Achy Obejas

writer & translator


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Prop 8 lawyer’s Supreme Court argument: Babies and timing

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote in the Prop 8 case.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote in the Prop 8 case.

The weirdest part of this morning’s arguments on Prop 8 before the Supreme Court is that everybody — including the lawyer representing Prop 8 backers — seems to think same sex marriage is an inevitability, but that the court’s duty is not to hurry it along.

Consider the California voter, in 2008,” said Charles Cooper, the attorney for Prop 8’s backers, “in the ballot booth, with the question before her whether or not this age-old bedrock social institution should be fundamentally redefined, and knowing that there’s no way that she or anyone else could possibly know what the long-term implications of — of profound redefinition of a bedrock social institution would be. That is reason enough, Your Honor, that would hardly be irrational for the voter to say, I believe that this experiment, which is now only fairly four years old, even in Massachusetts, the oldest state that is conducting it, to say, I think it better for California to hit the pause button and await additional information from the jurisdictions where this experiment is still maturing.”

The pause button! Not the stop or off button, but the pause button!

And what’s the rationale for the slowdown? To see if same-sex marriage is working?

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School closings? Beavers conviction? The results of our corrupt system

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over Chicago without checks and balances.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over Chicago without checks and balances.

Fifty-four school closings! How did we ever get in this mess?

Er, ahem, shall we do some math?

Let’s start with recent headlines. First, “Chicago Proposes Closing 54 Schools” plus “Jury Convicts William Beavers of Tax Evasion.”

What does this equal?

At a quick glance, the two stories may not share much except their sensational nature. But the closings of 54 schools and the conviction of the Cook County politician are the results of a long, enmeshed system that gives the mayor unprecedented power and breeds corruption, both big and small.

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A Lesson from LaWanda

LaWanda Thompson-Sterling

LaWanda Thompson-Sterling

Yesterday, during the “Afternoon Shift” interview Rick Kogan and I did with LaWanda Thompson-Sterling, I heard myself admitting that the ordeal of her son’s murder – a story I followed on and off my WBEZ blog for two and half years – had sometimes been too much and that, because I could, because I’d had the privilege, I’d backed away and taken some distance at times.

Jeremiah Sterling was murdered July 15, 2010, his killer arrested almost immediately. For LaWanda, the murder didn’t just occur on that sunny day, but was kept alive with every new twist and turn of the case, with every new rumor that hit her doorstep, with every interview we did, with every visit from her son’s friends.

I remember being at her house and sensing that her welcome to his friends – young folks hurting from the loss, lonely for their own reasons, disoriented by events – seemed both a balm and a curse. Jeremiah’s friends kept his memory fresh, but that also meant the murder – a savage assassination – stayed near, a malignant ghost hovering.

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The Jeremiah Sterling Story: Epilogue

Jeremiah Sterling (Facebook)

Jeremiah Sterling (Facebook)

Last Friday, after the jury deliberating the fate of her son’s killer came back in less than an hour with guilty verdicts for first-degree murder and a slew of other charges, LaWanda Thompson-Sterling said she and her daughter drove home in silence and just sat in the car for what seemed like forever.

“All I could think about was, now what?” she said. “Now what do you do?”

A few days after the trial, having a sandwich on 47th Street with a friend, Thompson-Sterling still looked tired.

“It’s just that nothing is different,” she said. “Except I don’t have the burden of going to 26th and California to the trial. I prepared myself for a not guilty verdict. I was very nervous when the jury came back and I said, ‘Lord, help me to deal with it if it’s not guilty’.”

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Hugo Chávez and the Middle East: Whose side was he on?

Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embrace. (AP/File)

Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad embrace. (AP/File)

The death of Hugo Chávez is a turning point and an opportunity — regardless of who wins the first post-Chávez election April 14 — for Venezuela. The image and concept of Chávez himself, practically beatified by some some, reviled by others, is part of this next stage. Chávez was a confounding man: committed to a particularly immediate and hands-on brand of social justice, he reduced poverty by 50 percent in Venezuela and helped Latin American unite, addressing hemispheric problems away from the long shadow of the U.S. But Chávez was also a bully, appropriating domestic media, terrifying investors. And when it came to foreign policy, he often embraced some of the world’s most dangerous despots.

My longtime friend Danny Postel, the associate director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the author of Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran (2006) and the coeditor, with Nader Hashemi, of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2011), wrote this fascnating piece about Chávez’s relationship to the Middle East for the University of Chicago’s Critical Inquiry. He agreed to let me share it here.

Most of the postmortem commentary on Hugo Chávez has focused on his domestic legacy in Venezuela, his wider regional legacy within Latin America, and what we might call his hemispheric legacy—his “special relationship” with the United States. And for good reason: these were the principal realms in which he operated during his fourteen years as Venezuela’s president (1999–2013), and it is for his accomplishments in these domains that he will be remembered and the Chávez Era (it was, to be sure, an era) will be evaluated.

But there’s a less discussed dimension of the Chávez legacy that I’d like to examine briefly: his relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, a story whose significance became more salient with the onset of the momentous changes the region has been undergoing over the last few years—not merely since the “Arab Spring” or Arab revolts starting at the end of 2010 but going back to the upheaval in Iran in the summer of 2009.

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After Chavez: The constitution, the VP, and the elections

The late President Hugo Chávez and the now Acting President Nicolás Maduro confer under a portrait of Latin American hero Simón Bolivar. (AP/File)

The late President Hugo Chávez and the now Acting President Nicolás Maduro confer under a portrait of Latin American hero Simón Bolivar. (AP/File)

The last time Hugo Chávez appeared on Venezuelan TV was December 8, when he gave explicit instructions.

“If something should happen that I might be incapacitated in any way, I want Nicolás Maduro to finish my term, as the constitution dictates, but also — and it’s my firm opinion, as clear as a full moon, irrevocable, absolute, total — that if you’re obliged to hold new presidential elections, you should elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said, holding a copy of the constitution. “I’m asking this with all my heart.”

Two days later, Chávez boarded a plane to Havana and was never seen or heard from in public again. He was never even sworn in to his new presidential term, thanks to a ruling from the Venezuelan Supreme Court that said the new term was, essentially, a “continuation” of the old term. And though power was never officially transferred from Chávez, Maduro became the face of the government, the de facto president.

It was no surprise then that the news of Chávez’s death last Tuesday was delivered by a somber and clearly emotional Maduro, who also said there would be elections in 30 days.

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Chávez dies, VP accuses US of poisoning

Amidst the news of Hugo Chávez’s death yesterday, his vice president Nicolás Maduro also announced that he’d expelled two American diplomats from Venezuela for plotting against the government. Maduro also said that Chávez had been poisoned.

“We have no doubt that Commandant Chávez was attacked with this illness, we have no doubt whatsoever,” Maduro said. “The established enemies of our land specifically tried to damage our leader’s health. We already have leads, which will be further explored with a scientific investigation.”

Where did Maduro get this idea? Well, from Chávez himself. Back in December 2011, he gave a speech shortly after he’d been diagnosed with cancer and heard that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, also had cancer, in which he proposed the possibility that the U.S. had targeted progressive Latin American leaders through some kind of cancer-inducing chemical warfare.

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