Politics & Gerrymandering in Illinois

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The problem in Illinois is that Mike Madigan, the head honcho of the Illinois Assembly, has held power for 49 years. This evil mastermind figured out that the way to wield power forever and to make millions is to win elections in a state district. All he has to do is win a small state district and through his Machiavellian tactics he can control whoever we elect as governor. He can also probably control the mayor of the biggest city in the state. Moreover, he can see to it that his party dominates in congressional winners for Illinois.

By determining the congressional districts’ boundaries Madigan controls who wins in congressional. Take a look at District 4. This should be the image used in any dictionary defining Gerrymandering. The green area is the oddest designation of a district. The communities it covers are oddly situated so that no rational person would consider them a unit, but they insure that Madigan can get the winner he wants.

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Compare Illinois’ and Iowa’s congressional voting districts. Iowa’s makes sense to anyone. Illinois’ is an image that shouts corruption, a trait many of us are sick of.

Iowa v IL Map

Gerrymandering isn’t Madigan’s only sin. He’s created rules of governing that give him as Speaker of the State House imperial power over what laws get voted on. It’s impossible for a law that isn’t approved by Madigan to even get a chance at getting passed. Furthermore, Madigan has complete control over which committees a representative can be on. There are no checks or balances in Illinois’ politics.

Yesterday the citizens of Illinois had a terrible choice for governor: either a billionaire who never held a job and was taped by the FBI as he trashed African Americans in conversation with an imprisoned ex-governor or the incumbent billionaire who couldn’t get a budget approved in two years and scoffed at his base with bills against their values. We elected the former, J.B. Pritzker who certainly has no character to win against Madigan, the real power of the state. It’s a pity that J.B. wanted the job, because his sister, who worked for the Obama Administration is probably truly qualified.

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November

1419418Since I’m taking the MasterClass David Mamet teaches I thought I’d read some of his plays. This week I got his play November (2008) which is about an American president Charles Smith who’s up for re-election with no funds for campaigning. He’s been cut off by his party. He’s getting no help from his speech writer either. He has one person who’s still advising him, Archer.

Archer provides a reality check (if we can call information on the absurdity of how DC works reality) for the President. Smith would like to strong arm his opponents and betrayers as they cut off his funds or call in sick.

A main plotline here is the President’s traditional pardon of a turkey before Thanksgiving. According to the play, the turkey farmers’ association gives the president a stipend, a hefty stipend for the pardon. Now Smith strives to up the amount by threatening to have his speechwriter convince the public that it’s not PC to eat turkey.

The play moves quickly and has a robust humor, colored with profanity, as you’d expect from Mamet. The story is outlandish and now a bit dated because we’ve resolved some of the issues it tackles. I wouldn’t say this is a must read or that the play’s a must see. It does exemplify Mamet’s rules for writing, e.g. don’t bore the audience with exposition and start in medias res.

Blind Date

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Lucky for me my friend’s husband isn’t a theater lover. That’s how I got invited to see Blind Date at the Goodman Theater. Blind Date shows us how Ronald Reagan convinced Mikhail Gorbachev to attend a summit meeting to talk about the weapons race. My understanding of this page of history was foggy, but the performances brought clarity and interest. The play opens with a monologue by George Schultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State. Due to his education and experience in economics, Shultz was able to figure out how Russia would struggle and what the consequences would be. Thus he realized this was a key time to contact Gorbechev, Russia’s youngest General Secretary.

Next Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, shares his thinking with the audience before sharing cocktails with Shultz. (In their conversation, which begins awkwardly Shultz tells Shevardnadze about a cocktail called The Kangaroo, which most of us know as a vodka martini.

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We see a lot of negotiating and one step forward, one back action as the two governments and two men figure out whether they should meet and where. It’s quite a chess game and quite interesting. Both powerful men are married to driven women. Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev have some of the plays best scenes and lines. These women know their minds and masterfully can read situations.

The play has humor but adroitly manages not to canonize or lampoon Reagan. The playwright Rogelio Martinez was born in Cuba and lived there till he was 9 and came to the US. Hence Martinez is fascinated with the ideologies of democracy and communism and has written a series of plays about events like the ping pong competition between China and the US where communism and democracy intersected. It would be easy to make a play that bored or had the wrong tone, but with Blind Date Martinez entertains and enlightens. The play’s pace is good and I could see this show on Broadway. I could see watching this again, which I think is the ultimate goal of a good play.

Kudos to Director Robert Falls and all the performers. Bravo!

Alert

Right now China is having a huge government meeting which happens every five years. You may have heard on the news that Pres. Xi wants to raise himself up to the level of Mao or Deng Xiao Peng. He may not appoint a successor for 2022, which is the norm.

I just saw this alert on a listserv.

China just sent a warning to foreign students:

“To all international students – The 18th Congress will be held next week. Over these few weeks the immigration bureau will be strict when dealing with foreigners. The police will conduct checks in major cities, including Nanjing Take your ID (Passport and Student ID) at all times. Foreigners are prohibited from traveling to Beijing and Shanghai during this period. International students must obtain permission from their school and respective immigration bureau before traveling to these destinations. Foreigners are not allowed to organize or gather in large numbers during this period, and this applies to religious and social settings. Students who are working illegally should be extra cautious during this period. The immigration bureau will be conducting checks in each district. Any violation during this sensitive but important period for China will result in automatic deportation. The school will not be able to help.”

I think this is overkill and shows paranoia.

Homework

This semester I’m taking a government documents class and here’s my first round of research answers:

1. Look at the newspaper and find which agencies are involved in a front page story.

Monday’s newspaper had a story on China and cyber security as a lead story under US News. The article refers to:

Segal, A. (2016, February 1). Why China Hacks the World. Retrieved from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2016/0131/Why-China-hacks-the-world on February 1, 2016.

2. Which agencies have leading and which have secondary roles in disaster such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or tsunami?

To find out which agencies have a role in relief efforts after a natural disaster, I checked the U.S. Government Manual (http://usgovernmentmanual.gov/), but didn’t find a clear document

I expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency (http://fema.gov) to top the list, but it wasn’t. FEMA’s website did not provide much background information, but their mission is to manage disasters such as the Flint, MI water crisis, tornados, hurricanes and more.

On DisasterAssistance.gov I found George W. Bush’s Executive Order on Improving Assistance for Disaster Victims (http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayEO.cfm?id=EO_13411_) which lists several secondary agencies under the Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA. Furthermore another search yielded Connecticut’s Natural Disaster Plan, which can be used as an example of how disaster relief is organized within a state.

A chat with an information specialist at USA.gov resulted in getting this document (http://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/PDFS/CHAP03/D03-07.PDF), which seemed thorough and easy to read, but rather old.

For emergencies in Illinois, I found http://www.illinois.gov/iema/About/Pages/default.aspx by starting at GovSpot (http://www.govspot.com/state/il.htm) which was listed on a UICU Lib Guide. I would share the emergency management agency for whichever state I worked in with a patron asking about this topic.

3. You’re asked about a new government report on global warming but don’t know more about it. Where would you look for the report?

To find out more about a new government report on global warming, I would take the following steps:

I. Search online for more newspaper articles on the new report using “global warming,” “global change” and “climate change” as keywords.
II. Use our textbook to see which agencies cover global warming. I found on pages 285-288 that in addition to the Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov) these agencies have a mission to study climate change:
a. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency: noaa.gov
b. US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP): globalchange.gov
Since USGCRP aggregates several government agencies that handle climate change, I would expect to find the report under its “Publications” heading.
III. If I didn’t work at a Federal Depository library and still hadn’t found the report, I would call the closest one, e.g. Northwestern University after locating its phone number from fdlp.gov.

On Privacy

I got to attend the ALA session “Don’t Track Me: A Cross-Generational Conversation on Personal Privacy” on Monday.

Law Professor Geoff Stone from Univ. of Chicago led a Socratic discussion with 10 high school students. Stone opened with asking students how they would feel about losing a diary they kept on a iPad. “Would you care?” All said they would; several asserted that they believed they had a right to manage personal information.

Stone asked whether managing one’s personal image, hiding information about failures, mistakes, actions at parties, etc. isn’t presenting a false self. He asked whether it’s illegitimate to present a false self to the community or public. That stumped the panel and, I admit, me. Stone wondered whether presenting a polished self that’s better than others and better than you are is something one has a right to.

Then Stone reminded the audience and panel that the constitution only limits the government, not companies or organizations. The topic then moved to the 4th amendment and the question of what is an unreasonable search. How far does the 4th amendment go? Is collecting phone numbers and data on calls a search? If you have a phone, you agree to give the phone company all this information. Why would you be bothered by the government having it? The students struggled with many of these questions.

Then Stone asked about an instance when you tell a friend something that you want to keep confidential. The friend though shares or broadcasts the information. The students who spoke realized that we risk sharing information when we communicate with individuals. The distinction is that in such instances we have choice. With phone data, we don’t.

Stone moved on to the issue of PRISM. The government could collect no data. It has chosen to (more or less*) secretly collect data. Some have said we should have had a public discussion and agreed to allow the government to collect this data. However, Stone pointed out that the government sees their action as taking the middle ground and is better than doing nothing and possibly losing more rights in the long run should terrorism have flourished. Had the government opened PRISM to public discourse, it would not have been effective as such disclosure would have tipped off possible terrorists.

Stone asked the students why so many of their peers disclose so much in social media. One teen mentioned that she’s an activist, but her parents don’t know. Thus she never grants interviews and she always wears masks to protests. Another student described how careful he is with social media and Stone pointed out that his circumspect behavior was more like a 50 year old than a teen.

Stone offered the idea that perhaps we will just learn to put things in a new perspective. By learning to live with less privacy, we might become more used to having our failings exposed through our own gaffs on social media or government surveillance.

Prof Stone has an article on the Snowden story on the Huffington Post website.

An Under Reported Story: The NSA’s Stellar Wind


In episode 8 of The Newsroom, there’s a story brewing on a spy program called Global Clarity. I was alarmed to learn about a pervasive system of wire tapping that’s “probably illegal.” I had to stop the program and see if this was mere fiction.

It isn’t. There actually is a program called Stellar Wind. However it hasn’t gotten much attention from the press or the public.
Why doesn’t this story get picked up?