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MAKE CORPORATIONS ACCOUNTABLE
In reference to Geri L. Dreiling's article describing how Wal-Mart perpetuates women remaining in poverty-level positions, it is good to know that five of the wealthiest 10 Americans are Sam Walton's heirs, with more than $20 billion each ["The women of Wal-Mart," Sept 23]. The wealthiest Americans are doing well this year, but America's median household income fell for the fourth year in a row last year. Have you looked in your wallet lately? Corporations have a vast and far-reaching effect on not only our country but an international scale as well. Thankfully, there is action being taken. Specific steps are now being taken in larger communities such as San Francisco and Chicago to formulate a model for corporate accountability.
The model is called the "Community Benefit Agreement." This agreement gives developers a standard for corporate behavior while financing needed services to those directly affected by development projects. This strategy was developed by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. It was initially designed for Wal-Mart but could be applied to many development projects.
The basic tenets: no public subsidy for the project; 100 percent union construction, demolition, and remodeling work, with 50 percent of the work performed by contractors from the community surrounding the site; 90 percent of employees must be local residents, including management; a living wage with affordable comprehensive health benefits; compliance with all workplace laws and nondiscrimination in hiring; no retaliation for union activities and management neutrality on union-representation issues; no inquiries on immigration status; a halt to predatory pricing; the site will be made immediately available to other retailers if abandoned by the company; mandatory participation in a "community commission" to monitor compliance with the agreement; regular contributions to a community-improvement fund to be administered by a community-based commission. A corporation that violated the agreement would by subject to fines and possible waiver of future zoning variances for other developments.
Today, corporations influence and control how and what we hear on the news, what wages we earn, and the quality of our health care. They play a significant role in our democracy, and how we hold them accountable is essential to preserving our democracy.
IMPORTANT DNR PROGRAM CUT
We may be about to lose a government agency that directly serves the public. The Groundwater Education Program is among the recently announced cuts at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This program was begun in 1987 as part of the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act and has served taxpayers in these ways: free workshops and publications about well maintenance, assistance in the sealing of abandoned wells, and protection of a valuable yet invisible resource, our groundwater. With a wise eye to the future, the folks at Groundwater Education present education programs for grade-school and high-school students statewide. This includes the development of a fine groundwater-awareness curriculum, sponsorship of teacher-education seminars, participation in conservation field studies and workshops, and the distribution of groundwater information from 10 different agencies.
Why do I care? Because I am a high-school teacher who has participated in training sessions and conferences partially supported by the groundwater program. Because I use their materials to help my students understand the importance of fresh water. Because I know that in the dozen years I have worked with Groundwater Education personnel, I have helped hundreds of adolescents become stewards of a precious local resource, fresh water.
If ever you have used -- or may one day need -- the expertise of the Groundwater Education Program, I ask you to contact your legislator as soon as possible. Please voice your support for a true public-service agency.
BULLWINKLE LIKES 'EM, TOO
There are undoubtedly a few nuts around Washington Park. It was interesting to read the histrionic rant about squirrels around our beautiful park [Tom Locher, "Letters," Oct. 7]. I'm a former north park-area resident, and it started to feel personal because I did not know I had been living in a squirrel-nuisance hot zone. My curiosity was piqued, so I did a little research on our furry little friends (or "fiends," depending on your neighborhood affiliation).
According to www.squirrels.org, we may have a lot to learn from these creatures. The most common squirrels have been in North America for more than 37 million years. That beats some of us by 32 million years and most of us by 36 million -- really. It seems we moved into their neighborhood. They are one of the largest group of arborists in North America, so we have them to thank for a great amount of the air cleaned by our diminishing forests. Yes, much of this part of the world used to be forested. Imagine!
Like most mammals, with the exception of Homo sapiens, squirrels have a symbiotic relationship with their environment and other animals in their habitat. When babies are removed from their nest, their mother teaches them everything they need to survive on their own in the outside world. I've met a number of people who would have benefited from the same treatment! They are one of the most adaptable creatures in history and therefore have outlived thousands of other species because they are able to modify their behavior to live in the changing conditions of the world. This is something we as Americans (not just Washington Park residents and visitors) could really benefit from learning to do.
Squirrels are apparently attracted to all that food in our yards, such as gardens, trees, and bird feeders, so we've really brought it upon ourselves if we're not willing to creatively cope with their affinity to eating and survival. Fortunately, after one references humane squirrel damage-control ideas, the organization's Web site can also answer such questions as "Do squirrels ever fall?" and "I saw a squirrel with one leg missing -- will it be able to survive?" My guess is yes.
Jenna M. Seelbach
GOP HANDS STATE TO DEMOCRATS
It's a sad thing when you have a president who is pro-life and a wife, Laura, and mother, Barbara Bush, who are pro-abortion. You would think they would support their son and husband in public, at the least. You have a Republican, Alan Keyes, who is pro-life and doesn't get any support from Bush or the Illinois Republican Party. They just gave a U.S. Senate seat to Barack Obama. Who are they going to run for governor in '06? The Democrats are going to run the state for the next 20 years.