Thursday, August 28, 2008


Bill Clinton says Barack Obama is ready to be president.
I say to you: Barack Obama is ready to lead America and restore American leadership in the world,” Mr. Clinton said. “Barack Obama is ready to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Barack Obama is ready to be president of the United States.”

Good for him... I tuned out after the fourth time he repeated the aforementioned platitude. He did sort of qualify his support on the fact that Biden is the running mate.

Not that I'm in complete disagreement, but I didn't share the wholehearted enthusiasm of the thousands of Denver fruit cakes waving plastic flags and wearing bling red, white, and blue top hats a la Uncle Sam.

At this point, the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia certainly presents a better alternative to John Wayne McCain. McCain claims to not know much about the economy, makes jokes about killing Iranians, and cheers on the smell of freedom at a gas-guzzling, Harley Hog show.

Obama actually wants to talk to other nations, you know, like that which the second termers in the Bush Administration have actually made flaccid policy attempts (U.S. representation in European talks with Iran, working with former Sunni insurgents in Iraq.)

Right now, more "moderate" Bushies like Dr. Rice, Jimmy Baker, and Bob Gates make McCain look like Dr. Strangelove.

As a former community organizer with Chicago's poor, ethics-bill champion, and diplomacy before violence candidate, Obama should easily portray himself as a more "I feel your pain" candidate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Change sells out

Barack Obama and a majority of democrats voted yes on extending wiretap powers of the federal government. This in a ongoing debate about preserving privacy of individuals and getting those pesky Al Qaeda-types who use cell phones to call their contacts in Canada, Florida, and Tacoma, Washington.

In a quote that sounds a bit like Yosemite Sam meets Tony the Tiger, Republicans allay our fears by explaining that some new safeguards are in place to insure no prying on citizens who don't deserve it.

There is nothing to fear in the bill, said Senator Christopher S. Bond, the Missouri Republican who was a lead negotiator, in the NYTimes “unless you have Al Qaeda on your speed dial.”
Yeah, for all those pesky militants that carry Al Qaeda in their cell phone address books...

Back to Obama...

The campaign of "Change" (whatever the hell that means) is smelling like a sound-bite ridden, not-too-offensive pile of goat dung. The man who made brilliant speeches about the need to deal with racial bias, the need to preserve civil liberties, proper judgment to keep out of unnecessary wars.... Now is talking about "moderating" his Iraqi pullout timetable, giving states more leverage in limiting reproductive choice, and voting to spread the backward policies of impinging on civil liberties in the name of "getting the badguys."

A big point of contention was the issue of retroactive immunity for telecom companies who helped government spy on us. Obama had earlier said that he'd vote against immunity, even filibuster, before deciding to "moderate his position." (Is there something moderate about government powers to spy on citizens?)

Democrats are sure doing a heckuva job trying to portray themselves as the party of change. What with voting to extend the war funding, and this latest policy blowjob to a president that's unpopular and policies that are seen as failing.

A CNN poll late June puts the percentage of Americans opposing the Iraq War at 68 percent. 64 percent want to see most troops removed from the war in the first couple months in the next administration.

Bush now has a whopping 24% approval rating. Congress is got 21% of Americans happy with them.

Why can't the democrats(Feingold and friends are excepted), and Obama in particular, get some balls and legislate change instead just putting out nice PR rhetoric about "valuing everyone's perspective," even if its counterproductive? Say, bringing the troops home, using the millions per day spent over there to foster private and public investment in green technologies, education, health care etc?

Why do I give tax money to these people?

I love how we're "dealing" with the poor economy. Printing off more dollars for people to spend in the form of tax breaks. Yes, when the people are angry, lets give them money that doesn't exist to make them happy. Cutting interest rates so that people can borrow more...

The Audacity of Acquiescence...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sad Days

My beloved Isthmus, Madison's alt-weekly, is considering lay offs that are spreading across the newspaper industry, reports the Capital Times, who itself had to cut staff and quit printing paper editions of the daily.

This as advertisers prefer to go to lower cost venues instead of pumping money into a paper that not only uncovers police brutality and government corruption, but does it with personality. The great thing I like is that editors there don't pretend to be objective and rehash quotes/old story lines. In this way the paper addresses a more specific audience.

Much more valuable to advertisers than just a general info rag for the "average American."

I've been thinking for a long time that Isthmus should collect a minor subscription fee instead of being soley funded by ad dollars. Such a fee could be negligible, but still help fund substantive gaps.

For example, instead of being free, how about charging $0.05 per copy? A lot of readers would likely pay a nickel for Isthmus.

If Isthmus charged five cents with its current circulation of 61,000, that's $3050 extra each week. Enough to pay for more reporters (and freelancers). Even if circulation dropped to 45,000 due to the price, that's an extra $2,250...

...jeez I'm happy I joined the journalism industry...

Thedailypage/Isthmus will find a way to get its message out despite changes/a poor economy. If not just because it's a Madison institution.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Operation Iraqi Oil

It's official, Bush cronies have swapped oil deals for international cred, despite the Iraqi government, according to a Congressional panel. Bush's friendly friends at Hunt Oil contracted under the semiautonomous government of Kurdistan (a region in Iraq's north); this without the consent of Iraq's central government in Baghdad.

In the NYTimes:
The company, Hunt Oil of Dallas, signed the deal with Kurdistan’s semiautonomous government last September. Its chief executive, Ray L. Hunt, a close political ally of President Bush, briefed an advisory board to Mr. Bush on his contacts with Kurdish officials before the deal was signed.

In an e-mail message released by the Congressional committee, a State Department official in Washington, briefed by a colleague about the impending deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government, wrote: “Many thanks for the heads up; getting an American company to sign a deal with the K.R.G. will make big news back here. Please keep us posted.”

...The encouragement by State Department officials did not end with the signing of the contract on Sept. 8, the documents suggest. Five days later, a State Department official in the southern city of Basra wrote to Ms. Phillips, “I read and heard about with interest your deal with the regional Kurdish government.”

“I don’t know if you are aware of another opportunity,” the official wrote, mentioning an enormous port project and a natural gas project in the south. After a few more lines, the official concluded, “This seems like it would be a good opportunity for Hunt.”
Glad we went to Iraq to build democracy and help our brothers and sisters in the Iraq government, by allowing that central government to be undercut by private American interests allied with the president.

This also may pose a problem as Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish Iraqis have tensions between them. A thorny issue is reception of revenue of rich oil deposits in the northern city of Kirkuk.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Islamic Bretheren in the Pakistani Mountains (or) Bringing Hope to the Village.

After losing himself in the Karakoram mountain range amid an effort scale K2 in 1992, Greg Mortenson found his purpose in a mountain village cut off from the world, to bring education to Pakistanis and Afghans who've been neglected by nature and their government. This is the premise of Three Cups of Tea, a book that I've just completed. After a series of British dystopian novels, it was a welcome celebration of humanity in an otherwise harsh part of the world.

The first school was built in a village of Korphe, where boys and girls had practiced math lessons in freezing dirt between weekly visits from an unpaid teacher. Mortenson was so taken by the kindness of the village, he saw the opportunity that was lost as kids had no alternative to the fundamentalist Islamic Madrassas, funded by Saudi petrol dollars.

After donations from a French scientist, Jean Horni, Mortenson set on his path through the Central Asia Institute to build schools and provide non-fundamentalist education to the children of Korphe, and eventually to other villages in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I don't want to teach Pakistan's children to think like Americans," says Mortenson on page 209. "I just want them to have a balanced, nonextremist education."

With such tact to listen to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, to create opportunity through their lenses and viewpoints, Mortenson was able to appeal to actual tenets of Islam, of giving to the community and caring for the poor. Something militant Islam seems to neglect in pursuit of political gains.

Mortenson did face his threats, fatwas by political, fundamentalist Islamic and Taliban leaders. But one of the more heartening parts of the story, aside from a girl from Korphe eventually becoming a doctor and asserting herself in a patriarchal society, is the support Mortenson received from conservative and moderate Islamic leaders.

"There are certain Europeans who come to Pakistan determined to tear Islam down," says Syed Abbas (page 191), a conservative shia leader influential in Iran and Pakistan. "And I was worried, at first, that Dr. Greg was one of them. But I looked into his heart that day at the petrol pump and saw him for what he is -an infidel, but a noble man nonetheless, who dedicates his life to the education of children. I decided on the spot to help him in any way I could."

Syad Abbas would later help to persuade Shia leaders to condemn fatwas against Mortenson, and defend him as a better follower of Islamic tenets of charity than clerics bent on halting the schools.

Such help wasn't a rarity as Mortenson engaged more moderate leaders. After 9/11, Islamic leaders protected Mortenson from harmful actions of fundamentalist militant Islam. This even as Americans were threatening Mortenson and his family with death for "helping those Muslims." Moderate individuals in the region blamed the tragedy of 9/11 and the ensuing war in Afgahistan on lack of education and the head-butting of President Bush and Bin Laden.

"Osama is not a product of Pakistan," says Brigadier General Gashir Baz, on page 310. "... you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy's strength. In America's case, that's not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is Ignorance."

After reading, similarities between small-town America and small-town Pakistan appear. The belief that if outsiders respected the lifestyle of these groups, and tried to work within that framework, whether it be Evangelist Christianity or Shia Islam, then progressive relationships could create opportunity for understanding.

In America, Evangelists are working with liberals, despite their differences, to lobby for proper stewardship of the environment. In Pakistan, an American can work towards empowering woman in a reinterpretation of Islamic tenets of charity and goodwill.

With the Afghan war increasingly more dangerous, and military leaders still mentioning the "picking off" of Al Queda leaders as the real gains in the "War on Terror," I can only hope that policy makers will gradually see that ideological conflict is better fought with books than guns.

"Before I met you Greg, I had no idea what education was," says Jahan, the first educated woman of Korphe, and granddaughter of Mortenson's mentor and Korphe nurmadhar, Haji Ali. "But now I think it is like water. It is important for everything in life."

Instead of being the humble wife, subject to strict limits on her economic future, Jahan is studying medicine and hopes on building and managing a hospital to help children of her village to find their own way. It's a great story. Even better, it's true.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Act like you give a shit and people will like you

Onion once again delivers the fake news in such a real way that it's more real than the real news, or something to that effect.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Puerto Rico, Iraq, and the ability to see gray

My latest article highlights the work of 14 students Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, who curated an exhibition looking at Puerto Rico's past through the eyes of others.

Amidst a week of celebration in Humboldt Park on Puerto Rican heritage the week of June 9, I found the students work to be the best show of pride. (My street was turned into a parking lot, otherwise, for a carnival in the park next door)

17th century documents show Europeans dealing in the slave trade, 19th-20th century photos/books show Puerto Ricans in a disparaging light (needing to be developed by those industrious Yanks and Spaniards), academics from the same period spoke of the burgeoning independence movement after the Spanish American War.

I don't think the article does justice to the efforts of the students; I never was able to get a hold of any of them. But their work was impressive...See info here.

Also, the University of Chicago Oriental Institute is running an exhibition on the looting of Iraq's past until December, which I wrote about here in a column for New City alt-Weekly.

Coalition forces are documented as not stopping tbe looting the elements of Iraqi history, and ultimately civilization writ large. This as New Conservatives talked about building a democratic society. There's some irony.

In the news, Big oil companies are now "negotiating" no-bid oil contracts in Iraq, one sees the real reason we went to war... The results of these negotiations will be known Monday.

I digress...

The University of Chicago exhibition is worthwhile for a cold/rainy day. Or someday when you don't feel like going outside and want to be cynical, yet informed. Cynicism and knowledge are far from mutually exclusive. For more about location, etc., click here.

Today's weather, however, is beautiful. And I'm not feeling like reveling in my cynicism. Perhaps tomorrow.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talking to Nazis

US figurehead W. Bush told Israeli parliament that talking to himself is like appeasing the Nazis.

I'm not kidding, it was reported in the New York Times after all.

His exact words:

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along,” Mr. Bush said. “We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Radicals, like the Bush administration, won't admit when they're wrong, no matter how many times a civil discussion is attempted. They advocated torture, a war for oil, compromise national security by outing operatives who disagree with them. Not to mention hiring, and sheltering, vigilante groups (Blackwater) that kill civilians abroad and hiring crony businesses (Haliburton, Kellog Brown & Root) that give poor, yet overpriced, services US troops.

Of course, Bush was really talking about attempts to engage and negotiate with Hamas and Hezbollah, how that's a bad thing. Because listening to those with whom one disagrees is a bad thing, even though listening isn't accepting. Instead, radicalism should be met with one-sided argument that claims a very simple worldview for the benefit of one group of people (radicalism).'s just too easy...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Clinton - Hi, I'm a soundbite away from winning this mofo

While the Obamanator is holding a big enough delegate lead in the Dem race for our next president, his latest "Gaffe" leaves me reminded that politics is veering to what it's always been, a collection of sound bites and empty promises.

So, what did the Harvard-educated, black, former community organizer do this time?

Said that Midwestern voters may be insulated and afraid and possibly putting false blame on bogiemen! ***Gasps with shock!***

Here goes the Tribune's account of what Obama said in response to why he might not be hitting it off with Joe six-pack:

"It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations (with losing manufacturing jobs, etc).''

Now, I see this as part of a nuanced discussion on why different perspectives lead to alternate realities (I believe Obama had referred to this as " different lenses" through which people see the world). Working or unemployed Midwestern folks do by and large blame problems on free-trade policies and Mexicans. And us Midwesterners like our guns.

Not that that's necessarily wrong. It's a free country, and you can pin problems on any bogeyman you want: Muslims, Immigrants, Jews, Right-Wing nuts, Left-Wing nuts, Bush and Cheney, the Kennedy family. Let's just be conscious of who we are naming as our "Devil," and whether it's fair to do so or try to find solutions.

Clinton's response is a the best part of this whole debacle. She names the devil, those elitist liberals, of which she is not. And talks about how she TOTALLY identifies with you.

Clinton is the most in touch after all. Her grandfather worked in a factory and everything. I mean, her and Bill pulled in couple million since 2000, living on franks and beans as Hillary donned her best Ebonics accent.

Also, she likes guns:

“You know, my dad took me out behind the cottage that my grandfather built on a little lake called Lake Winola outside of Scranton and taught me how to shoot when I was a little girl,” she said.

Just don't be Gov. Richardson to the Clinton household. Bill Clinton nearly chewed his head off for not being a grateful puppy dog. I mean, Richardson has a lot of his political career owed to the Clintons, and they watched the Super Bowl and everything.

Don't worry, cries of blame and desperation will help McCain in November, then we can look forward to new wars, not really knowing much about the economy...

Is this the best we can come up with?

Busee Bee

For all you loyal "fans" out there, sorry that it's been a while since I've got the blogger 2000 up and running. I've a good excuse in that in the past two months I've lost a love one, started a new day job selling books, had my house broken into and laptop stolen, and I've been trying to keep up my writing at New City in Chicago.

Don't panic. I'm good. But renter's insurance is slightly overrated.

I was very happy with the latest art show at the Around the Coyote gallery around the 1900 West Block of North Ave in Wicker Park, doing an extended profile in it here at Chicago's "street-smart" alt-weekly.

Haseeb Ahmed presents several works of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali, 20 years after al-Ali's death. Al-Ali's work is featured as a symbol of resistance for the Israel-Palestine conflict, with works making fun of political figures of all stripes while acknowledging the oppressed - their personae similar to any group of common folks trying to survive.

It reminds me every day that the world is infinitely larger than our individual perspective can completely comprehend.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Garden Fresh brings you Distopia and Banality in Shiny Packages

Garden Fresh art gallery, in the west loop, features to pleasantly sardonic artists 'till March 1.

As reviewed by yours truly:

Holly Holmes gives graphical commentary on the dissolution of a idealized versions of our world thanks to the forces of humanity. Nuclear cooling towers, skyscrapers, and beer bottles break idyllic scenes of a school of fish, a country sunset, and glacial wildlife. The childish-like painting in some works seem to make a statement about the human impact on the world. Is pollution a bastardization of our childlike idealism? Are we taking something for granted through short-sighted disregard for environment? Or was the artist just having fun?

A forest of chopped trees and striped green clouds awaits...

Mike Lash plays with pop culture references, juxtapositioning, and boobies to comment on little lies that parents tell their children and the dumbing up of human experience. His textual-based prints and paintings are worth seeing simply for being on one hand, banal, on the other hand, happily schizophrenic.

At the exhibit, Lash kindly shared merlot and rye whiskey to keep the gears spinning. Can't promise you the same luck...

Can't I take a shower?

Tribune columnist John Kass lathered up city hall Wednesday to see if he could use Bennett Johnson's shower. Johnson, the Chicago Budget Director, recently installed a shower in his office with possible use of public money.

Kass's stunt (with video!) is a hilarious look at wasteful spending in Chicago, while rising sales and property taxes creep up on the city's residents before the pending recession.

Carrying his towel and Irish Spring soap, Kass asks things like,
"Can't I take a shower?" It's being funded with taxpayer money after all.
"Where's Bennett, I'd like to talk to him?"
"How many people can fit in the shower"
Are there warming lights to stay warm when you get out?

Johnson's spokeswoman, Wendy Abrams, responded to nearly all of Kass's requests, "That's a fair question. I can't answer that right now, but I will give you an answer by the end of the day."

Pleasantly stalling...

Mayor Daley's administration, meanwhile, claims Johnson is footing the >$5000 bill for the shower, as stated in the Tribune.

Emminent domain, development, and you

Chicago city council is considering promoting a controversial TIF district in the North Lawndale area, reports

Residents organized under the Lawndale Alliance are wary of a TIF district because of the fear that any new city-financed development will displace residents and not deal with the root causes of high crime/poverty/unemployment in the area.

Lawndale Alliance founder Joe Ann Bradley's request that assurances be made to residents regarding eminent domain, etc. sounds nice. But city assurances seem more like political protection for Daley and his allies than any sort of active protection.

As far as the TIF plans so far...
Preliminary city budget estimates for the TIF include $2.5 million for job training; $10 million for property assembly and site preparation; $35 million for rehabilitation of buildings and construction of affordable housing; and $30 million for public works improvements, such as streets, utilities and parking

With the third largest amount of crime reported for city neighborhoods, Lawndale needs to change. That residents are organizing gives some hope that change will not come just in the form of new condos and shopping centers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy, Sun Nien Fai Lok

"Wishing you prosperity and Happy New Year."

Thousands came out to Wentworth Avenue today in sub-zero temperatures to ring in the New Lunar Year 4706. An organizer of the celebration estimated that about 20,000 come to the annual Chinatown event.

The dragon was pretty cool, along with my frostbitten hands.

"The Year of the Rat" restarts the 12-year cycle the Chinese Zodiac calendar. Those born in the "Year of the Rat" are said to be "charming, passionate, charismatic, practical and hardworking. They are said to be endowed with great leadership skills and to be the most highly organized, meticulous, and systematic of the twelve signs. They are said to be intelligent and cunning, highly ambitious and strong-willed people who are keen and unapologetic promoters of their own agendas, which are often said to include money and power."

My girlfriend, Caroline, took the following video; so you can get the highlights of Chicago Chinatown right in your warm, comfy armchair, or on your office computer as the case may be.

So Gung Hay Fat Choy, and drink some Tsing Tao!


Friday, February 8, 2008

The Cap Times reinvents itself

Madison's progressive afternoon daily will never be the same. The Cap Times announced yesterday that it would cease six-day production of its afternoon print edition, following a trend of demises for afternoon dailies across the country. The paper will primarily have an online presence starting in April, with two weekly tabloid versions inside its competitor the State Journal. Though seemingly grim news, the change isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"Many people think that in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach a huge audience," said Ellen Hume, Research Director of the Center for Future Civic Media, in a speech at West Bohemia University. "No, in order to be powerful, a journalist has to reach the audience that can make a difference to an issue. It can be one person."

Formerly as an intern and contributor, and always as a reader of the Cap Times, I see the the paper filling a needed watchdog role. With Madison's popular progressive readership, the paper has featured such stories as an expose on the doctor abuse within the prison system, the hidden costs behind charity fund raisers, unsavory lobbying of the state cable bill, and more. It's hard to think that silencing such a voice would be acceptable to readers.

Despite a low paper circulation hovering around 17,000, the State Journal's needed subsidies, and high number of staff, the Cap Times could be economically viable as an online product.

From my own experience, online readership of the Cap Times is hardly waning. As an intern, I read responses to my articles (hate mail and otherwise) from NY, UK, CA...A story jointly written by city editor Chris Murphy and I on one of Sen. Feingold's listen sessions caught tens of thousands of hits online within a couple of days.

The news organization has also shown some innovation last spring in revamping its style. Tighter columns on its Web site allowing for more easy online reading, page format seems much less cluttered, and a quick reader response feature gives a nod to bloggers. John Nichols gave live-blogging a go during municipal elections last spring and the staff is toying with video editorials.

Among other things that could be useful are a hyperlink sharing features for blogging and social networking sites (Facebook, Digg, Blogger, Newsvine tabs) and permalinks for stories. As if Shauna didn't have enough to do...

The main competitor for the Cap Times will be, for which I've also written. Both present a more progressive viewpoint, not afraid to bring fire to a debate on local politics or fallacies in the justice system. But is strictly local, featuring more arts and entertainment than news. Cap Times could show broader reach into state politics.

Breaking news could be where Cap Times will hold it's niche. Prior agreements with the State Journal have allowed it to seize on breaking news of the day. Whether this agreement changes?? Also, with no paper product, the local news shouldn't be subject to a noon deadline anymore.

The toughest part of the changeover at Cap Times will be staff cuts. Online publishing decreases the need for as many staff, but a short-staffed editorial department could hinder content.

Such is the nature of the old guard of newspapers unless there is consolidation across media, something that the progressive paper won't do. Here in Chicago, there's cuts at the Sun-Times (also due to stupid business decisions) and Sam Zell's purchase of Tribune Co. is allowing a media empire to stay competitive (possibly to the detriment of the %#@&ing news).

With all the economic bogymen in today's news world, Cap Times still has a leg to stand on. And it should keep on fighting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

F&$@ your covering important issues

Sara Fajardo, an Orlando Sentinel photographer, received an F-bomb for asking about journalism's obligation to inform communities about social issues and political detritus. Tribune Co.'s new Chief Executive Sam Zell delivered the F-bomb in what would have been an otherwise interesting exchange on the state of the news.

Here's the exchange.

"What readers want are puppy dogs," Fajardo said, alluding to soft feature stories. "We also need to inform the community."

"I'm sorry," Zell responded. "But you're giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance by deciding that puppies don't count. I don't know anything about puppies. What I'm interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Fuck you."

UW alumnus and Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rosenthal, pointed out how Zell's response raises questions about his ability to respect the Tribune Co.'s new value on questioning authority. If journalists are going to ask him his views on creating awareness as well as revenue. Will they always be told to fuck off?

The audience applauded Zell's response, as he was bringing up a good point. Journalists may have to cater to public whim, reporting on fluff events that the public wants, in order to bring in enough revenue to do investigative pieces, cover social/political problems.

But the point was lost when he acted like a belligerent drunk.

Perhaps a better thought that could have come out of this is that journalists must consider how they report rather than on what. Newspapers cover fluff, but is that what the public really wants?

Perhaps newspapers should consider writing with a more lively tone. Objectivity is a good thing, but perhaps it stifles analysis and can lead to the mind-numbing "he said, she said" story. I don't mean leaving some points of view out, but stories sometimes don't distinguish between which perspective holds more water given evidence.

Perhaps the solution for newspapers is interactive online media. Hyperlinks, videos, and blogs/forums allow the reader to see an event or issue first hand, and comment on it instead of just reading and believing. I know many alternative weeklies, e-magazines, small progressive newspapers, and professional blogs who've done this well...

Recently fired L.A. Times editor Jim O'Shea commented on the state of mass journalism much more eloquently as he made his way out of the door:
"The current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists," he said, Too often "we've been dismissed as budgetary adolescents who can't be trusted to conserve our resources."

However, O'Shea also wrote how Zell is a smart businessman who would likely come around to see his point of view...

Monday, February 4, 2008

Interactive Democracy from a Newspaper, No Way!

As a relatively recent resident here in Chi-town, I'm frustrated by the amount I don't know about local politics. That's where the Chicago Tribune comes in to enlighten my civic duty.

Atop it's home page, the Tribune provides a nifty Voter Guide where I can find out who I'm voting for, their Web pages, and some information.

All I have to do in punch in my address and off to the democracy train! Basically the info provided on candidates is little more than sound bites...and for some candidates, the only supplemental information is who the tribune endorsed...

Newspapers, for better or worse, have always played a role in elections, sometimes vital and informative, sometimes propagandist. From the Revolution's print workshop to the 19th century party press, to yellow and watchdog journalism of the 20th.

Due to political parties' growing lack of resonance, the media has took on a new role as the filter for candidates, their reputations, their ideas. Where would we be without the horserace, Billary, Obama's snub?, Mitt's "conservatism," islamofascism, Brit Hume and Mickey Mouse?

For those of us in Chicago, check out the superfun live-action way to get your voting on. "Learn" from the Trib, print your choices off and take your guide to the polls Feb. 5. Just take the endorsements and information, or lack thereof, with a grain of salt.

For more info on voting, candidates, instructions, etc., check out the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners. Find out where to vote here or call (312) 269-7900.

P.S. I miss the Isthmus-published League of Women Voters guides in Madison.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

City Planning, Windfall for Developers.

The Tribune provided an illuminating snapshot of zoning in Chicago versus other larger cities. Basically, developer wants to buy property to make extravagant condos + donations to aldermanic race = BIG condo on your front lawn.
The new, 8,200-square-foot mansion is by far the biggest house on the 1800 block of North Wood Street, leaving Fred Ehle's four-bedroom home next door in its shadow.

"I don't mind gentrification and development—I live in Bucktown—but it has gone out of control," Ehle said. "It's crazy. It's so obviously different than what the neighborhood was and still is."

Zoning rules had prohibited such a behemoth from going up on the block. But that was before the developer got a break from then-Ald. Ted Matlak (32nd). Two weeks after the developer applied for a lucrative "upzoning" so he could build a much bigger house, one of the developer's companies gave the alderman a $2,000 campaign contribution.

The real zoning code in Chicago is unwritten, but developers know it well: Changes in zoning go hand in hand with contributions to aldermanic campaigns.

Perhaps the phenomena of campaign coffers for zoning lenience is obvious to any Chicago politico, neighborhood activist, or longtime resident. But for fear of stating the obvious, papers often clam up when real corruption takes place. But I'm glad the Trib lied it out here.
It's a city where the council rubber stamps aldermen's wishes—rejecting just 15 requested zoning changes in a decade—and where almost half the zoning changes were concentrated in 10 of the city's 50 wards that are exploding with growth.
...City officials in the Zoning and Planning Departments review proposals and issue recommendations before aldermen vote. That review involves determining if new construction would be an "intrusion" to the neighborhood.

But aldermen pay little heed. City staff objected to about 40 percent of the zoning changes that the council approved over the last three years, city records show.

Ald. William J.P. Banks (36th), chairman of the City Council Zoning Committee, said the reality in the neighborhoods—as represented by the aldermen—is far more important than what city staff think about a zoning change application. He said the tradition of aldermanic prerogative in zoning is as strong as ever, but that he advises council members to run projects by their constituents first.

I have to say that I'm not surprised, but the "pay-to-lay" way of development is different from what I'm accustomed.

In Madison they passed an ordinance last year to restrict development that goes against the character of neighborhoods, creating "historic districts." Madison Ald. Tim Gruber faced strong opposition, nearly losing his District 11 seat because of neighbor disapproval of four-story condos, calling it too "high-rise" for them.

Granted, Madison is not your typical town when it comes to city governance either.

Back in Chicago, the "exposure" of developers paying alderman to build condos lends cred to the Humboldt Park No Se Vende! movement in my own neighborhood.

At the housing summit in November, residents demonstrated against the influx of "yuppies," condos, rising housing costs. Organizers for the Participator Democracy project related to me how resident's didn't necessarily have a problem with development, but they are being excluded from the fruits of development by being priced out of their neighborhoods, which severs the social ties that help the community fight crime and thrive economically.

One perk of gentrification is a tendency for lower crime in a geographic neighborhood. It's much easier for a city to move in new condos than to deal with underlying social dilemmas.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Presidential Politics - Who needs Media Matters when you have Jon Stewart

As we're in two wars and threatening another, facing a larger gap between rich and poor, recession, and unaffordable health care, the campaign is reaching a new schoolyardish vibe.

Kucinich is being kicked out of the debate, and thus the race. Edwards is being sidelined. Ron Paul is branded a crazy survivalist. McCain is being called unelectable by the party faithful because he is against torture. Bill Clinton is spouting off about the fantasy that is the Obama campaign and Bill's enjoying the fight between Barak and Hillary, while his Hillary is making Obama guilty by association for receiving donations from a federally indicted slumlord. Obama, for his part, allegedly has campaign staffers hassling Clinton supporters.

The campaign, governance is really not about policy, but the horse race.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Home-spun Mercenaries could kill free of penalty, thanks to U.S.-installed Democracy

I almost feel bad as a journalist when I don't have to even dig anymore to find our government being criminally stupid. I mean, Bush and co. are implicated on the front page of the New York Times.
With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.

...negotiations with the Iraqis, expected to begin next month, would also determine whether the American authority to conduct combat operations in the future would be unilateral, as it is now, or whether it would require consultation with the Iraqis or even Iraqi approval

Hey, remember when Dubya said he didn't want to make Irag in our own image, but allow them to decide for themselves? Well, now we're ratcheting up some legislation that would bypass your own country's military authority, as well as allowing the likes of private mercenary, Blackwater, to shoot at crowds of Iraqis and have legal immunity. Prime Minister (how quaint) Maliki will probably not be happy with that one.

Speaking of how we're spreading the rule of democracy in Iraq, lets consider how well Iraqis are being represented in their newfound republic. Three quarters of Iraqis would feel safer with U.S. and other foreign troops out, according to State Department polls. 65 percent of those Iraqis want us out immediately.

But just goes to show you how wonderful our democracies here and there are going. Bush and Co. say they have to make decisions that are often unpopular with the rest of the country. He knows best after all. And you can't trust those liberals at the State Department to skew public opinion to mirror their own ideologies...

...but seriously folks, I thought this was a republic, not a patriarchal system...

Iraqis likely are going to put up a tough fight over more U.S. military involvement, and freebies to Blackwater...
“These are going to be tough negotiations,” said one senior Bush administration official preparing for negotiations with the Iraqis. “They’re not supplicants.”

I say all this with all due respect to the U.S. troops over there who are working their asses off to help Iraqis with reconstruction. I read news of U.S. troops over there taking the place of the Shiite-led government in helping various ethnic Iraqis rebuild their businesses and utilities. I'm proud to say one of my close relatives is hoping to do good in Iraq.

However, I don't think the underlying tension between groups in Iraq is anything that can be "fixed" by us, even with the best intentions and efforts. Look at how it's gone so far...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

MCA, Maps, and Metamorphoses

"Mapping the Self," now featured at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art is an interesting, if not always beautiful look at how artists conceptualize cultural and political themes through the use of geography and space. It was impossible to include all the works in my review, given the plenitude of artistic displays. So if you are going to visit, take a good 1.5-2 hours at least. Also, if you are constrained by budgets, check it out on a Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., when it is sponsored by our friends at Target.

You could also try pretending that you write reviews for a local alt-weekly. But they may check IDs....

One of the pieces that I didn't have the space to review was a one connecting relationships with the Great Wall of China. The Yugoslavian artist (I forgot the name, so go see the exhibit) and her partner started walking at opposite points on the wall toward each other. At the place that they met, which is featured in a photograph, they chose to end their relationship.

The poignant metaphor was that geographic and large external phenomena often determine people's fates more than anything within human control.

It was probably the most beautiful breakup that I'd ever witnessed...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Birthplace of Hip-Hop, under siege

DJ Kool Herc, father of hip hop, aka Clive Campbell popped up in the news today because real estate mogul, Mark Karasick, wants to buy the apartment complex where Herc started it all.

In the summer of 1973, Herc built a hi-fi sound system and threw the first Hip Hop dance party. Having heard him speak over the summer to UW-Madison's First Wave Spoken Word Learning Community, he explained that the event was about bringing people of many musical tastes together in a progressive celebration.
"Don't smoke pot in here. You got a problem with someone, take it outside."

Nowadays, residents and benefactors of the working class birthplace, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue are suspicious. What does a guy who has made real estate deals with Donald Trump want with a working-class apartment complex? Will he come in and gentrify it? raise the rents? change the character?

US Sen. Chuck Shumer, D-NY, joins the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board in a plea to buy the property with the help of city funds.

The movement reminds me of Humboldt Park's revulsion of gentrification over here in Chicago, "Humboldt Park No Se Vende!"

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Art Shows

Among a myriad of other activities, I write reviews on art exhibitions for New City Chicago alt-weekly. This show by Susan Kraut was uplifting, slightly impressionistic, and I recommend anyone in the Chicago area to drop by when they are feeling contemplative or need and inebriating pick-me up. Images of Italy are imprinted with warm and cold moody colors that more show the emotional state of the artist and statements about life than a realistic portrayal.

Taking them in just kind of makes you feel good.

Funding the CTA, an olympic opportunity that'll probably get flushed.

As the Chicago Transit Authority continues to wrangle over a debt-induced fare increase and round of detrimental service cuts, Mayor Daley is going to meet with President Bush to talk Olympics possibilities for 2016.
Here's the Tribune with more:
The meeting comes at the request of White House officials, who said Bush wants to be briefed on plans to hold the 2016 Games, a City Hall source said. The White House also wants to know what it can do to help the city's bid, the source said.

Daley says the city needs a new rapid-transit line west of the downtown area. He mentioned Saturday the federal government typically provides support for host cities with transportation, public safety and security.

Daley has been fixated, for awhile now, on a rapid transit service from O'Hare to Downtown for a while now, to help visiting business folks get there and spend money, make money.

That sounds like a good idea and all. But just fixing up the CTA blue Line is expected to cut the trip to 45 minutes, which is great considering Chicago's traffic typically making the current trip almost an hour by train, closer to one hour 15 min in rush hour traffic.

And wouldn't improving the bus system, ultra slow red line, barely existing yellow and purple lines, be a priority if you wanted to cycle people around the Olympics for cheap? Not to mention, keeping the system affordable and rideable for our daily commuters?

If anything is a strong deterrent for the Olympic bid, it's the crumbling mass transit system and bungling of Illinois government. Global visitor are much more attuned to hoping on the train, bus than U.S. folks.

Democracy in America, Skewered

Well, I can safely say that I've taken a look at the candidates following the Iowa Caucus and think that all the front-runners are putzes. However I do precurser this diatribe by saying that I think Obama is the least putzy.

Obama emerged with a wide lead over Clinton and Edwards, jump starting the brand new overarching theme that America wants Change! Really? You think? While Edwards has been spouting off talking points with his po' boy accent, he called Clinton part of the big status quo.

Meanwhile, in a debate about an issue that is driving American citizens nuts with worry, if not driving them into a second mortgage with jacked interest rates, let's talk about health care.... Video courtesy of

Clinton attacks Obama for not mandating health care for adults because that "wouldn't make the system universal," (Obama is flipflopping). Whereas Clinton points out that Obama requires children to be covered, thus making it a two class system where children are covered and adults aren't.

Obama shoots back that he doesn't think people are opting out of health care because of a freewill decision, but because they can't afford to have a doctor give them a pill for $300. Let's focus on the high costs, but perhaps a mandate would further distance the public?

Obama maybe has a point. And a mandate for children's coverage makes sense given their complete lack of money, and no choice in the matter. Hillary tries in vain to point out the loophole in this logic: so adults have a choice but kids don't, so that's why it should be mandatory for kids? I thought you said choice wasn't the issue.

Admist the circle of logical struggle, Obama, as the brand spanking new "frontrunner," extends the peaceful message of not distorting records but rather discussing differences in policy perspectives.

The following is fake dialogue meant to satirize the situation.

Obama: "Let's not fight, Hillary. Let's chat about our differences and enjoy the white powder. Remember how one of your staffers attacked me on my "blow problem," Obama jabs.

And Edwards chimes in as his perpetual running mate self, backing up Obama agaist their newfound, common foe.

Edwards: "Hillary, you're just bitching because you're losing; I like Barak."

Hillary: "At least I'm not a stupid campaign slogan," retorts Hillary.

At this point in the campaign, all the stereotypes are coming out.

Obama is the promising new voice and frontrunner, spouting off much hot air. And hopeful hot air is still hot air. Edwards is cozying up to his future running mate. Still injecting the anti-corporate, yay working class feeling into the campaign.
Hillary is the wonkish shrew, casting off her pleasant facade and thus having her good points lost in the middle of a popularity contest.

And now lets get to the Republicans. Another live-action debate about an issue where US citizens are dying: War on Terror!

Ron Paul, another candidate that I admire/think is interesting, explains that perhaps fundamentalists abroad are angry with the US because we've interfered with their country, installing military bases, doling out weapons and protecting our resources by telling them how wonderful Jeffersonian democracy can be. See the future Taliban in the 1980s, or "Freedom Fighters," as Reagan liked to say.

Romney, who has more personalities with different positions than Sybil, says that Paul "just doesn't understand jihad." This coming from a guy that fights for gay rights, then says he's against them, fights for gun control, then boasts of his love for hunting-having shot a bird once or twice. I'm to think that this asshole understands Jihad?

I don't even want to get into Mayor 9/11's perspective. Most of his responses involve, "Hey, remember 9/11?" But here he says this "hardcore Islamist revulsion towards the states has nothing to do with our foreign policy (contrary to the 9/11 commission, mind you), but they're just bad people who need to be shown moderation.

Paul tries to explain the US policy-foreign revulsion link again: What if China came over with the best intentions and installed military bases here to change the backwardness of our society. We'd be pissed, right?

Romney, the Mormon love child shouts back with a stupid chuckle, "Your just feeding into their propaganda." Guiliani 9/11 chortles in approval for good measure.

"I've read their propaganda," said Romney with John Kerry-esque self-aggrandizement

Guiliani, Romney, Goebbels: The "Islamofascists" are against our freedom...

All in all, an iota of truth in all their perspectives. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't look too kindly on Western values, and perhaps they need to change. But is interference from a culture with which their at odds going to help? I'm inclined to say that a Muslim Martin Luther would be more productive than an Uncle Sam, but Martin Luther really doesn't have a concern about oil and national security.

I digress...Maybe these presidential candidates should have a similar conversation instead of attacking each others' patriotism or affinity for hunting...

Hey kids, speaking of propaganda. Check out the similarities in these photos between Romney and Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

On top of all the political chicanery, Bill O'Reilly accosted an Obama staffer! Wow, I need a cigarette. Shit! I can't smoke either in this democracy. Glad that we exported it to Iraq...