National Issues

  • Why have so many Venezuelans fled to Chicago?

    2 November 2023

    Since August of 2022, over 19,000 migrants have come from the U.S. southern border to Chicago—thousands of whom are now camped out in the city's police stations and airports.

    Migrants residing at a North Side police station
    in November. Photo by Dave Glowacz.

    According to the city of Chicago, most the migrants have come from Venezuela. What caused them to flee their homeland?

    A recent report from the Great Cities Institute of the University of Iliinois at Chicago gives some clues.

    The report is titled, "The Current Migrant Crisis: How U.S. Policy Toward Latin America Has Fueled Historic Numbers of Asylum Seekers." Its author, Juan González, is a senior research fellow at the institute—and a co-host of the long-running "Democracy Now!" news broadcast.

    In these excerpts from the 17-page report, González describes the U.S. government's economic pressures on the nation of Venezuela:

    "In late 2014 President Obama signed an executive order—not publicly released until March 2015—in which he declared that conditions in Venezuela had become a national emergency and an 'extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.' The order never spelled out exactly how a small South American country hundreds of miles away, with a standing army of only 100,000 troops, could suddenly become a threat to world’s most powerful nation. Nonetheless, Obama launched a series of economic sanctions against Venezuela."

    "His successor Donald Trump followed in 2017 with even broader sanctions which closed off Venezuela's access to Western debt financing, forced many U.S. and foreign companies to leave the country, and crippled its oil industry, the Venezuelan government’s main source of revenue. Trump even froze the assets in 2019 of CITGO Petroleum, a U.S. company that is wholly owned by Venezuela’s state oil company. CITGO’s refineries and gas stations in the U.S. are enormously valuable. In 2022 they generated . . . more than $2.8 billion in profit, but Trump’s actions effectively prevented any of that money from reaching the Venezuelan government and its people."

    "Meanwhile, the White House joined with the United Kingdom to freeze Venezuelan gold reserves stored in the Bank of England worth an estimated $2 billion."

    "The effect of these massive U.S. sanctions caused the Venezuelan state to lose between $17 billion and $31 billion in oil revenues between 2017 and 2020. Given that Venezuela normally imports 90 percent of its pharmaceuticals and 70 percent of its food, the loss of such a vast quantity of U.S. dollars from its shrinking oil exports has crippled its economy."

  • Call for public to weigh in on police training priorities

    4 March 2022

    An on-line survey has become available for Chicagoans to say how the Chicago Police Dept. should focus its training.

  • Viral budget grab puts mayor on light footing

    16 April 2020

    Reactions came swiftly to Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID-19 pandemic executive order—which gave her power over city's budget "as needed to maximize effectiveness of the city response."

  • Trump tried paying German drug maker for U.S.-only coronavirus vaccine

    21 March 2020

    The Trump administration tried to pay a Germany-funded drug maker to give the U.S. exclusive rights to a COVID-19 vaccine, according to media reports.

    According to The Guardian, "Trump offered $1 billion to Tübingen-based biopharmaceutical company CureVac to secure the vaccine 'only for the United States'."

    The Guardian quoted original reporting from the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

    The moved reportedly incensed German officials.

    "We cannot allow a situation where others want to exclusively acquire the results" of German researchers, foreign minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying.

  • Good-bye to Ben Joravsky interviews, but more to come

    14 June 2019

    In this episode that transitions from "Interviews with Ben Joravsky" to the "Inside Chicago Government" podcast, Dave Glowacz and the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky look back over their 12 years of talks.

  • Study finds tax incentives bad for local governments

    21 May 2019

    A study has found that publicly funded incentives such as property tax abatements and investment tax credits are "linked with worse overall fiscal health" for the state and local jurisdictions that employ them.

    The study, from researchers at North Carolina State University, took a comprehensive look at all incentives offered in 32 states from 1990 to 2015.

    Report: "You Don't Always Get What You Want: The Effect of Financial Incentives on State Fiscal Health" (North Carolina State University)

  • Ask Mr Bike: Why Chicagoans are targeted for biking while black

    5 August 2018

    In an interview by Ben Joravsky with Dave Glowacz on WCPT-AM's Ben Joravsky Show, Ben asks Mr Bike about Chicagoans in black areas that have gotten bicycling tickets in far greater numbers than those in white areas, and more.

  • Congress Theater TIF, term limits: sensible schemes?

    8 July 2018

    In an interview by Ben Joravsky with Dave Glowacz on WCPT-AM's Ben Joravsky Show, Ben and Dave discuss a Logan Square TIF subsidy, the arguments for term limits, and more.

  • FBI's Blago wiretap shows Claypool in Rahm's bro-zone

    13 December 2017

    After the recent resignation of Forrest Claypool as head of Chicago Public Schools, one might ask: Why was he hired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the first place?

    One insight into the Claypool-Emanuel relationship comes from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    In late 2008, an FBI wiretap recorded then-Congressman Emanuel mentioning Claypool in a telephone call with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The FBI had wiretapped Blagojevich's telephones to gather evidence for the subsequent prosecution of Blagojevich.

    Although a detailed transcript of the phone call didn't surface until Blagojevich's 2011 corruption trial, the conversation was first revealed by Blagojevich himself.

    In his 2009 memoir The Governor (Phoenix Books), Blagojevich describes how Emanuel, who in November, 2008 had just been appointed chief of staff by the newly-elected Barack Obama, wanted the governor's help to "appoint a congressman who was going to keep the [5th Congressional district] seat warm" for Emanuel.

    The "purpose of [Emanuel's] call," Blagojevich writes, "was to see whether or not l would be willing to work with him and appoint a successor to his congressional seat who he would have designated to be a placeholder and hold the seat for him when he sought to return to Congress in two years." When Blagojevich questioned the legality of such a move, Emanuel said "that his lawyers thought there was a way where the governor might be able to make an appointment."

    Blagojevich was reluctant to help Emanuel, he says, because "if I helped appoint a congressman who was going to keep the seat warm for him, then I was going to make a lot of people who wanted to be congressman unhappy with me."

    The fact that it was Claypool whom Emanuel wanted as his seat-warmer didn't come to light until two years later, in June, 2011—in a federal-court filing by Blagojevich's lawyers during the legal proceeding against him.

    The filing contained the FBI's transcript of the phone conversation between Emanuel and Blagojevich.

    In the call, Emanuel says that "all of a sudden, all the aldermen and committeemen" wanted to take Emanuel's congressional seat as he left for the White House.

    "Forrest Claypool, bizarrely," Emanuel says, "would like to be considered, and he says he only wants to do it for, like, one term or two max."

    Claypool didn't make it to Congress. But Emanuel, after becoming mayor, appointed him to successive positions as Chicago Transit Authority president, mayoral chief of staff, and finally CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

    The federal government never released an audio version of Emanuel's phone call with Blagojevich. However, Inside Chicago Government has created an exclusive audio reenactment: Find it in the premium version of the interview titled "Rahm fired up about—but wouldn't fire—Forrest Claypool."

  • 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

    Standard audio:

    Premium audio:

  • 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.

    Standard audio:

  • 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.

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