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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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Are Bipartisan Deals on Child Care, Unemployment a Silver Lining in Illinois Budget Impasse?

Tue, 2015-11-10 13:36
When New Year's Day arrives and news outlets are writing those "Year in Review" stories for 2015, Nov. 9 might earn special recognition as the beginning of the end of the state budget impasse.

On that day, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced a pair of agreements forged with Democratic support and a third action halting a move that was bound to stir another round of fighting in Springfield.

Whether this is just a momentary warm front passing through the Capitol or a seasonal shift remains to be seen, but it's as encouraging a sign of cross-aisle cooperation as we've seen in state government this year. Thus, we choose to err on the side of optimism, if only for a day.

In short, Rauner:

  • Announced a deal with Democrats to undo most of his tightening of eligibility requirements for low-income, working parents to qualify for state child-care subsidies

  • Announced a bipartisan reform of the Illinois unemployment insurance system that won the blessing of business and labor groups

  • Canceled his plan to tighten requirements for home health care services for the elderly and disabled

The first item was shaping up as the next major front in the budget battle between Rauner and the Democrats who control the General Assembly. The Child Care Assistance Program exists to help working parents pay for child care so they can keep working. Before July, families with income of 185 percent of the federal poverty level qualified for assistance.

When Fiscal Year 2016 arrived July 1 with Rauner and Democrats deadlocked over a state budget, Rauner changed the eligibility standard to 50 percent of the federal poverty rate. A parent with one child and earning more than $665 a month no longer qualified. Democrats came one House vote short of passing a bill, Senate Bill 570, to restore the original standards on Sept. 2 and planned to try again Nov. 10. (Senate Democrats had passed the bill 37-7 on Aug. 5.)

Just as the House was preparing to try again to undo Rauner's changes, the governor announced a deal that comes close to doing the same. From the governor's office the morning of Nov. 9...

For the rest of this article as well as some insights on what this could mean for the state of state government in Illinois, click here.

NEXT ARTICLE: How have income eligibility requirements for the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program changed in 2015?

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Cop Ripoff of Youth League Only Tip of the Iceberg

Tue, 2015-11-10 12:11
I wonder how many youth league sports treasurers are shaking in their boots after hearing about the Chicago cop stealing thousands of dollars from their organization's coffers. Of course, most youth league treasurers are upstanding, honest people. But if you look at all the incidents that our organization hears about on a weekly basis, I'm guessing that there are some pretty nervous local youth league treasurers around the country.

Just look at the headlines of the following stories of people caught stealing from youth leagues and you'll see what I mean. I'm sure all of these people thought they'd never get caught:

How does all this happen? I'll make it quite simple by putting it this way. Let's say your child is signed up to play on a youth baseball team and they need coaches. You agree to coach because you want your kid to play. Not long after, the board members of this non-profit association say they need someone to volunteer to be the treasurer of the group. For some crazy reason, you raise your hand and now you're the group's treasurer.

The reason no one else wants to volunteer is that they all have busy jobs and the board is just happy to have anyone show up for a monthly meeting. Having someone handle the books is a job nobody wants, so whoever volunteers is a godsend.

The only thing the members of the board care about is that their kid plays. Therein lies the open invitation to say to yourself after a few months on the job, "Well, no one is even looking at how much money we take in; I'll just take a few bucks from the till. After all, I'm volunteering for this thankless job so I deserve a few bucks as compensation, right?"

Then after a little longer on the "job" the treasurer gets a little bolder and he thinks about that nice vacation he and his wife could take. After all, he thinks to himself, "This job is harder than I thought and they've got plenty of money in the pot so I'll just take a few more bucks. They'll never miss it."

Or, well-meaning individuals hit a rough patch in their life and make bad decisions. Those who suffer a job loss and encounter unexpected financial strain have easy access to large sums of money and begin altering the book's numbers while draining the program of thousands of dollars.

Starting to get the picture of how all the above stories happened?

For years the National Alliance for Youth Sports has urged organizations to pay close attention to how they manage their books and monitor their league finances. Our National Youth Sports Administrators Association online program even features an entire segment devoted to this issue, which includes incredible insight from a leading expert on how to prevent embezzlement - and the embarrassment that accompanies these cases when the community finds out that thousands of dollars were swiped from the league without anyone knowing it.

The bottom line is that it's sad that these kinds of things happen in youth leagues across America. Along with too many parents acting like fools, coaches berating kids for the simplest of mistakes and now even kids attacking game officials, it's time to say "enough is enough."

After all, almost all of these incidents happen on local ball fields and courts paid for by you, the taxpayer.

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Fast-Food Strikes And Protests To Hit Hundreds Of Cities

Tue, 2015-11-10 07:08

Letasha Irby works at a factory in Selma, Alabama, that produces car seats and headrests for Hyundai cars. It’s just the sort of manufacturing job that Americans historically associate with solid, middle-class wages. Yet Irby says she earns only $12 per hour after a decade of service at her plant.

On Tuesday, Irby plans on driving to Tuscaloosa after she finishes her shift at the factory. She’ll be joining a protest alongside people who, on the surface, wouldn’t seem to be in the same economic class as herself: fast-food workers from chains like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut.

“I have a whole lot in common with them,” said Irby, a 37-year-old Alabama native and mother of two. “Whether it’s fast food, retail, child care … we’re all being underpaid for our services.”

Irby says she wants to be part of the next phase of the Fight for 15, the labor union-backed campaign that has shamed low-wage employers and helped spur minimum wage hikes around the country. The campaign launched three years ago this month with a walkout by restaurant workers in New York City. It has since spread to cities around the country and to industries well beyond fast food.

Spokespeople for the campaign say it plans to launch one-day worker strikes in 270 cities on Tuesday, its largest demonstration yet. In the past, many of these worker walkouts have been negligible -- single digits in small towns, made visible only with the help of community activists. But others, in cities such as New York and Chicago, have been significant enough to disrupt service or even temporarily shut down restaurants, forcing major chains to publicly address the issue of poverty wages.

The Fight for 15 is funded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.5 million workers mostly in the service sector. Three years in, it is still no clearer where exactly the campaign is headed, or how it plans to become a sustainable model for labor activism. For all its success in embarrassing low-wage employers and raising local wage floors, the campaign and its strikes have not led to more dues-paying union members to financially support the cause. Meanwhile, SEIU has poured millions of dollars into the effort.

Yet while its endgame remains murky, the campaign’s next step is clear. By scheduling the next strike a year to the day from the 2016 elections, organizers hope to show the national political clout of low-wage workers. Activists will be turning out at state capitols around the country, demanding that lawmakers accept the effort’s core demands -- a $15 minimum wage and union recognition. Workers employed in low-wage contract jobs at the U.S. Capitol will take part in a protest with sympathetic lawmakers in Washington. Organizers say the day will culminate with a protest outside the GOP presidential debate Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

In a statement, the Fight for 15 described workers paid less than $15 an hour as “a voting bloc that can no longer be ignored.”

Until now, the campaign has focused primarily on industries where SEIU has been organizing workers -- fast food, child care and home care. But now, as seen with Irby, workers affiliated with other unions will be taking part in the Fight for 15 demonstrations. Irby is a supporter of the United Auto Workers, who have been trying to organize her plant in Selma and have so far not succeeded. The UAW did not respond to an interview request.

Angela Simler works at a T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kansas. She supports a campaign by the Communications Workers of America to unionize her T-Mobile facility. Simler said she earns $12.43 per hour. As the mother of a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, she said her wages don’t cut it, and every month presents wrenching decisions over which bills to pay and which to set aside.

“Whether it’s fast food, Walmart, child care, T-Mobile, all these people are paid too little to support their families,” said Simler, 33. “The wages have remained stagnant for too long.”

Although T-Mobile workers will not be taking part in any strikes, CWA said it plans to hold a Fight for 15 barbecue outside of Simler’s call center on Tuesday, where it hopes to talk to employees about the union. CWA has been wrapped up in a legal battle with T-Mobile for years, accusing the company of unfair labor practices stemming from its organizing efforts. T-Mobile could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

“This is the first time, at least in Wichita, that we’re working with the Fight for 15 campaign,” said Joshua Coleman, a union organizer with CWA. “It does resonate with these workers.”

Broadening its base with new workers like Simler has been key to the Fight for 15 campaign’s success. The one-day strikes and protests have no doubt helped usher in new minimum wage hikes in cities and states from coast to coast, and ones as high as $15 an hour in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Labor officials in New York announced that they would set a $15 wage floor for the entire fast-food industry in the state, a regulatory maneuver that will eventually raise pay for hundreds of thousands of workers there.

Simler said she found such successes inspiring for her own cause.

“The fight for $15 and a union, that’s for everyone now," Simler said. "That’s to raise standards all across the board."

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Spike Lee Addresses 'Chiraq' Trailer Criticism Head On

Mon, 2015-11-09 13:52

CHILDREN ARE OFF LIMITS from 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks on Vimeo.

Last week Spike Lee faced additional criticism surrounding the Dec. 4 release of his film, “Chi-Raq.” Since the trailer’s release Tuesday critics have slammed the film for taking a comedic approach to addressing Chicago’s gun violence problems, while others have stated that Lee “owes” the city an apology.

Now, the filmmaker has responded to critics by clarifying the film’s context and introducing a new clip.

“The trailer was released and there’s various humorous moments in the trailer. Some people are getting it twisted, and thinking this is a comedy. 'Chi-Raq' is not a comedy. 'Chi-Raq' is a satire,” he said in a clip posted on his 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks Vimeo channel. “There’s a difference between humor and comedy. In no way, shape or form are we not respectful of the situation that’s happening in 'Chi-Raq'. In no way, shape or form are we making light of the lives that have been murdered in this senseless violence. People, don’t get it twisted. This film is about serious business.”

Lee added that some other films, which he didn't name, have taken a satirical approach while highlighting serious topics.

“There are many films that we can look in the history of American cinema that treated very serious subject matter and had humor in them,” he said. “There’s an old statement; ‘I gotta laugh to keep from crying,’ well I think that’s apropos with 'Chi-Raq'. Don’t get it twisted.”

Check out more of Spike Lee’s thoughts in the clip above.

Also on HuffPost:

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Top 10 Counties in Illinois With the Most Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Deer

Mon, 2015-11-09 12:35
As the amount of daylight decreases over the next couple of months, the state is reminding drivers to pay close attention to the road and to be on lookout for deer.

Nearly half of all deer-vehicle crashes occur in October, November and December, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. And 80 percent of all accidents happen on rural roads during twilight or at night.

In 2014, both the number of crashes involving deer (15,356) and accidents resulting in property damage (14,847) increased slightly from 2013. Fortunately, fewer Illinoisans were killed and injured over the year, with fatalities falling from six to four and injuries from 617 to 570.

Here are the 10 counties with the most deer-vehicle accidents in 2014, including the total number and rate of crashes:

10. Jackson

  • Crashes: 288

  • Rate: 596.5

  • Pop: 59,814

9. Rock Island

  • Crashes: 290

  • Rate: 235.1

  • Pop: 147,258

8. Kane

  • Crashes: 319

  • Rate: 83.4

  • Pop: 523,643

7. Lake

  • Crashes: 324

  • Rate: 56.1

  • Pop: 703,019

6. Peoria

  • Crashes: 340

  • Rate: 201.1

  • Pop: 186,494

You can see the five counties in Illinois that had the most car crashes involving deer at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Rauner announces changes to Illinois Child Care Assistance Program eligibility rules

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Noted Evanston High Class to Hold 50th Reunion

Sun, 2015-11-08 10:57
The Class of 1966 at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois (E.T.H.S.) will be holding its 50th reunion next September 9-10. Yes, many high schools across the nation hold such reunions, even more than 50 years, but the members of this particular class will be more than reliving fond memories collected from a four-year stint of high school-age years, recalling exciting athletic teams earn victories and being awarded trophies, remembering performances on the stage of plays and musicals like the "Yamo" productions, attending AP classes, and forming friendships and becoming neighbors in the communities that funneled students to E.T.H.S. We were nerds, jocks, geeks, performers, of the "cool" crowd, and any other description one could think of to describe a class of high schoolers with raging hormones.

I am among those students.

The mid-1960s were turbulent times in the nation, recall the passage into law of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, voting rights legislation, and a momentous social program called Medicare, as if in microcosm of end products of those times; of course, who of our generation can forget the Viet Nam War conflict, the Beatles and other "mop-top" groups across the pond, and what those happenings did to our collective thinking and social consciousness as high school students.

But this class of 1966 (over 1,000 when senior year began) was to produce leaders in various disciplines unbeknownst to us as students at the time. Just by way of example only, there is Oliver Ruff who became one of the most outstanding educators and civic leaders in the Evanston community. Or, what about Roger Keats, later to be a stalwart of Illinois Republican politics, including as a leader in the Illinois State Senate for years; Charles Johnson, distinguished Professor of English (now Emeritus), author, playwright, screenwriter, National Book Award winner, and recipient of various literary awards, including an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Cleopatra Bugelas Alexander, leader in the Chicago area not-for-profit world and a member of distinguished philanthropic boards, like the Albert Pick Jr. Fund, Nat'l. Museum of Mexican Art, and the Women's Board of Chicago's Art Institute; or Mike Rogodzinski who played professional baseball in the "show" for the Philadelphia Phillies after a stellar baseball career at So. Illinois University. There were scores more from the class that distinguished themselves by their careers, professions, achievements and everyday contributions, too numerous to mention in this article. The class also was known---perhaps more importantly---for its diversity and how individuals from all walks of life (described in the opening paragraph) intertwined and connected in a harmonious fashion that produced results and became the bedrock for their leadership in the community, our state, and, yes, even nationwide, in the years to come. We served our country proudly in time of an unpopular war, though some among us never returned. There are also others who are no longer with us either, or who were not as successful in arriving at goals once thought worthy of achieving; death and misfortune visited us all in various ways...unfortunately. Concomitantly, there are scores and scores more that made an impact on their surroundings, partnered up with loved ones and significant others, had families, bore children, and then have been graced with grandchildren in recent years. These life events are, to be sure, as much of a treasured "award" as others of paper, plastic and metal resulting from being recognized by peer groups and organizations.

Yet, there is more to a reunion than to tick off or recall names of classmates that graduated with us or to say, "I knew him (her) when we were in high school". A reunion of so many years as 50 allows us to return to our roots, to a time where life's weathering of our lives and experiences (good and not so good) over the succeeding next 50 years had yet to take place. True, four years in high school of studying, putting up with peer pressure and teachers we thought were unfair or too tough, worrying about the score we would receive on the ACT or SAT tests, trying to get into college or a university of our choice or seeking out satisfactory employment as an alternative, and plain old grades was not all pleasurable. But an opportunity to return to our scholastic home when we were 14-17 year-olds or so allows each one of us to reacquaint with one another with whom we have lost touch for so many years, and to rekindle those relationships as if a delicious food we always enjoyed but can't find anymore. Just ask the members of the committee that are planning the reunion when they get together. It is always worthwhile accepting an invitation to meet and greet a past unencumbered by what life would subsequently bring each one of us; the 50th high school reunion for this class of 1966 will be doing precisely that.

The goal here is not to showcase our reunion in a "one and done" writing, but to add and supplement it in the weeks and months ahead. After all, this particular class is a distinguished one with more than this writer's words to be heard. To reiterate, all of you that are members of the E.T.H.S. class of 1966, keep open the weekend of September 9-10, 2016. Though other activities will be planned and an announcement about them forthcoming in the months ahead, the reunion dinner will be held on Saturday evening, September 10, at the Double Tree Hotel, Golf Rd. and Skokie Blvd. in Skokie, Illinois. For further information, contact either Joel Kurasch at or Charlotte Murphy at, See you all then!

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Illinois Now Worse State for Affordable Childcare

Fri, 2015-11-06 16:09
If you've seen the news or have read the headlines, you know Illinois is in a state of crisis right now.

The fact that Illinois still does not have a state budget, forces many women and girls, particularly working mothers, to make difficult decisions on how to keep themselves safe, care for their families and make a living. Moreover, Governor Rauner recently and unilaterally cut the Child Care Assistance Program in Illinois, meaning that a single mom of two children entering the workforce can only access child care assistance in Illinois if she makes less than $838 per month. It's not surprising that The National Women's Law Center ranked our state as worst in the nation for access to quality, affordable child care.

As a growing list of organizations have either lost funding or stopped accepting new clients, families are acutely experiencing the effects of governmental inaction. CFW recently learned about a young mother without family support who was struggling to find a childcare plan for her newborn before she could go back to work. Due to lack of assistance, she had to quit her job to care for her child, and now we can only imagine that she and her daughter will need far more than child care assistance from the government.

This is not an isolated case. There are thousands more like it, where women are forced to return to their abuser because they've lost child care assistance. Or, where recent graduates of a job training program are being forced to repeatedly turn down new offers of employment to stay home with their children.

Elected officials including the Governor must do their job. Illinois must pass a state budget that includes adequate revenue to fund the Child Care Assistance Program so mothers can get back to work. We cannot hold vulnerable families who are trying to work and make a decent life for their loved ones, hostage.

To learn more, visit Voices for Illinois Children. If you have been impacted by the state budget impasse or know someone who has, share your stories via social media and tag Chicago Foundation for Women via Facebook or Twitter.

Join the Chicago City Council's Committee on Education and Child Development on November 9 for a hearing on the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). The committee will hear testimony from providers, parents, and advocates on Alderman Will Burns' resolution, which calls for Governor Rauner and the General Assembly to prioritize CCAP and reverse the new rules that are keeping 90% of new applicants from being eligible for the program. November 9th, 2015 - 11:00am; City Council Chambers; 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, IL 60602

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Rauner's Money, Looming March Primary Will Make Illinois Budget Vote Especially Complicated

Fri, 2015-11-06 12:04
We're within three weeks of candidate filings for the March 2016 primary.

By January, all legislative candidates should know whether they'll have a challenger in the primary, which means a lot of lawmakers will find out if they're "safe" for the November general election.

This is important, because passing a long-overdue state budget will mean voting to raise taxes, and no lawmaker in a tight reelection or primary race wants to go on record raising taxes right before an election.

With Gov. Bruce Rauner dispensing limitless sums to support Republican candidates, Democrats are especially wary.

As of today, Rauner's campaign fund contains $19.6 million. That's more than six times the amount now held in Democratic Party campaign funds controlled by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton combined. This will shift the landscape drastically for the 2016 primary and general elections.

After years of lagging behind their Democratic counterparts for campaign resources, Republicans next year can turn the tables thanks to Rauner's presence.

In addition, the Turnaround Illinois Super PAC can support Republican candidates independently and another Super PAC, IllinoisGO, bills itself as existing to "encourage Democrats to be leaders in addressing the massive financial challenges facing Illinois and cities across the state."

There's no limit on how much Super PACs can spend on their causes but they can't coordinate their activities or spending with candidates.

And while Illinois campaign finance laws allow candidates to give only up to $53,900 from their campaign funds to other candidates, there is no limit on how much they can transfer to a political party campaign fund and there's no limit on how much political party funds can give to candidates in general elections.

We're talking money, elections and the politics of the state budget on this week's "Only in Illinois."

The full video is here.

NEXT ARTICLE: No political committee comes even close to Bruce Rauner's for cash on hand

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What Oprah Considers To Be Her Worst Hairdo Of The Last 30 Years

Fri, 2015-11-06 11:54

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Oprah Winfrey will be the first to admit that throughout her 25 years of hairstyles from "The Oprah Winfrey Show," not all of them were stunners. At the time, however, she and her hairstylist, Andre Walker, were pretty confident in each distinct look. The two were often on the same page when it came to Oprah's 'dos, and their professional relationship over the years transformed into a longtime friendship as well. They've now known each other for more than three decades, and as Oprah tells "Oprah: Where Are They Now?", it all began with one little letter Andre sent her back in 1985.

Back then -- in the pre-"Oprah Show" days -- Oprah was hosting a morning show called "A.M. Chicago." Andre was a loyal viewer of the program, but couldn't help but be distracted by some of Oprah's hairstyles.

"I used to watch you every morning, and I really was enjoying the show and enjoying you," Andre tells Oprah. "But your hair was great one day, and one day, it was not so great. So I thought, 'I wonder what's going on.'"

So, Andre decided to reach out. He sent Oprah a bouquet of flowers and a note that read in part, "I'm dying to get my hands on your hair." Andre had hoped to get a response, but he had never envisioned that little note having such a life-changing impact.

"I had no idea we'd be sitting here 30 years later," he says.

It's been 30 years of good hair, great hair and hairy situations, which both Andre and Oprah can look back on and laugh. Though Andre is now moving on to launch his own haircare line, he and Oprah took the time to reminisce about some of her less-than-stellar "Oprah Show" looks -- including the one she has never let Andre live down.


Many "Oprah Show" fans might assume Oprah's least favorite look was her big over-teased look from when she interviewed Elizabeth Taylor in 1988, but Oprah shrugs off that style as simply being in line with the era. Instead, her all-time worst look, she says, was her short, teased bob from just a few years later.

"I hated that hairdo," Oprah says, looking back.

"I just had to do a bob on you because it was such a trendy thing to do," Andre explains. "Not knowing that it wouldn't be very flattering."

Perhaps, Oprah reasons, the bulky fashion she wore at the time has become a part of her disdain. "You know what? The bob with the shoulder pads out to here... Maybe if the shoulder pads were in about three inches, it wouldn't be so bad," she laughs.

"You have never let me live that haircut down," Andre says.

"In 30 years to get one bad hairdo is not bad!" Oprah tells him.

To check out more of Oprah's memorable looks, watch her 25-year hair revolution in just two minutes:

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The Promising Progression of Children's Television

Fri, 2015-11-06 11:13
I find myself looking forward to children's television shows more than adult television shows, especially cartoons. I acknowledge that I can have the attention span of a squirrel, but there is something more to children's television shows than sunshine and rainbows lately -- there is humanity. Cartoon shows such as Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time, as well as Cartoon Network's Regular Show or Disney's Gravity Falls, have childish tones, such as silly characters and goofy adventures, but the morals are anything but childish. For example, Adventure Time's characters have real depth; the main wizard character has Alzheimer's and cannot remember his lost love. From grief counseling to unrequited love, these shows provide a unique perspective of the human condition, if humans lived in Candy Land and used magic as they do in Adventure Time.

These are also not the first children's cartoons to reflect on humanity. In the 1990s, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network frequently released cartoons that were bizarre and confronted controversial issues. Remember Hey Arnold!? Or even Static Shock? Static Shock dove into the dark pit of racism and other issues that affect young children, such as bullying. In one episode, the protagonist Static Shock spends the night at a fellow student's house. There, he is confronted with unmitigated racism from the student's father, to the point where he feels so uncomfortable that he needs to leave. Static Shock is only a young, confused teenage boy. Hey Arnold! also delved into psychological issues that plague young children today. One of the main characters, a young girl Helga, is haunted by her feelings toward her neglectful parents. So much so, that she is a bully to the only boy in class that she likes. There was even an episode where a school psychologist asks Helga to come in for a session, and the whole episode revolves around why Helga behaves the way she does. The episode ends with Helga leaving the session feeling more positive and friendly. She is even nice to a student she normally punches in the face.

Why are children's television shows moving away from blissful ignorance to becoming more aware of the strife that children, and even adults, may experience in daily life? For example, Leave It To Beaver or The Brady Bunch solved difficult issues such as bullying with family songs and a laugh track. There was no in depth analysis of the bully, and no one was sent to a therapist. In most children's television shows today, there is a newfound focus on understanding human behavior. Why? Is it to help parents be more aware of these issues that affect their children? No, these shows aren't designed for the parents, however many parents do watch children's television. I believe it is a movement toward understanding that child behavior and adult behavior are very much interconnected, and most behavioral problems adults experience, children experience as well. Divorce, financial strife, or mental illness, to name a few, are experiences children live through and may feel confused about because the adults around them are having difficulty coping with these issues as well. Children's television shows broach adult topics because some children are thrown into the adult world too soon without the parent's complete knowledge of how deeply the child is affected by these troublesome issues. These shows help children realize that they are not alone with experiencing hurt or pain, and that certain odd behaviors are understandable when one is placed between a rock and a hard place in life. With cartoons striving to become more relatable, it would not surprise me if in the future most adults watched "kids" cartoons more than adult television.

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The Top 30 "Best Value" Colleges in Illinois

Fri, 2015-11-06 10:07
Whether you prefer the atmosphere of a small college town or bustling big city, Illinois has plenty of options for those looking to advance their education and earn a degree.

Affordability and a good return on investment should be among the most important factors when choosing a school that's both academically acceptable and financially feasible. To aid in this decision-making process, the website Best Value Schools analyzed net price per year, graduation and acceptance rates, and the 20-year net ROI to rank the Top 30 colleges and universities in Illinois that offer the "best value."

More from Best Value Schools on its scores and ranking:

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 98 to 164, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Illinois.

Here are the 30 best value colleges and universities in Illinois, according to Best Value Schools:

30. Loyola University Chicago

  • Net price:31,069

  • Score: 98.58

29. Millikin University

  • Net price:19,208

  • Score: 99.40

28. Moody Bible Institute

  • Net price:19,417

  • Score: 100.89

27. Lake Forest College

  • Net price:24,500

  • Score: 103.95

26. Western Illinois University

  • Net price:16,829

  • Score: 104.16

25. Wheaton College

  • Net price:25,258

  • Score: 104.47

24. Robert Morris University

  • Net price:19,452

  • Score: 105.10

23. Illinois Wesleyan University

  • Net price:27,996

  • Score: 105.12

22. Elmhurst College

  • Net price:21,826

  • Score: 105.84

21. University of Illinois at Springfield

  • Net price:9,049

  • Score: 106.21

20. Concordia University Chicago

  • Net price:18,450

  • Score: 106.89

19. Augustana College

  • Net price:24,651

  • Score: 108.96

18. North Central College

  • Net price:23,416

  • Score: 111.64

17. Lincoln Christian University

  • Net price:17,790

  • Score: 112.40

16. Lewis University

  • Net price:18,768

  • Score: 112.51

You can see the top 15 higher education institutions in Illinois that offer the best value here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Newsweek ranks the Top 30 best high schools in Illinois

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Spiritually Rudderless

Thu, 2015-11-05 17:22
Another deep cry, followed by a shrug. The world is at war, at war, at war. But it only hurts them, the helpless ones, the anonymous poor, who absorb the bombs and bullets, who bury their children, who flee their broken countries.

Sixty million people have been displaced by the current wars, the highest number of uprooted since World War II. But who cares?

"In the face of blatant inhumanity, the world has responded with disturbing paralysis."

The words are those of Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, who, along with Paul Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, issued a joint cry of anguish last week: Things are worse than they've been in a long time. Not only are wars tearing apart Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan and other countries, but the conflicts seem to be increasingly lacking in moral constraint.

"Every day," said Maurer, "we hear of civilians being killed and wounded in violation of the basic rules of international humanitarian law, and with total impunity. Instability is spreading. Suffering is growing. No country can remain untouched."

These words may be factually accurate, but you can't really call them a "warning." A warning can only be addressed to someone with the power to change course, make different decisions, sidestep the looming disaster.

"... the world has responded with disturbing paralysis." What else has "the world" ever done?

The momentum of human annihilation cannot be interrupted.

Oh, I hope such a statement is inaccurate, but in this moment, all I can see is that we're trapped in the geopolitics and economics ... of Armageddon. The world's national leaders are inadequate stewards of humanity and the needs of Planet Earth. Politically, the world is sliced into nation-states, which fiercely prowl their perimeters, guarding their own interests from both external and internal threats. This behavior is called war, and war, in point of fact, has no rules, humanitarian or otherwise. Peace has rules. War has only a goal: victory.

Stir in economic interests -- the force called money -- and the pot really starts to boil. The interests of money transcend national borders. Its agents and stewards, the global corporatocracy, serve only the interests of economic growth, which has even fewer moral constraints than nationalism. Unchecked economic growth is tantamount to the consumption of the planet, not just physically (using up its resources, ravaging the environment), but culturally and spiritually as well.

Once upon a time, the planet was festooned with local cultures: sociocultural systems on a human scale. People had a participatory relationship with the world in which they lived. Under such conditions, perhaps the words of Ban Ki-Moon and Paul Maurer could constitute a real warning. People could take heed and rein in manifestations of blatant inhumanity. They could assume a sense of behavioral responsibility that reached seven generations into the future.

This is not the world we live in now.

Writing about the crushing impact of global economic development/exploitation on local cultural integrity, Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of the organization Local Futures and co-director of the documentary, The Economics of Happiness, talked about the changes she has witnessed in a region of northern India called Ladakh.

"In part, the Ladakhis' confidence and sense of having enough emanated from a deep sense of community: people knew they could depend on one another," she wrote at Common Dreams. "But in 1975 ... the Indian government decided to open up the region to the process of development, and life began to change rapidly. Within a few years, the Ladakhis were exposed to television, Western movies, advertising, and a seasonal flood of foreign tourists. Subsidized food and consumer goods -- from Michael Jackson CDs and plastic toys to Rambo videos and pornography -- poured in on the new roads that development brought."

The local economy and the local culture got swallowed, over the course of several decades, by what she called "the consumer monoculture." The resulting changes were more than just superficial. People, you might say, started to become spiritually rudderless.

She described what this can look like: "For more than 600 years," she wrote, "Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in Ladakh with no recorded instance of group conflict. They helped one another at harvest time, attended one another's religious festivals, and sometimes intermarried. But over a period of about 15 years, tensions between Buddhists and Muslims escalated rapidly, and by 1989 they were bombing each other's homes."

And so we begin to get at the deeper forces at work in today's world. Consumer monoculture centralizes the power to act. We can consume the news -- read about war, read about climate change -- but where then in our distress, if indeed this is what is aroused, do we turn? What do we do? Perhaps we blame "them." At both the macro and the micro levels, humanity turns to violence. This is the all-purpose solution of the powerless.

And the world convulses at what may be the dawn of World War III. Sixty million people have been displaced by the current wars. We reach into our souls, looking for the force that is larger than war.

- - -
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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Trump to Hold Rally in Springfield After Hosting "SNL"

Thu, 2015-11-05 11:37
Billionaire/reality TV star/GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump will hold a rally in Springfield on Monday, less than 48 hours after hosting "Saturday Night Live."

The 7 p.m. rally will be held at the 10,000-capacity Prairie Capital Convention Center, the same capital city venue that hosted inauguration ceremonies for Gov. Bruce Rauner in January.

State Journal-Register political writer Bernard Schoenburg broke the story on Tuesday. He quoted Trump supporter and unsuccessful 2009 congressional candidate Rosanna Pulido on the significance of the Trump appearance:

"It's a great feeling," she added, saying Trump's theme of "make America great again" is "just off the charts for me."

Kent Gray of Leland Grove is Illinois state director of the Trump campaign. He referred a question of why Trump chose Springfield for the Monday rally to national spokeswoman Hope Hicks, but she did not immediately return messages.

Rosemarie Long, who chairs the Sangamon County GOP, said the local party has not endorsed for president in 2016, but she plans to attend the rally.

"I think it would be very interesting to meet Mr. Trump," she said, and she hopes to get the chance.

Free tickets to the rally are available at Trump has made numerous appearances in Chicago, where his Trump Tower is a prominent part of the skyline, but the Springfield event will be a gauge of how Trump's candidacy is playing outside the city.

Schoenburg's full story is here.

Trump's "Saturday Night Live" visit will be his second as host, but presents challenges far different than those of his 2004 appearance, says former "SNL" writer and Sirius host Dean Obeidallah...

You can read more about Trump's "SNL" appearance over at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Part-time Illinois lawmakers benefit from full-time work outside government

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Fighting for Carbon Cuts in Court: Illinois and Chicago Step Up to Defend Clean Power Plan

Wed, 2015-11-04 16:57

Focused commitment to address climate change is a challenge and an opportunity for the people of Illinois. Failure to make the necessary commitments is an unambiguous danger to our property, our health and safety and quality of life. And it undercuts our ability to build a new, vibrant clean energy economy. The people of Illinois understand this. Polling earlier this year showed people in this state hungering for climate action. The Clean Power Plan presents us with the path to move forward on climate action. And this week, we have seen some really important leadership in making that happen from some of the state's most prominent decision-makers.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced that her office was joining with 17 other states to defend the Clean Power Plan against a series of wrong-headed legal challenges intent on preventing the historic effort to cut dangerous carbon pollution. This is exactly the sort of leadership that she promised to deliver and was elected to do--looking out for the best interest and public health of Illinoisans; and protecting policies that will lower power bills and offer needed respite to some of our most vulnerable communities. This is how she summarized her support (via Crain's Chicago Business)

The Clean Power Plan is an important next step toward cleaner, healthier and more affordable energy," Madigan said in a statement. "This plan ensures that states like Illinois can develop our own strategies to reduce carbon pollution while improving our economy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got into the act too. He has been a strong advocate for the Illinois Clean Jobs bill, measure pending before the General Assembly that will increase clean energy in the state, build the economy, and presents exactly the kind of the strategy Attorney General Madigan references to combat carbon from day one.

The City's Retrofit Chicago Commercial Building Initiative is an example of how these sorts of policies can strengthen our cities and save money as many of this town's most prominent buildings slash their energy use and relieve pressure on the grid downtown.

And under the Mayor's leadership the City of Chicago is also stepping up in support of the Clean Power Plan in court too.

Illinois and the nation have much to gain from the Clean Power Plan. It is great to see the Attorney General and the Mayor taking leadership to ensure we respond to climate change, secure health benefits and build our economic future.

This entry originally posted on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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