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With No State Budget, Community Mental Health in Crisis

4 hours 58 min ago
Co-authored by Ann Fisher Raney, AM, LCSW, chief executive officer at Turning Point, Skokie, IL and Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN, member of the Board of Directors at Turning Point; and professor and chairperson of the department of community, systems, and mental health nursing at Rush University, Chicago, IL.

No one disputes the danger of texting while driving. In a very short time, we've grasped the undeniable truth of this claim.

Here's another claim, equally true and equally undeniable: quality behavioral health care (mental health and substance abuse services), especially for low-income individuals and families, is in a state of crisis so dire that we may be on the brink of catastrophe. Without an Illinois State budget to fund community mental health grants, with managed care plans that restrict sessions of care for those with severe mental illness (many of whom depend upon their long-established relationships with providers), and with the dramatically decreased access to care created by losses of funding, the health and stability of our community is in jeopardy. Several days ago, Lutheran Social Services announced a decision to lay off 750 staff, directly because of the lack of State funding, seriously weakening one of the very strong members of our provider community.

For example, our agency's award-winning psychiatric respite program, The Living Room, has lost one hundred percent of its State funding. Since its inception in 2011, The Living Room has saved the State of Illinois more than $2,000,000 by deflecting persons who would otherwise go to emergency departments to our most cost effective and hospitable alternative. Our success rate is 98 percent. Not funding The Living Room and other programs like it results in higher costs. It's as simple as that. We know the inestimable value of the program, so we are scrambling to save it. This is an exceptionally difficult burden for an organization already stretching to follow its mission to serve our low income clients.

What will it take to convince the legislators and other decision-makers that this is a true and dangerous reality? That this is intolerable.

Community mental health rests on the capacity of all citizens to access and utilize treatment that allows them to live full and productive lives. When this happens, adults are able to work, to vote, to care for their families, send children to school, and participate in the civic lives of their communities. When access to care is limited, serious harm results that begins with the individual in need. If individual suffering isn't enough (although we believe that it is), lawmakers should know and remember that untreated emotional distress and mental illness can quickly escalate to criminal acts and dangerous behaviors.

Without a State budget, behavioral health services can't be provided and needs cannot be met. Providers and clients in community-based settings see this clearly. What will it take to convince members of our broader communities, including the IL State governor and other lawmakers?

How do we articulate these concerns so that funding can be restored? It's a sad yet indisputable fact that individuals who benefit from State-funded behavioral health care have very little influence when most budget conversations take place. Their lack of socioeconomic power, coupled with the stigma of mental illness, creates a deafening and dreadful silence.

Community mental health is in serious trouble. Many state agencies have closed because they cannot afford to continue to operate without State funding for programs that serve low-income clients. Other agencies are restricting services, not taking new clients, laying off staff, shuttering satellite locations, as our colleagues at Lutheran Social Services have been forced to do. Because there are fewer and fewer agencies and services, those that remain are inundated with requests for care that often come from people at high risk for suicide, homicide, and homelessness who deserve immediate, life-saving care.

The lack of basic funding for essential services has created a catastrophe for the citizens of Illinois. It is not just those of us who have lost services who are suffering; it is also the families, the employers, the schools and churches and wider communities. The fabric of our community is being torn apart because we are not supporting those with fewest resources and, often, greatest need.

Texting while driving may result in death. We understand this and most of us grasp it well enough to curtail our own behavior. Lack of funding for behavioral health is equally perilous.

We must see these realities clearly. There is still time to restore at least a measure of life-saving services that will allow all of our citizens to access expert care that can result in lives of recovery, enriching the health of all of our communities.

It's not too late. But we don't have time to waste.

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Report: Illinois Ended 2015 With a Shrinking Economy

8 hours 28 min ago
While most states capped off last year with growing economies, Illinois was one of seven that likely had its economy shrink during the last quarter of 2015, according to an analysis of the latest employment data.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia identifies trends and summarizes economic conditions in each state by combining four indicators -- nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the Consumer Price Index -- into a single statistic called the state coincident index.

From the Philadelphia Fed on its state coincident index:

The trend for each state's index is set to the trend of its gross domestic product (GDP), so long-term growth in the state's index matches long-term growth in its GDP... The model and the input variables are consistent across the 50 states, so the state indexes are comparable to one another.

Here's a map that shows the percent change in the fourth quarter state coincident index over the previous quarter.

States colored green have economies that are growing; states shown in pink or red have economies that are shrinking. The darker the shade, the higher the growth or contraction in that state's economy.

NEXT ARTICLE: Did you learn the lesson yet about Chicago Public Schools and responsible financing?

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How Obama, Rauner and Madigan Have More In Common Than You Think

9 hours 9 min ago
Column by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

President Obama, Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Three peas in a pod. Don't snort. They have more in common than you might realize.

Obama returns home to Springfield Wednesday, nine years to the day he launched his White House bid from the steps of the Old State Capitol. In the current state Capitol, where little progress ever is made anymore, he will speak to Illinois lawmakers about "what we can do, together, to build a better politics - one that reflects our better selves," according to the White House.

If he can somehow manage to prompt Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to kiss and make up, or just shake and compromise, well then, he'll have succeeded where he failed himself in Washington, D.C.

After years of failing to get a Tea Party-controlled Congress to deal with him on many things, Obama shifted his approach and began issuing executive orders whenever he thought he could to get around Congress. Rauner seems to be following a bit in Obama's footsteps.

Last week, Rauner issued an executive order creating a public-private corporation called the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation, a private, non-profit body that will attempt to attract new jobs and business here. A few weeks earlier, Rauner signed an executive order creating, of all things, a new bureaucracy, the Department of Innovation and Technology. He said that department will revamp and update the state's dinosaur-era information technology department.

Rauner also isn't letting his budget impasse with Madigan stop him from suggesting the state should take over Chicago Public Schools, or get going on a pension compromise framework long offered by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.

Like Obama, Rauner wants to appear active, engaged and getting things done, despite his failed relationship with majority lawmakers in the opposing party. So, this year, he's taken to near daily press conferences to announce orders or plans for legislation on non-budget topics.

Obama's visit here, though, could serve only to emphasize, for both Illinois and a national audience, just how stuck both he and Rauner have been.

Give the president credit, at least, for being willing to admit one of his failings and regrets. In his final State of the Union address, Obama said, "Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn't matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now. It's one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better."

Too many Illinoisans feel that way right now. Madigan has too much power. Rauner has too much money. Rauner and Madigan both are operating in much the same way, as obstinate dictators who demand their parties' independence be stifled and checked at the Capitol doors as they play for controlling power in the next election without regard for who or what falls by the wayside in the eight months without a budget.

"Instead of having a patronage army, he's got a fistful of wire transfers, or a big bank account," Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said of Rauner. "The leverage is different, but the goal is the same, to override the natural checks and balances built into our system.

"I don't think exchanging a legislator who's a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mike Madigan for a legislator who's a wholly owned subsidiary of Bruce Rauner is improving the process," Redfield added.

Of course, Rauner and Madigan aren't entirely alike. They are, after all, each other's nemeses. Still, Rauner campaigned on being a different kind of governor, one who would shake up Springfield. Yet, he's waving his campaign funds like a hammer at any Republican who thinks of straying from the Rauner line.

That Madigan and Rauner both wield their political power in this same way might be why we don't have a budget eight months into the fiscal year.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Park Democrat, sees the paralysis.

"I have personally seen how Republican members of the Legislature have become terrified of the governor and that's lending to an ongoing dysfunctionality," he said. "Democrats have to do what they think is right and go against their leadership when they think it's right and Republicans have to do what they think is right and go against their leadership when they think it's right."

Maybe Wednesday, President Obama can somehow manage to get Rauner and Madigan to quit acting so much alike. Maybe he can persuade them. Or maybe he can persuade a few legislators sitting before him to embrace independence, cooperation and compromise. Wouldn't that be something?

NEXT ARTICLE: New bill would make Obama's birthday a state holiday

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4 Pet Myths That Nearly Everyone Believes

9 hours 16 min ago



Even the most experienced, well-intentioned pet owners can get it wrong sometimes.


According to veterinarian Barbara Royal, there are several pet-related misconceptions that far too many of us tend to believe. She calls these misguided ideas "mythconceptions," and says that there are four commonlyheld myths in particular that it's high time we bust. 


MYTH: Dry kibble chips off tartar.

Actually, the opposite is true, says Dr. Royal. "That sticks to your teeth," she explains. "It's actually making your teeth more likely to have tartar and problems."


MYTH: Animals see in black-and-white.

We've all heard this age-old adage, but it isn't accurate. "They don't see all of the colors that we see, but they can actually distinguish between colors," Dr. Royal says.


MYTH: Animals may limp to get attention.

Don't dismiss it when your animal limps, Dr. Royal says. "They are limping because there probably is something wrong," she points out. "You do need to find out what that is about."


MYTH: Animals can eat cooked bones.

"You should definitely be careful if they eat any kind of cooked bones -- they splinter in very sharp, splintery ways inside of the intestines," Dr. Royal says. "They can eat raw bones. Raw bones are great… They help clean teeth [and] they're good for mental capacity, just to chew through a nice raw bone. That can be fun."


Related: Stop feeding your pet peanut butter (and these other common treats)


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Professor To 'Part Ways' With College Over Comments About Islam

Mon, 2016-02-08 14:02

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A professor at an evangelical university near Chicago who got in trouble after saying Muslims and Christians worship the same God will leave the school, according to a joint statement released by Wheaton College on Saturday night.


Larycia Hawkins, a tenured political science professor, had been scheduled for a disciplinary hearing in five days to determine whether she would be allowed to remain at Wheaton.


A joint statement said Hawkins and the college had "found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation" and that the two sides "will part ways" after reaching a confidential agreement.


The controversy began on Dec. 10, when Hawkins wrote on Facebook that she would don the hijab head scarf during the period of advent before Christmas as a sign of solidarity with Muslims.


"We worship the same God," she said in her post.


The post drew criticism amid a broader debate regarding the role and treatment of Muslims in the United States following the November mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which U.S. authorities have said was inspired by the militant group Islamic State.


The college placed Hawkins on administrative leave as a result. Last month, the school's provost recommended Hawkins be fired.



The school previously said Hawkins was disciplined not because she chose to wear a hijab but because her "theological statements seem inconsistent with Wheaton’s doctrinal convictions".


Both sides struck a conciliatory tone in the statement, which also said neither Hawkins nor school officials would offer any further comment until a scheduled news conference on Wednesday morning.


"I appreciate and have great respect for the Christian liberal arts and the ways that Wheaton College exudes that in its mission, programs, and in the caliber of its employees and students,"Hawkins said in the statement.


The college president, Phillip Ryken, said the school "sincerely appreciates Dr. Hawkins' contributions to this institution over the last nine years."


Many members of the faculty had expressed support for Hawkins. Bill Struthers, a Wheaton psychology professor, posted a photo on Facebook on Saturday night of himself holding a handwritten sign reading, "I support Larycia."


Wheaton, founded in 1860 and located in the Illinois town of the same name, has approximately 2,400 undergraduate students and 480 graduate students.


(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Stephen Powell)


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Watch: Rauner Starts New Year With New Focus

Mon, 2016-02-08 10:24
Gov. Bruce Rauner has started 2016 with a series of high-profile press events that seem geared to emphasize accomplishment rather than his ongoing standoff with Democrats over the state budget.

The latest came Feb. 4 when he announced he is seeking a public-private partnership to widen the Stevenson Expressway and add toll lanes alongside the existing highway.

Earlier in the week, Rauner had signed an executive order creating the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation, a private non-profit body that will lead the state's economic development strategy in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Commerce. Rauner had wanted to privatize those functions ever since he took office, but had opposed a version in the General Assembly because it contained a three-year sunset clause.

Preceding that announcement was a press conference at an Illinois Department of Central Management Services warehouse in which he promoted a bill to reform state government's purchasing system. He offered to trade passage of the bill, which he said will save the state $500 million a year, for funding of student financial aid under the Monetary Award Program.

Other press events this month involved an executive order creating the Department of Innovation and Technology to overhaul the state's archaic information technology systems and announcing a pension reform agreement between Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton.

Our topic on this week's "Only in Illinois" we discuss why Rauner started the new year with what appears to be a new focus. One theory: With his annual Budget Address scheduled for Feb. 17, Rauner needs to turn the public focus toward what he's getting done, not what has gone undone for eight months.

A week before Rauner's address, the General Assembly will host a sitting president for a speech for only the fourth time in its history. Guessing what Obama will say when he speaks to many of his former colleagues in the building where he started his political career has become a popular activity, and we chime in at the close of this week's video.



NEXT ARTICLE: Rauner, lawmakers roll out plan to shrink excess Illinois government

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Eighth Grader Makes Insane Buzzer Beater Shot To Win Championship

Sat, 2016-02-06 05:50



Sometimes you just have to step up.


Eighth grade student Jack Hlavin did exactly that as the clock ticked down during an Illinois middle school championship-deciding basketball game last Friday.


Videos posted online show him launching the ball from three quarters of the court away.


The buzzer begins to sound as the ball arcs through the air. It then swooshes through the hoop, just as the siren ends. The crowd erupts in a cheering frenzy.





The game between Western Springs' St. John of the Cross School, where Hlavin attends, and La Grange's St. Cletus took place at Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst.


It was tied at 28 before his astonishing shot.



End of the SPL 8th grade final. St. Cletus in red and St. Johns in white. Get a load of this. @Deadspin pic.twitter.com/Co1mPzZeFx

— Dan Koucky (@DanKoucky) January 31, 2016


Hlavin's insane effort -- filmed and posted online by multiple people -- not only meant his team won the game, but it also topped the Suburban Parish League championship, according to Chicagoist.


"I hoped I had enough time and I threw it in the direction of the basket," Hlavin told the Chicago Tribune. "Time expired while the ball went through the air and it banked in."





"Congratulations to our 8th grade boy's basketball team on defeating St. Cletus in the championship game," Hlavin's school posted on Facebook.


"Score was tied with 1.8 seconds left when Jack Hlavin made this amazing shot. Great season, boys! We are proud of all of you."


 


Also on HuffPost:




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A Look at the 10 Ways Rauner Wants to Change, Improve Education in Illinois

Fri, 2016-02-05 10:05
Illinois schools have hit a big rough patch this year, what with Chicago Public Schools' huge budget gap, continuing funding disparities throughout the state and public colleges struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the state budget impasse. Gov. Bruce Rauner, in his 2016 State of the State address, touted 10 changes he said he believes will improve Illinois education. What are his goals and what do they mean? We'll list the governor's goals here and try to decode them, providing the context behind each goal.

1) Work closely with President Cullerton to significantly increase state support for education, focusing our additional resources more on low income and rural school districts so we can provide high quality classrooms in every community, without taking money away from any other districts.

Illinois' school funding formula is a hot topic; in fact, Senate President John Cullerton recently called funding reform the "defining crisis of our time." The issue is the state provides the same foundation-level funding to every district, regardless of how poor the district and the students are. Since schools will then pull more funding from property taxes, that means schools in low-income or rural areas tend to have a lot less money to spend. The most recent attempt at funding reform will attempt to provide less state aid to richer districts, so poorer ones can get more funding. But some wealthier areas don't like that idea, especially ones that have raised taxes to provide more money for schools.

Of course, that's not the only issue with Illinois education funding. From WQAD:

Local funding notwithstanding, many school leaders say the state also doesn't contribute enough to funding education. Illinois ranks 50th in the U.S. for the state's share of education funding. Only 28 percent of dollars spent on education come from the state in Illinois; while the national average is closer to 50 percent.

2) Provide proper funding for early childhood education while setting rigorous benchmarks for program performance, so we can continue to be national leaders in this important work.

Early childhood education is recognized worldwide as a huge boon for kids, especially for low-income children. While affluent families are better able to provide resources -- like books -- for young kids, poor families often don't have that option. That's one way that preschool and other early childhood education programs can help close the gap, potentially even preventing students from dropping out later in their education.

While Illinois has done well in the past with providing early education, the Education Week Research Center gave the state a D+ in it's Quality Counts report last year. Illinois still ranks in the top when it comes to how many 3- and 4-year-olds are attending school at almost 53 percent, but it didn't do well in closing the gap between affluent students and poor students when it comes to preschool enrollment.

3) Give school districts more flexibility when it comes to bargaining, contracting, and bidding, to save taxpayers money, while enabling districts to pay higher teacher salaries.

Some Illinois school districts have struggled to set up teacher contracts recently, notably CPS. But it's not the only one; Lake Villa School District 41 has been in contract talks since May and several Fox Valley districts went without contracts for months into the school year.

From the Aurora Beacon-News:

Charlie McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, said that though all bargaining is done independently at the local level, the state budget situation could be affecting negotiations across the board.

The Kaneland, Indian Prairie and Yorkville unions are affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.

"A trend, I think, is many of the negotiations are more acrimonious than they have been in years past," McBarron said. "And that's all related to uncertainty over the financial situation."

4) Empower our universities and community colleges to reduce their administrative costs, work rules, pension liabilities and unfunded mandates, and then offer additional financial support to those schools that show real progress in putting more resources in the classroom.

It's no secret some Illinois colleges and universities are struggling thanks to the budget impasse. Chicago State University has announced it won't be able to pay its bills after March 1, Western Illinois University is making faculty cuts and the University of Illinois is making plans to cut costs next school year.

Of course, colleges have more bills to pay than just instructor salaries. Some even blame rising administrative costs for the huge boom in higher education prices. From the New York Times:


[...] a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

And some schools spend more money on administrative costs than others. You can view how much money colleges spend on administration versus faculty at the National Center for Education Statistics here.

5) Support more partnerships between high schools, community colleges, and local employers so that our young people who are not going to university, can receive the training to step into good paying careers beginning in their teenage years.

Not all high school students are preparing to head to college. In fact, only 46 percent of students in Illinois are considered ready for college by scoring 21 or above on their ACT. The problem is -- even though a college degree is very expensive -- it's probably worth it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics a high school grad in 2014 could expect to make around $668 a week. A college grad could expect $1,101.

Vocational training -- learning a specific skill for future employment -- may be a route to better pay and more stable jobs. President Obama also has pushed for more work training in high schools and colleges to provide more options for students.

Vocational training is more common in Europe than the U.S. There are signs it works well there. From U.S. News:

Vocational education historically has been prevalent in European countries, such as Finland and Germany, but often comes with a stigma in the U.S. that suggests only low-performing and troublemaking students end up in such schools. In Germany, children of middle school age take tests and either move on to apprenticeships or a university preparation route, says James Stone III, director of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

"We look at that and say, 'Oh, isn't that terrible?' Because we're condemning kids based on a test at that age," Stone says. "But when you actually look at what they do and how they do it, the system works extraordinarily well. They have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the industrialized world, and going through an apprenticeship in no way prevents one from moving on to college."

You can read about the other five ways Rauner wants to change education at RebootIllinois.com.

NEXT: Did you learn the lesson yet about Chicago Public Schools and responsible financing?

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Rauner, Democrats Lay Out Plan for I-55 Expansion

Fri, 2016-02-05 09:48
A year ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner was on a barnstorming tour of Illinois to promote his Illinois Turnaround agenda in advance of the spring legislative and budget-making session.

The was a prelude to what has become an eight-month standoff between Rauner and Democrats over the FY 2016 state budget, which today exists only as an abstract concept.

As calendar year 2016 dawned, Rauner adopted a new approach to his public appearances. Rather than calling press conferences to scold Democrats for blocking his reform agenda, Rauner has focused on efforts based more in pragmatism than politics. These have included creating a new department to overhaul state government's information technology system, pushing to reform the state's purchasing system and creating a private non-profit corporation to run the state's economic development efforts.

The latest example came Thursday, when Rauner gathered a bipartisan group of lawmakers to announce his vision of a public-private partnership that would widen the congested Stevenson Expressway, probably with express toll lanes.

The project would cover the Stevenson between the Veterans Tollway (I-355) and the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), a 25-mile stretch that handles 170,000 vehicles daily and is prone to long delays, especially during peak travel times. Under a 2011 state law, IDOT can pursue projects using public-private partnerships, as long as the General Assembly approves a resolution supporting the project.

"By using existing resources to leverage private investment, we can build the type of infrastructure that allows Illinois to better compete in the 21st century," Rauner said. "This is an innovative project that will create jobs, improve the region's quality of life and show that Illinois is open for business."

While Rauner and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly have deadlocked on just about everything since mid-2015, the presence of Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval at Rauner's announcement indicates this project might be an exception. Sandoval, D-Cicero, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and his 11th Senate District includes House Speaker Michael Madigan's 22nd House District.

"This region has seen explosive growth in the past decade, but that has increased traffic on the Stevenson," Sandoval said. "Allowing IDOT to explore a public-private partnership will be a win for taxpayers and drivers. I stand with Governor Rauner to find new ways to relieve congestion on this important corridor for Illinois."

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, also spoke in favor of the idea. "What we are proposing today would give IDOT leeway to further explore the possibility of using private funds to keep the I-55 Congestion Relief Project alive and moving forward," Durkin said.

The Illinois Tollway Authority manages a vast network of toll roads in greater Chicago, but the concept of "managed lanes" -- in which motorists have a choice of free or paid lanes -- is new to Illinois. Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn described it as "an expressway within an expressway."

Rauner's plan could include congestion pricing, in which the price in toll lanes is higher at peak times. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has championed this idea for the flexibility it offers drivers and as a more effective means of financing road maintenance.

"Our region's congestion is already among the nation's highest. Without new approaches, it will only increase due to the projected growth of our population, jobs,and traffic. Current revenues are not keeping up with maintenance and operation costs. Underinvestment and deferred maintenance have strained our transportation system, leaving us with aging infrastructure that is deteriorating in some places," CMAP said in its GO TO 2040 report.

There's obvious, immediate appeal to Rauner's idea for anyone who regularly travels the Stevenson. Anything that might relieve its congestion, even at a price, will be welcomed by drivers who travel it regularly.

There's also a big-picture aspect that could portend a different approach to the state's highway system in the future. Illinois has struggled to keep up with the cost of highway maintenance, and ideas such as increasing the gas tax and implementing an annual mileage-based use tax are among those that have been discussed as solutions.

If the managed-lane approach works on the Stevenson, it could lead to similar efforts elsewhere on Illinois highways. Rauner said the public-private nature of the project, which could start as soon as next year be finished in 2019, would save taxpayers $425 million. The conventional gas tax or toll approach to highway funding can raise money, but innovations like managed lanes raise money while also addressing congestion and efficiency.

"Express toll lanes give travelers choices. Congestion in the Chicago region costs drivers time, money, and patience. Building expressway capacity is critical to handle our traffic, but construction cannot relieve congestion completely, especially with growth in traffic over time," says the CMAP report. "A new strategy is needed, one that gives drivers the option to avoid congestion."

NEXT: New bill would make Obama's birthday a state holiday

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<i>Seinfeld</i> Writer Peter Mehlman on Life During and After <i>Seinfeld</i> and His Book, It Won't Always Be This Great </em>

Thu, 2016-02-04 16:21
It isn't often that my conversation on The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano results in my guest explaining that he sees himself as a french fry. However, maybe this isn't too much of a stretch when my guest is also the creator of such phrases as "spongeworthy", "shrinkage", "double-dipping" and "yada, yada, yada."

Writer and Co-Executive Producer of Seinfeld, Peter Mehlman, joined me at the Sunset Marquis in Los Angeles to discuss how he fell into writing for the show and what it was like being a part of what the Writers Guild of America called the second "Best Written TV Series of All Time." Over an Alto Turkey Club (including french fries, of course) and Charred Octopus from Cavatina Restaurant, Peter and I dish on life during and after Seinfeld, how to not sweat the small stuff, his new interest in stand-up comedy, and his first novel, It Won't Always Be This Great.




Photo Credit: Ryan Murray

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How Reliant is Illinois on the Firearms Industry?

Thu, 2016-02-04 13:40
A new study by WalletHub.com ranks states according to their dependence on the firearms and ammunition industry. The personal finance website said it conducted the analysis following President Barack Obama's proposed executive orders on gun control and recent changes to state gun laws.

WalletHub compared states across three key dimensions: the firearms industry, gun prevalence and gun politics. Indicators that received the most weight were the number of jobs in the industry per 10,000 residents, gun ownership, gun sales per 1,000 residents and political contributions to both anti- and pro-gun members of Congress.


Source: WalletHub

According to the study, Illinois ranks 18th in the firearms industry category, 22nd in gun prevalence and 40th in gun politics, giving the state an overall rank of 30 for its dependence on the guns and ammo business.

Illinois is home to several major gun manufacturers, including Springfield Armory of Geneseo, which is one of the largest firearm companies in the world. The state ranked seventh in the nation for average wages and benefits in the firearms industry.

Here's how Illinois ranked in some other key metrics, including total taxes paid by the firearms industry per capita, NICS background checks per capita and the number of jobs in the firearms industry per capita.

NEXT ARTICLE: Bill would make President Barack Obama's birthday an official state holiday

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10 Mind-Numbing Facts About The Illinois Budget Deficit

Thu, 2016-02-04 12:59
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Ready for an 8 percent income tax rate in Illinois?

That's what all of us would have to live with, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger says, to pay off the state's bills.

That's more than twice what we're paying now because our elected officials refuse to compromise with each other and agree on a spending plan. Instead, the state is being run by court orders, decrees and continuing appropriations. That means the firehose is on, our money is gushing out the nozzle and it can't be shut it off without a budget.

Money is gushing out, but not to the state's most vulnerable children, seniors, or mentally ill residents. Not to college students, professors or support staff that make up the higher education communities throughout Illinois. Soon enough, as public universities lay off employees, entire families will suffer and so, too, will small businesses and the families behind them in and near university towns like DeKalb, Macomb, Charleston, Urbana-Champaign and Carbondale.

Social services and universities are the two sectors still not getting state funding.

And yet, most of us still haven't pressured our state representative and state senator to pressure Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to compromise? They're the ones who have been here the longest presiding over ballooning debt, in Madigan's case, serving as Speaker for nearly 40 years.

Munger, a Lincolnshire Republican appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to the job overseeing the state's checkbook, tried again to help make the numbers and the devastation real enough so that more of us might wake up and act to end this insanity.

Here are 10 facts she shared about Illinois' spending, debt, lack of budget.

NEXT ARTICLE: Rauner says takeover of Chicago Public Schools has Democratic support in the General Assembly

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Up-and-Coming Artists Dish on Breaking Into the Entertainment Business

Wed, 2016-02-03 19:13
How do you break into the entertainment biz? Whether it is the silver screen or the rock 'n' roll stage, getting there is an incredibly hard journey and many more make the trip than those who arrive.

Up-and-coming actors Maura Kidwell (Sirens, Chicago Fire) and Cole Doman (Henry Gable's Birthday Party, opening in Chicago February 26 - March 3 at the Gene Siskel Film Center and Shameless, Season 5) talk about what how they manage the feast or famine nature of the business over Beef Tacos with Pineapple, Red Onion and Cilantro and Cauliflower with Peach Mostarda, Pumpkin Seeds, and Buttermilk Vinaigrette on the most recent episode of The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano on WGN Radio's WGN Plus. Surprisingly, being nice, as well as staying healthy in body and disciplined in mind, plays a big role in how they stay the course.

In this double-feature podcast, talented Roger Moreno, Mike Reda, Ben Darling, Angelo Sakellaropoulos, and Roy Coghill of the band, Ship Captain, Crew, talk about how the love of creating music together overrides the long hours of holding down several jobs just to keep the music afloat. And, they give a live, in-studio, acoustic performance from their new CD! As I don't believe in starving artists, I made sure Beef and Barely was there to supply them with more than enough Cheeseburgers with Chicken Fried Onion Rings to go around.



In a different but similar discussion on The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano podcast, the talk turned to how to get your work noticed in the film world with comedian and actor David Pasquesi (by no means an up-and-comer having starred in dozens of movies to date), Beth Lacke (BLACK-ISH, Mike and Molly, How I Met Your Mother, Chicago P.D., Work It and Happy Hour) and actor and director Jack C. Newell (Open Tables, Close Quarters). Given that Jack's new film, Open Tables, is about finding love over food, it was only fitting that Over Morrocan Spiced Lamb Chili, Grilled Acorn Squash with Burrata and Sage, and Sun Chokes with Baby Kale, Black Garlic Aioli, Almond Butter, and Parmesan from The Dawson, we dished on love, food, movies and the cost of getting an indie film noticed in today's ultra competitive digital age. The screening of Open Tables in Chicago is February 10.

I hope you enjoy these podcasts on stomaching the highs and the lows in the entertainment world.

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CPS -- A Petulant Child That Feigns Never Having Heard "No" Before

Wed, 2016-02-03 18:47
When two sides enter into a negotiation, it is expected for the two sides to go back and forth on various points and details. One side will submit a proposal and the other side will reflect on the offer and then come back to the table to discuss what they like or do not like about the proposal.

Our teacher's contract expired July 1st 2015 and it took until January 28th 2016 for CPS to make their 1st "serious offer" regarding our contract. The teachers that make up the bargaining team of the Chicago Teachers Union had been making proposals for months about how to help our schools, our students, and our teachers, while CPS had been unreceptive and/or unwilling to negotiate in good faith. But now almost 6 months after our contract has expired CPS submits one proposal and we are all of a sudden expected to take it, like it was the greatest gift ever presented to teachers?!

After the teachers of the big bargaining team went through each line of the proposal, they determined that it was not in the best interest of the students and teachers of Chicago to accept this offer. CEO Forest Claypool sent a threatening letter to Karen Lewis saying he now has no choice but to cut millions of dollars from schools.

Wait, hold up. It is not like the big bargaining team declared they will refuse all offers from CPS. They just refused parts of this offer. So the logical next step would be to come back to the table and figure out how make a contract for all parties to agree on. Just because CPS claimed it was a "good offer" and leaked parts of the proposal to the press, making CPS look 'oh so generous' and teachers look 'oh so greedy', once again, does not mean it is a good contract.

So instead of continuing discussions, CPS has essentially given the middle finger to thousands of educators in this city. This is a big middle finger to the hundreds of thousands of students and parents who will be damaged by these draconian cuts to schools across the city.

All of this CPS madness comes from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the schools. The same Mayor who is liked by only 18% of the people of Chicago. The same mayor that appointed CEO Forest Claypool (who has no educational experience) after his other appointed CEO got arrested. Both Rahm and Claypool control an appointed puppet school board that meets behind closed doors and ignores all public input to make their real decisions.

So once again I come back to the "serious offer" that CPS made. In the midst of all this corruption, we educators are just supposed to trust CPS and just accept their offer?

Teachers, unlike the Mayor, CEO, and Appointed School Board work with students and parents everyday.

We teachers send our kids to CPS.

We live in the city.

We will do what is best for the kids.

Yes, making sure a teacher is reasonably protected from the craziness that is CPS and paid fairly is still doing what is best for kids. A fair contract helps keep outstanding teachers from leaving this jacked up mayorally controlled undemocratic school system.

So CPS, grow up, realize that in a negotiation there will be times when you hear "No".

We teachers are the experts in knowing what our schools, students, and profession need.

The contract negotiating process the Chicago Teachers Unions goes through with the big bargaining team and House of Delegates is Democratic. Just because the politics of this city are run by a "Yes, Rahm" mentality does not mean we will follow suit.

We are educated in what Democracy looks like and like it or not, CPS, we are educating you, just like we educate hundreds of thousands of students across our city daily.

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Illinois's billionaires -- not the State == could be the salvation of Illinois's hungry, sick and homeless

Wed, 2016-02-03 15:08
For Illinois's impoverished and ill, and the social service agencies that have enabled them to survive, the end of Illinois's state budget stalemate won't matter much.

That's because the State will still be broke. That's because there still won't be enough money in the State's coffers to pay on those agency's contracts. That's because there will be enormous pressure on Governor Rauner and the legislature to address other fiscal problems first, e.g., pension and school funding. That's because that kind of government money no longer exists. The budget stalemate has made clear what many have known for years but pretended they didn't: since Illinois's fiscal house is so completely out-of-order, it can no longer be the primary underwriter of human services programs.

Willie Sutton famously said that he robbed banks because that's where the money is. Well, the money today is still in the banks, but it's not in Illinois's government accounts. It is in the accounts of Illinois's well-to-do, whether in the form of personal and family accounts or those of their philanthropies. And, it's hugely in the accounts of the state's billionaires.

There were 14 Illinoisans on the 2015 Forbes billionaire list, with a total wealth of $41.850 billion. Governor Rauner didn't make that cut, but there is, for instance, that $57.5 million he made in 2014, enough to fund almost ten times over the amount Lutheran Social Services needed to continue the services it had to cut. He would just have to tithe, something I imagine he's had suggested to him at some point.

Yes, those who care for the needy should continue to call on the state to do the right thing. However, a plea for mercy is only that. To survive, Illinois's social services sector needs to follow Jesse James's lead: go where the money is (and will continue to be).

How about an Illinois campaign akin to the Warren Buffett/Bill Gates giving pledge?

Illinois's billionaires could tithe to feed the hungry and heal the sick, fund the public health clinics, school lunch programs, veterans' mental health services, domestic violence shelters, and every single other charity now being laid waste by the State's failure to act. They could turn away from the latest, fashionable fundraising cause, turning towards the begging mothers, children and veterans all over downtown Chicago.

And, just in case you're wondering whether those begging mothers, sick children and homeless veterans really need your help, just in case you're wondering why they just can't pick themselves up and pay for what they need, note this data point from Lutheran Social Services: "The demographics of clients served by LSSI generally reflect those of Illinois' population, with one important exception--more than 80 percent of clients report an annual household income under $15,000, compared to just 12 percent of all Illinois households."

In my grade school, we used to ask this kind of question: how many times does $15,000 go into $41 billion? Or $4 billion (that tithe)? Not to worry: neither you nor your children need to do the math to know there's enough money to go around and end this shameful chapter in Illinois's history. It's time to ask for it.

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Chicago Public Schools Is Bleeding Out But Neither the Teachers Union Nor the Governor Will Help

Wed, 2016-02-03 11:21


Yesterday, I woke up to the news that 292 people were shot and 51 people murdered in Chicago in the first month of the New Year.

Then later in the day, I learned that the tentative offer Chicago Public Schools (CPS) made to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was rejected, making me think of a different kind of death, a killing-me-so-so-softly kind of demise.

If CPS were a person, I would call 911 to take him to a Level 1 Trauma Center right now.

This poor man is lying on the curb, totally exasperated...pulse is fading...bleeding profusely from multiple open wounds. When the first responders arrive--the CTU, the school board, the mayor, the governor and state legislators--all they do is blame each other for the man's injuries and fight about the best course of treatment.

Meanwhile, poor Mr. CPS is bleeding out and no one is reaching for a tourniquet.

After 14 months of bargaining, CTU's 40-member "Big Bargaining Team" unanimously rejected the proposed four-year contract that its union leadership had touted as a "serious offer" from CPS.

CTU President Karen Lewis acknowledged a "lack of trust" her members have for CPS and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, she admitted that she was surprised that her members didn't take the deal.

That makes two of us, Karen!

The Problem

Let's face it, CPS and its appointed school board screwed up its own finances with bad investments, corruption and mismanagement, and over-promising pension benefits and then underfunding them, a situation impossible to be sustained long-term. Still, the district's financial failures are everybody's problem:

  • CPS is short $480 million to finance the rest of this school year.

  • The district is projecting a $1.1 billion deficit for next school year.

  • Despite terminating nearly 300 central office positions last month, the district would need to lay off some teachers this month to close the budget gap if no contract agreement is reached.

  • The district postponed a plan to borrow $875 million last week to finance its current operating budget. Now with a rejected teachers contract, financial experts fear the short-term uncertainty--coupled with the district's credit rating three tiers below junk bond status--has probably spooked investors from lending that kind of money to a school district on the precipice of bankruptcy.


"There were a lot of things that were great," Lewis said to the Chicago Tribune of the city's offer. "I'm not going to tell you they weren't. However, the things that will affect the classrooms the most--especially around the budget--were the ones that were concerning to people."

News flash: The issues around the budget are concerning, but it's virtually impossible for teachers to escape financial pain when negotiating with a desperately broke school district. The school district can't negotiate taxing the wealthy, only lawmakers can do that.

The Rejected Solution

Here's what the district had offered the CTU:

  • Continued raises for seniority and experience through a steps-and-lanes salary structure, in addition to cost of living increases at 2.75 percent next year and 3 percent for each of the following two years.

  • A freeze on new charter schools; CPS would only open new charter schools after it closes existing ones, as well as a commitment to push for revisions in the legislation that authorizes the Illinois Charter Commission, which currently can override CPS' charter decisions.

  • Raising at least $200 million in revenue by restoring a dedicated 0.26 percent property tax levy for teachers' pensions.

  • No teacher layoffs.


All these benefits would come in exchange for:

  • Teachers paying their entire 9 percent pension contribution, instead of their current 2 percent. Teachers would pay an additional 3.5 percent in July and the whole 7 percent as of July 2017.

  • Teachers paying part of their health insurance premium at 0.8 percent next year and another 0.7 percent the following year.


CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, who represents the dying school district, said he was "disappointed" that the union left him out to dry.

"This agreement provided pay raises, guaranteed job security and met the union's key demands, including restrictions on charter school expansion, raises for seniority in addition to cost-of-living increases, and more classroom autonomy for teachers," Claypool said.

Death by Debt and Indifference

Last month Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said he'd rather have CPS file for bankruptcy and let the state take it over than provide the district with a half-billion dollar bailout. The Democrats have a supermajority in both the state House and Senate, but they lack the unity and political will to break through the state's year-long budget impasse and get things done.

Despite CPS being in critical condition, fixing the district by creating tax revenue streams and reforming the pension system is not at the top of state lawmakers' to-do list. The state is facing a pension shortfall of $111 billion and $10 billion in unpaid bills.

In fact, CPS, the city of Chicago, Cook County, and the state of Illinois are all fiscally bleeding out.

My daughter in eighth grade has been auditioning around the city for a spot in some of the district high schools' music programs. She very well may get into a school and then next year find that all the music and art teachers have been laid off.

Seeing that CTU could decide to strike as early as mid-May or choose to wait until start of the next school year, I'm tempted to just enroll her into a charter high school that may not even have a music program.

But if CPS runs out of money, a strike or massive layoffs won't be necessary. Schools would just shut down--district and charter alike. The district would just bleed out and die.

At that point, a tourniquet won't help. A new union contract won't make a difference. The feds will have to swoop in with their defibrillator--and the pain of that shock will be almost unbearable.
Photo by MilitaryHealth, CC-licensed.

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Top 5 Biggest Problems With Illinois' Medical Marijuana Program

Wed, 2016-02-03 10:29
The Illinois medical marijuana program is about two years into its four-year pilot period, but some patients and advocates say there are still plenty of kinks to work out. From high costs to low customer turnout, here's a list of five problems patients and activists cite with the Illinois program so far.

1) Not enough approved conditions

Illinois has approved 39 conditions that warrant the use of medical marijuana, but some advocates say the state is missing a few big ones -- like post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. Illinois officials have accepting petitions to add new conditions to the list, and the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board is recommending eight new conditions, including PTSD, chronic pain due to trauma and autism be approved.

But that decision is all up to Gov. Bruce Rauner. He already turned down the board's recommendation to add 11 new conditions last September, before dispensaries even opened.

Some veterans suffering from PTSD are calling on the governor to allow those new additions. At a press conference, Medical Cannabis Outreach founder Caprice Sweatt argued the prescription drugs available for patients can be dangerous, while marijuana doesn't cause some of the more serious side effects.

Vietnam veteran Lon Hodge said the psychotropic medications he used after his PTSD diagnosis were extremely damaging to his career as a professor and public speaker -- he described his condition as a "creative lobotomy."

"Those of us who suffer with PTSD to the extent that I do, we say we often carry suicide like a challenge coin in our pocket," Hodge said, "I don't want that for anybody else. Legalize this."

2) Fear of "pot doctors"

Hopeful medical marijuana patients need a doctor's signature before they qualify for the state-issued ID they need in order to get medical marijuana. Illinois' oversight is tougher than some other states -- at least four doctors have been accused of providing marijuana recommendations without a legitimate doctor-patient relationship. Some patients who went to the accused physicians are concerned they could lose their cards.

From the Associated Press:

Writing a law to restrict how doctors recommend marijuana is tricky. Lawmakers in Illinois, New Jersey and other states have tried to avoid California's drop-in, instant exams by attempting to define in legislation a legitimate doctor-patient relationship. Laws commonly call for a "bona fide" relationship with a physical exam and review of medical records. New Jersey doctors must register in a publicly viewable database and take courses in addiction medicine and pain management.

3) Not enough customers

The Illinois Department of Public Health has approved about 4,000 applications for medical marijuana, including 26 for people under 18 years old. However, business owners argue that number just isn't high enough to sustain dispensaries; they say they need at least 20,000 to 30,000 customers in the next six months to a year to stay open.

From the Daily Herald:

The reason for the disappointing numbers stems from what the operators call unnecessarily tight restrictions on who can buy marijuana.

For example, chronic pain and sleep disorders are not considered valid reasons in Illinois to buy medical pot, but they are elsewhere. State politics also plays into it, as does some reluctance within the medical community to embrace the program.

For medical marijuana programs in some other states, chronic pain makes up a huge chunk of the conditions users report. In both Michigan and Colorado, around 93 percent of patients use medical marijuana for severe and chronic pain.

4) Fingerprinting is a pain


Illinois' program requires marijuana patients to be fingerprinted. Some advocates say that's a violation of patients' privacy and civil rights, as no one else is required to be fingerprinted for any other types of medication.

And for those who can't leave the house or have difficulties travelling, getting fingerprinted can be a huge burden.

From Fox 32 Chicago:

Julie Falco has painful, incurable multiple sclerosis. Back when she could still walk, she was well known in the State Capitol as a tireless proponent of medical marijuana. But now with the program at the tipping point, she says she won't be part of it.

"Still feel like a criminal because I'm getting fingerprinted. Even though I use a wheelchair. I'm on a walker. I can barely move during the day," Falco said.

5) It's expensive

If you're looking for a medical marijuana prescription in Illinois, you'll need to have some money saved.

From the Belleville News-Democrat:

Patients in Illinois must pay a $100 application fee. Other charges, including a photo, fingerprinting fees and a physician consultation could tack on another $150 to the application process. Once they get their cards, they must pay an annual fee of $100 to keep them.

NEXT ARTICLE: The Top 10 most haunted hospitals in Illinois

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Illinois Super PAC Donations Already Changing Landscape of 2016 Legislative Races

Wed, 2016-02-03 09:51


In 2011, with the state reeling from campaign finance abuses exposed in the Rod Blagojevich scandal, Illinois enacted its first-ever limits on campaign contributions.

Boiled down to its essentials, the law limits donations to political candidates to $5,400 from individuals, $10,800 from corporations, unions or trade associations and $53,900 from another candidate's political fund. (There's a lot more to it, of course. The complete law is here.)

But that doesn't mean candidates can't get contributions bigger than those limits, nor are political candidates the only ones affected by the law.

Committees controlled by the state's political parties, for example, can give unlimited amounts to candidates in general elections. And political party committees can receive unlimited donations from political candidate campaign committees. Thus, Bruce Rauner's Citizens for Rauner fund, which now holds $19.5 million, can easily be channeled to supported candidates through the Illinois Republican Party's committee. Likewise with the four committees controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

But there also are circumstances in which contribution limit rules are nullified. If a candidate puts $250,000 of his or her own money into a statewide race or $100,000 into a legislative race, all limits come off for all candidates in that contest. Bruce Rauner's self-funding allowed the 2014 gubernatorial contest to become the most expensive in state history, as large donations poured into both his fund and that of Pat Quinn.

And then there are so-called independent expenditure committees, which are subject to no limits, but are prohibited from coordinating their activities with or donating directly to a candidate. Commonly known as Super PACs, independent expenditure committees exist to support or oppose political candidates or other electoral efforts. Once an independent expenditure committee spends $250,000 for or against a candidate in a statewide race or $100,000 for or against a legislative candidate, all limits come off for all candidates in that race.

In the 2016 primary election cycle, we've already seen limits dissolved in two races. The independent committee IllinoisGO in January spent $240,000 on behalf of Democratic Chicago State Rep. Ken Dunkin. That opened the door for a $500,000 donation on Feb. 1 to Dunkin's campaign from the conservative Illinois Opportunity Project.

In southwest-central Illinois, an independent expenditure committee with ties to the Illinois Opportunity Project spent $325,000 in support of Bryce Benton, the challenger of Republican incumbent Sen. Sam McCann of rural Plainview in the March 15 primary. With contribution limits now off, we can expect unions to support McCann with donations well above the $10,800 to which they would have been limited had Liberty Principles PAC not broken the barrier.

And this is only for the primary. The real money will get thrown into the Nov. 4 general election. Ever since his election, Rauner has vowed to use his resources to help elect Republicans to the General Assembly, where Democrats now hold three-fifths majorities in both the House and Senate.

We can expect Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and the Democrats' traditional allies in organized labor and the trial bar to respond in kind.

Get ready to see previous spending records in local legislative races fall in a barrage of campaign ads.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois budget impasse projected to create $6.2 billion more in debt by June 30, Comptroller Munger says

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The 22 Best College Basketball Freshmen In America

Tue, 2016-02-02 10:50

Ben Simmons has been called the best pure basketball prospect to come along since LeBron James. Such a proclamation hardly guarantees NBA success. However, it's hard to ignore, given the influx of talented one-and-done phenoms -- as NBA commissioner Adam Silver discussed with HuffPost -- we've seen in the college hoops landscape over the past decade, including Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Andrew Wiggins, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.


While his prodigious gifts may warrant the incessant praise, Simmons is a work in progress, as are his freshmen counterparts. You can argue that few have lived up to the enormous hype bestowed on them before the season began. And yet, that hardly nullifies the immense talent this class has displayed, albeit less frequently then expected. 


Here are the top 22 college basketball freshmen in America.



Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related on Twitter at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram at @Schultz_Report. Also, tune in to Bleacher Report's NCAA Tournament coverage for my full analysis and check out my SiriusXM Radio show, airing Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3-6 p.m. ET, on Bleacher Report channel 83.

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The Tom Cruise Superfan That Even HE Couldn't Forget, Years Later

Tue, 2016-02-02 10:23

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When Nancy Kozlowski's doorbell rang on the morning of November 30, 2001, she probably didn't expect to be greeted by a camera crew and the voice of a bathrobe-clad Oprah Winfrey ready to make a long-held dream come true. But that's what she got.


"Nancy, can you hear me?" Oprah asked. "I'm talking to you through the camera... You're on TV right now."



Nancy had written to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" about being Tom Cruise's biggest fan, so producers surprised the unsuspecting Chicagoan at her front door 15 years ago to tell her she would finally get to meet her movie star idol. Nancy's reaction was so unforgettable -- "This is better than the sweepstakes!" Oprah had joked -- that Cruise ended up asking about her ahead of his "Oprah Show" appearance in 2008.


So, naturally, the crew ambushed Nancy in her office to surprise her once again.


Both surprises play out in the video above, and at the end, "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" follows up with the unintentionally hilarious superfan to see if her passion for Cruise still burns strong. (Spoiler alert: It does. But you already knew that.)


"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.


Related: Oprah's all-time favorite guest shares an inspiring update


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