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Fancy footwork on job numbers

Mayor Emanuel’s op-ed in last Sunday’s Washington Post, framed as advice to the Democratic Party, may or may not be an attempt to get out in front of the 2016 presidential field.

Emanuel touts his infrastructure trust, introduction of competition for early education dollars, longer school day, and reorganization of City Colleges as the model for a national program.

As proof of the wisdom of his policies,  he cites Chicago’s latest employment figures, with 42,500 more people employed this October over October 2011 – stronger growth than any other city, he proclaims.  It’s a neat statistic, though it’s also an example of Emanuel’s proclivity for announcing results before initiatives have even been implemented.

Employment numbers vary from month to month – over the last year, monthly numbers for Chicago have ranged from a gain of 17,537 (in August) to a loss of 9,744 (in July) — so picking your data point can make a big difference in bragging rights.  But it does seem that for a few months at least, job growth has been stronger in Chicago than elsewhere, though it’s not due to anything Emanuel has done.

One statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. It also turns out that while employment increased from September to October, unemployment also increased, rising a half point to reach 10 percent, according to World Business Chicago. But hey, that’s progress: it’s down 0.3 percent from two years ago.

Maybe it’s a good sign that more people are looking for work.  But unfortunately, too many are not finding it.

And in Emanuel’s Chicago, they’re far more likely to be out of work if they’re African American.  As the health department’s new database on socioeconomic indicators reveals, the distribution of unemployment is wildly uneven in Chicago.

Five community areas including the Loop, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park had unemployment rates below 5 percent.  In nine community areas, all on the South and West Side, unemployment was over 20 percent.  In West Englewood, it was over 34 percent.

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The Chicago debate

The Tribune has a very curious piece on Tuesday night’s debate between four third-party presidential candidates at the Chicago Hilton. It talks about all kinds of things – except what the candidates actually said at the debate.  There’s one direct quote: Libertarian Gary Johnson‘s characterization of the two parties as tweedledee and tweedledum  — hardly an earth-shattering revelation — and the only other information about candidates’ positions comes in thumbnail characterizations cribbed from their websites.

That’s too bad, because in many ways it was a far more interesting debate than those we’ve seen between the two major candidates.

Particularly at the town hall debate between Obama and Romney last week, I was struck by how consistently the two candidates succeeded in not answering the questions that were put to them.  On a larger level, there were major issues where all we got were two versions of the establishment consensus – more coal and oil drilling, more free trade pacts, lower corporate tax rates (with loopholes closed, of course – though if you think those loopholes will stay closed, you don’t know Congress).

Wednesday’s candidates were clear and direct.  All four were very sharp on the abyssmal civil liberties record of the Obama administration and on the need to end interventionist military policies.  The administration’s escalation of drone warfare was roundly condemned. Along with Johnson, the Green Party’s Jill Stein and former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party were quite forthright about decriminalizing marijuana.  (Former congressman Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party demurred on that one.)

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On the ballot: elected school board

In the wake of a dramatic school strike — and just prior to the anticipated announcement of scores of school closings — residents of 327 precincts in 35 wards will vote next month on an advisory referendum calling for an elected school board.

With 77 percent of Chicagoans backing an elected school board according to a Chicago Tribune poll, the challenge facing Communities Organized for Democracy in Education, the coalition of groups backing the referendum, is making sure voters know about the referendum and go to the end of the ballot to vote on it, said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

On the West Side, State Representative La Shawn Ford has sponsored two forums on the referendum, with a third scheduled for Monday, October 29 at 6 p.m. at Carey AME Church, 1448 S. Homan.

Ford, who’s sponsoring legislation establishing a legislative task force to study the issue, has invited supporters of the referendum as well as CPS and Democrats for Education Reform, the group that paid for Mayor Emanuel’s post-strike TV ad blitz.  CPS and DFER have declined to participate, Truss said.

Tuesday forum features Karen Lewis

On Tuesday night, CODE is holding a forum on the referendum at the Logan Square Auditorium,  2539 N. Kedzie (7 p.m., October 23), featuring Karen Lewis, Ben Joravsky, and Pauline Lipman of UIC and Teachers for Social Justice.

Tuesday’s forum will be broadcast live on CAN-TV 27.

At Ford’s October 8 forum, Lipman reviewed findings from her 2011 study of elected and appointed boards.  Chicago’s school board is the only appointed board in the state and a rarity in the nation, where 96 percent of school boards are elected, she said.

Elected boards “tend to look more like the people who elect them,” Lipman said.  “They have parents and teachers and community organizers and education experts.”  Chicago’s board “has corporate CEOs and bankers and real estate developers,” she said.

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Subliminal message: Rahm lost

Mayor Emanuel “knows he lost” in the recent showdown with the teachers union “and finds it necessary to rehabilitate himself,” political analyst Don Rose told Newstips last week.

That’s his take on the TV ad blitz by an arm of Democrats for Education Reform – which has cost “an astronomical amount of money,” according to a campaign finance analyst.

With only 19 percent thinking he handled the situation well – “the first time the mayor has been upside down in any polling” – Emanuel “believes he needs damage control,” Rose writes in a letter to the Sun-Times on Tuesday.

“What is most distressing,” Rose writes, is that Emanuel accepts financing “from anti-union advocacy groups whose acknowledged goal is the destruction of teachers unions and the eventual breakup of public education itself.”

Rose, who advised the firefighters union around the time of their 1980 strike against Mayor Jane Byrne, concludes: “We have not seen the end of union-busting tactics emanating from the fifth floor of City Hall.”

As noted here last week, DFER was founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders who like charter schools and hate teachers unions.  “National donors” funded the group’s recent expansion into Illinois, according to Catalyst; funding is now said to be a combination of local and national money, though DFER wouldn’t discuss who its donors are.

Previously the group ran radio ads criticizing the union’s decision to hold a strike vote, then calling on CTU to “get back to the table” – while negotiations were underway continuously.  “If you listened to a DFER radio ad, you would have thought CTU pulled out of negotiations,” Raise Your Hand points out.  The group ran TV ads throughout the strike.


Featuring Emanuel himself, the newest ad campaign works less to boost the corporate school reform agenda than to buff the mayor’s tarnished image.

It’s a symptom of the post-Citizens United political landscape and of the vastly expensive “24/7, 365-day campaign cycle” that’s resulted, said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

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Big money in Wisconsin, Chicago

The day after huge infusions of political money helped save Governor Scott Walker from recall in Wisconsin, big-money interests were buying media to influence public perceptions of the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike authorization vote.

(Ken Davis points this out at the top of this week’s Chicago Newsroom on CAN-TV, where I was a guest with Lorraine Forte of Catalyst Chicago.  You can watch it here.)

In either case, of course, the goal is to shape the narrative.

It worked in Wisconsin, where a governor who’s fallen far short on his promises of economic revival – Wisconsin is at the back of the pack in terms of job creation over the past year – was recast as a tough, courageous leader turning the state around.

The real story in Wisconsin is that union busting and cutting public spending has failed to get the economy going.  It’s really a case study of how austerity doesn’t work.  Now it’s also a case study on how to sell austerity, even when it’s not working.

In Chicago the goal is to take a situation where teachers are under attack and fighting back and paint it as one where they are being reckless and irresponsible.

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North Side voters back financial tax

By a wide margin, North Side residents backed a referendum calling for a sales tax on financial transactions Tuesday.

Voters in 17 precincts in the 46th Ward voted 3-to-1 in favor of “policies to tax speculative financial transactions including, but not limited to, derivatives and futures contracts.”

A one dollar per contract sales tax on trades on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which have an average value of $230,000, could generate $6 billion dollars a year for the state or city, according to Northside Action for Justice, which backed the referendum.

The group sponsored the referendum because “politicians have not been taking this seriously,” said Kelate Gaim of Northside Action in a release.

“Why do I pay more sales tax when I buy a pair of shoes than these traders do placing speculative bets?” asked Francis Tobin, the group’s chair. The financial transaction tax would be borne by individual traders, not by exchanges.

By a similar margin, voters in those precincts also backed a TIF reform proposal calling for returning surpluses to schools and other taxing bodies, and restricting future TIF spending to affordable housing, living wage jobs and businesses, and youth and senior services.

Super PACs: Bad for democracy, good for TV stations

Super PACS “represent much of what is wrong with American democracy rolled neatly into one package,” said Marites Velasquez of Illinois PIRG, announcing a new report showing that fundraising monsters suddenly dominating our elections are funded by a very small number of very rich people.

Of itemized contributions by individuals to Super PACs in 2010 and 2011, 93 percent came from 726 individuals giving $10,000 or more, and more than half came from just 37 people who gave over a half-million dollars each, according to a new report from Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Demos.

Super PACs are “tools for powerful special interests” that work by “drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans in a sea of sometimes-secret cash,” Velasquez said.

“They undermine core principles of political equality in favor of a bully-based system where the strength of a citizen’s voice depends upon the size of her wallet,” said Adam Lioz of Demos.

Noting that 17 percent of Super PAC money came from businesses, the groups recommend the Illinois General Assembly pass legislation requiring shareholder approval for corporate political spending, among other reforms.

A bonanza for broadcasters

At the Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney (co-founders of the media reform group Free Press) detail the cost to democracy — and the bonanza for TV stations.

TV stations will take in up to $5 billion from political advertising this year – nearly twice the $2.8 billion they got four years ago.  The amount being spent on TV ads for House races is up 54 percent since 2008; for Senate races it’s up 75 percent.

Political ads accounted for 1.2 percent of total ad revenue in 1996; this year it’s likely to be 20 percent, and more in key states.

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Back of the Yards wants one ward

While Latino aldermen are calling for more Latino wards, residents of one of Chicago largest Latino communities have a more particular concern – they want a single alderman.

Back of the Yards is now divided into pieces included in five wards, and the Committee for a Unified Back of the Yards says that has complicated communications and hindered progress for the community.

The group will hold a press conference Saturday morning (November 12, 10 a.m.) at 45th and Paulina, in the heart of the community – a corner where the boundaries of three wards intersect.

The neighborhood is seeing increased community improvement efforts – Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council recently launched a new Great Neighborhoods community planning initiative with LISC Chicago –but  lack of a single alderman makes it hard to address questions like the recent closing of the Back of the Yards branch library at 47th and Damen, said Cindy Agustin of CUBY.

“It’s been closed since September,” she said.  “The sign on the door says it’s closed due to flooding,” but it’s been difficult to get any attention to the problem.

The branch library serves students in five elementary schools, Agustin said.

While a survey by Latinos Organized for Justice and the Illinois Hunger Coalition recently found that over half of Back of the Yards families report they “sometimes, rarely, or never” have enough money to feed their families, the state recently closed a human services office that offered food assistance and other help.

Mayor Emanuel’s proposed budget would also close Back of the Yards’ mental health clinic.

Groups participating Saturday include BYNC, The Resurrection Project, United Southwest Chamber of Commerce, U.N.I.O.N. Impact Center, and several parishes and schools.

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