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A Tale of Two City Elections

Tuesday was Election Day in Chicago, which you probably heard about even if you’re not a Chicagoan, and also here in Wichita, which you might not have noticed even if you are a Wichitan. The disproportionate national attention paid to the two elections is easily explained by Chicago’s far larger population and national prominence, but the disparate amount of interest within each city is more complicated.
Local politics is one of Chicago’s favorite pastimes, followed with the same obsessive interest that attends the Bulls and Bears and Black Hawks and Cubs and White Sox, and for good reason. No sport in Chicago is quite so rough, features such fascinating players, or exerts such a meaningful influence on the daily lives of the citizens as a mayoral race. Chicago’s politics doles out patronage to a large portion of the city, provides essential city services to favored neighborhoods, regulates businesses according to their political donations, creates ethnic coalitions that affect race relations, and even intrudes into the private lives of ordinary people in a variety of ways. In Chicago, people have reason to care who is elected mayor.
This time around the mayoral race featured incumbent Rahm Emanuel, the former investment banker, congressman, and White House chief of staff who was known for bringing the rough-and-tumble “Chicago Way” to each job, against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former community organizer, alderman, state legislator and Cook County commissioner, which is really all you need to know about the sorry state of Chicago politics. The big issue was the city’s rather dire financial condition, as well as its frightening rate of violent crime, although such matters as the irksome red-light camera system the city has been using to raise revenues were also raised, and Emanuel was forced to apologize for a managerial style that has been brusque even by Chicago standards, but as always it largely came down to who could make the better deals to form the larger coalitions.
Garcia enjoyed the support of the city’s sizable Latino population due to his name, along with help from teachers unions upset with the numerous school closings, but Emanuel was favored by the big business interests whose neighborhoods were spared any school closings and even got a Barack Obama College Preparatory High School opened in the affluent near north side, and we assume that despite the efforts of Jesse Jackson he also enjoyed support from the city’s sizable black population due to his past association with the school’s eponym. Throw in more campaign funds, better name recognition, and some shrewd appeals to the various ethnic groups that comprise the city’s sizable white population, and Emanuel wound up winning another term. We’re still not clear on what he intends to do about the city’s mounting debt and unfunded pensions and other fiscal woes, although we expect whatever he does will leave that affluent near north side unscathed, but we have no reason to believe that Garcia would have handled it any better.
Here in Wichita, local politics is more easily ignored, to the point that even such political junkies as ourselves tend to focus more on the national and international news. The city’s workforce is relatively small and the biggest scandals the local newspaper can find there usually involve small-time expense account padding that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Chicago, only the main thoroughfares are cleared of snow and even the richest neighborhoods are not favored with libraries or better schools, some businesses tend to enjoy preferential treatment but none are singled out for harassment, the past two mayors were Latino and black without anyone noticing, and except for the infrequent anti-smoking crusade or occasional pointless resolution about some social issue or another the city mostly lets people screw up their own lives. Besides, the city’s system of government doesn’t even grant that much power to the mayor, with most decisions left to a city council that is usually content to defer to the city manager and his staff of credential professionals. The resulting apathy and the springtime scheduling elections ensures a low turn-out dominated by teachers and city employees and activist types who routinely choose a city government more liberal than city, which reliably votes conservative in the county and state and national elections in the fall, but so far they haven’t provoked sufficient outrage to shake things up.
This time around it came down to city councilman Jeff Longwell against local businessman Sam Williams, and so far as we can tell the big issue was what to do about bringing water to this exceedingly landlocked city in a state with few rivers, no natural lakes, and a diminishing aquifer, which is a problem but not yet so pressing that the government is timing people’s showers,  as they’re threatening to do in California, along with some mud-slinging that seemed rather harsh by local standards but wouldn’t have offended even the most sensitive Chicago sensibilities. Both were white guys, which no one seemed to notice, both had resumes that could plausibly suggest some level of competence, and neither seemed to have any fool-proof plan for providing water. Longwell had the support of the business community, or at least the portion of it that’s been getting preferential treatment from the city during his tenure as a councilman, and we suspect the teachers and city employees and activist types were on his side, while Williams seemed to garner his support from the out-numbered regular folk who actually bother to vote on such a lovely spring day as Tuesday. We wound up voting for Williams, mainly because he had a somewhat back-handed endorsement from Sedgwick County Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau, whose principled stinginess and anti-government instincts we have come to admire, but when we’d heard that Longwell won it didn’t cause us any anxiety.
The low turnout might have been even lower if not for a local referendum to lower the penalty for first time marijuana offenses, which passed even though it has no legal effect because the marijuana laws are the state’s doing. Perhaps the turnout would have been greater if not for all the “yes” voters who forgot the election date or got lost on their way to the polling places, but in any case the short lines at our local voting place did not distress us. Some people judge a community’s civic-mindedness by the turn-out in an election, but in Wichita’s case the lack of interest suggests a very healthy lack of the city government’s importance. Wichitans can also boast that at least Rahm Emanuel isn’t their mayor.

— Bud Norman

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A Consummation Devoutly Not to Be Wished

A recurring theme in the spate of dystopian futurist movies popular in our youth was that someday the government would start killing off all the old people. The notion provided a memorable scene in “Soylent Green” where Edward G. Robinson shuffled off to the local suicide center where the aged were treated to soothing music and images as they ceased to be a burden, and the entire plot of “Logan’s Run” was based on a society that maintained its perfectly organized order by offing anyone over the age of 30. In the late ’60s and early ’70s audiences found this plausible, with the younger and hipper movie-goers smugly assuming it was just the sort of thing that President Richard Nixon and his right-wing buddies would love to do, but it’s not been until the era of hope and change and the left-wing ascendancy that we’ve started to worry about it.
Our worries were heightened by the once-venerable Atlantic Monthly’s recent publication of an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in which he expresses his desire to die at age 75 and urges the rest of us to do the same. This morbid advice would ordinarily be easy to ignore, but Emanuel is the brother of former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has served as a special advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and is currently a fellow at the Obama White House-affiliated Center for American Progress. He painstakingly insists that he’s not advocating euthanasia, and he couches his argument mostly in terms of the individual’s best interests rather than society’s or the government’s bottom line, but there’s no shaking a discomfiting feeling that his enthusiasm for a mass early exit from this earthly plane isn’t entirely apolitical, or that it won’t have some appeal to the bureaucrats charged with balancing Obamacare’s hard-to-balance books.
His arguments for dying at age 75 probably won’t be persuasive to anybody else. He correctly notes that people tend to have more aches and pains and get around less energetically after 75 than they did in their younger days, but throughout history most people have found that more tolerable than the proposed alternative. Some people are afflicted with aches and pains and limited mobility early in life, too, and although Emanuel isn’t quite so bold as the Nazis were in suggesting that these unfortunate folks should also cash it in neither does he bother to discount the idea. He further notes that the vast majority of people are less productive after the age of 75, and cites some studies suggesting the decline begins well before that point, but the notion that an individual’s life is only of value to the extent that it serves the collective is also abhorrent. He acknowledges that some people retain great creativity and usefulness late into life, without considering how someone might know if they’re one of them until they reach an age well beyond 75, and he begrudgingly concedes that even the most debilitated oldsters still provide love and meaning to the lives of the families and friends, although he seems to regard this as a silly sentimentality, but he still insists that the rather arbitrary age of 75 is when shuffling off this mortal coil is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
What’s most unsettling, however, is that Emanuel’s arguments are so consistent with a predominant anti-life strain in modern liberalism. The enthusiasm for abortion even when a baby has survived the procedure, the advocacy for other extreme means of population control, the antipathy toward the scientific advances that have allowed agriculture to sustain the lives of untold billions around the world, and the younger generations’ apparent aversion to procreation and preference for polar bears, all reflect a peculiar post-religious belief that human life is not a precious gift granted by God to each human being but rather a problematic privilege conferred or revoked by more earthly ruling elites. Throw in the facts that the president of the United States has told the daughter of a centenarian that her mother should “take a pill” rather than get the expensive surgery she needs to continue a vital life, and his former Secretary of Health Human Services has explained a decision to deny a young girl life-saving treatment because “some people live and some people die,” and one of his former advisors is advocating death at age 75, and those old dystopian futurist flicks no longer seem so far-fetched. Nixon and his right-wing buddies have nothing to do with it, but otherwise they’re starting seem to prophetic.

— Bud Norman

The Upside of Global Warming

The winter has thus far been mild in these parts, to the point that it’s almost been tolerable, with no snow worth mentioning and certainly none worth shoveling. All of the farmers and the most dedicated lawn care enthusiasts have been clamoring for more precipitation of any kind, and it would be selfish of us to wish otherwise, but our only complaint is that local global warming crowd has lately been even smugger than usual.
Other parts of the globe are reportedly colder and snowier than normal, so we assume that the global warming crowds in those places are talking about “climate change” rather than “global warming.” If not, they are condescendingly lecturing the skeptics about the difference between weather and climate, which is what they always do around here when the weather refuses to confirm to their predictions. They’re a steadfast lot, these global warming types, as unwavering in their faith as any church-goer of our acquaintance.
Global warming’s allegedly catastrophic consequences can justify almost anything the liberal hearth might desire, from industry-killing cap-and-trade to massive tax increases and regulations to the abolition of capitalism, so it’s not hard to understand the appeal. Christie Hefner of the oddly named Center for American Progress went so far as to blame global warming for Chicago’s extraordinarily high murder rate, which conveniently exculpates both the city’s erstwhile community organizer, President Barack Obama, and its current mayor, former presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Hefner is the daughter of the celebrated pornographer Hugh “Hef” Hefner, and a former chief executive officer of his Playboy empire, which has done as much warming as any company over the years, but her faith will no doubt earn her forgiveness from respectable society.
We’re thinking of getting some of that religion ourselves, now that we know global warming can also justify laziness. This intriguing tip comes from U.S. News & World Report, which cites a report from The Center for Economic Policy and Research that Americans should work less to reduce the effects of global warming. To give an idea of just how dire the situation has become, the report’s author even argues that “If the world were to follow a more European model of work, we would expect fewer hours, less output, and lower emissions of greenhouses gases.”
Now, that is saying something. Although we are widely regarded as lazy, and have been routinely chastised for it ever since our school days, even on our most idling days we have never dared aspire to a European level of laziness. We pride ourselves on our ability to do very little in the way of productive labor, a knack that has provoked awe in some onlookers, but we have always acknowledged the natural superiority of our European cousins in this regard.
Our current religion regards sloth with disdain, and even deems it a deadly sin, but the church of global warming seems to take a more reasonable attitude. Indeed, global warming seems to offer not just absolution but beatification for doing nothing. Once converted, we could stop offering embarrassed excuses for leaving a job undone and start claiming credit for our courageous contribution to the ecology. Should anyone chide us for an afternoon’s repose, we will turn an upward chin and angrily demand to know why they are trying to kill those poor polar bears.
A few more hours in bed watching “Dobie Gillis” re-runs and reading old Wodehouse novels should have the planet back in the pink, and we expect the planet’s more industrious inhabitants to compensate our efforts generously. This global warming stuff might just be the one true faith, after all.

— Bud Norman