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News in Brief: November 14, 2021

This week’s news stories from SAIC, Chicago, the United States, and the world.

By News

A wide-mouthed character tilts its head back and inhales a variety of news briefs and desk debris. The years "2021" and "2022" are caught in the air flow. Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Illustration by Jade Sheng.

Not just another Anti-Racism Book Club…

SAIC’s Anti-Racism book club! On Wednesday, November 10, SAIC’s Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) kicked off a school-wide reading of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. The books were made available digitally and in hard copy to any student who signed up to receive one in October. The book club itself will be held over the course of multiple sessions in the Spring, so even if you have not received a copy directly through the ARC you still have plenty of time to join in.

During Wednesday’s discussion, faculty members Elena Ailes, Benjamin Melamed, and Patrick Lynn Rivers, as well as Associate Director for International Admissions Anita Bhardwaj led a rotating discussion introducing the book: Its themes, its strengths, its problems (“Kim Kardashian may have a more progressive politics than Wilkerson,” Rivers slyly suggested) and, ultimately, whether or not this was a good choice as a “primer” on American racism. 

The lattermost question received a mixed reaction and prompted suggestions of supplementary materials. Which is just to say: It’s complicated. All of it. As Jefferson Pinder said during the opening remarks: “This Spring we will come together in a space of discussion…on topics that are not always easy to have.” So though complications abound, that’s partly the point. 

Speaking of complicated topics: Gerrymandering!!!

OK, we got that out of the way. Are you still with me? We know it’s not the most fun thing to talk about, but the way that gerrymandering and redistricting carve up communities has an effect on residents’ power in everything from calling in a broken street light to preventing the perpetuation of violence in their communities. And these maps are only reset every ten years. Think about where you were ten years ago. That’s the last time Chicago got to draw its lines. 

Earlier this year, a resident-led commission called the Chicago Advisory Redistricting Commission (CHANGE Illinois) led public outreach programs that listened to community concerns and drew its own map which they call The People’s Map. Drawn with 2020 census data and compounded with, get this, actual community input, The People’s Map reflects the changing demographics of Chicago. If ten alders support The People’s Map then a special election will be called, and the redistricting vote will go to the public. It’s a political power move in the form of a paint-by-numbers. Sounding a little more fun? Learn more about The People’s Map and get involved here. 

Sidenote: You can always access Chicago City Council meeting notes thanks to the work of Chicago Documenters. To keep an eye on the redistricting process, just look for meetings being held by the Committee on Committee and Rules. No, I didn’t make that name up. Yes, I added this paragraph just to point out that ridiculous name. 

Oh this marvelous melting pot…

President Joe Biden has been noticeably quiet on immigration reform, and has done little (read: nothing) to roll back even the most harmful Trumpian policies. But a number of political scientists and policy wonks have come up with peer-reviewed reasons for Biden’s silence. Namely, winning. Immigration policy is historically met with major backlash (unlike less charismatic subjects, like, ahem…redistricting), and that backlash will almost certainly hurt the Democrats’ agenda in the 2022 midterms and beyond.

The researchers, whose work goes beyond the United States to include European countries and New Zealand, posit that leaders of Western democracies often have to sacrifice hot topics in service of doing anything. Seriously, anything. As German Lopez explains for Vox, Biden may have decided that “neglecting immigration is the price he has to pay to try to get the rest of his agenda done.” 

Considering the President’s approval has been steadily declining anyway over the past six months due to massive inflation, maybe he should just go all in?

Did someone say ALL IN? 

Neil Bluhm, a billionaire casino magnate, did. Bluhm’s company Rush Street Gaming is behind two of the five proposals that Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering for the first and only casino license in Chicago. But, let’s be clear, he’s not all in for everyone. 

Bluhm has been working simultaneously to block a city ordinance that would allow sports betting at Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field, Soldier Field, Wintrust Arena, the United Center, and their surrounding areas. According to Block Club Chicago, Bluhm claims that allowing sports betting at the arenas would “eat into the future casino’s profits and cannibalize the city’s casino tax windfall.” Proponents of the sports betting ordinance claim that it will give people a reason to visit the stadiums, and their surrounding communities, in off-hours.  

Regardless of which side they’re on, it’d be worthwhile for everyone involved to revisit Propublica’s extensive reporting on the last time Illinois took a gamble with gambling. The short of it: the state lost. Far from pulling the state out of its financial tailspin, as they had hoped the new source of revenue would do, it “accelerated it and saddled Illinois with new, unfunded regulatory and social costs.” But, where there is money to be made, who’s going to bother listening to a bunch of journalists who have tirelessly conducted dozens of interviews, shuffled through thousands of pages of state financial records, and analyzed six years of gambling data? Probably not Bluhm. 

Whether your money’s on the casino, the ordinance, both, or neither, you’ll still have to go outside city limits, at least for now, to place your bet. 

Oh, and P.S. money. 

As we enter holiday season #2 in a state of global pandemic, Chicago, despite rising COVID case numbers, is open to the international public. As of Monday, November 8, the United States has lifted its ban on any international visitors who have received a vaccine and tested negative before flying. 

According to travel search company Hopper, Chicago is the fifth-most booked destination in the U.S. for international visitors between Dec. 18 and Jan. 2. And while international travelers account for only a very small portion of Chicago’s tourism industry (less than 3% of all visitors in 2019, according to the city’s tourism office), they come ready to spend big bucks. 

As Sidney Madden reported in a recent City Cast Chicago newsletter, that measly 3% spent about $2.1 billion here. Maybe we should see about getting SAIC’s holiday gift market into the inflight magazines.

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