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Blockade of Chicago Petcoke Facility Calls for Green Jobs Instead of Toxic Fossil Fuels

Mon, 2015-11-16 15:06
Seven community members and concerned citizens are blockading entrances to the Koch Carbon Transfer Terminal (KCBX) on Chicago's Southeast side.

The blockade began at 8am Monday morning. By 9am they were joined by 10th ward Chicago Alderwoman Susan Garza who sat in support with the blockaders. Over a dozen trucks had been prevented from entering or leaving the facility.

Sixty foot tall piles of petcoke, a byproduct of refining oil, began appearing on Chicago's southeast side near the Calumet River two years ago. Community action won the closure of two storage sites, but one transfer site remains open, menacing the health and well being of residents.

"In the two years our community has been fighting the open storage of petcoke, I have had a baby. I live in constant fear of my seven month old son have respiratory problems. I am disgusted by corporations putting their profits over the health of our community. I feel like we have gone through all of the formal complaint processes and it is time to take direct action. I don't know what else to do to protect the health of my baby," said Kate Koval, a local mother and lifetime community resident, who is sitting in the blockade.

A recent study from Johns Hopkins has linked cardiovascular hospitalizations to same day exposure to particulates in the air that are between 2.5 to 10 microns, implicating exposure to petcoke in the cause of heart disease.

Not only is petcoke bad for human health, but it's dangerous for global climate. Petcoke is shipped to countries like China and India and burned in power plants producing more greenhouse gases than burning coal.

Reverend Jim Galuhn, Pastor of nearby East Side United Methodist Church, spoke from the blockade: "This action is a witness for environmental justice on behalf of the people who live here, who breath the air polluted by petcoke. We think of our children, especially our neighborhood schools that asthma vans that must regularly come to treat. This action is for them. It is a non-violent witness to seek support from our politicians and those interested in the growth and development of this part of the city."

Instead of dirty industry like petcoke transfer sites, community residents call for green jobs that put people to work and don't harm health and climate.

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Woman Flips Out Over All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Rule, Police Say

Mon, 2015-11-16 13:36

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An argument over the meaning of all-you-can-eat has led to assault charges for a woman in suburban Chicago.

Police in Oak Lawn, Illinois, said 27-year-old Natasha West flipped out at a Denny's restaurant after the waitress told her she couldn't share her $4 all-you-can-eat flapjacks with the other people at the table, according to The Smoking Gun.

Police said West became "irate" and started swearing and swinging her fists at the server, according to NBC Chicago.

None of the blows landed on the waitress, according to police, but West and her party allegedly then left the restaurant without paying, only to stop to kick a door several times while on her way out, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The restaurant manager called police, who tracked down West and her dinner crew in a car a short time later. They were taken back to the Denny's where restaurant employees positively identified them.

One of West's friends paid for the food. West was arrested and charged with assault and damage to property, WGN-TV reports.

Jail records at the Cook County Jail show she is no longer in custody

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Top 25 School Districts in Illinois with Highest, Lowest Starting Teacher Salaries

Mon, 2015-11-16 11:26
The statewide average annual salary of the nearly 130,000 full-time public school teachers in Illinois is $62,609, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

But teacher salaries vary greatly depending on a district's location, level of education, years of experience and amount of school funding -- i.e., local property tax revenue.

Using 2014-2015 teacher salary data from ISBE, we've compiled a list of the Top 25 school districts with the highest and lowest average starting teacher salaries, including the difference in pay between new teachers with a bachelor's and master's degree.

Median starting teacher salaries by degree and experience level in Illinois:

  • Bachelors Beginning: $36,927

  • Masters Beginning: $40,891

As you'll see, location, cost of living, district size and local sources of revenue seemingly are the biggest determinants of a teacher's starting salary. If you're interested in comparing cost of living between various districts, use AreaVibes' cost-of-living calculator at the bottom of the page.

Here are the Top 25 Illinois school districts with the highest and lowest average starting salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree

NEXT ARTICLE: Cook County one step closer to having new hotel tax

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Too Much Violence in the World

Mon, 2015-11-16 09:38

Violence has become the norm throughout the world, especially considering the recent terrorist attacks in France, Nigeria, Kenya, and the killings in Chicago. One would be led to believe that violence will never end in the world.

If you look back at world history, you will see that violent behavior has been around since the beginning of time. Not one world leader successfully implemented a plan in which world peace was sustained. Having a world without violence would be like having a world without the sun or moon. It's sad to say that violence will be around until the leaders of the greatest nations on earth work together to achieve world peace. Peace is possible, but there is no easy way to accomplish this mission. When evil men with diabolical intentions are in a position to spread their rhetoric to the masses of people, then you will have wars and rumors of wars. What will it take to achieve world peace?

One of the first steps to achieving world peace would be convening a meeting with world leaders beyond the usual United Nations gatherings. Leaders from China, Russia, United States, England, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Asia, India, Africa and Middle Eastern countries should be invited to the meeting to help layout a strategic plan which will stop the violence once and for all. No pain no gain. Drastic measures should be taken right now in order to save innocent lives around the globe. Living in fear of the next attack is definitely no way to live. There is a reason why some people choose to attack others and this type of behavior deserves a swift response. If the world leaders are not willing to meet with the rogue leaders, then how can we bring forth peace to the world? There will never be a better time than now to address this epidemic called violence because the next generation is depending on the current generation to carry us on into the future.

The current world will not make it past the next century if we do not eradicate this type of violence. Someone has to take the lead the same way Winston Churchill did during World War II. The Germans were perceived as a major threat and the world leaders unified to stop the threat.

This also led to many years of peace in the region. Some people are angry at the wrong people and that's one of the reasons why people are just killing whoever and whenever. This type of violence also takes place on the streets of Chicago where innocent people are killed almost everyday. You cannot solve a problem without going to the root of the problem. Someone has to know how to penetrate the minds of these evil people on one level or another. All men should meet first to air out their differences and if the meetings do not succeed, then try again before taking up arms to kill innocent people. Peace is Possible.

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It's Time the NHL Took Violence Against Women Seriously

Fri, 2015-11-13 15:47
In August, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was accused of raping a woman at his Buffalo-area home. Although formal charges will never be filed against him, the NHL still should have suspended him at the time.

But this isn't about Patrick Kane.

It isn't about convicted spousal abuser Slava Voynov, who remains property of the Los Angeles Kings even after he fled home to Russia one step ahead of deportation, either. Nor is it about Mike Ribeiro, who starred for the Nashville Predators throughout the duration of a now-settled civil suit regarding his alleged sexual assault of his children's nanny.

This is about the fans.

This is about the lifelong Blackhawks supporter who happens to be a rape survivor, and whose team has spent months celebrating a man accused of that same crime. It's about the kids sitting a few rows away who don't fully understand what Kane might have done, but who know it doesn't matter because the Jumbotron keeps reminding them that he's a hockey hero. It's about the Kings fan who believes it's his right to hit his wife and the Predators fan who is pretty sure the father of the children she babysits keeps brushing up against her on purpose, but who is absolutely sure she should just keep her mouth shut about it.

Approximately one in three women will be the victim of intimate partner violence and one in six women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape within their lifetimes, yet we have a culture of assuming that when a woman reports abuse or assault, she is lying. When institutions like the NHL refuse even to acknowledge the existence of serious allegations, they reinforce the notion that the world is populated with women trying to make a buck off accusing a rich, famous man of rape. We know this isn't true - studies show that just 2-8 percent of sexual assault allegations are false - but if an athlete has a high enough profile then we might be tempted to assume that his case is the exception, that we somehow "know" him and know that he would never do such a thing. The deck is stacked against any victim, and that much more so when thousands of people are emotionally invested in the life and career of the abuser.

Kane's case never got beyond the investigation stage, so some people believe the NHL would have overstepped by punishing him. They are wrong. Section 18-A.5 of the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players gives the NHL express permission to suspend Kane and others like him even in the absence of formal charges, and that's what it should do whenever a player comes under police investigation for domestic violence or sexual assault.

A suspension with pay wouldn't have deprived Kane of his livelihood or of his ability to get back on the ice the minute the investigation ended. Ultimately, Kane would have been fine. But this isn't about Kane.

This is about sending the message that violence against women is a legitimate, serious problem. It's about not being downright hostile to victims and, in so doing, teaching fans to follow suit.

On a personal note, I have rooted for the New Jersey Devils since I was first introduced to hockey over 30 years ago. My love of the game has helped shape my social life and even led me to a career in sports journalism. But now, like many others, I find myself questioning my continued allegiance to the NHL, which has ignored all commentary on their players' track record of violence against women. So I've launched a petition on calling for these important changes, and we've already collected over 27,000 signatures. Our campaign, along with the essays, articles, social media campaigns - like the #NotMyNHL hashtag that trended on Twitter the night the Blackhawks raised their 2015 Stanley Cup banner - all go unaddressed.

It has to stop. We need institutions like the NHL to stop shielding players who are accused of these crimes, because that shield doubles as a weapon against past, present and future victims.

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Mark Kirk's Supporters Are Using A Fake Minimum Wage Petition To Get Him On The Ballot

Fri, 2015-11-13 15:36

WASHINGTON -- David Applegate, a staff member for Rep. Tammy Duckworth's (D-Ill.) Senate campaign, was walking around at the Columbus Day parade in Chicago when he was approached by a woman with a clipboard.

She asked him if he wanted to sign a petition. That was odd in itself, since Applegate was wearing a Duckworth campaign shirt, and the woman was wearing a campaign shirt for Sen. Mark Kirk (R), whom Duckworth is trying to unseat. It got weirder when she said the petition was about raising the minimum wage, an issue Kirk doesn't even support.

Applegate, confused, said he worked for Duckworth, and the woman walked away. He saw her again later, standing with another woman who was also wearing a Kirk shirt and holding a clipboard. He got closer and looked over one of their shoulders. There were "raise the wage" stickers covering the tops of their petitions, but peeking out from underneath them was Mark Kirk's printed name.

They weren't collecting signatures for a wage campaign; there isn't even an active wage campaign in Illinois right now. They were collecting signatures to put Kirk on the ballot for the March primary election. 

Applegate got a few pictures of the women before they noticed and took off to a nearby subway station. The photos are a bit blurry, but if you look closely at the upper left hand corner of the petition, you can see "Mark Steven Kirk" printed out as it appears on Kirk's petitions.

"It was a pretty egregious act," he said. "There were a lot of people out there. It was high-density, mostly Democrats."

Kirk campaign spokesman Kevin Artl said he has no idea who the women are and questioned the authenticity of Applegate's story.

"Given the fact that the photo came from the Duckworth campaign and the individuals in the photo are not on our campaign staff, as Duckworth's campaign falsely alleged, we view this entire episode with great suspicion," Artl said.

He noted that anybody can get copies of campaign petitions; in Kirk's case, you can download them straight off of his website. As for the Kirk shirts, Artl said the campaign gives out free t-shirts at events all the time.

But if the women aren't affiliated with Kirk's campaign, why would they be collecting signatures for him in a Democratic stronghold, deceptively suggesting that he supports an issue popular among progressives?

In order to submit their petitions to the Kirk campaign, the women would have to sign them and get them notarized. If the women aren't identified, the fraudulently collected signatures might end up being counted toward Kirk's total. Kirk and Duckworth both need between 5,000 and 10,000 signatures to get on the March ballot. They have 90 days to collect them.

Duckworth beat Kirk in fundraising in the most recent quarter, raising $1.46 million compared to Kirk's $1.05 million. But Kirk, who has held his Senate seat since 2010 and served in the House of Representatives before that, has $3.62 million in cash on hand compared to Duckworth's $2.8 million.

An early poll showed Duckworth with an advantage, but found that she remains mostly unknown in the state.

Also on HuffPost:

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Will State Rep. Ken Dunkin Get "Primaried" in March?

Fri, 2015-11-13 13:55
The big question in Illinois politics this week is whether Democratic State Rep. Ken Dunkin's direct challenge of House Speaker Michael Madigan's authority signaled the beginning of the end of Dunkin's 13-year tenure in the Illinois House.

Dunkin's decision to not vote on two bills important to Democrats meant that both failed.

Will Madigan, who also is head of the Democratic Party of Illinois, mount a primary challenge to Dunkin?

Will Gov. Bruce Rauner, with whom Dunkin made deals without Madigan's blessing, use his campaign fund and a Super PAC he controls to support Dunkin?

Another Super PAC, IllinoisGO, was founded with the goal of supporting Democrats who make "difficult decisions" -- which means those who vote for the kinds of business and political reforms that Democrats typically have not supported and which, coincidentally, are components of Rauner's Illinois Turnaround agenda.

But putting up a successful primary challenge to Dunkin won't be easy, even for Madigan. Dunkin has represented his district for 13 years and won re-election in 2014 with 83 percent of the vote. The Super PACs mentioned earlier can't donate directly to or coordinate any activities with the Dunkin campaign, but they can pour unlimited resources into advertising that promotes Dunkin as the man who stood up to Madigan. They also can portray any Madigan-backed primary opponent as a puppet of the Speaker.

Those could be messages that resonate with voters who are very familiar with 13-year incumbent Dunkin.

For his part, Dunkin maintains his not voting for bills to strip Rauner of power to make rules on who qualifies for subsidized child care and home health care was not an act of defiance. In an appearance on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" the day after his non-votes, he said he helped negotiate Rauner's restoration of most of his cuts. That made the bills moot, he said.

He explained further in an op-ed piece that appeared in The State Journal-Register in Springfield:

Several weeks ago, I made a promise to my constituents to do everything within my power to reverse Gov. Bruce Rauner's devastating cuts to child care. I promised -- and I delivered. And now, 100,000 more kids will have access to child care by the end of the year.

We'll know soon if Dunkin will face a primary challenge. Nov. 30 is the deadline for candidates to file petitions for the March 15 primary.

That's what we're talking about on this week's "Only in Illinois."

NEXT ARTICLE: Dunkin in hot seat after causing failure of Democrat-supported human services bills

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14 New Laws in Illinois You Should Know

Fri, 2015-11-13 12:51
There are dozens of new Illinois laws that went into effect recently, so the Illinois Senate Democrats released a slideshow highlighting the top 14 to help citizens stay-up-to-date on these new rules.

1. Do you miss happy hour?
  • It's back. Restaurants can offer specials on food, pitchers, buckets and bottles.

2. Lax vaccine laws left many children at risk

  • A new law is making it more difficult for parents to send their kids to school unvaccinated.

3. The end of snow days?

  • An e-learning pilot program is letting some kids complete their studies at home.

4. Veterans' discounts

  • A new state program will make it easier for local businesses to offer deals to veterans.

5. 3D mammograms

  • 3D mammograms can catch breast cancer other screenings miss. Now your insurer has to cover them.

6. New benefit for returning soldiers

  • You get 1 year from when you return to pay for vehicle registration or renewal.

7. Worried about your daughter's safety at college?

  • New policies are in place to protect college students from sexual assault. Universities must have clear plans for helping victims.

See the other seven laws that recently went into effect at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Rauner tamps down on business tax breaks after Tribune investigation uncovers major flaws

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And I'm Taking the Kids with Me...

Fri, 2015-11-13 11:27
Do you want to rip the heart out of your ex-spouse, who also happens to share with you parental responsibilities for your two small children? Tell him or her that you've decided to move from suburban Chicago to the East Coast and you're going to ask a judge to let you take the kids with you.

Earlier this year I was asked by a local law firm to serve as trial counsel (about seven weeks before trial) to represent a dedicated dad who had been blindsided during the spring of 2014 with news that his ex-wife wanted to take their kids and move 700 miles away from her home in one of Chicago's north suburbs. She claimed, in papers she filed with the court in 2014, that her proposed move was a job-related necessity.

Turns out she also had a boyfriend 700 miles away in the same part of the country. To make matters more interesting, the status of the significant other was bumped up from boyfriend to "fiancé" at some point during the litigation.

After reviewing the case file, I took a few depositions. I questioned the mom, her employer, and her alleged "fiancé" (who, I learned, had never "officially" asked the mom to marry him). Taken together, those hours of sworn testimony severely undercut the mother's claims -- so much so that later that month, on the first day of trial, her lawyers withdrew their client's petition to remove the children from the state.

Effective January 1, 2016, removal law will change in Illinois (as part of a sweeping rewrite of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act), and parents may soon be battling over much shorter moves within Illinois.

The change in removal law makes sense. As it currently stands, a custodial parent would need a court order to make a 10-mile move with his or her kids from north suburban Zion, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, simply because that move would cross state lines. The same parent, however, could pack up the kids and move 423 miles from Zion to downstate Cairo, Illinois without having to seek court approval.

The new law deals with that absurdity by shifting the focus from state lines to distance. The Wisconsin-bound parent will now be free to move from Zion to Kenosha because the distance between those towns is less than 25 miles, but the custodial parent looking to leave Zion for Cairo will need a judge's permission to do so. Custodial parents who live outside of Cook County and its five collar counties (DuPage, Lake, McHenry, Kane and Will) will need court approval if they intend to move more than 50 miles away from their current residence.

The new law also scraps a lot of old language. Removal, for example, will now be called relocation. And judges will no longer award custody and visitation; instead, they will allocate parental responsibilities and parenting time.

The governor and the Illinois General Assembly may not be able to craft a budget for the Land of Lincoln, but with the rewrite and signing of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, they've given judges, lawyers and parents who spend time in domestic relations court a lot to digest in the coming months.

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Yellow Ribbons and Endless War

Thu, 2015-11-12 22:02
"By God," Bush said in triumph, "we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all."

This was Bush 41, a quarter of a century ago, celebrating the terrific poll numbers his kwik-win war on Iraq was generating. Remember yellow ribbons? I think he had a point. "Vietnam syndrome" -- the public aversion to war -- still has a shadow presence in America, but it no longer matters.

Our official policy is endless bombing, endless war. No matter how much suffering it causes -- over a million dead, maybe as many as two million, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- and no matter how poorly it serves any rational objectives, our official response to geopolitical trouble of every sort is to bomb it into compliance with our alleged interests. The cancerous "success" of this policy may be the dominant historical event of the last three decades. Endless war is impervious to debate; it's impervious to democracy.

Greg Grandin, writing recently at Tom Dispatch about Henry Kissinger's extraordinary contribution over four decades to Washington's war-no-matter-what consensus, pinpoints a moment at the onset of Gulf War I that gave me deep pause. In that moment, war had lost its controversy, its raw demand for public sacrifice. Suddenly war was little more than . . . entertainment, as cozily unifying to the American public as professional sports. War and television, you might say, had signed their post-modern peace treaty.

Back in 1969, shortly after Richard Nixon was inaugurated (on a platform that included ending the war in Vietnam), Kissinger and Nixon launched -- in deep, dark secrecy -- their bombing campaign against Cambodia. This campaign was a war crime of the highest order, devastating and utterly destabilizing Cambodia and creating the preconditions for genocide, as it allowed the Khmer Rouge to come to power.

Fast-forward a few decades. Kissinger was no longer in government, but as a high-profile pundit, he was still a major player in American politics, and he pushed the war button at every opportunity. So when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Kissinger was an early proponent of a military response. Eventually, of course, George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm.

And Kissinger, wrote Grandin, "was once again a man of the moment. But how expectations had shifted since 1970! When President Bush launched his bombers on January 17, 1991, it was in the full glare of the public eye, recorded for all to see. There was no veil of secrecy and no secret furnaces, burned documents, or counterfeited flight reports. After a four-month-long on-air debate among politicians and pundits, 'smart bombs' lit up the sky over Baghdad and Kuwait City as the TV cameras rolled."

I remember that all too well. I remember the sudden enormous void I felt open up as I watched what might have been the onset of World War III hit the airwaves, knowing that most of the country supported this reckless atrocity.

Grandin goes on: "Featured were new night-vision equipment, real-time satellite communications, and former U.S. commanders ready to narrate the war in the style of football announcers right down to instant replays. 'In sports-page language,' said CBS News anchor Dan Rather on the first night of the attack, 'this . . . it's not a sport. It's war. But so far, it's a blowout.' . . .

"It would be a techno-display of such apparent omnipotence that President Bush got the kind of mass approval Kissinger and Nixon never dreamed possible. With instant replay came instant gratification, confirmation that the president had the public's backing. On January 18, only a day into the assault, CBS announced that a new poll 'indicates extremely strong support for Mr. Bush's Gulf offensive.'"

There were yellow ribbons around every light pole as Bush proclaimed that "Vietnam syndrome" was dead. All it took was a permanent shift of responsibility away from the public at large -- via elimination of the draft -- combined with an ultra-sophisticated public relations effort that successfully turned our former ally, Saddam Hussein, into The Face of Evil. The slaughter of 100,000 Iraqis during the month-and-a-half-long Desert Storm was, apparently, a small price to pay for the good we had accomplished, and seemed not to mar the post-invasion celebrations.

And a different kind of syndrome -- Gulf War Syndrome, a.k.a., Gulf War Illness -- the name for the serious health consequences suffered by American soldiers due to an array of war-related toxic exposures, including ultra-fine depleted uranium dust, was well off in the future at that point, with bureaucratic denial and media indifference destined to minimize its impact on public awareness and forestall a re-emergence of large-scale public anti-militarism.

A decade later, another Bush in office, the Towers go down. George W. proclaims that America will take on Evil itself. And even though his successor, Barack Obama, is swept into office on the global hope for peace, war remains the default setting. Fourteen years in, war does, indeed, look endless. Obama recently announced, for instance, that he won't be the one to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. War is now, as I say, impervious to democracy, despite the incredible harm -- the millions killed directly and indirectly because of the war on terror, 60 million refugees worldwide, numerous countries in chaos -- it continues to cause.

Maybe, as scattered individuals, we long for peace, but for now, the interests of war are safely fortified from this longing. As we stand against these interests anyway, let's declare, as a starting place, our belief that war is never the path to peace.

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Award-Winning Sex-Change Documentary <i>Call Me Marianna</i> Brightens Polish Film Festival in America

Thu, 2015-11-12 19:37

Faith, trust and the courage to live as the person you know yourself to be all come into play in Karolina Bielawska's moving, award-winning documentary Call Me Marianna. The film, which has been turning heads at film festivals around the world, screens at Chicago's Polish Film Festival in America Nov. 13 and 22.

Shunned by her ex-wife, rejected by her daughter and misunderstood by a mother who still calls her "son," Marianna is a remarkable human to experience. For it is during her transition from male to female that audiences witness the depths of her grief as she is abandoned by loved ones and feels alone in a world that resists accepting her true self. Bielawska weaves together a remarkably powerful account of this individual's struggles -- and triumphs -- on the emotional road she travels to locate her own inner GPS and find acceptance among others.

A big winner at the Krakow Film Festival earlier this year -- it took home four awards, including the International Documentary Competition's main prize, the Golden Horn, and the Audience Award -- the film also picked up the Maciej Szumowski Award for remarkable social awareness (funded by the National Broadcasting Council) and Polish Audiovisual Producers Chamber of Commerce's Award for the Best Short and Documentary Films Producer in Poland (to producer Zbigniew Domagalski). The fest's jury noted" "that the journey through life from man to woman in a dualistically dominated culture, the transformation from being a family man to the finally self-determined life as a woman throws an analytically inspired light on our society and unlocks the protagonist's extraordinary inner strength."

Catching up with Karolina Bielawska proved to be illuminating. Here, the filmmaker shares her thoughts on Marianna and the journey to bring her unique tale to life.

Greg Archer: How did you come about meeting Marianna?

Karolina Bielawska: I read an interview with Anna Grodzka, a member of the Polish parliament, and a transgender women. After reading the interview I didn't understand how this could happen. How could you live all of your life in the wrong body? I was curious how it was possible. I called Anna, wanting to make a narrative film. When Marianna came for tea with Anna and I, I knew she was to be a character in the film and decided to make this documentary film.

Greg Archer: I'm curious about two things: What did you find most intriguing about Marianna, as a person; and what did you find most captivating about her journey?

Karolina Bielawska: Her whole person was captivating. When I met Marianna she was 47 years old and for four years she was fighting to get approval for sex reassignment from her parents in court. She was very attractive, religious and conservative. She wanted to be accepted as a normal woman.

Greg Archer: Can you talk a bit, in general, about LGBT, and especially Transgender rights, in Poland, currently?

Karolina Bielawska: The situation in Poland is very tragic for transsexual people. They have to sue their parents in court in order to get approval for sexual reassignment. Both for the surgery and all personal documents. When I met Marianna I didn't know how difficult it is to be a transsexual women. She has to fight for respect and dignity every day of her life.

Greg Archer: What surprised you during the filming; what insights or observations about humanity did you have?

Karolina Bielawska: The whole story and her life surprised me. It was her struggle that I witnessed, but she won. It is important for me that this film give hope for a better world.

Greg Archer: I sense there is a great deal we can all learn from Marianna.

Karolina Bielawska: After watching the film, it would be great if the audience thinks of Marianna like a friend and understands her story. I learned from Marianna that it is important to fight for your beliefs and that you have to always be honest with yourself. This is what makes life worth living.

Karolina Bielawska

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Police Investigating After 8-Year-Old Shoots 10-Year-Old Relative

Thu, 2015-11-12 15:03

Chicago police are investigating after an 8-year-old child shot a 10-year-old relative Thursday morning. 

Officers responded to a call of a shooting in the city's South Side Brainerd neighborhood around 9 a.m., according to a Police News Affairs spokeswoman. The 10-year-old was described as being transferred in "guarded condition" to a local hospital with a gunshot wound to the side.  

Police did not specify the gender of each child involved, nor their relationship to one another, citing privacy of the children and the ongoing nature of the investigation. 

Officials believe the shooting to be accidental. 

Less than one month ago, a 6-year-old on Chicago's West Side fatally shot his 3-year-old brother with a gun found in their home. The boys' father was charged with felony child endangerment

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Taking A Trip Inside This Queer Man's Closet Is Absolutely Ethereal

Thu, 2015-11-12 11:20

BULLETT Magazine launched a mini-documentary this week that elevates the life and story of a queer artist navigating the nightlife scene in Chicago, Illinois.
Produced by BULLETT editor Justin Moran, the video is part of the "Chicago After Dark" project that offers a response to what the writer sees as a heavier focus by media on the cultural production happening in larger cosmopolitan areas like New York or Los Angeles. In Moran's eyes, Chicago is home to a rich and vibrant community of nightlife creatives who don't necessarily get the recognition they deserve because of their choice to live in a smaller metropolis.
The mini-documentary follows artist Jojo Baby, a legend in the scene who has been working in nightlife since he was 14 years old. Jojo largely embodies a pre-internet mentality to his work and has mastered the art of doll-making -- but in a way that you wouldn't expect.

The Huffington Post chatted with Moran about his project this week and the legendary status of Jojo Baby.

The Huffington Post: What is the "Chicago After Dark" series -- what are you trying to accomplish?
Justin Moran: Since I've started working long distance for several New York-based publications from Chicago, I've noticed that mainstream media has a tendency to favor stories from certain cities over others. Chicago has an incredibly rich, authentic queer scene that almost always gets glossed over, even by local media, which sadly caters to the more conservative midwestern reader. I launched "Chicago After Dark" to elevate the important voices in my queer community and introduce them to BULLETT's global readers to try and balance the larger LGBT conversation that seems to focus exclusively on people in New York or Los Angeles. 

Why are legendary figures like Jojo Baby so important to the Chicago queer scene?
Chicago is inherently a conservative city, which inevitably influences the queer community. Someone like Jojo Baby, who's so genuinely himself, is vital to shaking up the club scene, which at times can feel overwhelmingly homogenous. Being that Jojo Baby is so deeply rooted in the national queer conversation, as well as local, I think people are really thankful that he hasn't uprooted to another city, like so many successful people do. (People seem to always stay here for just a bit to quietly foster their craft and move on in hopes of rising to the next level in their career). For me, Jojo's a glimpse into the past -- a pre-Internet world where there were far more dangers to being publicly queer, more barriers to entry in the nightlife scene and little-to-no communication between like-minded people. Jojo feels like a warrior in that sense, which you can see in the documentary translates through his tattoos of names people have called him, like "fruitcake" or "faggot" stamped across his chest. 

What role do you think nightlife in Chicago plays in the city's relationship with queer culture?
This city -- like most metropolitan cities -- is painfully corporate and whitewashed, favoring the successful wealthy businessman over everyone else. So nightlife here seems to be the life support of local queer people, who're forced, for example, to take the bus everyday with straight cis-gender men wearing Trunk Club suits, briefcases and sperry's. And since daytime culture here is so straight-laced, that's why someone like Jojo Baby is important -- a friendly after-hours reminder to young queer people that it's okay to choose a different approach to life. 

What do you want people to take away from this piece?
Jojo Baby's studio, which he calls "Jojo Baby's Closet," is easily the most magical space I've ever been in, filled wall-to-wall with things he's created and collected. (His Greer Lankton shrine, his raggedy ann collection, his handmade dolls all modeled after friends using their real hair). Everything has a story, too -- he's so deeply invested in every facet of his work, his life, his identity. Like I said earlier, it's so inspiring to be around someone who's so shamelessly themselves. Jojo isn't at all invested in online culture like so many of us are today. He's built a genuine fantasy in the real world -- not one that only exists on an Instagram square, not one that's skewed through a million Tumblr reblogs. He's the real deal -- a standing queer identity that powered through years of social marginalization to be one hundred percent himself. Also, I'm really pleased with how this documentary dives into the human behind Jojo Baby; we see him comforting his three-legged rescue dog Venus and hugging passersby on the streets; we see his insecurities and his strengths. He's so much more than a painted face -- though his looks are incredible too. 
Stay tuned for more from this project.

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Will Rep. Ken Dunkin Face Wrath of Speaker Madigan?

Thu, 2015-11-12 10:15
UPDATE: State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, appeared Wednesday on WTTW-TV's "Chicago Tonight" and defended his decision to not cast votes on two Democrat-supported human services bills on Tuesday. Dunkin's non-vote meant both bills failed by a single vote.

Under questioning from host Carol Marin, Dunkin said he resents being portrayed as a traitor to his party and human services advocates. He said a compromise he worked out with Gov. Bruce Rauner made the bills unnecessary:

"What this compromise proved is that the governor is willing to work with us, and if I can penetrate the governor's stoic approach towards him reforming government and get him to fund child care at 85 percent-and at 100 percent next year, when we get our act together with a real budget-and to have him do an about-face with the determination of need, that's a gateway to a successful budget negotiation, pension negotiation, education negotiation. I should be, as members are, ecstatic that this governor is willing to work with us."

The video is above. The full story from "Chicago Tonight" is here.

Victory, defeat, betrayal... Depending on which side you're on, you may have experienced all or some of those feelings following Tuesday's action at the Capitol.

Gov. Bruce Rauner could claim victory after his authority to set eligibility requirements for state-subsidized child care and home health care services remained intact at day's end.

House Democrats and advocates for child care providers, the elderly and disabled suffered defeats when, by a single vote each, two bills aimed at limiting Rauner's power to restrict access to state-funded child care and home health care failed.

For them, the element of betrayal came in Chicago Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin's refusal to support those bills. For Dunkin, it was the second time in nine weeks that he earned the ire of his caucus by failing to cast the deciding vote on Democrat-supported bills -- all three of which were intended specifically to limit Rauner's power.

Democrats had been angry since July that Rauner lowered the maximum income for a working parent to qualify for state-funded child care from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent. They tried Sept. 2 to undo Rauner's changes, but Dunkin was the lone Democrat who didn't show up that day. On Monday, the administration announced it had raised the eligibility standard back to 162 percent of the poverty level. It also said it had dropped plans to raise the level of disability required to qualify for state-funded in-home assistance for the elderly and disabled.

Republicans said those moves made Tuesday's bills moot. Several Democrats, however, said in floor speeches that Rauner could not be trusted to not institute the cuts again. In this video, from Illinois Public Radio Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky, Dunkin tells a group of the bills' supporters at the Capitol that the governor's actions make them unnecessary. His audience does not seem receptive:

The full story is here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois House Democrats, Republicans still playing hardball, even when they agree

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As an Undocumented Immigrant, It's Easier to Get My MD-PhD Than a U.S. Visa

Thu, 2015-11-12 07:10
Two events were the highlight of my past summer. The first one was preparing to move to the Chicago area, where I would join the Loyola Stritch School of Medicine MD-PhD program. An MD-PhD program is a highly competitive seven-year program that upon completion grants both a medical degree and a doctorate degree. This event was the first step to fulfill my dream of being a physician and an opportunity to experience a world I had never known. Due to my undocumented immigrant status, I had never lived outside of the New Mexico-Mexico border area.

Elementary school graduation with my cousins, one year after my family settled in the United States (2000).

The second event this summer was a notification by the U.S. Department of State to submit paperwork to receive permanent residence in this country. Over 18 years ago, my uncle had submitted a family-sponsored visa application on behalf of my family. Because only a finite number of visas are granted each year, we were told it would take 10 to 12 years before receiving one. I would live through my childhood, teens, and college years waiting for this date, even after the expected date arrived without any notice. But the day was finally here, we would finally begin the process to be legal residents of this nation.

The celebration was short-lived. Upon speaking with an immigration lawyer, my sister and I were informed that we were no longer part of the family application. Had my sister and I been 22 or 23 years old, the lawyer could have made a case for us, but age 25 and 26 was out of the question. As per immigration guidelines, we were no longer part of our family. Despite standing "in line" since we were small children, the process had taken so long that it had disqualified us.

NMSU award ceremony with my family (Left to right: Myself, my youngest brother, my father, my brother, my mother, and my sister). My brothers are U.S. citizens, while my parents may soon obtain a U.S. visa from the application process our family began 18 years ago (2015).

We were told that in five years my U.S.-citizen brother could begin a new family-sponsored visa application for us, but it would take an additional 18 or 20 years until a visa could be issued. It will be the year 2040 and I will be 51 years old by then. Even if I were to become a physician in the future, this would not expedite being granted legal status in the United States. As extreme and personal as this story sounds, it is the norm of our immigration system.

Throughout the summer, I could not help but compare my acceptance into an MD-PhD program and my inability to obtain a U.S. visa. In 2014 there were over 731,000 applicants to U.S. medical schools. Of these, only 20,343 students were accepted. Due to the competitiveness of MD-PhD programs, this same year there were only 626 MD-PhD matriculants in the entire nation. I am one of the first undocumented immigrant students to have been accepted into an MD-PhD program.

Working in the laboratory where I received my Master's degree (2015).

There are inherent difficulties in being admitted to medical school as an undocumented immigrant student. Students face the challenge of not only lacking a legal immigration status, but many are also members of underrepresented minorities, first-generation college students, children from low income households, members from underserved communities, and may have had minimal access to work or financial aid opportunities during college. Despite these obstacles, undocumented immigrant students are currently enrolled in medical school programs throughout the nation. How can these students succeed when they have nearly a one-in-a-million chance of doing so?

It is because we are given that chance. No matter how small the prospect is, no matter how torturous the path, we have the opportunity to be considered alongside all the other 731,000 medical school applicants. The fundamental reason that I was accepted into an MD-PhD program is because I was given a chance. And yet at one point in my visa application process, the chance of obtaining legal residence became non-existent.

My story is not a unique story. This is the story of a person who wishes to be an asset to this nation. A person who has lived in this country for nearly 20 years without unlawful action. A person who attempted by all means available to obtain legal residence. And through all this, a person who still finds themselves undocumented now and for the foreseeable future. It is a story shared by millions of children, students, and trained professionals currently in the United States.

White coat ceremony at Stritch School of Medicine (2015).

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<i>A Town Called Brzostek</i> Among the Compelling Documentaries at the 27th Polish Film Festival in America

Wed, 2015-11-11 17:45

English professor and social anthropologist Jonathan Webber may not have known the full extent of his actions when he first felt compelled to rebuild a cemetery in the bucolic Polish town of Brzostek, where his grandfather was born. Webber's journey generated a ripple effect that may have lasting effects on his own life, but also on those of many other souls living in the here and now.

Webber's journey comes to life to winning ends in filmmaker Simon Target's captivating documentary A Town Called Brzostek, which premieres Saturday, Nov. 14 at Chicago's 27th Polish Film Festival in America. It's a must-see on a number of levels. For starters, it is hard not to lured in and deeply moved by the odyssey on which Webber embarks. The professor at the Institute of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland reveals plenty--that 85 percent of Jewish families around the world come from Poland, but that most of them still do not hold any real love for the country that gave them a home for centuries. Target allows Webber to uncover additional historic facts about Brzostek--other things the history books may have never documented well--and we witness Webber pull out a major surprise for the sea change he is attempting to create: He invites fellow Jews from across the world to visit Poland, in an effort to shift their perspectives about their ancestral home.

The documentary does wonders with its "talking heads"--dignitaries offering their perspectives. Target has assembled an alluring and at times engrossing crew here--Norman Davies (a British-Polish historian and renowned author), American and Polish journalist/Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Anne Applebaum, Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube, and Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich among them.

Other historic notables stand out: On Aug. 12, 1942, 260 Jewish people from Brzostek were gathered by the Nazis and marched into a nearby forest, only to be shot and killed in a mass grave in the Podzamcze Forest. The grave had been prepared the night prior.

Target, who wrote, produced and directed the doc, is best known for a series of television documentaries for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (King's School, Flight for Life, The Academy, Rough Justice). He takes a moment here to discuss A Town Called Brzostek and its noteworthy unfolding.

Greg Archer: Let's start with Jonathan Webber. How did your paths cross?

Simon Target: I met Jonathan for the first time when he came to lecture in Sydney, Australia. I had spent a lot of time photographing Poland for my wife Beata Zatorska's memoir of her Polish childhood, "Rose Petal Jam." I am not Jewish (or Polish) but I was surprised to photograph beautiful synagogues there, which had survived Communist destruction, and sometimes by being privately restored by local Poles. Jonathan's wife, Connie, bought Beata's book in London, and when they came to Sydney she contacted us wanting to meet up. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Polish-Jewish history. And when Jonathan told me of the inspiring events in Brzostek, I thought I just had to make a film about it.

Greg Archer: What inspired you most about his journey?

Simon Target: Jonathan knows more about the history of the Jews in Poland than anyone I have met. He was on the board of the Auschwitz Museum--the former Nazi concentration camp near Kraków--for 25 years. He is an orthodox Jew, and his strong interest in Polish/Jewish history made him give up an Oxford professorship to live and teach in Kraków. But he seems to be a minority voice among many Jewish academics--even his own family questions his position on Poland (some of them appear in the film). I believe iconoclasts, like him, who swim against the tide of popular opinion, at some personal cost, make very interesting subjects to film.

Greg Archer: Can you speak a little about the filmmaking process and what you wanted to convey?

Simon Target: I filmed Jonathan in Auschwitz in mid-winter and in Brzostek and Kraków in mid-summer. I went several times to Brzostek to interview the locals and traveled to New York, Paris and London to meet Jewish families connected to this unlikely place. I interviewed experts such as historians Ann Applebaum and Norman Davies, and Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich. It took a couple of years to gather all this material and another six months to edit it. In the end I thought the real stars of the film were the ordinary townsfolk of Brzostek. They somehow managed to distill this complex issue into something quite simple and touching.

Greg Archer: It's a remarkable work, and the facts are interesting--that 85 percent of Jewish families around the world come from Poland yet most have no bond with the homeland. Did you know this beforehand?

Simon Target: I did not know that Poland was once the center of the Jewish world, or that in the 1920s it had the largest population of Jews anywhere. As I traveled promoting books about Poland, I became aware of the anti-Polish feeling in the Jewish diaspora, which was puzzling and seemed to get stronger the further I went from Poland. Jonathan believes such negative feeling towards Poland is often based on particular Jewish folklore rather than historical fact. Sadly I think the obscenity of the Holocaust, that was mainly carried out in German-occupied Poland, has obliterated the memory of 800 prior years of successful Jewish life in Poland.

Greg Archer: Do you feel that with this film, and chronicling the work of Mr. Webber, that perhaps something can shift in regard to Jewish families looking at their homeland a bit differently?

Simon Target: Jewish audiences do enjoy my film, and are often moved by it. It helps that the message is coming from a devout man who lives publicly as a Jew in Poland today and can tell us exactly what that is like. The Jewish families I filmed returning to Poland all enjoyed the experience, and have been back since. I think traveling to Poland is the best cure for anti-Polish prejudice. Jews who, for example, visit not just Auschwitz, but also those beautiful baroque synagogues I photographed, in places like Tykocin, Zamość and Łancut, are more likely to understand the wealth of Jewish life here.

I have a Polish friend who guides Jewish tours of Poland, and says Jewish guests are often surprised by the kindness and warmth they receive, when traveling as a 'conspicuously Jewish' tour group. I think if you are a Jew who has been told all your life that Poles are anti-Semitic, you have to walk through the rynek of Kraków, Wrocław or Brzostek today, wearing your kippah or yarmulke, to realize the opposite is in fact the case.

Greg Archer: Poland is such a remarkable country with a fascinating history. Do you feel that in the past few years, there has been more attention ... or rather, more being revealed about the past--from Stalin's deportations to even the information offered in your documentary?

Simon Target; There was no open debate under the Communist occupiers, no history of Jewish life was taught in Polish schools (except the Holocaust, used as an example of the evils of Fascism). Since Poland became democratic in 1990 it has had to catch up rapidly with the West when it comes to trying to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, and the sudden removal of Polish Jewish life. But it is crucial that we study this history with balance and accuracy. It saddens me that some academics spend more time today poring over the details of reprehensible but rare Polish attacks against Jews, such as what occurred in Kielce and Jedwabne, rather than the much more common Polish efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis, at great personal risk, or the work of Żegota, the Polish council set up to aid Jews during the war. I believe such a jaundiced view of history does no person any good, and creates an inaccurate account of relations between Poles and Jews, before and after World War II.

Greg Archer: What was most interesting thing about filming this?

Simon Target: It was exciting to discover such interest in Jewish life in Poland today. I met older people who still remember Jewish friends and neighbors who left for Israel after the war. There are young Poles fascinated by the Polish/Jewish history that was hidden from their parents. Polish language and cooking is full of Yiddish influence. There is genuine interest in Jewish history in Poland today--you won't find this in Belgium or France, for example. The response to this film in Poland has been very warm, winning prizes and special screenings everywhere from Oświęcim to Białystok.

Greg Archer: What do you feel audiences will be left with after the film?

Simon Target: What most impressed me was the way the local people in Brzostek turned out to celebrate Jonathan Webber's Jewish cemetery restoration. These were not public officials or politicians with a barrow to push, but ordinary Polish folk who chose to spend their Sunday showing quiet respect towards their lost Jewish neighbors. In some ways, they were a model to the world on how to deal with all this. As the film shows, in Brzostek the Jewish and Catholic children once studied in school together and played in each others' houses and gardens. I believe that is the way it should be. We have enough hostilities in the world. It is time to tell this history accurately and fairly so an ancient brotherhood can be restored, and Polish and Jewish kids can form close friendships again, wherever they live in the world, even if just on Facebook.

Learn more about the film, which screens at 7pm, Saturday, Nov. 14, here. For more information of the 27th Polish Film Festival in America, click here.

Filmmaker Simon Target

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When Pastors Become Janitors: Tyshawn Lee and Beyond

Wed, 2015-11-11 16:00
Tyshawn Lee's funeral was this past Tuesday. He was nine years old, and gunned down on the Southside of Chicago on November 2, execution-style, allegedly by his father's rival gang. Depending on your news source, some say his death was not random, but he was lured into the alley as retaliation for the "sins of the father."

Others have said it wasn't a rival gang but the same gang -- which, let's not get into it here -- but it happens a lot. (To their credit, the founding members of both the Gangster Disciples and the Black P Stone Nation -- now in prison -- have vocally condemned this tragedy). Or some that maybe Tyshawn was a gang member himself, operating as a lookout, and died in the line of duty. Is nine too young? Not in Chicago.

The latest rumor: his mother, who crowdsourced Tyshawn's funeral, is being accused by some of actually using the money to buy a new Chrysler 200. In darker portions of the web you'll hear the word "set-up." I can't even take my mind to that place.

(Image courtesy: Shaquela Moving Forward Moore)

Poor kid. You read that and look at his picture and are thinking exactly what I'm thinking: what a mess. No arrests. A reward that has now gone up to $50,000, and no one, father included, that will cooperate with the police. This is going to end how the rest of the murders in this city do -- with more people dying.

It didn't used to be that way. In a mess like this you used to be able to call a pastor, who could then call the two local gang leaders ("chiefs"), bring them together, and organize a truce. The pastor could do this because the church was intimately woven into the fabric of a community. (anecdotally: the church where I pastor -- in Chicago -- once had a gun safe in the pastor's office, because the Black Stones used to throw parties there). The church could get gangs to organize peacefully, to advocate for jobs, and vice versa. It used to be that a church gave off the radiance of the sacred, so that even the blocks around the church were safe space, the church itself a sanctuary.

And now? Families only call the church for the funeral.

This is an absolute mess of cultural and systemic proportions -- a mess churches and gangs used to be able to work together and prevent. Now, an institution that used to sit as a community's anchor is part of the cleanup crew.

That's right: Pastors have become Janitors.

Tyshawn was killed just a few blocks from the Faith Community of St. Sabina, pastored by Father Michael Pfleger. The funeral was also held there, and to his credit, Pfleger has been a voice of support for the family and community. For all of St. Sabina's presence now though, ask yourself: In what part of the process did the Church take over? The end. Cleanup.

By no means is that meant to disrespect: care for the grieving and speaking a word of peace in a tense and violent city is what Church is supposed to do. We're equipped to provide triage and ointment in bruised and broken situations. I'm not disappointed that we are invited to cleanup; I'm lamenting that we're not invited to prevent. In many ways, our communities, our cities, and our nation doesn't view pastors as partners; we are janitors. When everyone else is done with it, we get to pick it up.

This past summer, the family of slain-Chicago-rapper "Capo" called me to preside over the funeral and burial. The seduction to hubris -- I mean, of all the other pastors they could have called, they chose me -- should instead become a question: "Why, of all the pastors in your community, are you calling me?" I'm honored, of course, but that family would have to pass 250 churches to get to mine. I'm not happy for myself: I'm sad for what "church" has become to so many people. Humility comes quick when you realize how much people are NOT calling you.

Move away from Chicago and into your own community for a second: are the majority of the calls for a pastor to help build, or to help fix? Are you showing up for community planning meetings, or presiding only at vigils? (Let's be honest: Are we even getting the calls for the vigils?) Where do you think the church's presence is most important -- beginnings, durings, or funerals?

(Some of you bright bulbs know the answer is "all of the above.")

Churches, especially in areas that show signs of urban decay, are quick to point out the decay. But sermons-turned-tirades about what's going on around the corner illustrate the concern perfectly: we have much to say AFTER, and have lost our voice DURING.

When I was a kid, you only called the janitor when someone threw up and nobody wanted to touch it. Takes courage to be a janitor. Takes a nose for crap. But be clear: the janitor was not part of the normal functioning of the school. Like, if everything goes according to plan, Groundskeeper Willie never gets a call. What happens during tragedy should not be our concern: we should be at the table when the community is being formed. The absence of religious institutions at any table of ongoing civic engagement should be perceived as a missed opportunity. Pastors should ask themselves where they are, where they aren't, and why our presence appears to be totally superfluous... until society vomits. I want to be there when its stomach is rumbling. No: I want to feed.

There will be shootings, and strikes, and arrests to be made...

... and there will be strategy meetings, and interest groups, and public forums.

Strive to be at both.

In Chicago, there are many pastors that want to help "clean up the violence problem." I'm pretty sure this isn't what we mean.

Be a janitor AND a principal.

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"Mercy Strained" Displays the Vulnerability Gene

Wed, 2015-11-11 13:39

Actor Michael Milligan calls it the invulnerability gene. That belief that health insurance isn't a big deal. That illness is "somebody elses's problem."

But a series of events cracked Milligan's heart open. Among them, during a gap in health insurance, he suffered from an undiagnosed kidney stone. Accessing what he calls the medical concierge for every American, Web MD, he diagnosed himself as suffering from kidney failure. Running the cost/benefit analysis, he decided he couldn't take on the financial burden of a true medical emergency. Luckily he passed the stone and did not have kidney failure but the fear and anxiety changed his life and he felt he had to write about it.

Milligan, who will play lago in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's February 2016 production of Othello, has written a one act play called Mercy Strained that tells the story of Joe, a hard-working American, one of us, and what happens to him and his wife when they face a medical emergency under the current health insurance system. He's been performing Mercy Strained around the United States in support of Single-Payer Health Care and you have an opportunity to see it Nov 14 in Logan Square at 8:00pm at Mooh Dulce, 2602 West Fullerton.

Here's a clip of Mercy Strained (also known as Mercy Killers. And an interview with Milligan on The Real News about the play.

My confession. I actually didn't understand what Single Payer Health Care meant until I spoke with Anne Scheetz, an MD who has taken on the job of being full time organizer for the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition.

She said to think of Single Payer Health Care as Medicare expanded and improved. As a self-employed, single person who makes a living in writerly ways with often modest pay, I've been happy that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides some relief from premiums that kept climbing no matter how hard I work at making money and being healthy. But increasingly, I'm seeing the ways that the ACA does not go far enough. Many of the deductibles are high and if you have to have any medical tests at all you can find yourself going into debt quickly.

Scheetz, who chairs the ISPC Legislative Committee and is active in Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Illinois Chapter, found her way into single payer care when she saw most of her disabled patients could not afford the care they needed.

Sometimes complex topics like health care feel abstract and business-based. I've long said that the United States doesn't have a health care system. It has a health insurance industry. This play dramatically shows the truth of that. Scheetz and single payer advocates says "Health care is a human right." Milligan's Mercy Strained dramatically makes the case with power and grace.

RSVP to reserve a seat strongly recommended.

Doors open 6:30 pm. Come early and enjoy a taste of Latin and Asian food prepared by the Chicago-based catering co-op Spice and Rice, available for sale before the show.

The performance is a benefit for ISPC. Priced by donation.

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Study Shows Chicago Needs to Do More for Veterans

Wed, 2015-11-11 10:52
In honor of the nation's veterans, WalletHub conducted an analysis to determine the best and worst cities for veterans to call home.

As the study points out, benefits such as financial assistance, support for education and health care, although helpful, are becoming increasingly inadequate for veterans. Nearly 422,000 of the 21.1 million veterans living in the U.S. are unemployed. Many of the unemployed are disabled because of combat-related injuries. Thousands more are seriously in need of mental health care at a time when the prevalence of post traumatic stress disorder and suicide rates among combat veterans have reached staggering levels.

To determine which of the 100 most populated cities are the best and worst for veterans to live in, WalletHub assessed 18 key metrics ranging from the percentage of military skilled-related jobs and the veteran unemployment rate, to the availability of VA health facilities and educational opportunities.

Here's how Chicago ranked overall, as well as its individual ranks for "economic wellness" and "environment, education and health."

Let's just say Chicago has a lot of room to improve.

NEXT ARTICLE: Veterans Day Quotes: Honoring all who have served

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Growing Chicago's Economy One Small Business At A Time

Tue, 2015-11-10 15:21
Chicago may be known as the City of Big Shoulders, but we are really a city of small businesses. These growing enterprises are the economic backbone of Chicago. They provide jobs for our residents and serve as a critical building block for stronger neighborhoods. So one of the best ways that we can support job creation and encourage economic growth in Chicago is by giving our small businesses the tools they need to succeed.

One of the ways that we are empowering small businesses in Chicago is through a partnership between Harold Washington College and Goldman Sachs that gives entrepreneurs access to the 10,000 Small Businesses program. Harold Washington College has a focus on business, entrepreneurship and professional services; thanks to this program, small-business owners enrolled at the college are receiving advice that is normally reserved for the Fortune 500 companies. I had the opportunity to meet with several graduates from the 10,000 Small Businesses program as we celebrated the Chicago alumni recently; seeing the impact it's had on those entrepreneurs, I am so proud that this program has come to Chicago and even prouder of the progress that it is making.

A recent report from Babson College found that more than 70 percent of the Chicago small-business owners who graduated from this program have increased their revenue, and 50 percent have created new jobs. Both of those rates outpace what you see in the broader economy. But more important than the statistics are the success stories that come from each class. John Griffin Jr., who owns an investigative services company in our Chatham neighborhood on the South Side, graduated from the first class. His company has seen tremendous growth, and John recently received the Illinois Small Business Person of the Year Award for 2015. Laurie Kohl, who graduated from the program in 2013, was also recognized for her success at another awards ceremony held just this month. Laurie leads a company that makes software to help building owners and property managers comply with regulations for elevators and other mechanical devices. She has recently increased her workforce by 86 percent and her revenue by more than 250 percent.

I know that there are many more success stories waiting to be written about courageous entrepreneurs who are pursuing their dreams in neighborhoods throughout our city. That is why the 10,000 Small Businesses program is only one piece of our larger strategy to level the playing field for our small businesses and to make City Hall a partner in their success. Over the past four years, city officials have made a host of reforms to remove bureaucratic barriers to businesses' success, so they can focus on customers rather than City Hall. This includes everything from eliminating the per employee head tax, to consolidating business licenses, to making our small-business department entirely paperless by the end of 2016. We also created a microlending program to provide financing to entrepreneurs who need loans that are beyond the reach of their credit cards, but not enough for a bank to be interested. Recently we also announced our new Small Business Council, tasked with developing even more reforms going forward. It will help small businesses address challenges they face, from further reducing red tape to increasing their access to capital.

There is a lot more work to do and many more Chicago entrepreneurs who are ready to succeed. Our challenge as a city is to continue thinking of ways that we can support them, because by helping more small businesses grow, in turn we will help more neighborhoods succeed all throughout the City of Chicago.

Chicago is just one of the cities where the 10,000 Small Businesses program has been a success. Visit for more information on how the program can help you grow your business.

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