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It’s an open and closed case – schools can’t win 

  • Written by Ray Hanania

 Hanania-GrapevineThis week’s arctic chilled weather raised an important issue about schools and our society.
 Schools across Chicagoland suburbs closed on Wednesday and Thursday when temperatures dropped below zero. The wind chill was predicted Wednesday to be minus-35 degrees, although it was higher.
That’s pretty darn cold, though.
On Friday, even though the temperatures were just as bad, or worse, schools were opened. The temperatures were still in the single digits, and the wind chill was subzero.
So why were some schools closed one day but opened the next, and the weather was the same?
Our schools may be more about baby-sitting to help working parents, than they are about educating our kids.
Admit it.
Schools opened Friday because parents were griping that having children at home makes it hard for them to work. It cut into snow days and will extend the school year into summer vacations.
I get it. It’s a real problem. Working parents often have no other options. Who will watch the kids while school is closed? Do they take days off from work and lose benefits?
Although it did seem strange to me that while schools couldn’t open, community centers could, providing activities for the kids. Does that make sense?
Some people will argue school closings really have to do with the power of unions. Others will say its politics, trying to keep parents happy when in fact you can’t keep parents of school kids happy at all.
If kids don’t do well in school, parents blame the schools, not themselves, or their kids. The lives of parents with school children are built around their children’s school schedule.
 When I was a kid – a true cliché – I went to school regardless of the weather. I walked to school 12 blocks, four times a day. In the winter. In storms. They closed schools during the 1967 Blizzard, but only because the snow was so high no one could walk. Trudging (Chicago-ese for walking in heavy snow) through the streets literally was like climbing K2, the deadliest mountain and only second highest to Mt. Everest. (I learned that in school.)
Yes, we walked to school in any weather, including blizzards. Why can’t kids do it today? They all take busses. Their parents drive them the few blocks. I see it because I drive my son to school every morning. My wife picks him up. Kids are spoiled. They stay awake for hours playing Xbox, but can’t stay awake five minutes to read a book.
I actually feel sorry for the school officials. They don’t know what to do to make parents happy. If a kid gets bad grades, it’s the schools fault. If the kid is a genius, credit the parents’ genes.
Someone should explain all this to Mother Nature. But I don’t think Mother Nature really cares, especially in this ugly season of Global Warming.

PARIS MASSACRES: I don’t know anyone who is not outraged by the brutality of the killings in Paris last week. Terrorists massacred 12 people at a satire newspaper office that has published photos attacking Islam. I think the cartoons are disgraceful, and racist, too.
But I think the terrorism and killing is even more shocking and more wrong. But don’t paint an entire religion based on the actions of three criminals. Every Muslim I know condemned the killings. Many Christians I know condemned “Muslims.”
That’s sad.
Don’t blame an entire people for the actions of a few.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I Claudia: My lie was smellin’ when I visited Ellen

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia Mug Shot-Color

The truth shall set you free! 

            It’s 2015. I’ve decided to start this year by exposing a skeleton in my closet. Journalism is a profession that requires trust and credibility.

It is best I own up now before I become famous and the entertainment journalists’ get a hold of this. 

            Sigh! Here it goes...in May of 2008, I won a 2008 Buick Enclave on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show’ under false pretenses.

            I know. I know. You’re shocked and disappointed. Me too! 

But, I can explain.

            I love the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.’’ I discovered it when I left corporate America to become a stay-at-home mom, when my daughter, Donae, was born seven years ago.

 I was flicking through channels one afternoon and witnessed this trendy, white lady, breaking it down to hip-hop music. Not only was the audience engaged, they were practically forming a “Soul Train” line with her.

It was contagious.

With Donae strapped on me in her baby sling, I busted a few moves myself. 

            I found Ellen to be fresh, entertaining and funny. From that day forward, I held a standing reservation with her program. During one of those episodes she announced she’d be taping a show in Chicago and I declared, “I will be in that audience!”

            The problem was, despite my efforts, I couldn’t get tickets.

            The Mike Haggerty Buick GMC dealership in Oak Lawn was one of Ellen’s sponsors.

 They had a ticket sweepstakes but I didn’t win there either.

I started begging family members to enter and my brother-in-law became the one to manifest my win. However, retrieving the tickets wasn’t instantaneous and he didn’t want to play any further. So, I told him I’d take care of everything, all he’d have to do was attend the show. He acquiesced and gave me the producer’s information so I could complete the process of securing our seats. I had an unsubstantiated theory that Ellen’s producer might be reluctant to communicate with anyone other than him, so I claimed to be his wife.

            BIG MISTAKE!

            The producer I corresponded with was Kara Hogan. Her infectious personality was alluring. She appreciated my enthusiasm for the Ellen show. She asked if my husband and I would be interested in arriving to the show early so she could thank us in person. She said we would be joined by a few other Ellen fans and we’d also receive preferred seating.

            “Would we?” I said. “We’d be thrilled.”

            I now needed to inform my fake husband/brother-in-lawof this honor we were being bestowed. He wasn’t happy about the façade but he didn’t figure my little lie would pose a problem. Well, that little lie began to snowball and became a boulder that couldn’t be concealed. And, I wasn’t the only person hurt when it rolled.

            On the day of the taping, we were grouped with about 20 selected fans. All audience members are required to sign waivers upon entry. And, it’s explained that anyone can be randomly selected by Ellen from the audience during the show. Knowing that gave me a surge of desire.

            “Pick me. Pick me”, I said in my mind. The law of attraction did not disappoint.

            Ellen has a game segment where audience members get to compete for prizes. I nearly jumped three feet when I heard her call me and my brother-in-law to the stage to play.

The memory holds extra significance because the late Robin Williams was her celebrity guest that day. He was still on stage when we were called up. I couldn’t believe I was sharing the stage with Ellen and Robin Williams in front of a live audience of 5,000.

We chatted, danced and joked. Then, we started the game segment. Me, my brother-in-law, along with about 15 audience members, including Robin and Ellen all had to cram inside a Buick Enclave within a certain period of time in order to win.

            Robin kept yelling, “Get the seats down. You gotta get them seats down!”             I just remember rolling into a ball, eyes closed, praying we were all in before hearing the buzzer sound. I thought we were playing for a Tivo or maybe a TV. But, when the game ended, Ellen handed me the key to a 2008 Buick Enclave valued at $45,000. 

            I screamed until I depleted my lungs and nearly fainted.

            My fervor dissipated when it came time to officially claim the prize. The waivers my fake husband and I filled out revealed different addresses. Mine in particular, had my actual husband, Don’s name listed as my emergency contact.

               We were BUSTED!  I won a car and lost my credibility.

               I felt awful! I e-mailed Kara to apologize and she replied saying, “Was this really for the ticket? I liked you the minute we chatted... I was really looking forward to meeting you and loved your energy...you didn't have to lie...we would’ve wanted you there no matter if he was your husband or in-law... life is too short for betraying who you are for a ticket to the Ellen show.”

               I’ll always regret losing the opportunity to become Kara’s friend and that I left her with the impression I was a dishonest person. But, I also recognize what happen wasn’t my intention. And therefore have released the shame and self-condemning thoughts of association. No-one exercises perfect judgment 100 percent of the time. A common best practice is to own your mistakes by confessing them and asking forgiveness. If your heart is sincere, you will feel free. The truth always prevails.

               What happened to the car? Well, since me and my brother-in-law weren’t an actual married couple, it was awarded to him because he was the official ticket winner. He gave it to my mother-in-law, who had been praying for a new vehicle.

               She still drives it today and gives God total credit for the blessing, as she should. 

Thanking those with thankless jobs

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineEach Christmas season, I get up early on garbage pickup day, and wait.
 I’m not worried about getting the garbage cans out to the curb. I’m always worried I’ll miss giving the drivers their Christmas gifts when they drive their routes, grabbing and dumping each of the huge containers lined up along the curbs.
They have thankless jobs. We’ve been taught to look down on them. But we shouldn’t. We should thank them. They do the hard work we take for granted, even if the technology has changed.
Years ago there were three workers on a sanitation truck, and they had to lift the huge cans themselves. Now, there is one driver, and the truck has a mechanical arm that lifts and empties the containers.
Of course, now we also have three trucks. One for garbage. One for recycling. And one for yard waste, three seasons of the year.
(ON a side note. This change was never planned. The garbage can is larger than the recycling can, but these days, recycling is 90 percent of my waste. The recycling can is packed and the garbage can is near empty.)
Every year for the past 24 years, the same kid (now a man) has been picking up the garbage at my house in Orland Park. He has one of those jobs where you have to be out there when everyone else is usually enjoying the day off.
We don’t often get a chance to talk. I don’t even remember his name – age has taken a toll on the memory. But he deserves a Happy Holiday greeting, too.
“Merry Christmas,” I yell, the truck noise makes it hard for me to hear myself.
“Merry Christmas,” he yells back, standing in the door of the truck where he manages the controls wearing a red bandana. “I wish I could be home this morning like everyone else.”
“Yeah, I know. You guys have the toughest job. This is just a little something to thank you for all you do. I hope you and your family have a great Christmas.” I said as I handed him the gift.
 When it’s over, it makes me feel good, because that’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about.
Giving.
Not taking.
Helping others, not being selfish.
It shouldn’t be about shopping, sales discounts, or buying the latest high-tech gadgets. 
A few minutes later, the recycling driver pulls up to the driveway and I wish him Merry Christmas with a small gift, too.
You should have seen the surprise and smile on their faces. It made my day.
Later, I’ll catch the mailman. The mailman’s dad used to own a pizza place back when I was a kid in Burbank. His brother was one of my classmates at Reavis High school. They lived only a few blocks away.
When I happen to be home when he delivers the mail, usually on Saturdays, we spend a few minutes remembering “the old days.” It was a better time, I think.
It’s a great feeling, folks. If you are able to give, you should take a moment to think of the people who help make our homes real homes.
Make it your New Year’s resolution to thank the people around you. Not just the ones you work with every day, but the ones you might take for granted. If you can’t give them cash, a simple thank you will do.
A “thank you” can go a long way.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Battle to replace Topinka is all about the politics

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineYou get a honeymoon when you win office, but there is no honeymoon in the political afterlife.
Before Judy Baar Topinka was buried, a battle between the Democrats and Republicans was already erupting over who would take Topinka’s place as Illinois comptroller.
It’s not like the office of comptroller is the most important state office. Sure, it isn’t.
But the real issue is that Topinka was a Republican who held a statewide office and that is not so common in Illinois, which is a deep Blue State held by Democrats 
Although the new governor, Bruce Rauner, is a Republican, it’s more of a reflection on outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn’s failures as a state executive than any seismic shift in Illinois politics that gave Republicans an edge.
Quinn blew this election with one of the worst election campaigns I have seen in 40 years driven by his lack of loyalty to supporters, and an enormous failure to reach out to mainstream suburban Cook County voters.
It wasn’t a surprise at all.
Quinn argues that for the sake of voters, the person appointed to replace Topinka should be forced to seek election in two years in 2016 rather than in four years in 2018 when the Topinka term actually would expire.
 
Quinn is driven by bitterness – the kind he showed on election night when he refused to man-up and concede defeat. But his colleagues are driven by spoils. The bottom line is the state Democrats want the comptroller’s office back that Topinka, a Republican took.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a ruling last week that basically said that outgoing Governor Quinn has the power to appoint a person to take over Topinka’s remaining term, which ends in January at the swearing in of a new comptroller.
Madigan, a bright and brilliant state officer holder herself, said that incoming Gov. Rauner has the power to appoint the person to replace Topinka in the new four-year term that she won in the November election.
Topinka died at a very politically inopportune moment, between winning the election and getting sworn in to a new term.
Madigan’s ruling was based on existing state law that does not require a special election to be held in two years, but instead should be held when the state elections are next scheduled in November 2018. She did say she believed that voters should be given the chance to elect a replacement in two-years.
Quinn has called the legislature back into special session Jan. 8, a week before Rauner is sworn in to succeed him, which is an unneeded added cost to taxpayers.
The Republicans won the office fair and square.
Voters, despite being heavily Democratic in Illinois, soundly backed not only Rauner to replace Quinn but also re-elected Topinka by a wide margin.
 
Those calling for the costly special election argue it best reflects the interests of the voters.
 But I think the interests of the voters were clearly determined in November 2014, when voters overwhelmingly endorsed Rauner and Topinka as the only two Republicans to hold statewide office in a field crowded with Democrats. 
Topinka’s successor should be a Republican chosen by the Republican Party. 
That should be respected. And I happen to be a Democrat. A “Reagan Democrat” but a Democrat nonetheless. 

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .