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26 Illinois Schools Make Forbes' Top Colleges Ranking for 2016

Fri, 2016-07-08 13:16

Twenty-six Illinois colleges made Forbes' ninth annual ranking of the best colleges and universities in the country.

In collaboration with the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Forbes used data from the U.S. Department of Education, Payscale and its own America's Leaders list to rank a total of 660 schools based on an institution's return on investment, or ROI.

As Forbes notes, its ranking differs from others because it focuses more heavily on what students are getting out of college rather than looking at metrics that got students into a school, such as ACT and SAT scores.

More from Forbes:

Like every college ranking, this list cannot quantify the mystery of picking a college: how it connects to a student's heart and ambitions. But what it does do is connect directly to those looking for a consumer guide to the ROI of every college. In the last four decades tuition and fees have risen 270 percent at public schools and 204 percent at their private counterparts. For those footing a higher ed bill stretching as high as $250,000, the only question is: Is my college worth the investment?

Among the factors Forbes used to calculate this year's ranking are: post-graduate success, student debt, student satisfaction, academic success and graduation rates (you can read more about the methodology here).

Of the 660 schools on the list, here are the 26 colleges and universities in Illinois that made the cut, with national ranks ranging from No. 15 to No. 643.

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Toxic Algal Blooms Aren't Just Florida's Problem. And They're On The Rise.

Thu, 2016-07-07 17:31

By now you may have seen the pictures coming out of many of South Florida’s coastal communities: Many miles of smelly, “guacamole-thick” algal blooms cropping up along beaches and rivers — blooms so big they can even be seen from space

Algal blooms like those currently fouling up many Florida waterways are caused, according to the EPA, by the buildup of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus in water. This buildup is primarily the result of excess fertilizer being used in agricultural and home yard settings and then running off into local waterways following heavy rains. Improperly-functioning sewer and septic systems can also be a factor. 

The problem is massive and officials are calling it “unprecedented,” resulting in the closing of beaches and many water-dependent attractions at the height of the region’s busy tourist season. But it’s also something that has been some time in the making.

In the specific case of Florida’s blue-green algal blooms, experts say the catalyst was nitrogen and phosphorous buildup traced back to pollution of Lake Okeechobee, the state’s largest freshwater lake. The lake flows into canals connected to coastal rivers like the Caloosahatchee to the west and the St. Lucie to the east, areas that have both been hit hard by the toxic blooms.

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Dr. Bill Louda, a research professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton who has been studying and testing the algae, put the situation’s root cause more bluntly: “Basically we’re fertilizing South Florida to death.”

The issue with the blooms isn’t just that they are unsightly and smelly, but also that the algae could be devastating for local economies and ecosystems alike. Algal blooms sometimes produce toxins that can sicken or kill both humans and animals and can produce “dead zones” where aquatic organisms die because the water lacks the oxygen they need to survive. 

“The impact is tremendous,” Louda told The Huffington Post. “We have to stop somewhere.”

Recognizing the gravity of the problem, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in four impacted counties — Lee, Martin, Palm Beach and St. Lucie — late last month.

On Wednesday, Scott announced that he would propose new funding to address the algal blooms through a grant program helping homeowners living near bodies of water to switch from septic tanks to sewer systems, in addition to supporting communities’ building of improved wastewater systems.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added his support to Scott’s call for a federal emergency declaration Thursday, calling the situation “a health, ecological and economical emergency.” In a separate news release issued Wednesday, he asked the Centers for Disease Control to “remain vigilant” of the blooms and the impact they can have on the health of Florida residents and visitors, some of whom have already reported headaches, respiratory problems and rashes believed to be linked to the algae. 

Despite the alarm, experts say little can be done to address the problem in the short-term aside from continuing to monitor it.

“You could throw some nasty herbicides or synthetic inhibitors on top of it, but it would kill everything else too, the seagrass, the phytoplankton fish eat,” Louda said. “We just have to let nature take its course.” 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already reduced the flow of water from Lake Okeechobee in an effort to reduce the blooms. The USACE confirmed in a Thursday news release that it will continue to discharge water from the lake at its current, reduced rate as conditions in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries have “shown slight improvement.” 

Meanwhile, the region’s “bloom response team,” including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, five water management districts and the state’s departments of health, agriculture and fish and wildlife, told Huffpost via email that they will continue to respond to reports of blooms as they receive them. The team is urging residents to report blooms to the department either through its dedicated website or a new toll-free number. 

And while the effort to address the Florida blooms continues, the problem appears likely to crop up elsewhere this summer. In recent years, record-breaking blooms have formed in coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean, in Lake Erie, in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico, where a dead zone has grown to approximately equal the size of the entire state of Connecticut. 

Environmental advocates and scientists alike say the conditions are ripe for algal blooms to continue to become more common.

“No matter what part of the country you live in, there is probably a lake, a river or some body of water near you that will experience some form of harmful toxic algal bloom this summer,” Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director at the Environmental Working Group, told HuffPost.

And while factors such as climate change are likely a big part of the reason why that’s the case, advocates point to the agricultural industry as the primary culprit.

In a new report released last month, researchers at Environment America, a Boston-based nonprofit, linked the growth of algal blooms and dead zones nationally to pollution caused by large agribusiness companies. 

The report estimates the “manure footprint” of five major agribusinesses — Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, JBS and Perdue — at nearly 163 billion tons of manure annually. All that poop has to go somewhere.

“These factory farm operations generate so much manure they don’t know what to do with it. And the easiest thing to do is spread it around on crop land,” John Rumpler, the report’s author and senior attorney at Environment America, told HuffPost. “That runs off and can go into nearby rivers, lakes and streams.”

To reduce the amount of water pollution coming from these large farms, the EA report recommends using cover crops and buffer zones to reduce runoff from the growth of commodity crops, as well as using less fertilizer.

In addition, EA supports raising livestock in smaller-scale operations that minimize high concentrations of manure. All of that, Rumpler writes in the report, should be both regulated and incentivized by the EPA and other government agencies.

Until that happens, don’t be surprised if your favorite beach is suddenly closed next weekend.

“This is about where we swim, where we fish, where we draw our drinking water,” Rumpler said. “When you work that back up the chain, you see that the folks that are selling us our food are polluting our water.”

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Low Attendance At First Forum Surrounding Chicago Police Department Investigation

Thu, 2016-07-07 14:52

A member of the West Side NAACP speaks at the U.S. Dept. of Justice's first public forum surrounding its investigation of CPD.

Only about 30 people showed up to the first of a series of four forums designed to gain insight into Chicagoans' true feelings towards their police department.

As part of the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights investigation into CPD -- an effort born largely out of public outrage over the controversial Laquan McDonald video -- the forums are supposed to be another means for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to educate the public on the nature of the investigation and get feedback from Chicagoans on their relationship with the police.

But at the June 20 forum at West Side college Malcolm X, few people showed up, leaving one attendee wondering how well publicized the first forum had been.

"What were the methods of outreach that you used to inform the community about this public hearing? 'Cause I'm seeing a lot of empty seats here," said Isaac Lewis, publisher of a west side community news site.

A DOJ representative stressed that the department had sent out notices to over 200 Chicago-based community groups the week prior. The DOJ twitter handle @civilrights first tweeted about the event on June 15, five days before the first forum.

Empty seats at the June 20 U.S. Dept. of Justice forum, the first of four.

The investigation into CPD was prompted by uproar over the release in November of a video depicting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke. The video, which showed McDonald walking away from Van Dyke at the time he was shot, received national attention and sparked criticism towards Illinois State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's handling of the case. At that time, U.S. Attorney Zach Fardon requested a formal investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice in order to determine whether systematic racism plagues the Chicago Police Department.

That investigation, which began in December, has been looking into CPD's systems of accountability, use of excessive force, and racial, ethnic or other disparities in the way officers treat individuals during interactions. The DOJ will also scrutinize the Independent Police Review Authority, a body independent from CPD which investigates police misconduct.

"It's really important for us to hear from you," Christy Lopez, deputy chief of special litigation in the DOJ's civil rights division, told attendees. "We know that our findings will not be either complete nor accurate if we don't get the insights and perspectives of all of you."

Lopez, who's written a brief on the "widespread" issue of police making illegal arrests, most recently oversaw the civil rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department in 2014. That investigation found evidence of both implicit and explicit racial bias present within the Ferguson Police Department.

At the public forum June 20, DOJ representatives said they've already heard from over 400 community members regarding their experiences with the Chicago Police Department. The team has made numerous visits to the entirety of the city's police stations in addition to participating in ride alongs with 60 officers throughout Chicago.

While Fardon was not in attendance, Patrick Johnson, a supervisor attorney at the U.S. Attorney's office, spoke in his place.

"This was a top priority of Mr. Fardon's," Johnson said." He hoped that the investigation would address and start correcting some of the trust that's been eroded between the Chicago Police Department and residents of the city."

The West Side branch of the NAACP, which spoke out multiple times at the forum, raised questions around a pending police union lawsuit which could result in the destruction of a trove of citizen complaints against police going back to 1967. While the unions have maintained the records should be destroyed, legislation introduced in Springfield earlier this year could prevent that.

Johnson responded that the DOJ had written a letter to the city requesting that the records be kept safe at the very least throughout the duration of the DOJ investigation.

Department of Justice officials said they expect the investigation of CPD to be complete before 2017.

Two additional forums remain through the month of July -- for additional details, click here.

This story was reported by Chloe Riley for JTM Legal.

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I On Exceptional Living - Alex Pissios & Cinespace Chicago

Thu, 2016-07-07 04:31


"Sometimes, to make a dream come true you need the help of friends and family to see it become a reality."
Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has a history rich with stories of family and friends coming together, in good and bad times, to make great things happen. It all began in 1968 when Nikolaos Mirkopoulos, a trained electrician from Greece, decided to embark to Canada to start a family business. He would soon be joined by his brothers Larry and Steve together forming Torontario Contractors and giving new life to landmark institutions across the greater Toronto area.
These upgrades included repurposing structures as film studios and in 1988, Nikolaos decided to develop the first large-scale film production studio in Canada called Cinespace. As the business grew, three more studios were opened in Toronto.
It was at a family wedding in 2008 that Alex Pissois, a Chicago nephew of Nikolaos and at the time a real estate broker, found himself sharing with his uncle the unfortunate news about the faltering economy in the United States and the effects of the Great Recession. Like all families, when times get tough, you rely on each other to pull through and it was then that Nikolaos suggested that Alex help him open a new branch of the family business in Chicago.
 "It was a life-changer for me and my family," Alex recalls in an interview with Crain's Chicago Business.
The two men ventured into Chicago to carry out their mission and eventually developed the family business on a 50-acre industrial site, helping revitalize the city's television and film industry. Since its opening, Alex has overseen productions for such shows like Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. as well as for films like Jupiter Ascending, Transformers 4 and Divergent (which later grossed over $288M at the box office in 2014.)


The Chicago studio is now expanding and building a 6-8,000 square-foot tank for underwater filming and has added 10 sound stages within the last year. Cinespace is currently seeking to open a back lot that would be used for sets to double as urban and city spots like Chinatown, a Parisian café, or even New York City's brownstones. As an added bonus, this would be the first type of film lot found outside of Hollywood.
Cinespace has not just contributed to movies, but also to the Chicago community, creating the equivalent of 4,200 full time jobs since 2014. "You watch," Mr. Pissios told Crain's Chicago Business, "this neighborhood is going to grow just the way it did in Toronto." There's also been the development of interest by younger generations, especially students from DePaul who frequent the studios for film production classes.
Alex Pissois and his family have realized a dream of creating a film space and environment that benefit the lives of those involved as well as those whose community it took rooted in. On a personal note - meeting and talking to Alex was quite a refreshing experience. A man with a big heart who loves life and wants to give back to people is unusual in today's world.  Who knows, maybe someday they will create a movie on his life accomplishments and have others value all his good deeds as we do here in Chicago. 

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The Way Forward In Reentry

Wed, 2016-07-06 14:08
Co-authored by Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz

As law enforcement agencies and community organizations team up across the country to reduce crime, expand opportunity, and revitalize our neighborhoods, it is increasingly clear that a crucial part of that work is helping people returning from our prisons and jails make a successful transition back to their families and communities. With more than 600,000 individuals leaving state and federal prisons each year and more than 11 million cycling through local jails, reentry is a process with enormous implications for communities across the United States and for all of us who care about making sure that we create opportunity for everyone who is able to contribute. If handled the right way, reentry policy can lead to lower crime, stronger families, and more prosperous communities. If handled poorly - or if ignored altogether - a failure to ensure successful reentry can deepen the cycles of poverty, criminality and incarceration that prevent too many of our neighborhoods from reaching their full potential.

This administration has been dedicated to improving reentry outcomes since President Obama took office in 2009. In the years since, the White House, the Department of Justice and agencies across the federal government have worked tirelessly to strengthen our reentry infrastructure in a number of ways. For example, the president's criminal justice reform agenda includes a number of reentry initiatives, some of which were highlighted in the department's National Reentry Week in April. And the Departments of Justice and Labor are funding innovative projects that support hundreds of adult and youth reentry programs across the country.

To build on these efforts, President Obama recently signed a memorandum formally establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which we are proud to chair together. The President's action officially charters an effort that started in January of 2011, when former Attorney General Eric Holder convened federal agency heads to address reentry in a more comprehensive fashion. The distance we have come in those five-and-a-half years is remarkable. We have opened doors to employment for returning citizens by launching the White House Fair Chance Business Pledge, an effort aimed at eliminating barriers to reentry and employment, including "ban the box" initiatives that delay questions about criminal history until an appropriate point in the hiring process. We have expanded access to educational opportunities through programs like Second Chance Pell, which makes some federal inmates eligible for college funding. And we are working to reduce the thousands of secondary consequences triggered by a criminal record - from trouble getting student loans to barriers to voting - restrictions that too often penalize those who have been in prison long after they have served their sentences.

Yesterday, we held the first meeting of the newly-chartered Reentry Council, and we took even more promising steps forward. Led by the council's Executive Director Amy Solomon, we discussed a number of recent accomplishments, evaluated ongoing activities and discussed a promising way forward. The White House gave an overview of the Fair Chance Business Pledge and the Higher Education Pledge, which enlists private-sector organizations and colleges and universities in providing individuals a fair chance to participate in the American economy. The Office of Personnel Management discussed how their new proposed rule will "ban the box" for federal hires, delaying inquiries about an applicant's criminal history until a conditional offer is made. The Department of Education described its Beyond the Box initiative to give justice-involved individuals access to postsecondary educational opportunities. The Department of Health and Human Services highlighted new guidance that extends Medicaid coverage to residents of community halfway houses, which will help as many as 100,000 people. And the Department of Justice showcased the Bureau of Prisons' Roadmap to Reentry, a strategic blueprint for reentry planning in the federal prison system released in the spring. The department also highlighted new guidelines soon to be published in the Federal Register that will give people who are incarcerated, often victims of crime and trauma themselves, access to federally-funded victim services.

In his memorandum, President Obama wrote that "America is a nation of second chances." But for too many Americans involved with the justice system, those second chances never appear. That's a status quo we cannot afford to accept. It is too damaging to those leaving prison; too harmful to the families and communities to which they're returning; and too costly to the nation, which depends upon the skills and talents of all its people. With the creation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, and the help of our dedicated partners throughout the United States, we're beginning to change that status quo, to create more second chances and to build a brighter future for all.

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Survey: Illinois Cities, Counties With the Most DUI Arrests in 2015

Wed, 2016-07-06 12:58
The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists recently released its 26th annual survey of drunken driving arrests in Illinois.

Nearly 700 police departments from across the state were surveyed in the group's 2015 DUI arrest survey, which received a response rate of 81 percent.

AAIM, a nonprofit citizens action group, was founded in 1982 by victims of drunken driving with the help of former Gov. Jim Edgar, who at the time was secretary of state and led legislative efforts to crack down on intoxicated motorists by establishing the state's first citizens task force. The survey has been conducted since 1990 and is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

"Over the last three decades, progress has been made to help eliminate the devastation caused by impaired driving in Illinois. While frustratingly slow, many lives have been saved," AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin said in a press release. "Focused efforts and cooperation of law enforcement agencies, traffic safety advocates and communities have helped to prevent crashes and save thousands of lives."

The Illinois State Police reported 12 percent more arrests than the 5,784 made in 2014. In 2013, state troopers arrested 9,302 intoxicated drivers.

Chicago's DUI arrest total was nearly the same over the year, with only six fewer arrests compared to 2014.

The Secretary of State Police, which focuses on enforcing laws on vehicle registration and sales of motor vehicles and parts, also figured into the statistics, but only reported five drunken driving arrests compared to 20 the previous year.

Among the Top 5 cities with the largest increase in the number of DUI arrests between 2014 and 2015 were Peoria, 83.9 percent; Carol Stream, 31.8 percent; Rockford, 20.8 percent; Elgin, 18.9 percent; and Cicero, 17.6 percent.

Here's a list of the Top 25 cities and counties with the most drunken driving arrests last year, as well as those with the most DUI arrests per 1,000 residents.

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Despite Stopgap Budget Deal, Moody's Downgrades Credit Ratings of Illinois Universities

Wed, 2016-07-06 10:12

After an entire year without an operating budget, Illinois breathed a sigh of relief June 30 when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Legislature finally agreed to a temporary plan to get state government through the end of the calendar year.

To Moody's Investors Service, however, the Illinois stopgap budget was just another symptom of the paralysis that grips Illinois state government. The ratings agency viewed the emergency, six-month plan as yet another example of Illinois prolonging and worsening its fiscal malaise.

Within hours of Rauner signing the deal, Moody's downgraded the credit ratings of most of the state's public universities and said they're being damaged because of state government's failure to enact a true budget that balances its spending and revenue.

"Universities will continue to operate with lack of budget clarity into FY 2017, limiting long- term planning and investment in programs and facilities. They still face high likelihoodof continued state funding reductions and delays given the state's fundamental fiscal challenges," Moody's said. "While the stopgap budget provides temporary operating relief, it does not permanently restore liquidity, which has been severely depleted at many of the state's public universities due to operating without state funding for much of FY 2016."

That's not a message any university wants to send nationwide as it competes for students and faculty.

With Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan both adamant that their positions on budget negotiations have not changed, a renewal of the budget impasse of 2016 seems all but inevitable come December.

Recommended: Top 25 school districts with biggest gain in state funding under stopgap budget

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A Man Burned The Flag And Got Arrested, Which Is Clearly Unconstitutional

Tue, 2016-07-05 17:04

A young man who wasn't feeling very patriotic this 4th of July weekend decided to burn an American flag and tell the world about it on Facebook -- only to get arrested the next day after neighbors complained.

Bryton Mellott, 22, of Urbana, Illinois, was taken into custody Monday after police received calls about his Facebook posts, which included a picture of him setting the Stars and Stripes on fire and a message explaining that he was "not proud to be an American."

"In this moment, being proud of my country is to ignore the atrocities committed against people of color, people living in poverty, people who identify as women, and against my own queer community on a daily basis,” Mellott wrote in a Facebook post that appears to have since been taken down.

It turns out that Mellott had been charged under Illinois' flag desecration statute -- a relic from another era, since the Supreme Court ruled more than 25 years ago that flag burning is expressive political conduct and, as such, is protected by the Constitution.

"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable,” wrote Justice William Brennan for a divided 5-4 court in the landmark 1989 case Texas v. Johnson.

Sgt. Andrew Charles of the Urbana Police Department told Forbes columnist Fernando Alfonso that the UPD had never charged anyone under that law in 27 years, but that police proceeded with the arrest out of an attempt to balance civil liberties with issues of safety.

"This wasn’t an issue with anyone at the police department being personally offended by his speech," Charles said. "But the reaction that it was gathering, and the concern for the safety of all involved forced us into a reaction."

It appears that Mellott's constitutional rights won out in the end, because Julia Reitz, the state's attorney assigned to the case, decided not to proceed with a prosecution. She pointed to Texas v. Johnson, which declared a similar flag desecration statute unconstitutional.

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
Justice William Brennan in Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Reitz also suggested that the law currently in effect in Illinois might need to be revised to comport with the First Amendment.

"We will be discussing this issue with our local legislators and asking that they consider reviewing this statute given the constitutional issues it presents," Reitz said Tuesday in a statement.

Following the county's decision not to press charges against Mellott, the police department insisted in a press release that its officers acted in good faith -- both in following the law and out of concern for Mellott, whose postings elicited "significant emotional reactions," including death threats against him.

This "escalating negative landscape and the concern for the poster" led the Urbana Police Department to act the way it did, according to the release, posted Tuesday on Facebook.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, for its part, was none too pleased that getting jailed for flag-burning is still a thing in 2016.

"The notion that someone would be arrested for that so long after we have settled that question in the courts is really troubling," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the legal advocacy group.

Mellott didn't return a request for comment and his posts are no longer publicly visible on Facebook, but his expressive act lives on: As of Tuesday, a photo of him burning the flag was still his profile image on social media.

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