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Sunday, March 3

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The Mechanics

Environment/Sustainability Sun Jun 21 2015

Touring the Deep Tunnel and Thornton Quarry

The Thornton Reservoir
Construction equipment on the bed of the future Thornton Reservoir. Trucks on the Tri-State Tollway can be seen above the quarry.

On Saturday, I joined the Southeast Environmental Task Force (SETF) on one of its tours of Chicago's goliath infrastructure. The tour featured the future site of the Thornton Composite Reservoir, the largest such reservoir in the world, and a Deep Tunnel pumping station 350' below ground at the Calumet Water Reclamation Plant. Both are part of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD)'s gargantuan Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar project designed to protect the Chicago region from the flooding and pollution caused by overflowing sewer and stormwater infrastructure.

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David Schalliol

Chicago Suburbs Thu May 15 2014

Palestinian Group Aims to Educate Public About Past

To educate the public about Nakba, the 1948 Palestinian exodus when over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, the Chicago chapter of the American Muslims for Palestine are hosting two events in Chicago this May.

The first event was Thursday at Daley Plaza, where a group of volunteers, 31 in total, handed out informational materials at Daley Plaza. The materials aimed to educate passers-by about the 1948 events and what Nakba means today. Most of these volunteers came from Universal School in Bridgeview. 3,000 total copies were distributed, according to Kristin Szremski, director of media and communications at the organization.

Szremski said that reaction Downtown was mixed. While some people read the educational brochure and were intrigued by it, others were rude and definitely anti-Palestinian, she said. She said this was difficult for the students who encountered this since they are Americans of Palestinian heritage.

On Saturday, the chapter will host an event that includes a Palestine Parade, authentic Palestinian cuisine, a bazaar, folk dancing and songs and bread, freshly baked on traditional 'taboon,' or ovens outside of the Universal School in Bridgeview.

"We want people to know that the Nakba still continues today in the Israeli apartheid policies that result in the military occupation of Palestine, the restriction on freedom of movement, the demolition in thousands of Palestinian homes and the random arrest and detentions of thousands of political prisoners, including 700 children, every year," said Nida Sahouri, AMP-Chicago chapter chairwoman. "We Americans fund this with our tax dollars. We just want people to know the truth so one day they will pressure Congress to approve a more fair and balanced foreign policy in the Middle East."

Nenad Tadic

TIFs Fri Jul 12 2013

County Clerk Orr Sounds Quiet Alarm on TIF Overuse

Cook County Clerk David Orr, in a half-hour July 12 press conference releasing his office's required 2012 tax increment financing ("TIF") revenue report, highlighted the enormous amount of revenue siphoned from Chicago and Cook County taxpayers into TIF districts, and called for early declaration of surpluses within Chicago to fund needs like schools. Observing that billions of dollars have flowed into the now-over-500 districts, Orr released a video (embedded below) on the Clerk's website to help taxpayers grasp how the little-understood mechanisms work.

The video's tone suggests a school science filmstrip, kind of quiet in view of the alarming numbers, but this is government, not advocacy. At 2:41, over soothing guitar arpeggios, a pleasant female narrator says, "In most cases, taxpayers outside the TIFs pay more to generate the revenue requested by [their own] taxing districts." TIF critics such as the Reader's Ben Joravsky have hammered relentlessly on this, how TIFs hike your taxes, but it's easy to miss in the video unless you pause.

Orr's press conference was both longer and stronger than the official video. Noting that Chicago's collective TIF districts pull in half as many tax dollars as the City itself, Orr expressed concern that so "many taxpayer dollars are diverted into the Loop," charged that "not enough is being done in the neighborhoods," and that there has been little transparency as to how $5.5 billion in TIF dollars has been spent. He urged Mayor Emanuel and the City Council to declare a TIF surplus this year "as soon as possible" for the benefit of Chicago Public Schools, asking, "How do you explain to the kids in many of these schools that gym, music and art classes are cancelled while profitable businesses downtown ... received 25, 30, 40, 50 million?" Good question.

While Orr's remarks centered on Chicago, they echoed the same requests made by pressed suburban taxpayers for more transparency and accountability, better metrics, declarations of surpluses, and early retirement of no-longer-needed districts.

Overall, the video capably illustrates TIF workings and numbers, whose magnitude needs time to sink in, and Orr deserves credit for shining further light on what is now a gargantuan but opaque component of local governmental taxing and spending.

Jeff Smith

Police Tue May 07 2013

South Suburban Chronicles

The tarnished legacy of indicted community officials no longer lies in Chicago ranks but has indeed spread to the south suburban areas of Cook County. Three villages are now victim of the all too familiar spirit of greed and exploitation that infests those in leadership. After the embarrassing episode of Jesse Jackson, Jr. that shattered the 2nd congressional district, three south suburban towns face again the deception and humiliation from community officials.

Most recently, former Crestwood Police Chief Theresa Neubauer was found guilty of 11 counts of purposely reciting false claims to environmental regulators. As Crestwood water head, she repeatedly lied to state regulators about the quality of the village's water that was chemically altered. She claims two other individuals including former longtime Mayor Chester Stanczek are guilty of the tainted water scheme that possibly harmed the 11,000 residents. Neubauer also implies both were well-aware of vinyl chloride remnants in water that was used for 22 years until 2007. Neubauer possibly faces that maximum of five years in prison and $250,000 fine for each count. Even after nearly seven hours of deliberation, the mother of four still proclaims her innocence. "I suppose today I have to say I am the unfortunate person that the village of Crestwood hired when I was an 18-year-old girl," said Neubauer. She resigned from her post May 2.

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Sydney Corryn / Comments (1)

Chicago Tue Feb 12 2013

City Mouse, Country Mouse: Geopolitics and Guns

The argument over gun control is not, as some want to frame it, primarily partisan, let alone a battle between those opposed to violence and those OK with it. It's as much a geographic and cultural divide as anything else. Understanding the different perspectives stemming from the very different homicide rates in very different areas is key to overcoming simplistic sloganeering or unfounded assumptions, and is critical to basing policy on evidence. Consider Chicago and Iowa, for starters.

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Jeff Smith

Chicago Suburbs Thu Dec 09 2010

Forgotten Images from the South Suburbs


Last winter, while doing research for a story, I drove through Riverdale and Harvey to take some photographs with my iPhone and my father's old Minolta SLR camera. A native of the south suburbs, I was always struck by the sadness of these towns as I passed through them daily on the Metra train during my commute into the city. From the train window, I would see the number of middle-class homes in bedroom suburbs dwindle as barren factories blocked anything else in sight. In winter, the view from the train window was even more striking. Potholes, ice forming over the industrial Calumet-Sag River and abandoned storefronts were ubiquitous reminders of poverty. I wanted to understand these towns more, so I walked around them one Sunday afternoon with my sister. I also wanted this visit to be the first of many to the area. As I became busier with a new job, I unfortunately had to put my research on hold and left the film undeveloped in my father's camera. Last month, I finally finished the roll of film and took it to a store to get it developed. I was taken aback for a moment when mixed in with images from a trip were photos of factories and boarded-up homes. I completely forgot I took any of these images. I now live more than 5,000 miles away from Chicago, but something about the photos drew me back home.


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Sheila Burt

Wage Theft Tue Apr 27 2010

Wage Theft Crime Spree: What Will Stop It?


Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.

You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."

Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."

Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.

However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.

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Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Social Issues Mon Apr 05 2010

Sex Trafficking In Chicago: "Victimless" Crimes & Their Victims

Maria is lying on the bed. She's been trying to get up, lifting her head, maybe rolling over onto an elbow, but she's gotten nowhere. Another half attempt to sit upright. She reaches in her pocket and fumbles with a cell phone. She wants to call her best friend Tammy, but her fingers forget where they're going and never make it past the US Cellular logo above the keypad. "Tammy, you wouldn't believe what I'm about to do," she'd tell her. But she can't get as far as calling her.

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Danny Fenster / Comments (7)

Labor & Worker Rights Thu Mar 18 2010

Warehouse Workers Demand Justice


Warehouse Workers for Justice Rally Outside the Housewares Show at McCormick Place.

On Sunday, March 14, Warehouse Workers for Justice rallied outside the McCormick Convention Center, which was hosting the International Home & Housewares Show, to demand justice from Bissell, a vacuum manufacturer. Clergy, warehouse workers and community members rallied to call attention to Bissell's role in the firing of workers who were trying to organize a union.

Warehouse Workers for Justice was founded by the United Electrical Workers union and helps warehouse workers organize and fight for their rights. The group has had substantial support from churches in the Joliet area; Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic and Unitarian Universalist have all provided support for the Warehouse Workers for Justice.

According to United Electrical workers organizer Mark Meinster, Bissell is one of hundreds of manufacturers that store their goods in the Centerpoint Intermodal Center in Elwood, Illinois. Since Chicago is the only place on the continent where all of the major rail lines meet, corporate America has made Chicago the third largest storage warehouse hub in the world, after Singapore and Hong Kong. The Centerpoint Intermodal Center is actually a designated foreign trade zone, so corporations like Wal-mart and Bissell do not have to pay duties on the products shipped through the center until they are shipped out of the center and toward retail outlets.

The companies that store their goods in the warehouses use a system of contractors and sub-contractors to employee temporary employees instead of full time employees. According to Meinster, "It's very easy for these employers to hide behind other companies in terms of liabilities for labor law violations. And that's what Bissell is trying to do here." Warehouse Workers for Justice have filed several complaints with the Department of Labor, and their attempts to meet with Bissell have been blown off. Which is why they felt it was important to take their message to the public, Meinster says. They want to "make sure those retailers [at the convention center] know that they are selling a sweatshop product."

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Matt Muchowski

Chicago Suburbs Tue Feb 16 2010

Steel to Pavement: Building the Calumet-Sag Trail


Whenever the weather cooperates, Blue Island resident Marci Frederick rides her bicycle from her home to her job as director of the library at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. The 49-year-old has been in a few small car crashes in her lifetime, so she prefers the serenity of a bike ride to the frustrations of a car any day. But without a strong trail infrastructure nearby that allows her to ride on bike paths or trails, Frederick mapped out her own route, where she purposefully avoids a more direct path along West 127th Street, a high-traffic road she stopped riding on after battling intense traffic and a chasing dog.

In order to get to work, she crosses four sets of railroad tracks and winds her way down around nine different streets before arriving at Trinity about 40 minutes later. While she's generally happy with her current work commute, Frederick is one south suburban resident who is eagerly awaiting the opening of the Calumet-Sag Trail, a proposed 26-mile multi-use path that will be built along the banks of the Calumet-Sag Channel and Calumet River. The trail will run through many of Chicago's southern suburbs ("the Southland"), from Lemont all the way east to Burnham. The trail also will connect with other existing trails, including the Centennial Trail, creating a 150-mile trail system around the Chicago Southland.

With the trail, estimated at a cost of $20 million, Frederick and other Southland bike commuters will be able to ride their bikes to work with more ease, and recreational trail users will finally have a continuous path to exercise on and enjoy nature.

"As a first step towards making the Southside bike friendly, I think it's a great thing," Frederick says. "If it gets people out on trails so that they can appreciate what bicycling does and how much more efficient bicycling is than driving, I think that's great. For myself, the prospect of a practically door-to-door commute on the trail is wonderful."

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Sheila Burt / Comments (2)

Chicago Mon Jan 11 2010

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The trafficking of human beings from foreign lands into the United States has caught plenty of media attention. The narrative of young women from Eastern European and South Asian countries being promised work in America, only to be forced into labor- or sexual-exploitation is familiar.

But homegrown trafficking is just as serious. Because of the illicit nature of the industry, numbers are hard to come by. The legal and academic literature on the matter is littered with phrases like "to an unknown extent" and "ambiguity in scope." But in Chicago, many women are forced into prostitution by family members and boyfriends, pimped out for money by force, or worse.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness day, and the Chicago group Traffick Free is spreading awareness tonight by screening the film Cargo: Innocence Lost, followed by a Q&A with local experts on the matter. The event takes place at Park Community Church, 1001 N. Crosby St., at 7pm. See Traffick Free's website, linked above, for more information.

Danny Fenster

Public Transportation Fri May 01 2009

Mellow Yellow

The CTA unveiled last night its preliminary concept for a significant extension of the Yellow Line, a/k/a the Skokie Swift, from its current terminus at Dempster Street in Skokie, to Old Orchard Road, just east of the Edens Expressway. The authority rolled out its presentation at a public meeting at Niles North High School, near where the extension would end. Approximately 50 members of the public were in attendance, along with what seemed to be at least a dozen CTA staffers and consultants. Public officials were notably absent, except for Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, a longtime booster of more rapid transit to the inland North Shore burb, and an aide of State Rep. Lou Lang.

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Jeff Smith / Comments (9)

GB store


Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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