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Duckworth, Kirk Reveal Stark Differences in Reboot Illinois/BGA Questionnaire

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:34
How will our U.S. Senate candidates work to end gridlock in Congress? What is their view of campaign finance and voter ID laws? How will they tackle gun violence and our heroin epidemic? In order to help voters with their decisions, Reboot Illinois and the Better Government Association asked our state's U.S. Senate candidates about these and other good government topics in the 2016 Reboot Illinois/BGA Candidate Questionnaire.

All four candidates in the Nov. 8 election responded to seven essay questions.

In a campaign season of sharp divisions and inflammatory rhetoric, the questionnaire asks about improving government, observations about compromises designed to achieve outcomes, and what candidates would do differently in their campaigning if they had it to do over again.

Reboot Illinois is a non-partisan digital and social media firm that provides news, views, fact checks and online tools designed to raise awareness and citizen involvement. It is the exclusive partner of PolitiFact, producing PolitiFact Illinois.

The BGA is a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog that shines a light on government and holds public officials accountable. Its mission also encourages transparency, honesty, fairness, accountability, and efficiency through policy advocacy and community engagement.

Neither organization endorses political candidates.

The candidates' responses have not been edited. They are published exactly as they were submitted.

You can read the Reboot Illinois/Better Government Association Candidate Questionnaire here.

Next: Illinois Comptroller Questionnaire - 2016

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Another Dreamer Sues In Federal Court To Help Millions Get Expanded Immigration Relief

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:30

A second undocumented college student has filed a lawsuit aimed at unblocking parts of a nationwide order that froze President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration last year.

With the help of immigrant advocacy groups, José Lopez, 24, sued in federal court in Illinois on Wednesday with his sights set on limiting a Texas judge’s injunction in favor of 26 states that challenged the president’s deportation relief program.

That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the justices deadlocked in the case and failed to reach the merits of the original order, leaving states and immigrants that support Obama’s plan under the effects of a single federal judge’s decree. The high court declined to revisit the case last week.

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“I hope it sets a precedent,” Lopez said of the lawsuit ahead of its filing. His parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 4 and both would’ve been eligible for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, the program that is now at a standstill in the courts. He’s called Chicago home for the past 21 years.

Lopez’s legal action mirrors one filed in New York in August, where another young immigrant who was a recipient of Obama’s original deferred action program turned to the courts in hopes of undoing the part of the countrywide order affecting his home state.

Melissa Keaney, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, which is behind both lawsuits, said in an interview that the judge assigned to the New York case, in Brooklyn, noted at a recent hearing that he might not be keen to go as far as her client wanted.

“The judge made it clear than he didn’t see his jurisdiction extending beyond New York or perhaps the Second Circuit,” she said, referring to the appeals court with authority over New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Keaney said that given the potential for a limited ruling, her organization and the National Immigrant Justice Center determined that a new lawsuit in a different region might be a way to chip away at the Texas order incrementally.

I think it’s definitely important that we can come out of the shadows.
José Lopez

In a sense, the New York and Illinois lawsuits both put the immigrant rights groups in the awkward position of suing the Obama administration, which supports the president’s vision of expanded relief for undocumented immigrants.

“Certainly, even though they may agree and want to see the same thing happen, they don’t like to be sued,” Keaney said. She noted that the federal government filed a motion to dismiss the New York case and will likely do the same in Illinois. A key hearing in the former will take place next January.

The main legal theory behind the cases is largely technical. In essence, Lopez’s lawsuit alleges that the Department of Homeland Security violated federal law when it revoked his three-year work authorization under Obama’s expanded version of deferred action, which the judge in Texas had halted a day earlier. The government then reissued Lopez a two-year work permit under Obama’s first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is still in effect.

As for the young man behind the case ― who works full-time, has two associate degrees and is hoping to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago soon ― he says his main desire is not to live life “in two-year increments.” He hopes this litigation will help people who support broader immigration relief not to live in fear of deportation.

“I think it’s definitely important that we can come out of the shadows,” Lopez said. “The peace of mind that I received with DACA... that relief should come their way.”

Jose Lopez Complaint - Illinois Federal Court by Cristian Farias on Scribd

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Nearly Half of Illinoisans Want to Leave, Poll Finds

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:14

If you're a young Illinoisan, it's likely you want to get out of the state. If you're an Illinoisan of any age, it's even more likely that you think your home state is headed in the wrong direction.

The third installment of the fall Illinois survey by the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale finds nearly half of Illinois residents would like to leave, with 29 percent saying it's likely they'll move within the next year.

"There are lots of reasons why people want to leave," said David Yepsen, director of the institute. "Not much can be done about the weather but policy makers can do something about perceptions of the quality of services, tax competitiveness, tax fairness and educational and job opportunities."

Of the 47 percent who said they'd like to leave, 42 percent identified either taxes or government as their motivation. Only 16 percent cited the weather as their reason to leave and 13 percent said jobs and education had them looking elsewhere.

Younger respondents were more likely to express a desire to leave the state, and Yepsen cited this as the most troubling aspect of the poll. Previous results from the fall poll covered the presidential, U.S. Senate and comptroller races and overwhelming support for term limits and redistricting reform.

"Policy-makers argue over whether people are leaving or not," Yepsen said. "The most troubling finding in this poll is that so many younger people are thinking about it. That's the state's future."

The results are consistent with a 2014 Gallup poll that found 50 percent of Illinois residents said they would leave the state if they could. Illinois had the highest percentage of residents who wanted to leave among all 50 states. Gallup also found in 2013 that 19 percent of residents said they were extremely, very or somewhat likely to move in the coming year -- 10 points lower than this year's Simon Institute result.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters was taken Sept. 27-Oct. 5 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Nearly 84 percent of respondents said they believed the state, generally speaking, is headed in the wrong direction. But they were much more optimistic when asked about the direction of their city or area, with nearly half saying they believe their home area is headed in the right direction.

Here's a look at the results.

Recommended: Kirk, Duckworth reveal distinct views on Supreme Court, voter ID laws in questionnaires

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What This Child Prodigy Has To Say About Her Art More Than A Decade Later

Tue, 2016-10-11 09:12

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Born to a Lithuanian mother and American father, Akiane Kramarik grew up in rural Illinois, just outside Chicago. Around age 4, the young girl realized she had an interest in painting -- and within just a few years, she would become one of the most well-known prodigies in the art world.

When Akiane began painting, she says she had begun experiencing visions that she was eager to express artistically. Once she did, people took notice, and the stunning realism and emotion in Akiane’s work led her to be featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at age 10. As Akiane told Oprah back then, she believed her talent came from one place: God.

Akiane wasn’t raised with religion, but her visions and art felt truly divine. One of her most popular paintings at the time was a portrait of Jesus, which she painted at 8 years old. Today, Akiane is 21 and her works feature everything from people to animals to the abstract. As Akiane tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” her technique has indeed changed over the last decade. 

“I did notice over the years ... a maturing. The techniques have become more detailed and more vivid,” she explains. “I can paint ‘soulscapes,’ which is my artistic interpretation of the soul’s journey.”

After appearing on “The Oprah Show” and being recognized nationally for her art, Akiane says she became fortunate enough to be able to make a good living off her paintings. “Being an artist did actually give us the financial [means] to provide for my whole family and for others,” she says. “My paintings have been selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.”

Today, Akiane continues to paint and also travels the world as an art ambassador.

“While I was living in Lithuania, I had the opportunity to help the educational government to change the laws there, to have more creative education,” she says. “Currently, I’m funding my own art and science academy.”

After traveling to 26 countries and meeting countless people from different cultures, Akiane has come away with a poignant observation about humanity in general. 

“I truly, truly believe ... that the arts has the ability ― a rare ability ― to unite and inspire every single one of us,” she says.

“Oprah: Where Are They Now?” airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN. You can also watch full episodes on demand via the Watch OWN app.

Another child prodigy’s update:

Boy genius Greg Smith went to college at age 10 ― here’s what he’s up to today

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Columbus Day: Black Legend Meets White City

Mon, 2016-10-10 14:49
By William Francis Keegan, University of Florida

The story of Christopher Columbus, as with all legends, involves a series of great successes and horrible failures.

Columbus's current favorability rating hovers somewhere close to those of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This was not always the case - he was once a revered figure who represented the American dream.

Columbus was a narcissist. He believed he was personally chosen by God and that no one else could achieve his mission. His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. After 1493, he signed his name "xpo ferens" - "the Christbearer."

The King and Queen of Spain revoked their initial support for his first voyage to the New World because Columbus's demands for nobility and hereditary rights were so excessive. The monarchs changed their minds only after it was calculated that the expedition would cost Spain the equivalent of $7,000 (in 2016 US dollars). Isabella did not have to "hock her jewels" to foot the bill.

Columbus' personal qualities led to his downfall. In 1496, he became governor of the colony based at Santo Domingo, modern Dominican Republic - a job he hated. He could not convince the other colonists, especially those with noble titles to follow his leadership. And, he was an incompetent administrator. The colony was largely a social and economic failure. The wealth that Columbus promised the Spanish monarchs failed to materialize, and he made continuous requests for additional support. Finally, he left the colony to go exploring.

Inspiracion de Cristobal Colon by Jose Maria Obregon
Museo Nacional de Arte, CC BY-SA

Conditions were so dire by 1500, the Crown sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate. Bobadilla's first sight, at the mouth of the Ozama River, was four Spanish "mutineers" hanging from gallows. Under authority from the King, Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his brothers and sent them to Spain in chains. Columbus waited seven months for an audience at the court. He refused to have his chains removed until the meeting and even asked in his will to be buried with the chains.

Although the Spanish rulers wanted Columbus to disappear, he was allowed one final voyage from 1502 to 1504. He died in 1506, and went virtually unmentioned until he was resurrected as a symbol of the United States.

Inventing Columbus

My interest in this American icon began 35 years ago with a search for his first landfall. I wanted to understand the man who wrote the only accounts of the Native Bahamians, known today as Lucayans.

In the mid-18th century, scholars brought to light long forgotten documents about Columbus and the early history of the New World. Among the most important was Bartolome de las Casas' three volume, "Historia de las Indias." This book had been suppressed because it documented Spain's harsh treatment of the Native peoples. It is the foundation for the "Black Legend" - a depiction that "blackened" Spanish character by depicting it as repressive, brutal, intolerant, and intellectually and artistically backward.

The second was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage, published in 1880. Gustavus V. Fox, Abraham Lincoln's Assistant Secretary of the Navy, used the latter in his attempt to determine the first island on which Columbus landed.

In 1828, American writer and author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, attempted to revive his flagging career by writing the first biography of Christopher Columbus in English. His embellishments created the great hero whose legend we continue to celebrate: "He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in braving and a facility in vanquishing difficulties." And, Irving wrote that Columbus was the first to believe in a round earth - a fact that was proved 1,000 years before Columbus.

Renewed scholarly interest in Columbus coincided with political motives to deny Spain any remaining claims in the Americas. Spain's American colonies declared independence, one by one, from the beginning of the 19th century. Simón Bolivar, and other Creole revolutionary leaders, embraced a broader philosophy which highlighted their Roman ancestry. The complete conversion of Spanish America to Latin America arrived with the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the six month Spanish-American War in 1898. The last of Spain's colonies were liberated.

Columbus likely would have slipped back into obscurity if not for American hubris.

The Columbian Exposition

In 1889, France put on what reviewers described as the most spectacular World's Fair possible. Held on the Champs de Mars in Paris, it's crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, the U.S. did not realize that it needed to put on a good show in Paris. Europeans viewed the poor quality of the exhibits as a reflection of U.S. inferiority.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views of The World's Columbian Exposition

After the embarrassment in Paris, the United States wanted to prove to the world it was the equal of Europe. Cities across the country competed to host a fair in the U.S. Chicago wanted to demonstrate it was equal to the older eastern cities of New York and Philadelphia and submitted the winning bid.

No one has claimed credit for the theme of the Exposition, but the timing was fortuitous. The Columbian Exposition and World's Fair was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World. President William H. Harrison presided over opening ceremonies on Oct. 12, 1892.

It was called the "White City" - collection of nine "palaces" designed by America's greatest architects, conceived and constructed in only 26 months. Outside the White City was the grittier Midway, which is now a common feature of carnivals and fairs. The Fair debuted the first Ferris wheel, and gave visitors their first taste of carbonated soda, Cracker Jack, and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. An enormous 264-feet tall Ferris wheel transported 36 cars each carrying up to 60 people on a 20 minute ride. More than 28 million tickets were sold during the six months the Columbian Exposition was open.

Seventy-one portraits of Columbus, all posthumous, hung in a Grand Gallery. Following Washington Irving's descriptions, Columbus became the embodiment of the American Dream. The son of simple wool weavers and someone who had a great dream, challenged the greatest scholars of his day, and boldly went where no man had gone before. Better yet, he was Italian. The world could deny that Spain had any part in the discovery of the Americas.

President Harrison declared a national holiday - Columbus Day - to coincide with opening of the Columbian Exposition. It was officially recognized by Congress in 1937.

As the United States prepared for the 500th anniversary, the pendulum swung again. The devastating impact of his "discovery" on Native peoples throughout the Americas led protesters to decry Columbus as a "terrorist."

Columbus the man died more than 500 years ago. Columbus the legend is still being dismantled. His story illustrates the blurred borders between myth and history - how an architect of destruction can be turned to a national symbol.

William Francis Keegan, Professor of Anthropology, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Rhymefest Wants To Help Chicago Residents Combat Gun Violence

Mon, 2016-10-10 14:36

After experiencing a life-threatening robbery at gun point in September in Chicago, Illinois, Rhymefest has decided to take action against violence in the city.

The Grammy Award winning rapper led a free public vigil for victims of gun violence in Chicago on Sunday. Prior to the event, the former Kanye West-affiliate appeared on Friday’s episode of “Windy City LIVE” to share his efforts to forge a better union with local residents to combat gun violence.

“We have too many walls in Chicago and not enough bridges. It’s time that we start being solution based in areas other than just the south and the west sides of Chicago,” he said on the daytime talk show. “Because all of Chicago is suffering from trauma. And I’m talking about people on the Gold coast, people on Michigan Avenue is not reconciled, so they build walls. And we’re not working as one Chicago.”   

In addition to leading Sunday’s vigil, Rhymefest is also initiating citywide therapy sessions for Chicago residents through his “Truth & Reconciliation” event series. Although he’s raising awareness on local social issues in the city, he’s still reluctant to label himself as an “advocate.”

“I don’t like the word activist for me, because advocate says I’m advocating on behalf of a community or someone else,” he said.

“I don’t think people need to be advocated for, I think people need to be given agency over themselves. If we can use ― as artists, entertainers, athlete, media people ― if we can use our platform to help people give agency over our own lives, that’s great. But to set ourselves up as the advocate for someone else really continues to set them up for failure.”

Check out more of Rhymefest’s “Windy City LIVE” interview in the clip above.

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9 Design Projects Tackling America’s Poverty Crisis, One Community At A Time

Mon, 2016-10-10 11:40

The U.S. economy is technically in recovery, but the number of Americans living in concentrated poverty has nearly doubled since 2000. As people struggle for stability and survival, the communities where public investment has disintegrated are getting creative to meet residents’ needs, from housing to health.

The exhibition “By the People: Designing a Better America,” which opened Sept. 30 at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, spotlights 60 projects that use design to solve urgent problems at the local level, from food access to natural disaster response. The exhibition catalog, which notes that “design can be a force for justice,” could serve as a loose guide for others who want to roll up their sleeves and confront their communities’ problems head-on.

The show is curated by Cynthia Smith, the museum’s curator of socially responsible design. Smith selected the current exhibition from a list of 300 projects after spending two years traveling the country and witnessing communities’ solutions to the challenges of poverty in urban centers and rural areas, the borderland and the heartland.  

“Many of [the design projects] are in response to decades of divestment, social and spatial segregation and mounting climate challenges,” Smith told The Huffington Post.

Smith said she was careful to include projects from a diverse set of places with a range of strategies and goals. She said the variety is meant to show visitors that design interventions can take place under almost any circumstances.

The projects do have one thing in common: They were shaped by the people they’re meant to serve, and many are spearheaded by partnerships between professional designers and local organizations.

“Bridging divides or creating alliances, whether it’s listening, valuing or incorporating local community experiences, is really essential for envisioning, designing and building a more just and equitable country,” Smith said.

Here are nine of the creative ways design has been used to confront poverty and inequality around the country, featured in the “By the People” exhibition.

Using data and design to save lives at the Mexican border

Aside from being a hot-button political issue, migration from Mexico is a pressing humanitarian concern. Migrants risk their lives on the hazardous trek across the Sonoran Desert, and U.S. policy restrictions have only made it more dangerous.

In 2000, minister Robin Hoover started tracking and plotting the deaths of migrating people ― many due to dehydration ― on a map of Arizona’s border. She used the data to determine the most dangerous spots, and worked with former Navy engineer Tim Holt to design water stations, blue barrels labeled “AGUA” marked by flags 30 feet in the air. Their organization, Humane Borders, has installed more than 100 water stations since 2001, maintained by volunteers.

Though Hoover and Holt aren’t designers by training, they designed a simple, straightforward object to tackle a major issue in their communities. They also distributed posters in Mexican border towns that warn about the dangers of crossing and provide distance and survival information.

Rebuilding a blighted house into an event space for an isolated rural town

When artist and designer Matthew Mazzotta came to York in western Alabama, he invited residents to share their hopes for the rural town in an outdoor living room.

“Townspeople extolled the strength of their community and lamented the lack of racially integrated and secular social spaces and the proliferation of blighted properties,” the “By the People” catalog notes.

In response, Mazzotta used the materials from a blighted abandoned property to build OPEN HOUSE, a small pink structure that can be unfolded into an open-air theater for community events and performances.

Turning trash into art that opens a pathway to employment and education for homeless women 

Rebel Nell sells jewelry with a surprising origin ― the colorful pieces are polished chunks of paint that have fallen off of graffiti and murals in Detroit. The nonprofit was started to support local homeless women, who are hired to make the jewelry. Beyond a paycheck, Rebel Nell offers entrepreneurship and financial literacy classes so its employees can gain new skills along with housing and financial independence.

Rebuilding domestic violence shelters to put the needs of survivors and their children first 

In 2012, a domestic violence group in Washington joined with architects to rethink the typical layout of shelters based on residents’ feedback ― for instance, giving families individual rooms rather than housing them in communal living quarters. They created Building Dignity, an online portal that brings together design strategies and best practices for creating safe spaces for domestic violence survivors. Several shelters have used these ideas to improve or rebuild their facilities.

Bringing fresh, local produce directly to people in urban food deserts

In Chicago, old city buses painted in bright colors travel routes in several low-income neighborhoods. They’re not picking up passengers, though: Their interiors have been converted into mobile farm stands for the Fresh Moves project. Now, residents in communities where there are limited options for healthy food have easy, reliable access to produce grown at local farms.

Keeping communities intact after natural disasters with a new model for emergency housing

The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a nonprofit design center based in Texas, conceived RAPIDO Rapid Recovery Housing as a way to help communities rebuild after a disaster without long delays or displacement. Families whose houses are destroyed would quickly get small units built on their property, and additional sections of the house would be constructed in subsequent months while the family lives there. In a pilot program, BCW built 20 houses in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Closing the digital divide in an underserved New York City neighborhood

The Red Hook Initiative operates a low-cost wireless network in the Brooklyn neighborhood, giving residents access to an essential service and connecting the community. The network is maintained by young people who live in nearby public housing and take a technology training program to become “digital stewards.”

Linking communities straddling the world’s most trafficked border crossing with experiential classrooms

The University of California, San Diego, is designing the Cross-Border Community Station, with connected sites in the Los Laureles Canyon, Tijuana, Mexico, home to an informal settlement of 85,000 people, and in San Ysidro, California. The station aims to promote knowledge exchange between the communities and the university, and could eventually include an ecological research station, an economic incubator, a health clinic and a community classroom.

Building affordable housing that caters to non-traditional families 

The Las Abuelitas Kinship Housing and Community Center comes out of a unique, unmet housing need: Thousands of children in Arizona are raised by grandparents, many living in homes and retirement centers that aren’t suitable for families. The South Tucson development consists of 12 low-rent homes designed to meet the two generations’ needs, with features like peepholes in exterior doors at eye level for children and people using wheelchairs.


Kate Abbey-Lambertz covers sustainable cities, housing and inequality. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.   


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Will a Teacher Strike Accomplish Anything?

Sun, 2016-10-09 22:12

On Tuesday, October 11, public school teachers in Chicago may go on strike, suspending the education of nearly 400,000 children and forcing parents to find safe havens for their kids in a city crippled by gang violence. Given the price, what will a strike accomplish?

The last one, in 2012, changed very little and was mostly just a thumb in the eye of the Emanuel Administration after the state passed a law making it harder to strike.

I spoke with a Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) representative who conceded that teachers don't really "want" to strike but nevertheless feel it's the only way to express frustration with budget cuts and working conditions that make their job more challenging.

By law, teachers can only strike over wages and benefits but, based on union and teacher blogs, an accumulation of grievances that are mostly related to the district's troubled finances are driving teacher dissatisfaction: rising class sizes, cuts to support personnel such as nurses, counselors and librarians, and layoffs driven by enrollment declines. Beyond that, the union is hostile to public charter schools and test-based accountability, including teacher evaluation, which is part of the current contract.

Publicly, the fight has revolved around whether teachers should pay the 9 percent share of their employee pension or whether the administration should continue the practice of "picking up" 7 of the 9 percent, a deal reached years ago in lieu of a pay hike.

Management insists that almost all teachers will receive a net raise of 5-6 percent over the life of the contract even after pension and health care givebacks. The union does the math differently and insists teachers will lose money. It's pretty hard to reach agreement on a contract if you can't even agree on the math.

I also met with two teachers opposed to the strike. They were particularly upset over the way the union conducted the recent strike vote in which 87 percent of members supported the walkout. Union representatives in each school put the names of every teacher on a roster clearly showing to other teachers who was for or against the strike. These teachers said there was extreme pressure to vote yes and fear of being ostracized for voting no.

The teachers were especially alarmed by a recent conference call where union leaders allegedly urged members to put sugar in the gas tanks of cars owned by anyone who crosses picket lines. This kind of militant unionism offends their professional sensibilities.

Today, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality and DNA Info, Chicago teachers are among the highest paid big city teachers in the country, earning more on average than teachers in any of the top 10 cities in America. A state website shows Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers' salaries are also competitive with all but the wealthiest surrounding suburbs. CPS retirees enjoy pensions that grow three percent annually, well above the current rate of inflation.

CPS has little room to maneuver financially. They have cut expenses deeply and the city has raised local taxes by more than a billion dollars in the last year, largely to fund public pensions. There is zero chance the state will bail out the city to resolve the strike, and various calls for new taxes from the unions are not going anywhere either in Springfield or in the Chicago City Council. Ultimately, the strike may do little more than recoup a share of unused funds set aside for neighborhood development.

The plain fact is that the accumulated demands of the teachers are beyond the district's capacity and the state's willingness to pay. In a world of finite dollars, it's inevitable that high salaries, flush pensions and affordable health care come at the expense of something else, whether it's class size, support services or extra-curricular programs.

Resistance to accountability among union leadership and the rank and file further undermines Chicago's case for more funding. The education system has essentially made a grand bargain with taxpayers and legislators: provide adequate resources and schools will deliver results.

Failure to get adequate results is supposed to trigger consequences--either leadership and some staff changes in the school or new and better educational options in the community. In many cases, the parents themselves are holding schools accountable by voting with their feet and choosing better options, including public charter schools.

Today, CPS is getting results, including some of the largest learning gains in the country and rising graduation rates. If union-management relations in Chicago were less toxic, CTU President Karen Lewis and Mayor Rahm Emanuel could stand together to cheer those good results and then lock arms to fight for more funding in Springfield.

Instead, Chicago is looking at its second strike in four years, playing right into the hands of those who want to defund public education and drive the district into bankruptcy. Let's hope that cooler heads prevail.

This post originally appeared on Education Post.

Photo by Peoples World, CC-licensed.

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

Fri, 2016-10-07 16:05

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

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

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

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Campaign Contribution Limit Law Backfiring on Democrats

Fri, 2016-10-07 15:54

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2016-10-07 00:10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • For firing massive amounts of teachers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2016-10-06 18:07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wed, 2016-10-05 17:47

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there other species nearing endangered status, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


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

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Illinois Couple Has A Whopper Of A Beef With Burger King

Wed, 2016-10-05 12:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tue, 2016-10-04 18:01

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

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

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

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Republican Obstruction Is Undermining The Supreme Court, Enough Is Enough

Tue, 2016-10-04 10:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student loans

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

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

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

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