossing Chicago around hasn't been easy. Daley continues to push for his ridiculously expensive 2016 Olympics plan, while stubbornly refusing to make any reference to Chalkie, my favorite hypothetical chalk-outline homicide victim.

Chalkie. That made me laugh. Score one for Kass.

Ramsin Canon

Blagojevich Tue Jul 28 2009

Blagojevich Tell-All & Rich Miller's Glee

Talk about good things happening to a good guy. Disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich writes a book, reads it himself for the audiobook, and you could feel the warm mirth emanating from Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller's blog comments.

- Rich Miller - Monday, Jul 27, 09 @ 3:32 pm:

Notice that the book's price has already been marked down by one-third.

- Rich Miller - Monday, Jul 27, 09 @ 4:01 pm:

...But, I may buy the CD anyway in order to excerpt the best parts here. lol

- Rich Miller - Monday, Jul 27, 09 @ 4:16 pm:

Just pre-ordered the audio book. Ringtones for everybody!!!

It is truly Christmas in July, Mr. Miller.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Media Tue Jul 28 2009

The Tribune's Brass, Bawls

Tribune statehouse reporter Ray Long had a commendable piece in the Sunday Trib about how state cuts will affect the state's most vulnerable residents. To wit:

Illinois might have a working budget in place, but there is a broader story behind the numbers: Real people are hurting.

If they have not lost care, they worry the thin reed of stability provided by non-profit, community-based organizations will disappear without state support. Cuts at social service agencies are tearing holes into safety nets for the state's most vulnerable residents.

People who need medication are not getting it. Single parents are thinking about quitting jobs, unsure whether they can count on state assistance for day-care costs. Families that depend on counseling for mental health, substance abuse and other social ills are finding, at least in some places, they are out of luck.


Quinn has pushed for a 50 percent income-tax increase he said would better fund social services, but lawmakers have not agreed with him. Some opponents say the state should tighten its overall spending, and many predict a taxpayer backlash in the 2010 elections. Lawmakers are expected to consider a tax increase later this year, after they know whether they will face primary opponents in February.

Long's story highlights the fact that a government's budget is not the caricature of waste and hilarious programs that conservatives have fabricated. It is collective spending determined by the public. Yes, much waste and abuse is in there, too. But in highlighting that waste and abuse disproportionately, the right has made it all too easy to talk about "cutting spending" while disconnecting that from the human cost.

Kudos to the Trib for running a story proving that they know exactly what a shortfall of revenue leads to. Where were their editorials insisting on raising revenues to make sure they wouldn't have to run these human interest stories? Why wasn't the Tribune supporting an alternative, like Sen. James Meeks HB 174, which would have raised revenues to pay for these things (not that Meeks' plan is a cure-all)? Now that there's a budget deal and lawmakers have refused to face economic reality, the Tribune bawls for the people negatively impacted by the failure to raise a commonsense level of revenue?

Here's the Trib editorial board, July 8th:

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Daley Tue Jul 28 2009

Chi-Town Daily News on City Colleges Intimidation

No offense to my print journalism friends (may your Victrolas play joyous tunes) but reporting like this from the Chi-Town Daily News, who are covering the discrimination lawsuit at the City Colleges that implicates the administration in intimidation over personnel decisions, leads me to believe that democracy could potentially survive the death of ink. (Don't get me wrong--I love ink).

Here is staff writer Peter Sachs:

Last week, we reported that there was a culture of retaliation inside the City Colleges, citing the deposition of the district's former general counsel, now a circuit court judge. There's more to it.

Now that we've had time to go through yet more of the depositions, we find this:

"Non-African-Americans were easy to promote and were not punished as severely if they made a mistake, or if they did something that was not within procedures or the rules of the City Colleges."

That's Marnell Love, a former vice chancellor (read: high-level manager) inside the district's HR department, in his deposition in the Shaw lawsuit.

Speaking of promotions:

"I wanted to promote my employees who had outstanding records, and we had documented their performance ... and that they deserved to be promoted. And I had to promote other people that did not deserve it in order to get my promotions through, which, basically, I promoted everybody in the department."

Love goes on to talk about the tense work environment, festering upset over pay inequities, and infighting and feuding among some people in the HR department.

I've quoted too much. Please proceed and read.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Mon Jul 20 2009

Illinois Review: Everything Was Fine Until Cap'n Trade

Gotta love the Illinois Review. Did you know that all Americans were happily enjoying their rights, unmoved to protest, until the devastating day that Mark Kirk voted for Cap'n Trade:

Most Americans got along well for the more than two hundred years after independence without holding tea parties to protest the excesses of government. The election process worked pretty well, the branches of government power were balanced, and freedom was pretty much a given on Main streets. What changed things in 2009?

Indeed, those stable 200 years after independence, where no Americans felt any need to protest, were rent asunder by Waxman Markey. Only by this vote has freedom not been fairly distributed and "a given" for Americans.

Here's one good example of the kind of representation that brought 10th District voters out to protest in public. Only a few weeks ago 10th Congressional District Rep. Mark Kirk violated the trust of many of his constituents by voting in favor of the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade legislation in the House of Representatives. Kirk's was one of only eight votes that put the legislation over the top.

All kidding aside, the author ends on a note I think we can all agree with:

Today, I ask only that you give the state of Illinois the opportunity to have a careful and open discussion about the vitally important issues that will come before our new senator. Allow us an effective debate during our primary campaign by withholding your endorsement of any candidate until after the primary on February 20, 2010.

Competitive primaries are an important part of our democracy, and keeping the already stifling two-party system somewhat in check.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Media Sun Jul 19 2009

Midway Loses, Fatality.

Designers of the Mortal Kombat series, headquartered on the North Side, shutter their operation.

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Jul 16 2009

Contribute To Mechanics, Shut Me Up

Me: Blah, blah, blah. I'm so smart. Blah. Labor movement. Blah blah blah, pun, leftism, conservatives, blah.

You: Man, I could do much better than this fool.

Got a blog or opinions you can express meaningfully? Contact us (contact information at the bottom of the sidebar) and perhaps become a contributor to Mechanics. All opinions and ideologies apply.

Ramsin Canon

Media Wed Jul 15 2009

Drivetime Radio


Check out Josh Kalven, publisher of Progress Illinois, and me on Ray Hanania's morning show on WJJG-AM 1530, Radio Chicagoland, today at 8 a.m.

Ramsin Canon

Springfield Mon Jul 13 2009

AP Cites Progress Illinois' Budget Impact Tracking

Progress Illinois' effort to track exactly how the budget debacle in Springfield is impacting Illinoisans--both in number of individuals left unserved and number of private sector employees laid off--has gained lots of attention, and deservedly so. This effort at crowd-sourcing may just become the next tool for activists of all ideological stripes to document exactly what the state is doing and how it impacts you locally.

Progress Illinois, a website supported by the Service Employees International Union, is trying to track cutbacks at the organizations that state government uses to deliver services at the local level. As of Friday, it reported, 68 agencies had cut at least 1,420 jobs and halted services for nearly 13,500 people.

It is extremely easy (and, as is often the case with extremely easy things, wildly irresponsible) to just flog the putrid "wasteful government spending" horse corpse to win votes and sound like a good government watchdog. So it's important to make direct connections for people about what exactly we spend our money on, and how the constant assault on public goods and public spending ends up not only harming the disadvantaged but also, in the medium and long term, all of us (well, except the extremely priveleged who are never harmed by anything). At the same time, I imagine such a project flipped backwards (as with Chicago City Payments) could be a valuable way to highlight government waste where it does occur.

Ramsin Canon

Media Thu Jul 09 2009

Mechanics & Progress Illinois on the Ray Hanania Show


Progress Illinois has posted the audio from my and PI publisher Josh Kalven's appearance on Ray Hanania's morning show yesterday. Please note that the Lisa Madigan news broke about 20 minutes after our appearance. Yeah, I know. We'll be on every Wednesday at 8 a.m.

Ramsin Canon

Chicagoland Tue Jul 07 2009

Mechanics & Progress Illinois on the Radio

Tune in to Ray Hanania's morning talk show--WJJG 1530 AM, Radio Chicagoland--to hear me and Progress Illinois' Josh Kalven talk about local and state politics of the preceding week tomorrow at 8 a.m. We'll be on until 8:30 or 8:45, as part of a weekly feature. Josh has a pretty soothing voice and Ray is a comic, so there will be plenty to counter act my very limited wit and nasally, accent-y voice (also I have a nasty cold, so there's that).

Any issues you'd like us to talk about? Email me (email is below on the side bar) or comment here.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

News Fri Jun 12 2009

Iran ran ran ran ran, Iran ran ran.

I love democracy, don't you? I've been following the Iranian election pitting (primarily) Ahmadinejad (Bush) versus Mousavi (Anybody But Ahmadinejad) pretty closely. It's funny--the conservative Iranian elements are saying similar things to what the most conservative American elements were saying in 2004--the enemy wants the challenger to win because it'll make us weaker and more rife for takeover. A vote for Mousavi (Kerry) is a vote for the Americans (terrorists)! (Please don't construe that as a defense of John Kerry's shitty campaign).

I hope Iranians don't fall prey to fear mongering.

The Guardian (UK) has the best coverage.

5.10pm: President Obama said that his government was "excited" about the debate surrounding the elections, Reuters report. "Whoever ends up winning, the fact there has been a robust debate hopefully will advance our ability to engage them in new ways," he said.


Update: Voting has been extended for a third time, Reuters reporters. Polls will now close at 9pm (5.30pmBST).


Polling time has been extended until 8pm (4.30pmBST) AP confirmed, in another sign of the huge turnout.


The Ahmadinejad camp claims their man is winning.

"Based on the evaluation of Ahmadinejad's position he is ahead ... with 60% of the votes and we are certain that the election will end in the first round in his favour," Ali Asghar Zarei told Mehr News Agency, according to Reuters.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (5)

Chicago Tue May 26 2009

Why Does Media Matter?

iFC-8022I recently had the opportunity to go to a town hall meeting hosted by the Independent Film Channel (IFC) and listen to a panel of prominent journalists (pictured left, photo from IFC) discuss why media matters. The town hall meeting is part of IFC's pro-social initiative "Make Media Matter" which raises awareness about the vital role media plays in our lives, society and world.

In the wake of the economic crisis and political unraveling in Chicago, media is more important than ever. As Attorney General Lisa Madigan boldly stated in her introduction to the panel, "media makes democracy work; without it, who would hold the government accountable for their actions?"

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Kaitlin Olson / Comments (1)

Labor & Worker Rights Sat May 09 2009

UAW and Class Envy

Megan Mccardle is one of my least favorite bloggers, if by least favorite you mean it takes me hours after reading her to figure out exactly why I disagree with her. Mccardle is clearly not pro-labor (as she herself admits) and her coverage of restructuring and bankruptcy at Chrysler and GM clearly reflects her "liberatarian-ish" (her words) Booth school pedigree. What the government's role in the crisis of the automakers and who is to blame for their collapse is not a topic I'm 100% qualified to opine on, but what is interesting is what the frothy-mouthed language of those who would use the automakers' descent into receivership to bludgeon UAW and unions in general reveals about the politics of class in the US.

We're conditioned to think of class envy as a right-wing, anti-communist term, seeing it mostly in those of a lower station envying the accomplishments of their betters and turning to politics to take short-cuts to prosperity. The rhetoric around the "semi-skilled" workers of GM, Chrysler, and Ford making too much money reveals a class envy of another kind. It's the "I went to college, took a lot of math classes, and went to graduate school so I should make more than the assembly line worker who went to community college" kind of class envy. It's not fair that the beefy NASCAR fan from rural Ohio or African-American from Detroit (UAW is a heavily African-American union) can work 8 hours a day and earn a decent living while I work 16 hours a day calculating complicated capital flows. This kind of class envy is part and parcel of an economic philosophy that not only assumes that all wages are merely returns to human capital, but a specific kind of human capital, too. Learning firm-specific skills that allow (for example) blue collar autoworkers to become really, really good at putting together cars is less important than having some sort of general academic skill set that allows you to jump from job to job when you boss decides to downsize you to improve his company's stock price.

And so we of the creative, educated class are envious of those last vestiges of our parents and grandparent's generations, the ones who worked hard, built something tangible and not just played with words or numbers and got to come home at the end of a day and actually see their family. It's a shame so many of us have decided to take out our insecurity and envy on those workers.

Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (3)

Media Tue Apr 21 2009

Police Computers Were All Down For 24 Hours. Newsworthy? Apparently Not

Oy. Josh Kalven at Progress Illinois:

On Saturday, the Chicago Police Department's computer systems went down for a full 24 hours, according to the Second City Cop blog, which described the entire police force "reverting to paper arrest reports, paper inventories, no fingerprints, no photographs, no anything." The malfunction also apparently caused the lock-ups to "overfill," as those arrested on petty offenses weren't being processed at the normal clip. It's reasonable to expect that a prolonged computer "blackout" of this sort would eventually start draining the streets of police officers as more and more of them are stuck filling out hard-copy forms they haven't touched in years (if ever).

Seems like a story worth reporting on, particularly considering it's been less than a month since calls were found to be "disappearing completely" from the city's 911 emergency system.

So can you find a single news article on it? I sure can't.

Blogs 1, newspapers zilch.

Daniel Strauss

Media Sun Apr 19 2009

Without Investigative Reporters...

.. we may just be in big trouble. In the middle of an otherwise joy-inducing post (i.e the Celtics are in deep trouble without Kevin Garnett), Simmons writes this sobering paragraph:

There's a hidden sub-story lurking here: It involves the fall of newspapers, lack of access and the future of reporting, not just with sports but with everything. I grew up reading Bob Ryan, who covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe and remains the best basketball writer alive to this day. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, he was overqualified to cover the team. In 1980, he would have sniffed out the B.S. signs of this KG story, kept pursuing it, kept writing about it, kept working connections and eventually broken it.

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Jacob Lesniewski / Comments (1)

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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...

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