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Senator Skewers GOP's Irrational Fear Of Refugees

Wed, 2016-09-14 16:30

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WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama’s decision to bring 110,000 more refugees to America next year “is principled and is necessary,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday, arguing that Republicans who oppose the move have an inexplicable and misplaced fear that people who claim to need help will actually be terrorists.


“The number of refugees in the world today is at an all-time high,” Durbin told reporters in his Capitol Hill office when asked about the administration’s decision. “We are facing a true humanitarian crisis when it comes to Syria and the people who have been displaced by that war.”


Republicans have hammered the Obama administration’s new plans to increase the number of refugees. About 85,000 refugees were settled in the United States this year, including 10,000 Syrians.  


“The American people do not support these radical plans, which amount to a complete betrayal from their leaders in Washington,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, said of the news.


Republicans have been especially opposed to Syrian refugees, arguing that they pose too great a threat to be allowed into the United States, at least for the time being.


But Durbin pointed to Canada, which has already accepted more than 25,000 Syrians, and to European allies that have taken in about 1 million of some 5 million displaced people.


“The United States can and should do more,” Durbin said, emphasizing that he thought 100,000 Syrian refugees would be a good number, considering the need.


He argued that it makes no sense for Republicans to fear terrorism from people who are themselves fleeing terrorists ― especially since refugees must go through a lengthy screening process that has a strong track record.


“For the record, 800,000 refugees have been accepted in the United States since 9/11,” Durbin said. “Not one has been engaged in domestic terrorism. All right?”


The senator appeared to be overlooking a handful of cases that could be tied to terrorism, but his larger point still stands: The number of refugees linked to terror activities in the United States is minuscule, according to an extensive analysis by the Cato Institute that found 20 examples of refugees linked to terrorism out of more than 3.2 million refugees admitted since 1975.


Durbin said Republicans would be much better off focusing on the nation’s massive flow of visitors who receive no background checks.


“We have 20 million visa waiver visitors to the United States each year,” he said. “If you want to talk about security and foreigners in this country, for goodness sakes, if we did a fingerprint, biometric investigation or evidence accumulation before they got on board the plane, [it’s] not too much to ask, and it would make us safer.”


“Why the Republicans, in particular, are focused so much on these heavily vetted refugees, who have a history of being good citizens when they become part of America, I don’t understand,” he added. “Let us focus instead on vulnerabilities, and one of them is the visa waiver program.”


Elise Foley contributed reporting.

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The Dakota Access Pipeline Is An Example Of A Much Bigger Problem

Wed, 2016-09-14 10:58

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline is showing no signs of losing momentum.


Last week, protesters looking to block the construction of the massive oil pipeline in North Dakota scored a significant, if temporary, victory as three federal departments halted the project and placed it under review, overruling a federal judge’s denial of the tribe’s request for an emergency injunction.


The protesters have argued that the pipeline construction will disturb sacred lands and burial grounds. In addition, the tribe is worried about the environmental impact of the pipeline, since it will run under the Missouri River, which supplies the tribe’s drinking water.


The tribe has attracted thousands of supporters to its protest site, including representatives of more than 200 other tribes. Solidarity demonstrations have been held throughout the world.


On Tuesday, Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Projects, the pipeline’s developer, defended the project that will transport oil across 1,200 miles from North Dakota to southern Illinois. In a letter, Warren downplayed its cultural impact and called the protesters’ water safety concerns “unfounded.”


But amid the controversy about the project comes the question of what comes next.


To answer that, we must better understand how we got here in the first place.


Doug Hayes, a staff attorney at the Sierra Club, has been involved with a number of battles over the construction of oil pipelines, including the Keystone XL, which the Obama administration rejected last year.


Hayes sees what’s happening in North Dakota as the latest in a series of recent pipeline projects convened without federal agencies undergoing the necessary environmental review processes. The agencies’ inaction, he argues, has put other communities at risk of oil spills and often threatened the safety of their drinking water sources and local ecosystems.


But Hayes says there’s something unique at work in this particular battle. The Huffington Post recently spoke with the attorney about the Dakota Access protests and what may be different this time.



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What is the historical context for what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline?


I would say the main point in terms of historical context is that these oil pipelines — the Keystone XL, Enbridge and other companies’ pipeline expansions throughout the Great Lakes region, the growing natural gas pipeline buildout — have always undergone an environmental impact statement that looks at the impacts and alternatives and so forth before they are allowed to go forward. It’s required by law under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Keystone XL controversy really was a turning point. Since then, we’ve seen the Army Corps of Engineers, in particular, and other agencies basically approve pipeline after pipeline without any environmental impact statements. That’s what happened here.


To put a finer point on it, the tribes are concerned about, among other things, water quality, and no agency has ever analyzed the risks or impacts of oil spilling from this pipeline, in any state of review. Not a single word.


The way the Corps has begun avoiding this transparent process is through what’s called nationwide permit 12. It’s essentially a blanket permit for pipelines up to a half-acre of impact, a pre-issued permit. The Corps has begun treating these 1,200-mile pipelines like a series of half-acre projects that each qualify under that exemption. This is a general permit that doesn’t mention oil spills or climate impacts and never talks about Native American tribes and cultural significance and sacred sites.


Obviously there are a number of unique layers to this fight: the historic coming together of tribal communities and other groups, including even some farmers, against this. Is that what makes this battle so unique?


This is an unprecedented coming together of tribes around the country and the world, really. It’s not just an environmentalist issue, though there are certainly a lot of environmental concerns we care deeply about. It’s ranchers in very often conservative parts of the country that are seeing their land taken away by corporations to build these pipelines through their property through imminent domain, for the private gain of these corporations. In the Keystone XL fight, that was a good example of this, a pretty diverse coalition of groups coming together — the tribes in South Dakota and Nebraska were crucial in that fight, as well as landowners along the pipeline.


The first Keystone XL pipeline was supposedly the safest one ever built and it spilled oil 12 times in its first year of operation. One of those times, there was a 60-foot geyser of oil in South Dakota that a local rancher just happened to see and called into the pipeline company. And with this pipeline in particular, they originally proposed to build it near Bismarck, but they determined that it’s a more highly populated, higher-income part of the state and they were worried about the stress to their water supply. So they moved it out to the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and its drinking water supply. I think that decision is a perfect example of what sparked such an outrage here.



This is not the first time a controversial project like this has been placed on or near tribal land and threatened water quality for Native communities, of course. How does that trend play into what’s happening here?


The short answer is it’s easier for the industry to build these without significant opposition in places where there are lower-income communities. There are the massive oil spills you hear about on the news several times a year, but there are hundreds of others that happen too.


The Kalamazoo spill in Michigan was an incident where the pipeline spilled for 17 hours into the river before they detected it. Then you have really egregious examples like just last week in Louisiana. In the last three years, there have been over 200 crude oil spills. They happen all the time. And those are just the ones where you get the data. All the pipelines’ leak detection systems are only set up to detect spills of greater than 2 percent [of their liquid]. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you have a pipeline pumping 470,000 barrels of oil every day, it is. These pipelines are often seeping or leaking in small places and we don’t have any way to detect them. These are the types of concerns the tribes have and they’re, frankly, very well-founded.


There’s also the issue of drilling these pipelines under waterways, like they are in the Missouri River by the Standing Rock reservation. The Yellowstone River spill several years ago was an instance where the river pipeline drilled under the river eventually eroded and spilled up into the river. It’s a whole other series of issues that haven’t been addressed here. 


Given the Obama administration’s action to block the pipeline, are you optimistic that more good news is coming for the protesters?


It’s definitely a great and encouraging first step. The administration is clearly listening to the Standing Rock tribe and its indigenous allies that have gathered there and we’re hopeful they’ve committed to looking at the process and whether a further environmental review is needed. I think the answer to that is clearly “yes.”


With a project of this magnitude — 1,200 miles going through the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribal nations and communities along the pipeline route — there’s a risk of spills, a climate impact and everything else points to a thorough, transparent environmental review like we’ve seen with the Keystone and other pipelines. I’m hopeful the administration is going to agree this pipeline warrants further review.


―-


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@huffingtonpost.com.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

The Presidential Candidates Still Aren't Talking About Our Food Supply

Tue, 2016-09-13 17:28

If the two major party candidates for president care about our nation’s food supply, they certainly aren’t doing much to indicate that. 


About six months ago, The Huffington Post sent a list of eight questions concerning food and agricultural policy to all the Republican and Democratic campaigns. We received no responses.


Since then, of course, the field of contenders has winnowed to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. But when it comes to what the candidates have said concerning hunger, nutrition, GMO labeling or sustainable agriculture, little has changed.


Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio says he thinks the candidates’ virtual silence on these issues is unacceptable, but it’s not surprising given the tone of the race. 


“What’s going on right now [in the election] is not about policy at all. It’s only about optics at this point, which is really depressing,” Colicchio told HuffPost.


Nevertheless, Colicchio is pushing for food policy discussion to enter the fray. In his role as co-founder of the advocacy group Food Policy Action, the “Top Chef” judge spoke at rallies held in conjunction with both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this summer.


The rallies are part of the “Plate of the Union” food truck tour Colicchio’s group is sponsoring this summer alongside two other organizations. The tour continues with a stop in Washington, D.C., this week before making a series of additional stops concentrated largely in the Midwest region through the end of October.


At those rallies, Colicchio has called for political leadership on food issues. The chef said that based on the crowds at their events and the responses to their petition, the message appears to be resonating. 


“I think the conversation is starting to change,” Colicchio said. “It’s not sensational like ISIS or national security, but people are starting to understand these issues and pay attention to them.”



Two weeks out from the first presidential debate, however, that momentum has yet to translate into much conversation.


For Trump, much has been made of his dietary preferences, which would prove alarming to most nutrition experts. The New York Times described him as aiming to be “the nation’s fast food president” thanks to his penchant for dining on buckets of KFC fried chicken and Big Macs aboard his jet. 


But neither Trump nor his team have communicated much in the way of food policy positions.


In November, the billionaire alluded to rolling back the number of participants in the SNAP food-stamp assistance program and mocked a protester who appeared to be angered by that comment, calling him “seriously overweight.” Campaign positions on his website do not include policies related directly to food or agriculture. 


On the other side of the aisle, Clinton’s platform references increased support for family farms and local food systems and acknowledges the role immigrants and migrant workers play in supplying the nation’s food, but doesn’t touch on other related issues such as equitable food access or the state of the government’s dietary guidelines. 


The Democratic candidate also pledged in a campaign factsheet to protect SNAP benefits and expand them to improve users’ access to healthy foods. 


But that’s about it. FPA is looking for more detailed answers to its food-related questions.


The organization created its own food policy questionnaire in partnership with researchers at Johns Hopkins University and expects to release any responses it receives in October.   



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The continued silence from the candidates on these issues has come as a disappointment to other activists in the burgeoning food movement. One of them is Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, a San Francisco-based food advocacy group. 


Dimock said he’s “concerned and disappointed” the candidates lack stances on most food issues. But he still hopes that, in lieu of attention on the national stage, food policy concerns are gaining increasing momentum at the state and local levels.


Dimock’s group is a big part of that progress. Founded in 2002, the organization helped create a statewide network of food policy advocates that ultimately morphed into the California Food Policy Council


In partnership with its colleagues on the council, the group has successfully fought for new statewide sustainability programs like a healthy soils initiative that provides resources to help farmers and ranchers reduce their farms’ greenhouse gas emissions and increase their ability to “farm” or store carbon in their soil. Dimock called it the nation’s first program of its kind. 


Wins like these could serve as examples to inspire copycats elsewhere, perhaps even on the national stage, Dimock hopes.


“We’re trying to generate a politically active and effective food movement in the state of California, and we’re trying to make some changes that could be models for the rest of the country to follow,” Dimock told HuffPost.


There’s significant progress happening on the municipal level, too. In recent years, more than 20 cities across the country have hired food systems experts to help them address food-related issues, including obesity and equal access to healthy foods.


Among those cities is Minneapolis, where City Councilman Cam Gordon, of the Green Party, has helped encourage more food growing and small-scale production within the city.


In recent years, Gordon fought to require corner stores to sell at least a small selection of fresh fruits and vegetables to increase access to fresh produce in low-income neighborhoods. He’s also authored legislation that set new standards for farmers markets that protected local growers and also helped reform previous zoning laws that inhibited urban farming operations in the city.


These efforts have been among the most attention-grabbing of any of the legislation he’s worked on, Gordon, who serves on the city’s Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, told HuffPost. He thinks that’s with good reason, and he hopes it’s a sign of what’s to come.


“There seems to be a shift happening,” Gordon said. “People want to be healthy and want to know where their food’s coming from.”


―-


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@huffingtonpost.com.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

The University Of Chicago Strikes Out

Tue, 2016-09-13 15:01
My alma mater the University of Chicago has managed to get what it's always wanted: attention from the national press. Unfortunately, it did so by sending a completely unnecessary letter to incoming students announcing the school's opposition to trigger warnings and safe spaces, concepts the letter doesn't seem to understand at all. So let me wade into this muck in the hope of achieving some clarity. As the University of Chicago taught me, it's best to begin by defining one's terms.

Just as sexual harassment is a form of expression which is nonetheless regulated to make it possible for women to function in the workplace, various kinds of campus behavior are forms of expression which may nonetheless be regulated to make it possible for non-majority students to function in academe. Surely there are ludicrous examples of demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, just as there are egregious examples of on-campus hostility and discrimination (e.g. men parading outside a women's dorm yelling "No means yes! Yes means anal!"). The issue in either case is the boundary between free expression and expression designed to intimidate or silence. No one can deny that a burning cross is an example of expression but as its purpose is to terrorize, it's considered to be on the wrong side of that boundary. So, in Europe, is Holocaust denial, though it's tolerated on American college campuses (while assertions that the earth is flat, say, would not be).

Thus people who take seriously the possibility that a person calling black women "water buffaloes" intends to demean and silence them are simply engaging in the type of critical thinking to which universities are supposed to be dedicated as well as the complementary analysis of what is necessary to protect an environment of civil discourse.

I'm a passionate advocate of the educational experience I had at the U of C, and nonetheless I think the letter to incoming students could more succinctly have been rendered as "F**k you if you imagine anything you think will be of interest or concern to us; you must have mistaken us for someplace that cares. And if you don't like it take your female and black and brown and queer sensibilities elsewhere." And I am revolted that my alma mater decided its reputation was best spent on that kind of dog-whistle right-wing nonsense.

You don't want to use trigger warnings? Don't. But there's no need to denounce them unless your real purpose is to let people (especially, perhaps, donors) know that you're indifferent to any concerns about mistreatment based on identity, and that any complaints about such mistreatment will be met with dismissiveness and derision because how dare any of these 21st Century concerns impinge on the 19th Century approach to which we've apparently dedicated our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor?

When I spoke up at the law school, I was thanked for expressing "what the women think." When a classmate objected to the teaching of Plato's Symposium as though it didn't refer to gay love, he was told that the University didn't "cater to special interests." When students and faculty spoke out for diversifying the curriculum beyond the dead white "mods and greats" beloved of the British university system, the response (from Saul Bellow, no less) was "where is the Proust of the Papuans?" though the whole point of his query was to ridicule the idea of our finding out.

There was nothing "micro" about these aggressions; they were perfectly visible examples of the majority's desire to humiliate and stifle the minorities. And the University's admissions policies in those days (though not now, happily) were carefully designed to make sure that black and brown and even female people were in the tiniest minorities possible.

So the U of C has a long history of behaving as if modernity were a personal insult, and this letter to first-years is as much in keeping with that tradition as any boob's expressed desire to make America great (meaning white) again.

I've heard there are donors to other schools who've withdrawn their support when their alma maters have acknowledged their role in slavery or in any way made a reckoning with the imperfections of the past. So just to balance things out, I'm withdrawing my support of an institution which seems to glory in denying there ever were any such imperfections or that any discrimination or hostility continues to exist today. The U of C exercised its privilege of flipping the bird to its incoming students and I'm exercising my privilege to flip the bird to the U of C.

I hope the faculty and administration don't experience that as traumatic; but just in case I'm providing this trigger warning.

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Expect More Dictatorship in Springfield After 2016 Elections

Tue, 2016-09-13 10:28
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek



Why should we care about what happens in contested state legislative races all over the state this year? Each really is about the battle for control between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. You knew that, but perhaps you didn't realize we all will lose no matter who wins.

Every election cycle, there typically are a couple dozen hotly contested state legislative races, even after one political party or the other gets done rigging maps in their favor. Each party in both chambers has seats they can swipe from the other side. It's in those races, traditionally, where most of the money is raised and spent.

This year is no different. But where it has changed, is that Republicans now are energized because of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner changes the political landscape in Illinois with his determination to shake up Springfield and his bottomless checking account. After years and years of failure, Republicans have their best shot in decades at winning the nuclear arms race that is funding and winning campaigns.

Scott Kennedy, the terrific analyst and former Democratic party and government operative who now works in the private sector, keeps track of reams of data on state races at his website, Illinois Election Data.

At the end of June, Kennedy estimated $128 million already had been spent or collected for on state elections. In an email, he told me he thinks it's reasonable to expect $150 million will be spent on primary and general election state races.

Kennedy also ranked which districts are most mathematically winnable for each party in each chamber based on 2014 election results.

In several contested races, Rauner and the GOP have been hard at work running against Madigan, who is one of the most negatively viewed politicians around. Rauner is trying to tie him like a noose around the necks of Democrats and squeeze the knot. Madigan and the Democrats have been doing the same to Rauner with reporters for months. Soon, they'll start spending gobs of money, too, aiming to make every contested Republican look as extreme, heartless and cruel as Madigan claims Rauner and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are.

So what? Let's not forget our physics lessons: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Rauner shook up Springfield all right. Now, instead of one dictator, we now have two.

Rauner and Madigan control how much money goes into the key races like never before.

That's the action. The reaction? In a state that had very little bold independence, we will have far less of it.

Consider a few top races:

  • The GOP is targeting state Sen. Gary Forby, a downstate Democrat, for defeat. Forby has collected more than448,000 from the state party or leadership committees (really Madigan). That figure is 46% of his975,000 total. His opponent, Republican Dale Fowler, has collected more than237,000 from his party or leadership, a figure that's almost 78 percent of his305,000 total.


  • The Democrats are after GOP state Sen. Sue Rezin, who raised nearly586,000. Of that,286,000, or 49 percent, came from the GOP. Her challenger, Democrat Christine Benson, has raised171,000, with142,000 from top Democrats. That amounts to 83 percent.


  • In the House, one of the top races that looks best for Republicans is the downstate race between Democratic state Rep. John Bradley and Republican David Severin. Bradley has raised more than986,000. Only74,000 has come from the party so far, or 7.5 percent of the total. Severin, though, has raised304,000 and a whopping 90 percent, or more than274,000, has come from Rauner and the GOP.


  • The top House race that looks mathematically best for Democrats to pick up is the northwest side district of Republican state Rep. Michael McAuliffe. He's being challenged by Democrat Merry Marwig. McAuliffe has raised1.3 million. More than1 million came from Rauner's party, or 84 percent. Marwig has raised nearly157,000, with about104,000 coming from the Democrats for nearly 67 percent.


How can we constituents fight to be heard when the politicians all owe their jobs to Madigan and Rauner?

One more note:

Political scientist/commentator extraordinaire Paul Green probably would laugh at what I just wrote and tell me, "Doubek, that's the way party politics is supposed to work." Green, who died suddenly Saturday, helped me and countless others learn the ropes and filled our columns with lively quotes for decades.

On the last night of the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, I was running for a bus back to the delegation hotel when I caught up with Green, who offered me a wild ride. Literally. Green's wife, Sharon, drove a car all over San Diego trying to find shortcuts and avoid convention backups to get us to some adult beverages ASAP. The entire time, the Greens had me grinning from the back seat with their repartee as the three of us told political tales. Ever since then, every time he saw me, he'd loudly refer to our "threesome," and say, "Doubek, remember, we'll always have San Diego!"

I'm so grateful we did. There will never be another man as quick-witted and generous as Paul Green. I can't believe you're gone, Paul.

Next article: Budget impasse affecting enrollment at Illinois public universities

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ETHS Class of 1966' 50th Reunion: You CAN Go Home Again

Mon, 2016-09-12 12:46
Recall Thomas Wolfe's 1940 novel, YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN, about a fledgling writer, George Webber, whose successful book makes more than an occasional reference to his town whose residents resent how they are characterized and whose depiction of them is distorted, so much so that Webber is sent menacing correspondence and even death threats from the town's citizens. Wolfe's exploration of America's changing society of the 1920s/30s prevented Webber from ever being able to return, "home again".

Not so for the 50th high school reunion of the Class of 1966 from Evanston Township High School (ETHS) in Evanston, Illinois held the weekend of September 9-10, 2016. This writer happens to be one of those graduates.

This reunion for a class of a little over 900 graduates drew nearly a third, or about 300 attendees, to the main affair on Saturday night the 10th. It was quite a high-water mark, though preceded that day by a tour of the high school followed by a luncheon. The night before was an informal get-together at a locally, well-known restaurant that well outdrew the anticipated attendance.

One classmate would go on to describe the main event party as a "love-fest" 50 years in the making, but involving many having not interacted with one another for that long period of time, absent some sort of social media connection in recent years. After all, we all are 50 years older, with some aging in different ways; some gracefully, others not and to an extent that that we could no longer be recognized from our youthful days as high school students absent others taking a stare or two at our name tags affixed to our chest-high clothing. Then there were others whose basic physical characteristics absent some hair loss, a bit more weight, a limp in our gait, and certainly imbued with more wrinkles than ever before, changed little from those days long since gone. Some also achieved material or financial success as well as recognition by others with words on paper, hardware or from some other form of praise and worthiness during that time; others were equally rewarded from the ensuing years after high school by hooking up with a loving and caring spouse (or two or three?), best friend or partner; blessed children; grandchildren; assisting those less fortunate; or undertaking charitable or community service. And there were others, to be sure, that fell on hard times or had a troubled life. Existence can be a crapshoot, as we know only too well. Of course, there were those who were no longer with us, totaling close to 110+. Knowing of those losses brought a tear to more than one attendee.

But what wasn't missing and that shown brightly throughout the evening affair was the camaraderie, the spirit, the enthusiasm, and, well (once more), the "love", for each other who attended the evening party. This was infectious, even the spouses and guests of classmates caught this "fever". The festiveness and exquisite feeling for the occasion reflected all the long hours put in for over a year by a hard-working reunion planning committee headed by Karen Miller Hudachko. The big ticket items like the site of the party-the Monaco Ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel in Skokie, the yummy food, and the DJ spinning the '60s tunes to the small items like the green screen and camera used for complimentary photographs, and a continuous running on a TV screen of those who have passed were the bailiwick of Sue Ann Keller Mandel and her husband, Larry. The creativeness and artistry of the decorations went to Marc Bermann, Joyce Weber and their respective reunion committee members. There was even a table with photocopies of certain pages of old copies of the Evanstonian, the school newspaper, highlighting events from the class, from sports to academics to the arts. Recall Streisand's song, Memories....

The surprise of the evening was when Larry (Mandel), also serving as our unofficial emcee that introduced the evening's agenda, asked us to first bow our heads, maybe, we thought, in silence to remember the nation's losses on 9-11, to occur the following day, or as a remembrance of those from our class we have lost. Wrong. The school's fight song was then played and without any advance notice, the current high school cheerleaders in their regalia trotted to the dance floor to lead us all in the song and their cheers---we were all back at one of our high school's football games, even for the few minutes the song blared over the DJ's loud speaker. We all sang proudly and applauded these young women whose parents might not even have been born back in 1966. Yikes. But what an astoundingly, absolute delight to hear and see it all!

The real significance, though, of our evening's gathering was having those that attended come back home to a time before the challenges of life were to meet and hit us all head-on. I first wrote about this in a piece titled, "Noted Evanston High Class to Hold 50th Reunion" ((Nov. 8, 2015) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com-miles-j-zaremski/noted-evanston-high-class_b_8504638.html). The only difference between 1966 and now was, of course, those pesky 50 years of subsequent experiences---and a lot happened during those years, like the Viet Nam War; like the mop-tops coming from across the pond; like racial strife raising its ugly, but necessary, head; like having to matriculate the rigors of a college education, or having to go directly to work for one reason or another; and like having to deal with death of a loved one.

As if by metaphor of what others of my class must have experienced in their neighborhoods of Evanston over the weekend of the reunion, I grew up in south Evanston, a new, middle-class part of town in the late 1950s. Six of us (Mike Feinstein, Barry Bochner, Frank Ling, Tom Leeds, Sheldon Lebovitz and yours truly) assembled for our reunion before the party by revisiting earlier in the afternoon each of our homes that we grew up in five decades earlier. Yes, those structures remained the same as we recalled growing up in them, only weathered by time. They were our sanctuaries from which we carried forth and expanded the experiences of our youth and inside of which we tackled our homework assignments (well, maybe not all the time). Those abodes seemed small by today's standards, but they were nonetheless our homes for which none of us ever complained. We remembered them with fondness in our minds to be as big as the Taj Mahal too, but, obviously, never came close to fitting into even a small part of it. We also visited sites we frequented in the city, even going to the playground of Dawes School, where we went for grades K-6. We tried a bit of touch football on the grassy area where we did it years ago as kids, but our lungs were not what they used to be back then, so our "3 on 3" game lasted all of about 15 minutes. We also tried the game of what we called, "fast-pitch", where the pitcher threw a rubber ball the size of a hardball to the batter, standing 50' away in front of a brick ball that became an automatic ball return-backstop. Suffice it to say, none of us could throw more than 35 MPH (normal now-a-days is 90+)---hoping not to hit the batter with our pitches---and most only swung at the thrown balls without connecting. Who cared about performance; it was all fun, and merely another measure of being "invited" back home by reliving a best part of it again.

The evening of nearly six hours went by oh so quickly, filled up by food, entertainment and dancing (ok, our step was not as lively as long ago but our hearts carried the rhythm of the songs as always). More significantly, we engaged in conversation from meeting and greeting long-lost friends and high school schoolyard chums. The (re)-connections from days gone by could not have been stronger or more inviting.

At its end, one of our classmates developed a medical condition requiring the attention of health care personnel, now goodness resolved without complication. Yet, what took place initially reminds us, as if in microcosm, that life can be short but certainly no less precious for any one of us, to be guarded jealously as best as we are able to muster. After all, there won't be a second 50th reunion for any of us, lest we set a world record for longevity, and we may never again see others we conversed and hung out with at the reunion party.

In a blink of an eye, the evening soiree was over. Gone but for the existence of memories revived, photos taken of others or with us, relationships renewed, and new, additional memories stored away. So, to any other 50th reunion class that takes place every year across the land, be rightfully jealous---no class will ever have what members of our class had over this past weekend.

In contrast to Thomas Wolfe's Webber, recall the fictional author again who couldn't return home, those in attendance at the 50th reunion for ETHS' Class of 1966 did comfortably and proudly return home again, and a fine and welcoming "home" it was!

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Transgender Woman Found Slain On Chicago's West Side

Mon, 2016-09-12 12:13

Information received by Windy City Times from a source close the the West Side trans community indicates that a transgender woman named T.T. was found murdered in Chicago’s Garfield Park the evening of Sept. 11, 2016. 


According to the Chicago Police Department and subsequent reports by the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, a body was discovered in the 4500 block of West Monroe. The throat had been cut and a knife found nearby.

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Iconic 'Doublemint Twins' Reveal 'Debilitating' Darkness That Nearly Tore Them Apart

Mon, 2016-09-12 08:23

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Those iconic Doublemint gum commercials featured several different sets of twins over the years, but Linda Ryan Puffer and Lisa Winters Cox had the longest run of all. The Illinois natives starred as the famed Doublemint Twins in a series of spots that ran from 1985 to 1995, each one featuring the women as lighthearted, laughing sisters always having fun.


But away from the camera, something darker was brewing.


As Linda and Lisa tell “Oprah: Where Are They Now?”, their relationship became quite complicated after the Doublemint commercials stopped airing and the two began living within six miles of each other in Atlanta. 


“We had a bump in the road in our relationship,” Linda says. “There’s an inherent competition you can’t get away from because when people try to compare you like objects, they’re going to try to find differences.”


In Linda’s mind, those differences reflected Lisa in a better light. “She’s the prettier one, she’s the smarter one,” Linda says. “I basically had a personal crisis. I dealt with a bout of anxiety that was debilitating.”



This dark period soon overtook the women’s relationship as sisters.


“I didn’t want to be around her,” Linda says of Lisa. “I was ashamed that I was envious, I was ashamed that I needed that attention or affirmation. It was this duality of emotions.”


For Lisa, the change in their relationship became painful as well. “If felt like rejection,” she says, still emotional. “It just formed a wall between us. It was really hard.”


But Lisa couldn’t watch her sister sink any lower and decided she was going to be there for Linda ― literally. “Nothing felt good, but Lisa glued herself to me. She came and sat on the couch with me, laid in the bed with me,” Linda recalls. “I started having these pockets of light, and this hope. I needed to hear that it will be OK.”


Today, the twins’ relationship is a solid one. They both still live in Atlanta with their respective families and say that they are closer than ever. Through their journeys, they’ve each learned valuable lessons about themselves and about life.


“I’ve learned that you never know what’s going on behind the eyes of someone,” Linda says.


Adds Lisa, “I really trust that God has purpose in every moment.”


Episodes of “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” air Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET on OWN. You can also watch episodes on demand via the Watch OWN app.


Another commercial actor’s update:


Meet the woman who voiced Siri ― and a lot of other things, too

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Airbnb Announces New Policies To Combat Racial Discrimination

Fri, 2016-09-09 16:53
By Kevin Hoffman

As Airbnb re-shapes the hospitality industry in cities across the country, concerns have been raised over discriminatory practices among its home-sharing hosts.

Allison Schraub, Chicago program director for Airbnb, was asked about that issue during a panel discussion hosted by Reboot Illinois in August at the tech incubator 1871.

"I had a feeling someone was going to ask that," Schraub replied. "I will tell you that at Airbnb this our absolute highest priority."

Schraub said Airbnb had recruited former Attorney General Eric Holder and Laura Murphy, former director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington legislative office, to help identify ways to address racial discrimination after complaints came to a head on social media earlier this year and spurred the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.

In a 32-page report published Thursday, the San Francisco-based startup outlined a number of new anti-discrimination policies, including a "community commitment" Airbnb hosts will have to agree to beginning Nov. 1. The commitment asks hosts to work with users "regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias."

The company also plans to reduce the prominence of user photos and automatically block out a host's reservation calendar for days they have told potential renters are not available. Both policies are aimed at tackling problems experienced by people of color, particularly African-Americans.

Additionally, Airbnb said it will ramp up the use of "Instant Book" listings, a feature that allows would-be guests to make reservations without a host's approval.

Murphy, who authored the report, wrote that it was clear Airbnb "needed a comprehensive, end-to-end review," noting there have been too many instances of people being discriminated against "because of who they are or what they look like."

"These changes are merely a first step. Airbnb understands that no one company can eliminate racism and discrimination," she added. "Fighting bias is an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance from all of us. And there is no question that we will continue to see examples of bias and discrimination in society, the sharing economy, and Airbnb in the future."

A report published by several Harvard University researchers in December found "widespread discrimination" by hosts against people with names that sounded African-American. Booking requests from guests with distinct African-American names, such as Tanisha and Tyrone, were about 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names like Kristen and Todd, according to the report.

In May, a class-action discrimination lawsuit was filed against Airbnb by a black man who claimed he was denied a reservation because of his race.

Airbnb's Chicago office declined to comment on the report.

You can find the full report here.

Next article: SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana claims Leslie Munger wants to cut all funding for social services

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Rauner, Madigan, Trump Dominate Illinois U.S. Senate, Comptroller Races

Fri, 2016-09-09 16:32


The race for Illinois comptroller pits Republican incumbent Leslie Geissler Munger against Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza. But it might as well be Bruce Rauner vs. Michael Madigan.

On this week's "Only in Illinois," we discuss how both parties in state legislative races will use the opposite party's leader in negative campaign ads. Republicans already have aired attack ads that portray Democratic lawmakers as servants of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also is chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Munger was appointed comptroller by Rauner in 2015 and Mendoza rarely mentions her opponent without a reference to Rauner. Likewise, Munger has criticized Mendoza -- who served 10 years in the Illinois House under Madigan's leadership -- for citing Madigan as a mentor.

For his part, Madigan has used every opportunity to denigrate Rauner's "extreme" politics, which he says is the cause of the state's prolonged, damaging budget impasse. In a speech to rally county Democratic leaders, Madigan linked Rauner's "extremism" with that of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

As campaign season gains momentum in the final eight weeks before Election Day, voters are assured of an avalanche of negative ads by Democrats that seek to link Republican opponents to Rauner.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Mark Kirk's repeated disavowal of Trump has not stopped Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth from linking Kirk to Trump as often as possible.

This is why we think the 2016 election in Illinois is becoming one big proxy battle in which candidates try to damage their opponents by associating them with their party leaders. Will it work? Should it? That's what we're talking about on this week's "Only in Illinois."

Next article: Which NFL team Twitter hashtag is the WORST?

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20 States Suffer From Toxic Algae, And We're Doing Little To Stop It

Fri, 2016-09-09 11:58

Thick, massive cakes of smelly green toxic algae bubbled up along beaches and rivers in South Florida’s coastal communities this summer. It was so serious, authorities declared a state of emergency.


Meanwhile, a large algal bloom in Utah forced the closure of the Scofield Reservoir, a popular boating and swimming destination, in the past month. A scattering of rotting corpses of dead fish and waterfowl emerged along its shores. Last week, authorities warned residents near New York’s Seneca Lake to avoid the water following a confirmed algae outbreak. And on Wednesday, Oregon’s Blue Lake was similarly closed for recreation due to an algae advisory.


Toxic algal blooms have been confirmed in more than 20 states this summer. And they’re becoming more serious and more common. These blooms impact local economies dependent on water-reliant recreation, but scientists are even more concerned about the broader repercussions of the trend.


The blooms, also called cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, can negatively impact on human health. They can cause rashes, stomach or liver issues and respiratory problems in anyone who ingests or swims in contaminated water or who breathes in mist from an impacted waterway.


The toxins found in the blooms can also sicken and kill aquatic life, wreaking havoc on local ecosystems and creating hypoxic dead zones where aquatic life cannot get the oxygen it needs to survive.


Different types of toxic algae also occur in estuaries and coasts. If someone consumes a shellfish, for example, exposed to those algae, that person could face symptoms ranging from upset an stomach or diarrhea to respiratory arrest, explained Pat Glibert, an environmental science professor at the University of Maryland.


“A large enough dose can cause respiratory arrest,” she told The Huffington Post. “And respiratory arrest can lead to death.”



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These cyanobacteria need nitrogen and phosphorous to grow and scientists believe they are getting it, largely, because of increased nutrient runoff from farms that are overusing fertilizer on their crops. 


Climate change isn’t helping matters, either. Drought conditions and torrential rainfall linked with the changing climate both contribute to a higher concentration of nutrients in waterways, and warmer temperatures also help blooms grow.


It’s a perfect storm for bigger, more frequent harmful algal blooms, Glibert said. And those conditions don’t seem to be changing significantly anytime soon.


“We’re changing our climate, we’re in a warming period, we have a nutrient pollution problem and once many of these [algae] species get established, they can reoccur year after year,” Glibert said.


The federal government is getting involved, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a national reporting system for the blooms — its first — this June in an effort to help raise federal awareness of the issue.


But the system makes it strictly voluntary for states and municipalities to report any blooms or associated illnesses and, as Scientific American reported this week, many states and municipalities lack the funding to adequately test for and treat the blooms.


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Additional efforts are underway to attempt to prevent the blooms in the first place, such as the Great Lake Commission’s Lake Erie nutrient reduction plan — an agreement announced last year between eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces to reduce the runoff of phosphorous into the lake by 40 percent by 2025.


That plan’s focus on reducing phosphorous runoff into waterways is in line with a recommendation a group of Canadian of U.S. scientists laid out in a paper published last month in the Environmental Science & Technology journal.


The study reviewed studies evaluating how nitrogen runoff reduction efforts, either alone or with phosphorous reduction efforts, impacted the development of algal blooms.


Their analysis found that when phosphorous runoff alone was controlled, the blooms were reduced. Controlling the nitrogen runoff, conversely, did not impact the development of blooms.


While an important finding that could help officials prevent blooms, Steve Carpenter, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and a contributing author of the paper, pointed out that phosphorous runoff is largely linked to agricultural practices ― a contributing factor to the phenomenon that has proven to be an elusive target for reduced nutrient runoff.


“So far we have been unable to come up with policies and practices that work for managing agricultural phosphorous pollution,” Carpenter told HuffPost. “It is a major unsolved environmental problem.”



But the Great Lakes plan and other strategies don’t specifically target the farms many experts say is largely to blame for the problem. Environmental advocacy groups are calling on the agriculture industry to step up.


The nonprofit Environment America linked the problem in a report published this summer to large agribusiness companies and their massive “manure footprint.” They called for farmers to embrace practices like cover crops and buffer zones to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous leaving their farms and entering waterways.


“These factory farm operations generate so much manure they don’t know what to do with it. And the easiest thing to do is spread it around on crop land,” John Rumpler, the report’s author and senior attorney at Environment America, told HuffPost in July.


Such practices are becoming more popular in farming strongholds like Iowa, where the use of cover crops is up 35 percent. While that still only represents 2 percent of the state’s overall cropland, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said last month that more resources are needed to further incentivize the practice for farmers and make it more common.


Solving this issue will clearly require additional funding, but that funding has been on the decline, according to Glibert.


The environmental science professor pointed to areas of China, India and Southeast Asia, where rapid development and increasing use of nutrient fertilizers in farming have left many beaches caked in algae that becomes toxic when it starts to rot, as “in many ways an endpoint we don’t want to get to here.”


“This is a serious environmental issue,” Glibert added. “It’s important for our water quality and for protecting human health.”


―-


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@huffingtonpost.com.

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These 50 American Slang Words Are In Danger Of Disappearing

Fri, 2016-09-09 09:12






We’re constantly hearing about saving eagles or giant pandas from extinction, but we rarely hear about words.


Electric Literature reported on a campaign launched to help preserve a strange, yet wildly entertaining list of “endangered” regional American words and phrases. 


After all, we can’t lose our sonsy supple-sawneys! 


The list of words and phrases was compiled by the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). DARE has been working on this project since 1965, when they conducted nearly 3,000 face-to-face interviews with individuals across the U.S. to map all the variations of dialect across the states, according to the Guardian. 



After carefully selecting the words they believe are “on the cusp of extinction,” DARE partnered with podcasting platform Acast. The plan: The hosts of the programs on Acast’s network will use the words during their shows, influence their millions of listeners, and bring said words back into vocabularies around the nation.


Thomas Daly’s history podcast “American Biography” is one of the first to take on the endeavor, so listen carefully and “be on one’s beanwater.”


Without further ado, here are the 50 endangered words and phrases:

Barn burner: a wooden match that can be struck on any surface. Chiefly Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Maryland.


Bat hide: a dollar bill. Chiefly southwest.


Be on one’s beanwater: to be in high spirits, feel frisky. Chiefly New England.


Bonnyclabber: thick, sour milk. Chiefly north Atlantic.


Counterpin: a bedspread. Chiefly south and south midland.


Croker sack: a burlap bag. Chiefly Gulf states, south Atlantic.


Cuddy: a small room, closet, or cupboard.


Cup towel: a dish towel. Chiefly Texas, inland south region.


Daddock: rotten wood, a rotten log. Chiefly New England.


Dish wiper: a dish towel. Chiefly New England.


Dozy: of wood, decaying. Chiefly north-east, especially Maine.


Dropped egg: a poached egg. Chiefly New England.


Ear screw: an earring. Chiefly Gulf States, lower Mississippi Valley.


Emptins: homemade yeast used as starter in bread. Chiefly New England, upstate New York.


Farmer match: a wooden match than can be struck on any surface. Chiefly upper Midwest, Great Lakes region, New York, West Virginia.


Fleech: to coax, wheedle, flatter. South Atlantic.


Fogo: An offensive smell. Chiefly New England.


Frog strangler: a heavy rain. Chiefly south, south midland.


Goose drownder: a heavy rain. Chiefly midland.


I vum: I swear, I declare. Chiefly New England.


Larbo: a type of candy made of maple syrup on snow. New Hampshire.


Last button on Gabe’s coat: the last bit of food. Chiefly south, south midland.


Leader: a downspout or roof gutter. Chiefly New York, New Jersey.


Nasty-neat: overly tidy. Scattered usage, but especially northeast.


Parrot-toed: pigeon-toed. Chiefly mid-Atlantic, south Atlantic.


Pin-toed: pigeon-toed. Especially Delaware, Maryland, Virginia.


Popskull: cheap or illegal whiskey. Chiefly southern Appalachians.


Pot cheese: cottage cheese. Chiefly New York, New Jersey, northern Pennsylvania, Connecticut.


Racket store: a variety store. Particularly Texas.


Sewing needle: a dragonfly. Especially Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts.


Shat: a pine needle. Chiefly Delaware, Maryland, Virginia.


Shivering owl: a screech owl. Chiefly south Atlantic, Gulf states.


Skillpot: a turtle. Chiefly District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia.


Sonsy: cute, charming, lively. Scattered.


Spill: a pine needle. Chiefly Maine.


Spin street yarn: to gossip. Especially New England.


Spouty: of ground: soggy, spongy. Scattered.


Suppawn: corn meal mush. Chiefly New York.


Supple-sawney: a homemade jointed doll that can be made to “dance”. Scattered.


Tacker: a child, especially a little boy. Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania.


Tag: a pine needle. Chiefly Virginia.


To bag school: to play hooky. Chiefly Pennsylvania, New Jersey.


Tow sack: a burlap bag. Chiefly south, south midland, Texas, Oklahoma.


Trash mover: a heavy rain. Chiefly mid-Atlantic, south Atlantic, lower Mississippi Valley.


Tumbleset: a somersault. Chiefly south-east, Gulf states; also north-east.


Wamus: a men’s work jacket. Chiefly north-central, Pennsylvania.


Whistle pig: a groundhog, also known as woodchuck. Chiefly Appalachians.


Winkle-hawk: a three-cornered tear in cloth. Chiefly Hudson Valley, New York.


Work brittle: eager to work. Chiefly midland, especially Indiana.


Zephyr: a light scarf. Scattered.

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Is There Any Food That's Totally Ethical To Eat? Here's What Experts Buy

Thu, 2016-09-08 15:53

It seems no matter where you turn in the grocery store, there’s a “verboten” item at arm’s reach.


That shrimp dip? Possibly a product of slave labor. Those snack packs of almonds? Have you heard how much water those need?! And let’s not even get into a debate about organic eggs.


As food critic Adam Platt wrote in a Grub Street story this summer, we as consumers have more information available concerning the food we are buying and eating than perhaps ever before. But all those certifications and labels, conflicting academic studies and investigative reports make it difficult to keep track of which foods were sustainably and ethically sourced or not.


That’s especially the case when you’re crunched for time in the grocery aisle.


What’s an eater to do? We spoke with four different food ethics experts to learn how they handle it.


Lauren Ornelas is the founder and executive director of the Food Empowerment Project. The Cotati, California-based food justice organization urges consumers to make informed choices about the foods they buy and avoid foods derived from animals abused on farms, unsustainable farming practices or unfair working conditions.


“We encourage people to eat their ethics and not look at going to the grocery store and buying food as overwhelming when thinking of these dilemmas, but instead looking at it as an opportunity. It’s one more chance to make a difference,” Ornelas told HuffPost.


But Ornelas, who eats a vegan diet and supports worker-led boycotts of the likes of Driscoll’s and Wendy’s, has sometimes struggled with food choices too.


Ornelas said she used to take so much time deciding between her options in the produce aisle — locally-grown but not certified organic? organic, but grown and then shipped hundreds of miles away? — that her husband has taken over that part of their regular shopping trips.


“Nobody is going to be perfect, but we can all do our part,” Ornelas added.


Still, it’s clear even experts are not immune from what food writer Michael Pollan famously dubbed the “omnivore’s dilemma.”



Andrew Chignell, a philosophy professor at Cornell University who teaches an ethics in eating course each spring, had a change of heart when he embraced a vegan diet five years ago. But he still identifies as more of a flexitarian when he’s been invited to someone’s home for a meal.


He said it just doesn’t feel right to turn down his grandmother’s meatloaf or his 88-year-old Austrian friend’s signature Wienerschnitzel “just to make a point.”


Chignell agreed that expecting perfection from eaters is unrealistic, because some of the issues implicit in the question of whether certain foods are ethical to eat or not — such as whether local food is genuinely better food miles-wise — remain unresolved. But other issues — concerning excessive cruelty to workers and animals, for example — are more difficult to debate.


“I think we ask too much if we want people to understand all the empirical details here,” Chignell said. “I do think that it’s reasonable to think that some of the general ethical impulses are ones that every thinking person should share.”


Further complicating ethical matters is the fact that some of the labels, certifications and marking slogans affixed to the foods consumers buy may not mean what some consumers think they mean.


Just because a food is labeled “non-GMO,” for example, doesn’t mean it is organically grown, a fact apparently lost on some consumers. Further confusion abounds when it comes to foods that are labeled as “natural,” a distinction that has become so muddled in meaning that the FDA is getting involved


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Sometimes it is key to question which details are omitted from how a food is labeled, said Jonathan Marks, an ethics professor at Penn State University. 


“We tend to assume that it is good to eat something that is labeled low in fat, sugar, or salt,” Marks told HuffPost. “But it may be high in something else that the label does not mention. Or it may be better to avoid this food for reasons other than health.”


Another factor to consider is the affordability of food, as nutritious and ethically-sourced foods can sometimes be more expensive — or, in the case of food deserts, more difficult to find in the first place — than the alternative. 


There are, of course, tools available to help consumers navigate the jungle of conflicting food labels and purchase products in line with their personal ethics.


The Marine Conservation Society offers a Good Fish Guide smartphone app that allows shoppers to choose sustainable seafood at the supermarket. And the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores app helps shoppers identify products containing pesticides and chemical additives they wish to avoid.


But no currently available tool can encapsulate the myriad of concerns — for animal welfare, the environment and worker’s rights, to name a few — that consumers might have.



One new app, the namesake offering of the Brooklyn-based startup HowGood, pulls together information pertaining to a number of these ethical dilemmas and boils it all down to one rating. That rating is accessible through the startup’s app or via a shelf label currently showing up in a small but increasing number of retailers nationwide. 


Johns Hopkins University researchers are also working to create a new ethical food rating system that will cover a broad range of consumer concerns. The project is led by Alan Goldberg, an environmental health sciences professor. 


“It’s very hard for somebody that’s trying to do good to really carry that out,” Goldberg told HuffPost.


While efforts like these will take some time to be completed or to proliferate, it remains up to consumers to educate themselves about the food they are eating and prioritize the information that they find.


After all, this all comes back to the food we eat and feed our families each day — and it’s hard to think of an issue more important than that.


“We spend a lot of time researching what computer or car to buy or what companies to invest in and we don’t take that same type of time to look into where our food is coming from or why it’s so cheap and who is paying the true cost of that labor,” Ornelas said. “It’s absolutely tough but not doing our best has a worse consequence.”


―-


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@huffingtonpost.com.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Airbnb's Work To Fight Bias And Discrimination

Thu, 2016-09-08 10:05
Over the course of my career, I've learned that lasting change often begins with tough, honest conversations, genuine self-reflection, followed by bold action. In the last half century, we've made tremendous progress toward realizing our civil rights and equal opportunity goals. But we still have a long way to go. We need to talk about, and then take action to end, the discrimination, prejudice, and inequality that still exists -- not only in our laws, but in our schools, our neighborhoods, and our businesses.

That's in part because the way in which bias manifests itself keeps evolving. At the beginning of this century, few predicted that the internet would become such a pervasive tool for cyber bullying or religious extremism, or would so often be used to communicate and enable discrimination and division.

Airbnb is no exception. Their mission is to connect people from around the globe and foster a sense of belonging. But despite those good intentions, some Airbnb users have been turned away from booking accommodations because of their name, background or skin color. Understanding that one case is one too many, the company reached out to me and to Laura Murphy, the former chief of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, to work with them to determine how to greatly diminish -- with the goal of eliminating -- discrimination on its platform.

I agreed to help because from the first time we spoke, Airbnb's leadership team was willing to have that tough, uncomfortable conversation, and because they had the humility and courage to ask for help in the first place. That told me that their goal was to fix the problem, not simply to respond to public criticism.


Airbnb's leadership team was willing to have that tough, uncomfortable conversation.

Throughout the last three months, under Laura's leadership, Airbnb has conducted a rigorous, thorough and inclusive review of its technology and its policies. The review included conversations with employees at every level of the company, Airbnb hosts and victims of discrimination, and outside experts. It also included outreach to civil rights organizations, regulators and federal and state lawmakers. The result is one of the most detailed and honest reviews of a company's role in fighting discrimination, including where efforts fell short, that I've ever witnessed.

That review -- which I believe provides a model for our growing "sharing economy" and the role internet companies play in unintentionally enabling discrimination -- lead to some very real steps Airbnb will take to begin solving the problem.

A few examples: The company will now require everyone who uses Airbnb to commit to oppose discrimination and treat everyone in the Airbnb community with dignity and respect. It has developed new tools to crack down on anyone who violates that commitment, and put together a team of engineers who will work full time to root out bias on the site. Those who do not share Airbnb's value of inclusivity and continue to discriminate will be excluded from the platform.

The company is also taking aggressive steps to make all guests feel welcome. For example, Airbnb will help any guest who experiences discrimination on Airbnb find a place to stay. Additionally inclusivity training is being made available to all hosts. These are among the affirmative steps Airbnb is taking to deal with these issues.


There are no overnight solutions to remedy centuries-old societal prejudices and challenges.


There are no overnight solutions to remedy centuries-old societal prejudices and challenges. If there were, I would not have been asked to join this tough conversation and rigorous review. But that's the point, I was asked. These difficult conversations have begun, and Airbnb has committed to continuing this effort until the problem is solved. Even more importantly, by encouraging individuals from different countries to share their homes and perspectives, Airbnb is encouraging this sort of transformational dialogue and bridge building all across the world.

Our economy and our country are evolving, mostly for the better. But, where we aren't moving forward in our fight for progress, we all have to take a role in addressing discrimination where it exists. I believe Airbnb has done that, and while the effort is still a work in progress, this work will lead to better policies and technologies that will bring us together and ultimately end discrimination.

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Poll: Chicago Voters Sour on Rahm, Tax Hikes

Thu, 2016-09-08 08:15
The eventual and tormented release of the Laquan McDonald shooting death video in January pulverized Mayor Rahm Emanuel's political standing with Chicago voters.

Now a political recovery of sorts has begun. But barely.

A new automated poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer of 582 likely 2016 voters finds that Emanuel's job performance rating remains underwater, but signs of recuperation have emerged.

The August 29 survey conducted by Illinois Public Opinion Strategies, Inc. shows Emanuel with a job approval of 32.3% and a disapproval of 49.0% or 17-points underwater. 18.7% are undecided. The poll's margin of error was +/- 4.75%

As grim as that may look, it's an improvement over a Chicago Tribune survey published on February 1 several weeks after the release of the McDonald video.

In that Tribune poll, Emanuel's job approval rating stood at 27% and his disapproval clocked in at an ugly 63%. And almost 75% said Emanuel's subsequent explanation of his knowledge surrounding the details of McDonald's death was unbelievable.

The passage of time and an aggressive effort by Emanuel to mend fences with voters, particularly African-Americans, has paid some dividends, pushing down his disapproval rating and generating a slight bump in his approval.

But, man, he's got a long way to go.

Emanuel's fundamental political weakness is on vivid display in a hypothetical 2019 match up against potential candidates who may want his job, according to The Insider poll.

In a head-to-head contest that includes ex-Governor Pat Quinn, 2011 mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, Dart leads Emanuel 24.8%-21.1%. Garcia and Quinn trail the mayor by a point or two, coming in at 20.1% and 19.2%, respectively. The poll, which identified each candidate by their current office, has 14.7% undecided.

If Emanuel were to run again, the survey suggests that he could be eliminated in the first round of a crowded primary field unless he dramatically improves his standing with voters. Moreover, that Emanuel's support nearly matches Quinn's should equally unnerve the mayor's political team.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who insists that she will not run for mayor, has a far more formidable position among Chicago voters with 48.7% approving of her job performance and 33.9% disapproving. 17.4% are undecided.

Weighing on Emanuel's political fortunes likely includes more than the fallout from the McDonald episode, but also the bevy tax and fee increases being imposed on and waved at Chicago voters. When confronted by the raw numbers of the hundreds of millions of dollars demanded from taxpayers to rescue public employee pension funds voters are recoiling with intense disapproval, according to the poll.

Asked if they approve or disapprove of "Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council's action to raise property taxes by $839 million in order to fully fund public employee pensions" voters responded with a thumping "no." Just 18.3% approve of the property tax increases and 71.3% disapprove. 10.4% are undecided.

Questioned on their reaction to "Mayor Rahm Emanuel's appointed Chicago Board of Education decision to raise property taxes by $250 million" and voter approval sinks further to 16.4% while disapproval ticks up to 75.0%. 8.6% are undecided.

Wait. There's more.

Reaction to "Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to raise Chicago homeowners' water and sewer bills by $239 million in order to fully fund public employee pensions" is also underwater, drowning, actually. The poll says 17.2% approve and 74.7% disapprove and 8.1% are dizzy with indecision.

While the mayor is attempting to orchestrate the city's financial rescue and manage the political radioactivity that tax and fee hikes generate, Emanuel is also seeking to manage Chicago's crime-related violence and the political forces on both sides of that issue: supporters of the Black Lives Matters movement and backers of the Chicago Police Department.

The Illinois Observer's poll reveals that each camp finds favor and disfavor in nearly equal measure among Chicago voters.

The survey says that 43.2% of voters have a "favorable" opinion of Black Lives Matter and 35.8% have an "unfavorable" opinion of the group. 21.0% are undecided. Meanwhile, 47.9% have a "favorable" opinion of the embattled Chicago Police Department and 34.7% have an "unfavorable" attitude about CPD. 17.4% are undecided.

The mayor must maneuver carefully around crime and policing issues with public opinion nearly split regarding their views regarding two key players.

Emanuel's challenge going forward is to overcome the blow to his credibility in the wake of the McDonald scandal - and it was a scandal - and he seems to be inching forward on that front. But he'll need to amp up the pace of progress on that issue and others if he wants to be a viable contender for a third term in 2019.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

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The Real Story Of The Obama's First Date: We Were There

Wed, 2016-09-07 15:36
"Southside With You" is a charming, witty, and heartwarming movie of the Obama's first date. My wife Jo and I saw them that night, and the movie has two characters based on us, a couple who run into Barack and Michelle at a movie. This is what really happened.

In more than 35 years of teaching and serving now as dean at Harvard Law School, our daughter Martha Minow called me only once to recommend that our law firm recruit one of her students as a summer intern. "I know you don't normally bring on first year students for your summer program at Sidley Austin," she said, "but this one is truly exceptional, and he wants to work in Chicago this summer." I asked, "What's his name?" "Barack Obama," she answered. I replied "Wait a minute, I need to write that down, and you'll have to spell it for me."

I called John Levi, the head of our firm's recruiting, who also oversaw the summer program for law students, and discovered that Barack Obama had already been hired. Levi had interviewed him and offered him a place in our 1988 summer associate program.


"I know you don't normally bring on first year students for your summer program at Sidley Austin," she said, "but this one is truly exceptional..."


We assign lawyers in the firm to supervise the summer associates, and Levi selected one of our most promising young lawyers, Michelle Robinson, to supervise Barack.

I wanted to welcome him to Sidley, and I was curious to see what impressed Martha, so I invited Barack to stop by my office and have lunch. And we worked together on a client's case.

I could soon see Martha was right. Her student was truly exceptional.

Later that summer, my wife Jo and I went to the theater at Water Tower Place in Chicago to see the Spike Lee movie, "Do the Right Thing." We walked into the theater and saw Barack and Michelle buying popcorn at the concession stand. It was their first date.

They were startled and embarrassed, because she did not want anyone in the office to know they were seeing each other outside of work. They thought a supervisor should not be dating a summer associate. Jo and I reassured them that there was no problem, and we went in together to watch the film.

At the end of the film (spoiler alert!) they share their first kiss at the Hyde Park Baskin-Robbins. My wife, Jo, loves that part of the story because her maiden-name is Baskin and she is very proud of her cousin who co-founded the chain.

Barack was everything my daughter said, and we were eager to have him join the firm. But it was clear his ambitions were in a different direction.


They were startled and embarrassed, because she did not want anyone in the office to know they were seeing each other outside of work.


So I was disappointed but not surprised when Barack came to see me to tell me he would not be accepting our firm's offer of a job after he graduated from law school. We were both standing in my office. Then he said, "You'd better sit down for the next part." I looked at him warily and we both sat down. "I'm taking Michelle with me."

"What! You can't do that! We want her here!" I said.

"We're getting married," he told me. I wished them great happiness and we stayed good friends, with concerts at Ravinia and many lunches over the years.

A few years later, I was asked to recommend Barack for a national award. I wrote, "I cannot tell you what this young man will do, but I can assure you he will one day achieve national leadership."



In 2006, I wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune urging him to run for president. I said he combined a first-class temperament with a first-class intellect. Later that year, he asked to meet with me and with my lifelong friend, the late Abner Mikva, because he was deciding whether he was ready -- and he country was ready -- for him to run. His most important question was whether Ab and I, each the father of three spectacular daughters, thought he could be a good father if he campaigned and was elected president. We told him he would see more of his daughters as [resident than he did as a senator, and I thought of that conversation many times as I read about the Obama's nightly family dinners in the White House.

"Southside With You" is a lovely film, touching and romantic. For Jo and me, was a pleasure to see it on a whole different level as it brought back memories of Barack and Michelle when they were young and so full of promise. Seeing the graciousness, elegance and integrity they brought to the White House has more than realized that promise, and we will miss having them there.

Michelle and I were both born on January 17. This year, I turned 90 and Barack called to wish me a happy birthday. I thanked him, and asked him to give Michelle my birthday greetings, too. I told him how proud Jo and I are of them both. They have set an exceptional example for the nation of high standards, a loving marriage, devoted parenting and strong family life. And if they ever decide to return to the practice of law, we would be happy to welcome them back.

Thanks to my daughter, Nell Minow, for suggesting I share these memories.

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These 9 American Destinations Are The Local Answer To Your European Wanderlust

Wed, 2016-09-07 14:40

This season, we’re all feeling a little wanderlust. Whether we’re daydreaming of island-hopping in the clear waters of the Mediterranean or strolling along the banks of the Seine, our minds tend to dwell anywhere but here. But what if we could satisfy our globe-trotting cravings in our own backyard? All it takes is opening our eyes to the hidden gems and Euro-inspired surprises that are right around the corner ― the ones you find on paths you never expected. We partnered with Sanpellegrino® Sparkling Fruit Beverages and its new Delightways app to bring you nine American adventures that meet each and every one of your Euro-travel dreams ― no passport required.



Know of another hidden gem in the U.S. that didn’t make our list? Share it in the comments!


No matter where your adventures take you this season, take time to experience the joy of wandering and exploring new paths. Sanpellegrino® Sparkling Fruit Beverages is bringing a taste of Italy and The Life Deliziosa to the U.S., inspiring us to savor the flavors of life’s little joys ― the ones you find where you least expect them. With the help of Delightways, a new app by Sanpellegrino® Sparkling Fruit Beverages, you can discover more delight-filled gems off the beaten path by creating custom wandering routes through cities including San Francisco, New York and Chicago. Delight isn’t only in the destination, but in the moments of joy we find along the way ― as long as we take a moment to explore.

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Live Stream Rehearsal of The Joffrey Ballet's New Nutcracker

Wed, 2016-09-07 12:04

The Joffrey Ballet Company Members Rehearsing The Nutcracker, Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Is September too early to start thinking about The Nutcracker?

Not if you're in Chicago.

Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is here, working on a brand new version of this holiday classic, which is set to replace Robert Joffrey's long-standing Nutcracker this December. It is much anticipated, especially after his wildly successful interpretation of the ballet classic, Swan Lake.

The Joffrey allowed a live stream of those rehearsals in the studio, and they will be doing the same with The Nutcracker on Thursday, September 8th from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm CST. This is a unique opportunity to get an insider look at how a ballet is created, as well as a preview of this world premiere. It provides a wonderful opportunity for those who live in other areas to get a peek inside Joffrey's studios, and see the company at work. It also gives Chicago-area residents an idea of what they will see on stage this year.

Artistic Director, Ashley Wheater will serve as the host for this event, which takes place on the company's YouTube channel.

The Joffrey Ballet will share this new version of The Nutcracker beginning on December 10th at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. With live music by the Chicago Philharmonic and all new sets and costumes, it's sure to be a popular event this holiday season.

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Chicago Artists Unite To Condemn Gun Violence In Their City

Tue, 2016-09-06 11:59

A group of Chicago artists are speaking out against the routine violence in their community.


So Chi Voices creates music which they hope will help to call attention to the alarmingly high murder rates in Chicago. Over Labor Day weekend, 13 people were killed and 65 people were shot. The long, bloody weekend wasn’t an isolated occurrence. August marked the deadliest month in nearly 20 years with at least 90 homicides.


Community members, including So Chi Voices, say that despite the violence they’re being ignored by local authorities which is why the collective is so important in helping them to lift their voices.


“Chicago-based So Chi Voices is a musical movement,” co-founder Julie Nichols said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “[We’re] a collective of artists committed to uplifting our community through music. This vibrant musical collective originally came together in 2015 in response to Chicago’s rising and ignored senseless violence. Our mission is to introduce progressive change and positivity to the community, turning pain into purpose.”


While shining a light on the violence that plagues their city, So Chi Voices aims to uplift through lyrics filled with hope which can be heard in their song “See Another Day.”


One emcee raps in the song:


“Down here, feel like nobody cares. We still marching for victory while Rahm ignores our bloody tears. Everyday, we try to switch the gears. But it’s hard to stay up, when they keep burning down the stairs.” 


Though a song can’t bring back the more than 500 lives lost this year in the city to gun violence, So Chi Voices praises Chicago residents for their resilience and offers a much-needed song of healing.  


Watch So Chi Voice’s video for “See Another Day” below.




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2016 NFL Contenders And Pretenders

Tue, 2016-09-06 11:14

The 2016 NFL season has yet to kick off, which means it’s the perfect time to decide which preseason darlings are for real, and which are simply hype trains heading nowhere.


There’s buzz around Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, and chatter regarding a much healthier Green Bay offense. And can we really trust Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton during crunch time, considering their suspect playoff history? 


Let the fun begin. 



"This is the biggest of the bold!" @Schultz_Report on predicting @RGIII being the comeback player of the year https://t.co/6MRvWZFhHp

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 23, 2016


To read my five predictions for this season, click here. To read about 20 breakout stars, click here.


New England Patriots ― Contenders 

Brady will miss four games, but the Patriots appear to be in good hands with third-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who will assume control of the offense in Brady’s absence.


Garoppolo’s scant NFL experience ― he’s thrown just 31 passes in his career ― shouldn’t overshadow his athleticism around the pocket and more importantly, his accuracy. Preseason is hardly a barometer for success, but the former second-round pick and Eastern Illinois standout has been accurate and steady nevertheless. And when Brady does return, we can expect the 39-year-old to pick up right where he left off, completing one of the best seasons of his brilliant career.


Perhaps the other key question mark for New England is its less-than-stellar receiving core. Julian Edelman hasn’t been healthy, and with Brandon LaFell bolting to the Bengals, there isn’t a clear-cut No. 2 wide out.


But honestly, what are we really talking about here? The Pats still have Brady, they still have Gronk and they still have “the Hoodie.” The AFC East hardly scares anyone, and the Pats open with games against Arizona, Miami, Houston and Buffalo, the last three of which take place at home in Foxborough, Massachusetts. A staggering 14th division title in 16 years seems like a lock, and so does another potential Super Bowl.


Pittsburgh Steelers ― Contenders

The AFC may not be especially deep, but the Steelers represent as big a threat as anyone. As I previously wrote, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a real chance to break the all-time single season yardage record. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the league, and running back Le’Veon Bell will be lethal once he returns from a three-game suspension (reduced from four games upon appeal).


It’s no secret that Pittsburgh’s real issue in 2015 was its defense. The team ranked 21st in total defense, 30th in passing yards allowed and 11th in points allowed. Not surprisingly, the front office addressed this gaping hole and upgraded personnel, adding a pure cover corner in Artie Burns and a versatile, athletic safety in Sean Davis with its first and second-round draft picks.


Make no mistake: This isn’t exactly Chuck Noll’s unit of the 1970s, but second-year defensive coordinator Keith Rivers employs an aggressive, attacking 3-4 scheme that should be better in 2016 with young talent all across the board.


Arizona Cardinals ― Pretenders

This isn’t a knock on head coach Bruce Arians, nor is it a dig at an elite defense with ball-hawkers at every level. The real issue with Arizona is quarterback Carson Palmer, who simply has not been able to achieve success when it matters most ― in the playoffs.


The tricky part is understanding why: Palmer, without question, is a terrific player. He’s armed with a resurgent Larry Fitzgerald, rising star John Brown and the gifted Michael Floyd, not to mention last season’s second half stud, rookie running back David Johnson.


The Cardinals will put up a ton of points, but can we really trust the 36-year-old Palmer in the clutch? Take last year’s NFC Championship, for example: The former Heisman Trophy winner threw four picks and lost two fumbles against Carolina. One week prior, against Green Bay, the Cards won in spite of Palmer, who tossed two more interceptions. The bottom line is that winning a Super Bowl without good quarterback play is a daunting task, and Palmer has not yet shown he can go the distance.


Seattle Seahawks ― Contenders

I was recently at Seahawks camp with head coach Pete Carroll, and one thing is for sure: The team’s mindset at this year’s camp was considerably better than it was at last year’s.


Seattle is loaded and, just as importantly, it’s finally healthy. Tight end Jimmy Graham, running back Thomas Rawls, cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, free safety Earl Thomas, wide receiver Paul Richardson, cornerback Jeremy Lane ― all of these guys were either hurt and couldn’t play last season, or played hurt and less effectively.


Take Rawls, for instance. Before his season-ending ankle injury, the undrafted rookie from Central Michigan was leading the NFL in yards per carry. He will be spelled by rookie third-rounder C.J. Prosise, an electric playmaker who Carroll believes will become a very special player. Meanwhile, Sherman, Thomas, Chancellor and Lane comprise the Legion of Boom, a unit that helped Seattle lead the NFL in scoring defense for a fourth consecutive year.


Richardson is a burner who will open up the field vertically ― always a plus ― and then there’s Graham, fresh off a devastating injury that some speculated would end his career. The 29-year-old former All-Pro tight end never established himself as a go-to weapon for quarterback Russell Wilson last year, but expect that to change in 2016. Seam routes, play-action, red-zone targets ― it’s all there for the taking, and with the continued development of receivers Doug Baldwin (15 touchdown catches last year) and Tyler Lockett (9 total touchdowns), expect Graham to seize it. 


The biggest concern surrounding the Seahawks is their young and inexperienced offensive line, a unit which the team has spent less money on than any other team in the league. Offensive line coach Tom Cable is hardly fretting over it, though, telling The Huffington Post via text: “That’s their only disadvantage and that’s ok!”


Green Bay Packers ― Contenders 

Expect a much more balanced offense for the Packers this year. That’s what a healthy Jordy Nelson and leaner Eddie Lacy will allow this team. It’s hard to say who is more important, but let’s begin with Lacy, who by any metric underachieved last season. A Second-Team All-Pro in 2013, Lacy’s added weight made him a liability. No longer armed with his deceptive quickness and burst, the running back endured a significant regression in total yards, yards per carry and touchdowns. However, Lacy entered camp considerably leaner and it’s showed. His deft feet and ability to once again break tackles is noticeable, and we should expect the 26-year-old to resume his duties as the bell cow back for the Packers. 


Nelson, meanwhile, never managed to get on the field in 2015 after suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. Not only did quarterback Aaron Rodgers lose his favorite target, but Nelson’s injury forced Randall Cobb into the No. 1 receiving role and Davante Adams into the No. 2 role, neither of which panned out. Green Bay ― with Lacy struggling ― was in turn forced to throw the ball more than it desired, and Rodgers’ numbers reflected the Packers’ predictability.


Without the threat of play-action and with both Cobb and Adams unable to get open, Rodgers threw for a career low 3,821 yards while amassing a 92.7 quarterback rating, also a career low in a full season. But Nelson, like Lacy, has appeared spry throughout camp, and we can expect the Packers’ high-powered offense to be humming all year as a result.


Cincinnati Bengals ― Pretenders

We can’t talk about quarterbacks underachieving in the postseason without mentioning Andy Dalton. To his credit, Dalton was superb for much of 2015, compiling his best season as a pro while leading a high-octane offense. But he unfortunately had to leave the playoff game against Pittsburgh with a thumb injury. The Bengals ― true to form under coach Marvin Lewis ― catastrophically surrendered a late lead at home and lost to their rivals. As a whole, Dalton is winless in four playoff games, completing fewer than 56 percent of his passes to go along with one touchdown pass and six interceptions.


All of this is to say, what exactly has changed in 2016? Dalton remains under center, and the backfield duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard aren’t exactly world-beaters. A.J. Green is sensational, but the Bengals sure are asking a lot of talented rookie wideout Tyler Boyd. The defense is stout, but so is the rugged AFC North, and playing a first-place schedule won’t make life easier for the flawed Dalton and company. 


Carolina Panthers ― Contenders

Reigning MVP Cam Newton returns to avenge a Super Bowl debacle in which he became immortalized for all the wrong reasons. What makes Carolina so dangerous isn’t just an elite defense ― although it surely helps ― but it’s the return of the ultra-talented Kelvin Benjamin, a former first-round draft pick and 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie who was sidelined all of last year with a torn ACL. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Benjamin ― a former HuffPost draft sleeper ― is a red-zone magnet capable of making Newton even better inside the 20s and on third down. Speaking of third down, “the Panthers converted just 35.7 percent of their third-down passes into first downs last year, 18th in the league,” according to TheRinger.com.


Remember too, that Newton earned his first MVP without any shred of an upper-echelon receiver. Ted Ginn Jr. ― the same Ted Ginn whom Arizona cut right before he signed with the Panthers ― was Carolina’s leading receiver not named Greg Olsen. All the while, the Panthers “led the NFL in red zone scoring percentage last year, converting nearly 70 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns,” also per TheRinger.com. 


Benjamin, an athletic marvel whom Newton can trust on 50-50 balls, should instantly strike fear into opposing secondaries, and his presence makes the reigning NFC champs that much scarier.


Denver Broncos ― Pretenders 

The defending world champion Broncos not only lost quarterback Peyton Manning to retirement, but more importantly, lost coveted free agent Brock Osweiler to a fat contract in Houston. In turn, they become just the sixth team in league history to defend a title with a new quarterback the following year.


Of course, Denver didn’t exactly win the Super Bowl because of great quarterback play: It won because of a tremendous defense that held Cam Newton to 18-41 passing and an interception, arguably the worst game of his career. And that defense remains intact as well: Game wreckers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware return, as do linebackers Brandon Marshall and Shane Ray, not to mention the cornerback duo of Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, who is playing after a gunshot wound put his career in jeopardy.


The reality however, is that neither rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch nor Trevor Siemian are capable of winning a Super Bowl, even with a defense as proficient as this one. Siemian will start the season, so it’s worth noting that not only did he almost retire after his tenure at Northwestern, but the seventh-round pick in the 2015 draft has yet to attempt a single NFL pass. To be sure, the mobile Siemian doesn’t have to be great for Denver to win football games. But this remains a tall task, and the AFC West will be widely improved with two potential breakout teams in Oakland and Kansas City.


Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related on Twitter at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram at @Schultz_Report. Also, check out my SiriusXM Radio show 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. ET on Bleacher Report channel 83.

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