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Is government consolidation really the best bet for Illinoisans?

Wed, 2014-08-20 12:40
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law into effect Monday that would allow local government agencies to vote themselves out of existence and reduce the number of taxing bodies in Illinois. The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Jack Franks, has been hailed by some as a way to cut down on the expensive bureaucracies of many small government units that currently are funded through property taxes.

But The Illinois Oberserver's David Ormsby warns against singing government consolidations' praises too quickly--there may be hidden negative effects.

When consolidation advocates cheer "government efficiencies" understand that consolidation's hidden cost is less democracy, less granular democracy.

Eliminating the governing boards and a few administrators of various municipal districts does not eliminate the schools, the parks, the sewage, the fires, or the mosquitoes that must all be dealt with. The services, front-line staff and management, and the taxes to pay for them remain. But the distance between voters and their concerns and their voices and their elected officials is lengthened.

Certain parts of municipal governments would be eligible to pare down, and some of them are already facing issues. The state is slated to owe more than $100 billion to public pensions by 2045, and in fiscal year 2015, police and firefighter pensions in Chicago will need $590 million to comply with a 2010 state law.

But an even bigger problem faces cities throughout the state. Dozens of municipalities have police and firefighter pension funds that are so poorly funded they will collapse within 10 years. Springfield's and Joliet's firefighter pensions are currently only funded just over 40 percent, but some towns have public safety pensions that are funded at half that level. Check out which cities have the largest police and firefighter pensions at Reboot Illinois, plus which cities have the worst unfunded police and firefighter pension funds.

Mike Ditka Lashes Out At Redskins Name Critics: 'It's So Much Horse Sh-t'

Wed, 2014-08-20 12:00
Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka isn't on the sideline these days, but he is apparently on Dan Snyder's team. The 74-year-old former NFL coach and player lashed out at critics of the Washington NFL team's nickname in a recent interview with

“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name? It’s so much horse shit it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world," Ditka told Mike Richman on Aug. 14. "It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is."

Click here to listen to Ditka's rant.

A Pro Bowl tight end and Super Bowl-winning coach before becoming a longtime ESPN analyst, Ditka reiterated Snyder's stance that the controversial name, which is defined in dictionaries as an offensive term, has always been used by the team to honor Native Americans.

“Really, I think it’s tradition, it’s history, it’s part of the National Football League. It was about Sammy Baugh and all the guys who were Redskins way back then I didn’t think that Lombardi and Halas never had a problem with it, why would all these other idiots have a problem with the name?"

The group of "idiots" Ditka referred to would seem to include the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The agency decided back in June to cancel six federal trademark registrations connected to the team's name and described the term "Redskins" as "disparaging to Native Americans."

There Are Actually 4 Types of Gentrification That Could Change Your City

Wed, 2014-08-20 11:53
In 1985, gentrification was as easy to spot as a bottle of New Coke. According to a quiz published by the San Francisco Chronicle (and recently found by UCLA Ph.D. candidate Devin McCutchen), markers of a neighborhood on the cusp of yuppiedom included the introduction of gourmet bakeries, needlepoint boutiques and, puzzlingly, pet stores specializing in exotic Central American birds.

And while a neighborhood's rapidly changing demographic is often as easily identifiable today (just look at how New York City has changed before our eyes), the reasons a certain area may appeal to more "upscale" interests is trickier than you'd think.

"Gentrification is a nuanced phenomenon ... but most people engaged in any gentrification fail to acknowledge the nuances."-- Pete Saunders

On his blog, The Corner Side Yard, urban planning expert Pete Saunders set out to establish some ground rules for understanding the trend. In short, this isn't just about mom-and-pop shops being overtaken by the latest farm-to-table restaurant, or high-rise condos looming ominously over one remaining row of single-family homes. Rather, it's about what makes a neighborhood ripe for gentrification to begin with.

Saunders' basic premise is that the amount of pre-World War II, walkable areas in a given city (what he refers to as "old form") combined with the number of African-Americans who live there can forecast gentrification activity.

"Once areas of a city obtain a majority of minorities, particularly a majority of African Americans, it somehow drops from the mental landscape of whites when thinking of the city at large," Saunders wrote in an email to HuffPost Home. "Because some cities have had historically lower black populations, less of the city has become invisible to current residents. This means that more of the city became 'available' for potential future gentrification."

And, as Saunders writes on his blog, gentrification can look different depending where it is. Most of what comes to mind when we think of gentrification is the experience of those in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. There, the debate is fueled by concerns over affordability, displacement and growing inequality. "But the gentrification debate is quite different in cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, where seeking ways to more equitably spread the positive benefits of revitalization might lead such discussions," he says.

According to Saunders, there isn't one single way to define gentrification, but four: Expansive Gentrification, Concentrated Gentrification, Limited Gentrification and Nascent Gentrification. Here's where each type is likely to occur.

Here's how he breaks it all down:

Expansive Gentrification
Best examples: New York, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle
Each city has a strong older core -- a pre-World War II, traditional grid street system that you can easily walk, shop and live in without using a car much. Each has also had smaller historical black populations (when compared with Southern cities and Rust Belt cities that had extensive migration for manufacturing jobs). This gave them a leg up when the back-to-the-city movement gathered steam. Gentrification often sprouted from a number of places within a city and those often connected with each other to create even larger and stronger gentrified areas.

Concentrated Gentrification
Best examples: Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Here, the cities share the same type of older layout as the cities above, but have had larger (relative) black populations. This is where you see that larger parts of such cities have been "written off" by many residents. In each case, gentrification sprouted usually from one area that was a last bastion of white affluent residents (Chicago's North Side, Northwest D.C. or the area around the University of Pennsylvania in Philly) and spread outward from there. Although most large cities have vast inequality, it's most evident in these cities because they tend to be racially, economically and socially divided.

Limited Gentrification
Best examples: Phoenix, San Diego and Las Vegas
These are largely Western cities that developed after World War II and have had historically small black populations. Gentrification is more limited in these cities because of their largely suburban structure. Some black neighborhoods have grown and thrived here, but they've usually been small when compared to the city overall. Many residents see the value of creating walkable and dense areas that they've been lacking, and they are leading the charge in developing them. They are also investing in transit in ways that cities in other parts of the country are not.

Nascent Gentrification
Best examples: Houston, Charlotte and Memphis
This a largely Southern phenomenon. These are cities with a newer layout, but higher black populations that are still wedded to the conventional suburban development model. This is not to say that there isn't any development of walkable/dense areas, but it likely occurs less often than in any of the other three categories.

h/t Business Insider

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'Beautiful Little Soul': Therapy Bunnies Help Alzheimer's, Dementia Patients

Wed, 2014-08-20 11:22
It sounds almost too hopping cute to be true, but Teddy the therapy rabbit's first job was tending to his little sister Lulu.

Lulu is the most recent addition to Minnesotan bunny enthusiast Jennifer Smith's multi-rabbit household. The animal had been left in a cardboard box next to a dumpster on a cold night this past winter. "A woman saw the box and opened it to find a beautiful rabbit freezing to death," Smith says.

Lulu was brought to a local animal shelter, where -- against all odds -- she survived. Smith adopted her soon after that, but the rabbit clearly wasn't well, and Teddy was determined to help.

"Our tiny house rabbit Teddy Graham would spend his days lying next to her pen. He rarely left her side," she says. "Lulu just laid there in her sick, broken kind of way. Teddy went right up to her and started kissing her face. ...Teddy saved Lulu, and Lulu adores Teddy for his devotion to her."

Teddy Graham and Lulu. Photo credit: Jennifer Smith

As of early August, Lulu and Teddy Graham are able to comfort those outside their nuclear family. They're now certified therapy rabbits, and "they love the work they do," says Smith.

That work includes visiting nursing home visits, where the rabbits spend time with Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

Smith also brings her rabbits to schools and camps, and she says she hopes to start volunteering at the Minnesota children's hospital and a local homeless facility.

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Post by Bunny Besties.

It's hard to say how many therapy animals there are in the United States; therapy pets are certified and registered by all sorts of different groups, like Pet Partners and the American Kennel Club, and there isn't any centralized data collection. But it's safe to say therapy rabbits are pretty rare, at least relatively speaking.

"I cannot give you a total number of therapy dogs and rabbits in the U.S. but as the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit training handlers and evaluating multiple species for Animal-Assisted Therapy I can give you our numbers," says Pet Partners' representative Glen Miller, noting that his company has seen a 3 percent increase in the number of registered therapy rabbits this year, but the overall figure is still quite small.

"Total dogs registered as Pet Partners: 9,867," he says. "Total rabbits registered as Pet Partners: 97."

"Five of those are mine," Smith says, listing off Piper, Penelope, Mr. Mini Cooper, Teddy Graham and then Lulu. "All of our rabbits have had so much time and attention and training. "

Indeed, with training, Smith says she believes that calm, non-aggressive, well-socialized, people-loving rabbits can do a pretty much any therapy job a therapy dog can do -- and then some, since their petite size can be a boon.

"People don’t seem to find rabbits threatening," she says.

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Post by Bunny Besties.

Ultimately, Smith says she's trying to help both people and rabbits, by showing that these big-eared animals -- those that are therapy pets, like hers, and those who aren't -- are worthy of affection and respect.

"Across the globe rabbits are so mistreated. There is a reason why so many animal cruelty groups use the rabbit in their logo," she says.

Still, if all rabbits deserve to be treated well, some rabbits -- like her Lulu -- really are extra special.

"I believe that her journey to us was meant to be," Smith says. "This bunny was not trash but a beautiful little soul waiting for her chance to help others heal just by sitting on laps and letting people love on her."

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Jump on over to the Bunny Besties Facebook page for more photos of therapy rabbits in action. And get in touch at if you have an animal story to share!

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These Couples Braved Danger For Their Wedding Photos, And It Sure Paid Off

Wed, 2014-08-20 11:08
Whether it's braving the winds of a tornado, the harsh smoke of a wildfire or getting up close and personal with exotic animals, some couples -- and photographers -- are willing to do whatever it takes to create incredible wedding photos.

Below, 16 brides and grooms who weren't afraid to walk on the wild side to immortalize their big day.

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The Fire This Time

Wed, 2014-08-20 10:42
I remember the stunned reaction of so many Americans back in the summer of 2005 when legions of poor black people in desperate circumstances seemed to have suddenly and inexplicably materialized in New Orleans during the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina.

Expressions of disbelief poured in from around the nation: "How can this be happening?" "I had no idea conditions were that bad." "My God, is this America?"

People found themselves staring at the kind of poverty they thought had been largely wiped out decades earlier. President George W. Bush seemed as astonished as anyone. He made an eerie, oddly-lit, outdoor appearance in the city's French Quarter on the evening of September 15 to announce that his administration would wage an all-out fight against the economic distress that continued to plague so many African Americans.

If you had listened to his announcement on the radio, you might have thought you were hearing the ghost of Lyndon Johnson. Poverty in America, said Bush, "has roots in a history of racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of America." He added, "We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."

Anyone who took Bush's pledge seriously would have ended up disappointed because nothing of the sort happened. The poor black people of New Orleans faded back into the invisibility from which they had come.

It was ever thus: Some tragic development occurs; the media spotlight homes in on black people who had previously been invisible; instant experts weigh in with their pompous, uninformed analyses; and commitments as empty as deflated balloons are made. This time it's Ferguson, Missouri, in the spotlight. And you can bet the mortgage that this time will be no different.

The precipitating events that cause these periodic national spasms can vary widely -- the flooding of New Orleans, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the beating of Rodney King. But these tragedies all emerge from the same fetid source -- the racism embedded in the very foundation of America.

And it's that racism -- stark, in-your-face, never-ending, frequently murderous -- that has so many African-Americans so angry and frustrated, so furious, so enraged. Black people all across America, not just in Ferguson, are angry about the killing of Michael Brown. And they remain angry over the killing of Trayvon Martin. And many are seething over the fatal chokehold clamped on the throat of Eric Garner by a cop on Staten Island in New York -- a cop who refused to relent even as Garner gasped, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe."

They are angry about all those things, but they are also angry and frustrated about so much more. Here are just a few of the complaints. Black people are angry about voter suppression -- the relentless, organized, years-long effort to prevent African-Americans from freely exercising their fundamental right to cast a ballot for the candidates of their choice. That effort was bolstered immeasurably and given a veneer of legitimacy last year by the Supreme Court's vile and destructive evisceration of the Voting Rights Act.

Blacks are angry and bitterly frustrated over the way so many were targeted and victimized by predators in the housing and finance industries, and the disproportionate suffering that African-Americans endured in the subsequent housing meltdown and the recession. And they are angry about being left so far behind in the so-called economic recovery.

Blacks hold a variety of views about the job that Barack Obama has done as president. Most are very supportive; some have been disappointed. But nearly all are furious at the high levels of racism and personal venom that have characterized so much of the opposition not just to the president's policies but to him personally. Most blacks I know have taken that as an affront to themselves, as well as an appalling affront to the president, and the resentment they feel is off the charts.

And, yes, there is profound anger and resentment at the myriad hateful ways that blacks are treated throughout the criminal justice system. I will never forget traveling to Avon Park, Florida, a few years ago to cover the case of an African-American girl in kindergarten who was arrested by the police, handcuffed and taken to the police station in the back seat of a patrol car because she had thrown a tantrum in the classroom. When I interviewed the police chief, I expressed amazement that this had happened to a six-year-old. His reply came in an instant: "Do you think this is the first six-year-old we've arrested?"

Handcuffing the child had proved difficult. "You can't handcuff them on their wrists because their wrists are too small," the chief explained, "so you have to handcuff them up by their biceps."

These are just a very few of the many deep concerns harbored by black Americans. (Others include the chronic under-funding and wholesale closing of public schools in black neighborhoods; the continued widespread discrimination in employment and housing; and the humiliating, debilitating racist encounters, large and small, that nearly all black people face at one time or another, and that many blacks face on a daily basis.)

Despite all the rhetoric, the deepest concerns of blacks are seldom acted upon in any sustained, effective way. Most of the time, they are not even taken seriously. So the anger and the resentment intensifies, month after month, year after year, like gases in pressurized containers, until at some point they blow. That's what has happened in Ferguson. And the trouble in Ferguson is likely to continue, off and on, indefinitely. Because the likelihood of a successful prosecution of the cop who killed Michael Brown is very slim.

The idea that America had reached some level of post-racism with the election of Barack Obama was always delusionary. But it was true that great strides had been made in the half-century or so that followed the civil rights movement. Now, because of the persistence of racism and a relaxation of the fight against it, we are moving backwards. Ferguson is just the latest illustration.

There is no reason to believe that government officials at the federal, state or local level will take the critical steps necessary to begin turning these tragic and explosive matters around. Government officials have a horror of honestly engaging anything that has to do with race. I can't imagine the required leadership coming from any place other than the black community itself.

What is needed right now is a national gathering of some of the brightest and most committed African-American men and women to begin devising strategies to fight back in a coherent and sustained way against the racial injustice that still permeates this society. Let that be the first step toward the development of a new cadre of black leadership to carry this fight forward.

In the absence of such leadership, it will be extremely difficult to avoid new outbreaks of the kind of violence and incoherence that we've seen in Ferguson. And there is always a danger of such outbreaks spiraling into something much worse, something completely out of control. I remember Newark and Detroit in 1967, and the devastation that followed the death of Dr. King, and Los Angeles in 1992, and on and on.

Those tragedies did not occur in a vacuum and it's important to understand that. History tells us that it won't be long before another Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, or Trayvon Martin is thrust upon us. The emergence of effective black leadership to guide us over the long haul is America's only defense against such outrages, and against what James Baldwin so accurately characterized as the fire next time.

Last Hostages Released In Harvey, Illinois Standoff

Wed, 2014-08-20 10:00
HARVEY, Ill. (AP) — Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says the last four hostages have been released unharmed to end a standoff with two armed men in a southern Chicago suburb.

Dart says the two adults and two children still being held were freed Wednesday morning without a shot being fired. He says two suspects have been arrested.

The standoff began about 21 hours earlier when police in the small city responded to a neighbor's report of a possible burglary at the home.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Negotiators worked late into the night in an effort to persuade two men barricaded in a home in the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey to end their standoff with police and release the last of six children and two adults they took hostage.

Four of the children had been released after hours of talks between the suspects and hostage negotiators.

Authorities say the two men took the captives after Harvey police responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a home about 12:50 p.m. Tuesday. There was an exchange of gunfire that left two officers wounded.

Harvey spokesman Sean Howard said after the shooting, the two suspects ran into a nearby home, where they barricaded themselves.

Police had initially said five children and one adult were taken captive. However, Howard said one of the children released revealed to police that there were actually six children and two adults being held. Howard would not say whether the suspects know the hostages or whether the hostages are related.

Officers, including a SWAT team, surrounded the home and the entire block of homes was evacuated, affecting about 100 residents, Howard said. A nearby middle school was evacuated, but only staff members were in the building.

Howard said the first two children released appeared to be in good physical condition and were taken to a local hospital for observation. He said the third child, a 1-year-old, wasn't hospitalized. The fourth child was released nearly 11 hours after being taken hostage.

The first child has a breathing problem, Howard said. The men put the child on the front porch and a member of the SWAT team got the child.

"There have been no bumps in the road yet," Howard said of the negotiating effort. "We hope to get this resolved peacefully."

Howard told The Associated Press that authorities do not know the hostage-takers but have identified the hostages. He would not comment on the relationship between the hostages but said a woman hostage is believed to be a nurse. He did not identify the children who were released.

"Right now, we don't want to jeopardize the integrity of negotiation process," Howard said. "We want to protect those children as much as we can. The less information right now, the better."

Officer Darnell Keel, an 18-year veteran of the police force, was in stable condition at a hospital with a broken arm after the exchange of gunfire and will have surgery, Howard said. A second officer suffered a graze wound to an arm.

Twenty-six law enforcement agencies were assisting, Howard said. An armored vehicle and officers in body armor with high-powered rifles were seen in the neighborhood. The state police SWAT team responded, said Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

10 Perfect Late-summer Staycations

Wed, 2014-08-20 08:56
If you're lucky enough to call one of these places home, then we suggest you stick around this weekend. These staycation ideas will help you do just that.

Originally posted on

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  • I'm an American Citizen. If You Want to Remain a Cop, Don't Violate My Human Rights

    Wed, 2014-08-20 08:09
    In light of the horrific situation in Ferguson, an op-ed ran in today's Washington Post, chillingly titled, "I'm a cop. If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me." Not "obey the law." "Don't challenge me."

    Here's a bit of what this upstanding public servant has to say:

    Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you. Don't argue with me, don't call me names, don't tell me that I can't stop you, don't say I'm a racist pig, don't threaten that you'll sue me and take away my badge. Don't scream at me that you pay my salary, and don't even think of aggressively walking towards me.

    He even echoes Cartman, bemoaning "outright challenges to my authority."

    The officer who wrote that claims to have worked in internal affairs, but that's a little difficult to swallow. After all, a man who knew that police officers will regularly produce badges before raping sex workers, or that over 10 percent of juvenile inmates report being sexually abused by jailers, would know better than to make a statement like, "if you don't want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you."

    A more informed bottom line would go a little more something like this: when cops armed like an invading army force observers from Amnesty International to their knees, at gunpoint -- which happened in Ferguson the night before that piece ran -- they aren't enforcing the law, they are breaking it. They are criminals, they should lose their badges and they should be sued. They should not get to kill people without trial for walking aggressively.

    That doesn't mean that, if confronted by a police officer acting inappropriately, a law-abiding citizen should do anything to escalate the situation. Be nice, stay calm, of course. Do not presume that what he or she is doing is actually illegal, unless you are damn certain that it is.

    But this idea that cops get to say when and where constitutional rights apply is so very, deeply misguided that I am shocked anyone could type it out without coming to their senses mid-sentence. After all, if you want to get kicked off jury duty, the fastest way is just to say, "If the cops arrested her, she must have been doing something wrong." Our entire system of criminal justice is built around the idea that law enforcement officers are imperfect.

    There's an experience I think every reporter has had, at least once: you are filming or photographing something, in public, and a police officer demands that you stop. It is not a request. It is a demand, made with some show of force. On the second demand, as if by training, they usually indicate that they are explicitly ordering you to stop. (A deputy sheriff once sped his SUV, parked about 20 feet away, toward me as a means of punctuating an "order." I had to jump out of its path.) He or she will likely threaten to take your camera, or arrest you.

    It's hard for the average person to wrap their minds around the fact that this sort of thing is fairly commonplace. Most cops, like most people, are nice enough, and generally just trying to do their jobs. They have our respect, because they keep us safe by doing work that is more difficult and dangerous than most. I know a lot of fantastic cops, and I daresay they far outnumber the bad.

    Still, I've been threatened by police officers, for doing my own job, on four occasions. Little ol' me, the last guy to cross against the light, without so much as a speeding ticket (still) on my record. In each of those cases, the police officer backed down after being calmly informed that he was a public person in a public space, with no reasonable expectation of privacy. You know, stuff he should already know. I've been lucky, I suppose. I've certainly never been arrested or tear-gassed.

    What has always troubled me most about these incidents -- if you can believe it -- is the inescapable impression that officers really believe they have the right to issue these "orders," under threat of arrest. As if a law meant to allow cops to direct traffic somehow trumps the Bill of Rights. First Amendment? Fourth Amendment? They don't need no stinking constitution. They have guns and handcuffs. And I knew each time that the only reason I wasn't being arrested was because I came across as the type of person with means of recourse.

    In Ferguson last week, reporters for the Washington Post and Huffington Post were arrested, essentially for being inside a McDonald's. When the police chief learned of the arrests, he blamed an officer "who didn't know better." Didn't know better than to arrest someone who wasn't committing a crime, or didn't know better than to arrest a reporter? False arrest, it seems, only happens to people of means.

    And I keep coming back to this thought -- "though it might sound harsh and impolitic" -- that a great many people in law enforcement just don't know any better. It makes for a needlessly dangerous environment. 82 percent of police departments in the United States require only a high school diploma, in spite of the fact that higher levels of education have been shown to meaningfully reduce police brutality. The very fact that officer education levels are a key predictor of police brutality tells us that we cannot reasonably pin the blame on other people.

    Still, what do we do when cops show they can't handle the demands of their job? Do we educate them? No. We arm them. Because bad decisions are made so much better with deadly weapons. Police in New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Carolina are being gifted Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicles, as if they need and are prepared to use them. What the hell is a cop in Oklahoma going to do with an MRAP but overreact? Landmines are not a big problem in Tulsa.

    To put this in perspective: police in Ireland, Norway and New Zealand don't even carry guns. Over 80 percent of police in Britain say they don't even want them!

    In the United States, however, we are currently left with a deadly mix of peaceful protests, violent agitators and over-armed cops enacting the scene of a government at war with its people. A cop shot the suspect in a $50 cigar heist six times, and law enforcement's response has been tear gas, batons and bullets. Playing soldier.

    So forgive me if I have a hard time accepting it when a cop cries that the real problem is the challenge to his authority.

    Dr. Paul's Perilous Prescription

    Wed, 2014-08-20 06:24
    Demilitarizing the police sounds wonderful, but what about the civilian stockpile?

    Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was the subject of attention recently after he authored a rather sensible sounding editorial in Time magazine, entitled "We Must Demilitarize the Police." The piece focused on the excessive police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which began after unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown, Jr. was shot at least six times and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

    With a possible eye on a 2016 presidential bid, Paul made a rather overt effort to reach out to African-Americans in the editorial, saying, "If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But I wouldn't have expected to be shot."

    It didn't take him long to get to the point, however. "There is a systemic problem with today's law enforcement," Paul declared. "Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem ... The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm." The Senator then claimed that there is a "cartoonish imbalance between the equipment some police departments possess and the constituents they serve," citing a .50-caliber gun owned by Bossier Parish police in Louisiana as an example.

    That's an odd choice of examples for the Senator given that he is the premier spokesman for a group, the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), that gives away free .50-caliber sniper rifles to civilians. These weapons remain legal on the civilian market because of politicians like Rand Paul, who voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in April 2013, just months after a troubled young man used an AR-15 equipped with 30-round magazines to massacre 20 children and six adults. Paul's position on guns is absolute. "I will not vote for any federal regulation of firearms," he has declared. "I don't think the federal government should be involved at all."

    Senator Paul also hasn't been shy about spreading conspiracy theories and hatred against our government. One NAGR letter signed by Paul depicted a gun pointed at President Obama's head while urging readers to stop the president's (imaginary) "Million Rifle Ban."

    And then there are Paul's friends in the militia movement. Senator Paul was the featured speaker at an Open Carry rally at the state capitol in Frankfurt, Kentucky on March 2010. Another speaker at that rally was Col. Terrell of the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters militia (whose armed, camouflaged members guarded him as he spoke), who told those in attendance the following:

    [The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act], which is really about people control, the same thing as gun control, is the modern-day equivalent of the 1765 Stamp Act. It's only more disastrous to our freedom, living, way of life, etc. History, it seems is ready to repeat itself. After a long and costly civil war that is imminent and sure to be forced upon us, we are taking note of those who are responsible for the treason, and eventually they will be held accountable. I advise the press to start getting it right from this moment on, and stop aiding and abetting un-American activities. Like the Tories of old, the worst shall be hung.

    A vision of civil war with bloodthirsty, gun-toting radicals doesn't make me feel safer. Does it make you feel safer? Bottom line: When Senator Paul tells us that police work is "an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances," the man knows what he's talking about. Few politicians have done more to facilitate the transfer of military-style firearms to private hands and encourage anger against government than Rand Paul. That is what's driving the militarization of the police in the first place.

    This threat is not hypothetical. Consider the cold-blooded murder of two police officers in Las Vegas in June. Jerad and Amanda Miller left their home in Indiana to stand guard at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch during the armed standoff there. The Millers reportedly shouted, "This is the start of a revolution!" just before gunning down officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo at a pizzeria.

    It's unclear what Paul thought of the Millers, but he did comment on the man who inspired them. As Cliven Bundy and his followers pointed loaded firearms at federal and local law enforcement agents and threatened to kill them, Senator Paul voiced no criticism of them for these actions. Instead, he blamed the showdown on "government gone amok" and condemned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for calling those in the Bundy camp "domestic terrorists."

    Summing up, as UCLA professor Adam Winkler so deftly pointed out, the problem of police militarization is "exacerbated by the fact that America has a heavily-armed civilian population." And we can't truly make our communities safer without addressing the proliferation of arms in both of these constituencies.

    What would Rand Paul's vision of America look like? I hope we never find out, but there are certainly plenty of countries we can look to that have weak central governments and unchecked, heavily-armed private militias. Iraq, Somalia, Ukraine, etc. How are they doing in terms of keeping citizens safe? I think any objective observer understands that this volatile mix of elements leads to more violence, not less.

    Our Founders, to their credit, understood this, and feared anarchy as much as they feared governmental abuse of power (tyranny). It was for this reason that they defined the capital crime of treason in the Constitution and made it clear that the role of the Militia was to "suppress Insurrections," not to foment them. Their great social experiment in governance was no accident. Our Constitution intentionally strengthened the federal government because our Founders believed that was the best way to ensure individual liberty. They had no intention of disarming government and arming everyone else to the teeth.

    Rand Paul, unfortunately, does. And well-intentioned lawmakers should be conscious of that fact when they sit down with him to discuss important legislation to demilitarize our police forces. The goal of reducing violence in our communities is noble, but any effort that ignores the very real fears that modern-day police experience in confronting a well-armed citizenry is doomed to failure. A truly honest effort in this area would address both the police and civilian constituencies, and de-escalate an arms race that has been going on for far too long -- to the benefit of only the gun industry.

    ACT Scores Paint Troubling Picture For Students Of Color

    Wed, 2014-08-20 02:00
    As American students return to classes in a public education system projected to be majority minority for the first time this fall, new test scores provide alarming evidence that students of color remain far behind their white counterparts.

    While only 39 percent of all students who took the ACT college admissions test in 2013 scored well enough to be deemed college-ready by the testing company, the number was dramatically lower for minority students, with only 11 percent of African-American and 18 percent of Hispanic students meeting the bar. Forty-nine percent of white students and 57 percent of Asian students made the mark.

    INSIDE The ACT ACHIEVEMENT GAP | Create Infographics

    "Education in America is not a level playing ground, and the ACT scores are a stark reminder that race and class hobble achievement, which snuffs out hope, and dogs democracy," said Lee Baker, associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Duke University. "The fact that public education systems are funded by local tax dollars and in affluent neighborhoods schools are subvented by private gifts, exacerbates the dynamic. And, only the wealthy can afford private schools and only the lucky can get into high-performing charter schools."

    The class of 2013 represented the most diverse group of ACT test-takers, but the results were alarming to the testing company. "While we have a more diverse group ... the gap between ethnic groups is way too large," said Jon Erickson, ACT president.

    The ACT determines performance in four benchmark subjects: English, reading, math and science. According to 2014 data ACT provided to HuffPost, the subject with the largest racial achievement gap was English, where 76 percent of white students and 34 percent of black students met the benchmark.

    Create Infographics

    "The gaps are hugely dramatic," said Christina Theokas, who directs research for The Education Trust, the Washington, D.C.-based education advocacy and lobbying group that first called attention to the idea of the achievement gap. "These gaps are absolutely unacceptable and it really suggests where we need to pay attention and hone in."

    The ACT results are likely to be higher than the performance of the average American high school senior. That's because most students who voluntarily take the test aspire to attend college. Fifty-seven percent of America's graduating class of 2014 took the test, an 18 percent increase since 2010.

    The ACT defines college readiness benchmarks as the minimum score a student must achieve on the test in order to have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a first-year college course. Twenty-six percent of all tested students met the benchmark in all four subjects in 2014, compared with 24 percent in 2010. But 31 percent of students hit none of the benchmarks.

    "Nothing changes, but if you test over a million students a year, you don't expect much to change," said Mark Schneider, a vice president of the research nonprofit American Institutes for Research, who previously oversaw the federal government's education research.

    Some contend ACT's bar for college readiness is too high. "What is often forgotten is that the ACT and the SAT are probability statements," said Anthony Carnevale a Georgetown University professor who researches workforce skills and headed a testing company for several years. "We know that anybody who scores in the upper half in the distribution in the ACT or the SAT has a very high chance of graduating from college. This is not so much about readiness, it's about graduating. To say that only 20 percent are ready when 50 percent have a chance to graduate is a little stiff to me."

    State results showed trends similar to each other, even though some have markedly different approaches to education. In Oklahoma, where 90 percent of students took the test, 22 percent met benchmarks in all four subjects in 2014, compared with 19 percent in 2010. In Kentucky, where all students took the test, 19 percent hit all four benchmarks, up from 16 percent. In Texas, which tested 40 percent of students, 26 percent hit all four, compared with 24 percent in 2010.

    The overall dismal results come as most U.S. states are struggling with making sure their students graduate from public schools ready for college. College and career-ready standards have become the modern-day educational buzzword -- and the centerpiece of the Common Core State Standards, the learning guidelines in most states for what students need to know in math and English language arts. The Common Core has become politically divisive in recent months, with some states moving to ditch the standards. Indiana and Ohio have proposed replacing the Common Core with similar college-aimed standards.

    "The holy grail in all of this is it's got to be rigorous and it's got to be effective, and right now that is inconsistent from school to school," Erickson said.

    ACT is trying to get into the Common Core game by selling an exam system called Aspire that tracks students along Common Core goals from a young age. So far, only Alabama has bought the system in its entirety.

    Harvey Hostage Situation: Men Invade Home And Hold Woman, Children Captive

    Wed, 2014-08-20 00:19
    HARVEY, Ill. (AP) — Negotiators worked late into the evening Tuesday in an effort to convince two men barricaded in a home in the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey to end their standoff with police and release the last of six children and a woman they took hostage.

    Initially, Harvey police said five children and one adult were taken captive. Three of the children were released after hours of talks between the suspects and hostage negotiators. However, Harvey spokesman Sean Howard says questioning by police of one of the children released revealed there were actually six children being held. Howard would not say whether the suspects know the hostages or whether the hostages are related.

    Authorities say the two men took the woman and children captive after Harvey police responded to a call of a burglary in progress at a home about 12:50 p.m. Tuesday. There was an exchange of gunfire that left two officers wounded. Howard said after the shooting, the two suspects ran into a nearby home, where they barricaded themselves.

    Officers, including a SWAT team, surrounded the home and the entire block of homes was evacuated, affecting about 100 residents, Howard said. A nearby middle school was evacuated, but only staff members were in the building.

    Howard said the first two children released appeared to be in good physical condition and were taken to a local hospital for observation. He said the third child, a 1-year-old, wasn't hospitalized.

    The first child has a breathing problem, Howard said. The men put the child on the front porch and a member of the SWAT team got the child.

    "There have been no bumps in the road yet," Howard said of the negotiating effort. "We hope to get this resolved peacefully."

    Howard told The Associated Press that authorities do not know the hostage-takers but have identified the hostages. He would not comment on the relationship between the hostages but said the woman is believed to be a nurse. He did not identify the children who were released.

    "Right now, we don't want to jeopardize the integrity of negotiation process," Howard said. "We want to protect those children as much as we can. The less information right now, the better."

    Officer Darnell Keel, an 18-year veteran of the police force, was in stable condition at a hospital with a broken arm after the exchange of gunfire and would undergo surgery, Howard said. A second officer suffered a graze wound to an arm.

    Twenty-six law enforcement agencies were assisting, Howard said. An armored vehicle and officers in body armor with high-powered rifles could be seen in the neighborhood. The state police SWAT team was on the scene, said Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

    40 Percent of American Workers Will Leave Paid Vacation Days Unused

    Tue, 2014-08-19 21:01
    I hope you're not reading this. That's because, this being mid-August, I hope as many people as possible are on vacation somewhere -- maybe someplace exotic, or maybe just a relaxing staycation at home. And if you are on vacation, you definitely shouldn't be staring into screens -- so please, close the computer or power down your phone immediately and take a walk outside.

    Unfortunately, all too many of us could be on vacation but choose not to. That's the finding of a striking and important new study released this morning by Travel Effect, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association. Entitled "Overwhelmed America: Why Don't We Use Our Paid Time Off?," the study found that 40 percent of American workers will leave paid vacation days unused.

    Even more revealing are the reasons respondents gave for leaving paid time off on the table. The four reasons cited the most are the dread of returning from a vacation to piles of work (40 percent), the belief that no one will be able to step in and do their job for them while they're gone (35 percent), not being able to afford it (33 percent) and the fear of being seen as replaceable (22 percent).

    "Americans suffer from a work martyr complex," said Roger Dow, President and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "In part, it's because 'busyness' is something we wear as a badge of honor. But it's also because we're emerging from a tough economy and many feel less secure in their jobs. Unfortunately, workers do not seem to realize that forfeiting their vacation time comes at the expense of their overall health, well-being and relationships."

    In fact, not taking time off from work also comes at the expense of our performance at work. This study shouldn't be an alarm bell just for workers but for employers too. Recent years have brought us a mountain of science about both the costs of burnout and overwork and the benefits of unplugging and recharging. In short, the long-term health and well-being of a company's employees is going to impact the long-term health and well-being of the company's bottom line.

    We know, for instance, that, according to the World Health Organization, stress costs American businesses around $300 billion per year. Sleep deprivation tacks on another $63 billion.

    Living a life in which we work all the time and never prioritize recharging simply isn't sustainable -- not for individuals, and not for companies either. As Tony Schwartz, CEO of the Energy Project, puts it, "the best way to get more done may be to spend more time doing less." He cites a 2006 internal study of Ernst and Young employees that found that for every additional 10 hours of vacation an employee took, his or her performance ratings went up by 8 percent -- nearly 1 percent per day of vacation. That means companies where employees are leaving two and three and four weeks of vacation on the table are foregoing an enormous productivity boost. The study also found that employees who took regular vacations were less likely to leave the company.

    This shouldn't be that surprising. Humans are wired to perform and then to recharge. "The importance of restoration is rooted in our physiology," Schwarz writes. "Human beings aren't designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we're meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy." And that means on both the smaller, hour-to-hour scale and the larger time frame of week to week and month to month.

    Of course, many of the changes that we so badly need in our workplace culture will have to come from the top. As we can see from the reasons employees give for not taking their paid vacation, employees do not seem to be getting a strong message from management of the importance of vacation and renewal time. This was also borne out by the Travel Effect study, which found that even though a whopping 95 percent of senior business leaders say they know the value of taking time off, 67 percent of employees say their company is either silent about taking vacation, sends mixed signals about it or even actively discourages it. And a third of senior leaders say they either never or rarely discuss taking vacation with their employees.

    Nor are they leading very well by example. When senior leaders do take time off, almost half (46 percent) continue to answer email, and nearly a third (29 percent) keep making work calls (meaning their families aren't getting much of them during vacation either!). All in all, only 37 percent of senior leaders say they unplug completely from work on vacation.

    There was a bit of good news in the study. Researchers found that when employees work at a company with a "use it or lose it" vacation policy -- meaning you can't roll over or bank vacation days -- 84 percent plan to take all their paid vacation days this year. This compares with only 48 percent of workers at companies that allow them to bank their vacation days.

    So, clearly, we need to work harder about working smarter -- by not working all the time. The "work martyr" complex needs to go the way of the Dictaphone, the typewriter and green eyeshades as relics of the workplace of the past. (OK, I like typewriters, but you get the idea.) We now know too much about what works and what doesn't work at work. If nearly all senior business executives know how valuable time off is for their employees -- and, thus, their companies -- it's time to move beyond knowing to doing. We need to turn the incentive structure around. Overwork, exhaustion and burnout are what should be red-flagged and discouraged, and those employees who take all their paid vacation (in addition to leaving at a reasonable hour each night, eating lunch away from their desks, taking time throughout the day to recharge, etc.) are the ones who should be commended, promoted and held up as institutional role models.

    So if you're one of the 40 percent of American workers who are going to be leaving some vacation days on the table, close this page, open up a travel site and make some reservations. Or, first, click over to HuffPost Travel for suggestions on where to go and how to get there. Or don't go anywhere -- just take time off to recharge and reconnect with your own family, friends and community at home. Tell your boss you're doing it for the company.

    James Foley Speaks To Students About Journalism, Courage And What Inspired Him (VIDEO)

    Tue, 2014-08-19 18:36
    Just two weeks after he was released from a Libyan prison in 2011, American photojournalist James Foley sat before young students at his alma mater, Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, to share his ordeal and talk about the difficulties and rewards of reporting from dangerous corners of the globe.

    "The most amazing thing about any [education] is getting someone who inspires you," Foley told the audience. He also encouraged students to ask tough questions and "talk to as many people as you can on both sides of the spectrum."

    After returning to the Middle East to cover the conflict in Syria, Foley was taken hostage in November 2012 while freelancing for the Boston-based international news organization GlobalPost.

    On Tuesday, Foley was reported to have been beheaded by the Islamic State, a militant group formerly known as ISIS.

    Veteran Cop: 'If You Don't Want To Get Shot,' Shut Up -- Even If We're Violating Your Rights

    Tue, 2014-08-19 17:36
    Sunil Dutta, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and professor of homeland security at Colorado Tech University, has a suggestion for victims of police violence searching for someone to blame: Look in the mirror.

    In a column published Tuesday in The Washington Post titled, "I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me," Dutta responds to mounting criticism of the policing tactics on display in Ferguson, Missouri, amid the hyper-militarization of law enforcement and accusations that officers have violated the First Amendment rights of both demonstrators and journalists covering the events. In a particularly telling passage, Dutta argues that citizens could deter police brutality if they were simply more cooperative, even when they're unjustly targeted.

    "Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you," he writes. "Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names, don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge. Don’t scream at me that you pay my salary, and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?"

    It's worth noting that arguing with a cop and even verbally abusing one, as well as asking for a badge number, are not illegal actions, though they have been known to lead to punishment or arrest. Dutta goes on to admit that police officers aren't perfect and some have been known to be corrupt bullies, but he says your best bet is to swallow your pride, stay quiet and submit to any unlawful actions by police.

    "But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment," he writes. Dutta goes on to encourage people to seek legal recourse after the fact, rather than protest at the time of the encounter. Of course, an April 2014 poll found that half of Americans don't believe cops are held accountable for misconduct, so that likely won't be much solace to most people.

    Dutta also claims that you can simply exercise a number of rights, and decline to submit to an illegal stop or search or question a cop's legal basis to search you -- as if those behaviors will automatically ward off an officer.

    The column's general premise was never in doubt. Of course it's true that one way to avoid escalating a confrontation with a hot-headed or misbehaving cop is to follow orders or shut up, even if your rights are being trampled.

    But it's concerning that Dutta, an officer who both admits structural problems with police behavior and has called for reforms -- including an overhaul of internal investigations and the use of officer-mounted cameras to record interactions with citizens -- appears so unsympathetic to citizens who are growing increasingly intolerant of police abuse.

    As J.D. Tucille, managing editor of, writes, the tone of Dutta's column reveals that he is ignorant of the broader concerns expressed by police critics:

    If you have the attitude that you are owed deference and instant obedience by the people around you, and that you are justified in using violence against them if they don't comply, we already have a problem. That's especially true if official institutions back you up, which they do.

    If you really think that everybody else should "just do what I tell you," you're wearing the wrong uniform in the wrong country. And if you really can't function with some give and take—a few nasty names, a little argument—of the sort that people in all sorts of jobs put up with every damned day, do us all a favor: quit.

    Dutta is no doubt correct in claiming that being a cop is a difficult and dangerous job, and that the overwhelming majority of officers are not eager to use their service weapons on anyone, unarmed or not. But in the face of countless instances of officers harassing, abusing and brutalizing suspects far beyond the limits of department policy, it is unfair -- and even un-American -- to suggest that "not the cops, but the people they stop" are primarily responsible for avoiding this harsh and often illegal treatment.

    Seven Affordable Illinois Cities

    Tue, 2014-08-19 17:16
    The Movoto real estate blog ranked the 10 most affordable cities in Illinois based on the prices of food, utilities and homes, plus median incomes, unemployment rates and other miscellaneous costs. The cities are located all over the state. The same list also listed Downers Grove as the least affordable city in the state. We checked every city's cost of living profile at Area Vibes to give a more detailed look at how much it really costs to live in these communities.

    For comparison, here are some marks of average living expenses, according to Area Vibes, in Downers Grove, the city Movoto says is the most expensive in Illinois.

    Milk: $2.71

    Eggs: $1.54

    Coffee: $6.49

    Electric bill: $89.20

    Gasoline: $3.99

    Here are the 10th through seventh most affordable cities in Illinois, plus selected living expenses, according to Movoto:

    10. Moline

    A resident would need to make $68,194 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Moline.

    Milk: $2.53

    Eggs: $1.59

    Coffee: $4.80

    Electric bill: $61.24

    Gasoline: $3.62

    9. Pekin

    A resident would need to make $66,881 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Pekin.

    Milk: $2.15

    Eggs: $1.45

    Coffee: $5.12

    Electric bill: $79.26

    Gasoline: $3.75

    8. Pontiac

    A resident would need to make $67,530 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Pontiac.

    Milk: $2.15

    Eggs: $1.45

    Coffee: $5.12

    Electric bill: $79.26

    Gasoline: $3.75

    7. Kewanee

    A resident would need to make $68,792 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Kewanee.

    Milk: $2.63

    Eggs: $1.47

    Coffee: $4.93

    Electric bill: $90.78

    Gasoline: $3.67

    6. Quincy

    A resident would need to make $69,225 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Quincy.

    Milk: $2.39

    Eggs: $1.43

    Coffee: $4.69

    Electric bill: $97.82

    Gasoline: $3.69

    5. East Peoria

    A resident would need to make $65,285 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in East Peoria.

    Milk: $2.15

    Eggs: $1.45

    Coffee: $5.12

    Electric bill: $79.26

    Gasoline: $3.75

    4. Springfield

    A resident would need to make $66,740 in Downers Grove to maintain the same standard of living as they could with $50,000 in Springfield.

    Milk: $2.06

    Eggs: $1.51

    Coffee: $4.42

    Electric bill: $62.21

    Gasoline: $3.77

    See the top three most affordable cities in Illinois, plus the cost of milk, eggs, coffee and more in those cities, at Reboot Illinois:

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    'SNL' Alum Cheri Oteri 'Tries Out' For NBA Dance Squad Luvabulls & It Goes Really Well

    Tue, 2014-08-19 15:52
    Becoming one of the Luvabulls, the Chicago Bulls' beloved cheerleading/dance/pep squad, is no easy task -- but that doesn't stop hundreds of hopefuls from trying for it each year.

    This year, one of those women, as portrayed in a mockumentary short released by the Bulls last week and shot during the actual Luvabull auditions, was "Sage McMurphy," played by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Cheri Oteri.

    Murphy, who says she's auditioned for the squad every year since 1995, describes herself as an "intrinsically-trained dancer" whose style is "hip-hop/dubstep/salsa/merengue/ballet hyper fusion."

    You've really got to admire McMurphy's spirit, not to mention her pink tutu-wearing little dog too.

    Well done, Sage!

    Giuliana and Bill Rancic and Chef Psaltis Discuss Their Newest Venture, RPM Steak

    Tue, 2014-08-19 15:22
    Something we often discuss on The Dinner Party is what makes a successful restaurant. Owning a restaurant is tricky business, with restaurants opening and closing like automated doors. Yet, the Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant Group, along with partners Giuliana and Bill Rancic, seems to defy the culinary norm.

    While many restaurants often close their shutters after only two years, RPM Italian, a partnership between Giuliana and Bill Rancic, Chef Doug, Psaltis and Jerrod, RJ and Molly Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, remains as popular as ever, a full three years post its initial opening.

    I sat down with Giualiana and Bill Rancic, as well as Executive Chef Doug Psaltis, at the opening of their new restaurant RPM Steak and at Taste of the Nation to ask them what is the trick to their success. As you will hear in the podcast below, setting up a strong and confident partnership before opening the doors and building off each other's strengths seem to be two of the key elements.

    RJ and Jerrod Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, in a conversation at a preview of RPM Steak, agreed, commenting on what initially drew them to work with Chef Psaltis. "The truth of the matter is...we just love how [Chef Psaltis] cooks. We just love his food!" Jerrod said. Certainly there is no getting around good food and it is good food which makes people want to come back. However, with so many excellent restaurants in Chicago, it seems that more is needed to break through among the masses.

    "Eighty percent of whether or not a restaurant is going to succeed happens before you open your doors," RJ confessed. It seems here is where the golden trifecta was formed. Giuliana and Bill had a sense of vision and style for RPM Italian, originally based on many of Mama DePandi's recipes, but also based on the vision that RPM Italian, and now RPM Steak, are restaurants where you can eat and share, but not be so stuffed that you can't stay and mingle over a drink after your meal.

    Jerrod and RJ and Molly Melman brought the restaurant business expertise to the equation, relying on excellent service and strong customer loyalty programs. Chef Psaltis (yes, he did a stint at French Laundry!) delivered the culinary buon gusto and know-how, focusing on quality ingredients. With a sense of pride, Chef Psaltis pointed out that RPM Steak sources naturally raised and grass fed beef from nine to ten different farms and ranches from all over the world.

    Bill Rancic, Chef Psaltis and me recording at Taste of the Nation, Photo Courtesy of Henson Consulting and used with permission.

    Chef Psaltis explained how RPM Steak came to be. He said that at RPM Italian, along with the pastas, "the real surprise was the response to the steaks! " However, steaks aren't the only thing on the menu at the newest venture, which has a strong seafood and vegetable component. One need only count the six types of mushrooms on the menu to know that there are many options here for non-meat eaters.

    Giuliana was quick to comment that RPM Steak would appeal to women, as well. Both she and Bill have a strong sense of what the market wants. With a menu that focuses on such healthy options as lean steak, seafood and vegetables, she said, referring to the female clientele, "We need this!"

    Perhaps Bill Rancic summed it up best. "Everyone checks their ego at the door. That is why this has been such a successful partnership, and now kind of like family. Everyone knows what they have to do and they get it done. Everyone is accountable. We have that never quit attitude. We make it right. We take our time and everyone on the team is a perfectionist."

    RPM Steak will open it doors in late August. Until then, enjoy the podcast below with Giuliana and Bill Rancic and Chef Psaltis in two locations: RPM Steak and at Taste of the Nation. We discuss being present and focused, never giving up, what makes a successful restaurant and foods we can't live without. Enjoy.

    Bruce Rauner Under Scrutiny For Caribbean Investments, Punching Remark

    Tue, 2014-08-19 14:27
    Illinois GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is under heightened scrutiny in light of new revelations regarding his use of investment funds in the Cayman Islands.

    A dozen funds in total were set up in the Caribbean nation between June 2009 and July 2011 by private equity firm GTCR which, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, was chaired by Rauner at the time. He had a personal financial interest in three of those funds.

    Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are popular tax shelters for U.S. corporations, as both island nations have no corporate income taxes, and disclosure requirements there are less stringent.

    The Cayman Islands government agreed in August 2013 to comply with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires foreign financial entities to notify the U.S. Internal Revenue Service about American offshore accounts if they exceed $50,000. The intergovernmental agreement took effect in July.

    Campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf offered a full-fledged defense of Rauner to the paper:

    Caribbean vehicles are common for private-equity funds as well as institutional investors like the Illinois’ pension fund that [Gov.] Pat Quinn is invested in, especially when the companies they are investing in already have international operations and headquarters ... Bruce was also comfortable with it because that kind of investment does not reduce the taxes paid by individual investors on their income. It didn’t reduce taxes on Bruce’s income, and it doesn’t reduce Pat Quinn’s taxes either.

    Rauner has refused to release a certain portion of his tax returns further detailing the investments, and GTCR has remained mum on the matter.

    Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn's (D) campaign, responded to the revelations by saying that "not only does Republican billionaire Bruce Rauner stash his own riches in the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes, he also parked his firm’s money there."

    "Mr. Rauner is great at gaming the system for his own financial benefit while the rest of us play by a different set of rules," she added.

    Rauner was also caught on video saying in July that members of Quinn's campaign allegedly tried to kick him out of a Greek-American parade, and that it was the closest he has come "to punching somebody in this race." Quinn's campaign says that Rauner fabricated the incident.

    Quinn, however, has been tainted in his re-election bid, as an anti-violence initiative of his is under a federal investigation on allegations of financial mismanagement.

    HuffPost Pollster, which combines all publicly available polling data, has Rauner leading Quinn in the November general election:

    10 Ways You Can Help The People Of Ferguson, Missouri

    Tue, 2014-08-19 13:58
    On Aug. 9, Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown at least six times, including twice in the head.

    The shooting, followed by the Ferguson Police Department's refusal to release an incident report detailing the circumstances leading to Brown's death, has sparked ongoing unrest in an area long fraught with racial tension.

    An aggressive response by Ferguson police, including the deployment of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters, has also sparked a national debate over the increasing militarization of local law enforcement.

    Americans nationwide have responded in solidarity, holding vigils and demonstrations in Brown's honor.

    Here are a few ways you can help, even if you're not in Ferguson:

    1. Donate to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund here.

    The fund, established by the parents of Michael Brown, will assist the family with legal, burial and travel costs as they investigate their son's killing.

    2. Support the Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment's Legal Defense Fund for Justice for Mike Brown.

    All contributions to this cause provide legal support for those arrested as part of the protests, primarily on bailing or bonding residents out of jail. The group's legal support program includes distributing information on legal resources, coordinating with pro bono lawyers and manning a jail support line.

    "All people, regardless of their charges, have a right to legal representation. We know that currently public defenders are overworked," MORE, a St. Louis-based community group, stated in a press release. "According to the law, each person is innocent until proven otherwise; however, this is not how the system plays out on a day-to-day basis, particularly for communities of color. "

    Go here to donate.

    3. Support efforts requiring all state, county and local police to wear body cameras.

    Amplified by the Ferguson Police Department's refusal to release an incident report on Brown's shooting, the department's failure to implement dashboard and body cameras has further outraged a community left without any specific details or footage of Wilson and Brown's interaction.

    Despite receiving a grant from the Department of Justice to purchase the necessary equipment, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson claimed at a press conference last week that the department didn't have enough funding to implement the technology.

    More than a thousand police agencies nationwide have established dash camera or body camera policies, and as a result, communities have seen greater police transparency and accountability.

    In Rialto, California, where the entire police force has worn body-mounted cameras since 2012, complaints against officers fell by 88 percent in the first year of the program's implementation, according to The New York Times. Over the same period, use of force by officers also dropped significantly, by almost 60 percent.

    Launched on Wednesday, a White House petition for a "Mike Brown Law" has already garnered more than the 100,000 signatures required to get a response from the White House.

    "The law shall be made in an effort to not only detour police misconduct (i.e. brutality, profiling, abuse of power), but to ensure that all police are following procedure, and to remove all question, from normally questionable police encounters," the petition states. "As well, as help to hold all parties within a police investigation, accountable for their actions."

    To sign the petition, go here.

    4. Advocate for the removal of the Pentagon's "1033 Program."

    Created in 1997, the federal "1033 program" provides local police departments across the United States with billions of dollars' worth of surplus military weapons at no charge.

    Because 1033 acquisitions are not public record, the excessively militarized state of law enforcement in the U.S. has also occurred with little to no oversight.

    According to Newsweek, "the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which coordinates distribution of military surplus, refuses to reveal the names of agencies requesting 'tactical' items ... for security reasons." Those items include assault rifles and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

    Moreover, a yearlong investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union found that "of the more than 800 paramilitary raids that we studied, almost 80 percent were for ordinary law enforcement purposes like serving search warrants on people's homes."

    A mere 7 percent were deployed for hostage, barricade or active shooter incidents.

    Cue Ferguson, where police decked out in Marine-issue camouflage, Kevlar vests and automatic rifles have patrolled the city in vehicles outfitted for combat for the past week, discharging tear gas and rubber bullets at community protesters.

    In response to the Ferguson Police Department's military tactics, a Care2 petition urging the Department of Defense to "dissolve the 1033 program and hold all police officers involved in brutality accountable" has already picked up more than 27,000 signatures.

    "The Pentagon is encouraging local police forces to feel as if they are going into battle -- with a clear enemy and a shoot-to-kill mentality," the petition states. "This national militarization of police must be stopped immediately."

    To sign the petition, go here.

    Last week, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) also announced plans to introduce legislation curbing the sale of surplus DOD weapons to local law enforcement.

    5. Stop voting for defense industry-backed lawmakers who voted to continue the 1033 program.

    In June, 355 House lawmakers opposed legislation by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that aimed to block the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement, thereby dissolving the 1033 program.

    According to a new report by MapLight, a campaign finance research organization, lawmakers who voted against Grayson's amendment received 73 percent more money from the defense industry than representatives who voted to defund it.

    Of the 59 representatives who received more than $100,000 from the defense industry from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2013, only four voted in favor of Grayson's amendment. Lawmakers in the former category include GOP Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Pete King (N.Y.), Paul Ryan (Wis.) and new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). Democrats Adam Schiff (Calif.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) also voted against the amendment.

    Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.), who received $18,555 from the defense industry during the same time period, defended his vote to maintain the program in an interview with The Huffington Post last week.

    "As a past sheriff, we utilized that equipment in a responsible way," Nugent said. "End of the day, you can always find misuses of any equipment that's given or utilized by law enforcement. It's the responsibility of those communities to keep that law enforcement agency in check. But to just outright ban the usage of that equipment would devastate local law enforcement agencies across the nation."

    To view the votes by state, go here.

    6. Demand accountability from federal and city officials.

    Even if they're not your representatives, you can still show support for and voice your opinions to Ferguson's elected officials charged with helping to mediate the conflict. In the state legislature, Ferguson is primarily represented by state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D) and state Rep. Courtney Curtis (D).

    Chappelle-Nadal was tear-gassed Sunday while peacefully protesting Brown's death and has pushed back against the Ferguson police chief's cavalier attitude toward deploying tear gas against civilian protesters.

    "He blew me off," she told The Huffington Post Wednesday, speaking of Jackson. "It was bullshit, and the thing is ... I don't tell people when I'm out with these kids, 'Hey, I'm your senator.' But I don't care about that, I care about these kids."

    Curtis has also voiced support for safeguarding the public against police misconduct by requiring police officers to wear body cameras while on duty.

    Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the ACLU have also criticized the Ferguson Police Department for resorting to "heavy-handed tactics."

    "Under international law, officers responsible for abuses should be adequately disciplined, and, where warranted, prosecuted," Amnesty wrote in a petition addressed to Jackson.

    To sign the Amnesty petition, go here. To support a similar effort by the ACLU, go here.

    You can also contact the Ferguson Police Department, urging law enforcement leaders to release public information related to the shooting.

    To contact Police Chief Thomas Jackson, call 314-524-5269 or email

    7. Don't allow irrelevant narratives to deflect from the larger issue at hand.

    As Michael Brown's death unfolds in the media, numerous developments haphazardly released by the Ferguson Police Department have served to distract from the core issue behind the Ferguson protests: Another unarmed, black teenager has been gunned down by law enforcement with little to no explanation.

    On Friday, the Ferguson police chief released a video allegedly depicting Brown in a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store, where police claim he stole a $48.99 box of Swisher Sweets cigars. Jackson later noted that the robbery was unrelated to Brown's death.

    On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the St. Louis County medical examiner revealed that Brown had "marijuana in his system" when he died.

    Throughout the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, some people have also focused on a minority of hostile protesters looting local stores as a justification for police brutality against a larger group of peaceful protesters with a more pressing mission: justice for Brown.

    Regardless of whether an 18-year-old stole a pack of cigars or had marijuana in his system when he died, his life had value and the circumstances of his death deserve fair and complete examination. Black Americans have had to remind the rest of the nation this a few too many times.

    8. Send condolences or a message of support to Brown's family here.

    9. Diversify your media consumption.

    The ongoing protests in Ferguson have unleashed a flurry of competing perspectives on issues ranging from police militarization to racial inequality.

    With social media driving so much of the Ferguson narrative, it becomes even more important to actively seek coverage from a diverse range of political outlets to gain a deeper understanding of the historical, cultural and socio-economic factors at play in Ferguson.

    A snippet from some different accounts of the unrest in Ferguson:

    "The reason I go through such painstaking efforts when I deal with police is because I learned from my parents and through experience that you want that officer to feel as calm, comfortable and safe as possible. You don't want him on edge, nervous or agitated. Stay calm. Breathe. Don't get animated. Don't get loud. Don't be a smart-ass. Don't even move. Don't do anything."
    -- T.J. Holmes, The Root

    "I don't know what made me buy a plane ticket to St. Louis at 1:15 a.m. on Tuesday ... But perhaps it was just me. A black boy turned black man who finds it increasingly miraculous that I made it to 27. A black man with a black mother who was alive in the South for the final push of Jim Crow. And a black man with a black mother with black parents who would have done anything so that their children and grandchildren wouldn't have to live a life in fear of the dogs. And the hoses. And the bombs." -- Rembert Browne, Grantland

    For insight into international coverage of the protests, read The Washington Post's "How the rest of the world sees Ferguson."

    10. Recognize the widespread implications of white privilege, and invest yourself in racial equality.

    The Civil Rights Act may have become law 50 years ago, but America's fight against racial discrimination is far from over.

    In a society where black people are more likely to be held back a grade in school or disproportionately arrested for drug-related crimes, the societal privileges afforded to whites become even more critical issues to recognize.

    White privilege is being able to play with a toy gun in Walmart without making other shoppers uneasy and without being shot to death by police.

    White privilege is being able to send your son to a convenience store without worrying that store employees will stalk him, afraid that he might steal something.

    Or being able to carry loaded rifles into restaurants without fearing that a misconstrued move could end your life.

    In an interview with The Huffington Post last week, the Rev. Tony Lee, an African-American pastor at Community of Hope AME Church in Prince George's County, urged white Americans to show solidarity with the African-American community:

    We need to lock arms amidst all of this. If the police feel they are above the law with any one group, they will feel they are above the law with others. We need to learn from the civil rights movement. It wasn't just black folks, it was everybody, because it wasn't a black problem it was a moral issue. We are remembering 40 years after the Freedom Summer. That wasn't just black people risking their lives, it was a community that went down to Mississippi because they knew that when any group within the nation is marginalized then we can't be the nation we want to be.