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The Terrible Economy Just Claimed Another Victim: Walmart's U.S. CEO

Thu, 2014-07-24 16:16
The sluggish U.S. economic recovery just claimed another job.

Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., is stepping down, Walmart announced on Thursday. Simon's tenure was marked by a long stretch of poor performance, but bad luck might have played a role in that: He held the post during a particularly terrible time for low- and middle-income Americans, who are also Walmart's core customers.

"His tenure perfectly parallels the worst economic period in the last 70 years," Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, said of Simon.

Simon became chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., effectively second-in-command of that business, in 2007, the year the Great Recession began. He became CEO of Walmart U.S. in 2010.

Bill Simon, former president and CEO of Walmart U.S., speaks to guests at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on June 14, 2013 in Chicago.



During the recession and the subsequent ongoing recovery, low- and middle-income Americans have been plagued by high unemployment, stagnant wages, benefit cuts and a proliferation of low-paying, part-time jobs at the expense of stable, salaried middle-class work. For Walmart, this means shoppers -- many of whom are also burdened by high levels of debt -- just aren't spending like they used to.

As a result, Walmart's bottom line is suffering. The company's U.S. sales have fallen in 12 out of the past 20 quarters at stores open a year or more, according to Ken Perkins, head of the retail data firm Retail Metrics. Walmart executives have repeatedly cited last November's cuts to the federal government's food stamp program as a reason for the company's poor performance.

By that same logic, critics have argued that Walmart could help boost its own economic fortunes by raising wages for its more than 1 million U.S. workers, many of whom are the type of low and middle-income customers who would turn around and spend that raise at Walmart. Simon, who will net a severance package of $4.5 million payable through 2016, spoke out against proposals to mandate Walmart pay its workers in Washington, D.C. a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.

Bad economy or not, some observers say Simon deserves a share of the blame for Walmart's woeful performance.

"It's long overdue," Brian Sozzi, CEO and chief equities strategist of Belus Capital Advisors, said of Simon's departure. "I've been waiting for this day and it's finally here. They let him stay at the helm for way, way too long, which is typical of the Walmart culture."

It's been speculated that a CNBC interview earlier this month, in which Simon offered a less-than-sunny assessment of Walmart's core customers and its domestic sales figures, prompted the company to accelerate his departure.

Since Walmart prides itself on being a destination for price-conscious customers, Fishman said, it's odd that more Americans haven't turned to Walmart during the recession and the recovery.

"People don't say 'The money is short, let's skip the toothpaste,'" he said. "Why hasn't Walmart actually done better?"

One reason may be that cash-strapped Americans are turning to dollar stores, which are in some cases cheaper and more convenient than Walmart. Online shopping has also become more prevalent: Where many people used to shop online only for large or expensive items, today it's common for shoppers to buy all of their goods over the Web.

Simon took steps to address many of these problems, analysts agree. He rapidly grew Walmart's Neighborhood Market stores -- essentially smaller Walmarts catering to urban customers who don't trek to the suburbs to shop. Simon was also part of a push to make Walmart's website and apps more compatible with its stores. (Customers can now refill pharmacy prescriptions with a Walmart app, for example.)


A Walmart neighborhood market in Chicago.

But it wasn't enough to turn the division around. Last year, Walmart's U.S. sales grew at a slower rate than the economy overall -- which grew pretty slowly itself.

"We know that we have to figure out a way to grow comp-store sales here in the U.S.," said Walmart spokesman David Tovar, using industry lingo for sales at stores open a year or more.

Tovar said Simon is leaving Walmart on good terms with the company. He added that Simon's departure came after he was passed up to succeed former CEO Mike Duke, who left earlier this year.

"In these situations, it's not uncommon for the person who doesn't get the job to leave and go figure something else out," said Tovar.

Simon's replacement, Walmart Asia CEO Greg Foran, will have a lot to figure out, too.

Ex-Governor Says His Dumpy Namesake Building Gives People Dumpy Impression Of Government

Thu, 2014-07-24 15:43
It's been a proposed casino site and a state budget bargaining chip, but to the namesake of Illinois' foremost state office building, the James R. Thompson Center is a dump.

Leaky ceilings, shabby landscaping and decades-old carpet held together by duct tape were just some of the reasons ex-Illinois Governor James R. Thompson cited when he lamented the state of the massive downtown Chicago building in an interview with Crain's Chicago Business.

"It looks like a scrap heap," the 78-year-old Republican told Crain's. "It's terrible, just terrible."

Thompson said much of the building is exactly the same as it was nearly three decades prior, including cheap carpeting that was never meant to last 30 years. He suggested to Crain's that the sad state of the government building reflects poorly on the government itself.

"What kind of message does it send?" Thompson asked. "What impression do you want people to have of state government?"

An unnamed source echoed the ex-governor's sentiments: "Can you imagine what a CEO thinks if he comes to talk to the governor about expanding in Illinois and walks through this?"

Constructed in 1985 and re-named in Thompson's honor in 1993, the Thompson Center has had its share of troubles over the years. Controversial for its salmon color and modern glass design, the building was also dogged for its inefficiency: glass panels allowed internal temperatures to rise as high as 110 degrees in the summer, ultimately requiring a costlier air conditioning system. Most recently, bedbugs were spotted in areas of the building.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services said renovations are expected this fall, including new carpet, according to the Associated Press.

Cubs' Anthony Rizzo Promises To Dedicate A Home Run To Fan With Cancer, Hits 2

Thu, 2014-07-24 14:54
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo may be a hard hitter, but he has a softer side, too.

Both aspects of the slugger's character were on equal display Tuesday, when the player pointed to the sky after each of his homers against the Padres. Turns out the mysterious gesture was a shout-out to Mike Kasallis, a fan who'd been diagnosed with leukemia. Rizzo had promised to dedicate a home run to him.

Many players might hesitate to dedicate a homer, fearing they may not hit one, let alone two. That doesn't seem to be a problem for Rizzo, who currently leads the National League with 25 home runs.

Rizzo not only hit two homers for Kasallis, he did it on the fan's 22nd birthday, MLB.com adds.

If dedicating two home runs to a sick patient feels familiar, there's good reason for your déjà vu: Former Yankees player Paul O'Neill made a similar promise to Kramer in a 1995 "Seinfeld" episode.

20 Items You're Gonna Need For The Real World

Thu, 2014-07-24 14:45
College taught us many things, like how to think critically, engage socially and stay awake for 36 hours on nothing but 5 Hour Energy shots and Kit Kats.

But in order to fully adjust to the real world, you're going to need some supplies. We speak from experience when advising that you invest in...

1. A set of classy drinking glasses
We're not taking handle pulls and passing red cups anymore, people. Your guests might expect something nicer.


2. A pop-up tent
Like the 20-dollar-from-Walmart kind. Because you never know when you're gonna want to get away, or just pretend you're five and have a camp-out in your living room.


3. A miniature food processor
Hummus, coleslaw, cookie dough... the possibilities are endless, and endlessly easy to make.


4. An iron
The wrinkled-chic look is NOT hip anymore.


5. An air mattress
People are gonna want to come visit your new homeland, and it's pleasant to offer a sleeping option that's not the floor. Plus, it makes a great couch until you get around to finding one on Craigslist.


6. A Cards Against Humanity set
Nothing makes new friends faster than a game... especially one with sass.


7. A cookbook app
Because you are NOT going to know what to do with that radish you impulse-bought at the farmers market.


8. Print-out pictures of your friends and family
Homesickness -- and general nostalgic-for-college sickness -- hits hard. One coping method consists of plastering your bedroom and desk with photos.


9. A Kindle, or at least the iBooks app on your phone
Apparently, during the decade that we've been in school, humankind has continued the tradition of reading. Books. For fun. Once you realize this pastime is still completely still alive, you're gonna want to join in.


10. A killer interview outfit
Because looking the part is being the part.


11. A really sharp knife from a cooking store
Not only for self defense, but because those dirt-cheap "starter kitchen knife sets" you find on Groupon do NOT. CUT. ANYTHING.


12. A backpack that's not a JanSport
Yes, you're still allowed to carry things on your shoulders, because it's easier and prevents spinal injury. But let's take a smaaall step up from stained rucksacks and camp lanyards.


13. A grocery store rewards card
Every penny counts, so start earning rewards for your ramen now!


14. Super lightweight running shoes
People in the real world have jobs, so they're forced to sneak in workouts where they can. It always helps to have a pair of uber-light shoes in your bag, in case you catch a break.


15. A lunchbox
The ultimate vice of real world-hood? Buying lunch. A supercute lunchbox will motivate you to pack it up, not rack it up.


16. A credit card
If you didn't have one in college, get one now. Good credit will help you get real-world stuff like apartments and cars.


17. An iPhone battery case
Because there are not outlets in the middle of your desk like there were on the campus library tables.


18. A set of miniature makeup brushes
Never have you been away from your bedroom for so many hours at a time, with so many important humans -- touch-ups will be necessary.


19. A really awesome slate of price alerts
To make it through those endless first months of nine-to-five, you'll need something to look forward to. Set up airline fare alerts to come to your email -- companies will let you know when prices drop in your desired destination.


20. A cat
Because after a long day of real world-ness, you're gonna need a cuddle.

A Property Tax Freeze in Illinois? At Least One State Rep. Thinks It's a Good Idea

Thu, 2014-07-24 14:40
Illinois State Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) says he thinks property taxes should freeze all across Illinois in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. The state has the second-highest property taxes in the country, after New Jersey, and they might get higher for residents of the state's biggest city following passage of the Chicago Public Schools 2015 budget.

McSweeney writes:

"Enough is enough.

We need an immediate, across-the-board property tax freeze. A freeze is not a comprehensive solution to Illinois' property tax problem, but it is a good start.

One reason I have been pushing a property tax freeze is to buy us some time to work on consolidating some of the more than 7,000 units of local government in Illinois. That would help to reduce the cost of government and ultimately lower residential property taxes. We cannot keep throwing money at all of these units of government and ignoring the outcome -- higher property taxes."

For homeowners who are already struggling to pay high property taxes, news of high foreclosure rates in the state isn't good either. Illinois had the third-highest number of home foreclosures in the country in June 2014, double the national average for the same month, according to RealtyTrac.


McSweeney writes:

Enough is enough.

We need an immediate, across-the-board property tax freeze. A freeze is not a comprehensive solution to Illinois' property tax problem, but it is a good start.

One reason I have been pushing a property tax freeze is to buy us some time to work on consolidating some of the more than 7,000 units of local government in Illinois. That would help to reduce the cost of government and ultimately lower residential property taxes. We cannot keep throwing money at all of these units of government and ignoring the outcome -- higher property taxes.


For homeowners who are already struggling to pay high property taxes, news of high foreclosure rates in the state isn't good either. Illinois had the third-highest number of home foreclosures in the country in June 2014, double the national average for the same month, according to RealtyTrac.

Rand Paul Proposes Measure To Shield State Medical Marijuana Laws From Feds

Thu, 2014-07-24 13:46
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Thursday filed an amendment in the Senate that would protect states that implement medical marijuana laws, as well as patients and physicians in those states, from federal prosecution.

Paul's Amendment 3630, filed Thursday morning to Sen. John Walsh's (D-Mont.) jobs bill being heard on the Senate floor, allows states to "enact and implement laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana for medical use" without fear of federal prosecution. There are 33 states that have enacted laws protecting some form medical marijuana.

The amendment also prohibits prosecution of patients and physicians in those states for violating federal laws against the drug.

"What we're trying to do is look at the law and allow states that have changed their laws and have allowed medical marijuana to do so, for doctors to be able to prescribe and for people to be able to get those prescriptions without being worried about the federal government coming in and arresting them," Brian Darling, Paul's communications director, told The Huffington Post.

To date, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Another 10 have legalized CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis frequently used to treat epilepsy, for limited medical use or research. Still, the federal government continues to ban the plant, classifying it as a Schedule I substance with "no currently accepted medical use."

In June, Paul introduced a Senate amendment to the Justice Department budget bill that would restrict DEA agents and federal prosecutors from using allotted funds to pursue providers of medical marijuana and patients using it in states that have legalized its use. A similar version of the amendment, co-sponsored by Reps. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.), surprised even longtime supporters of marijuana policy reform when it passed in the House in May.

But Darling argued that Paul's new measure could provide additional protections beyond that which the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment offers.

"The effort before was to defund prosecutions -- so it would block the federal government from prosecuting until that appropriations bill runs out about a year later," Darling said. But Paul's amendment, Darling explained, would provide a more permanent framework of protection for states that enact medical marijuana laws.

"It would protect the states' rights to make those decisions about medical marijuana that wouldn't expire when the appropriations bill comes back up," Darling said.

Due to ongoing partisan gridlock in the Senate, it appears unlikely that Paul's amendment will get a vote. However, Darling said that Paul's office is prepared to pursue other legislation that may not be identical to the amendment, but would be in the same spirit.

Don't Get Too Excited About The 'HIV-Killing' Condom Yet

Thu, 2014-07-24 12:34
A groundbreaking new condom that uses an antiviral gel as added protection against HIV, herpes and HPV may soon hit the shelves in Australia. But some experts are wary of the effectiveness of VivaGel, the lube that makes the condom so potent against viral sexually transmitted infections.

The VivaGel condom, made by pharmaceutical company Starpharma, is the only condom of its kind to incorporate the antiviral compound, asodrimer sodium, in its lubricant. Lab tests show that it can "inactivate" up to 99.9 percent of HIV, herpes (HSV) and HPV, according to the company's press release.

But Dr. Anna-Barbara Moscicki, a pediatrics professor at University of California, San Francisco and an HPV expert, advises caution. She researched VivaGel as an intravaginal cream for women who wanted to protect themselves from viruses without using a condom, and found that it caused mild irritation and low-grade inflammation in study participants after two weeks of twice-daily use.

That's more serious than it sounds: Inflammation is the body's response to an irritant or pathogen. When a part of the body is irritated, the body sends protective white blood cells like neutrophils and lymphocytes to the site of the injury to begin healing it.

But it's those very cells, explained Moscicki, that the HIV virus uses to replicate itself and spread throughout the body. If the lubricant irritates a vaginal wall to the point of inflammation, the body could send white blood cells straight to the site where they are most likely to come into contact with the HIV virus.

Inflammation also breaks the skin barrier down, making it easier for HPV to access the basal skin cell layer and infect a person, said Moscicki.

Based on her 2011 study, as well as another one with similar results, Moscicki hopes that Starpharma has worked out the kinks that caused inflammation in study participants.

"In theory, the drug looks very promising," Moscicki told the Huffington Post. "But I hope the condom isn't causing inflammation to the woman or the man."

In an email to The Huffington Post, Starpharma CEO Jackie Fairley clarified that VivaGel concentration levels in the condom lubricant differed from the gels that have been researched in past studies. For instance, while Moscicki's trials involved 3 percent VivaGel, Starpharma used 1 percent VivaGel in clinical studies involving over 1,000 participants, said Fairley.

Starpharma found no difference in safety between the 1 percent VivaGel concentration and the placebo, and the concentration of the lubricant in the condom, at .5 percent, is "significantly lower" than even the test concentration, Fairley explained.

Other studies show that correct and consistent condom use is already "highly effective" against HIV transmission and other STIs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But slippage, breakage and forgetting to use a condom could still factor into what's called "real world" use, which is why no one can claim condoms are truly 100 percent effective against the spread of STIs.

Moscicki wasn't privy to any of Starpharma's research on the product, and concedes that perhaps the amount of VivaGel on the condom is so small that it might not have the same harmful side effects as using VivaGel alone as a vaginal cream. If so, said Moscicki, VivaGel condoms could be an exciting new upgrade from the typical latex condom, which doesn't have a 100 percent effectiveness rate against HIV and other STIs.

"My guess is that it would be better than just a condom alone -- provided it doesn't irritate users," she concluded.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA, is more skeptical about the VivaGel condom.

"Given that condoms have been considered dual protection for decades -- correct and consistent use is highly protective against a variety of STDs like HPV, herpes and HIV, as well as chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis -- it's not immediately clear to me the likely added benefit of antiviral gel to a condom lubricant," Klausner wrote in an email to HuffPost.

"The most important thing about condoms is to make them accessible and get them used," he continued. Condoms alone haven't been shown to control STDs in some at-risk populations, Klausner said, so he doesn't expect the VivaGel condom to have a significant public health impact, though it may have some advantage for individual users.

The VivaGel condom was just approved for use by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) this week, and will hit the market once the condom is listed with the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods -- a process that is only expected to take a few weeks, said Fairley.

Once registered, the condom will be sold in Australia under the brand LifeStyles Dual Protect. The company also has plans to introduce the product to other markets in Asia, North America and Europe.

Arrest Made In Stray Bullet Killing Of 11-Year-Old Shamiya Adams

Thu, 2014-07-24 11:47
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago police say they've arrested a man in the slaying of an 11-year-old girl who was struck in the head by a stray bullet while at a sleepover last week.

Janel Sedevic, a Chicago police spokeswoman, says the man has been arrested on a first-degree murder charge and will be formally charged Thursday. She provided no other details.

Sedevic says Superintendent Garry McCarthy will discuss the arrest at a Thursday morning news conference.

Shamiya Adams was making s'mores at a friend's house in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on July 18 when she was struck by a bullet. She died early the next morning.

Police have said the gunman may have been firing at another person in a gang dispute outside the house.

The 12 Songs You Need To Know This Week

Thu, 2014-07-24 09:56
Each week, the HuffPost Entertainment team will compile and share some of our favorite tracks discovered across the web, whether they are brand new tunes, new music videos or newly discovered artists.

Dorothy - “After Midnight”



Dorothy, named after the group's vocalist, is a band you will hear a lot more about soon. Dorothy's gritty, soaring vocals steal your heart, as the heavily distorted riffs and bellowing beats pummel you into the ground. They're dangerous, they kick ass and they're exactly what rock needs.

Hopium - “Dreamers” ft. Phoebe Lou



This electronic duo from Australia only joined Facebook in mid-February of this year and they're reluctant to share much more information than that. But we're still glad they're here. "Dreamers" is soothing, auspicious and depressing, but best of all, it feels important.

Lecrae - “Fear"



"Fear" easily has one of the best beats of 2014 thus far, with transitions that are just too smooth. Whether you agree with Lecrae's Christian sermon or not, the dude's flow has only improved and there is a message right below the surface that many should be able to connect with.

Jeremih - “No More”



Jeremih and producer Shlohmo are an unlikely combination on paper, but their "No More" EP proves that they were destined to make some of the most exciting and intricate R&B music out there today.

Priory - “Weekend”



Priory's "Weekend" has been racking up some serious radio play over on the West Coast, and probably for the exact reason of the track's title. "Hell yeah, I just got paid!" just might be the new credo for irresponsible spending by all 20-somethings.

Raury - “Cigarette Song”



Rising Atlanta icon Raury let loose a new single from his upcoming EP, "Indigo Child," flexing yet another musical muscle and proving there is no limit to what kind of music he can produce. An acoustically driven number that gives us the greatest taste of his vocal capabilities, a little chaos breaks out in the middle, but Raury draws in the reins by the final third for a beautiful piano outro.

Hopsin - “Ill Mind of Hopsin 7”



Hopsin's message is about as antithetical to Lecrae's as it can get. The seventh installment of his "Ill Mind of Hopsin," series, Hopsin furiously combats any idea of religion, working through the perceived negative results drawn from belief systems. With nearly 3 million views after just short of a week, the song has ignited debate amongst thousands of YouTube users, and while this is in no way the best arena for progressive discussion, Hopsin at least has some people thinking.

Rx Bandits - “Penguin Marlin Brando”



Rx Bandits last released an original studio production in 2009, but after a brief hiatus, the band hasn't lost any momentum. "Penguin Marlin Brando" is just one of the many stellar tracks on "Gemini, Her Majesty," proving that they are still the kings of groovy progressive rock.

Lights - “Up We Go”



Lights has put in her time, and if "Up We Go" is any indication of how the rest of "Little Machines" will sound, it will rule the rest of 2014 pop.

Banks - "Beggin For Thread”



Banks has released a number of cuts from her upcoming debut LP, and, like the rest, "Beggin For Thread" is fantastic, and probably her most fun song yet.

Enola Fall - “Lions”



First off: Enola Fall is from Tasmania, and that is awesome. Second: The band is really good. "Lions" keeps building and building throughout the song, transforming into a more catchy and danceable beat, and by the time the final evolution hits in the final third of the song, you'll be itching to start the song over again.

The Weeknd - “King Of The Fall”



The Weeknd delivers a new freebie, and he wants you know that he is, indeed, the King of the Fall.

50 Highest-grossing Chicago Movies

Thu, 2014-07-24 09:44
Not only are movies filmed in Illinois entertaining, they also boost the economy. To satisfy your movie cravings, we found the 100 highest-grossing movies filmed in the Chicago area, according to IMDb. Please note these are movies filmed in Chicago, not movies that necessarily take place in Chicago. We list the movies according to the category or genre they were listed under on IMDb. Check out 50 action and comedy titles here and 50 other comedies, horrors and romances at Reboot Illinois.

Action

- The Dark Knight (2008)

- Spider-Man 2 (2004)

- Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

- Man of Steel (2013)

- Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

- The Fugitive (1993)

- Batman Begins (2005)

- Mission: Impossible (1996)

- Divergent (2014)

- Wanted (2008)

- Eagle Eye (2008)

- Payback (1999)

- Backdraft (1991)

- U.S. Marshalls (1998)

- The Jackal (1997)

- The Blues Brothers (1980)

- The Negotiator (1998)

- Running Scared (1986)

- Midnight Run (1988)

- Colombiana (2011)

- Red Heat (1988)

- Mercury Rising (1998)

- I Love Trouble (1994)

Comedy

- Home Alone (1990)

- What Women Want (2000)

- Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

- Meet the Parents (2000)

- My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

- Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

- Wayne's World (1992)

- The Break-Up (2006)

- A League of Their Own (1992)

- Michael (1996)

- While you were Sleeping (1995)

- Barbershop (2002)

- Fred Claus (2007)

- Christmas Vacation (1989)

- Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

- Uncle Buck (1989)

- Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)

- Risky Business (1983)

- Shall we Dance (2004)

- The Whole Nine Yards (2000)

- Never Been Kissed (1999)

- Rookie of the Year (1993)

- Dennis the Menace (1993)

- Major League (1989)

- Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

- The Dilemma (2011)

- Wayne's World 2 (1993)

Check out 50 other comedies, horrors and romances at Reboot Illinois.



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To Fight for Public Schools Is to Fight for Democracy

Thu, 2014-07-24 07:48
Friends, when a small group of parents and educators formed the Network for Public Education in 2013, we had a singular goal: to mobilize the allies of public education against the powerful forces supporting privatization and high-stakes testing. To advance that goal, we hoped to create a force to counter the large amounts of money that were being dumped into state and local school board races to undermine public education, to demoralize teachers, and to promote an agenda of choice, testing, and sanctions.

We knew we were up against some of the wealthiest people in the nation. We knew they included a bunch of billionaires, and we could never match their spending.

But we put our faith in democracy. We put our faith in the simple idea that we are many, and they are few. We believed -- and continue to believe -- that an informed public will not give away its public schools to amateurs, hedge fund managers, rock stars, for-profit corporations, athletes, fly-by-night entrepreneurs, and religious groups. Our goal is to inform the public, assuming that they would not willingly abandon or give away what rightfully belongs to the entire community.

We believed that we could exert influence if we established our credibility as genuine supporters of children, parents, teachers, administrators, and real education, as opposed to the data-driven, high-stakes testing policies that degrade education and to the consumer-oriented choice programs that divide communities and harm public schools.

Our budget can't match the budgets of those who want to turn our schools into profit centers. But we believe in the power of our message. During our short existence, we have proven on several occasions that our message can beat Big Money. We have seen candidates in state and local races triumph over well-funded adversaries. We think that our support gave them added visibility and contributed to their astonishing victories.

We supported Sue Peters for the school board in Seattle, and she won. We supported Monica Ratliff in a race for the Los Angeles school board, and she won. We supported Ras Baraka in his race for Mayor of Newark, and he won. This past week, we supported Valarie Wilson in the runoff for the Democratic nomination for state superintendent in Georgia, and she won. All of these candidates were outspent, sometimes by multiples of numbers.

Some candidates we endorsed lost their races. But our message has been consistent and powerful. All credit goes to the candidates themselves, of course, but we are proud that we gave them support and hope when they needed it most, and that our endorsement may have helped their fundraising and campaigning.

We urge you to join us as we promote the principles that will improve our public schools and repel those who seek to monetize them. We want our children to have a childhood. We want our teachers and principals to be highly respected professionals. We want parents and educators to stand together on behalf of their children and their community.

We oppose the status quo. We seek better schools for all children. We will work diligently with like-minded allies until we can turn the tide, turn it away from those who seek silver bullets or profits, and turn the tide towards those who work to restore public education as the public institution dedicated to spreading knowledge and skills, advancing equality of educational opportunity, and improving the lives of children and communities, while encouraging collaboration and a commitment to democratic values.

Join us! With your help, we will build better schools and better communities for all children.

Diane Ravitch, President, The Network for Public Education
Anthony Cody, Treasurer, The Network for Public Education
Robin Hiller, Executive Director, The Network for Public Education

Fiscally Shaky Budget For Chicago Public Schools Approved

Wed, 2014-07-23 17:23

CHICAGO, July 23 (Reuters) - The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday approved a $5.76 billion fiscal 2015 operating budget that relies on an accounting maneuver to bulk up available reserves to eliminate a nearly $1 billion deficit.

The budget for the nation's third-largest public school district, which serves 400,000 students, extends the district's revenue recognition period by 60 days - a move that is expected to increase reserve funds that will be tapped to balance the spending plan.

Chicago-based Civic Federation, a government finance watchdog group, on Wednesday blasted the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for "artificially" inflating revenue to get through the new fiscal year.

"The budget is balanced only by an accounting gimmick that allows CPS to book more than 12 months of revenue into a single fiscal year," report by the Civic Federation said.

The school system acknowledged that it was buying time with this budget.

"This is a one-time fix that allows the district to prevent further cuts to school budgets in the absence of increased state funding or comprehensive pension reform from (the Illinois Legislature)," CPS said in a statement following the budget vote.

The district's pension contribution for the new fiscal year that began July 1 is $634 million, the largest ever single-year CPS pension payment, equal to about $1,600 per student or 11 percent of the operating budget.

Like the city of Chicago, the school district is under increasing financial pressure from escalating pension payments and both have had their credit ratings downgraded as a result.

Most recently, Moody's Investors Service in March dropped CPS' rating to Baa1 with a negative outlook from A3.

While the state legislature has enacted cost-saving pension reforms for two of the city's four pension funds, lawmakers have not passed reforms specifically for CPS pensions.

The district has acknowledged that its future financial outlook is "grim," projecting a $1.14 billion deficit in fiscal 2016 that would grow to nearly $1.4 billion in fiscal 2017. It also projects that state funding will continue to fall in the coming fiscal years.

CPS is also diving into reserves to cover $78 million of the nearly $604 million of payments due in fiscal 2015 on its $6.4 billion of outstanding bonds, according to budget documents. (Reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Ken Wills)

Why Neo-Plessyism Failed to Improve Chicago Schools

Wed, 2014-07-23 17:01
The market-driven school reform movement intentionally uses test, punish, choice, and no-holds-barred competition to sort and separate students and educators. They scoff at the social science that explains the need for trusting relationships and diversity in schools, as they use the stress of tests and competition to supposedly overcome the stress of poverty.

Reformers ridicule calls for collaboration and integration, as they use segregation by choice to undo the legacy of segregation by economics and race!?!? Then they are shocked, shocked, that their campaign to separate leads to increased segregation.

Reformers in New Orleans, New York City, and Chicago have been especially determined to reward schools that recruit the easier-to-educate, while punishing those schools that are left with even greater percentages of children from extreme poverty, who have endured severe trauma. But, now Mayor Rahm Emanuel supposedly claims that he did not intend to worsen segregation. Perhaps Emanuel is so uninformed about education research and history that he didn't understand that increased sorting would be the inevitable result of his policies.

Reporter Linda Lutton and a study by Chicago's WBEZ public radio shows that the opening of dozens of new Chicago high schools since 2004 has increased sorting in high and low performing schools. Chicago has followed the same pattern as the reforms in New Orleans where, as researcher Andrew McEachin discovered, "High performing students tend to go to high-performing schools, and low-performing students tend to go to low-performing schools."

Chicago followed the same dynamics as reforms in New York City where researcher Sean Corcoran determined, "high achieving kids tended to cluster together and low achieving kids cluster together as well."

The WBEZ investigation found that 15 percent of Chicago's high schools are populated with vastly disproportionate numbers of low-performing students. Black students "are doubly segregated, first by race, then by achievement." Even kids in the so-called middle find places in the types of schools they are supposed to land in, with greater percentages of "average" kids and "slightly below average" going to charters.

The first reason why this neo-Plessyism is the inevitable result of corporate reform is that the teens know the drill. As Lutton reports, "students know the hierarchy." They know the places that are being set for them. The pain they suffer by being pigeon-holed is intense, and it can be educationally debilitating. Tragically, but understandably, too many young people who find themselves in the lowest-performing schools respond "if that is what 'they' think of me, I'll show them."

Lutton's report and other Hechinger Institute analyses are exceptionally astute in weaving the various strands of the tragic tale, explaining why the segregation encouraged by reformers is becoming more intense. Students with higher achievement come from homes with more resources, and more ability to take advantage of their choices.

The effect of sorting on school climate is huge. Since "the biggest predictor of whether a school is safe and orderly is students' academic achievement, " Lutton explains "having top performers makes an entire school easier to run."

As was also explained in a recent study by the Chicago Consortium on School Research, the more challenging schools have more teacher turnover. This deepens the divide between advantaged and challenging schools in terms of teacher experience and quality.

I saw the same story when reform turned my run-of-the-mill 3/4ths low-income inner city school into a dysfunctional 100% low-income high school. I would add another point about the ways that test-driven policies make all of these dynamics worse. This policy was once known as "earned autonomy." The name was so ugly that reformers stopped using the words, even as they continued to issue the same mandates.

Choice-driven systems aren't about to micromanage and impose soul-killing scripted instruction on more advantaged schools - the ones they have selected for success. Their autonomy is respected and favored schools are encouraged to develop holistic and engaging lessons.

Low-performing schools have to earn their autonomy, however. Until they can prove an ability to raise test scores, teach-to-the-test is imposed on them. That creates a downward cycle where basic skills instruction, test prep, and worksheet-driven teaching are demanded in a desperate attempt to jack up test scores, (so that the school can throw off the mandates.) But that educational malpractice drives down student performance, inviting even more repressive micromanaging. This further undermines the schools' learning cultures, drives out top teachers and higher-achieving students, and encourages more troubled teens to act out their pain through violence and disruptive behavior.

WBEZ concludes with the wisdom of Elaine Allensworth of the Chicago Consortium who "says Chicago needs to decide what it wants -- a system that sorts students, or a system that mixes them together more." Allensworth says, "The solution is thinking about where we want to be as a society -- what kind of system do we want." says Allensworth.

I may be naïve, but I don't believe that reformers wanted to resegregate our schools in such a disgusting matter. I don't believe they intended to inflict more divisiveness on society. I suspect they just imposed their opinions on systems without having a clue about the way that they function. What I find incomprehensible is their failure to consider the excellent scholarship of the CCSR and other social scientists before imposing their theories on schools.

The eminent CCSR scholar Allensworth says:

Researchers already know one thing: whatever approach Chicago chooses, schools need to increase supports for the lowest performing students. If kids are mixed, lower achievers need help keeping up so they don't get frustrated and give up, and so they don't hold back their high-flying peers. And if Chicago decides to keep sorting students by achievement, then the schools filled with the lowest performers are going to need a lot of extra resources.


Perhaps that addresses much of my concern. Reformers care about kids trapped in the most challenging schools. They just didn't care enough about the complexity of the task they volunteered to take over. They were in too much of a hurry to tackle the challenge of providing and coordinating systems of support for the lowest performing students. So, they somehow convinced themselves that test, punish, choice and competition was a viable, cheaper and easier shortcut for improving urban schools.

Jeff Friesen's Mini Stereotypes Of LEGO America Are Coming To A Coffee Table Near You

Wed, 2014-07-23 16:33
Jeff Friesen isn't looking to take over the world, but he is looking to re-create it -- and he's doing it brick-by-brick.

As the creator of the wildly popular LEGO scenes "The Great LEGO North," "The 50 States of LEGO" and the recent "Bricksy," Friesen's work has been ruling the LEGO-loving internet since he laid the first brick last fall.

Now, the Canadian photographer's U.S. series is getting the hard copy treatment: A book with forty exclusive new scenes will be released in September.

(See "The 50 States of LEGO" below.)

With a mix of sight gags (Delaware) and pop culture (Iowa), Friesen uses "The 50 States of LEGO" to riff on the impressions, history and stereotypes from each state in the union. Speaking from his home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Friesen told HuffPost that he's confident in his insights into the 50 states -- despite being a native Manitoban.

“I lived in the states for a couple of years, and I’m pretty well-traveled," Friesen said. "I’ve been to about 37 states -- though many of them were visited at high speed while driving.”

For Maryland, a state Friesen hasn't visited, he seized on the state's iconic seafood. Other states, like Illinois, are represented by their largest or most iconic city: the Land of Lincoln has two new exclusive scenes featured in the book that depict The Blues Brothers and the St. Patrick's Day tradition of dying the river green and -- both distinctly Chicago institutions.

Friesen only uses official LEGO bricks and pieces to create his scenes, a limitation that has forced him to get extra-creative in some instances: "For Georgia, I can’t do a peach farmer, because you can’t do peaches in LEGOS."

This, Friesen explained, is also why his LEGO citizens have a carb-heavy diet of bread, croissant, pizza, and the occasional chicken drumstick or carrot.

While the clever captions and scenes can be a little subversive at times, Friesen said the series has turned out to be virtually "troll-proof," receiving largely positive feedback.

"More often than not, people are in agreement about my [characterizations]," Friesen said. "My Canada ones are a little more pointed than the ones I made for the U.S., because I live here."

After his "The 50 States of LEGO" book is released, Friesen said he'll look to build scenes of London. He also plans to collaborate more with the builder who inspired his LEGO artwork to begin with -- his 7-year-old daughter, June.

"June's a really a good builder," Friesen said. "She’s much more abstract than me: She’ll have a werewolf running a coffee shop.”

This Year's Mayfly Hatch Was So Big It Showed Up On Radar And Caused A Car Wreck (PHOTOS)

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:50
If you're an animal that enjoys eating mayflies, and you live in the Upper Mississippi River Valley, this is your time to chow down. If (as is likely the case) you are human, you're out of luck.

The annual mayfly hatch along the Mississippi River is in full swing, and on Sunday evening the event was large enough to appear on radar in the western Wisconsin area. According to the National Weather Service, parts of the swarm flew as high as 2,500 feat above the ground in the La Crosse, Wisconsin, area:


Minnesota outlet KARE 11 compared the radar signature to that of a "significant rain storm," adding the bugs have turned "surfaces of cars, buildings and just about everything else" into a "slimy mess."

Slimy mess, indeed: In nearby Trenton, Wisconsin, a mayfly-coated road was so slick, and visibility so limited, the bugs have been blamed for a three-vehicle crash, which injured two people.

According to the National Weather Service, this particular mayfly hatch was of the larger black-brown Bilineata species, which emerge from the mud on the river bottom during the warm season. Per Michigan State University, adult mayflies have a lifespan ranging from a few days to a few hours, meaning this particular emergence will be over soon.

See PHOTOS of the insect swarm, below:

Facebook Page Dedicated To Shaming 'Fatties' Gets Banned

Wed, 2014-07-23 15:02
A Facebook page filled with images of California women accompanied by offensive comments has caused Internet outrage.

The now-defunct "530 Fatties" page, run by an anonymous user, featured pictures of overweight and obese women who dared to be seen in public in and around the 530 area code of Northern California.


Image Source: CBS Sacramento

Facebook confirmed to The Huffington Post that they removed the group page earlier this week after receiving user complaints.

"We do not tolerate bullying or harassment," a spokesperson said in a statement given to HuffPost. "We allow users to speak freely on matters and people of public interest, but take action on all reports of abusive behavior directed at private individuals."

The site has previously taken action against individuals accused of fat-shaming and bullying other users, including "fit mom" Maria Kang who was banned from the site for allegedly fat-shaming her followers in November 2013.


Image Source: CBS Sacramento

Jessi Lynn Howell, whose image was posted on the "530 Fatties" page without her consent, said that she was embarrassed and angry at being featured on a public page making fun of her weight.

"Cyberbullying -- bullying period -- it needs to stop," she told CBS Sacramento. "So I’m going to be a voice today for those people that don't have that voice.”


Image Source: CBS Sacramento

“I’m thankful I have enough confidence and self esteem,” an unidentified woman who was ridiculed on the Facebook page wrote in a comment read on The TODAY Show. “I love myself, big or small. If I knew who the person [who ran the page] was, I would let them know they didn’t hurt my feelings or bring me down. I’m still me.”

Why an anonymous person thought this kind of behavior would be acceptable is a mystery to us -- and we're glad that Facebook has taken a stand against it.

Here's What Happens When You Type 'Why Am' Into Google in New York

Wed, 2014-07-23 14:51
Do you know what happens when you live in New York and you type the words "why am" into Google? Before you can type the next word, Google's Autocomplete function helpfully offers to complete your thought. The first suggestion: "why am I so tired?" The second: "why am I always tired?" The Zeitgeist perfectly captured by Google.



As the Belgian philosopher Pascal Chabot has put it, burnout is "civilization's disease."

True, the results of an algorithm lack the nuance and intellectual heft of a philosophical diagnosis, and the results are regional, but Autocomplete provides a valuable window into the questions we're asking. As Google explains, "The search queries that you see as part of Autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages." These predictions are powered by an algorithm "based on a number of objective factors, including how often past users have searched for a term."

As Arwa Mahdawi wrote last year in The Guardian:

Google has become something of the secular equivalent of a confessional box. Within the confines of a search bar you can ask questions or express opinions you would never admit to in public. Our most popular searches are, to some degree, an uncensored chronicle of what, as a society, we're thinking but not necessarily saying.

While we as individuals are not always willing to talk about how tired we are, there's more evidence than ever that we've reached crisis levels. As one young woman told me during a Q&A session in San Francisco, "I don't remember the last time I was not tired."

Bill Clinton, who used to famously get only five hours of sleep a night, admitted, "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired." And Hillary Clinton, after stepping down as Secretary of State, told Gail Collins that her goal was "to see whether I can get untired."

Hillary Clinton, as my simple, half-completed Google search suggests, is not alone in wanting to know whether we can get untired.

One other point on Google's page explaining Autocomplete stood out to me: "Just like the web, the search terms shown may seem silly, strange, or surprising."

A few minutes spent typing random words (or celebrity names) into your Google search bar confirm this. But in the case of our tired civilization, there's nothing silly, strange or particularly surprising. Actually, the thought of so many people hunched over their laptops or iPhones, asking Google, "Why am I so tired?" or "Why am I always tired?" is really sad. And the answer is not going to be given to us by an algorithm. But we can start by shutting off our devices and getting some sleep.

Please let me know what happens when you Google "why am" in your area of the country or the world.

Interview on the Red Carpet With Woody Allen

Wed, 2014-07-23 14:13
It is a rare occasion that director, screenwriter, actor, Academy Award winner, comedian, and musician Woody Allen appears in Chicago. On July 19th, in promotion of his new film, Magic In the Moonlight, Woody Allen did just that. He was in rare form, chatting on the red carpet and, as you'll see in the video below, discussing his work ethic and life view.

Woody Allen is a rare artist who continues to be prolific in his art and steadfast in his desire to create. I was honored to speak with him about his mélange of beauty and sorrow, hope and despair, joy and cruelty, and found him to be incredibly unassuming and vulnerable, answering honestly and candidly about his strengths as an artist.

Magic in the Moonlight is a film that, with humor and entertainment, pits deftly the juxtaposition of rationality and wonder on the axis we all know too well: the human condition. Set in the gorgeous surroundings of Southern France and beautifully filmed to accentuate life's heavenly qualities on earth, Magic in the Moonlight, via the characters of Sophie, played by Emma Stone, and Stanley, played by Colin Firth, gently probes us to ask the question, "Is it better to live in sweet illusion or to face the smack of cruel reality?"

Incredibly, Allen is able to create a light-hearted, romantic and precious movie, all the while touching on some of the humanity's most confounding propositions: religion, love, mystery, beauty, stability, self-sacrifice and friendship. This is no easy feat, and is the mark of a skillful artist comfortable in his commentary on how the sadness of life can transform into the beauty of a single moment. Not bad, for 79!

In truth, it is no wonder that Allen made a swift, but heartfelt pass through Chicago last weekend. The screenings in Chicago and San Francisco of Magic In the Moonlight were sponsored by Metropolitan Capital Bank, based in Chicago. Metropolitan Capital's Wealth Management Consulting Group collaborated with philanthropist and business man, Ron Chez in his financing role as Executive Producer for Magic in the Moonlight. This is also no surprise as Metropolitan Capital Bank is a strong believer in the arts and the role the arts play in forming strong communities and businesses. As CEO of Metropolitan Capital Bank, Michael Rose stated on the red carpet Saturday night, "The arts act as an essential catalyst in any community, fostering dialogue and interaction. By hosting tonight's screening of Magic in the Moonlight, we are able to be both supportive of our client, Ron Chez, and his projects, and to help foster a greater appreciation of the arts through the showcasing of this latest beautiful and contemplative film from such an important artist."

Magic in the Moonlight opens in theaters July 25th and I encourage everyone to see it with an eye and ear towards the masterful and profound writing that turns around a sweet romance in a beautiful setting, with a penchant towards fairytale cinematography. In the interim, enjoy the rare interview below in which Allen talks about his view of the world, his trick for great directing and his most important attribute as an artist. And had I known I would have gotten him in such a tender mood (he leaned in and touched my elbow as we spoke, reminding me sweetly of my grandfather!), I would have asked him the meaning of life!

This NRA Commentator Wants You To Imagine A World Where Kids Must Learn To Use Guns

Wed, 2014-07-23 13:37
A new video from a National Rifle Association site envisions an ideal world where kids are required to learn gun competency in order to advance to the next grade.

The video, hosted by NRA News commentator Billy Johnson and posted on the NRA News website, imagines a world where gun use is treated as a fundamental need, like public education.

While Johnson acknowledges the existence of the Second Amendment, he asserts the United States has an “anti-gun policy” and suggests designing a “gun policy from the assumption that people need guns -- that guns make people's lives better.”

As Johnson considers what the country would look like if all people were encouraged to use guns, he posits that young people would be required to learn how to use firearms, just like they learn “reading and writing, necessary skills.”

“We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn't matter if a child's parents weren't good at it," Johnson says in the clip. "We'd find them a mentor. It wouldn't matter if they didn't want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade."

While Johnson asks his audience to consider what the world would look like if national policy promoted guns, he fails to mention 10,000 American children are injured or killed by guns each year.

NRA News features videos from a number of contributors. According to his profile on the NRA News website, Johnson’s “goal is to get people thinking about things in different ways.”

The NRA has recently taken steps to appeal to younger Americans and has designed a web series called “Noir,” which is supposed to attract millennial viewers. According to Business Insider, the show could appear as a typical MTV show, except for its references to gun rights and the Second Amendment.

"It's the gun even an anti-gunner can like. ... It’s a gun for someone that’s self-assured. It’s a gun for the city urbanite who makes frequent trips to the CVS at the bottom of his loft because he refuses to buy food from a natural grocery store,” the show’s host, Colion Noir, says in a segment, according to Business Insider. “Or the 24-year-old bombshell whose idea of acceptable grocery story attire is a pair of yoga tights and a T-shirt."

A Pew research survey from 2013 found that 16 percent of Americans aged 18-29 reported personally owning a gun, compared to 24 percent of adults overall.

h/t Media Matters

Mark Ruffalo Has His Lost Wallet Returned By Stranger After Twitter Exchange

Wed, 2014-07-23 12:41
Just when you think the world is only full of bad news and depressing stories, the smallest acts of common decency can really brighten your day.

Take Mark Ruffalo, who got a big surprise after he lost his wallet last week: The actor learned that sometimes you can depend on strangers when a man tweeted at him saying he found his wallet in a cab and wanted to know how he could return it:

@MarkRuffalo I have your wallet. Found it in a cab in chicago on Friday. Let me know the best way to get it back to you. Thanks

— Trezeduet (@Trezeduet) July 21, 2014


"@Trezeduet thank you! Wow! Another point for the decency in people," the 46-year-old actor replied, and asked the Twitter user to send him a direct message. He added, " You are a hero!"

TMZ identified the kind Twitter user as Ross McHale, who apparently didn't recognize Ruffalo's name and had to Google him to see how he could get in touch to return the wallet.

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