November 4, 2013
The (Alton) Telegraph
Get educated on concussion risks
"Getting your bell rung" is a familiar athletic refrain — for many youngsters, taking your licks and getting back in the game is a rite of passage and point of pride.
But a new study on concussions is raising questions on the wisdom of the "play hurt" attitude.
The study, released Wednesday by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, finds 250,000 people 19 and younger were treated in emergency rooms for concussions and other sports- or recreation-related brain injuries in 2009, up from 150,000 in 2001.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Effects are usually temporary and can include problems with headaches, concentration and memory.
The report reveals gaps in what is known about the risk of concussion in youth sports, especially for pre-high school athletes.
For male athletes in high school and college, concussion rates are highest for football, ice hockey, lacrosse and wrestling. For females, soccer, lacrosse and basketball lead the list. Women's ice hockey has one of the highest reported rates at the college level.
College and high school sports injuries are tracked, but there's no similar data to know how often younger children get concussions, whether on school teams or in community leagues, the institute's panel said.
The institute called for a national system to track sports-related concussions and start answering those questions.
The panel found that young athletes still face a "culture of resistance" to reporting the injury and staying on the sidelines until it's healed.
Illinois law requires any student suspected of suffering a concussion to obtain evaluation and clearance from a medical professional before returning to play. It also requires school districts to provide students, parents and coaches with education about the dangers of concussions.
Between the extremes of forbidding children to play sports and the "take one for the team" mentality lies a sensible middle ground — get educated on the risks of concussions and take action accordingly.
November 4, 2013
Rockford Register Star
Mandatory minimums the wrong answer
Mandatory-minimum sentences have been a disaster wherever they've been used. They restrict judges' ability to hand out proper penalties, they needlessly clog prisons and they wind up creating unnecessary costs for taxpayers.
Given the history of mandatory minimums, it makes no sense to create a three-year mandatory-minimum prison sentence for illegal gun possession, a proposal being pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
We elect and appoint judges to do just that — judge. We prefer that decision-making reside with judges rather than be dictated by the Legislature. The judges see the facts and can make informed decisions based on evidence. Guidelines are fine, but judges need leeway to make sure that the person who made a stupid mistake is not incarcerated as long as one who truly is a criminal.
Illinois already has mandatory-minimum prison terms for all gun crimes. On Jan. 1, 2011, a one-year mandatory minimum for several gun possession offenses was enacted. There have been no studies analyzing the penalty's effectiveness.
Illinois' prisons are crowded, and the state can't afford to keep everyone locked up. Prison capacity is supposed to be 34,000 but rises to 49,000 often, so there's no room for the extra inmates a gun mandatory minimum would surely create. An early release program barely puts a dent in prison crowding.
The legislation is being driven by Emanuel because of the increasing violence in Chicago. He's seeking the Legislature's help because when things are going bad, there's overwhelming pressure to "do something." The mandatory-minimum sentences are not the thing to do.
According to a study by the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University's School of Law, mandatory minimums are "not only costly but counterproductive" in combating gun violence. The study says "targeted interventions and evidence-based programming are more promising, proven solutions to gun violence."
We suggest that Emanuel hire more police officers if he wants to reduce gun violence in Chicago.
That would be the more effective and sensible route.
November 3, 2013
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Still hope for our coal
The recent green light for FutureGen 2.0 indicates coal still has potential as an energy source.
For those people who believe coal must play a role in the nation's energy future, the policies of the Obama administration have been discouraging.
It may not equal the "war on coal' rhetoric used by some coal proponents, but the administration doesn't see the true potential of our region's great natural resource as a fuel for the future. Solar, wind and other non-fossil sources of energy get the best seats at the table, while coal is relegated to back room dining quarters.
We believe coal research and development will provide the keys for the clean use our region's fuel, perhaps through gasification, sequestration of emissions or scrubbing technologies far advanced of today's standards. It is essential that we protect our environment if coal is to be widely used.
Will that happen? There is renewed reason for hope based on the news out of Springfield that we published Friday. A scaled-down version of the coal-powered FutureGen project planned for a site 60 miles west of Springfield just got a preliminary green light from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Known today as FutureGen 2.0, the project was initially planned as a larger and more costly development during the administration of President George W. Bush - which also pulled the plug on the project. The original project would have built a new coal-fired power plant in eastern Illinois, near Mattoon, with the emissions of carbon dioxide stored below ground. High costs were cited in ending the project, although some backers blamed political motives.
Although the most-recent report on the project said it should go forward, the final word on FutureGen 2.0 is expected later this year from the energy department. That means there is time for both people interested in the development of coal as a clean energy source for the future and those concerned about the economic vitality of Southern Illinois to request congressional support for FutureGen 2.0.
Both of our region's congressmen, Republican John Shimkus of Collinsville and Democrat Bill Enyart of Belleville are supporters of coal. It would be helpful to get the rest of the Illinois congressional delegation on the clean coal bandwagon - especially our senators, Republican Mark Kirk of Highland Park and Democrat Dick Durbin of Springfield. Let them know how you feel about the role of coal in our nation's energy future. We think it represents an opportunity to ease some of the nation's reliance on foreign energy sources and to continue supplying more than 40 percent of the nation's electricity - cleanly and reliably for at least another 100 years.
November 1, 2013
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
A year older, deeper in debt
Even good state pension news isn't all good.
When it comes to public pensions, the state and the taxpayers just can't win.
That unfortunate reality was reaffirmed recently when the state Teachers' Retirement System released a summary of its financial status for the 2013 fiscal year, which ended June 30.
TRS generated a positive return of 12.8 percent on its investments, an excellent rate that exceeds its projected 8 percent long-term rate of return. At the same time, however, TRS's unfunded liability for the 2013 fiscal year increased to $55.73 billion from $52.08 billion the year before.
In other words, it ended up another $3 billion in the hole despite out-performing its projected gain on investments.
These kinds of numbers provide additional proof, assuming that more proof is necessary, that Gov. Pat Quinn and legislators need to cobble together some kind of meaningful fix to the state's overall $100 billion underfunding of its public pension systems.
TRS has 390,000 members. Of that total, 108,000 people receive benefits while another 160,000 are paying into the system. Another 120,000 members are inactive, meaning that they retain the right to future benefits while not currently contributing to the system.
TRS assets totaled $40.97 billion at the end of September, an astonishing sum. But it paid out nearly $5 billion in benefits in the 2013 fiscal year.
TRS's problem is well-known to all who are paying attention. Its members have paid in what they were supposed to pay in. Investment returns have been good, an average 9 percent rate of return over the past 20 years. But past governors and legislators have repeatedly dropped the ball by declining to meet their public duty and spending money that should have been used for pension contributions on other programs.
But there is no easy solution. In the current fiscal year, the state is contributing $3.438 billion to TRS, and next year it's scheduled to put in $3.412 billion. Urbanek said the state would have to put in $5 billion just to keep the current underfunding level where it is now.
So state officials must either put limits on what's going out of TRS, put more into TRS or some combination of the two. State Sen. John Cullerton, president of the Illinois Senate, recently said the state's pension problem is not a crisis, and it's not in the sense that TRS won't be able to meet its obligations to retirees for the foreseeable future.
But the numbers show the state is sitting on a time bomb. If it ever goes off, there will be no shortage of casualties.