WBEZ | News http://www.wbez.org/news Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en After spending scandals, Rep. Aaron Schock says goodbye http://www.wbez.org/news/after-spending-scandals-rep-aaron-schock-says-goodbye-111780 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/aaronshocklast.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Once a fast-rising star in the Republican Party, Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock gave his final speech on the House floor Thursday.</p><p>Schock, who was elected to Congress in 2008, will resign his House seat at the end of the month. His resignation comes after weeks of questions about his judgment, lavish lifestyle and spending.</p><p>Little of the scandal that plagued Schock&#39;s final weeks on Capitol Hill was evident Thursday though, as his farewell speech focused less on his quick fall and more on his rise.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve done my best to contribute constructively to the process and to serve the people of my district and my country,&quot; Schock said. &quot;My guiding principle has always been rooted in the belief that Washington should only do what people cannot do for themselves.&quot;</p><p>Over the last few weeks, a series of reports by Politico, the The Washington Post, and other news organizations raised questions about Schock&#39;s financial practices. Reports indicate that Schock spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on office renovations, used both taxpayer and campaign funds on private jets and concerts and did not report lavish gifts on financial disclosure funds as required by House ethics guidelines. His resignation ultimately came on March 17 as Politico raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements Schock claimed for his personal vehicle.</p><p>Schock, 33, was elected to Congress as a 27-year-old. He said he was never more excited than the day he stepped onto Capitol Hill for the first time. He was a youthful face in the chamber who posted shirtless photos of himself on Instagram and posed for a photo showing his abs on the cover of the fitness magazine Men&#39;s Health.</p><p>&quot;I leave here with sadness and humility,&quot; he said. &quot;For those whom I&#39;ve let down, I will work tirelessly to make it up to you.&quot;</p><p>Even in his final floor speech, Schock seemed to leave the door open for a future &mdash; though he didn&#39;t specify what kind &mdash; comparing himself to former President Abraham Lincoln, who Shock has a bust of in his office.</p><p>&quot;Abraham Lincoln held this seat in Congress for one term but few faced as many defeats in his personal, business and public life as he did,&quot; Schock said. &quot;His continual perseverance in the face of these trials, never giving up is something all of us Americans should be inspired by, especially when going through a valley in life.&quot;</p><p>Only the two situations aren&#39;t exactly parallel. Lincoln did, as Schock noted, serve just one term in Congress. In fact, he promised while campaigning in 1846 that he would serve just one term if elected. He won, did just that, and declined to run for re-election in 1848.</p><p>Schock&#39;s troubles on Capitol Hill began after The Washington Post published an article last month about his lavish office renovations, which were inspired by the popular PBS drama &quot;Downton Abbey.&quot;</p><p>In an unrelated coincidence, PBS announced today that the show&#39;s upcoming sixth season will be its last.</p><p>&mdash; <em>via <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2015/03/26/395580527/after-spending-scandals-rep-aaron-schock-says-goodbye">NPR&#39;s It&#39;s All Politics</a></em></p></p> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/after-spending-scandals-rep-aaron-schock-says-goodbye-111780 Rauner signs into law compromise plan to fix budget hole http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-signs-law-compromise-plan-fix-budget-hole-111779 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/raunerpresser.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed a compromise plan to plug a $1.6 billion hole in this year&#39;s budget and avert shutdowns of state programs and services.</p><p>Rauner signed the legislation Thursday evening, hours after the Democratic-led Senate approved it 32-26, with all 20 Republicans voting for it. Two days earlier, the House also approved the bills with full GOP support.</p><p>Following weeks of negotiation, Rauner reached the deal with Democratic legislative leaders, even though the majority of Democrats in both chambers voted against the compromise.</p><p>The plan authorizes him to transfer $1.3 billion from other purposes, including parks and conservation. The rest comes from a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut. It also gives Rauner authority over $97 million to distribute to needy schools.</p></p> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-signs-law-compromise-plan-fix-budget-hole-111779 More people moved away from Illinois last year than any other state http://www.wbez.org/news/more-people-moved-away-illinois-last-year-any-other-state-111776 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/illinois road sign.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois had the biggest decrease in population according to a new report from the Census Bureau.</p><p>Between July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, the state lost 9,972 people. On the other end, Texas saw the largest population increase adding more than 450,000 people during that time.</p><p>Cook County saw a very slight decrease in population. It&rsquo;s one of four counties with a population of more than 1 million to experience a decrease. Others include industrial counties like Wayne County, Michigan; Cuyahoga, Ohio; and Allegheny, Pennsylvania.</p><p>The rate of people leaving Cook County for other counties has been increasing since 2012. More than 48,600 people left over the 2013-2014 timeframe.</p><p>P.S. Sriraj is an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.</p><p>He says in the past, people of low income populated in the city center, like Chicago. Now, that population is moving out to the suburbs and collar counties.</p><p>&ldquo;Those reasons are typically tied to employment&mdash;proximity to employment. Could also be tied to crime, crime rate in the city versus the suburbs. And it&rsquo;s also a direct correlation to quality of education,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Kendall and Will counties saw some of the biggest population gains in the state.</p><p>The birth rate has decreased in Cook County, while the death rate increased. Yet Cook County&rsquo;s overall population has held mostly steady. That&rsquo;s in part due to the number of people migrating here from other countries. More than 48,600 people immigrated to Cook County from other countries last year.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look at the pattern of immigrants coming to the country, their first stop has always been the larger city,&rdquo; Sriraj said. &ldquo;Once they acclimatize to the culture and surroundings, they find a foothold in suburban locations. That&rsquo;s typical.&rdquo;</p><p>He says those international arrivals could eventually be part of that exodus to the collar counties.</p><p>Overall, across Illinois, more counties dipped in population than gained. Metro areas with the highest unemployment rate, like Decatur, Danville, Kankakee and Rockford, also saw the highest population decrease for the state.</p><p><em>Susie An is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/soosieon" target="_blank">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/more-people-moved-away-illinois-last-year-any-other-state-111776 Flamin' Hot Cheetos top some Chicago Public School vending machines http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/flamin-hot-cheetos-top-some-chicago-public-school-vending-machines-111773 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/cheetos.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Last week Michigan became the latest state to opt out of the federal Smart Snack standards. The rules regulate what can be sold in school fundraisers and vending machines that help schools pay the bill. More than 22 states have pushed for some kind of exemption from these rules since they went into effect last July.</p><p>So just how stringent are they?</p><p>The snacks must be:</p><ul><li>&ldquo;whole grain rich&rdquo; if they are grain-based, meaning 50 percent whole grain</li><li>no more than 200 calories</li><li>no more than 230 mgs of sodium</li><li>no more than 35 percent sugar, by weight</li><li>lower in fat, meaning no more than a third of their calories can come from fat</li></ul><p>So all that&rsquo;s left is kale, right?</p><p>Well, not really. In fact, under these new rules, two of the top sellers in some Chicago Public Schools are reformulated Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos and Kellogg&rsquo;s Pop Tarts. This is not exactly what Dr. Virginia Stallings envisioned when she chaired the Institute of Medicine committee whose recommendations would form the backbone of the Smart Snack rules.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I thought the top sellers might be things that had more nutrients in them than Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos,&rdquo; said Stallings, who is a professor of pediatrics at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. &ldquo;But let me say that one of the things we were absolutely expecting and appreciate is that the food companies would look at these recommendations and they would, in fact, reformulate their products.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>To Stallings, the reformulated Cheetos, in smaller portions, with more whole grain, less sodium and less fat, represent an evidence-based improvement over the old formula.</p><p>But to folks like Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, a health analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the snacks represent&nbsp;&nbsp; mixed messages to kids.<br /><br />&ldquo;I think it says to them that, of course, I can eat these. And when they are outside the school, if they see the same item at a grocery store, they don&rsquo;t recognize the difference,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Even more concerning, is that their parents don&rsquo;t either, according to a Rudd Center study showing that many parents are misguided into thinking that these [reformulated] items are good for their kids.&rdquo;</p><p>To see this in action, all you have to do is drop by a Chicago Public high school vending machine where reformulated Pop Tarts and Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheeto Puffs occupy several slots. In an interview with WBEZ Wednesday, CPS&rsquo;s head of Nutrition Services Leslie Fowler said she had no idea schools were selling the snacks.</p><p>The district, she said, has prohibited reformulated snacks for about a year. Still, a list of approved snacks that CPS provided to WBEZ on Wednesday includes Baked Cheetos and Reduced Fat Nilla Wafers. Another list the district sent to WBEZ earlier Wednesday included reduced fat Cool Ranch Doritos as an approved snack. But when WBEZ noted that snack was also &ldquo;reformulated,&rdquo; the CPS official claimed she&rsquo;d given us the wrong list.</p><p>To add to the confusion, Fowler told WBEZ Wednesday that the &ldquo;only Cheeto that is approved is the whole grain puff,&rdquo; which are not included on the latest list but are featured in several district machines.</p><p>Regardless of what CPS rules actually are, it&rsquo;s clear that the much maligned Smart Snack rules still leave plenty of room for things like reformulated Flamin Hot Cheetos. And while it&rsquo;s true the reformulation reduces fat and salt, the snacks still feature six artificial colors and nearly 30 ingredients.</p><p>New York University Nutrition professor Marion Nestle thinks part of the problem is that the rules encourage companies to hit certain nutrient numbers rather than providing real food.&nbsp;&nbsp;<br /><br />&ldquo;This is a classic case of nutritionism,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;If you set up nutrition standards, the food industry can do anything to meet those standards and this is a perfect example of that...So this is a better-for-you junk food. And, of course, the question is: is that a good choice? And no, of course, it&rsquo;s not.&rdquo;&nbsp;<br /><br />When asked to discuss the issue, Cheeto maker Frito Lay would not grant WBEZ an interview. Instead, the company wrote &ldquo;We offer a variety of Smart Snack compliant products in schools in portion-controlled sizes to suit a variety of tastes, including the Reduced Fat, Whole Grain Rich Flamin&#39; Hot Cheetos.&rdquo;</p><p>Lane Tech Senior Tyra Bosnic said she&rsquo;s disappointed in the vending machines at her school. She wished they better mirrored the machines she&rsquo;s seen in Europe.<br /><br />&ldquo;They have better drinks there and there&rsquo;s more water accessible,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;There they have things like pumpkin seeds in the machines. Here we just have gross, whole grain Pop Tarts and Cheeto Puffs.&rdquo;<br /><br />The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it couldn&rsquo;t comment on the wisdom of selling Cheetos at school, but that its latest rules have already helped kids eat &ldquo;healthier.&rdquo;<br /><br />It&rsquo;s not just kids who are drawn to the&nbsp; orange curly snacks. For cash strapped school administrators, Cheetos can&nbsp; deliver plenty of green. Under the current CPS deal with Avcoa Vending, schools&nbsp; get a 20 percent commission on all sales; and that can add up to more than $10,000 in discretionary spending a year. So, why not stock this teenage favorite?</p><p>&ldquo;Because schools have an obligation to teach children how to be successful adults,&rdquo; says Rochelle Davis of Chicago&rsquo;s Healthy Schools Campaign. &ldquo;And learning about how to be healthy is a critical part of that.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, one vending machine rep noted that kids are going to buy Cheetos at the corner store and that few entities need money more than schools. Stallings, who wrote the original recommendations, questions whether schools should be selling any snacks at all.</p><p>&ldquo;Selling food to children outside of the school lunch and breakfast should not be a source of revenue for the school,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s exploiting the children&rsquo;s health.&rdquo;</p><p>Instead, advocates like Rochelle Davis of Chicago&rsquo;s Healthy Schools Campaign suggest raising the revenue through things like plant sales and dance-a-thons.</p><p>&ldquo;I just got an email about a school trying a dance-a-thon,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;So the kids are going to be up and moving and the community is going to be supporting that instead of a traditional fundraiser.&rdquo;</p><p>But can a dance-a-thon rake in the cash like Flamin&rsquo; Hot Cheetos? With all the resistance against even these initial rules, it may be some time before we get to find out.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Clarification, 3/26/2015: After this story was published Chicago Public Schools officials claimed CPS uses vendors other than Avcoa. They have not yet responded who those vendors are.</em></p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/flamin-hot-cheetos-top-some-chicago-public-school-vending-machines-111773 Indiana Gov. Pence signs religious objections bill http://www.wbez.org/sections/religion/indiana-gov-pence-signs-religious-objections-bill-111772 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/mikepence.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>INDIANAPOLIS &mdash; Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday signed into law a religious objections bill that some convention organizers and business leaders have opposed amid concern it could allow discrimination against gay people.</p><p>Indiana is the first state to enact such a change this year among about a dozen where such proposals have been introduced. The measure would prohibit state and local laws that &quot;substantially burden&quot; the ability of people &mdash; including businesses and associations &mdash; to follow their religious beliefs.</p><p>Pence, a Republican, backed the bill as it moved through the Legislature and spoke at a Statehouse rally last month that drew hundreds of supporters of the proposal. The governor signed the bill in a private ceremony.</p><p>Pence said in a statement Thursday that the bill ensures &quot;religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law.&quot;</p><p>&quot;The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion, but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,&quot; he said.</p><p>In a letter to Pence sent Wednesday, leaders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) warned that the legislation was causing them to reconsider plans to hold their 6,000-person General Assembly in Indianapolis in 2017. The CEO of a gathering of gamers considered to be the city&#39;s largest annual convention also expressed concern about the bill, which the state Senate passed Tuesday.</p><p>The bill signing comes just more than a week before NCAA men&#39;s Final Four games at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, but the college sports organization hasn&#39;t taken a position on the issue.</p><p>&quot;We are examining the details of this bill, however, the NCAA national office is committed to an inclusive environment where all individuals enjoy equal access to events,&quot; the Indianapolis-based group said in a statement.</p><blockquote><p><strong>WBEZ reporter Mike Puente discusses reaction to the law on the Morning Shift</strong></p></blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="100" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/197816089&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Supporters say discrimination concerns are overblown because the bill is modeled after a federal religious freedom law Congress passed in 1993 and similar laws are on the books in 19 states. However, the current political climate is far different than it was when most of those were approved because the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on whether gay marriage bans violate the Constitution.</p><p>Conservative groups say the Indiana measure merely seeks to prevent the government from compelling people to provide such things as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable on religious grounds.</p><p>&quot;I think you will find that, if you do your homework in it, this law is not going to allow you to discriminate against anyone else or anyone&#39;s rights in this country,&quot; GOP Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long said.</p><p>But the Republican mayor of Indianapolis said he believed the proposal would send the &quot;wrong signal&quot; for the city, and its tourism and convention agency raised concerns that it could lead some convention planners to regard Indiana as an unwelcoming place.</p><p>The Indianapolis chamber of commerce and Columbus-based engine maker Cummins Inc. are among business groups which have opposed the bill on the grounds that it could make it more difficult to attract top companies and employees.</p><p>Adrian Swartout, the CEO of the 50,000-person Gen Con gamers&#39; convention, said the legislation could affect the group&#39;s decision to hold the major event in Indianapolis past 2020. He said it would have &quot;a direct negative impact on the state&#39;s economy.&quot;</p><p>Similar bills have been advancing this year in the Arkansas and Georgia legislatures. Last year, Mississippi enacted a religious objection law just weeks after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a similar effort there amid criticism from major corporations.</p><p>Pence denied that the bill will allow discrimination.</p><p>&quot;This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it,&quot; he said. &quot;For more than 20 years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation&#39;s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana.&quot;</p></p> Thu, 26 Mar 2015 10:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/religion/indiana-gov-pence-signs-religious-objections-bill-111772 The Chicago rabbit: The unofficial face of wildlife is right under your nose http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-rabbit-unofficial-face-wildlife-right-under-your-nose-111770 <p><p>Our question about rabbits comes from Curious Citizen Jennifer Gadda, who says when she lived in San Francisco and New York, she hardly ever saw rabbits. Not so with her time in The Second City; the little guys were all over the parks or springing between grass and gravel.</p><p>&ldquo;If I wasn&rsquo;t hearing someone complain about their garden, I was seeing them everywhere,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;I wondered if they truly were &lsquo;the other pigeon&rsquo; of the city. It was like <em>The Twilight Zone</em>.&rdquo;</p><p>With this in mind, Jennifer sent us a two-parter about these urban hoppers:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><em>What&#39;s the deal with all the bunny rabbits that inhabit the urban areas of Chicago? Most importantly, where do they go for the long winter?</em></p><p>Well, Jennifer, looking into this question has made us realize something: There&rsquo;s a case to be made that the lowly rabbit should be considered as iconically &ldquo;Chicagoan&rdquo; as celery salt on hot dogs or pronouncing basketball as &ldquo;b-ea-sketball.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The Eastern Cottontail</span></p><p>According to our sources, it&rsquo;s likely that Jennifer&rsquo;s fine, four-legged friends are members of our region&rsquo;s dominant species, the Eastern Cottontail. It&rsquo;s difficult to estimate how many actually inhabit the city, but the The Urban Wildlife Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo has made a go of it, having set up 118 camera &ldquo;traps&rdquo; across the city to catch rabbits doing their thing. The heat-sensitive cameras take a photo every 30 seconds or whenever they&rsquo;re triggered by motion.</p><p>Mason Fidino, who spearheads the Institute&rsquo;s ongoing<a href="http://www.lpzoo.org/blog/nature-boardwalk-lincoln-park-zoo/what-do-rabbits-do-winter" target="_blank"> research</a> on the species&rsquo; behavior, estimates there are 200 or so wild rabbits on the zoo grounds alone, which translates to a density of about 30 rabbits per hectare.</p><p>&ldquo;This implies that our density of rabbits in this area is far greater than reported estimates of rabbit densities in natural areas of this region (from other people&rsquo;s work),&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Translation: Chicago&rsquo;s likely full of rabbits, or at least more rabbits per hectare (or acre) than nearby suburbs or natural areas.</p><p>One reason they&rsquo;re so common in the city is because the heart of downtown is an &ldquo;urban heat island,&rdquo; meaning the city is warmer than the &lsquo;burbs. (Wouldn&rsquo;t <em>you </em>hang out where it&rsquo;s warmer?)</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DSCF1013.JPG" style="height: 380px; width: 450px;" title="An Eastern Cottontail hides under bushes at the Lincoln Park Zoo entrance. It is uncommon for a rabbit to be out during the day. (WBEZ/Gabrielle Wright)" /></div><p>If the rabbits had to pick a neighborhood, it would definitely be Lincoln Park and the real estate around Museum Campus, where the little fugitives have had quite an effect. They eat shrubs and bark, so it&rsquo;s common to find their bucktooth prints on trees. The Chicago Park District estimates that, in 2002, more than $50,000 worth of Grant Park&rsquo;s plants and trees ended up in rabbit bellies. The Horticulture Department at Lincoln Park Zoo estimates that rabbits chowed $15,000 worth of landscaping during a recent winter season.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-510-2.jpg" style="height: 338px; width: 450px;" title="The Urban Wildlife Institute uses cameras to spot rabbits, both day and night. (WBEZ/Gabrielle Wright)" /></div><p>If you don&rsquo;t buy Findino&rsquo;s take on the rabbit population, consider another one. In his book <em>Rats</em>, Robert Sullivan equates the long-eared mammal&rsquo;s bold presence across Chicago with the commonality of rats in New York City&rsquo;s subways.</p><p>&quot;I also noticed that in addition to a rat problem, Chicago public parks appear to have a bit of a rabbit problem,&rdquo; writes Sullivan. &ldquo;Rabbits were hopping all over the place, believe it or not. It was a little scary.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">It&rsquo;s a hard life for a Chicago rabbit</span></p><p>Regarding Jennifer&#39;s follow-up question about the fate of the rabbits during winter, Fidino says the answer&rsquo;s straightforward: Most rabbits die over the winter. A Lincoln Park Zoo study estimates a winter mortality rate of about 70 percent.</p><p>The critters compensate for this dismal figure by mating like ... rabbits. One female rabbit may have up to 25 babies each year. In frigid temps, many of those babies don&rsquo;t survive. Those that do? They hide.</p><p>During the winter, many will make homes in warm places right under your nose. How you interact with your environment determines how many you&rsquo;ll see. Fidino says if you have a garden covered by a fresh layer of snow, rabbits are probably there. When asked where <em>he </em>would hide if he were a rabbit, Fidino says he&rsquo;d join the bounty of bunnies storming the Lincoln Park Zoo. He also said he would hide behind a large waste bin.</p><p>&ldquo;Rabbits are pretty creative,&rdquo; Fidino says. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually quite funny where you might find them. In the city, they might be hiding right under something near your feet and you wouldn&rsquo;t even know it. It&rsquo;s their job to hide.&rdquo;</p><p>The Eastern Cottontail is qualified for the job, as it&rsquo;s a crepuscular species (meaning it comes out of hiding only at dawn and dusk to forage food). Hopping around during the dusty twinge of the violet hours makes it easier to avoid predators.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/untitled-498-3.jpg" style="height: 338px; width: 450px;" title="Camera 'traps' capture night-time images of rabbits in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo/Urban Wildlife Institute)" /></div><p>Still, there are more obstacles to staying alive. According to the Illinois Department of Natural History&cedil; there are about 2,000 coyotes hanging out in our<a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/what-part-chicago-has-most-biodiversity-103725" target="_blank"> diverse urban jungle</a>, along with other predators. Cottontails are toward the bottom of the food chain, making the struggle to find food harder. What&rsquo;s more, they are susceptible to Tularemia, or &ldquo;rabbit fever,&rdquo; an infectious disease that spreads quickly, just as bubonic plague can. The disease wiped out between <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-03-20/news/ct-met-kass-0320-20130320_1_rabbit-dark-shadows-coyotes" target="_blank">40 to 60 percent of the city&#39;s rabbit population in 2013</a>. In 1930, plans to relocate rabbits from the city to a local forest preserve were halted due to the disease.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Chicago&rsquo;s <em>other </em>bunnies</span></p><p>If you spot the brown creatures during daylight, there&rsquo;s a chance they could be in in danger. Red Door Shelter, an animal rescue center on the city&rsquo;s North Side, has created an up-and-at-&lsquo;em community that snaps pictures of the furballs as they huddle near car tires or under porches. Members post pics to the shelter&rsquo;s Facebook Page and assign search parties to follow up on &ldquo;<a href="https://www.facebook.com/reddoorshelter/photos/a.180540025330317.50697.180526168665036/888798757837770/?type=1" target="_blank">bunny action alerts</a>&rdquo; when necessary.</p><p>&ldquo;They happen quite often,&rdquo; says Toni Greetis, Vice President of the Red Door Shelter. &ldquo;If a bunny is on the loose we get together and go look for them.&rdquo;</p><p>Search parties determine whether the rabbit in question is wild or a domesticated breed. Greetis says there&rsquo;s a peculiar rise in the amount of rabbits that are let loose in the winter. The group&rsquo;s rescued 54 since Easter of 2014.</p><p>&ldquo;Domestic rabbits often get mistaken for the wild Eastern Cottontails but don&rsquo;t have the genetic makeup to survive the winter,&rdquo; Greetis says. &ldquo;They will die if left out in the cold.&rdquo;</p><p>Following rescue, the shelter will search for the bunny&rsquo;s owners or put it up for adoption.</p><p>If you find some wild rabbits hopping along the side of building or nestled under your deck, they&rsquo;re probably okay. Dawn Keller is the Executive Director and wildlife ecologist at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, the city&rsquo;s only wildlife hospital. She<a href="http://www.flintcreekwildlife.org/found_an_animal/bunnies/" target="_blank"> advises you to leave wild rabbits alone</a> if you find one.</p><p>&ldquo;Believe me, even if you don&rsquo;t see them, they&rsquo;re here&rdquo; Keller says. &ldquo;This is their city too.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Jennifer Gadda, Curious Citizen</span></p><p>Jennifer is no stranger to wildlife, having grown up in a semi-rural section of Boise, Idaho. She&rsquo;s lived in bustling cities across the country, as well Oxford, England. She says she&rsquo;s never seen so many urban rabbits as she has in Chicago&rsquo;s Ravenswood neighborhood.</p><p>In Fall of 2003, the theater professional (she manages production at Court Theater) landed in Chicago. She says she immediately took in two &ldquo;Candy Land-like surprises&rdquo;: a superb chocolatey smell wafting in the air and ... rabbits. Everywhere.</p><p>&ldquo;Isn&#39;t it unusual to have wildlife in the middle of a city?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;Or are rabbits really just cuter versions of rats and pigeons?&rdquo;</p><p>Jennifer&#39;s lived here for 10 years, long enough to have lived through 2013-2014&rsquo;s &ldquo;Snowmageddon&rdquo; season. Like many Chicagoans, she worried about people who didn&rsquo;t have adequate cold-weather shelter, but the fate of the rabbits sprang to mind, too.</p><p>Knowing most of them actually do die off, she says the rabbits&rsquo; reproductive rate makes perfect sense.</p><p>&ldquo;I guess this is how nature keeps things in balance,&rdquo; Jennifer says.</p><p>But ... she&rsquo;s still curious to know if they are just cuter versions of rats.</p><p><em>Gabrielle Wright is an intern for Curious City. Follow her at <a href="https://twitter.com/@GabiAWright" target="_blank">@GabiAWright</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 19:14:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/chicago-rabbit-unofficial-face-wildlife-right-under-your-nose-111770 Unions and Garcia push for $15-an-hour minimum wage http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-and-garcia-push-15-hour-minimum-wage-111768 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chuy15.PNG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Mayoral candidate Jesus &quot;Chuy&quot; Garcia and the Chicago Teachers Union are pushing for a $15 per hour minimum wage.</p><p dir="ltr">Garcia, members of the CTU, and activists with the national movement &ldquo;Fight for 15&rdquo; rallied outside the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday. They want all companies who do business with Chicago Public Schools to agree to a wage increase.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Parents who cannot get regular hours at their job, who cannot make a living wage, have a difficult time providing their children, who are our students, with the kind of environment necessary for real learning,&rdquo; said CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey.</p><p dir="ltr">All CTU-represented employees and most others at CPS are already above the minimum wage, but Sharkey said subcontracted employees, like Safe Passage workers and recess monitors, are not.</p><p dir="ltr">Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already <a href="http://www.wbez.org/mayor-emanuel-backs-chicago-minimum-wage-hike-13-110462">promised to increase the minimum wage</a> to $13 an hour by 2018. The wage hike applies to all companies who do business with the city and its sister agencies, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-chief-backs-mayors-13-hour-minimum-wage-111138">including CPS</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Garcia said he&rsquo;d find the money for a wage hike by closing tax loopholes for wealthy corporations and rerouting money given to &ldquo;cronies of the mayor.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If there&rsquo;s enough money to make them happy, there ought to be enough money to pay for frontline workers within Chicago Public Schools,&rdquo; Garcia said. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">School janitors also rallied outside the Board Wednesday to argue against the layoffs that took place after <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/custodial-contract-causing-problems-start-school-year-110767">CPS outsourced custodial management</a> to Aramark and SodexoMAGIC.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Since Aramark has taken over, I currently have to clean 72,000 square feet of hallway,&rdquo; said Ina Davis, a janitor at University of Chicago - Donoghue Charter School. &nbsp;&ldquo;I have 17 classrooms, 23 bathrooms and I&rsquo;m the only janitor that has to clean this at night. I&rsquo;m just asking for CPS to help us.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Last week, principals asked CPS to <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/principals-cps-end-custodial-contract-now-111735">end the contracts</a> with Aramark and SodexoMAGIC, saying the schools were still dirty. District officials say after hiccups early in the year, a recent audit of school cleanliness showed most schools are cleaner.</p><p dir="ltr">Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International United - Local 1, said even though Aramark <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/aramark-cps-change-plan-cut-school-janitors-110870">compromised by not following through</a> with about half of the planned layoffs, the company still made more than 200 janitors part-time, which is a problem.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There&rsquo;s just not enough hours in the day for the janitors to do all the work,&rdquo; Balanoff said.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 17:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/unions-and-garcia-push-15-hour-minimum-wage-111768 More than 21K early votes cast in Chicago runoff election http://www.wbez.org/news/more-21k-early-votes-cast-chicago-runoff-election-111766 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/earlyvoting_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>More than 21,000 people have taken advantage of early voting in Chicago over the first two days.</p><p>A spokesman with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners says 7,914 early voting ballots were cast Monday, and nearly 13,100 were cast Tuesday. He says that data brings the board&#39;s unofficial two-day total to 21,012 votes.</p><p>The board says it&#39;s the largest number of ballots cast during the first two days of early voting for any municipal election in Chicago.</p><p>The first municipal election to offer early voting in February 2007 drew more than 1,440 votes in the first two days. Early voting for the February 2011 election saw over 8,550 votes in the first two days.</p><p>Almost 11,640 votes were cast in the first two days of early voting ahead of the February 2015 election.</p></p> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/more-21k-early-votes-cast-chicago-runoff-election-111766 Heinz buying Northfield-based Kraft and building a $28 billion food giant http://www.wbez.org/news/heinz-buying-northfield-based-kraft-and-building-28-billion-food-giant-111765 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/kraftsign.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>NEW YORK &mdash; Some of the most familiar names in ketchup, pickles, cheese and hot dogs are set to come under the same roof after H.J. Heinz Co. announced plans Wednesday to buy Kraft and create one of the world&#39;s largest food and beverage companies.</p><p>The deal would bring together an array of longtime staples in American kitchens, including Oscar Mayer lunchmeats, Jell-O desserts, Miracle Whip spreads, Ore-Ida potatoes and Smart Ones diet foods.</p><p>The combination of the two companies &mdash; each more than a century old &mdash; was engineered by Warren Buffett&#39;s Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital, which teamed up just two years ago to buy Heinz. While shoppers are not expected to see any major changes, the creation of The Kraft Heinz Co. reflects the pressures facing some of the biggest packaged food makers in the U.S.</p><p>As consumers increasingly migrate away from popular packaged foods in favor of options they consider less processed, companies including Campbell Soup, General Mills and Kellogg have been slashing costs or striking deals to update their products offerings. The Heinz-Kraft deal is in many ways just the latest example of that, although Buffett noted that the two companies still have a strong base of customers.</p><p>&quot;I think the tastes Kraft and Heinz appeal to are pretty enduring,&quot; he said in a telephone call to the business news channel CNBC.</p><p>Still, the early plans outlined by Kraft and Heinz executives in a conference call Wednesday focused largely on the savings that would be achieved through the deal, rather than the potential for sales growth in North America. They said they expect to save $1.5 billion through moves such as combining manufacturing and distribution networks.</p><p>James Angel, an associate professor of finance at Georgetown University&#39;s McDonough School of Business, said that will probably result in job losses.</p><p>&quot;Even though it is painful for the people involved, those resources will be freed up for other, potentially more productive, uses,&quot; he said.</p><p>The boards of both companies unanimously approved the deal, which still needs a nod from federal regulators and shareholders of Kraft Foods Group Inc. The companies say they expect the deal to close in the second half of the year.</p><p>If the agreement goes through, Kraft is expected to undergo cost-cutting under the management of 3G Capital, which is known for running tight ships.</p><p>The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which says it represents 3,250 Kraft and Heinz workers in North America, said the union will work with the companies to make sure they &quot;do what is right and responsible&quot; and don&#39;t let cost-cutting measures hurt workers.</p><p>John Cahill, who took over as CEO of Kraft late last year, noted that the new management would drive a &quot;much leaner organization,&quot; as was the case when 3G took over Heinz. He said 3G can &quot;make this happen deeper and faster.&quot;</p><p>&quot;What we have not been thrilled about is some of our execution,&quot; Cahill said.</p><p>The two companies also see potential in pushing their products more aggressively overseas. Since splitting from Mondelez in 2012, Kraft&#39;s business has been primarily concentrated in North America. But executives noted that Kraft&#39;s brands are well known in major markets around the world, including the United Kingdom, Mexico, China and Brazil.</p><p>Already, Heinz gets 61 percent of sales from outside North America, said Bernardo Hees, the CEO of Heinz and a partner at 3G Capital who will become head of the newly created company.</p><p>The deal came together rapidly, Buffett said, having been in the works for only about four weeks. The new company will be co-headquartered in Pittsburgh, where Heinz is based, and the Chicago area, home of Kraft, and will have annual revenue of about $28 billion.</p><p>Eight of its brands have annual sales of $1 billion or more and five others log sales between $500 million and $1 billon every year.</p><p>Shares of Kraft jumped 36 percent Wednesday to close at $83.17.</p><p>The total value of the deal is difficult to gauge because Heinz is privately held. But Kraft shareholders will receive stock in the combined company and a special cash dividend of approximately $10 billion, or $16.50 per share. Each share of Kraft will be converted into one share of Kraft Heinz.</p><p>Current Heinz shareholders will own 51 percent of the combined company, with Kraft shareholders owning a 49 percent stake.</p><p>The Kraft Heinz board will include six directors from the current Heinz board. Those six directors will include three members from Berkshire Hathaway and three members from 3G Capital. The current Kraft board will appoint five directors to the combined company&#39;s board.</p><p>Kraft Heinz plans to keep Kraft&#39;s current dividend once the transaction closes. Kraft has no plans to change its dividend before the deal is complete.</p></p> Wed, 25 Mar 2015 08:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/heinz-buying-northfield-based-kraft-and-building-28-billion-food-giant-111765 Jesse Jackson Jr. leaves federal prison for halfway house http://www.wbez.org/news/jesse-jackson-jr-leaves-federal-prison-halfway-house-111763 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/jjj_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>Updated 3/27/2015</em></p><p>CHICAGO (AP) &mdash; Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. arrived at a Baltimore halfway house late Thursday, hours after leaving an Alabama federal prison where he was serving a sentence imposed after he pleaded guilty to spending $750,000 in campaign money on personal items.</p><p>Jackson arrived Thursday night with members of his family at the Volunteers of America halfway house, where he begins his transition back into society.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m very very happy that I&#39;m with my wife and children, I&#39;ve missed them a very long time,&quot; Jackson said as he pushed through a group of reporters to enter the halfway house.</p><p>Earlier in the day, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking by phone shortly after picking up his 50-year-old son, described his release from the minimum security federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base as a &quot;joyous reunion.&quot; He added that the younger Jackson was doing &quot;very well.&quot; The civil rights leader was not with his son when he checked into the facility.</p><p>The halfway house has been in operation for more than 30 years in the same two-story brick facility in Baltimore, according to spokeswoman Danielle Milner.</p><p>The facility serves between 500 and 700 residents annually with housing, employment counseling and other transitional services. Some people are allowed to live in their own homes, but that&#39;s up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, she said.</p><p>Jackson Sr. had said earlier Thursday that his son will be living at the halfway house for six months, but federal officials have not confirmed that.</p><p>&quot;He is respecting the rules and the process,&quot; the Rev. Jackson said. &quot;He is not asking for any special privileges.&quot;</p><p>Jackson Jr. said he didn&#39;t know what would happen once he has checked into Volunteers of America.</p><p>Jackson began his 2 &frac12;-year prison sentence on Nov. 1, 2013, and his release date is Sept. 20, 2015. After that, Jackson must spend three years on supervised release under jurisdiction of the U.S. Probation Office and complete 500 hours of community service.</p><p>At some point, it will be his wife&#39;s turn to serve out her punishment on a related conviction.</p><p>Sandra Jackson, a former Chicago alderman, was sentenced to a year in prison for filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. In a concession to the couple&#39;s two children, a judge allowed the Jacksons to stagger their sentences, with the husband going first.</p><p>Jackson served in Congress from 1995 until he resigned in November 2012. In June 2012, he took medical leave for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues.</p><p>The Jacksons spent campaign money on fur capes, mounted elk heads, a $43,350, gold-plated men&#39;s Rolex watch and Bruce Lee memorabilia, as well as $9,587.64 on children&#39;s furniture, according to court filings.</p><p>Jackson&#39;s resignation ended a once-promising political career that was tarnished by unproven allegations that he was involved in discussions to raise campaign funds for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama&#39;s vacated U.S. Senate seat. Jackson has denied the allegations.</p></p> Tue, 24 Mar 2015 18:31:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/jesse-jackson-jr-leaves-federal-prison-halfway-house-111763