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Thursday, Sep 8, 2011, 3:14 pm

Home Run for Billionaires, Teachers Plunked in Rahm’s Chicago

By Joe Macaré

Wrigley Field: not actually in need of rebuilding to the tune of $200 million in public money. (Photo by Chris Brown on Flickr.)
Chris Brown on Flickr.

The ability of the Chicago Cubs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory has made them an easy fit as my adopted baseball team since I moved to the Windy City from London.

They say the English instinctively root for the underdog, but for people of my generation there may be another reason for this, one based more on experience than supposed national character. I’ve spent a couple of decades now watching the English football team choke, blow chances and otherwise fail to live up to diminishing expectations on a regular basis. Rooting for a team that reliably wins titles just wouldn't feel right; rooting for the hard-luck Cubbies feels like home.

More generally, there is something to the "lovable losers" nickname, at least for the current crop now that the irascible, over-caffeinated Carlos Zambrano has departed.

The Cubs are a hard team in which to have any faith, but they're also hard to dislike. It helps that several of the current line-up look like they'd have trouble getting served alcohol even in Wrigleyville, like gawky Tyler Colvin, baby-faced Tony Campana and swoony teen pin-ups Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro.

Certainly the Cubs are easier to like than the jocky, perennially obnoxious White Sox, who seem to have developed a team personality that mirrors their famously hated catcher and absurdly partisan announcer. This in turn has made the incredulously bad year of designated hitter Adam Dunn something of a joy to behold, especially if you have an instinctive contempt for the DH rule and therefore, by an admittedly somewhat unfair extension, all who play in it.

Dunn's race towards having a higher number of strike outs than his batting average has been chronicled with wonderful schadenfreude by the Reader. But the Reader's Ben Joravsky wrote about something more upsetting recently: Mayor Rahm Emanuel's latest brainwave, which is to give "as much as $200 million in public help for a $400-million rebuild of Wrigley."

The "Unlovable losers" headline is slightly misleading. This isn't really about the sporting prowess (or demonstrated lack thereof) of the Chicago Cubs.

It's about Emanuel deciding that it would be a good idea to give public money—almost $200 million of it in fact—to billionaires.

As Joravsky notes, first of all the Cubs don't need any extra cash despite their lousy season: Since 2009 they've been owened "by the billionaire Ricketts family, which made its fortune with the trading firm TD Ameritrade Holding Corp." And secondly, "The surrounding Wrigleyville area is already booming," making it an odd choice in which to invest money for redevelopment. I don't know any Cubs fans who want to see Wrigley Field turned into a shiny modern edifice named after, say, a very large bank, either: I hear it could use larger batting cages, but in general the ivy and ever-so-slightly-weathered brickwork is held to be the ballpark's charm.

But anyone familiar with Emanuel's record or the political culture he represents will know that this is not actually about the Cubs needing that money. To illustrate why, take a look at another area in which Emanuel and his chosen enforcers are doing business:

Coincidentally, news of the proposed Cub handout broke at about the same time as the latest offer from the Chicago Public Schools to its teachers. Mayor Emanuel and schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard will raise teachers' salaries by 2 percent—and in return the teachers merely have to work an extra 90 minutes a day and give up the 4 percent pay raise they were previously promised.

That means teachers can look forward to making between $4 and $5 an hour for the extra hours they work. The minimum wage is currently $8.25 an hour, for you folks keeping track at home.

In short, teachers get less than minimum wage while the Rickettses may get less than $200 million.

Well, sure, but those are public school teachers, Ben! Seen through Rahm's eyes, those are lazy, money-grabbing parasites, borderline child abusers no less (not to be confused with charter school staff, who would never harm a hair on a child's head).

When he appeared on "Chicago Tonight" last week in bullish mode (not letting host Phil Ponce get much of a word in edgeways, lest he detail the narrative of The Rahm Show), Emanuel claimed that his war with Chicago public schools teachers was not driven by political expediency or the desire to be popular, but by a genuine belief in doing the right thing. “I didn’t need this challenge," he piously opined. "I have a plate full. Our kids need somebody to be their voice.... I will not use my time as Mayor... to do go along get along."

Because after all, nothing could be further from "go along get along" when it comes to today's political discourse than bashing unions, cutting teachers' promised pay rises, firing public workers and giving public money to billionaires. That's the very definition of going against the flow!

Perhaps, as with the Cubs' fortunes, an English perspective is also useful here, as the whole “I’m doing this because I genuinely believe in it” schtick – presented as if this then requires no further justification – was frequently employed by Tony Blair, and while the former U.K. Prime Minister most famously used this with regard to his messianic desire to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was also invoked with regard to his vision of privatization. Like Emanuel, Blair favored the soft sell when it came to privatizing public services: do it quietly, don’t make a big noise and wear your hatred of unions too prominently on your sleeve, just talk a lot about the need for tough decisions and sacrifice and expediency and what wonders the private sector can achieve.

So yes, Rahm is almost certainly doing this because he believes in it. But it’s not because he believes in or cares so much about Chicago’s children, especially not the poorer ones. I doubt it's even because he believes in the free market's ability to fix everything, since that's been so discredited with regard to both education and sports.

It's because he believes, as his career has shown, in serving corporate interests whenever possible. And as his plans to funnel public money to the Cubs’ billionaire owners show, the people he really cares about are the very, very rich.

Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.

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