Gapers Block has ceased publication.

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


Wednesday, May 22

Gapers Block

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

The Mechanics

Election 2012 Tue Oct 16 2012

Demagoguing the Death of an Ambassador

Parts of the world are dangerous, and some professions are even more so in such places. It would be nice if politicians and commentators would use context to cool passions rather than fuel flames of outrage, Islamophobia, and jingoism as a result of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which ambassador J. Christopher Stevens died. Instead, I was struck, as I watched the vice-presidential debate last week, how the first question out of the box was angry demand for some sort of mea culpa on Libya, and I am still struck by how the event is still being exploited for political fodder, a meme we can expect to see continued.

The context that responsible leaders would provide is this: serving far from home has its risks even when the placement is a Paris or London, but the risks are greater when the host country lacks the stability or other amenities we take for granted, and doubly so when the US had a role in that instability. Chris Stevens was hardly the first diplomat to die, and he won't be the last. The US foreign service lists 236 people who have died in the line of duty. For decades, the greatest risks were of disease: yellow fever, cholera and the like took many lives of embassy personnel in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

Victor Stanwood, a diplomat murdered in Madagascar in 1888, might have been the first US diplomat to die unnaturally, but since the 1960s, most US consular deaths have been violent. Gunfire, bombings, and outright assassinations mix with an unusual number of plane crashes to account for most diplomatic fatalities.

It's ridiculous to blame one administration for this. We lost US ambassadors under Presidents Johnson (John Mein, Guatemala), Nixon (Cleo Noel, Sudan), Ford (Rodger Davies, Cyprus; Francis Meloy, Lebanon), Carter (Adolph Gubs, Afghanistan), and Reagan (Arnold Raphel, Pakistan). Nor does the US have a monopoly on this occupational hazard. Worldwide, hundreds if not thousands more have given their lives in the service of diplomacy.

What does stand out in the list of US foreign service dead in the past 50 years is how many of the incidents have been in countries where the US has intervened in a civil war, has actively bombed or sent troops, is conducting covert operations, or has been a participant, right or wrong, in the violence or strife that claims citizen-victims of the host country. The 1998 African embassy bombings stand out as exception but are also linked to US presence in the Middle East.

Worldwide, terrorism against American makes up less than 8% of all terrorist attacks; however, attacks on US personnel over the past 40 years account for over 28% of all attacks on diplomatic targets. As recently as July, 2012, an IED was detonated outside a US embassy in Libya, a country where the US actively participated in the overthrow of a regime, and where the State Department's own website advises of instability and violence throughout the country. While the US maintained that its role in the 2011 war was not regime change but to be an "interlocutor" for "genuine transition," the subtle distinction might be lost on survivors of US Tomahawk missile and drone strikes on Benghazi.

Chris Stevens's death was thus tragic, but not actuarially unpredictable. Likely only in America, where it seems all tragedy now requires recrimination if not litigation and legislation, would his death become fodder for political attack or Monday-morning-quarterbacking. The attending physicians say Stevens died of smoke inhalation. The fire apparently was started by a rocket attack. Having more security at the consulate itself would not have prevented the fatal fire.

Worldwide, the National Center for Counterterrorism shows that terrorism fatalities have actually declined every year that Barack Obama has been president. Still, to accept a post in a place like Libya, that was inflamed most of 2011 in a civil war, takes some courage, and to recognize Ambassador Stevens's courage requires agreeing that his posting carried risk, including risk of death. It is not at all clear that the so-called global war on terrorism has done anywhere near as much to reduce such risks as has disengagement from Iraq; worldwide, terrorism had a dramatic increase after the US invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq. Those two countries, along with neighboring Pakistan, a country with which the US is not at war but where the US has now also killed hundreds, became the locus of more than half the terror attacks in the world.

No one should demagogue the Libya incident and use it as excuse for further escalation of rhetoric or military action, a deeper plunge into a cycle of violence. Those who do are just making the job of the diplomats like Chris Stevens all the more difficult, and all the more dangerous.

Jeff Smith / Comments (1)

Obama Mon Nov 07 2011

Obama's 2012 Campaign Releases its First Commercial

The Obama reelection campaign released its first commercial, featuring 2008's Grant Park election night rally, on Saturday, one year out from the next election day. Titled "What if...," it ends with the crowds in Grant Park being erased, fading out to white text on a black screen reading, "One year from now all our progress could be erased." I'll leave it up to you whether you think much progress has been made.

Andrew Huff

Occupy Chicago Fri Oct 28 2011

Tariq Ali on the Arab Spring and #OccupyWallStreet

"Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution"

"Street Fighting Man," often hailed as the Rolling Stones' most political song, was allegedly inspired by Tariq Ali — political thinker, novelist, filmmaker and activist. Ali was involved in protesting the Vietnam war, and has written more than two dozen works of non-fiction and seven novels. Last night, he spoke at the Biograph Theater on the relation between the protests that resulted in the Arab Spring and the occupy movements that are spreading across the globe.

While he sees Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs as indication that "things are beginning to move" here in the US, he remains realistic — the occupations may not achieve the results the 99% want, yet are "creating a space" for something "totally different": for the realization that there is and must be an alternative to the "corporate capitalism" that rules what is effectively a one-party system. Democrat or Republican, the US government is comprised of what amounts to an "extreme center," in which politicians, when in power, wind up doing the same thing as their predecessor, regardless of party affiliation. And that one thing is simple: stay in the pockets of corporate capital, and stay in power.

Ali began his talk by pointing out how even the smallest beginning of a grassroots movement can have a global impact. When the Egyptians saw what the Tunisians had achieved — "not known for their political activities — they thought, "If they can do it, so can we." Those who ignited the Arab Spring were resoundingly doubted — no one thought they could do it. What the world witnessed during those months was not, certainly, unprecedented. Ali was clear that this had been brewing for three or four years prior to the eruption, as seen in factory strikes and demonstrations on a smaller scale.

The points here are two-fold: whether the occupy movements taking shape across the US and abroad would have happened at all without the impetus of the Arab Spring is doubtful, although possible in perhaps another form, and the occupy movements may amount to some of the "smaller demonstrations" that prefaced a larger uprising and true change brought about by Tahrir Square.

The Arab Spring and the occupy movements may differ in scale, but qualitatively they are very similar. The occupiers are railing against what they see as the "paralysis that has afflicted their politicians" and the "widespread disillusionment" in the wake of the Obama presidency. Obama (or at least the idea of him) who Ali cites as the "most inventive apparition the [American] Empire could develop," is little different from his predecessor. What the US got isn't change, it's "continuity with other imperial presidents before him."

At the end of the day, #OWS, #OccupyChi, and their brethren represent an opportunity, to which Ali really has only one thing to say: "Don't waste it."

If you missed last night's discussion, you can read more about his thoughts on the occupy movements and the Arab Spring here.

Megan E. Doherty

Obama Sun May 01 2011

How President Obama Is Going To Play Rope-A-Dope With Trump To Get Re-elected

By now most everyone is familiar with the Trump Presidential Show. His questions about President Obama's birth certificate as well as his questions about Obama's academic record have made him quality fodder for late night talk show hosts.

But after reading a Bloomberg Businessweek story about Trump here and then seeing President Obama have some fun with Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner, as well as C-SPAN cutting to a non-smiling Trump during the President's jokes about Trump, I realized that the President wants Trump to get into the race and is going to do things that will force Trump to get into the race. He is going to try and make it so Trump's ego forces him into the race.

Why? Because Trump running for the Republican nomination is going to end up being a scorched earth campaign. Trump would have to take hard shots at the others running, and would have the money to do it. In turn, the other candidates would have to do the same thing to Trump, starting a viscous circle. You don't have to be the ghost of Lee Atwater to figure out where Trump's weak spots would be with some conservative voters. So even if he were to emerge as the winner in the primary, I don't see an energized values-oriented voter base working hard to elect the married three times casino owner as president.

So in what would likely be a shortened Republican Primary calendar, you are going to have a bunch of candidates taking lots of shots at each other. So the winner emerges bloody and quite likely broke.

So, Mr. Trump, if you want someone else to be president besides Obama, don't run.

OneMan / Comments (6)

Obama Thu Nov 11 2010

Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President

Edward McClelland's Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President is an engaging account for anyone interested in the dynamics of personality and politics. Tracing Obama's steps from his first sojourn in Chicago as a community organizer to his post-Harvard Hyde Park return en route to the presidency, McClelland breezily tells the story of a singularly focused and immensely ambitious individual often itching for his accomplishments to catch up with his intellect. While Young Mr. Obama does carry a psychological portrait of the 44th President through biography, its main theme however is how the historic forces behind the power structures of South Side Chicago -- replete with its black elite and Hyde Park goo-goos -- created the conditions that would allow for the ascendancy of an African-American to the highest office in the land.

McClelland's ending to the first chapter, "And if Harold Washington had never been mayor of Chicago, Barack Obama would not have become president of the United States" pretty much defines the series of events that would transpire in providing Obama with the platform to grow into a political personality. Moving backwards in time, McClelland does a great job illustrating how the gerrymandering of Chicago's First Congressional District and the emergence of early 20th century black leaders such as Oscar DePriest and William Dawson established strong foundations for black leadership to emerge in Chicago and across Illinois, well before it became accepted elsewhere. Coupled with the "if-it-plays-in-Peoria" demographics of Illinois, the stage was long being set within the state for the emergence of not a national black leader (of which the city has produced many, most prominent being Jesse Jackson), but a national leader who also happened to be black.

Obama stepped into that role as a highly decorated and driven academic. An eager organizer, McClelland focuses on the pragmatism that led Obama to recognize he could have more sway on the inside of the political spectrum (i.e., dishing out money) rather than petitioning for it (i.e., begging for money). It wasn't a completely easy ride for the aspiring Obama, most vividly seen in his loss to Bobby Rush for the US House in 2000. From that loss, the Obama story has already reached epic and enduring myth, but the problems currently besetting his presidency mirror his defeat in 2000.

Derided as professorial and detached throughout the campaign, much like many of his detractors state today, Obama used his loss as a way to regroup his public face into becoming a reflection of the room in which he was speaking. Always a great orator of substantive ideas, Obama had to learn to be a great communicator. As he rebounded to run and eventually win the US Senate Seat in 2004, Obama increasingly was able to adopt a chameleon-like pose that allowed his hopeful constituents to invest whatever their best hopes, or otherwise, were in him. In a sense, this has followed Obama into the White House, where belief -- and not necessarily communication -- remains his strongest suit.

Ben Schulman

Chicago Tue Nov 09 2010

Chicago Assyrians Protest Iraq Attacks, Official Inaction

AssyrianRally1.jpgMore than 1,500 members* of Chicago's Assyrian community filled the plaza in front of the Thompson State of Illinois Building on Monday, Nov. 8, to protest the killing of 58 Christians in Baghdad a week earlier, during a siege of a church by Islamist militants and a subsequent storming of the church by Iraqi commandos. The march was dubbed the "Black March" because of the decision by the protestors to wear black. Pre-made and hand-lettered signs carried slogans such as "Stop the Killing of Christians" and "Cheap Oil - Precious Lives."

Continue reading this entry »

Jeff Smith / Comments (3)

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

Pop Culture Mon Nov 01 2010

The Neo-Futurists' New Obama Portrait

Neofuturists Obama Presidential Portrait UnveilingThe hallway into the interior of the Neo-Futurarium in Andersonville is known as the Hall of Presidents, and it has just undergone a renovation in anticipation of the unveiling of the official portrait of our latest president, Barack Obama. On Thursday, Oct. 28, the theater held a gala to announce the winning portrait out of a field of 32, and to auction off the rest as a fundraiser.

The winning portrait, "Magnetic Personality" by Jen Ellison & Dave Stinton, is an oversized "Wooly Willy"-style game featuring Obama's face and the legend "Yes you can -- add hair and mustaches with this magic wand" below a caricature of the 44th president. Small examples of hair configurations show Obama as Abraham Lincoln, an angel and Hitler, a witty commentary on the wide range of opinions people have of him.

The portrait took its place this weekend in the Hall of Presidents, just inside and on the left of the door.

Andrew Huff

Elections Sun Oct 31 2010

Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama Photo Essay

Democrats rallied on the Midway Plaisance in Hyde Park on Saturday evening for the "Moving America Forward Rally with President Barack Obama." The estimated 35,000 attendees heard performances by Chicago rockers Dot Dot Dot and hip-hop artist Common, as well as speeches by a variety of officials and citizens, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senator Richard Durbin, State Treasurer and US Senate Candidate Alexi Giannoulias, Governor Pat Quinn, Alderman and Cook County President Candidate Toni Preckwinkle and -- of course -- President Barack Obama.

A photo essay of the event by David Schalliol is below.

David Schalliol / Comments (2)

Chicago Mon Oct 04 2010

It Seems Running for Mayor of Chicago...

Is national news right now, considering that a hometown man just so happens to be President of the United States. Also his now former chief of staff has recently announced a run for mayor of America's third largest city.

You saw a video of him announcing his candidacy for mayor here yesterday.

However, you had to know a story such as this would come up, right? (Hat-tip Instapundit)

But an Emanuel spokeswoman, Lori Goldberg, confirms that the video itself was actually filmed in Washington, D.C., in the offices of AKPD Message and Media, the firm founded by David Axelrod.

The fact that Emanuel's use of the word "here" wasn't accurate is an amusing footnote to what Illinois lawyers say may be a serious legal problem: Rivals are challenging Emanuel's residency, and his right to run will hinge on where his "home" actually is. Emanuel didn't respond in detail Monday to a question on the subject.

How big a legal problem this is remains unclear, and may wind up in court. It is not, in any case, an ideal subject for the launch of his campaign.

As most us know by now he was home in Chicago today, even stopped by Izola's in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood.

Also, check this out: in Merge, a link to a Sun-Times article with regards to questions about Emanuel's residency.


Education Mon May 03 2010

The Education Revolt: The Chicago Model's Fallout

Teachers, parents, and students are not happy at Chicago's education leadership--there is mounting frustration with the Board of Education, the CPS bureaucracy, and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) leadership. As President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan take the Chicago model of slow-burn privatization national, Chicago may just be seeing a full fledged revolt against it. With the recent revelation that there are now no educators among the CPS' top leadership, scrutiny of a reform program dominated by entrepreneurs and private interests (including a Board of Education stacked with financiers and real estate developers) is likely to sour people further.

Teachers, Parents, and Students, Oh My

Chicago's teachers are angry; but that matters less than the fact that even more are discouraged, leaving the profession, burning out and warning the next generation away from teaching all together. Teachers have been under a full assault by corporate interests and the disingenuous reformers they underwrite for decades, and this assault has only intensified since the election of Barack Obama to the White House and the elevation of former CPS CEO Arne Duncan to the top of the Department of Education. Obama and Duncan have undertaken to bring Chicago-style education reform to the level of national policy, without any evidence whatsoever that that reform works.

The (arguably illegal) Race to the Top program, which embodies Chicago Renaissance 2010 model of school turnarounds, privatization, and "pay-for-performance" incentives, is just getting underway, and teachers around the country are finding out, too late, that Obama et al are hostile to public educators.

But here in Chicago, where the method to this madness was born, teachers and parents are organizing revolts to protect their schools. Unhappy teachers are lining up to challenge a union leadership they characterize as ineffective or accommodationist and an insular Board of Education, as parents and students are fighting to keep their schools public and democratically controlled. And what happens here, at ground zero of school privatization, could presage what happens nationally as the federal government tries to strong arm school districts into dismantling their public schools; a policy instituted as a sop to "centrism" could end up sparking a serious fight in the moderate liberal wing of the Democratic Party as urban community groups and teachers union factions resist.

That's Why There Will Be a Change

The Chicago Teachers Union is in the middle of a bruising factional fight as union elections approach in May. Several caucuses are vying for leadership by running slates to unseat the current ruling caucus, the United Progressive Caucus (UPC) and CTU President Marilyn Stewart. The gentlest of the criticisms against the UPC are that they are inept, unable to effectively advocate for teachers and students; the more stinging criticisms allege outright accommodation by union leadership of the Board of Education (and, by proxy, Mayor Daley). Whatever the various grievances, there is undoubtedly frustration among teachers that they are being vilified and left hung out to dry with little support. Teacher activism is as high as it has been in years, and that activism is a direct result of the privatization policies of Renaissance 2010 and the inability of the CTU--under different administrations--to halt those policies.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (6)

Immigration Wed Apr 28 2010

Calling For End to Deportations, 24 Arrested in Broadview

A group of 24 Chicago religious and community leaders were arrested as they blocked a bus carrying immigrants on their way to deportation from a detention center in Broadview this morning.

A crowd of about 150 held a vigil near the center's entrance that began last night. Labor, community, and religious groups repeatedly denounced the deportations carried out behind them, Arizona's tough new immigration bill SB 1070, and what they described as President Obama's inaction on immigration reform.


Continue reading this entry »

Micah Uetricht / Comments (2)

Education Wed Mar 24 2010

Big Bill Thompson, Clout Lists, and Local Control

Arne Duncan is a disaster. His model for school improvement (e.g., "privatize it") is a failure, as even former staunch supporters of charter-focused reform like Diane Ravitch are realizing:

If this plan is enacted as proposed, it will eventually become just as toxic as NCLB. Only we won't know it for another five years or so after the evidence of devastated schools and communities has accumulated.

It's not too late, Secretary Duncan, turn back and offer a helping hand, not a death sentence. Send help, not a firing squad.

Now a story is gurgling in the local press about former Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan's involvement in clouting kids into better schools. Duncan hasn't responded to the report, as I could find, but the evidence is fairly damning that Duncan exploited the discretionary powers of magnet and selective-enrollment school principals to admit kids outside of the usual channels. (Consider this psychic fuel in our on-going quest to have Arne Duncan justify his existence).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Health Care Fri Mar 19 2010

Health Care Forum Highlights Debate Within the Left

On March 9, the same day that activists rallied in Washington DC to demand health care reform by making 'citizens arrests' of insurance company CEO's, a forum at the University of Illinois in Chicago School of Medicine showed the debates in the Left about whether or not the bills being proposed and voted on by Congress are worth being called reform.

Organized by the Chicago Single Payer Action Network, the featured speaker was Dr David Scheiner, who was President Obama's family doctor for 22 years.

While it was not billed as a debate, opinions about the bill came out. The big issue seems to be whether or not the health care bills in Congress would be an incremental step towards a universal single payer system (medicare for all), or simply a bailout for insurance companies.

Dr. Scheiner is one of the few doctors in the Chicago area who still does house visits and is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. Scheiner simply stated, "I last saw [Obama] last 2 ½ years ago. Since that time, over a hundred thousand Americans have died due to lack of health insurance."

Dr. Schiener was deeply critical of the right wing and the present health care system, "one of the things you hear Republicans saying, 'you don't want government between you and your patient.' Medicare has never interfered with me... you can't get around the insurance companies. They're sitting in my room, the insurance representative is there telling me what tests I can get, what doctors I can send them to, what prescriptions I can give."

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski

Obama Wed Feb 24 2010

Obama May Come Home For Reelection Campaign

Mike Allen reports in his daily Playbook e-mail that President Obama wants to stage his reelection campaign from Chicago:

Top sources say they will be surprised if the headquarters is not in Chicago, which will always hold a certain magic for the president and first lady Michelle Obama. Obama for America senior staff felt there was a huge advantage in having distance from insiders in Washington who were constantly giving advice and asking for things. And Obama advisers see the advantages George W. Bush reaped by basing his original campaign in Austin, giving it a beyond-the-Beltway aura. 'We were able to focus on nothing but the campaign,' said one Obama for America veteran who plans to saddle up again. 'We didn't play the inside-Washington game, and that's a huge piece of who we are.'

Allen's story on Obama's early reelection plans is here.

Daniel Strauss

Chicagoland Thu Jan 14 2010

Chicago Education in Danger of Being Parking Metered

"They never thought of the children first," Lillie Gonzalez exclaimed to several hundred people's applause at Malcolm X college. The small, but feisty, Latino community activist was speaking at the Democratic Alternatives to Renaissance 2010 conference organized by the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) on January 9, 2010. Gonzalez was "one of the lucky ones," who was able to stop the closure of Peabody Elementary School in 2009 in Chicago's Near West Side. The planned closure of the more than a century old school was a part of Renaissance 2010, Chicago's program to privatize its public schools.

"Renaissance 2010 and 15 years of mayoral control are 15 years of failure." Explained Kenwood Community Organization organizer Jitu Brown. Describing the conference, Brown stated, "we want to begin to project what we think should happen in our schools... Our vision, not a corporate vision."

President Obama's appointment of Arnie Duncan to the Secretary of Education made the conference particularly important. "The first thing that Arnie Duncan did as US Secretary of Education is fly to Detroit and promise Detroit Public Schools major federal funds if they were to adopt the Chicago model," Pauline Lipman, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, explained.


Lipman pointed out that, "Renaissance 2010 is a partnership between Mayor Daley and the most powerful financial and corporate leaders in the city. What is their goal?" she asked before answering "to train a low wage workforce and to support real estate development. That's their education agenda. Their strategy is to hand public school to private operators, undermine the teachers union, phase out local school councils, the only democratic community voice we have, and replace neighborhood schools with selective enrollment schools and gentrifying neighborhoods."

"They have a long term plan. If they don't kick you off this year, they will pick you off next year." Lipman explained.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Obama Wed Dec 09 2009

Treating the President Like a Punching Bag

Hey there. I was thinking, you know what are powerful things? Words. Glenn Greenwald recently wrote a piece chastising those who "blindly" follow the president. Specifically, he criticizes those who are threatening to "leave the Left" due to the amount of "beating up" the President receives from critics on the Left like Greenwald and David Sirota. Greenwald compares personality-based affection devoid of a policy basis for Obama to the sort of identity-politics adoration Sarah Palin receives from a segment of the right wing. One of the comments on Greenwald's piece read in part,

Oh no, how dare Virgil not hold the One True Correct View of Obama, which is that he is no better than Bush! How dare she form opinions based on what she has read (in the blogosphere) and what she has seen (of Obama)? I suppose that just makes her an unthinking Obamabot, doesn't it?

Get used to this, because it's going to happen a lot. There are a lot of liberals out there who, even if they are disappointed with some of Obama's policies (see, for instance, Joan Walsh), don't think he deserves to be treated like a punching bag.

This guy knows that President Obama is the president right?

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Obama Thu Dec 03 2009

Taibbi on Obama Finance Reform Sellout


UPDATE: Just want to add that Taibbi gives Rep. Luis Gutierrez a nice shout-out in the above video.

Ramsin Canon

Chicago Tue Dec 01 2009

Obama Needs to Be the Big City President

I remember when everybody was swooning over our first cosmopolitan "big city" president, who was going to "get" big city issues. Chope hange.

Now mayors are pointing out that the stimulus package was supposed to help cities avoid this nightmare scenario. During the bill's conception, mayors stressed that a state-focused stimulus would bring slow, inefficient results, and that more jobs could be created if money were funneled directly to urban areas. In a report issued last winter, the U.S. Conference of Mayors listed more than 15,000 "ready-to-go" projects that could provide 1.2 million new jobs in just two years.

So what happened, exactly? "I think we were listened to," says Stamford, Connecticut, Mayor Dannel Malloy, who will run for governor of his state as a Democrat in 2010. "I just think we were then ignored. And I don't think we were necessarily ignored by the president. I think we were ignored by the Congress." Vice President Biden, the stimulus sheriff, has echoed this explanation. In a September speech on the stimulus, he lamented that "Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the governors should have a bigger input."

But the White House can't blame this shift entirely on Capitol Hill. Biden, Emanuel, and other administration officials spent late nights and much political capital shaping the finer details of the stimulus package in ways that thrilled states but disappointed cities. As Brookings scholar Thomas Mann has observed, "Obama's hands were all over this bill from start to finish. ... The nitty-gritty legislative work identifying where and how these decisions could be implemented ... was done in Congress with the direct participation of key Obama administration staff."

Ramsin Canon

Education Wed Nov 04 2009

Arne Duncan Is Unqualified Case File: Militarization

Andy Kroll reports on how Arne Duncan forged the most militarized school district in the country.

Yet a closer investigation of Duncan's record in Chicago casts doubt on that label. As he packs up for Washington, Duncan leaves behind a Windy City legacy that's hardly cause for optimism, emphasizing as it does a business-minded, market-driven model for education. If he is a "reformer," his style of management is distinctly top-down, corporate, and privatizing. It views teachers as expendable, unions as unnecessary, and students as customers.

Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan's belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago's school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he's started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.

Rather than handing Duncan a free pass on his way into office, as lawmakers did during Duncan's breezy confirmation hearings last week, a closer examination of the Chicago native's record is in order. Only then can we begin to imagine where public education might be heading under Arne Duncan, and whether his vision represents the kind of "change" that will bring our students meaningfully in line with the rest of the world.

Yes, I added double emphasis, because it says middle school. Twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. Thanks, Arne.

So, President Obama, why did you make this man our chief educator? For his track record of militarization?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Obama Thu Oct 08 2009

Thursday Watch Party: The Guy from Trenchmouth Disses the President

...and HARD. (That's right, Trenchmouth, from Achtung Chicago! Zwei).

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Obama Thu Oct 08 2009

Thursday Watch Party: I Know You're Busy, Mr. President...

...but, boo-hoo for you, you're the one who ran for President. You weren't doing us a favor when you did that.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon

Olympics Mon Sep 28 2009

An Open Letter to Barack Obama: For the good of Chicago, don't go to Copenhagen.

Dear President Obama:

This summer has not been easy for many people who reside in Chicago. As the city entered into the final leg of competition for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Chicago citizens witnessed cuts in services, and city employees were forced to take furlough days to balance the budget. At the same time, many state programs and jobs were slashed.

While funds were nowhere to be found for basic services, the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois lined up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds for the 2016 Olympics.

A recent WGN/Chicago Tribune poll found that less than half of Chicagoans support the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, and that 84 percent were opposed to using tax revenue to cover any losses incurred. Only recently did the Chicago 2016 bid committee make any effort to engage the community in citywide meetings where it was evident that many in Chicago had deep concerns about hosting the Olympics, including the potential for cost overruns and resident displacement.

As a longtime resident of Chicago, you are well aware that in this city, cost overruns and delays of large civic construction projects go hand in hand.

Continue reading this entry »

Bob Quellos / Comments (12)

Education Mon Aug 24 2009

Obama and Duncan: Unanswered Questions

When I appeared on the 848 "Month in Review" on WBEZ last month, I made a comment that I heard a lot about afterwards: that Arne Duncan appeared to have no qualifications to run the nation's schools. I followed it up with a joke that the only qualification appeared to be that he used to play basketball with the President. You can listen to my appearance here.

Looking now at the increased news coming out that the CPS is in bad shape and made essentially no progress under Duncan's leadership, I think that point is made more serious. Why did President-Elect Obama choose this man to run the nation's schools?

If it is because Duncan had supposedly achieved such great progress with the Chicago Public Schools, then the President has to answer for why he failed to perform his own due diligence in evaluating potential picks.

This is not based solely on the research by the pro-privatization Civic Committee of the Commercial Club. More and more research is coming out:

Former CEO Arne Duncan often said that a key to creating the best urban school district in the country was to improve long-failing high schools. But Duncan's broadest, most expensive effort, called High School Transformation, sputtered in implementation and has failed to spark significant improvement, according to an evaluation released Thursday.

Granted, this information is just coming out now. But if President Obama was truly seeking change and was as in touch with the neighborhoods as he claimed to be (skinny kid community organizer from the South Side, right?) why didn't he know what every parent and every teacher knows: that the CPS privatization efforts were doing little to help students and schools?

If it is because Duncan was such an aggressive pursuer of Renaissance 2010 and the school privatization effort, why didn't the President say so? Even during his confirmation hearings Duncan was noticeably unwilling to give specifics. Given the criticism Obama was getting at the time from the left for importing much of the Clinton-era economic minds, it would have been risky to come out and say, "Privatize American education the way Duncan tried to do in Chicago."

The skeptical person could conclude that it isn't Duncan's supposed "new approach" to school reform--an approach that all evidence shows failed conclusively--that prompted his choice, but perhaps his ability to mask failure with corporate-speak laced "initiatives" that give liberals the sensation that schools are "innovating" and provide a good bulwark against criticism from teachers' union and public school advocates.

That would be the skeptical person. I'm going to give the President the benefit of the doubt and say that it was because they played basketball together.

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

National Politics Sun Aug 09 2009

Capitulation or Savvy?

Over at the Huffington Post there is a painful post up about President Obama's changes in his positions on health care negotiations. Most damning:

Capitulation to special interests? Or "political intelligence" that will get some form of health care reform through?

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Obama Fri Jul 24 2009

A Few Instances Where President Obama Has Broken, Despite Being From Chicago


Cheney Obama refuses to release visitor logs showing which energy health care company executives visited the White House.

Late Update: It's an especially painful continuation of Bush policies since candidate Obama promised to let CSPAN in to cover the creation of a health care bill and his campaign website still promises transparency in meetings between White House staff and outside interests.


This is what the gay community wants from President Obama. Leadership on our issues, leadership on his campaign promises. Not a simple reiteration that he will support the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of ENDA should Congress decide to ever get to it, but rather, as the president has now recognized with the health care reform debate, America wants him to lead the debate over these issues. America wants him to recognize that he has the ability, and the imperative, to lead.


An important new report (.pdf) was released today by Human Rights First regarding the overwhelming success of the U.S. Government in obtaining convictions in federal court against accused Terrorists. The Report squarely contradicts the central claim of the Obama administration as to why preventive detention is needed: namely, that certain Terrorist suspects who are "too dangerous to release" -- whether those already at Guantanamo or those we might detain in the future -- cannot be tried in federal courts. This new data-intensive analysis -- written by two independent former federal prosecutors and current partners with Akin, Gump: Richard B. Zabel and James J. Benjamin, Jr. -- documents that "federal courts are continuing to build on their proven track records of serving as an effective and fair tool for incapacitating terrorists."

Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Olympics Wed Jun 17 2009

Mr. President, Please Stay Out of This One

Lynn Sweet reports that the President is putting the "White House's muscle" behind the Bid Committee's efforts to bring the Olympics to Chicago. My position on the Olympics coming here ("don't") is well known. I understand his intentions--or the intentions of senior staffer Valerie Jarrett, who received a lobbyist waiver to spearhead the efforts of the Bid Committee--but this is one issue the President's office should not involve itself in. If I may:

You've got bigger fish to fry, Mr. President. Please don't spend taxpayer dollars and political capital to force this organized land grab on the residents of Chicago.

Practically speaking, you probably want to stay the heck away from this one, sir, with all due respect. If Chicago does get the Olympics, there is almost no chance that there won't be a scandal. I know I've said that before, but given the last twenty years of Chicago's history, how likely is it that billions of dollars of contracting and land deals will take place at the direction of City Hall, and there won't be a scandal? These people can't rent a U-Haul without the Sun-Times uncovering a scandal. You've made transparency a guiding principle of your administration. Back home, the federal government has to convince elected officials to flip, because concealed microphones are the only way to get information about what elected officials are actually doing. Think about that. Maybe instead of "Imagine" the Bid Committee's slogan should be, "Chicago...the OpaCity".

And most of the land deals and permitting and contracting and displacing and privatizing will be happening literally blocks from your house, Mr. President. Do you really think you and the top tiers of your staff won't be tied to the lede in every single "Another Chicago Olympic scandal" story? Do you want to move back to a South Side that has been radically and painfully altered by displacement, the working class and working poor residents between your home and the Loop hounded out by skyrocketing prices, speculation, eminent domain, and, eventually, a small army of private security personnel deployed for months at a time?

The Bid Committee has a right to make their case, as we the people have a right to make our case. Don't lend the weight of your name and your office, or of the public purse, to either side. It wouldn't be right, or fair.

Ramsin Canon

Labor & Worker Rights Mon Jun 15 2009

Congress Hotel Strike Enters 6th Year

One of my very first posts on Gapers Block (awwww) was about the Congress Hotel workers going on strike ("The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (Local 1) is still on strike, dragging out a fight with the Congress Hotel (Congress and Michigan) that started in early June."). Gapers Block is celebrating our 6th year anniversary this year. That's right--the Congress Hotel strike has become the longest hotel strike in the history of the United States, with even the President making an appearance on the picket line (when he was a US Senator). Today is the anniversary picket.

Because I'm a worldly man, I have a subscription to the "number one Jewish newspaper" in the country, The Forward. They had a fascinating piece last week about how the Hotel strike has split the Jewish faith community in Chicago:

This fight, though, has taken on its fiercest and most unusual form within the city's Jewish community. The hotel is controlled by Albert Nasser, a wealthy Jewish philanthropist with residences in Geneva and New York. To run the day-to-day operations at the Congress, Nasser brought in Shlomo Nahmias, an Israeli-born businessman who has put up mezuzas on the hotel's doors and won public support from his Orthodox rabbi for the hotel's battle with its striking workers.

"You do not find in Chicago one hotel that has mezuzas on every door," Nahmias told the Forward proudly in a short interview in his office, just upstairs from the lobby.

Nahmias's foe -- the local branch of the hotel union Unite Here -- is itself led by a longtime Jewish labor leader who put a young Jewish organizer in charge of the strike when it first began. Since then, the workers -- most of them immigrants from Latin America -- have received growing support from Jewish communal organizations and rabbis around the city, who have criticized the conduct of the hotel's management. Just this spring, a high school student who had learned about the strike through his synagogue convinced his school to move the senior prom from the controversial hotel. The strike has become the clearest available case study in the conflicting ways in which Jews approach labor issues today. It is enough to leave some of the workers in the middle of it thoroughly confused.

Will you join the Congress Hotel workers on the picket today, and show your support for Chicago's service workers?

Ramsin Canon

Illinois Mon Jun 08 2009

Schakowsky Out of Senate Race: Giannoulias Clearing the Field?

Given how much Schakowsky has flogged her early support of now-President Obama, I wonder if his close relationship with state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the other prominent Dem candidate (besides the--supressed chuckle--incumbent) weighed on her decision? Having months of leaked quotes stating that President Obama preferred his former basketball buddy would surely be humiliating. That is 100% speculation--I'd bet the President will avoid getting involved in any public way. But this is home state and his former seat; how absent can he really be?

UPDATE, 6/9: After getting some feedback from readers, my speculation doesn't seem to be the case. An interesting argument was made that, in fact, spots in Alexi Giannoulias' record--the Broadway bank loans to shady characters--could be a headache for the administration or state Democrats. That stuff was hashed through in '06, but obviously given the intervening humiliation of a Democratic governor getting indicted, it could have new teeth. In any case, the prospect of facing two immensely rich dudes (Chris Kennedy and Alexi) is more logically the overwhelming reason for Rep. Schakowsky's decision.

Ramsin Canon

National Politics Wed May 20 2009

Congressman Jackson Can Keep Our Lake Healthy

The "Healthy Lakes, Healthy Lives" campaign wants you to call 2nd District Congressman Jesse Jackson, who has decent seniority on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and ask him to support President Obama's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

The campaign provides "5 Reasons Why Congressman Jackson should support" the initiative. I don't doubt that our readers will have several reasons why they think he shouldn't; and I think the number one reason will rhyme with "bexploding neficits".

1. Rep. Jackson's Congressional district, the Illinois 2nd, includes the Grand Calumet River Area of Concern (AOC) - a place designated by the EPA as especially toxic and need of cleaning. Factories long closed have left a legacy of disgusting and dangerous pollution in the district and its water, including PAHs, PCBs, heavy metals, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, magnesium, volatile solids, oil and grease. Cleaning these toxins up will benefit the health and quality of life for all families in the area.

2. Full funding of restoration programs can bring those much-vaunted "green collar" jobs to the district. This includes both blue-green collar jobs updating sewer systems and directly cleaning toxic areas, and also white-green collar jobs in the science of restoration and wildlife management.

3. With the area's manufacturing economy all but dead, neighborhoods in the district are placing the lakefront and natural areas at the forefront of long-term economic development plans. Great examples of this are the green initiatives included in South Chicago's Quality of Life Plan and the ongoing recovery of the giant U.S. Steel South Works brownfield. Restoration funding would give these projects a boost and raise their chances for success once completed.

4. It's no secret Rep. Jackson has aspirations for higher office - telling outdoors enthusiasts how he helped save the walleyes they catch on fishing trips might help him win downstate communities in future Senate or statewide campaigns.

5. As a long time ally and fan of Barack Obama, who proposed the $475M Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and a Congressman who likes to fish and hunt with colleagues, Rep. Jackson is well suited to take up the torch in the House and bring his fellow Appropriations Committee members on board with The President's plan.

This initiative sounds like a good idea, but I don't know about number 4. Does Congressman Jackson really want to be seen as supporting this because he can "tell outdoors enthusiasts" how he helped to save some fish? I'm sure he'll make that calculation for himself.

Ramsin Canon

Aldermen Thu Apr 16 2009

Three Bags of Tea for the Disloyal Opposition

It's hard not to guffaw like a frat boy every time I come across news or analysis of yesterday's "Tea Parties" (Rachel Maddow=genius). It is particularly hard to hear clips of protestors talking about how "it's time for us to wake up those folks in Washington to what people really think," as I heard over and over again on NPR last night, as if Obama wasn't just elected by fairly comfortable margins and doesn't enjoy 60% approval rating. (or even that a large percentage of Americans think the tax system is fair). Those of us who lived through the Clinton years had very few illusions about the ability of the "extra-chromosome right" as Al Gore called them to exist in loyal opposition. So we're now subjected to debates over Obama's role in promoting piracy, governors advocating secession, and whatever other outrages emerge from the miasma of the right-wing politics of victimhood.

Stepping away from the hypocrisy and potential danger of the inflamed rhetoric on the right, one can't help but be impressed with the fearlessness of conservative politicians, pundits, and activists. It doesn't matter that the last eight years are widely viewed as a series of exhibits on the failure of their essential ideology or that they were roundly repudiated at the polls in November. Even if their grievances are fuzzy and inchoate and their way out of the current situation is to apply the same medicine that got us here, only in higher does, they are so convinced of the dire consequences of not opposing the current president that they will engage in pretty ridiculous behavior to see him stopped.

It's becoming pretty obvious from the reporting of Ben Jovarsky, budget woes, and the three tires I've had to change in the last month that calling Chicago the city that works is a rhetorical stretch, to say the very least. A broke, pock-marked city that attempts to replace front line police officers with cameras, sell off all its assets to the highest bidder in return for slush funds for Mayoral fantasies of grandeur is not one headed down the right road. But yet we have a more or less completely compliant City Council that marches in lock-step with the flailing failing policies of our mayor while the media focuses on Todd Stroger's foibles while letting Daley's slide by. It's probably also true that the Mayor has done a great job of making himself, and not the tenant farmers of the City Council represent government in this city, so that voters and non-voters alike rarely hold alderman accountable. The situation is especially disappointing to those of us who worked hard to elect a slate of independent alderman, only for them to come back and say "you don't understand how scary the Mayor can be." Our city is crumbling and the most those who are charged with fixing it can say is that they can't speak out because of the hypothetical fear of losing city services in their wards

Maybe Chicago needs some disloyal opposition, some crazy "tea-baggers" who will throw caution to the wind and not be afraid of the retributive consequences, real or imagined. If right wing Republicans aren't scared of the President and Democratic Congress who just thumped them in elections, then why are we still electing alderman who defeat the machine candidate in their wards and remain afraid of the mayor?

Jacob Lesniewski

Obama Tue Apr 07 2009

How The Obama Administration Affects Baseball

Greg Hinz points out that, historically, ...when a Democrat has the White House, the Yankees do well, not the presidents' home team:

when Democrat Jimmy Carter was commander in chief, but dropped the series in '76 and '81, when Republicans Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan ruled. Even earlier, the Yankees were victorious under John F. Kennedy in 1961 and 1962.

In the same manner, the Yanks won under Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, '98, '99 and '00, but dropped the ball the next year, when George W. Bush came in in 2001. Ditto 2003.

Well that may be true, but so far the Sox have been doing well (yay!) and the Yankees....well let's just say this isn't change they can believe in.

Daniel Strauss

Blagojevich Fri Feb 20 2009

Good To Know

Matt Cooper, editor-at-large of TPMDC:

By the way, if Obama's seat goes Republican it'll be the first time in the 20th century, as best I can tell, that a president will have seen his party lose his seat while he's in office. Harding's Republicans held his Senate seat when he was elected president in 1920. Jack Kennedy's Senate seat stayed in Democratic hands. Vice presidential seats have flipped. Gerald Ford's house seat went to a Democrat in a special election after he was confirmed as Nixon's second veep. It would be pretty embarassing for the Republicans to pick up Obama's senate seat but if in the unlikely event Burris manages to stay in until 2010, can anyone doubt that's likely? That would be one more legacy of this weird season.

Yes. Yes it would.

Daniel Strauss

Obama Thu Feb 19 2009

KassWatch: Makin' Shit Up

John Kass makes me sad. He likes to pretend he's just a common sense South Side guy, who used ta play da stickball over by dere, tellin' it how sees it. Kass is the consummate phony tough guy, a name-calling hit-and-run artist who traffics in innuendos and sloppy arguments. He thinks by inheriting the physical space, and he has inherited the wit and wisdom of Mike Royko, who never got tired of sticking his finger in the eye of local politicians. Kass takes Royko's lovable grumpiness and turns it into unfocused hatefulness, meant to appeal to a certain kind of Chicagoan (actually, mostly former Chicagoans living in the suburbs) who idealize some (non-existent) past version of the city before the lib'ruls got a hold of it.

Royko, however, wasn't hateful. The reason he mocked power politics, identity politics and inefficient bureaucracy was because they failed to help the most needy in our society ("Mary and Joe, Chicago-Style"), not because he just hated those damned lib'ruls, like Kass. Royko was a New Deal Democrat who identified with the working class, not a White Flight principessa.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (12)

National Politics Thu Feb 12 2009

Does Anybody Know Stimulus Specifics?

So I was gearing up to blog about the stimulus bill based on this nifty chart from Pro Publica that Adam Doster at Progress Illinois brought up, but unfortunately more negotiations ensued so now I don't know exactly what the specifics of the current stimulus plan are. Does anybody know where I can find detailed info?

Daniel Strauss / Comments (3)

Democrats Fri Jan 23 2009

Hail to the Technocrat-In-Chief!

Wow. That was quick.

In fewer than 3 days on the job (or 2 if you were one of those who was getting ready to sue because of the flubbed oath on Tuesday) President Obama has moved decisively to expand government transparency at the federal level.

Color me impressed.

On his second day in office, President Obama reopened to search engines. Just yesterday he issued a memo on FOIA requests, and made a forceful statement on the end of the unlawful detentions at Guantánamo Bay.

He's also made solid moves on ethics for White House staffers.

Now, Ramsin may not agree with this assessment, but the highest honor I can bestow upon the president today is that of Technocrat-in-Chief.

Since his time in the U.S. Senate when he co-sponsored a federal expenditure transparency bill with one of my congressional heroes Tom Coburn, Obama has been a consistent supporter of good government procedures.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc

National Politics Wed Jan 21 2009

Obama's Swearing-In and Inaugural Address

Courtesy of C-SPAN. Just in case, you know, you haven't been able to see it in its entirely!

I enjoyed the speech. Talking up many great American values in addition to saying the things that makes this nation great. As far as foreign affairs, Obama sounds quite hawkish. Perhaps his philosophy will be "speak softly but carry a big stick." Sounds like a great start already.


Column Wed Jan 21 2009

A Case for Contrarians

Contrarians are going to have a rough go of it for a while. That's OK, though; skepticism is easy when everybody agrees with you. It only counts when nobody wants to hear you.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Event Tue Jan 20 2009

Liveblogging the Inauguration

Follow along as we liveblog the Inauguration from Chicago and Washington, D.C. We have several correspondents on the ground, and folks watching it from here in Chicago.

(Ended at 12:35pm.)

Andrew Huff

Obama Mon Jan 19 2009

Suspending My Disbelief

Unlike the rest of this fine city, I did not vote for Barack Obama.

(I didn't vote for the other guy, either.)

Armed with certain principles, I recognize Obama is a politician, and a slick, brutally effective marketing campaign isn't going to change the fact that he, like too many others, chooses to look to the government first when a problem needs solving.

To quote Virgina Postrel: "See a problem, design a program."

Take the economy. A recent Weekend Update skit on SNL depicted Keenan Thompson -- remember him from "All That?" -- as a bald-headed "expert" whose sage words about the economy were "Fix it!"

The government can't fix the economy. Well, it can put the "fix in" on it, but it can't create jobs, invent products or build wealth. Unfortunately, Bush, Obama and most Americans think that the government will be able to bring us out of these current economic depths by public works projects, more "stimulus," bailouts, et al.

Le sigh.

Continue reading this entry »

Richard Lorenc / Comments (5)

GB store


Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

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


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

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

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

Special Series

Classroom Mechanics Oral History Project
GB store

About Mechanics

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

Editor: Mike Ewing,
Mechanics staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15