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Chicago To Pay $4.9 Million To Family Of Man Dragged In Handcuffs

Wed, 2016-04-06 12:27

The city of Chicago has agreed to pay the family of a black man who died after being dragged by handcuffs from a cell in a police lockup and down a hallway more than three years ago, an attorney for the family said on Monday.

Philip Coleman, 38, was arrested for domestic battery against his mother on Dec. 12, 2012.

After he refused to go to court the next morning, several police officers struggled with Coleman inside a cell, and he was Tasered, court records showed. In an incident caught on video, an officer dragged a motionless Coleman by his handcuffs.

Coleman later died at a hospital, according to court records. The Chicago Tribune reported that an autopsy showed he died of a reaction to an antipsychotic drug and also had bruises and abrasions on his body. Reuters was not able to confirm the cause of death.

Ed Fox, a lawyer for the family, told Reuters by phone that Coleman's family and the city of Chicago had reached a settlement over the family's civil rights lawsuit, but declined to confirm media reports that it was for $4.9 million.

The city's law department declined to comment.

If the city council approves the settlement next week, the amount will be public.

Chicago police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been under national scrutiny since protests erupted last year after the release of a video showing the November 2014 shooting of a black teenager.

Protesters have called for Emanuel to resign over the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times. The officer, Jason Van Dyke, who is white, has been charged with murder, and Emanuel has apologized for the slaying.

In the wake of the protests, Emanuel fired his police chief and the Justice Department started an investigation of the Chicago Police Department to see whether there was a pattern of excessive use of lethal force.

In the Coleman case, a federal judge ruled in a December opinion that Officer Keith Kirkland and supervising officer Sergeant Tommy Walker were liable in their treatment of Coleman. Walker could have stopped the actions of Kirkland and intervened, but failed to do so. Both officers are black, Fox said.

Coleman's family has said he had mental health issues.

Emanuel announced reforms in January to address how police and other emergency workers respond to the mentally ill, after a police officer shot dead an emotionally troubled college student and an innocent bystander.

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Obama, Biden Endorse Tammy Duckworth For Senate

Wed, 2016-04-06 09:10

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) for Senate on Wednesday.

"I'm proud to support Tammy Duckworth for the seat I once held in the United States Senate," Obama said. "Few people fight as passionately for our veterans as Tammy. Soon after I was first elected president, I asked her to join my administration and serve her fellow veterans at the VA. She served with purpose and distinction -- service that continued when she ran for Congress and won.  And I was proud to sign one of Tammy's signature pieces of legislation -- the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act -- into law."

"When her nation calls, Tammy Duckworth answers, and I’m proud to support her in this next mission: running for the U.S. Senate," Biden said. "She supports programs that make college more affordable, including free community college for deserving students, and that's the kind of voice we need in the U.S. Senate."

Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and two-term congresswoman, is trying to unseat Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in one of the most competitive races in the country. Polling from last summer showed Duckworth with a slight lead. She also raised more money in the last quarter of 2015 -- $1.6 million to Kirk’s $1 million.

There's been some suspicious activity during their race. A "protest" last week at a Duckworth event included people who said they were being paid and didn't know if the congresswoman was a Democrat or a Republican. In November, Kirk supporters were caught using a fake minimum wage petition to put his name on the ballot. The Kirk campaign denied any involvement.

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Report: Chicago is Losing More Millionaires Than Any Other U.S. City

Tue, 2016-04-05 12:20

More millionaires left Chicago last year than any other city in the nation, according to a report by New World Wealth.

The research firm found Chicago had a net loss of nearly 3,000 millionaires, or individuals with at least $1 million in net assets (excluding their primary residence), which accounted for 2 percent of the city's 134,000 high net worth residents.

Mounting racial tensions and an increase in crime were among the most notable reasons given by millionaires fleeing the Windy City for other parts of the country.

The report's findings are on a par with those of Nielsen study released last year that showed many wealthy black Chicagoans are leaving the city, too.

From the Chicago Tribune's Becky Yerak:

The Nielsen report found that the Chicago area has fallen out of the top echelon of U.S. cities when it comes to the percentage of black households earning more than $100,000. In 2000, Chicago ranked seventh among the cities with the largest percentage of black households with income at that level or higher, but in 2015, Chicago had dropped out of the top 10.

Globally, Chicago was one of four cities -- Paris (7,000), Rome (5,000) and Athens (2,000) -- with the largest outflow of millionaires, according to the report.

Australia ranked No. 1 out of countries with the largest inflow of millionaires at 8,000, followed by the U.S. (7,000); Canada (5,000); Israel (4,000), United Arab Emirates (3,000); and New Zealand (2,000). Figures are rounded to the nearest 1,000.

Conversely, France, China, Italy, India, Greece, Russia, Spain and Brazil lost the most individuals with more than $1 million in net assets.

More from the report on why millionaires leaving matters:

  • Bad sign - millionaires are often the first people to leave. They have the means to leave unlike middle class citizens.

  • Money outflow - when millionaires leave a country, they take large amounts of money with them which impacts negatively on the local currency, local stock market and local property market.

  • Lost jobs - millionaires employ large numbers of people. Around 30% to 40% of millionaires are business owners.

  • Lost revenue and tax - millionaires spend a lot of money on local goods and services and pay a large amount of income tax.

  • Pensions & benefits - millionaires are not reliant on state pensions and benefits, which makes them a relatively easy and cheap group to please.

  • Resilient - millionaires are resilient to economic downturns and can keep an economy going during tough times.

  • Brain drain - millionaires are normally highly skilled and highly educated. Many are also innovators.

New World Wealth's report used data from investor visa program statistics, interviews with roughly 800 high net worth individuals (HNWIs) and intermediaries from around the world, property registers and sales statistics, as well as from the media.

The complete report is here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Some surprising names among Top 10 best community colleges in Illinois

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Everything Is Falling into the Right Place for Speaker Madigan

Tue, 2016-04-05 10:23

Cartoon by Scott Stantis

Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Everyone's fallen right into their roles. I wonder if House Speaker Mike Madigan ever marvels at how it's all worked out so perfectly.

Back in 2012, when Gov. Bruce Rauner was launching his evil plot to take over Illinois and crush labor unions all over planet Earth, the Chicago Teachers Union foretold it all.

The union released a clever video called "Stand Up to the Fat Cats." The dark stars of this tale? A little kitty called "The Rahminator" and his catty pal "Rowdy Rauner." They were the leaders of the litter box gang out to destroy beloved teachers and unions everywhere, while getting rich off of everyone. (Scroll down to watch the video.)

"The fat cats just sat back and laughed as the money rolled right into their pockets," says the dad reading the Fat Cats story to his child.

Yes, everyone's playing their parts to the hilt, the Speaker must think these days. Things could not be working out better.

Teachers and other labor unions never have been more united. Rauner and Rahm never have been more unpopular. The governor continues to call for the destruction of unions as we know them, even as he loses a couple high-profile primary battles.

And no one pays much attention to the Speaker himself, as his various campaign funds pile up more and more money from labor unions and lawyers. The Speaker was left out of the clever union video.

He's been out of sight for a month now, but he talked plenty before that. The Speaker, known as the Velvet Hammer, appeared with his wry grin, talking about how he's protecting the poor, the working stiffs and the middle class from that evil Rowdy Rauner and his litter box gang. Of course, Madigan didn't call him a name. He still politely referred to him as the governor.

Still, the narrative works so well. Madigan, who has been in power for all but two of the past 30 years, gets to save the little people.

The poor, the disabled, the mentally ill, the disadvantaged children all suffer while the state has no budget, but Madigan and his supermajority bear no blame. Illinois public colleges edge near the precipice. Union members in college towns who see their pensions and their very livelihoods being threatened blame the new, rowdy governor, not the long-time Speaker-savior.

Madigan's Democrats, and those in the Senate, tell constituents Rauner is to blame for all the current impasse pain. I'm sorry, we just can't get anything done, but we are busy protecting you, their stories go. Never mind the fact that they've held the majority now with Madigan as their leader since 1997 and for another 12 years prior to 1995.

Never mind that in all that time, pension debt skyrocketed to $111 billion. Never mind that Democratic majorities regularly have approved budgets that spend more than the state was taking in. Never mind that lawmakers have talked for 30 years about needing to fix the school funding formula, with Madigan and Democrats in charge of the House for 28 of those 30 years.

Never mind that Madigan, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and his predecessors all cut budget deals with Republican and Democratic governors over those 30 years. Which often included "non-budget" items like deals to keep businesses here like the White Sox and Sears and casino legislation in return for this or that.

Rauner is the fat cat, not Madigan, whom you might recall acknowledged he'd likely be subject, some years, to his own millionaire's tax, which he's pushed a few times in the past few years.

Never mind all of that.

Never mind that you're suffering even though both Rauner and Madigan know there will have to be both painful cuts and a tax increase in the budget deal to come, but that deal won't come until after the November election.

Rauner is the rowdy, evil, fat cat who has said since he took office that he'll sign a tax increase. He's the one who's repeatedly said he'll sign a tax increase and give up items from his turnaround agenda, but the blame is all his.

Madigan doesn't want his members voting for a tax increase before an election. And neither does Rauner. Never mind.

Never mind that it's Madigan, who for 31 years has been all about keeping that political power and control. Never mind that he only changes his mind when his members feel threatened and enough of them band together and demand that he let something happen, lest they lose their seats.

This impasse crushing our college towns and the good people in them isn't Madigan's fault at all. This impasse that boots developmentally disabled adults and children from group homes where they're comfortable isn't Madigan's fault. This lack of pay increases and pension contributions for Chicago Public School teachers is all Rowdy and Rahminator's fault. Keep dumping that labor money into Madigan's many litter boxes.

Yes, the Speaker must smile to himself while he counts the contributions to his campaign fund that will keep this serial drama running.

Everyone's playing their parts perfectly.

NEXT ARTICLE: Thousands of millionaires leaving Chicago, cite mounting racial tension and crime

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A Wake-Up Call to End Drowsy Driving

Tue, 2016-04-05 08:02

We all know it's dangerous to get behind the wheel when we've been drinking -- but what about when we're tired? Over 60 percent of Americans admit they've driven while drowsy at least once in the past year. Yet sleep deprivation impairs our judgment just as much as alcohol -- and is just as likely to result in a fatal crash.

It's no accident that drunk driving deaths fell by half between 1982 to 2014. This turnaround happened because there was a concerted effort by government, nonprofits and safety experts to change attitudes towards drinking and driving. That campaign led everyone to take the problem more seriously than ever before.

But while the dangers of drunk driving are now well known, drowsy driving is still a silent epidemic. Research suggests that tired drivers are responsible for as many as 1.2 million crashes a year which tragically kill 8,000 people. Those numbers are sobering, but hardly surprising given that one study found that being awake for 17 to 19 hours (a normal day for many of us!) causes cognitive impairment equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05 percent (just under the legal limit in many US states). Stay up just a few hours more, and it's equivalent to 0.1 percent -- legally drunk.

It doesn't have to be this way. We just need to wake up to the fact that drowsy driving is dangerous. It's why The Huffington Post is teaming up with Uber and Toyota to raise awareness of the issue and help save lives. We know that this can work because we've seen what ridesharing can do for drunk driving. When Uber launched in Seattle, DUI arrests fell by 10 percent -- and in California drunk driving crashes fell by 60 per month among drivers under 30.

If you're an employer, follow the example of companies that use Uber for Business to get their employees home safely after a late night in the office. For everyone else -- don't let your loved ones get behind the wheel when they are tired. Pull out a smartphone and call them a ride.

Whether or not you've fallen asleep at the wheel, most people have experienced exhaustion at one time or another. As CEOs, both of us have had our share of sleepless nights -- even weeks or months. And we still do. But like a growing number of doctors, psychologists and business people, we've come to understand that sleep is a critical part of personal health, happiness, success and when it comes to driving, safety.

Over the next month, Arianna will be carrying that message to college campuses in Denver, Las Vegas, Nashville, Chicago, the Bay Area and throughout the country. If you're interested in a sleep tutorial, order a ride with Uber and you could win a chance to have Arianna ride along with you.

Toyota is committed to helping everyone be safe behind the wheel and will be providing thousands of free late-night rides for students as part of this anti-drowsy driving campaign. And at Uber, we are building technology that uses GPS and accelerometer data from phones to help detect dangerous driving patterns -- and get those drivers off the road.

Join us in making drowsy driving a thing of the past -- as socially unacceptable as drunk driving is today. We'll let Dr. Mark Rosekind, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have the last word: "Not everyone drinks and drives or texts while driving. But everyone gets tired, and far too often drivers are putting themselves and others at risk by getting behind the wheel without the sleep they need."

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Where's The Next Flint Water Crisis? Anywhere.

Mon, 2016-04-04 21:38

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, local governments nationwide have had to assure residents worried about brain damage and miscarriages that their drinking water meets or exceeds all federal standards.

Philadelphia officials tried to quell concerns about lead poisoning after activists, in a series of news stories and a public hearing, questioned the city's strategy for protecting the water.

"The Philadelphia Water Department is in compliance with the federal Lead and Copper Rule," John Quigley, director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview. "Period. Full stop."

Another city in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule, the nation's core regulation for lead in water: Flint, Michigan.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn't necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level. The rule essentially says that using lead pipes for drinking water is fine, even though childhood exposure to lead can cause permanently diminished intelligence and behavioral problems -- serious ones. Widespread poisoning from leaded gasoline has emerged as a plausible explanation for rising and falling crime rates in the second half of the 20th century.

Complying with federal water regulation, it turns out, doesn't necessarily mean a city’s water is lead-free. All it means is that the amount of lead coming through faucets is beneath an arbitrary level.

Excessive amounts of lead contaminated Flint's water after the city stopped buying water from Detroit and started pumping it from the Flint River in 2014. The state regulator told the city not to treat the water with chemicals that would have prevented it from corroding the city's pipes, even though doing so would have only cost a hundred bucks per day. Research later showed that the incidence of lead poisoning in Flint kids increased from 2.4 percent to 4.9 percent after the switch. The percentage was even higher in the poorest areas of the city, and the data likely understate the extent of the problem. Potentially 9,000 children younger than 6 were exposed.

After basically ignoring the problem for more than a year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) began admitting the state had erred when it told Flint residents to drink brown water. He’s taken to calling the federal regulations of water lead "dumb and dangerous," a characterization that might be both politically convenient and true. Though Snyder's approval ratings have tanked amid constant criticism of his handling of the crisis, he has endeared himself to policy experts and activists who say a similar situation could happen anywhere.

Service lines made from lead connect water mains to homes in roughly 30 percent of the nation’s water systems, according to a recent survey by the American Water Works Association. America's national policy is not to replace the pipes. Instead, the strategy is to treat the water so it's less corrosive and less likely to pick up the lead. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, ultimate arbiter of the regulation, says it needs to be changed, and plans to put forward a draft revision next year.

Yanna Lambrinidou, a leading water policy expert and activist, served on an EPA working group tasked with recommending changes to the Lead and Copper Rule, which is promulgated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a landmark water safety law first enacted in the 1970s. Last fall, she dissented from the group's recommendations because she said they wouldn't do enough to force utilities to replace lead pipes -- even though the recommendations said replacing lead pipes is the only way to make people's water safe from lead.

In February, Lambrinidou said she spoke with Snyder on a conference call about water regulation and that he seemed to have read her entire dissent.

"His questions reveal a depth and breadth of understanding few government leaders with a say on lead in water can claim to possess," Lambrinidou said. "It's remarkable to see."

Everywhere else they look, Lambrinidou and her allies say they see a pattern of denial.

Early last month, the Philadelphia Water Department defended itself before the city council against criticism from Lambrinidou and others that the agency is essentially looking the other way when it comes to lead.

The Lead and Copper Rule requires cities that have lead pipes to collect water samples from a certain number of homes. The purpose of the monitoring is to make sure the water has been properly treated by the utility so it won't corrode pipes and other plumbing materials, such as fixtures or lead solder, which would result in leaded water.

If the level of lead in 90 percent of the samples is below 15 parts per billion, then the federal standard has been met. (Incredibly, the other 10 percent of samples can have any amount of lead.) The Lead and Copper Rule requires cities to get at least half their samples from single-family homes connected to lead service lines.

Here's where things get weird: Philadelphia has around 50,000 lead service lines. In the city’s most recent round of testing, in 2014, it sampled water from 134 homes, but only 45 of the homes had lead service lines -- far less than half. Ninety percent of the samples had less than 5 parts per billion of lead, well below the 15 parts per billion "action level" that could trigger mandatory pipe replacement.

Lambrinidou and other experts, including Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech civil engineering professor who helped blow the whistle in Flint, say Philadelphia is essentially diluting the amount of lead in its sampling pool, making the water seem safer than it really is.

"I can't see how, under any reasonable interpretation, they're meeting the law for selecting the worst case homes," Edwards told HuffPost.

The rule says water systems can resort to sampling water from homes without lead service lines if the service area contains an "insufficient" number of lead pipes, so long as other sample sites have some lead in their plumbing materials. Philadelphia officials say they did the best they could to get more samples from the 50,000 homes with lead service lines, but they couldn’t force people to cooperate with testing.

"Rest assured, we would love to have greater participation in these samplings," Mayor Jim Kenney told HuffPost. "But as in other cities, participation is voluntary."

"We send 8,000 letters out. We get a 10 percent response from that. Then, that’s when they go down even more," said Gary Burlingame, director of laboratory services for the Philadelphia Water Department, noting that the both the city and its citizens could do a better job. "People in Philadelphia have to better understand, that when we contact them about lead, their ears should perk up, they should pay attention and they should work with us."

Burlingame and state officials maintain Philadelphia is allowed to collect samples from fewer homes with lead service lines than the law seems to require. David Sternberg, a spokesman for the division of the EPA that oversees Pennsylvania, agrees.

The Lead and Copper Rule allows state water agencies "to accept sample results that include samples collected at less than the required percentage of homes with lead service lines if the water system cannot obtain samples from enough of these homes and provides adequate justification," Sternberg said.

Lambrinidou, who in January penned an open letter warning that Philadelphia's sampling instructions could artificially reduce the amount of lead detected in the city's water, was incredulous that the EPA gave its blessing.

"So now every utility can raise its hands and say, 'Poor us, we just can't obtain the samples?'" she said.


So now every utility can raise its hands and say, 'Poor us, we just can't obtain the samples?'
Yanna Lambrinidou, a leading water policy expert and activist


A task force appointed by Snyder to investigate what went wrong in Flint found that the EPA's habit of letting water systems there and elsewhere bend the rules "served to mute its effectiveness in detection and mitigation of lead contamination risks."

Edwards said that if someone gave him a grant he could probably get hundreds of samples from high-risk Philadelphia homes himself -- something he actually did in Flint with a team from Virginia Tech. They obtained 252 samples last summer, and their analysis prompted Edwards to warn residents not to drink the water long before the government did.

Another key part of the Lead and Copper Rule requires water to be treated with chemicals that reduce the corrosion of lead service lines. The chemicals work by forming a thin coating, or "scale," on the inside of the pipes. Because they misread the rule, Michigan officials told Flint to just monitor the water instead of treat it to reduce corrosion when the city switched its water source to the Flint River. That's what caused the crisis -- the pre-existing scale eroded and bits of lead fell in the water, ultimately ending up in the blood of Flint residents.

State officials have essentially said their misreading of the Lead and Copper Rule was an honest mistake, but Edwards and his allies say it was a totally egregious one -- made worse by the fact that they continued to deny anything was wrong for 18 months.

Though the EPA tried to make Michigan treat Flint's water for corrosion, the agency didn't warn the public or cite Flint or its state regulator for violating the Lead and Copper Rule, despite pleas for it to do so from both outside and inside the agency. Emails released by congressional investigators show that Miguel Del Toral, an EPA scientist who had investigated Flint's water and found high lead levels earlier last year, begged his EPA colleagues in July to issue a "treatment technique" violation that would have notified the public.

"I very much disagree with not issuing a TT violation here," Del Toral wrote, adding that not doing so would "set a very bad precedent."

In October, a coalition of environmental groups petitioned the EPA to issue an emergency order to put a stop to an "imminent and substantial endangerment to human health." The EPA issued a memo a month later acknowledging "differing interpretations" of the Lead and Copper Rule that seemed to excuse Michigan's screwup. In January, amid a national outcry over Flint, the EPA swooped in with an emergency order that said the city and state efforts “have been inadequate to protect public health and that these failures continue." By then, Snyder had already approved the city's return to its previous water source in Detroit.

In other words, the agency in charge never said Flint broke the rules until it was way too late.

Burlingame, like Lambrinidou, is a member of the EPA task force that has proposed changes to the Lead and Copper Rule. A noted water expert with a national profile, he suggested the response to the Flint water crisis has been a bit overblown.

"What we don't have from Flint is a peer-reviewed published study to look at the science of Flint," Burlingame said. "All we have is what the news media's reporting and some of the policy and management issues."

In fact, peer-reviewed research led by Flint pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha revealed Flint's water treatment failure corresponded to higher levels of blood lead in Flint’s children. But Burlingame said that the Philadelphia Water Department would wait for federal guidance before drawing any conclusions from Flint.

HuffPost asked Burlingame whether he believed it was possible for someone to suffer lead poisoning as a result of drinking water with lead in it. He said he couldn't answer, so HuffPost asked again: is it theoretically possible for someone to get lead in their body from drinking water that has lead in it?

"Can somewhere in the world someone drink a water that has a high level of lead that affects their blood? I guess so," he said. "Sure. That's what the papers tell us."

Epidemiologists say lead paint and dust are generally more common causes of lead poisoning than water, but the idea that consuming water with lead in it can result in elevated blood lead levels is not supposed to be controversial. Humans have known the dangers of leaded water for at least 2,000 years.

The fact that lead paint and dust are thought to be the more significant sources of lead exposure has been convenient for water utilities. The Washington, D.C. water department to this day won't admit anyone suffered lead poisoning as a result of contaminated water from 2001 through 2004, an episode Edwards has estimated was 20 to 30 times worse than Flint's. Officials in Michigan's health department convinced themselves it wasn't the water that increased the lead levels in Flint kids' blood in 2014, and they might have gotten away with it if the water hadn't had so many other problems that Flint residents were literally marching in the streets.

Dissolved lead is tasteless and colorless, and children who drink leaded water can't feel their IQ points disappearing. Even if someone has documentation of elevated blood lead levels, they can't prove where the lead came from or what symptoms it caused. Fortunately for Flint, the city's water was brown and funky from other contaminants, helping activists apply the political pressure that forced the state to admit it had caused a crisis.

Ryonona Harmon, 41, raised four children near 75th street and Haverford avenue in the Overbrook Park section of West Philadelphia. Her four kids went to local high schools. She works as a medical technician in nearby Paoli now that her children are adults. It never occurred to her to wonder whether her water was filled with lead.

“This wasn’t a big deal for me,” Harmon told The Huffington Post. “I expected the city to give me and my family a basic right like safe water.”

Harmon said that growing up, the only type of lead she thought of was lead paint. She said she has no idea if she's ever lived in a home with lead service lines.

“I had no clue I could have been using lead pipes then," she said. “If we want our water supply to be safe for our kids, everyone should have the same rights to get their water checked."

Dissolved lead is tasteless and colorless, and children who drink leaded water can't feel their IQ points disappearing.

Even if a public water system follows the regulations perfectly, there’s still a chance that lead will get into the drinking water.

A 2013 study of Chicago’s water supply by Del Toral suggested that routine sampling under the Lead and Copper Rule can miss massive amounts of contamination. The report suggested that "the existing regulatory sampling protocol under the U.S. Lead and Copper Rule systematically misses the high lead levels and potential human exposure."

The rule calls for residents to fill a one-liter bottle from a faucet after at least six hours without household water use, the idea being that water stagnating in plumbing and service lines will give a good picture of how much lead is leaching into the supply. A key finding was that contrary to prior assumptions, the first liter didn’t necessarily capture the most lead -- subsequent liters tended to have significantly more. 

The study also noted that construction projects such as water main replacement and even street work seemed to cause lead levels to spike in the water of nearby homes, apparently because physically jostling service lines causes lead particles to infiltrate the water.  

Chicago is in the midst of a campaign to replace its old water mains, but in its three-year monitoring cycle, the city hasn't gone out of its way to test water in the areas closest to the repair sites. The Chicago Tribune reported in February that of the 50 homes tested, only three were on streets that had a replaced water main.

In February, Chicago residents filed a lawsuit seeking class action status alleging that the city hasn’t done enough to warn people that street work could affect their water and significantly increased the risk of lead poisoning as a result. The lawsuit claims officials merely advised residents that the water “may shut off a couple of times.”

The dangers of street work have been well documented, including by an EPA panel that warned in 2011 of an elevated risk of lead poisoning in areas where lead service lines were being partially replaced.

Chicago Water Management spokesman Gary Litherland said the city warns residents about lead near water main replacement projects by sending them information packets that read: "it is important to flush your plumbing of any sediment, rust or metals, including any lead, to maintain water quality.” The lawsuit says the only warning the plaintiffs got was "buried" inside a single handout.

City officials have argued the EPA’s findings that street work can increase water lead are “far from scientifically established," though, as the lawsuit notes, other research supports the idea that physically disturbing a lead service line can cause problems.

"It must be a larger study and it must be more extensive,” Litherland said. “It was a small sample. More research needs to be done."

James Montgomery, an environmental science professor at DePaul University, says Chicago ought to do a better job warning people about street work affecting their water, per the EPA's study.

"If you don’t believe the results, then why don’t you commission your own independent scientific study?" Montgomery said.

For its part, the EPA said the construction findings were incidental and not the core reason for the study. And it suggested the study didn't show for sure that physically disturbing a lead service line caused higher lead levels in the homes where samples were taken.

"The U.S. EPA did not conduct sampling before and after the physical disturbances to the lead service lines at the homes that were sampled," an agency spokesman said, "so although we observed that the homes where the lead service line had been physically disturbed generally had the highest lead levels, we did not collect sampling data from prior to the disturbances to make a comparison between the pre- and post-disturbance lead levels." 

Cities not only have to find homes with lead service lines, they have to tell people how to collect water samples -- and filling up a water bottle can be surprisingly controversial.

As a result of the national attention on Flint, the state of New Jersey took a second look at its sampling methods and last month told cities to make some changes. 

"For probably going back more than 10 years they've been handing out an instruction sheet that tells people the wrong instructions, to take the aerator off," Newark city spokesman Frank Baraff said.

An aerator is a little screen on the end of a faucet. Until now, Newark's instructions to residents taking water samples told them to "remove the aerator screen from the nozzle of the spigot pipe."

The EPA recommended that public water systems stop asking people to remove aerators prior to sampling in 2006, when a lead poisoning scare in Durham, North Carolina raised questions about the city's sampling methods.

"Removal and cleaning of the aerator is advisable on a regular basis," the EPA memo at the time said. "However, if customers are only encouraged to remove and clean aerators prior to drawing a sample to test for lead, the public water system could fail to identify the typically available contribution of lead from that tap, and thus fail to take additional actions needed to reduce exposure to lead in drinking water."

As for Newark's water, Baraff said 90 percent of samples had less than 10 parts per billion lead in 2015. Because Newark hasn't experienced high lead levels in several rounds of lead testing, the city is only required to test for lead every three years in just 50 homes, instead of annually in 100 homes.

Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said the state might move to require testing more frequently than what the Lead and Copper Rule requires.

"It is something we are very strongly considering," Considine said in an email.

Newark's about face on aerators stands in stark contrast to what's been going on in Philadelphia, where the city insists there's nothing wrong with telling people to remove the little screens on their faucets prior to collecting water samples, despite intense criticism from Lambrinidou and others.

“The science is not there to support aerators being on or off to make a difference in Philadelphia," Burlingame, of Philadelphia’s water department, said. “Aerator on versus aerator off, sampling with your left hand versus your right hand, is not going to make a difference about whether we are meeting the EPA action level or not.”

Quigley, the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, suggested the merits of aerator removal are beside the point -- the 2006 recommendation isn't part of the Lead and Copper Rule, so it doesn't matter whether it’s sound advice or not. Never mind that the rule itself wasn't good enough to prevent the Flint water crisis in the first place.

"We do not enforce recommendations. They're not law," Quigley said. "Our job is to enforce the law."

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'Mosque Alert' in Chicago

Mon, 2016-04-04 16:02

Chicago is host to an experience that invites the audience into situations that are not casually available all at once, if ever: the living room of a Muslim imam and his wife, a chilling townhall meeting, a passionate exchange between Muslim millennials, a mainstream Midwest suburban household conflicted by sympathies and ambitions. In playwright Jamil Khoury's characteristically ethnographic way, "Mosque Alert" at Silk Road Rising offers a matrix of possibilities, each raising questions and offering contrasting responses.

With every turn of the prism, the theatre's Founding Artistic Director Khoury lays out disparate and authentically grounded perspectives, a formula he successfully employed in the acclaimed premiere of his "Precious Stones" in 2003, asserting the company's immortality two years after its official birth following the 9/11 attacks. A succession of rich creative collaborations has put Silk Road in league with Chicago's theatrical top brass, cornering the market on timely narratives with Asian and Middle Eastern themes.

Employing expert performers and accredited directors has earned Silk Road a loyal and astute following. "Mosque Alert" in the seasoned hands of Edward Torres is no exception. Granted, even the play's college productions last year were destined to sparkle with lines like, "Can't we blame everything on Saudi Arabia and call it a day?"

Khoury's talent for packing deep thought and learning into a night of good entertainment holds true to form. But it is the dexterous cast of this professional world premiere who make his play's one-for-me/one-for-you dynamic believable and compelling - performances that make a show of standard running time pass in a blink. Steve Silver's complete sublimation into the character of the charismatic bigot Daniel Baker leaves a welt.

With echoes of the real Lower Manhattan controversy, the fictional plot involves a dispute over the construction of a mosque/library/community center in suburban Naperville. As a backdrop, designer Dan Stratton projects an architectural rendering created for "Mosque Alert" by America's go-to firm for mosque design, McCoy Architects. The action plays out with the proposed house of worship as the central figure, looking pert and posing contentedly in the realm of the possible.

In typical Silk Road fashion, the ethnically colorful cast piques curiosity as to what the actors bring from their own political dispositions and cultural roots. Rengin Altay, who plays the white Christian wife of the chamber of commerce president, has Turkish ancestry, so all bets are off. Altay's easy command and comic sense benefit the whole. Owning her character's nuanced blend of integrity and compromise, she is convincing as a boozy housewife with aspirations.

Rom Barkhordar is smooth and arresting as the elegant bearded Muslim business leader Tawfiq Qabbani whose relationship with Ted Baker (Mark Ulrich) develops through several masterfully performed scenes.

A gaggle of young suburbanites, the grown children of the couples in conflict, toss the ball sportingly with real-life Naperville native Nina Ganet's pitch-perfect generational stylings pulling it together in the role of Jennifer Baker.

As the hopeful Imam Mostafa Khalil, Frank Sawa brings satisfaction with pronunciation of a significant amount of Arabic requiring no stretch of imagination. And Riley McIlveen plays the principled gay son of Ted Baker with sincerity.

Leave it to Khoury to take a play about tensions of Middle Eastern origin and add a plot line about the struggle of homosexuality - then make it work. "Precious Stones" redux.

If "Mosque Alert" mimics the somewhat pat parallel structure seen in Khoury's earlier work, it also exhibits the same thoroughgoing treatment of issues that strike the bone for anyone following Middle East politics. Himself a non-Muslim Arab American of Syrian-Slavic descent, he treats the subject of Islam with a healthy remove, engaging a painstaking process of live and digital civic engagement launched in 2011. A series of videos inviting community feedback, staged readings with public discussions, workshops for re-writes, and experimental campus productions have led to the play's current iteration, with Knox College Professor of Theatre Neil Blackadder credited for incubating the full-length stage play.

It bears mentioning that Silk Road Rising's Founding Executive Director Malik Gillani is Khoury's life partner and the son of South Asian Muslims. For him the decision to make "Mosque Alert" a centerpiece for 2016 was an obvious one. In light of presidential campaign rhetoric and Trump fervor, the zeitgeist speaks through this work. Gillani and Khoury have dedicated the current theatre season entirely to Arab-American and Muslim-American voices. The year of programming is entitled "Crescent and Star: A Radiant Season of Arab and Muslim Journeys."

In contrast to the social climate in "Mosque Alert's" Naperville, President Shoaib Khadri of the existing Islamic Center of Naperville said during a post-show discussion, "The city council of Naperville was extremely supportive of our project."

photos by Airan Wright

"Mosque Alert"
Silk Road Rising
Pierce Hall
The Historic Chicago Temple Building
77 W. Washington St., Lower Level
Thurs at 7:30; Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 4
March 24 through May 1, 2016
Tickets 312.857.1234 x 201
or online at Mosque Alert

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Fast Facts: Illinois' 5 Pension Funds By The Numbers

Mon, 2016-04-04 11:46
Since 1996, Illinois has appropriated $67.3 billion to the state's five retirement systems, according to the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

The Teachers' Retirement System has received nearly 52 percent, or $34.9 billion, of state pension payments over the past 20 years, while the much smaller Judges' and General Assembly Retirement Systems have been appropriated the least.

Based on the actuarial value of assets, which includes asset smoothing effects, the combined funded ratio of all five systems was 40.9 percent with $112.89 billion in unfunded pension liabilities as of June 30, 2015. But as the commission's report notes, the market value of assets paints a much more realistic picture of the systems' financial positions as it reflects the volatility of the market (you can read more about the differences here). Based on the market value of assets, which does not include asset smoothing effects, unfunded liabilities totaled $111 billion and the funded ratio 41.9 percent.

From the report:

Chart 1 is based upon calculations using the market value of assets for all years, including FY 2015. The full effects of the large investment losses during FY 2009 and investment gains for FY 2011 are therefore reflected in the bars for these years. These extremely large investment losses are the main reason for the significant jump in unfunded liabilities during FY 2009. The asset smoothing approach, required by Public Act 96-0043, only recognized 20 percent of the FY 2009 investment losses during that fiscal year. Chart 1 above recognizes 100% of the FY 2009 investment losses in FY 2009, and is therefore a much more realistic representation of the retirement systems' true financial condition. In FY 2013, the market value of investment returns were above the actuarially-assumed rate for all systems. This helped control the growth of unfunded liabilities to a certain degree, however they still rose primarily due to insufficient contributions made by the State.

Here's a quick look at the five Illinois pension systems as of June 30, 2015.

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Cubs Win for Steve Goodman

Mon, 2016-04-04 10:34

When I called the big cancer hospital in New York to get his address so I could send a get-well card, I didn't know they'd connect me to his room and he'd pick up the phone. Oh, I didn't really know him either.

I've seen him sing and play lots of times. I've spoken to him once and got to see his kindness up close.

But I didn't know, as he'd known since he was a very young man, that there would be no getting well for him. The leukemia would cut short his time. So when he picked up the phone from his hospital bed and said "Hello?" I could only sputter out something like, "Um, you don't know me. But I really like your music and could I have an address to send you a card?"

He answered, the way he sang, as if he was smiling. I could feel that smile even on the phone, as he said, "Why certainly!" and gave me the address.

Steve Goodman, who died in 1984 at age 36, could (his wife once wrote) "extract meaning from the mundane." The kind of meaning that, A. Bart Giametti once wrote, could "keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive."

You do that when you write a masterpiece like "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request," blending laughter in with the tears and the wisdom. Don't know of any song like it. And I always wonder if knowing he didn't have much time at all helped Goodman tell this story so perfectly. Because this is story that is not just about baseball, it's a story of hope.

If you don't know the song, treat yourself to a listen. The story will tell you everything you need to know about what it means to dig below the surface distractions, the mundane, and simply love baseball. What it means to hope.

This year the Cubs are actually predicted to win the World Series. Predicted by people who actually know about stuff like this.

Could it happen? Of course it could.

And if it does, know that the guy playing the music in the back of your mind will be Steve Goodman. Singing across the generations with Cub heroes like Santo, Banks and Andy Pafko. Singing to "keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive."

This year we raise a frosty mug to the "prevailing 40mph winds" and sing to what lasts in the rhythm of baseball time. This year we hope. And this year we sing;

Hey Steve Goodman! This one's for you!

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This Artist Paints With Bacteria, And It's Strangely Beautiful

Mon, 2016-04-04 08:31

You've never seen bacteria quite like this before.

Mixed media artist Maria Peñil Cobo, who was born in Spain and currently resides in Massachusetts, told The Huffington Post on Thursday that she has often turned to nature as inspiration for her artwork. But instead of looking to vast oceans or forest landscapes, it's the much smaller ecosystems that fascinate her the most.

Peñil has spent the past five years growing colorful bacteria, with help from microbiologist Dr. Mehmet Berkmen, and then "painting" the microbes into stunning masterpieces.

"It is very technically difficult," Berkmen, a staff scientist at the Ipswich, Massachusetts-based company New England Biolabs, told HuffPost. "You have to imagine that these bacteria we're using are all different species. ... Each one grows differently and eats differently. Some don't become colorful immediately, while others become old and then get their color."

Berkmen taught Peñil how to "paint" with bacteria on agar, a gelatinous substance in which jungles of bacteria can grow. The artist uses a petri dish as her canvas.

Check out this video to watch Peñil painting. Story continues below. 

Now, watch as the bacteria grow below.

So far, Peñil has attempted to "paint" with bacteria found on her own lips -- which she collected after kissing a petri dish -- as well as the germs that grew when she put her own house key on the dish.

Peñil, who will be giving a TED Talk about her work in Chicago on April 9, said that she hopes her artwork will shift the public dialogue around bacteria from one of fear and disgust to one of appreciation and curiosity.

After all, bacteria are a normal part of human life -- they live all around us and even inside of our own bodies.

"I'm a scientist, and I appreciate this project a lot," Berkmen said. "When we do science, there is always an element of art, and while Maria is doing pure art, there is an element of science in what we are observing. We are observing scientific phenomena."

Scroll down to see more of Peñil's bacteria artwork below.

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We've Had Enough With Failed Trade Policies

Fri, 2016-04-01 20:06

Many pundits were caught off-guard by the transpartisan fury over America's trade policy rocking the presidential primary season. But it's no surprise to me. I grew up in a working class family in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So I know why Americans have had enough of shiny promises, job-killing trade deals, and Wall Street bailouts that propel ordinary people into an economic nose dive.

Hard working Americans of all political stripes recognize when the rules have been rigged against them, because they live day-to-day with the results. No doubt revolutionary change is an appealing alternative.

Since the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) and World Trade Organization agreements in the mid-1990s, America has lost more than five million manufacturing jobs net. Millions of service sector jobs also have been offshored.

During the NAFTA era, my home state lost 68,000 manufacturing jobs -- one out of seven in the state. Just one example: After Chrysler received billions in a 2009 bailout, it shut its Kenosha Engine facility, cut the last 800 jobs and moved operations to Mexico.

The damage extends beyond those who lose their jobs. They compete for non-offshorable service sector jobs, pushing down wages economy-wide, hurting communities coast to coast.

From Flint to El Paso and points beyond, Americans have been slammed by the trade double whammy: Firms and their well-paying jobs go away. Then just when assistance is most needed, tax bases shrivel so basic services get cut and infrastructure crumbles.

Bernie Sanders' primary victories have finally forced the mainstream media to mention the millions of middle class livelihoods destroyed by trade policies. Now it's time to face up to a second disastrous risk: These trade deals pose a direct frontal attack on a livable environment.

Pacts like the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently sidelined without sufficient congressional support for passage, contain thousands of pages of enforceable rules that would fuel climate chaos and empower corporate polluters to challenge environmental laws across the globe.

And if the TPP were approved, the Department of Energy would be required to automatically approve all natural gas exports to the 11 other TPP countries, eliminating our government's ability to make decisions about our energy future and incentivizing a boom in dangerous fracking. The extreme secrecy of TPP negotiations allowed the Obama administration to claim it was the greenest deal ever. But when the TPP text was finally disclosed late last year, environmental groups that the White House claimed supported it, such as NRDC and Defenders of Wildlife, joined the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and scores of others in opposition.

Consider just one feature that sounds like the plot of a disaster movie. The TPP would empower foreign investors to drag the U.S. government to private international arbitration tribunals whenever they claim that our environmental, energy or climate policies violate expansive new TPP foreign investor privileges. Corporations can demand unlimited taxpayer compensation based on future profits ostensibly thwarted by the policy. There is no outside appeal.

If approved, the TPP would double U.S. exposure to this "investor-state dispute settlement" (ISDS) regime. Overnight 9500 Japanese manufacturing and Australian mining giants, among other firms, could skirt our courts and laws to attack critical public interest safeguards.

It's not hypothetical. Under similar NAFTA provisions, TransCanada is now demanding $15 billion in U.S. taxpayer compensation because our government (rightly) opposed construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

More than half of past ISDS suits have concluded with the government losing or settling. Billions have been paid to foreign companies. Already half of the new ISDS cases filed in recent years seek to enforce corporate rights to mine, extract gas and oil, and generate energy no matter the consequences to us and our environment.

Expanding this system through the TPP would block worldwide environmental and social progress while empowering corporations to undermine existing climate and environmental policies.

Remarkably, the TPP not only omits the word "climate" from its text, but does not require TPP signatories to comply with their United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change commitments. This despite all TPP countries being climate convention signatories.

The bottom line: Our failed trade policies imperil both Americans' livelihoods and the health of our planet -- two reasons why the more people learn, the less they like them.

The bipartisan American trade revolt now underway demonstrates that we need to scrap these bad deals and demand real change. This is no time for half measures, bland reassurances, or waiting games.

With both our economy and environment at risk, Americans can no longer remain silent. We must send a strong message to current policymakers and candidates alike that the people and the environment come first. Those who trade away our jobs, our economy and our environment to the highest bidder must be stopped.

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All Teachers Suck. And Should Be Fired. And Stoned to Death.

Fri, 2016-04-01 15:44
I have been reading a lot about what is happening to the public school system in Chicago. Because I'm a teacher and have too much time on my hands. I always read the comments that follow an article. And I have to tell you, the people who wrote these comments are the ones who should be running the show. Their thought provoking, in-depth opinions are exactly what we need to save this sinking ship of a school system.

As always, I have not edited any of the comments. For your enjoyment. If these commentators were to go on strike their chant could be, "Keyboard courage! Keyboard Courage! Keyboard Courage!"

Of the teachers who voted, 96 per cent of them voted to strike.
Great salaries. Great benefits. Great pensions. A part-time job.


Because they don't care about the kids or their community.

Last time I checked I wasn't on strike. Because I worked all day. And I use the term "work" loosely because I'm teacher. It's not because I don't care. It's because I love my great salary, great benefits, great pension, and working part-time doing nothing. Duh. And I'm not sure if this is public knowledge, but we are actually required to take a class called Greed-Crazed Nutjobs 101. But it's not in all caps. And we have to pay for it ourselves.

The solution is to get rid of teacher unions. They got big raises when there was no money and the taxpayers didn't get big raises. Over paid, under worked, and under performing teachers should not get an other raise.

Now scionel has done his homework. And as a teacher I applaud that. He clearly knows what he's talking about. He didn't just read one article and spout out the first thing that came to mind. Teachers are wayyyyy overpaid and wayyyyy underworked. I mean we all know this.

But I don't recall getting a big raise. And I'm a taxpayer. So did I get screwed twice? And what's an other raise? I'll take one of those also.

Stop the union payoffs
And start the teacher layoffs

God do I love a good rhyme. That's why I'm so good at striking. Hanginlow, we could use someone like you on the picket line. And by your screen name I can tell how clever you are.

J. Robert
CTU needs an education in austerity

I do need an education in austerity. Because I don't know that many big words. And I did actually look up the word and I'm still not quite sure what it means. Unless it means greedy and underworked, than I don't need to be educated in austerity. I already know all about it.

The greed-crazed teachers have the same dilemma. Even as CPS slides into bankruptcy, they will not let go of any of their salary, benefits, or pension. I call this Boss Hog's dilemma.

Dwayne. This is your second comment. You sure do have plenty of free time. You must be a teacher. And I appreciate the Boss Hog shout out. That is the actual reflection I see when I look in the mirror every morning.

Fire them all and eliminate pensions. Start the whole system over

Ronald Reagan is that you? Sounds simple enough. Like you've really thought this through. I like it. Because I think this is what will really benefit the kids most.

Keep on cutting. The teachers have totally failed. The product tgey are producing is shameful.

I can only assume you are a product of that failed system. Tgey really produced something shameful when tgey produced you. And by your screen name I know you're an activist. I am too. If by activist you mean sittin' on my ass all day long not doing nothin' but collecting a paycheck.

greedy union and teachers in bed together, no wonder the kids hate schools. some make allmost 6 figures and still not enough, for a 3 year degree sad.Plus i read all over internet about child hood Obesity's, was'nt like 80% of them completely over weight. The one guy when he got up to vote the chair came with him.

I wish I would have seen the one guy get up to vote and the chair coming with him. Because fat people are always funny. Like when you see someone fall.

Three year degree? Allmost 6 figures? It should be alllllllmost 6 figures. As in not even close. But you read it on the internet, so it has to be true.

And I'm not the one buying food for all of the obese kids. Well, not yet, anyway.

CTU is an absolutely miserable and quite possibly evil group of blankety-blanks. They would rather drag everyone else down than bargain. CPS parents - It's probably up to you now; to get up in CTU's faces and explain to them how greedy they really are.

I am a member of the CTU and a CPS parent. I'm so blankety-blank confused as to what you think I'm supposed to do. Because your opinion really, really matters to me.

didn't we have a strike last year?

Um, not sure who "we" is. Maybe you had a strike last year? But I didn't. And I'm really hoping "we" don't strike this year.

Dwayne (3rd comment, you must be a retired teacher)

Teachers : your secret is out and the taxpayers are outraged. You want deluxe pensions. You want to retire at 55. Then you sure as hell are going to be expected to contribute your full share. Your money grubbing attitude does not resonate with private sector taxpayers who have had their own retirements jeopardized. Pay up.

Dwayne: Stop telling my secrets. I want my pension like I want my Whopper. Deluxe. With cheese. And you are totally correct that I will retire on my 55th birthday. They actually throw a party for you and stuff your pockets full of cash for all of your unused sick time. And you get a lightsaber that says CTU on it. It's amazeballs.

I like to tell it like it is. Teachers are a bunch of non tax-paying, money hungry, part-time working, drains on society. Everyone knows this. But the one thing I don't understand is... why doesn't everyone just become a teacher? We have it made.

Now let me get back to counting my money and planning my retirement.

Check out more from Eileen O'Connor at No Wire Hangers, Ever.

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Tom Hiddleston Blames Thor For Chicago's Bad Weather

Fri, 2016-04-01 09:00

Thor, get it together. 

This week, Tom Hiddleston made an appearance during a live weather report for Chicago's Fox 32 as his "Avengers" character, Loki. He pinpointed the source of the thunderstorms and rain over Chicago and the Midwest to his mighty brother, Thor.

"There's this huge storm front coming in," he said, "and all that means is that Chris Hemsworth has taken his hammer and he's smashed it on the surface of the sky, and it's gonna rain a helluva lot." 

Science at its best. The God of Thunder at his worst. 

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Obama To Return To University Of Chicago Law School For SCOTUS Push

Fri, 2016-04-01 08:03

President Barack Obama next week will return home to the University of Chicago Law School, where he once taught, to discuss why it is important that Merrick Garland is confirmed to the Supreme Court, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times reported that Obama will use the appearance to discuss the importance of the Supreme Court and its integrity. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden argued Senate Republicans were hurting the country by refusing to hold a hearing to consider Garland's nomination. Though some Senate Republicans have recently indicated they would meet with Garland, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said the next president should fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court that opened after the death of Antonin Sclia.

Garland also has Chicago roots and grew up in Lincolnwood. The University of Chicago Law School also has a connection to the Supreme Court, having counted Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan among its faculty. Former Justice John Paul Stevens also attended the school as an undergraduate.

Obama taught at the law school from 1992 until 2004 and has stayed in his nearby Hyde Park home when he has traveled to Chicago during his presidency. Last year, he announced his presidential library will be on the South Side of Chicago, where the University is located.

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Playing with Guns

Thu, 2016-03-31 15:46
You shouldn't play with guns, unless you do it the way "Jim" apparently did.

His gun play -- a (seemingly) satirical petition at -- has enveloped the looming Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer in awkward surrealism and forced the three Republican presidential candidates to duck for cover from their own words.

The petition, posted by Hyperationalist, who later identified himself to certain curious reporters as a proponent of gun sanity named Jim, demanded that the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention will be held, lift its ban on guns in the building and that the Republican National Committee explain "how a venue so unfriendly to Second Amendment rights" was chosen for the convention.

"We are all too familiar with the mass carnage that can occur when citizens are denied their basic God-given rights to carry handguns or assault weapons in public," the petition reads. "EVERY AMERICAN HAS THE RIGHT TO PROTECT AND DEFEND THEIR FAMILY. With this irresponsible and hypocritical act of selecting a 'gun-free zone' for the convention, the RNC has placed its members, delegates, candidates and all US citizens in grave danger.

We must take a stand. We cannot allow the national nominating convention of the party of Lincoln and Reagan to be hijacked by weakness and political correctness. The policies of the Quicken Loans Arena do not supersede the rights given to us by our Creator in the U.S. Constitution.

The petition has garnered over 50,000 signatures and forced responses from the Secret Service and the three candidates, all of whom had stood four-square against gun-free zones as dangerous invitations for terrorists and psychos to have a little fun. Donald Trump, the king of nuanced restraint, described such zones as "target practice for the sickos and for the mentally ill."

Oh, bluster! In the World's Greatest Pseudo-Democracy that is America, presidential candidates can say anything they want because it's all a show, it's all a game. Our quadrennial presidential election has essentially nothing to do with reality because the country is run by a military-industrial corporatocracy which has, over the last seven decades, constructed a parallel infrastructure that can't be touched by "the people." This has given the Republicans, in particular, plenty of leeway to pander for votes with policy positions and vacuous blather that appeal at the level of junior high consciousness. But the blather is only supposed to travel in one direction.

So when it bounced back, in the form of a satirical but real-seeming petition demanding that guns and "Second Amendment rights" be allowed inside the Quicken Loans Arena, the Secret Service had to step parentally into the controversy and declare: uh, no way. Guns not allowed. And the glorious three, Trump, Cruz and Kasich, all quietly repressed their guns-R-us bombast and acceded to the Secret Service ruling. In the real world, that's what made sense.

"I'm 100 percent genuine in my belief that they should be able to have guns at their convention," the mysterious Jim told Rolling Stone. "It's consistent with state law, and if people who go to movie theaters and malls and shopping places and restaurants have the quote-unquote 'protection' of the open-carrying citizens around them, well, I think the GOP should have the same...

"I'm fighting for their rights by taking them at face value."

He also brought up the awkward possibility that gun-saturated societies are on a dangerous hair-trigger -- that open carry actually increases the possibility of violence -- in which case, why is safety a greater concern at the Republican convention than elsewhere in Ohio? "Is there some variation," he wondered, "in the value of life between presidential candidates, like Donald Trump, and the 7-year-old girl at McDonalds? I'm not sure I understand how they account for that distinction."

So we have yet another layer of surrealism contextualizing the 2016 presidential race. This isn't what's supposed to be happening. It's supposed to be Hillary vs. Jeb and business as usual continues unchallenged, with a wall still separating real America from pseudo-democratic, reality-TV America. We the voters are supposed to remain safely ensconced in our role not as participants in the country's future but as consumers of our favorite brand of election-year bullshit.

We're not supposed to notice that our leaders (and our secret leaders) have no interest in transitioning to a globally cooperative, environmentally sustainable way of being on this planet. We're not supposed to notice that the U.S. military budget remains unchallenged or that our world grows increasingly dangerous as our wars against terror and evil continue unabated.

And even if we do notice, we're supposed to surrender to cynicism and shrug that nothing can be done about it.

And then, I guess, we're supposed to arm ourselves. But I say there's a difference between being armed and being empowered. Just ask Jim.

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


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Six Chicago Teachers' Voices: The Pros and Cons of the Day of Action

Thu, 2016-03-31 14:32
At a time when the Chicago Teacher's Union is planning a one-day strike, it's important to remember that while we as teachers may support or oppose the strategy of a Day of Action, we're united by a common set of values around education. We believe that education opens the door to opportunity, and that this door needs to be open whether students live in Lawndale or Little Village, Englewood or Edgewater. We believe that every child deserves a well-trained, effective teacher. And we believe that funding challenges are limiting our city's ability to serve all of its students well. We are aligned on these values - even if we have different ideas about how to achieve them.

We Support the Day of Action:
While jailed for protesting segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people." We are proud that the Chicago Teachers Union has refused to stay silent. The CTU's House of Delegates has voted in support of a 1-day strike on April 1st. This Day of Action is about putting students first. On April 1, Chicago's K-12 educators, college professors, community organizations, labor organizations, and others will stand together to collectively raise an alarm that the citizens of this state can no longer ignore. In the last three years, Chicago has closed 50 schools, cut hundreds of staff members, and frozen teacher pay. Many of our schools lack art classes, after school enrichment, or sports. The city and state are selling out the future of our children by refusing to embrace and argue for additional revenues.

Chicago Public Schools is broke and has exhausted its capacity to borrow. There are two possible paths forward for the district: 1) severe staffing cuts, dramatic increases in class sizes, and more neighborhoods torn apart by school closure; or 2) serious revenue solutions like a progressive income tax. We oppose any solution that does not include additional revenue because of the dramatic effects it will have on our students.

What's more, our recent graduates are now at risk of dropping out of college due to decimated state funding, including suspension of MAP grants. These cuts mean that students have less access to career choices, are less marketable, less competitive, and are less likely to have upward mobility. That is a future we cannot accept for our students, and that is why we support the April 1st Day of Action.

- Casey Fuess (Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy)
- Andrea Parker (Robert Fulton Elementary)
- Jim Staros (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr College Prep)

We Oppose a One-Day Strike:
We believe that the Chicago Teachers Union wants to do what is right for Chicago's children, but that the union's tactics are misguided. Our schools are severely underfunded, and we believe that CTU wants to protest against the decisions of city and state leaders that threaten our students' education. However, we are concerned that the lack of clarity around the Day of Action will cost us the support of many teachers and the public - because we fear that the public will wonder, as we do, what the purpose of the Day of Action truly is.

First, there has been no clarity about whether teachers are sending a message to CPS or the state. Is CTU protesting against a reduction in the pension pickup, the declaration of three furlough days, or state underfunding? Second, while CTU originally stated that the purpose of the Day of Action is to protest the furlough, it is illogical for this day to fall a week after the furlough. Why not protest on the furlough day itself, or on our professional development day on April 8, and avoid another day that students miss school? Finally, the union has also stated the purpose of the strike is to protest the state's inability to fund its schools adequately. We agree, but then wonder: why we are we protesting in Chicago and not Springfield?

Moreover, we are concerned about the long-term consequences of tit-for-tat and politically-charged actions, particularly at a time when the district and the union are facing a common challenge. The heart of the problem lies with inadequate local and state school funding, and with pension inequity. At this point in our state budget stalemate, creating a unified front to protest at lawmakers' doors will highlight the role that the state has played in underfunding education at every level, from kindergarten through college. We support a unified protest in the state's capital with other unions--and even with CPS -- to fund the education that our students deserve.

- Gina Caneva (Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy)
- Paige Nilson (Alexander Hamilton Elementary)
- Alexander Kmicikewycz (Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy)

While we six teachers differ on whether the union should proceed with the Day of Action, we are unified in recognizing that the current situation cannot continue without hurting the students we serve. Teachers should be at the table to help find an answer to the district's precarious finances, building a coalition to apply pressure on both the city and the state to create sustainable funding solutions. We must stand together to reject separate and unequal educational opportunities. All children--no matter the color of their skin or the wealth of their parents--deserve adequately-resourced schools.

The teachers are Fellows and alumni of Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship.

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Cop Charged With Murdering Laquan McDonald Finds New Job With Police Union

Thu, 2016-03-31 13:00

A local police union has hired the officer facing murder charges in the shooting of Laquan McDonald, outraging police accountability advocates and setting up a potential showdown with the city's new police chief.

Jason Van Dyke, the white police officer indicted for first-degree murder in the October 2014 shooting death of McDonald, a black 17-year-old carrying a small knife, is working as a janitor and performing odd jobs at the headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Police, according to news reports.

Van Dyke is suspended from the police force without pay. The job at the FOP pays him $12 an hour, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“We do this for our membership and this is what the FOP stands for, fraternalism. This officer is in a very difficult situation, financially, he has a family and we would do it for anybody that works as a Chicago police officer,” Dean Angelo Sr., president of the Chicago FOP, told Chicago's Fox 32 news channel.

The union has “probably” either directly employed or found jobs for 100 officers deprived of their pay for an infraction, Angelo told the Sun-Times.

Chicago activists fighting to end perceived impunity for police officers who kill unarmed black men immediately responded to Van Dyke’s hiring with anger and disbelief.

The F.O.P. just declared war with the people of Chicago. The ultimate slap in the face is to hire a man who shot a child sixteen times

— Jedidiah Brown (@livelifefreed) March 31, 2016

Protesters called for Angelo's resignation as FOP president and the immediate firing of Van Dyke. At a press conference Thursday, they broke into a chant by megaphone: "Who's gotta go? Dean Angelo!" 

Jedidiah Brown, a community leader active in recent police accountability protests, said a protest is planned outside the FOP at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. He was unsure of the number of people or groups who would attend, since the protest had been hastily organized, he told The Huffington Post.

“We’re reaching out to organizations and people expressing outrage over his hiring to give voice to the citizens who feel affected by this,” Brown said.

Father Michael Pfleger, a longtime community activist and pastor of St. Sabina church on the city’s South Side, also said Angelo should resign. He called Van Dyke’s hiring a “disgrace.”

“This is an insult. It’s arrogant. It’s the reason we have broken relationships between police now and the community,” Pfleger said. “You take this horrific case that turned the city upside down and now you take us back to ground zero again.”

The Catholic priest said that the police union could have found Van Dyke a job elsewhere if it wanted to help him.

“If I hired someone at the church here who was indicted for killing a cop, they’d have ate me up,” Pfleger added. 

He said he was not sure if he would be able to attend the protest, however.

News of Van Dyke’s comes as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) seeks to restore trust in the city’s police force and improve his political standing in the process. Emanuel appointed Eddie Johnson as the city’s interim police chief on Sunday, rejecting the candidates recommended by the city’s police board. Appointing Johnson, an African-American veteran of the Chicago police force, as interim chief makes it easier for the mayor to keep him in the top job permanently, should he choose to do so.

Pfleger said he has spoken to Johnson several times and believes he understands the need to rebuild relations between police and the community. But the police union's hiring of Van Dyke “kicks the new police chief in the face,” Pfleger said.

Brown called the Van Dyke controversy Johnson’s “first major test.”

“I am pressuring him to speak to the citizens about their concerns that Van Dyke is being hired even though he shot the young man 16 times,” Brown said. “He has to speak to the heartbeat of it. He will either validate or invalidate further his appointment with what he does in this situation.”

The Chicago Police Department declined to comment, referring requests to the FOP. Angelo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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72 Illinois Municipal Managers Made More Than Any U.S. Governor in 2015

Thu, 2016-03-31 11:05
A new report featured in Forbes Magazine found 72 city managers of relatively small municipalities in Illinois are paid more than the governors of every state.

Open the Books' annual "Big Dogs" salary report on local government looks not only at city or village managers, but also employees of water districts, park districts, forest preserves and counties, to name a few.

Forbes contributor and founder of, Adam Andrzejewski, says the results of this year's report are the "most jaw-dropping ever."

From the report:

At a time when many are complaining about Washington, D.C., our data shows that states and local units of government need a lot more scrutiny. That's especially true in Illinois where corruption is our number one manufactured product.

In Illinois, 72 small-town city and village managers out-earn every governor of the 50 states. Another 111 local employees of water districts, airport districts, park districts, counties, forest preserves, mass transit districts, health clinics and planning districts also earn more than the 50 governors ($180,000).

Here are the Top 10 city and village managers in Illinois with the highest pensionable salaries in 2015, according to Andrzejewski.

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Here's Why Blago's 14-Year Prison Sentence Should Be Reduced

Thu, 2016-03-31 10:38

Tuesday's Reboot Illinois Daily Tip-Off email contained a mention of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial headlined, "Time to rethink Blago's prison time," which advocated for reducing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year sentence.

Blagojevich is due to be re-sentenced after a federal appeals court threw out five of his 18 convictions last summer and, on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal that all 18 convictions be vacated. The Sun-Times editorial prompted this response from a Daily Tip-Off subscriber:

"Apparently the editorial piece writer on former Gov Rod doesn't understand what a deterrent is meant to do - stupid folks need stronger measures."

That reader is not alone. The Chicago Tribune, in its editorial following the Supreme Court denial, hinted at advocating a longer sentence for the unrepentant Blagojevich:

(T)he 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ... noted that the evidence against Blagojevich was "overwhelming" and that "it is not possible to call (a sentence of) 168 months unlawfully high." That leaves open the possibility that (Judge James) Zagel could increase the sentence if he thinks it's appropriate.

Speaking as someone who had a fairly good seat throughout the grand spectacle of Blagojevich's six-year reign of error over state government, I have two thoughts on this topic.

1. There is no sentence, no matter how long, cruel or unusual, that would deter someone like Rod Blagojevich from using his position for the betterment of himself. The wiretap evidence at his trial showed a man who viewed the world as existing to serve and exalt him. He was annoyed that he was "stuck" being governor and had laughably grandiose visions of himself as a member of a presidential cabinet.

To me, his blatant effort to shake down a horse track owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution was more egregious than his attempted auction of Barack Obama's Senate seat. The Senate seat sale, while more spectacular, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The racetrack bribe was run-of-the-mill graft that could be committed over and over by a man who prided himself on political fundraising.

2. Blagojevich's 14-year sentence was too long.

I accept the deterrence argument advanced by those who disagree. It's logical: If Blagojevich wasn't deterred by his predecessor George Ryan's six-and-a-half-year sentence on corruption charges, then the court had to up the ante to prevent another Rod Blagojevich.

And by the time Blagojevich was sentenced in 2011 (he began serving his sentence almost exactly four years ago), he had become a despicable character. He spent his pre-trial months on the talk and reality show circuit, apparently unaware of the difference between celebrity and infamy.

He never took responsibility for his actions and remained petulant to the end.

But George Ryan's crimes included creating an environment of corruption that, ultimately, led to the deaths of six children in an accident involving a truck driver who obtained his license through a bribe. Ryan got six-and-a-half years. I can't rectify Blagojevich's corruption warranting more than twice that.

That's a simplistic take on sentencing and our judicial system, I know, but I can't shake the feeling that Blagojevich's sentence crossed the line between justice and vengeance.

UPDATE: Federal prosecutors announced March 30 that they will not re-try Blagojevich on the five vacated charges. It's now up to U.S. District Judge James Zagel to schedule a re-sentencing date.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois delegates for Donald Trump fear lack of leadership will hurt him at RNC

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It's Not Just Police Shooting Scandals: Why Prosecutors Across The Country Are Finally Losing Elections

Thu, 2016-03-31 10:15

  • District attorney seats have been among the safest in local elections.

  • Recent incumbent prosecutors' election losses suggest a tough-on-crime approach is becoming a political liability rather than an asset.

  • Declining crime rates and activists organizing at the local level are influencing this new trend.

During Chicago's most recent Election Day, voters made it clear to the top prosecutor of the nation's second-largest county that it was time to start packing. 

Anita Alvarez, the state's attorney for Cook County who had waited more than a year to indict the officer who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, lost her bid for re-election that night -- badly. In Ohio, so did Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, who had declined to indict the cop who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Criminal justice reform groups hailed the unseating of two prosecutors who had bungled major police shooting cases as an important win. "This could be a sea change and might mean that prosecutors might become more accountable to the public," Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor specializing in criminal law, said via email. "This is largely attributable to Black Lives Matter and the attention paid to prosecutorial decisions about how to proceed."

Alvarez and McGinty's defeats were certainly notable. On average, incumbent prosecutors win re-election 95 percent of the time (in districts with more than 100,000 voters, like Cook and Cuyahoga counties, the rate dips to 90 percent). They win re-election slightly more often than state lawmakers, according to a study from Ohio State University's law school. Between 55 and 80 percent of the time, prosecutors run for re-election unopposed.

Yet while reform groups targeted both Alvarez and McGinty because of high-profile national scandals, this only partially explains why the two prosecutors lost.

In fact, some experts now say that a string of incumbent defeats across the country suggests it doesn't take a Black Lives Matter-specific flashpoint for voters to reject incumbent prosecutors. For many DAs, their longstanding embrace of tough-on-crime policies is reason enough.

"DAs almost never lose elections," said John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham University's law school. "And now they’re starting to."

While Pfaff says McGinty's ouster was "entirely a rejection for his failure to prosecute Tamir Rice's shooter," Alvarez had a history of advancing harsh and seemingly vindictive policies during her tenure. 

But Pfaff cites the defeats of two prosecutors in the deep South as even more revealing examples of how voters are beginning to reject a decades-old approach to crime along with the incumbents themselves.

In November, Mississippi voters sacked District Attorney Forrest Allgood after 27 years in office. The Washington Post described Allgood as "one of America's worst prosecutors" due to his aggressive prosecutions against vulnerable defendants, including a 13-year-old boy and an intellectually disabled young woman. Both convictions were overturned. 

"Allgood lost to someone smarter on crime, less tough on crime," Pfaff said. "That's a much more promising trend."

In Louisiana's Caddo Parish, which includes Shreveport, acting District Attorney Dale Cox faced such long odds that he pulled out of the race before the November election. Cox, who was in and out of the district attorney's office for thirty years, established a shockingly high record of capital murder convictions: Caddo Parish is home to roughly five percent of the state's population, but accounts for a third of the state's death sentences -- several of which have been overturned. 

That's a sign of a major shift in public sentiment. In the 1980s and 1990s, when crime rates were significantly higher than they are today, prosecutors embraced policies like "three strikes" laws and mandatory minimum sentences. Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush's thumping of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election stood for years as a clear signal to elected officials that being tough on crime was a key to victory. 

During a 1996 speech on crime at New Hampshire’s Keene State College, then-first lady Hillary Clinton infamously invoked the term "super predator," a junk science term that predicted a wave of fearless, brutal, amoral juveniles who would kill, rape or steal without remorse.

As crime rates have declined, however, prosecutors have been slow to adjust to the new reality. "They retained those policies even as crime was falling, which makes it hard to justify those policies now," Pfaff said. 

Accusing your opponent of being "soft on crime" "no longer seems to be the dependable political cudgel it once was," reported the online journalism nonprofit The Marshall Project last year. 

Rob Smith, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, also notes that local prosecutors have become more visible thanks to increased media coverage of incidents like the Laquan McDonald shooting. Consequently, the public is becoming more aware of the unilateral decision-making power they wield.

"Prosecutors have a lot discretion over what crimes they charge," Smith said. "There’s a saying that a jury can indict a ham sandwich. But if you can indict a ham sandwich, why can’t you indict a cop who killed a kid?" 

There’s a saying that a jury can indict a ham sandwich. But if you can indict a ham sandwich, why can’t you indict a cop who killed a kid?
Rob Smith, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

That doesn't mean putting lots of people in prison has fallen completely out of favor, Pfaff noted. County prosecutors may still find support for such tactics in the suburban parts of their district. 

"Suburbs feel the benefits of the city being safer," he said. "They feel the risk of drugs coming their neighborhood being kept at bay, they feel safer when they commute to work in the city … but they don’t feel the costs of that enforcement." 

The result, Pfaff said, is that "we sort of allow the suburbs to have a say in how policing affects the city."

Mariame Kaba, who has backed an array of racial justice, anti-criminalization and anti-violence organizations in Chicago for nearly three decades, cites Cook County as a prime example of suburban voters' influence on urban policy.

"You see this divide over city and suburbs: Suburbs love 'tough on crime' because it doesn’t affect them," she says. "To them, it’s black and brown people who are running wild and need a firm hand to tamp them down."

Suburban voters will continue to have disproportionate power in prosecutor elections, Pfaff said. But, he added, the Black Lives Matter movement has proved to be a powerful entry point for increasing support for various criminal justice reform issues. 

Many more district attorneys who have prosecuted aggressively and punitively will be replaced in the next five years, Smith predicts.

"I think you’re going to see a lot more progressive candidates running for office, you're going to a see a lot of places with more contested elections, and see more places where an incumbent prosecutor is ousted," he said. 

Pfaff believes that even in places like Maricopa County, Arizona, or Harris County, Texas -- both notorious for their tough-on-crime approach -- more-engaged voters could soon rein in aggressive prosecutors.  

"We could be on the precipice of one of the most important changes in history about how the state and individuals interact with each other," Pfaff said. 

Just four weeks ago, voters in Corpus Christi, Texas, voted out Mark Skurka, the county district attorney. Skurka and his office had been accused of misconduct, which Pfaff said "appalled" voters and local journalists alike. 

"A tattooed defense lawyer ran against him in the primary and won," Pfaff said. "I think that’s powerful."

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