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April 2013 Archives

Arboretum's messages for Chicago

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The Morton Arboretum had messages for Chicagoans fluttering from downtown trees Friday. The tags are put up volunteers and staff from the arboretum and BMO Harris Bank.

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Privatization oversight ordinance stalls again

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Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media photo

A proposal to add some oversight to city privatization deals was still being kept pretty much out of sight this week.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) introduced the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance last November, but it has languished in Ald. Dick Mell's (33rd) Rules Committee since then.

The ordinance, for which a majority of the City Council members have signed on as co-sponsors, would require a hearing on privatization proposals involving an asset valued at $250,000 or more. It also would require a cost-effectiveness study, competitive bidding and other reforms. The city's disastrous parking meter privatization has provided impetus for such a reform.

But the ordinance wasn't on the Rules Committee agenda Wednesday, and Mell didn't say when it will be placed on the agenda, if ever.

"My belief is there is a desire for it not to go any further," Ald. Sawyer said Wednesday in an interview with WTTW.

Watch the WTTW video here.

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40 "terrible" school shake-up decisions

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Parent group Raise Your Hand on Wednesday gave to the Chicago Board of Education details on 40 proposed school shakeups they deem "terrible." These are decisions the group has "considerable concerns over."

RYT isn't endorsing CPS' other school proposed actions (total of 71), just haven't looked closely at all of them yet.

The proposed actions include 54 closures, 11 co-locations (separate schools sharing a building) and six turnarounds (staff and programming replaced but children remain). A board of education vote is set for May 22.

Take a look at their analysis here.

New labor tactic in downtown worker strike

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Workers from fast food and retail chains along State Street walk off their jobs Wednesday in a protest for higher wages. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Starting at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, workers walked off the job at about 30 downtown establishments, seeking higher wages. Affected locations included Subway, McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Macy's, Sears and Victoria's Secret.

The labor action was conducted by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which was formed Nov. 15. It uses the slogan, "Fight for 15," meaning wages of $15 an hour. Right now, the workers average under $10.

It's a new labor tactic because the workers are not employed by the same company. They don't even work in the same industry.

Whether they can succeed, building up their numbers, remains to be seen.

Illinois' minimum wage now stands at $8.25, a dollar higher than the federal minimum. Some business leaders say raising wages would force businesses to lay off workers or cut their hours.

Why Chicago has stake in saving Mississippi delta

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Barricades block flooded Main Street in Grafton, Ill., Monday, near its intersection with Illinois Route 3 along the flooding Mississippi River. (AP Photo/The Telegraph, John Badman)

The erosion of the MIssissippi River delta in Louisiana might not seem like Chicago's problem, but a group of environmentalists was in town last week for The Big River Works leadership forum to argue it is.

Chicago has substantial commercial barge traffic that connects to the Mississippi, and much of the rest of the state uses the river to ship its grain, they said. But rapid erosion of the delta - the largest loss of land on the planet - is threatening New Orleans' port, and if that goes, Illinois will lose significant access to world markets, they said.

How to keep water clean? Drink beer

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Unhappy how the Clean Water Act has taken it on the chin over the years? For Earth Day, maybe it's time to drown your sorrows.

At least, that's the idea of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has teamed up with 21 craft breweries to get out the word about clean water. Six of the 21 breweries in "Brewers for Clean Water" are in the Chicago area.

The idea is the brainchild of Karen Hobbs, who used to be a Chicago deputy environment commissioner and now does a lot of water policy work for the NRDC. Beermakers rely on clean water (beer is 90 percent water), and something she saw on a craft beer social media site got the beer keg rolling, so to speak. So people will be gathering Monday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Galleria Marchetti, 825 W. Erie Street, Chicago, for an NRDC fund-raiser, tasting beer from Finch's, Flossmoor Station, Goose Island, Half Acre, Revolution, and Wild Onion. Tickets are $50. The Gemini Club will perform.

Council effort to regulate privatization bogs down

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The air traffic control tower at Midway Airport, one of Chicago's assets seen as a candidate for privatization. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

A City Council bid to slow down any privatization deals seems to be getting a slowdown of its own.

Introduced last November by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), the Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance has been bottled up in Ald. Dick Mell's (33rd) Rules Committee, even though a majority of the City Council members have signed on as co-sponsors.

The ordinance would require a hearing on privatization proposals involving an asset valued at $250,000 or more. It also would require a cost-effectiveness study, competitive bidding and other reforms.

Until now, plans to privatize services or assets have tended to stay under the radar until the last moment, keeping public scrutiny to a minimum.

Science, conspiracy theories and Texas Joe

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The phrase, useful and perfect, is "motivated reasoning."

That's what psychologists call the depressing refusal of many people to absorb and accept indisputable facts that run counter to what they prefer to believe. You can throw all the proof in the world at them and they'll never buy the theory of evolution. You can pile up the evidence and they'll never accept the reality of global warming.

Case in point from the news Wednesday is Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, who says he doubts the reality of climate change because it doesn't sit quite right with the Great Flood in the bible. Other religious people have found ways to reconcile the two -- the Catholic Church long ago urged the flock to view much of the bible as allegorical -- but not folks like Texas Joe.

A brand new study, reported Wednesday by Gary Marcus in the New Yorker online, shows how science doubters tend to be all of a piece.

Rahm a dictator or a consensus builder?

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The Chicago City Council votes Mayor Rahm Emanuel's way even more often than they voted Mayor Richard M. Daley's way.

So says Fran Spielman's story in the Sun-Times.

What's that tell us?

The folks at the University of Illinois at Chicago who did the study think it says one thing -- scary Emanuel is really good at pushing people around.

A lot of other people, including of course Emanuel, think it says something entirely different -- the mayor is better at building a respectful consensus.

It's probably both, but more a function of Emanuel being willing to talk to and work with the Council. The aldermen may be rolling over, but no more so than when Daley ran the show.

Illinois fracking deal hits a snag

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FRACKING.jpgEnvironmental group members show support inside the Capitol rotunda in an effort to pressure lawmakers for a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, March 12 (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

The deal on fracking, touted by Gov. Pat Quinn and others as providing the best environmental protections in the country, has run into trouble in the Illinois Legislature.

The snag is a proposed addition of worker certification provisions, which as currently outlined are not acceptable to the industry. As a result, the fracking bill is mired in committee.

The argument in favor of worker certification is if you are going to be punching a hole through an aquifer, you should be someone who knows what you are doing. There's also an interest in giving Illinois workers first crack at any new jobs.

But business sees the move as labor unions trying to get guaranteed jobs by saying every drilling site needs to have an accredited worker, and business worries it could take a couple of years to get new workers certified.

Ebert the tweeting 'newspaperman'

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Roger Ebert was "a newspaperman."

So said this paper's former publisher, John Barron, speaking at Monday morning's funeral for Ebert at Holy Name Cathedral.

And instantly that sentiment was tweeted out beyond the church walls, into the city and across the country, by a small army of current Sun-Times employees tapping on their smart phones from the pews.

We write our stories, just as ever. They appear in print but more quickly online. We blog. We tweet. We do radio and TV and podcasts. We're everywhere on Facebook.

Yet we slip and call ourselves newspapermen, not as Luddites or throwbacks, certainly not as sentimentalists. Not if we're smart.

Chicago Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett offered up a powerful response to charges of racism in school closure decisions at Wednesday's board meeting. She also laid out her arguments for closures.

"What I cannot understand - and will not accept - are charges that the proposals I am offering are racist. That is an affront to me as a woman of color. And it is an affront to every parent in our community who demands better for their children," she said.

"I grew up and went to school in an overwhelmingly African American community," Byrd-Bennett added. "Believe me, I KNOW what is racism and what is not."

The full speech as written (not as delivered) is below:

SUSANA_MENDOZA.jpgCity Clerk Susan A. Mendoza holds copy of the new city vehicle sticker design during a meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Under the new plan for selling Chicago vehicle stickers scheduled to go the City Council next week, it won't be as simple to buy a sticker as it used to be.

The new stickers will be tied to the Illinois Secretary of State's vehicle registration data, which means a city resident won't be able to buy a sticker anymore without the correct renewal form or proper identification.

"In the past, Mickey Mouse could literally buy a city sticker, and we would sell the sticker to the individual," City Clerk Susana Mendoza said Tuesday. "It wasn't tied to the vehicle. ... So if your name was not on the registration, it didn't matter. If you were buying [a sticker] for your wife, you could buy it under your name."

But the days are over of "people walking in off the street and buying a sticker under anybody's name," Mendoza said.

The proposed new system will cut overtime costs in the city clerk's office, Mendoza said.

The city sells about 1.3 million stickers a year and estimates up to about 400,000 vehicles not been registered. The city has been selling the stickers since 1908, the last year the Cubs won a World Series.

Read the Sun-Times news story here.

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Mission (partly) accomplished: Drop box for library

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Galewood-Mont Clare Library.jpg
Patrons of Chicago's Galewood-Mont Clare library on Monday check out an unusually large number of books. (Bryan Bedell photo)

The Galewood-Mont Clare branch library is going to get a drop box.

That's the report from the Galewood Residents Organization, which organized an effort Monday to call attention to the library's shortcomings by checking out every book in the library.

Why a Chicago branch library may have no books today

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Rutherford-Sayre Park.jpgIf you pop into the hard-to-find Galewood-Mont Clare branch of the Chicago Public Library this afternoon, you may see a library with no books on the shelves.

Members of the Galewood Residents Organization plan to check out all 2,700 or so books in an effort to get attention for their efforts to get a bigger branch library.

The branch library has been in a room in the Rutherford-Sayre Park fieldhouse since it lost a bigger space it rented at Grand and Sayre three years ago. There are no evening or weekend hours, no wi-fi, no exterior entrance and no computers. It has only about 2,700 circulating books. And there's not even a drop box for people who can't come during the day to return library materials.

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