Subscribe to CNC Huffpo feed
Chicago news and blog articles from The Huffington Post
Updated: 1 hour 10 min ago

Nene Powers Wizards Past Bulls For Game 1 Win (VIDEO)

Sun, 2014-04-20 22:52
CHICAGO (AP) — Nene started thinking about how it would all unfold in the middle of the night. No way could he have scripted it any better than this.

Nene dominated with 24 points, Trevor Ariza scored 18, and the Washington Wizards rallied from 13 down to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-93 in their playoff opener on Sunday night. John Wall scored 16 in his postseason debut. Marcin Gortat added 15 points and 13 rebounds, and the fifth-seeded Wizards pulled out the victory even though they looked like they were ready to be blown out.

They cut a 13-point deficit to one in the third and trailed by three going into the fourth, before outscoring Chicago 18-6 over the final six minutes to come out on top in their first playoff appearance since 2008.

"We had a team dinner, and after that, in the middle of the night I started thinking about what I'm going to do," Nene said. "How I'm going to defend. ... Things like that. It's a good feeling."

Game 2 is Tuesday in Chicago.

Nene was locked in from the opening tip, dunking on the game's first possession and scoring eight points in the first six minutes, and the Wizards turned it on down the stretch.

Gortat's layup started the decisive run, and Ariza gave the Wizards an 88-87 lead when he hit a pair of free throws with 4:17 remaining. Jimmy Butler tied it for Chicago with one of his own, but a layup by Gortat and basket by Nene made it 92-88, and Washington hung on after Chicago's Joakim Noah cut it to two on a tip-in with 2:11 left.

Gortat hit two free throws and added a jumper with 34 seconds left to make it a six-point game, and the Wizards took the early lead in the best-of-seven series.

Washington shot 49 percent and outrebounded Chicago 45-39 with Nene setting the tone inside. He hit 11 of 17 shots and grabbed eight rebounds.

Andre Miller came on strong down the stretch, scoring eight of his 10 points in the fourth, and the Wizards pulled this one out even though Wall and Bradley Beal (13 points) combined to shoot just 7 of 25.

Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin each scored 16 points, and Butler had 15. But after posting more wins since Jan. 1 than any other Eastern Conference team, the Bulls find themselves in a hole.

"There are a lot of things you can do to help your team win. We're capable of playing a lot better," coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The Bulls led by 13 early in the third and were up 69-57 midway through the quarter when the Wizards went on a 13-2 run to make it a one-point game.

Ariza's 3-pointer cut it to 71-70 with 3:32 remaining. Noah answered with a layup and Taj Gibson hit two free throws to make it a five-point game, but a basket by Miller made it a three-point game going into the fourth.

"Up 13, we exhaled and they came back," Noah said. "Bad turnovers. They got some easy scores. We got to make our adjustments. This is chess. It isn't checkers."

The collapse was surprising given the resolve the Bulls showed all season. They could have easily packed it in after losing Derrick Rose to another season-ending knee injury and trading away Luol Deng. Instead, they dug in, and they were in good shape in this one before everything came apart.

The Bulls overcame a 14-point first half by Nene and took a 54-48 lead to the locker room after a strong second quarter.

Augustin drove for a three-point play with just over a minute left to finish the first-half scoring and start a 13-3 run that stretched into the third quarter and made it 64-51.

"You have to stay in the moment," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "There will be times in the playoffs where we have to survive and stay in the game with six or seven straight possessions and not score. Both teams can do that. Who is going to stay in the fight when you do that? We did. We had a period where they outplayed us, no question about it. We had to get that back, and in the second half, I thought we did."

NOTES: Wall on playing in the postseason: "It's very intense. I've watched it going to a couple of games, but it's a lot different when you're on the court. There was one segment when I couldn't really breathe when I was going up and down the court." ... Augustin hit just 3 of 15 shots but made all 10 free throws. Chicago was 20 of 26 at the foul line, while Washington was 26 of 35.

Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook Suspended Three Games For Brutal Hit (VIDEO)

Sun, 2014-04-20 15:58

CHICAGO (AP) — Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook has been suspended for three games for his hit on Blues center David Backes during their first-round playoff series.

The NHL announced the punishment Sunday, Seabrook's 29th birthday.

Seabrook received a five-minute major and game misconduct penalty for a vicious elbow to Backes' head late in the third period of Saturday's Game 2. Backes had to be helped off the ice and did not return during St. Louis' 4-3 overtime victory.

Seabrook's penalty led to Vladimir Tarasenko's tying goal with 6.4 seconds left in regulation.

The suspension is a big blow for the Blackhawks, who are down 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Monday night. Seabrook had a goal and an assist in each of the first two games of the series.

The 11 Stupidest Arguments Against Legalizing Marijuana

Sun, 2014-04-20 08:43
A version of this story was first published in February.

Nearly 80 years ago, the feature film "Reefer Madness" hit theaters, projecting demonstrably false anti-marijuana propaganda all over the big screen. In today's era of legal medical and recreational cannabis, the tone of this movie is often mocked. But drug warriors are still employing many of the same hysterical arguments to prop up their campaign against weed.

When it comes to public opinion, it's becoming clear that anti-pot crusaders are losing the battle. Recreational marijuana is for sale in Colorado, it’s coming to Washington sometime soon and a number of states have considered legalization measures this legislative session. In all, 20 states have passed laws allowing the medical or recreational use of marijuana, and with a majority of Americans now in favor of legal weed for the first time in U.S. history, the momentum is on marijuana's side.

As more states move toward reforming pot laws, many anti-weed groups have clung to the same tired rhetoric, a decision that has only served to further marginalize them. Greater public acceptance and access to the drug mean that many of marijuana's stigmas, once accepted as fact, now appear increasingly out of touch with reality.

While there may be more reasonable arguments to make when considering the issue of legal marijuana, these overused statements are not among them:

1. "Marijuana is addictive."

Like pretty much any substance (or activity, for that matter), marijuana can be abused, and frequent use can lead to dependency. But if we're going to keep something illegal just because it has the potential to be addictive, we'll also have to reconsider our approaches to a number of other substances. Studies have found cannabis to be less addictive than nicotine, alcohol and even caffeine, according to research by one scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

It's believed that somewhere between four and nine percent of regular marijuana users are likely to develop dependency problems, and it's true that a good number of marijuana users later avail themselves of professional help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 957,000 people age 12 and over sought treatment for marijuana in 2012. But while drug warriors have touted this as evidence of a marijuana abuse epidemic, pot policy reformers have noted that the large majority of these patients have been referred by the criminal justice system, which has expanded options for treatment over jail time or other penalties. While it's a clear step up from imprisonment, many of the people who end up in treatment are still forced there for minor marijuana charges.

Furthermore, "not all abuse and dependency is created equal," as the authors of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know put it. The authors point out that while some heavy marijuana users do experience symptoms of clinical dependency and feel discomfort or withdrawal when trying to quit, kicking a pot addiction doesn't lead to the same type of intense, dangerous physical and psychological pain that often accompanies alcohol, nicotine or heroin dependency.

2. "It's as dangerous as heroin and LSD."

Not many people may be willing to make this argument directly -- even President Barack Obama knows there isn't any reliable evidence to support it -- but the Drug Enforcement Administration's classification of pot is based entirely upon this contention. Schedule I drugs like marijuana, LSD and heroin "are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence," according to the DEA. They are also said to have "no currently accepted medical use."

Key anti-drug officials have been unwilling to budge on the supposed parallels between pot and these harder drugs. During congressional testimony in 2012, DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart refused to answer a question about whether crack was more harmful than pot. In January, Michael Botticelli, the drug czar’s chief deputy, ducked a question about whether meth or cocaine was more addictive than marijuana, leading Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) to explain why these repeated denials and other inconsistencies in federal anti-drug policy only serve to undermine broader anti-drug efforts.

"Being unable to answer something clearly and definitively when there is unquestioned evidence to the contrary is why young people don't believe the propaganda, why they think [marijuana is] benign," Blumenauer said. "If a professional like you can't answer clearly that meth is more dangerous than marijuana -- which every kid on the street knows, which every parent knows -- if you can't answer that, maybe that's why we're failing to educate people about the dangers. If the deputy director of the office of drug policy can't answer that question, how do you expect high school kids to take you seriously?"

3. "Pot is a gateway drug that will lead you to more dangerous substances."

The claim that marijuana use will tip people toward other, harder substances has long been pushed by drug warriors, despite a lack of factual basis. The argument goes that because people often try harder drugs some time after having tried pot, the user's experience with marijuana must have played a significant part in later experimentation.

But in reading drug use statistics -- or any statistics at all -- it's important to remember that correlation does not equal causation. Just because users of heroin, cocaine or other hard drugs are very likely to have used marijuana earlier in their lives doesn't mean that the pot itself was the catalyst for their later drug-related decisions.

As Maia Szalavitz writes at Time, "Hell's Angels motorcycle gang members are probably 104 times more likely to have ridden a bicycle as a kid than those who don't become Hell's Angels, but that doesn't mean that riding a two-wheeler is a 'gateway' to joining a motorcycle gang. It simply means that most people ride bikes and the kind of people who don't are highly unlikely to ever ride a motorcycle."

It makes sense that statistics would show drug users frequently turning to pot first. Marijuana is relatively easy to lay hands on, meaning that anybody with a desire to alter their state of mind with a substance can likely access it (though if this is the actual standard-bearer of a gateway drug, as some would argue, then studies have also shown alcohol to be the true gateway substance).

Studies have pointed out this flaw in the "gateway theory" since as early back as the late 1990s, though the failure to find a direct link hasn't stopped anti-drug crusaders from pushing the argument.

4. "You smoke marijuana like tobacco, so it must be just as bad for you!"

Cigarettes lead to nearly half a million American deaths each year, so it might seem natural to assume that marijuana smoke drawn into the lungs in the same fashion would also do some serious physiological harm. But science hasn't borne out this hypothesis. Studies have found that cannabis and tobacco smoke contain some of the same carcinogens -- but cigarettes, which contain nicotine, cause significantly more harm than marijuana, which contains cannabinoids.

While many marijuana smokers may report respiratory discomfort like coughing or wheezing after excessive pot use, an extensive study released in 2012 found that the drug itself does not impair lung function. Other studies have found that cannabis can even suppress a variety of aggressive cancer cells. If medical science has reached any real conclusion about marijuana, it's simply that more research should be done to pin down the exact effects of cannabis smoke and cannabinoids.

And while smoking is the most common way to use marijuana, there are also other methods of delivery that allow users to minimize or avoid potential harm to the lungs: Ingesting high-potency cannabis-infused edibles or using a vaporizer, which eliminates much of the heated marijuana smoke, are a few of the most common alternatives.

5. "Pot can make you go insane."

In "Reefer Madness," teens are driven to murder, sexual assault and insanity after indulging in pot. TV host Nancy Grace still thinks marijuana users "shoot each other, stab each other, strangle each other" and "kill whole families," and that such behavior is all pot's fault.

While it's established that psychotic people are more likely to have used drugs -- and most commonly cannabis -- before the onset of the disease, research has shown that smoking pot simply leads to an earlier onset of psychosis by an average of 2.7 years in people already prone to the condition. Other research suggests that marijuana emphatically does not cause psychosis, and past research has not been able to definitively rule out the possibility that people who are prone to developing mental illnesses like schizophrenia may simply be more likely to turn to drugs like marijuana. Furthermore, other research suggests that another cannabis compound, cannabidiol, may negate some symptoms of psychosis.

Studies have also shown that changes in the brain due to marijuana use are likely reversible and that the legalization of medical marijuana may reduce suicide rates. While no substance is completely harmless, marijuana, in many studies, has been shown to be relatively safe. But again, until a larger wealth of research is completed in all of these areas -- which will likely only be done after further legalization -- we are left without more concrete conclusions.

6. "Marijuana leads to criminal behavior."

While some studies have indicated higher marijuana use among criminal offenders, that doesn't mean it's the pot itself that leads users to a life of crime. In fact, dozens of studies on the issue show that a causal relationship between marijuana use and crime has not been found.

When it comes to violent crime, alcohol is a much more significant factor than marijuana. A report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that 25 to 30 percent of violent crimes are linked to alcohol use. A 2003 article from the journal Addictive Behaviors noted that "alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship," and that "cannabis reduces likelihood of violence during intoxication." The National Academy of Sciences even found that in chronic marijuana users, THC causes a decrease in "aggressive and violent behavior."

Although there is little evidence that marijuana use increases the likelihood of criminal behavior, marijuana convictions are definitely likely to ruin lives and expose people to a life of crime behind bars. State laws differ, but in some places, possessing just one marijuana joint can be punishable by up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Marijuana convictions also appear to be racially biased. A recent ACLU report, which tracked marijuana arrests by race and county in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, found that black people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people.

7. "It makes you lazy and unsuccessful."

Marijuana opponents often point to studies suggesting that long-term use could result in a lack of motivation and a life of bumming around in your mom's basement.

A Marijuana Policy Project study, listing 50 of some of the most successful people in the world who have admitted to using pot, completely shatters this mythology. President Obama, Jon Stewart and billionaire George Soros can hardly be characterized as lazy or unproductive.

Anti-drug groups have also argued that marijuana nullifies the traits required to be a successful athlete. That's probably news to a lot of football players. Despite a league policy that bans the substance, one former player has said that something like half of all NFL players smoke pot either for medical or recreational reasons. Professional football is one of the most demanding and competitive sports in the world. Players probably aren't high while competing, but the fact that some turn to pot during their free time underscores the point that it's possible to achieve a balance between one's professional life and one's recreational marijuana use.

8. "Legalization will cause mass zombification!"

While the threat of a zombie apocalypse is one of the Internet’s favorite fantasies, some anti-legalization opponents use it as a metaphor for their unsubstantiated fears of a lazy pothead nation developing in the wake of legal weed.

Putting aside the fact that the link between marijuana use and habitual laziness is tenuous at best, multiple studies suggest that the decriminalization of marijuana has little to no effect on consumption rates. And prohibition has been woefully ineffective at deterring use. “Fear of arrest, fear of imprisonment, the cost of cannabis or its availability do not appear to exert much effect on the prevalence of cannabis use,” says one frequently cited study on marijuana prohibition.

9. "I tried it once and didn't like it."

So you don't like marijuana. Or you tried it once but didn’t inhale. Or maybe you smoked a lot of pot a while ago, but now can't get off the couch while you're high, so you don't anymore. That's fine -- the drug affects people differently, and anybody with knowledge of marijuana is well aware that "highs" vary greatly. But should your personal opposition to pot really require us to uphold a status quo of prohibition that results in one marijuana arrest every 40 seconds in the U.S., costs the nation between $10 billion and $40 billion a year and deprives state and federal governments the tremendous revenue generated from taxes on legal weed?

10. "People don't even use it at weddings, so obviously it's more harmful than beer."

This is an odd one. Earlier this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) pulled out this wedding scenario while claiming that "it’s a big jump" between having a beer and smoking pot.

"If I'm at a wedding reception here and somebody has a drink or two, most people wouldn't say they're wasted," Walker said, according to The Capital Times. “Most folks with marijuana wouldn’t be sitting around a wedding reception smoking marijuana.”

Walker appears to be employing some serious circular reasoning here, claiming that weed -- which is illegal, obviously -- is less socially acceptable than alcohol, which is (he seems to be saying) one reason it should remain illegal. Walker has said that there's "a huge difference" between marijuana and alcohol, and the governor is right: Most studies show that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

In 2010, for example, there were approximately 189,000 emergency room visits by people under 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol, including accidental poisoning. While there have been reports of people being treated at the hospital due to discomfort after using too much marijuana, these are far outweighed by the number of alcohol-poisoning incidents. To this day, aside from one recent, unprecedented and widely contested conclusion about a cannabis-related death in the United Kingdom, there have been no reported deaths due to marijuana overdose in at least 10,000 years of human consumption.

On the other hand, just 10 times the recommended serving of alcohol can lead to death, a recreational drug study from American Scientist found. By contrast, a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to be at risk of dying, according to a 1988 ruling from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

11. "Uhhh ... but don't you care about the children?"

Yes, which is why it's important to understand that when it comes to marijuana, drug warriors are lying to them and causing more harm than good. Lawmakers have recently argued that the anti-drug crowd is losing the faith of teens because they pummel them with blanket statements instead of offering factual explanations about marijuana use and how to approach the drug responsibly.

There are admittedly legitimate questions and concerns about adolescent marijuana use, including hotly debated claims about the effects of the drug on teens' mental health. And the fact that marijuana studies so often show conflicting findings is a sign of how much more research is needed in this area and how important those answers are.

No one needs to encourage anybody, teenage or otherwise, to use marijuana. But if the drug warriors are to be taken seriously, they need to retire these shopworn arguments and update their playbook for a new century.

4/20 May Be Legal Federally Before The End Of The Decade

Sun, 2014-04-20 08:43
A version of this story was first published earlier in April.

Two states with legal recreational use. Twenty-one that allow medical use. Record-high support at the national level for more permissive policies. It seems fair to say that the United States' official stance on marijuana is shifting quickly. In fact, one congressman is predicting that U.S. pot prohibition will be a thing of the past relatively soon. Meaning, America may see it's first legal 4/20 before the end of the decade.

"I think it’s game over in less than five years," Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said during an interview with The Huffington Post.

"There's no question that we're likely to see another state or two this year legalizing [recreational] use," Blumenauer said. "We're going to see more medical marijuana progress. The crazy prohibitions on bank services and probably the tax disparities -- these are all eroding."

As of now, 21 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and voters in Colorado and Washington have approved marijuana for recreational use. About a dozen more states are expected to legalize marijuana in some form over the next several years. One recent study has projected a $10 billion legal marijuana industry by 2018.

Despite a growing and profitable legal marijuana industry, the federal government continues to ban the plant, classifying it as a Schedule I substance alongside drugs like heroin and LSD, and maintaining that it has "no currently accepted medical use."

Such policies cause a number of problems for state-legal, state-licensed pot businesses. Banks often refuse to work with marijuana businesses out of fear that they could be implicated as money launderers if they offer traditional banking services. The pot businesses also can't deduct traditional business expenses like advertising costs, employee payroll, rent and health insurance from their combined federal and state taxes, meaning that dispensary owners around the U.S. often face effective tax rates of anywhere from 50 to 80 percent, due to an antiquated Internal Revenue Service rule.

But more than a dozen members of Congress, including Blumenauer, have sponsored legislation aimed at reforming federal marijuana laws. Blumenauer himself has sponsored three bills -- States' Medical Marijuana Patient Protection (H.R. 689), Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501) and the Small Business Tax Equity Act (H.R. 2240) -- and has supported several other bills seeking everything from increased banking access for pot businesses to a complete end to federal marijuana prohibition.

It's already possible to observe significant shifts in federal policy toward pot. The federal government allowed Colorado and Washington's laws to take effect last year. The FDA recently green-lit a clinical trial that will study the safety and efficacy of cannabidiol in children with severe epilepsy. And just this month, the Department of Health and Human Services approved a long-delayed study looking at marijuana's effect on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

President Barack Obama's recent signing of the Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp production for research purposes in the 12 states that permit it, is one of the most recent indications that the federal government's decades-long war on cannabis may be winding down, Blumenauer said. He also pointed to the flood of state hemp bills this year as further evidence.

"Part of what is going on with the hemp discussion is that people are seeing through the nonsense that somehow this is cover for surreptitious marijuana production, conflating industrial hemp with marijuana," said Blumenauer. "And throughout the whole marijuana issue debate, there are numerous flat-out falsehoods. Schedule I drug? No therapeutic use? Worse than cocaine and meth? I mean, wait a minute."

"But the hemp one, that was so blatant and so obvious," Blumenauer went on. "And that is what's changing the whole marijuana landscape, is that all the falsehoods, misrepresentations and misclassification that have been basically sanctioned by inertia no longer work. And hemp is the best example of that."

Confused by the video above? See here: 4/20: How Weed Day Got Its Name

Marijuana Has Come A Long Way Since Last 4/20

Sun, 2014-04-20 08:39
What a difference a year makes. From 4/20, 2013, to 4/20, 2014, marijuana has taken big steps out of the shadows of the black market and into the light of the mainstream -- from record high popular support and the first legal recreational sales, to an entire country legalizing marijuana.

Here’s a look at the last 12 months of marijuana milestones:

Colorado Sold Legal, Recreational Marijuana For The First Time

Partygoers smoke marijuana, left, and cigarettes during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party celebrating the start of retail pot sales, at a bar in Denver.(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

The first month of legal sales generated $14 million. Those millions were brought in by only 59 marijuana businesses that were able to get through the application process, and represent just a fraction of the approximately 550 outlets in the state eligible for retail licenses.

Now, as the fourth month of sales winds to a close, Denver has still not descended into the crime-filled hellscape that some members of law enforcement predicted. In fact, overall crime in Mile High City appears to be down since legal pot sales began.

And as time passes, more Coloradan voters are happy with legalization. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling showed that 57 percent of Colorado voters now approve of marijuana legalization, while 35 percent disapprove. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, passed by only a 10-point margin.

The Promise Of Medical Marijuana Continued To Grow

Matt Figi hugs and tickles his once severely-ill 7-year-old daughter Charlotte, as they wander around a greenhouse for a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte's Web, named after the girl early in her treatment, in a remote spot in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

"Charlotte's Web" isn't just a classic children's story. It's also the name of a coveted medical marijuana strain used to treat children with epilepsy.

Over the last year, hundreds of families uprooted themselves and moved to Colorado to take advantage of the state's expansive medical marijuana laws, and in search of Charlotte's Web -- a strain of pot high in CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient, and low in THC, which causes users to feel "high." The strain was developed by the Colorado Springs-based Realm of Caring nonprofit.

The pot strain is named after 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who used to have hundreds of seizures each week. Charlotte now controls 99 percent of seizures with her medical marijuana treatment, according to her mother Paige.

Also this year, the Food and Drug Administration moved forward with an orphan drug designation for a cannabis-based drug called Epidiolex to fight severe forms of childhood epilepsy. The Epidiolex maker still must demonstrate efficacy of the drug in clinical trials to win FDA approval to market the medicine, but the orphan drug designation represents a tremendous step for cannabis-based medicine.

The federal government signed off on a study using medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, another sign of shifting federal policy.

Study after study demonstrated the promise of medical marijuana since last 4/20. Purified forms of cannabis were shown to be effective at attacking some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use has also been tied to better blood sugar control, and to slowing the spread of HIV. The legalization of the plant for medical purposes may lead to lower suicide rates.

The Return Of Hemp

Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin harvests hemp on his farm in Springfield, Colo. Emboldened by voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012 giving the green light to both marijuana and industrial hemp production, Loflin planted 55 acres of several varieties of hemp alongside his typical alfalfa and wheat crops. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

A flag made of hemp flying over the U.S. Capitol in July may have been a sign that hemp was going to have a banner year.

Just months later in Colorado, farmer Ryan Loflin planted 55 acres of hemp -- the first legal hemp crop planted in the U.S. in nearly 60 years.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of U.S. states. That's more than triple the number of hemp bills introduced during the same period last year, and nearly double the number hemp bills introduced in all of 2013.

Added to that is the recent passage of the Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp production for research purposes in states that permit it.

Support For Pot Surges


An October Gallup poll showed for the first time that a clear majority of Americans want to see marijuana legalized. Gallup noted that when the question was first asked in 1969, only 12 percent of Americans favored legalization.

Americans also want an end to the long-running war on drugs. A recent survey from Pew found that 67 percent of Americans say that government should provide treatment for people who use illegal drugs. Only 26 percent thought the government should be prosecuting drug users.

Americans regard marijuana as relatively benign. In that same Pew poll, 69 percent of Americans felt that alcohol is a bigger danger to a person's health than marijuana, and 63 percent said alcohol is a bigger danger to society than marijuana.

Of all the vices a person can indulge in, Americans told NBC News/The Wall Street Journal that marijuana may be the most benign substance -- less harmful than sugar.

More States Approved Progressive Pot Laws

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)

While the title of third state to legalize marijuana is still up for grabs, lawmakers around U.S. the have been scaling back harsh anti-weed laws. Maryland recently became the latest state to officially decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Washington, D.C., awaits congressional approval of a similar measure. New Hampshire appeared poised to pass a similar law, but it was recently rejected by state lawmakers. Other states, including Illinois, are considering legislation to decriminalize low-level possession.

Medical marijuana has also made some strides since last year's 4/20. Maryland this month became the 21st state to legalize marijuana for medical use. A new trend has appeared in conservative and Deep South states, as bills to legalize medicine derived from marijuana have found surprising support in places like Alabama, where a measure was signed into law this year.

Uruguay Makes History

People take part in a demonstration for the legalization of marijuana in front of the Legislative Palace in Montevideo, on Dec .10, 2013, as the Senate discusses a law on the legalization of marijuana's cultivation and consumption. (PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)

At the end of 2013, Uruguay became the world's first country to legalize a national marketplace for marijuana. Citing frustrations over failed attempts to stem the drug trade, President Jose Mujica signed a law handing the government responsibility for overseeing the new industry.

The move drew some derision from the international community, including the United Nations, but also applause. Mujica was nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his work legalizing the plant.

In an effort to undercut the black market, the Uruguay government has set the starting price around $1 a gram. Legal weed in the U.S., including at legal pot shops in Colorado, can cost around $20 for the same amount. There are also limits on the amount residents can buy or grow. But with marijuana already accessible in Uruguay before legalization, many pot reformers have hailed the move as an alternative to prohibition that will ultimately give the government more avenues to help protect public health and safety.

Obama Says Pot Is No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

The president was an admitted pot user in his youth. And while he now regards his experiences as foolish, he revealed earlier this year that he didn't believe his behavior was particularly dangerous.

"I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," President Barack Obama told The New Yorker's David Remnick in a January interview.

The president said that would discourage people from using it, but his comments led to a much bigger question: If marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol, why does Obama's administration insist that it is rightfully considered an illegal Schedule I substance, alongside heroin and LSD? The irony of this wasn't lost on Congress. A month after the interview, a group of representatives a called on Obama to drop pot from Schedule I. The administration has resisted the request.

Eric Holder Is ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Legal Weed

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Some of the biggest advances in pot policy over the last year have come thanks to action -- or perhaps inaction -- by the Justice Department. Last August, it decided that it would allow legalization laws in Colorado and Washington proceed. And this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told The Huffington Post that he was cautiously optimistic about how those state laws were proceeding.

Holder has said the Justice Department would be happy to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana and has been clear that the administration won't push the issue without action from lawmakers.

Pope Francis Celebrates Easter Sunday With Huge Crowds In St. Peter's Square At Vatican (PHOTOS)

Sun, 2014-04-20 05:51
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Celebrating Easter Sunday, Christianity's most joyous and hopeful day, Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine and Syria and for an end to the terrorist attacks in Nigeria that have targeted many Christians.

More than 150,000 tourists — Romans and pilgrims, young and old — turned out for the Mass that Francis celebrated at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica. So great were their numbers that they overflowed the huge square, which was bedecked with row after row of potted daffodils, sprays of blue hyacinths and bunches of white roses. Waving flags from the pope's native Argentina as well as from Brazil, Mexico, Britain, Poland and many other countries, they also filled the broad boulevard leading from the square to the Tiber River.

Dawn brought clear skies and warm temperatures for Easter, the culmination of Holy Week, the day which marks the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.

Francis noted that this year the Catholic church's celebration of Easter coincided with that of Orthodox churches, which have many followers in Ukraine. Some of the hymns at the Vatican Mass on Sunday were in Russian.

Invoking God, he said, "we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence."

Tensions between pro-Russian supporters in Ukraine and those loyal to the interim government in Kiev have sparked bloodshed in recent days.

Francis also prayed that all sides in Syria will be moved to "boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue." Since March 2011, Syria has been wracked by a civil war that has cost 150,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country.

Christians make up about 5 percent of Syria's population. In comments to mark Easter there, the Greek Orthodox patriarch vowed that Christians there "will not submit" to extremists who attack "our people and holy places."

Francis makes a pilgrimage to Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel next month. On Easter, he prayed that hopes sparked by the resumption of Mideast peace negotiations be sustained.

He also recalled those suffering in Africa from an epidemic of deadly Ebola and urged a halt to "brutal terrorist attacks" in parts of Nigeria.

Nigerians marked Easter with heightened security against a spreading Islamic uprising, mourning the deaths of 75 bomb blast victims and fearful of the fate of 85 abducted schoolgirls. The homegrown terrorist network Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for last week's rush-hour explosion in the capital, Abuja, and threatened more attacks.

In Venezuela, there were hopes that Vatican mediation can help end the country's violent political unrest and Francis urged that "hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord" there.

But Francis' Easter message also urged people to pay attention to the needy close to home. He said the "good news" of Easter's joy and hope means "leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life's troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast."

Cheering and applauding, the crowd tried to catch a glimpse of the pontiff as he circled around in his white popemobile before going to the basilica's balcony to deliver his commentary.

Reflecting the worldwide reach of the Catholic church, faithful read aloud prayers and passages from the Bible in Hindi, French, Chinese, German, Korean, Spanish, Italian and English.


Follow Frances D'Emilio on Twitter at

Why Progressives Should Think Twice About Embracing Uber and Lyft

Sat, 2014-04-19 16:38
Since 2005 it has been my pleasure to be a cab driver in my hometown of St. Louis. On a daily basis I get to see all parts of St. Louis City, St. Louis County and often the Metro-East and beyond. While I love my job there are also many challenges. I've had to deal with attempted robberies, people throwing up in my cab, urinating in the cab, fighting in the backseat, inappropriate sexual behavior in the backseat, people who jump out and run, passengers who have tried to fight me, and almost anything else you can think of. Still, I love my job.

What do I love? I love meeting new people every day and hearing their stories. There are some passengers I've been picking up for years and by now they know my kids' names and I know their kids' names. There have been passengers I became friends with and others I have counseled through divorces and deaths in the family. When my ex-wife and I divorced, I told my passengers even before I told my family. These relationships, and the thrill of seeing the look on the faces of my passengers when they see the Arch, Old Courthouse or Central Library for the first time, makes all the hard times worth it. We get them all. One day I picked up former St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan and dropped him off at Busch Stadium and my next passenger was a homeless guy out of the New Life Evangelistic Center. The full microcosm of society.

What Uber and Lyft Do and How They Damage the Profession

Uber and Lyft may sound like a good idea and may sound "progressive." They probably sound the best to people who know the least about cabs. We can start with the knowledge that St. Louis has a long history of cab companies. Some still operating and many who have went away. There are many professional cabbies who have been driving for decades. For cabbies to earn a decent living there has to be proper regulation of the industry. Too few cabs and the public isn't served and too many and drivers can't make decent money. St. Louis has done a pretty good job at regulating the industry through the Metropolitan Taxi Commission. Not perfect by a long shot; but one of the better regulatory bodies by national standards.

Driving a cab in St. Louis is a job that has allowed drivers to buy homes, raise families and send their children to college. Its not a plaything for me. I work six or seven days a week on this job (usually 10-12 hours a day) and that's the money I use to support my children and pay my bills. While business in the fall, winter and spring is brisk, for the most part come summer time business grinds to a halt. Drivers barely make it in the summer time and there is little margin for error. With Uber and Lyft appearing on the scene that margin of error may be wiped away, drivers may lose their jobs, tuition may not get paid, the lights may go out, the gas may get cut off, evictions can happen, and marriages and relationships may crumble. Its that serious.

St. Louis is already a city that has lost so many good-paying blue-collar jobs. America has become a nation of haves and have-nots and St. Louis is no different. Gone are the days when you could walk up and down Broadway or Hall Street and find good-paying jobs with ease to feed your families. Good jobs are scarce in this city for the working-class and driving a cab is one of those good jobs. Lyft and Uber are part of the Walmartization of America. Part-time workers earning fast-food wages. These drivers are in a very real sense akin to scab workers, and like the companies they drive for, represent regression and not progression.

There is nothing progressive about lowering earnings for working-class people, nor is there anything progressive about undercutting labor costs to the point workers are driven into poverty and homelessness. It's a game as old as the laborers in the days of the Bible and as recent as those sweating in the mines of Western and Southern Africa. Play the working class against one another for the benefit of the wealthy who seek to be served no matter the human cost.

Who Catches Cabs

There seem to be a lot of misconceptions about who actually catches cabs. In a city with the "Delmar Divide," where black and white don't mix as much as we should and the poor and the rich mix even less, people tend to not know a lot about each others lives.

Most of the people who catch cabs in St. Louis are not hipsters, or yuppies or business people or college students. They're not out drinking and partying. No, the bulk of our passengers are the elderly and the working poor. People who catch cabs to and from work every day. Those who take cabs from the grocery store or to the doctor's office. Sunday is Easter and without a doubt I will be taking people to church and to their families homes to celebrate, There are others who we pick up from the emergency rooms of hospitals, rescue from domestic violence taking them to shelters or pick up from the Ronald McDonald house for sick children. No tips and usually not that much money.

We can afford to do that because come Thursday night we get the college kids from Washington University and St. Louis University and on Friday and Saturday night we are both delivering and picking up those enjoying the nightlife of St, Louis. That's where we are able to make serious money. Take that away and we lose drivers -- and losing drivers will hurt the poor and working-class people who need cabs the most. Lyft and Uber are not designed to serve the poor and working-class populations in the St. Louis area. It's an elitist concept for an elite crowd. But rest assured its casualties will be in deep south city, north city and north county.

Problems With St. Louis Cab Service

No business or business-model is perfect. People aren't perfect and from time to time we all may need a little rejuvenation. There are certainly things cab companies and drivers can do to improve the industry. There are also things that have already been done like the "STL Taxi" and "Taxi Magic" apps to order legal cabs in St. Louis.

However, allow me to share how customers can be proactive in improving their experience. Since Uber and Lyft are designed to serve the hipster population let me share with you some of the problems hipsters seem to have with catching cabs:

  • Making time-orders and then still coming out late or not coming out at all

  • Calling from high-rise apartment buildings and not waiting in the lobby forcing drivers to double-park and block traffic

  • Calling for a cab from a bar and then just hopping into the first cab you see regardless as to whether its your cab or not

  • Getting into unlicensed cabs and then complaining you got screwed

On the driver's part, if you are displeased with any licensed driver or have a complaint, you can call the company or the MTC. There are safeguards in place to protect passengers.

Hipsters and a Just Society

To call a spade a spade, Lyft and Uber aren't coming to serve good ol' St. Louis Hoosiers or North St. Louis. Nope, they are coming by invitation and for the hipster population (and to a lesser extent business people and college students). Hence they kicked off at Nebula (the center of hipster thought in St. Louis).

So, now, let me use this time to call out hipsters and ask: What kind of a society do you want to live in? Do you favor the right-wing economics of the GOP or do you favor a more humane and just society? Hipsters are mostly associated with the left and being progressive. But with a closer look you could very well come to a different conclusion. Of course there are many brilliant and progressive folks in the hipster population who do much good, but still these questions need to be asked.

If you're supporting the decimation of good working-class jobs you can't make a very good claim of being progressive. Uber and Lyft are conservative economic ideas. Over the last several years, I've heard several young hipsters tell my they're socially-liberal and economic-conservatives, a popular trend in American politics. Well, I hate to break it to you buddy, but it's economics and the role of the state that defines politics. If you're an economic conservative, despite how ironic and sarcastic you may be or how tight your jeans are, you, my friend, are a conservative.

However, there is something even worse. If you believe the resources of the state should be used to help the affluent and disenfranchise the poor, which often happens during gentrification, that puts you in a category that conjures up some very nasty images from the 20th century.

Some will look from the outside and say hipsters succeed because of three things: government aid, racial solidarity and class solidarity. If I were a hipster, I would be looking to counter that image. I would be looking to hire African-Americans in bars and restaurants opening up in heavily black areas and let it be known those in the neighborhoods will be the first to be hired. Yet, that is not the case. These bars and restaurants open in black neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and the staffs are either all-white or nearly all-white and not from the neighborhood. St. Louis cabbies are mostly minorities; but I am willing to wager most Lyft and Uber drivers won't be. This is an issue the local NAACP, Black Clergy Coalition and Urban League needs to take up for this reason.

There is nothing progressive about moving into black neighborhoods. The term "settler" and "pioneer" are hardly progressive. St. Louis was a Native American neighborhood when the Europeans arrived and that didn't turn out to be very progressive. If moving into black neighborhoods made one a progressive surely the likes of Cecil Rhodes, the Belgians employed by King Leopold in the Congo and the Afrikaans of South Africa would be seen as the most progressive people ever. If being a settler and pioneer was such a beautiful thing, Israel wouldn't need to keep over 100,000 troops in the West Bank. It's what you do when you move in. Do you move in as brothers and sisters or do you move in as conquerors? Do you come to work with the local population or do you come to eradicate the local population?

Gentrification fueled by hipsters is in its early stages in St. Louis. You have a choice: do you want to repeat the methods that have brutalized the poor and working-class in cities like New York, DC and San Francisco -- or do you want to be true leaders and trailblazers in St. Louis and advocate for a just society? Saying no to Lyft and Uber and yes to good-paying working-class jobs will be a step in the right direction and a show of good faith.

The media also has a role. While hipsters may be few in numbers, they have a stranglehold over conversations about St. Louis in the media (particularly in public media). Their side tends to be the only side to get air or ink. So, I ask the local media to be fair and just and cover both sides of this issue.

Solidarity With Labor and Show-Me 15 and Mayor Slay

Lyft and Uber come at a time of great turmoil for the working-class in St. Louis. Republican lawmakers (who I'm sure would love Lyft as Lyft has hired GOP lobbyists before) are trying to make Missouri a right-to-work state. In other words, they're trying to get rid of unions in Missouri and make our state more equivalent to Mississippi or Arkansas in terms of worker's rights.This was tried in the 1970s and failed miserably. Those were different times though. That was a Democratic Party committed to the poor and working-class. Many Democratic voters today think being progressive is about watching Stephen Colbert and eating from Whole Foods (owned by a right-winger, by the way) and are not concerned with issues like right-to-work. Yet there are many who are fighting on behalf of the people. As St. Louis cabbies we must stand with them because Lyft and Uber come in the same spirit as right-to-work. We must also support the Show Me 15 campaign organized by fast-food workers in St. Louis. Lyft and Uber want to drive down our earnings and McDonald's and Burger King are seeking to do the same with their workers. Working-class solidarity between professions.

In closing, I would like to thank St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who has been supportive of St. Louis cabbies and the MTC. Today more than ever I am happy I voted for Mayor Slay and worked for his re-election and consider him a friend to cabbies and a great mayor (now don't let me down).

Umar Lee is a full-time cabbie, father of two, and author of crime-fiction novels. He writes a blog at:

The 2014 NBA Playoffs Meets 'Game Of Thrones' Because There Can Only Be One True King

Sat, 2014-04-19 16:03
The playoffs are coming.

Sixteen title aspirants from across North America have reached the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Among that group, only a select few franchises have true claims on the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy. Two will reach the 2014 NBA Finals. Only one will emerge victorious and live forever in basketball history. The NBA's postseason will unfold as the fourth season of "Game Of Thrones" plays out on HBO during April, May and into June. In both unpredictable dramas, egos and strategies will clash as legacies are forged and broken.

“When you play a game of thrones you win or you die.” -Cersei Lannister

With elite basketball players dominating the action on the court as well as the plotting during the offseason to such an extreme extent relative to other professional leagues, the NBA-GOT mashup has become increasingly popular since HBO first brought George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice And Fire" series to the small screen. Grantland, Bleacher Report and others have reveled in the parallels between the NBA's annual playoff chase and the ongoing battle for the Iron Throne at King's Landing in Westeros in years past. With HBO's adaptation of Martin's unfinished epic delivering gasp-inducing twists with seemingly every new episode and the NBA's constantly shifting landscape, these two unrelated realms make for endless combinations and fresh comparisons each season.

For decades, the NBA's Iron Throne has been held by a small set of powerful houses. Since 1984, only eight teams have claimed the Larry O'Brien Trophy as NBA champions. In place of sigils, NBA franchises have logos. In place of words, they increasingly have playoff slogans and hashtags. In 2014, the Miami Heat will look to win a third consecutive title while a host of rivals from various locales around the continent will attempt to usurp them. Here are some of the parallels between characters in "Game Of Thrones" as Season 4 heats up and key players in the 2014 NBA Playoffs:

NOTE ON SPOILERS: The winner of the 2014 NBA Finals is not named below but details of certain events from Season 4 of HBO's "Game Of Thrones" may be found. All GOT references are to the HBO series as opposed to Martin's books.

Miami Heat: The Lannisters

With two titles in two seasons and three of the game's biggest stars at his feet, Miami Heat team president Pat Riley is the NBA's Tywin Lannister. Riles has risen through the NBA ranks, amassing a fortune in championship rings and league-wide respect. Sunny and wealthy South Beach is the Association's Lannisport and AmericanAirlines Arena its Casterly Rock. That would make the Heat's Big Three the hoops stand-ins for the trio of Lannister children who drive so much of the action and intrigue in Westeros.

The undervalued Chris Bosh seems to be the underestimated Tyrion of the Heatles with the oft-injured Dwyane Wade filling the role of the vainglorious, valiant and maimed Jaime. That would leave LeBron James as Cersei, beautiful to behold but terrible in her single-minded pursuit of power. United they can seem unbeatable.

(GIF via @CoupNBA)

But divided?

As far as Joffrey, the Heat's three main stars treat point guard Mario Chalmers as if he were a young problem child but it is likely that there are some fans in Miami who would be better cast as the spoiled brat offspring of Jaime and Cersei.

Will these fans be celebrating another title in Miami? Or will they be shocked by a Purple Wedding?

Toronto Raptors: The Wildlings

The surprising Toronto Raptors are the NBA's wildlings storming down from beyond a northern border. With general manager Masai Ujiri in the role of Mance Rayder, the Raptors managed to win the Atlantic Division away from the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks with a 48-34 record. Nobody expects the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs to be factor in the title race but nobody expected them to get this far either. Watch out for the #NorthernUprising.

The #NorthernUprising begins on Saturday. #RTZ #WeTheNorth #Raptors

— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) April 17, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder: Daenerys And Her Dragons

Just as fans of "Game Of Thrones" on HBO have been waiting for the young Targareyan princess and her menagerie of dragons to finally set sail -- or fly? -- to war in the Seven Kingdoms, NBA fans have been waiting for the Oklahoma City Thunder to mature into NBA champions. With a savvy that made him the darling of the league, Thunder general manager Sam Presti gathered three young dragons to him in the NBA outpost of Oklahoma City. He drafted Kevin Durant in Seattle and later added Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the team moved to the Midwest. Unlike Daenerys, Presti willingly parted with one of his young dragons over money. Even without Harden, Durant has emerged as the most devastating offensive force in the game and has four scoring titles in five years straight to prove it.

(GIF via @JDonSports)

When healthy, Westbrook brings an athleticism that few match.

(GIF via @JDonSports)

The Thunder appeared in the 2012 NBA Finals but were defeated by the Miami Heat. At the time, the Thunder's defeat was widely viewed as a prelude to future successes. Is their time finally coming?

(GIF via @JarettSays)

Chicago Bulls: The Starks

Both the Chicago Bulls and Starks of Winterfell manage to remain stoic and formidable after the losses of great leaders. Even after losing point guard Derrick Rose to another knee injury and trading away Luol Deng during the 2013-2014 NBA season, the Bulls still secured the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. With head coach Tom Thibodeau pushing his team to play a relentless, disciplined brand of basketball that would met Ned's approval and Joakim Noah displaying a court vision that only a warg could really understand, the Bulls will have home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series with the Washington Wizards.

(GIF via @MrTrpleDouble10)

As tragedy befalls each group, new leaders keep emerging. When Eddard Stark lost his head, Robb Stark took the lead. After Robb was felled at the Red Wedding at the end Season 3, Arya, Bran and Jon Snow all began Season 4 looking capable of controlling the fates of many. Even previously woebegone Sansa seemed like she could have had a hand in the events of the Purple Wedding.

(GIFs via @Timinole and @AbedsHappyPlace)

In Chicago, Noah emerged as a dynamic playmaker and teammates D.J. Augustin, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson stepped up alongside Carlos Boozer after Rose went down and Deng was shipped out. Together they've kept the Bulls in the mix and ensured that winter is still coming, even if they'd prefer it weren't.

Brooklyn Nets: House Tyrell

The words of House Tyrell are "Growing Strong" and the family from Highgarden has shown it will do anything and side with anyone to grow stronger. Matrimony and money joined the Tyrells to the Lannisters by Season 4 after a short-lived marriage between Margaery and Renly Baratheon. In the NBA, the Nets joined with longtime rivals Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in hopes of chasing a title. These are connections of ambition not love.

Instead of Lady Olenna's purse, the money funding the Nets' pursuit of power comes from Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov. Neither seems to mind spending freely on the finer things in life provided everyone knows they're picking up the bill.

(GIF via @NetsDaily)

San Antonio Spurs: The White Walkers

The White Walkers beyond The Wall can only aspire to have the staying power of the San Antonio Spurs. Suggesting they're on their way to such prolonged relevance, those Walkers do seem to have a leader with the same in-game interview charisma as Spurs head coach Gregg Poppovich.

With Tim Duncan (37), Manu Ginobli (36) and Tony Parker (31) all on the wrong side of age 30, the Spurs marched to an NBA-best regular-season record of 62-20. To the horror of Western Conference opponents, Poppovich and his veteran players seem to be able to infect any young player they draft or sign with some sort of cold-blooded Spursiness.

(GIF via @theScore)

It would seem that no mortal force would be able to defeat the Spurs or the White Walkers but such victories are apparently possible. The Spurs were seemingly just seconds from winning the 2013 NBA Finals when Ray Allen drained a game-tying, series-extending three-point shot for the Miami Heat.

Will such a miraculous eleventh-hour stroke save the Seven Kingdoms from the White Walkers?

Los Angeles Clippers: The Martells

A family and franchise that both seem to be increasingly dangerous to more established powers. With Chris Paul at the point and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan jousting around the rim, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference behind the Spurs and Thunder.

(GIFs via @HPbasketball)

Their fast-paced style of play is fun for fans but can be vicious to opponents. Two episodes into Season 4, it seems that the same could be said of Oberyn Martell. Like the Clippers in Los Angeles, Oberyn is the second son in Dorne. Like the Clippers, he seems to be looking to step into the spotlight. The Dornish prince arrived in King's Landing ready to love and to fight.

Whatever they're doing, it can be hard to take your eyes of either group.

Indiana Pacers: Stannis Baratheon

At times during the 2013-2014 season, the Indiana Pacers seemed to have a strong claim to being the NBA's best team. Likewise, Stannis has had the strongest claim on the Iron Throne after his older brother, King Robert, died. Unfortunately, neither team seems to inflame the passions of neutral fans.

Beloved or not, both Stannis and the Pacers have a chance to win their respective games of thrones. The Pacers edged the more popular Miami Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Stannis dispatched his younger and more popular brother, Renly. The fortunes of both will likely depend on the success of two fiery individuals: Melisandre, a Red Priestess of the Lord of Light, and Lance Stephenson, a combustible triple-double machine from Brooklyn. Both bring a rare combination of passions and powers but both also seem to be capable of inspiring a mutiny or other sort of internal strife at any moment.

(GIF via @SBNationGIF)

Ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern: Varys

The Master of Whispers on the small council, Varys is renowned for his voluminous knowledge of other people's secrets. He sometimes seems to be directing the action in King's Landing while playing the role of an adviser. David Stern stepped down in February after 30 years as the leader of the NBA. The kings of the court came and went, rose and retired. For three decades, Stern worked behind the scenes for the good of the realm as well as at behest of the 30 franchise owners. Is he really going to totally disappear?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: Littlefinger

After years being the man behind the man, Adam Silver succeeded David Stern as NBA Commissioner in February. The 50-year-old has not wasted time in setting up his agenda, speaking about ads on jerseys and addressing the age limit in college basketball. He's a man with ambition.

Referee Dick Bavetta: Grand Maester Pycelle

While both worked quite hard to achieve such longevity in their fields they seem to be better known for their age than their acumen at this point. Longtime NBA official Dick Bavetta was honored by the NBA during the first week of April for refereeing his 2,633rd consecutive regular-season game.

Dwight Howard: The Hound

Are they heroes? Are they villains? Are they truly at their best in supporting roles where they get to defend for more important leaders? While viewer perception of Rockets center Dwight Howard and Sandor Clegane seems to change from season to season, both big men have proven themselves formidable opponents in battle.

After a turbulent season with the Los Angeles Lakers that didn't include a postseason trip, Howard helped the Houston Rockets to the fourth seed in the 2014 Western Conference Playoffs. A change of scenery also did the warrior known as "The Hound" some good. Formerly the bodyguard of Joffrey, he is now protecting and mentoring Arya Stark. In the NBA, Howard has traded in jockeying for position alongside Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles to protecting the paint in Houston for James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

As both Martin's known world and the two conferences of the NBA are home to more characters and intrigues than can easily be catalogued, please volunteer other connections in the comments section. Where do Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors fit in? What about Brienne of Tarth and those Boltons?

First Lady Michelle Obama To Appear On 'Nashville'

Sat, 2014-04-19 12:47
"Nashville" fans get excited because Michelle Obama will be making a cameo appearance.

In an episode airing May 7 on ABC, Rayna James (Connie Britton) enlists the help of the First Lady, as well as other big names like Kellie Pickler, to host a charity concert at Fort Campbell after finding out that Luke Wheeler (Will Chase) has been injured in Afghanistan. The episode leads up to the Season 2 finale on May 14.

This guest spot follows the First Lady's appearance on the "Parks and Recreation" finale.

"Nashville" airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.

Video Shows Jarring Crash Into Store That Injured Woman

Sat, 2014-04-19 11:01
CHICAGO — A truck struck a 61-year-old woman after crashing into a building in the Park Manor neighborhood on the South Side Friday afternoon, injuring four others.

The truck was part of a multiple-vehicle accident about 2:30 p.m. near East 71st Street and South King Drive, said Officer Thomas Sweeney, a police spokesman.

What Type Of Pot Smoker Are You?

Sat, 2014-04-19 10:15
Like snowflakes or THC crystals*, no two pot smokers are truly the same.

But even in a group as diverse as marijuana users, certain patterns do emerge. For example, does your pot use lead to endless pontification? You might be what we call the philosopher smoker. Or does your mind wander alone when you're stoned? If so, you're probably more the loner-artist type.

Being as it's 4/20 weekend, what better time to discover where you land on the stoner spectrum? Take our quiz below to find out.

Quiz widget by

*OK, OK, THC crystals tend to look pretty uniform up close, but you get where we were going with it.

36 Stoner-Approved Songs For Your 4/20 Smoke Sessions

Sat, 2014-04-19 09:56
There's nothing more important than having the perfect playlist prepared for your 4/20 smoke sessions. While just about every song sounds awesome when high, some cuts stand above the rest.

We broke down some of our favorites into six sections: old school hip hop, new hip hop, classic rock and all things inspired by the hazy years of the '60s/'70s, modern rock, electronic and the music that doesn't fit neatly into one category, so we will just call it indie or whatever.

Old School Hip Hop

Wu-Tang Clan - “Method Man”

A Tribe Called Quest - “Can I Kick It”

People Under The Stairs - “Acid Raindrops"

The Pharcyde - “Passin’ Me By"

Cypress Hill - “Hits From The Bong”

Nas - “It Ain’t Hard To Tell"

New Hip Hop

Ground Up - “Late Night Special”

Curren$y - “Elevator Musik”

Aesop Rock - “Water”

Black Hippy - “Say Wassup”

Kid Cudi - “Daps & Pounds”

The Underachievers - “Aquinini"

Classic Rock

Led Zeppelin - “Dazed and Confused"

Creedence Clearwater Revival - “Suzie Q”

Pink Floyd - “Shine on You Crazy Diamonds, Pts. 1-5”

Sheavy - “Born in a Daze”

Jimi Hendrix - “Purple Haze”

The Who - “Eminence Front"

Modern Rock

Circa Survive - “The Difference Between Medicine and Poison is in the Dose"

The Mars Volta - “Cotopaxi”

Envy On The Coast - “Clergy”

This Town Needs Guns - “Cat Fantastic”

Rx Bandits - “Overcome (The Recapitulation)"

Strawberry Girls - “Negro Spiritual"


STS9 - “Scheme”

Chrome Sparks - “Marijuana”

Clams Casino - “I’m God”

Black Moth Super Rainbow - “Forever Heavy”

Glitch Mob - “Starve The Ego, Feed The Soul"

Pretty Lights - “Future Blind” or “Around The Block"

Indie (Or Whatever)

Gorillaz - “Empire Ants"

Volcano Choir - “Comrade"

Washed Out - “Great Escape”

Bombay Bicycle Club - “Home By Now”

Radiohead - “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”

Beck - “Waking Light"

This 'Pizzacake' Is Either The Holy Grail Of Meals Or Total Food Blasphemy

Fri, 2014-04-18 16:53
A pizza company in search of the next game-changing innovation on the pizza pie frontier seems to have already found a winner:


The six-layer towering achievement of human civilization known as "Pizzacake" is among the concepts put before the pizza-loving public in the Canada-based Boston Pizza chain's new promotional campaign.

Boston describes Pizzacake, which currently leads the rankings, as "great for birthdays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and even lonely nights watching infomercials."

The "Pizza Game Changers" promotion promises "if you like it, we'll make it," and sneakily includes regular menu items you can order for real, like its new taco that uses a pizza instead of a taco shell.

As Eater notes, the clever promotion is probably just that, so don't get your hopes up about blowing out candles on the pizzacake for your next big bash.

If, however, the pizza gods are kind, here are four more amazing/wacko "game changers" that could soon come to pass:

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

Dear Mr. Peabody: No One's Loss of Life, Liberty and Health For Your Coal Profits Is Acceptable Collateral Damage

Fri, 2014-04-18 15:15
Falling on the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow coal miners' massacre, a growing movement of citizens groups will gather on Saturday afternoon in St. Louis to join the great Washington University sit-in against Peabody Energy.

The pillars of Big Coal are crumbling in St. Louis this week -- according to Wall Street analysts, and as an extraordinary grassroots movement holds Peabody and its university hosts and investors accountable for its legacy of ruin amid climate change, a failed regulatory system, and a proposed strip mine expansion that will effectively destroy the farming community of Rocky Branch, Illinois.

And for coal mining families across the nation, the Ludlow Massacre of children, women and immigrant union coal miners, is one of the most defining cautionary tales of injustice and rallying cries for action in the American coalfields that still resound today: No one's loss of life, liberty and health for coal industry profits is acceptable collateral damage.

A century later, the indefatigable students at Washington University have inspired the nation with their nearly 2-week sit-in, now joined by students at Southern Illinois University and across the nation, and are asking the same questions about their university's ties with Peabody Energy's climate change-denying mining operations.

In a line: No one's loss of life, liberty and health in Rocky Branch, Illinois -- on Black Mesa, in Arizona, or the Bear Run strip mine in Indiana, or across the globe -- should be acceptable collateral damage for the Attorney General in Illinois or for Washington University trustees or anyone in the United States, in order to pander to Peabody's state-subsidized profit line.

When the Saline County board voted earlier this week to grant Peabody the right to make potentially disastrous road changes in Rocky Branch to facilitate a proposed strip mine expansion--even though Peabody has yet to receive the proper EPA permits--one commissioner simply dismissed the inevitable destruction as "only at 12 households affected by this."

Only 12 households?

Memo to Saline County commissioners: We all live in Rocky Branch, if you consider the toxic fallout of the strip mining operations on our water, land and climate.

Rocky Branch is not "only 12 households," but the deeply rooted and historic community of war veterans, retired coal miners, business owners, farmers, preachers, parents and grandparents, and tax-payers who have the same civil rights and constitutional rights to environmental protection as anyone else.

Rocky Branch residents on Rocky Branch road. Photo courtesy of Justice at Rocky Branch.

This week, in fact, marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," who reminded us in 1963: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."

In an age of climate change and the need for immediate action, never has that sentiment been more compelling.

In the tradition of King and the civil rights movement, students and community advocates at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale also held protests for divestment from Peabody yesterday.

Carbondale, SIU: Photo courtesy of Chelsea J. Brady

Mother Jones, the great "Miner's Angel" and immigrant union organizer, who is buried near St. Louis in our southern Illinois Progressive Miners' cemetery, once reminded the nation of the lessons from Ludlow, where coal company guardsman murdered innocent children, women and striking union miners:

"No one listened. No one cared. The tickers in the offices of 26 Broadway sounded louder than the sobs of women and children. Men in the steam-heated luxury of Broadway offices could not feel the stinging cold of Colorado hillsides where families lived in tents. Then came Ludlow and the nation heard. Little children roasted alive make a front page story. Dying by inches of starvation and exposure does not."

Are Washington University trustees, investors, the Illinois Attorney General, and the nation listening to the students and communities about the Peabody crisis today?

Illinois Agency Sticks Up For The Long-Term Unemployed

Fri, 2014-04-18 14:33
WASHINGTON -- What's happened since Congress killed long-term unemployment insurance in December proves the jobless aren't lazy, according to one state workforce agency.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced this week that 86 percent of the state's long-term unemployed were still without work at the end of January, according to a study by the agency.

“This seriously undermines the perception that unemployment insurance discourages workers from finding employment,” Jay Rowell, the Illinois agency's director, said in a press release. “You should look at this analysis as confirmation that re-authorizing emergency unemployment is a cost-effective way to help families stay in their homes and put food on their tables. But you cannot look at this and say that people don’t want to work.”

Congress allowed emergency unemployment benefits to end for 1.3 million Americans at the end of the year. Federal benefits should kick in when state benefits expire, and with 70,000 people running out of state benefits each week since then, more than 2 million have lost out on payments altogether. In Illinois, 74,000 residents stopped receiving benefits at the end of 2013, and 64,000 of those individuals were still jobless at the end of January, according to its workforce development agency.

Republicans opposed to renewing the benefits have said paying unemployed people keeps them from taking available jobs, but Rowell insists the data demonstrates the real reason for long-term joblessness is that there aren't enough jobs. Department spokesman Greg Rivara lamented that Rowell's words didn't get more attention.

"Frankly, it may have been a bad headline on my part," Rivara said Thursday, adding that he remains convinced by the data. "If the notion is, you're receiving money, so you're not going to go look for work -- well, the next month you're not receiving any money. You would think, even if there was some validity to that notion, you wouldn't have 86 percent still without wages."

Nationally, the number of Americans out of work longer than six months hasn't changed much, holding at 3.7 million in March compared with 3.8 million in December. Some experts had expected the loss of benefits to lead to a decline in the number of unemployed workers as people gave up searching for jobs altogether. (To count as unemployed, someone has to have sought jobs in the past four weeks.)

Without the benefits, the thinking went, pessimistic unemployed people would either scramble for whatever jobs they could find or give up their search, shrinking the ranks of the long-term jobless. But that apparently hasn't happened.

The Senate passed a bill to reauthorize the benefits on April 7, but it appears unlikely that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will bring it up for a vote in that chamber any time soon. Boehner said in March that it would be difficult for state unemployment agencies to implement the legislation.

Rivara said that he doesn't think it would be "too big of a lift to reinstate all those benefits," adding that the real issue is that "Congress picked a spot on the calendar, arbitrarily, to end the program, rather than choosing to end a program based on economic data."

"This recovery has been different than every recovery in the past. That certainly gets lost when you're in the D.C. bubble," he said.

The Illinois agency is the only one in the country that requires employers to submit monthly wage reports, in order to combat fraud, putting it in a "unique position" to produce this report, Rivara said.

Though Rivara expressed confidence in the study's findings, he cautioned that "you never making sweeping declarations based on one month of data." He said that the Illinois Department of Employment Security plans to release a new report soon using wage data from February.

Why Being Rejected By Your Dream School Isn't The End Of The World

Fri, 2014-04-18 14:17
Everyone's had nightmares about that classic thin envelope. It's something you dread from the time college is a mere blip on your radar, to the moment you wait with your own children to hear from the school of their dreams. No matter which way you spin it, a college rejection is never going to be fun.

But you need not worry, fellow dream school rejectees. Though the sting is still palpable, there are plenty of reasons why an initial rejection is not the end of the world.

1. These highly successful people got rejected too -- and look where they are today.

Meredith Vieira, Warren Buffett, John Kerry, Katie Couric, Steven Spielberg, Tom Brokaw and Columbia University's President Lee Bollinger all got rejected from their dream schools. But getting turned down may have been the very thing that sparked all their eventual successes. As Bollinger put it, no one should let rejections control his or her life. To "allow other people's assessment of you to determine your own self-assessment is a very big mistake," he said. "The question really is, who at the end of the day is going to make the determination about what your talents are, and what your interests are? That has to be you."

2. The sting will prepare you for facing an unstable post-college future.

A 2013 poll stated that more than 40 percent of college graduates were underemployed, and more than half of grads said getting a job was difficult. The market is still recovering, and there are twice as many college graduates working minimum wage jobs as five years ago. We know the rejection hurt, but you are so much better off having experienced it now so you are prepared for the turbulent future.

3. You may end up loving your fourth choice school more.

Students often put the emphasis on big-name schools versus the places that would fit them best. But often students who don't attend their first choice school are happiest throughout their time in college. As Shawn Abbott, the Assistant Vice President and Dean of Admissions at New York University, put it to high school students, "You will love your fourth choice school. I know that I did."

4. It forces you to step back and reevaluate the most important qualities you want in a school.

It's incredibly easy to put your dream school on a pedestal, which makes the rejection that much more difficult. Yet when you romanticize instead of rationalize, you may overlook some key factors about the school you wouldn't have liked if you attended it. For example, you may not have realized how key Greek life would be on campus, or you might have underestimated how tiny 4,000 students would feel after two years. Getting rejected from a school you have your heart set on forces you to really prioritize the aspects you value most in a college experience, regardless of the school name.

5. Going to a less prestigious school doesn't mean you'll have a less prestigious future.

According to a 2011 study by Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Stacy Dale of Mathematica Policy Research, students who were rejected by highly selective schools eventually raked in salaries nearly identical to those earned by the students who went to those schools. "Even if students don't get in, the fact that they are confident enough to apply indicates they are ambitious and hardworking, which are qualities that will help them regardless of where they go to school," Krueger said. These less measurable traits, aka "unobserved student ability," could be the key to your future success in the job market.

6. The odds were never in your favor, anyway.

It's very easy to take a rejection personally and to imagine that the admissions office had some vendetta against you and your application. It's not that simple. Universities like Stanford accepted only 5 percent of their applicants for the upcoming school year, a new low amongst the most prestigious schools. The overall enrollment has increased dramatically the past few decades and a higher number of applications generally leads to the acceptance of a smaller percentage of the students who apply. Between the high number of applicants, budget cuts, in-state versus out-of state quotas and preferential treatment for alumni's children, the odds were literally never in your favor.

7. Your sadness means someone else's joy.

Somewhere in the world, a student less fortunate and more fit for the school got an acceptance letter for your spot, and they have you to thank. Former Globe columnist David Nyhan wrote a piece in 1987 that still rings very true today:

This is the important thing: They didn't reject you. They rejected your resume. They gave some other kid the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that kid deserved a break. Don't you deserve a break? Sure. You'll get one. Maybe this is the reality check you needed. Maybe the school that does take you will be good. Maybe this is the day you start to grow up.

Bad habits you can change; bad luck is nothing you can do anything about.

8. When it comes to getting a job, where you went to college probably won't make or break it.

Though you might imagine seeing "Harvard" on top of a resume would instantaneously impress an employer, there are other factors that matter significantly more. Newsweek published a survey in 2010 that showed in terms of hiring, employers ranked experience, confidence and even how you look above where a job applicant went to school. That means you should be focusing on internship and leadership experience, not the college sweatshirt you wear.

9. Rejection might be the very thing that motivates you to succeed.

J.K. Rowling was famously turned down 12 times before Bloomsbury agreed to publish the first Harry Potter book. Just a few years later, she became the first billionaire author. What happened when Steve Jobs got fired from Apple? He made an unexpected comeback that's still spoken of today. Jobs attributed his eventual success to his initial failure in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University:

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life ... Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love.

9 Ways NOT To Impress A Woman

Fri, 2014-04-18 14:08
From revealing romantic feelings for a friend to crafting a spiffy e-opener, catching the interest of someone you'd like to date can be hard. (Seriously, we sympathize with any single woman or man.) But while the methods one can use to woo a lady have definitely expanded, some should just never be used.

Redditor Alexander_Dumass asked the ladies of the AskWomen forum to weigh in on the worst pickup techniques. Here are nine things men do to impress women that really don't work:

1. Talk trash about women. "It literally makes no sense but it's so common."

2. Insult the person you're currently dating. "As if that will make me change my mind and hop on your dick instead."

3. Show off their wealth. One Redditor put it perfectly:
It's not douchey to have money or to spend money on nice things. It is douchey to brag about how much money you make and the nice things you own, to make a big show of spending your money so everyone can see how rich you are, or to act as though being wealthy somehow makes you better than those around you.

4. Send unsolicited dick pics. "You're gross."

5. Give you a "resume" of why you should date them. "'I'm real buff, I'll treat you real nice, I make lots of money, I'll buy you gifts...' Like I'm some sort of a shallow brainless twit that is looking to hire a boyfriend."

6. Brag about how many women they've slept with. "He went from talking about pound town to asking me downtown. It was, sadly, not a joke."

7. Lie about their interests to make it seem like the two of you have more in common. "If you've never seen Blade Runner, for example, don't say you have just because its my favorite film. I can always tell when they're lying about this and I don't think it's sweet."

8. Follow you around the gym. "I'm busy, bro."

9. Talk only about themselves. "I'm glad that you assume that you're more interesting than I am."

Something to add? Comment below, or tweet @HuffPostWomen.

State Will No Longer Make Sick People Choose Between Medical Marijuana And Guns

Fri, 2014-04-18 13:18
Illinois regulators have dropped proposed medical marijuana restrictions that would have required gun owners to choose between their weapons and their weed.

The change was revealed when the Illinois Department of Public Health formally filed rules for the state's medical cannabis pilot program -- the strictest in the nation -- after months of public feedback.

Stricken from rules originally proposed in January is language requiring legal gun owners (and their caregivers) to relinquish their Firearm Owner Identification cards before joining the state's medical marijuana registry, and banned medical marijuana patients from owning firearms.

That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that Illinois residents can legally mix the two. Federal law still bars gun ownership to anyone who uses marijuana or other controlled substances.

“Under federal law, anyone who is using marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use... is considered an unlawful user,” Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Advocates still cheer the state's decision: “Anything that makes it less burdensome for the patients is always a good thing,” said Julie Falco of Chicago, who has used cannabis to control pain from multiple sclerosis, reports the Associated Press.

The newly-filed rules not only allow approved medical cannabis use for gun owners, they also make it cheaper for prospective patients. Regulators dropped a medical marijuana registry free from $150 to $100; veterans and people with disabilities would only pay $50.

The Chicago Tribune reports prospective business owners were less enthused by the new rules, which come with high fee requirements to run a dispensary or cultivation house. Grow house owners will be required to pay a non-refundable $5,000 application fee, and the the liquid assets required to open a grow center doubled from $250,000 to $500,000.

The rules now go to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, where the rules will be reviewed and approved after a 45-day period to solicit the public's comments and suggestions.

Time's Running Out For States To Adopt Health Exchanges

Fri, 2014-04-18 12:50
CHICAGO (AP) — For the more than 30 states that defaulted to the federal government under President Barack Obama's health care law, time may be running out to decide whether to create their own state-run insurance exchanges.

With the chance to apply for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal help set to expire in a few months, even Obama's home state of Illinois is expressing little interest in taking the next step. The law's disastrous rollout and lingering unpopularity have made it risky to raise the issue in a tense election year despite Obama's announcement Thursday that 8 million Americans have signed up for subsidized private insurance. Health care advocates are pushing the Democrats who control the Illinois Legislature to pass a measure enabling a state exchange. They note many states already running their own were able to enroll customers at a faster clip and will have more opportunity to scrutinize insurance rate increases for their residents.

But it has barely been mentioned in the state capital of Springfield, with just weeks left to take action before the Legislature adjourns.

"The Democrats run this state. President Obama's from Illinois. It's up to them to do it," said Jim Duffett of the Campaign for Better Health Care, a nonprofit coalition that has been helping Illinois residents sign up for coverage. "Who's in power makes a difference; you can't hide from it anymore."

Many of the remaining states that declined to adopt their own exchanges are controlled by Republicans, some of whom want to eliminate what they call "Obamacare." But Sonya Schwartz of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, which has been tracking states' implementation of the health law, puts Illinois at the top of a list of states more likely to approve an exchange. Her list also includes Iowa, Arkansas, Michigan, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Delaware.

But the same reluctance is holding back many of those states, despite a November deadline to get access to funds to help secure a state exchange, with in Illinois' case could mean up to $500 million. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder prefers creating a state-run exchange, but has been rebuffed by the GOP-controlled Legislature. In Iowa, where the health care law is expected to be a big issue in a U.S. Senate race, the Legislature is expected to adjourn soon without any action on a state-run exchange.

In Illinois, Republicans are expected to exploit the health law's problems in election campaigns against incumbent Democrats in Congress, including Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

The governor's race, between incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn and his Republican opponent, wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, is expected to be one of the most hotly contested in the nation.

While state lawmakers have less connection to the federal law, the idea of any state measure associated with the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with both parties, said Pat Brady, a former Illinois GOP chairman.

"A lot of people don't want to have their names associated with it," Brady said.

The health care law was designed for each state to run its own insurance marketplace, but just 16 states and Washington, D.C., opted to do so. The federal government ended up running exchanges for the other states, plus Idaho and New Mexico, which ran out of time to fully implement their own exchanges.

Illinois and a handful of other states formed partnerships with the federal government, a hybrid model that allowed the states access to a first level of federal grants. In Illinois, that totaled nearly $154 million, roughly half of which has been spent or committed to outreach workers, advertising, a telephone help desk and analysis of health insurance plans.

With a few notable exceptions, state-run exchanges outpaced the ones run by the federal government. The Oregon exchange's technology glitches forced people to sign up using a time-consuming hybrid paper-online process. Earlier this month, Maryland chose to replace its glitch-filled exchange with technology from Connecticut at an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million.

Time is now running out for the final round of federal grant funding, which requires state enabling legislation or a governor's executive order. The grants can't be awarded after Jan. 1, 2015, and federal rules set Nov. 14 as the deadline for states to apply.

"This is your last chance to pull this off," Schwartz said.

However, many state legislatures will soon adjourn their spring sessions, leaving election-minded lawmakers free to go home and campaign until November.

In Illinois, Duffett's group is trying to collect pledges of support from lawmakers to persuade Democratic leaders to introduce a bill creating an exchange before lawmakers adjourn on May 31. But a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman, acknowledged a lack of "real interest" in pursuing an exchange but wouldn't rule it out "if a consensus would develop."

Christopher Mooney, director of the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said the health law is "probably" more popular in Obama's home state than elsewhere, and that individual state lawmakers know whether their smaller districts either support or oppose it. But he said legislators normally like to avoid "unpleasant stuff," especially in an election year.

"It's such a polarizing issue, I can easily imagine them saying, 'Why bother?'" Mooney said.


Associated Press writer David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., contributed to this report.


Associated Press medical writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at

UPDATE: Free Playoff Hockey Is Extra Awesome Because It Means Overtime Goals (VIDEO/GIFs)

Fri, 2014-04-18 12:44
Not only is playoff hockey demonstrably awesome but it is also apparently a very good bargain in 2014. After the opening night of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs included one overtime game, the second night had two more that needed more than three periods.

Free hockey!

In St. Louis, the Blues and Blackhawks played into a third overtime period before a winner emerged in Game 1 of their first-round series. All together, the first seven games of the NHL postseason included five free overtime periods.

Here are all three game-winning overtime goals scored from this early trio of overtime playoff games:

Alexander Steen's goal in triple overtime gave the Blues a 4-3 win

(GIF via @PeteBlackburn)

Paul Stastny sent the Avalanche to a 5-4 win with an overtime goal
(GIF via @myregularface)

Dale Weise's overtime goal lifted the Canadiens to a 5-4 win