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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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Where's The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere.

Mon, 2016-04-04 21:38

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, local governments nationwide have had to assure residents worried about brain damage and miscarriages that their drinking water meets or exceeds all federal standards.

Philadelphia officials tried to quell concerns about lead poisoning after activists, in a series of news stories and a public hearing, questioned the city's strategy for protecting the water.

"The Philadelphia Water Department is in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule," John Quigley, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview. "Period. Full stop."

Another city in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, the nation's core regulation for lead in water: Flint, Michigan.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn't necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level. The rule essentially says that using lead pipes for drinking water is fine, even though childhood exposure to lead can cause permanently diminished intelligence and behavioral problems -- serious ones. Widespread poisoning from leaded gasoline has emerged as a plausible explanation for rising and falling crime rates in the second half of the 20th century.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn't necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level.

Excessive amounts of lead contaminated Flint's water after the city stopped buying water from Detroit and started pumping it from the Flint River in 2014. The state regulator told the city not to treat the water with chemicals that would have prevented it from corroding the city's pipes, even though doing so would have only cost a hundred bucks per day. Research later showed that the incidence of lead poisoning in Flint kids increased from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent after the switch. The percentage was even higher in the poorest areas of the city, and the data likely understate the extent of the problem. Potentially 9,000 children younger than 6 were exposed.

After basically ignoring the problem for more than a year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) began admitting the state had erred when it told Flint residents to drink brown water. He’s taken to calling the federal regulations of water lead "dumb and dangerous," a characterization that might be both politically convenient and true. Though Snyder's approval ratings have tanked amid constant criticism of his handling of the crisis, he has endeared himself to policy experts and activists who say a similar situation could happen anywhere.

Service lines made from lead connect water mains to homes in roughly 30 percent of the nation’s water systems, according to a recent survey by the American Water Works Association. America's national policy is not to replace the pipes. Instead, the strategy is to treat the water so it's less corrosive and less likely to pick up the lead. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, ultimate arbiter of the regulation, says it needs to be changed, and plans to put forward a draft revision next year.

Yanna Lambrinidou, a leading water policy expert and activist, served on an EPA working group tasked with recommending changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, which is promulgated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a landmark water safety law first enacted in the 1970s. Last fall, she dissented from the group's recommendations because she said they wouldn't do enough to force utilities to replace lead pipes -- even though the recommendations said replacing lead pipes is the only way to make people's water safe from lead.

In February, Lambrinidou said she spoke with Snyder on a conference call about water regulation and that he seemed to have read her entire dissent.

"His questions reveal a depth and breadth of understanding few government leaders with a say on lead in water can claim to possess," Lambrinidou said. "It's remarkable to see."

Everywhere else they look, Lambrinidou and her allies say they see a pattern of denial.

Early last month, the Philadelphia Water Department defended itself before the city council against criticism from Lambrinidou and others that the agency is essentially looking the other way when it comes to lead.

The Lead and Copper Rule requires cities that have lead pipes to collect water samples from a certain number of homes. The purpose of the monitoring is to make sure the water has been properly treated by the utility so it won't corrode pipes and other plumbing materials, such as fixtures or lead solder, which would result in leaded water.

If the level of lead in 90 percent of the samples is below 15 parts per billion, then the federal standard has been met. (Incredibly, the other 10 percent of samples can have any amount of lead.) The Lead and Copper Rule requires cities to get at least half their samples from single-family homes connected to lead service lines.

Here's where things get weird: Philadelphia has around 50,000 lead service lines. In the city’s most recent round of testing, in 2014, it sampled water from 134 homes, but only 45 of the homes had lead service lines -- far less than half. Ninety percent of the samples had less than 5 parts per billion of lead, well below the 15 parts per billion "action level" that could trigger mandatory pipe replacement.

Lambrinidou and other experts, including Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who helped blow the whistle in Flint, say Philadelphia is essentially diluting the amount of lead in its sampling pool, making the water seem safer than it really is.

"I can't see how, under any reasonable interpretation, they're meeting the law for selecting the worst case homes," Edwards told HuffPost.

The rule says water systems can resort to sampling water from homes without lead service lines if the service area contains an "insufficient" number of lead pipes, so long as other sample sites have some lead in their plumbing materials. Philadelphia officials say they did the best they could to get more samples from the 50,000 homes with lead service lines, but they couldn’t force people to cooperate with testing.

"Rest assured, we would love to have greater participation in these samplings," Mayor Jim Kenney told HuffPost. "But as in other cities, participation is voluntary."

"We send 8,000 letters out. We get a 10 percent response from that. Then, that’s when they go down even more," said Gary Burlingame, director of laboratory services for the Philadelphia Water Department, noting that the both the city and its citizens could do a better job. "People in Philadelphia have to better understand, that when we contact them about lead, their ears should perk up, they should pay attention and they should work with us."

Burlingame and state officials maintain Philadelphia is allowed to collect samples from fewer homes with lead service lines than the law seems to require. David Sternberg, a spokesman for the division of the EPA that oversees Pennsylvania, agrees.

The Lead and Copper Rule allows state water agencies "to accept sample results that include samples collected at less than the required percentage of homes with lead service lines if the water system cannot obtain samples from enough of these homes and provides adequate justification," Sternberg said.

Lambrinidou, who in January penned an open letter warning that Philadelphia's sampling instructions could artificially reduce the amount of lead detected in the city's water, was incredulous that the EPA gave its blessing.

"So now every utility can raise its hands and say, 'Poor us, we just can't obtain the samples?'" she said.


So now every utility can raise its hands and say, 'Poor us, we just can't obtain the samples?'
Yanna Lambrinidou, a leading water policy expert and activist


A task force appointed by Snyder to investigate what went wrong in Flint found that the EPA's habit of letting water systems there and elsewhere bend the rules "served to mute its effectiveness in detection and mitigation of lead contamination risks."

Edwards said that if someone gave him a grant he could probably get hundreds of samples from high-risk Philadelphia homes himself -- something he actually did in Flint with a team from Virginia Tech. They obtained 252 samples last summer, and their analysis prompted Edwards to warn residents not to drink the water long before the government did.

Another key part of the Lead and Copper Rule requires water to be treated with chemicals that reduce the corrosion of lead service lines. The chemicals work by forming a thin coating, or "scale," on the inside of the pipes. Because they misread the rule, Michigan officials told Flint to just monitor the water instead of treat it to reduce corrosion when the city switched its water source to the Flint River. That's what caused the crisis -- the pre-existing scale eroded and bits of lead fell in the water, ultimately ending up in the blood of Flint residents.

State officials have essentially said their misreading of the Lead and Copper Rule was an honest mistake, but Edwards and his allies say it was a totally egregious one -- made worse by the fact that they continued to deny anything was wrong for 18 months.

Though the EPA tried to make Michigan treat Flint's water for corrosion, the agency didn't warn the public or cite Flint or its state regulator for violating the Lead and Copper Rule, despite pleas for it to do so from both outside and inside the agency. Emails released by congressional investigators show that Miguel Del Toral, an EPA scientist who had investigated Flint's water and found high lead levels earlier last year, begged his EPA colleagues in July to issue a "treatment technique" violation that would have notified the public.

"I very much disagree with not issuing a TT violation here," Del Toral wrote, adding that not doing so would "set a very bad precedent."

In October, a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the EPA to issue an emergency order to put a stop to an "imminent and substantial endangerment to human health." The EPA issued a memo a month later acknowledging "differing interpretations" of the Lead and Copper Rule that seemed to excuse Michigan's screwup. In January, amid a national outcry over Flint, the EPA swooped in with an emergency order that said the city and state efforts “have been inadequate to protect public health and that these failures continue." By then, Snyder had already approved the city's return to its previous water source in Detroit.

In other words, the agency in charge never said Flint broke the rules until it was way too late.

Burlingame, like Lambrinidou, is a member of the EPA task force that has proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule. A noted water expert with a national profile, he suggested the response to the Flint water crisis has been a bit overblown.

"What we don't have from Flint is a peer-reviewed published study to look at the science of Flint," Burlingame said. "All we have is what the news media's reporting and some of the policy and management issues."

In fact, peer-reviewed research led by Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha revealed Flint's water treatment failure corresponded to higher levels of blood lead in Flint’s children. But Burlingame said that the Philadelphia Water Department would wait for federal guidance before drawing any conclusions from Flint.

HuffPost asked Burlingame whether he believed it was possible for someone to suffer lead poisoning as a result of drinking water with lead in it. He said he couldn't answer, so HuffPost asked again: is it theoretically possible for someone to get lead in their body from drinking water that has lead in it?

"Can somewhere in the world someone drink a water that has a high level of lead that affects their blood? I guess so," he said. "Sure. That's what the papers tell us."

Epidemiologists say lead paint and dust are generally more common causes of lead poisoning than water, but the idea that consuming water with lead in it can result in elevated blood lead levels is not supposed to be controversial. Humans have known the dangers of leaded water for at least 2,000 years.

The fact that lead paint and dust are thought to be the more significant sources of lead exposure has been convenient for water utilities. The Washington, D.C. water department to this day won't admit anyone suffered lead poisoning as a result of contaminated water from 2001 through 2004, an episode Edwards has estimated was 20 to 30 times worse than Flint's. Officials in Michigan's health department convinced themselves it wasn't the water that increased the lead levels in Flint kids' blood in 2014, and they might have gotten away with it if the water hadn't had so many other problems that Flint residents were literally marching in the streets.

Dissolved lead is tasteless and colorless, and children who drink leaded water can't feel their IQ points disappearing. Even if someone has documentation of elevated blood lead levels, they can't prove where the lead came from or what symptoms it caused. Fortunately for Flint, the city's water was brown and funky from other contaminants, helping activists apply the political pressure that forced the state to admit it had caused a crisis.

Ryonona Harmon, 41, raised four children near 75th street and Haverford avenue in the Overbrook Park section of West Philadelphia. Her four kids went to local high schools. She works as a medical technician in nearby Paoli now that her children are adults. It never occurred to her to wonder whether her water was filled with lead.

“This wasn’t a big deal for me,” Harmon told The Huffington Post. “I expected the city to give me and my family a basic right like safe water.”

Harmon said that growing up, the only type of lead she thought of was lead paint. She said she has no idea if she's ever lived in a home with lead service lines.

“I had no clue I could have been using lead pipes then," she said. “If we want our water supply to be safe for our kids, everyone should have the same rights to get their water checked."

Dissolved lead is tasteless and colorless, and children who drink leaded water can't feel their IQ points disappearing.

Even if a public water system follows the regulations perfectly, there’s still a chance that lead will get into the drinking water.

A 2013 study of Chicago’s water supply by Del Toral suggested that routine sampling under the Lead and Copper Rule can miss massive amounts of contamination. The report suggested that "the existing regulatory sampling protocol under the U.S. Lead and Copper Rule systematically misses the high lead levels and potential human exposure."

The rule calls for residents to fill a one-liter bottle from a faucet after at least six hours without household water use, the idea being that water stagnating in plumbing and service lines will give a good picture of how much lead is leaching into the supply. A key finding was that contrary to prior assumptions, the first liter didn’t necessarily capture the most lead -- subsequent liters tended to have significantly more. 

The study also noted that construction projects such as water main replacement and even street work seemed to cause lead levels to spike in the water of nearby homes, apparently because physically jostling service lines causes lead particles to infiltrate the water.  

Chicago is in the midst of a campaign to replace its old water mains, but in its three-year monitoring cycle, the city hasn't gone out of its way to test water in the areas closest to the repair sites. The Chicago Tribune reported in February that of the 50 homes tested, only three were on streets that had a replaced water main.

In February, Chicago residents filed a lawsuit seeking class action status alleging that the city hasn’t done enough to warn people that street work could affect their water and significantly increased the risk of lead poisoning as a result. The lawsuit claims officials merely advised residents that the water “may shut off a couple of times.”

The dangers of street work have been well documented, including by an EPA panel that warned in 2011 of an elevated risk of lead poisoning in areas where lead service lines were being partially replaced.

Chicago Water Management spokesman Gary Litherland said the city warns residents about lead near water main replacement projects by sending them information packets that read: "it is important to flush your plumbing of any sediment, rust or metals, including any lead, to maintain water quality.” The lawsuit says the only warning the plaintiffs got was "buried" inside a single handout.

City officials have argued the EPA’s findings that street work can increase water lead are “far from scientifically established," though, as the lawsuit notes, other research supports the idea that physically disturbing a lead service line can cause problems.

"It must be a larger study and it must be more extensive,” Litherland said. “It was a small sample. More research needs to be done."

James Montgomery, an environmental science professor at DePaul University, says Chicago ought to do a better job warning people about street work affecting their water, per the EPA's study.

"If you don’t believe the results, then why don’t you commission your own independent scientific study?" Montgomery said.

For its part, the EPA said the construction findings were incidental and not the core reason for the study. And it suggested the study didn't show for sure that physically disturbing a lead service line caused higher lead levels in the homes where samples were taken.

"The U.S. EPA did not conduct sampling before and after the physical disturbances to the lead service lines at the homes that were sampled," an agency spokesman said, "so although we observed that the homes where the lead service line had been physically disturbed generally had the highest lead levels, we did not collect sampling data from prior to the disturbances to make a comparison between the pre- and post-disturbance lead levels." 

Cities not only have to find homes with lead service lines, they have to tell people how to collect water samples -- and filling up a water bottle can be surprisingly controversial.

As a result of the national attention on Flint, the state of New Jersey took a second look at its sampling methods and last month told cities to make some changes. 

"For probably going back more than 10 years they've been handing out an instruction sheet that tells people the wrong instructions, to take the aerator off," Newark city spokesman Frank Baraff said.

An aerator is a little screen on the end of a faucet. Until now, Newark's instructions to residents taking water samples told them to "remove the aerator screen from the nozzle of the spigot pipe."

The EPA recommended that public water systems stop asking people to remove aerators prior to sampling in 2006, when a lead poisoning scare in Durham, North Carolina raised questions about the city's sampling methods.

"Removal and cleaning of the aerator is advisable on a regular basis," the EPA memo at the time said. "However, if customers are only encouraged to remove and clean aerators prior to drawing a sample to test for lead, the public water system could fail to identify the typically available contribution of lead from that tap, and thus fail to take additional actions needed to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water."

As for Newark's water, Baraff said 90 percent of samples had less than 10 parts per billion lead in 2015. Because Newark hasn't experienced high lead levels in several rounds of lead testing, the city is only required to test for lead every three years in just 50 homes, instead of annually in 100 homes.

Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the state might move to require testing more frequently than what the Lead and Copper Rule requires.

"It is something we are very strongly considering," Considine said in an email.

Newark's about face on aerators stands in stark contrast to what's been going on in Philadelphia, where the city insists there's nothing wrong with telling people to remove the little screens on their faucets prior to collecting water samples, despite intense criticism from Lambrinidou and others.

“The science is not there to support aerators being on or off to make a difference in Philadelphia," Burlingame, of Philadelphia’s water department, said. “Aerator on versus aerator off, sampling with your left hand versus your right hand, is not going to make a difference about whether we are meeting the EPA action level or not.”

Quigley, the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, suggested the merits of aerator removal are beside the point -- the 2006 recommendation isn't part of the Lead and Copper Rule, so it doesn't matter whether it’s sound advice or not. Never mind that the rule itself wasn't good enough to prevent the Flint water crisis in the first place.

"We do not enforce recommendations. They're not law," Quigley said. "Our job is to enforce the law."

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'Mosque Alert' in Chicago

Mon, 2016-04-04 16:02

Chicago is host to an experience that invites the audience into situations that are not casually available all at once, if ever: the living room of a Muslim imam and his wife, a chilling townhall meeting, a passionate exchange between Muslim millennials, a mainstream Midwest suburban household conflicted by sympathies and ambitions. In playwright Jamil Khoury's characteristically ethnographic way, "Mosque Alert" at Silk Road Rising offers a matrix of possibilities, each raising questions and offering contrasting responses.

With every turn of the prism, the theatre's Founding Artistic Director Khoury lays out disparate and authentically grounded perspectives, a formula he successfully employed in the acclaimed premiere of his "Precious Stones" in 2003, asserting the company's immortality two years after its official birth following the 9/11 attacks. A succession of rich creative collaborations has put Silk Road in league with Chicago's theatrical top brass, cornering the market on timely narratives with Asian and Middle Eastern themes.

Employing expert performers and accredited directors has earned Silk Road a loyal and astute following. "Mosque Alert" in the seasoned hands of Edward Torres is no exception. Granted, even the play's college productions last year were destined to sparkle with lines like, "Can't we blame everything on Saudi Arabia and call it a day?"

Khoury's talent for packing deep thought and learning into a night of good entertainment holds true to form. But it is the dexterous cast of this professional world premiere who make his play's one-for-me/one-for-you dynamic believable and compelling - performances that make a show of standard running time pass in a blink. Steve Silver's complete sublimation into the character of the charismatic bigot Daniel Baker leaves a welt.

With echoes of the real Lower Manhattan controversy, the fictional plot involves a dispute over the construction of a mosque/library/community center in suburban Naperville. As a backdrop, designer Dan Stratton projects an architectural rendering created for "Mosque Alert" by America's go-to firm for mosque design, McCoy Architects. The action plays out with the proposed house of worship as the central figure, looking pert and posing contentedly in the realm of the possible.

In typical Silk Road fashion, the ethnically colorful cast piques curiosity as to what the actors bring from their own political dispositions and cultural roots. Rengin Altay, who plays the white Christian wife of the chamber of commerce president, has Turkish ancestry, so all bets are off. Altay's easy command and comic sense benefit the whole. Owning her character's nuanced blend of integrity and compromise, she is convincing as a boozy housewife with aspirations.

Rom Barkhordar is smooth and arresting as the elegant bearded Muslim business leader Tawfiq Qabbani whose relationship with Ted Baker (Mark Ulrich) develops through several masterfully performed scenes.

A gaggle of young suburbanites, the grown children of the couples in conflict, toss the ball sportingly with real-life Naperville native Nina Ganet's pitch-perfect generational stylings pulling it together in the role of Jennifer Baker.

As the hopeful Imam Mostafa Khalil, Frank Sawa brings satisfaction with pronunciation of a significant amount of Arabic requiring no stretch of imagination. And Riley McIlveen plays the principled gay son of Ted Baker with sincerity.

Leave it to Khoury to take a play about tensions of Middle Eastern origin and add a plot line about the struggle of homosexuality - then make it work. "Precious Stones" redux.

If "Mosque Alert" mimics the somewhat pat parallel structure seen in Khoury's earlier work, it also exhibits the same thoroughgoing treatment of issues that strike the bone for anyone following Middle East politics. Himself a non-Muslim Arab American of Syrian-Slavic descent, he treats the subject of Islam with a healthy remove, engaging a painstaking process of live and digital civic engagement launched in 2011. A series of videos inviting community feedback, staged readings with public discussions, workshops for re-writes, and experimental campus productions have led to the play's current iteration, with Knox College Professor of Theatre Neil Blackadder credited for incubating the full-length stage play.

It bears mentioning that Silk Road Rising's Founding Executive Director Malik Gillani is Khoury's life partner and the son of South Asian Muslims. For him the decision to make "Mosque Alert" a centerpiece for 2016 was an obvious one. In light of presidential campaign rhetoric and Trump fervor, the zeitgeist speaks through this work. Gillani and Khoury have dedicated the current theatre season entirely to Arab-American and Muslim-American voices. The year of programming is entitled "Crescent and Star: A Radiant Season of Arab and Muslim Journeys."

In contrast to the social climate in "Mosque Alert's" Naperville, President Shoaib Khadri of the existing Islamic Center of Naperville said during a post-show discussion, "The city council of Naperville was extremely supportive of our project."

photos by Airan Wright

"Mosque Alert"
Silk Road Rising
Pierce Hall
The Historic Chicago Temple Building
77 W. Washington St., Lower Level
Thurs at 7:30; Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 4
March 24 through May 1, 2016
Tickets 312.857.1234 x 201
or online at Mosque Alert

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