Repo Man Rahm’s Side of Story Prevails at NBC Chicago

Yesterday morning, I saw the news on NBC Chicago’s FB feed that “La Casita,” a community fieldhouse on the property of Whittier Elementary School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, was in the process of being torn down due to poor condition.
The back story is that the Whittier Parents Committee (WPC), the community/parent group running classes, activities & a library in the fieldhouse, had been meeting with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for a few years to work out a solution to both ownership and renovations.   Promises of funding were made by state and local elected and appointed officials, but that never came through. In the mean time, the building continued to deteriorate.

There is some disagreement between the CPS and the community group as to what has transpired in the last few years. You can read more details in the best article I have found, in Chicago Catalyst (whose mission is “independent reporting on urban education”).

But, a couple things are indisputable:  The building was in bad shape AND the CPS arrived unexpectedly in the middle of the night and tore the building down less than 12 hours after clearing out the fieldhouse the night before.

Also, in 2010, then-CPS CEO Ron Huberman acquiesced to the community’s demands, pledging the field house would not be demolished. In 2011, Huberman’s successor, Jean-Claude Brizard, reaffirmed that promise in a letter to Whittier parents.

As I re-read NBC Chicago‘s article, this statement, from a CPS press release, caught my attention: “A CPS spokeswoman said the WPC never signed the $1 lease agreement to begin renovations on the building and did not take any steps to bring the building up to code.”

That sounded incredulous, given the Whittier community’s fight up until this point. There was no rebuttal from the WPC.

Suddenly, a vision of Ms. Sherer, my high school journalism teacher who supervised our editing of the newspaper, appeared:  “Where is the response from the WPC representative to CPS’ claims?”  “Where is the balanced approach to reporting a story?”

I immediately found the phone number for the WPC and called.  Their leader, Gema Gaete, answered. She told me that yes, the CPS offered a contract, but it was set up for failure – it required the WPC to pay all the bills, and if they were even a day late, the CPS would have eminent domain.  CPS never responded to their counter-offer. Also, she said, it was CPS’ responsibility to keep the building up to code, not theirs. She invited me to the vigil that was being held later that day.  

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Whittier Elementary schoolchildren watch their community center being demolished by Chicago Public Schools, witnessing a “crime scene.”

Because Pilsen is a largely Hispanic neighborhood on Chicago’s west side that is less affluent and less white than most northside communities, my immediate questions upon learning the news were:  If this fieldhouse had been in Lincoln Park (an affluent neighborhood), would this fieldhouse been allowed to deteroriate in the first place, and would children have other options for extracurricular activities?  Why do more than 160 Chicago Public Schools have no library?  Why has the state never seriously considered funding schools through income tax, rather than property tax, something that’s been advocated by many better government groups for a long time?

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City of Chicago’s demo crew, with the promise of “breaking into the future.”

By the time I arrived in Pilsen, the vigil was over, but the demolition crew was busy working, as it had been since 9:30 a.m. La Casita was completely leveled and there was virtually no evidence it ever existed. Families, other supporters and members of the WPC were still there, some being interviewed by media outlets.

A couple I spoke with, one of them a teacher at another nearby school, told me a few other things I had not seen in local media yet:

  • CPS officials showed up at the door of La Casita, around 5 p.m. Friday, while a class was in progress. They told the participants that they needed to vacate, and CPS collected the community center’s property, including their library & said they would store it for them, but did not tell them where.
  • Alderman Danny Solis told his consituents he would meet with them and the CPS representatives the next day, but he was a no-show.  When CPS showed up at Whittier around 9 a.m., they immediately started directing the demolition.  (Solis is among the 21 “rubber stamp” alder-creatures – as Mike Royko referred to them – who has NEVER voted against Mayor Rahm.)
  • The basketball court & playground the CPS promises to build in its place is actually for the nearby private, Jesuit Cristo Rey High School. CPS says the Whittier students may use it occasionally.

    I also got a chance to speak with the NBC reporter on the scene.  I told her I was motivated to attend by her network’s lack of journalistic integrity.  She surmised that the writers of the online version worked from a CPS press release.  I appreciated her candid response and told her that this is a perfect example of why people like me, who have critical thinking skills and an understanding of the role of journalists in society do not follow mainstream media outlets like hers.

040 - croppedAs I was leaving & the police re-opened the street, an ice cream truck entered the street and stopped for some eager customers – its familiar music & beckon to “smile all day” temporarily distracting from the screeching and clunking sounds of the bulldozers – the poignancy most likely lost on the city’s demo crew.  

Boycott Amazon Over “The Ex” Shooting Target Mannequin on Their Site

the-ex-zombie-industries-1

UPDATE 2:45 p.m. Central Time – Within 3 hours of my letter and call to Amazon (and who knows how many others):  
AMAZON HAS REMOVED THIS ITEM!!!

Now, we need to make sure they permanently delete it and stop carrying it altogether.  

This is a good day for activists, my friends – Savor it!!!!  

Here is the letter I just sent to Amazon’s Public Relations Department, after signing Ultra Violet’s petition expressing outrage over a shooting target mannequin named the “The Ex,” a large-breasted woman who bleeds when shot, that is being sold on Amazon.com. It’s manufactured by Zombie Industries, a company that was featured at the NRA convention last weekend.

Although this image is highly disturbing to me, maybe it’s even more so because the mannequin has dark hair like I do.

You can also contact Amazon’s P.R. Department by phone:
(206) 266-7180

My letter to Amazon’s P.R. Department & review:
“Here is my review I just sent to you re: Zombie Industries’ “The Ex” target practice.  I will be watching to see if this is posted.  And, if you’d like to review my account, you’ll see I’m a loyal Amazon customer.

I also follow and write for online publications, and the fact that this was displayed at the NRA Convention and that you carry it is getting a lot of traction in the media right now.

Until you remove this dangerous item from your site, I will be removing my $$$ from your coffers.  And, so will thousands of other women like me.

Sincerely, Laura Sabransky”

My Review:
“Especially with Mother’s Day coming up, knowing that you still have this on your site, Amazon, is highly upsetting and disturbing to me.

Women hold the majority of jobs in our country and we have the buying power. That means we have the buying power to decide whether you even exist in the market, Amazon.

I buy a great deal from your site, but will stop until this is removed. And so will thousands of other women.

Every minute you keep this up on your site is another minute you have blood on your hands – as you contribute to the huge domestic violence problem in our country. Women living in violent households where there is even one gun ARE 500 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO BE KILLED. Yes, you read that correctly – 500 times.

Take this down, Amazon – NOW.”

Testimony at EPA Public Hearing on Vehicle Pollution Standards

Sierra Club at EPA hearingOn April 29 I provided the following testimony to the EPA at one of two public hearings held – the other in Philadelphia – on their proposed standards to lessen vehicle pollution.   I was honored to be asked by the Chicago Group of the Sierra Club and to be able to hear others’ moving and compelling testimony.  The EPA representatives were gracious and attentive listeners.  Early in the day, a number of car manufacturers testified in favor of the standards as well.

“Thank you for holding public hearings on the Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program.

My name is Laura Sabransky.  I live in the city of Chicago, and I have asthma.   I urge the EPA to enact the long overdue standards that will clean up gasoline and reduce smog-forming pollution from cars and light trucks.  I am a volunteer and have never been paid for my decades of advocacy work.

I grew up in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, adjacent to O’Hare airport, surrounded by major highways and expressways, and home to the largest industrial park in the United States.  While planes flew directly overhead five minutes apart, plumes of black smoke hovered over my backyard.

Toyko walkway

Not surprisingly, when my 8th grade science teacher asked us to design a futuristic community, I created a suburban downtown featuring interconnecting above-ground pedestrian walkways that took the place of sidewalks.

Because the air – in my vision of the future – would be too polluted to breathe safely.

In 1993, I was diagnosed with asthma.  Since then I have spent – conservatively – $15,000 of my own money – on prescription medications, devices and medical procedure and visit co-pays, to manage this chronic respiratory condition.  The amount would be much higher if I was uninsured.

Last summer, during record hot temperatures, I traveled to Milwaukee to volunteer for Tom Barrett’s campaign.   I hesitated to make the trip, because I had recently been out of breath from routine outdoor activities.

In Milwaukee, I felt great while walking up hilly streets and stairs of 80 homes for six hours, marveling at the clear, blue sky.  Upon emerging from Chicago’s Amtrak station, however, I noticed that the sky was brownish-grayish.  After walking a half block, my lungs felt tight.  The next day, I had the same experience.  I then realized for the first time, the problem was not me – it was the polluted Chicago air I’m breathing!

During the ensuing record number of Air Quality Action Days with high Ozone, I experienced sharp pains in my lungs, even when I stayed inside all day.  Two medical specialists had no answers on how to address this.

And, I am not alone. 132 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people.[i]

According to the most recent asthma data for Chicago:[ii]

  • The asthma hospitalization rate is nearly double the national average.
  •  Up to 40% of asthmatics limit daily activities.
  • Death rates from asthma are 4 to 6 times higher for African Americans and Hispanics than for Caucasians.

Particularly relevant to today’s hearing is that:

  • New medical research concludes that poor air quality associated with busy roads can cause asthma.[iii]
  • Neighborhoods with the highest rate of asthma are near Chicago’s congested highways.  On this map, the red areas indicating the highest asthma rates are clustered around highways.[iv]
  • In 2011, Chicago had the most traffic congestion in the nation.[v]

If one was putting together a formula to ensure that more people suffer and die from asthma and other respiratory conditions, really, it would be difficult to top the one that’s been perfected in Chicago.

The future I envisioned in 8th grade as mostly science fiction – is upon us.

Still, there are organizations like the American Petroleum Institute trying to change the discussion from health and survival by warning of disputable negative consequences if the EPA’s regulations are enacted.

What many people don’t realize is that for decades – companies that profit from poisoning the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat – have been writing laws that make it easier for them to commit toxic trespass upon us.  And in fact, these laws are being sponsored by many of our lawmakers who see their role less as problem-solvers than profiteers.

Laws restricting states from low-carbon fuel standards programs,[vi] preventing EPA regulation of dirty coal products,[vii] and protecting companies that commit lead poisoning,[viii] to name a few of the hundreds of anti-public health and environment protection laws, are written by corporations and organizations, and sponsored by lawmakers who belong to secret groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

I’m here to tell you that many of us believe we can no longer depend on our elected officials to protect us from the toxic trespasses that threaten our health and lives.

To quote Elizabeth Edwards:
“Those who need a champion cannot afford compromise, in the face of forces that are powerful, persistent, and pernicious and greedy.”

We citizens depend on the EPA to protect us, and we are depending on the EPA to enact the Tier 3 Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards Program.”


[i] American Lung Association, State of the Air Report 2013

[ii] Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago Fact Sheet, various sources

 [iii] European Respiratory Journal, 2013

 [iv] Chicago Initiative to Raise Asthma Equity Study: “Childhood Asthma Prevalence in Chicago Is Associated with Living Close to Highways” 2009

 [v] Urban Mobility Report, 2010

 [vi]Restrictions on Participation in Low-Carbon Fuel Standards Programs,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on January 28, 2013.

 [vii] “Intrastate Coal and Use Act,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on January 28, 2013.

 [viii] “Voluntary Childhood Lead Exposure Control Act,” Approved by ALEC Board of Directors on December, 1998.

Be Vigilant without Resorting to Vigilantism

During Governor Deval Patrick‘s press conference the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, one of the law enforcement officials said that is it up to average people to be aware of their environment and report any suspicious activities or behavior.  I wholeheartedly concur.

A year ago, I spotted a pristine Apple bag bag sitting on a train platform.  As I approached, thinking “ooh, wonder if there’s an iPad inside?”  my thought quickly changed to “if I was going to leave a weapon in the hopes of getting someone to pick it up, putting it in an Apple bag would be a good idea.”  I immediately went downstairs and told the transit authority attendant and she acted on it right away.

Vigilant_magnifying glass

Photo by Rafael Anderson Gonzales Mendoza

Maybe you don’t want to spend your time while in public thinking like a criminal, but I’ll bet you would find this preferable to continuing to endure the violence we experience every day, much less the rarer acts like what occurred at the Boston Marathon this week.

Some doubt their instincts and don’t say anything because they might be embarrassed about being wrong.  I prefer being wrong 100 times for every one time I’m right, rather than ignoring potentially dangerous people and situations.

Be vigilant. Watch people and what they’re doing and their behavior.  If you have even an ounce of suspicion, call the police.  This includes abuse toward children and animals.

There are not enough police or FBI agents to handle the violence in our country.  It is up to us to help prevent violence in all its forms.

And, this is not a call to arms or becoming a vigilante – simply about increasing your awareness and taking action by calling authorities who are prepared to investigate and handle criminal acts.

“Man of the People” or Shill for Coal Industry?

If you read a letter to the editor you believe is completely lopsided and inaccurate, write and send a response, like my friend Perry Thomas did:

Indiana State Representative Matt Ubelhor is a former manager for Peabody Energy  – one of the, if not the largest, coal companies in the country. He’s leading the charge to continue coal power in Southern Indiana as well as pushing school ‘vouchers’ to help dismantle public education (of course, while his children attend expensive private schools). 

There was a vapid letter to the editor praising Ubelhor in this past Sunday’s local Herald Times as “a man of the people,” “who unlike so many of the liberal politicians, has worked, and worked hard for a living, providing for himself and his family” and as a man who “loves Indiana and wants to keep it environmentally safe and clean, while providing for growth” – “truly a man for us.”

Perry sent this letter in response:

Coal workers lung

Lung of a coal worker with Anthracosilicosis, showing black pigmentation and fibrosis due to inhalation of carbon pigment and silica.

“In response to Joseph HJ Grott’s L.T.T.E. 2013 Mar 10 giving kudos to Ubelhor: If you want your family, your friends, neighbors and community members to suffer poor health, than Mr. Grott’s right- ‘Ubelhor is a man for the people.’ If you want your family, friends, neighbors and community to suffer increased risk of stroke, asthma, COPD, slowed pulmonary reflexes, reduced lung function, reduced cardiac ability, increased risk of heartbeat arrhythmia, increased risk of heart attack & stroke, increased risk of blood clots, peripheral thrombosis, reduced oxygen in your system, accelerated atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, vasoconstriction and hypertension- then Ubelhor’s your man.

You see, Mr. Grott was right in one regard “Matt . . . has worked, and worked hard for a living.” Unfortunately for most people he has worked hard in the coal industry (who he is currently shilling for as a government tool of big coal). Coal fired electricity plants regularly shower us with mercury, lead, other heavy metals, sulphur dioxide, dioxins, polycyclic aromatic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and other fine particulate matter. All these emissions have horrible sometimes deadly health effects, but Ubelhor doesn’t care. He and his big coal backers are making millions while you get sick and die.”

More Dangerous Than Weapons: Denial

The biggest problem in our country right now is not lack of jobs, violence, education or climate chaos. It’s the inability to look in the mirror, the false sense of control, and extreme insecurity – that breeds dangerous denial.

We witness this denial most with a minority of citizens – yes, let’s be clear – they are a minority – who cling to their guns and think that the mere ownership of a gun – easier to get than a kitten at most adoption agencies – makes them superior not only to felons, but average citizens. They call themselves “law-abiding” when they aren’t even subject to background checks and when they break laws without being caught or reported.

Dr. Deidra Blackmon

Veterinarian Dr. Deidra Blackmon was killed by a 24-year old “law-abiding” gun owner, because her friend was vomiting on his car in a bar parking lot.  The gunman’s life was in no way being threatened.

Gun owners who have impulse control and anger issues to where they abuse their spouses and children are breaking laws, but if they’re not arrested and convicted or if they got their guns without background checks, they feel entitled to be considered “law abiding.” Parents who habitually and recklessly leave their loaded guns unlocked are considered “law-abiding” too…all because our public safety laws have been written so that virtually anyone with a pulse and a few bucks can own guns.

If the only qualification for owning a gun is waking up in the morning, here’s a news flash: Owning a gun does not make you morally, intellectually or in any other way superior to the majority of citizens who avoid guns and believe in reasonable regulation of life-ending weapons.  

Discussing this issue upsets me, so I am posting a great comment from my friend Martin Hunter – He says exactly what I believe, and says it most eloquently:

“We are all human. In the heat of a dispute, dark thoughts, even the idea of pulling the trigger, may come to mind. So many folks that seek security with a gun strapped to their leg or in their purse think that they are immune to acting on such an impulse. They only fear that others would act on that kind of impulse. It is a common fallacy that most all have, that they are stronger but others are weak.

But when you hear the hateful and violent curse filled verbal assaults delivered by the NRA gun nuts you just have to scratch your head and wonder why their self perceptions is so distorted. They are all obviously capable of pulling the trigger without a second thought. Instead of retreating from confrontations, the gun gives these folks a dangerous level of bravado and they end up making some very poor decisions.

Zimmerman comes to mind. He would not have followed Travon were it not for the fact that he had a sense of security with his gun. Now a teen, armed with Skittles, is dead. I think anyone easy to anger or prone to violent outburst should be judged unsuitable for conceal-carry. As it is, only the insane will be denied a permit based on mental health issues. That is setting the bar too low from my point of view.”