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Tina Fey And Rachel Dratch Prove Everything Is Connected In '90s Second City Video

Thu, 2015-04-30 10:42
If you don't think blenders have anything to do with the Spanish Inquisition, you've got it all wrong.

In the spirit of #ThrowbackThursday, here's a recently released video from The Second City archive, featuring then-future "SNL" stars Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey, plus Scott Adsit from "30 Rock." The 11-minute improvised scene performed in 1996 as part of the show "Citizen Gates" is worth watching all the way through, because somehow they connect blenders to the Spanish Inquisition by way of Spaghetti O's, pizza bagels, tooth stains, heroin and The Rolling Stones.

The scene also features Second City's Scott Allman, Kevin Dorff and Jenna Jolovitz. You can find more vintage clips like this on the theater's YouTube channel.

H/T Splitsider

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Can Smart Cities Stop Hackers?

Thu, 2015-04-30 06:02
A monster storm is on a collision course with New York City and an evacuation is under way. The streets are clogged, and then it happens. Every traffic light turns red. Within minutes, the world's largest polished diamond, the Cullinan I, on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the collection of the British Crown Jewels, is whisked away by helicopter.

While this may sound like the elevator pitch for an action film, the possibility of such a scenario is more fact than fiction these days.

Cesar Cerrudo is the chief technology officer at IOActive Labs, a global security firm that assesses hardware, software and wetware (that is, the human factor) for enterprises and municipalities. A year ago, Cerrudo made waves when he demonstrated how 200,000 traffic sensors located in major cities around the United States -- including New York, Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco -- as well as in the UK, France and Australia, could be disabled or reprogrammed because the Sensys Networks sensors system that regulated them was not secure. According to ThreatPost, these sensors "accepted software modifications without double-checking the code's integrity." Translation: there was a vulnerability that made it possible for hackers to reprogram traffic lights and snarl traffic.

A widely reported discovery, first discussed last year at a black hat hacker convention in Amsterdam, highlighted a more alarming scenario than the attack of the zombie traffic lights. Researchers Javier Vazquez Vidal and Alberto Garcia Illera found that it was possible, through a simple reverse engineering approach to smart meters, for a hacker to order a citywide blackout.

The vast array of attacks made possible by the introduction of smart systems are many. With every innovation, a city's attackable surface grows. The boon of smart systems brings with it the need for responsibility. It is critical for municipalities to ensure that these systems are secure. Unfortunately, there are signs out there of a responsibility gap.

According to the New York Times, Cerrudo successfully hacked the same traffic sensors that made news last year, this time in San Francisco, despite reports that the vulnerabilities had been addressed after the initial flurry of coverage when he revealed the problem a year ago. It bears saying the obvious here: Cerrudo's findings are alarming. With the information of how to hack the Sensys sensors out there, was San Francisco's security protocol nothing more than dumb luck? How could it be that the same issue was imperiling the safety of San Franciscans?

The integration of smart technology into municipalities is a new thing. The same Times article notes that the market for smart city technology is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020. As with all new technology, compromises are not only possible, but perhaps even likely, in the beginning. The problem here is that we're talking about large, populous cities. As they become ever more wired, they become more vulnerable.

The issue is not dissimilar from the one facing private sector leaders. Organizations must constantly defend against a barrage of advanced and persistent attacks from an ever-growing phalanx of highly sophisticated hackers. Some of them work alone. Still others are organized into squadrons recruited or sponsored by foreign powers--as we have seen with the North Korean attack on Sony Pictures and the mega-breach of Anthem suspected to be at the hand of Chinese hackers--for a variety of purposes, none of them good.

The vulnerabilities are numerous, ranging from the power grid to the water supply to the ability to transport food and other necessities to where they are needed. As Cerrudo told the Times, "The current attack surface for cities is huge and wide open to attack. This is a real and immediate danger."

The solution, however, may not be out of reach. As with the geometric expansion of the Internet of Things market, there is a simple problem here: lack of familiarity at the user level -- where human error is always a factor -- with proper security protocols. Those protocols are no secret: encryption, long and strong password protection, and multi-factor authentication for users with security clearance.

While the above-noted protocols are not a panacea for the problems that face our incipiently smart cities, they will go a long way towards addressing security hazards and pitfalls.

Cerrudo has also advocated the creation of computer emergency response teams "to address security incidents, coordinate responses and share threat information with other cities." While CERTs are crucial, the creation of a chief information security officer role in municipal government to quarterback security initiatives and direct defense in a coordinated way may be even more crucial to the problem-sets that arise from our new smart cities. In the pioneering days of the smart city, there are steps that municipalities can take to keep their cities running like clockwork.

It starts with a proactive approach to security.

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Make This Bourbon Waffle Cake With Candied Bacon Because You're A Breakfast Hero

Thu, 2015-04-30 06:00

Photo credit: F&B Department

The line between breakfast and dessert is a thin one. This Bourbon Waffle Cake crosses that line unapologetically. It is a breakfast-dessert hybrid and it is proud to be so.

As you can see, this waffle is no ordinary waffle. Bourbon whipped cream is sandwiched between three waffle-cakes, which boast cinnamon, sugar and even more bourbon. It's all topped off with maple syrup and candied bacon praline.

F&B Department

Clearly, this culinary masterpiece combines breakfast and dessert's best qualities in one (recall: bacon, waffles, whipped cream). Become the breakfast hero you've always dreamed of being, and make this as soon as possible. Get the full recipe from F and B Department here.

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The Best Commentary Out Of Baltimore Is Coming Straight From The Mouths Of Its Residents

Wed, 2015-04-29 18:09
Baltimore residents were out in force on Tuesday, cleaning up their city and contributing a new round of diplomatic discourse to a tense debate that had boiled over the night before in violent clashes, riots and looting.

While many television stations covered the turmoil breathlessly on Monday night with wall-to-wall images of raging fires, ransacked stores and other destruction, they dedicated much less time to the underlying causes of the unrest. Instead of discussing the crushing poverty, lack of opportunity and patterns of controversial police behavior in the neighborhoods hit most heavily by the rioting, news anchors collectively clutched their pearls, wondering aloud how such bad things could happen in Charm City.

It was a question begging for an honest answer, but instead, viewers got a scolding Wolf Blitzer on CNN, looking at the mayhem and asking, "Where are the police?"

Those would be the same police who have revealed no new information about the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died April 19, a week after suffering a fatal spinal cord injury while in their custody.

With things significantly calmer on Tuesday, residents of Baltimore were able to offer vital context to the debate being covered by the hordes of reporters who had descended upon their city. Some of their insight from Monday night could have improved network coverage considerably.

Above, watch a mashup of the best interviews with residents of Baltimore.

Video produced by Amber Ferguson.

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Ohio Might Be The Next State To Allow Public Drinking In Major Cities

Wed, 2015-04-29 18:05
Ohio bargoers may soon be able to experience a marvelous staple of New Orleans drinking culture: the go-cup.

On Wednesday, the state's legislature approved a bill that would legalize public drinking of alcoholic beverages in specially designated "outdoor consumption areas" in cities with more than 35,000 residents. The bill now awaits Gov. John Kasich's signature for approval, and a spokesman for the governor told The Huffington Post that Kasich is expected to sign it shortly.

Assuming he does, Ohio will become the 18th state to allow public drinking in any form and the seventh state to permit public drinking in certain tourist-friendly parts of the city, which are often called "entertainment districts." Such districts were inspired by the success that New Orleans and Las Vegas have had attracting tourists to their streets with the promise of legal open-air drinking.

The first of these districts, 4th Street Live in Louisville, Kentucky, opened in 2003. It did so much to drum up business in the area that many other cities followed suit. Now, the entertainment district on once-blighted Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, attracts an estimated 4 million visitors a year.

Versions of the outdoor consumption area bill have been circulating through the Ohio Senate and House since late 2013, but this is the first one to be approved by both legislative bodies. The Senate passed it unanimously on April 22, while the House passed it by a vote of 87 to 7. A clause in the bill would allow it to take effect as soon as Kasich signs it.

That should give Cincinnati plenty of time to make its Arena District an outdoor consumption area before the city hosts Major League Baseball's All-Star Game in July. An additional 37 cities -- including Cleveland, the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention -- have populations large enough to establish their own outdoor consumption areas, so the bill has the potential to nearly triple the number of cities across the country with some form of legal public drinking.

Laws against drinking in public were a rarity recently as 1975. State and municipal legislators across the country passed many bans on the activity only after laws against public drunkenness, a related but separate offense, were deemed constitutionally and ethically unsound and repealed in most jurisdictions.

Seen this way, entertainment districts aren't such a novelty after all -- they're a return to the historical status quo, a mark of cities telling residents and tourists alike to let the good times roll again.

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Watch This Man Build The Biggest McDonald's Burger In The History Of McD's

Wed, 2015-04-29 16:53
Moshe Tamssot wanted to see if he could push McDonald's new build-your-own-burger kiosk to the limit. The kiosk concept, called "Create Your Taste," is designed to give consumers an incredible amount of choice when they order a burger or chicken sandwich to their own specifications.

Apparently, the kiosk doesn't really have a limit, as Tamssot was able to order the biggest McDonald's monstrosity we've ever seen. Behold, Tamssot's "Big Max" burger, which reportedly weighed in at an incredible 3.8 pounds:

Tamssot created the Big Max by ordering 10 each of every kind of cheese, bacon, sauce, lettuce and tomatoes one can get on a McDonald's hamburger (sadly, the machine will only let users order two patties per burger). Originally, the burger cost an astounding $890.80, but Tamssot says he found a pricing bug in the system that lowered the burger to $24.89.

According to Tamssot's Reddit AMA, he didn't think his order would make it through:

...The Manager initially refused to make the burger as ordered. Due to the pricing glitch, and then because he thought it wouldn't be a good burger. That defeated the marketing promise of 'CREATE the burger of your dreams' -- which is what I eventually did with the Big Max.

When Tamssot did create the "burger of his dreams," even McDonald's tweeted about the accomplishment:

@jessicawohl @Tamssot And thus, the legend of the Big Max was born.

— McDonald's (@McDonalds) April 24, 2015

Tamssot used a "Create Your Taste" machine in Chicago, where he lives, but the concept is being tested in over 2,000 locations in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, Missouri and Pennsylvania. It can also be found in parts of Australia. Until McDonald's reveals the rest of the kiosk locations, the rest of us will just have to sit and wait until we can build the burger of our dreams.

The Huffington Post reached out to McDonald's for comment and will update this post accordingly upon hearing back.

H/T Gizmodo

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If Only We Had Dating Translators, Going Out Would Be A Far More Honest Experience

Wed, 2015-04-29 16:47
What does it all mean???

Dating is stressful enough worrying about your own problems, so when you drop a second person and their problems into the picture, it's just a mixing bowl of hormonal chaos. If only we all had personal dating translators, someone to cut through the defenses and smokescreens we all put up when we first meet someone.

Comedy duo Vana Dabney and Deirdre Devlin of Honest Monster have created a sketch where just such a thing exists.

Sigh, oh well, back to jumping blindly into relationships!

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Teens With Autism Stretch, Grow And Laugh In Improv Classes At Second City

Wed, 2015-04-29 15:39
Some of America's funniest people have honed their craft at The Second City in Chicago. But it's not just professionals who can bloom with a little improv comedy.

For the past two years, the iconic Chicago-based comedy theater/school has offered an improv comedy program aimed at teens with autism spectrum disorder.

The program was initially an offshoot of Second City’s improv-for-anxiety classes, which had been developed with the Panic Anxiety Recovery Center after the school noticed that psychologists and psychiatrists were referring their patients to those classes. Some of the participants in a teen anxiety class were also dealing with ASD, suggesting a more specialized need.

Like other Second City improv courses aimed at those not seeking a career in comedy, the purpose of the ASD classes is to improve communication skills through working as a team, to gain confidence by responding to social cues and to have some fun.

“What is different about these classes is that the students are with like-minded students that are in a similar situation to themselves,” Kerry Sheehan, president of the Second City Training Centers and Education Programs, told The Huffington Post.

For people with ASD, the goals of improv comedy can present a significant challenge. As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders notes, children with ASD may use repetitive or rigid language and struggle with nonverbal communication skills such as making eye contact or using facial expressions to make their feelings known.

Which is where improv comedy can help, according to Sheehan. If one individual in an ASD class makes a joke that doesn’t resonate with the group, the person can observe classmates' reaction and try something else that might work better. They also learn that such “failures” are OK, simply a part of life that’s ultimately not a big deal.

“There’s so much stress associated with how you are or are not supposed to respond to a situation or a conversation, and what these classes do is give you this safe environment to just practice responding, to practice communicating and practice being in front of a group, being the center of attention for a moment,” Sheehan said. “It can be very stressful, but when you get to practice that and it starts to feel fun and comfortable, it builds your confidence.”

The mental health professionals who refer patients to Second City seem to be believers as well. In a 2014 interview with Clef Notes, Dr. Robert E. Daniels, a psychologist at Chicago Children's Clinic who specializes in treating autism in children, said the classes "perfectly complement what we do in therapy, providing an outlet for creativity and an opportunity to form strong friendships."

Still, concrete evidence of these classes’ impact on individuals with ASD is scant. A spokeswoman with the advocacy group Autism Speaks told HuffPost that she was not aware of any established research on the topic. And for many families affected by autism -- who spend an average of $60,000 a year on medication, treatment and other costs -- an improv class is low on the priority list.

Nevertheless, Sheehan said the anecdotal evidence she and others at Second City have observed is promising.

“We know in our heart of hearts this is a great thing for these kids,” she said. “If you’re constantly kind of beat down because you’re not doing something right, we need to build these kids back up again. If this is helping to make them feel good and be happy even for the few hours -- and hopefully it goes beyond that -- I think we’ve won.”

Second City’s ASD classes for teens in Chicago are currently offered in two forms: a monthlong course, meeting once a week for 90 minutes, and a weeklong summer camp, meeting daily for two and a half hours. They are led by a teacher and a social worker trained in improv. The school also runs an eight-week adult class in Chicago as well as a weeklong summer camp for ASD students in New Jersey in partnership with the Newmark School. The classes are capped at 12 participants each and range in price from $145 to $355. The latest offering of the teen class in Chicago begins Friday.

Shenanigan’s Improv in Atlanta and the Hideout Theatre in Austin, Texas, also hold improv classes specifically geared toward youth with ASD.

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10 Illinois Counties with the Most Structurally Deficient Bridges

Wed, 2015-04-29 14:35
Illinoisans cross the 13 million square miles of Illinois' 26,588 bridges more than 134 million times every day.

Of those 26,588 state and federal bridges, 2,216 are structurally deficient, meaning one or more key bridge components -- i.e. deck, superstructure or substructure -- is considered to be in poor or worse condition, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's (ARTBA) review of 2014 data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). An additional 1,971 are classified as functionally obsolete, which means a bridge's design is no longer sufficient for its current use.

The FHWA uses a 10-point scale to determine the structural and functional condition of a bridge. If any one of a bridge's three main components rate four or lower, repair is needed. In Illinois, the estimated cost of repairing a total of 2,872 bridges is roughly $9.4 billion, according to ARTBA.

Here's a look at the state's bridge inventory and the number of structurally deficient rural and urban bridges, as well as the top 10 most traveled structurally deficient bridges in Illinois.

Using the most recent data from FHWA, these counties have the highest percentage of deficient bridges in Illinois. For a fairer comparison, we've divided the total number of deficient bridges by the total number of bridges in each county since more populated counties typically have a larger number of bridges.

25. Madison

  • Count: 520

  • Deficient: 40

  • Obsolete: 51

  • Total deficient: 91

  • Total deficient area: 128,550 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 17.50%

24. White

  • Count: 216

  • Deficient: 33

  • Obsolete: 5

  • Total deficient: 38

  • Total deficient area: 15,336 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 17.59%

23. Massac

  • Count: 130

  • Deficient: 7

  • Obsolete: 16

  • Total deficient: 23

  • Total deficient area: 15,530 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 17.69%

22. Wabash

  • Count: 90

  • Deficient: 13

  • Obsolete: 3

  • Total deficient: 16

  • Total deficient area: 3,544 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 17.78%

21. Clinton

  • Count: 189

  • Deficient: 15

  • Obsolete: 19

  • Total deficient: 34

  • Total deficient area: 10,270 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 17.99%

20. Macon

  • Count: 345

  • Deficient: 49

  • Obsolete: 14

  • Total deficient: 63

  • Total deficient area: 39,589 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 18.26%

19. Fayette

  • Count: 361

  • Deficient: 35

  • Obsolete: 32

  • Total deficient: 67

  • Total deficient area: 26,934 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 18.56%

18. Effingham

  • Count: 250

  • Deficient: 15

  • Obsolete: 32

  • Total deficient: 47

  • Total deficient area: 22,713 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 18.80%

17. Clay

  • Count: 164

  • Deficient: 20

  • Obsolete: 11

  • Total deficient: 31

  • Total deficient area: 5,227 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 18.90%

16. Lawrence

  • Count: 177

  • Deficient: 29

  • Obsolete: 5

  • Total deficient: 34

  • Total deficient area: 15,863 sq mi

  • Percent of deficient bridges: 19.21%

Check out the rest of the15 Illinois counties with the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges at Reboot Illinois.

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Family Says Slain Teen Justus Howell Was 'Executed' By Police

Wed, 2015-04-29 14:29
A coroner's decision to rule the officer-involved shooting of Illinois teen Justus "Lil Meachi" Howell a homicide is of little comfort to the young man's family, who fear the officer responsible will go unpunished.

"We have no confidence in our local law enforcement agency [or] the major crimes task force," Al Rogers, a retired Waukegan Public Schools administrator and spokesman for the Howell family, told The Huffington Post.

Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd issued Howell's autopsy report on Tuesday, finding the 17-year-old's recent shooting death was a homicide. While the term indicates the "killing of a human being by another human being," it does not automatically mean criminal charges will be filed, according to Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim.

"The question that remains is whether this is a justifiable homicide," Nerheim said in a statement released to the media on Tuesday. "[That] determination hinges on a complete evaluation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident."

According to Nerheim, the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force is conducting an investigation into the shooting and their findings will be reviewed to determine whether or not criminal charges are to be filed.

A timeline for the length of that investigation remains unclear.

Howell was fatally shot twice in the back by a Zion, Illinois, police officer on the afternoon of April 4. One of the bullets pierced Howell's heart, spleen and liver, and the other struck his right shoulder.

Authorities allege the teenager had stolen a handgun prior to the shooting and ran off with it when police responded to investigate.

While authorities claim a handgun was recovered at the scene of the shooting, two witness interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times said they never saw police recover a weapon on or near Howell's body.

"I didn't see a gun, no knife, nothing," witness Bobbie Vaughn told the newspaper.

Rogers said Howell's family is in the dark as far as what exactly occurred at the time of the shooting.

"We just don't know," he said. "We hear bits and pieces of what was supposed to [have] happened, but the one thing we know for certain is he was shot in the back as he was trying to run away."

JUSTUS HOWELL: (Story Continues Below)

In addition to ruling Howell's death a homicide, the coroner revealed toxicology tests indicate Howell had marijuana in his system and a blood alcohol level of .035, which is below the state's legal limit.

Rogers said he considers the findings of the toxicology screening to be of little significance.

"Justus' decisions are not the ones in question," he said. "It's the policeman's decisions that are in question."

Rogers admitted Howell, who was reportedly an aspiring rapper, had a troubled past, but said it was no excuse for authorities to use lethal force against the teen.

"I'm not going to sit here and say he was an angel or choir boy, because he wasn't," said Rogers. "He was a young kid trying to figure this whole thing out. If all of us were judged on our behaviors at 17, where would we be today?"

Rogers said that because of how the investigation is being conducted, Howell's family is doubtful the officer responsible for the shooting -- a nine-year police veteran who has not been identified -- will be held responsible.

"This is [a case of] police policing police," Rogers said. "This young man was executed and at the end of the day, [the investigators] will probably fist-bump and go on to the next tragedy."

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Illinois' 800 governmental funds

Wed, 2015-04-29 14:00
As Illinois lawmakers work on creating a viable, mutually agreed upon budget for the 2016 fiscal year, Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek looked at the 800 various funds currently set up to pay for governmental work in Illinois.

Doubek writes:

Something is wrong in Illinois when you have a fiscal crisis you go a long way toward solving by "sweeping" $1.3 billion out of nearly 800 different state funds, seemingly in the time it takes to click your heels together and say, "Sweep away."

That's just about what happened at the end of March, minus the heel clicking. Then, after lawmakers flipped out when they thought they'd solved their immediate crisis only to find out key programs for the poor, sick and disabled were enduring $26 million in cuts, Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget office suggested another sweep might ease the pain.

I don't know about you, but on those rare days when I sweep at my house, I'm lucky to find a penny, not millions or billions. I knew we had a bunch of funds from specialty license plates and for charitable causes, but I'd never paid much attention, so I did some asking.

Illinois has nearly 800 different funds. They include the general revenue fund, the big one we all tend to focus on this time of year. They also include some others like a road fund and a motor fuel fund. And then there are, quite literally, hundreds of others like: Illinois State Police Memorial Park, Illinois Veterans Rehabilitation, Illinois Police K-9 Memorial, State Boating Act, State Parks, Wildlife & Fish, Salmon, Military Affairs Trust, Lobbyist Registration Administration and Agriculture Premium.

Then there's the Federal Mass Transit Trust, Share the Road, National Flood Insurance Program, Land Reclamation, Federal Energy, Cycle Rider Safety Training and Farmers Market Tech Improvement.

I randomly just picked a few spots from a column of 792 sent to me by Comptroller Leslie Munger's office. Omitting the general revenue fund, the biggie that funds state operations each year, all these funds late last week had $9.67 billion in them.

That's a whole lot of our money we never hear much about. The good news? Last week, the Illinois Senate approved a bill, SB1404, that attempts to make sure these funds get audited every year. Another, SB 1405, seeks to see if some of these funds can be consolidated.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois, and check out the list of each Illinois governmental fund and its balance as of April 23.

Speaking of Illinois government money, Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association says Illinois' biggest government entities are in the worst trouble they've ever seen.

Shaw says:

"Trouble comes in threes," or so the saying goes.

But when we're discussing the dismal financial condition of the public sector in Illinois, three is a woeful understatement.

There's red ink flowing over every level of government--villages, towns, cities, and, of course, the State of Illinois, which is the biggest fiscal train wreck, followed by the city of Chicago and its public schools.

Here are some disturbing details:

  • Chicago schools are, for the first time, on the state's "watch list." CPS is spending nearly1 billion more than it can afford, pension obligations are soaring, there's management turmoil at the top and Governor Rauner is openly suggesting bankruptcy as the only way out.

  • The city's credit rating keeps dropping, which increases the cost of borrowing and the burden on taxpayers. City Hall is also coping with an estimated300 million budget deficit and a state-mandated500 million-plus payment for police and fire pensions.

  • State government is facing a6 billion budget shortfall, a mountain of unpaid bills and100 billion-plus in pension liabilities.

This is arguably the worst multi-level financial crisis in Illinois history, a bi-product of public officials who've relied on ill-advised, politically motivated short-term fixes, or inaction--kicking the can down the road.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

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Pumpkin Pie Honored in Illinois House of Representatives

Wed, 2015-04-29 13:24
Illinois lawmakers have a lot of work ahead of them in the next few months, especially with trying to construct and pass a balanced budget. But lawmakers took a break from trying to solve the pension crisis or working on a viable budget plan for next year to talk fall desserts in the spring. The House of Representatives voted 108-3 April 16 to make pumpkin pie the official pie of Illinois. The measure has yet to pass in the Senate.

With so many other pressing matters to work on, where did this idea even come from?

Illinois is the nation's No. 1 producer of pumpkins, both the jack-o-lantern and cooking varieties. The Illinois Department of Agriculture says the state has the most land devoted to pumpkin production in the country at nearly 13,000 acres. Illinois made up 29 percent of all pumpkin-growing land in the U.S in 2005 and yields 95 percent of all pumpkins processed in the U.S. That's nearly 5 million pounds of pumpkins. Tazewell County is responsible for the most pumpkin growing in the state, with 48 farms dedicated to the big orange orbs.

Illinois is home to the top pumpkin product producer in the world -- Nestle's Libby's in Morton -- and Seneca Foods near Peoria. These two factories produce most of the country's canned pumpkin used in traditional fall dishes such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins. Illinois might as well change its name from the Prairie State to the Pumpkin State.

Further proving Illinois' pumpkin pride, a Moline woman even bought a year's supply of pumpkin spice lattes last October, says Fox News in the Quad Cities.

Read the rest of the pumpkin pie saga at Reboot Illinois to find out about the legislative process to codify the dessert into Illinois law and what other unusual symbols Illinois boasts.

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This Is What An Empty Baltimore Orioles Game Looks Like

Wed, 2015-04-29 13:16
The scene at Orioles Park at Camden Yards was quiet on Wednesday as the Baltimore Orioles faced off against the Chicago White Sox. No fans were allowed into the stadium, leaving the stands empty -- the first time that's ever happened in the history of Major League Baseball.

The decision to close the game to the public was made in light of the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore. People have taken to the streets to march in the name of the late 25-year-old after he died this month from a spinal injury while in police custody.

The league planned to incorporate all the normal aspects of an MLB game, including the national anthem and seventh-inning stretch, according to MSNBC political correspondent Kasie Hunt.

"It's all about what's best for the city and the safety of our people," Buck Showalter, the Orioles manager, told the Associated Press. "The last thing you want to do is put the fans in harm's way. You have to err on the side of safety."

Check out some photos below. We'll be updating throughout the game.

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16 Things Brutally Honest Women Know All Too Well

Wed, 2015-04-29 12:26
If you're a brutally honest lady like myself, you will find yourself in treacherous waters at some point in your life. Let’s face it, the truth hurts sometimes -- but that’s never stopped us from telling it.

Women are often expected to pander, apologize or make excuses for our forthright behavior. We're encouraged to be "nurturers," to soothe people, downplay our anger and aggression, and basically play nicey-nice even if we're seething inside and our true feelings are bursting to get out.

Well, eff that.

If you’re outspoken, opinionated and just can't seem to keep your opinions to yourself (ever), this one’s for you.

Here are 16 things brutally honest women completely understand:

1. The pure relief that comes with telling someone what you really think. There is just nothing like it.

2. What a compliment is really worth. Not everything is great, and that’s totally OK.

3. Having a very narrow set of circumstances under which telling a white lie is acceptable. If the lie gets you off the hook for something you are totally guilty of, you don’t tell it -- even when it would save you a whole lot of trouble.

4. When you’re so straightforward about negative opinions that people think you’re joking. Hint: You’re not.

5. Sometimes your comebacks hit a little too deep. Oops.

6. You absolutely cannot stand by silently while a friend makes a terrible decision. To you, being a good friend is expressing your honest concerns about their choice in a respectful and open way. Whether or not they take your advice is a different matter.

7. Never being able to suck up to someone. Ass-kissing makes you queasy.

8. You are completely comfortable making your displeasure known. This is especially true when you are on the phone with Verizon customer service. (I still want my unlimited data back, Verizon.)

9. The power of a well-placed “excuse me” instead of “sorry.” Because women apologize far too often.

10. Friends come to you for the cold, hard truth when other people are just telling them what they want to hear. But then again, people occasionally avoid you for that exact same reason.

11. Everyone knows your opinions. Whether they asked for them or not.

12. Your face will give you away even when you can stop yourself from saying something. Every. Single. Time.

13. Letting someone down gently is an exercise in torture. Especially in a romantic situation. Is there a clearer way to tell someone you don’t have any chemistry that’s not, “we don’t have any chemistry?” Probably not. Blunt is best.

14. Being called a bitch / cold / crazy / mean on a regular basis. Sigh. Next.

15. That crushing feeling when you’ve taken it too far. Because living your #Unapologetic life authentically and saying exactly what you think, will probably cause you to hurt someone at some point -- and that’s never easy. But then you know to rethink your delivery for next time.

16. You know that people respect your opinion, because you don’t say things you don’t mean. And that’s the best feeling of all.

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Steve Harvey On Bruce Jenner: 'I Can't Wrap My Mind Around It At All'

Wed, 2015-04-29 12:25
During an interview with HipHollywood (which you can watch above), media maverick and New York Times bestseller Steve Harvey shared his thoughts on former Olympian Bruce Jenner coming out as transgender.

More Notable/Quotables:

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A Funny and Fine <i>Forum</i> at Porchlight

Wed, 2015-04-29 11:00
They say tragedy is easy, yet comedy is hard. And in watching Porchlight's delightful production of the hit 1962 musical comedy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I took note of how deftly this hard-working cast navigates Burt Shevelove's farcical book and Stephen Sondheim's daffy yet deceptively dense music and lyrics.

In full transparency, Porchlight marks the first production of Forum I've seen -- this includes the movie that starred Zero Mostel recreating the role that won him the Tony Award (and for which Nathan Lane earned the same accolades in the '96 Broadway revival). Yet I'm glad this was my first foray into the forum -- it's a very solid and satisfying production.

Leading this effort, the short and compact Bill Larkin makes for a cunning and cute Pseudolus, the wily Roman slave who'll do anything to become free. It's a performance that rivals Sweeney Todd, another iconic Sondheim musical Porchlight presented last season, in the amount of energy and gusto required keep the engine of the play churning. Larkin manages this herculean task skillfully, striking a good balance between vaudevillian slap-stick and sincerity.

Director Michael Weber surrounds Larkin with a diverse cast of musical comedy pros, with a few unexpected highlights. Of those, the lanky Miles Blim serves as a perfect foil for Larkin by bringing genuine guilelessness to the role of Hero -- the young slave owner whom Pseudolus persuades into freeing if he's able to unite Hero with his equally naive love interest, Philia (a sweet Sarah Lynn Robinson). As fellow slave Hysterium, Matt Crowle demonstrates his great gift of physical comedy.

As has been the case with most recent Porchlight productions, the score is well represented (music direction by Linda Madonia), with a true focus on delivering Sondheim's lyrical puns with panache. Choreographer Brenda Didier demonstrates her gift for resourcefulness by making good use of Stage 773's limited space, giving her troupe of quivering courtesans some clever movements.

Set designer Megan Truscott plays up the rickety-rackety nature of the material -- perhaps a tad too literally. At times the scenery looked like it would topple over when bumped by fast-moving antics. But, thankfully, this mostly buoyant production keeps things funny in the forum.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays through May 24 at Stage 773. More info here >

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Every Breath You Take: State of the Air 2015

Wed, 2015-04-29 07:44
Think about this: more than 4 in 10 people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Now think about this: in the time it took to read that, you probably took 4-5 breaths. Makes you want to know what was in that air, doesn't it?

We strongly believe that everyone has the right to breathe healthy air, and that begins with knowing the quality of your air. So for the past 16 years, the American Lung Association has undertaken the "State of the Air" report, which examines air pollution levels across the U.S. This year's report shows encouraging progress, evidence of the success of our long fight for cleaner, healthier air for all Americans. Paired with that progress, however, is evidence of troubling challenges. Both underscore the urgent need to continue to defend the Clean Air Act, which protects the air we all breathe.

The American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report reviews monitoring data on the two most common and harmful types of air pollution - ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot) - and compiles a "report card" telling how much of each type of pollution is in the air where you live and breathe. Why is this important? Because both ozone and particle pollution can harm your health - even shorten lives. Medical science warns us that air pollution does more harm to our health than we previously thought, and at lower levels.

Dangerous levels of air pollution can harm everyone, even healthy adults. However, those at greatest risk include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung disease like asthma and COPD, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors. High levels of pollution can cause severe asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. Recently, the World Health Organization concluded that particle pollution can cause lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer in America.

"State of the Air 2015" gave reason for celebration but also identified areas of growing concern. The best progress showed in levels of year-round particle pollution, which have been steadily improving. For that you can thank the transition to cleaner diesel fuel and engines and steps taken to clean up power plants, especially in the eastern U.S. The American Lung Association has pushed long and hard for these changes. We are pleased to see that those steps not only reduced particle pollution, but also helped many cities reduce their ozone pollution as well.

Unfortunately, not all news was as good. While some cities improved their ozone, other cities got worse. Dangerous short-term spikes in particle pollution increased in many cities, particularly in the western U.S., with some cities showing their worst problems since the report began.

What's up with the spikes in soot and continued high-smog days? Two words - climate change.

Climate change creates the ideal conditions for both particle and ozone pollution. Warmer weather increases the risk of ozone pollution and makes cleaning it up even more challenging. Rising temperatures also increase droughts, wildfires and other sources of particle pollution. While our report shows steady improvement since our first "State of the Air" 16 years ago, it also shows evidence that the changing climate will make it harder to keep up this trend and protect human health. Bearing the greatest burden will be children with asthma and the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.

It's clear that we must act now to keep making progress in the fight for healthy air, and to defend the progress we've made since the Clean Air Act started giving us healthier air in 1970. The American Lung Association calls for several steps to safeguard the air everyone breathes:
  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. Everyone has a right to know if their air is safe to breathe. The EPA must adopt an up-to-date ozone limit that follows the current health science and the law to protect human health. Strong standards will drive much needed cleanup of ozone pollution across the nation.

  • Adopt a strong final Clean Power Plan. The EPA needs to issue tough final requirements to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

  • Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced. States should not be allowed to "opt out" of Clean Air Act protections.

  • Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.

I repeat: everyone has the right to breathe healthy air. That's why the American Lung Association has been fighting for healthy air since before the Clean Air Act was signed in 1970. Today, we continue to speak up for safeguards that ensure cleaner, healthier air for all Americans. We must meet our air pollution challenges head-on to protect the health of all Americans, especially the nearly 33 million people in the U.S. living with chronic lung diseases, like asthma and COPD.

Want to see how your community ranks, as well as the lists of most-polluted and least-polluted U.S. cities? Visit:

Join us in the effort to make sure every breath you take is a healthy one by visiting

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McDonald's Employee Knocks Rowdy Customer Unconscious On Camera

Tue, 2015-04-28 19:01
Police were called to a McDonald's in East Lansing, Michigan, at 2 a.m. Thursday after an employee punched a rowdy Michigan State University student in the restaurant, knocking him unconscious.

Another Michigan State student, Kevin Lange, filmed the end of the interaction, including the crucial punch, and uploaded the 10-second video to YouTube.

It's unclear from the video, which has already been viewed nearly 50,000 times, what led to the punch. It opens with three men, two of them McDonald's employees, talking near a restaurant door with a fourth man, who is mostly obscured. A few seconds later, this heretofore unseen fourth man starts to run -- and one of the two McDonald's employees slams him with one swift punch. He falls down, and several other people in the restaurant shout in surprise.

Lange said the apparently drunken student was punched after stumbling into the restaurant, spitting on the counter and throwing a "Caution: Wet Floor" sign.

Police said the man who was punched sustained injuries that were not life-threatening. According to student paper, The State News, he is filing a criminal complaint against the restaurant employee who punched him.

"We take this matter very seriously and are fully cooperating with local law enforcement," McDonald's said in a statement. "Because the matter is under investigation, any further inquiries are being referred to the East Lansing Police Department.”

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Protester Schools MSNBC Anchor About Media Coverage Of Baltimore Riots

Tue, 2015-04-28 17:50
A protester approached by MSNBC's Thomas Roberts on Tuesday offered pointed criticism of the way Roberts' network and other media have covered the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray this month.

After admitting that looting and rioting were not the best ways to represent the community and to seek answers, the protester asked Roberts a question of her own.

"My question to you is, when we were out here protesting all last week for six days straight peacefully, there were no news cameras, there were no helicopters, there was no riot gear, and nobody heard us," she said. "So now that we've burned down buildings and set businesses on fire and looted buildings, now all of the sudden everybody wants to hear us."

"Why does it take a catastrophe like this in order for America to hear our cry?" she continued. "I mean, enough is enough. We've had too many lives lost at the hands of police officers. Enough is enough."

Gray was arrested in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore on April 12. It's unclear why he was approached by police in the first place, but Gray reportedly fled and was later apprehended. Video of his arrest captured by bystanders appeared to show Gray injured but responsive as he was loaded into a police van. He was reportedly not buckled into a seat belt, a violation of the police department's policy.

A short time after being taken into custody, Gray was rushed off to shock trauma at the hospital, where his spine was found to be nearly completely severed. After a week in a coma, he died on April 19.

Protests actually began in Baltimore the day before Gray's death and continued for five days without violence. Over the weekend, some protesters clashed with police, although demonstrations remained largely nonviolent.

Police have still not revealed details about Gray's arrest or the circumstances of his fatal injuries.

Watch the video of the protester speaking with Roberts above.

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10 of the Most Challenging High Schools in Illinois

Tue, 2015-04-28 17:10
A new report was released ranking the nation's most challenging high schools, and 72 schools in Illinois made the cut.

The Washington Post ranked more than 2,300 high schools based on a formula it calls the "Challenge Index" ratio, which is calculated by taking the total number of advanced placement, international baccalaureate and advanced international certificate of education tests administered at a school in 2014 and dividing by the number of seniors who graduated that same year.

Schools that achieved a ratio of at least 1.00 means they had as many tests in 2014 as they had graduates, but only 11 percent of the roughly 22,000 public high schools in the U.S. reached that standard and earned a spot on the list, according to the Washington Post.

From the Washington Post on its methodology:

The Challenge Index is designed to identify schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests. It does not work with schools that have no, or almost no, average students. We put those schools on our Public Elites list.

Here are the top 20 most challenging Illinois high schools, nearly all of which are among the top 3 percent nationally. Below each school is their national rank, percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career -- referred to as equity and excellence (E&E), percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the Challenge Index ratio.

20. Hinsdale South High School

National rank: 665
E&E: 43.10%
Subs. Lunch: 27.0%
Challenge Index: 2.938

19. Glenbard South High School

National rank: 664
E&E: 37.60%
Subs. Lunch: 24.60%
Challenge Index: 2.938

18. Westmont High School

National rank: 604
E&E: 32.0%
Subs. Lunch: 41.0%
Challenge Index: 3.053

17. Evanston Township High School

National rank: 584
E&E: 47.0%
Subs. Lunch: 41.0%
Challenge Index: 3.086

16. Elk Grove High School

National rank: 567
E&E: 48.4%
Subs. Lunch: 40.9%
Challenge Index: 3.116

15. Grayslake Central High School

National rank: 558
E&E: 94.0%
Subs. Lunch: 13.0%
Challenge Index: 3.136

14. Jones College Prep High School

National rank: 521
E&E: 79.4%
Subs. Lunch: 46.0%
Challenge Index: 3.223

13. John Hersey High School

National rank: 520
E&E: 63.7%
Subs. Lunch: 18.7%
Challenge Index: 3.226

12. Buffalo Grove High School

National rank: 496
E&E: 50.8%
Subs. Lunch: 22.5%
Challenge Index: 3.283

11. Hinsdale Central High School

National rank: 483
E&E: 59.0%
Subs. Lunch: 6.0%
Challenge Index: 3.311

Check out Reboot Illinois to see the top 10 most challenging high schools in Illinois.

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