- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 3, 2018

Chicago Sun-Times

A big factory gets to pollute, and you get to wheeze

If you run a restaurant and pile up a lot of trash - plastic forks, empty cans, chicken bones and old grease - you can’t just throw it over the fence into your neighbor’s yard.

You have to pay a garbage service to haul it away.

What’s true for a little restaurant should be true for the big boys, too, like Foxconn, the electronics giant that plans to build a factory across the border in Wisconsin.

If Foxconn makes a mess, Foxconn should clean it up.

Don’t dump it on the rest of us.

The Trump administration though, sees it differently, as it often does when it comes to protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. Putting corporate profits above your good health, the Trump administration has decided to ease up on federal limits for smog pollution up and around where Foxconn wants to build its plant.

The Trump people live in Washington, D.C., not in Lake County, Illinois, or Racine County, Wisconsin.

They don’t have to breathe the stuff.

The moment President Trump named Scott Pruitt administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in February of last year, anybody could see a disaster coming. Pruitt has never seen an environmental regulation he didn’t think was specious or a fossil fuel fat cat he didn’t think was brilliant.

No sooner did Pruitt take over the EPA than he set about weakening and reversing environmental rules. EPA scientists shuddered and quit. Our confidence that the EPA is still doing its job in the Chicago area, monitoring the toxic waste that flows into Lake Michigan and the pollution that pours from smokestacks, hovers at about zero.

Look no further for proof, before the smog ruins your view, at the gift Pruitt just handed Foxconn. On Tuesday, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, he completely exempted Racine County from federal smog standards and scaled back the EPA staff recommendations for most other parts of Wisconsin.

Pruitt is doing the bidding of Foxconn, which now is spared the cost of expensive improvements for its Racine County plant, which will manufacture liquid crystal display panels. But Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who also favored relaxing pollution standards, was in on this sell-out, too.

It’s a bad turn of events for the Chicago area, flying in the face of decades of effort - often pushed by a better version of the EPA - to clean our air and protect our water. Air pollution levels have steadily declined in Chicago since at least 1998. Beach closings due to foul lake water after storms are fewer. The Chicago River, once an open sewer, now draws kayakers.

Last week, in an earlier attack on our regional natural resources, Wisconsin officials approved a request to pull millions of gallons of additional water each day from Lake Michigan for use by Foxconn. The decision, by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was made without the approval of the other seven states, including Illinois, that normally would be consulted.

Wisconsin and Foxconn did an end-run around the regional approval process by, among other dodges, claiming the water would be for a “public use.” And, in fact, a small amount of the water withdrawn will serve residential customers in the small town of Mount Pleasant, where Foxconn plans to build its plant. The rest goes straight to the company.

Foxconn says it will employ 13,000 people, including many from Illinois.

Terrific. Welcome, neighbors. But pick up your own trash.

We have no interest in seeing Chicago and Illinois - how about you, Wisconsin? - return to those wheezy days when big factories belched pollution and ordinary people just had to take it.

And it is appalling that Wisconsin, without seeking approval from the other seven Great Lake Compact states, unilaterally gave permission to the city of Racine to suck millions more gallons of water out of Lake Michigan each day, mostly for the benefit of one big factory.

Are we in this together, or are we in it for Foxconn?


May 4, 2018

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Yearbook incident a sign of changing times

Something potentially damaging is published in a high school yearbook. A student and a parent are upset, and raise their concerns.

It’s what happens next that makes this truly a 21st century story.

Eisenhower senior Chauncey Wulf was partially paralyzed in a car accident when he was a child. He’s still a top-class athlete - his Peoria Wildcats wheelchair basketball team won the state IHSA title this year, and the team was eighth in the national tournament. Wulf was named second-team all-tournament at the nationals, was selected as March’s Nike Players of the Month by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, and will sign a letter of intent Friday to play wheelchair basketball for Southwest Minnesota State University.

But when it came time to put together Eisenhower’s yearbook, in a section called “superlatives,” Wulf was named “most accident prone.”

It’s OK if you winced when you read that high school seniors voted a young man who’s used a wheelchair for years as “most accident prone.”

Wulf and his mother had their own reactions, of course. The young man reported saw posts on social media service Snapchat of people laughing and taking and sharing pictures of the yearbook page. Even after he made it clear he wasn’t happy with the designation, remarks from his peers kept piling on.

The story might have ended there, as an example of, at best, a poorly considered decision by those involved with the yearbook.

That’s when social media entered again but in a different way.

Chauncey’s mother, Crystal, put a lengthy post on Facebook expressing her unhappiness. The resulting tumult didn’t undo the damage, but the dissatisfaction was acknowledged. The yearbook is being reprinted.

There were ill-considered and probably unconsidered decisions made along the way to the yearbook’s publication. The school district needs to examine the system thoroughly and make more of an effort toward responsibility.

This kind of error in judgment is magnified via our current uses of social media. For all the harm it can do - like Chauncey’s peers deciding to share and laugh at the incident - social media also helped bring it more attention, and via the decision to reprint the yearbook, at least an acknowledgement that this should have been handled differently.


May 3, 2018

Belleville News-Democrat

Illinois lawmakers need to back their education ideas with cash

There is little that warms the cockles of an Illinois politician’s heart like telling every school in the state what students must be taught, unless those lawmakers get to impose that mandate without going to the trouble of providing the money for their enlightened views.

The Illinois Senate just passed a bill to require that LGBT history be taught in state schools. As so often happens in Springfield, they want to make the demand without providing money for the demand.

First off, if we are going to teach about the contributions of those whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual, then bill sponsor state Sen. Heather Steans could use a little education herself. Her Senate Bill 3249 demands teaching LGBT history, but that excludes a lot of folks of whose contributions schoolchildren should be made aware.

We should be teaching LGBTTQQIAAP history. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally and pansexual.

Not sure what orientation all those acronyms represent? Well, guess Steans is right and your education was lacking. Look them up.

Additionally, lawmakers love to please constituents by telling schools to teach the stories of each and every very special constituency. Lawmakers already mandated teaching about the contributions of African Americans, Polish, Lithuanian, German, Hungarian, Irish, Bohemian, Russian, Albanian, Italian, Czech, Slovak, French, Scots, Hispanics, Asian Americans and the forceful removal and illegal deportation of Mexican-American U.S. citizens during the Great Depression. Students also must study the contributions of lawmakers’ favorite contributors, labor unions.

These unfunded mandates pile up and cost our state big. From 1992 to 2014, Illinois lawmakers passed 145 unfunded mandates on the schools to add $200 million in costs, or $1.38 million per mandate.

Finally, it is certain that our lawmakers have loftier ideals and greater sensitivity than any of the rest of Illinois’ 12.8 million residents. But that enlightenment should also tell them when to defer to those in the trenches.

It is a lot easier to trust local teachers and locally elected school board members (unless they are pushing to arm teachers), than it is to trust a politician from 300 miles away to know the educational needs of our children.

It is also a lot easier to trust the motives of those entrusted to help develop enlightened, educated citizens of character than it is to trust the motives of those who want the self-assurance of “doing something” within a group whose hallmark is doing little of substance, or who blithely ignore the financial responsibilities of their actions just to gain favor with constituents or contributors.

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