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Here Are 15 Of The Best Spots In Illinois For Fall Foliage

Fri, 2016-10-07 16:05

As the deep green colors of summer change into the vibrant red, orange and yellow hues of fall, there are certain places in Illinois where witnessing this transformation is unparalleled.

Unfortunately, the season is short and it's difficult for most people to truly appreciate the autumn landscape when you're cooped up at work all week.

So if you want to take in the fall foliage before it's too late, here are 15 places in Illinois where you can see fall colors like you never have before.

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Campaign Contribution Limit Law Backfiring on Democrats

Fri, 2016-10-07 15:54

When the Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly approved the state's first-ever campaign contribution limit law in 2009, they made sure it was designed to allow party leaders to freely pass campaign money to their own members in the state House and Senate.

But they clearly did not anticipate that a candidate as wealthy as Gov. Bruce Rauner would easily use their "limit" law to bring unprecedented amounts of campaign money into the system.

Now this system is backfiring on them and one statewide candidate who helped pass the law complains she is a victim of it.

The easy work-around for subverting campaign contribution limits is our topic on this week's "Only in Illinois."

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Rahm's Choices Have Given Teachers No Choice But To Make The Strike A Necessity

Fri, 2016-10-07 00:10

Recently Mayor Rahm Emanuel made the statement that, "Teachers are striking out of choice, not necessity." Mind you that this is the same tired language that he said during our last strike in 2012.

There is nothing more I would rather do than teach.
But unfortunately we are left with no other options but to strike.

Unlike Rahm, we love the students of Chicago. We want them to have fully funded schools, that have counselors, librarians, nurses, working technology, classrooms that aren’t falling apart, sports, limits on class sizes and activities. We want our students to have every opportunity that Rahm's kids get by sending them to the Lab School. Do our kids not deserve those things?

Legally teachers are only allowed to strike over pay and benefits, which allows Rahm to play the "greedy teacher" card and say things like we are "striking out of choice". It allows some to state our salaries and imply that we already get paid enough, or to make matters worse, are overpaid.

I will be striking because I do not want my salary cut by 7%. I do not want my wife's (also a CPS teacher) salary cut by 7%. But even though I am legally striking over salary and benefits here is a list of the many other reasons that all impact our students of why I will be striking:

  • Rahm and the bad leaders in CPS do NOT send their kids to CPS. As a CPS teacher for the past ten years and also now a CPS parent, this is offensive. If CPS isn't good enough for Rahm's kids, then why are they okay for our kids?

  • The appointed school board is made up of people scared to say "no" to Rahm. The "Handpicked-by-Rahm-School-Board" meets at 10am on a weekday, sits on their thrones and pretends to listen to people. They then go into closed meetings to talk freely and make their decisions. This is not Democracy and every one of them should be ashamed of the charade they play and the decisions they make that harm our students. Make this an elected school board, be a model of Democracy for our students.

  • Student Based Budgeting has significantly reduced the amount of money that schools receive. This funding system conveniently allows Rahm and his cronies who run CPS to pass the "budget blame" and lack of funding onto the principals, who like us, are working hard to help the students.

  • I'm striking for every student who has died in this city. We teachers are the ones who have to help our students and ourselves cope with the student death from violence, poverty, and the police.

  • I'm striking because there are only 4 crises counselors for the nearly 400,000 students of Chicago Public Schools. When something tragic happens (which happens far too frequently) there are only 4 trained specialists to help schools deal with these tragedies.

  • I'm striking because CPS keeps cutting counselors, social workers, and nurses. These people could aid and help our students deal with trauma, but many of these positions have been cut.

  • I'm striking because the Mayor plans to hire 960 more police officers while firing teachers. You can't  arrest away the violence problem. Give people job and educational opportunities and invest in the neighborhoods and there will be no need to hire more police. Is it not enough that the Chicago Police Department costs taxpayers $4 million dollars a day? Or that CPD police brutality payouts have cost the taxpayers over $200 million dollars? Instead of giving our students and citizens opportunities we provide them with an increased and unwanted police presence.

  • Instead of giving more educational opportunities Rahm closed 50 schools in the neighborhoods that need the most help.

  • On top of closing schools Rahm closed mental health clinics. Now the largest provider of mental health services in the entire country is Cook Country Jail. Close schools, close the clinics, and watch the prison population grow...

  • I'm striking because the police to continue to run a secret detention facility in Homan Square that has disappeared over 7,000 residents in Chicago. This has been going on for years, but the worst part of it is that it still operates and continues to traumatize residents and students on the West Side of our city.

  • I'm striking because Rahm sat on the Laquan McDonald video for an entire year. I'm striking because of every other police involved murder of Chicago residents like Rekia Boyd, Cedric ChatmanPaul O'Neal, and every other victim of Chicago Police brutality.

  • I'm striking because when residents of our city demanded a Civilian Police Accountability Council not only were they ignored, Rahm has essentially kept the same police review board that was not working before and just gave it a new name.

  • Privatizing our custodial and engineering staffs, which has led to filthy, germ infested schools.

  • Refusing to look for any other ideas to fund our schools and city, like the use of TIF funds that many Alderman support.

  • For having the most militarized school district in the entire country at a cost to Chicago taxpayers of $17 million per year.  Our students do not need JROTC programs indoctrinating them on the military model, because eventually the military model leads to humans being taught how to kill other humans.

  • For Rahm saying, "25% of CPS students won't amount to anything."

  • For firing massive amounts of teachers.

  • For having 15 months to try to negotiate a contract and CPS refuses to negotiate in good faith. CPS and the Mayor have refused any of the ideas presented by the CTU to create additional funding for our schools and city.

  • For having to have parents and community members go on hunger strikes to get what should be standard educational opportunities in all neighborhoods.

There are some days that I think yes, it sure would be easier to just pack up and leave. I have watched as respected colleagues and friends have lost their jobs due to CPS budget cuts.

But through all this mess, we teachers know that what we do is right for the students. Because we spend hours on end teaching, counseling, listening, and learning to and from our students. We send our own children to CPS. We know that the teachers are doing amazing things in our schools. We know what schools should look like for all our students.

So yes, legally I will be striking to save 7% of my hard earned salary, but know that morally I am striking so that enough people realize that the change we educators seek is possible. We are only a few steps away from getting an elected school board, getting rid of this mayor, being more creative with how our schools are funded, and truly working to help the kids that we dedicate our professional lives to.

Of course I would rather teach than strike. But there comes a time when to make change you must be willing to sacrifice. You had better believe that the teachers of Chicago Public Schools are willing to stand up and sacrifice in our latest attempt to make our city better.

For more things that Chicago Teachers are fighting for in this contract please click here.

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Here's How Scraps Can Help Grow The Food Of The Future

Thu, 2016-10-06 18:07

It’s tough to think of something more mundane than getting your electric bill in the mail. But that’s what launched two Chicago scientists down a path that just might lead to a farming revolution.

About five years ago, chemistry professor Elena Timofeeva and physics researcher John Katsoudas, who both work at the Illinois Institute of Technology, began to dabble in aquaponics, a soil-free method of farming that grows plants and aquatic life through connected systems.

The two, who are married, built an aquaponic system in their basement and began growing produce. But the eye-popping electric bill quickly showed them that the cost of powering their fledging farm was far greater than what they could grow. Power costs, it turns out, are a major drawback to the aquaponics industry.

“A couple of pounds of tomatoes were not worth the extra $200 on our bill,” Timofeeva told HuffPost.

The scientists began wondering what a more cost-effective approach to powering an aquaponic farm might look like ― a challenge they have been chasing ever since then.

They believe they’ve found an answer: a stackable, mobile aquaponic growing system that can be operated totally off the grid.

The system they invented, housed inside a 45-foot shipping container, generates energy by feeding food waste into a biodigester that works like a mechanical stomach to convert the material into methane. The gas is used as fuel for a generator that powers the aquaponic farm’s pumps and lights. 

The units, developed in a collaboration with Nullam Consulting, a firm specializing in anaerobic digestion systems, will be sold for $150,000, according to Timofeeva. Aquaponic farmers can recover their investment in two or three years, she and Katsoudas said, with up to $80,000 in annual profit from what they grow with the system.

Farmers can harvest 14,500 pounds of fresh produce annually with the system — like leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers and even root vegetables. Additionally, 1,100 pounds of fresh fish could be raised inside the system, and 45 tons of organic fertilizer is a byproduct of the anaerobic digester. Plus, farmers can collect fees from providers of food scraps, like grocery stores and food processing facilities.

The aquaponic system uses dramatically less water than traditional farming, and diverts a significant amount of food waste from landfills.

“We want to bring all the technology and innovation together in a very compact, mobile, independent system that can be transported while still producing, and can be dropped wherever food is needed,” Timofeeva said.

The ambitious concept is still in its early stages. The scientists are raising funds to build a full-scale prototype of their design. They’ve already attracted attention from the likes of Silicon Valley’s Cleantech Open Accelerator, which named the couple’s startup, called AquaGrow, a semi-finalist in its funding competition. 

Some researchers have been skeptical of aquaponic startups’ claims and question the AquaGrow projections.

Stan Cox, a lead scientist at the Land Institute, a nonprofit based in Salina, Kansas, has been a prominent critic of indoor vertical farms, which typically rely on systems like AquaGrow’s. 

Cox questioned whether such a system could produce enough food to justify the resources needed to power artificial light and climate-control mechanisms to protect the plants.

Aquaponics, obviously, is a lot more complex than growing a plant in a traditional way outdoors.

“When we’re growing a crop out in the field, the energy situation is pretty simple,” Cox told HuffPost. “When you’re going through a more convoluted process converting biomass [through the digester] and using artificial light, there’s a loss of energy at every step.”

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Stephen Ventura, a soil science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who also has expressed skepticism of similar operations, said he sees promise in the AquaGrow project, but is concerned with its complexity.

“They are talking about moving and containing an immense amount of material,” Ventura wrote in an email to HuffPost. “And they’re talking about doing this with not one but three biological systems that are finicky to manage, let alone keep in mutual balance.” 

Still, Timofeeva and Katsoudas are confident. They project that their system will require some 900 pounds of food waste per day to operate. Farmers can easily obtain that much material by developing a relationship with a local grocery store or school cafeteria, both of which have a reputation for wasting many tons of food daily, Timofeeva said. 

As for the tricky logistics of the AquaGrow system, Timofeeva and Katsoudas said they’ve already succeeded in achieving balance within their system and making it easy for an operator to maintain that balance. They still need a prototype to prove it.

The scientists said AquaGrow will help feed a growing world population in a more sustainable way, allow under-resourced neighborhoods access to fresh foods, and offer an easily movable source of sustenance for communities hit by a hurricane or other natural disaster.

“Nothing prevents these systems from being picked up and dropped off in the event of a FEMA emergency. They’re ready to go,” Katsoudas said. 

And, with problems like world hunger and climate change, help is urgently needed. 

“We’re taking what we’ve got in the labs and we know we can do to actually turn it into something that can be utilized right now,” Katsoudas added. “We know the world’s going to need technology like this.”


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Now That Bees Are Endangered, The Rest Is Up To Us

Wed, 2016-10-05 17:47

Last week brought big news in the conservation world: For the first time, a bee species — seven of them, actually — were declared endangered.

The seven types of yellow-faced bees native to Hawaii received the designation from the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The move offers the creatures some newfound protection, even if the agency failed to designate a critical habitat.

Of course, the plight of bees across the U.S., North America and the world has increasingly been on the radar of the environmentally minded in recent years.

U.S. beekeepers lost about 40 percent of their honeybee colonies last year, according to a survey commissioned in 2015. Some studies have linked bee die-offs to the overuse of pesticides. The agriculture industry contests that finding, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed that one of the world’s most widely used insecticides, imidacloprid, presents a threat to some pollinators.

So what makes last week’s news different from what we already knew? And what can be done to address the issue?

The Huffington Post recently spoke with Tiffany Flick-Haynes, a food futures campaigner at the nonprofit Friends of the Earth environmental advocacy group and an expert in bee populations.

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We’ve known about threats facing bees for some time now, and the problem has received a great deal of attention. What makes this noteworthy?

There are 4,000 different types of native bee species in North America, and so this is really the first time bees have ever been listed under the Endangered Species Act. That’s really important. We know there has been a rapid decline of a lot of different types of bees. We are aware of honeybees’ decline because beekepeers are keeping track. For these specific species in Hawaii, there have been indications since the ‘80s that they were declining at an alarming rate. So the fact that they’re putting in place some protections for the species is really significant and an important precedent for other native bee species, as well as our honeybees.

Are there other species nearing endangered status, too?

One of the other native bee species that has been under consideration by the Fish and Wildlife Service is the rusty patched bumblebee. There are lots of indications that it’s also declining at a pretty alarming rate, as much as 95 percent. The state of Vermont and Canada already have it listed under their endangered species acts.

Beyond that, there is unfortunately not enough research for each of the individual bee species out there. One hopeful initiative for me is that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) has introduced a discussion draft of a bill, the Pollinator Recovery Act of 2016. What’s strong about this bill is that it sets up a monitoring program for the species through the [U.S. Department of Agriculture], so that we can track what’s going on with these populations and get more concrete data so that, before we’re at the point where we’re at with the rusty patched bumblebee, we can hopefully prevent that sort of rapid decline from happening.

Do you get the sense that there is political will on that particular legislation to address this?

I think from my conversations on Capitol Hill, both sides of the aisle recognize that this is a really dire situation that needs to be addressed right now. It’s gaining bipartisan support which I think is really important. I think President Obama’s pollinator strategy memorandum he put out a couple of years ago set a really important precedent and there’s a lot more we can build on to get really strong protections for pollinators in the U.S.

I get the sense that because this issue has been known about for some time, with colony collapse disorder in particular, some people make light of it, like it’s a punchline. How do you react to that?

I think I just have to remind everybody that without bees and other pollinators, we wouldn’t be able to eat a lot of the nutritious and delicious food we eat on a daily basis. It’s not just the beautiful honeybees that are so important, but the hundreds of thousands of species around the world that all need to be protected.

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What do you see as the biggest obstacles on the horizon to achieving that?

The challenges are usually that, unfortunately, manufacturers of pesticides that are contributing to bee decline are using a lot of their lobbying muscle to stop protections at the federal and state level. The public needs to be aware of that and needs to be voicing strong support of policies that protect pollinators so that policymakers can be held accountable to their constituents and not the manufacturers responsible for these pesticides.

What can people who are concerned about the bee population do to address this right now?

There’s a lot that people can do. One is just to take action in their own back yards by planting a pollinator-friendly habitat, ideally free of pesticides so that it’s the most nutritious and safe habitat pollinators can get. The other thing people are doing across the country is passing pollinator-friendly resolutions or policies at the city, university and school district level that are essentially working to do just that ― plant safe, pollinator-friendly habitats. And then they can get involved by urging their members of Congress or state legislators to support policies like the Pollinator Recovery Act.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Illinois Couple Has A Whopper Of A Beef With Burger King

Wed, 2016-10-05 12:30

When Nancie and Martyce Murphy of Naperville, Illinois, went to their local Burger King this weekend, they asked the manager to make sure their food would be warm.

As it turned out, it was the packaging that really got them hot under the collar.

The Murphys stopped in at Burger King on Sunday for a Whopper, a Whopper Jr., fries, onion rings and some drinks.

Shortly after they got their order, they made an unwelcome discovery: Someone had scrawled the words “FUCK YOU” on both their wrappers

Needless to say, the couple had a whopper of a beef with the message.

“When you pay for something, you want something good,” Martyce told ABC 7 Chicago. “So to get that, that was uncalled for.”

Nancie called the restaurant, but the manager denied everything, she said.

“I told him what had happened and he said, ‘I don’t believe you, there’s no way that could have happened,’” she told ABC 7.

The next day, Nancie spoke to someone higher on the Burger King food chain.

After a brief investigation, the supervisor told her that an employee had admitted to writing the messages, according to UPI. The employee has reportedly been fired.

The worker responsible for the obscene wrappers reportedly told officials they’d been having a bad day, and that they’d taken it out on the customers.

The employee may be gone, but the Murphys say they plan never to eat at Burger King again.

So much for having it your way. contributed to this story.

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Follow Politifact's Live Fact-Check of Vice-Presidential Debate

Tue, 2016-10-04 18:01

The Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website PolitiFact will provide live fact checks throughout the vice-presidential  debate on Tuesday.

The 90-minute debate, which begins at 8 p.m. central time at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., will be fact-checked by 18 PolitiFact staffers in real time. PolitiFact, with which Reboot Illinois has partnered to create PolitiFact Illinois, won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 election.

Follow their work on this Twitter feed. Also, PolitiFact staffers will annotate the debate transcript in real time on the PolitiFact Medium page. Follow that activity here.

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Republican Obstruction Is Undermining The Supreme Court, Enough Is Enough

Tue, 2016-10-04 10:45

This week, the Supreme Court returns to work. The Justices will hear important cases on issues ranging from the separation of church and state to intellectual property to Congressional redistricting to the death penalty. Many of the cases address questions that are fundamental to our democracy: the right to vote, for instance, or what constitutes U.S. citizenship. Yet – regardless of the stakes – Republicans in Congress have forced the Court to weigh these pivotal issues one Justice short of the Court’s full panel of nine. 

In a city of self-inflicted wounds, this one is more dangerous and less defensible than most.

It’s been 202 days since I nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. That’s more than five months longer than the average nominee has had to wait over the last 40 years to receive a hearing in Congress – let alone an up or down vote. This delay has nothing to do with Judge Garland’s personality or his qualifications. Senators on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that he is a distinguished legal mind, a dedicated public servant, and a good and decent man.

Leader McConnell argues that with an election looming, the Supreme Court should remain short staffed, and he certainly knows his way around DC. But the last time a Supreme Court seat was kept vacant through Election Day was in 1864. At the height of the Civil War. So, this isn’t about precedent. This is about the obstruction of a broken Republican-led Congress.

Every day that GOP Senate leaders block this nomination, they hamstring the entire third branch of government. The Supreme Court is the final destination in a federal judiciary that routinely weighs some of society’s biggest questions. Already this past June, we saw a deadlocked Supreme Court, with no tie-breaking vote, unable to reach a majority on a major immigration case – leaving our Nation’s immigrants in limbo.

Part of what makes Judge Garland a remarkable jurist is his understanding that justice isn’t an abstract theory. It touches people’s lives every day. As long as Republicans continue their brinksmanship, America pays the price. Our most basic workings as a nation aren’t possible without a functioning judiciary at every level. Commerce is hindered and lives are put on hold. If we ever hope to restore the faith in our institutions that has eroded in recent years, we cannot tolerate a politically motivated, willfully negligent vacancy on the Supreme Court.

But this breakdown at the highest level is part of a bigger pattern.

By hobbling the Supreme Court for what could be a year or longer, Republicans are eroding one of the core institutions of American democracy.
This cannot be the new normal.

Republicans have long been resolved to defeat proposals I’ve put forward or supported on everything from equal pay, immigration reform and increasing the minimum wage, to expanding commonsense background checks for those who want to purchase a gun, and basic protections for American workers against discrimination based on who they love or how they identify.

Republican leaders in Congress have proven they won’t work with my Administration, but along the way, they’ve lost sight of their basic mission. They can’t even meet their own goals. Republicans say they care about good paying jobs, but they’re ignoring one of the best ways to create them by refusing to make long overdue investments rebuilding our roads, bridges, ports and airports. A major infrastructure push would put Americans back to work and make our businesses more competitive – but Congress can’t get it done. They can’t move the ball forward on tax reform, one of the GOP’s biggest priorities, and they continue to delay serious funding to combat an opioid epidemic that has devastated the lives of many of their constituents. They talk a great deal about poverty, but refuse to address it in a meaningful way.

On countless priorities – issues that matter to people across the country, regardless of their politics – Republicans in Washington have traded progress for partisanship.

Their obstruction underscores a fundamental misunderstanding of the way our government should work. Sure, they’re blocking Merrick Garland – and maybe scoring a political point or two – but in doing so they are failing the American people. By hobbling the Supreme Court for what could be a year or longer, Republicans are eroding one of the core institutions of American democracy.
This cannot be the new normal. Let’s disagree on the issues, but let’s work together to protect a system of government that has stood strong for 240 years and made us the greatest country on Earth. We must expect better. You must demand better.

That’s why it’s so important that you make your voice heard. Call your representative. Tweet your Senator. Tell them what matters to you. And in November go vote. Then do it again in the next election, even when the presidency isn’t at stake. Send a clear message that Congress, at the very least, needs to perform its basic, Constitutional responsibilities – and should do much more.

We didn’t grow from a fledgling nation into the greatest force for good the world has ever known by flouting the institutions that define our democracy. We did it through fidelity to the values of our founding, and an understanding that our American experiment only works when we the people have a say. So do your part, and demand your representatives do theirs. That’s how we’ll carry forward the work of perfecting our Union.

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Finally, Issues That Matter Arise in Illinois' U.S. Senate Race

Tue, 2016-10-04 10:23
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Finally some substance from Illinois' U.S. Senate contenders.

After months of bottom-feeding attacks on each other that did little to enlighten voters, Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and his challenger, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth met Monday in an endorsement meeting that finally showed their differences on student loans, crime, job creation, Syria's civil war and more.

Just as significant, viewers also got a glimpse of who the candidates are and how they're doing.

Kirk suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and Duckworth lost both legs while the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq. Sitting in wheelchairs next to one another before the Chicago Tribune editorial board, an animated Duckworth went after a mostly subdued and often quiet Kirk. He sought to portray himself as the independent "glue" that binds a divisive Senate, repeatedly referring to strengthening his relationship with Democratic senior Sen. Dick Durbin. She sought to portray herself as the candidate who understands and will fight for average Illinoisans.

Asked to clarify where they were when America was attacked on Sept. 11, Kirk told of being in a meeting with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said he got "a nice note" from Rumsfeld about it later. Duckworth jumped at the remark, saying, "I have no memento from Secretary Rumsfeld from 9/11. The only memento I have is this purple heart pin right here."

The Illinois race for the U.S. Senate is considered to be among a handful nationwide that will determine which party controls that chamber. To date, the pair of disabled military veterans have spent most of their time tying each other to past controversies or controversial politicians like Rod Blagojevich and Donald Trump.

But Monday's editorial board meeting revealed real policy differences.

Student loans

Duckworth said she would work to craft a plan to address suffocating levels of student loan debt for young people and their parents who often co-sign for them, noting they should at least be allowed to refinance debt on loans that sometimes carry 12 percent interest rates.

Kirk said he worried that Democrats intended to create another entitlement program around student debt that could be as "bad as Obamacare." We've got to elect someone who doesn't promise more free stuff. Instead, he suggested government promote 401(k)-style savings accounts for children when they are born.

For more on what Kirk and Duckworth said about crime, jobs and Syria, click here.

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A Tree Dies in Chicago

Sun, 2016-10-02 14:37

This is Chicago. Where the cold grey October rain pounds streets soaked in blood. We kill people here. And we do it a lot. Giggling babies in their beds snuffed out by stray bullets pinging through the walls. Tired old working men on their front stoops taking a well deserved rest, slapped down by a 12 year old with no clue till this moment that firing an assault rifle ain't like T.V. The old man's blood dripping down the front porch steps he'd kept painted now for 40 years.

This is Chicago where a cloud like a tired and angry October sky is slapping the city into the darkest horror of them all: the belief that all this killing happens somewhere else. That it's not in my neighborhood. Not my problem. It is something that just happens to those other kinds of people. The killing is somewhere on the other side of a wall that some slick talking bully says he will build for us. Selling protection the same way it's always been sold. "Gimme some cash Mister Store Keep. Gimme some cash or maybe just vote for me and your store won't burn down"

This is Chicago where the killing and the blood and rain all stream together with a river of talk. So what am I doing, being sad about a tree?

There it is on the right. It's twin tree in our yard on the left. A pair of towering Christmas trees all year long. Pine needle protection. Home base to an ongoing chattering, busy, buzzy bird song that would always be there to welcome us home. Migratory birds to mark the changing of the seasons. Once a flock of Chicago's famed Wild Canaries fluttered in for a visit. Darting yellow sparkles doing the business of joy.

Presiding over all this like gentle monarchs was the mourning dove couple we named Patrick and Louisa. Keeping watch across our fourteen years and still counting in the house. Their home was the tree, their descendants carrying on forward. Their ancestors going back to another Chicago. The house is over 100 years old. The tree was there for a good many of those years. As was the spirit of the mourning doves. Patrick and Louisa.

Till one day we all came home and the tree was gone.

The neighbor took it down. No clue why. We don't talk much. And it was his tree. As much as a tree can belong to anyone. I can't believe the tree was ready to die.

The list of bigger problems than the disappearing tree is too long to count. But the void. The shivering grey emptiness where the tree used to be---that strikes a familiar chord. It's the same sick feeling in your stomach that you get when you hear that the blood street killing in Chicago is someone else's problem. Someone else's fault.

It's all the same void.

There is a void now where the connection between the people used to be.

We still cry for babies or dying trees. But only in our neighborhood. Only in our yard.

Make no mistake, Chicago has never lacked for stone cold brutal segregation. Whether it's rolling out expressways that divide neighborhoods, building towers that stack the vulnerable on top of each other, redlining like Papa Trump or a million moments of a child learning the hard way that there are just streets upon which you just do not walk. Our sins have never been far away.

But the October wind this year carries a sickly sweet cold emptiness. The tree is gone. The killing goes on. The wind blows empty. The void grows wider. Deeper. That which connects us grows empty.

Empty like the intersection of Damen and Addison, just a few blocks away. Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23 and full of smiling, young life. Riding her bike to work at the Harken Health Center up in Edgewater. Her work as a Health Coach.

The traffic light changes. The truck makes a right turn. The driver doesn't see the bicyclist. The young girl dies.

The driver, physically unhurt but devastated by what just happened, is put in the ambulance and taken for treatment of an emotional wound that might never heal. The news goes out, at the Harken Health Center, where there is a work family, to friends and family, to the bicycling community, to all of Chicago. A memorial service is organized, and here we get a hint of what it will take to fill our common void, a service is organized for the corner of Damen and Addison, by people who never even knew Anastasia.

Three hundred people came to that service Friday night. The Chicago Police quietly diverting traffic while neighbors kneeled put down flowers and cried in the streetlight shadows. A "Ghost Bike," placed on the corner. Ghost bikes are painted white bicycles that serve to memorialize a spot where a bicyclist has died. Where maybe the void grew wider for those who chose to think, "What does the accident have to do with me?"

Or maybe the Ghost Bike could start us down another path. Prompt us to strengthen the connections between us. Offer up a set of guiding principals to help us fill the void where the tree, the young woman, where all of us touched by the ripples of the emptiness live our lives. Riding in on the ghost bike come five principles, like lights on the handlebars, to guide us on our common way:

1. Tell your story. Channel the power of every person's story. Never write a policy, make a plan or spend a dime unless you can name a person you will serve. Bring back the time when words mattered. Stories build highways and food pantries. Jobs and schools. Temples, mosques and churches.

2. Add Music. Find what flows between the facts. The fit. If you're going to curb violence, let the whole orchestra play.

3. Communitize. Make community a verb.

4. Solve a mystery. Honor the space where that tree grew even if you don't know why it's gone. For young Anastasia, figure out how to make bicycling safer.

5. Practice Stewardship. Take care of something larger than yourself.

At the corner of Addison and Damen, in the drizzling rains of October, the spokesperson for Anastasia's family said "This is everybody's problem."

Looking out my window to the gaping space where the tree used to be, I wonder how many believe that the killing rippling out to every corner of Chicago is everybody's problem.

I wonder if there is even one single person who will read the five principles, and ask the questions:

What if this were a path to the belief that the violence is everyone's problem?

What if we all saw ourselves standing in that river of blood?

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Common's Message For Politicians Who Keep Referencing Chicago's Gun Violence

Fri, 2016-09-30 16:39

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Hip-hop artist Common is done with politicians who bring up Chicago’s gun violence to score political points. 

When moderator Lester Holt asked both candidates how they would improve the nation’s racial divide at Monday’s presidential debate, Trump said his approach would be to reinstate “law and order” and quickly pivoted to the number of shootings in Chicago. He even suggested reinstating “stop and frisk,” a tactic that was ruled unconstitutional in 2013. 

Common, who hails from The Windy City, was not impressed. 

“Usually the people that it’s being brought up by, whether it’s [Rudy] Giuliani or Donald Trump, I never feel like they’re saying it because they care about the people, that they really care about Chicago,” he told HuffPost’s Jacques Morel during an interview on Thursday.  

The Republican presidential nominee has referenced the violence in Chicago on a number of occasions, but Common isn’t convinced that he’s done anything to fix the problem. In fact, Trump stopped by Chicago on Wednesday and avoided the neighborhoods that have been hit hardest by violence. 

Common suggested that political figures, like Trump, have used the issue to “justify” and “distract” from other problems like police brutality. 

“What are you doing to help that situation?” Common asked. “And if you know that situation exists, have you ever reached out to do something? Are you actively doing something or are you just mentioning it as a ploy just to combat what’s going on and to distract?” 

Common added that the posturing is nothing but “political theater.” 

“I ain’t falling for it,” he said. 

Watch Common’s full interview here

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The Key To Solving Teen Hunger? Involving Teens.

Fri, 2016-09-30 11:47

Many low-income U.S. teens are resorting to risky and disturbing behaviors like stealing, selling drugs or trading sex — through “transactional” dating with older, wealthier individuals — in order to get food.

An estimated 6.8 million young people between the ages of 10 and 17 don’t have enough to eat.

This is according to a new report released earlier this month by the Urban Institute research group in collaboration with Feeding America, a nonprofit hunger organization.

The report’s findings, which were based on a series of focus groups with teens in 10 communities throughout the country, were “shocking” to its co-author Susan J. Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. And that’s despite a background that includes 30 years of researching poverty.

“We found the same story of kids being very aware of food insecurity in their community,” Popkin said. “I thought maybe there’d be somewhere we went where the kids would say, ‘No, this doesn’t happen here,’ but that didn’t happen.”

The fact that the report shocked Popkin and has attracted so much media attention since it was released can be attributed to the fact that hunger in teen populations is a problem that is has been largely overlooked when compared to younger children experiencing food insecurity.

Typically, Popkin said, younger children and teens all get lumped together in research settings, which erases the unique challenges facing the older youth population. This includes the fear teens experience of being stigmatized by their peers for needing assistance and the pressure of finding work and supporting their family as part of an “expedited adulthood.”

The older youth are also often stereotyped and “viewed through a negative lens” once they get caught up in the types of risky behaviors identified in the report, Popkin added.

“They’re [viewed as] part of the problem and not the solution if they’re engaging in some of the things the kids talked about — shoplifting, stealing, selling drugs, transactional dating,” she said. “They get treated as status offenders and caught up with the juvenile justice system instead of being treated as kids who are traumatized and need help and support.”

So, how do we fix the problem?

The report outlined a number of proposed solutions, including increasing the amount of food provided by the federal nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, and expanding programs that expand job opportunities for low-income youth.

Progress is already being made toward another solution outlined in the report, which involves teens directly: making food charity programs, like food banks, more teen-friendly.

A pilot program in Portland, Oregon, aimed at addressing food insecurity in the New Columbia neighborhood, a public housing community on the city’s north side that also struggles with access to affordable, fresh healthy food, is having an impact on this front and was featured in the report.

The signature piece of the program, led by a group of teens called the Youth Community Advisory Board and supported by Feeding America, is its monthly Harvest Share, when the Oregon Food Bank drops off free, fresh organic food that the teens distribute to families in need. 

The Harvest Share has been a tremendous success, serving more than 100 households each month, according to Assefash Melles, who oversees the program. Last month, she said, the youth provided food for 120 food-insecure households.

The New Columbia program is now entering its second phase, where the teens will train a younger class of volunteers through a 15-week youth empowerment curriculum. This will enable more of the community’s youth to directly participate in the council’s mission to reduce the stigma that often blocks teens and their families from accepting help.

The fact that teens are directly involved in both planning and executing the program is key to its success, Melles said.

“Sometimes, as adults, we don’t go to the kids and ask for solutions. We put programming in place without really asking them,” Melles told The Huffington Post. “You need to do an assessment, understand them and their families and build a trusting relationship. When you build that trust, it’s amazing what comes out. They know what they want to do and they own that.”

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Teens themselves are deeply involved with other efforts to address the issue throughout the country.

Another example cited by Popkin is the spread of in-school food pantries that allow students to anonymously grab food they and their family need. In recent years, pantries like these have cropped up in high schools in a number of states including Wisconsin, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Another strategy to address the problem is to integrate food assistance into existing after-school programming that teens already take part in.

At the Loveland Public Library in Colorado, teen services director Amber Holmes leads the youth-focused Teenseen program.

Last year, when Holmes and other staffers noted that teens taking part in their after-school programming and services were arriving “ravenous” with hunger after not eating since lunch. So they began to offer small, shelf-stable snacks.

The snacks were a hit and Holmes said the offering of food contributed to increased participation in the program and resulted in fewer conflicts between groups of teens. But library staff still wanted to do more.

“We found a packaged granola bar or some pretzels weren’t really meeting the nutritional needs for the kids,” Holmes said.

Beginning last month, the library partnered with the Food Bank for Larimer County to become a Feeding America-sponsored Kids Cafe site. This means that, twice a week, the library offers cooked-from-scratch foods that the food bank delivers to the site.

Holmes said she is impressed with the way the teens have taken ownership of the program, taking part in the library’s teen advisory board and even helping to fundraise the money needed for the library to purchase a refrigerator required so that the facility could become a Kids Cafe site.

“There’s this stereotype of teens misbehaving and doing awful things, but the kids I see every day are making the choice to come to the library, that could be out there experimenting with drugs, sex, alcohol and theft,” Holmes said. “They’re choosing to come here, so we need to rise to that and meet their needs.”

For such programs to continue to succeed, they will need ongoing support from policymakers and funders. And those sorts of relationships will require stronger research and data specific to food insecurity among teens.

Little data like this currently exist so the problem remains largely misunderstood, Popkin admitted. That knowledge gap will need to be addressed so that the problem can be effectively dealt with.

“I imagine that when most people think about child hunger, they think we’re talking about little kids and they aren’t thinking about their older brothers and sisters,” Popkin said. “So we need to know more about what’s happening to understand how bad it is.”

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AFSCME Ad Accuses Rauner of 'Waging War' on Illinois Workers

Thu, 2016-09-29 17:58

You don't have a seat at the bargaining table as Gov. Bruce Rauner and AFSCME Council 31 attempt to create a contract for the 38,000 state employees the union represents. Nor is Rauner on the ballot this year.

But AFSCME wants to make sure, as Election Day nears, that you have an opinion on the protracted and contentious negotiations to replace a contract that expired 15 months ago.

A new, 30-second video and TV ad titled "Negotiate" uses the headline of a Feb. 13, 2015, New York Times editorial -- "A war on workers in Illinois" -- in introducing three state workers who make their cases against the governor.

"Gov. Rauner is so far disconnected from how real people live," says one. A few seconds later, she adds that Rauner "refuses to negotiate. He gets up and walks away whenever he doesn't get his way."

"Public service workers in state government protect kids, care for veterans, keep us safe and more," AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said in a press release announcing the ad. "State workers have always been willing to do their part. We're prepared to compromise. But we can only do that if Governor Rauner puts the public good ahead of his personal demands and returns to bargaining ready to negotiate."

Though it doesn't mention any candidates or the Nov. 8 election, the ad's election implications can't be ignored. At the moment, Democrats -- and their union supporters -- are doing everything they can to link their Republican opponents to Rauner. They believe this will negatively affect Republican candidates in legislative races by linking them to an agenda that Democrats have portrayed as anti-union and extreme. This ad, which portrays Rauner as out of touch with average workers and intent on busting the union, plays into that narrative.

(Conversely, Republicans are doing the same to Democratic candidates, whom they are linking to House Speaker Michael Madigan at every opportunity.)

The negotiations between the Rauner administration and AFSCME Council 31, whose last contract expired June 30, 2015, have brought incremental victories to both sides over the past year even as each accused the other of sandbagging talks.

A year ago, Democrats passed a bill that would have curtailed sharply Rauner's power in negotiations. He vetoed it, and the failure of an override effort in the House was a major victory for Rauner.

In January, the administration said negotiations were at an impasse and filed an unfair labor practices complaint against AFSCME with the Illinois Labor Relations Board. AFSCME filed a complaint accusing the administration of bargaining in bad faith.

The Labor Relations Board, whose members are appointed by the governor, heard the case from April to June, and the matter then was turned over to Administrative Law Judge Sarah Kerley, who will issue a recommendation to the board. Rauner in June asked that the judicial review process be skipped so the case could go directly to the board, but the board denied that request. Kerley said at the time she hoped to forward a recommendation in time for the board to discuss the case at its November meeting.

The board does not have to accept Kerley's recommendation, and its decision could be the most significant event in Rauner's term to date. A ruling in the union's favor would send the two sides back into negotiations. A decision for Rauner would allow the administration to impose its own terms. That would force the union to choose between accepting Rauner's contract, going on strike or suing to force continued negotiations.

Illinois never has had a state employee strike, nor has it ever had a governor who has taken on AFSCME with such ferocity. You may not have a seat at the bargaining table, and you can't cast a ballot for/against Rauner on Nov. 8, but AFSCME in this ad is making sure that the suspended negotiations don't get shoved to the back burner as election season hits its boiling point.

Recommended: "Hamilton" hit Chicago and everyone freaked out

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Farm Animals Actually Eat People’s Leftovers — And It’s Good For The Planet

Wed, 2016-09-28 14:59

When restaurants and grocery stores end up with scraps and other leftovers that cannot be donated to food banks, what happens to them?

A lot end up in landfills, contributing to the already massive amounts of food waste that emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as it breaks down. But a growing amount is being used to feed farm animals.

As the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy specifies, this strategy is one of the most effective ways to deal with food waste that cannot be used to feed people.

The practice is an age-old one that fell out of fashion in the 1980s due to a number of disease outbreaks that were linked to animal feed. 

Today, however, it appears to be having a comeback as interest in food waste reduction efforts is rising dramatically, evidenced by a range of efforts across the food industry.

In general, this is how it works: Leftovers such as kitchen scraps and plate waste are collected, treated and processed into an oat-like consistency, then are fed to livestock such as pigs and cows. Even zoo animals can benefit from this type of feed.

Darden Restaurants is among the companies getting on board.

In 2014, Darden, which owns national chains including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and The Capital Grille, launched an organics recycling pilot program. The company sends scraps and other food waste that cannot go to food banks to be converted into animal feed, and composts other waste through the program.

The nascent program still represents just a small percentage — 0.53 percent, according to a company report — of Darden’s overall recycling efforts and is only taking place in a limited number of locations, the exact number of which a company spokesman declined to disclose.

Still, Darden appears to be alone in its food recycling efforts (the company has also been accused of underpaying and discriminating against workers.)

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Some university dining halls, like facilities at Rutgers and University of California at Berkeley, have also instituted similar programs. Rutgers diverts about 4 million pounds of waste from landfills per year this way, saving the university’s dining services division about $100,000 annually in waste-hauling costs.

Grocery stores have also embraced the concept.

Quest Resource Management Group helps grocers and other companies reduce the amount of waste they generate. The largest portion of Quest’s business comes from its work helping grocery stores reduce their food waste, mostly by donating scraps to farms.

According to Hatch, the company helped divert over 600,000 tons of scraps from the waste stream last year, 60 percent of which was used to feed animals, while 35 percent was composted and another 5 percent was converted into a renewable energy source by going through anaerobic digestion.

“Those tons, before we came along, were all going to the landfill,” said Ray Hatch, the company’s CEO. “Everything went in the dumpster.”

The company works with four of the top 10 national food retailers, including Walmart, and three large regional chains, according to Vanessa Lepice, its vice president of marketing and new business development.

All told, they are working with about 6,000 grocery stores throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. They train partnering stores’ employees how to properly separate scraps that can be donated to local farms and processed into animal feed from types of waste that are not safe for the animals to eat, like plastic packaging and raw meat. 

It appears to be working. The amount of food waste the company has diverted has grown fivefold since the program was first rolled out in 2010, including about 20 percent each of the past two years, Quest said. 

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But perhaps it’s not growing fast enough. The practice still hasn’t caught on in a way that would make a more significant dent in the 60 million tons, or $218 billion worth of food, that the U.S. wastes each year.

Zhengxia Dou, a professor of agricultural systems at the University of Pennsylvania, believes she knows why progress is lagging. She, along with several colleagues, explored the topic in a paper published earlier this year in the academic journal Global Food Security.

According to Dou, the strictness of health-related regulations concerning the practice is a big factor. Federal law mandates that scraps must be heated to 100 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes before being fed to pigs, for example. An incompatibility with the precision feeding techniques typically preferred on today’s farms, particularly larger ones, is another.

Technological innovation will be necessary in order to overcome these barriers, Dou said. She hasn’t seen much evidence of that happening quite yet.

“As an academic, I don’t know much how to make it happen, from an idea to a feasible technological solution and to a successful business,” Dou said in an email.

Another likely reason is that the regulations concerning the use of food scraps as animal feed vary widely from state to state.

A new report from Harvard University and University of Arkansas researchers published last month aims to address any confusion about the practice by laying out all of the federal- and state-level rules and suggesting best practices for safe and effective implementation.

“We want to show people that this is what you can do and this is how you do it, to encourage people to start this process again,” said Christina Rice, a clinical fellow at Harvard’s Food and Policy Law Center and one of the report’s authors.

Rice believes that the practice will continue to become more common, and as that happens, she is confident many current obstacles will dissipate.

“This got taken out of the conversation for a while, but it can happen again,” Rice added.

Lepice agreed, pointing out that states like Minnesota and California have instituted tougher commercial recycling regulations, which will encourage firms to get more creative in addressing their waste issues.

They may, she believes, turn to animal feed diversion as a solution. She expects consumer pressure will aid in that progress.

“Consumers are driving this, too. They’re asking what companies are doing with food waste,” Lepice added. “I firmly believe we’re on the right path.”

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How Much Education Funding Comes From The Illinois Lottery?

Wed, 2016-09-28 10:34

Lottery proceeds to the state's main education fund increased by roughly $13 million last fiscal year, according to an analysis of unaudited monthly financial reports.

In total, the Illinois Lottery transferred $691.6 million to the Common School Fund during fiscal year 2016, accounting for almost 15 percent of General State Aid appropriations for K-12 education.

Over the past decade, the lottery has transferred an average of $650 million to the Common School Fund each year, with annual contributions rising from $670.5 million to more than $691 million during that time.

The lottery was established in 1974 with the notion it would adequately fund public education. While nearly $19 billion has been transferred to the Common School Fund since then, some have criticized the program for not covering as much school funding as originally planned.

Proceeds from lottery sales typically make up between 13 percent and 15 percent of General State Aid appropriations for K-12 schools, but how do these hundreds of millions of education dollars compare to the billions in revenue the lottery brings in each year?

We've created an infographic showing the lottery's total revenue and expenses since 2006, and how much has been transferred to the Common School Fund during that time.

At the bottom of the graphic is a pie chart that shows CSF transfers as a percentage of lottery revenue and General State Aid appropriations. Hover over the data points to see exact amounts and click on the years to see the lottery's finances for that fiscal year.

The infographic can be found here.

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Guarding Against Damaging Implicit Racial Bias -- Even In Our Preschools

Tue, 2016-09-27 21:30
In 2014, California author and mother Tunette Powell wrote a piece for the Washington Post that as an educator and parent continues to shock.

In it, the African-American mother of two recounted the details of her sons' preschool experiences.

Both boys -- ages 3 and 4 at the time -- had been suspended from preschool, multiple times, for inappropriate behavior such as throwing a chair and hitting a staff member on the arm.

If the idea of suspending a preschooler -- so young as to be unable to tie his shoes or brush his own teeth -- is baffling, wait until you hear the rest of her story.

Powell and her husband wondered what they were doing wrong, until they brought the subject up at a child's birthday party. Mostly White parents of her sons' classmates were in attendance.

One after another, White mothers confessed the trouble their children had gotten into. "Some of the behavior was similar to [Powell's oldest son]; some was much worse," Powell said in her Post commentary. "Most startling: None of their children had been suspended."

Powell was startled by that revelation. Maybe you are too.

Uneven treatment of Black and Brown children has a long history.

But the sad fact is that this kind of uneven treatment of Black and Brown children has a long history -- and is more than just anecdotal. It continues to be proven by unassailable research.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights reported recently that Black children represented 19 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of those receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.

And new research by the Yale Child Study Center, released Tuesday, shows that preschool teachers and staff show signs of implicit bias in administering discipline and that the race of the teacher plays a role in the outcome.

The research used high-tech eye-tracking technology and found that preschool teachers "show a tendency to more closely observe Blacks and especially Black boys when challenging behaviors are expected." Moreover, Black teachers, the study said, were even more likely to hold Black students to a higher standard of behavior.

The study explores many reasons why this might be the case: Black educators are trying to prepare Black children for a harsh world, is one hypothesis.

Whatever the impetus, this kind of implicit bias is detrimental to the growth and well-being of Black children, whether the discriminators share their skin color or not. What we believe about a person  --  or a group of people  --  translates into how we act toward them, and, worse, what those people start to believe about themselves. That translation of beliefs into actions, and guiding thoughts, is pervasive in our society and it is dangerous. And many of us are painfully aware of the reasons the Black Lives Movement became a salient part of the American narrative.

This kind of implicit bias is detrimental to the growth and well-being of Black children, whether the discriminators share their skin color or not.

This narrative for the very young was captured, for instance, in the doll preference studies from the 1940s. Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a now famous series of experiments to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. The study became an important basis for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

Using four dolls, identical except for color, children between the ages of three to seven were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they preferred. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The researchers concluded then that "prejudice, discrimination, and segregation" created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem. In other words, Black children internalized the stereotypes they gleaned from growing up in a society that devalued them, discriminated against them and dismissed them as inferior.

Sadly it would seem, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Implicit bias is the tendency for our subconscious selves to feel or exhibit a bias toward certain groups of, or characteristics in, people  --  in part because we've been bombarded by negative images and messages. It was as prevalent in the 1940s as it is now -- even in our preschools.

But the good news is, it doesn't have to be this way.

"We know that implicit bias can be reduced through proper training and should be a core component of early childhood teacher education," said one of the Yale study's authors, Dr. Walter S. Gilliam, director of The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology at the Yale Child Study Center.

That's exactly what we know to be true at NUA. And it's precisely why we partner with school-based educators to do what we do in school systems across the country.

Working with teachers in a true partnership, we check, challenge and change deep-seated beliefs that can be barriers to effective teaching and learning. We model and demonstrate effective best practice in classrooms led by educators --  with science, data and meaningful interactions with students and communities  --  that all students have the capacity to think and achieve at high levels, extend beyond their current boundaries and reach their full potential.

We establish with teachers that neuroscience continues to suggest that all students have 86 to 100 billion neurons capable of adjusting to the environmental challenges that poverty, segregation and discrimination have on learning.

Even 4-year-olds.

Especially 4-year-olds.

We should be nurturing our youngest members of society, not harshly punishing them. When we increase opportunities for teachers to confront their biases, learn culturally responsive pedagogies and begin to appreciate the strengths and capabilities of all their students, we increase self-esteem, academic performance and upward mobility.

We should be nurturing our youngest members of society, not harshly punishing them.

Implicit bias is a dangerous weapon. It can come to dominate and damage a national socio-cultural-psychological and political discourse. Used appropriately, education can establish a shield for Black, Brown, White, Asian and Indigenous peoples, so that life trajectories can be improved and sustained.

There is no more important national priority for our diverse nation than that.

Eric J. Cooper is the founder and president of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, a nonprofit professional development organization that provides student-focused professional development, advocacy and organizational guidance to accelerate student achievement. He can be reached at He tweets as @ECooper4556.

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Road Lockbox Amendment Vote Could Send Us Careening

Tue, 2016-09-27 16:47
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek


It's rough riding out there in Illinois. Dodging the potholes is like running an obstacle course. Plenty of our train and el cars look worse for wear. And do you ever kind of hold your breath when you start to cross a bridge?

Well, now there are organizations and citizens trying to do something to fix that.

On Nov. 8, Illinois voters will get to have their say on something that's being referred to as the transportation lockbox amendment. In a nutshell, it will ask if the Illinois Constitution should be amended so that gas taxes, airplane fees, vehicle sticker fees and the like - collected for years in the state's road fund - should be restricted so that the money can be used only to fix roads and rebuild bridges and finance runways and replace railroading track and so forth.

A coalition of citizens and organizations called the Citizens to Protect Transportation Funding just spent $1 million to produce and air a 30-second ad that will be airing statewide to convince you to vote for this ballot question.

The ad says our roads and highways are crumbling and 4,200 bridges are in "poor condition." It says nearly $7 billion in transit-related taxes and fees have been swept from the state's road fund over 12 years to be used for other purposes, including $500 million last year.

Mike Sturino, president and CEO of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, said the group pushing passage of the amendment has collected more than $2.5 million for its campaign and will have another ad out before Election Day.

He said 34 other states have amended their constitutions to protect transit funds, with Wisconsin being the latest in 2014. So why not us?

Sturino argued a constitutional amendment would bring overdue accountability to part of state government. "It kind of goes to greater accountability for the folks in Springfield to do what they said they were going to do," he said. "They do have a problem with broken promises."

That they certainly do. Hundreds upon hundreds of funds get raided regularly whenever things get tough in Springfield. And, Sturino added, everyone benefits from a safe transit system.

It's tough to argue with any of that unless, of course, you have loved ones in public schools or you're owed a public pension, or you benefit from or work in any of scores of human service fields.

This is the problem in Illinois right now. Everyone is owed something because we've been living beyond our means.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that public pensions were a constitutionally protected right. Their benefits, once promised, cannot be "diminished or impaired." That exact wording was in the constitution. And if the transportation lockbox question passes, transit funding could be just as untouchable as public pensions.

Because of that constitutional language, Illinoisans are going to have to find $116 billion to pay off our pension debt. And then there's the $8 billion in other unpaid state bills. But if this question passes Nov. 8, we won't be borrowing any more from the road fund to cover any of those debts.

We don't even have a budget now. When we do, it will be only so big. And if we cut off a slice for pensions and we cut off a slice for transportation and we cut off a hunk for interest on overdue bills, well, you get the picture: We'll be pie-less before we get to anything else.

Only four members of the 177-member General Assembly voted against the amendment. One of them was Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook.

Nekritz said she supports transportation, "but this, I thought, tied our hands and takes away a lot of flexibility."

"We don't do that for education, we don't to that for funding for the disabled, we don't do this for prisons or any other government function," Nekritz added.

Sturino said the transit question was a way for Illinoisans to tell elected officials "enough" with their "self-inflicted" financial problems.

But Laurence Msall, president of the public finance watchdog Civic Federation, strongly disagreed.

"It is incongruity that we would seek to amend our constitution, not to provide the savings and the unfunded liability of our pensions, not to provide equal protection for school children, not to provide a more fair and equitable way to draw legislative maps, but to protect one interest group," he said. "The teachers, mental health advocates, people who care about education and higher education need to think very clearly" about this constitutional change.

It's one that could have us careening into an even deeper ditch.

Recommended: Federal judge blocks same-day voter registration in Illinois -- for now

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I ON EXCEPTIONAL LIVING - Gustavo Bilbao & Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup

Tue, 2016-09-27 05:32


Long known as the stronghold for polo in North America, Chicago recently hosted the first ever Qatar Airways Chicago Beach Polo Cup. The tournament's founder, Gustavo Bilbao, hoped the tournament would re-ignite interest in the century old game in the United States.

"Growing up in Argentina, I used to hear about the US Polo Open taking place in Chicago," Bilbao said. "Polo and Qatar Airways both offer an exceptional and aspirational lifestyle experience."

"Together, we have brought entertainment and excitement to the city and put Chicago back on the polo map, where it belongs."


The origins of polo in Chicago date back to the 1950's when the U.S. Polo Open Championship was played at the Oak Brook Polo Club. The American interest for the sport revived during the 1960's and eventually in 1967, the USPA (United States Polo Association) moved its headquarters from New York, to Illinois.

By all accounts the event held at North Avenue Beach was an unbridled success, and the organizers are looking to continue the polo cup in 2017.

The Chicago Beach Polo Cup was held over the course of three days, September 9th through the 11th, with co-ed teams competing from six countries descending on Chicago.

The Royal Wales Polo Team walked away from North Avenue Beach with the event's first ever cup trophy, and will be ready to defend their title next summer.

The event was organized to re-introduce the North American audience to the game of polo. Known as the "Sport of Kings", polo is a game often connected to royalty. However, Bilbao and company are attempting to bring the game to a wider audience by setting up tournaments on custom-built polo grounds.


Players rode their horses up to 30 miles per hour during the games as they attempted to score goals to win the tournament's trophy. A traditional polo field is about 300 yards by 160 yards. However, the ground on North Avenue Beach was slightly smaller than the size of an NFL field, giving spectators a far more intimate view of the players in action.

Over the course of the weekend as title sponsor, Qatar Airways hosted a variety of events that took place alongside the polo action. The Doha-based airline provided a VIP lounge throughout the weekend for fans and many of the area's well-known guests in attendance. Prior to each day's matches, team captains met at the Lounge to shake hands with a Qatar Airways representative, who was then given the honor of throwing out the first match ball of the day. Qatar Airways Country Manager, USA, Richard Oliver kick started proceedings on the first two days of the tournament, while Mr. Saurwein inaugurated the final day of competition and presented the champion's cup to the winners on Sunday evening. Also participating in the festivities were several Chicago area politicians and members of City Hall.

All proceeds of the tournament went to the Sentebale Foundation. The charity was founded by Great Britain's Prince Harry and strives to help vulnerable children in Lesotho, South Africa.
With this year's Chicago Beach Polo Cup such a success, next year's event should be even bigger.

Now that Chicago is back on the map for the international game that is polo, fans will have to wait and see if the Royal Wales Polo Team can retain its trophy in 2017.

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Man Admits To Murder That Kept Twin Jailed 13 Years

Mon, 2016-09-26 15:23

More than a decade after Kevin Dugar was convicted of firing a gun into a small group of people, killing one man and wounding another, his twin brother has made a shocking courtroom confession.

“I’m here to confess to a crime I committed that he was wrongly accused of,” Karl Smith, who has adopted his mother’s maiden name, testified on the witness stand, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The Illinois court confession comes three years after Smith, who is serving a 99-year prison sentence for a 2008 home invasion robbery, sent a letter to his brother confessing to the crime. Smith, 38, wrote that he was owning up to it because “I have to get it off my chest before it kills me.”

Smith later signed a sworn affidavit detailing his admission.

Testifying before Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan on Thursday, Smith said it was him, and not his brother, who in March 2003 shot into a small group of people, killing 27-year-old Antwan Carter and wounding Ronnie Bolden, then 24.

A month after the shooting, Bolden, who survived being shot twice, picked Dugar out of a photo lineup and identified him as the shooter. Dugar was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 54 years in prison.

According to Dugar’s lawyer, Karen Daniel, authorities have no evidence linking her client to the crime. She also claims Smith’s photo was not included in the photo lineup that was shown to Bolden. Smith’s confession, she argued in court, raises enough doubt to grant her client a new trial.

Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala on Thursday questioned Smith’s motive in coming forward, saying he only chose to do so after an appeals court upheld his own conviction.

“He’s got nothing to lose,” Rogala said.

The twins’ mother, Judy Dugar, disagrees with Rogala, saying she is certain that Smith is telling the truth.

“He wouldn’t lie about that,” she told the Tribune. “I hope Kevin will get out. I hope he change his whole life around.”

It’s unclear when Gaughan will decide if Dugar should be given a new trial.

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More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Our Violence Problem

Mon, 2016-09-26 13:42
So the City is going to hire yet more cops. Yet more, you say? Yes - the city already almost leads the nation in its level of sworn officers, and has got precious little to show for it.

When politicians say we need more police, from Bill Clinton's 1990s call for 100,000 more cops, to the 2012 Chicago mayoral election, a certain amount of fact-free electioneering is expected.

But when Crain's Chicago Business' Greg Hinz is joined by his editorial board in this fact-free nonsense, we've reached a new low in the civic discussion about how to save more lives in our city. Like the mass incarceration boom of the 1990s, the City is escalating a disastrous trend which our communities (and wallets) will spend many years extricating ourselves from.

Before making their hire-more-cops pronouncements, did either Hinz or Crain's editorial board bother looking up the numbers and crunching them to see where Chicago ranks on sworn officers per capita?

According to data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2014 (the latest year available), the number of sworn cops per capita in Chicago is already almost the highest in the nation -- No. 3 out of the 669 U.S. cities with 50,000 or more people. Since the UCR doesn't crunch the numbers on a per capita basis, I've done so here.

As Crain's correctly points out, while the absolute number of homicides in Chicago is shocking - more than LA and New York combined (with a quarter their combined population) - the city's per capita homicide rate is still outpaced by cities such as Baltimore. But that presents another fact-based problem for Crain's hire-more-cops prescription - Baltimore ranking No. 2 in the nation for cops per capita, also has the second highest murder rate in the U.S.

So arguably, to the extent that there is any correlation between the number of cops and the amount of violence, it's that having lots of cops equals having more homicides. The reason is quite simple: the more you spend on cops, the less you have to spend on things that actually reduce social tensions and violence.

As Black Lives Matters activists have pointed out, spending on the city's police already consumes 38-40% of our city's operational budget - $4 million per day. That's a lot of money that could be spent on real measures to prevent violence. And the American Friends Service Committee notes,

One day spent on policing in Chicago is the equivalent of what the city spends on:
* 5 months of Mental Health Services ($9.4 million per year)
* 18 months of Substance Abuse Treatment ($2.6 million per year)
* 32 months of Violence Prevention programs ($1.5 million per year)

In many respects, Chicago's violence problem is not all that different in scope from that of other U.S. cities. But when compared to the rest of the industrialized world, the U.S. violence rate is off the charts. As I have argued elsewhere, the number one factor in promoting violence - far more than the presence or absence of guns and other factors - is inequality. The internationally-recognized best measure of inequality, the so-called Gini Index, shows over and over again that nations with high inequality rates have high violence rates. As with the world, so with our city.

Against this poor national baseline, Mayor Emanuel and Richard M. Daley have engaged in a series of disastrous policies that have exacerbated the growing inequality that Chicago shares with other U.S. cities:

* Destroying thousands of units of CHA and SRO housing has put upwards pressure on the rents for all working class people. It's simple market economics - as units of affordable housing are destroyed, there are more people chasing fewer units of affordable housing, driving rents up. Rent subsidies fail to address the root of the problem because they don't lead to construction of additional affordable housing units. They simply enrich landlords owning units that might not otherwise rent.

* Showering millions on gee-whiz projects like Millennium Park, the lakefront bike bridge by Lake Point Towers, the Chicago river walk, the DePaul basketball arena, and several TIF-subsidized luxury high-rises. Meanwhile, many of the institutional anchors of working class neighborhoods, especially predominately black and brown ones, are wiped out or greatly diminished. Library hours are cut back, mental health clinics are closed, schools are closed, and their extracurricular programs, arts and athletic program are cutback or destroyed.

* While housing markets in black neighborhoods were hit hardest by predatory home loans, and the Great Recession wiped out the first decent home equity ever seen by most black Americans, Daley and Emanuel have piled on with a series of regressive taxes on water, garbage removal, parking, and a host of others, while scrupulously avoided taxes that primarily hit the rich, such as a financial transactions tax.

* The cutbacks in neighborhood institutions and programs have been laser-focused on our at-risk youth, particular in predominately poor black and brown neighborhoods, leaving them with historically low employment levels as they age into what should be the start of their prime years in the workforce. The result is youth without training or entry level jobs, and the underground economy as one of their few options for income.

Ironically, past police "successes" in combating crime have also exacerbated our violence problem. "Tough on crime" measures gave police and prosecutors license to embark on a mass incarceration boom, disproportionately targeting black and brown youth for petty drug crimes (while white youth largely went free). With prisons bursting at the seams and long sentences expiring, people with "bad paper" exited Illinois's prisons skill-less and in a virtually unemployable state even if they had skills. Their choices for survival were largely limited to the underground economy and recidivism.

Our city used to have two large, admittedly violent gang federations. But just as the break-up of the mob by the feds did a few decades ago, the CPD's success in putting big gang leaders behind bars has simply spawned a swarm of much smaller gangs each fighting over tiny patches of territory a few blocks square, with much more violence as a result. Much smaller territories mean that public housing shutdowns and school closures are much likely to force youth across gang boundaries than in the days of the big gang federations, again with more violence as a result.

Flooding "hot spots" with cops or CAPS' "positive loitering" simply moves the problem elsewhere or temporarily suppresses it, because the root of the violence problem - increasing inequality - remains unaddressed.

Publications like Crain's, the Wall Street Journal, and the Tribune frequently publish articles decrying growing inequality in this country. But they're nearly always found wanting when it comes to supporting specific measures to redress this imbalance by funding the rebuilding of our poorest neighborhoods, supporting a financial transactions tax, or opposing sweetheart TIF deals that shovel funds away from those who need it most.

Instead, they have the ignored facts and stupidly aped politicians' demagogic appeals for more cops - something that won't save our youth, and will instead drain funds from programs that help them and the rest of us.

As recent events in Milwaukee and Charlotte show, people's patience with the non-solutions from our so-called civic leaders is at an end.

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