Subscribe to CNC Huffpo feed
Chicago news and blog articles from The Huffington Post
Updated: 1 hour 3 min ago

It's Time For Final Exams in Budget Deal-Making 101

4 hours 9 min ago
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

All over Illinois, it's cramming time. Finals time. Time for tests before the break.

In Springfield, too. Cramming time. Gov. Bruce Rauner reminded everyone Monday. We've got eight days left to get a deal done, he said. One week from Tuesday, the legislative session is supposed to end.

If it ends with no budget and reform deal approved and no school funding compromise worked out, it's quite likely some of our state's grade and high schools will not be opening in August.

It's possible some of our state colleges won't survive.

More of the people who take care of people in our state will lose their jobs. And the people they care for, obviously, will suffer. Human service agencies will close; humans will suffer, as many, many of them already are. Other businesses will close or decide not to locate here. More people will leave Chicago as its schools crumble.

After next Tuesday, getting a budget and changes to our business, government and tax system will require more votes. It will be much more difficult.

So, let's review what we've learned before the big government test in Illinois, shall we?

Chicago is the nation's only city among the 20 biggest that lost population, new data from the U.S. Census bureau show. And when the state's biggest city and the state itself loses people, there are fewer left to pay the tax bills and the bills rise.

At least four of the state's public universities have seen a drop in applications for the coming fall semester: Eastern, Western, University of Illinois-Springfield and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville all had fewer applicants. The University of Illinois, Illinois State University and one other saw an increase in applications, the Associated Press reported.

Alana Reinhardt decided to attend Eastern, the news service reported.

"Everyone shook their heads and laughed at me," she said. "They said, 'You're not going to have a school to go to next year.'"

If there's no budget and deal to freeze property taxes, change future pension earnings and workers' compensation laws in Illinois in the next week, schools in Farmington, Chicago and others around the state very well might not open in August. Dozens more, already struggling because they lack the local property wealth that helps fund them, will limp along at best.

John Asplund, superintendent of School District 265 in downstate Farmington, wrote a letter to his community in mid-April, warning residents that he'd heard the state does not intend to fund K-12 education in the year that starts July 1. That would mean a $4.7 million cut for his district.

Asplund wrote: "This would leave the district (along with almost every other downstate district) with some very difficult choices to make. If the state completely abandons its financial support for public schools, we may be forced to delay the start of school, operate on a reduced number of days, or completely shut down the school."

For the past 11 months, our state's college communities have suffered with no state aid. Our state's vulnerable children, seniors, homeless, disabled and abused have suffered because Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan are waging a political war.

Rauner insisted Monday that rank-and-file Democrats privately are supportive of changes to property taxes, pensions and workers' compensation rules. They know these deals do affect the budget and that such deals have been hammered out for years. The governor named suburban Democratic state Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook as one who publicly has expressed support for a budget and other changes.

In a phone interview later, Nekritz said she's pointed out since 2009 that digging out of the state's fiscal debacle will require cuts plus revenue plus reforms. She's previously voted for workers' compensation changes, pension changes and property tax changes. Nekritz would not, however, speak for her colleagues when I asked if rank-and-file Democrats might rise up and press Madigan to compromise.

What will an end to this take? "Everybody, and I mean everybody, has to be willing to get together to get this done," she said. "People sitting down in good faith, and not pointing fingers, to make this happen."

Everybody means all of us, pressuring the politicians who are supposed to work for us to pressure Rauner, Madigan and the others to do their jobs. But we don't. Most of us go on with our busy lives, mostly unaffected by the crumbling institutions around us. That will change dramatically if schools don't open in August and thousands of parents are left scrambling.

It's cramming time. The finals are upon us. What have we learned?

Up next: Independent Map Amendment passes petition signature test, but battle is far from over

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Remember The First-Ever 'Oprah Show' Guest? Here She Is, 30 Years Later.

8 hours 14 min ago

function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible);

When "The Oprah Winfrey Show" made its national debut in 1986, no one expected it to become the unrivaled leader among daytime talk shows -- especially not the show's first-ever guest.

Her name was Margaret Kent, and for more than a decade, she taught a course teaching women how to get married. After the unexpected death of her husband in 1979, Kent channeled her grief into creating a new life: She became a practicing attorney in Florida. But the strategies she learned in her prior career came in handy when she met tax attorney Robert Feinschreiber -- the two married in 1984. 

Kent soon put all of her marriage knowledge on paper and penned two relationship manuals. How to Marry the Man of Your Choice and How to Marry a Superior Woman were sold for a whopping $95 apiece -- that would be more than $200 today -- and came with a money-back guarantee: If you read one of the books and weren't married within three years, Kent would issue you a refund. 

Six months after penning How to Marry the Man of Your Choice, Kent found herself on the premiere episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"You're buying a spouse, not a book," Kent told the audience back then.

Though much of her calculated advice was controversial, she also offered a particularly timeless piece of wisdom. "I tell you ladies, if you're interested in finding a man, you have got to go forward and show off a good mind. It is your best asset," Kent said. "Everything else sags, wrinkles or turns gray eventually."

It's now been 30 years since the attorney and author appeared on "The Oprah Show." In honor of the show's five-year anniversary of the finale, "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" caught up with Kent to see how she's been doing in the years since. 

"I'll be eternally grateful to [Oprah] to have that much confidence in putting me on her first show," Kent says today. 

Initially, Kent (still married to Feinschreiber, by the way) planned on teaching her marriage course at least twice a year to help people find spouses, but then, her husband presented the book idea.

"He said, 'I'll tell you what. Put it into book form. We'll spend a year promoting it. If it's any good, it'll be successful. And if it's no good, you just give it up and come back and work with me full-time,'" Kent says. "In six months, we were on 'Oprah.'"

Over the years, Kent says she has heard from many women who have used her strategies and soon landed husbands -- including, once, an entire bridal party.

As far as her ability to predict Oprah's professional success, Kent says that there was something about the host's pointed questions and direct demeanor that she sensed would, for better or worse, strike a chord.

"I thought to myself, ‘She’s either going to make it awfully big or not.’ I just didn’t know," Kent admits. "But I certainly admired her courage."

"The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted nationally on Sept. 8, 1986. Twenty-five years later, on May 27, 2011, Oprah gave her final daytime talk show sign-off on the show's series finale. 

Another unforgettable "Oprah Show" guest update

Jenny Boylan, now of "I Am Cait," opens up about publicly coming out as transgender on "Oprah" in 2003

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

The Tastiest Chicago Burgers of Instagram

Tue, 2016-05-24 11:06
May is national burger month which means for the last three weeks, people have been going crazy on Instagram. The month's not over but I can't wait, it's time to round-up the best burgers in Chicago thus far:

1. Grange Hall Burger Bar

You can never go wrong with fried avocado, especially on a burger. | @grangehallchi + @sirkensingtons | West Loop

A photo posted by Chicago Food (@312food) on May 16, 2016 at 6:30pm PDT

Bar Siena's BomboBurger

What better way to celebrate #NationalBurgerMonth than with a #Burger that has a #DONUT for a bun?! #BomboBurger # #

A photo posted by Bar Siena (@barsiena) on May 3, 2016 at 10:00am PDT

3. Prime and Provision's prime burger

Dry-aged & Juicy--Meet the Prime #Burger. #CleanCut #AllNatural #USDAPrime #

A photo posted by Prime & Provisions Steakhouse (@primeprovisions) on May 17, 2016 at 10:31am PDT

4. Morton's Prime Burger

National Hamburger Day is on Saturday, May 28th. How will you be celebrating? #PrimeBurger #NationalHamburgerDay

A photo posted by Morton's The Steakhouse (@mortonssteak) on May 19, 2016 at 11:40am PDT

5. Celeste

The sexiest in all the land [sneak peek from today's new menu shoot at @celestechicago!]

A photo posted by Kailley's Kitchen (@kailleyskitchen) on Apr 25, 2016 at 6:11pm PDT

6. Mad Burger at Mad Social

until we meat again. @madsocialchicago opening feb 8th. {MAD burger: wagyu beef and pork belly blend, aged cheddar, cajun onion rings, MAD mayo, house pickles, and baby arugula on a brioche bun} || # #fabfoodchicago follow @fabfoodchicago and tag your fab food pics #fabfoodchicago.

A photo posted by Chicago Blogger & Consultant (@fabsoopark) on Feb 1, 2016 at 7:04pm PST

Owen & Engie

The best Tuesday involves taking part of the Burger Night Special (every Tuesday) at @owenandenginechicago. For a reasonable price of $16, you get the + + a shot of bourbon. Not a bad way to spend this rainy day in Chicago. This burger is one of the best tasting in the city (no joke!). They make their half pound burger patties from a special blend of ground chuck, short rib, and brisket from Slagel Family Farms. It's so juicy with a rich "meaty" flavor which reminds me of a good pot roast. The burger is simply served on a toasted house-made potato bun and topped with a pile of sweet caramelized onions. But I like mine with a fried egg and house-made bacon. Let's not ignore the hand-cut fries that come with a tangy malt vinegar aioli. This was so good that I was sad when it was all gone. # #nationalburgcermonth #owenandenginechicago #slagelfamilyfarms #fabfoodchicago #SherrieSavorsTheCity

A photo posted by Chicago Pastry Chef & Foodie (@sherriesavorsthecity) on May 10, 2016 at 3:22pm PDT

8. Whisk's House Burger

Watch me eat this @burger from @whiskchicago LIVE on Snapchat, username: SNAPADAMSOKO. It's their house burger w chihuahua cheese, chipotle mayo, guac, tortilla chips served breakfast-style w scrambled eggs and chorizo on French toast! #sokophoto #burger #cheeseburger # #brunch #chicago #chicagofood #igerschicago #chigram #chicagofoodauthority #infatuationchi #eaterchicago #foodphotography #todayfood #alwayshungrychi #312food #mychicagopix #devourpower

A photo posted by Chicago Food & Travel Dude (@adamsoko) on Feb 18, 2016 at 9:44am PST

Beef & Barley Buttermilk Biscuit Burger

#NationalButtermilkBiscuitDay + #NationalBurgerMonth = @bnbchi | #

A photo posted by Victoria (@supervicky55) on May 14, 2016 at 7:01am PDT

10. The Brixton

WEEKENDS are like BURGERS... I LOVE THEM. Peep my SNAPS ( cleanplatechi) to check out MY WEEKEND #throwbackburger #brixtonchicago #andersonville #sundayfunday #chicago #cleanplateclubchi #burger #yolkporn

A photo posted by Chicago • Food • Drink (@cleanplateclubchi) on May 15, 2016 at 7:38pm PDT

11. Green Street Local

It's #NationalBurgerMonth!! We're celebrating with 4 new burger specials, like the Big Country @burger made with beer battered turkey with honey cherry pepper relish, garlic aioli, and bacon! Come get one for lunch, dinner, or both! : @supervicky55 #StayLocal #westloop #burger # #chicago #chicagofood #igerschicago #chigram #chicagofoodauthority #infatuationchi #eaterchicago #foodphotography #todayfood #alwayshungrychi #312food #mychicagopix #devourpower #sokophoto

A photo posted by Green Street Local (@greenstreetlocal) on May 10, 2016 at 9:55am PDT

12. Three Aces

One of the best burgers in the city.

A photo posted by @alwayshungrychi on Jul 18, 2015 at 2:20pm PDT

13. Cochon Volant

Because you can eat breakfast any time of the day. The breakfast royale burger from @CochonVolant_. Dry aged beef, thick cut bacon, confit onion, American cheese, dijonnaise, house pickles on an English muffin.

A photo posted by Chicago Food Photographer (@kristen_mendiola) on Apr 12, 2016 at 2:00pm PDT

14. Dunlay's Filet Sliders

This place never disappoints! Filet sliders and Wrightwood salad

A photo posted by Melissa Makes (@melissa__makes) on Dec 31, 2015 at 2:25pm PST

The Allis at Soho House

A lunchtime triple threat

A photo posted by The Allis Chicago (@theallischicago) on Jan 14, 2016 at 10:47am PST

16. Maple & Ash

Birichino Vin Gris Rosé ✔️ M&A Burger ✔️ Patio seating off a busy street ✔️ Sun is back out ✔️ #MapleAndAsh #ChicagoEats #ComeOnSpringYouGotThis

A photo posted by Maple & Ash (@mapleandash) on May 18, 2016 at 3:07pm PDT

17. Au Cheval (duh)

seriously might name my firstborn child Cheval {single cheeseburger} #chicagotastetribe

A photo posted by chicago taste tribe (@chicagotastetribe) on May 10, 2016 at 2:48pm PDT

18. Three Arts Club (bonus points for the stellar ambiance/decor)

today's lunch = # & #

A photo posted by KATIE CASSMAN (@katie_cassman) on Mar 17, 2016 at 10:10am PDT

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

On Chicago's Blues: Where Have You Gone, Harold Washington?

Tue, 2016-05-24 07:58

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel remains in office months after evidence emerged that during his reelection campaign he hid from the public a videotape of a white police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald sixteen times. The juxtaposition of the two Democratic presidential candidates calling for the resignation of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for the lead poisoning of children in Flint while failing to call on Emanuel to do the same underscores the political complicity of what's happened to African Americans in Chicago. But perhaps no one has been more complicit than local black leaders and, sadly, African-American voters, themselves.

I am not a native of Chicago. After relocating here seven years ago, however, an unmistakable vibe about the city immediately struck me. Its African-American denizens were suffering from something post-traumatic, though precisely what remained mysterious to me. The racial hierarchy that one sees in all major cities was more pronounced here than anywhere else I had lived or visited in the United States. Indeed, even in the ivory towers of academia in the city, the sense of "know your place and stay in it" was palpable. This was not Mayor Harold Washington Jr.'s Chicago, I concluded; it was instead Richard Wright's Chicago with a glum post-Reconstruction hangover akin to the one in Wright's Native Son.

So when the Laquan McDonald story broke, I was only mildly surprised. A mayor who could take for granted the black vote, having done little or nothing to earn it, could also perpetrate an outrageous racial cover-up by suppressing video footage of a white police officer assassinating a black youth. And where was Chicago's black political gentry during the cover-up? Many were ginning up votes for Rahm Emanuel, but not based on any record of accomplishment. A 2015 report by 24/7 Wall St. used disparities between black and white populations in major urban centers to determine the ten worst cities for African Americans. Chicago ranked number four.

Consider some of the yawning inequalities between blacks and whites. The black poverty rate in the city is five times that of whites; the percentage of whites holding at least an undergraduate degree is more than double that of blacks; and the number of annual deaths per capita among blacks is more than double that of white Chicagoans, placing Chicago at the head of the pack nationally in per capita deaths among blacks.

Add to these grim figures Chicago's hyper-segregation; national headline-grabbing murder rate; failing schools; nearly 20% black unemployment rate; and a police force that, according to independent findings, has "no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color," and it becomes hard to see why any black person would have supported Mayor Emanuel's reelection. No, Emanuel did not create these problems, but he had no grand vision to cure any of them either, a shortcoming evident to many and which resulted in the incumbent being forced into a runoff.

If Barack Obama had been raised as a black teenager in today's Chicago, he would not be president of the United States today, and perhaps he wouldn't even be alive. Yet the President endorsed Emanuel's reelection. He was not alone in his complicity, though. Alderman Will Burns was viewed as Emanuel's top black booster on city council, helping to deliver the mayor 58% of the black vote in the runoff against County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, a more than 14 point increase from the initial round of voting. In the midst of the Laquan McDonald video imbroglio, however, Burns decided to resign city council to pursue a lucrative corporate career.

Other black members of city council who supported Emanuel's reelection or received money from his super PAC, such as Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., apparently lacked Burns's golden parachute. The venerable but ineffective congressman Bobby Rush also endorsed Emanuel's reelection, offering the generality that Emanuel had the "tenacity, the ability, the commitment, and the experience" to face Chicago's challenges. There is little point in having black leaders if black voters cannot rely on these leaders' predictive judgment to honestly assess the qualifications of a candidate for higher office. In the case of Emanuel's reelection, far too many black leaders failed to lead.

In a move intended to rehabilitate his damaged standing among black voters, Emanuel recently appointed former Urban League President Andrea Zopp as a deputy mayor. As impressive a background as Zopp presents, the mayor's move is cynical. Zopp joins the Emanuel administration fresh off the loss of a Democratic U.S. Senate primary in which pre-election polls proximate to the primary showed that an overwhelming number of black voters did not support her.

It's bad enough that a majority black and Latino city has been represented by two neglectful white administrations (Richard M. Daly and Emanuel) for nearly a quarter century. But it's downright insulting when white politicians attempt to anoint black leaders who have not shown an ability to gain the support of black voters.

There are, I fear, deep-seated reasons why no person of color has been elected mayor since Harold Washington's historic election as the first African-American mayor of Chicago in 1983. One is the corruptibility of too many black and Latino leaders in a city that continues to thrive on the politics of quid pro quo. Too often in these transactions, the individual black leader advances while the interests of black and brown voters do not. Second, blacks and Latinos in Chicago distrust each other and thus fail to form the necessary coalitions to elect a candidate of color.

But the less tangible reason is the most damning: After a quarter century of white rule, buffeted by social disadvantages of unfathomable magnitude, black and brown Chicagoans now suffer from a diminished faith in their own ability to govern their city.

It will take rediscovering the audacity of Harold Washington, Jr. to reverse this mentality.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Internet Access Isn't Just A Tech Issue. It's A Civil Rights Issue.

Mon, 2016-05-23 20:44

In major metropolitan areas across the U.S., unequal access to the Internet is cutting some people off from a better future. Citizens on the wrong side of the digital gap are losing out on economic, educational and social opportunities.

It's not just a technical problem for the 21st century. 

"This is a civil rights issue," said Bill Callahan, director of Connect Your Community.

"Low-income people, people with less than a high school education and older people are the groups in any population who are least likely to have an Internet connection at home,” he said.

Callahan's group advocates for digital access and literacy in greater Cleveland and Detroit. In those cities -- and others from Baltimore to New Orleans, from Miami to Glendale, Arizona -- as many as 30 to 40 percent of residents can't easily get online, according to 2013 data.

Rural areas have a fairly well-known set of digital access problems that include high cost and sluggish speeds due to the lack of broadband infrastructure. But in suburban and metro areas, libraries are typically cited as a the saving grace for residents who lack online access at home.

That's not good enough in our wired world. "If the best someone can do is point you to the library, that’s basically 'separate but equal,'” said Callahan, making a pointed reference to the very argument that the Supreme Court once declared didn't justify segregated schools.

If the best someone can do is point you to the library, that’s basically 'separate but equal.'
Bill Callahan, director of Connect Your Community

In Detroit, nearly 40 percent of residents have no Internet service, not even via smartphones. That abysmal rate was noted in a recent New York Times story detailing how lack of access has stymied economic recovery for some people.

Detroit resident Julie Rice told the paper about her struggle to network, complete training videos and fill out online job applications with her limited connectivity. 

“I’ve come to believe Internet is a human right," Rice said. "It’s clearly a huge disadvantage if you don’t have it.”

Underscoring the importance of universal access, the Federal Communications Commission last year declared that broadband service is a public utility akin to electricity or telephone service.

In all but the most rural areas, the problem isn't a lack of infrastructure, said Callahan. As with so many other civil rights issues, the problem is economics. 

"The idea that you can’t get Internet connection in a city because there’s no Internet available is almost never true,” he said. "People can get AT&T DSL in their homes any place in Detroit — they just can’t afford it." 

Without the Internet, poor people can be stuck on the wrong side of the door to opportunity.

"The 40-year-old guy who can’t apply for a job now because he can’t get online would have no problem 10 years ago," Callahan said. "He can still do the job. All that’s changed is the system to get the job."

This hypothetical man all too often gets blamed for not being employed. Yet Callahan said, “This is not a failure on his part."

Robert Shimkoski of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, which helps connect jobseekers with employers in that city, said a lack of Internet access can trap low-income people in a vicious cycle. 

"It’s increasingly difficult to find an employer who will take a physical application over an online app," Shimkoski said. "And if you can’t get online, you can’t get the resources to understand where you can go to get that connection to help." 

Callahan said Internet access rates have remained largely the same in the two years since the U.S. Census Bureau last released figures. But the digital divide keeps getting wider, he said, as more systems across every industry -- from health care to education -- go online.

For example, Callahan cited a major change to the GED that went into effect in 2014. In theory, the second chance at a high school diploma can be a lifeline for struggling Americans. But now, he said, "All GED testing is in a computerized environment, though not online. Most of the models by which you can prepare depend on having access to online resources.”

The shift to digital is one of the reasons, Callahan argued, that the success rate for GED candidates in Cleveland -- where more than 33 percent of residents lack Internet access -- plummeted by an estimated 85 percent that year. 

“[Digitalizing systems] is progressing very quickly, and they’re essentially being put in a walled village, and you need to pay to get past it," Callahan said. "And no one is willing to spend money to help the people on the outside get in."

Ensuring that there are community access points, like libraries and technology hubs, is important, but ultimately they're no substitute for reliable Internet at home. 

Callahan and Shimkoski are both optimistic about pilot programs from Comcast and AT&T that provide basic broadband access -- and in some cases web training and low-cost laptops -- to low-income residents.

Comcast in 2011 began the Comcast Essentials program to offer Internet access (without setup fees or contracts) to families who have at least one child who qualifies for the National School Lunch Program. The company's most recent report indicated that more than 17,000 residents had taken advantage of the program in Detroit. 

AT&T launched a similar program last month. It dropped the price to as little as $5 a month and widened the pool of eligibility to anyone in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. But CNN reports that Internet access under the AT&T program is at speeds considered below the threshold of broadband and there are data caps. 

Still, Callahan said the programs are a digital step in the right direction.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Supreme Court Again Rejects Illinois Ex-Governor's Corruption Appeal

Mon, 2016-05-23 12:49

function onPlayerReadyVidible(e){'undefined'!=typeof HPTrack&&HPTrack.Vid.Vidible_track(e)}!function(e,i){if(e.vdb_Player){if('object'==typeof commercial_video){var a='',o='m.fwsitesection='+commercial_video.site_and_category;if(a+=o,commercial_video['package']){var c='&m.fwkeyvalues=sponsorship%3D'+commercial_video['package'];a+=c}e.setAttribute('vdb_params',a)}i(e.vdb_Player)}else{var t=arguments.callee;setTimeout(function(){t(e,i)},0)}}(document.getElementById('vidible_1'),onPlayerReadyVidible);

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected for the second time flamboyant former two-term Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's appeal of convictions on corruption charges including attempted extortion, wire fraud and other crimes.

The court denied a request by Blagojevich to reconsider its March decision not to take up his appeal of a July 2015, ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld most of his convictions.

Prosecutors said Blagojevich was at the center of a conspiracy to seek cash, campaign contributions and jobs for himself and others in exchange for state appointments, state business, legislation and pension fund investments.

Among those actions were attempts to leverage his authority as governor to appoint a U.S. senator from Illinois when Barack Obama left his Senate seat after being elected president in 2008, prosecutors said.

Blagojevich began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2012.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Rauner to Illinois GOP: "No Way Hillary Clinton Gets Elected"

Mon, 2016-05-23 11:43

PEORIA -- As I left the 2016 Illinois Republican Party convention Saturday, I couldn't decide if I had just witnessed the death knell of the once mighty state GOP or the earliest spark of its resurrection.

After weeks of turmoil over the prospect of Donald Trump becoming the leader of its ticket in November, the party fully embraced its presumptive candidate for president. "Hillary for Prison" was a common refrain around the Peoria Civic Center, where 978 delegates and many other party faithful gathered for a big show of unity eight weeks ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Even Gov. Bruce Rauner, who previously had said he would neither endorse Trump nor attend the Republican National Convention at which Trump is all but assured of the nomination, managed to imply his support without stating the candidate's name.

"What we can't do is let Hillary Clinton get in the White House. No way Hillary Clinton is getting elected," Rauner said to huge applause after urging party unity "up and down the ticket."

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider, conceding that Trump had not been his favored choice in the March 15 Illinois primary, noted that "the people have spoken" and now it was time to get behind Trump.

As Trump took the country by storm in victory after victory in state Republican primaries, he showed that this is an election in which conventional wisdom would not apply. If it did, Trump would have been out of the race long before primary season got under way.

If this convention-defying trend continues, Saturday's mass bear-hug for the billionaire candidate might one day be remembered as the moment at which the Illinois Republican Party began its resurrection. Conventional wisdom has presumed ever since March 16 that Trump atop the ballot in blue state Illinois would be a disaster for Republicans in contests down the ballot.

Conventional wisdom holds that Illinois Democrats generally turn out in greater numbers in presidential years, and they'll be even more motivated to get to the polls Nov. 8 both to vote for Hillary Clinton and to guard against any chance of Trump ending up in the White House.

That conventional theory was forged in the weeks immediately after the Illinois primary, when the shock of Trump's victory in a state known for moderate Republicans like Sen. Mark Kirk still was fresh. Back then, the national Stop Trump movement was formidable, as Republicans -- what we now call "establishment Republicans" -- recoiled at the idea of the blustering Trump being their presidential nominee.

A scant seven weeks later, the Indiana primary results made it clear that Trump was rolling and would not be stopped.

"We've got a gentleman at the top of the ticket who's brought enormous numbers of people out in the primaries," Schneider said after Saturday's event.

Now those who feared Trump's potential negative effect atop the ticket say they relish his presence. Rather than dispirited Republicans staying home on Election Day, they see an energized base eager to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House showing up in record numbers. That, of course, would be good also for the many Illinois House and Illinois Senate Republican candidates trying to end the Democrats' super-majority control of the Illinois Legislature.

The numbers do not favor this theory. In the March 15 Illinois presidential primary contests, there were a total of 2.06 million Democratic ballots cast to slightly less than 1.45 million GOP ballots. That's roughly a 60-40 split with Democrats on top. Those numbers are low because primary turnout always is lower than that of general elections. But general election turnout in the last two presidential elections heavily favors Democrats as well. In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain 3.4 million to 2 million (62 to 37 percent). In 2012, Obama defeated Mitt Romney 3 million to 2.1 million (58 percent to 41 percent).

It's going to take a massive wave of energized new voters eager to support Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP ticket for the Republicans' ideal scenario to play out. That will require a major drive to get more likely Republican voters registered.

And if that doesn't happen? If Trump continues his tendency to say ever more bombastic things long after his nomination in Cleveland in July? If the voter repulsion that pundits predicted would have arrived long ago finally arrives in the fall?

Then I may have witnessed the party on Saturday embracing the man who could single-handedly bring it one of the worst elections in recent history.

But there I go again with my conventional thinking.

NEXT ARTICLE: Chicago's pension problems just got a whole lot worse

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

It's Disturbingly Common For Americans To Go Days Without Safe Drinking Water

Mon, 2016-05-23 06:30

On April 19, Brian Power woke up to a big problem.

A 12-inch water main had burst open at 4:15 a.m. near the Cougar Country Drive-In, the restaurant he manages in Pullman, Washington.

The main break had dumped several hundred thousand gallons of water into the streets, increasing the risk of contamination for Pullman's water supply. The city issued a boil water order after the break, meaning its 31,000 residents had to boil their water before cooking, drinking or brushing their teeth.

Pullman didn't require area restaurants to close, which some municipalities have to do when boil order is in effect, but Power opted to shut down his restaurant for three days while the city carried out its repairs. It would simply be too expensive and challenging for the restaurant to adhere to the guidelines of the boil water order, he decided. 

“There was the option for us as a business to stay open,” Power told The Huffington Post. “But due to the equipment and how much direct water we pull from the line for our business needs, it was the better and safer option for us to be closed.”

That decision came with its own costs -- Power estimates that closing the restaurant resulted in him losing about 10 percent of the profits he would have made that month. 

What happened in Pullman is emblematic of a larger problem facing the U.S.: The systems responsible for delivering safe water to homes and business are decaying.

Most Americans are aware of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but typically don't think similar conditions could affect their everyday routines. Lead didn't enter Flint's water supply because a water main broke, but the ongoing problems there illustrate how a lack of resources and short-sighted decision-making about a community's water supply can hurt thousands of people. 

Water is a daily necessity. Think about it: How many times a day do you use water from a tap?

If you live in the U.S. and are practicing basic personal hygiene, that number is probably at least five — if not much more. Beyond drinking, we use water to brush our teeth, shower and wash our dishes. We’re also using a lot of it — more per person than any other country — and tend to dramatically underestimate our usage level.


What's Broken Where?

It’s hard to say how many water systems are struggling to consistently deliver safe drinking water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases annual reports on waterborne disease outbreaks, but they don't draw a link between such incidents and the infrastructure breakdowns that can cause them. The Environmental Protection Agency lets customers access consumer confidence reports with information about their own water system's safety record, but the search function on these reports isn't very user-friendly. 

That's where the national data on water safety pretty much ends. Neither the CDC nor the EPA provided additional information on the subject when HuffPost asked for it. 

So to evaluate water systems across the country, we spoke with nearly a dozen experts on water policy and tracked a month’s worth of boil water advisories via an analysis of news stories.  

If we’re having to boil water, there’s clearly a failure in the system.
David Dzombak, Carnegie Mellon University civil and environmental engineering professor


The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that a water main breaks in the U.S. every two minutes

Anissa Lynn, a 22-year-old who works as a nanny, is familiar with how water main breaks can strain someone's patience and finances.

Lynn lives in an apartment complex in a medium-sized city about an hour outside of Indianapolis, and told HuffPost she’s been dealing with boil orders “on and off since January” -- she has experienced as many as three boil orders due to water main breaks in a single month. 

Boil orders make tasks like cleaning and cooking “nearly impossible to do,” she said. When advisories are in effect, she relies mostly on eating takeout and has to buy bottled water to brush her teeth.

The experience has been so frustrating that it's part of the reason why Lynn and her boyfriend have decided to leave the area.

“I've never had to deal with a boil advisory before I lived here,” she said.

Boil advisories are indicative of a larger issue, said David Dzombak, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

“If we’re having to boil water, there’s clearly a failure in the system,” he said.


How Often Are Americans Being Asked To Boil Their Water?

The frequency of water boil orders is simply not being tracked at a national level, several experts said. 

HuffPost used Google alerts to monitor how often people in the U.S. were required or advised to boil their water between Feb. 22 and March 22.

This analysis found 142 separate incidents in 27 different states involving at least some residents in a city or town being told to boil their water for at least 24 hours.

The southern region had more incidents than any other: Leading the way with 17 incidents was West Virginia, followed by Kentucky with 14; South Carolina and Florida each had 13, and Texas had 12.

Smaller cities greatly outnumbered larger ones in the sample. Seventy-three precent of the incidents happened in cities with populations less than 20,000. This is in line with a 2009 New York Times analysis, which found that the majority of incidents involving public water systems delivering contaminated water took place in smaller cities.

Only 9 percent of incidents took place in cities with a population of 100,000 or more — among them were Columbia, South Carolina; Toledo, Ohio; and Jacksonville, Florida. 

Most of the boil advisories -- 67 percent -- were due to a water line or water main breakage.

Cities or towns that were home to multiple, separate incidents are indicated by darker circles on the map below.

What Does It All Mean?

There are certain limitations to this data sample. 

Weather events like heavy rain or snowfall can contribute to main breaks and subsequent boil orders, said Steve Via, director of federal relations at water safety advocacy group American Water Works Association.

Via noted that these weather events often occur in late winter and early spring, when HuffPost’s data was captured.

Kevin Morley, also of the AWWA, noted that having more people than usual in an area can strain a water system and contribute to increased breakage rates. Florida, for example, was in the middle of a peak tourist season during the period of time HuffPost analyzed, which could help explain why the state experienced so many water main breaks.

Eastern states experienced more advisories than western ones. Eastern water systems are typically densely packed together, Via said, and therefore can be susceptible to a chain reaction of problems. 

Systems in the eastern U.S. also tend to be older — although an older pipe isn’t necessarily more likely to break than a newer one. 

“While age is a factor, it’s not the only factor,” Morley added.

What the pipes are made of and their installation conditions matter also.


Most of us don't think about these various factors — until, suddenly, something goes very, very wrong. And that can make the financial hit sting even more for the people and businesses affected.

Jackson, Mississippi, ordered a citywide boil order in March. Rather than closing up shop, the management at Manship Wood Fired Kitchen decided to take the precautions needed to continue serving food.

This meant draining a 300-gallon ice maker and getting it professionally cleaned, purchasing clean ice and bottled water from a vendor and adding extra steps to the cooking process, explained restaurant co-owner Steve O’Neill. Brewing tea was a particular pain, co-owner and chef Erroll Alexander Eaton added.

“You don’t realize those small things until you have to deal with it,” O’Neill said. “It’s all adding extra cost on an already thin margin.”

Power, from the Cougar Country Drive-In, similarly described the forced closure of his restaurant as a wakeup call.

"Suddenly when you don’t have water or the water you do have you’re not sure if it’s safe, it makes you appreciate more what is generally available," he said.


Where Do We Go From Here?

Water infrastructure rarely becomes a community concern until a crisis happens -- which could help explain why America’s water systems are in such dismal shape.

Funding for water infrastructure improvements is a particular concern, said Maura Allaire, a post-doctoral research scientist at the Columbia Water Center. 

Federal spending on water and wastewater utilities has stagnated since the 1980s, according to a paper released last year by the University of North Carolina's Environmental Finance Center. Because funding hasn't even been adjusted for inflation, its real impact has diminished over time. 

Expanding and repairing the nation’s water infrastructure would cost an estimated $1 trillion between now and 2035, according to the AWWA. 

That price tag includes the cost of replacing pipe networks, most of which are at least 50 years old, and updating existing networks to meet the needs of growing populations. It does not including funding new technology that could make systems more efficient, according to a new white paper from the Columbia Water Center.

The need to fix water systems is becoming increasingly dire. An EPA analysis reported an almost 70 percent increase in the need for water infrastructure investment — including pipe replacement and water treatment — between 1995 and 2011.

And the money to do what needs to be done is not there. The ASCE forecasts that the difference between the work that’s needed to be the done and the money available to do it could be $105 billion over the next nine years. That gap could grow to $152 billion by 2040 if it remains unaddressed.

The problem is, quite literally, growing by the day.

This strain on resources means that public water systems across the country — all 156,000 of them — are being forced to make do with what they have. Some have cut corners to save money while still attempting to meet the water quality standards laid out by the EPA and required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We have to look no further than Flint to see that cutting corners can come with a massive public health cost

This leaves a gap that state and local governments attempt to fill, usually by increasing water rates for customers at the local level. Politicians are typically hesitant to raise water rates in their areas -- particularly because the effects are felt “beyond the typical election cycle," Allaire said.

But delaying investment only makes the problems worse. Climate change isn’t helping either.

Soil movement associated with changes in annual rainfall and sea level rise can make water pipes more likely to break, water system company American Water noted in a 2009 paper. Increased agricultural runoff can make for toxic algal blooms that reduces the quality of raw water and increases the cost of water treatment.

All of this means there's less money available to make necessary improvements to water systems that are increasingly in a state of disrepair. 


Finding new sources for funding is the only clear solution to the problem, water safety advocates argue.

“The inability to keep up with the need from allocations from legislatures is now very clear and there’s no sign that the situation is going to change anytime soon,” Dzombak said.

But the crisis in Flint has pushed awareness of water quality into the public consciousness. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month, Americans ranked contaminated drinking water as a national health problem trumped only by cancer and heroin abuse. 

And drinking water safety continues to rise to the top of the news cycle, even if it's no longer dominating it. While visiting Michigan earlier this month, President Barack Obama said “an underinvestment in the things that we all share” was a consequence of a “broader mindset” that has undervalued safe water for the residents of Flint and other communities.

Now comes the question of how that underinvestment can be reversed. And that question remains open -- but urgent.

“There are going to be some tough choices we’re going to have to make in the very near future,” Allaire said.


Alissa Scheller contributed graphics to this piece.

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


Related stories:

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Plenty of Action, Scant Progress at State Capitol

Fri, 2016-05-20 11:39
Inside and outside the Illinois Statehouse this week there was a constant buzz of activity, though it's hard to tell whether all the action was evidence of progress or an exciting distraction from inertia.

The week saw Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four leaders of the General Assembly meet on the state budget for only the second time this year. Following Tuesday's meeting, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, expressed optimism after his Democratic counterpart, House Speaker Michael Madigan, indicated an interest in discussing pension reform, workers' compensation reform and collective bargaining for local governments.

Those are among the elements of Gov. Bruce Rauner's reform agenda that have been at the center of the budget impasse that now is in its 11th month.

But a day after that hint of a thaw in the Great Rauner-Madigan War, Madigan reasserted his devotion to thwarting Rauner's agenda, particularly where it concerns weakening collective bargaining or reducing employee protections in the state's workers' compensation code.

Addressing a large and raucous audience of 8,000 at a union rally that filled the streets outside the Capitol in Springfield, Madigan led a call-and-response chant in which he and his enthusiastic audience rejected Rauner's reform goals one-by-one.

The Senate did pass a bill to define and regulate online daily fantasy sports, which Attorney General Lisa Madigan has ruled constitute illegal gambling. The Senate also passed a bill that would make voter registration in Illinois automatic when Illinoisans obtain drivers licenses or state ID cards.

Action vs. progress is our theme on this week's "Only in Illinois."

NEXT ARTICLE: Can we at least put politics aside for a school funding fix

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Rethinking Criminal Justice

Thu, 2016-05-19 16:48
"For over forty years our criminal justice system has over-relied on punishment, policing, incarceration and detention. This has ushered in an age of mass incarceration. This era is marked by sentencing policies that lead to racially disproportionate incarceration rates and a variety of 'collateral consequences' that have harmed our communities and schools. . . ."

In this time when our self-inflicted troubles seem so obvious but the possibility of change -- that is to say, political transformation, through awareness, compassion and common sense -- feels more illusory than ever, something extraordinary, that is to say real, is on the brink of happening in Chicago.

The above quote isn't just another analysis from the margins, to be uttered and instantly ignored. It's part of a Vision and Action Plan, written by Cook County Juvenile Court Judge Colleen Sheehan, not simply proposing fundamental change in our punishment-based system of justice but describing change that is about to happen and, in fact, is already underway.

I've written a lot over the years about a concept called Restorative Justice, a healing-based, multifaceted approach to dealing with crime -- social harm -- that seeks first of all to repair the damage that has occurred and, profoundly, to restore the wholeness within a community that has been shattered. RJ, as it is known, seeks to create and expand trust between people, not just pass judgment on wrongdoers and shrug as neighborhoods go to hell.

Sheehan, as a Juvenile Court judge, saw firsthand the ineffectiveness of the current system -- the "collateral consequences" of America's prison-industrial complex and the utter vulnerability of the children caught up in the system.

"The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world."

And where has this gotten us? Low-income neighborhoods in America's major cities are being torn apart not just by crime but by "justice" -- by the fact that so many of their kids not only go to jail via the school-to-prison pipeline but wind up caught in a system that never lets them go. When they get a record, they are often consigned to second-class citizenship for the rest of their lives.

And the cost of their incarceration is astronomical -- some $1.4 million a day to warehouse 10,000 inmates in Cook County Jail, according to figures cited in the Vision and Action Plan. And meanwhile, there's no money for schools or social services.

Sheehan decided she couldn't just shrug helplessly at this situation. In collaboration with numerous RJ practitioners in the Chicago area, she began envisioning an alternative: a Restorative Justice Community Court. The idea was presented to Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy Evans, who saw its value -- and with the help of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, a two-year pilot program for a new system of justice will begin in 2017 in Chicago's North Lawndale community, a community already committed to serious social change.

There's still an enormous amount of planning to be done. As Sheehan told me, "The concept is very simple: repair harm from crime. But how you do it is very complex."

Here are the basic logistics, according to the Cook County Circuit Court: "The Community Court will hear nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors committed by adults ages 18 through 26 who reside in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. . . . Defendants will enter the program voluntarily, and those who successfully complete the program may have the opportunity to have their charges dropped and arrest expunged."

Enter the program voluntarily? What kind of court system is that? Perhaps you can see the complexity emerge. Restorative Justice is a system based on trust, honesty and connectedness. It can't simply be imposed from above. Even the alleged offender's presence must be uncoerced because that's the only way RJ will work.

At the center of the RJ process is the peace circle. Everyone in the circle sits in what I call vibrant equality, a part of the whole. A talking piece is passed around. You only speak when you hold the talking piece; everyone gets a chance to speak; most of the time you listen; you wait your turn. When the purpose of the circle is to repair harm, all those affected -- including the victims of the crime, but also members of the community affected by the crime -- have a right to be included, and to speak their minds. Participants strive to reach an agreement about how to repair the damage that has been done.

"As a result," as the Vision and Action Plan states, "peace circles and restorative conferencing can help address the underlying causes of violence. Throughout the process, victims and offenders will be supported by RJ Court staff. Community service is one example of an activity the offender can participate in to better understand the impact of the offense, give back to the community, and repair the harm she, he, or they created.

"Now is time for innovation in our approach to punishment and the moment is right for a philosophical shift in the way we think about what is truly just in the justice system."

The current system acknowledges only the state's interest when a crime occurs, and that "interest" is a sheer, bureaucratic abstraction, a predetermined doling out of tit for tat. However, a community's interest is real and vital. In an impoverished neighborhood like North Lawndale, that interest is survival itself. The point of the Restorative Justice Community Court is to re-empower the community, to help it address the causes of its crime and rebuild itself.

As Cliff Nellis, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center and one of the new court's co-planners, told me, "This court needs a community, a home." Only in a state of collaboration with the community can the court hope to achieve its goal of healing and repair.

"There's a huge divide between the community and the justice system," Nellis said, noting how badly that relationship has been damaged over the years. "This is an opportunity for the system to make up for previous errors, to become worthy of the community's respect and trust."

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at


-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

House GOP Is Determined To Make It Harder For Poor Kids To Get Free School Lunches

Wed, 2016-05-18 17:23

House Republicans appear determined to advance an aggressive rollback of a program credited with helping low-income children get free school lunches.

The Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday advanced a child nutrition reauthorization bill introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana) to the House floor. The committee approved the legislation along party lines, 20-14, with Rep. Dave Brad (R-Virginia) the only Republican to join Democrats opposing it.

The legislation, called the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, has been widely panned by nutrition and hunger groups, which say it would reverse 2010 improvements to the national school lunch program. A letter opposing the bill released this week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest was signed by more than 750 local, state and national groups.

Criticisms have centered on proposed changes to the community eligibility provision, which currently allows high-poverty school districts, with 40 percent or more of their student population from families receiving government assistance like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to offer free meals to all of their students.

The community eligibility provision, which began in the 2011-12 school year and expanded nationwide in 2014, has been considered a success. A U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluation of its first two years found that the program increased participation in the national school lunch program by 5.2 percent and in the school breakfast program by 9.4 percent.

The provision appears to be gaining popularity among school districts, too. According to a report co-authored by the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the anti-hunger advocacy group Food and Research Action Center, more than 18,000 schools in 3,000 districts participated in the community eligibility provision last year.

But that progress is at risk. Rokita’s legislation would raise the qualifications for school districts to participate in the community eligibility provision, requiring them to have at least 60 percent of students whose families receive government assistance. 

The changes to the community eligibility provision, if they become law, would mean that nearly 3.4 million students at more than 7,000 schools would need to return to the previous application process in order to receive free meals at school, according to a separate analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That process, advocates argue, causes many low-income children to miss out on meals, due to problems like communication and resistance to being stigmatized by peers.

Sara Gasiorowski, child nutrition director at the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, has seen how the community eligibility provision has affected her district’s students firsthand.

Since the district began the program at 11 of its 17 school sites, participation in the free lunch program has increased 6 percent, Gasiorowski said. If the GOP legislation becomes law, only four of the district’s schools would remain eligible, she said. Gasiorowski, whose school district lies just outside of Rokita’s congressional district, said that change would make a “huge impact” for the students and families.

“It’s hard to take something away once you’ve given that to people and your families have come to rely on that service,” Gasiorowski said. “I think it’s a terrible disservice to our families.”

Rokita, for his part, doesn’t see the problem.

In an op-ed provided to HuffPost ahead of Wednesday’s markup on his legislation, Rokita asserted that his proposal “in no way alters the eligibility requirements for students who receive free or reduced priced lunches.” He went on to describe the existing rules for the community eligibility provision as “perverse” and said savings would be used to increase reimbursement for the national breakfast program.

“Ensuring that students in actual need have these strong protections in place is how we the people should judge our success, not by how much paperwork an administrator has to do or how much money a school can make off of the entire school population,” Rokita wrote.

Robert Campbell, director of nutrition assistance and budget policy at hunger nonprofit Feeding America, pointed out that an identified student population of 40 percent or 60 percent from families receiving assistance doesn’t accurately count students who need free lunches.

A multiplier of 1.6 is applied to a district’s identified student population to arrive at a better estimate. That means more students would be affected by the change than a straightforward percentage might suggest.

“We want to make sure that any reauthorization that moves forward sticks to the principle of first doing no harm,” Campbell told HuffPost.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, also opposes the bill. Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director of the group's food and environment program, said the community eligibility provision was of deep concern.

“We know that children’s health is dependent on a healthy diet and that starts at school,” Perry Stillerman said. “School lunch programs and food programs are part of that equation of increasing kids’ access to healthy foods. What’s important to us is keeping the kids who are already in these programs in these programs.”

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act expired in September, but its reforms to the national school lunch program continue until Congress reauthorizes it -- which it is not required to do.

In January, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced a child nutrition reauthorization bill in a unanimous, bipartisan vote. The Senate version of the bill did not contain a change to the community eligibility provision.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Ben Rhodes and the 'Echo Chamber' of Facts On Iran

Wed, 2016-05-18 16:44
David Samuels in his May 5 New York Times Magazine article, paints a picture of the scene leading up to the successful implementation of the landmark agreement with Iran to end its quest for a nuclear weapon that left me shaking my head in wonder. I lived that period in an intimate way as one of the chief "whips" in the House encouraging my Democratic colleagues to vote for it. I found Samuels' storyline that portrays Ben Rhodes, the President's Deputy National Security Advisor, as the Manipulator in Chief to be a work of fiction and extremely condescending to members of Congress and all others who supported it.

In July of last year, anticipating a vote after the August recess, there were near daily meetings in Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's office to plan the campaign to approve the deal. The team that gathered was led by members who had lobbied our colleagues for a NO vote on the Iraq War plus about a dozen newer members.

Leader Pelosi, a brilliant strategist who didn't need Ben Rhodes or anyone else to tell her what to do or say, had a simple plan: provide members with all the information that they wanted and needed to make a fact-based decision that they felt comfortable enough to take to their constituents. "The only question I asked when calling people was 'do you have the information you need'." To that end, we made sure that they had access to the individuals most informed about the intricacies of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.

Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz, a nuclear scientist and one of the negotiators made himself available to groups and individual members. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama spoke to our caucus and called members who wanted to discuss particulars. Hillary Clinton gave us background on the multi-year build-up to the agreement which she had led. One of the most compelling briefings came from the Ambassadors of the P5+1 countries, our European allies plus Russia and China who all said unequivocally that, if the United States walked away from the deal, it would be dead. They were adamant in saying there was not a better deal to be had, and that Iran had no intention, nor did they, of returning to the negotiating table if Congress voted to disapprove it and ultimately killed it.

Ben Rhodes played an important role as well, answering sophisticated questions from skeptical House members in the White House situation room -- detailed questions about types of centrifuges, duration of each part of the agreement, facilities at Parchin and Arak, "snap-back" provisions for reinstating sanctions of Iran cheated, and every aspect of the inspection regime. Some were satisfied and a few were not, but Rhodes was always respectful and informative. The tough questioning actually helped shape the plan for the better, we were told. Republicans meanwhile were just saying "No."

And yes, members listened to experts -- prestigious individuals who Samuels suggests were all Rhodes recruits, "used" to tell a "story" to "actively mislead" the public about the Iran deal. Apparently this included Israeli security, intelligence and military officials, scientists and nuclear arms experts including Nobel Prize winners and one of the inventors of the H-bomb, hundreds of Rabbis and other faith community leaders, bi-partisan members of the U.S. military, security and intelligence establishment, former U.S. Ambassadors to many countries including Israel, and diplomats from around the world -- all of whom explained why they supported the agreement.

August 2015, the period when members are home in their districts, was anticipated to be dominated by the well-funded, well-organized opponents of the Iran deal. Tens of millions of dollars were, in fact, spent on highly negative ads. Scores of face-to-face meetings with constituents adamantly opposed to the deal, were held.

But at the end of the day when members returned from their recess, 162 out of 188 Democrats voted to support the JCPOA, and 151 wrote thoughtful public statements giving their reasons for doing so.

So what happened? For one, members read and studied the entire agreement. Secondly, they heard from tens of thousands of constituents who supported the deal and saw the polls indicating the wide support from the American people who wanted to give peace a chance.

Samuels spun quite a tale, and his narrative reflected his own, but never revealed in the article, history of outspoken opposition to the Iran deal. Samuels is quoted by Eric Lewis in his May 10 article in the New York Magazine as saying the Iran deal would lead to "the greatest surge in nuclear proliferation that we've seen since the Second World War." His bias showed through enough to ignite House and Senate Republicans to demand the appearance of Rhodes at a hearing and even call for his dismissal.

Samuels accuses the Obama Administration with using the Iran deal to "effectively begin the process of a large-scale disengagement from the Middle East." What the American people saw was the truth of the message that Ben Rhodes and an entire community of experts articulated, a "choice between peace and war" and an opportunity to "disengage" from the real possibility of yet another in the region, this time, nuclear war.

Ben Rhodes acknowledges that he did "create an echo chamber," but far from the fiction Samuels crafted, it was an echo chamber of facts.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

This Big Law Firm Just Stepped Into The 21st Century

Wed, 2016-05-18 16:37

The Chicago-based international law firm Winston & Strawn LLP announced Wednesday that it is creating a gender-neutral parental leave policy, as well as a broader policy intended to help lawyers with the often hectic process of taking parental leave and then returning to work.

The policy includes 20 weeks of paid parental leave for associates and of counsel attorneys. It applies to parents of any gender and in any country, and the leave time can be taken in either one or two separate chunks within the first year of a child's life. Parents also aren't required to designate a "primary caregiver."

This is a pretty big deal in the legal industry, even if it falls somewhat short of the policies offered in other professions, according to Vivia Chen, a senior columnist at The American Lawyer. "Law firms are a bit behind other industries, especially the financial and other professional service industries, when it comes to more innovative family measures," she said. 

Many tech firms, including Netflix, Facebook and Spotify, have introduced generous gender-neutral parental leave policies in recent months. Just a few weeks ago, the consulting firm EY announced a 16-week paid leave policy that will start in July. But Winston & Strawn is the first law firm to have a policy this expansive -- or at least the first to announce it publicly.

Getting women back to work after having kids -- and allowing men to take time off as well -- is a way for firms to help women ascend the career ladder. Currently, only 18 percent of equity partners in American law firms are women, even though women account for 47 percent of the country's J.D. degrees.

In addition to the 20 weeks of leave, the firm is also creating a few different ways to ease the transitions of taking leave and returning to work. There will be a "parental leave liaison" to assist people coming back to work, as well as career coaching services and lower billable-hour requirements for people who are just about to take leave or are just coming back to the firm.

"Traditionally for women, if you take a long leave, easing back in can be difficult. You might have hesitation about going back," Chen told The Huffington Post. Having someone act as a sort of coach, encouraging people to come back from leave, just might be the nudge new parents need to get back into the swing of things after having a baby. 

To be clear, Winston & Strawn isn't acting altruistically here: The firm's move is intended to attract and retain high-level attorneys. Practice attorneys, who are low-level attorneys usually brought on for specific projects and who are outside the traditional partner-track framework of the firm, won't get the same 20-week benefit. Neither will the firm's other staff members, such as paralegals and office assistants.

However, it's relatively common for benefits in big law firms to be stratified, according to Chen. Winston & Strawn says its U.S. employees in lower positions will get increased paid leave time and an extra two weeks of paid time off.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

12 Key Issues to Watch as Illinois General Assembly's Spring Session Nears End

Wed, 2016-05-18 12:31
With the Illinois General Assembly's spring session nearing its traditional May 31 end, this is a good time for a check on what happened, what didn't and what still might happen on issues that made headlines this year.

BUDGET File this one under both the "what didn't happen" and "what still might happen" categories. It's old news now that Illinois has had no state budget since July 1, 2015, and that automatic and court-ordered spending has put the state on pace to end FY 2016 with a debt of $10 billion. That's because we're still spending as if our income tax rate is 25 percent higher than it actually is.

As FY 2017 approaches, groups of rank-and-file lawmakers have tried to make progress on a budget that covers FY 2017 while the General Assembly has passed stopgap bills to prevent disaster for public universities and human services providers, who had received no state money for most of FY 2016. Though details of a possible budget deal from a working group of lawmakers surfaced last week, Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan remain deadlocked.

At a meeting Tuesday, some tentative progress was made, with Madigan saying he would appoint members to a new non-budget-issues working group the governor requested. The translation here seems to be that Madigan told Rauner and other leaders he was open to changes on workers' compensation, a property tax freeze and pension reform, as evidenced by the tweet below from the Chicago Tribune's Monique Garcia:

Republicans emerge from leaders meeting, say Speaker Madigan agreed to negotiate on property tax freeze, pension reform and workers comp.

— Monique Garcia (@moniquegarcia) May 17, 2016

Stay tuned. Until budget bills with the blessings of Rauner and Madigan appear, don't expect progress.

CHICAGO CASINO At an event in Wheeling Monday, Rauner continued to hold out hope for what he's calling a "grand bargain" or "grand compromise" and said he was open to signing legislation for a Chicago casino. Of course, gambling surfaces seemingly at the end of every session, but video gambling has been the only addition in many decades.

SCHOOL FUNDING The Illinois Senate on May 10 passed SB 231, a major overhaul of the way Illinois distributes state education funding. The bill is intended to funnel more state resources to school districts that can't raise sufficient funds through local property taxes. It's met resistance from lawmakers who represent districts that would lose state funding and from many Republicans who label it a bailout of Chicago Public Schools because it would send $175 million more to Chicago.

Its fate is uncertain in the House, where Madigan has convened his own task force on school funding reform.

Gov. Bruce Rauner says he wants school funding reform in which no districts lose money and he wants the General Assembly to send him an education budget based on the existing formula, as happened last year. But Senate Democrats could make their reform bill this year their do-or-die bargaining chip on the state budget.

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING An emergency stopgap funding bill on April 22 sent $600 million to public universities, community colleges and students who had been promised financial aid that never had been delivered. The emergency funding represented a 70 percent cut from FY 2015, when higher education received $1.95 billion. Rauner's budget proposal for FY 2017 calls for $1.75 billion.

How much, if any, of the missing funding from FY 2016 will be restored is one of the many questions surrounding budget talks.

SOCIAL SERVICES FUNDING Like higher education, social service providers received no state funding for most of FY 2016 even though they held contracts with the state for millions of dollars in work. The House and Senate on May 12 passed a bill to provide $700 million in emergency funding, but Rauner appears unlikely to sign it. He has said he wants a full budget rather than further stopgaps.

Meanwhile, a group of providers has filed suit against the state seeking $100 million in payments.

TAXES Though Rauner and Madigan consistently have said new tax revenue must be part of a budget solution, neither has advanced a plan to change the current income tax structure. In a City Club of Chicago speech in December, Madigan cryptically referred to a 5 percent personal income tax rate (the rate that was in effect from 2011-2015) as a possible starting point in budget talks: "You start there, you can go in whatever direction you want to go."

Rauner often says he'll work with Democrats on tax increases if they'll pass his reforms, but he hasn't tipped his hand on what the increases might be.

A plan sent to Rauner and the four legislative leaders last week suggested a 4.85 percent personal income tax rate. It also proposed applying the state sales tax to services (it now applies only to goods) and various other tax changes. As noted above, that plan means nothing until Rauner and Madigan sign off on it, which they have not done.

A House effort to pass a constitutional amendment to allow a progressive income tax with higher rates for higher incomes was not called for a vote and is not eligible for the ballot again until 2018.

Here are the other six key issues to watch as the General Assembly's spring legislative session winds down.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Lessons From a Vexillonaire: Creativity, Simplicity, and the Carefully Constrained Life

Wed, 2016-05-18 09:49
The flag of Chicago is widely regarded as one of the best city flags in the United States, perhaps in the world. It is certainly one of the most popular. You'll find the flag of Chicago printed on t-shirts and mugs, tattooed on local musicians, and flying along streets, over rivers, and above doors throughout the city.

The flag has three white bars and two blue stripes. The white areas represent the three main sides of the city: North, West, and South. The blue stripes stand for the north and south branches of the Chicago River flowing into Lake Michigan. In the center of the flag, there are four red stars symbolizing historical events in the city like the Great Chicago Fire.

Vexillology is the scientific study of flags. The flag of Chicago received stellar 9.03 out of 10 rating from the North American Vexillological Association and was ranked 2nd out of 150 city flags by flag experts known as vexillologists. (1: Go and brush your shoulders off, Chicagoans.)

Let's talk about why good flag design can teach us an important lesson about life.

The American flag and the flag of Chicago fly in front of a building in downtown Chicago.

How to Design a Beautiful Flag

"A 3×5 foot flag on a pole 100 feet away looks about the same size as a 1×1.5 inch rectangle seen about 15 inches from your eye. Try drawing your flag on a rectangle that is 1×1.5 inches. You'll be surprised at how compelling and simple the design can be when you hold yourself to that limitation."
-Ted Kaye, vexillonaire (2: A vexillonaire is a particularly passionate breed of vexillologist who actively goes out into the world and lobbies for better flag design. Go get 'em, vexies.)

If you wanted to design the best flag possible, then you would want to think creatively. Your first thought might be give yourself as many possibilities as possible. "Give me a blank slate. I want tons of colors and a huge poster board to design this on. I want space to be creative and let my imagination run wild."

What you actually need, however, is a 1×1.5 inch piece of paper. Placing this simple constraint on yourself actually makes your design better.

You see, flag designs that often look good on paper fail in the real world. A design that looks good in the pages of a report is often confusing and unrecognizable when it is flapping in the breeze 100 feet away.

What makes the flag of Chicago so compelling is its simplicity. If you were to draw the flag of Chicago on a 1×1.5 inch piece of paper, it would still look like a good design. The same principle can be applied to our everyday lives. We often assume that we need more resources when a carefully constructed constraint would deliver better results.

The Carefully Constrained Life

The power of well-chosen limitations extends far beyond flag design. Imposing simple constraints in our own lives can lead to well-designed and more effective lives as well.

Here are a few examples from my own experience:

As an entrepreneur, I saved up $10,000 before I started my first business. This money was my constraint. I had to learn how to create products, market my business, and live off of that money until I became profitable. This constraint forced me to start an online business, reduce overhead, and--after a few years of other projects--build this website.

As a traveler, I pack ultralight and often travel for 2 weeks with just a 19-liter backpack. This tiny bag is my constraint. It still amazes me how little I actually need when I'm on the road. Furthermore, my small backpack required me to find the most useful and effective items for my needs. It didn't just make my travel lighter, it made my travel better.

As a writer, I set a publishing schedule and this deadline is my constraint. Has it always gone smoothly? No way. Sometimes I don't feel like showing up, but I still do. And because I have religiously kept this publishing schedule, I have some very popular articles to show for it. Genius only reveals itself when you show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way.

We usually assume that constraints are the things that hold us back from what we want, but well-placed limitations can make us better, not worse. (3: Thanks to Roman Mars and the rest of the 99 Percent Invisible staff for their episode on vexillonaires, which led to the idea for this article.)

James Clear writes at, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter

This article was originally published on

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

A Transportation Infrastructure Plan for the 21st Century

Wed, 2016-05-18 09:08
For generations, this country's transportation infrastructure served as the backbone of our economic success. We dreamed big, we built bigger, and our economy flourished. But today, our crumbling infrastructure is slowing economic growth, and without serious long-term investments, we simply will not be able to compete in today's global economy.

Over the past 50 years, as a share of our economy, our investment in transportation has shrunk by half. China is outspending us four to one and Europe two to one on transportation infrastructure. We have over 100,000 bridges in this country old enough to qualify for Medicare. According to the latest USDOT rankings, 73 percent of Illinois' roads are in poor or mediocre condition. In Chicago, we have a century-old transit system that desperately needs updates to keep up with increased capacity. A recent report found that the current backlog in needed road, highway and bridge improvements nationwide is $740 billion. The need for investment could not be more obvious.

For too long, Congress funded transportation infrastructure through stop-gap funding measures that prevented states and localities from being able to plan for the future. Over the last six years, Congress passed 35 stop-gap funding bills to extend transportation funding. However, most transportation projects are not built in just one year. These are complex, multi-year projects. When states are working to plan and build these projects, they need the certainty of knowing that they have multi-year funding in place to do multi-year projects.

Thankfully in December of last year, Congress passed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, or the FAST Act - the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for transportation infrastructure planning and investment. The FAST Act authorized $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for roads, bridges, public transit, rail and much more. For Illinois, this means $7.5 billion in guaranteed funding for roads and $2.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years; $199 million in support for commuter rail agencies, such as Metra, to install and test Positive Train Control safety technology; and possibly $750 million to $1 billion in work in and around Union Station through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program. In short, this bill provides states, localities, and businesses with the funding certainty they need to plan ahead and make long-term transportation investments.

While the FAST Act is a significant bipartisan accomplishment that provides much-needed funding certainty, this modest increase in funding is hardly the bold, forward-thinking plan our country needs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create a 21st-century transportation system. What America really needs is a long-term bill that makes significant investments in our transportation infrastructure and reforms the highway trust fund to ensure it remains solvent for years to come. This will require bold ideas and a bipartisan effort.

As President Reagan said, rebuilding our infrastructure is "an investment in tomorrow we must make today." I became an appropriator to help bring much-needed funding back to my city and my state, set our country's funding priorities and help plan for the future. This Infrastructure Week, it's time for Congress to go big and plan for the long-term projects that will modernize our infrastructure, spur economic growth and create jobs.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Chicago Cop Who Killed Rekia Boyd Quits, Preserving His Cushy Retirement

Tue, 2016-05-17 19:30

A Chicago police detective who in 2012 fatally shot Rekia Boyd, an unarmed black woman, resigned on Tuesday, two days before a police board hearing where he faced the possibility of being fired.

Dante Servin's resignation means the department, per standard procedure, drops all disciplinary charges against him, preserving his ability to collect his pension and other retirement benefits that he would have lost if he were fired. 

The unceremonious end to Servin's police career caps his killing of a civilian in a case that has already seen a $4.5 million legal settlement, the first recent criminal charges in an off-duty officer's killing of a civilian and his acquittal in court. That he'll be allowed to keep the pension on his $97,044 annual salary was the least of the Boyd's family's concerns, said Rekia Boyd's brother, Martinez Sutton.

"Why are we even fighting? He should be in a cell, like every other criminal serving his time," Sutton said. "Even if I’m fighting to get this guy fired, he’s free to go about his life. He’s free to get another job."

Servin fired shots from his car into a group of Boyd's friends as they stood with their backs to him in a park on the city's West Side in March 2012. Servin, while off duty, had argued with the group over noise before firing over his shoulder, striking Boyd, 22, in the back of the head, authorities said.

Servin said he thought one of Boyd's friends had a gun, so he opened fire in fear for his life. Boyd's friend, whom Servin shot in the hand, was actually holding a cell phone. 

Boyd’s family was awarded $4.5 million in a wrongful death suit against the city -- years before Servin was arrested. Nearly two years after Boyd's death, Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, making him the first officer in more than 15 years to face criminal charges in a fatal shooting.

A judge acquitted Servin in his 2015 trial before the defense had even presented any evidence, ruling that Servin had acted intentionally and not recklessly, so there was no way prosecutors could prove involuntary manslaughter. 

“Everybody knew it wasn’t going to go through," Sutton said of Servin's police board hearing this week. "It’s like making a movie: You know that movie is being made. You know how the ending will go. You just don’t know the release date." 

Sutton, his family and activists had pushed for Servin to be fired since his stunning acquittal. But Servin remained on the force, drawing his regular salary. 

In late December, then-police Superintendent Garry McCarthy moved for Servin to be fired. Servin told the Chicago Tribune the chief was on a politically motivated "witch hunt" because of heightened scrutiny of the department since the police-involved shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. 

McCarthy was later fired. Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez, who made the bizarre decision to charge Servin with involuntary manslaughter rather than murder, was defeated in her bid for re-election -- a major victory for Chicago activists and those affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“For this campaign, we wanted to make sure people walked into the voting booths with Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd in their hearts,” activist Kelly Hayes said in March, after Alvarez conceded the race. 

Despite new leadership and pledges of reform by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Police Accountability Task Force, Sutton said he's skeptical.

“How many broken promises has Chicago made?" Sutton said. “If we keep on falling on these broken promises, someone is gonna get hurt."

Still, Sutton said he's heartened that so many people have joined the push for justice. He called it "mind-blowing" that people know the name Rekia Boyd now.

"You have all these folks coming together from all over the country -- and not just this country -- but overseas. It’s powerful," Sutton said. "It gives you hope again. It gives you hope in a sense because you know folks actually do care."

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

9 Things to Do in Chicago for Free

Tue, 2016-05-17 15:15
You don't need money to have a good time in the windy city. If you love to explore on foot and you do you research, you'll find plenty of options for experiencing Chicago without spending a single dime. Here are ten fun things to do in Chicago for absolutely free!

Catch a Sunrise over the Chicago Skyline

Courtesy flippydave

Watching a beautiful sunrise is always worth waking up early for, and a great way to start a visit to a city with a stunning skyline. There is no shortage of great spots to view the sun's golden rays lighting up the world famous architecture of Chicago. If waking up early on vacation is not an option, catch a sunset instead and watch as the city's building stand in silhouettes in front of a blazing orange sky.

Take a tour

Start your visit at the Chicago Cultural Centre, a spectacular neo-classical granite and limestone building. Situated in the heart of the downtown the centre is the go-to place for all the information you'll need to plan your stay. Make sure to take advantage of the free customized walking tours. When booked at least seven days in advance, a Chicago resident will design and lead a free customized tour based on areas of interest that you specify.

Admire the architecture

Chicago's famed architecture makes it one of the most beautiful cities in the world. If a detailed itinerary is a not a necessity when you're on vacation, then ditch those tourism brochures and just take a walk around the city. Chicago proudly boasts some of the best architecture on the continent. If you're not already downtown, hop on any of the eight train lines and head to the loop. Here you'll come across astounding work of world-renowned architects including the famous Chicago theatre, the Michigan avenue bridge, the magnificent Wrigley building, Marshal Field's famous clock and the rustic Gothic inspired Tribune Tower.

Need a bit of guidance? Flip open the pamphlets you picked up at the Chicago Cultural Centre and follow one of the many self-guided walking tour routes to discover downtown Chicago at your own pace.

Admire Public Art

With over 700 works of public art sprinkled across the city, anyone could spend days exploring and still not see it all. Some of the famous public art installations can be seen at various public parks including the Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park, the interactive structures at the Children's Garden, some historic pieces at Hyde Park, and animal themed sculptures at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The most famous of them all is a 50-foot-tall sculpture created by none other than the legendary Pablo Picasso.

Relax in Millennium Park

If you need a little break from the hustle and bustle of the city, head over to Millennium Park. One of the most popular destinations in the city, the park is home to an array of public art, architecture and greenery. Take pictures in front of Cloud Gate, also known as "the bean" because it resembles a shiny silver kidney bean. Splash around in the Crown Fountain, a giant video screen that displays images of Chicagoans and spews water. Enjoy a show (or just your lunch) at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by world renowned post-modern architect, Frank Gehry. Or take a stroll through the Lurie Gardens where you can admire the flora and relax by a man-made stream.

Enjoy a street festival

When you're ready to get back into action, immerse yourself in one of the many street festivals that happen throughout the city all year long. Indulge in delicious food at the Taste of Chicago festival, enjoy rhythm and the blues at the Jazz Festival or test your skill at a new sport at the Chicago Sports Fest.

Go back in time

Take a walking tour through Chicago's historic Old Town neighbourhood and admire the city's Victorian-era buildings. Marvel at the unique architecture of West Burton place, built using materials from nearby demolished building. Visit St. Michael's Church, which features stained glass windows that were imported from Munich and one of only seven churches that survived the Great Chicago Fire. Or spend an afternoon at the Chicago History museum where admission is free every Monday.

Hit the Beach

When you're tired of walking around, head down to the Oak Street Beach. Just one of 26 beaches in Chicago, the Oak Street Beach is popular due to its close proximity to the city centre and its dramatic views of Chicago downtown. On any given day the beach is a popular place to skate, cycle, play volleyball or just sunbathe.

Visit a Museum

If you're a fan of art and culture, be sure to visit a museum in Chicago. On Tuesdays both the Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA) and the Museum of contemporary Art swing open their doors to the public for free visits. Take a spiritual journey as you experience art inspired by major world faiths at LUMA. Or take a step into the 20th century as you admire at the unique creations by modern and post-modern artist. If you're in the city on Thursday, take advantage of the free admission at the Art Institute of Chicago where the collection ranges from pieces by modern photographers to ancient artefacts to work by local artists.

Enjoy the windy waterfront at the Navy Pier

Said to be the most popular tourist attraction in the state of Illinois, the Navy Pier is a place where people of all ages gather to have fun. Discover why Chicago is known as the windy city as you take in the breezy waterfront. Admire the unique creations at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and watch the mystical magic fountains at the Crystal Gardens. If you wish, for just a few dollars you can take a sky high ride on the gigantic Ferris Wheel. Or you can just sit back and relax on the docks and watch the sun dip into the horizon over Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

School Funding Could Be New 'Hostage' in Budget Standoff

Mon, 2016-05-16 10:49

For nearly a year, Democrats have accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of holding the state budget hostage and demanding his Turnaround Agenda as ransom.

As the Illinois budget standoff of FY 2016 threatens to become the Illinois budget standoff of FY 2017, it's been Rauner who is accusing Democrats of hostage-taking.

The kidnap victim this time is K-12 education funding, and the big question at the moment is whether Senate Democrats will make school funding reform in FY '17 what the Turnaround Agenda was to Rauner in FY '16.

It all sounds confusing, but it's not that complicated.

State funding for K-12 education is distributed in July to school districts throughout the state. It's important to school districts that the money arrive on time because most can't open for the fall semester if they don't have it.

Last June, Rauner vetoed every budget bill sent to him by Democrats in the Legislature except one. He signed the bill authorizing elementary and secondary school funding. That meant that schools statewide could open on time.

Had Rauner vetoed that school budget, he and lawmakers of both parties would have faced severe backlash from angry parents when schools didn't open on time. As it was though, the school budget and a court decision that allowed state employees to be paid without a budget allowed state government to function fairly normally even as state spending went on out of control.

Absent widespread public protest, Rauner and the Democrats could allow the budget standoff to continue indefinitely, with Rauner saying he wouldn't come to bargaining table until Democrats passed his reforms and Democrats insisting that negotiation on reforms was not part of the budget process. Large-scale protests over hardships to state universities and social service providers didn't come until early this year.

Here's the catch this year: The system by which state education funding is shared among local school districts is seen unanimously as unfair. It's a problem that has festered for years in Springfield.

School districts located in communities with high property values can devote generous resources to funding their school districts. What they don't get in state funding, they make up themselves in property taxes. These taxes often are very high, but residents get excellent schools in return.

School districts in low-income communities, however, rely far more heavily on state funding. They simply don't have the property tax resources to tap. The result is the state provides most of their operating budgets and per-student spending in these districts is a fraction of that of high-income school districts. That's why it's so often said that the quality of a child's education in Illinois depends more than anything on his or her zip code.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, for three years has been working on a formula that more fairly shares state dollars. The Senate this week passed a bill based on his formula. But some wealthier school districts eventually (following a four-year phase-in) will lose a portion of their state funding under Manar's plan, and Chicago Public Schools will see an initial increase of $175 million in state money.

Some Republicans have called this a bailout of Chicago schools at the expense of suburban schools. Even some Democrats from suburban districts have complained that their constituents will have to shoulder even higher property taxes to make up for state funds they lose.

Rauner has said he wants a change in the funding formula that does not take money away from any school district. He want the General Assembly to do as it did last year: Send him a K-12 funding bill using the current formula. He's been barnstorming the state to visit schools and urge Democrats to not "hold students hostage" to force adoption of a reformed funding system.

Of course, it can be argued that Rauner himself took college students hostage for nearly all of the current fiscal year when he vetoed the entire higher education budget, including money for financial aid through the Monetary Award Program.

So as the May 31 budget deadline approaches, the big question is whether Democrats will send Rauner the "clean" bill he wants or use a school funding reform plan as leverage in budget talks.

That's what we're talking about on this week's "Only in Illinois."

You can also listen to the podcast here or through iTunes:

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois state workers are highest paid in the nation, says new Illinois Policy Institute report

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Are You Ready to Buy a Franchise? 8 Tips to Consider

Fri, 2016-05-13 10:43

If you own a business, you might think that expanding it with a franchise means surrendering your position as the boss. For several years, I operated my own successful water and fire damage restoration company in Chicago, but I knew that I was ready to move to the next level.

After careful research and planning, I partnered with a national franchise that demonstrated a proven track record. The business model has its challenges, but it's also been very rewarding for me and my growing family of employees.

Because my experiences have been positive, I'd like to share what I've learned over the years. If you're thinking about buying a business franchise, I offer these eight points for your consideration.

1. Research Your Options

As an independent, you handle the trial and error process of doing business by yourself every day. Think about how much you invest in self-reliance, and balance that against the potential to expand your success.

You never make a big decision without diligent research, so explore the options within your industry. I found that buying a franchise made my business part of a larger business that offers national brand recognition and an established customer base.

2. Know What to Look For

Franchise agreements vary from one industry to another, but they all outline company requirements and levels of support. Compare the details in different agreements, and weigh them against your expectations.

Once you narrow your options to two or three companies, look for a solid reputation, robust financial growth and a partner-friendly franchise agreement. The research takes time, but it's an investment in your future.

3. Know What to Look Out For

You can learn a lot about a franchise before visiting its website. There are a number of franchisee associations that network online and provide candid snapshots of organizations with questionable reputations.

The FTC requires that franchise businesses make a Franchise Disclosure Document available to prospective buyers. Visit a company's site, and download its FDD to learn about turnover and failure rate details.

4. Plan for a Financial Transition

While the idea of buying into a franchise seems expensive, it can cost less than financing a new business on your own. My company was already established, but I considered my franchise license as an investment, and it paid off well enough that I recently purchased a second license.

You also pay franchise royalties, but you receive a lot of support in return. Don't expect to make money the first week. Instead, work out financial plans that let you transition smoothly to your new business model.

5. Expect Plenty of Support

A successful franchise maintains its strong market position by making sure that you have the training and tools you need to deliver the best products or services. This support helps my cleaning and disaster restoration company stay up to date with the latest industry certification, techniques and equipment.

You should also expect a strong franchise network that provides cutting edge marketing and financial strategies through conferences and workshops. This kind of collaboration builds professional relationships, generates leads and increases your customer base.

6. Be Prepare to Meet Standards

I work closely with my business development manager to make sure that my operations meet franchise standards. I understand my responsibilities to deliver my best and maintain the company's reputation.

While there are a few restrictions on how and where I do business, they never compromise the professional commitments I have to my customers or the quality of my work. Most potential franchisees are surprised at the freedom that comes with a buy-in.

7. Know That You're the Boss

When you become part of a franchise, you're expected to uphold company standards and meet financial obligations, but you're still the boss. Hiring and firing are up to you, and you make all the day-to-day decisions.

As an independent operator, you do everything by yourself. You have to keep up with the latest industry trends while you handle marketing, juggle finances and expand business. As a franchisee, you do everything with the backup of a partner organization that wants you to succeed.

8. Be Ready for the Challenges

Because ServiceMaster is a nationally recognized brand, its big name implies that I make hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Sometimes, new customers think that I own the company. They're surprised to learn that I run a small, family-owned and operated business with my two franchise licenses.

When you operate a franchise, you go through the same hard times and face the same problems that affect independents. However, you're generating your own revenue and building your own success with a backup system that's there for as long as you're in business.

Solid Support Makes the Difference

Running a company isn't easy, but you can go further and achieve more when you have solid support. The level of security that comes from buying a franchise can make a big difference in your future.

I operate ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba for myself and my teams, but we're not by ourselves. Even my employees think of our franchise as an extension of our professional family. That tells me that this business model is working very well for my company, and I look forward to moving up to the next level of success.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.