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Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

I have an old friend who refused to switch over to Gmail, Google's email service, several years ago when the company began rolling out beta accounts. The service's tagline about never having to delete an email thanks to its message threading and large amount of space available for each account, he said, made our messages prone to the government's Project Echelon. For years, I've dismissed his assumption as another conspiracy theory, a tinfoil hat approach to a new email service.

Thing is, after the last week the Obama Administration has had, his idea hardly seems silly anymore; in fact, it seems downright relevant.

Today, you've heard the national media play up a trio of controversies that are besieging the president and his administration: the Benghazi controversy, the IRS targeting of right-wing groups, and the Department of Justice's shady-as-hell collection of Associated Press phone records. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke today on the IRS investigation while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was bombarded with questions over the AP story.

To limit the look at the fire the administration has come under to just these three stories, however, would be to ignore the greater context of the Obama presidency's now looming legacy of the dissolution of civil liberties which can include the administration's backing of the FBI's plan on Internet surveillance and the administration's reliance on drones. All told, it's been a bad week, yes, but when you add these last two topics to the pile, this administration's track record looks downright miserable.

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[From left to right: Mel Reynolds, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Gus Savage]

Last Friday, State Sen. Donne Trotter formally withdrew from the Second Congressional District special election to replace Jesse Jackson, Jr. The announcement came three weeks after he was arrested at O'Hare for trying to pass through security with a concealed gun. At the time of his arrest, Trotter was considered the front-runner to win the special election. Of course, the special election had only come about because the avalanching shenanigans of Jesse Jackson, Jr. forced his resignation.

The incidents involving Trotter and Jackson are just the latest examples that show how the constituents of the second congressional district are cursed. Because there's no other way to explain the misfortune that has plagued the district's constituents over the last 30 years.

It wasn't always this way, though. For the first 150 years or so of the district's existence, it hosted a colorful collection of Congressmen.

James Woodworth, who held the seat from 1855 to 1857, also served several terms as Chicago mayor, was a founding trustee of both the "old" University of Chicago and the Chicago Astronomical Society, and helped make Chicago an economic center by guiding the Midwest's railways and water traffic through the city.

From 1903 to 1922, the congressman of the 2nd district was James Robert Mann, author of the Mann Act of 1910 (aka the White Slave Traffic Act) which prohibited the interstate transportation of women for prostitution.

Abner Mikva served as the district's representative from 1969 until 1973. In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated him to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals where he served until 1994 when he retired to serve as White House counsel for then-President Bill Clinton.

And from 1853 to 1855, just before Woodworth, there was John Wentworth whose two-year stint as the second district's rep was part of a long political career that culminated in his service as Chicago's mayor. Wentworth also served in Congress as a representative of Illinoi's first and fourth districts and during his Congressional tenure, he was offered a deal by Wisconsin that would have extended that state's border to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. His reward had he allowed the Badger state to expand? A seat in the U.S. Senate. Wentworth said no.

So, then, it's easy to understand why I can't help but view the district as anything but cursed. How else to explain that the last three representatives have been, in succession, a virulent racist, a statutory rapist, and a scandal-laden charlatan? How else to explain the ascension of Gus Savage, who held the seat from 1981 until 1993? Somehow, Savage held on to his seat for 12 years despite numerous challengers, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, and accusations of verbally and physical sexual harassment of a Peace Corp. volunteer during a press junket tour of Ethiopia in 1989. He also had a habit of using homophobic slurs towards reporters whose questions he didn't like.

Finally ousting Savage in 1992 was an upstart reformer named Mel Reynolds. A graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, an MPA from Harvard, and a Rhodes Scholar, hopes were high for Reynolds. Instead, in August 1994, less than 2 years after his election, he was indicted on a host of charges stemming from a sexual relationship he carried on with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer. In 1995, Reynolds was forced to resign his seat.

Winning the seat after Reynolds' exit was a charismatic up-and-comer, Jesse Jackson, Jr., son of the famed Rev. Jesse Jackson. For years, Jackson served without controversy, happy to build a reputation that helped him escape his father's shadow. Then, in 2008, he was connected to the pay-for-play scandal that ensnared then-governor Rod Blagojevich. Jackson allegedly offered up fundraising to Blago in exchange for appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after he won the 2008 Presidential election.

In early June of this year, Jesse Jackson, Jr. made his last public appearance before disappearing into the ether. In the interim, he's been in and out of the Mayo Clinic for treatment of bipolar disorder, become the target of a federal investigation into misuse of campaign funds, and, jus weeks after winning re-election in November, resigned his seat in disgrace.

The curse's source remains unknown, the misery of the second district voters still intact as they prepare for yet another special election. Even Reynolds has risen from the political graveyard to run for his old seat, a specter of the past that continues to haunt the district. This, even after Savage, despite his morally repugnant behavior, managed to keep his seat for 12 years, never receiving less than 82 percent of the vote in a general election until 1990, the year after he was accused of sexual harassment, when he received "only" 78 percent of the vote.

Those dark cosmic forces maintained their veil over the electorate in November 1994 when Reynolds, just months after his statutory rape indictment, Reynolds, unopposed from any major party challenger, received 98 percent of the vote over several independent candidates in his re-election bid.

The curse's iron grip held fast when in November when Jackson, sight unseen, was never seriously challenged on his way to a startling victory in which he garnered 63 percent of the vote.

And so this curse of mysterious origins remains unabated, its cause still a mind-bending unknown, holding hostage the tortured souls of our state's Second Congressional District. No amount of voodoo seems to have reversed the cloud of calamity that has swallowed the area whole, keeping fraudulent abusers of power in place. There seems to be no magic remedy that can save them from this string of awful leaders who somehow, some way, manage to maintain their terrible cycle of darkness and dismay.

Even the once-mighty Cook County Democratic Party has been stymied, endorsing no one for the upcoming special election primary, handing over its faith to the fates and hoping for the best. And, that's all the district's voters can do: hope and pray that somehow this evil spell is broken, that, somehow, salvation will arrive and free the them from the malicious cycle that's held them captive for so long.

If Nate Silver doesn't wind up as someone's figure of the year for 2012, it will be an injustice to the man who was nearly perfect in his call of the 2012 presidential election. Silver did for politics what he had previously done for baseball and did it on the largest stage possible - the New York Times. He faced his share of criticism down the stretch but, in the end, his math was impeccable. He also has a new book out and has made the media rounds, including a recent visit to the Chicago Humanities Festival earlier this fall, the video of which is now below. It's a great talk from a great mind and is recommended listening/viewing.

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M. Spencer Green // AP Photo


BY LISA DONOVAN
Cook County Reporter/ldonovan@suntimes.com

A panel of Cook County's top Democrats will gather Dec. 15th with the goal of slating a party candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The beleaguered congressman resigned last week amid a federal investigation into his campaign spending and ongoing mental health problems that prompted him to take a leave of absence.

Roughly a dozen Democrats have either been mentioned or thrown their hats into the ring to represent the The 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Chicago's South Side to the suburbs, including small sections of Will and Kankakee counties.

Joe Berrios, the head of Cook County's Democratic Party, told the Sun-Times this week that if the party can agree on backing - or slating - a single candidate, it will be easier for him or her to raise money and get their name out there during what will be a short election season. Gov. Pat Quinn this week announced the primary date is Feb. 26th while the general election is March 19th.

If voter trends hold, a Democrat will likely win the seat.

Thornton Township Supervisor and Democratic Committeeman Frank Zuccarelli, a powerbroker whom Berrios tapped to serve as chairman of the slating committee, says the slating process will be pretty standard: candidates will be interviewed during the December session at the Thornton Township Hall in South Holland and the 11 ward and township comitteemen - party bosses - representing various parts of the 2nd Congressional District will take a vote.

While Zuccarelli is encouraging candidates to contact him to be part of the December slating session so they can make their pitch, he's not exactly walking in to this with an open mind. He said he already knows that if state Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago), who has expressed interest in the job, is running, that's who he's backing. Trotter's legislative district, which stretches from the South Side to the suburbs, covers some of the same territory as the 2nd Congressional District, helping him understand the issues facing residents there, Zuccarelli said.

"Even though some people who've been mentioned (as candidates) might do a decent job -- nobody comes close" to Trotter, Zuccarelli said. "I'm going to conduct inteviews and I'll listen to what people say -- but the only way my mind would change is if Donne dropped out."

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Rich Hein/Sun-Times


Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised eyebrows with a comment he made during a press conference on Monday when asked about the increase in 1-, 3-, 7-, and 30-day CTA pass prices. Below is his full quote:

"Basic fares stay the same, which you cannot say about gas prices. Basic fare stays at $2.25. That will be true this year, next year, the following year and the fourth year. You cannot say that about gas prices. Now, you as a commuter will pick. You can either drive to work or you can take public transportation. And the standard fare will stay the same. And that is not true about gas prices. Right now, they're dropping. [But], if you're willing to take a bet like that over the next four years, you'll see. ....Again, I remind you, the standard fare stays the same and energy prices at the pump do not. And that is a choice that the commuter will pick which way they want to get to work."


In the full context of the speech, the comment doesn't quite as bad as some have made it out to be, but it still strikes me as tone-deaf and flippant to the reality of those who don't have cars and those who are dependent upon the CTA. But the boiled-down concept of his comments was somehow translated to "if you don't like the higher prices, then drive" when the story started circulating on social media and that's when the rage of many Chicagoans exploded online. And matters only got worse yesterday when the Blue Line experienced major delays during Rush Hour, affecting the commute of a good chunk of Chicagoans who depended on the CTA.

Today, Emanuel insisted that he never said or implied what angry Chicagoans had claimed: "I did not say or imply that you could just drive. I said there's a choice. People choose public transportation because it's competitive against private transportation. That's a choice. And the service is getting better and improved -- and that's my intention." Of course, to many, his tone doesn't matter; the message is still the same.

Below is our Storify on the evolution of this still-unfolding argument about what the mayor said, what he meant, and how Chicagoans are reacting.

BY LISA DONOVAN AND RUMMANA HUSSAIN
Staff Reporters

Two years after her arrest and indictment on public corruption charges, Carla Oglesby -- a top deputy to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger -- is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 11th.

Cook County Judge James Linn set the trial date during a brief Tuesday morning hearing at the 26th and California criminal courts building. Oglesby was not present.

Arrested in October 2010, Oglesby remains free on bail pending the trial on charges that include theft of government property over $100,000, money laundering and official misconduct. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Authorities allege she was behind a scheme to steer no-bid, no-work contracts to friends and her own private public relations firm.

Oglesby had been running a small-time public relations firm in 2009 when she was tapped to be Stroger's message maker in the final months of his ill-fated re-election bid. He would lose the February 2010 primary, but Oglesby was rewarded nonetheless.

Days after the election, Stroger put Oglesby on the county payroll as his his $120,000-a-year deputy chief of staff.

Authorities allege that from mid-February 2010 when she was hired to the time of her fall arrest, Oglesby doled out more than a dozen public relations contracts -- totaling $300,000 in taxpayer money -- to get the word out about anything from flood grant money available to residents to environmental initiatives. Problem is, the work was never done, authorities say.

Each contract was just under the $25,000 threshold - at the time --that would require approval by Cook County commissioners. And prosecutors allege that was deliberate.

Authorities allege she got a piece of the pie by steering a $24,976 contract to her private public relations firm, using the money for personal expenses and moving money around bank accounts in an attempt to hide its source.
Days after her arrest, Stroger dismissed her.

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The Electoral College breakdown map, courtesy of C-SPAN.
Click to embiggen


By Neil Steinberg

If you thought Tuesday you were voting for the presidential candidate of your choice, think again. Due to a historic quirk in the creation of the United States -- some old operating code, as it were -- American voters do not chose the president directly, but rather select electors to the Electoral College who do the actual selecting of the president.

It's a cumbersome system. Each state has the same number of electors as it has representatives in Congress --the House of Representatives and Senate combined. Illinois, for example, has 20 - down one after the last census. They can't be the elected officials themselves, however. In 48 of the states, whoever wins the popular vote also wins all the electors -- only Nebraska and Maine have a proportional system where electoral votes are divided up between the winner and loser.

The system is a relic of an age when travel was difficult and counting ballots even more problematic than it is today. The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that numerous regional contenders didn't divide the nation.

Thus whoever wins 270 of the 538 available electoral votes will be inaugurated president on Jan. 20, 2013. But every four years there is talk of scrapping the Electoral College system, though it does have its defenders. Here are the main arguments, pro and con.

Reasons to get rid of it

  1. 1. A discrepancy between the number of voters and the number of electoral votes creates the possibility of losing the popular vote while winning the Electoral College. Three presidents have been elected on electoral votes while failing to win a majority of voters -- Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000 -- an outcome that undermines the faith Americans have in the legitimacy of the executive branch of government.
  2. 2. The Electoral College is inherently undemocratic, skewing significance toward smaller, more sparsely populated states. Delaware, with 900,000 residents, has three electoral votes, while Texas, with more than 25 million residents, has 34, which means from an electoral point of view, a vote in Delaware is more than twice as significant -- representing 1/300,000th of an electoral vote -- than a vote in Texas, representing 1/750,000 of an electoral vote.
  3. 3. By focusing on assembling 270 electoral votes, candidates ignore "safe" states such as Illinois, where there is no point in fighting for more votes once a majority is reached, since all the electoral votes are already assured. Thus the majority of states, nearly certain to fall one way or another, tend to get ignored in favor of a handful of "swing" states.
  4. 4. Even if the Electoral College works perfectly, it still introduces unnecessary delay into the system. Give the likelihood of immediate electronic voting in the foreseeable future, having to wait for some mysterious conclave to put its seal of approval on the will of the American people is unnecessary, not only wasting time, but wasting the money required to run the system.
  5. 5. There is the remote but real possibility of fraudulent electors -- members of the Electoral College who refuse to vote the way the results require that they vote. This has happened, and while it has never affected the outcome of a race, it could, and there is no reason to allow the possibility that one individual could perversely negate the will of hundreds of thousands of voters.

Reasons to keep it

  1. 1. America is change averse and would rather cling to an arcane system than switch to a new one, which might have flaws of its own. If we can't get rid of the penny, we can't scrap the Electoral College so why try? To do so, would involve a change in the constitution -- Article II, Section I lays out the details of the Electoral College -- and whatever benefit isn't worth the trouble of doing that.
  2. 2. Without the Electoral College, candidates would be encouraged to treat the country as a whole, and campaign through the national media, or in urban centers where the most people are concentrated. They would never spend time in a place like Ohio, where an evenly divided population means its electoral votes are up for grabs.
  3. 3. The Electoral College can soften the sting of tight races, which we often see. Thus a candidate who only wins by a tiny percentage of the popular vote can still have a considerable victory in the Electoral College, leading to a greater impression of consensus, which is good for subsequent governing.
  4. 4. The Electoral College helps direct power toward the states -- without it, authority would be even more centralized than it already is.
  5. 5. If the Electoral College wasn't scrapped after the debacle of the 2000 elections -- which saw one of those fraudulent electors -- it's never going to be.

Verbal gaffes are something that hurt both sides of political contests. See: President Obama's "You didn't build that" comment or any number of things Vice President Joe Biden has said over the years. But lately it's been conservatives that have really stuck their foots in their mouths. And I'm not even including the latest buffoonery from Donald Trump. This week alone has shown three high profile examples:

  • Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock whose comment invoking religion in pregnancies from rape has netted him enough bad press that Todd Akin is probably sending him a thank you card.
  • Ann Coulter, the Nickleback of punditry (because millions read her but no one will admit to it), delivered another misstep when, after this week's debate, she called President Obama a "retard."
  • And, last but not least, former Alaska governor, VP candidate, and reality TV star Sarah Palin garnered scorn for using the racially insensitive phrase "shuck and jive" when referring to President Obama.

(No word on how Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome and has rallied against the use of the word "retard," feels about Coulter's comment.)

It was all a little much for our own Mary Mitchell, who weighed in with her most recent column and in the video above. Says Mitchell today:

African-Americans have heard so many white pundits use racially insensitive language to criticize the nation's first African-American President, and they have sucked it up.

After all, what first black anything didn't have to endure racist taunts.

But Palin used language that is not only linked to slavery and Jim Crow, but is associated with the kind of "clowning" educated black people frown upon.

Palin doesn't know anything about that.

Be sure to read all of Mitchell's column on the issue here.

17087002H25160153.jpegSarah Palin had the Internet stirring again with debate over a reference she made to President Obama's "shuck and jive" and lies about what happened in Benghazi.

From Palin's initial post on her Facebook page:

Obama's Shuck and Jive Ends With Benghazi Lies by Sarah Palin on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:39am ยท As I mentioned on "On the Record" last night, there is breaking news that just two hours after the September 11th attacks on our consulate in Benghazi, the White House and State Department knew that an Islamic terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda claimed credit for the attack. We now know that the State Department sent an email to the White House, the Pentagon, the FBI and others in the intelligence community about this Islamist group claiming responsibility. And yet for days afterwards the White House and State Department led everyone to believe that the attack was the result of a spontaneous protest over an obscure YouTube video that had been uploaded months prior. Anywhere from 300 to 400 people from the administration and our intelligence community would have seen that email. Why the lies? Why the cover up? Why the dissembling about the cause of the murder of our ambassador on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil? We deserve answers to this. President Obama's shuck and jive shtick with these Benghazi lies must end. - Sarah Palin

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The former Republican candidate for vice president, not one to shrink away from the cacophony of criticism, broke out a reaction - again on Facebook - to those would accuse her of racist ranting:

For the record, there was nothing remotely racist in my use of the phrase "shuck and jive" - a phrase which many people have used, including Chris Matthews, Andrew Cuomo, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to name a few off the top of my head. In fact, Andrew Cuomo also used the phrase in reference to Barack Obama, and the fact that Mr. Cuomo and I used the phrase in relation to President Obama signifies nothing out of the ordinary. I would have used the exact same expression if I had been writing about President Carter, whose foreign policy rivaled Obama's in its ineptitude, or about the Nixon administration, which was also famously rocked by a cover-up.

I've been known to use the phrase most often when chastising my daughter Piper to stop procrastinating and do her homework. As she is part Yup'ik Eskimo, I'm not sure if this term would be deemed offensive when it's directed at her or if it would be considered benign as in the case of Chris Matthews' use of it in reference to Rachel Maddow. Just to be careful, from now on I'll avoid using it with Piper, and I would appreciate it if the media refrained from using words and phrases like igloo, Eskimo Pie, and "when hell freezes over," as they might be considered offensive by my extended Alaska Native family.

The outrageously outraged reaction to this expression from perennial hypocrites like Chris Matthews has only made me laugh. Mr. Matthews, let me share with you my favorite Irish toast: "May we always be happy, and may our enemies always know it."

- Sarah Palin


One of those critics was the Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell, who has no time for this kind of discourse seeping continuously into the American political discussion, particularly where it applies to the first African-American President of the United States. Mitchell writes:

African Americans have heard so many white pundits use racially insensitive language to criticize the nation's first African-American president, and they have sucked it up.

After all, what first black anything didn't have to endure racist taunts.

But Palin used language that is not only linked to slavery and Jim Crow but is associated with the kind of "clowning" that educated black people frown upon.

Palin doesn't know anything about that.

If she did, she wouldn't have accused a Harvard-educated black man who rose to become president of the United States of "shucking and jiving." That's would be like me calling the former governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Honey Boo Boo.

On Tuesday night in a debate among contenders for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, a Republican candidate made a controversial comment on rape. Richard Mourdock said that he does not support abortion rights for women in the case of rape because those babies are something "God intended to happen."

The Democrats wasted no time responding, releasing the ad shown here which features Mitt Romney endorsing Mourdock - a spot that just hit the airwaves Monday.

The Romney campaign quickly worked to distance itself from the Mourdock statement.

"Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul in the statement.