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The Most Interesting Cities in America

Wed, 2015-03-25 17:05
Some places stay with you long after you are gone. While they may not necessarily have the most pleasant weather or the best food, they've got something else, a certain indefinable quality that makes them hard to forget. They're full of adventure waiting to happen, and secrets waiting to be discovered. They keep you guessing. They're exciting and unpredictable. They are, in short, The Most Interesting Cities in America.

I don't always need a Mortgage Calculator, but when I do, I prefer this one.

In honor of Jonathan Goldsmith (who celebrated his 76th birthday in September), we sought to determine which U.S. cities are most interesting. To do so, we collected data on the 200 largest cities and rated them according to the following four factors.

Bars per 10,000 residents. Interesting things happen at bars. Strangers become friends. Friends become enemies. Fights break out. Stories are told. Passions are inflamed. A city filled with bars is bound to be a very interesting place indeed.

Diversity.  We applied a variation of the Hirfindahl-Hirschman index, commonly used in economics to analyze market power, to demographic data from the 2010 Census. The results, which range from 0 to 1, approximate the likelihood that any two people picked at random from the population will be of a different race, so a larger number indicates a more diverse population.

Artists, Writers and Musicians / Accountants. Think of this as the ratio of creatives to professionals. A city with a higher proportion of artists, writers and musicians will have a more vibrant cultural atmosphere, whereas a city with a higher proportion of accountants will be more businesslike.1

Population Growth. An interesting city should be a place of constant change. A steady flow of new residents means that there are new ideas and perspectives entering the community every day, and new opportunities for restaurants and shops to open or expand.

To create our index, we ranked all 200 cities based on each factor, and combined those rankings to produce the index, on a scale of 0-100. A city ranked first in all four of the above factors would receive a perfect 100 as its final score, and a city ranked last in all four factors would receive a zero.2

Data on bars per 10,000 residents comes from the 2012 Census Business Patterns Survey, and includes all "drinking establishments," - bars, taverns, cocktail lounges and nightclubs. Data on the number of artists, writers, musicians and accountants comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 occupation and employment survey. Data on population growth comes from the Census Bureau and is based on population estimates from June 2012 and June 2013.

1. San Francisco, California.

The Most Interesting City in America has long been recognized as one of the most unique places in the world. From the high towers of the Golden Gate Bridge to the rocky walls of Alcatraz; from the twin peaks in the heart of the city to the clanging downtown cable cars; the landscape of San Francisco is as legendary as it is beautiful. There is more to this city than a handful of nice attractions, however. Some will be surprised to learn, for example, that San Francisco is among the most diverse cities in the country--sixth out of the 200 cities we examined. It is also one of the booziest. San Francisco rated second on our list for bars per 10,000 residents.

Find out now: How much house can I afford?

2. New Orleans, Louisiana

La Nouvelle-Orléans. A city filled with magic and rich with history, its mix of cultural influences are as unique as they are interesting, ranging from Spanish Creole, to French, to American South. That cultural heritage becomes twice as interesting when accompanied by a drink: on New Orleans's Bourbon Street, bars often stay open around the clock, and its legal to take alcohol into the street in a "to-go" cup.  Plus, with nearly six drinking establishments for every 10,000 residents, New Orleans is the only city that has a greater concentration of bars than San Francisco. Another Sazerac please!

3. Las Vegas, Nevada

Taking a walk down the Vegas strip at night is like passing through someone else's dream. The incredible skyline, which includes a miniature Egyptian pyramid, a mock Eiffel tower, and a replica Statue of Liberty, reflects the grand aspirations that have built this city. That same type of hope brings hordes of new-comers and tourists alike every year, each of them looking for a little Vegas magic.

4. Austin, Texas

There's a lot going on in Austin. It is the capital of the second most populace state in the country. It is home to the largest public university in the country. Each year it plays host to several of the nation's most significant arts festivals, including Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. While this may be too much action for the faint of heart, many outsiders are finding Austin's pull irresistible: a population growth rate of 2.4% make Austin the 10th most rapidly growing city in our study.

Fifteen Fastest-Growing Cities in the U.S.

5. Washington, DC

One of only two East Coast cities to crack the top ten, the nation's capital is a city at once filled with history and ripe with opportunity. Landmarks such as the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument belie a city that is anything but stuck in the past. The District is a destination for many of the country's most ambitious and energetic individuals, people who hope to reshape the very future of a nation.

Is it better to buy or rent?

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

Sitting between the Americas and Asia, Honolulu has throughout its history served as an intercontinental hub, a place where cultures from across the world intersect and blend. It should come as no surprise, then, that Honolulu rated as the number one most diverse city in America. While travelers may flock to the city for its beaches, the true excitement lies inland, in neighborhoods such as Makiki, Chinatown or the Arts District.

7. Oakland, California

The population of Oakland ranked in our analysis as the second most diverse in the country, behind only Honolulu. That diversity has contributed to Oakland's deserved reputation as a cultural capital: it claims among its current and former residents Oscar-winners (Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks), musicians (Billy Joe Armstrong, Keyshia Cole), influential writers (Daniel Alarcon, Jack London) and even the inventor of the popsicle (Frank Epperson).

8. Irvine, California

Located along the Pacific Ocean in Orange County, Irvine was one of several cities in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area to score well. While the LA area is a well-established haven for musicians and artists, Irvine benefitted from having the fifth highest population growth rate of any city we examined. Indeed, if Irvine continues growing at its current rate of 3.2%, the population will double in just over two decades.

9. Seattle, Washington

The Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, have always attracted interesting, and some might say eccentric people, and many cultural movements have emerged from the region over the years. Today's Seattle is less grunge and more tech, but that doesn't make the Emerald City any less appealing to outsiders: Seattle ranked 6th on our list for population growth.

Top Ten American Cities to Work in Tech

10. New York, New York

Rounding out the top ten is the City That Never Sleeps. Like many of the cities in the top ten, New York is known as a destination for immigrants the world over. The numbers, however, suggest that the Big Apple is losing its appeal: New York's growth rate of 0.74% didn't crack the top 100 of the cities we included in our study. Nonetheless, a stroll through Times Square is enough to remind anyone that NYC--like all of the cities on this list--is among the most interesting places in the world.

Photo Credit: flickr

1. Disclaimer. SmartAsset categorically does not think accountants are boring. We love accountants. We love their good sense. The calm they exude in the presence of spreadsheets. In fact, SmartAsset has several accountants of our own, and we love each and every one of them!

2. In several instances, we combined places that, while technically separate municipalities, are for all intents and purposes one city--for example, we combined Las Vegas with North Las Vegas and Henderson.

This $12.95 Million Penthouse Is The Clear Answer To Your 'Empire' Withdrawals

Wed, 2015-03-25 17:02
Wednesdays are a sad day for "Empire" fans now that season one of the breakout Fox-network show has wrapped. But there are a couple of ways to get your fix.

One: You could stream reruns of the show on Hulu. Or, two: You can take a tour and perhaps even purchase this $13 million penthouse featured on the show.

According to listing agent, Phil Skowron, the 3-bedroom, 4-bath condo make appearances throughout the show, mostly in the pilot episode. It looks pretty similar to Hakeem's bachelor pad in the scene captured here. And like the fictional characters who were said to live (or work or otherwise build their empire) there, the home is most certainly over the top.

Occupying 9,300-square-feet of a condo building along Lake Michigan, the apartment features a steam room, basketball court, squash court, and 500-gallon hot tub with a popup TV. There are three 500-gallon salt water aquariums with live reef corals and exotic fish, 25-foot ceilings and over $1,000,000 worth of exotic stone, including backlit onyx baseboards and columns, Skowron says.

Basically, Lucious Lyon approved.

Check out photos of the penthouse below, and contact Phil Skowron at Chicago Luxury Real Estate for more information.

h/t DNA Info

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'I'm Lucky To Be Living': Video Shows Cops Brutally Beating Unarmed Black Man In Michigan

Wed, 2015-03-25 15:24
The violent arrest of an African-American motorist by two white police officers in Inkster, Michigan, was caught on video and shows police brutally beating a man who claimed he did nothing wrong.

The Michigan State Police officers said they pulled over 57-year-old Floyd Dent for violating a traffic violation in January. The dashcam video, which was obtained by WDIV and released on Tuesday, shows Dent opening the door to his car only to be met by an officer who withdrew his gun and aimed it directly at him. Officers dragged Dent out of the vehicle, forced him face down to the ground and proceeded to place him in a chokehold.

“I’m lucky to be living. I think they was trying to kill me, especially when they had choked me,” Dent told WDIV. “I mean, I was on my last breath. I kept telling the officer, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’”

According to police reports obtained by the TV station, the primary officer served 16 punches to Dent’s head, leaving his face bloody and body bruised. More officers arrived to the scene and attempted to place Dent in handcuffs. The video shows Dent attempting to cover his face to lessen the impact of the punches, while one officer uses a stun gun on him three times and a third tries to place him in handcuffs.

Police said they pulled Dent over for failing to make a complete halt at a stop sign, and later followed his Cadillac down the street through one of the state’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

Dent, who was unarmed and has no criminal record, said he was not intentionally trying to get away, and video shows him driving at the same speed while cops followed behind him. Dent said he did not immediately stop because he was unaware he did anything wrong -- and he has maintained the same argument.

“When the overhead lights came on, I looked and said, ‘Wow, are they stopping me?’" Dent said. “So I just kept going until I realized that they were really stopping me.”

“The next thing I know, the officer runs up to me with his gun, you know, talking about blowing my head off," Dent continued. "Then he grabbed me out of the car and started beating on me, you know. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Dent said he had his hands out after opening his car door. Officers said they did not see both hands and claim Dent yelled, “I’ll kill you.” However, there is no recorded audio from the incident, WDIV reported.

“You have six responding vehicles. Not one officer is equipped with a microphone to take down this alleged threat,” Dent’s attorney, Greg Rohl, told the local news station.

The primary officer claimed he was protecting himself, according to WDIV. Officers said that Dent, who later said he feared he would die as a result of the chokehold, resisted arrest and bit the officer in the arm, which resulted in the series of significant blows to Dent's head. However, no photographs are available of the alleged bite marks and the officer did not seek medical attention, WDIV reported.

The incident led to a protest of around 50 demonstrators who rallied outside of the Detroit-area police department on Wednesday to speak out against this case of police brutality. The protest was led by the Rev. Charles Williams II, who called on officials to fire the officers involved.

"We will shut Inkster down until we get justice," Williams said, according to The Associated Press.

Inkster Police Chief Vicki Yost addressed the crowd Wednesday and said the state police department is conducting an investigation into the case.

"I understand your concern," Yost told Williams, according to the AP. "Again, we're going to let the investigation play out ... We're going to act accordingly. We're not hiding from this."

Scandal-Plagued Former Rep. Anthony Weiner Offers Thoughts on Rep. Aaron Schock

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:57
One person who might understand the position in which U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) has found himself (resigning after weeks of media scrutiny over questionable spending) is former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). Weiner also resigned from Congress after a scandal.

Though both scandals involve lots of social media pictures, the circumstances of their resignations are vastly different. Weiner left Congress in June 2011 amid a "sexting" scandal that featured embarrassing pictures and tweets from his Twitter account. Schock resigned after investigative journalists unearthed details alleging fraudulent billing of mileage reimbursement to his congressional office, paying for a private plane flight with taxpayer money, a questionable real estate deal with a political donor and many other potential abuses of his campaign fund.

The former congressman from New York offered his thoughts on Schock's situation in Business Insider:

1. Campaign accounts, particularly the political action committee, or PAC, are largely not about getting elected. You can pretty much justify anything as an election-related expenditure. From dry-cleaning bills to the costs of grooming and boarding your family dog. Hey, you need to have a clean suit and a handsome dog in those campaign pictures, no?

2. Dipping into official House office accounts is dumb. The biggest, clearest smoking gun in the Schock case is the way he used the permissible per-mile reimbursement of his personal car as a way of padding his pockets.

Check out the rest of the points Weiner made about Schock's situation at Reboot Illinois, including Weiner's ideas about ethics rules and the investigations that follow such scandals.

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How Chicago Edtech Companies Are Rising to the Head of the Class

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:17
You could put it on the blackboard! Yes, Chicago is an epicenter for educational innovation.

Earlier this month, two Chicago-based education technology companies - ThinkCERCA (who we told you about last year) and Classkick - raised institutional venture capital rounds. And while both companies are individually impressive and already influential in the burgeoning edtech sector, they have a lot of corporate classmates in the Windy City that are also attracting strategic and pure venture capital.

As we write about regularly, instructional delivery models in education - particularly within K-12 - are rapidly transforming. Educators have access to more digital resources than at any point in history, and are using a combination of apps, videos, and websites to flip their classrooms, personalize instruction, and assess student performance both individually and in aggregate.

The Chicago-based edtech startup where I work, appoLearning, recently unveiled a universal search engine that lets teachers search for by keyword for the best resources to teach subjects ranging from Number Sense to geology to high school political science

Other Chicago-based startups, often founded by educators who sense opportunity amidst all of this disruption, smell blood.

"Big companies with top-down approaches and highly paid sales teams don't get what startups are good at," explains Howard Tullman, longtime entrepreneur (edtech and otherwise) and CEO of Chicago's digital media incubator 1871. "But what startups need to understand is that they have to solve the adoption issue (of their product) first, and then they can worry about writing a giant contract."

Combining the best of both worlds
In recent years, several 1871 edtech companies have raised angel, institutional and corporate venture capital.

ThinkCERCA, which creatively couples informational text and reading assignments for students grades 4-12 with Common Core-aligned assessments, in March raised $3.2 million in venture capital in a round led by the venture capital arm (managed by Atrium Capital) of Chicago area educational publishing pioneer Follett. Other investors included Chicago-based Math Venture Partners, Amicus Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, and angel investor/OpenTable founder Chuck Templeton. ThinkCERCA has previously raised $1.5 million from individual investors.

Beyond the capital from Follet, which will be deployed to sales and engineering talent, ThinkCERCA CEO Eileen Murphy (a former Chicago public school teacher and administrator) sees relationships to tap into from a company that was founded two years after the Chicago fire (1873).

"One thing that Follett can bring today is a lot of credibility with customers, which helps us stand out." We have yet to work out all of the details of the partnership, but we are figuring out how to leverage their enormous network of schools."
Follett CEO Mary Lee Schneider concurs.

"Follett works with more than 70,000 schools across the country," she said, "and through this partnership, we'll be able to expand ThinkCERCA's reach, as well as foster developments that will make the technology even more effective and easier to use."

ClassKick, another Chicago edtech company to recently raise venture capital, has already attracted customers nationwide and in 75 countries around the globe with its slick technology that lets teachers individually monitor students in their classrooms as they are working on problems on their iPads. The company raised a $1.7 million seed round led by leading edtech investor Kapor Capital, Lightbank, Great Oaks Venture Capital and Yammer founder Adam Pisoni. ClassKick's founders hail from Teach for America and Google.

Other 1871 edtech companies that have either recently raised significant outside capital or are expected to include Learnmetrics (an analytics company that aims to do for educational data what does for financial data), NextTier Education (which is reimagining the college application process) and Infiniteach (developer of the Skill Champ app for students with autism).

Beyond funding
Edtech companies springing up at 1871 and other Chicago locations are also benefiting from local organizations like Leap Innovations and DV X Labs. Founded by former New Schools for Chicago CEO Phyllis Lockett, Leap Innovations is based in 1871 and helps educators discover the best new educational innovations (while also providing feedback to edtech developers). DV X Labs, a joint venture between 1871 and DeVry, is an accelerator for edtech companies seeking to pilot and market their offerings.

Of course the best resource for an early stage edtech company (in Chicago or otherwise), explains 1871's Tullman, is a good customer relationship management system.

"They need a good CRM program to find champions and advocates within schools, and not spend too much time on marketing to everybody," he says. "I wouldn't even call it viral. It's simply class warfare."

Public Education and the Ability to Do Math in Chicago

Wed, 2015-03-25 14:08
On a sunny Chicago morning, I'm engaged in an education debate with an economist friend in NY: Can our children thrive in our cities' public schools? We even get into their math problems:

Daniela has a dollar. Her mother wants 3 apples from the store. Each apple is 39 cents. How many apples can Daniela buy?

My friend laughs saying that an urban public school agenda would teach that the answer is 5. Who cares if you don't have enough money to pay for them?

As a local school council member and mother with children in a Chicago public school, I see so much going right. I'm frustrated, but I also get the joke. Too often, city plans for improving schools have gone nowhere having insufficient resources to back them. Programs and pension plans have been pushed through with a "buy now, pay later" philosophy that's worked for politicians, but set up future generations to pay, leaving teachers' retirement funds at risk, and public schools underfunded with crippling debt. We keep hearing about it. As a parent now, I feel the impact.

Today in Chicago, our children finally have educational opportunities to help them succeed from start to finish: expanded Pre-K, universal full-day kindergarten, longer school days, tuition-free college opportunities. Options like IB and STEM programs are growing as well as programs like Chicago City of Learning to educate beyond the classroom, and keep kids off the streets. Graduation rates are rising. We know we have dire financial challenges. To be clear, parents aren't nervous about a mayor who "rubs some the wrong way," we're nervous that unsustainable budget deficits and pension costs threaten our children's education.

Of course, we owe it to teachers to support them and protect their retirement. They're on the front-lines everyday, rolling up their sleeves and working the hardest for our children. But Chuy Garcia and the Chicago Teacher's Union also owe it to them and our city to be truthful about the pension crisis and not offer false promises that deepen our troubles. That's irresponsible. Students and teachers will lose everything.

The ghosts of Detroit loom large. Next year in Chicago, pension obligations will account for two-thirds of a 1.1 billion dollar CPS' deficit -risking thousands of teacher positions and quality education in our classrooms. The Chicago Teacher's Union can't ignore this. Nobody can. We have tough problems that demand a mayor who is not afraid to push the unions, or risk political favor to generate revenue that keeps cuts away from classrooms. Ultimately, that's what will protect pensions and schools. If Mr. Garcia is beholden to union leadership, how can he do that?

Mayor Emanuel's pension proposal for municipal workers last Spring compromised with unions and property owners and is an important model for all cities going forward. This shared responsibility approach to closing the deficit looks out for Chicago and our schools. His efforts to generate revenue aren't always perfect or popular, but show real commitment to finding reasonable solutions to preserve programs and dig us out of a hole. Call that being progressive and fiscally responsible. In Chicago, we call that protecting our future.

Children deserve educational success. We can't afford to sabotage our momentum with lower credit ratings and insufficient funds. We want to stay and make our schools better. That's what strengthens neighborhoods.

Our challenges are immense and urgent. But we have dedicated educators and families, and a mayor who's proven he'll take the heat to work on our budget. If we responsibly fund education, then even during tough times, we have so much to feel optimistic about.

So to my friend in NY, I say: Daniela can buy 2 apples with that dollar, but in Chicago, we are aiming for being able to buy 3. Better education policy + good math = true progress and better opportunities for our kids.

-Alana Baum, Ph.D.

I Drank So Much Soda as a Child That My Veins Collapsed

Wed, 2015-03-25 12:27
The last thing I remember before I blacked out was getting up from the couch to eat.

I was an otherwise healthy 12-year-old kid in middle school. I'd just finished a Mountain Dew, my first love, which I drank whenever I was thirsty. My mom called me to the kitchen for dinner, and I stood up. But as I made my way across the living room, everything got dark. I could feel my heart throbbing in my ears, and then, I felt nothing.


When I say I drank a lot of Mountain Dew, I really mean it was the only thing I drank. For several months of my childhood, I had unlimited access to the neon-green sugar bomb, and I took a swig whenever I was thirsty. After I blacked out, I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a drink of water. It had been months.

It was my cigarette. I was addicted. And I can remember the first time I was drawn to the brand by a marketing team, which is terrifying to think about. We know brands want to reach our kids, and they do, with hundreds of sneaky, targeted ads displayed on the hundreds of tech devices kids are tapping on. But I'm willing to bet most of us don't know when those brands are sending real, physical people out to target our children, and get them hooked. I know this happens, because it happened to me.

That's why I was delighted to learn that several fast-food chains -- McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's among them -- dropped soda off their kids' menus. It's a small step toward curbing childhood obesity and any number of other problems that can arise from excess soda drinking.

You're about to learn one of those problems, on the EXTREME end of the spectrum.


My addiction to soda started one day at summer camp -- a sports camp, where health is touted in the damn pamphlet -- when a big-ass Hummer rolled up. It was gigantic, covered in Mountain Dew logos with green and red flames, and blasting '90s rap on exterior speakers (it looked a lot like this). So cool!

When it reached the edge of the kickball field where we'd been playing, we saw that its bed was completely full of Mountain Dew cans. Two rad dudes popped out, flinging Mountain Dew backpacks at us and telling us all over the loudspeakers that we could fill said swag with as much free Mountain Dew as we could carry. Do you know what happens when cool dudes give unlimited free sugar to children whose parents are not in the area?

The children lose their freaking minds. I'm talking signed, sealed, delivered, I'm YOURS, Mountain Dew.

After that, I never stopped drinking the stuff. I drank hundreds of cans, each weighing in at 170 calories and 46 grams of sugar. YUM. That is, until I blacked out.


I woke up to my mom screaming. My head had completely obliterated my dad's model boat, but I felt pretty good, like I'd just woken up from a long nap. My parents later told me that I stood up, cocked my head back and fell like a sack of over-caffeinated potatoes -- they thought I was having a seizure.

It turns out that I was suffering from extreme dehydration. When I got to the hospital, it took three medical personnel to find my veins, because without much water, they were completely collapsed. My treatment was a gigantic bag of hydrating fluids, and I was told I should never drink soda again.

I won't.

Look, I don't want to make you feel bad for my childhood self. He was awesome, in my opinion. But if childhood obesity isn't enough to scare people into curbing their kids' soda intake, maybe the possibility of cool marketers and hospitalization will.

And I didn't even have access to high-octane energy drinks at the time. Those actually can kill kids.

Here Are The Most Popular Throwback Jerseys In Each State

Wed, 2015-03-25 11:27
Everyone has a hometown hero, a team favorite, a legend. Turns out Kobe Bryant is that person for a lot of people, even well outside of Los Angeles.

The folks at Mitchell & Ness released a map Tuesday showing the top-selling throwback jerseys in each state. And while most are pretty expected -- Karl Malone is a favorite in Utah, Patrick Ewing in New York and Troy Aikman in Texas -- others are less so. Namely that Kobe Bryant is a top seller in Delaware and Tennessee.

To be fair, he's also the top-selling jersey in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, but maybe we can chalk that up to the Laker's existence as a franchise formerly located in Minnesota with a namesake derived from the Great Lakes?

Unfortunately for Kobe, the reigning champion in jersey sales in California is none other than Joe Montana. Can't win them all. Either way, check out the map to see who leads your state:

H/T For The Win

Chuy Garcia Mayoral Ad Stretches The Truth About Rahm Emanuel's School Funding Decisions

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:49

The following post first appeared on

Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia claims in a new ad that Mayor Rahm Emanuel “took” money from closed public schools and “gave” it to “elite private schools.” Those “private schools,” in fact, are publicly funded charter schools — open to all students tuition-free.

Emanuel and Garcia will face off in an April 7 runoff for mayor of Chicago, after no candidate gained a majority of votes in the Feb. 24 election. Emanuel, who served as the first White House chief of staff to President Obama before resigning in 2010 to run for mayor, has made the expansion of charter schools a priority of his administration. By contrast, Garcia’s campaign website states that the candidate will place “a moratorium on further charter schools” if elected.

In an ad released on March 18, Garcia stands in front of a closed school and states that the mayor “took the money from these schools and gave it to elite private schools founded by his big campaign contributors.”

Garcia has a point about Emanuel’s campaign contributors – which we will get to later – but the schools he criticizes are not “elite private schools.” Although not explained in the TV ad, Garcia’s campaign makes clear in a press release that the candidate is talking about charter schools.

And charter schools, although run by private, nonprofit organizations, are public schools.

A charter school, as detailed in the Illinois School Code, “shall be a public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, non-home based, and non-profit school.” Chicago’s public school district, Chicago Public Schools, describes charter schools as “[p]ublic schools open to all Chicago children.” The first charter schools law passed in Illinois, in 1996, stated that “authorizing charter schools to operate in Illinois will promote new options within the public school system.” Furthermore, the Chicago Tribune writes that charter schools “are approved by the Board of Education but operate independently from the board and each other.”

So while Garcia’s reference to “elite private schools” conjures images of pricey, exclusive prep schools, he’s actually talking about publicly funded charter schools that are open to all students tuition-free. If a school receives more applicants than it has spaces, a “random lottery” is used to determine which students are accepted.

Garcia has every right to his opinion about Emanuel’s policy of seeking to expand the number of charter schools in the city. His assertion that Emanuel is “privatizing our public schools” echoes charter school critics who argue, as the Washington Post put it, that “charters amount to a privatization of public schools because they are run by organizations that don’t answer to the public and in some states aren’t subject to key rules that apply to government agencies, such as open meetings and public records laws.”

In December 2012, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a nonprofit operator of a Chicago charter school is a ” ‘private entity’ and therefore covered under the federal law governing the private sector,” as Chicago’s WBEZ reported.

Nonetheless, charter schools in Chicago must be approved by the Chicago School Board, which can pull a school’s charter if it is deemed to be underperforming.

It’s also worth noting that charter schools, though publicly funded, receive less funds on average than their non-charter public school counterparts. The Illinois State Charter School Funding Task Force, an independent state agency established in 2011, said that “on average, charter schools receive 78.3% of the funds that their district counterparts receive. This disparity amounted to approximately $1800 less per pupil in the charter schools.”

Charter School Funding

The ad also implies that Emanuel, as mayor, played a direct role in allocating funds away from traditional public schools and to charter schools. The ad starts with Garcia standing in front of a shuttered school, saying “the mayor shut it down.” He goes on to say that Emanuel “took” money from the closed schools and “gave” it to “elite private schools.”

The mayor of Chicago does play a larger role in education compared with mayors in other cities, but Emanuel does not have direct control over the schools or funding.

The Chicago Board of Education is appointed by the mayor, unlike 98 percent of school boards nationwide and all other school boards in Illinois, as explained in a February 2015 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago. The wave of school closings that Garcia cites occurred in May 2013, when the board voted to close nearly 50 public schools.

Later that year the Chicago Public Schools issued a request for proposal for new charter schools, eventually leading to the opening of 31 new charter schools.

However, individual school districts in Illinois, such as Chicago Public Schools, receive funding from the state — not the mayor’s office — based on the “general state aid formula,” which allocates funds using “three separate calculations, depending on the amount of property wealth of the local school district.”

In 2014, Chicago Public Schools implemented a new funding formula called Student Based Budgeting, which is “a unified funding formula that applies to both district and charter/contract schools.” In other words, funding for charter schools, like all public schools, is based on standardized calculations set by the Illinois State Board of Education and the school board. Charters are also entitled to start-up costs calculated on a per-pupil basis. A spokesman for Chicago Public Schools told us in an email that Garcia’s “suggestion that funds are somehow ‘diverted’ to charter schools and away from other schools is completely false, since the funds follow the students.”

So, Garcia’s claim that Emanuel personally “took” and “gave” money to individual schools exaggerates the authority of the mayor, even if Chicago’s mayor has more control over the school board than do most other mayors.

Finally, the ad claims that the “elite private schools” that Emanuel supports were “founded by his big campaign contributors.” We couldn’t determine whether any founders of charter schools had contributed to Emanuel’s campaign — and the Garcia campaign didn’t respond to our questions on this topic. However, there is no question that some of Emanuel’s campaign contributors have given large amounts of money to charter schools.

Philanthropists Gary Brinson and Patricia Crown have provided grants to Chicago charter schools through their foundations, Crown Family Philanthropies and the Brinson Foundation. Brinson and Crown contributed $55,300 and $50,000, respectively, to Emanuel’s two mayoral campaigns, according to the state campaign finance website. That does not include contributions from family members. For example, others with the last name “Crown” who list the same address as Patricia Crown contributed $200,900 to Emanuel’s mayoral campaigns.

However, in its backup for the ad, the Garcia campaign goes too far when it claims that supporters “of the private charter school industry have financed Rahm Emanuel’s campaign to the tune of more than $700,000.” In an attachment titled “School Privatization Advocates for Rahm,” the campaign says its $700,000 contribution figure consists of “campaign contributions from charter school supporters, companies that fund charter schools, and those companies’ employees.”

In other words, because an individual like Harvey Medvin, former chief financial officer of Aon Corp., now sits on the board of directors for the Noble Network of Charter Schools, Garcia’s campaign included 30 Aon employees in its list of charter school industry supporters. But here’s the rub: Not one of the 30 Aon employees “founded” or “operated” a charter school, and there is no record of Medvin contributing to Emanuel’s campaign.

Garcia would be correct if his ad claimed that the Chicago Board of Education, appointed by Emanuel, voted to close nearly 50 public schools. And he would be accurate if he said in the ad that some of Emanuel’s biggest contributors are charter school advocates who have helped fund Chicago’s charter schools. But he’s wrong to characterize charter schools as “elite private schools,” and he exaggerates by claiming Emanuel “took” money from public schools and “gave” money to “elite private schools.”

Your Bracket May Be Busted, But Here's Why You Need To Keep Watching March Madness

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:44
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The opening weekend of the 2015 NCAA Tournament is over, and if you've already torn up your bracket ... well, don't feel bad. Word is, there isn't a single perfect bracket remaining! In fact, of the 11.57 million brackets filled out on ESPN, 30.4 percent had Villanova in the Final Four. (I had the big North Carolina State upset. See video below for my one shining moment.) The weekend brought a lot of other surprises: UCLA, which many people, including myself, thought didn't belong in the field, reaches its second straight Sweet 16 under Steve Alford. The much-maligned Pac-12 has actually enjoyed a nice showing -- Utah, Arizona and UCLA are still alive, and Oregon beat Oklahoma State in the round of 64. How about the ACC? It's 11-1 and rolling into the Sweet 16 with five teams remaining. The Big 12 lost its highest seed, Kansas, not to mention trendy Final Four picks Iowa State and Baylor.

With the best four days of the year now in the rearview mirror, let's play "Fact or Fiction?" with the tournament's second weekend, which promises to be as electric as the first.

Kentucky will advance to the Final Four

FICTION: Cincinnati may not have beaten 36-0 Kentucky, but it laid out a pretty strong blueprint on how to do so: slow down tempo, be the aggressor and run a slew of ball screens. John Calipari likes to switch, which creates mismatch rebound opportunities down low. The Bearcats gathered 21 offensive rebounds, the most UK has surrendered all year long. Against a better offensive team, such as Notre Dame or Wichita State, which both have a ton of shooters, those rebounds turn into threes, because that's the best time to shoot a three. Kentucky -- which hasn't lost in 350 days -- is tremendous, and it's a huge credit to Cal that he's gotten nine McDonald's All-Americans to buy in on both ends. But don't be surprised if his team goes down before the Final Four.

Gonzaga will make its first ever Final Four

FICTION -- Eleven-time West Coast Conference Coach of the Year Mark Few is the all-time winningest coach percentage-wise in the country, at a staggering 81 percent. And yet, the 52-year-old -- who first joined the Gonzaga staff in 1989 -- has never taken the Zags to the Final Four. This year's team may be his deepest and most talented, with a barrage of weapons, including conference player of the year Kevin Pangos; newcomer of the year Kyle Wiltjer; and defensive player of the year Gary Bell, Jr. Pangos, a senior point guard from Canada, is the key. He sets the table for Few with his efficient play, shooting 44 percent from distance to go along with his five assists per game. Moreover, he's the main reason why this team ranks first in the country in field goal percentage. Wiltjer is the lone McDonald's All-American on the roster, and the former SEC Sixth Man of the Year for Calipari at Kentucky. At 6-foot-10, he spreads the floor with his shooting, but can also post up from either block. Bell is the heart and soul of a defensive unit that allows a mere 61 points per game. So why won't Gonzaga make the first Final Four in program history? Take a look at the bracket: Duke's backcourt, with Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, to go along with Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, is a matchup nightmare for the Zags in the Elite Eight. In other words, this is as much about the region as anything else.

Delon Wright vs. Tyus Jones is the best guard matchup thus far

FACT -- If you haven't seen Wright play just yet, you're in a for a treat. The 6-foot-5 senior is a playmaking dynamo who towers over the 6-foot-1 Jones. Delon Wright, whose older brother is Dorell Wright, is a guy who constantly attacks and thrives in the open floor. He's a stat-stuffer, averaging 15 points, five rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block, and he loves the big moment. Jones, meanwhile, has arguably been Duke's most consistent contributor all year long. Firstly, he has allowed Cook to play off the ball, giving Mike Krzyzewski the luxury of having two tremendous creators in the backcourt. Secondly, Jones' prodigious understanding of the position (he averages six assists per game) has elevated Okafor in pick-and-roll, and Okafor has benefited greatly from playing with a true pass-first lead guard. Wright will likely look to post up Jones, and don't be surprised if Coach K throws Winslow at him at times. Jones, meanwhile, will look to attack Wright off the bounce, using his elite quickness and creativity in the half-court. Bottom line: You won't find a better guard matchup throughout the entire tournament.

Michigan State is a Final Four threat

FICTION -- This is not your average 7 seed, but it's also not your typical Tom Izzo team either. Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice are going to be the second straight senior class that misses the Final Four (it hadn't happened until last year). In beating Virginia, the Spartans displayed the toughness and grit emblematic of an Izzo squad. The problem is a lack of premier talent. Last year's Sweet 16 team had Adreian Payne, a first-round draft pick. This year's team simply doesn't have that, nor does it lock teams down. The Spartans rank 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Oklahoma, its next opponent, has offensive firepower, with Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield and Lon Kruger as its coach. Kruger is the first coach ever to win an NCAA Tournament game with five different schools.

The "other" team in North Carolina still matters

FICTION -- Duke and NC State have been awfully impressive, but what about the Tar Heels? Despite their 4 seed, this remains one of the most talented teams remaining in the field. Junior point guard Marcus Paige is terrific, J.P. Tokoto is an elite athlete who can guard anyone, freshman Justin Jackson is a 6-foot-8 perimeter threat, and both Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson provide very strong interior play. North Carolina's issue is that it really struggles to guard people -- and let's be honest, that's the annual theme with any Roy Williams team. As a whole, the Heels rank just 51st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom, a number that becomes scarier against a team in Wisconsin that ranks No. 1 in the same offensive category.

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

<i>Pretty Woman</i> Hides an Ugly Reality

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:41
This week marks the 25th anniversary of an enormously popular movie, Pretty Woman, a cultural touchstone so important that the Today Show hosted a reunion of its stars and director. The show even offered viewers the opportunity to "Win the chance to be Pretty Woman for a day!"

With a plotline that has been neatly summarized as "Cinderella as a streetwalker" or "Pygmalion with a prostitute," the film portrays a dashing corporate raider falling in love with his latest commodity, a vivacious woman in prostitution. The movie begins with Vivian struggling to make ends meet. But once she meets Edward Lewis who purchases her, provides her with a makeover and shopping spree, she is saved. The film is a romantic comedy with the happiest of endings.

The Today Show's celebration of this fantasy misses the reality that prostitution is rarely light, loving or funny. In the quarter century since the film's release, we know much more about the links between prostitution and human trafficking. We understand that without prostitution, sex trafficking could not exist. We also recognize that like all industries, the sex trade is demand driven. Without sex buyers, there would be no business.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world. It is an industry that generates billions of dollars each year in profit, while the risk to those who exploit is very low. Criminal organizations are increasingly attracted to human trafficking because, unlike drugs, humans can be sold repeatedly.

The titular Pretty Woman is a free agent, in charge of her own destiny. But the industry is controlled by pimps and traffickers who "condition" their victims by subjecting them to starvation, gang rape, beatings, psychological abuse, confinement, threats of violence toward the victim and victim's family, forced drug use and shame. Women are typically "recruited" as young girls in their teens and dead by their mid-'30s. The American Journal of Epidemiology has reported that people in prostitution suffer a homicide rate that is more than 50 times higher than that of the next most dangerous "occupation," working in a liquor store.

When the movie was released in 1990, I was a judge in the New York City criminal courts. Each day, I saw the ravages of prostitution in the faces of the women and girls, some transgender, who were arrested and brought before me for arraignment. Invariably these defendants were poor and most were of color. Often their pimps were sitting in the courtroom waiting to post bail so that they could get their "merchandise" back out on the street as soon as possible.

Since Pretty Woman was released, we have seen an evolution in thinking about prostitution. There has been a significant change in laws, a massive shift in community response and a clear recognition that the vast majority of people are victims who are there because of lack of choice. We now understand that these vulnerable, marginalized individuals must be provided with services, not criminalized.

In my final year on the bench, I was privileged to oversee the implementation of New York's Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, which treat women as victims, not defendants. As for the pimps, many are still lurking around the courtrooms. But now we are working to ensure that victims find a way out.

New York's newest anti-trafficking measure passed the legislature earlier this month and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act increases criminal penalties for traffickers, pimps and buyers. The term "prostitute" will be excised from the penal law. Perhaps of greater significance is that for the first time in New York State, victims of sex trafficking have a defense to the crime of prostitution.

The reality of sex trafficking is brutal. In last week's prosecution by the office of Loretta Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District, a convicted sex trafficker was sentenced to 12 years in prison for trafficking a teenage girl in New York. This young woman is a client of Sanctuary for Families, where I now serve as executive director. As part of her victim impact statement, our client shared with the judge: "I was a child who was abused and exploited for prostitution. I am not a prostitute. "

For our client, there was no Pretty Woman-inspired shopping spree, no makeover montage, no hope of a Prince Charming or dashing corporate raider whose heart softens to save her. Her life in prostitution was violent, degrading and traumatic. Anti-trafficking advocates, not countless buyers, helped to extricate her and are guiding her on the long and difficult process of recovery. There are thousands of other women and girls who desperately need help escaping this life.

Twenty-five years after Pretty Woman, we can celebrate that increasingly survivors of sex trafficking are treated like victims, not criminals, that buyers are held accountable, and that traffickers are brought to justice. We can celebrate the growing movement working for a world in which no woman, man, girl or boy is bought and sold for someone else's profit and pleasure. If we must mark the anniversary of Pretty Woman, then let us do it with the awareness that its central character is a Hollywood fantasy. If we take a hard look at the brutal reality, would anyone want to be "Pretty Woman for a Day?"

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger is executive director of Sanctuary for Families, New York's leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking and related forms of gender violence. She served as a New York State judge for 25 years.

Schock is scrutinized around the country, but especially in home district

Wed, 2015-03-25 10:40
Had some other downstate Republican congressman resigned suddenly amid allegations of padding his mileage reimbursement, as did Aaron Schock of Peoria six days ago, the world outside his district might scarcely have noticed.

But Schock was not just another face among the 18-member Illinois congressional delegation. His celebrity status among both the Illinois Republican Party -- in which he was the fastest-rising star -- and Republicans in Congress -- for whom he was a prolific fund-raiser -- made his fall into an enduring national news story.

The story took a serious turn Friday when reports emerged that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Springfield has launched an investigation into Schock's campaign spending and his reimbursements from his taxpayer-funded congressional office. Chief among the questionable expenses are some 90,000 miles for which Schock submitted reimbursement claims that, according to reporting by Politico, were fraudulent.

Read more about Schock's resignation and fall from grace at Reboot Illinois.

While one Illinois politician spent the weekend being bashed in home-state newspapers and beyond, another gained two boosts from those newspapers. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was endorsed by both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times for the second time this election season. The two newspapers cited similar reasons for their endorsements: Emanuel has helped lead the city through difficult times and has proven he can continue to improve the city with his tough attitude. The papers' editorial boards said, on the other hand, that the challenger, Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, has not offered enough specifics during the campaign, despite his earnest desire to do good for the city. Read the rest of the papers' endorsement points at Reboot Illinois.

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

14 Charts That'll Help You Look Like A Bona Fide Wine Expert

Wed, 2015-03-25 08:06
We've heard wine experts toss around phrases like "oaky with a bit of a banana aroma" or "jammy," as if the rest of us could also distinguish those flavors. The film "Sideways" was filled with that type of annoying bravado as it followed two friends across California's wine country. "A little citrus, maybe some strawberry. Passion fruit, and there's just like the faintest soupçon of, like, asparagus, and there's a flutter of, like, a nutty Edam cheese," one of them said. And we rolled our eyes thinking, "Sure."

While there's a good argument against wine experts' tasting abilities, knowing something about wine is still one of the ways we prove to ourselves that, yes, we are classy adults. We know that Champagne feels at home in a flute, but pinot noir is better off in a wider wine glass. And if we're serving veggies, a white wine might go along with them nicely. See? Fancy.

You, too, can brush up on your knowledge of vino -- here's a crash course in wine, as told by these 14 charts.

Where It All Begins

Graphic by Wine Folly

No, wine grapes are NOT the same grapes you eat as a snack. Wine grapes have thicker, chewier skin and juicier insides than your average red or green grape from the grocery store. And of course different types of wine grapes -- there are hundreds, each with their own preferred growing conditions and characteristics -- make different types of wine. Certain grape varieties contain more tannins, a natural preservative responsible for the bitter, puckering sensation in your mouth, known as astringency. Red wines tend to be more astringent than whites, and whether you like the sensation or not comes down to personal preference. Very tannic wines can make you feel sort of like you've just attempted the cinnamon challenge.

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How It Becomes Alcohol

Click image to zoom!

Graphic by Vinepair

(And, later, how it helps out other spirits)

Graphic by Wine Folly

How To Read The Label ... And The Bottle

Graphic by Wine Folly

Graphic by Wine Folly

How To Serve It Up Right

Graphic by Wine Folly

How To Taste It Like A Pro

Graphic by Bordeaux-Undiscovered

How To Describe The Color

Graphic by Wine Folly

How To Describe The Flavor

Click image to zoom!

Graphic by Wine Folly

How To Enjoy It With Food

Click image to zoom!

Graphic by Wine Folly

Graphic by Wine Club Group

(Yes, wine contains calories)

Graphic by Wine Folly

How All Those Bubbles Got In There

Graphic by Wine Folly

And Finally, How To Find A Wine You'll Really Like

Click image to zoom!

Graphic by Richard Betts

Lollapalooza 2015 Lineup Includes Paul McCartney, Metallica

Wed, 2015-03-25 06:15
One day after three-day festival passes -- priced at a whopping $275 apiece -- sold out in a matter of minutes, Lollapalooza announced the highly-anticipated lineup for its Chicago-based festival early Wednesday morning.

The July 31-Aug. 2 fest in Grant Park will feature headliners Paul McCartney, Metallica and Florence + the Machine. This will mark McCartney's Lollapalooza debut.

Other highlights of the bill include Sam Smith, Alabama Shakes, Bassnectar, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Of Monsters and Men, Alt-J and TV on the Radio.

Though three-day tickets to the festival are already sold out, $110 single-day passes go on sale at 10 a.m. CT on Wednesday.

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The 2015 Lollapalooza Lineup is here!! Paul McCartney, Metallica, Florence + the Machine, Sam Smith, Bassnectar, The...

Posted by Do312 on Wednesday, 25 March 2015

10 of the Most Colorful Places in the U.S.

Wed, 2015-03-25 03:48
We've shown you the world's most colorful places. But wait until you see these ten bright, beautiful spots right here in the U.S. of A.

Skagit Valley, Washington
The state's annual tulip festival takes place during the month of April--and gives the Dutch some serious competition. View Panoramic.

Papakolea Beach, Hawaii
One of the only green-sand beaches in the world happens to be on the Big Island. (Remnants of a volcanic cinder cone give the sand its olive hue.) View Panoramic.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming
Yellowstone Park's largest hot spring is known for its striking rainbow effect. View Panoramic.

Washington, D.C.
The annual cherry-blossom festival is a rite of spring in which the white marble monuments of our nation's capitol reflect the cheery pink blossoms exploding around them. View Panoramic.

San Francisco, California
Vibrant lanterns and signs brighten up San Francisco's Chinatown. View Panoramic.

Harford County, Maryland
Summertime is the prime growing season for sunflowers, whose vibrant faces follow the sun's path across the sky daily. View Panoramic.

Ulster County, New York
Fall leaf-peeping doesn't get any better than this, with acres of preserved woodland erupting at the first snap of cold. View Panoramic.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
Red-rock hoodoos--odd pillars of rock caused by erosion--create an otherworldly hiking experience in this national park. View Panoramic.

South Beach, Florida
Cruise along Ocean Drive in Miami to see these candy-colored Art Deco buildings. View Panoramic.

Bear Lake, Alaska
Aurora borealis lights up the late-night skies in winter, spring and fall. View Panoramic.

More from PureWow:

10 of the Most Colorful Places on Earth
5 of the Coldest Places on Earth
Italy Off The Beaten Path
5 New Wine Vacations
America's Top 5 Waterfront Hotels

Historic Medical Marijuana Bill Gains Momentum

Tue, 2015-03-24 17:01
A comprehensive bill introduced in the House of Representatives Tuesday aims to deal a significant blow to the federal government's long-running war on medical marijuana.

The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, introduced by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), is a House companion bill to an identical Senate bill from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced earlier this month. Each bill seeks to drastically reduce the federal government's ability to crack down on state-legal medical marijuana programs, and aims to encourage more research into the plant through several changes in federal law.

The historic Senate version of the bill has also gained traction with two new sponsors since its introduction: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

“The science has been in for a long time, and keeping marijuana on Schedule I -- with heroin and LSD -- is ludicrous," Cohen said in a statement Tuesday. "I am pleased to join with Congressman Don Young in introducing this important bill to bring the federal government in line with the science and the American people, respect states’ rights, remove the threat of federal prosecution in states with medical marijuana, and help our citizens access the treatments they need.”

Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a drug policy reform group, told The Huffington Post that the House version of the bill was introduced because "momentum is so strong" for the bipartisan CARERS Act.

"This has become one of the few issues Democrats and Republicans can agree on," Piper told HuffPost in an email. "The tide is quickly turning against marijuana prohibition, and the war on drugs in general; it's only a question of when, not if, reform will happen."

The bill calls for six major policy changes. Here's what it aims to accomplish:

Allow patients, doctors and businesses to participate in their states' medical marijuana programs without fear of being prosecuted by the federal government.

Under this legislation, the Controlled Substances Act would be amended so that states can set their own medical marijuana policies. It would clarify much of the legal ambiguity that currently exists between federal guidance, congressional intent and state laws on medical marijuana -- not by forcing states to legalize medical marijuana, but by protecting the states that choose to do so.

The sale, possession, production and distribution of marijuana all remain illegal under federal law. The states that have legalized the drug in some form or another have only been able to do so because of federal guidance urging prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.

To date, 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana and 12 others have legalized the limited use of low-THC marijuana for medical purposes. All such state laws, and the people who act in compliance with them, would be protected by this bill.

Reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous substance, moving it from Schedule I to Schedule II.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, the U.S. has five categories for drugs and drug ingredients. Schedule I is reserved for substances that the Drug Enforcement Administration considers to have no medical value and the highest potential for abuse. Marijuana has been classified as Schedule I for decades, alongside substances like heroin and LSD.

This legislation would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug -- a classification for less dangerous drugs that have an accepted medical use. Rescheduling marijuana wouldn't make the drug legal under federal law, but such a move would essentially mark the federal government's first-ever acknowledgement that the plant has any medical benefits.

Give veterans easier access to medical marijuana.

Currently, doctors who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs are prohibited from helping patients acquire medical marijuana, even in states where it is legal.

This legislation would lift that ban and would allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to their patients suffering from certain conditions, where permitted by state law.

Nearly 30 percent of veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a 2012 VA report. Some research has suggested that marijuana may help with PTSD symptoms, which can include anxiety, flashbacks and depression. A recent study found that PTSD symptoms in patients who used cannabis were reduced by an average of 75 percent.

Eliminate barriers to marijuana research.

Getting the federal government to sign off on a marijuana study is exceedingly difficult -- but two of the most prohibitive federal barriers to marijuana research would be lifted under this new legislation.

Currently, all marijuana research must go through a Public Health Service review, a process established in 1999 by the federal government after a 1998 Institute of Medicine report called for more scientific research into the medical value of marijuana. No other Schedule I substance is subject to this process. That extra step would be removed entirely under the CARERS Act.

Secondly, federal authorities have long been accused of only funding marijuana research that focuses on the potential negative effects of the substance. The DEA has also been accused of not acting quickly enough when petitioned to reschedule marijuana, and of obstructing research into the drug.

Currently, the federal government is the only institution authorized to grow research-grade cannabis. The CARERS Act would allow for no fewer than three additional licensed growers, a move that would end the federal monopoly on marijuana research and potentially hasten the discovery of new medical applications for the plant.

Remove low-THC strains of marijuana from the controlled substances list.

The strength of a strain of marijuana is generally measured by its percentage of THC, the plant's main psychoactive ingredient. There are multiple strains of marijuana that have little to no THC, but high levels of CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound that has medical value but does not produce the "high" sensation associated with THC.

While nearly two dozen states have broad medical marijuana laws that allow for the cultivation, production and distribution of medical marijuana, another 12 states only make provisions for low-THC strains, and those only under certain circumstances. Because those states generally don't allow for the regulated sale or cultivation of marijuana, patients are forced to seek out the plant on the black market, or from another state with more relaxed laws that allow out-of-state patients to purchase medical marijuana. Even so, transporting marijuana across state lines remains illegal, leaving patients in a bind.

The CARERS Act would remove marijuana with less than 0.3 percent THC from the CSA's schedules altogether, allowing states to import low-THC/high-CBD strains for patients who need it.

Open up banking for marijuana businesses.

The legislation would expand banking access for medical marijuana businesses, enabling them to function more or less like traditional businesses.

Legal marijuana is already a billion-dollar industry. But because of banks' fears of being implicated as money launderers, marijuana-related businesses are often forced to be cash-only, putting retailers' safety at risk and creating problems with taxes and employee payroll. Despite Treasury Department guidance that supporters hoped would ease interactions, most banks are still extremely wary of working with marijuana businesses since the plant remains illegal under federal law.

A Civic Plan to Mobilize Community

Tue, 2015-03-24 16:49
Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) is celebrating its 30th birthday by leading a city-wide effort to identify the most pressing issues facing women and girls in Chicago and, more importantly, by developing a broad plan with specific strategies that will help women and girls overcome the barriers created by the identified issues. This will be no small feat; but this is exactly what CFW is all about. Since 1985, CFW has awarded more than 3,000 grants totaling nearly $24 million. These grants -- which focus on economic security, access to healthcare and freedom from violence -- have helped thousands of women who, in turn, become philanthropists in their own right.

Chicago has a history of big plans. From the Burnham Plan of 1909, which underpins the beauty of our city's lakefront, cultural attractions and park system, to the Cultural Plan of 2012, which outlines cultural development for the city, Chicago makes no small plans for its future. And it's not really a choice -- we have to do it. Especially now, as our community faces the fiscal and political limits of municipal, state and federal governments, civic engagement by all stakeholders is not optional.

Now is the time to articulate and implement a bold Civic Plan to enhance the lives of our women and girls. The Civic Plan: CFW's Call to Action for Elevating Women and Girls will be released in the fall of this year. This plan will raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities for women and girls throughout our region. Over the upcoming months, CFW will gather insights from civic leaders, community leaders, agencies and Chicagoans at salons and through online surveys sent throughout the community. Results of these meetings and surveys will form the basis for the plan, identifying goals, benchmarks and specific strategies to improve economic security and access to health care, and eliminate violence for all of the women and girls of Chicago.

The full Civic Plan will be released at our 30th Anniversary Symposium and Luncheon on September 29. But, this will only be the beginning. CFW will continue to play a key role in realizing the plan's solutions. And, we promise to track progress on key indicators annually.

And to borrow from Mr. Burnham, we promise no small plans.

So, hopefully at this point you are asking, "What can I do?"

Well, we hear a lot about challenges women face in their economic security, health, safety, education, gender equity. We want to hear your thoughts on these challenges, and more importantly, creative solutions that you and others can advance to support women and girls.

What issues matter most to you? What type of community do you want to see for women and girls? What can you do to realize that vision?

Share your insights now.!

You can also host a "Salon for Solutions." Invite guests to follow up and expand on ideas. Focus on generating solutions. Here's a toolkit to help you get started.

Rauner's Essentials

Tue, 2015-03-24 14:37
Illinois has a new Governor. It's the first Republican in some time, and Gov. Rauner didn't wait long to remind us what that meant. He slashed the budget and froze spending on anything deemed "non-essential".

So what is "essential"? Ask any ordinary citizen and that would mean food, water, clothing, and shelter. From what I know of government, we don't spend much of our taxes giving people such basic needs.

The Illinois State government, like every State in the Union, spends the majority of taxpayer funds on what I would deem, based on the definition above, non-essential programs. They fund services people could live without, including higher education, alcoholism and substance abuse programs, mental health programs, afterschool programs, and child welfare programs. Gutting these programs wouldn't necessarily cause the immediate death of anyone, or at least in any manner that could be legally attributable to the governor. I suppose Bruce Rauner would know, since his company was linked to nursing home deaths and abuse.

No one supports government waste, but how does one define a program that is essential? For me, spending a small amount of money now to save a lot of money in the future is essential. Anything less would be government mismanagement. In K-12 education we can predict with unnerving accuracy whether a child will end up being a productive citizen or in prison based on their grades, graduation, and suspension rates.

What if there were a program that made measurable and significant progress helping students to become self-sufficient, and less reliant on the government?

Teen R.E.A.C.H. at Morrill, an award-winning program, is by every definition a highly effective program.
• For the past two years 100% of students in the program have graduated.
• Over the past five years the graduation rate for the entire school has increased from 50% to 90%, largely due to the changes in the culture and climate that Teen R.E.A.C.H. has led.
• Teen R.E.A.C.H. supported implementation of restorative justice, cutting suspension rates by more than 50%.

This is contradictory to Rauner's own plans of reducing incarceration rates. If he intends to reduce prison populations without support programs, he is simply freeing criminals. It also contradicts Rauner's conservative goal of cutting government waste, because Teen R.E.A.C.H. at Morrill is extremely efficient. They receive funding for 33 students but serve 80 to 100, or two-to-three times what the government is paying for. They have an additional 100 youth who continue working with the program to gain mentorship.

The students in the program have participated in immigration marches, organized block parties, helped create a school garden and designed a new playground. The students in Teen R.E.A.C.H. are community leaders.

But programs such as these aren't deemed essential by our Governor. The State of Illinois, under his leadership, would rather cut these programs and pay for the cost of prison and unemployment years from now, kicking the can down the road, and ruining lives in the process.

There definitely needs to be changes in how Illinois is run. There are only three other states that tax fewer services, leaving 5 billion dollars of potential revenue on the table. Despite the claim Illinois has the highest tax rate, we have one of the lowest tax burdens, largely because of the many services we don't tax.

Illinois also has a flat income tax, allowing billionaires like Bruce to pay the same rate as a fast-food worker. Despite the claims we need to become more "business friendly" so that we don't lose jobs to neighboring red states like Indiana and Wisconsin, Caterpillar is moving more jobs to Mexico.

Most of the people that rely on government assistance, including the children that participate in Teen R.E.A.C.H., do so because they live in poverty. If they weren't struggling, they wouldn't need government assistance any more than the middle and upper class do.

The families and children I work with, all of whom rely on government assistance in one way or another, do so not because they are lazy and don't want to work, but because there isn't enough work, and what work there is doesn't pay a living wage. We have parents that stand in line for a daily job that pays an annual stipend of $1,000. I've had hardcore gang members do custodial work for pocket change.

So what is essential? Gov. Rauner is worth billions, and adds 60 million dollars a year to his personal coffers. If Gov. Rauner continues to push his agenda of austerity, he should be honest and admit that his wealth isn't essential, either. If he simply shared his wealth, folks might not need essential government services. At the very least, he should guarantee that efficient and effective programs like Teen REACH aren't closed by increasing revenue in the State of Illinois. If he doesn't do it now, he'll leave his predecessor with a much larger burden.

To learn more about why Teen R.E.A.C.H. at Morrill needs to continue to be funded, click HERE to read student testimony.

Rahm Emanuel is the Progressive, Pro-Business Choice for Mayor

Tue, 2015-03-24 14:27
Much has been made these past few years of the divide between progressive constituencies and businesses across the country. As a progressive and strong supporter of President Obama who also helped build one of the top privately held insurance brokerages in the country and continues today working with businesses on risk and human capital challenges, there is an important point lost in this debate that I believe progressive Chicagoans should consider before they cast their vote for Mayor on April 7th.

Good business sense and progressive policies actually go hand-in-hand. Efficient government frees up crucial resources that can be dedicated to progressive aims and that strong focus on the bottom line earns crucial trust from voters on how politicians spend their hard-earned tax dollars. Additionally, progressive goals often have solid, pro-business repercussions.

Rahm Emanuel understands this all very well as his three terms in the White House under two Presidents taught him that you can have both. Examine some of his major initiatives and you see this philosophy in action.

Mayor Emanuel pushed through Chicago's historic increase in the minimum wage to $13. This is a progressive move that will put more money in ordinary people's pockets that also happens to be pro-business as it increases consumer spending and grows our economy.

He has smartly focused on making Chicago the most immigrant friendly City in the country by integrating undocumented immigrants into our system instead of excluding them. This keeps the engine of entrepreneurism turning while also honoring the immigrant roots that built Chicago into the forward thinking city it is today.

Rahm used some of that trust he built with voters to take a big political risk and rebuild the south branch of the Red Line in five months instead of two years - strengthening our public transit system and local economy while also giving people a break on their commute. He invested the savings from that move in further upgrades to stations along the branch.

Finally, no one has enacted as ambitious an environmental agenda of any major city in the country as Rahm has these past four years. That's saved Chicagoans money on their energy bills, lowered their water consumption, and finally brought recycling to every Chicago household.

These are just a few examples from literally dozens that encompass the past four years of Rahm's administration. They are part of the reason he's earned the endorsement of progressive groups like the Sierra Club, fifteen separate unions, and leaders like Congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Bobby Rush. That he's done so while also earning strong support from business groups like the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce proves Rahm Emanuel has accomplishments with both coalitions.

Progressives should remember that values are not enough when choosing their leaders - they also must have a plan to achieve them and the trust from voters to be given the responsibility. For that reason, Chicagoans should cast their ballot for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It's the progressive and pro-business choice.

John Atkinson is Managing Director of Willis Insurance and a proud board member the Illinois Business Immigrant Coalition.

Freedom of Expression and Its Double Standard

Tue, 2015-03-24 13:32
Almost a month ago, the French Club at the University of Chicago invited Charlie Hebdo journalist Zineb El Rhazoui to discuss "the context surrounding Charlie Hebdo, the French culture of satire and secularism, and freedom of expression in our contemporary society." An event on freedom of expression, however, quickly turned to a kickboxing match with a single kickboxer and Islam as her punching bag. With every xenophobic punch and kick to the faith and its followers, the captivated audience applauded and nodded their heads, hypnotized by the hate being espoused.

As a student who fully understands the value of open dialogue, discourse and the exchange of ideas and opinions, I fully respect the invitation and El Rhazoui exercising her right to freedom of expression. What I cannot revere, however, as a human being who values human life, dignity and respect, the degree of intolerance with which El Rhazoui expressed her views on Islam. I say this not to stifle freedom of expression as many have accused me of doing; rather, I say this to highlight the very real consequences that result from an individual's inability to voice her opinion in a matter that does not pose a danger to groups with dissenting perspectives -- in particular, groups that are consistently and systematically ridiculed, harassed and demeaned.

In a recent troubling article published on the New York Times, contributor Judith Shulevitz attacked students for creating safe spaces for survivors of sexual assault and violence, attempting to support her claim that "students [are] so eager to self-infantalize." Shulevitz falsely maintains that the creation of safe spaces somehow undermines freedom of expression in a way that is "bad for them and for everyone else." Upon graduating and being thrown into the real world, these self-infantalized children will "be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them."

There are many problems with this line of thinking, not least important of which is that it is embedded in an inherent double standard. When students stand up and ask for things such as shared spaces, we are criticized as being unable to maturely deal with criticism, offense and hurt feelings. For example, Shulevitz references my own question which I posed to El Rhazoui during the event. Shulevitz falsely frames my question as my being "so overcome by [my] own fragility" that I could not accept Charlie Hebdo's "disrespect" of Muslims and Islam.

This is not at all what I called into question. Rather, my objections arose out of the assertion El Rhazoui implicitly made, an assertion that I was not deserving of the same right to freedom of expression that she herself was exercising. In a portion of the conversation that has unfortunately been cut (notice the jump to closing remarks at 1:30:24) from the recording posted on YouTube, El Rhazoui responds to my rejection of the phrase "JeSuisCharlie" and by my decision to cover my body in highly disturbing ways. For example, at one point El Rhazoui goes so far as to suggest that Muslims leave their religion at home and not bring it to public places.

The double standard is apparent. Shulevitz essentially applauds El Rhazoui's expression while simultaneously depicting me as fragile, failing to realize that I too was trying to exercise my own freedom of expression. She is not alone in these depictions. Often, I and my Muslim brothers and sisters are labeled as crazy, radical Muslims trying to force a backwards religion on the West. Men are labeled as terrorists and women as oppressed and incapable of breaking the chains of a "humiliating" religion, as El Rhazoui suggests. We have seen a rise in Muslims being depicted as subhuman, backwards and not worthy of rights, when we are painted as "other" with brush strokes of hate and intolerance.

This rhetoric is used often within social circles, media and political platforms. The danger this rhetoric poses to Muslims and society at large is real and manifests itself daily with vandalized property, pulled scarves and pulled guns, with death and spilt blood. How many more Deah Barakats, Yusor Abu-Salha's and Razan Abu-Salha's does our society need to lose before we reach a realization that the espousal of hate comes at a price?

I can appreciate satire and rhetoric that propels individuals to challenge their respective beliefs and social norms because that leads to growth on both an individual and societal level. However, when this is absent, when opinions are voiced for no other reason than to hurt, to harm and to degrade, then I can no longer celebrate this freedom of expression. What the French Club's event achieved, for example, is a failure to create productive dialogue while simultaneously endangering an already vulnerable population by communicating to the audience false reasons to hate an entire group of over one-and-a-half billion in an attempt to depict them all as radical and anti-democratic. When this point is reached, it is no longer dialogue; it is merely hate.

I did not leave the event with hurt feelings. What I did leave with was fear that I had become a walking target. I feared, and I still do, that those who would like to harm me may do so without punishment or consequence. What Shulevitz's assertions do is undermine the legitimate concerns that individuals have in regards to certain types of expressions that threaten a group's livelihood and right to life. Admittedly, this is not always the case and thus there must be a distinction made between hurt feelings and a legitimate fear for one's livelihood in order to protect freedom of expression. In addition to this, however, we must be wary of when such freedom of expression reinforces structures that deepen a group's continued subjection to systematic oppression.

Shulevitz condemns the current generation of students but fails to realize that it is these very same students standing at the forefront, guiding our society to much needed change. As a current fourth-year college student, I join my peers in asking our society to consider whether there is a place for morality in our modern conception of freedom of expression. As an aspiring leader of the free world, I argue that freedom of expression without morality is no freedom at all. I hope to live in a society that values freedom of expression while also understanding apologetically the responsibility that comes with wielding such power.