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Chicago Senator Wants To Waive $150 GED Fees For Homeless Students

Fri, 2016-04-08 08:32

What often stands between a homeless student and a high school degree is just a couple of hundred dollars. That’s why a Chicago senator is calling for fees for equivalency exams to be waived for homeless youth.

Youth homelessness is on the decline in Chicago, but those struggling with the issue face increased risks for sex trafficking, abuse and hunger. To give this demographic the chance to climb out of poverty, Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) sponsored legislation that would exempt homeless youth from paying for their GED exams, CBS Chicago reported.

The fees usually range from $120 to $150 and would be covered by the school districts.

“I think that’s not too much to ask,” Silverstein told the news outlet.

There were 1,422 homeless individuals under the age of 18 in Chicago last year, according to last year’s point-in-time count. That was a 13 percent drop from 2014. 

Other lawmakers have already implemented this cost-saving measure.

Last September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits the Department of Education and testing companies from charging exam fees to homeless people younger than 25.

Granting homeless youth the opportunity to get a diploma helps them expand their job opportunities and also improves the economy on a larger scale.

California loses $3.2 billion in contributions from the more than 75 percent of homeless youth who don’t graduate from high school, according to Community Education Partnerships, a group that supports education programs for homeless kids in the Bay Area. 

"Homeless youth face impossible barriers that make it difficult to graduate from high school, and yet we make it even more challenging for them to receive a diploma at a later date," Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the California bill, told Edge Media Network. "This legislation removes the financial obstacle that keeps many homeless youth from earning a diploma, which will help increase their chances of getting a job and contributing to their families and communities."

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Democracy Free-for-All

Thu, 2016-04-07 15:08
Here in America, we celebrate democracy by staying in touch with the lack of it. What better way to honor our ancestors' struggles to win the right to vote -- and have that vote counted -- than to have to struggle ourselves for the same thing?

Considering that, as I wrote four years ago, "democracy is nothing if not a perpetual nuisance to the powerful," and that apathy is the national curse, I remain amazed that we're having a presidential race this year that cuts so deeply -- to core human values -- and is worth enduring a sort of bureaucratic totalitarianism to participate in.

This is not the intention of our system's alleged guardians, of course, and they need to be watched far more carefully than the mainstream media regards as necessary. What we live in is not so much a democratic republic as a sociopolitical free-for-all, not quite in anyone's control.

The forces of political centrism, which includes the mainstream media, like to think that they're in control, and endlessly purvey the message that America-brand democracy is the best in the world. Because this message is straight-on public relations (which used to be called propaganda), it's untarnished by reality, e.g.:

"The frustrating waits," according to the Associated Press, "come after the Arizona legislature slashed funding last year for counties to carry out the presidential election. Election officials in Phoenix responded with scaled-back polling, citing a lack of money and the belief that people would vote by mail."

How much is democracy worth?

On March 22, as we know, Arizona's primary election degenerated into a fiasco in Phoenix's Maricopa County, where County Recorder Helen Purcell (a Republican) had cut the number of polling places by a stunning 70 percent, from 211 in 2112 to 60 this year, one polling site for every 108,000 residents of the ethnically diverse (non-majority-white) city. Many determined voters had to wait in line five or six hours to cast their ballots and some of the polling sites didn't close till nearly 1 a.m.

And, oh yeah, the state's independent voters were totally shafted. Their votes didn't count at all, apparently unbeknownst to those who waited hours in line. Only registered Republicans or Democrats could cast a primary ballot. Thus, as many as 24,000 provisional ballots were thrown out, election analyst Ari Berman told Amy Goodman at Democracy Now.

And this, too, is what democracy looks like: determination pushing, not always successfully, against power and bureaucracy. Democracy is an inner urgency far more than it's a settled political system. The United States does not embrace the idea that the more eligible voters who actually vote, the better we are as a nation. Indeed, beyond voting rights for white, male property owners, voting eligibility has accrued only to those who claimed it after a long, bitter struggle. Deep wariness of actual democracy is still very much who we are as a nation.

For a serious bloc of the nation's power holders, democracy is primarily a dangerous energy flow that has to be gamed and controlled, not accommodated. What matters is maintaining power, not making it easier for have-nots to vote.

Democracy, I wrote during the last presidential go-around, "asserts that public policy is everyone's business, and that the concerns of even the most financially and socially marginal citizens are equal to those of the most elite. Indeed, no one is marginal in a democracy -- a concept we embrace as a nation but don't believe. And thus citizens are marginalized all the time."

Meet, for instance, Wisconsin resident Dennis Hatten, one of the 300,000 or so registered voters in the state whose enfranchisement may have been thrown into jeopardy by the state's controversial new voter ID law. These are the people I call the complexly struggling: economically and perhaps physically marginalized people for whom transportation and various bureaucratic costs, which may run more than $100 (to get such things as new birth certificates), are extremely difficult to meet and constitute a latter-day poll tax.

As ThinkProgress reported recently: "Thanks to an error on (Hatten's) birth certificate, the formerly homeless Marine Corps veteran spent months working with the voting rights groups Citizen Action and Vote Riders, finally obtaining a state ID just in time to vote."

The ordeal "involved countless phone calls, assistance from volunteer lawyers, and trips to the DMV. If he had children, he said, or multiple jobs, he may have given up."

Allegedly, such laws are meant to control voter fraud, the power elite's red herring of the moment -- as though people voting twice were a real problem. Federal Judge Richard Posner wrote in a dissent to the Wisconsin law that "since 2000 there have been only ten cases of in-person voter fraud that could have been prevented by photo ID laws. Out of 146 million registered voters, this is a ratio of one case of voter fraud for every 14.6 million eligible voters -- more than a dozen times less likely than being struck by lightning."

But you've got to cut democracy-wary pols and their corporate puppeteers some slack. They can't just ban certain classes of likely hostile voters from the voting booth, like they could in the old days. They have to operate under the cover of democracy-protecting legitimacy -- just as the U.S. military, which maintains a bottomless budget even as state legislatures slash funding to hold elections, has to keep telling us it's protecting the country from terrorists.

As Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman wrote recently, there does remain a second option for the powerful: "flipping" the vote on electronic voting machines. The electronic vote count simply cannot be verified.

"Virtually all these machines are 10 years old or more, and can easily be hacked," they write. "Swing states Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and Arizona, among others, have GOP governors and, except for Florida, secretaries of state who can easily flip the vote counts, once they are cast, without accountability or detection. Also, private partisan voting machine companies have unlimited access to the electronic poll books, voting machines and central tabulators."

In 2016, democracy is doing its best to survive the free-for-all. So many Americans -- the young, the impoverished, the watchful -- in their determination to safeguard the democratic process or, simply, to cast their votes, are, let us hope, causing the arc of change to bend beyond the reach of the powerful.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Black Lives Matter Educates Chicago's Teachers

Thu, 2016-04-07 13:14
Towards the end of a powerful day of striking across this city on April 1, Page May, leader of Assata's Daughters, a black women's empowerment group, came on stage at the CTU led rally at the Thompson Center and proudly said, "F*ck the Police!"

Her three words have caused a tidal wave of discussions in this city among all groups of people. Many of these discussions have been necessary and difficult. Sadly, some of these discussions have made her the target of terribly racist and violent threats.

Since the rally that Page spoke at was in large part a CTU rally, we teachers have been forced to talk amongst ourselves, in person, on social media, and list serves about her three words, the meaning and the implications.

Many teachers have said things like, "That was not the place to make a statement like that. April 1 was about building unity to fight Rauner and Rahm and her comments created divisiveness, not unity, during what was an otherwise powerful day." Or "We need to work with other public sector union employees, like the police in our struggle to get more funding, but now the police hate us."

We blamed her essentially for putting a black cloud over what was "our" beautiful event.

The Black Lives Matter Movement has been successful at bringing issues of police brutality to the forefront of the American conversation over the past few years. Educators as a whole have been receptive and supportive of the movement.

But this comment has pushed us educators to discuss the movement in ways that many of us never have.

This is the apparent beauty of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

We teachers are on the front lines, advocating for our students, our schools, and communities. We consider ourselves forward thinking, social justice orientated and anti-racist.

Studies show that the teaching profession has become more and more white, which means we (white educators) also do not know what it is like to deal with the police the way our students do, day in and day out.

I struggled with Page's comment too at first. I thought to myself the timing wasn't right, the event wasn't right, maybe she wasn't right, because surely there are many good police officers, too. I have not had very many negative experiences with the police. When I call the police, they come and they don't bother me unless I am doing something that I shouldn't be.

These three words, "F*ck the Police" have made me re-examine all of that.

I have current and former students who have shared story upon story of police abuses with me. I know that in many of the situations that my students share with me, my students were not doing anything wrong and did not deserve the police encounter. But somewhere deep inside my brain, sometimes my privilege creeps. It whispers things like, "Surely, they must have done something or the police wouldn't have bothered them," But then my Chicago education (taught to me by students) overpowers that privileged thought, and I hear my students saying to me, "Mr. Stieber, all I did was walk down the street, while being black."

If you live in Chicago, and are young and black, you probably deal with the police -- or are tense because of the police -- daily. I only have to deal with this tension when I choose to listen to black youth.

In my mind, I was trying to operate in a world where police and black youth could exist in the same space. Thanks to Page, I am beginning to see differently. I now realize that if we teachers cared as much about why so many of our black students have a hatred towards the police to begin with, as we do to Page saying, "F*ck the police" at a rally, we would be much closer to stopping police brutality.

Many more discussions need to be had, but the Black Lives Matter movement (led in Chicago by BYP100, Assata's Daughters and others) as a whole sees to it that all white people have to grapple with these issues, even when we don't think it is appropriate or timed right.

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Director Atom Egoyan on his Film, Remember</em>, and Working with Christopher Plummer

Thu, 2016-04-07 13:03
Academy Award nominated director, Atom Egoyan, joined me for the the most recent episode of The Dinner Party with Elysabeth Alfano. His film, Remember, is out this Friday nationally.

Over some incredible dishes from Armenian-influenced Michelin starred chef, Carrie Nahabedian of Naha, Atom and I discuss our food heritages, the plethora and difficulty of Armenian dishes, how food is woven into identity, and the incredibly powerful performance of a vibrant Christopher Plummer, now 86, in Remember. A meditation on memory and unresolved history from the end of World War II, in Remember, Plummer's character, Zev, struggles with dementia and yet wants to carry out an act of revenge that he knows is fundamentally true, even if the details are unclear. Remember is a study on what the mind chooses to remember.

Enjoy this podcast as Atom shares his love of food and his reactions to the initial feedback from early screenings of Remember. It is also a joy to hear Atom explain in truly unscripted sincerity his long-felt admiration for Plummer and what, for him, makes a great story.

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Rauner Wants Dems, GOP Working Together 24/7 To End Illinois Budget Crisis

Thu, 2016-04-07 11:27
By Gov. Bruce Rauner

Gov. Bruce Rauner meets with legislative leaders to discuss the state budget on Dec. 2, 2015. It was the first meeting involving all five in six months.

This week marks the first time in more than a month that both the House and the Senate will be in Springfield for legislative session. We have all been disappointed in the lack of action on the crises facing our state. Now is the opportunity to put partisan differences aside and work together on solutions for the people of Illinois.

In the short term, we must address the crisis facing higher education and social services. For the long term, we must enact a balanced budget alongside job-creating reforms that grow our economy and drive more value for taxpayers.

Numerous pieces of legislation have been introduced in both the Senate and the House that would fund universities, community colleges and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to ensure no school shuts its doors and no student is financially harmed. I've proposed ways to fund MAP grants by enacting procurement reform. Social service providers cannot survive a months-long payment backlog which is why we've proposed funding vital services through savings generated by enacting pension reform.

These spending proposals aren't empty promises -- they are linked to key government reforms that generate taxpayer savings; and they would provide universities, community colleges, students and providers the assurances they need to plan for the months ahead.

Passing spending bills with no money to pay for them is simply exacerbating an ever-growing problem while giving students and communities false hope. We need to assure taxpayers that we are not continuing a broken system where we promise to spend money the state doesn't have.

Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Chicago State doesn't close its doors. Let's consider these bipartisan proposals so that Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Harper College don't lay off employees -- so that IIT students don't get charged for their MAP grants and no social service provider cuts off services to our most vulnerable.

Let's start negotiations immediately -- whenever, wherever -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week -- on a bipartisan, balanced budget with a mix of reforms, cost reductions and revenue.

We can and should come together to increase state support for our K-12 schools by, for the first time in seven years, fully funding the General State Aid foundation level.

Fixing the funding formula should be a priority; it's going to take time to bring all stakeholders together to negotiate a long-term, fair and equitable agreement. In the meantime, we need to give school districts the certainty they need to start planning for the next school year by increasing the funding level for every student in Illinois while protecting districts from the devastating effects of proration.

This impasse has lasted long enough, but none of us can end it on our own. Only by working together will we be able to enact a balanced budget that makes Illinois both compassionate and competitive for years to come.

It certainly won't be easy, but let's be optimistic and persistent so that we can get this done -- we owe it to the people we serve.

Let's get to work.

NEXT ARTICLE: Lawmaker introduces two new bills to address the Illinois heroin epidemic

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Dennis Hastert Accused Of Sexual Abuse By At Least 4, Sources Say

Thu, 2016-04-07 11:17

For months, federal authorities have hinted at the motive behind the hush-money payments former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has admitted to making: the sexual abuse of a teenage boy when Hastert was still a suburban high school teacher and wrestling coach.

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Lisa Madigan Could Hold The Key To Unlocking The Budget Impasse

Thu, 2016-04-07 10:18

The main reason the Illinois budget impasse has endured into its 10th month is an appellate court decision from last July that said all state employees could be paid even without a budget authorizing their paychecks.

At the time, Comptroller Leslie Munger said failure to continue paying the 63,000 employees would put the state out of compliance with federal labor law and would incur steep penalties. (The state could have stayed in compliance by paying the federal minimum wage only to employees deemed essential, but Munger's office argued that state government's data systems are so old and inefficient that payroll could not be broken down as required.)

Attorney Genera Lisa Madigan had argued that the state constitution states clearly that state government can't spend without authorization from the General Assembly. A Cook County judge sided with Madigan, but a St. Clair County judge a few days later ruled that failure to pay the employees would violate the state's protection of contracts.

Thus, the dreaded "government shutdown" in Illinois never really happened. With employees still on the job at drivers license facilities, state universities, state parks and other state government offices, the vast majority of government appeared to function just fine. With that source of public pressure removed, Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan could pursue their protracted standoff without large-scale repercussions. Only recently has unrest over lack of state funding at public universities begun to generate widespread concern over the budget deadlock.

But that could change in a hurry after a March 24 Illinois Supreme Court decision that appears to reject the reasoning of the St. Clair County courts.

In the lawsuit, AFSCME Council 31 sued the state for payment of contractually promised pay raises from 2011 that had never been delivered because the state said it didn't have the money. This led to a series of court actions (detailed on pages 3-6 of the decision) that ended up before the Illinois Supreme Court.

But the Supreme Court sided with the state, saying essentially that without a budget appropriation from the General Assembly, the state was not required to pay. The court cited "a well-defined and dominant public policy under which multiyear collective bargaining agreements are subject to the appropriation power of the State, a power which may only be exercised by the General Assembly."

In other words, the contractual protection cited in the St. Clair County case does not supersede the "dominant public policy" by which the General Assembly authorizes spending tax dollars.

Armed with this ruling from the state's highest court, Lisa Madigan would appear to have a strong foundation to revive her lawsuit from last summer. That could lead to a halt to state employee paychecks, which would lead to immediate and intense public outcry as the "mainstream" portions of state government abruptly closed.

That would lead, almost certainly, to a swift resolution of the budget impasse that is now into its 10th month.

"Currently we're reviewing the court's decision," said Madigan spokeswoman Annie Thompson.

Last summer, the offices of comptroller, aligned with Rauner, and attorney general were hostile toward each other as one sought to secure state employee pay and the other tried to stop it. Look for a return of hostilities should Madigan pursue this.

NEXT ARTICLE: Lawmaker introduces two new bills to address the Illinois heroin epidemic

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Chicago-Based Artists and Musicians Work Together to Benefit Mental Health Resources

Wed, 2016-04-06 18:42
On April 28th, Chicago's artists, musicians, and businesses are coming together for one event at Restock Shop in Wicker Park to benefit mental health resources in underfunded neighborhoods.

If you live in Chicago - or you've heard anything about us on the news - you know that not all of our neighborhoods have the same level of funding. Chicago can be a great place to live - it is safe in many places and full of music, theater, and trending restaurants. We love our teams, we tolerate our winters, and we enjoy all the entertainment this city has to offer.

But while there are perks to Chicago's lifestyle, there are many neighborhoods with limited resources - especially mental health resources. According to the Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation, Illinois ranks third in the nation when it comes to states with the highest dollar amounts cut from mental health programs. 35-40 percent of children in Illinois are considered to have a behavioral or mental health concern but Chicago has shut down 6 of 12 mental health care facilities, including facilities in "the heart of the African-American community on the South Side," according to ILCHF.

The mental health care system in Chicago is broken, which is why artists throughout Chicago are banding together to host the first Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event on April 28th at Restock Shop in Wicker Park. Guests can shop art and designer fashion or dance to the music of Blue Mud and Riverhorse. All proceeds benefit Dynamic Counseling - an organization whose mission is to cultivate the accessibility and quality of Chicago's mental health care.

Dynamic's Co-Founder, Katie Jackson, explains, "We're passionate about breaking down any barriers that someone might have to access mental health services. It's hard enough to reach out for help without worrying about finances." That is why Katie, and Co-Founder, Lauren Rabin have decided to put together the Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event to jumpstart the organization's mission.

If you are a Chicago resident you can contribute simply by enjoying the event. There are limited tickets available so don't wait to check it out.

Dynamic Artwork will not be the effort of only one organization. The event is being made possible by the work of many local businesses including the contribution of hor dourves by Eat Purely - a company that is giving Chicago access to healthy food anywhere, anytime.

Each and every sponsor is a business, artist or musician from the city of Chicago who is invested in bettering the community's resources.

Here are some additional Chicago sponsors making the event happen: Desserts donated by West Town Bakery and Goddess and the Grocer; Beer donated by Revolution Brewing; and amenities such as an open bar thanks to sponsors like The Green Pet Shop and Filter Cafe .

Of course, you can't have an exhibit without art nor a party without live music. Scroll down to see some of the art and music Dynamic Artwork guests will experience on April 28th.

Learn More About Dynamic Artwork Fundraising Event | Buy Tickets

Love is Free by VersAnnette Blackman LMT |

Self Portrait by Lina Caro |

Rural towers by Corn Addict | Mixed media on 24" x 36" canvas | Instagram @cornaddict

Making Trouble by Uncle Harvey | Instragram @uncleharvey_

By Karen Parisian |

Watch live performance videos by musical guests, Mike Jacoby & Rob Owen of Blue Mud and Riverhorse right here

For more details on Dynamic Artwork, contact Lauren Rabin:

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Larenz Tate's 7 Secrets about 'Game of Silence'

Wed, 2016-04-06 14:59

Native Chicagoan Larenz Tate came home recently to promote the gritty new NBC series, Game of Silence. Tate, flanked by his brothers, actors LaRon and Lahmard, met fans at a free event at Xfinity and later hosted a table of journalists.

In Game of Silence, the boyishly handsome Tate portrays complicated character Shawn Cook:
"Shawn is one of a few childhood friends who had a tough experience when they went to a juvenile detention center," Tate says. "They've been holding this secret about some of the things that occurred to them; 25 years later, they band together to try to right the wrongs of their past because they've been harboring some secrets for a long time."

Tate adds with a smirk, "That means they may do some things that may not be legal to do."

With refreshing candor, Tate discussed the drama series and why he was compelled to be a part of it. Here are 7 secrets about Game of Silence

1. It feels like a movie--or a gritty cable series.

"NBC was really cool about taking a big leap and doing a show that's really ready for cable," Tate explains. "It's a made-for-cable kind of show. It's very gritty, dealing with the subject matter, none of the characters are one-dimensional. It's serialized, so you're going to have to look at the show in order."

2. There are some heavy weights behind the scenes.

"Our executive producer came from CSI; we also have a producer that came from Friday Night Lights...we have a great pedigree. And the story line is compelling; it's strong brotherhood, friendship and loyalty."

3. Larenz had several options.

"NBC actually sent a couple of shows to me, I felt like this show was the one that would go into series, and the other two didn't. So, I'm happy that I chose this one, I just had a really good feeling about it."

4. Larenz's character is the glue that holds the group together.

"Shawn's the spirit of the group; he's the guy that's still holding on to the past when they were innocent kids. We want him to be the life of the party in a way that you can understand why they're friends with him in the first place. With Shawn, we can take a bit of a breather from the heavy weight of the show so you can see what makes these guys friends."

5. Somebody snaps.

"What these boys experienced was tormenting, so they got out and they decided to make a pact to never talk about this because of the shame that they had. They never wanted to discuss these things, 25 years later, some of them moved away some of them remained friends, but that past showed up on their doorstep. Meaning, one of the friends saw a person that tortured us, and he flipped. Something switched in his mind as an adult, to see his torturer and he went crazy, and got himself locked up. And now the other friends are going to come to his aid to try to get him out."

6. The cast met with the writers and Larenz discussed race relations.

"Once we got into a series, the executive producer allowed us to come into the writers' room, a very diverse group with more than 20 people, just so that we could hear what they were talking about.

And I wanted to be very clear, I said listen, 'my friends reflect a very diverse kind of group. So we in this room, we're going to talk about race, but don't feel weird because I'm the brother that's on the show, if you will, because I don't judge them for their race.'

The characters Gil and Shawn are like brothers. I like that we can dispel the idea that black folks and white folks can't be like legitimate friends and brothers in a real way. But also, we're going to talk about issues about how things can happen to me, that won't happen to them.

Some real cool storylines are going to come up that address that, and I said that's timely. We've gotta talk about that. We don't have to harp on it, but things that happen to me ain't gonna' happen to some of my white friends. We had a real honest conversation and they listened and it worked."

7. The Popeyes Chicken lady makes an appearance.

"Deidrie Henry is a wonderful actress and she also has the campaign for Popeyes. So, I'm on the set, and I didn't even know that was her--and we shot a whole pilot together. One day, she's taking a photo with a camera phone that had a Popeyes emblem on it. And I asked her what that was about. That's a great thing, because she's not the person that you see on this Popeyes campaign, and she's dope."

The special 2-night premiere of Game of Silence begins Tuesday, April 12 at 10/9c on NBC.
Photos via NBC, used with permission.

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Top 25 Biggest Pensioners in the State Universities Retirement System

Wed, 2016-04-06 14:13
Taxpayers United of America recently released a new analysis of the State Universities Retirement System -- the second-largest of the five Illinois pension funds.

The Chicago-based organization, which advocates for tax relief and pension reform, routinely publishes lists highlighting the state's biggest pensioners. Its latest analysis focuses on the retirement system for academics and staff at public universities and community colleges in Illinois.

"SURS is in dire need of significant pension reform, much like the other Illinois state pension funds. But since individual SURS retirees are some of the highest paid employees, and therefore biggest pensioners in Illinois, the need for reform is all the more serious for both beneficiaries and taxpayers," said Jared Labell, the organization's director of operations.

As of June 30, 2015, SURS had a funded ratio of 44.2 percent with $22.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, according to a report published in March by the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

SURS at a glance

  • Defined benefit active members: 69,381

  • Average defined benefit active member salary: $50,103

  • Self-managed plan active members: 11,928

  • Total retirees: 51,631

  • Employee contribution: 8 percent (not eligible for Social Security)

  • Average age of retiree: 62.6

  • Average pension: $38,070

  • Years of service at retirement: 19

Source: Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability

The average annual pension payout in SURS is the second-lowest behind the State Employees' Retirement System, but the vast majority the fund's top pensioners are distinguished medical professionals and former higher education executives.

However, as the Better Government Association reported in 2013, many of the biggest pensioners were University of Illinois at Chicago employees who retired, began collecting their pensions, and then were rehired after waiting the required 60 days in order to work part-time for a smaller salary.

More from TUA:

"Taxpayers were forced to pay 467 percent more into the SURS pension fund than the multi-millionaire SURS retirees paid into their own government pensions. That means that for every dollar that an SURS government employee contributed to their own retirement, taxpayers were forced to match them with a subsidy of $4.67."

Here are the Top 25 retirees in SURS with the largest annual pensions, according to the analysis.

The list also includes each retiree's title, employer, estimated lifetime pension payout, employee contributions, highest annual earnings and pension benefits collected to date, among other figures.

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Chicago To Pay $4.9 Million To Family Of Man Dragged In Handcuffs

Wed, 2016-04-06 12:27

The city of Chicago has agreed to pay the family of a black man who died after being dragged by handcuffs from a cell in a police lockup and down a hallway more than three years ago, an attorney for the family said on Monday.

Philip Coleman, 38, was arrested for domestic battery against his mother on Dec. 12, 2012.

After he refused to go to court the next morning, several police officers struggled with Coleman inside a cell, and he was Tasered, court records showed. In an incident caught on video, an officer dragged a motionless Coleman by his handcuffs.

Coleman later died at a hospital, according to court records. The Chicago Tribune reported that an autopsy showed he died of a reaction to an antipsychotic drug and also had bruises and abrasions on his body. Reuters was not able to confirm the cause of death.

Ed Fox, a lawyer for the family, told Reuters by phone that Coleman's family and the city of Chicago had reached a settlement over the family's civil rights lawsuit, but declined to confirm media reports that it was for $4.9 million.

The city's law department declined to comment.

If the city council approves the settlement next week, the amount will be public.

Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been under national scrutiny since protests erupted last year after the release of a video showing the November 2014 shooting of a black teenager.

Protesters have called for Emanuel to resign over the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who is white, has been charged with murder, and Emanuel has apologized for the slaying.

In the wake of the protests, Emanuel fired his police chief and the Justice Department started an investigation of the Chicago Police Department to see whether there was a pattern of excessive use of lethal force.

In the Coleman case, a federal judge ruled in a December opinion that Officer Keith Kirkland and supervising officer Sergeant Tommy Walker were liable in their treatment of Coleman. Walker could have stopped the actions of Kirkland and intervened, but failed to do so. Both officers are black, Fox said.

Coleman's family has said he had mental health issues.

Emanuel announced reforms in January to address how police and other emergency workers respond to the mentally ill, after a police officer shot dead an emotionally troubled college student and an innocent bystander.

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Obama, Biden Endorse Tammy Duckworth For Senate

Wed, 2016-04-06 09:10

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for Senate on Wednesday.

"I'm proud to support Tammy Duckworth for the seat I once held in the United States Senate," Obama said. "Few people fight as passionately for our veterans as Tammy. Soon after I was first elected president, I asked her to join my administration and serve her fellow veterans at the VA. She served with purpose and distinction -- service that continued when she ran for Congress and won.  And I was proud to sign one of Tammy's signature pieces of legislation -- the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act -- into law."

"When her nation calls, Tammy Duckworth answers, and I’m proud to support her in this next mission: running for the U.S. Senate," Biden said. "She supports programs that make college more affordable, including free community college for deserving students, and that's the kind of voice we need in the U.S. Senate."

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and two-term congresswoman, is trying to unseat Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in one of the most competitive races in the country. Polling from last summer showed Duckworth with a slight lead. She also raised more money in the last quarter of 2015 -- $1.6 million to Kirk’s $1 million.

There's been some suspicious activity during their race. A "protest" last week at a Duckworth event included people who said they were being paid and didn't know if the congresswoman was a Democrat or a Republican. In November, Kirk supporters were caught using a fake minimum wage petition to put his name on the ballot. The Kirk campaign denied any involvement.

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Report: Chicago is Losing More Millionaires Than Any Other U.S. City

Tue, 2016-04-05 12:20

More millionaires left Chicago last year than any other city in the nation, according to a report by New World Wealth.

The research firm found Chicago had a net loss of nearly 3,000 millionaires, or individuals with at least $1 million in net assets (excluding their primary residence), which accounted for 2 percent of the city's 134,000 high net worth residents.

Mounting racial tensions and an increase in crime were among the most notable reasons given by millionaires fleeing the Windy City for other parts of the country.

The report's findings are on a par with those of Nielsen study released last year that showed many wealthy black Chicagoans are leaving the city, too.

From the Chicago Tribune's Becky Yerak:

The Nielsen report found that the Chicago area has fallen out of the top echelon of U.S. cities when it comes to the percentage of black households earning more than $100,000. In 2000, Chicago ranked seventh among the cities with the largest percentage of black households with income at that level or higher, but in 2015, Chicago had dropped out of the top 10.

Globally, Chicago was one of four cities -- Paris (7,000), Rome (5,000) and Athens (2,000) -- with the largest outflow of millionaires, according to the report.

Australia ranked No. 1 out of countries with the largest inflow of millionaires at 8,000, followed by the U.S. (7,000); Canada (5,000); Israel (4,000), United Arab Emirates (3,000); and New Zealand (2,000). Figures are rounded to the nearest 1,000.

Conversely, France, China, Italy, India, Greece, Russia, Spain and Brazil lost the most individuals with more than $1 million in net assets.

More from the report on why millionaires leaving matters:

  • Bad sign - millionaires are often the first people to leave. They have the means to leave unlike middle class citizens.

  • Money outflow - when millionaires leave a country, they take large amounts of money with them which impacts negatively on the local currency, local stock market and local property market.

  • Lost jobs - millionaires employ large numbers of people. Around 30% to 40% of millionaires are business owners.

  • Lost revenue and tax - millionaires spend a lot of money on local goods and services and pay a large amount of income tax.

  • Pensions & benefits - millionaires are not reliant on state pensions and benefits, which makes them a relatively easy and cheap group to please.

  • Resilient - millionaires are resilient to economic downturns and can keep an economy going during tough times.

  • Brain drain - millionaires are normally highly skilled and highly educated. Many are also innovators.

New World Wealth's report used data from investor visa program statistics, interviews with roughly 800 high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and intermediaries from around the world, property registers and sales statistics, as well as from the media.

The complete report is here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Some surprising names among Top 10 best community colleges in Illinois

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Everything Is Falling into the Right Place for Speaker Madigan

Tue, 2016-04-05 10:23

Cartoon by Scott Stantis

Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Everyone's fallen right into their roles. I wonder if House Speaker Mike Madigan ever marvels at how it's all worked out so perfectly.

Back in 2012, when Gov. Bruce Rauner was launching his evil plot to take over Illinois and crush labor unions all over planet Earth, the Chicago Teachers Union foretold it all.

The union released a clever video called "Stand Up to the Fat Cats." The dark stars of this tale? A little kitty called "The Rahminator" and his catty pal "Rowdy Rauner." They were the leaders of the litter box gang out to destroy beloved teachers and unions everywhere, while getting rich off of everyone. (Scroll down to watch the video.)

"The fat cats just sat back and laughed as the money rolled right into their pockets," says the dad reading the Fat Cats story to his child.

Yes, everyone's playing their parts to the hilt, the Speaker must think these days. Things could not be working out better.

Teachers and other labor unions never have been more united. Rauner and Rahm never have been more unpopular. The governor continues to call for the destruction of unions as we know them, even as he loses a couple high-profile primary battles.

And no one pays much attention to the Speaker himself, as his various campaign funds pile up more and more money from labor unions and lawyers. The Speaker was left out of the clever union video.

He's been out of sight for a month now, but he talked plenty before that. The Speaker, known as the Velvet Hammer, appeared with his wry grin, talking about how he's protecting the poor, the working stiffs and the middle class from that evil Rowdy Rauner and his litter box gang. Of course, Madigan didn't call him a name. He still politely referred to him as the governor.

Still, the narrative works so well. Madigan, who has been in power for all but two of the past 30 years, gets to save the little people.

The poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, the disadvantaged children all suffer while the state has no budget, but Madigan and his supermajority bear no blame. Illinois public colleges edge near the precipice. Union members in college towns who see their pensions and their very livelihoods being threatened blame the new, rowdy governor, not the long-time Speaker-savior.

Madigan's Democrats, and those in the Senate, tell constituents Rauner is to blame for all the current impasse pain. I'm sorry, we just can't get anything done, but we are busy protecting you, their stories go. Never mind the fact that they've held the majority now with Madigan as their leader since 1997 and for another 12 years prior to 1995.

Never mind that in all that time, pension debt skyrocketed to $111 billion. Never mind that Democratic majorities regularly have approved budgets that spend more than the state was taking in. Never mind that lawmakers have talked for 30 years about needing to fix the school funding formula, with Madigan and Democrats in charge of the House for 28 of those 30 years.

Never mind that Madigan, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and his predecessors all cut budget deals with Republican and Democratic governors over those 30 years. Which often included "non-budget" items like deals to keep businesses here like the White Sox and Sears and casino legislation in return for this or that.

Rauner is the fat cat, not Madigan, whom you might recall acknowledged he'd likely be subject, some years, to his own millionaire's tax, which he's pushed a few times in the past few years.

Never mind all of that.

Never mind that you're suffering even though both Rauner and Madigan know there will have to be both painful cuts and a tax increase in the budget deal to come, but that deal won't come until after the November election.

Rauner is the rowdy, evil, fat cat who has said since he took office that he'll sign a tax increase. He's the one who's repeatedly said he'll sign a tax increase and give up items from his turnaround agenda, but the blame is all his.

Madigan doesn't want his members voting for a tax increase before an election. And neither does Rauner. Never mind.

Never mind that it's Madigan, who for 31 years has been all about keeping that political power and control. Never mind that he only changes his mind when his members feel threatened and enough of them band together and demand that he let something happen, lest they lose their seats.

This impasse crushing our college towns and the good people in them isn't Madigan's fault at all. This impasse that boots developmentally disabled adults and children from group homes where they're comfortable isn't Madigan's fault. This lack of pay increases and pension contributions for Chicago Public School teachers is all Rowdy and Rahminator's fault. Keep dumping that labor money into Madigan's many litter boxes.

Yes, the Speaker must smile to himself while he counts the contributions to his campaign fund that will keep this serial drama running.

Everyone's playing their parts perfectly.

NEXT ARTICLE: Thousands of millionaires leaving Chicago, cite mounting racial tension and crime

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A Wake-Up Call to End Drowsy Driving

Tue, 2016-04-05 08:02

We all know it's dangerous to get behind the wheel when we've been drinking -- but what about when we're tired? Over 60 percent of Americans admit they've driven while drowsy at least once in the past year. Yet sleep deprivation impairs our judgment just as much as alcohol -- and is just as likely to result in a fatal crash.

It's no accident that drunk driving deaths fell by half between 1982 to 2014. This turnaround happened because there was a concerted effort by government, nonprofits and safety experts to change attitudes towards drinking and driving. That campaign led everyone to take the problem more seriously than ever before.

But while the dangers of drunk driving are now well known, drowsy driving is still a silent epidemic. Research suggests that tired drivers are responsible for as many as 1.2 million crashes a year which tragically kill 8,000 people. Those numbers are sobering, but hardly surprising given that one study found that being awake for 17 to 19 hours (a normal day for many of us!) causes cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent (just under the legal limit in many US states). Stay up just a few hours more, and it's equivalent to 0.1 percent -- legally drunk.

It doesn't have to be this way. We just need to wake up to the fact that drowsy driving is dangerous. It's why The Huffington Post is teaming up with Uber and Toyota to raise awareness of the issue and help save lives. We know that this can work because we've seen what ridesharing can do for drunk driving. When Uber launched in Seattle, DUI arrests fell by 10 percent -- and in California drunk driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30.

If you're an employer, follow the example of companies that use Uber for Business to get their employees home safely after a late night in the office. For everyone else -- don't let your loved ones get behind the wheel when they are tired. Pull out a smartphone and call them a ride.

Whether or not you've fallen asleep at the wheel, most people have experienced exhaustion at one time or another. As CEOs, both of us have had our share of sleepless nights -- even weeks or months. And we still do. But like a growing number of doctors, psychologists and business people, we've come to understand that sleep is a critical part of personal health, happiness, success and when it comes to driving, safety.

Over the next month, Arianna will be carrying that message to college campuses in Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville, Chicago, the Bay Area and throughout the country. If you're interested in a sleep tutorial, order a ride with Uber and you could win a chance to have Arianna ride along with you.

Toyota is committed to helping everyone be safe behind the wheel and will be providing thousands of free late-night rides for students as part of this anti-drowsy driving campaign. And at Uber, we are building technology that uses GPS and accelerometer data from phones to help detect dangerous driving patterns -- and get those drivers off the road.

Join us in making drowsy driving a thing of the past -- as socially unacceptable as drunk driving is today. We'll let Dr. Mark Rosekind, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have the last word: "Not everyone drinks and drives or texts while driving. But everyone gets tired, and far too often drivers are putting themselves and others at risk by getting behind the wheel without the sleep they need."

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