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The Mechanics

Civics Mon Mar 16 2015

Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

Civics by Ramsin CanonIt's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot water.

The problem many Chicagoans have with Mayor Emanuel is not that their feelings were hurt because he's a mean-o.

People who have had their schools close, or seen friends, relatives or neighbors lose their jobs, or lose their mental health care, because of the mayor's policies, would not feel better because that news came to them by singing telegram.

Only a pronounced alienation from the reality of working class life in Chicago could cause someone to think the mayor's problem is one of tone and not substance.

Chicago is waiting for the early bus in the cold. It goes hard on you and it nickel-and-dimes you. You have to be hard to survive and creative to get on. Chicagoans have earned not only being listened to, but a part in running things themselves. Not just quietly obeying imported technocrats and unaccountable "social entrepreneurs."

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Civics Thu Feb 26 2015

When the Room Is Small and You Stink

Thumbnail image for Civics by Ramsin CanonWhen he aped his mentor Bill Clinton in his inauguration speech, one could guess that Rahm Emanuel would be going to an old playbook that may not work for him in the long run.

Rahm Emanuel may have unwittingly learned a lesson from his days in the Clinton White House, specifically during his central role in the passage of NAFTA: If the big money is behind you, it does not really matter how harmful a policy is. The effects will be diluted enough that you can market whatever narrative you want and drown out the rabble. The NAFTA campaign was a well-financed sales job, meant to convince the country not only that something bad was good, but that plenty of "jus' folks" were all for it. The "selling" of free trade was among Emanuel's greatest accomplishments. This was followed up by taking on the all-mighty welfare lobby with support from the rich and powerful. He helped end welfare as we know it.

But beating labor and the poor in the 1990's with big business behind you might give you an over-inflated understanding of your political prowess.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (4)

Civics Wed Dec 24 2014

The Illinois Constitution and Pension Impairment

Civics by Ramsin CanonWhy are your FICA taxes -- Social Security and Medicare -- distinct from the rest of your taxes?

When Franklin Roosevelt proposed the social security program -- which he termed an "old-age pension" -- to the Congress, he said that it was necessary that the funding of old-age pensions should not come from "general taxation" -- where they are subject to the vicissitudes of the annual appropriations process. The point of Social Security was to create some measure of predictability and safety for workers reaching the end of their working life. The source of the funds should be stable and dedicated. Without that, it could hardly be called a safety net.

As soon as it was created, Social Security was attacked in the courts by employers who argued the program was unconstitutional, as outside the scope of Congress's powers. The Supreme Court ultimately held that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to require private sector employers to contribute to social security. Governments, however, are not typically understood as engaging in "interstate commerce," one of the required elements for exercise of Commerce Clause powers.

So employees of government are not among the workers covered by the Social Security Act. Their retirement security is provided for by state statutes, which can be amended or changed by legislatures. The acts of the legislature one year cannot bind subsequent elected legislatures -- this is known as the reserved power doctrine.

You can see how this could undermine one of the purposes of old-age retirement insurance: predictability.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (3)

Civics Tue Nov 25 2014

The Impossible Case of the Courts and Police Reform

Civics by Ramsin CanonA vulnerable population and common violations of Constitutional rights. It is precisely the type of scenario where courts should be able to intervene to stop abuses. Yet because of legislative inaction and Supreme Court case law, courts are paradoxically unable to play a part in stemming ongoing injustice.

When can a police officer use deadly force to prevent a person from fleeing -- or to "seize" them, under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment? In Chicago, there are three levels of rules that determine this: first at the highest level, there are the Supreme Court decisions in Garner v. Tennessee and Graham v. Connor. These decisions together create the constitutional limit on the use of deadly force. Basically, they hold that for an officer to use deadly force but not to violate the Fourth Amendment's protection of individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, they must have an objectively reasonable belief that they or the public are in imminent danger of bodily harm, or have probable cause to believe that the person committed a serious, violent felony (burglary would be insufficient) and they are fleeing. The effect of these decisions was that in most states, laws that defined a justifiable homicide committed by a police officer were unconstitutional to the degree that they permitted any use of force in excess of the constitutional limit.

In Illinois, at the second level of rule-making, this rule for deadly force is codified at 720 ILCS 5/7-5, in the criminal code. It states that a police officer is justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm only when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another person, or when he reasonably believes both that,

(1) Such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and
(2) The person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony which involves the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay....

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (1)

Civics Tue Nov 18 2014

Cities Need a New Old Philosophy: Justice

Civics by Ramsin CanonThe entrepreneurial government, once a promising and slick vehicle for change, has lost that new governance philosophy-smell. What was once seen as nimble has become ossified. America's cities are facing the problems of a new millennium as new generations come of age, facing new challenges. Since at least the early 1990s, big city governments have reoriented to a philosophy of governance rooted in free-market and entrepreneurial principles. In the early 1990s, this orientation for urban administration was described as "the New Public Management" by academics like Peter Aucoin. This entrepreneurial government philosophy was meant to replace the egalitarian and "rules-oriented" aspirations of reformers beginning in the 1970s. Recently, the word "neoliberal" has been thrown around, often imprecisely, to describe this ideology. But that word isn't quite accurate.

The type of government we've had in Chicago, and cities following Chicago's lead, is something very specific: giving individual leaders and small groups of leaders in cities broad discretion to set policy, akin to the managerial powers of corporate executives, as a means to achieve efficiency--efficiency in competition for capital investment and efficiency in provisioning services to the public. Its features have been well studied and explicated [PDF]: budget cuts, "accountability," privatization, consumer models, labor flexibility, and a hostility to politics vis a vis management (i.e., technocracy).

In a world opened up by the easier movement of capital across borders, elite city leadership figured they had to be lean to compete. This then-new philosophy saw self-management by professionals (like teachers and health care workers), rule-bound agencies, and egalitarian aspirations as inefficient, because by their nature, these processes are slow. It couldn't move at the pace of business at a time business was striking for better deals, or fleeing altogether. To keep and lure capital and talent, decision-makers couldn't be bound by exacting rules--whether those were workplace rules in the form of collective bargaining agreements, "due process" rules, or procedural safeguards meant to guarantee inclusion of underrepresented and underserved people.

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Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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