Open Government Ex Ante: My talk to Open Government Chicago

25 04 2013

Good discussion at the end of the video too. Thanks to Joe Germuska and Dan O’Neil for the invite.





The Chicago Model Fallout Revisited: Catharsis, Context and Circumstance

15 09 2012

The Chicago Teachers’ Union strike was not unpredictable, nor was it sudden, nor was it over merely details, free of context, that are the subjects of the collective bargaining negotiations.

Since at least 1995, but particularly since 2004, Chicago’s students and teachers have borne the pain of experimentation, like lab mice in an education policy laboratory. That context is important, and it is inextricably linked to the nature of the strike and the source of its support among teachers, parents, students, the public–most everyone it seems, except journalists and powerful politicians.
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Life in the Neoliberal City: Post-Partisanship Wins!

29 06 2012

America’s big cities (and major metropolitan areas) are the laboratories of policy, if states are the laboratories of democracy. In metro areas and cities, universities, professional organizations, and trade associations and economic alliances are capable of exerting outsize influence and try to implement to approaches to social and economic problems that, again, are more easily identified and addressed because of high population concentrations in relatively small geographic areas.

Tell the nation! Draw near all ye with David Brooks columns bookmarked for other than hate reading purposes: Chicago and America’s big cities have achieved post-partisanship! The very post-partisanship our President talked about on the campaign trail. As the post-partisanship machine takes firmer hold of our cities, it will move upward, capillary-attraction speed, to the states, until finally–finally!–we achieve the post-partisanship paradise pundits prattle on and on about.

What does that post-partisanship look like? Let Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky tell you:

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor’s millionaire’s club, in which we pore over the mayor’s daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time–and his far-reaching connections…

[O]nce again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor’s calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago–and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.

Meanwhile…

As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor’s schedule. [Amisha] Patel says her group’s requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he’s cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. “Let’s talk about job creation but let’s do it in a full way.”

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness–some would say an eagerness–to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He’s also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

Post-partisanship means staying away from the organized (and thus cantankerous) disaffected and powerless, and hew to the already powerful and wealthy who must know what’s best.

If this were just a Chicago phenomenon, it may be dismissed as yet another quirk of Chicago’s sui generis politics.

It’s not though! Phew, right? Post-partisanship lives to fight another day! In the form of…
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A Long Time Comin’: Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

6 06 2012

cross-posted from Gapers Block

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers’ collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union’s more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand’s strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.
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Protests: Merging Means and Ends

21 05 2012

Ugh. There’s no good way to go about this, particularly so soon after the protests have settled and the fact and myth detritus is yet to be sifted through. Forensics at this stage are dicey.

I’ve never been keen on protests as purely symbolic gestures, though I generally don’t criticize them, as speech acts have an (admittedly de minimis) inherent value in a republic. Protests qua protests typically serve as an internal act of organizing–honing organizational processes, identifying activists and leaders, developing messages, and serving the omnipresent need for “consciousness raising.” But protests as pure speech acts are ephemera–or, maybe better, phenomena–that should express organizational acumen and announce a program to the public, rather than being the program itself. In other words, an organization’s strength won’t come from protests; protests should be an expression of strength built as a result of direct action contending with the status quo.

The protests that unfolded over the weekend, particularly over the last twenty-four hours, reflect the lack of a means-ends connection. Their listing from an identifiable objective, perceived lack of focus, and disparate employment of means are a function of not having an objective–even a grand one, like Gandhi’s all-encompassing goal of an independent nation void of all forms of social violence–and thus being unable to calibrate their activities to that vision.

That said, the movement is nascent; it may well be that only through large-group action, even an amorphous action, can it begin to develop a vision through group consensus. That process will be a slow and meandering one, but its product may for that reason be a particularly adamantine one. What’s more, considered as speech acts, protests warrants evaluation on the content of the speech; insofar as the messages communicated to the public were of perverse public priorities, the immorality of endless foreign and domestic war, and the insularity of global leadership, the speech is at least reasonable, at best commendable.

Means and ends in movement building are inextricably linked. This is by no means settled, and it was a point of contention between Gandhi and his critics, between Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X.

The issue is this: is there a disconnect between means and ends, such that a movement’s tactics are only important inasmuch as they create conditions for implementing organizational goals? Or is the connection a necessary one–where the conditions arrived at will inextricably look like the tactics adopted?

This was Gandhi’s key assertion for the 40+ years he spent helping build the swaraj movement in India in the face of critics from both his flanks who argued respectively for cooperation with the British for gradual independence, and armed resistance to the institutions of British repression to force independence. Gandhi consistently and passionately argued for decades that whatever independence India achieved would look like the struggle that achieved it. For a stable state where all classes could truly participate in their own governance, where British inhumanity would not merely be replaced by high-caste or military inhumanity, only firm and unwavering participatory and strategic nonviolence could be employed as a tactic.
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Rahm Versus The Man: An Origin Story

9 02 2011

What follows is a wildly fictionalized retelling of events based on campaign finance disclosure documents. The donations below all came in between October 11th and 14th, 2010. Emanuel officially announced his candidacy on November 13th.

On October 3rd, 2010, Rahm Emanuel broke his silence. It was time to step out on the stage and make his announcement: he wanted to be mayor. Well, not quite. He said he wanted to hear from Chicagoans as he prepared to run for mayor. Barely a month after Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he’d be fading into retirement, and Mr. Emanuel could not just sit passively by and watch the city be torn apart by geographic, class, and racial division. He loved this city.

Daunted by the idea that, no matter what his natural inclination to retire to a quiet life of the mind, only he could speak for the people, he could wait no longer. Average Chicagoans were hurting. While some neighborhoods were gentrified into unaffordability, others continued to decay into violence, joblessness, and misery. Meanwhile, income inequality sharpened. Rent by declining revenues, services to the neighborhoods had been declining. The public school system frustrated students and teachers with high-stakes testing that had not proven their value; organized street crime had worked its way into the schools via a form of interpersonal capillary attraction, making reforms difficult if not impossible. Public transportation suffered from a lack of imagination, even while the city began relying on regressive policies–increased ticketing, market-priced parking meters–to stay afloat and confined people to the neighborhood.

Public workers who worked for decades on the assumption they would be able to retire saw their pensions squandered by politicians, only to have those politicians, and the enormous corporate concerns that underwrite local civic groups, turn around and blame them.

Daley and Emanuel Trib Photo-thumb-400x225-220528.jpg
Brother Outsider.
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TIF for That: Comprehensive TIF Reform Coming to Chicago?

23 08 2010

State Representative John Fritchey, who will be giving up his seat in the state house representing the 11th District to replace Forrest Claypool on the Cook County Board of Commissioners (assuming he wins in November), is teaming up with the Chicago Teachers Union and the Raise Your Hand Coalition to push comprehensive reform of the tax increment financing, or TIF, program. The reforms could end the exploitation of TIFs by the Mayor’s office as a cudgel, and restore significant funds to taxing bodies–particularly the schools–that have seen billions of dollars disappear over the last couple decades.

Tax increment financing was created by state statute in the 1970s as a way to provide incentives to develop blighted areas. TIF areas are designated by municipalities; within those areas, property tax assessments are frozen at the level they were at when the zone was designated. The land is still assessed and the taxes on the increase are still collected, but they are diverted into a site-specific fund rather than being paid to the various taxing bodies that typically collect them. Those bodies are, primarily, school districts, counties, the municipality itself, and sanitation and fire districts, among others. The idea is that without the incentive, that tax money would never have been raised in the first place, and so those taxing bodies are not actually losing anything.
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