Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Do we expect Rahm to vacation in the Dells just to make us happy?

     In the suburbs, we do a little something I call “maximizing our advantage.”
     That means even though we’ve pretty much got it made already—nice houses, generally; good jobs, often; and our kids pampered at top schools, frequently—we still can’t help going that one extra step into the ridiculous, the whole pump-Mozart-into-the-womb, sit-waiting-in-the-SUV-in-the-fire-lane-instead-of-parking, gild the lily and scrape out the last drop of privilege we are convinced is our due route that leaves some—or at least me — wishing we’d leave well enough alone.
     Sunday, just after noon, the robocalls and texts flooded in from Northbrook District 225, lighting up six, maybe eight cellphones and computers associated with our household, telling us in close harmony that school was canceled. After I got over my mild surprise that my two brainiacs were grinning widely and practically vibrating with glee (really, it was like seeing Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein pump their fists in the air and start woofing because the particle accelerator was down), I was immediately troubled that Chicago schools hadn’t done the same. They seemed intent on marching their kids like doomed polar explorers heading into the frozen wasteland of Monday.
      Why? What did the suburban school districts know at midday that took the city until evening to figure out? Wasn’t the weather the same both places? Were the lives of city children not quite as valuable as our own babes? And in the northwest suburbs, going to school on a dangerously cold day means something very different than in the city. School on a subzero day in Northbrook means a line of Honda Odyssey vans delivering their precious cargo, Gortexed and Thinsulated and decked out in hand-knit wool Peruvian hats for the 10-yard stumble from the curb to the door. In Chicago, geez, who knew how many of the 400,000 kids, who risk being murdered on a warm day, would go astray in the 15-below-zero trek to school? Frankly, I suspected some federal finance was at the back of the CPS mind—losing one school day cuts X percent of money from Uncle Sam. Can't have that. Then Karen Lewis and the teachers union called for school to be canceled, and while I doubted their intentions, too—teachers demanding a day off, now that's unexpected—I gave them credit for being right. A few hours, then CPS finally lurched into motion and canceled class. Well glory be to God. Still, it's scary how long it took.
     Yes, it's more complicated than that. You could argue that, for a lot of kids in the city, it's safer to be at school than at home, warmer with more food and less chance to get into trouble. On the other hand ...
     OK, let it drop. Bad enough to be cold without being frenzied, too. Reading coverage of Rahm Emanuel's fresh-from-Indonesia, I'm-in-command Monday tour in both papers made me think everyone had gone a little cabin crazy. In the Tribune, he was tanned. "Nice tan, Mr. Mayor!" opined one of their columnists. The editorial in the Sun-Times noted, "He didn't even look especially tanned." Which is it? To me, Emanuel always looks tanned. His father was an Israeli, remember, and he has the olive-complexioned Sephardic Jew thing going on.
     Besides, complaining about his vacations is silly. It's begging him to deceive us. He's a rich guy. You think New Yorkers were twitting Michael Bloomberg for having his own jet? Rahm goes on the nicest vacations he can, just like you do. His only mistake is not being upfront, not saying, "Hell, I'm off to Indo-freakin'-nesia!" Sure, the Bungalow Belt, with its envy-based view of the world, is going to hate him. Bulletin: They'll hate him anyway. Had Rahm taken his family to Noah's Ark water park in the Dells for Christmas, he'd be slammed for that, too.
     There are two bedrock truths about the mayor that cut through this silliness: A) he's doing the right stuff to fix Chicago's horrendous problems, basically, and B) nobody's going to run against him in 2015 anyway.
     Pensions, crime, schools. People complain about how his solutions affect them, specifically - sure, unions don't like losing pension perks; I hated losing mine, too—but you can't say he isn't making the right decisions.
     Given the lack of an opponent in 2015—the most significant figure contemplating a run some 13 months from the election is Ald. Bob Fioretti, a nice enough guy, but more buzz-saw fodder than buzz saw—Rahm could have stayed in Indonesia Monday, Instagramming back photos of himself on a beach, flipping his famously truncated right middle finger at the camera and telling the suckers stuck at home to stay warm, and it wouldn't really affect anything.


  1. Neil, when I went to a CPS HS in the 1960s, the first time they closed the schools was due to the Blizzard of 1967. Unfortunately, that decision wasn't made until around 8:30 AM.
    We were on the CTA bus, less than a mile from school, when a CTA supervisor got on & told us to turn around & go home. That was after 9 AM, & we were already an hour late due to the impossible conditions.
    I don't believe the schools were closed again until the Blizzard of 1979.
    The reason is simple. Chicago schools got a fixed payment from the state for every student in class & they were so money grubbing, that they didn't care about the welfare of the students.
    While that school funding formula has been changed, the idiotic mindset it created has become ingrained into culture the administrators in Chicago.

  2. Schools get federal money for attendance on the first and last day. Rahm extended the school year as well as the school day, and he knows people aren't going to send their kids if he has to add makeup days at the end of the year.

    It's not like his kids attend public school, after all.

    I assumed someone finally explained that any kid who got frostbite waiting on buses with frozen fuel lines would have a good chance oat suing the district. It certainly wasn't care for the kids.

  3. CPS had announced early on Sunday that schools were open, but attendance was not mandatory. Their concern was for providing a warm place for kids to go if their parents couldn't be home with them during a week day.

    The teachers protested and insisted that they shouldn't be required to come in (many threatening to call in sick).

    It was out of concern for the welfare of the students that they were planning to remain open.

  4. "It was out of concern for the welfare of the students that they were planning to remain open."

    But I thought Rahm closed 50 public schools "out of concern for the welfare of the students".

    So confusing...

    -- MrJM

  5. The union made the decision to close the schools. The reason the city resists closing is that it can cause great difficulty for parents. For a single parent with a job, it's not so easy to arrange care for a child.

  6. To me, the thing about the school closing debacle is what a terrible grasp of public relations it seemed to demonstrate. And I'd think that, for big-time political players, public relations would be one of the simpler parts of the job. "for a lot of kids in the city, it’s safer to be at school than at home, warmer with more food and less chance to get into trouble" I don't doubt that this is a large part of the picture when the CPS considers closing for a day. But why not just admit that, in some fashion, and say that this is why you're hoping to stay open? "For the children," dammit! Why not say "we're monitoring the weather, but if this forecast is close to on target, we may well be closed" instead of "We'll be open, because who knows if this forecast is right?" It just seems that the whole thing was handled poorly from the get-go, and that the notice certainly could have come earlier.

    As for the tan -- "Which is it?" Why couldn't it be both? He does usually look tanned, so saying he looks tan is not wrong. Saying he didn't look "especially tanned" could very well be true at the same time. I don't monitor him or his complexion closely enough to know.

    Reading Kass's column, though, I did think he was tilting at windmills, trying to drum up an issue, as if it'll matter. I think the two "bedrock truths" are basically on target, and that complaining about folks going on vacation is just about the bottom of the barrel when it comes to political commentary. Sheesh, Obama's playing golf AGAIN? Stop the presses! A nice tropical vacation in the coldest month of the year sounds like a swell idea to me. Just because I'm not taking one doesn't mean I think that nobody else should.

    I gotta say, though, the kicker for the Kass column was his praising Daley's political savviness on his Florida vacations. Decades of belittling "Mayor Shortshanks," but a chance to use him to pummel the new guy is too good to pass up. Indeed, we're back to "which is it?" You'd think that Rahm getting an honest tan on his vacation, rather than deceptively dodging the sun for the sake of political appearances would be a refreshing change of pace to a guy like Kass. That might call for consistency on his part, though...

    1. How about commenting on what Brad said - which is absolutely true (I heard it on WBBM-AM). CPS was staying open as a child care center for parents who, you know, might not be rich enough or have jobs lenient enough to cut them an extra paid day off - I'll go out on a limb and guess that there are more parents caught in that situation than in the suburbs, though of course it doesn't break down on city lines. The reports were explicit that students didn't NEED to go to school. Zeesh.

  7. Well, I point out in the column that many city kids would be safer, warmer, better fed than at home. What the city announced was that schools would be open, but kids could stay home at their parents' discretion. That itself is an invitation to send your kids out into the cold. I think your "staying open as a child care center" is notional. Nothing in their announcements suggested that.

  8. Fair enough - you could argue that CPS is trusting parents to make that choice without being unduly swayed by the "invitation" to go to school, but you can also argue that most parents' instincts probably are to send kids to school when they're open. But at the same time if CPS had suggested the "child care" function explicitly they'd have got blowback for that as well - I think it was pretty strongly implied, and when you pose questions like "Were the lives of city children not quite as valuable as our own babes?" I think it's relevant.

  9. He's still better than Daley though.

  10. CPS is a mess of bureaucracy. And wouldn't they have school busses in your school district?


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