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U.S. Cities Aren't Ready To Fend Off The Next Flint

Fri, 2016-10-21 14:28

It is increasingly clear that many American cities are facing immense struggles to provide residents with safe, reliable drinking water at an affordable cost.


This is particularly true of cities with high levels of poverty, unemployment and population decline, a perfect storm of factors that leaves water utilities with fewer resources to maintain and update aging infrastructure systems.


A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office released to the public this week paints a dire picture of the reality facing many U.S. water utilities today. Many of the cities studied face the same demographic and economic challenges that contributed to the ongoing and devastating water crisis in Flint, Michigan.


The GAO report reviewed the water infrastructure needs of utilities in 10 cities: five large, including Detroit, New Orleans and Pittsburgh, and five mid-size, including Youngstown, Ohio, and Macon, Georgia.


All of the cities — many of them in the Rust Belt, like Flint — have experienced dramatic population losses over the past 30 years. They were evaluated through interviews with water experts, city officials and utility managers and an analysis of existing data and records.


“These cities are facing economic challenges that makes it more difficult for them to deal with addressing their water and wastewater infrastructure needs,” J. Alfredo Gómez, a GAO spokesman, told The Huffington Post.



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Water pipeline repair and replacement is an urgent need at the majority of utilities, the report found. One utility, which the GAO did not individually identify, said that nearly all of the 740 miles of its pipelines need to be replaced, a project that would cost more than $390 million. (For comparison, the total 2016 budget of Youngstown was $185 million.)


Many of these utilities are also facing the prospect of costly lead replacement initiatives, but don’t appear to be all that concerned that they may be poisoning their customers. This is despite the fact that lead can enter the water supply through lead service lines if they corrode over time. Lead exposure is a public health hazard, especially for children.


Six of the 10 drinking water utilities also noted that they were aware that some portions of the service lines that connect customer homes to main water systems definitely or possibly contained lead. Most of them, however, “did not express concern about the risk of lead in their water,” the report read.


(This finding is in line with interviews HuffPost conducted with water officials in many of America’s largest cities earlier this month.)


Representatives from more than two-thirds of the utilities the GAO interviewed also said that their utilities were struggling with high leakage rates ranging from about 18 to 60 percent. Those rates are as much as four times higher than the 10 to 15 percent maximum water loss rate that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified as acceptable. 


Affordability of their services is also an issue facing many of the water utilities.


In order to keep up with growing infrastructure needs amid a declining customer base, all but two of the utilities the GAO considered had raised their rates for customers over the past two years. But more than half of the utilities the GAO spoke with expressed concerns about whether future rate hikes would be affordable to their customers.


That’s because many of these utilities’ low-income customers are already struggling to keep up with their water bill. In all but one of the cities in the GAO report — Macon — water rates already exceed amounts that are considered affordable by the EPA.



The report was alarming to Erik Olson, a senior advisor at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Action Fund. 


“We really have not been investing [in water infrastructure]. We’ve not been keeping up with this,” Olson told HuffPost.


While the GAO report focused on a small number of cities, the national need for water infrastructure investments appears similarly massive. According to the American Water Works Association, a water safety advocacy group, the overall need to restore the nation’s existing water systems will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years. The EPA has estimated current water infrastructure needs at a more conservative but still massive $600 billion.


Delaying these sorts of investments will likely result in increased water service disruptions and degraded water service, plus an increasing share of utilities’ limited resources going toward emergency repairs rather than needed upgrades and expansions, the AWWA has reported.


Such is the reality for the residents of Flint in recent years, following the cost-saving decision to switch the city’s water source from the Detroit water system to the polluted, highly corrosive Flint River in 2014.


The water in Flint remains unsafe to drink more than two years after the city’s water troubles began and a year after they became public. And many Flint residents are struggling to pay their water bills, which were flagged by an advocacy group as among the highest in the nation.


On a more encouraging note, Olson described the needed investments as a potential “win-win” for communities like Flint that have struggled with high poverty and joblessness.


“If we invest in our future, we not only have safer water for us and our kids, but we also create a lot of jobs, good jobs, good American jobs,” Olson said. “It will be good for labor and jobs, but also really good for the environment and public health. This would be a really smart thing to do.”


_____


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

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Voters, Don't Fall For These Over-the-Top Attack Ads

Fri, 2016-10-21 11:08
How to cut through all this campaign attack ad silliness

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MATT DIETRICH: Madeleine, I am in a quandary. I can't decide whether my vote for state representative should go to the candidate who wants to end Social Security and Medicare or the one who is part of a cabal that pays millions of dollars to child sex offenders. I seek your guidance.

MADELEINE DOUBEK: Hmmm, these state representative races have become so complicated, haven't they? So if you take those claims at literal face value, you can vote for someone connected to someone who abuses the next generation or you can vote for someone who will ruin your own old age. Hey, actually, that pretty much is a metaphor for the predicament we all have in Illinois.

MATT: In the spirit of full disclosure, I must mention that, as a resident of the 99th House District, neither of my choices for state rep -- Republican incumbent Sara Wojcicki Jiminez and Democratic challenger Tony DelGiorno -- have so far been tagged with the accusations above. I was speaking metaphorically for the thousands of Illinois voters in other districts whose mailboxes have been stuffed with campaign materials designed by political party campaign committees making those very claims.

MADELEINE: Ahhh, well then, that's a different can of worms. The sex offender stuff is because the Dems had someone among them, former state Rep. Keith Farnham of Elgin, caught with child porn, right? That's why people in my 55th District got letters from state Rep. Marty Moylan mentioning Republican former U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert. It invited us to sign a petition pushing for passage of a law to remove the statute of limitations for child sex offenders. Funny, I'd have figured if the super majority Dems were so concerned, they'd have made that the law already. So, what do you suppose is behind the Social Security and Medicare silliness?

MATT: Well, Reboot staffer Kevin Hoffman answered that question with his PolitiFact Illinois fact-check of an accusation by Democratic state Rep. Kate Cloonen of Kankakee that her opponent wanted to "take away" Social Security and Medicare. There wasn't a shred of truth to it and it earned Cloonen the dreaded "Pants on Fire" rating.

But the closest thing to an answer about the origin of the anti-Social Security theme -- which has been used against various Republican legislative candidates -- came from Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan. He told Bernard Schoenburg of The State Journal-Register that the charge was fair game for all Republican candidates because they're affiliated with the Republican Party.

MADELEINE: Well then, I guess anything is fair game, right? So, Matt, when you run for state representative, I'm just going to tell people you once were in a room with State Rep. Keith Farnham and you're bankrupting our nation because you plan to collect Social Security.

MATT: I guess that would be fair game, though I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding better oppo research on me. I should also mention that the official Republican Party Platform has sections on "saving" Social Security and "preserving" Medicare, but nary a word about taking them away. And while the term "take away" does not appear in the GOP platform, the words "take" and "away" appear individually 38 and 9 times, respectively. So maybe Mr. Brown has a point.

MADELEINE: Wow. And how many times do the party platforms say "sex" and "offender?" Seriously, though, what advice do you have for the poor, beleaguered voters of Illinois who have to survive this campaign ordeal?

MATT: I'd say a good rule of thumb is to disregard the extreme attack campaigns -- let's stipulate that no candidate in this cycle supports sex offenders or wants to take away Grandma's Social Security and Medicare. Check the return addresses on those mailers and you'll probably find that the most outrageous attacks come not from the candidates themselves but from their party organizations or some outside group.

As a longtime newspaper reporter -- and writer of many, many candidate endorsements -- I still believe that your best source of information about your candidates will come from your local paper and local candidate forums. And in this day and age, any credible candidate should have a decent website and social media presence. Those can give you a better picture of the candidate in his/her own words.

I highly recommend checking the Illinois Sunshine database and doing a search on your local candidates. See where their money is coming from and see if there are outside groups -- Super PACs -- working for against them.

MADELEINE: Matt, you almost had me. I was just about to nominate you for public office and sainthood, but you forgot to mention that for statewide races, you can also count on us at Reboot Illinois. We've got our scorecards where you can compare candidates side-by-side and with summaries and quotes. We've got our questionnaire with the Better Government Association where the candidates wrote long-answer essays and, best of all, we've got our fact checks in our role as PolitiFact Illinois, the exclusive Illinois partner of Pulitzer Prize winning PolitiFact. There's some help for for you, voters. And that's a campaign message you can believe!

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Poll: Clinton Thumping Trump in Illinois by 19-points, Leading in DuPage Too

Thu, 2016-10-20 17:51
Hillary Clinton holds not only a commanding 19-point lead over Donald Trump in Illinois according to a new poll, but also she has grabbed a solid lead over the reality TV star in a suburban DuPage battleground.

An October 13, 2016 poll conducted by Illinois Public Opinion Strategies (IPOS) of 664 likely Illinois voters finds that Clinton has a 50.0%-31.5% statewide edge over Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson is taking 5.8% of the vote and Green Jill Stein is eking out 1.1%. 11.6% are undecided.

In 2012, when President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney 57.6%-40.7% in Illinois, Johnson, running on the Libertarian ticket then too, snagged only 1.1% and Stein, 0.6%.

The new automated poll compares to a July 26 IPOS statewide survey of 824 likely voters that found that Clinton led Trump 49.2%-35.6%. Johnson took 4.3% and Stein had 1.6%. 9.3% were undecided. The survey had a +/- 3.5% margin of error.

Clinton has merely solidified her lead statewide.

But the former first lady has also established a firm advantage over Trump in the solidly Republican-held House district of appointed State Rep. David Olsen (R-Downers Grove), who earlier in the summer succeeded ex-State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove), taking an eight-point lead in this DuPage County battleground. An October 12 IPOS poll of 378 likely voters found Clinton edging Trump 44%-36%. In 2014, Bruce Rauner beat Governor Pat Quinn in this district 60.3% to 37.4%.

Olsen faces Democrat and Downers Grove Village Commissioner Greg Hose on November 8.

While Trump is getting thumped statewide by Clinton and in Olsen's GOP district, Trump's cratering candidacy has - so far - avoided crushing Republican comptroller Leslie Munger's bid to win a full, four-year term against Democratic challenger and Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza.

The October 13 survey shows that Munger is outperforming Trump statewide and leading Mendoza 41%-39%. Libertarian Claire Ball is taking only 2.2% and Green Tim Curtin, 2.0%. 15.6% of voters are undecided.

Munger, who was appointed to her job in 2015 by Governor Bruce Rauner after incumbent Judy Baar Topinka died, is also outperforming Trump in Olsen's House district. In the October 12 poll, Munger is decisively beating Mendoza - like a Republican should in a Republican district - 50.4% to 28.9%. Johnson is taking 6.8% and Stein, 1.6%.

While Trump may be getting his clock cleaned and reassembled by Clinton statewide and in Olsen's suburban DuPage district, he is having little discernible, negative impact on Munger's down ballot comptroller contest. This polling phenomenon is also being played out around the country regarding down ticket fights. However, if Trump has a demoralizing impact on GOP voters and turnout sours, then the bottom could indeed fall out for Munger and all sorts of down ballot GOP candidates here - and everywhere.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

David is president of Illinois Public Opinion Strategies, Inc.

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A Sustainable Food System Could Be A Trillion-Dollar Global Windfall

Thu, 2016-10-20 17:00

Our planet has a very long way to go toward building a food system that is truly and genuinely sustainable, but that work, if done correctly, could come with a massive reward.


That’s the conclusion of a new report released this month by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, an international nonprofit hoping to make a strong bottom-line case for industries to take a more earth-friendly approach to their businesses.


In its flagship report, the commission appears to have done just that.


The report claims that taking a sustainable approach to the world’s food and agriculture challenges, like hunger, food waste and environmental degradation, could lead to new business opportunities totaling an annual $2.3 trillion — and 80 million new jobs — by 2030, based on an analysis of of industry reports and academic literature.


That economic impact would be a sevenfold return on an annual investment of $320 billion, according to the report.



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What exactly is meant by a sustainable approach that could achieve this, though? The approach considered by the report is one outlined by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, or Global Goals, which were released last year with the aim of reducing poverty, hunger and inequality around the world by 2030.


The SDG agenda calls for significant shifts in how our food is produced, processed and sold, including growing and consuming more produce and meats that have a reduced environmental impact, embracing sustainable farming practices like low- and no-till agriculture and reducing food waste at both the production and retail level.


Such shifts, the report’s author Fraser Thompson said, aren’t just “pie-in-the-sky” daydreaming or, as some critics of the SDGs have put it, byproducts of a “worthless” “high school wish list.”


“It is important to stress that our business opportunities are based on currently available technologies where there is an existing model in operation in some part of the world,” Thompson told HuffPost by email. “We deliberately took this approach to ensure that the insights from the report were feasible for business.”


According to the report, these global shifts would have the bulk of their impact in developing countries — over 90 percent of the forecast job creation would take place on the continents of Africa and Asia due to the large share of arable land and high future consumption growth, Thompson said.


But there are significant opportunities for the U.S. to seize as well.


The three top areas for possible economic growth tied to a more sustainable food system in the U.S. are largely focused on the consumption side of the food value chain — reducing consumer food waste, reformulating food products to be healthier, and helping consumers switch their diets away from resource-intensive products like beef and toward other proteins like poultry, pork, fish and vegetarian diets.


There are already promising examples of the sort of sustainable practices the commission would like to see other industry leaders emulate in play throughout the world.


One of them Thompson named is Winnow, a London-based startup that is battling food waste through a “smart meter” that connects commercial kitchen operations to the cloud and allows chefs to record and analyze all the food that doesn’t get put to use.


Chefs then use that information to tweak their production practices and reduce their kitchens’ food waste by 50 percent or more. The company’s work was recognized with a Guardian Sustainable Business award earlier this year.



The key, Thompson argues, to harnessing the impressive windfall they’ve forecast will simply be scaling up ideas like Winnow’s kitchen meter. That will require buy-in from a broad swath of businesses and consumers alike.


BSDC chair Lord Mark Malloch-Brown told HuffPost by email he is hopeful the research presented in the report should help industry players connect the dots.


“It will require hard work by individual entrepreneurs and companies to translate this into specific businesses that earn financial returns in line with the economic opportunity we have identified,” Brown, former UN deputy secretary-general, wrote. “That’s hard long-term work but what we have sought to show is that the prize is worth the effort.”


Still, businesses have been slow to take action toward achieving the SDGs and consumers also appear skeptical, according to recent surveys.


According to Thompson, though, we don’t have much longer to wait before taking action toward meeting the world’s increasing food demands, which the UN has warned will grow by 60 percent in 2050.


“The challenges facing the food system in a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario should not be underestimated,” Thompson added. “Addressing the current undernourished population and the rapid demand for food and feed – and competing demand for fuel – will require a radical rethink of past practices.”



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

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

That Penny Lying On The Ground Could Be Worth $1,000

Thu, 2016-10-20 15:59



Do you ever pick up pennies on the ground? If not, you might want to start.


One hundred “lucky pennies” have been placed on the streets of 10 U.S. cities, with each penny worth a $1,000 prize, Ally Bank has announced.


The unusual contest began on Tuesday and features custom copper-colored discs that look like ordinary U.S. pennies. Each one bears the bank’s lowercase “a” logo and a unique redemption code.



The game pieces have been placed in Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chicago; Denver; Detroit; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Diego and Washington, D.C.


Ally says the point of the contest is to inspire saving, no matter how small.


“We hope that people will have fun searching for Ally Lucky Pennies in their cities and that the campaign will inspire people to look at money in a different way,” Andrea Riley, Alley’s chief marketing officer, said in a release.


In an effort to help participants, the bank is tweeting out hints for each city.



How to honor the Constitution’s author? With his own NYC park & an #AllyLuckyPenny in it. Rules: https://t.co/14UBh7Dkdy pic.twitter.com/8IMo1XQVLW

— Ally (@Ally) October 18, 2016


The contest’s official rules note that Ally will leave all the pennies in public places (or participating car dealerships) and in plain sight:



The Sweepstakes is intended to reward eligible participants who are lucky and encounter Ally Lucky Pennies in the course of their regular activities, not to encourage hunting for Ally Lucky Pennies in obscure locations or travel. Automobile dealerships in which Ally Lucky Pennies may be placed by Sponsor will display signage indicating that such dealerships are participating in the Sweepstakes. Except for such automobile dealerships, Ally Lucky Pennies will not be placed by Sponsor in retail stores or on other private property. Sponsor will place the Ally Lucky Pennies in plain sight (such as, by way of illustration only, on a sidewalk in a public park) and will not place Ally Lucky Pennies in areas that members of the public are not generally permitted to enter, or in locations where an Ally Lucky Penny could not be found without extensive searching or the moving of items (by way of example, an Ally Lucky Penny would not be hidden by Sponsor underneath a trash can, or in a storage room or closet, or behind or underneath merchandise on a shelf). Participation in the Sweepstakes does not require, and participants must not engage in, any unsafe, disruptive or unlawful behavior, and participants must not trespass on private property or violate any rules or policies in effect in places where Ally Lucky Pennies may be located.



Anyone who finds one of the pennies has until the end of the year to redeem it through the bank’s website by using the coin’s code.

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Trump Apparently Unaware Chicago's Gun Problems Stem From Indiana

Wed, 2016-10-19 21:21

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WASHINGTON ― Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is no fan of gun control. He said in Wednesday’s debate that Chicago, Illinois, is a perfect example of why it doesn’t work anyway.


“In Chicago, which has the toughest gun laws in the United States ― probably you could say by far ― they have more gun violence than any other city,” Trump said. “So we have the toughest laws, and you have tremendous gun violence.”


But Trump’s take glosses over one of the biggest sources of Chicago’s gun problems: Indiana. The state has lax gun laws, and its proximity to Chicago means people can easily bring illegal guns into the city. Very few crime guns recovered in Chicago have been found to come from federally licensed dealers. Instead, one way these weapons get into the wrong hands is via straw purchases, where one person buys a gun for a person who cannot legally purchase one.


A 2014 report from the Chicago Police Department, for example, found that 60 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes between 2009 and 2013 were originally bought outside of Illinois. Every state in the country contributed at least one gun to a Chicago crime scene. A whopping 20 percent came from Indiana.


In other words, it’s not that Chicago’s gun safety laws have failed. It’s that other states have failed to regulate their own gun sales.

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Religious Group Loses Bid To Bar Trans Students From School Bathrooms

Wed, 2016-10-19 16:28

An Illinois judge recommended the denial of an injunction to bar transgender high school students from using the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice, saying the Constitution does not protect students against having to share those areas with transgender classmates.


The case, centering on William Fremd High School in Palatine, a northwest suburb of Chicago, is one of many across the country challenging the U.S. Department of Education’s policy that transgender students in public schools must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choosing.


“High school students do not have a constitutional right not to share restrooms or locker rooms with transgender students whose sex assigned at birth is different than theirs,” U.S. District Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert wrote on Tuesday.


Sharing a locker room or restroom with a transgender student does not create a “severe, pervasive, or objectively offensive hostile environment,” because the school has provided alternative facilities to those who do not wish to share these areas with transgender students and installed privacy curtains in locker room changing areas, he added.


The plaintiffs, a group of five students and their parents, sued the federal government and local school district in May over the school policy, saying the decision to allow transgender students to use the locker rooms and restrooms of their choice infringed on privacy rights.


The group sought an injunction to halt enforcement of the federal government policy in August as the case proceeds.


Federal judge Jorge Alonso will now make a decision on the injunction based on Gilbert’s recommendation.


Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois, which is representing three unidentified transgender students and their families, welcomed Gilbert’s decision on Wednesday.


“This is a very good ruling for the federal government, for the school district and for our client,” Yohnka said.


The plaintiffs are represented by the Arizona-based Christian group Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF).


“Young students should be not be forced into an intimate setting like a locker room with someone of the opposite sex,” the ADF senior counsel Gary McCaleb said in a statement on Tuesday.


The ADF did not immediately respond to request for comment. The group has a similar case ongoing in Minnesota.

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Why A President Trump Would Be A 'Massive Disaster' For U.S. Water

Wed, 2016-10-19 16:07

Donald Trump told a crowd gathered in Lakeland, Florida, last week that he would ensure the United States had “crystal clear, crystal clean” water if he were elected president. 


It’s a promise the Republican presidential nominee has made on the campaign trail many times, but environmental activists don’t think he can deliver on it. 


The Trump campaign hasn’t issued much of a formal platform concerning water policy or the environment in general, and it didn’t respond to The Huffington Post’s request to view any such plans. Trump’s energy plan alludes to making clean water a “priority” but offers little detail on the topic.


Because of this, environmental advocates have had to analyze comments Trump has made during campaign events and television appearances ― and many have concluded that a President Trump could have a devastating impact on the nation’s water quality and overall well-being. 


Some of Trump’s most specific comments on water policy have come in the form of criticizing a rule that would more specifically protect streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Rule, which has been proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, is currently tied up in courts because opponents say overregulates the agricultural industry.


Trump told Farm Futures magazine in September that he would “eliminate” the rule, which he believes is “unconstitutional.” 


Michael Kelly, communications director at Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy group, said Trump’s promise to ax the Clean Water Rule is deeply troubling. Streams are a source of drinking water for 117 million Americans, the EPA estimates. 



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Trump’s other, more vague comments on a number of water-related issues have been raising eyebrows among environmental groups for some time.  


In May, the businessman told a crowd of supporters in Fresno, California, that “there is no drought.” His solution to the state’s water scarcity? To, simply, “start opening up the water.” (The drought, it should be noted, is very much real.)


Trump told the Detroit News in September that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, “would have never happened” if he were president, but he offered no details on why that was the case.


Flint residents were deeply skeptical of Trump’s motivation when he visited the city this fall. And later that day, the candidate joked before a crowd in Canton, Ohio: “It used to be cars were made in Flint, and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico. Now, the cars are made in Mexico, and you can’t drink the water in Flint!” 


Trump has also repeatedly stated that he intends to dismantle the EPA, the federal agency that writes and enforces regulations intended to keep America’s water “crystal clean,” as it were. (An expert in environmental law has called this proposal a “ridiculous idea.”)


And he has indicated that he does not believe in climate change, an issue that is linked to water issues like droughts and infrastructure challenges.


Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute and a prominent water and climate analyst, said such comments are alarmingly uninformed.


“His statements about water, such as they are, have been either simple platitudes or policy ‘dog whistles’ to his base,” Gleick wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Given what we’ve seen so far, I think it safe to assume that a Trump presidency would be a massive disaster to local, national, and global environmental health.” 



I think it safe to assume that a Trump presidency would be a massive disaster to local, national and global environmental health.
Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute


Kelly, from Clean Water Action, is also alarmed by Trump’s zeal for gutting the EPA. The agency has already been the subject of budget cuts and is at its lowest staffing level since 1989.


“If you attack the EPA any more, it’s going to be impossible to actually enforce laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act,” Kelly said. “The EPA keeps getting squeezed every year, and that impacts their ability to go out and do what it needs to do.” 


The EPA has received a great deal of criticism from both conservative-leaning policymakers and liberal-leaning environmental groups for its role in the water crisis in Flint. However, Erik Olson, a senior adviser to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, emphasized that cutting the agency altogether would put more communities at risk because a lack of regulatory oversight and support for infrastructure maintenance can make problems like water contamination grow exponentially.


Local utilities, already straining in many cases to adequately maintain their water systems, would struggle to keep up, putting peoples’ health at risk. 


“It’s completely illogical and contradictory,” Olson said. “You can’t slash the EPA’s budget and the investments in our water infrastructure and on one hand say we’re going to have ‘crystal clear water.’ The two don’t add up.”


Ultimately, Olson added, Trump’s comments on water have had more to do with grabbing headlines than anything else. And that’s not a good sign for our environmental health.


“The Trump campaign seems to really be looking for soundbite answers to problems that require real solutions,” Olson added. “But there’s nothing in his statements that back up his claim [that he wants clean water]. Everything he’s proposing is going is exactly the opposite direction.”


Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly
.com/entry/donald-trump-violence_us_56e1f16fe4b0b25c91815913">incites
political violence
and is a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-911_565b1950e4b08e945feb7326"> style="font-weight: 400;">serial liar, href="http://www.huffingtonpost
.com/entry/9-outrageous-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-latinos_55e483a1e4b0c818f618904b"> style="font-weight: 400;">rampant xenophobe
,
.com/entry/donald-trump-racist-examples_us_56d47177e4b03260bf777e83"> ">racist, .com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_us_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023"> style="font-weight: 400;">misogynist and href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-stephen-colbert-birther_56022a33e4b00310edf92f7a"> >birther who has
repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from
entering the U.S.

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Sunshine in Chicago: Don't Write Mayor Emanuel's Political Obituary Yet

Mon, 2016-10-17 11:04


According to local legend, Richard J. Daley, the Mayor of Chicago from 1955 to 1976, was once told that a group of experts had concluded that American cities had become ungovernable. Daley allegedly replied, "What the hell do the experts know?"

The conventional narrative about Chicago today is that the Windy City and its restless mayor, Rahm Emanuel, have been on the ropes, pummeled by a rising murder rate, financial challenges, frustrated teachers, and defensive cops in denial over continuing revelations of brutality and abuse. But the experts writing Emanuel's political obituary may yet prove wrong.

On Monday, October 10, just minutes before a midnight deadline, the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union reached agreement on a four-year teacher contract, narrowly averting a strike that would have paralyzed the city and escalated frustration among parents, teachers and taxpayers.

The next morning, Mayor Emanuel announced a 2017 budget that, in his words, brings the city out from under, "The black cloud of insolvency threatening the retirements of city employees and the financial future of Chicago."

Following record property tax increases, the budget is largely free of one-time revenue sources and other budgetary gimmicks that have contributed to structural deficits each year. The budget secures pensions for teachers, police officers, firefighters and other city employees, makes a down payment on hiring 970 additional police officers over the next two years, and includes a host of neighborhood investments spread across the city's 50 wards.

Earlier this month, the Chicago City Council passed a package of reforms aimed at bringing more accountability and transparency to the police department. The reform package came several months after the adoption of a broad set of recommendations to improve training and oversight in the department.

By the way, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in baseball and they are tied with the Dodgers in the National League playoffs after beating the San Francisco Giants in the Division Series.

It's an open question whether the African-American community will be assuaged by Emanuel's police reforms. Success depends much more on whether rank and file patrol officers change the way they do their jobs than on anything the mayor says or does.

It also remains to be seen whether Mayor Emanuel and his new police chief, Eddie Johnson, can reduce the gang violence that has Chicago on track to its highest murder rate in 20 years. In raw numbers, Chicago leads the nation in murders, but crime now appears to be on the rise again in other cities after more than a decade of decline. Chicago may have just been ahead of the curve.

Nevertheless, Chicago is in a much stronger position today than it was last November when a judge forced the release of a video showing a Chicago police officer shooting an unarmed Black youth 16 times. While police-community relations are hurting, neighborhood leaders recognize that police can't effectively curb gang violence without the help of the community. The "code of silence" in the police department that the mayor called out in a speech last December is equally prevalent in the community, where trust in law enforcement remains at a deficit.

On other fronts, the school district recently announced nation-leading gains in student test scores and a rising high school graduation rate. Whole Foods opened a new grocery story in one of the most troubled neighborhoods of the city. Wilson Sporting Goods is moving its corporate office and 400 jobs to Chicago and McDonald's is relocating 2000 corporate office jobs from the suburbs to the city.

Emanuel's former boss and friend Barack Obama is planning to spend $800 million building a library on the South Side after leaving the White House. Another longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, looks increasingly likely to take Obama's place. It never hurts to have friends in high places.

The jury is still out on Chicago under Mayor Emanuel, who emerges from a dark and difficult period with some real progress to show and, with two-and-a-half years left in his current term, plenty of time to notch a few more wins.

Now, if only those Cubs can bring home the World Series.

This post originally appeared on Education Post.

Photo by Daniel X. O'Neil, CC-licensed.

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Bears And Jaguars Fans Fight Viciously Over Pretty Much Nothing

Mon, 2016-10-17 09:57

The Chicago Bears did not prevail Sunday ― and neither did fans’ common sense.


After a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a fight started between a Bears supporter (likely angry over his team’s 17-16 home loss) and some Jaguars faithful. Yikes.


The Bears fan can be seen telling off Jaguars fans in a video of the altercation before punching one challenger in the face. Two men apparently associated with the Jaguars guy then gang up on the Bears fan and kick him in the head as the original challenger joins in.


This will look great for your next job interview, fellas.



The things that happen after a bears lost... pic.twitter.com/lx3aEcmBLS

— David (@DavidSharp_11) October 16, 2016


Not to mention that such behavior can have serious legal and physical consequences.


 

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Most Farmers Still Doubt They Have Anything To Do With Climate Change

Fri, 2016-10-14 11:30

To say it’s been a busy harvest season for North Carolina farmer Peyton McDaniel would be an incredible understatement.


It’s been several days since Hurricane Matthew brought heavy rains to the state that killed at least 22 people, but farmers throughout eastern North Carolina and other regions the storm impacted are still racing to salvage as much of their crops as they can and minimize their losses.


For McDaniel, that’s meant a typical five- or six-day work week at his family’s 2,000-acre farm operation in the town of Whitakers has become a round-the-clock, seven-day affair marked by 18-hour work days navigating muddy fields and flooded roads. The 26-year-old is exhausted.


All the extra rainfall caused many of McDaniel’s crops, like his cotton and peanuts, to germinate early. He expects both crops to take a major hit due to the storm. He also anticipates that his sweet potatoes, still submerged in muck, to suffer immensely. If they stay there too long, they’ll rot.


“Right now, we’re doing the best we can,” McDaniel told The Huffington Post by phone Thursday. “This year might not be the year that everybody is running to the bank, but the bank may be running after you.”


McDaniel is not alone. It is also feared that millions of livestock have died in storm-related flooding. And state agriculture officials expect the impact of the storm will be felt for some time to come, causing millions of dollars in losses.


Hurricane Matthew is just one of many extreme weather events that has had a tremendous effect on U.S. farmers’ operations this year.



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In the Northeast region, farmers have struggled with the worst drought they’ve seen in more than a decade. Historic flooding in southeast Louisiana caused an estimated $110 million in agriculture losses. And farmers in California are still dealing with the ongoing drought as it enters its sixth year, costing the state’s industry some $600 million this year.


While no one weather event can be directly tied to climate change, an increasing number of scientists are describing a link between our warming planet and extreme weather like droughts and floods. 


A report released last fall from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine claimed that climate change is making events like these both more common and more extreme. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration came to a similar conclusion in its analysis of 2014 extreme weather and climate events.


For his part, McDaniel doesn’t think climate change had anything to do with the devastation brought to his farm. His family has been farming its land since 1756 and has seen all sorts of weather across all those decades, he noted.


“I don’t think you can point to global warming or a manmade problem on this,” McDaniel added. “It’s more of a cyclical thing.”


The minimal amount of existing research on the topic shows that most farmers would probably agree with McDaniel, even though their industry is both uniquely vulnerable to extreme weather and a significant source of climate change-causing greenhouse gases.


type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related... + articlesList=5731aa02e4b016f37896e21b,567054efe4b0fccee1700f96,57fb3f81e4b068ecb5dfd8b5,57e2d16ce4b08d73b82f141c

Many farmers would agree that weather patterns are changing and extreme weather is increasing, but most don’t think these have anything to do with human activities, according to Dr. J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociology professor at Iowa State University.


“Farmers in general are taking extreme weather more seriously,” said Arbuckle, who has interviewed and polled farmers in the Corn Belt region on the issue. “But most of them are more in line with there maybe being a human cause, but probably some natural cause to it.”


That could be changing, at least slowly. A 2011 poll of Iowa farmers found only 11 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that climate change is occurring and “is caused mostly by human activities.” Two years later, the poll asked the same question and found that 16 percent of respondents agreed


Many farmers are also warming up to agricultural practices like cover crops and reduced tillage that not only make their farms more resilient to extreme weather, but can also reduce greenhouse gases


In Iowa, farmer participation in conservation and pollution reduction programs aimed at encouraging these types of practices is on the rise. The number of cover crops planted in Iowa increased 35 percent last year, for example. 


Progress can also be seen through initiatives like the Risky Business Project, which has seen global agribusiness firms like Cargill partner to support research into the relationship between climate change and agribusiness in the Midwest. 


“It’s coming along but, perhaps like it is in all sectors of society, it could happen a lot faster and probably needs to happen a lot faster,” Arbuckle said.


Some national farm groups have been slow to address the issue.


American Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest farm organization, has expressed skepticism about the impact U.S. action on climate change would have on global temperature or extreme weather events and is opposed to any efforts to regulate the industry’s emissions. The Farm Bureau did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment for this story.


Other organizations are taking a more proactive approach. The National Farmers Union, a group representing some 200,000 farms throughout the country, maintains a Climate Leaders hub. It shares resources on climate change with its member farmers and encourages farmers to consider adopting more “climate-smart” practices. 


Thomas Driscoll, the union’s director of conservation policy and education, admits that many farmers remain hesitant to discuss climate change openly.


But shifting the conversation away from that particular term, he believes, can still have a similar outcome of encouraging some of those practices without alienating farmers who aren’t on board with the climate science. 


“We find more and more that focusing on trends in weather and talking about disaster-resilient farming is more effective than talking about ‘climate change,’” Driscoll told HuffPost.


But in the longer haul, Driscoll believes it’s important to name the problem exactly what it is. And there’s still some way to go on that front.


“Where you can, you really need to get the full climate message across,” Driscoll said “and then we’ll be able to take a more holistic approach and work with the whole picture, rather than just treating the symptoms.”

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New Mike Madigan Documentary Interesting, But Not Authoritative

Fri, 2016-10-14 11:29
Opinion

The Illinois Policy Institute's new Michael Madigan documentary,"Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics," will serve as a significant historical artifact for generations to come for a couple of reasons.

First, the content of"Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics" -- while often propagandistic in tone (more on that shortly) -- at times presents a pretty good picture of the workings of Illinois politics in the 45 years since Madigan stepped onto the state political stage.

Second, the very fact that it was made attests to the intense battle for power that defines Illinois politics at the moment. After decades of primarily Democratic control of Illinois state government, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner brought unprecedented personal wealth and ideological determination to bear upon taking office in 2015. The appearance of "Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics" will stand as a testament to the resolve of Rauner's allies to wrest power from Madigan circa fall 2016.

And, obviously, to their belief that Madigan himself is the cause of the fiscal and economic troubles that afflict Illinois.

The film, which debuted this week at special events at a handful of theaters in Chicagoland and downstate, is a product of Illinois Policy Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute. Rauner had contributed more than $600,000 to the institute before becoming a candidate for governor in 2013, and its free-market, small-government advocacy matches Rauner's philosophy.

The documentary became a significant news story a month ago when two of its interview subjects, Chicago Tribune cartoonist Scott Stantis and Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller, said they weren't told of the Illinois Policy Institute's involvement even when they asked about the funding source for the project. This, combined with a trailer that bursts with scorn toward its subject, gave the film the kind of buzz marketing coveted by Hollywood.

Does it live up to the hype? To answer that, I refer to Point No. 1 above.

As a longtime follower of Illinois politics, I found lots of interesting stuff in the video, but nothing that I didn't already know and plenty that had me talking back to my screen. Still, hearing Madigan's background and approach explained by people like Miller, former Chicago alderman and political scientist Dick Simpson and former Republican state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger is a worthwhile exercise regardless of one's previous knowledge. Viewers also get a decent, though opinionated, civics lesson on the committee process in the Illinois House.

Madigan is the longest-tenured Speaker of the House in an any state legislature, having led the House for all but two years since 1983. Those two years when Madigan's Democrats lost control of the House -- from 1995-1997 -- are covered in one of the film's best segments.

"Those two years in the wilderness were very helpful," Madigan says in an archival interview.

Rauschenberger says the loss of power during those years changed Madigan's approach thereafter and instilled a will to never lose his majority again.

"It was a new Mike," Rauschenberger says, "It was Iron Mike."

The video dwells on Madigan's successful property tax law business, which has been the subject of intense criticism for many years by those who believe Madigan uses his immense power to bring business to his law firm. Rauschenberger says it's an egregious conflict of interest that's "out of proportion with what representative government should tolerate."

Surprisingly, Republican former House Speaker Lee Daniels -- who took Madigan's place during his two "wilderness years" in the minority -- defends Madigan on this count.

"I don't have any problem with his success as a professional outside the General Assembly," Daniels says. "Because that's our system today and there's nothing illegal about it."

Despite those enlightening moments, though, the video barely masks its true purpose, which is to convince viewers that the state's problems today all can be traced back to Madigan.

The first quarter of the video describes Madigan's role in handing out patronage jobs. That portion contains an interview with a Madigan patronage worker who describes how those placed in jobs by Madigan are immune from any discipline on the job, when they choose to show up. But the patronage worker, identified as "M," is actually an actor (Dave Buckman, according to the end credits) who is shown in silhouette with his voice distorted as he recounts the perks of being one of Madigan's guys.

I guess the Madigan machine is so powerful and vengeful that even an actor portraying a Madigan crony speaking anonymously isn't safe.

The video also seeks to portray Madigan as vindictively wielding huge sums of campaign cash that he uses to punish disobedient members of his House caucus while generously giving to campaigns of others.

"They know why they're there and they know if they don't play ball, they'll be gone," says Robert Blagojevich, brother of Rod, another interview subject.

I chuckled at this angle of criticism -- which is repeated by the video's narrator -- given that the video was made to move viewers into the Rauner camp. In the 2016 campaign cycle, Rauner has spread $16 million among Republican candidates. I suspect those Republicans, if elected, will "know why they're there."

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, appears as an example of what happens to a Democrat who dares to cross Madigan. When Dunkin refused to side with Madigan on a couple key bills a year ago, Madigan put $2.8 million into the campaign of a primary challenger, Juliana Stratton, who defeated Dunkin on March 15.

What's missing, of course, is an interview with Republican state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, who voted with Democrats on a union bill and incurred Rauner's wrath. Rauner and his allies spent $3 million in an unsuccessful effort to unseat McCann in March.

I encourage anyone with an interest in Illinois politics to watch "Madigan: Power, Privilege, Politics," but to keep in mind that this is not something you'd find on "Frontline." It was written and financed by a very well heeled public action group and is designed to reinforce Rauner's anti-Madigan message. For everything you see on the screen, there's a lot more that's not explained.

The film is playing at theaters through Oct. 27 (a full schedule is here). It is also airing on several downstate television stations over the weekend. It'll be available for online viewing but no date has been announced. Here's the TV schedule:



Recommended: Fact-check Friday: Did she really say that?

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Reboot Illinois/BGA Comptroller Questionnaire

Fri, 2016-10-14 11:21
With Illinois mired in a budget crisis, who should get paid by the state, when, and how should that be prioritized? Should citizens be able to see who's waiting to be paid? What other kinds of government finance information should citizens be able to access? To help voters make their decisions, Reboot Illinois and the Better Government Association asked Illinois Comptroller candidates to respond to those questions in the 2016 Reboot Illinois/Better Government Association Candidate Questionnaire.

All four candidates in the Nov. 8 election responded to seven essay questions.

Reboot Illinois is a non-partisan digital and social media firm that provides news, views, fact checks and online tools designed to raise awareness and citizen involvement. It is the exclusive partner of PolitiFact, producing PolitiFact Illinois.

The BGA is a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog organization that shines a light on government and holds public officials accountable. Its mission also encourages transparency, honesty, fairness, accountability, and efficiency through policy advocacy and community engagement.

Neither organization endorses political candidates.

By responding, the comptroller hopefuls contribute to a robust exchange of ideas about the state's fiscal future and how this state office could affect it. The candidates' responses have not been edited. They are published exactly as they were submitted.

You can read the questionnaire here.

Recommended: From the Cubs' historic 9th inning rally to "The Shot," which Chicago sports team had the best comeback?

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Government Food Programs Can Actually Help Poor Families Eat Healthier

Thu, 2016-10-13 16:54

The government’s nutrition assistance programs don’t tend to get a good rap.


The programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits typically referred to as “food stamps,” are often criticized by lawmakers and some nutritionists for allowing its low-income recipients to purchase unhealthy foods through the program.


Conservative leaders like Newt Gingrich and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have pejoratively dubbed President Barack Obama the “food stamp president.” At the same time, some lawmakers have called for SNAP benefits to be cut dramatically.


But these criticisms often fail to acknowledge the growing evidence showing how SNAP and similar programs are already succeeding, or could be tweaked to address many of their critics’ concerns.


A paper published this month in the Preventive Medicine journal found that such a tweak to make the food packages offered to participants in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, resulted in participants making healthier food and beverage purchases with their own money overall.


The report analyzed point-of-sale data obtained from a regional supermarket chain with stores in two New England states, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It found that the WIC program’s effort to make their food packages healthier in 2009 by adding fruit and vegetable vouchers, wholegrain bread and limiting milk purchases to skim or low-fat milk, rather than whole, had a clear impact.


The volume of healthy food purchases ― determined as such by following Department of Agriculture nutrition thresholds ― increased overall by 3.9 percent, while the volume of less healthy foods decreased by almost 2 percent, according to the researchers’ analysis. Most dramatically, the volume of less healthy beverage purchases — drinks including sugar-sweetened juices and whole-fat milk — decreased by 24.7 percent. Such changes were not observed in comparison low-income households that did not participate in WIC.



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Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and one of the report’s co-authors, said the healthiness of the WIC participants’ overall purchases came as a surprise to her.


“Everyone is talking about low-income households buying unhealthy food for the most part, but that’s not what we saw in our data,” Andreyeva told The Huffington Post.


Andreyeva noted that the improved healthiness of the WIC participants’ food and beverage purchases achieved through the 2009 tweaks came at no additional cost to the government — the changes were cost-neutral because the healthier products added to the program were offset by unhealthier products that were eliminated.


“It shows that change is possible. It improved dietary quality and it doesn’t have to cost extra,” Andreyeva added. “Smart tweaks of existing programs can make a big difference.”


Could a similar approach to reforming SNAP benefits help the program similarly nudge its 45.5 million participants toward making healthier purchases? (A 2015 study found SNAP participants were more likely to be obese, for a variety of factors not limited to the program, than the general population.) That question, it turns out, is pretty complicated.


WIC, of course, is quite a bit different than SNAP, even though both programs are administrated by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and keep them out of poverty.


SNAP allows recipients, after an application process verifying that they meet income- and employment-related eligibility requirements, to purchase a wide range of food items sold at any retailer that participates in the program. SNAP recipients, quite simply, are far less limited in foods they can receive through the program than WIC users are.


SNAP is also a much larger and costlier program than WIC, costing $74 billion a year compared to WIC’s federal price tag of $6.2 billion in 2015.


But there is increasing evidence that a sort of “carrot-and-stick” approach to SNAP benefits could help recipients make healthier purchases.


type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related Coverage + articlesList=5773e3c9e4b0eb90355d008c,576048fbe4b0e4fe5143e6f1,573b2b66e4b060aa781b462a

Another study published last month in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal compared the food and beverage purchases of some 279 participants in a 12-week experiment.


The participants were split into four groups: One group received a 30-percent incentive for purchasing fruits and vegetables, another was simply restricted from buying any candy, sugar-sweetened beverages or sweet baked goods with benefits. A third group received the incentive but was also subject to the same restrictions, while a final group was subject to neither incentives nor restrictions.


The study found that the group subject to both the incentives and restrictions made the healthiest choices out of all the groups. According to the analysis, this group reduced their intake of the unhealthy restricted items and increased their intake of fruit.


“The two things together are better than either one individually,” Lisa Harnack, University of Minnesota professor of epidemiology and community health and the study’s lead author, explained to Civil Eats, a food policy-focused news outlet.


Such an approach to SNAP would require congressional action to amend the federal law that governs the program.


While the evidence continues to mount that that may not be a terrible idea, Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and author of the book Appetite for Profits: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, believes the political reality of instituting such changes remains a key obstacle to progress.


“These studies are not addressing the heart of the problem,” Simon told HuffPost by email. “It’s silly to think we need more research on this. We need a political movement.”


―-


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

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Utilities Are Weirdly Noncommittal About The Dangers Of Lead In Water

Wed, 2016-10-12 15:24

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It’s been a year since whistleblowers exposed the government negligence that led to very high levels of lead in the water supply of Flint, Michigan ― a scandal that public figures have said must never happen again.


The problem with drinking lead-tainted water is pretty clear: Just like lead paint, it can stunt growth and cause permanent brain damage in young children. Recognizing these dangers, the Environmental Protection Agency makes utilities conduct regular testing to ensure that drinking water contains the smallest amount of lead possible.


But the spokespeople for the water utilities serving 10 of America’s biggest cities were strangely coy when we asked if they thought someone could suffer lead poisoning due to drinking leaded water. Not a single one offered an unqualified “yes.”


It wasn’t a trick question. Here’s what Bruce Lanphear, an epidemiologist and expert on environmental health dangers, told The Huffington Post: “Yes, it is possible for children to develop very high blood lead concentrations from tap water, especially bottle-fed infants.”


None of the 10 utilities outright denied that lead poisoning from contaminated water is possible. But for whatever reason, only the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was willing to affirm that it was. A spokesperson for the department said that because the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that no level of lead in children’s blood is safe, “we believe the answer to your question is yes.”


The city of Phoenix also deferred to the EPA in its answer, noting that the agency “has set the maximum contaminant level goal for lead in drinking water at zero, because lead is a toxic metal that can be harmful to human health even at low exposure levels.”


The “maximum contaminant level goal” is a bit of bureaucratic language derived from the complicated federal rule that tells utilities how to make sure drinking water is safe. It’s called the Lead and Copper Rule, and the EPA is currently revising it, which is a good thing: The rule is so weak that not even Flint got cited for a violation.



Their responses to the survey are consistent with their long-held talking points of refusing to accept any connection between lead and water and adverse health impacts.
Marc Edwards


Under the current rule, utilities are allowed to ignore the “maximum contaminant level goal.” The rule only requires that they collect water samples from people’s homes at regular intervals and measure the amount of lead.


If they find levels higher than 15 parts per billion in over 10 percent of samples, they are exceeding the federal “action level” and can be required to replace some lead pipes. But if high lead is present in under 10 percent of the samples, the utility doesn’t have to do anything at all.


It’s also up to the utilities which homes are included in the sampling pool, which gives them a chance to dodge the action level by avoiding homes connected to water mains via lead service lines. That’s one of the many things that went wrong in Flint.


Scientists have found there is no “safe” amount of lead. Recent research suggests that even small amounts of lead exposure can increase the odds of health effects like miscarriages and IQ loss. But HuffPost used the federal action level in our questions to utilities, just so there could be no doubt we were talking about lead levels that utilities are already supposed to treat as legitimately dangerous.


Our question was straightforward: Do you think it’s possible for a person to get elevated blood lead levels by drinking water that has lead above the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion?


Apparently, many utilities don’t feel comfortable answering that question.


The New York City Department of Environmental Protection punted the question to the Department of Health. San Diego similarly deferred.


“As your question would need to be answered by a doctor or medical expert, San Diego Public Utilities is going to decline to comment on it,” a spokesman said.


A spokesperson for the San Antonio Water System deferred to public health experts even after HuffPost suggested that a simple “yes” would be a good answer to the question.


The San Jose Water Company also said it couldn’t answer. “As a utility, we are not involved in setting action levels for drinking water contaminants,” a spokesperson said.


It’s true that it is not a water utility’s job to set the standards or study the effects of lead poisoning. That work is left to medical professionals, epidemiologists and government public health officials. But utilities are the ones that have to enforce those limits and do the work required to keep lead out of water ― so it’s kind of weird they won’t even state unequivocally that it’s a problem.


A spokesperson for the American Water Works Association, a trade group for water utilities, said that “the focus of water engineers’ work is corrosion control to minimize the potential for lead to dissolve into drinking water ― not in health effects research.”


The entire premise of the EPA’s regulation on lead is that its absorption from water causes severe health problems. Human beings have known this since the Roman Empire. Scientists in the U.S. have known it since the 1800s. And, as stated above, it’s been a full year since the Flint water crisis, which brought widespread attention to the nationwide threat of lead pipes still in use in so many cities.


“The crux of all our problems with the Lead and Copper Rule arises from the denial by water utilities that lead in water has anything to do with adverse public health effects,” said Marc Edwards, a corrosion expert at Virginia Tech University who helped expose the Flint water crisis by independently sampling the city’s water.


Edwards has long had major beef with utilities and the government over this issue. He was the main author of a 2009 paper that exposed the damage done to children’s bodies by leaded water in Washington, D.C. from 2000 to 2004. Though city officials admitted in 2004 that treatment mistakes caused lead to leach from the city’s pipes, a CDC report that same year falsely suggested that nobody had suffered elevated blood lead levels ― and a local task force concluded “there is scant scientific evidence to suggest a direct connection between lead in drinking water and lead absorption into the body.”


Edwards’ 2009 paper proved the claim wrong, and CDC Director Tom Frieden admitted in 2010 that his agency’s earlier report “left room for misinterpretation and may have led some people to improperly minimize concerns about lead exposure and conclude that lead in the water had never been a problem.”


Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia declined to respond to HuffPost’s survey, but didn’t say why. To be clear, The Huffington Post has no reason to believe any of these cities have a specific problem with lead in their water. But there are somewhere between 6 million and 10 million lead pipes in use across the country, and they’re not distributed equally. Chicago has a lot, while San Antonio has very few. The faucets are potentially dangerous in any home that has a lead service line or lead plumbing materials.


Gary Burlingame, the director of laboratory services for the Philadelphia Water Department, shared his views on water lead poisoning for a Huffington Post story earlier this year. He had said the science of what happened in Flint hadn’t really been settled. HuffPost asked Burlingame repeatedly if he thought it was possible for someone to absorb lead in their blood from drinking water. He allowed that it might be theoretically possible ― somewhere.


“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.”


Research indicates that lead paint and dust are primary causes of elevated blood lead levels, but the scientific literature has long shown that lead in water also contributes, particularly for formula-fed infants.


“Lead in tap water ― consumed in the home, offices, other worksites, and public buildings ― can be a particularly important source of lead exposure of young children, pregnant women, and other people,” stated an authoritative book on infant lead exposure published in 1993 by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.


“There is nothing that says that a child drinking water with lead will not develop an elevated blood lead level,” said Jerome Paulson, an emeritus professor with the George Washington University school of public health. “The level that results from the exposure will depend on the amount of lead in the water, the age and size of the child and how long the ingestion goes on.”


Evidence of the dangers of leaded water keeps piling up. It was peer-reviewed research showing increased childhood blood lead in Flint that forced the Michigan government to admit its mistake. The CDC even duplicated the results with its own study. It’s odd that utilities serving more than 10 million Americans are unwilling to say this is possible.


“Their responses to the survey are consistent with their long-held talking points of refusing to accept any connection between lead and water and adverse health impacts,” Edwards said. “You’d think they’d be curious enough to study the literature, which is very abundant, that shows even modest lead in water exposure by today’s standards has an impact on children’s blood lead. The lack of curiosity is hard to innocently explain.”

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Duckworth, Kirk Reveal Stark Differences in Reboot Illinois/BGA Questionnaire

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:34
How will our U.S. Senate candidates work to end gridlock in Congress? What is their view of campaign finance and voter ID laws? How will they tackle gun violence and our heroin epidemic? In order to help voters with their decisions, Reboot Illinois and the Better Government Association asked our state's U.S. Senate candidates about these and other good government topics in the 2016 Reboot Illinois/BGA Candidate Questionnaire.

All four candidates in the Nov. 8 election responded to seven essay questions.

In a campaign season of sharp divisions and inflammatory rhetoric, the questionnaire asks about improving government, observations about compromises designed to achieve outcomes, and what candidates would do differently in their campaigning if they had it to do over again.

Reboot Illinois is a non-partisan digital and social media firm that provides news, views, fact checks and online tools designed to raise awareness and citizen involvement. It is the exclusive partner of PolitiFact, producing PolitiFact Illinois.

The BGA is a non-partisan, non-profit government watchdog that shines a light on government and holds public officials accountable. Its mission also encourages transparency, honesty, fairness, accountability, and efficiency through policy advocacy and community engagement.

Neither organization endorses political candidates.

The candidates' responses have not been edited. They are published exactly as they were submitted.

You can read the Reboot Illinois/Better Government Association Candidate Questionnaire here.

Next: Illinois Comptroller Questionnaire - 2016

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Another Dreamer Sues In Federal Court To Help Millions Get Expanded Immigration Relief

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:30

A second undocumented college student has filed a lawsuit aimed at unblocking parts of a nationwide order that froze President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration last year.


With the help of immigrant advocacy groups, José Lopez, 24, sued in federal court in Illinois on Wednesday with his sights set on limiting a Texas judge’s injunction in favor of 26 states that challenged the president’s deportation relief program.


That case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but the justices deadlocked in the case and failed to reach the merits of the original order, leaving states and immigrants that support Obama’s plan under the effects of a single federal judge’s decree. The high court declined to revisit the case last week.



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“I hope it sets a precedent,” Lopez said of the lawsuit ahead of its filing. His parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 4 and both would’ve been eligible for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, the program that is now at a standstill in the courts. He’s called Chicago home for the past 21 years.


Lopez’s legal action mirrors one filed in New York in August, where another young immigrant who was a recipient of Obama’s original deferred action program turned to the courts in hopes of undoing the part of the countrywide order affecting his home state.


Melissa Keaney, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, which is behind both lawsuits, said in an interview that the judge assigned to the New York case, in Brooklyn, noted at a recent hearing that he might not be keen to go as far as her client wanted.


“The judge made it clear than he didn’t see his jurisdiction extending beyond New York or perhaps the Second Circuit,” she said, referring to the appeals court with authority over New York, Connecticut and Vermont.


Keaney said that given the potential for a limited ruling, her organization and the National Immigrant Justice Center determined that a new lawsuit in a different region might be a way to chip away at the Texas order incrementally.



I think it’s definitely important that we can come out of the shadows.
José Lopez


In a sense, the New York and Illinois lawsuits both put the immigrant rights groups in the awkward position of suing the Obama administration, which supports the president’s vision of expanded relief for undocumented immigrants.


“Certainly, even though they may agree and want to see the same thing happen, they don’t like to be sued,” Keaney said. She noted that the federal government filed a motion to dismiss the New York case and will likely do the same in Illinois. A key hearing in the former will take place next January.


The main legal theory behind the cases is largely technical. In essence, Lopez’s lawsuit alleges that the Department of Homeland Security violated federal law when it revoked his three-year work authorization under Obama’s expanded version of deferred action, which the judge in Texas had halted a day earlier. The government then reissued Lopez a two-year work permit under Obama’s first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is still in effect.


As for the young man behind the case ― who works full-time, has two associate degrees and is hoping to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago soon ― he says his main desire is not to live life “in two-year increments.” He hopes this litigation will help people who support broader immigration relief not to live in fear of deportation.


“I think it’s definitely important that we can come out of the shadows,” Lopez said. “The peace of mind that I received with DACA... that relief should come their way.”



Jose Lopez Complaint - Illinois Federal Court by Cristian Farias on Scribd


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Nearly Half of Illinoisans Want to Leave, Poll Finds

Wed, 2016-10-12 10:14


If you're a young Illinoisan, it's likely you want to get out of the state. If you're an Illinoisan of any age, it's even more likely that you think your home state is headed in the wrong direction.

The third installment of the fall Illinois survey by the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale finds nearly half of Illinois residents would like to leave, with 29 percent saying it's likely they'll move within the next year.

"There are lots of reasons why people want to leave," said David Yepsen, director of the institute. "Not much can be done about the weather but policy makers can do something about perceptions of the quality of services, tax competitiveness, tax fairness and educational and job opportunities."

Of the 47 percent who said they'd like to leave, 42 percent identified either taxes or government as their motivation. Only 16 percent cited the weather as their reason to leave and 13 percent said jobs and education had them looking elsewhere.

Younger respondents were more likely to express a desire to leave the state, and Yepsen cited this as the most troubling aspect of the poll. Previous results from the fall poll covered the presidential, U.S. Senate and comptroller races and overwhelming support for term limits and redistricting reform.

"Policy-makers argue over whether people are leaving or not," Yepsen said. "The most troubling finding in this poll is that so many younger people are thinking about it. That's the state's future."

The results are consistent with a 2014 Gallup poll that found 50 percent of Illinois residents said they would leave the state if they could. Illinois had the highest percentage of residents who wanted to leave among all 50 states. Gallup also found in 2013 that 19 percent of residents said they were extremely, very or somewhat likely to move in the coming year -- 10 points lower than this year's Simon Institute result.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters was taken Sept. 27-Oct. 5 and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Nearly 84 percent of respondents said they believed the state, generally speaking, is headed in the wrong direction. But they were much more optimistic when asked about the direction of their city or area, with nearly half saying they believe their home area is headed in the right direction.

Here's a look at the results.

Recommended: Kirk, Duckworth reveal distinct views on Supreme Court, voter ID laws in questionnaires

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What This Child Prodigy Has To Say About Her Art More Than A Decade Later

Tue, 2016-10-11 09:12

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Born to a Lithuanian mother and American father, Akiane Kramarik grew up in rural Illinois, just outside Chicago. Around age 4, the young girl realized she had an interest in painting -- and within just a few years, she would become one of the most well-known prodigies in the art world.


When Akiane began painting, she says she had begun experiencing visions that she was eager to express artistically. Once she did, people took notice, and the stunning realism and emotion in Akiane’s work led her to be featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at age 10. As Akiane told Oprah back then, she believed her talent came from one place: God.


Akiane wasn’t raised with religion, but her visions and art felt truly divine. One of her most popular paintings at the time was a portrait of Jesus, which she painted at 8 years old. Today, Akiane is 21 and her works feature everything from people to animals to the abstract. As Akiane tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” her technique has indeed changed over the last decade. 



“I did notice over the years ... a maturing. The techniques have become more detailed and more vivid,” she explains. “I can paint ‘soulscapes,’ which is my artistic interpretation of the soul’s journey.”


After appearing on “The Oprah Show” and being recognized nationally for her art, Akiane says she became fortunate enough to be able to make a good living off her paintings. “Being an artist did actually give us the financial [means] to provide for my whole family and for others,” she says. “My paintings have been selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.”


Today, Akiane continues to paint and also travels the world as an art ambassador.


“While I was living in Lithuania, I had the opportunity to help the educational government to change the laws there, to have more creative education,” she says. “Currently, I’m funding my own art and science academy.”


After traveling to 26 countries and meeting countless people from different cultures, Akiane has come away with a poignant observation about humanity in general. 


“I truly, truly believe ... that the arts has the ability ― a rare ability ― to unite and inspire every single one of us,” she says.


“Oprah: Where Are They Now?” airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN. You can also watch full episodes on demand via the Watch OWN app.


Another child prodigy’s update:


Boy genius Greg Smith went to college at age 10 ― here’s what he’s up to today

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Columbus Day: Black Legend Meets White City

Mon, 2016-10-10 14:49
By William Francis Keegan, University of Florida

The story of Christopher Columbus, as with all legends, involves a series of great successes and horrible failures.



Columbus's current favorability rating hovers somewhere close to those of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This was not always the case - he was once a revered figure who represented the American dream.



Columbus was a narcissist. He believed he was personally chosen by God and that no one else could achieve his mission. His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. After 1493, he signed his name "xpo ferens" - "the Christbearer."



The King and Queen of Spain revoked their initial support for his first voyage to the New World because Columbus's demands for nobility and hereditary rights were so excessive. The monarchs changed their minds only after it was calculated that the expedition would cost Spain the equivalent of $7,000 (in 2016 US dollars). Isabella did not have to "hock her jewels" to foot the bill.



Columbus' personal qualities led to his downfall. In 1496, he became governor of the colony based at Santo Domingo, modern Dominican Republic - a job he hated. He could not convince the other colonists, especially those with noble titles to follow his leadership. And, he was an incompetent administrator. The colony was largely a social and economic failure. The wealth that Columbus promised the Spanish monarchs failed to materialize, and he made continuous requests for additional support. Finally, he left the colony to go exploring.






Inspiracion de Cristobal Colon by Jose Maria Obregon
Museo Nacional de Arte, CC BY-SA



Conditions were so dire by 1500, the Crown sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate. Bobadilla's first sight, at the mouth of the Ozama River, was four Spanish "mutineers" hanging from gallows. Under authority from the King, Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his brothers and sent them to Spain in chains. Columbus waited seven months for an audience at the court. He refused to have his chains removed until the meeting and even asked in his will to be buried with the chains.



Although the Spanish rulers wanted Columbus to disappear, he was allowed one final voyage from 1502 to 1504. He died in 1506, and went virtually unmentioned until he was resurrected as a symbol of the United States.



Inventing Columbus

My interest in this American icon began 35 years ago with a search for his first landfall. I wanted to understand the man who wrote the only accounts of the Native Bahamians, known today as Lucayans.



In the mid-18th century, scholars brought to light long forgotten documents about Columbus and the early history of the New World. Among the most important was Bartolome de las Casas' three volume, "Historia de las Indias." This book had been suppressed because it documented Spain's harsh treatment of the Native peoples. It is the foundation for the "Black Legend" - a depiction that "blackened" Spanish character by depicting it as repressive, brutal, intolerant, and intellectually and artistically backward.



The second was the personal journal of Christopher Columbus from his first voyage, published in 1880. Gustavus V. Fox, Abraham Lincoln's Assistant Secretary of the Navy, used the latter in his attempt to determine the first island on which Columbus landed.



In 1828, American writer and author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, attempted to revive his flagging career by writing the first biography of Christopher Columbus in English. His embellishments created the great hero whose legend we continue to celebrate: "He was one of those men of strong natural genius, who appear to form themselves; who, from having to contend at their very outset with privations and impediments, acquire an intrepidity in braving and a facility in vanquishing difficulties." And, Irving wrote that Columbus was the first to believe in a round earth - a fact that was proved 1,000 years before Columbus.



Renewed scholarly interest in Columbus coincided with political motives to deny Spain any remaining claims in the Americas. Spain's American colonies declared independence, one by one, from the beginning of the 19th century. Simón Bolivar, and other Creole revolutionary leaders, embraced a broader philosophy which highlighted their Roman ancestry. The complete conversion of Spanish America to Latin America arrived with the U.S. invasion of Cuba and the six month Spanish-American War in 1898. The last of Spain's colonies were liberated.



Columbus likely would have slipped back into obscurity if not for American hubris.



The Columbian Exposition

In 1889, France put on what reviewers described as the most spectacular World's Fair possible. Held on the Champs de Mars in Paris, it's crowning achievement was the Eiffel Tower. For some reason, the U.S. did not realize that it needed to put on a good show in Paris. Europeans viewed the poor quality of the exhibits as a reflection of U.S. inferiority.






Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views of The World's Columbian Exposition



After the embarrassment in Paris, the United States wanted to prove to the world it was the equal of Europe. Cities across the country competed to host a fair in the U.S. Chicago wanted to demonstrate it was equal to the older eastern cities of New York and Philadelphia and submitted the winning bid.



No one has claimed credit for the theme of the Exposition, but the timing was fortuitous. The Columbian Exposition and World's Fair was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World. President William H. Harrison presided over opening ceremonies on Oct. 12, 1892.



It was called the "White City" - collection of nine "palaces" designed by America's greatest architects, conceived and constructed in only 26 months. Outside the White City was the grittier Midway, which is now a common feature of carnivals and fairs. The Fair debuted the first Ferris wheel, and gave visitors their first taste of carbonated soda, Cracker Jack, and Juicy Fruit chewing gum. An enormous 264-feet tall Ferris wheel transported 36 cars each carrying up to 60 people on a 20 minute ride. More than 28 million tickets were sold during the six months the Columbian Exposition was open.



Seventy-one portraits of Columbus, all posthumous, hung in a Grand Gallery. Following Washington Irving's descriptions, Columbus became the embodiment of the American Dream. The son of simple wool weavers and someone who had a great dream, challenged the greatest scholars of his day, and boldly went where no man had gone before. Better yet, he was Italian. The world could deny that Spain had any part in the discovery of the Americas.



President Harrison declared a national holiday - Columbus Day - to coincide with opening of the Columbian Exposition. It was officially recognized by Congress in 1937.



As the United States prepared for the 500th anniversary, the pendulum swung again. The devastating impact of his "discovery" on Native peoples throughout the Americas led protesters to decry Columbus as a "terrorist."



Columbus the man died more than 500 years ago. Columbus the legend is still being dismantled. His story illustrates the blurred borders between myth and history - how an architect of destruction can be turned to a national symbol.





William Francis Keegan, Professor of Anthropology, University of Florida



This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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