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A Wedge for Nuclear Disarmament

Thu, 2015-08-13 16:01
"Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith..."

What if words like this actually meant something?

This is Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which the United States signed in 1970. It continues: "... on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control."

Please read it again, slowly, understanding that 190 nations have signed onto these words: "a treaty on general and complete (nuclear) disarmament." Here's a wild thought. What if they were recited aloud every Sunday in churches and other public spaces across the nation, the way congregants at my parents' church recited the Apostle's Creed when I was a boy? Each word, slowly uttered, welled up from the soul. The words were sacred. Isn't a world free of nuclear weapons -- and beyond that, free of war itself -- worth believing in?

The treaty's preamble also calls for "the cessation of the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the liquidation of all their existing stockpiles, and the elimination from national arsenals of nuclear weapons and the means of their delivery . . ."

What if these words could stand up to the geopolitics of cynicism and military-industrial profit? What if the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons -- the NPT -- weren't simply a verbal coffin in which hope for humanity's future lay interred? What if it could come to life and help reorganize global culture?

I ask such questions only because I suddenly believe it's possible, thanks to an unlikely player in the geopolitical realm: a nation with a population of about 70,000 people. Last week I wrote about the fact that the Republic of the Marshall Islands has filed suit in both the International Court of Justice in the Hague and U.S. federal court against the five NPT signatories -- the United States, the U.K., China, Russia and France -- that possess nuclear weapons, demanding that they comply with the treaty they signed. For good measure, the lawsuit demands compliance from the other four nuclear nations as well -- Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea -- on the grounds of international law and, well, sanity.

Here's the thing. This audacious lawsuit is a disarmament wedge. Since I wrote last week's column, I've been in touch with Laurie Ashton, the lead attorney for the case in U.S. federal court, and have read the brief appealing the suit's dismissal, which was filed last month. To get this close to the case -- to its language, to its soul -- is to feel possibility begin pulsing in a unique way.

As Ashton put it, "The NGOs and protesters are just talk, talk, talk. When you sue them, then they listen."

Attesting to the seriousness of this suit, she noted: "The Marshall Islands are on record. They have a mission to make sure this never happens to another people again."

This tiny nation of coral reefs in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, once a U.S. trust territory, was the site of 67 above-ground nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. These tests, so cynically perpetrated on an "expendable" people, turned much of the area into radioactive wasteland, wrecked a way of life and created terrible health problems for the residents, which they are still struggling with two generations later.

"No nation should ever suffer as we have," said Tony de Brum, foreign minister of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Speaking of the appeal of the decision dismissing the U.S suit, he declared: "We are in this for the long haul. We remain steadfast in our belief that nuclear weapons benefit no one and that what is right for humankind will prevail."

Only as I began to grasp the courage and determination behind the lawsuits did the words of the NPT start to come to life for me. In nearly half a century, no other nation or organization has sued for the enforcement of this treaty, which has been contemptuously ignored by the nations that possess and continue to upgrade their nuclear arsenals. The U.S. routinely invests tens (or hundreds) of billions of dollars annually into its nukes. The NPT, for all practical purposes, doesn't exist -- not for the haves.

But it does exist.

"At the time" -- in the 1960s, as the NPT was being negotiated -- "there was intent to negotiate nuclear disarmament," Ashton said. "At the time, (the nuclear danger) was much more in the consciousness. It was a different era. The level of complacency we have now was not the case then."

That intent was encased in legal language, then filed under the heading "irrelevant." It disappeared for 45 years. But now it's back.

In the case in U.S. federal court, which challenges only the U.S. arsenal, the Marshall Islands are claiming injury in two ways: 1. As a signatory of the treaty themselves, they are owed U.S. participation in disarmament negotiations, as per its agreement. 2. Without that participation, as the U.S. continues to upgrade and enhance its nuclear arsenal and maintain hundreds of weapons on hair-trigger alert, the Marshall Islands -- and all the rest of the Planet Earth -- are in "a measurable increased risk of grave danger" from nuclear weapons use, either intentional or accidental.

Oral arguments in the U.S. case are likely to begin sometime next year. There's no telling what will happen, of course. But this is not mere powerless, symbolic protest of a great wrong. The Marshall Islands suits challenge the nuclear states at a level that could yield real, not symbolic, victory and change.

As the website Nuclear Zero puts it: "The Republic of the Marshall Islands acts for the seven billion of us who live on this planet to end the nuclear weapons threat hanging over all humanity. Everyone has a stake in this."

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at

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How to Prepare for Your Future When it's Your Last Back-to-School

Thu, 2015-08-13 13:25
Embarking on a new school year is always an exciting time for students and parents. Not only do kids get to hang out with their friends, but also they're presented with more opportunities to learn, and are able to take another step forward in the game of life. The Back to School theme takes on a whole different meaning, as our kids get older. When they're young, you're only concerned with what folders and map pencils to buy, and they're more worried about which of their friends they get to sit next to in class. As they enter high school and college, you're both faced with much bigger decisions that could inevitably change their life.

I was in college before the Google era so it wasn't as easy to find helpful information on internships, resume writing, expectations, or timelines for new grads to follow. Now, however, there's almost too much information out there.The advice can be conflicting and it's hard to navigate through all the available resources.

As someone who is a mom, a mentor, and who worked in corporate America for over 12 years with a last-say in the hiring process, here are tips your grads can use when preparing for their dream role in the workforce:

Start early. Don't wait until you've already graduated to start researching role prerequisites and company profiles. Find out how far in advance they take interns, and then see if you can set up an interview. The more you know, the more you'll know if the role or company is right for you.

Find a mentor. With LinkedIn and other social media outlets, you can connect with people in your desired arena very easily. Ask them for advice. See if they'll meet you for coffee, or allow you a few minutes on the phone so you can pick their brain.

Research. Look up leaders in your desired industry, or research your favorite entrepreneur or business icon. Most have written books that give you a blueprint for success. One of my favorite books with invaluable advice for high school or college students about to launch their careers is The Coffee Run, by Sydney N. Fulkerson. It's a quick read detailing out a what-to-do and how-to-do-it guide for acquiring internships. It should be a mandatory read for all upper class-men.

Set realistic expectations. The job market is very competitive and chances are if you love an industry enough to chase a role, so do hundreds of others. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Have several options laid out and don't get discouraged if something doesn't work out right away. Start your search a year early so you're prepared when an opportunity opens up. Remember, persistence pays off and the right opportunity will come at the right time.

Communicate your goals. Why is this so important? Because you're telling others what you want so it creates a sense of accountability to follow through, and you never know if the person you're telling knows someone -- who knows someone. Connections can play a big role in landing you a spot in an interview chair.

Work hard. I shouldn't have to write this, but I will. Hard work pays off. Skip a weekend out with friends to focus on writing resumes and cover letters. When you do land a role, don't wait to be told what to do - ask what you can do. Don't limit yourself to intern assigned tasks either; ask if you can sit in on a marketing meeting or a sales meeting to learn more. If you're still a student and can't apply for any full-time positions or internships yet, ask to come in and shadow someone in your desired role for a day. Always be eager to learn and to work hard. This will get you noticed over anything else.

Starting your last year of school can be frightening because for 18 straight years you had a roadmap laid out for you, and now you're expected to set out on your own path. If you plan ahead, ask for help, and follow those who have conquered the terrain before you - you'll be on your way to success.

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10 Ways to Preserve Your Sanity and Lessen Your Stress when Moving

Thu, 2015-08-13 13:20
Moving is exhausting - it sucks your time, energy and money. In the words of former real estate broker Tara-Nicholle Nelson in Business Insider, "Moving is a universal experience. It is also universally ranked as one of the most stressful experiences we humans...put ourselves through...only the death of a family member, divorce, job loss and buying a home rank higher on the list of modern human stressors."

There are ways to lessen your moving stress. Here's how:

Consider a moving concierge. It's 2015. Things like free online moving concierges actually exist! You compare and contrast flight prices for your vacation on big sites like Travelocity, Expedia and Kayak -- why not do the same when you move? A personal moving concierge takes hours off of your homework load. No more calling up moving companies for rental quotes, chasing them down when they don't send them to you or calling them back for follow-up questions. You simply enter your information online, wherever you're moving to, and they do the work for you, including helping you set up your utilities, finding a handyman and more.

Shop ahead of time. Laundry detergent, sponges, and shower curtains, oh my! Cleaning supplies, sheets, towels, kitchen and bathroom items are just some example of things you can shop for online at major retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and The Container Store, and arrange to do an in-store pickup at a location near you. This will save you precious time and energy browsing the aisles. Even if you have to add a few items, it's far easier than starting from scratch (and will likely save your tired back, feet and possibly your relationship with your spouse/child/significant other/self).

Label, label, label. Whether you packed yourself up or you're getting the white glove treatment, nothing's sadder in a move than an unlabeled box. Label the box you pack with the name of the room in the new place you've slated the items to go into (and then in smaller letters, feel free to do a short list of specifics). This also helps your movers, be they friends or strangers, not to have to stop and ask you, "Which room?" every time they carry in a load. It also saves you a lot of confusion when unpacking. One extra tip: bubble wrap is expensive. You can save money on bubble wrap by using clothing to wrap fragile items.

Purge in advance. If you can get rid of the stuff you no longer want ahead of time before the move, it will save you time, energy and money later. Keep only the items you use. If you haven't looked at it in five years, why would you need it all of a sudden?

Grocery delivery. If you live in an environment that offers grocery delivery, such as Fresh Direct or another major grocery store, arrange for a food delivery of at least those few items you'll need to get started -- such as snacks while you're unpacking and breakfast the morning after you collapse in your bed, exhausted.

Get that renter's insurance. If you haven't purchased a home, where you'll be required to arrange for your homeowner's insurance in advance, get renter's insurance. You can compare and contrast various quotes to see what will best meet your needs. And if you have any fine jewelry, read the fine print - it's not always covered in renter's insurance.

Unpack kid bedrooms, your bedroom and the kitchen first. All of the other rooms can wait, but your children, your stomach and your weary body can't. Focus on getting the kid bedroom(s) 100% completed -- it will make their transition easier as they will immediately have a safe and familiar environment, and if their lives are easier, your life is automatically easier. (They will have somewhere to play while you frolic in the middle of your self-created island of bubble wrap, newspaper and cardboard.) Then set up your bed in the bedroom and start on the kitchen. Don't worry about closets, clothes and dressers when it comes to your bedroom, but get that bed in order!

Set up Internet, phone and cable installation. Arrange for your technology needs ahead of time, ideally no less than two weeks in advance. Sometimes they take time to schedule and the service companies can't do an installation at the last minute. Use a moving concierge or research the providers in your area and have them come the day you are moving in. It's a fast-paced world -- no one likes to wait for email or TV!

Take care of all those wires and electronics. If you're able to move precious electronics such as computers, expensive stereos and speakers, iPads and cameras yourself, do it. Be sure to put relevant wires into Ziploc bags or plastic containers and label things so you know what goes with what and you're not desperately searching for a wire later. Investing time in planning out this aspect of your move will save you time and frustration on the other end.

Use that cell phone camera. If you are moving into an apartment, take detailed photos before you move in so you have photographic evidence of the state of the apartment before you take it over. If an item breaks in your move, be sure to photograph it in good light immediately upon discovery (shine a flashlight if you have to) and from multiple angles in order to increase the odds the moving company will pay for the damage inflicted.

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Friends Do Let Friends Divorce

Thu, 2015-08-13 13:14
Making a book about divorce from a kid's perspective was, at first, just for me. I wanted to do justice to this family upheaval, so I wrote a story I could relate to and made all the pictures. With every page I completed, I felt calmer, reassured, and most of all, not lied to.

Then recently, divorce struck a little too close to home, and I flipped right out.

A family I love faces divorce. Children I feel connected to are reacting to the news. And I am a child again. Night fills me with dread. My sleep is disturbed -- not every night, but many, as this outcome has become clear and become final.

For weeks, a favorite title by Alice Walker has wafted around my head like the scent of honeysuckle, like ancient grandmothers, whispering the secret of life: "The way forward is with a broken heart."

I have gotten too involved (I can fix it!) and hunted for bad guys (who is to blame for this?). Just as it did when I was a kid, this path of much resistance has culminated, a few times already now, with me feeling totally ashamed and apologizing for everything, literally everything -- for being a person who exists and has feelings.

"The way forward is with a broken heart," Walker reminds me.

I remind myself that I'm for letting kids' hearts break over something worthwhile. That's what I'm about -- acknowledging that a crisis in their family, a rupture in an important relationship, a broken or lost something (baby blanket, beloved toy) are all "something to cry about" and we would do well to let them. Everyone will grow.

Trying to keep kids' hearts from breaking over something real only increases the likelihood that their spirits may break instead, and that is much worse. For one thing, you rarely notice the moment when it happened.

Heartbreak can often be traced to an event, such as the day your parents told you their marriage was over or the day your best friend moved away. There's a crrrrack down the center of things that you can mark and honor. My Syrian grandmother used to write "Sad Day" on her calendar in gorgeous cursive and underline it three times. Every year, those days came round again, usually commemorating the death of a friend or family member, and she made sure to notice.

But spirits break more quietly. Over the course of an entire childhood, for example, in a family where your still-married parents don't connect with one another, have disdain for one another, or remain unfulfilled, unconscious and far away from whatever first drew them together.

Anne Lamott has said about the benefits of divorce that "...nothing is more damaging to a child than to be raised by miserable parents." She also notes that "single parents have some of the greatest, most-loved and well-balanced kids around."

I believe this. And along with Lamott and Walker, I've summoned other truth tellers to ease my worried mind, such as the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who set this gem into the season three finale, delivered by Whistler:

"Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? Nah. The big moments are gonna come, you can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are."

A few times lately, I have walked myself through the pages of Divorce Is the Worst, kicking the tires, checking to see if it's sturdy enough to hold even my grown-up sadness. "Their reasons are theirs, not yours" beams at me from page 45. Get in your place, it tells me.

Just like that other one, this divorce is not up to me.

My only role is to embody Walker's words, appropriate to every kind of crisis and at every stage of life: "The way forward is with a broken heart." Children are watching; they need to see it can be done so they trust their own hearts to break without the whole world ending.

Then I remember that this is my favorite part of being an adult -- having to see and say and do the difficult, brave thing so that kids can too. Change is constant. No apologies necessary for the feelings that come up. It's always a good time to notice what we notice, about ourselves and those who care for us.

This is how we find out who we are. This is how we grow up.

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From the Diary of a Strong Woman

Thu, 2015-08-13 12:08

I just got off the phone with an old friend and it seems as if our conversation and some others I've had recently confirm the same thing. And just the thought of it infuriates me.

Oddly enough, it's not from a place of bitterness...or maybe it is. I'm not entirely sure. I do know one thing though - I'm tired. I'm tired of the bad rep strong people get. They are not heartless, illogical, unintelligent beings.

It takes a strong person to break off relationships that they know are poisoning them even when they'll be judged and criticized for it.

It takes a strong person to give up stability for pursuing their dreams and purpose.

It takes a strong person to smile and tell you everything is "ok" when they really want to share the ugly truth.

It takes a strong person to ignore haters, whether they come in the form of friend or foe.

It takes a strong person to keep living and keep going despite crippling failure.

It takes a strong person to say, "You know what, I know my worth and it's not this." And then walk away without having any certainty of the future.

It takes a strong person to give from their heart and then be told that they aren't giving enough.

It takes a strong person to stand in the face of vicious rumors and make no apologies for who they are.

I could go and on but the point is that frankly, I don't think strong people get the support or praise they're due.

I've seen strong women called a bi*** just because they stand their ground, set boundaries and refuse to be run over. I've seen strong men raked over the coals because they don't fall into the category of the ideal man from a romantic movie. And don't even get me started on the strong people who are always the shoulder to lean on during rough times but are completely forgotten when things are better. I'm telling you, it's truly amazing.

It's amazing how each of these strong individuals has such moving stories of their own. Some are moms who have survived a physical abusive relationship. Some are men who have seen their fathers unapologetically disrespect women. Some are friends who are always there for everyone in their times of need. Some are the local entrepreneur who keeps pursuing a dream when the bank account balance doesn't add up.

Technically, there is no "face" of a strong person but I do know this - strong people do a lot of things that require great sacrifice and there are many precursors to their success that no one knows about. And despite the way that society bypasses these individuals, I hope that they hold their head high and say, "Guess what? I am strong because I know the battles I've fought and the hurdles I've overcome."

In fact, I have no problem saying that. I am a strong woman and I make no apologies to anyone.

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After some contention, Illinois House Dems and GOP agree on something

Thu, 2015-08-13 11:39
Stop the presses! Wednesday found the Illinois House voting unanimously on a spending bill. But unanimity doesn't equate to harmony in Springfield, at least not on the House floor before all members voted to sanction spending $5.2 billion in federal money that had been in limbo because of the state budget stalemate. Mark Fitton of Illinois News Network was there for the fireworks.

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois House on Wednesday ultimately gave Gov. Bruce Rauner the "clean" spending bill he asked for, but only after a bruising debate.

In the end, a bill to OK the state's spending about $5.2 billion in federal funds on human services, as well as $166 million in state money toward debt service for Chicago's Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, passed with no opposition.

But an earlier House Democrats' plan to add $585 million in state general fund spending, as well as $170 million from other state funds, put the rhetoric from both sides on high heat, even though it appeared to lack votes from the start.

House Republicans blasted the Democrats for trying to add state spending to the Senate's $4.8 billion federal "pass through" authorization.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, said Democrats knew the GOP was opposed and knew they didn't have the votes needed to pass the measure as amended.

Instead, he said, they were trying to force a "sham vote" and paint the Republicans as the bad guys who refused to support money for programs such as childcare and breast cancer screenings.

Read the rest of Fitton's report of the back and forth at the House at Reboot Illinois.

And though it might seem that that one federal spending bill is the only thing Democrats and Republicans have been able to come together on in recent days, Scott Reeder says politicians of both parties have at least one other thing in common: ignoring the Illinois State Constitution and the laws laid out within it. See how Reeder says Illinois' elected officials are letting the principles of the state's guiding document fall by the wayside at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: General Assembly prepares for vote on bill at center of Rauner, AFSCME feud

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Where Are the 50 Safest Cities in Illinois?

Thu, 2015-08-13 10:25
Safety is a huge concern when new families choose where to live. Based on some recently published data on crime rates by the FBI, ValuePenguin determined "crime scores" for all the cities listed in the data. ValuePenguin calculated the scores by weighing violent crimes at 90 percent and property crimes at 10 percent, figuring that perhaps residents are more concerned about violence when determining the safety of their towns (even though property crimes are more frequent).

Towns with fewer than 5,000 residents were not included because their small populations made them more sensitive to slight crime score fluctuation. This data from a 2013 FBI report, and analyzed by ValuePenguin, calculated crime scores for 298 cities. This list shows the 50 safest of those 298 cities in Illinois.

*Click on the image below to view the interactive map and full list of the 50 safest cities.

ValuePenguin on the details of its methodology:
To rank these places, we collected data from the 2013 FBI crime statistics by city, which provides the most recent crime data available. Not every town participates in this report and we also excluded towns with fewer than 5,000 residents because towns with small populations are more sensitive to crime score fluctuations for fewer crimes committed. The raw data report included property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson), and violent crimes (murder/manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) from all law enforcement agencies that chose to partake in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program. We standardized the data to reflect violent and property crimes per 100,000, to account for population. Then, we aggregated a "crime score" by weighting violent crime at 90% and property crime at 10%. Though property crime is more prevalent, we figured that violent crime is more concerning to town residents. We then ranked the cities based on their crime scores.

To see the full ValuePenguin report, as well as a detailed list of the 50 safest Illinois cities (including Glencoe and Bartlett) check out Reboot Illinois.

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NEXT ARTICLE: Top 25 most dangerous cities in Illinois

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  3. Top 10 Illinois Counties with the Most Reported Rapes

  4. Top 25 Illinois Counties with the Most DUI Arrests

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That Time Donald Trump Tried Doing Various Jobs At His Own Hotel

Thu, 2015-08-13 10:15

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As Donald Trump likes to remind people, he is quite a wealthy man. The real estate mogul has long been at the top of the financial food chain, but in 2011, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" wanted to find out what would happen when the man who owns the Trump Hotel Collection took on some more basic staff duties at his luxury chain.

Trump was game, and his first task was to serve as the hotel's bellman. He donned the uniform jacket -- "That's very interesting," he commented while putting it on -- and learned from the hotel's real bellman what the role entailed.

"We do everything from walking dogs to running up groceries to whatever the guests may need," Paul told his boss. "We really never have to say no to a guest."

The first few guests in need of assistance were those checking out of the hotel with their luggage. Trump helped put their bags in their cars, even though it's a responsibility he hadn't taken on himself in ages.

"This is the first time I've carried luggage for anybody, including myself, in a long time," Trump remarked.  "It's been a long time. But it was fun."

The next order of business was to respond to a hotel guest who wanted her dog walked. The dog was sweet, but Trump found walking the dog in the dead of winter to be less than ideal.  "You take a dog, you go outside, it's freezing and you walk around for a while. It's not that easy," he said.

 Trump then stopped by the hotel kitchen to deliver a meal to guests who had ordered in-room dining -- "I hope you give me a nice, big, fat tip," he joked to the guests -- and ended his day by meeting up with a room attendant named Mia to help with housekeeping.

Trump helped her make a bed and vacuum the floors without much incident, but then it came time to tend to the bathroom.

"Oh, I'm not into bathrooms, Mia. I don't know if I could ever do that job," he said, visibly peeved. "Only sinks, right?"

 As Trump cleaned the sinks, he had a change of heart. "I like that," he said as he scrubbed. "I like this job, Mia!"

"Then maybe you should come help me all the time," she smiled.

When it was all over, Trump summed up his experience by relaying what it really required to take on those various roles.

"These are four jobs that I've never done before. They're tough. You have to be sharp, you have to be smart, you have to get along with the people," he said. "It's hard work. Not easy."

Related: In 1988, Oprah asked Donald Trump if he'd ever run for president -- here's how he replied

Also on HuffPost:

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Super Uber or Uber Stupor?

Thu, 2015-08-13 09:57
Is Uber taking us for a ride? That's the concern on a lot of folks' minds as this international company which is currently valued at more than $50 billion moves to transform and dominate the car-for-hire transportation business here in the United States and around the world.

There is no question that Uber became the darling of tech savvy early adapters and millennials and is now earning rave reviews from a large group of cost-conscious individuals who want to get the best bargain for their bucks when they order a vehicle to take them from point A to B. There is a real question, however, about what business Uber is in and the nature of its business model.

Uber asserts that it is in the software app or ride-hailing business. That would be easy to accept if it sold its software to a purchaser and then drove away from the scene of the sale.

But, it does not. It stays in the game. The driver who buys its software operates under the Uber brand and Uber gets a percentage of every paid trip that driver makes.

It would also be easy to accept if Uber was hands-off in terms of the marketplace for consuming services delivered by those using the Uber app. But, it is not.

Uber aggressively intervenes in municipalities, states and even countries to try to change the existing rules and regulations that cover ground transport for a fee. According to Karen Weise's article in Bloomberg Businessweek, Uber has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in state capitols around the country and that doesn't include its municipal lobbyists.

Uber has been called innovative and its software is. What may be more innovative though has been Uber's ability to position and frame itself as a business.

When it was founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garret Camp the company was called UberCab. What's in a name? Possibly everything.

By 2011, Uber had secured substantial investor funding. In that same year, it changed its name from UberCab to Uber.

Dropping Cab from the name, certainly made it easier for Uber to argue that its business is about software rather than transportation. It also makes it easier to contend that the Uber drivers are not employees.

While that may be true, on its own website, Uber proclaims that its drivers are independent contractors. It makes one wonder for whom do those independent contractors work.

There is a class action case currently pending in California in which a group of Uber drivers maintain they are employees and should be reimbursed for things such as expenses and withheld tips.

Uber has responded to the case by declaring that its driver base in the U.S of over 160,000 people is incredibly diverse and this small number of plaintiffs does not represent its wishes. Uber marshaled testimony from over 400 California drivers to defend its contention.

It is hard to predict how this case will be decided. Courts at all levels in our judicial system sometimes work in mysterious ways.

What is easy to determine, on the other hand, is that not being an employer of drivers gives Uber a significant competitive advantage in this space. Traditional taxi and limousine companies are required to meet minimum wage standards and overtime laws; pay drivers' payroll taxes; and, in some instances provide health and other benefits.

Uber's advantage extends well beyond avoiding employee costs. It basically avoids most of the regulations governing "cab" companies and other costs of doing business such as vehicle acquisition and maintenance to comply with state regulations; buying taxi medallions, purchasing of insurance; payment of fees to do business in the locations where the drivers operate, payment of government taxes; ensuring training and background checks for drivers; and, the operating expense and overhead of running a business on a day to day basis

This is a sweet deal. Uber recognizes this and that is why it has spent so much money on paid lobbyists and social media to organize users and citizen advocates to contact governments on its behalf, as it did in Portland, Oregon and New York City.

Edward Walker, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, labels this mobilization of the masses by a corporation as "The Uber-ization of Activism."

Walker sees this as a bad thing, citing examples of how for-profit colleges used their students for "political pressure," Comcast got its philanthropic beneficiaries to support the Time Warner merger and the beverage industry hired protestors to oppose soda taxes. He states that "Technology may be neutral, but grass roots should be bottom up, not top down."

Kemal Dervis, vice president and director of global economy and development at Brookings Institution takes the critique of Uber's business model a bit further in a provocatively-titled opinion piece, "Is Uber a threat to democracy" published by the American think tank.

Dervis sees some benefits from Uber in areas such as "price setting" and "job creation." By contrast, he sees definite problems in areas such as Uber's impact on the traditional taxi drivers and transportation companies that have to abide by rules other than those imposed on Uber.

The "final problem" that Dervis identifies is an interesting one. It is the fact that in "innovative companies like Uber is that the financial returns overwhelmingly accrue to the company's leadership, rather than service providers. Whether or not that is justified, such companies' contribution to rising income inequality - and thus to regulatory capture, media bias, and disproportionate influence in elections - cannot be ignored."

Here's the bottom line: Uber may have a new-fangled tool but it appears to be winning the battle for market share in an old-fashioned way. That is to play the game by a different set of rules and use leverage to change the rules to give your business a decided advantage

We guess that's one side of the American and capitalist way. The other side is the concept of full and open competition.

As Dervis notes, "In a democratic system, the challenges that such disruptive technologies bring must be confronted in a way that ensures fairness, without impeding progress." He hits the nail on the head.

And, progress or reform is needed as two Brookings-related studies have highlighted. One study commissioned by the Brooking Institution's Hamilton Institute found that state licensing requirements covered 1 in 20 jobs in the 1950's but cover more than 3 in 10 today. The study estimated that this state licensing reduced national employment by as much as 2.8 million jobs.

The other Brookings study of "business dynamism" drawing upon census data showed that there has been a steady and fairly dramatic decline of new firm creation since 1978.

Forbes contributor Elaine Pofeldt points out that studies of this type frequently do not count the self-employed, or what she calls "solo entrepreneurs," and that we need to accelerate their ability to start businesses in order to stimulate our 21st century economy.

The taxi industry has been closely held and tightly-controlled by both its providers and government regulators. It is definitely time -- past time -- for deregulation or re-regulation. As Justin Fox of Bloomberg View comments, in the main "...local taxi and car service regulation has long been a classic case of narrow interests prevailing over the public interest."

It is time for the public interest to prevail. Uber is making an important contribution in this regard.

It is transforming the nation's car service transportation for hire landscape. This transformation presents the opportunity to revisit and reform the social and regulatory policies that govern this industry.

If this is done in a "fair and balanced" manner and everyone is allowed to play by the same new set of rules, consumers, companies and employees will all win. If it is not, then the very essence of capitalism in a democracy is called into question.

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Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo Makes Daring Catch, But Even Better Play

Thu, 2015-08-13 09:26

So, does it count?  

On Wednesday night, fans at Wrigley Field were wondering whether or not the best catch they'll see all year would actually be an out. 

During the sixth inning of their 3-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hawked Ryan Braun's foul ball all the way into the stands.  

Stuck the landing.

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 13, 2015

Knowing the Cubs only had one out and the Brewers with a runner on base, Rizzo also had the awareness to quickly get the ball back to an infielder. That's heads-up baseball right there. Coaches love this stuff: 

Originally, umpires ruled no-catch because they didn't think that Rizzo was still in the field of play when he made the grab. As Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts painfully learned in July, MLB's rulebook doesn't allow for players to simply hop over walls, chill with fans and catch fly balls for outs.  

You have to see that. Goes on top of the tarp and into the stands for a foul ball but umps say no catch..that was awesome...umps huddling

— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) August 13, 2015

After a short conference, the umps found that Rizzo had one foot on the tarp (which is technically on the field of play) and one foot on the wall when he secured the ball. Catch, confirmed! 

Let's talk about this tarp though, because Rizzo dug his damn spikes into the thing to prop himself up into a better position to make the play. (Poor tarp.) Aside from its obvious use during rainy weather, Rizzo's catch was probably the most practical use of a baseball field tarp MLB has ever seen. 

Depending on where they were sitting, fans along the first baseline were both horrified and pumped at Rizzo's actions. The woman sitting right below the 240-lb. Rizzo ducked for cover as he made his lunge into the crowd. 

Her hand-over-heart sigh of relief says it all.



Also on HuffPost: 

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Kraft Heinz's Lays Off 2500 Workers, Including 700 Workers in Northfield, IL

Thu, 2015-08-13 08:41
Losing 700 jobs in Kraft Heinz's Northfield headquarters is a devastating blow to that community, and to the workers and their families. The Kraft-Heinz merger, approved earlier this year, is a direct cause of these layoffs. This follows a pattern by the merged company's private equity owner, 3G Capital Partners, which also laid of thousands of American workers when it took over Anheuser-Busch in 2008. Investors and corporate executives win in these mergers, but American families and communities lose. I will continue to work to hold companies accountable for cutting American jobs and reward companies that expand their U.S. workforce.

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No Video Of A Police Shooting? That's Because Many Cops Still Don't Have Body Cameras.

Thu, 2015-08-13 06:46

WASHINGTON -- Americans overwhelmingly support equipping police officers with body cameras. Police reform advocates and law enforcement officials say such cameras can deter cops from using unnecessary force and protect them from false abuse complaints. But in most major cities, you're still not likely to run into a cop wearing a body cam.

The Huffington Post analyzed police departments in 27 large U.S. cities and found that only two -- Albuquerque and New Orleans -- have finished equipping their officers with body cameras. Most are waiting for funding, comparing different devices or testing the use of cameras with a small portion of their officers.

The infographic below shows where all 27 cities stands on body cameras. Those that have initiated but not completely rolled out their programs vary widely. Some, including Seattle and Minneapolis, hope to have their departments fully outfitted in the next year. Others, including New York City and Chicago, are making progress but have less concrete timetables.

And officials in Boise, Idaho; BostonColumbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; and Kansas City, Missouri, have considered body cameras, but haven't moved beyond that yet.

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Where Major U.S. Cities Stand On Body Cameras

Full body camera program

Program initiated

No body cameras







New York








Washington, D.C.

Las Vegas

Kansas City




Los Angeles








New Orleans

Note: Research included major U.S. cities, but may not include all cities with body camera programs in place or initiated.

Source: HuffPost research on police department policies

Where Major U.S. Cities Stand On Body Cameras

Full body camera program

  • Albuquerque, N.M.

  • New Orleans, La.

Program initiated

  • New York City, N.Y.

  • Los Angeles, Calif.

  • Chicago, Ill.

  • Houston, Texas

  • Philadelphia, Pa.

  • Indianapolis, Ind.

  • Charlotte, N.C.

  • Detroit, Mich.

  • Memphis, Tenn.

  • Seattle, Wash.

  • Denver, Colo.

  • Washington, D.C.

  • Baltimore, Md.

  • Louisville, Ky.

  • Milwaukee, Wis.

  • Oklahoma City, Okla.

  • Las Vegas, Nev.

  • Tucson, Ariz.

  • Minneapolis, Minn.

  • Atlanta, Ga.

No body cameras

  • Columbus, Ohio

  • Jacksonville, Fla.

  • Boston, Mass.

  • Kansas City, Mo.

  • Boise, Idaho

Note: Research included major U.S. cities, but may not include all cities with body camera programs in place or initiated. Source: HuffPost research on police department policies

Body cameras create a record of interactions between officers and civilians, which is supposed to keep both parties honest. The idea is that police will be more wary of engaging in potential misconduct, while everybody else will be less likely to mistreat officers or make false claims. And unlike dashboard cameras, body cameras move with the officer away from the vehicle.

Initial studies on smaller police forces, which are out front on purchasing body cameras, have been positive. They show that use of force by cops and complaints from citizens both drop after officers start wearing body cameras.

One agency that's now implementing a pilot program is the Arlington Police Department in Texas, where Christian Taylor, an unarmed black 19-year-old who had broken into a car dealership, was shot and killed this month by a white police officer. The rookie cop was not wearing a body camera.

It's impossible to know if footage of that encounter would have helped a prosecutor decide whether to pursue charges against the now-former officer. Advocates for body cameras acknowledge that the devices don't necessarily catch every encounter in detail. Even when they do, prosecutors and the public may come to different conclusions about what the footage shows. But without body camera evidence, a Texas district attorney -- and possibly a grand jury -- will have to rely on the police narrative in considering what happened to Taylor in his final moments.

Once officers have been issued the devices, they still have to use them.

Last year, in a report alleging excessive force at the Albuquerque Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the cameras were used inconsistently. The federal investigators found that the cameras "appeared [to be] directed only at placating public criticism" and that the Albuquerque top brass had failed to ensure the support of rank-and-file cops. (Tanner Tixier, a spokesman for the Albuquerque department, said that after several modifications, the current policy was under review by federal monitors.)

In New Orleans, the police department started issuing body cameras to officers in April of last year. But last fall, a federal monitor, put in a place under a separate 2012 consent decree (which had ordered greater use of dashcams), reviewed a sample of cases where cops used force and found that in only 34 percent of those cases did the record show the event had been filmed.

Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, said that the federal review took place before the body cameras were fully in use. At present, the officers who respond to calls for service -- but not, say, detectives -- wear them.

"We have addressed issues on a case-by-case basis through additional training and discipline when warranted," Gamble said. He noted that the department introduced new activity sheets where the officers document whether they are wearing a working body camera.

In Denver, an independent monitor's review of a six-month pilot program found that many officers equipped with cameras still failed to record incidents in which they used force. At the time of the report in March, police officials wouldn't clarify if those failures were a result of policy violations or faulty equipment.

When a St. Louis police officer shot and killed a black teenager late last year, the officer had been issued a body camera but wasn't wearing it.

Critics say some cities are moving too slowly on body cameras. In Baltimore, for example, the city council passed a bill in 2014 that required the police department to equip all of its 2,800 officers with body cameras within a year, but the mayor vetoed that measure. She cited concerns about funding and released her own plan, creating a task force to study the issue. A limited pilot program is not set to begin until October, and the mayor has said it could be four years before all cops are wearing cameras.

Other cities and police departments are grappling with the costs of body camera programs. The cameras typically run from $200 to $1,000 each, depending on the manufacturer. The expense adds up when a city needs to buy hundreds or thousands of cameras to outfit an entire police department.

Then there's the cost of storing the footage the cameras capture. Many cities are working out data management contracts with outside vendors, which can run to millions of dollars per year, depending on the size of the force.

In Indianapolis, a pilot program ended last month. Although law enforcement officials said they supported the cameras, they were unsure whether they could get the cash to continue the program, the Indianapolis Star reported. In Washington, D.C., the mayor's plan to provide the entire police force with body cameras stalled earlier this year after the city council cut funds to the program, providing only enough money to equip about half of the officers.

To address these kinds of problems, the Obama administration announced in May that it would provide $20 million to local police departments for body cameras and training. Congress has been slow to address the issue.

Step by step, America is moving toward wider use of body cameras across the country. But with many cities still years away from equipping every officer, we'll likely continue to see controversial incidents in which the story rests on a police officer's word.

Infographic by Alissa Scheller. Additional reporting by Dayana Morales Gomez and Dhyana Taylor. 

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I am a Dictator: A Chicago Public Schools Teacher Responds to Rauner and Claypool

Wed, 2015-08-12 17:05
Recently, Gov. Bruce Rauner said: "The people of Chicago, the voters of Chicago, the mayor of Chicago, the school board of the Chicago Public Schools should be enabled to decide what gets collectively bargained and what doesn't so they don't end up with the teachers union having dictatorial powers, in effect and causing the financial duress that Chicago public schools are facing right now."

This statement from Rauner comes just a few days after Forrest Claypool, our newest CEO, says that teachers need to have "shared sacrifice" by taking a 7 percent pay cut.

The shared sacrifice Claypool speaks of means that my wife (also a CPS teacher) and I would lose about $11,000 in combined income for this year alone.

I could go on and on about how Claypool is just another puppet of Rahm, in a long line of puppets appointed by the mayor, or how Chicagoans demand an elected school board (remember Chicago is the only district in the entire state without an elected school board). But since Rauner thinks that the teachers union, run by 40,000 teachers, is a dictatorship, and Claypool says teachers need to sacrifice, I will share my stories, so maybe, just maybe, they both (along with Rahm) will realize what it means to really sacrifice.

Two weeks ago I found out that a student who attended and graduated from my high school was shot and killed. I did not know this student well, as I had never taught him, but what I have found is that his death has triggered many other emotions and memories that I have suppressed.

There is a study that says that people who live in violent areas (like many parts of Chicago) show sign of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) similar to soldiers returning from combat. My father was in combat in Vietnam and for the first 23 years of my life he never once talked to me about Vietnam. It was one night that he decided to watch a fictional movie about Vietnam that it all came back to him. I can see how he has days where his mind is consumed by traumatic experiences that he had. He has been able to cope and now is working to prevent people, students especially from going into the military.

I have worked in CPS for nine years now and have had students share tragic stories of losing their friends and loved ones to violence. I have seen how certain events can trigger their traumatic memories.

I never thought that a teacher (myself) could have this happen too.

When I found out that the student from my school who had just graduated was killed I was deeply saddened for his family -- for everyone who knew him -- and that our city continues to let young people die.

However I have found that now nearly two weeks after his death I have been thinking nearly every day of the first student that I ever knew who was killed.

Nearly five years ago, a young man named Trevell was shot and killed. I taught Trevell as a freshman in high school. He was an outgoing, intelligent and confident young man, but it was clear that he had some difficulties outside of school. As he continued through high school into his senior year he had made many positive decisions to steer his life in the right direction and had got himself into college. I received a phone call on a cold January Saturday morning from my assistant principal saying that Trevell had been shot and killed. I still remember that day that I found out about his death and also what it was like to go into school that Monday and cry with students and staff and share stories of Trevell.

The following school year, I was teaching my senior Urban Studies class. I had taught many of the students in this class when they were freshman. There was one student Deondre who as a freshman I never thought would still be at our school, let alone close to graduating, for how involved he seemed to be as a freshman with life on the streets. Deondre as a freshman in my class would typically be focused on anything and everything as long as it was not academic. But amazingly Deondre had turned it around and now, as a senior had become one of the most liked students by staff and students. He had dramatically improved his grades and got himself accepted into many colleges. This one day in late May just a few weeks before graduation he was not in class. When I asked where he was, another student whispered to me that he had been arrested. I didn't believe it, because he had put that part of his life way behind him. It wasn't until I saw a mug shot of him wearing his school shirt and read his charge that I finally accepted it. He was one of my favorite students. I still think of him often.

Then, about two years ago, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage 17 weeks into our second pregnancy. My students all knew my wife was pregnant, and while I was out of school grieving the loss I dreaded, having to come back to school to see 150 supportive students who knew that my wife was no longer pregnant was amazing; they helped me grieve. My students were actually much better than even some of the adults who knew we had experienced that loss.

I share these stories because my "shared sacrifice" is that every time a student dies, I think of these things. I don't even realize that I am thinking of these things at first, because I usually just get angry or frustrated and don't know why.

There are days that I wonder like many teachers in Chicago, why do I still stay here? Why do I stay in a system that is run by the mayor with an appointed school board that clearly has no clue what is doing. Why do I stay in a system that has a new CEO every one to two years? Why do I stay in a system that allows its schools to be funded often times $10,000 less per student than schools in the suburbs?

Every answer to all of those questions is because of the students. The students are the reason why 40,000 teachers in Chicago don't just pack up and move out of the city. We love our students. We love to guide, mentor, coach, counsel, teach, listen, and laugh with and at them.

So Mr. Claypool we teachers have "skin in the game". My personal stories are sadly not unique; we teachers have and continue to make sacrifices every day by being a teacher in Chicago.

Mr. Rauner you want to blame us, teachers, for the fiscal crises of our city? How about thanking us for doing what we do every day. Thank us today, thank us tomorrow, and continue thanking us for your entire four years as governor, because you will never know what we do for the students of this city.

And after you thank us, give us power over our schools. Give us an elected school board. Give us counselors and therapists. Give our students the schools that they deserve.

Yes, giving more to the schools costs money, but let's be clear, there are money and revenue options out there. You are just choosing to use bogus rhetoric instead of hearing and acting on the revenue options available.

The stress that I and the rest of Chicago's teachers go through every day of the year to educate the children of this city that we love is not easy, but we do it because we know that our students matter. It is time for the politicians to do the same.

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Rahm Emanuel Backs The Iran Deal

Wed, 2015-08-12 17:00

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, one of the country's more prominent Jewish Democrats, said Wednesday that he supports President Barack Obama’s deal on Iran’s nuclear program. 

Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff during the first two years of his presidency, during which time the administration began exploring diplomatic entreaties with Iran, said that the resulting agreement met the thresholds initially envisioned. With no other credible path available for curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, he urged lawmakers to recognize the deal's merits.

“I would say to you this agreement is a good agreement and it is far superior to either sustained bombing that would never actually get you what you have today or sanctions that would exist on paper but with no international support,” Emanuel said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post.

“Having been there at the beginning, seeing what the president built, everything gets measured not against itself or the perfect. It gets measured against the alternatives," he added. "The alternatives are bombing. The alternatives are being the only country standing with a set of sanctions when every international partner that you built painstakingly walks away.”

Removed from Washington, D.C., Emanuel's involvement in the debate over the nuclear deal is limited. "I’m totally focused on what I need to do here," he said. "We are not starting any sister city programs [with Tehran]."

But he remains an influential national Democrat with ties to the House, where he previously ran the party's campaign arm. More than that, he is seen as an unbending supporter of Israel, giving his defense of the deal added heft. One of the main criticisms of the deal is that providing Iran with sanctions relief will place Israel under an existential terrorist threat. 

"Look, I’ve been to Israel 14 times. My middle name is Israel," Emanuel said. "I believe this agreement is in America’s interest. I think there is a reason a number of national security voices in Israel are supportive of this agreement, and there are ways to also ensure Israel’s deterrence and security apparatus that the United States can play a role in." The United States, he predicted, would enhance its military and national security assistance to Israel following the deal's passage.

Emanuel gave no indication as to whether he plans to call his former House colleagues to encourage them to back the president's initiative. He ended the conversation before HuffPost could press him on that point.

But the White House would undoubtedly welcome the help. The administration is all but certain to lose a vote in the lower chamber on affirming the deal. When the president vetoes that House bill, he will need the support of one-third of the chamber to sustain that veto.

Emanuel said that he wouldn't sell the deal as something designed to bring Iran into the world community, and that he recognized that there were inherent downsides to the sanctions relief. But he stressed that critics were misrepresenting the deal when they argued that the administration had dramatically moved away from its initial goals. 

He praised the president for putting in place a sanctions regime that gave the international community "leverage," and noted that he was present when Obama was "painstakingly and systematically building an international coalition to apply economic pressure that had never existed before."

"Having been there, this is the execution of that strategy," he said.

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The 10 Best Cities for Technology-Assisted Living

Wed, 2015-08-12 16:27

The National Conference of State Legislatures and AARP Public Policy Institute report that nearly 90 percent of people over the age of 65 want to stay in their home for as long as possible. Fortunately, in most cases, they won't have to move as they age. According to Seniorly, a service that helps people find senior care, the majority of seniors do NOT need to move into a nursing home. They simply need some care equivalent to what they would find in an assisted living community, which includes assistance with daily activities like meals, medication, housekeeping, bathing and transportation.

And these days, there's an app for that. An elderly woman can take an Uber to her friend's home, find someone to walk her dog through, schedule her lawn to be mowed or her house to be cleaned through Porch, get groceries delivered through Instacart, and schedule a professional caregiver to assist with bathing, meal preparation and other daily living activities through CareLinx. Or, for those seniors who aren't tech-savvy, friends and family can use these technology-based services to arrange care for them.

Redfin, a national real estate brokerage, named the 10 best cities for technology-assisted living, which are places where it's feasible to use technology-based services like Carelinx and Instacart to age in one place, rather than moving to an assisted living facility. "People often think of services like Uber and Instacart as being something that only millennials use, but those services can be a way for elderly people who need assistance to remain in their homes," said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. "And when you compare the cost of a mortgage with the cost of assisted living facilities, in some cases it can make more financial sense to use those services and age in place, rather than move to a facility, depending on the level of care required of course."

To come up with the list, Redfin first identified which U.S. cities are served by Uber, Rover, Porch, Instacart and Carelinx, which all provide services that are similar to what an assisted living facility would provide, including transportation, pet care, housekeeping, meals and basic medical care. Then, Redfin calculated what the median monthly mortgage payment would be in those cities, and compared it to the average monthly fee for assisted living facilities in those cities (using data from Metlife).

The cities that made the top 10 list are places where seniors (or those who care for them) would have at least $1,500 each month to spend on the cost of services booked through Uber, Rover, Porch, Instacart and Carelinx, and, after paying the mortgage, it'd still be less expensive than an assisted living facility in the area. For example, in Washington D.C., the number one city on the list, a resident could spend $3,000 on care services and $2,787 on their mortgage, and still spend less than the $5,933 it would take to live in an assisted living facility.

Here are the following cities that made the list:

Head here to read the full report, which includes data on the median mortgage payments and assisted living costs in each city.

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Rehabilitation, Restitution Undermined by Illinois' Supersized Criminal-Justice System

Wed, 2015-08-12 14:12
Too often, corrections programs focus solely on locking up offenders and throwing away the key ... until their sentences are completed, at which point they are expected to become productive members of society.

This model serves no one: not the taxpayers who foot the bill for jails and prisons, not the people who serve time behind bars, and not the victims of crime and the public.

An ideal corrections program focuses first on keeping the public safe. Public safety depends on crime prevention, which means that an effective corrections program is one that isn't simply punitive, but is transformative, aimed at stopping the cycle of crime in which the same people end up behind bars again and again.

Unfortunately, Illinois lags behind other states in its efforts to curb recidivism through offender rehabilitation, and the results are sobering: Offenders who serve time in Illinois prisons have a nearly 50 percent chance of returning within three years.

By not implementing enough effective offender-rehabilitation programs, the state jeopardizes public safety.

Illinois should look to successful programs in other states for guidance on recidivism prevention. One way to rehabilitate inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes - those who are serving time for offenses such as burglary, fraud and drug crimes, and make up 50 percent of all inmates in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, or IDOC - can be seen in an impressive program in the Lone Star state.

In Texas, the Bridges to Life restorative-justice program has been in operation since 1998. Under programs like Bridges to Life, if the person found guilty of a nonviolent property crime and the victim of that crime agree, the two parties enter mediation to work out terms that allow the guilty party to repay the victim in lieu of serving jail time. Victims, who often take a back seat in the design of punishment-focused criminal-justice policies, report greater levels of satisfaction under such restorative-justice programs, according to research from Right on Crime.

This one reform - establishing a restorative-justice pilot program in Illinois - could save an estimated $780,500 in one year. Given that IDOC spending is at an all-time high ($1.4 billion in fiscal year 2015) the state must seize every such reasonable opportunity to reduce its prison costs.

Illinois' prison population has increased by 330 percent since the 1970s. If the state is to meet Gov. Bruce Rauner's goal of reducing its prison population by 25 percent by 2025, politicians need to get serious about embracing changes that address the state's ever-growing incarceration problem. Restorative justice and other programs are one way to accomplish this goal, while at the same time ensuring that Illinois' criminal-justice system is focused more on restitution and rehabilitation than on punishment alone.

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Madigan says the 2014 election was more about Pat Quinn's failures than Bruce Rauner's successes

Wed, 2015-08-12 13:03
Back in May, when Gov. Bruce Rauner said he'd endure a government shutdown if the Legislature refused to pass his reform agenda, I wrote that I believed Rauner was overplaying the hand voters dealt him in the election. (That post is here.)

Rather than viewing Rauner's victory in November as an overwhelming endorsement by the electorate of Rauner's big-picture political philosophy, I saw it more as voters reluctantly trying something different after 12 years of failure in Springfield.

Rauner won with 50.3 percent of the vote to Pat Quinn's 46.3. A solid victory, but hardly a landslide when compared with other recent results. More importantly, 66.7 percent of voters had answered yes to an advisory question on immediately raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour while 63.6 percent gave thumbs-up to a question about a 3-percent additional income tax on incomes greater than $1 million. There's probably no greater rejection of Rauner's core political beliefs than voters' overwhelming approval of those proposals.

Last week House Speaker Michael Madigan, the man responsible for putting those questions on the November ballot, went a step further. Speaking to Statehouse reporter Jordan Abudayyeh of Springfield ABC affiliate WICS Newschannel 20, Madigan said he saw the election results not as a Rauner victory but as a Quinn loss.

In his explanation, he says out loud what any sentient observer of the Capitol knew a year ago. The minimum wage question was there to pull sympathetic voters to the polls who also would vote for Quinn.

Watch Madigan's explanation, and read the rest of the analysis, at Reboot Illinois.

Madigan's remarks are in line with his relationship with the governor so far since Rauner's inauguration in January--mostly contentious. The back and forth continued this week when Madigan and Rauner disagreed over a bill passed in the Illinois Senate that would free up about $4.8 billion in federal money that has so far been tied up due to the state's budget stalemate. Check out Mark Fitton's description of the situation at Reboot Illinois.

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11 Illinois Hiking Spots You Should Visit This Summer

Wed, 2015-08-12 09:39
Take your Illinois summer to the incredible hiking trails our state parks and forests have to offer. Along with some fun campgrounds and water parks, these outdoor escapes in Illinois are sure to keep you and your family out and about this summer.

Drawing from a list of top-rated hiking trails in Illinois by as well as a list by Canoe Communications, here are 11 of 17 breathtaking Illinois hiking trails, in no particular order, you can traverse. Do you know of ones that didn't make the list? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

17. Trail of Tears State Forest (Jonesboro)

The fire trails are open all year for hiking. There are hiking trails at the Forest, including one designed for cross country running. Other trails pass through hills and valleys where one can appreciate the lush vegetation and abundant wildlife.

16. Starved Rock State Park (Utica)

Exploring the majestic bluffs and canyons is the park's primary attraction, and there are 13 miles of well-marked trails to help you enjoy them. The trails are open all year, but hikers are urged to exercise extreme caution and to stay on official trails. To keep you oriented, trail maps are located at all trail access points, intersections and points of interest. There are colored posts along the trails, corresponding to colors on the maps, and letter symbols on the trail brochure to further assist you. Finally, yellow dots on posts indicate that you are moving away from the lodge or visitor center, and white dots mean you are returning.

15. Shawnee National Forest

Totaling about 286,400 acres the Shawnee National Forest is located in the southern tip of Illinois and offers a variety of outdoor opportunities and diverse landscapes.  In contrast with the remainder of Illinois, the Shawnee boasts rolling landscape and rugged bluffs that are home to diverse of plant and animal life.  Covered in deciduous forests and cradled between two major riverways (the Ohio and Mississippi), there's never a shortage of things to do in the Shawnee National Forest.

14. Red Hills State Park (Sumner)

For the intermediate hiker, Indian Treaty, Robin, Valley Springs and Tulip trail loops overlap each other on the hilly north side of U.S. Rt. 50 for about 3 miles. There also is a 5-mile trail for horseback riding and bicycling when soil conditions permit.

13. Pere Marquette State Park (Grafton)

Approximately 12 miles of marked trails provide scenic hiking to beginners and experienced hikers alike. Lush forests, towering bluffs and an abundance of wildlife provide the perfect backdrop for your outing. Trail maps are available at the Visitor Center.

12. Mississippi Palisades State Park (Savanna)

The North System includes High Point Trail at 3.5 miles and Aspen at 1.9 miles. Sentinel Trail the 1.2 miles, including spurs, is the South System's longest hike, but it and other southern loops are not for the tenderfoot. Ozzie's Point, Louis' Point and Lookout Point, three developed overlooks accessible by short walks, offer a surfaced trail leading to an overlook. Oak Point offers a trail surface suitable for the physically challenged.

11. Matthiessen State Park (Utica)

The park has 5 miles of well-marked, well-surfaced hiking trails for a relaxing walk or a vigorous hike. Large trail maps are located at all major trail intersections so visitors can choose a variety of routes. The upper area and bluff tops are easy hiking paths for the novice, but the trails into the interiors of the two dells may be difficult to negotiate, particularly during spring and early summer. Hikers must stay on marked trails, as steep cliffs and deep canyons can be dangerous. Hikers will marvel at the plant and animal life along the trails, and have an unparalleled view of geological wonders as they travel through the park.

10. Hidden Springs State Forests (Strasburg)

Possum Hollow Nature Trail, 3/4 mile in length, provides access to Park Pond and the pine seed orchard. Trail guides, available at the headquarters, campground and picnic area, guide the visitor to the 35 interpretive stations. The Big Tree Trail, 1 mile in length, features a sycamore 78 inches in diameter, one of the largest in Illinois. Rocky Spring Trail, 3 miles in length, includes Rocky Spring, a forest improvement area, walnut production areas and varied land and vegetation types.

9. Giant City State Park (Makanda)

Exploration of the picturesque natural wonders of Giant City State Park can be enjoyed along the Post Oak, Devil's Standtable, Giant City, Stonefort, Indian Creek, Trillium and Arrowwood trails. The Post Oak Trail has been designed for disabled visitors. The 12-mile Red Cedar Hiking Trail provides an invigorating challenge to the truly dedicated backpacker.

8. Ferne Clyffe State Park (Goreville)

Eighteen diverse trails offer visitors the chance to view the beauty of Ferne Clyffe at their own pace.  Motorized vehicles and bicycles are not permitted on the trails.  Equestrian use is allowed on equestrian designated trails.  Equestrian trails are closed to horses from November 1 to April 30.  Naturally occurring dangerous areas exist within the park, so hike on designated trails, exercise awareness and caution. Each trail has been assigned a number, as well as a name, to make map reading easy for even the novice hiker.

7. Dixon Springs State Park (Pope County)

Dixon Springs State Park is one of several state parks in the Illinois Shawnee Hills. The park is situated on a gaint block of rock, which was dropped 200 feet along a fault line that extends northwesterly across Pope County. The 786-acre park is about 10 miles west of Golconda on Illinois Route 146 near its junction with Illinois Route 145.

See 6 more Illinois hiking trails, including some with beautiful canyons and gorgeous waterfalls, at Reboot Illinois.

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This Jail's Urban Farming Project Benefits Inmates, Local Charities

Wed, 2015-08-12 09:18

The next time flowers are delivered to your door in Chicago, the bouquet just might be made up of blooms nurtured by an inmate at Cook County Jail.

Chicago-based startup Flowers for Dreams, last week, announced the start of a partnership with the jail’s urban farming initiative, which offers nonviolent inmates an opportunity to learn job readiness and teamwork skills while learning about horticulture and tending to the jail’s urban farm.

The initiative expanded last year to include a one-acre flower garden where zinnias, dahlias, sunflowers and other blooms grow, and caught the attention of Flowers for Dreams CEO Steven Dyme after the initiative’s deputy director Kerry White, a fan of the flower startup, contacted him.

The two met a number of times before Dyme came to the jail to speak with a classroom of inmates who tend to the farm, and toured the flower garden. He was impressed by what he saw and signed onto the initiative.

“The flowers looked good, which is the key thing, but I was really happy to support their effort,” Dyme told The Huffington Post. “It’s a great way for us to buy local flowers, a huge priority for our business, and to support this innovative rehabilitation program simultaneously was a win-win.”

Funds received from the partnership go back to the jail’s inmate welfare fund, which supports rehabilitative programming, including the urban farming initiative, culinary classes and other vocational programs.

A significant portion -- 25 percent -- of profits made by Flowers for Dreams are donated to Chicago-area nonprofit groups, such as, this year, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Boys and Girls Clubs, RefugeeOne and One Tail at a Time Dog Rescue.

A photo posted by Flowers for Dreams (@flowersfordreams) on Jan 15, 2015 at 7:53am PST

Dyme said, later this month, the company will reach a total of $100,000 in donations to charity groups since launching in 2012 -- a milestone he calls “probably our most important accomplishment.”

By the year’s end, he expects to hit $120,000 in donations as business is growing. According to a Chicago Tribune story, sales have tripled since 2014 to about $1.5 million through this spring.

Flowers from the garden and other products of the farming initiative -- including fresh produce, eggs from the farm’s chicken coop and honey from its beehives -- are also sold to local restaurant partners like Yusho, A10 and Billy Sunday, as well as at the popular weekly farmers’ markets at Daley Plaza, DNAinfo Chicago reported this summer, generating revenue that allows the programs to continue.

The initiative has also led to employment opportunities for some participating inmates. According to the jail, eight have gone on to work at restaurants or landscaping companies upon their release.

Education and vocational programs like Cook County Jail’s urban farm initiative not only improve inmates’ chances of finding a job after their sentence are up, but also, according to a 2013 report from the RAND Corporation, significantly reduce their chances of becoming incarcerated again. 

In addition, the same analysis found that such programs are cost-effective, though more research is needed to determine the types of correctional education that produce the best results.

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