National Issues

  • Rauner's "reforms" riff on Obama?

    2 July 2017

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the motives of Governor Bruce Rauner in insisting on government "reforms" as part of a state budget deal.

  • Is Chris Kennedy smart about dumb voters?

    15 May 2017

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on what Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy thinks about voters, and more.

  • Ben Joravsky's new radio gig at WCPT-AM

    10 May 2017

    Dave Glowacz interviews the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky about Ben's new talk-radio program, "The Ben Joravsky Show," on Chicago's WCPT-AM.

    Dave and Ben discuss how the show is the culimation of a lifetime of radio listening; the characteristics of the radio station's left-leaning audience; and synergies between Ben's broadcast and print material. Length 5.7 minutes standard, 16 minutes premium.

    Music: "Breakup Breakdown" by Cullah

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  • Illinois electoral college members to vote in Springfield on Dec. 19

    16 December 2016

    Illinois members of the Electoral College will meet in Springfield on Monday, Dec. 19 to cast their votes for president of the United States.

  • Discrimination expert: exit polls laced with bias, over-represent GOP

    28 November 2016

    Have you ever been interviewed for an exit poll after you've voted? Do you know anyone who has?

    If you answered "no" to these questions, you might wonder about the reliability of the exit polls that major news outlets keep quoting.

    Though we've heard much about the kinds of voters that supposedly voted for Trump or Clinton in the recent election, we hear little about the sources of this info.

    Take a listen, then, to a presentation by Sumi Cho, a law professor at the DePaul University College of Law.

    Cho, who teaches courses on racism and employment discrimination, criticizes dominant exit poll surveys, saying that they aren't designed to represent certain demographics—such as immigrant voters.

    In her comments, Cho:

    • Describes the practices of mainstream pollsters that bias exit poll results.
    • Says that mainstream pollsters capture too small a sample, so overlook the diversity of views within particular communities.
    • Says that the dominant exit polls over-represent Republican voters.

    Cho spoke in the Nov. 11, 2016 Webinar, "Social Justice SOS: What Happened, What's Coming and Why We Must Join Together Against Hate," presented by the African American Policy Forum. Length 4.3 minutes.

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  • Trump and transit: Rahm railroads Red Line appeal

    17 November 2016

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the Emanuel administration's scramble, after the presumed election of Donald Trump as president, to secure federal funding and TIF designation for Red Line reconstruction.

  • Justice Dept. holds meetings on police—but few know

    22 June 2016

    The U.S. Dept. of Justice is holding little-advertised public forums to get citizens' input on their encounters with Chicago police.

  • Delegates elected to Democratic national convention

    11 May 2016

    The list of delegates who'll represent Illinois at the July Democratic national convention has been released.

  • How all those Democratic convention delegates got elected

    13 April 2016

    The Illinois State Board of Elections will soon certify the state's March primary election results—including those for presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. You voted, the state calculated, and the party goes on.

  • Presidential delegates vex voters in March primary

    14 March 2016

    In Chicago's March 15 primary election, hundreds of people are running to become their parties' delegates to presidential nominating conventions. Many are unknown to voters.

  • TPP lets investors prey, taxpayers pay

    25 January 2016

    In his 2016 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass a 12-nation trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).1

    The text of the TPP, which member nations began crafting in 20092, became available in November, 2015. The contents should trouble taxpayers.

    A provision that's arguably one the worst for taxpayers is that which protects the profits of foreign investors.

    Under the TPP, a foreign corporation's investors can sue state and local governments in the U.S. for any circumstances—such as, say, pollution limits—that interfere with the corporation's profits.

    Moreover, the corporation can do this outside of our judicial system: Our courts have no jurisdiction, thanks to a TPP scheme called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

    Imagine, if you will, that a Japan-based company sets up manufacturing in Chicago. The company's manufacturing process produces toxic waste, which the company dumps into the city's sewer system—at a level exceeding limits set by Illinois and Chicago's environmental regulations.

    Then, say that local government moves to stop the company's illegal dumping. Under TPP, the company's investors may sue to block the government's enforcement—claiming that the enforcement adversely affects their profits.

    In such a suit, the TPP trumps our constitutionally guaranteed right of due process in a court of law. Instead, according to investor-state dispute settlement rules, the suit is adjudicated by an ISDS "tribunal" composed of several private "arbitrators" appointed under the TPP. The arbitrators, unlike U.S. judges, aren't bound by precedent or judicial ethics.3 The tribunal may award damages to the investors, paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

    At the very least, awards in such cases would make citizens, not polluters, pay. At the worst, the threat of damage awards would choke off new or more stringent environmental safeguards.

    And even if investors sue a local government unsuccessfully, we taxpayers still must pay for our government's lawyers. So we always lose.

    Think this scenario is just hypothetical? It's already happened. The existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) contains an ISDS provision—and Canadian energy company TransCanada has used it.

    In January of this year, TransCanada announced that it would sue the U.S. government for halting construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The company argued that it's been "unjustly deprived of the value of its multibillion-dollar investment by the U.S. administration's action" that blocked an important piece of its pipeline network. TransCanada seeks $15 billion in compensation—an amount that includes the profits that the company expects it would've gotten in future years.4

    And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Existing trade agreements that the U.S. has with other countries have resulted in governments paying investors almost $4 billion in ISDS awards, according to Lori Wallach, Global Trade Watch director for Public Citizen.5 The TPP will boost the number of foreign investors that can use ISDS to extract payments from U.S. taxpayers.

    Concerned citizens, though, have a vehicle for stopping the TPP: Congress.

    After President Obama formally signs off on the TPP for the United States (which he's expected to do in February), Congress must then approve the deal. In the meantime, members of the public can weigh in with representatives and senators—many of whom have already signaled their opposition to the TPP.



    1. The 12 proposed nation signatories (the TPP calls them "Parties") are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam.

    2. "Timeline of the Trans-Pacific Partnership," Public Knowledge, June 27, 2012.

    3. In fact, President Obama signaled his administration's contempt of courts years ago: In a March, 2012 speech at Northwestern University law school, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said "'Due process' and 'judicial process' are not one and the same . . . The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process."

    4. "TransCanada’s $15 Billion Lawsuit Against U.S. on Keystone XL Presents Strong Case," Eric Zuesse, Global Research, January 8, 2016.

    5. "Lame White House Response to Sen. Warren's Warning about TPP Investor Privileges," Lori Wallach, Huffington Post, May 2, 2015.

  • Lesser-known arguments against the TPP

    15 June 2015

    There was a local angle in recent news about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

    It has to do with Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago. Quigley was the only House Democrat from Illinois to vote for authorization of Fast Track authority, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, regarding the TPP.

    Most of the reporting we've seen for and against the TPP—including Quigley's own newspaper op-ed piece—focuses on how many U.S. jobs the TPP will create or destroy. Not as widely reported are other, potentially more insidious aspects of the TPP—which we know about thanks to leaks of TPP documents from Wikileaks and others.

    According to the leaks, the TPP would:

    • Empower foreign firms to sue U.S. governments if regulations interfere with the firms' "expected future profits." Foreign corporations could bypass domestic courts and sue U.S. governments before a tribunal of private lawyers not answerable to the U.S. legal system. This so-called investor-state dispute settlement process could thwart our protections against environmental, food safety, banking, and manufacturing misdeeds, and award our tax dollars to corporations for violating laws that interfere with their profits.
    • Require the U.S. to let foreign countries import foods that violate U.S. food safety laws. Foreign entities could challenge U.S. safety rules on pesticides, labeling, or additives as "illegal trade barriers"—forcing the U.S. to allow the import of unsafe food.
    • Undermine efforts to re-regulate the financial sector. The TPP would (a) keep countries from outlawing particularly risky financial products; (b) prohibit policies that keep banks from growing "too big to fail;" (c) make it easier for banks to make hedge-fund-style bets with depositors' savings; and (d) prohibit financial transaction taxes, which provide significant revenues in dozens of countries world-wide.
    • Force the U.S. to waive "Buy American" procurement policies for all firms operating in TPP countries, offshoring our tax dollars to create jobs abroad.

    Interestingly, it seems that not even Congressional opponents to Fast Track press these arguments.

  • Why progressives shouldn't support Bernie Sanders

    24 May 2015

    Georgia Green Party co-chair Bruce Dixon tells progressives why they shouldn't support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    In this audio excerpt from the 5/11/15 episode of Black Agenda Radio, Dixon argues that "Democrats in denial" who put time and money into Sanders' campaign will actually benefit the final, corporate-approved Democratic candidate—which won't be Sanders.

    Dixon spoke at the May 2015 Electoral Action Conference. Length 5.5 minutes.

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    6/16/15 update

    In this 5/26/15 video debate from The Real News Network, researcher Ashley Smith and People's Action Campaign spokesman Jacob Swenson-Lengyel debate whether Sen. Bernie Sanders' decision to run as a Democrat is the best way to advance a progressive platform.

    External audio: The Real News Network debate on Bernie Sanders' candidacy (length 12.5 minutes)

  • Government policy caused urban segregation, says researcher

    11 May 2015

    In this interview from the 5/8/15 edition of CounterSpin, Economic Policy Institute researcher Richard Rothstein describes an origin of U.S. urban segregation: deliberate public policy for most of the 20th century to separate blacks from whites. Length 11.9 minutes.

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  • Rep. Danny Davis endorses Chuy Garcia for mayor

    4 March 2015

    Congressman Danny K. Davis (IL-7th) has endorsed Jesus "Chuy" Garcia for mayor in the April 7, 2015 runoff municipal election.

  • Why Obama won't vote for Rahm

    22 February 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on Rahm's attributes that Obama decided he didn't need after all, and more.

  • Obama anoints, Rahm's on point

    12 February 2015

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on voters' panic that they're about to do something stupid, and more.

  • School grade levels and homework might work against learning

    15 December 2014

    According to a recent analysis, an estimated 14 percent of ninth-graders in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will earn a four-year college degree within 10 years of starting high school.

    The analysis, released in early December of 2014 by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, also stated that only 40 percent of CPS high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges.

    The analysis further concluded that:

    • Chicago places close to the national rate (estimated at 18 percent) for ninth-graders earning a degree, and places ahead of other large urban districts.
    • Based on ACT test scores, many CPS students remain unprepared for college.
    • At four of the 10 four-year colleges most frequently attended by CPS graduates, the six-year graduation rates are below 50 percent—presenting a major barrier to college completion.

    The conclusion that CPS students graduate unprepared is not a new one; teachers, parents, employers, and other observers have said the same thing for decades.

    Inside Chicago Government has followed the issue of student preparedness for some time. An aspect that we seldom see popular media address: How might the typical structures of school grade-levels and student assessment work against learning? Teachers and education policy wonks we've interviewed have some interesting ideas about this. Here's a summary.


    1. Homework might not only be a waste of time, but a bad way to assess learning.

    When teachers grade homework, some experts say, they're measuring effort, the ability to complete tasks, and the number of right answers—but not necessarily measuring student competence in the subject, or skill.

    Experts point to two phenomena they've observed:

    ■ Homework doesn’t stick. Even students who get good grades all through college can't recall much of the material on which they had to do homework—the homework that helped them get the good grades. This is because homework often asks students to simply memorize facts, or rephrase what the teacher or text has told them—not internalize content in a way that's useful to them in their lives, or even in a job. Students are rewarded for their knowledge of a subject's content, rather than their mastery of subject-related skills.

    ■ Improving homework performance doesn't affect grades. Education researchers say that "homework help" initiatives—wherein teachers or aides help students with their homework—often don't result in better grades or test scores. This suggests, they say, that either homework doesn't actually helps kids do better in school, or that grades don't work well as a measure of student performance.


    2. Grade levels group students to the disadvantage of many.

    Emotional, social, and intellectual development varies widely among children of the same age. Classrooms therefore might work better, experts say, if they grouped students based on where the students place in a development spectrum—rather than by age, as most grade levels typically do.

    Furthermore, once students are grouped in a grade level, they're expected to meet "accepted" standards for that grade level—rather than perform at a level that's based on where they are in their own development. Forcing students to "pass" a grade level, experts say, not only ignores their individual level of development; it can set up unreasonable expectations for how they should perform at the next grade level.


    3. Knowledge of subject content shouldn't be the only basis for graduation.

    Many agree that high-school graduates should exhibit core competencies. For example, graduates should be able to articulate their thoughts orally and in writing. And they should know how to add, subtract, divide, calculate averages, and figure percentages.

    Beyond that, some experts say, a person graduating from high school would be best served in later life if they know how to (a) regulate their own emotions, (b) work well in groups, and (c) have empathy for people around them. Furthermore, they should understand (and take comfort in) the fact that individuals are not naturally good at some things; rather, they develop skills through practice and hard work.

    The latter point underscores the importance of exposing students to a variety of disciplines such as music, art, and social sciences—without having to memorize or be tested on content. Exposing students to these arts and sciences can help them later—either in school or after graduation—when they're ready to decide in which areas they might want to focus and perhaps work.



  • The resegregation of Chicago public schools

    19 May 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on whether Chicago schools' resegregation reflects a national trend, and more.

  • Digital manufacturing site: Olympics repeat, weapons mill, or both?

    24 March 2014

    Interview with the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky on the digital manufacturing institute's "ultimate goal" of defense products, and more.

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