MEDIA WATCH: Rahm on the Ropes as media adulations begin to sow giggles rather than awe -- despite millions of taxpayer subsidized Rahm Emanuel propaganda, national media claims about Rahm's greatness now becoming a version of 'The Emperor has No Clothes'
Editor's Note: Since the RETURN OF RAHM (it really has to be rendered thus) to Chicago, the national and international media story line has been RAHM THE GREAT, even as things in Chicago degenerated before his simple-minded story lines and simplistic neo-liberal version of reality. Puffed up by $5 million in public propaganda machinery (the "Mayor's Press Office" at City Hall and the "CPS Office of Communications" at the Chicago Public Schools, both subservient completely to the nurturing of the RAHMSTORY at public expense), the Rahm feature began even before his lurid inauguration in 2011 and continued across the corporate media, aided by pundits who are highly paid to recycle a press clipping file and spend a few hours in the presence of the GREAT ONE. As a result, Rahm stories have appeared in publications ranging from Chicago magazine's oversimplifications to The Atlantic and the Economist.
It took the massive rise in Chicago murders -- underscored by the Hadiya Pendleton murder -- for some in the national media to notice that, to use the traditional metaphor, that RAHM IS THE EMPEROR WITH NO CLOTHES. Although that cartoon hasn't yet appeared in the corporate media, it was already a feature of Chicago teacher picket signs by the second day of the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012.
Now The Nation publishes a story that begins to accurately reflect on the silliness (and great expense) of the Rahm mythology for a more "liberal" national audience. [And below, after the end of this Nation story, we reproduce the first of the Rahm Emanuel press releases to be forwarded across the media on March 1, 2013 alone. On some days, Rahm's public propaganda departments issue as many as six press releases, all featuring Rahm at their center. Most are corporate propaganda pieces, announcing another corporate addition to Chicago and some dubious claims of "jobs created." This one, on "Healthy CPS," featured an appearance by Michelle Obama, but failed to note, in pushing one version of how CPS is supposedly more "healthy," that under Rahm Emanuel's phony austerity policies, most Chicago public schools do not have daily nursing services, and that 160 schools are without libraries, while more, despite the trauma of gang murders, are without regular psychologists and counselors enough to serve all the children who need them.
Rahm on the Ropes, Rick Perlstein on February 27, 2013 - 10:29 AM ET in The Nation on line....
Back last year when I was columnizing for the Rolling Stone website, I started explaining to the rest of the country what Rahm Emanuelâ€™s tenure as mayor of Chicago felt like on the ground here in my hometown â€” and not, say, from the rarified altitude of national mainstream publications who treated the half-baked, potentially self-dealing ideas he rammed through a Kremlin-like City Council as if emanations from some sort of public policy Nirvana; unquestioningly took the mayor at his word even in his most pie-in-the-sky, pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow pronouncements; and fawned over him as some sort of new-breed reformer because, wellâ€”he tells them he is some sort of new-breed reformer.
I called that â€œRahmpraganda.â€ Its most sublime practitioner proved to be Jonathan Alter, who gushed in The Atlantic: â€œSitting in his cavernous office on the fifth floor of City Hall, Rahm lowers his outstretched empty palms, then raises them above his waist. â€˜If you have your hands above the table you canâ€™t deal from the bottom of the deck.â€™â€‰â€
Now, it wasnâ€™t hard for me to document the various ways Emanuel dealt from the bottom of the deck all the damned time: all I had to do was compile links of the local coverage. On how his administration all but bribed teachers to support his dubious education initiatives. Or rammed through shock-doctrine anti-protest maneuvers. Or embarrassingly manipulated statistics. Or hid his pay-for-access scheduling practices from public view. Or pleaded poverty in a laughably transparent way in order to cut services for things like libraries, while passing equivalent amounts from the city treasury to favored corporate interests. Or practiced simple old-school Chicago-style cronyism.
The responses I got from this humble act of second-hand journalistic aggregation proved the most extraordinary part of the exercise: reporters whose job it was to cover City Hall on a day to day basis, in an atmosphere of sickening intimidation, reached out to me with an almost absurd amount of gratitude that someone, anyone, was bringing this news to the rest of the country.
Still and all, I had to report, â€œthe approval rating of a man some say wants to be the first Jewish president is 52 percent after his first year in officeâ€â€”not great, but not bad.
But stick around to the end. This story may yet have a happy political ending â€” if the rest of the country manages to pay attention to whatâ€™s actually happening in the city.
Since I wrote those articles last year, Emanuelâ€™s municipal missteps have only compounded. Jonathan Alter said of his response to Occupy, â€œHis policy has been to treat demonstrators as gingerly as possible.â€ A local judge disagreed: on First Amendment grounds, he ruled that the arrests of hundreds of people in Grant Park two nights in a row for violating curfew (but none of the 500,000 who stayed past curfew there on Election Night in 2008) proves â€œthe city intended to discriminates against defendants based on their views.â€
What Emanuel had planned as his marquee accomplishment â€” corporate-style â€œschool reformâ€ â€” has been cracking like a pane of glass. His attempt to game state law to make it virtually impossible for Chicago public school teachers to strike backfired last year when they not only struck the hell out of him but ended up undermining the core rhetorical underpinning of the â€œreform movementâ€ â€” that teachers unions are the enemies â€” when Chicago Public School parents sided overwhelmingly with the strikers.
That hardly held back Phase Two of Emanuelâ€™s scheme, set to roll out this year: planned massive school closings, based on dubious and opaque statistical arguments about â€œunderutilizedâ€ buildings. Activists point out that the rationale for school closings shift from year to year, and never seem to accomplish the policy aims that supposedly justify them; so threadbare have the cityâ€™s explanations become by now, in fact, that the actual reason for hollowing out the system has become transparent to just about everyone: to turn the most prominent operator of charter schools, the United Neighborhood Association, or UNO, into a wheelhouse of a new-model political machine.
Hereâ€™s an editorial from last Friday in the Chicago Tribune, a right-leaning publication that would love to sign off on City Hallâ€™s corporate â€œschool reformâ€ agenda, if only it didnâ€™t obviously stink so very, very bad:
The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that much of a $98 million state grant given to UNO to build schools was funneled to companies that have deep connections to the organizationâ€™s political allies and a top UNO executive, Miguel dâ€™Escoto. Shortly after the story broke, dâ€™Escoto resigned.
Dâ€™Escoto Inc., a company owned by Miguel dâ€™Escotoâ€™s brother Federico, reaped more than $1.5 million for work as the â€œownerâ€™s representativeâ€ in the construction of several schools.
Reflection Window Co., owned by another dâ€™Escoto brother, Rodrigo, stands to earn nearly $10 million for work on several schools.
Plumbing contracts went to a company owned by the sister of Victor Reyes, the clout-heavy lawyer and lobbyist who helped UNO snag the state grant.
UNO hired Aguila Security, a firm run by two brothers of state Rep. Edward Acevedo, a longtime UNO ally who voted to approve the UNO grant in 2009.
And all this is not to mention Emanuelâ€™s most nationally prominent policy failure â€” his inability to accomplish a reduction in the cityâ€™s heartbreaking epidemic of youth gun violence, horrifyingly symbolized this winter by the slaying of local 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton about a week after she returned from performing at Barack Obamaâ€™s inauguration.
Now that promised happy political ending. Voters are waking up. Crainâ€™s Chicago Business polled 600 voting-age Illinois voters last September. Thirty-four percent approved of Emanuelâ€™s performance and 33 percent disapproved. It just ran the poll again. This time, 19 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. And in Chicago proper? Thirteen percent â€œstrongly disapproveâ€ of his performance, 9 percent â€œsomewhat disapprove,â€ and 13 percent â€œlean toward disapprovalâ€â€”down sixteen points in net approval since September.
Who loves you, Rahm? Around one of every fifty Chicagoans, it turns out. Says Crainâ€™s, â€œjust 2 percent of Chicagoans surveyed said they strongly approve of the mayorâ€™s job performance.â€
Once more, though, the celebrity-besotted national political media hasnâ€™t quite received the news. Last week, The Washington Postâ€™s conventional wisdom maestro Chris Cilizza reviewed the chances of Emanuel making a respectable presidential run. He kind of liked them. He quoted Democratic pollster Mark Mellman: â€œIâ€™ve known Rahm for almost 30 years and if Iâ€™ve learned anything itâ€™s that Rahm can achieve whatever Rahm sets out to achieve.â€ Maybe Mellman should start reading the Chicago press â€” whoâ€™ve been proving that Rahmâ€™s achieving just about nothing heâ€™s set out to achieve.
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RAHM MARCH 1 PRESS RELEASE, DISTRIBUTED TO ALL MEDIA BY THE MAYOR'S PRESS OFFICE AT CHICAGO CITY HALL AND BY THE CPS OFFICE OF COMMUNCATIONS... Note that the schools will have more gardens, but not more nurses, psychologists, social workers, and counselors. This is typical of the kind of propaganda that is released on Rahm's behalf on a daily basis in Chicago, and replicated uncritically in the corporate media.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. February 28, 2012. CONTACT:. Mayorâ€™s Press Office 312.744.3334
CHICAGO UNVEILS NEW HEALTHY CPS ACTION PLAN. Plan Contains 60 Detailed Strategies to Improve Health and Wellness of Students; City Increasing Physical Activity Space for 150,000 Students; Doubling Number of School Gardens; Standardizing Physical Education Curriculum
Mayor Emanuel, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair today unveiled the Healthy CPS Action Plan, which contains 60 detailed, district-wide and concrete strategies to improve the health and wellness of Chicagoâ€™s students. This plan builds on the school districtâ€™s existing Healthy CPS agenda, which outlines specific goals for student health and brings CPS in line with Mayor Emanuelâ€™s city-wide agenda to help all Chicagoans get and stay healthy.
This announcement comes on the same day that First Lady Michelle Obama is recognizing Chicagoâ€™s commitment to childrenâ€™s health with an event in her home town, celebrating the third anniversary of her successful Letâ€™s Move! initiative, which is dedicated to solving the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation.
â€œGood health is essential for good learning, and Chicago is leading the nation with comprehensive strategies to improve the health and wellness of all residents,â€ said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. â€œOur goal is to ensure every student has the knowledge, tools and access necessary for good health. For the first time in decades, students are guaranteed recess with our full school day, and the Healthy CPS Action Plan builds on this and additional efforts to ensure students have healthy options and learn healthy habits that will help them succeed for years to come.â€
Healthy CPS is a comprehensive plan building off Healthy Chicago, the cityâ€™s multi-faceted public health agenda dedicated to making Chicago the healthiest city in the nation. It follows other initiatives by Mayor Emanuel and CPS including the full school day, providing not only more time in the classroom, but also guaranteeing recess in all elementary schools. The Healthy CPS Action Plan outlines specific strategies to help meet the goals of the overall Healthy CPS agenda, and includes:
CPS will work with the Chicago park district to provide increased space for physical activity to 150,000 students.
CPS will double the number of school-based gardens, increasing student access to fresh foods and providing new opportunities for hands-on science education.
CPS will develop and implement a standardized curriculum for physical education across all grade levels.
CPS will expand access to free oral health exams, dental cleanings and sealants for all high school students, building off a successful program already in place for elementary school students.
CPS will ensure all students receive a free vision screening and that students who fail their screenings have access to a local optometrist and free eyeglasses.
"Ensuring that our students receive nutrition education and have opportunities for physical activity can influence a lifetime of healthy choices," said Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. "But just as important is the impact that good health and nutrition have on academic achievement. Children who exercise and have nutritious diets are better able to concentrate and perform well in the classroom. The Healthy CPS initiative represents our commitment to creating and maintaining such an environment for all our students."
â€œHealthy CPS provides real, innovative, system-wide strategies that will make a difference,â€ said Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair, M.D. â€œFrom providing access to vision and oral care for every student to improving physical activity opportunities, we are working to help our students get and stay healthy.â€
In addition to releasing the Healthy CPS Action Plan, the CDPH and CPS also released a new Report on Overweight and Obesity in CPS Students, providing the most comprehensive look at how the national obesity epidemic affects Chicagoâ€™s children. The findings show that while the overall proportion of students who are overweight or obese remains high, incoming CPS kindergarteners are on average at a healthier weight than the previous generation of kindergarteners. These numbers are promising and in line with national trends in large cities such as New York City and Los Angeles.
â€œWhile our findings are promising, we know there is still more work to do,â€ Dr. Choucair continued. â€œWe will continue move the ball forward and work to improve the health of our students, using specific strategies outlined in the Healthy CPS Action Plan and working with dedicated partners like the Letâ€™s Move! campaign. Together, we will make a difference in the lives of our children.â€
In November 2012, Chicago was one of only two large cities recognized by the National League of Cities for its accomplishments in reducing childhood obesity and its outstanding efforts to complete health and wellness goals for Letâ€™s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, a major component of the First Ladyâ€™s Letâ€™s Move! initiative.
From establishing one of the most ambitious public health agendas in the nation, to launching the largest municipal employee wellness plan in the country, to working to eliminate food deserts, to defining stringent nutrition standards for vending machines in city buildings and schools, and bringing recess back into schools for the first time in decades, Mayor Emanuel and the city of Chicago are committed to making make critical health initiatives a reality.
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