1. Man, it’s been awhile since we just generally caught up, hasn’t it? Christmas, to be honest, was a little weird for me. I had ~life stuff~ that was bringin’ me down for most of the time I was home, and it made it tough for me to enjoy the season (as did the lack of snow! Sigh. I know a green Christmas isn’t an entirely new concept around here, but I still don’t like it.) Nevertheless, it was nice to spend time with my family, eat food that I didn’t have to make, and catch up with my best friend from high school. Christmas itself was also a little out of the ordinary, as four of my 13 family members were out of the country and obviously not able to attend our usual Christmas celebration at Grandma’s house. Though we did manage to Skype everyone in at the same time, which was pretty cool. Hooray technology!
A couple years ago, my family established a new policy that once you’re either 1) 26 years old or 2) married, you must enter the adult gift exchange pool, or get no presents at all at Christmas (as opposed to those both unmarried and 25 or younger, who get gifts from Grandma, our aunt, and the aunt/uncle/cousin family). I’d be a bit surprised if I were married by next Christmas, but as time continues its ceaseless march forward, I will, without a doubt, be 26 by next Christmas, which made this my last “kid” Christmas. The unquestionable highlight for me? This:
*heart eyed emoji*
My very own climbing gear!! My own harness and my own chalk bag and my own carabiner and my own ATC belay device! (Which I can’t use at any gym in Chicago, but would likely come in handy if I ever decided to go climbing on real rocks.) I’m super stoked and already took the harness and chalk bag for a spin last week. Now all I need is a pair of shoes and everyone will think I’m a serious climber! Or at least everyone who thinks like me, because whenever I see people with their own gear, I assume they’re serious 😛
My New Year’s Eve was fairly low key. I didn’t have to go into work this year, which was fabulous, so instead I spent my morning running errands like a mad person, because I wasn’t sure what places would be closing early or exactly how early they’d be closing, and I had things I needed to do that day (like pick up a prescription before my 2015 health insurance plan expired, or get my groceries for New Year’s Day before Trader Joe’s closed for the holiday). I hung out with some friends that night, which primarily consisted of watching the Hawks, watching the ball drop in NYC, watching the star rise in Chicago, and then staying up way later than necessary watching ALL OF THE BANDS on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve (side note: when did Joe Jonas become the frontman of another band?! As his former future wife [in my imagination], I’m offended that no one let me know. On the other hand, I’m happy that this was the case, as when I was in high school, seeing the Jonas Brothers on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve was about the best thing I could hope for. JB 4eva.)
2. In a bit of a departure from the norm, I actually made New Year’s resolutions this year. I have some general 2016 goals (10K PR, marathon PR, no injuries, finish this thing I’ve been working on since October, and probably others, too), but in terms of resolutions, these are the big ones:
#1: No more Facebook Monday-Friday, with exceptions made for messages that require an immediate response. I haven’t gotten on Facebook at work since October of 2013, and for awhile I was doing really well at just not going on at all. When I got a new laptop in August, getting on my computer stopped being such a hassle, and consequently I started spending A LOT more time on Facebook. I also became more willing to download the app and use it on my phone when I felt so inclined (and then deleting the app a few days later). Towards the end of last year, I realized Facebook was once again becoming a problem for me. I don’t have a problem with the comparison game on Twitter, because I primarily follow brands/news outlets, and to be honest, DNAInfo has never made me feel bad about myself or my current place in life. I don’t have a personal Instagram account–I am responsible for my work’s Instagram account, so I have the app, but obviously everyone we follow on there is in one way or another work related–so that I don’t have a comparison trap problem on there, either. On Facebook, however…woof. It’s like with every scroll down my newsfeed I became more and more insecure about my relationships, my job, my social life, my hobbies, my level of happiness: you name it, Facebook made me feel bad about it. It was doing me WAY more harm than good, and I really felt like I needed a detox. So: no more Facebook during the week. Or at least that’s the plan.
#2: No more phone on the CTA, with exceptions made for phone calls (lol right), responding to received text messages, sending text messages that cannot wait (i.e.: “I’m five minutes away.”), or using Transit Stop to track trains/busses and make decisions accordingly. Along those same social media detox lines, even though I don’t feel like Twitter and Instagram cause me to feel all that bad about myself, I do think that I spend FAR too much time on both of them. I used to be pretty good about keeping my phone tucked away while on the CTA, but over the past year or so it’s gotten to the point where if I’m on CTA property in any capacity, chances are I’m on my phone, even if I’m only going to be on for a stop or two. So unnecessary. I used to be all about reading during my commute: when I checked my library account, it told me I haven’t checked out any books since mid-September. Now, granted, the library hasn’t been on my way to anywhere in quite some time, but come on. I live in Chicago. It’s not like it’s all that hard to get to a branch of the library. I don’t really care all that much if I replace my phone time on the CTA with reading or if I replace it with just taking time to be instead of having my face glued to my phone, but I really, really think it would benefit me to step away from the constant connection for at least a little time each day, and being on the CTA gives me the perfect opportunity to do so. Plus I imagine it will do great things for my phone’s battery life and my tendency to hog all of the family’s data!
3. I’m not usually one to get too political on here, but I can’t keep quiet about this any longer. This incoming rant is about Chicago/Illinois politics, so if you think that’s going to upset you or bore you to tears (how dare you assume that! Don’t you know how eloquent I am?! 😛 ), feel free to accept this picture of the holiday penguin-themed bathroom decorations I’ve received from my parents for the past two Christmases and continue on your merry way.
On to my rant.
I’m not an educator. I stopped wanting to be a teacher by the time I was in sixth or seventh grade. Regardless, I think quality education, after quality, affordable, accessible health care, is one of the most important pillars in a functioning society. If you don’t have health care, you have sick and/or dead people, who can’t contribute to society. If you don’t have education, it doesn’t matter how healthy those members of society are: they’re not going to make much of a contribution if they can’t read, or write, or do math, or have a basic understanding of science, or a rudimentary grasp on history, never mind the “softer” skills you learn by being in that sort of environment: critical thinking, effective communication, leadership, how to play nicely with others, etc. If you want an advanced society, you need an educated population. Period.
The current CPS situation has me so angry I’m ready to tear my hair out. For those of you who are unaware, the Chicago Public Schools currently face a budget shortfall of $480 million, which is no small chunk of change. When the Board of Education passed a budget in August, they know the district would face that $480 million shortfall. They passed the budget with the expectation that that remaining $480 million would come from the state. However, in order for the state government to pick up the tab, the General Assembly (Illinois’ state legislature–our “Congress”) would have to pass a budget, which would then have to be approved by Gov. Rauner. Because our General Assembly is useless, and our governor is a stubborn, selfish idiot who has absolutely no business being in political office (though what else is new around here?) we don’t have a budget. We haven’t had a budget since JULY. Because welcome to Illinois: the state where money is made up and common sense doesn’t matter.
Like every other problem in this state resulting from the fact that neither Rauner nor the Democrats in the General Assembly are willing to act like the adults they purportedly are and COMPROMISE, the budget problems have begun to “trickle down” through the system (hooray sarcastic puns!). Drivers no longer get mailed reminders to renew their licenses. Lottery winners no longer get their winnings over $600. Social services no longer get funding. And, most critically to this rant, CPS doesn’t have its $480 million.
This is no longer a theoretical problem for CPS, a “what will we do if?” situation. This has become very, very real: so real, that if the district doesn’t get its $480 million by February 8–or, honestly, by later this month–pink slips start going out. Five. Thousand. Pink slips. In case you’re keeping track, February 8 is one month from today. June 30, 2015–the last day this state had a budget–was six months ago. Are you optimistic that we’ll have a budget in one month, when we’ve gone six months without one at this point? Because I’m sure not.
Now, those 5,000 jobs, inevitably, will not all be full-time teacher positions. Those deemed “expendable” are likely the first on the chopping block: parapros, reading specialists, librarians, social workers, etc. I’d imagine some lower-level administrative positions fall into that expendable category as well. But just because all of the 5,000 positions won’t be teacher positions doesn’t mean none of the positions will be teacher positions. What does cutting teacher positions mid-year look like? It looks like increased, perhaps even doubled, class sizes: we’re talking up to 60 kids in a classroom. It looks like disrupted stability for hundreds of thousands of at-risk children who already have barely any sense of stability in their lives to begin with. It looks like thousands of qualified, educated, intelligent adults, suddenly rendered unemployed, not earning any income, reducing their ability to spend and help grow the local economy.
It looks, to be frank, like a complete and utter disaster.
This problem, at its root, stems from a long history of mismanaged pensions, which is a tale as old as time when it comes to Chicago and Illinois public employees. Regardless of your personal opinion on pensions or the teacher’s pension system, I don’t think you can particularly blame teachers, particularly the older teachers, which is the one this pension crisis most directly affects, for, y’know, wanting the money they were promised in retirement. Would you be happy if, at 60 years old, you went to your financial advisor to check on the status of your 401(k), which you had been contributing to since you were 22 years old, to have him or her tell you, “You know, I’m really sorry, but we actually needed that money to replace the roof on our office building. Yes, all of it. Yes, we realize that’s not what that money was side aside for, but, um, oops?” I sure wouldn’t be, and, in boiled down terms, that’s why CPS currently has a $480 million shortfall. They need to make pension payments. They and the city spent money earmarked for teachers’ pensions elsewhere, even though they weren’t supposed to. Now there is no money. Despite the fact that the state pays into teacher pensions everywhere else in the state, it doesn’t pay into teacher pensions for CPS teachers.
CPS wants the state to help out. CPS students make up 20% of the entire K-12 student population in Illinois, but only gets 15% of the state’s educational funding. Chicagoans also contribute the highest percentage of taxes to the state’s overall budget (obviously. More people = more contribution.) Is this an unreasonable request? Well, not really…unless your name is Bruce Rauner. Rauner would be happy to pass a budget, which would not only fund CPS, but also solve a host of other problems, but only on one condition: that union’s bargaining rights are severely reduced, to the point of barely existing at all. Why? Because Rauner is a multimillionaire businessman. It’s in his job description to hate unions.
Now, I’ll be honest: I’m not a big fan of organized labor myself. Despite the fact that I consider myself to be QUITE left-of-center on just about every political and social issue, unions are the one area where I tend to deviate from that stance. I think unions were critical to labor reforms when they began to exist, and I still think they’re important for ensuring basic workers rights, but growing up in Michigan and seeing the power the UAW had makes it difficult for me to be pro-union.
Nevertheless, I find it downright despicable that Rauner–or ANYONE–would risk the development and education of, quite literally, hundreds of thousands of children–the lives of 392,285 students, to be specific–because he doesn’t want unions to have salary bargaining rights.
Rauner won’t budge on his stance that the unions can’t have rights beyond workplace safety bargaining. The General Assembly, controlled by Democrats–you know, the pro-union party–won’t budge on their stance that unions deserve lots of bargaining rights. So we get nothing done, other than finger-pointing, which, incidentally, does not help any child receive an education. Or any lottery winners receive their money. Or any drivers receive notice that they need to renew their licenses. Or any other problem that would be solved by passing a mothereffing budget.
Of course, there are two major governments involved with this whole CPS thing: the Illinois government, and the Chicago government. As I think we’ve firmly established, the Illinois government is effectively useless, leaving us with the Chicago government, led by the most popular mayor of 2015, Rahm Emanuel.
Rauner, as we’ve established, is a Republican. Emanuel, like the vast majority of the city of Chicago, is a Democrat. One of the most politically correct things to do these days is to call for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation ([here comes another rant] which is such a productive way to spend our time. After all, it’s not like the city never faced corruption in the police department prior to Rahm Emanuel. Jon Burge who? Torturing false confessions out of African-Americans and imprisoning them on the basis of those false confessions what? That didn’t happen 30 years before Rahm’s time, under the watch of a certain Cook County State Attorney Richard M. Daley! Political corruption and systematic racial and ethnic discrimination of the non-ruling class was NEVER a problem in the city of Chicago prior to Rahm Emanuel! Just ask all the Italians and Mexicans who used to live where UIC is located, until a particular Richard J. Daley decided to tear down all their houses and put up an architectural abomination of a university where they lived, because he was Irish and they weren’t. Oh no, all this discrimination and abuse is definitely not an engrained problem in Chicago politics. Not at all! Definitely exclusively a Rahm Emanuel thing, and he should definitely resign so we can replace him with…well, that’s not the point. Offering up a viable replacement isn’t important. What’s important is the symbolism of him quitting!
Look, I’m not going to sit here and defend Rahm Emanuel over the handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting, or any other host of extremely questionable uses of force by the hands of the Chicago Police Department. I am, however, going to point out that had this happened under Daley, the news never would’ve even come out, because I guarantee you he would’ve made sure the right judges were in place to save his back, regardless of how many journalists tried to sue the city for that information. I’m also going to point out that this thing DID happen under Daley–see: Jon Burge–and he completely ignored it. That’s how Chicago politics work. No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all. But this problem is FAR greater than Rahm Emanuel and/or Anita Alvarez, and removing either one of them, just to have another product of the local political system take their places–and that is who WOULD take their place, and if you don’t believe me, please feel free to peruse the city’s mayoral history and find ONE, just ONE recent example of a mayor who was not politically connected and/or a member of a political machine prior to election–would not end that problem. You don’t sustain 130+ years of political corruption based on a lot of shitty luck in elections. You sustain 130+ years of political corruption based on a system that rewards and encourages corruption: a system like Chicago’s, and Illinois’.)
Anyway, like I said, if you want to win the favor of the masses these days, you say Rahm Emanuel needs to resign. Rauner, who, need I remind you, is holding $480 million hostage from CPS due to his own political whims, had said if a bill passes the General Assembly that allows for the recall of a Chicago mayor–which seems like an awfully unnecessarily specific law to have on the STATE books, as opposed to the city books–he’d sign it into law. Of course. Because let’s not do anything to potentially help the city of Chicago with its current, immediate needs! Let’s make hypothetical promises regarding theoretical laws and situations instead!
Rauner says Chicago needs to fix its own budget problems (conveniently ignoring the historic tax increases passed this past summer that raised our sales taxes to some of the highest levels in the country, along with raising our property taxes, and a cloud tax on streaming services, all of which were done to deal with Chicago’s budget and pension problems). Rahm says the state needs to treat Chicago fairly. (The Chicago Teachers Union, for what its worth, says CPS needs to find its own money, but that’s what the CTU always says, and they don’t wield any real power in this particular situation anyway, since I can’t imagine Bruce Rauner would be all that interested in listening to the teachers…union. They’ll flex they’re muscles in a few months when the teachers go on strike. Again. But that’s another rant for another day.)
Honestly, I don’t care WHO funds CPS. There is no good cop/bad cop to me in this situation: everyone involved is a bad cop as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if it’s the city of Chicago. I don’t care of it’s the state of Illinois. I don’t care if it’s the next Powerball winner who decides to donate the entirety of their winnings to the district. I just care THAT CPS gets funded, because this is so much bigger than political ideology. This is so much bigger than finger pointing. These are children’s LIVES, and it absolutely disgusts me how little value anyone with power seems to put on these lives. Maybe I’m naive, but I firmly believe that one of the most necessary pieces in the “fixing Chicago’s manifold issues, including poverty, crime, and gun violence” puzzle is education, and I am NOT okay with seeing that education jeopardized because a few alleged adults are acting like children. Selfish, rotten children. And I absolutely hate how powerless I feel to do anything about it.
I’ve written my state representative, and my state senator, and Rauner, and the lieutenant governor, and the state representative who put forth the bill to allow for the recall of a Chicago mayor (that guy’s a former TEACHER! I couldn’t believe it. You’d think he, of all politicians, would realize we have much bigger fish that need immediate frying than something like that). If my impassioned pleas have impacted you at all, you can write your representatives in the General Assembly as well, finding out who they are here, and using their websites to get further contact information if necessary. CPS has a form letter you can send if you don’t know what to say (though it will require a little tweaking if you don’t have kids in CPS. If you want what I sent, I’ll pass it on to you.), or heck, you can send this blog post if you want. I don’t know if it’ll make any sort of difference–I have a hard time believing it’ll make any sort of difference–but it won’t hurt to let them know you support the children of Chicago. Because ultimately, those are the people most hurt by all of this. Kids. Kids who need education. Kids who need stability. Kids who need a people to put their priorities first and watch out for them. Chicago’s kids need you, right now, so I’m absolutely begging you: do something to help them out.
Well, that was heavy! Tell me about your Christmas, or New Year’s, or own personal problems with the governments in Illinois! Because quite honestly, I’m just about ready to move literally anywhere else at this point, as I have absolutely lost my patience for the way this state and city are run.