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April 2012, Week 2

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Rahm Emanuel Has a Problem With Democracy
By Rick Perlstein
Rollling Stone
POSTED: April 3, 2012
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/national-affairs/why-rahm-emanuel-hates-democracy-20120403

Rahm Emanuel insists it's no biggie. Yes, when it was
announced last summer that Chicago would host
unprecedented back-to-back summits in May of 2012 of the
G8 and NATO, the new mayor raved about his "opportunity
to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the
greatest country." And yes, when President Obama
abruptly announced last month that the G8 would instead
take place at Camp David, after the city had already
committed millions of dollars for preparations, he gave
his chief of staff one hour's notice. But Rahm
generously said he took "at face value" his former
boss's explanation that the presidential retreat in
rustic Maryland would provide a more "intimate" setting
for the leaders of the world's eight largest economies.
No embarrassment at all.

Here in Chicago, of course, no one believes a word of
it. Cartoonist Jack Higgins of the Sun-Times nailed the
prevailing view with not one but two burlesques of
Rahm's humiliation: In the first, a tall jug-eared black
man hands a paper reading "No G8 in Chicago" to a little
man run over by a presidential limousine: "Sorry I
didn't run into you sooner, Rahm," the caption reads; in
the other, a runtish Rahm is handed a note reading
"Sorry Rahm no G8." It's tied to a giant screw rammed
straight through him from behind - a merciless reference
to the White House's frequent avowals, when Emanuel
decamped to Chicago, that they would "have Rahm's back."

So: Poor Rahm? Not so much. I'd argue that his humbling
has been good for the city, and not just because the
event would have been a riotous disaster. It's also good
because it's been clarifying, having flushed out for the
public something that reporters covering City Hall have
known all along: Rahm Emanuel is no friend of democracy.

You may have heard about the unprecedented restrictions
on protest for the G8 that Emanuel rushed through the
City Council - the "sit down and shut up ordinances,"
Occupy Chicago calls them - granting the mayor the power
to deploy surveillance cameras across the city without
approval or oversight, and quadrupling, to $200, the
fine for rallying without a permit (and making said
permit almost impossible to obtain). But did you hear
about the nearly $200,000 contract for new full-face
police shields - Emanuel's first deployment of his new
power to purchase goods and services for the summit
without City Council approval or competitive bidding?
How about the solicitation of bids for medieval joust-
style riot armor for police horses, or the provisions to
deputize to the Chicago police "other law enforcement
agencies as determined by the superintendent of police
necessary for the fulfillment of law enforcement
functions" - a possible wedge for the introduction of
private security firms like Xe Services (now called
Academi), the former Blackwater.

The cops sure do love their new masks. Which has long-
memoried Chicago lefties freaking out.  "People have
been known to throw bags of urine, human feces, and also
inflammatories at officers," claims Mike Shields, the
aptly named president of the Chicago police union, and
the old shields "allow for fluids to drip through." In
1968, the city justified the beating of peaceful
protesters at the Democratic National Convention with
just such piss-and-shit claims, which were almost
certainly urban legends, according to Chicago
investigative journalist Lewis Z. Koch, who produced all
the street footage at the convention for NBC news in
1968. Koch also finds contemporary parallels in the
games the city played then with protesters' requests for
permits to march near the action. People who want to
protest will protest anyway, permits or not - that's
what happened in 1968 - but by complicating the
permitting process the city ensures that the protesters
who show up will be mainly the most committed
extremists, raising the likelihood of violent
confrontations. Perhaps that's why Obama pulled the
plug: He grasped that Mayor Emanuel's macho bullshit
made an apocalyptic smackdown during "Occupy Spring"
almost inevitable.

And so, no G8 summit for Chicago. And yet, whadya know,
the restrictive ordinances are still in place, with no
hint that they'll go away - leading Bernard Harcourt in
the Guardian to wonder whether this wasn't the point all
along: "It's almost as if Rahm Emanuel was lifting a
page from Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine," Harcourt
writes. "In record time, Emanuel successfully exploited
the fact that Chicago will host the upcoming G8 and NATO
summit meetings to increase his police powers and extend
police surveillance, to outsource city services and
privatize financial gains, and to make permanent new
limitations on political dissent...very rapidly and
without time for dissent." Or, as Rahm himself said, in
a different context (the economic meltdown that Obama
got landed with in 2009), "You never want a serious
crisis go to waste." Indeed.

You're suprised? Don't be. For that is how Rahm Emanuel
rolls: underhandedly and opaquely, without consultation,
obsessed with finding ways to expand his executive
power.

Consider the seemingly mundane matter of speed cameras.
Rahm wants to make Chicago the world's capital for
systems that automatically send motorists tickets that
start a $100 for going five miles over the speed limit
within an eighth of a mile of schools and parks. That
covers 47 percent of the city's streets. Chicagoans
balked, suspecting a revenue grab to help close
Chicago's budget deficit of three-quarters of a billion
dollars. The mayor said, no, it was all about safety: He
claimed that traffic deaths had fallen by 60 percent
near the city's already existing cameras that cite
people for running red lights. The Chicago Tribune tried
to verify the numbers - but City Hall claimed they were
"confidential." They used publicly available source data
instead, and found a 26 percent reduction in traffic
deaths "that mirrored a broader accident trend in the
city and around the nation." When confronted, a city
bureaucrat "acknowledged the claimed reduction in
fatalities was based only on an informal analysis of
traffic statistics." "Study' is a bit of a term of art,"
he dodged. "We had many meetings to discuss the best and
most fair way to gauge the effectiveness," he told the
Tribune, including a "judgment call" to count fatalities
as far away as a quarter mile from red-light cameras.
"He declined to say who was involved in the meetings,"
noted the paper. "Asked who he meant by 'we,' he said he
meant 'the royal we.'"

Lovely. The kicker? The manager of Emanuel's 2002
congressional campaign consults for the company that
will supply the cameras, Redlex Traffic Systems of
Australia. His name is Greg Goldner, and he currently
runs For a Better Chicago, an Emanuel-aligned political
action committee that raised nearly a million dollars in
secret cash to funnel to Rahm-friendly candidates for
alderman.He also runs something called the "Traffic
Safety Commission," which is funded by . Redflex Traffic
Systems. Emanuel refused to answer questions about the
relationship. Instead, a spokesman replied, "As the
mayor has said, this is about doing the right thing for
our children and keeping them safe."

Ah, the children. Rahm Emanuel just loves the children.
"I'm going to stick with it. Because it's the right
thing for our children" - that was his response when the
state labor board criticized his plan to extend
Chicago's school year and stretch the school day to
seven-and-a-half hours and pay teachers only 2 percent
more for 20 percent more work. After teachers at three
elementary schools agreed to consider the plan, he said,
"I can't be prouder of people who decided to do what's
right finally for our children." That was in the face of
accusations from Chicago Teachers Union president Karen
Lewis that the teachers were offered extra cash and
iPads for their schools in exchange for their support.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Public School's inspector general
is investigating allegations that a local pastor paid
busloads of people $25 to $50 each to pack public
hearings in favor of Emanuel's education plans, and that
the pastor, Roosevelt Watkins, has received cash from
Greg Goldner's consulting company. Goldner denies
knowing anything about payoffs. "What [community groups]
use the money for and how they do it is their business,
not ours."

Here's the flipside of that logic: Rahm's daily doings
are none of the community groups' business. Nor the
business of ordinary constituents. The mayor's office
sends out a nightly document to reporters entitled "The
Public Schedule for Mayor Rahm Emanuel"; it frequently
reads only "There are no events scheduled at this time"
(when the mayor's office wants coverage they call
reporters moments before an event).  Ben Joravsky, the
indefatigable City Hall reporter for the alternative
weekly Chicago Reader got so fed up with this that he
used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the
mayor's private schedule. What he found: The amount of
time a constituent spent with the mayor was robustly
correlated with how much money that constituent
contributed to the mayor. Meanwhile, Emanuel had hardly
met with community groups, social service organizations,
or neighborhood activists at all. His predecessor Mayor
Daley, hardly known as a paragon of small-d democracy,
met with such people all the time.

But if Rahm doesn't spend a lot of time and effort
cultivating non-moneyed constituents, he is an
aggressive and tireless courter of the media. The
Emanuel press operation, admittedly, is stunningly
effective. On February 23, for instance, the story that
Emanuel was closing seventeen "underperforming" school
dropped. Rev. Jesse Jackson took the occasion to point
out that of the 160 CPS schools without libraries and
140 of them were south of North Avenue - where the black
people live: "That's apartheid," he said. That same day
DePaul University announced it was closing its downtown
campus for the G8 summit and county officials said they
were considering closing the civil courts - directly
contradicting Emanuel's claims that the event would not
be disruptive. Neither made the front page of the
tabloid Sun Times that day. What did? Rahm gazing
sweetly at his wife Amy Rule, for an article on her
charity activities.

Rahm seems to have worked the same ol' black magic on
the veteran journalist/pundit Jonathan Alter, judging by
Alter's fawning profile of him in the current issue of
The Atlantic. Alter wants us to swallow that Emanuel is
the avatar of a new (for Chicago) brand of clean,
public-spirited politics, the very first mayor produced
by the city's long-lived but perennially also-ran reform
tradition. "Sitting in his cavernous office on the fifth
floor of City Hall," he gushes, "Rahm lowers his
outstretched empty palms, then raises them above his
waist. 'If you have your hands above the table you can't
deal from the bottom of the deck.'"

Alter then passes along Rahmpraganda with a kind of
goofy glee. Concerning speed cameras, Alter claims the
Tribune "virtually ignored a study showing that cameras
had cut fatalities by 60 percent in the areas where
they'd been tried." (That would be the "study" for which
the administration refused to produce the data.) His
"stature as a national figure helped him prevail without
the support of the usual party hacks" and "plugged-in
local contractors." (But his buddy Goldner's main job in
2002, the Trib says, was "marshaling the patronage
troops," from his base as former head of the Department
of General Services, which operates and maintains city
facilities.) "His policy has been to treat demonstrators
as gingerly as possible." (Actually one night 175
arrestees including a nurse collared while administering
first aid were hauled off to jail, fingerprinted, and
had bail set - all before learning that the city had
decided their offense was a civil, not criminal,
matter.)

"Rahm wants to end patronage not because it offends his
conscience but because it is costly and inefficient,"
Alter writes, credulously. But an old hand like him
shouldn't be gulled. Autre temps, autre moeurs: Chicago
is a town where machines always morph, with patronage,
favoritism, and corruption taking new forms with each
passing generation.

What Rahm seems to be doing is building a new machine
for our age of union busting and austerity. His budget,
which the City Council passed 50 to 0 like it was some
Soviet Party Congress (maybe it had something to do with
the hundreds of thousands Goldner's PAC had to spend),
killed six community mental health clinics, saving $2.3
million dollars, and proposed to carve $10 million and
110 union jobs from Chicago's libraries; in the face of
protest, he restored $5.3 million and 55 workers to the
system, which Alter claims shows how flexible and
magnanimous he is. As the progressive Chicago journalist
Curtis Black points out, it's instructive to compare
that $7 million in precious, precious budget savings to
some of the free public money he's handed out to
corporations. An animal testing company that serves Big
Pharma, Experimur LLC, got $3.7 in "tax increment
financing" - basically a loan given with little public
accountability that's supposed to be paid back by the
tax revenue future growth creates - to save their 26
jobs: "It does appear that, job-wise, libraries get you
a bigger bang for your buck," Black wrote in the
Community Media Workshop's publication Newstips. And he
offered his second biggest campaign contributor, the
Chicago Mercantile Exchange  already a very profitable
corporation, a TIF grant of $15 million for office
renovations, including a luxury bathroom. (The CME
turned the grant down.)

Welcome to the new machine: cuts to schools, libraries,
and mental health; cash to corporations. And should you
have the insolence to protest it - well, you'd better be
able to afford a damned good lawyer.

___________________________________________

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