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Why It Makes No Sense to Cut the Minimum Wage

Fri, 2014-06-27 10:30

On the eve of signing the Fair Labor Standards Act 76 years ago, which established the minimum wage, Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a nation weary from a Great Depression spawned by the forces of reckless greed, exploitation and speculation.

Only a year before, FDR had called for a special session to pass the legislation in the midst of a titanic fight that looks and sounds very much like what's playing out today in places like Illinois.

The people were on his side. But FDR faced massive opposition from corporate interests. Doomsayers claimed that the 25 cents increase per hour sought by Roosevelt would maroon a struggling economy. Using his powers of persuasion, and leveraging the strong support from the public against "starvation wages," FDR eventually prevailed.

On the eve of signing the minimum wage into existence, FDR had a response for his political enemies, whose opposition to his efforts for working families bordered on mania:

"Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day [...] tell you -- using his stockholders' money to pay the postage for his personal opinions that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry."

Today, running for governor is Bruce Rauner, who doesn't make $1,000 a day -- he makes more than $1,000 per minute, and has echoed the same sentiments expressed some eight decades ago.

Like the pessimists FDR faced, Rauner inaccurately claims that raising the minimum wage would have a disastrous effect on the Illinois economy. This assertion comes after he advocated lowering the Illinois minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to the federal level of $7.25 per hour.

I recently signed into law legislation that will raise our state's minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2018.

States like Vermont understand that working people can't support their families on the current minimum wage, and a modest increase will give these families a boost and contribute to our economy by getting just a little more money into the pockets of people who will spend it in their communities.

We did this because we understood that FDR -- and your own Gov. Pat Quinn -- was as right about the minimum wage just as Mr. Rauner is dead wrong now.

In his Tribune editorial, Rauner claimed that raising the minimum wage would make Illinois less competitive. In fact, raising the minimum wage provides more Americans with more money to spend and invest, which increases economic activity and growth. Even more, studies show that raising the minimum wage makes workers more productive and helps businesses retain profitability -- just look at Gap Inc.'s decision to raise the minimum wage voluntarily for its employees.

Here's another fact about a minimum wage hike -- it's good for women. Women account for about two-thirds of workers whose incomes would rise by increasing the minimum wage. Illinois is in a stronger economic position when women are in a stronger economic position.

What will put Illinois at a disadvantage are Republicans, like Bruce Rauner, who stand in the way of progress. Governor Quinn is not only a leader making progress, but he is someone that is doing the right thing because he knows that no one working 40 hours or more a week should live in poverty.

Decades ago, FDR chose the right path for our country and prevailed in the face of opposition determined to block a fair wage for our workers. That same opposition, sadly, is alive and well today thanks to Bruce Rauner. But Governor Pat Quinn, like other Democratic governors around our country, will continue to fight for what is right for Illinois, and will have the people on his side.

Did Police Do All They Could In Wisconsin Suitcase Bodies Case?

Fri, 2014-06-27 10:07
The arrest of a former police officer this week after the discovery of two women's bodies stuffed into suitcases and dumped in Wisconsin has raised questions about the investigation. Chief among them: Did police do everything they could to locate one of the victims, a mother who vanished in November, before she turned up dead?

Laura Simonson, a 37-year-old mother of seven who was reported missing Nov. 22, was discovered dead on June 5 inside a suitcase near Lake Geneva, in southern Wisconsin. The body of a second woman, who police haven't publicly identified, was inside another suitcase.

Steven Zelich, 52, of West Allis, Wisconsin, was arrested Wednesday on two counts of hiding a corpse. According to police, Zelich has confessed to involvement in Simonson's death. Investigators haven't elaborated.

Police knew soon after Simonson disappeared that she had been in Zelich's company, a source close to the investigation told The Huffington Post on Thursday. Simonson was last seen leaving her mother's Farmington, Minnesota, home on Nov. 1, police said.

"They knew from the beginning who she left with," the source said, adding, "There was a trail that was left behind. There was, without a doubt, hard physical evidence [of] where she was. [Authorities] were aware of it from the beginning. I don't know why they didn't follow up on it sooner."

Zelich, according to the Nexis public records database, once worked as a police officer in West Allis, near Milwaukee. WISN 12 News reported he resigned in 2001, after allegations of misconduct involving a prostitute. No criminal charges were filed.

Jennifer Reitz, spokeswoman for Geneva police, who are leading the investigation into the discovery of the bodies, on Thursday declined to discuss whether authorities had made attempts to contact Zelich prior to his arrest. She also declined to confirm whether authorities were aware of an April 18 classified ad that appeared in Wisconsin Super Ads. The ad, placed anonymously, accused Zelich of holding Simonson captive. The ad read, in part:

"Steven Mark Zelich is a sadist who has enslaved a petite female named Laura Jean Simonson. He keeps her naked, handcuffed, shackled, and caged. He has no intention of ever releasing this poor woman who suffers from various mental disabilities. She has been whipped and tortured by Steven Mark Zelich since November 2, 2013. Laura is the mother of 7 young children and has not been allowed by Steven to contact them in any way. The police have not been able to locate where Steven has Laura imprisoned. Please join our effort to find and free Laura Simonson."

The ad alleged that Zelich had profiles on a website involving dominance and submission. It included a cellphone number for Zelich, which The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tied to a contact number for him at, where he reportedly works as a contractor. An email address attributed to him also appears on a Yahoo online discussion board titled "MasterB Slave Club."

A January 2012 post attributed to the same email address read:

"I have just joined the group, with the hope of finding an owner (male/female/couple). I seek no limit no release enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization...ideally in a farm/caged situation. If this level of control interests you, please feel free to make contact."

Authorities at a media briefing on Thursday didn't confirm Zelich's online activities. They said they were investigating his possible involvement with bondage websites.

Jerrie Dean, an advocate for missing persons, wrote about a possible connection between Zelich and Simonson in a Jan. 24 story for Dean repeated information from the Wisconsin Super Ads item and compared Simonson's disappearance with the three women who were held captive in Ariel Castro's Ohio home for 10 years.

Dean told HuffPost on Thursday that authorities were aware of the information in her article.

"The police did go talk to [Zelich], and he said he left her on her own and she wasn't there," Dean said of Simonson.

CASE PHOTOS: (Story Continues Below)

Farmington, Minnesota, police Detective Sgt. Lee Hollatz told The Associated Press that Zelich had long been his "No. 1 person, by far, of interest" in Simonson's disappearance.

Police on Thursday said they believe Simonson was killed in Rochester, Minnesota -- more than four hours by car from Lake Geneva. Detectives reported recovering potential evidence of Simonson's death at a hotel there on June 24, after hotel employees recognized Simonson's photo and contacted police. Hotel records indicate Simonson and Zelich stayed in the room on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, authorities said.

Hollatz told AP he discovered soon after he began investigating Simonson's disappearance in November that she had gone to the hotel with Zelich. But all he had was a missing person's case until the bodies were discovered, he said.

"I saw Laura as a vulnerable adult because of things in her life that she was dealing with," Hollatz told AP.

Authorities have tentatively identified the second victim in the case, but haven't released her name. Investigators said Thursday they believe she was killed in Wisconsin, but did not elaborate.

Zelich was held in the Walworth County Jail without bond. He was scheduled to appear in court Friday.

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NBA Draft Winners And Losers

Fri, 2014-06-27 09:37
The 2014 NBA draft wrapped up last night, and this year's players may just be the most talented group since the LeBron, Wade and Carmelo class nearly a decade ago. But this year is not without its question marks: Will Andrew Wiggins become the next Kevin Durant? Is Joel Embiid the next Olajuwon or the next Oden? And who is the big second-round steal?

It may be just a tad early, but let's take a look at the winners and losers of Thursday's 2014 NBA draft.


Philadelphia 76ers

Maybe tanking was the right move after all. Philly not only gets a potential superstar with the third pick in Embiid, but also nabs the best player out of Europe in Croatian power forward Dario Saric, a fantastic talent who can really score. Then, Philly gets the draft's premier wing defender in Clemson's K.J. McDaniels, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year who can guard three positions. I would have loved to see them keep Elfrid Payton, but to get a future first-rounder makes sense. It's also smart to pair Embiid with Nerlens Noel, giving the 76ers two highly athletic bigs who can play together.

Shabazz Napier

Napier isn't merely liked by LeBron James; Pat Riley is apparently a fan as well. Miami getting Napier from Charlotte once again shows us the ineptitude of Michael Jordan, but it is also a victory for Napier. He is a proven winner who will have a chip on his shoulder for going No. 24. Moreover, if LeBron does remain in Miami, Napier will have the perfect running mate who will appreciate his remarkable playmaking ability.

Denver Nuggets

What a day for the Nuggets: Before the draft even started, they went out and got Arron Afflalo from Orlando and then nabbed former Michigan State star Gary Harris. Harris, still just 19 years old, is an instant offense guy and a true combo guard who could wind up being one of the real steals of this entire draft.

Utah Jazz

Utah gets two big time talents in Aussie point guard Dante Exum (above) and Duke standout Rodney Hood. The duo is a huge boon for a team that suddenly looks pretty decent, with second-year point guard Trey Burke and the developing Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. The beauty of Exum is that at 6-foot-6, he can legitimately play off the ball while sharing the ball handling and facilitating duties with Burke. Hood, as you learned, is as humble as he is versatile, and that is saying something for a 6-foot-8 kid who shoots 42 percent from 3.

Doug McDermott

College basketball's best player gets picked 11th and winds up with a Chicago team that clearly targeted him as its guy. The Bulls are in desperate need of an offensive infusion, and McDermott, who averaged 27 points per game last year, is just that. We can point to his defensive limitations, but this is the one system in the league where that shortcoming can be hidden enough to maximize his rare scoring prowess. Plus, he is a four-year college guy who will play right away. Overall, a huge night for McDermott.

Orlando Magic

Orlando gets two major upside picks in forward Aaron Gordon and point guard Elfrid Payton, one of the real gems of this class. Both are terrific athletes, especially Gordon, who tested off the charts at the pre-draft Chicago combine and will fly down the floor alongside Victor Oladipo. Payton, despite the small-school pedigree (Louisiana-Lafayette), is a dark horse Rookie of the Year candidate who can really go.

Boston Celtics

I'm not a huge Marcus Smart guy, but to get him at six has real value, and then to get Kentucky swingman James Young at 17 is impressive. Both have legit All-Star ability, and Young -- who parlayed an excellent NCAA Tournament into going in the top 20 -- may become a left-handed Paul Pierce type of player in time. He can score the ball in spades and has the massive 6-foot-8 frame to go along with it.

Los Angeles Lakers

Every single frontcourt player for LA enters free agency, including Pau Gasol, and GM Mitch Kupchak snagged power forward Julius Randle with the seventh pick. The 19-year-old Randle -- who will endear himself to fans by talking a big game -- might be the most NBA-ready player in this draft not named Jabari Parker, and he has both the upside and the floor to go along with. The Lakers also got Mizzou combo guard Jordan Clarkson at 46, another name to watch because of his offensive versatility.

San Antonio Spurs

Kyle Anderson may one day morph into a better version of Boris Diaw, so maybe it's only fitting that coach Gregg Popovich takes him 30th overall. The Spurs will find a way to mask Anderson's athletic limitations while exercising his dynamic skill set at 6-foot-8.


Nik Stauskas

This outcome was just a really strange fit for one of my favorite players in the entire draft. Stauskas heads to a Sacramento team that just last year took former Kansas wing Ben McLemore. Stauskas is a better, far more polished version, but this remains a team without a true point guard, which now has two 6-foot-6 shooters who need the ball to be effective.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Another draft where the Wolves blew a real opportunity. Zach LaVine is as green as a ninja turtle and a project that this team simply doesn't have the time to wait on. Right now, LaVine is merely a superior athlete who can make 3s, but not much else. His shot selection and defensive breakdowns will become a serious issue, as will Glenn Robinson II, Minnesota's second-round pick. Robinson is another project who is light-years away from becoming a legitimate NBA player.

New Orleans Pelicans

New Orleans could have had the 10th pick if not for the Jrue Holiday deal one year ago. The Pelicans need to add help around Anthony Davis -- and with the talent on the board at 10, it would have been the perfect time to do so.

Noah Vonleh

Vonleh would have been a top three pick in most drafts, but instead slides to Charlotte at nine. Now, he will have to play alongside last year's lottery pick Cody Zeller, another former Indiana star. Vonleh is a big-time talent who could become a star. However, he remains very raw, and Charlotte has a way of not developing guys.

Toronto Raptors

This was not the draft to swing for the fences at 20, but GM Masai Ujiri did just that, selecting Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo. Caboclo is another major talent with real upside, who remains light-years away from developing into an NBA player. Frankly, Toronto doesn't have the time to wait.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure and catch my NBC Sports Radio show, Kup and Schultz, which airs Sunday mornings from 9-12 ET, right here.

How Well Do You Actually Know English Slang? Take This Quiz To Find Out

Fri, 2014-06-27 09:09
English is one of the most commonly spoken languages in the world. Why is it then that two native speakers can carry on a conversation without having a clue what the other is saying?

The answer: slang. Or jargon, lingo, patois, colloquialisms, what-have-you, etc.

The U.S. certainly has its fair share, but the fact is we're missing out on a whole bunch of vibrant words and expressions you'll only find in the north of England, or in some small town in Nova Scotia, to name just two places rich in their linguistic intricacies. Ever heard Australian slang? It's awesome, or "ripper," as they might say.

So, how well do you know your English-speaking slang? Match the definition (found in italics) to the slang words in this quiz to find out.

Check out the answer key at the end and you might just learn a few new turns of phrase:

Quiz widget by

Could You Have Handled an 8-5 Schedule When You Were in High School?

Fri, 2014-06-27 08:21

Over the past four years, students in the first graduating class of Southland College Prep Charter High School spent five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. preparing for the next phase of their lives.

Selected by lottery, Southland College Prep students hail from the south suburban cities of Country Club Hills, Flossmoor, Hazel Crest, Homewood, Matteson, Olympia Fields, Park Forest, Richton Park and Tinley Park.

Though it's the only charter high school in Chicago's suburbs, May's commencement ceremony unveiled some superb success stories.

Among noteworthy achievements, the total amount of scholarship money racked up is quite impressive. And check out the universities some of these standout students will be attending.

On the city's troubled south side, one school in West Englewood had its own success story, proving to be a beacon of opportunity and pride amid relentless gang violence and severe educational barriers.

NEXT ARTICLE: State budget gap just one that must be filled 

Sherri Shepherd, Jenny McCarthy Leaving 'The View'

Thu, 2014-06-26 20:50
In a move that signaled yet another major shakeup on "The View," co-host Sherri Shepherd announced Thursday night that she was leaving the show after seven years, and Jenny McCarthy appeared to confirm that she was also stepping down after just one season.

The moves leave Whoopi Goldberg as the program's sole remaining host.

In a statement, Shepherd said, "It’s been seven wonderful years on 'The View' and after careful consideration it is time for me to move on. I am extremely grateful to Barbara Walters and Bill Gedde for giving me the opportunity. I look forward to the business opportunities that lay ahead for me and I am incredibly grateful to my View family and my fans for supporting me on this journey."

Soon after, McCarthy tweeted the following:

If Sherri goes... I go too. #sisters

— Jenny McCarthy (@JennyMcCarthy) June 27, 2014

My View will be changing too. As will with many hard working folks. Thanks to everyone at the show for your dedication and an amazing year.

— Jenny McCarthy (@JennyMcCarthy) June 27, 2014

In a separate statement, ABC seemed to suggest that the departures were less than voluntary.

"'The View’ will be moving in an exciting new direction next season and ABC has made decisions to evolve the show creatively," the network said.

TMZ claimed that the two women had been fired. The Associated Press reported that Shepherd and ABC had failed to agree on terms for a new contract.

Whatever the case, "The View" finds itself in the midst of another great upheaval. The show has seen a steady stream of co-hosts depart over the last year, with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Joy Behar and Barbara Walters all saying goodbye. With the hiring of McCarthy, the program seemed to be making a conscious attempt to move away from the kinds of contentious political arguments that previously leant it much of its buzz.

Clearly, however, the new format was found wanting. There was no immediate indication as to who would replace Shepherd or McCarthy (or, indeed, Walters, who left in May), or what the newly revamped show would look like. But the version of "The View" that returns to the airwaves in the fall will be a drastically different one than viewers have become used to.

Chicago's Gay Community Gets Revenge On Republican Candidate In The Best Way Possible

Thu, 2014-06-26 16:49
Though Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is not planning to attend Sunday's massive Gay Pride Parade in Chicago, his presence will still very much be felt -- thanks to a giant banner erected by LGBT advocates.

Equality Illinois and a number of associated community members and elected officials on Thursday unveiled a two-story banner featuring a photograph of Rauner along with his statement, made last year at a Tea Party event, that he would have vetoed Illinois' new marriage equality bill had it come to his desk as governor of the state.

The banner is located at one of the busiest intersections along the route of the Pride Parade, which attracted more than a million celebrants last year and is expected to see possibly larger crowds this year thanks at least in part to the marriage equality law going into effect earlier this month.

Art Johnson, co-founder of Equality Illinois and owner of Chicago's popular Sidetrack bar, described Rauner as "an enemy of equality" in a statement.

"[Rauner] poses a clear and present danger to our ability to protect our loved ones through marriage," Johnson said. "Over and over, he has made it clear he opposes the freedom to marry and has chosen the side of bigotry and intolerance."

The Republican, who is challenging Gov. Pat Quinn for the governorship, has declined to share his personal beliefs on the issue -- describing them as "irrelevant" and claiming that he "does not have a social issues agenda." He reiterated this month that he was open to Illinois voters considering an advisory referendum on repealing the marriage law and suggested he would go along with the majority opinion.

Here's Where Getting A Divorce Will Cost You The Most

Thu, 2014-06-26 16:40
It's well-known that divorce is expensive -- but depending on where you file, it could cost you even more.

See below for a ranking of the most expensive states for splitting up, and those where it's a bit cheaper:

See all Divorce Laws | FindTheBest

Find The Data's "ease of filing score" is calculated based on the waiting period before the divorce is finalized and the filing fee. The site collected divorce cost data from individual state government websites and the American Bar Association. And the divorce rate, taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 2011 Census Bureau, is the number of people who identify as divorced per 1,000 residents.

Keep in touch! Check out HuffPost Divorce on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for our newsletter here.

Ann Coulter Reminds Us That Only Asshats Hate Soccer For No Good Reason

Thu, 2014-06-26 16:38
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter is known for her questionable, often offensive rants, but her latest tirade is pure trolling of soccer fans everywhere.

In a syndicated column published less than 24 hours before what was perhaps the U.S. team's most important game in nearly four years -- when most soccer supporters were likely too busy and nervous to bother to respond to tired anti-soccer arguments --Coulter argued that a growing interest in the sport is a sign of America's "moral decay."

"Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in," Coulter writes, not bothering to check if her question actually has an answer (it does). "That's when we're supposed to go wild. I'm already asleep."

Among the reasons Coulter says she thinks soccer is horrible: liberal moms love it; some games end in scoreless ties; you can't use your hands; it's foreign; and it's like the metric system.

We wouldn't have wasted the time rebutting Coulter earlier today, but with the U.S. now through to the next round, we're here to help you understand just how stupid some of her claims are:

"I've held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone."

We could have waited another 10 years, but it's worth noting that World Cup soccer is actually almost always a 90-minute game, with a 20-minute halftime break and a few minutes added on for stoppage time. While games can go longer for extra time and possibly penalties in knockout rounds, game times are usually predictable, and much shorter than other major American sports, which have commercial breaks, timeouts and other general stoppages in play, which also halt the clock.

"There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised."

In the U.S. World Cup game against Portugal, defender Geoff Cameron had a crucial miscue, which led to an early gift of goal. And how about U.S. player Jermaine Jones' rocket of a goal to tie it up -- was that not a heroic display of individual skill? And ask Argentinians if Lionel Messi isn't a national hero.

"Do they even have MVPs in soccer?"

Actually, yes! What Americans know as the most valuable player is called the "man of the match" in soccer. You can find a list of those guys from this year's World Cup matches right here. There's also a Golden Boot and a Golden Ball awarded to the highest goal scorer and best overall player in the World Cup.

"Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in."

It's true, players do run a lot, to the tune of 100-plus kilometers -- or for Coulter, more than 62 miles -- per team, per game. The U.S. team ran 114 km -- about 71 miles -- in its loss to Germany, and midfielder Michael Bradley ran 13 km alone.

"The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport."

Coulter must not know about U.S. forward Clint Dempsey, who's been playing in this World Cup with a broken nose, or any number of players who may or may not have suffered concussions, only to soldier on through the rest of the game. The players union recently brought this issue up to FIFA, the World Cup's governing body.

Whether or not risk of major injury or humiliation should be a requirement to be considered a sport, soccer possesses both. Coulter has clearly never listened to an interview with a soccer player, like Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who retired from international soccer following the humiliation of a costly blunder in the 2010 World Cup. She must also not be aware of the tragic story of Colombian defender Andrés Escobar, who was murdered in his home country in 1994 following an own goal that led to his team's untimely exit from the World Cup. Many believe his death was a result of the mistake.

"It's foreign."

Well, this isn't the first time Coulter has hated something for being "foreign," so, what can we say?

In her attempts to fight claims that soccer is not, in fact, getting more popular, Coulter guarantees that "No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer." Sounds like an airtight argument, just like the rest of them. Too bad for Coulter, though, that the U.S. team survived Group G -- the so-called group of death -- and will advance into the round of 16 at the World Cup. Let's see how many fourth-generation Americans tune in then.

Don't get us wrong, Coulter -- you should feel free to hate soccer. But before you go writing a column about how doing so is "America's Favorite National Pastime," try formulating an argument that doesn't end up proving just how idiotic that "pastime" is.

The U.S. team will face the winner of Group H on Tuesday, July 1, at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. With two games remaining to be played in Group H, Belgium appears to be the likeliest team to earn that spot.

U.S. Survives Group Of Death, Advances At World Cup Into Round Of 16 (PHOTOS)

Thu, 2014-06-26 12:55
The United States will have life after the Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup.

There would be no nightmare scenario for the U.S. team as the final Group G matches were played simultaneously in Brazil on Thursday. The U.S. was defeated 1-0 by Germany in Recife but still advanced into the Round of 16 as Portugal defeated Ghana 2-1 in Brasilia.

"Tremendous energy, tremendous effort from the whole side," U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap on the field after the game. "It's huge. It's huge for us getting out of this group when everybody said we had no chance. We took our chance."

#USMNT advance to Rd. of 16 at the @FIFAWorldCup! #USA will play 1st Place in Group H. 4 pm ET on July 1 in Salvador!

— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 26, 2014

Germany won the formidable group with two wins and a draw while the U.S. advanced as the runner-up with one win, one draw and one defeat. The U.S. finished with the same record and number points as Portugal but prevailed due to a superior goal differential. The U.S. finished its three group-stage games with a 0 goal differential while Portugal finished with a -3, due largely to a heavy 4-0 defeat to Germany.

With both games in progress, Ghana briefly seemed on the verge of breaking the hearts of U.S. players and fans yet again. After dealing the U.S. men's team tournament-ending defeats at the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, Ghana had a chance to do the trick again from afar on Thursday. Just minutes after striker Thomas Mueller staked Germany to a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute in Recife, Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan scored an equalizer against Portugal in Brasilia, erasing an earlier own goal.

As it stands now, #USA are still into the Round of 16. But one more #GHA goal, and #USA will have to score one. #GroupOfDeath

— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 26, 2014

A late strike from Cristiano Ronaldo reinstated Portugal's lead against Ghana and relieved the pressure felt by U.S. fans keeping track of both games at once.

Portugal scores! @Cristiano volleys it home from 8 yards and #POR take the lead again!

— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 26, 2014

The U.S. will face the winner of Group H on Tuesday, July 1st at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. With two games remaining to be played in Group H, Belgium appears to be the likeliest team to earn that spot.

The State Where The Most Americans Drink Themselves To Death

Thu, 2014-06-26 11:02
Since Colorado legalized marijuana last year, politicians and pundits have focused intently on health and safety concerns surrounding legal weed. But a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests a more imminent danger for the state and its neighbors: alcohol.

According to the report, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, Colorado and other Mountain-region states have the highest alcohol-related death rates in the country -- several points higher than the national average of one in 10 deaths.

New Mexico leads the country with 16.4 percent of alcohol-related deaths, while Maryland has the lowest rate at 7.5 percent. Regionally, Alaska and almost all of the Mountain-region states have alcohol-related death rates higher than the national average. The stark exception: Utah, which has some of the most restrictive alcohol selling and purchasing laws in the U.S.

"Excessive alcohol use is a huge public health problem," study researcher Dr. Robert Brewer, of the CDC's Alcohol Program, told The Huffington Post. "It's killing people in the prime of their lives."

For the report, CDC researchers tallied the deaths among people ages 20 to 64 from 2006 to 2010. They scanned 54 different causes of death linked to alcohol, which range from acute conditions like violence, alcohol poisoning and motor vehicle collisions, to chronic conditions like breast cancer and heart disease. Researchers found that alcohol-related deaths kill about 88,000 people a year, shortening those lives by an average of 30 years.

But those counts could well be an underestimate, said Brewer, because deaths from pneumonia, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C weren't part of the analysis. Excessive alcohol consumption -- which the CDC defines as eight or more drinks per week for a woman and 15 or more drinks per week for a man -- plays a significant role in increasing risk for those diseases, as well.

"At the time we were putting this tool together and coming up with the methodology, we just didn't have good estimates of the relationship between alcohol and certain conditions," Brewer explained. Additionally, the numbers are based partly on self-reports of alcohol consumption, and people generally tend to underreport the amount they drink.

"So even though it's a big number, we really think this is a significant underestimate," said Brewer.

Alcohol is a toxin and known carcinogen that can increase the risk for chronic health conditions or escalate their severity. Because an estimated 38 million Americans drink alcohol excessively, there's a lot of potential good that could come from people choosing to drink just a little less, said Dr. David Crabb, director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center. Crabb wasn't involved in the study, but praised the new research and echoed the need for intervention at an individual and public health level.

"A lot of the injury isn't just the people you consider alcohol abusers, but a much a larger group that binge drink or consume higher levels than recommended -- more than 1 [to] 2 drinks a day," Crabb told HuffPost.

One of the most important things drinkers can do is educate themselves on the proper serving sizes of their favorite beverages. For instance, one big wine glass may actually hold two servings, and a pint of craft beer will likely have higher alcohol content than a standard 12-ounce beer, Crabb said.

Medical professionals can also do their part by asking questions about alcohol use during primary care check-ups and hospital visits, Crabb added. Even a brief "intervention" about the dangers of heavy alcohol use can be enough to encourage an estimated 25 percent of excessive drinkers to take the drinking down a notch.

And on a policy level, local governments can try to curb alcohol-related deaths by increasing state taxes for alcohol, regulating alcohol store density and holding alcohol retailers legally responsible if they sell alcohol to people they shouldn't.

The 10 Snobbiest Cities In America, According To Movoto Real Estate (PHOTOS)

Thu, 2014-06-26 10:07
What makes a snob? Apparently -- according to the Movoto Real Estate blog, at least -- you should move to California to find out.

The "persnickety" state nabbed six out of the ten spots on the list of America's snobbiest mid-sized cities. But don't scoff just yet, East Coasters: a couple of spots on the Right Coast seem to have no problem putting their noses up in the air, as well. To be fair, the list was compiled thanks to the site's super mathematical snobbery scale, which includes factors such as median home prices and household income, percent of population with a college degree and the number of private schools, performing arts centers, art galleries and country clubs per capita.

So take this list with a grain of salt -- and don't be surprised if you feel a bit, um, judged by their inhabitants.

And click here to see the complete list of 50 cities to see if your hometown made the cut.

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The One Big Downside To Virtual Friends

Thu, 2014-06-26 06:44
I have two sets of friends: There are the brick and mortar ones who I meet for dinner, spend holidays with, and text -- and then there are my virtual friends, who are the people I have gotten to know online and who I frequently feel that I know just as well.

And yes, I'm of an age where even typing that makes me feel a little weird. For someone to be a friend, don't you actually have to have seen them in person? I'm not sure anymore.

Of my virtual friends, the ones I feel closest to are the moms in the online Chinese adoption community. My two children, now ages 16 and 13, were my admission ticket to this club. I often hear envy from moms whose kids were adopted from Haiti, Korea, or Cambodia because the Chinese adoption community is so large and well-organized, and theirs is not. It's true: The Chinese adoption community is so big and so active online that it's possible to filter and just make friends from your child's specific orphanage or province. We even have subgroups for the different adoption agencies or the date you got your referral or the group with which you traveled. There are online subdivisions for moms with Chinese sons, moms with Chinese twins, moms who adopted from China out of birth order, and moms with Chinese special needs kids (often sorted by specific special need).

Without question, we are a plentiful lot and we've done a great job of connecting with each other online. I've known some of these moms for more than a dozen years. We have supported each other through the paper chase for our children, through the early years of adjustment issues, and through the more recent surge of our daughters finding one another online and expressing great surprise, as my daughter recently did, that "You know Mei's mom?!"

For our adopted children, making virtual friends with other adoptees has been a godsend. They have finally found someone who gets what it's like to grow up as a Chinese adoptee in a foreign country, someone with whom they can share thoughts about their desire to find their birth parents, or at least find out more about where they came from. And yes, we virtual friend moms talk about our kids now wanting to do those things too.

My very first online friend was Lori McCoy. She cattle-prodded me in 2001 when my engine stalled while I was filling out the mountain of paperwork that a foreign adoption requires. I had shoveled the papers to the side of the dining room table and hadn't touched them for weeks. I chalked it up to getting a case of cold feet -- until McCoy convinced me that my feet would warm, as would my heart, once I got my daughter in my arms. I moved forward because of this Internet friend, which I think makes her a kind of godparent to my daughter, who I wouldn't have had if she had not hammered me with emails back then. McCoy's own adoption journey switched direction and her beautiful daughter wound up coming from Cambodia, not China.

Then there's Jill Touloukian, an adoptive mom who united many of us. Touloukian runs an international adoption dossier service and everybody uses her because she is so thorough. She's one of those meticulously careful, quadruple-checkers who assembles all the pieces of adoption applications and makes sure you aren't rejected because you forgot to initial something. Many of us have our kids today because of Jill. She and I stay in touch on Facebook and our relationship now includes comparing Tahiti hotels.

I "know" Luanne Billstein because she and I both have daughters from the same orphanage. Luanne lives in Ohio and I'm actually going to meet her for the first time this summer when we attend an Adopteen conference that she organized. Having kids from the same orphanage makes us family; that's true for Katina Z. Jones from Georgia and Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett of Oklahoma. We may all come from different walks of life but the mere idea that a decade ago and a million miles away, our children once shared the same crib or caregiver -- or even that they may have breathed the same air in the same orphanage corridor -- makes these virtual friends important to me. Their children are a connection to my daughter's past and she to theirs -- and we all do what we can to keep this common thread alive.

My virtual friends come from outside adoption circles too. I used to play Words With Friends with a dog rescuer I've never met. Leslie Rossell was too good a player for me and the nightly humiliation more than this writer could bear, but I feel like I know her so well that she once had to remind me that we've never actually met, even though we live in the same city.

I have virtual friends who are freelance journalists across the country; in many cases we've worked for the same editors, know the same people, have sent work to one another -- but we just have never met. There are about 25 or so of us who all worked under contract for the same now-defunct website; I've met just three of them because they live nearby but I totally "know" the others. That website was one of my all-time favorite gigs, in no small part because of the Walletpop gang.

There is only one problem with my virtual friends: There are times they seem to be overtaking my brick and mortar friends. Given the pace of life and demands on my time, it's easier to spend time with them. I can sign on at 1 a.m. and always find someone in another time zone to "talk" to me. During the day, I can take a break from work and read about what happened in the lives of my virtual friends on Facebook. A comment or a "like" lets them know I'm in touch. A direct message tells them I'm totally there for them. They require nothing more of me or our friendship.

It's harder to connect with my brick and mortar friends because it takes more time. Arranging to see them sometimes requires the skills of an event planner. I can't remember the last time I "grabbed" coffee with someone in the spontaneous sense. I'm always rushing to the next place or the next obligation and our in-person visits now involve calendar invites and sending reminders to our phones.

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I spend so much time online with my virtual friends that it has cut into the real time available for my brick and mortar friends. But it does occur to me that the concept of friendship been altered -- and that's maybe not such a good thing.

Your thoughts?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

USDA Tells Employees It Will Still Drug-Test For Weed, Even In States Where It's Legal

Wed, 2014-06-25 18:31
Employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who live in states where recreational or medical marijuana has been legalized, be warned. Your employer does not want you smoking pot.

A recent memo from USDA to its more than 100,000 employees makes clear that existing drug-testing policies haven't changed, even in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use. The memo was issued in late-May and obtained by marijuana policy reform group NORML, which released it to the public on Wednesday.

"Use of marijuana for 'recreational' purposes is not authorized under federal law nor the Department's Drug Free Workplace Program policies ... and the USDA Plan for a Drug Free Workplace," the memo reads. "Accordingly, USDA testing procedures remain in full force and effect."

The USDA did not immediately return messages about workplace drug-testing.

The memo was a response to inquiries about the agency's policy regarding recreational marijuana use by employees in Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012.

It should come as no surprise that the USDA would enforce a straightforward view of marijuana for employees, given that it is a federal agency and marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Drug Enforcement Administration ranks cannabis among the "most dangerous" drugs, alongside heroin and LSD, with "no currently accepted medical use."

Meanwhile, 22 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, with New York state poised to be the 23rd. About a dozen other states are considering legalization of marijuana in some form over the next several years.

Under the USDA Drug Free Workplace Program, the agency tests employees for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines, and PCP.

USDA employees who test positive for marijuana will face disciplinary action that may include a written reprimand, suspension without pay, rehabilitation, or termination, according to the agency.

The USDA memo said it's not just recreational marijuana users who face discipline if they fail a drug test. State-legal medical marijuana patients also are at risk under guidance the USDA said all federal agencies received from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"State initiatives and laws, which make available to an individual a variety of illicit drugs by a physician's prescription or recommendation, do not make the use of these illicit drugs permissible under the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program," the memo reads. "These state initiatives and laws are inconsistent with federal law and put the safety, health, and security of federal works and the American public at risk. The use of any substance included in Schedule I of the CSA, whether for non-medical or ostensible medical purposes, is considered a violation of federal law and the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program."

If This Note Doesn't Convince Your Boss To Let You Watch The U.S. Soccer Game, Nothing Will

Wed, 2014-06-25 18:26
Really want to watch the U.S.-Germany game on Thursday, but don't know how you're going to get off work? The U.S. men's soccer team has you covered.

The team's official Twitter feed sent a ready-to-go get-out-of-work note to its one million followers on Wednesday. And, well, it's pretty perfect:

We also transcribed it in case it's hard to read in its original form format whatever reason:

To whom it may concern:

Please excuse _____________ from work on Thursday, June 26th.

I understand that this absence may reduce the productivity of your workplace, but I can assure you that it is for an important cause. The #USMNT has a critical World Cup game vs. Germany and we will need the full support of the nation if we are to advance to the next round.

By the way, you should act like a good leader and take the day off as well. Go USA!

If your boss doesn't let you root for your country after reading that, well, then maybe you need to find a new boss. The game is at 12 p.m. EST.

10 Ways the George Lucas Museum Will Re-Write Chicago History

Wed, 2014-06-25 17:32
We did it, guys! We got another museum!

The George Lucas museum will open in Chicago come 2018. Who better to explain how an entire society can go from a sparkling clean hi-tech vision of the future -- to a dirty broken-down totalitarian regime in the time it takes a baby to grow into Mark Hamill?

Here are 10 ways George Lucas will re-write (and improve) Chicago's grand history:

1. Willis Tower will be dramatically revealed as the John Hancock Center's father! (Back when it was going by a different name...)

2. To fix continuity errors with his origin, Barack Obama was now actually born in Chicago and built Joe Biden at a very young age.

3. The 1893 World's Fair will go down in history as the first time the world was introduced to Cream of Wheat, Juicy Fruit, the dishwasher, the zipper, the Ferris Wheel, the trash compactor monster thing and the wizardry of Nikola Tesla (voiced by James Earl Jones).

4. The Chicago Cubs World Series Curse is now credited to their very low Midichlorian counts.

5. The Prohibition Era will remain untouched. There is no need for edits... except one. Al Capone rode a giant lizard.

6. Oprah Winfrey will now be played by Hayden Christensen.

7. Illinois governors will no longer be political puppets; they will be political CGI effects.

8. Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley will be re-written to be siblings (making their earlier kiss super-awkward).

9. The filth-ridden Chicago sausages describe in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle will be henceforth known as "Jar Jar Links."

10. We will have to burn Chicago down one more time to complete the trilogy.

Written by C.J. Tuor. This post originally appeared on The Second City Network.

Two Of The Nation's Largest Library Systems Will Start Lending Wi-Fi

Wed, 2014-06-25 17:27
As libraries around the country make the shift to web-savvy information and resource hubs, two of the nation's largest public library systems will soon start lending the Internet itself.

Patrons of the New York City and Chicago Public Library systems will be able to check out high speed mobile Wi-Fi hot spots thanks to a pair of digital innovation grants awarded Monday by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The two public library systems were among the 19 winners of the Knight News Challenge, in which more than 700 applicants vied for grants by submitting proposals aimed at "strengthening the Internet for free expression and innovation."

Under Chicago's $400,000 "Internet To Go" program, patrons will be able to check out Wi-Fi hotspot devices for up to three weeks at a time. A spokesperson for CPL told The Huffington Post that the library has no launch date for the program just yet, but it will start in six neighborhood branches where Internet adopting rates are "particularly low."

The program will also include one-on-one digital literacy and skills coaching, according to the Knight Foundation.

With New York City's half-million dollar grant for their "Check Out The Internet" initiative starting in September, patrons will be able to check out a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to one year. Currently, 27 percent of New York city households lack access to broadband Internet, according to the Knight Foundation.

The Wi-Fi lending programs could have implications for library systems outside major metro areas, as well. As City Lab notes, the New York proposal already includes plans to share the program's insights with the state library systems of Kansas and Maine.

Woman Shot After Man Mistakes Gun Left On City Bus For A Toy

Wed, 2014-06-25 17:06
A Chicago woman was grazed by a bullet Wednesday morning after a handgun was left unattended on a city bus seat.

Police say the woman was riding the No. 47 bus on the city's Southwest Side when her neighbor, who was riding the bus with her, picked up the gun after it fell to the floor, ABC Chicago reports. The man reportedly thought the .22 caliber pistol was a toy.

When the gun fired, a bullet ricocheted off the floor and struck the woman in the thigh, though it didn't pierce her skin. According to ABC, she refused medical attention and left the scene limping.

Officials have designated the incident as an accident but are working to locate the pistol's owner, according to NBC Chicago.

Though guns are not allowed on public transit in Chicago under the state's new concealed carry law, weapons have turned up there multiple times in recent days. In a separate incident last Thursday, a city bus driver confiscated a gun that apparently belonged to an individual involved in a fracas captured on cell phone video, the Chicago Tribune reports. The incident is under police investigation.

Wednesday the Chicago City Council unanimously approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's strict new gun store law that would require retailers to videotape all purchases of firearms and limit sales to one gun per month per buyer. Gun rights advocates have said the plan is tantamount to a ban and a court challenge is expected.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: Unfinished Business

Wed, 2014-06-25 16:02
It has been 50 years since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Called for by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and pushed through Congress in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it is arguably the most important legislation to come out of the Civil Rights Movement. This milestone was the culmination of bipartisan Congressional leadership, brave men, women and children whose peaceful protests often received brutal responses, and determined activism from grassroots and national leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Height, and Whitney M. Young.

This victory would not have been won without dedicated citizens of all backgrounds across the country, including right here in Chicago. In fact, June 21st marked the 50th anniversary of the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights. This event drew thousands to Soldier Field to hear King, Young, Bishop Arthur Brazier, Al Raby, Mahalia Jackson and others motivate the masses to demand immediate passage of the Act. The rally, co-convened by the Chicago Urban League and the Church Federation of Greater Chicago, was one of Chicago's major contributions to the movement.

This Civil Rights Act, a monumental piece of legislation, overturned centuries of legalized discrimination. The Act granted African Americans equal access to public places and accommodations and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in the workplace. It outlawed segregated schools and discriminatory application of voter registration requirements used in the South to keep Blacks from voting. It also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and laid the groundwork for the passage a year later of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

By declaring racial discrimination illegal, the Civil Rights Act opened the doors of opportunity for many. African Americans were provided access to better schools, jobs and housing and much progress has been achieved since the Civil Rights Act's passing. However, in the half century since it became the law of the land, it's clear that the Act hasn't lived up to its full promise.

Today, African Americans enjoy more access to places to live, work and spend their money but we still lag significantly behind in educational attainment, employment opportunities, business success and fairness in the criminal justice system. And as we head into the first major federal elections since 2010, there are now 15 states with new voting restrictions in place, making it harder to cast a ballot. Despite the protections of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination still exists in our country and the impact of discrimination is still creating barriers to meaningful opportunity for many.

The Civil Rights Act was groundbreaking legislation that represented a strong example of what can be accomplished when we are willing to cross the barriers that divide us and work together to achieve a common good. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Act, we still have many critical issues negatively impacting our community, gun violence, high incarceration rates and high unemployment among them. Let us use the same spirit that powered the Civil Rights Act to re-energize our commitment to continue to push for positive change and equal access to opportunity for all our community. We can and must not only honor, but learn from our historic accomplishments.

With that in mind, on July 8, I will lead a discussion at the Chicago History Museum examining the history and legacy of the Civil Rights Act, and the unfinished work yet to be done. We will discuss real and attainable actions that we, as a collective community, can take to pick up where the Civil Rights Act left off.

Our panelists will include Dr. Carol Adams, president and CEO, DuSable Museum of African American History; Mitzi Miller, editor-in-chief of Ebony magazine; Clay Risen, a New York Times editor and author of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act; Bonnie Boswell, executive producer, The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights; and Adam Green, associate professor in history and the College Master of the Social Science Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago.

The event takes place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and I hope you will consider joining us for this important conversation Civil Rights Act of 1964 and issue a community call to action. You can register to attend at

We have come a long way since 1964, but we still have miles to go. Let's use this significant anniversary to set the agenda for the next 50 years of civil rights activism.

Living Fully and Doing Business Differently With Richard Branson

Wed, 2014-06-25 15:33
All day today at my apartment, I've been hosting a meeting of the B Team, which Richard Branson co-founded last year to change the values that drive businesses, to prioritize people and planet alongside profit, and to move beyond our obsession with quarterly earnings and short-term growth. And before we started the day, I interviewed Richard at AOL's Brand Camp leadership meeting, which reminded me of a conversation he and I had in 2009, on board Virgin America's inaugural flight from San Francisco to Orange County, covering everything from space travel and global warming to marijuana and the music business. Here is the video, along with the full transcript:

Arianna Huffington: So here we are, on the inaugural flight from San Francisco to Orange County, and we've had hundreds of questions submitted to Digg, and out of those the community chose the top 10. So let's start with the first one, which is from "dlprager," with 503 diggs: When does money become immaterial? Having $1 million is different from being broke, and I imagine having $10 million is different from $1 million. Is $1 billion significantly different from, in terms of lifestyle impact and implications, $250 million?

Richard Branson: Well, first of all, welcome to Virgin America. I've never done an interview at 35,000 feet, so it's a pleasure. And I've actually just been reading one of [your] books [On Becoming Fearless], and it's fantastic, so I'm looking forward to finishing that. I think one has to be careful, when you've got money, answering questions about money, because, well, some people will say, "It's easy for him," but my own personal feeling is that you don't need that much money to be happy. You know, I think I've learned that if you have a house, you end up living in the kitchen, so if you have one big kitchen and then enough bedrooms for your family, that's about all you need for a home. A car -- you know, as long as it's got four wheels, it's environmentally friendly, gets you from A to B, you don't need a big, flashy car to be happy. On a personal basis, I think as long as you can have one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, as long as you can sort out for your family if they're ill, the personal needs are not that great to be happy. Having said that, if you are lucky enough to create a successful business, and with that successful business comes extreme wealth, there are a lot of fantastic things you can do with that wealth. And extreme responsibility comes with that wealth, because you're no more successful than, you know, a successful doctor or nurse or dentist or journalist, you know, but you've got this extreme wealth. And I think you can get happiness through making a real difference in other people's lives by setting out to make other people's lives better and setting out to right the wrongs in the world. If you're lucky enough to have a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank account, that should be sufficient for your own personal needs, and anything more than that you've got to put to good use.

AH: So the next question is from "bratterscain," with 440 diggs, who asks: What is it like to be rich enough to wear naked babes as a clothing accessory?

RB: [Laughs.] Well, I think he's referring to a photographer that came with his rather beautiful girlfriend to Necker Island, which is our rather beautiful island out in the Caribbean, to do a photo shoot for Italian Vogue, and one of the shots he asked me to do was to take his girlfriend on my back kitesurfing, which is one of my favorite sports, and he said to me that it would be much better if she wasn't wearing clothes. And you know me: Being an English gentleman, I decided not to object.

AH: And also you proved you have a strong back, right?

RB: Yeah, well, she was quite a tall girl, but, you know, she clung on for dear life, and somehow I got it up.

AH: You know, it was a very popular news story on The Huffington Post. It was clicked through many times.

RB: I'm a great believer in life to saying yes and not saying no, and hopefully making people smile and just having fun in life.

AH: And not holding back because of what other people might say, right?

RB: And not holding back because of what other people say. And I'm certainly not embarrassed by having a beautiful nude woman, certainly one of the more beautiful women I've ever seen, on my back.

AH: The next question is from "Chewie67," with 423 diggs: When do you believe an "average," middle-class family will be able to take a trip into space?

RB: I saw the Moon landing and thought in my lifetime I would go to the Moon and my children would go to the Moon. The problem is that space travel has been run by governments -- the Russian government and the American government -- and they've never been interested in you, me, or middle-class families going into space, and so in 1990 I formed a company, Virgin Galactic Airways, and I went out looking for engineers who could build a reusable space rocket to take ordinary families, one day, into space. And I think most people would want to go into space if it were affordable, and if we could guarantee them a return ticket. Now, initially it's going to be expensive. It's going to be about $200,000 a ticket, but those people who are paying that are going to be pioneering the possibilities of middle-class families generally being able to go into space, and I'm absolutely certain that in my lifetime most middle-class families will be able to afford to have a trip into space. We're building a wonderful spaceport in New Mexico. We've got genius engineers working on it. We're going to make the experience absolutely magnificent. And I really hope that we will be able to get the price down so people can say, you know, "Do I want to go to Australia for this holiday, or shall I go into space?"

AH: And you've already had about 100 people who have paid and signed up?

RB: Well, we actually have about 300 who've signed up to go into space. But I won't let you off this plane until you say you're willing to go into space!

AH: I'll go into space when you go into space!

RB: Well, OK, I'll get you on the first flight. We'll get [you] into space!

AH: OK, so from "Bisquick," with 353 diggs, your next question is: Your net worth is currently estimated in the billions. What is the most valuable thing in your life?

RB: Well, I think there's no question that the most valuable thing in most people's lives are their family, friends, and, you know, that ends up being the most important thing in all our lives. Having said that, if there was one material possession that our family really loves, it's a tiny little jewel of an island that we have in the Caribbean called Necker Island. I bought it when I was in my 20s. It cost $120,000; there was nothing on it. It's a little jewel. It's the place we escape to. It's the place where we pull up the drawbridge. It's the place where I have time to think. It's the place where I think about global-warming issues. It's the place where The Elders come to meet to talk about conflict-resolution issues. It's the place where we can talk about setting up Centers for Disease Control in Africa. It's a wonderful magnet to get people together.

AH: And also you were telling me that you haven't had anything to drink in six weeks?

RB: Six weeks ago I actually was in Australia, and we just sponsored a team for the Grand Prix, and we came in first and second, and we celebrated, and I drank so much that the next morning I couldn't remember anything after 9 o'clock that night. I literally couldn't remember anything. And it shocked me, you know. I just thought, "While it was fun and a great party, you can't go four hours just not remembering a thing." And I woke up, and I thought, you know, "I'll try a month or two of just cleansing my body," and I haven't drank a drop since. I feel like I'm getting three or four more hours in a day of really quality time.

AH: And you really love the feeling?

RB: Yeah. I'm a true believer, you know, in working hard and partying hard. I'm fortunate to be one of those people who can have just as much fun partying without alcohol, and I only just realized that in the last six weeks.

AH: When you started, you started with Virgin nightclubs, then Virgin health clubs, and you predicted at some point there will be Virgin funerals.

RB: I think you should do in life what you think you'll make a real difference at. And generally, as a businessperson, you do things you don't really have experience in. And you know, the only reason we started an airline was that I hated the experience of flying on other people's airlines. I wanted the kind of airline I would fly on. And so, 25 years ago today, we started Virgin Airlines with one 747.

AH: I love the purple that you say changes every couple of hours!

RB: Yeah, well, you know, airlines that travel domestically in America have really not cared about the passengers that travel with them. I mean, it's just been like a cattle truck to date. So if you come on this plane, immediately you feel comfortable, because the color schemes are lovely; they make you feel relaxed. You don't have the same color schemes for the whole journey; they change depending on the time of day outside. The seating is really comfortable; you know, in economy there are lovely leather seats, and fantastic entertainment systems, you know. If you want to be on the Internet the whole flight, you can. If you want to watch films, you can. If you want to play games, you can. If you want to chat with the passenger four rows back, you can send them a message, and if they want to go to the loo and have a quick look at you, they'll respond.

AH: So you already told us about giving up drinking for six weeks. Now "braddaniels," with 351 diggs asks: Do you still smoke marijuana? If so, how often? If pot was legal, would there be Virgin joints?

RB: That's a good question, and, personally, I think that marijuana should be legalized. I think the only reason it isn't legal is because politicians who smoked it when they were young men or young women just don't have the courage when they become politicians to legalize it. Smoking marijuana, as long as you leave the nicotine out of it, is certainly no more damaging than having a drink, and I suspect better for you than having a drink. It just seems absolutely wrong that young people -- most young people -- either smoke the occasional spliff or they smoke quite regularly and they risk having a criminal record and all the problems that come with having a criminal record. All the customs' time, the police's time, the court's time is wasted having to prosecute these young people, and it's a war that the authority is never going to win. They might as well accept it and legalize it. As far as smoking myself is concerned, I don't, personally, because, you know, I'm not even drinking at the moment. I like to get high on life, and I don't really need to smoke, and it doesn't give me the nice high that it gives most people.

AH: The next question is from "digsdigs," with 275 diggs: Do you feel that with bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead releasing their own music without a label, the traditional record label no longer has its place in the digital age?

RB: Yes, unfortunately, I think that the death knell of record labels is upon us. I had a wonderful time running Virgin Records many years ago and discovering bands. It was tremendously exciting. Culture Club, the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, Boy George -- lots of great bands. But I think that time has moved on, and record companies are almost a thing of the past. Live music is now really important, and at Virgin we put on these great festivals around the world, the Virgin Festivals, and people love live music now, and that's largely replaced where a lot of people get their music from. I think bands will actually make more money without record companies; a much bigger share of the money will go to the bands. You won't have record shops taking 40 percent of the money. You won't have record labels taking 40 percent of the money. So they don't have to sell as many albums as they used to in the past. So it's not necessarily a bad thing if record companies disappear.

AH: When you sold Virgin Records, it was a kind of bittersweet experience. You know, you got a billion dollars, but it was like giving up a big part of your life and what it had meant?

RB: Yes, well, I run our companies in a very personal way, and if you sell a company, it's like selling a child. I built Virgin Records as a teenager, and I was in my early 30s, and British Airways was trying to drive our airline out of business, so we needed the financial clout to stop them from driving our airline out of business. It was strange, sort of bursting into tears and running down the street, having just sold my record company, and passing a sign that said, "Branson Makes a Billion Dollars Selling His Company."

AH: But then you cry easily, right?

RB: I do cry easily. My children, when we go to the cinema, will bring a box of Kleenex, whether it's a happy film or a sad film.

AH: So when was the last time you cried? Do you remember?

RB: Most weeks I cry over something, but often it's tears of happiness, and actually in my life it's most often tears of happiness than tears of sorrow -- very rarely tears of sorrow.

AH: From "TxnDigital," with 253 diggs: Is Virgin Media ever going to stop BitTorrent throttling?

RB: Yes. We only do it in absolute peak times of the day in order to try and encourage people to go on in the non-peak times of the day. But Virgin Media is actually introducing 50 MGs. We'll be the only people with that capacity in the UK, and then we should be able to stop it altogether, and people will be able to use it as much as they like.

AH: OK, from "owaters," with 236 diggs: Is there anything you would have done differently in your career, even if it meant not reaching the level of success you have today?

RB: I don't think there's anything I would have done differently. I've had lots of failures, but that's all part of life's learning process. I've been incredibly fortunate. It's been great fun, and there's nothing I would change. I'm sure I've learned from some of my mistakes in the past, but there's nothing I would change.

AH: From "xthpsgodx," with 228 diggs: What historical figure would you most like to fistfight?

RB: Maybe Mark Antony, because at least if I beat him, I might get Cleopatra. Yeah, you know, maybe Stephen Colbert. He's not really historical yet, but, you know, we named a plane after him, and now he already wants a spaceship named after him. He's getting far too big for his boots, but we'll have a fistfight the next time I see him.

AH: Well, I'm doing his show next week, so I'm going to tell him to be prepared to fistfight Richard Branson.

RB: Well, the last time I was on his show, he ended up getting a cup of water after each sentence, so next time it will be the fists. Say hello to him for me.

AH: I will. From "mrSimon," with 211 diggs: You've handled everything from music to cola, from trains to space travel. What's next in store for the Virgin brand?

RB: Well, most of my energy now is going into tackling issues, sometimes using the Virgin brand, and sometimes just using the financial resources of Virgin. For instance, all the profits from our airlines now are going into trying to develop clean fuels, clean energy. And hopefully soon, you know, this plane will be running on something called isobutanol that one of our companies has developed -- a company called Gevo -- which is sugar-based fuel, completely clean, and, with global warming coming, very important to be able to do. We're also working with a wonderful group of elders, headed up by Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu, looking at conflict-resolution issues, and they're using their moral authority to go in and address conflicts. And one of our newest ventures is setting up a Center for Disease Control in Africa so that all of the wonderful organizations in Africa can be coordinated in their attack on diseases, and if new diseases -- say, TB in Africa or bird flu or whatever -- crop up, they can jump on it as quickly as in America, where you've got a Center for Disease Control in the States. So I think more of our time and energy is using our entrepreneurial skills to try and address some of the intractable problems of the world.

AH: Thank you so much. Thank you, Richard.

RB: It's been a pleasure.