Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rahm's zenith of cynicism


     A buddy of mine had Rahm Emanuel's private cellphone number and dialed it by mistake, which he discovered when the mayor's voice barked, "I'm with my family!" from his back pocket.
     When I heard that story, I did not think, "Poor Mayor Emanuel, interrupted while on the floor playing Monopoly with the kids." What I thought is that family is the club he pulls out automatically when fending off the prying gaze of the media, the fire ax behind the glass. A trick he learned from Mayor Daley: Put Maggie in a magic garden with unicorns and bristle indignantly whenever anyone looks over the rose hedge and asks, say, about the fat salaries she draws sitting on corporate boards. How dare you! That's my family!
     But family isn't always of practical use in every occasion, and so other families, particularly other families' kids, are a surrogate, and the mayor uses them continually as the perfect human shield to duck behind for political cover. Emanuel's second inauguration speech Monday continued the trend, evoking, to me, Karen Lewis' classic assessment: "Rahm thinks you're stupid." Not me, personally, though I'm sure he does. But people in general. You'd have to consider the intelligence of the city pretty low to, at a moment of true civic financial crisis, look to the clouds and wax poetic about the intractable problems of urban poverty and Our Young.
     "I want to use this moment to shine a spotlight on preventing another lost generation of our city’s youth."
     He didn't address kids who'll be lost because their schizophrenic parents can't go to the mental health clinics that the city closed, who suffer living in an economically collapsing city, or the disabled kids who've had their support kicked out from under them by his buddy Bruce Rauner in the name of making Illinois a more hospitable place to run businesses
     Rather, he told us that every child holds "the spark of the divine."
     Well thanks for the big reveal, Mr. Mayor, because some weekends it seems like they're the cast of a zombie shooter video game.
     Like "the most American of American cities" line he keeps repeating, Emanuel said a lot that sounds good but falls apart upon examination. "They may have been born in poverty, but poverty was not born in them." Nice chiasmus, your Honor, but what does that even mean?
     I half expected Rahm to trot out a kindergarten class, right there on stage at the Chicago Theatre, and start reading them "Hop on Pop." Delivered by another politician, the inauguration speech would be an unobjectionable effort. But coming from our mayor it is the zenith of cynicism, his standard schtick, children being the shiny watch he hopes to dangle in front of the electorate and the media hoping to mesmerize them.
     This time it was an epic fail. The front-page stories in both Chicago dailies presented schizophrenic coverage of the inauguration, alternating between the mayor's empty city-on-a-hill bromides and the looming economic disaster that he barely mentioned.
     Inaugurations are superfluous. The law doesn't require the mayor to be sworn in. His new term would have begun anyway at noon, with or without the Festiva del Rahm. Compare his one-size-fits-all speech to how powerful it would have been had he said, "You know, we're in a crisis, so rather than throw myself another bar mitzvah party, I'm asking that the money go to fund an after-school program in Roseland." That would have been something to applaud.
     Instead, we got endangered kids and how "we must make them ever present in our conversation."
    Oh, we're going to talk poverty away. Who knew it was that easy? Was there a specific thing in there that the mayor said he'd actually do? Good programs we're already doing, and the importance of parenting and mentoring. The usual suspects.
     The speech left me with this question: If talking about disadvantaged youth puts them on the road to solving their problems, in the mayor's mind if not in hard actuality, then what does not talking about a problem, say the city's finances, mean? That we're nowhere? Exactly. Which is why the mayor isn't talking about it. Maybe it's about time he does. Put down "Hop on Pop." Pick up Crain's. And start talking about the elephant that is not just in the room but in the room standing on the city's neck.

53 comments:

  1. Kinda reminds me of the photo of Bush reading to the school children when he found out about 9/11. So now it highlights a fiscal attack on a city instead of a terrorist attack. Less dramatic but still devastating. Perhaps sadder yet because Rahm already knows what's going on and is essentially letting it happen. Kids represent collateral damage.

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  2. Maybe he was just laying the groundwork for what his emphasis will be in budget cutting or tax increases - e.g., he'd rather use a tax increase to preserve universal kindergarden and expanded preschool and when he guts some other laudable program (say that serves adult homeless) he'll point to this and say "If I have to choose...."

    Regardless, do we really look for policy details in inaugural addresses? Here's President Obama's 2009 inaugural address. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama.html?pagewanted=all He was facing as grave a picture as Rahm does, with the country teetering on a depression and two ongoing wars. Here's the details he provided for his economic plan: "we will act." It's filled with the same kind of lofty principle/goals talk as Rahm's speech. True, everyone knows the President will give a "state of the union" address a couple weeks later, but everyone also knows that Rahm only has a few months to craft the "devil is in the details" budget he'll present to the city council in the fall, and action on the state level to permit taxing services may happen in the interim. If he's still singing "I believe the children are our future" a month from now, that's another story.

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    1. Anon-not-anon-I don't think anyone is asking for full details of a budget at an inaugural speech, but at least the pensions could be mentioned.

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    2. that's kindergarten, not garden

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  3. Advocate of the Anti-ChristMay 20, 2015 at 5:32 AM

    Emanuel's No Child Left Alive Pogrom (intentional misspelling). Not since John Wayne Gacy was a precinct captain has the Democratic Party offered such a fine program for the youth.

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    1. You may have a point, devil boy.

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  4. Good topic and well said on all points, Mr. S. Part of all this stems from his arrogance or as you mentioned Ms. Lewis saying, that he thinks others are stupid. If only she didn't fall ill, she could have beaten him

    P.S. That pic of him in the Wed. ST of him kissing his daughter's hand just looked so staged. Bet he's not so nice at home.

    He was left with a mess though & true enough and he's still better than Daley who probably belogs in jail somewhere with some of his other rels.

    I still say he's a DINO and elitist and not a true Dem.

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    1. It was a sad disappointment to have Karen Lewis drop out of the mayoral race. I was hoping she would win, so she could then feed Rahm to a sarlacc.

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    2. And Rahm needs to face the reality publically about our junk bond status, not go into denial. The banks the city deals with must be laughing at the interest rates.

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    3. The Democrats need to watch out with this DINO business or they'll suffer the same fate the GOP did when the Tea Party drove the Republican version of Blue Dog Democrats out of the party with the RINO charge.

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    4. That may indeed be so. I know moderate dems today, Rahm not withstanding , are often told by the far left, that they aren't liberal enough.

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    5. I agree with you about the danger of the DINO mindset, Anon-not-Anon. One of the many differences between the Tea Party types and many of the disgruntled folks who are even more liberal than you and me, though, is that the Tea Partiers actually organize and VOTE. I'm no big Hillary fan, but the choice isn't between her and a guy like Bernie Sanders; it's likely between her and whoever manages to extricate himself from the Republican clown car. I learned all I need to know about this in 2000. Lord knows, Al Gore was no FDR. But to suggest that there was no difference between him and Bush, and to vote for Ralph Nader or not vote at all in that election, was to ignore reality, and to deliver the Supreme Court to reactionaries for a generation, for starters, not to mention pave the way to the Iraq debacle.

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    6. good point, Jakash

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    7. J - completely agree - the presidency is the only office I won't allow myself the luxury of being ideologically pure in that "the lesser of two evils is still evil" sense - the office is just too powerful (and between GWBush's and President Obama's expansion of the office, it's even more powerful now than it was when Clinton took office). It's not just Nader: the "farther left" (I don't like "far left" - like they're a bunch of true socialists) abandoned the Dems in 68 and gave us Nixon, and then put up McGovern in 72 And crazy things happen in primaries: the parties let kooky Iowa and their no-secret-ballot caucuses set things off, followed by not-exactly-representative New Hampshire.

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    8. (The last time I did react against a Dem, I withheld my vote from Carol Mosley Braun in the 2000 senate race because of her support for Nigeria's then dictator Sani Abacha. In a sense I was lucky: Peter Fitzgerald turned out to have a maverick streak in him and wasn't as terrible as I thought, and Jim Jeffords would flip the senate back to the Dems).

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    9. I'm a Dem who reacts against the Clintons' since Bill left office or after his first term. Now Chelsea is writing a book? puhlease

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  5. Remind me why we voted for Rahm instead of Chuy. I think us stupids all realized that taxes of one sort or another had to go up no matter. But Rahm presumably can make the ouchie go away by dosing us with treacle.

    john

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    1. I think everyone understood that taxes were going up and services were going to be cut, and most people understood that Rahm meant there will be SOME pushback on public worker unions, as opposed to Karen Lewis' hand-picked toady. Those who think you can give 4% raises to teachers when you're already running a budget deficit AND ignore declining enrollment rates in schools AND keep the schools open without raising taxes past a tipping point that leads to a Cleveland syndrome (Detroit is overblown) voted Chuy. Those with didn't, or were so offended by Rahm's style that they could ignore all that, voted Chuy. And though I'm guessing most of the commenters here are pretty pale, there was another issue at play: African-American vs. Hispanic influence. There was most definitely a "black vs. brown" battle during the last alderman ward remap and that (as well as some identity politics) was at play as well.

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    2. True, the teacher's union isn't realistic at times.

      Some A-A leaders were denying it but ther was indeed and is a black vs. brown thing going. When push comes to shove, many blacks would vote for a white leader over a Hispanic one. Some may think the Hispanics have stolen their minority thunder or are in better economic shape. Of course Hispanics might work more as well, as compared to some hood types. The Hispanics are willing to take menial jobs when need be and they are going to colleges at a higher rate.

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    3. I don't trust Karen Lewis or the CTU either.

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  6. Because Chuy wouldn't know shit from shaft and has less experience in such dealings. And he looks like Pancho Villa, besides.

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    1. I wonder what the mayor says to a kid that is talking during his reading or laughing or gets cocky with him. Notice whenever he's pictured at a school or one sees a tape on local tv news, he's always seems to be at a mostly African school. What a panderer.

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    2. or mostly Hispanic school. Hmm, wonder why his kids don't go to public school.

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  7. Neil, I hope your pal texted the Mayor later and told him it was a butt call.

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  8. To everyone here who is a fan of Karen Lewis, I'd ask them to consider this: one of the most important education studies in the last decade took place in Chicago Heights, where Lewis also heads (or headed) the union. One of the "Freakonomics" authors/economists was involved. It studied whether merit pay would be effective if you paid it up front, but required teachers to refund it if they didn't hit performance benchmarks. The idea was to use the psychological phenomena of "loss aversion" to motivate teachers: you feel worse about the money you lose than you feel good about the money you find. They tested this both with individuals and making the bonus dependent on a group of teachers' results. In both cases, the results were startling.

    And to the best of my knowledge it's never been repeated. Karen Lewis was fiercely against it, arguing that such tests imply teachers are holdiing something back. Not surprisingly, CTU successfully kept Chicago from participating in another merit pay experiment, at no cost to the city. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/a-very-mean-but-maybe-brilliant-way-to-pay-teachers/260234/

    If you give a damn about children, regardless of how you feel about teacher pay raises, class sizes, longer school days (I think the evidence is very weak on that reform) you aren't against *experimentation* to find out what works and what doesn't, ESPECIALLY with something this promising comes along. I can forgive Lewis for fighting for her membership. I've been generally supportive of her calls to investigate and sue the banks participating in the "toxic swaps." But I can't forgive her for her anti-reform positions. I could go on with other examples and if NS ever writes about this issue (he seems to leave it to Eric Zorn) I'd be happy to!

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    1. Oh, those Freakonomics people can kiss my ass. Let's take money away from wool-gathering theorists if their predictions don't work out and see how they like it.

      Whenever a conservative politician--and that's what Rahm is--does a photo op with minority schoolchildren, it's like a neon sign that says, "Cuts to education funding ahead."

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    2. ANA- True, in some ways the CTU and Lewis is just another form of a self centered business, but Scribe I agree with you about those theorists.

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    3. Right you are, Bitter Scribe.

      A-N-A- remember you can't always be right and know everything.

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    4. Anon @1:23PM - which one of the two of us is calling for more research and which one of us is claims to know enough to say "right you are" (despite the evidence in the link I provided - you must know it's false?) Thanks for playing.

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    5. you're welcome, I like to play, don't take things so seriously

      perhaps you should run for city council, Mayor or Gov.-it might be an improvement over what we now have

      perhaps you can run as a moderate Republican

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    6. I agree with Anon-not-anon. NS should write more about those topics, like Zorn does. I'd like to see more on the matter.

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    7. Anon not anon , you can't expect people to always or only agree with you.

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  9. BS - we're talking about experimenting, not implementing wholesale policy. You're really willing to sacrifice potentially immense boosts to children's learning - just stick your head in the sand and never try it again - because you don't like the experimenters? And note the experiment doesn't take money away, nor did the proposed experiment CTU blocked.

    And this calling Rahm a "conservative politician" is meritless. Unless finally achieving universal kindergarden and greatly expanding universal preschool is somehow a "conservative" thing now, or having -any- concern that there's a level of taxes and shifting of public resources that will lead to middle class flight. A real conservative would want to take all the money poured into CPS and turn it into a voucher system.

    While we're at it, how is it conservative to think that the teacher licensing exam should be at something above a high school level in difficulty, and there shouldn't be unlimited chances to pass it?

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    1. Mr. Anon not- You claimed in another blog page here that you like NS's postings. Could have fooled me. Why read something you disagree with and find fault with 99% of the time? Just to argue? do you have a superiority complex? I don't care for brownosers but you are the other extreme.

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  10. The easiest way out is to put a casino next to McCormick place and slots in the airports - then have a mandatory 30 min delay on all flights out (the baggage hadlers already create the welcome to Chicago, you have time to feed our machines now). All of our fine tourists and conventioneers will subsidize the pensioneers, who will then, most likely, go spend those funds at the outlier casinos....

    RC

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  11. I liked the speech well enough, and certainly wouldn't have rhetorically emptied both barrels on Rahm for this offense, if it was one. "Inaugurations are superfluous." This, I agree with.

    Rahm spent months and months getting pounded for not caring enough about the parts of the city that he was attempting to address in this speech. Sure, the speech was obviously lip service. News flash -- politicians are all about lip service. Perhaps it's curious or cynical that he didn't use those 20 minutes to casually solve the pension crisis that has been building for decades, but not to me. To suggest that he thinks this speech would distract the "stupid" voters from the many other budget problems facing the city is quite a bit of a stretch, IMHO. I'm pretty sure that the financial condition of the city has not been kept very quiet. The pension crisis is not going to be solved in a speech, any more than the problem with violence in parts of the city is. Whatever Rahm's gonna do about it would not be made any more or less effective by his having addressed it in this speech. And let's just keep in mind that, less than a week ago, it was our incisive EGD host who wrote: "Anybody wish that Chuy Garcia was on the fifth floor of City Hall? Busily forming his exploratory committee and trying to figure out which wire to cut before this problem sends Chicago up in a mushroom cloud of insolvency? I didn't think so." Personally, I find that critique more resonant than much of today's.

    That being said, the last paragraph of the column is well-stated and trenchant.

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    1. J - and when I brought up specifics to that EGD post, the response was effectively "outraged again?" but nothing to the suggestions. Everybody knows the general mix of things that can be done to address the budget crisis, it's all about the relative mix. That said, I'd love for NS to poll his Rahm-cell-number-worthy friends and see if they have some creative ideas and put them up for discussion. Look how well the hive mind does on the Saturday "Where Is This?" contests!

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    2. Whoo hoo, I sure wouldn't want to get on your bad side, A/N/A.

      Anyway, there is good discussion here today and where is our esteemed host? Must be a busy day at work today.

      That being said, NS, hope your college boy is home safe and sound as the semester ends, or it may have already. One year down, 3 to go.

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    3. (since you have brought that up in past publically about the trip to calif. thought it was okay to say that)

      Ana, you must be an attorney or financier.

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    4. True, NS is a bit of a name dropper. Or he can't admit when he's been bested.

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  12. You make some very valid points, Jakash.

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  13. Anon not- Since you referred to the elitist Atlantic Monthly publication, here's an article from said publication, that you might like.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/06/why-it-pays-to-be-a-jerk/392066/

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    1. Thanks! But what does it mean that I do all the things in the first paragraph except sing? I even leave the last bottle of pop that's on sale on the shelf when I have orders to buy all I can, because the Bible says to leave some for the gleaners, and I can't stand the thought of someone all jacked up for the sale price to come away completely empty handed.

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    2. I never took you for a religious type.

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  14. If every time a politician stated "it's the children, or our children's future is at stake" I tossed a silver dollar into a bucket, I would have more than enough for my retirement once these same politicians find a way to strip me of my pension. Do any of them really give a damn about the children? Then why are they cutting education funding, college support, after school programs, vocational training and jobs for teens? As the body count of Chicago's young rise with the temperature, will Rahm sympathize? No, he'll be criticizing Spike Lee for filming the movie version.

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  15. I think Rahm cares about the kids or disadvantaged a bit more than Rauner does.

    A/N/A, bet you aren't so tough at home. Maybe you are a dino.

    But glad you left the pop.

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  16. Where is the money for the lottery going? Wasn't that for education?

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    1. They used that money for education, then redirected the money that HAD been used for education to other purposes (not pension funding, clearly). So, zero net effect for education.
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  17. All politicians want their moment of pomp after winning an election. From the Dog Catcher to The President of The United States.
    No person of such ego would begin by pointing out, and then building on the foundation of, the obvious negatives facing them. And, as meaningless as
    Rahm's speech might have been, it sure beats "Well, we're broke. I Have to raise taxes somewhere, and everyone's gonna suffer."
    This is politics. Run by politicians who rely on winning popularity contests - not telling the truth.

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  18. The person who keeps griping about ANON-NOT must be intimidated by his mental prowess.

    Good point, Paul.

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  19. no comments from NS on all this?

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.