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Advice From a Third-Grader: How to Find the Wow on a Rainy Day

Tue, 2014-05-06 07:36
Photo courtesy of Kamau Z. Akabueze


It was a cold, gray, rainy morning here in New York City. As the children made their way into our third grade classroom at United Nations International School, many of them grumbled about the lost opportunity to play tether ball at recess, and commented on how soaked they were from their morning commute. I myself had arrived slightly late due to a rain triggered traffic accident, and so I could relate to the stress brought on by the morning weather.

"This whole day is spoiled!" commented one.
"It's like winter again!" grumbled another.

I knew the day could be easily lost in rainy day grays if we didn't act fast, and so I called a morning meeting. Once settled on the carpet, I shared that rainy days could make us go two ways:

"We can be grumbly gray or... "
"It's like half-full, half-empty!" called out one child. "You can be grumpy or -- "
"You can find the wow!" interjected another.
"Yes! You can find the wow!" echoed the class.

Look for the wow is one of the happiness habits we have been practicing as we develop our poetry writing and photography skills through our interdisciplinary unit on self-expression. We define the "wow" as the small moments that make life wonderful, the little things for which we can be grateful.

One sparkly eyed child was so eager to share her "morning wow" with us that her words tumbled into one another as she spoke.

"I was rushing to school with my mom, and then we had to stop at the corner, and I felt stressed until I looked up to see the tree above me, with little tiny green buds, and the tree was dusted with rain drops." She slowed, a smile coming to her face. "Fine, small green petals were falling like snow and landing on the ground. I took a beautiful picture in my mind."

It was clear that our visit from a recent photographer had an impact on this clever young lady; she was seeing the world with an artist's eye, taking notice of the small moments.


Photo of the young artist, shown here practicing her skills during a photo workshop, taken by Kamau Z. Akabueze, the New York-based photographer who visited our classroom.







"What a wonderful thing to notice -- how did you feel about the rain after that?"
"I didn't mind, because it made the tree look so pretty. It made me happy to see something so nice," she explained.

"So are you saying that there are ways to find the wow, even on a rainy, no good, gray and cold day?"
"Yes!" the class exclaimed.
Hands shot into the air, fingers waving to announce a thought needing to be shared.
"Oooh! I have an idea!"

And so, here we have it: our newest post with advice from a third-grader:

How to Find the Wow on a Rainy Day:

1. Wear some groovy rain boots. Today is your day to be a funky monkey! Go all out; even if your boots don't match your outfit, have fun with your footwear!

2. Dance in some puddles and have some fun! No music? Don't worry! Let the splash of the puddles create your beat.

3. Take your shower in the rain. Be one with nature, and save the 12 gallons that you would use if you took your shower at home.

4. Have a raindrop race. Look out your window and select two of the raindrops that are slipping down the glass. Watch to see which one wins. You could even invite a friend to join in on this one.

5. Let the colors of the day surprise you. Just open your eyes and pay attention to how different the colors of the world look on a rainy day.

6. Watch the raindrop ripples. If you live near an ocean, lake or river, watch how the raindrops fall. If you don't, watch the ripples inside the puddles.

7. Let the rain wash away your grumpiness. Is there really more to say about that?

8. Drink hot tea or hot cocoa. Warm things in a great mug will warm up your spirits.

9. Pretend you are a spy and dodge the raindrops. You might look weird, but you'll have fun. Still worried? Just go back to #1: Today is your day to be a funky monkey.

10. Find the sun behind the clouds. Look for the way the sun creates shadows, and see if you can find cracks of light.

11. Twirl your umbrella behind you when you walk. If you are tempted to sing "Singin' in the Rain," just go for it!

12. Just go with the day. No umbrella? Get soaked! Have fun!

13. Collect the raindrops in a bucket. You'll be amazed how much water you get for your plants.

14. Find your reflection in the puddles. The world is your mirror!

15. Ride a bicycle and listen for the awesome SWISSSHHHHH! The bicycle lane will be clear and you will be able to ride faster than usual.

16. Collect raindrops on your tongue. Again, go back to #1.

17. Stay in and cozy up with a good book.

18. Meditate to the sound of the rain. You'll be amazed at how calming it is.

19. Take out your camera and snap some pictures. Nature is beautiful in the rain, and so are city streets. Snap away!

20. Write a poem about the rain. Here's a Haiku to get you started.
Drops into puddles
Umbrellas open up wide
Rainy days are fun

21. Look for the light that you might not normally see. Check out the reflections from car lights, streetlights, and stores. Look at the colors of leaves and grass, roads and buildings. Then refer to #20.

22. Be an investigator. If it's foggy, guess what's on the other side and then check it out.

23. Recite Shakespeare in the rain. Because, why not?

24. Make some rainy day art. Be creative and have fun!

25. Keep a journal of rainy day wows. You can look back and appreciate it when you need to be reminded of goodness.



What do you do on a rainy day that makes you happy? Let us know in the comments section!

Need advice something in your life? Let us know and we'll do out best to help you out.

Climate Change Is Already Here, Says Massive Government Report

Tue, 2014-05-06 07:31
WASHINGTON -– Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a real and present danger in the United States, according to a government report issued Tuesday.

The report is the latest update from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and details ways that climate change -- caused predominantly by the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases -- is already being felt across the country.

"Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present," the report says in its introduction. The full report, at more than 800 pages, is the most comprehensive look at the effects of climate change in the U.S. to date, according to its authors. (Even the "highlights" document provided to reporters the day before the release weighed in at 137 pages). The report includes regional and sectoral breakdowns of current and anticipated impacts, which have implications for infrastructure, agriculture, human health, and access to water.

Those impacts include increased severity of heat waves and heavier downpours. On the coasts, sea level rise is already contributing to increased flooding during high tides and storms, the report notes. And in the West, conditions are getting hotter and drier, and the snowpack is melting earlier in the year, extending wildfire season.

Average U.S. temperatures have increased 1.3 degrees to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on the part of the country) since people began keeping records in 1895, and much of that warming has come in recent decades. The report notes that the period from 2001 to 2012 was warmer than any previous decade on record, across all regions of the country.

The length of time between the last spring frost and the first fall frost also has increased across the U.S. The average time between frosts in the Southwest increased by 19 days in the years 1991 to 2012, compared with the average from 1901 to 1960.

Heat waves are already the top cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., and that will only get worse. Extreme heat can cause more heart, lung and kidney problems, especially among the poor, sick and elderly. The number of days where temperatures top 100 degrees is predicted to increase in the future. If emissions continue to rise, temperatures on the very hottest days during the last 20 years of this century may be 10 degrees to 15 degrees hotter across most of the country, the report finds. Under a lower-emission scenario, those hottest days of the years 2081 to 2100 would still be 3 degrees to 4 degrees warmer than now.

Another impact that scientists are already seeing that they have linked to climate change is an increase in major precipitation events. In the Northeast, for example, there has been a 71 percent increase in storms that would classify as "very heavy" -– in the top 1 percent -- from 1958 to 2012.

While the outlook could be considered bleak, Radley Horton, a scientist at Columbia University Earth Institute’s Center for Climate Systems Research and the lead author for the assessment’s chapter on the Northeast, said the report "delves into much more detail about opportunities to address climate change."

"The climate hazards are looking as severe as ever, but I think there is a message contained in the report that our ability to respond is about getting going," Horton told The Huffington Post. "The question is, are we able to meet the challenges, given the growing understanding of how much the climate could change this century?"

The amount of climate change in the future, the report says, "will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions."

The report notes that American society and its infrastructure were built for the past climate -- not the future. It highlights examples of the kinds of changes that state and local governments can make to become more resilient. One of the main takeaways, said David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and a coauthor of the chapter on the Northeast, is that "you don't want to look at the weather records of yesteryear to determine how to set up your infrastructure."

This report, said Wolfe, signals that the country is "beginning to move beyond the debate about whether climate change is real or not, and really getting down to rolling up our sleeves" and addressing it.

A 60-person advisory committee comprised of government, private and academic representatives oversaw the assessment, which took four years and involved more than 300 scientists, engineers, and technical experts.

In an appearance at the White House press briefing on Monday, White House senior counselor John Podesta said the updated assessment provides "practical, usable knowledge" for state and local decision-makers as they prepare for climate impacts and is the "most authoritative and comprehensive" to date.

The reports are supposed to be issued at least every four years under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, and are meant to analyze "the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity." The reports are to be presented to the president and Congress.

This is the third report of its kind. The first came in 2000, during the Clinton administration. The Bush administration was accused of tampering with reports from the office (at that time called the "Climate Change Science Program"), altering them to downplay the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. The last report from the program was released in June 2009, as the Obama administration was making a push for climate legislation in Congress early in its first term.

President Barack Obama plans to meet with meteorologists to discuss the report's findings, and the White House has several related events planned later this week.

Pack Your Trunks: Here Are 20 Perfect Trips For People Who Love Animals

Tue, 2014-05-06 06:00
You're probably a lot like us: dreaming of that perfect getaway where you can cuddle with pandas, kiss cows and sleep with sloths. Let's add in some swimming with pigs and paragliding alongside endangered Nepalese birds of prey, as a way of helping their survival -- seriously, it's good for them -- while we're at it.

Pack your trunks, like-minded friends, because here are 20 of the best ways to combine the world's two most perfect things: animals and traveling.





Know an amazing place animal lovers should be sure to visit? Want to share a story about animals? Get in touch at arin.greenwood@huffingtonpost.com






'DePaul Exposed' Is Doing More Harm Than Good

Mon, 2014-05-05 20:51
As you might be aware, an anonymous group at DePaul University is claiming that the university and athletic departments are covering up an epidemic of sexual assault. The group has dropped banners, disrupted a yearly discussion group held by the university during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and most recently, posted their manifesto in campus bathrooms. While I admire the tenacity of these young people, I counter their attempts with the argument that they are inadvertently harming the very people that they want to protect.

Hiding behind anonymity does nothing to help forward the movement to end rape culture. Taking a stand and telling your story does, so here you go: My name is Michelle Cahill, I am a sophomore at DePaul, and when I was 21 years old, I was raped by an off-duty Chicago Police officer.

It took me years to recover, but in the last five, I have become and remained an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, and I volunteer with an organization that does amazing work in Chicago.

I work very hard to live with the after effects of my assault. Eleven years later, I still have nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety; I grind my teeth, and I am afraid to walk alone at night. I'm afraid to call the police for help because I never know if the responding officer will be my rapist. One of his friends threatened to "end my life" if I ever told anyone what happened. Living with that fear every day is a challenge and being constantly confronted by this group that claims that it is trying to help me actually makes it harder.

A radical movement attempting to make a name for itself doesn't help us. Creating a space for discussion and the development of solutions does. If this group wants to help survivors, there are plenty of organizations that need volunteers. However, this group is taking many survivors hostage and making us pawns in their bid for attention.

If you want to end a rape culture, please don't make universal and unfounded claims. Not every athlete at DePaul is a rapist; in fact the athlete that you're accusing might be a survivor.

Anyone can hide in the dark. It takes courage to stand up and take ownership of your experience, to take your power back. That's what I am hoping to do here.

The Federal Government Just Ordered A Thousand Pounds Of Marijuana

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:07
The federal government just ordered all the marijuana it wants -- something it would send most Americans to prison for doing.

On Monday, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a new rule that increases the U.S. government's production quota for medical marijuana from an annual 21 kg to 650 kg. That's about 1,433 pounds of pot in total.

The U.S. government grows marijuana for research purposes at the University of Mississippi in the only federally legal marijuana garden in the U.S. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) oversees the cultivation, production and distribution of these crops.

"NIDA recently notified the DEA that it required additional supplies of marijuana to be manufactured in 2014 to provide for current and anticipated research efforts involving marijuana," reads a recent Federal Register's statement from the DEA.

The statement goes on to specify a production quota of 650,000 grams of pot for the current year.

The DEA decided to grant NIDA access to more marijuana "in order to provide a continuous and uninterrupted supply" of cannabis for research, according to the statement, which also says that the federal government was "unaware" of NIDA's need for additional marijuana when the initial production quota of 21 kg was set in 2013.

Twenty-one states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington, with sales in Colorado having already begun. About a dozen other states are considering legalizing marijuana in some form in the coming years.

Still, under federal law the plant remains illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it's considered one of "the most dangerous" substances "with no currently accepted medical use."

The feds have long been accused of only funding marijuana research that focuses on the potential negative effects of the substance, but that trend appears to be changing.

According to The Hill, NIDA has conducted about 30 studies to date on the potential benefits of marijuana.

The most recent research effort was approved in March, when the Department of Health and Human Services signed off on a study assessing medical cannabis as a potential treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers will provide the equivalent of two joints per day, cultivated from the federal government's stash at Ole Miss, for 50 veterans.

The federal government's interest in marijuana certainly appears to be growing. Since 2003, more than 500 grants for marijuana-related studies have received approval from the feds, with a marked upswing in recent years, according to McClatchy. Only 22 grants were approved in 2003 for cannabis research, totaling $6 million, but in 2012, 69 grants were approved for a total of over $30 million.

Luis Gutierrez Ethics Probe Will Continue Though Charges Are Unlikely

Mon, 2014-05-05 17:06
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee says it will not appoint a special panel to investigate allegations that Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois improperly hired a Chicago lobbyist to act as a de facto staff member.

The committee's top two leaders said Monday they are not formally dismissing Gutierrez's actions but will instead continue to review the matter under their own authority. In practical terms, the decision means it is unlikely that the 11-term lawmaker from Chicago will face charges or sanctions. The independent Office of Congressional Ethics says there is substantial reason to believe Gutierrez violated federal law and House rules in hiring lobbyist Doug Scofield to work side by side with his congressional staff on a range of issues while Scofield also was representing other clients.

Pregnant Woman Accused Of Fatally Stabbing Boyfriend For Not Buying Her Gift

Mon, 2014-05-05 15:47
A pregnant Illinois woman is being held on $1 million bail after allegedly stabbing her boyfriend to death for not buying her a present.

Prosecutors say 24-year-old Chicago, Ill. resident Miata Phelan killed her boyfriend, 28-year-old Larry Martin, on April 30 after the two got in an altercation, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Phelan was allegedly upset because Martin purchased gifts for his 8-year-old son and 25-year-old cousin at a shopping mall, but didn't get anything for her, whose birthday was the following day.

An argument between Martin and Phelan -- who is seven months pregnant with Martin's child -- began on the car ride home, where the suspect allegedly kicked and scratched her boyfriend and accused him of being selfish, according to the New York Daily News.

After Martin stopped the car to run a quick errand, Phelan allegedly stole the vehicle, leaving the two men and little boy to walk home the rest of the way.

The fight continued back at the couple's home, where Phelan allegedly locked Martin, his son, and cousin outside of the home. When Martin was finally able to get inside the residence, Asst. State's Attorney Glen Runk said Phelan stabbed him in the side with a knife.

Runk said the suspect told Martin, who was bleeding out on the ground, "This is what you get for messing with me. I hope you die, motherfucker."

Despite efforts from Martin's cousin to save him, the victim died a short time later at the hospital.

“His last words was to me,” Martin’s son, Lavelle, told the Sun-Times last Thursday. “He said, ‘I’m gonna die, but I love you.’"

Phelan has been charged with first-degree murder.

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Great Lakes Governors Join Forces to Battle Invasive Species

Mon, 2014-05-05 15:46

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn speaks at a press conference during the 2014 Council of Great Lakes Governors meeting at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

For the first time ever, eight governors and two Canadian premiers -- separated by borders but connected by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin -- signed a Mutual Aid Agreement to work together to fight aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp. The agreement recognizes that if aquatic invasive species invade any one of our waterways, it will have a ripple effect on every individual, community and business that relies on the world's largest freshwater system. As one of more than 40 million people living in this region, and someone personally and professionally invested in protecting our Great Lakes, this was an exciting moment to witness.

In addition, the agreement seals the already collaborative effort to protect our shared resource while also empowering Great Lakes states and provinces to share staff and expertise to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.



The first-of-its-kind agreement was one of many outcomes at the annual Council of Great Lakes Governors executive meeting held at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I was fortunate to attend this meeting and hear from leaders from across the basin, including Council Co-Chairs Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and also Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, senior representatives of Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, and Québec Premier Philippe Couillard.

The group of Great Lakes heavyweights also developed a series of actions to elevate the region's global business competitiveness and better protect the environment. With the theme of the meeting all about accelerating progress, additional action steps include:



  1. Launching a comprehensive strategy to improve the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River maritime transport system and better integrate it into the multi-modal transportation system;

  2. Creating an investment initiative to attract Chinese and other foreign investment to manufacturing in the Great Lakes region;

  3. Taking executives from regional small and medium sized businesses to four exciting markets, including east Africa, eastern Europe, Mexico and Québec; and,

  4. Improving water monitoring across the Basin.




At Shedd, we work closely with policy makers and other regional partners to protect our shared aquatic resources. For instance, we partnered with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - the largest federal investment in the Great Lakes in two decades - to develop a suite of digital tools to educate the Great Lakes community about the invasive Asian carp species and inspire people to take action. In addition, Shedd works with researchers at Loyola University and Western Illinois University to study invasive weatherfish in order to understand how this species might affect local wildlife and habitats. Collaborative efforts like these allow us to leverage our combined networks and resources to accelerate progress for the Great Lakes and the animals and people that rely on them for their quality of life.

We all love our lakes, and Shedd is proud to be part of the movement to better protect and preserve them. You can learn how to prevent the spread or introduction of aquatic invasive species by checking out new materials from each participating state and province.

Veteran's Heartwarming Reunion With His Canine Colleague Will Leave You Misty

Mon, 2014-05-05 15:44
When retired army sergeant Jason Bos last saw Cila, it was almost two years ago. Until recently, he wasn't sure he'd ever see the military working dog -- who was at his side for nearly five years -- ever again.

But that all changed last week when Bos reunited with Cila at O'Hare International Airport.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Bos worked with Cila in Iraq, where she sniffed for bombs and other hidden weapons, starting in 2008. Their resume together includes almost 100 missions in Iraq, NBC Chicago reports. Back in the U.S., they also provided security at sites of presidential visits throughout the nation.

In 2012, a back injury forced Bos out of the military and he bid farewell to his beloved colleague, heading back to his Grand Rapids, Michigan home.

When Bos received word that Cila was retiring and was available to be adopted via a Facebook post by her handler, he jumped at the chance -- though probably not nearly as high as Cila jumped when she first saw Bos' face last Wednesday night in Chicago. She appeared to recognize him instantly before she leapt into her old friend's arms.

What's ahead for the doggie and his new keeper? Lots of relaxation, from the sounds of it.

"It's time for her to retire and live the couch life," Bos told ABC Chicago.

(h/t Chicagoist)

Hear Michael Jackson's New Timbaland-Produced Track 'Chicago'

Mon, 2014-05-05 15:31
Another selection from "Xscape," Michael Jackson's posthumous album, has arrived, finally revealing a track with Timbaland behind the boards. CNN reports that "Chicago" was originally recorded with plans to place it on Jackson's 2001 album "Invincible," but never made it past the cutting room floor. Fifteen years later, Timbaland has added his own spin on the song, once titled "She Was Lovin' Me," giving it a "contemporized" feeling.

According to the album's linear notes, "Jackson sings in his lower register in the verses over an ominous beat, slowly painting a story of an illicit affair, before unleashing a torrent of pain and regret in the chorus."

Listen to "Chicago" below, via Nah Right, and pick up "Xscape" on May 13.

'International Clitoris Awareness Week' Pays Homage To 'A Magnificent Organ'

Mon, 2014-05-05 14:13
When the discussion turns to female body parts, it seems the clitoris always gets the shaft.

So says Nadine Gary, the spokeswoman for "International Clitoris Awareness Week," a 7-day celebration to a part of the female body that's shrouded in mystery.

"The clitoris is a magnificent organ that has been ignored, vilified, made taboo, and even considered sinful through antiquated, patriarchal religious teachings," Gary told The Huffington Post. "It's time to give it the attention it deserves as the only organ with an exclusive sexual pleasure function."

The first "Clitoris Awareness Week" was organized last year by Gary's group, Clitoraid, a Las Vegas-based group helping victims of female genital mutilation around the world.

That is a serious issue, but Gary wants the focus of "Clitoris Awareness Week" to be on the pleasure that is derived from the organ.

"We found that whenever something has an 'awareness day,' it makes it more comfortable to talk about," she said.

Various events are taking place around the world; most of them are "girls night out" parties where women meet to talk about what the clitoris means to them.

In Las Vegas, members of her group taped interviews with people about the clitoris.

"Men are eager to talk about it," Gary said. "Women are a little shy."

In Chicago, one Clitoraid follower is walking around the city in a giant vulva outfit. On Saturday, Miami members will create a giant sand vulva on the beach of Biscayne Bay.

For Gary, the climax takes place Tuesday in the African country of Burkina Faso, where Clitoraid has built something called the "Pleasure Hospital".

The hospital does clitoris restoration procedures on women who've been subjected to genital mutilation rituals.

"We've done 38 operations so far since March and these women are going to speak about their newfound pleasure," she told HuffPost.

The clitoris has not been taken seriously by medical science until relatively recently when Australian urologist Dr. Helen O'Connell mapped it completely eight years ago with an MRI device, Gary said.

The way that the clitoris is ignored or vilified rubs Gary the wrong way.

"We've noticed that the clitoris has not gotten its spot in the limelight. It makes people feel uncomfortable," she told The Huffington Post last year. "The clitoris doesn't have a reproductive function so it can be minimized. It's up to eight inches long -- same as a penis -- but it's inside."

Gary's also behind "Go Topless Day," which protests laws banning bare breasts and "Swastika Rehabilitation Day," which was designed to remove the Nazi stigma from the ancient symbol.

Gary purposely decided that Clitoris Awareness weeks should be held the first full week of May, which just happens to be National Masturbation Month.

"If you're going to be aware of the clitoris," she said, "you have to know your own garden."

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What Powerful and Greedy Elites Are Hiding When They Scapegoat the Schools

Mon, 2014-05-05 13:45

Our economy is changing in ways that are alarming. Income inequality and wealth inequality are at their highest point in many decades; some say we are back to the age of the robber barons. Most of the gains in the economy since the great recession of 2008 have benefited the 1 percent, or even the 1 percent of the 1 percent. The middle class is shrinking, and we no longer have the richest middle class in the world. The U.S. has the highest child poverty rate of any of the advanced nations of the world (and, no, I don't count Romania as an advanced nation, having visited that nation, which suffered decades of economic plunder and stagnation under the Communist Ceausescu regime).



Forbes reports that there were 442 billionaires in the U.S. in 2013. Nice for them. Taxes have dropped dramatically for the top 1 percent since the 1970s. But don't call them plutocrats. Call them our "job creators," even though they should be called our "job out-sourcers."



Now what caused these changing conditions? My guess would be that unbridled capitalism generates inequality. Deregulation benefits the few, not the many. People with vast wealth give large sums to political candidates, who when elected, protect the economic interests of their benefactors. Anyone who wants to run for president must raise $1 billion or so. Where do you raise that kind of money? You go to the super-rich, who have the money to fund candidates of both parties, as well as an agenda to keep their money and make more.



A recent paper by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University concludes: "...economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism." Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court removing limits on campaign contributions by corporations and individuals reinforce elite control of our political system. The danger signals for democracy are loud and clear.



We often hear talk of the "hollowing out" of the middle class. We know that many regions in our country are economically depressed because they lost the local industries that provided good jobs for high school graduates. Some of those jobs were lost to new technologies, and some were outsourced to low-wage countries. Free trade sounds good, but did the politicians realize how many millions of jobs and thousands of corporations would move to Mexico, China, Bangladesh, and other countries that do not pay what Americans consider a living wage?



Instead of looking in the mirror, our politicians blame the schools. They say that we lost those jobs because our schools were preparing students poorly, not because the "job creators" wanted to export jobs to countries that pay their workers a few dollars a day.



The politicians say we must send everyone to college so we can be "globally competitive," but how will we compete with nations that pay workers and professionals only a fraction of what Americans expect to be paid and need to be paid to have a middle-class life? How can we expect more students to finish college when states are shifting college costs onto individuals and burdening them with huge debt? How can we motivate students to stay in college when so many new jobs in the next decade -- retail clerks, fast-food workers, home health aides, janitors, construction workers, truck drivers, etc. -- do not require a college degree? (The only job in the top 10 fastest growing occupations that requires a college degree is registered nurse.)



So here we are, with politicians who could not pass an eighth grade math test blaming our teachers, our schools, and our students for economic conditions that they did not create and cannot control.



In a just and sensible world, our elected officials would change the tax rates, taxing both wealth and income to reduce inequality. There is no good reason for anyone to be a billionaire. When one man or woman is worth billions of dollars, it is obscene. A person can live very handsomely if their net worth is "only" $100 million. How many homes, how many yachts, how many jets, does one person need? In terms of income taxes, consider this: under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the marginal tax rate for the very rich was 91 percent; it is now 35 percent. The tax on long-term capital gains has dropped from 25 percent to 15 percent. No wonder that billionaire investor Warren Buffett famously said that there has indeed been class warfare, and "my class has won." Buffett noticed that secretaries in his office were paying a higher tax rate than he was. He even took to the op-ed page of the New York Times to complain that the tax code unfairly spared the richest Americans.



Will the "job creators" lose all ambition if they can't pile up billions and billions? I doubt it very much. Surely there will be even more people yearning to get very rich, even if their wealth has a limit of $100 million or even $200 million.



We need to spend more to reduce poverty. We need to spend more to make sure that all children get a good start in life. We need to reduce class sizes for our neediest children. We need to assure free medical care for those who have none. We have many needs, but we won't begin to address them until we change our tax codes to reduce inequality.



Diane Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University

It'sTeacher Appreciation Week - Here's a Girl Who Appreciates Them Every Day

Mon, 2014-05-05 12:06
My granddaughter, who has so much trouble with her expressive language, has no trouble letting me know who her true heroes are. For her, every week is Teacher Appreciation Week. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, that's one question she happily answers - "a teacher." Teachers are her rock stars.

She can remember the name of every teacher she had at preschool since she was two. Those 15 women made such a huge impression on her that she still sings the greeting songs from their classrooms. They nurtured her, laughed at her attempts at humor, listened respectfully to what she could tell them, and made her feel loved. So the Cherry Preschool staff will always be in her heart.

But the love affair didn't end there. Now in 4th grade, she has a new crew of people she worships. When she received her class photo this fall, there were pictures of every teacher in the school on the back. You would think she had won the lottery. She excitedly pointed out every one of them, first name and last. She has memorized their first names from reading the name tags they wear.

While she greatly admires any teacher, there are a couple she singles out for special mention. First is always her kindergarten teacher. I have heard enough teachers say kindergarten is the one grade they hope to avoid. Too many tears to dry, zippers to zip, noses to wipe, and bathroom accidents to clean up, I guess. It takes a special person to truly love being the first person introducing kids to formal education. So here's a shout out to CL, a teacher so adored that my granddaughter actually wanted to be called by her name for several months (until we all tired of it and it was no longer cute).

She loves her current classroom teacher, who so gently and respectfully includes her in the regular education classroom. But she also adores the special education teacher, whose room my granddaughter calls "Club Nestabrook" - a pun on the teacher's name but also a statement about how she feels safe and protected by her.

When my granddaughter is feeling stressed out, she goes to her iPad. Sometimes there is a special game she enjoys, but most often she goes to a long list of every teacher she has known since she was two. She typed this list onto the notepad app and goes back to it for comfort and to make revisions.

Seeing that list of all of the teachers who have been so important to my granddaughter reminds me of why I appreciate teachers. After working in education for over 30 years, I think the best ones are what I call the naturals. They have an intangible quality that cannot be learned in books. They confirm my belief that teaching is a calling. Good teaching, aside from knowing the subject matter and methods for classroom instruction, involves a heavy dose of empathy for and love of children.

When I left my job as a high school English teacher so many years ago, my homeroom gave me a plate that said, "Flowers leave their fragrance on the hands that caress them." Thank you to all of the teachers out there who caress those beautiful flowers in their classrooms. May your hands and hearts be fragrant from having touched the lives of so many children.

I invite you to join my Facebook community and subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

Gary Becker, Nobel Prize-Winning Economist, Dies At Age 83

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:44
CHICAGO (AP) — Gary Becker, a University of Chicago professor who received the Nobel Prize in economic sciences and is credited with pioneering the approach to economics as the study of human behavior, died Saturday at age 83.

Becker's stepson, Mike Claffey, said Becker died at Northwestern Hospital from complications after an extended illness. "I was interested in social problems but felt that economics had the tools by which to handle these long-term interests and social questions," Becker told The Associated Press when he became a Nobel Laureate in 1992.

Becker was cited for applying economic analysis to a wide range of human behavior and interactions. The economics and sociology professor studied issues such as marriage and divorce, crime and punishment, addiction and household decisions.

Before Becker began publishing his ideas in the late 1950s, most academics considered habit and often emotion or irrationality as the primary factors in human behavior such as having children or committing crimes.

The key to his research is the theory that human behavior follows the same rational principles, whether it involves a household, a business or an organization. Though greeted initially with skepticism, his work influenced sociology, demography and criminology.

Becker's mentor was famed economist Milton Friedman. The school honored them in 2011 with The Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and Becker was named chair of the institute.

University of Chicago President Robert Zimmerman said Becker will be remembered as one of the foremost economic scholars of the 20th century.

"He was intellectually fearless," Zimmer said.

Fellow economics Nobel Laureate James J. Heckman of the University of Chicago said Becker's work laid the framework for discussing social problems.

"He kept a finger on the pulse of American public policy (and) analyzed 'relevant' problems in a much deeper way than is usually associated with public policy," Heckman said. "It was not a 'quick answer' kind of analysis."

Becker was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in 1930. He earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics at Princeton University and his master's degree and a doctorate from the University of Chicago. He taught at Columbia University and did research at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Becker received many awards over his career, including the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2007.

His works include "The Economics of Discrimination," written in 1957, "Human Capital," 1964, and "A Treatise on the Family," 1981. He was active as a scholar until shortly before he died.

___

Online: http://home.uchicago.edu/gbecker/

Even If Chicago's Overall Violence Is Down, There's Still A Huge Problem We're Overlooking

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:34
When the Chicago Police Department unveiled their latest statistics on violent crime in the Windy City last week, the news sounded better than expected.

According to department officials -- whose more positive statistical changes have been called into question -- overall crime incidents are down 20 percent over the first four months of the year and shootings are also down slightly from the same period in 2013, though the number of homicides through the end of the month increased by two over the same period.

Several statistics CPD didn't lead with are more troubling, however. On the heels of a relatively peaceful (and historically frigid) winter, 34 homicides were reported in April in Chicago -- a 48 percent increase over the same month last year.

And as the Chicago Reporter pointed out in a recent analysis, young people living in the city's black and Latino neighborhoods -- like 14-year-old Endia Martin, who was gunned down on April 28 in what was reportedly a dispute over a boy -- are bearing much of the blunt from the surge in violence. Killings of young people (24 years of age or younger) increased by almost 150 percent last month compared to April 2013, continuing a long-standing trend.

Over the two weekends prior to Endia's killing, eight more young Chicagoans also lost their lives. This past weekend, two of the city's three victims of fatal shootings were also under the age of 25.

As the violence ebbs and flows from week to week, month to month, year to year, it's still the city's youngest residents caught in the majority of crossfires.

And these numbers don't include the children who were shot and lived, or who were shot at but went uninjured, or those who lost a brother or sister, son or daughter, classmate or best friend, teammate or neighbor or mother or father.

Some Schools Hiring Teachers As Revenues Increase, Others Struggle

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:30
The following comes to us courtesy of Stateline, where it was originally published.

Teachers looking for new jobs for the next school year will find vastly different markets across the states and sometimes across school districts in the same state. Prospects range from dismal to great, even as state revenues recover from the Great Recession and many states invest more money in K-12 education.

In Philadelphia, for example, schools are still struggling after years of cuts in state education funding and shrinking student enrollment. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is threatening to lay off 1,000 staff, including 800 teachers, if the school district does not receive $216 million in supplemental funding for the next school year.

According to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the district has about 8,600 teachers, counselors and librarians. Without the extra cash, class sizes could grow from an average of 33 to 37 students in elementary grades and up to 41 in high school, according to the district.

Federation president Jerry Jordan said the situation “has created a number of dire questions to ponder.”

“How many more students won't reach their full potential because they won't have access to counselors, librarians and other programs and supports; how many children will become needlessly sick – or worse – because there are no nurses available; and how much more can possibly be asked of our teachers and school employees, who have already stretched themselves beyond reasonable limits to educate our children?” Jordan said.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Oregon schools project hiring some 2,000 teachers this year. This marks the biggest uptick in teacher hiring in years, in part to replace teachers who are retiring. Chuck White, executive director of the Oregon School Personnel Association, said a job fair for teachers and administrators in Portland in April drew 165 school districts, up from 115 last year.

White attributes the growing job market to school districts receiving more funding from the state and to a growing number of people retiring, perhaps because they didn’t feel they could during the recession.

“We just hope the trend continues,” White said. “A few years ago, there were no jobs for people to find.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District expects to hire 1,333 teachers for the upcoming school year, up from 718 this year, despite shrinking student enrollment, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some of the new hires will replace retiring or departing teachers.

Clark County in Nevada, one of the biggest school districts in the country, expects to hire 2,000 teachers, which would bring the district's total to nearly 19,000 teachers. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the district will replace about 1,000 teachers who are expected to resign or retire and hire 700 teachers for new positions and another 300 to expand preschool and kindergarten, with the help of $38.6 million saved in an arbitration ruling following a contract dispute with the teachers’ union.

Precise numbers of teacher job openings for the upcoming school year nationwide are hard to come by: Many school districts must approve budgets before knowing how much state aid they will receive, or how many current teachers will either resign or retire, which means budgets are based on estimates. And some school districts will need to add or cut teaching positions due to changes in student enrollment.

According to the Obama administration, 300,000 local education jobs, including teachers, school aides and support staff, were lost between June 2009 and August 2012, contributing to larger class sizes.

States Spending More

Almost every state is now spending more on education than during the recession, according to Mike Griffith, a senior policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States. Many of the increases in state aid since the end of the recession have so far paid for things like increased health care costs and raises for teachers, some of whom have not received raises for four years, Griffith said. The budgets now being passed in state legislatures for the upcoming fiscal year could include enough funding to allow some school districts to start hiring more teachers again, he said.

Others are less optimistic. Daniel Thatcher, a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that for many school districts, increases in state aid, which makes up an average of about 46 percent of school district revenue, have not kept pace with inflation, student enrollment growth and other expenses.

“We know that there is a recovery happening,” Thatcher said. “It’s not a fantastic recovery. What we have seen is that the increases to state aid have not been sufficient to make up for the lost ground since the beginning of the recession.”

The Boston school district, for instance, is aiming to trim the central office staff of about 700 people by about 100 next year, mainly through attrition, as part of an effort to close a $100 million budget gap, according to district spokesman Lee McGuire. The district also projects to have about 200 fewer teaching positions out of 4,500 next year, through attrition.

“This is the largest budget challenge we’ve had in the last several years,” McGuire said.

While the city has stepped up its funding for schools, state and federal dollars have not kept up with rising costs, including health care, transportation, cost of living adjustments and teacher salaries. Fifteen years ago, the state provided 31 percent of the school district’s revenues; this year, state funds account for only 14 percent of the budget, according to Interim Superintendent John McDonough.

In New York state, state aid to schools has increased every year since 2011-2012, but school districts have also had to live with a property tax cap that took effect in 2012-2103. The cap limits tax increases to the lesser of 2 percent or the inflation rate, also limiting the amount of property tax revenue that goes to schools.

“Anecdotally, we don’t hear a turnaround in optimism,” said Robert N. Lowry, Jr., a spokesman for the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry said small school districts in rural areas, in particular, are having a tough time cutting costs because they start out with small budgets. It’s also more difficult for them to consolidate or share services because of the distance between schools and districts.

Juhan Mixon, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, said that with a 2.6 percent increase in state aid expected for the upcoming school year, he does not expect a big boom in teacher hiring.

“That’s hardly enough to give a 1 percent raise to the current teachers we’ve got, much less hire a lot more teachers,” Mixon said.

Florida classrooms are also dealing with a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2002 limiting class sizes in certain subjects, such as math, science and language arts (18 students in prekindergarten through third grade; 22 students fourth through eighth grades; and 25 students in high school).

While school districts across the states scrambled in the first few years after the amendment to hire teachers to meet the requirements, many have increased class sizes in subjects not covered by the amendment, such as music and art.

In Illinois, school districts are bracing for the outcome of budget negotiations in the legislature. If an income tax increase that is set to expire on Jan. 1 is not extended, state aid to schools could be cut by up to 35 percent, according to Michael Chamness, a spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Administrators. That would follow three years of cuts in general state aid to schools – 5 percent three years ago, 11 percent last year and 11 percent this year.

About two-thirds of school districts in the state have deficits in the current school year, Chamness said, and many are likely preparing to lay off teachers for lack of other options.

“Districts have done all they could not to cut teachers, not to cut programs, but with each succeeding year, all that’s left to cut are programs and teachers,” Chamness said.

A few Pennsylvania school districts are just beginning to expand their teaching forces again after years of cuts. Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, estimates school districts have lost about 30,000 teachers, support staff and professional staff over the past three and a half years.

“Certain areas, depending on the financial health of their own district, may be expanding their staff a little, but that’s the exception. That’s not the rule,” Buckheit said.

Among the big budget questions that have yet to be resolved by the state legislature is how much school districts will need to contribute toward teacher pensions, which could affect hiring.

It's Teacher Appreciation Week: Here's a Girl Who Appreciates Them Every Day

Mon, 2014-05-05 11:03
My granddaughter, who has so much trouble with her expressive language, has no trouble letting me know who her true heroes are. For her, every week is Teacher Appreciation Week. When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, that's one question she happily answers -- "a teacher." Teachers are her rock stars.

She can remember the name of every teacher she had at preschool since she was two. Those 15 women made such a huge impression on her that she still sings the greeting songs from their classrooms. They nurtured her, laughed at her attempts at humor, listened respectfully to what she could tell them, and made her feel loved. So the Cherry Preschool staff will always be in her heart.

But the love affair didn't end there. Now in 4th grade, she has a new crew of people she worships. When she received her class photo this fall, there were pictures of every teacher in the school on the back. You would think she had won the lottery. She excitedly pointed out every one of them, first name and last. She has memorized their first names from reading the name tags they wear.

While she greatly admires any teacher, there are a couple she singles out for special mention. First is always her kindergarten teacher. I have heard enough teachers say kindergarten is the one grade they hope to avoid. Too many tears to dry, zippers to zip, noses to wipe, and bathroom accidents to clean up, I guess. It takes a special person to truly love being the first person introducing kids to formal education. So here's a shout out to CL, a teacher so adored that my granddaughter actually wanted to be called by her name for several months (until we all tired of it and it was no longer cute).

She loves her current classroom teacher, who so gently and respectfully includes her in the regular education classroom. But she also adores the special education teacher, whose room my granddaughter calls "Club Nestabrook" -- a pun on the teacher's name but also a statement about how she feels safe and protected by her.

When my granddaughter is feeling stressed out, she goes to her iPad. Sometimes there is a special game she enjoys, but most often she goes to a long list of every teacher she has known since she was two. She typed this list onto the notepad app and goes back to it for comfort and to make revisions.

Seeing that list of all of the teachers who have been so important to my granddaughter reminds me of why I appreciate teachers. After working in education for over 30 years, I think the best ones are what I call the naturals. They have an intangible quality that cannot be learned in books. They confirm my belief that teaching is a calling. Good teaching, aside from knowing the subject matter and methods for classroom instruction, involves a heavy dose of empathy for and love of children.

When I left my job as a high school English teacher so many years ago, my homeroom gave me a plate that said, "Flowers leave their fragrance on the hands that caress them." Thank you to all of the teachers out there who caress those beautiful flowers in their classrooms. May your hands and hearts be fragrant from having touched the lives of so many children.

I invite you to join my Facebook community and subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

NBA Playoff Disappointments: James Harden's Houdini Act, Slumping Indiana

Mon, 2014-05-05 10:52
A thrilling first round of the NBA Playoffs saw two 1-seeds nearly go down, a record five Game 7s (tied with 1994) and Portland's Damian Lillard showing signs of a superstar in the making. But it's not all sunshine and lollipops, as these series have been marred by some pretty big disappointments as well.

Putrid Pacers

A top seed has lost to an 8-seed only five times in league history, but Indiana, the top in the East (ahead of Miami) very nearly became the sixth. Maybe expectations should have been lowered for Coach Frank Vogel's club; only the now-eliminated Atlanta had a worse second-half record in the East. Then there was All-Star center Roy Hibbert whining about post touches and his subsequent disappearance from the box score, followed by reports of a fight between guards Lance Stephenson and recently acquired Evan Turner. Vogel -- once considered one of basketball's brightest young coaches -- appears to have worn out his welcome; and Paul George, after a brilliant first half of the season, has completely lost his shooting touch. Although Indiana ranked first overall in defensive efficiency this season, it seemed to be totally off its game until fighting back in Games 6 and 7 to persevere. A second-round series with peaking Washington looms.

Kevin Durant Slumps



Perhaps the The Oklahoman's "Mr. Unreliable" headline was too harsh, but the likely MVP's struggles in the first round against Memphis were significant. Hounded by Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince, Durant had a five-game stretch in which he shot just 40 percent. After the Game 5 home loss, he said, "Sometimes you've got to be a decoy out there. And I'm fine with that." To be fair, the 25-year-old bounced back in a big way, delivering back-to-back 30-plus games to help OKC stave off elimination. But Durant is not a decoy -- he is Kevin Durant. Blame Russell Westbrook (who shot 38 percent against Memphis and attempted almost as many 3s as free throws), blame Scott Brooks (doesn't run offense), or blame Durant, if you want to. But something is really, really wrong in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder's championship window seems to be closing.

Joey Crawford

Former NBA ref Tim Donaghy said that Joey Crawford likes to make the game about himself, and Crawford found a way again in the waning moments of Game 5 between OKC and Memphis, when the controversial referee iced Durant at the free throw line.



Crawford was suspended by the league in 2007 for "inappropriate behavior" after he ejected Tim Duncan from a game for complaining. In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, Crawford admitted he had mishandled the situation. "The Duncan thing probably changed my life," he said. "It was just -- you come to the realization that maybe the way you've been doing things is not the proper way and you have to regroup, not only on the court but off the court."

Crawford's other controversial call in these playoffs came in Game 2 of the Washington-Chicago series, but that was peanuts compared to the Durant situation.



Referee Danny Crawford (no relation) drew the ire of fans when he did something similar during the 2013 playoffs, but not in the final seconds of a game. It will be interesting to see how the league delegates Crawford in the future.

Da Bulls

Even without the injured Derrick Rose, the Bulls were a heavy first-round favorite over upstart Washington. Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, flanked by Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson, seemed to be enough. Instead, Washington -- who captured its first postseason series win in nearly a decade -- overpowered Chicago in a mere five games, and on both sides of the ball. Tom Thibodeau's bunch failed to muster any sort of offense, highlighted by a mere 69 points in a Game 5 loss to end the series. This against a Wizards team that ranked just 15th in opponent field goal percentage allowed this season.

Hapless Harden

For the second consecutive postseason, Houston's best player and the NBA's fifth-leading scorer endured a woeful six-game playoff stretch, shooting an almost unthinkable 38 percent from the floor and under 30 percent from distance. Harden's Houdini act was due in large part to the fact that his restricted area attempts were down 10 percent through the first five games, according to ESPN.com. Dwight Howard, who has been the game's premier pick-and-roll option for several years, hardly ran any with the isolation-minded Harden. One thing is for certain: Portland did not fear the beard.

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

Chicagoans Bring Attention to Nigeria's Missing Girls

Mon, 2014-05-05 10:40
On April 15, 2014, the unimaginable happened. Two hundred and thirty four teenage girls were reported kidnapped while taking a physics exam in Borno State, Nigeria. Boko Haram, a terrorist organization, is reported to be responsible for the mass kidnapping. There are now fears that some of these young girls have been sold off into human trafficking. According to Al Jazeera, more girls were abducted than initially reported. The number is said to be closer to 276.

This, unfortunately, is not Boko Haram's first attack. According to one news report, between July 2013 and February 2014, attacks on at least two secondary schools resulted in the death of approximately 100 children in Yobe State, Nigeria. On May 1, Boko Haram planted a bomb in Abuja, Nigeria's capital city, killing at least 19 people.

Many have criticized the Nigerian government, particularly President Goodluck Jonathan's administration, for not being more aggressive in the search for these young girls. In hopes of pressuring the Nigerian government to do more in response to this tragedy, rallies have been held and are being held all over the world, including throughout the United States. This issue has also been gaining traction in social media under #BringBackOurGirls.

"With this rally, we want to bring attention to these atrocities of stealing and selling children into slavery under the guise of marriage," said Lande Sanusi, one of the rally's organizers, " We want to pressure the global key players to help us stop the spreading of fear. Stop the reign of terror."

Rallies are planned to take place in London, New York City and Washington, D.C. Chicago is holding its own rally on May 10. The Chicago Rally to Bring Back the Kidnapped Chibok Girls will take place at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington Street, at noon.

"This [Chicago] rally is [being organized] to let the world know that being outside of Nigeria, we still care and will not watch these kidnappers by staying quiet, " said Tunji Sangoleye, another rally organizer. "Our silence and lack of action will only encourage and enable them to continue."

For those wanting to know more information about Chicago efforts to raise awareness of these abducted girls, follow the movement on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Chibok234.

12 Tourist Attractions in Illinois

Mon, 2014-05-05 09:59
Spring break may be over, but there's always time for a road trip with the kids. Why don't you add some fun to your family weekend and do some sightseeing without leaving the state! Here's a map and list of 12 Must-See Illinois landmarks. Enjoy!


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