Wednesday, May 16, 2012



The NATO summit is just about upon us. The first demonstrations having taken place first at the reelection headquarters of President Obama and then along a route that took the legions of lark seekers to the police station at the corner of 35th and Lowe, a few doors down from the home once owned by Richard J. Daley and now owned by his grandson, soon to be Water Reclamation District Commissioner Patrick Daley Thompson. No one knows whether there will be trouble in our great city if one defines “trouble” as violent demonstrations with bodily injury, or worse, and great destruction of property. But there has already been trouble if one defines “trouble” as many of the city’s vital organs virtually shutting down to accommodate the heads of states and the overindulged miscreants who will protest their presence. From traffic tie-ups to street closings to business “holidays” to street shut-downs to the virtual sealing off of a large portion of the most beautiful lakefront in the world, Mayor Emanuel has asked a lot of city residents to accommodate what he hopes will be a big boost to his national and international prestige.

One has to believe that there is, on Rahm Emanuel’s part, a large measure of political calculation, beyond the obvious, at work here; to wit, many, if not most, of those inconvenienced, to say the least, will be suburbanites who cannot register their anger at the ballot box that will not be open, in any case, for another three years. So any immediate political downside will be limited for Mr. Emanuel. The upside for someone of Mr. Emanuel’s towering ego could be huge; those few people in obscure corners of the world who have not heard of this upstart will soon know of him; that enough is probably sufficient reward for the solipsist who occupies the Fifth Floor. If everything goes right, the talk of something bigger for Mr. Emanuel will fill the air, which seems to be the manna that sustains this portrait of portentousness. If things go wrong? Mr. Emanuel and his supplicants in Chicago’s media and political worlds probably cannot imagine that anything can go wrong when he is in charge. What could go wrong with WonderRahm in charge?

But let’s imagine for just a moment that the welfare of the city and its residents have somehow worked their way into Mr. Emanuel’s calculations. What exactly is the upside for Chicago and its good people? Well, the Emanuel people have hired a consultant who says that the economic benefits of the NATO summit will reach $128.2 mm. Not $128.1 mm or $128.3 mm, but $128.3 mm. But no one believes that figure. Rahm Emanuel doesn’t believe that figure. But he does know, as does any sentient human being, that a consultant will tell you anything you want to hear for the right price. That is largely how the consulting game works. “You pay me enough, I’ll come up with whatever outlandish figures you need. Got it?” As I tell my students, if you ever harbor a doubt regarding the outcome of a study done by a consultant, find out who paid for the study and the mystery will be removed. But I digress.

Just as an aside, besides endless harping on such ephemeral concepts as “ripple effects” (“Ripple effects” are much like “multiplier effects.” Just as dollars only seem to “multiply” when spent by the government, money “ripples” only when spent on things favored by the politicians. But once again I digress.), such studies that tell us of the big money in store for us if only we pursue the latest boondoggle foisted upon us by the politicians must assume that dining, lodging, and entertainment purveyors in Chicago have at least $100 mm or so of spare capacity, that these establishments, at which no one can seem to get a table on any given weekend, can suddenly handle all this new business (in this case, $128.2 mm worth) that will flood into town as numerous notables from overseas attempt to get a taste of what Mr. Emanuel and his consanguineous devotees (See my 5/13/12 post, HOW DO I LOVE THEE, OH MIGHTY AND WISE RAHM? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS.) consider the “real Chicago.” So do these places otherwise sit empty all the time? How do they stay in business? But, again, no one, not even Rahm Emanuel, believes these studies.

So what is the real upside for Chicago? We keep hearing that this NATO summit will establish Chicago as a “world class city.” Every time a mayor of our great city wants to spend millions (or more) of your money, s/he trots out this “world class city” drivel. Jane Byrne talked about a desire to make us a “world class city” when she wanted a world’s fair in our fair city. Richard II employed the same drivel in his (thankfully) ill-fated attempt at getting the 2016 Olympics for Chicago. And now Wise and Wonderful Rahm says that NATO will show us to be a “world class city.”

Such manifestations of this perennial and ongoing inferiority complex, or disingenuous and shameless reaches deep into our pockets and egos, amaze me. Since when has Chicago not been a world class city? Why is Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport such a world transportation hub? Why do, when I wear a Chicago Bears cap on the many overseas excursions on which my wife drags me (See one of my best posts ever, my 7/11/11 masterpiece ODYSSEUS, AENEAS, AND ME), people randomly stop me and tell me what a great city Chicago is? (It can’t be because of the Bears, but I digress again.) Why does a British Prime Minister (David Cameron) compare one of China’s fastest growing cities (Chongqing) to Chicago? Okay, maybe that one was because of the corruption endemic to both cities’ governments, but let’s hope that wasn’t what Mr. Cameron had in mind. Why is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra considered the best symphony orchestras in the United States and one of the best in the world? Why did the likes of, to name just a few, Queen Elizabeth II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Princess Diana, and the Dalai Lama, choose to visit Chicago, in some cases repeatedly? Because we are some kind of economic, cultural, and political backwater? Since at least 1893, Chicago has been on the world stage, and not just for Al Capone, Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, Richard J. Daley, Barack Obama, and Oprah Winfrey. I believe, or at least hope, that Mr. Emanuel knows that, as did Mrs. Byrne and Mr. Daley II. But feeding the badly misplaced inferiority complex that seems to come with being a Chicagoan is yet another way to grab a hefty hunk of your hard earned dollars to fortify their ever hungry egos.

Let’s hope and pray that most of the damage of the NATO summit has already been done, that no one will be seriously hurt, that there is not widespread property destruction, and that our wonderful worldwide image is not besmirched as a result of a politician’s ego trip.

No comments: