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Chicago Aldermen Giveth, Taketh Away Food-cart Freedom

Tue, 2015-10-27 17:35
A month after Chicago overturned its ban on food carts, city aldermen are poised to restrict them once again.

Less than a day after Chicago lifted its ban on food carts on Sept. 24, city aldermen with a history of limiting the city's food options started making moves to restrict vendors' ability to operate in lucrative locations.

The city's license committee approved restrictions in the area surrounding Wrigley Field and other parts of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood on Oct. 27 at the behest of Alderman Tom Tunney, a former restaurant owner. Alderman Brendan Reilly also proposed limitations in more than 30 areas downtown and in the River North neighborhood -- the license committee moved these forward as well.

City Council will vote on the proposed food-cart bans on Oct. 28, the same day aldermen are scheduled to vote on a highly contentious property-tax hike worth $588 million, making it the largest tax hike in modern Chicago history.

Food carts should be a boon to Chicago neighborhoods, with the potential to bring up to 6,400 new jobs and create more than $8 million in new local sales-tax revenue. Unfortunately, the hardworking food-cart vendors who fought so long for the city to recognize their industry now operate at the mercy of all-powerful local aldermen, many of whom use their authority to grant political favors and keep out businesses they don't like.

Chicago's more than 1,500 food-cart vendors are primarily Latino and serve low-income neighborhoods where food options are often scarce. They are a beloved part of their communities - kids pick up elotés for after-school snacks, walkers grab champurrado on cool mornings and anyone looking for a delicious lunch knows vendors' tamales won't disappoint.

Now that Chicago has lifted its ban on food carts, there should be no restrictions on where vendors can operate. City Council's Sept. 24 vote to legalize the industry was a huge victory for the small-time entrepreneur -- it would be a mistake to walk it back.

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Will the Illinois State Budget Standoff Come to an End in November?

Tue, 2015-10-27 14:03
What started last week as something of a Hail Mary pass on the Illinois state budget may bring Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four leaders of the Illinois General Assembly together for an unprecedented public negotiation session on Nov. 18.

Last week the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform teamed up with six other political reform groups on an open letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin offering to organize and host a public meeting with them and Gov. Bruce Rauner to break the deadlock that's left the state operating for almost four months with no budget.

"As you know, this inaction is unprecedented and unacceptable to Illinois voters," the letter said. "ICPR, along with the other nonpartisan reform organizations listed above, want to help. We are ready to facilitate the logistics of a meeting in either Chicago or Springfield, but believe that it must occur prior to November 15th due to the urgent need for resolution on this issue."

Though Rauner has met periodically with Madigan and Cullerton individually since the end of the legislative session on May 31, there has not been a meeting that included Rauner and all four leaders since May. The budget year started July 1, and without a budget to control spending or bring in new revenue, the state is on pace to spend $34.5 billion while bringing in only $32.1 billion. But that figure does not include spending that can happen only when authorized by a budget. Items like higher education spending will push the gap much higher.

"After more than 100 days of this stalemate, the consequences have become clear," the letter said. "Illinois residents in serious need are unable to receive important government services, and many non-profit organizations are unable to continue critically important work tied to state grants. Illinois' state universities and community colleges may not be able to operate in the next semester of this academic year, leaving many students unable to graduate on time. The consequences are too great. We cannot let this situation continue."

Apparently the governor agreed, and on Friday send his own letter to Madigan, Cullerton, Radogno and Durkin. The governor declines the reform groups' offer to "facilitate the logistics" of a meeting, but otherwise welcomes the idea. Most remarkable is Rauner's welcoming of doing the session in public. That's unprecedented.

For more on this story, head over to Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Public meeting on Illinois state budget a break in the stalemate or invitation to grandstand?

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Connecting With Sherry Turkle: My Q and A With the Author of 'Reclaiming Conversation'

Tue, 2015-10-27 12:11
Sherry Turkle is Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and her new book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age cements her status as one of our pre-eminent thinkers on the ways technology impacts on our lives. In answer to my questions, she shared her insights on our capacity for solitude and empathy, how our phones affect our ability to truly connect with each other, and the difference between being anti-technology and pro-conversation.

Your work over the past few years has focused on how we are constantly connecting with one another via our devices. If we're always communicating, what's wrong with our conversation?

My research shows that we are too busy connecting to have the conversations that count, the kind of conversation in which we give each other our full attention, the kind where we allow an idea to develop, where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Yet these are the kinds of conversations in which intimacy and empathy develop, collaboration grows, and creativity thrives. We move from conversation to mere connection. And I worry that sometimes we forget the difference. Or forget that this is a difference that matters.

But Reclaiming Conversation feels like an optimistic book.

It is, most of all because I found that many young people sense that something is amiss. When I began writing this book, I conducted a focus group with a group of eight college juniors and one young man put it this way: "Our texts are fine, it's what texting is doing to our conversations when we are together, that's the problem."

He had a profound insight. Research shows that if you put a phone -- a phone turned off! -- out on a table between two people having lunch, not only does the conversation "lighten up," move to more trivial things, but the connection that two people have lessens. They feel less of a commitment to each other, less of an empathic connection to each other.

So if our phones are a deterrent to conversation, are you saying we should give up our phones?

My book is not anti-technology. It's pro-conversation. I don't think we should give up our phones at all. I think we have to use them more mindfully.

In what way most significantly?

For me, most significantly, they are part of a contemporary crisis in empathy. In the past 20 years, there is a 40 percent decline in empathic capacity among college students, with most of it taking place in the past 10 years. And our phones are part of a growing incapacity for solitude.

And being able to experience solitude is so important! That's one of the central arguments in your book. Without solitude, no empathy.

Yes, it's the capacity for solitude that allows you to reach out to others and see them as separate and independent. You don't need them to be anything other than who they are. This means you can listen to them and hear what they have to say. This makes the capacity for solitude essential to the development of empathy. If you can gather yourself, you can put yourself in someone else's place.

So people who are good at solitude are good at relationships.

Yes, solitude and conversation form a kind of virtuous circle. And that's the virtuous circle our phones can disrupt. We forget how to pay quiet attention to ourselves and this disrupts our ability to be with each other. Psychology teaches us a great truth that we ignore at our peril: If we don't teach our children to be alone, they'll only know how to be lonely.

Has neuroscience weighed in on this discussion?

Very much so! It has recently shown us that only when we are alone with our thoughts -- not reacting to external stimuli -- that we engage that part of the brain's basic infrastructure devoted to building up a sense of our stable autobiographical past. Neuroscientists call this the "default mode network."[i] So, without solitude, we can't construct a stable sense of self. Yet children who grow up digital have always had something external to respond to.

You are convincing on this issue that our capacity for empathy is under threat. You and I were at Davos last winter, where there was talk of "empathy apps." Is there an app for that? Can technology solve this problem?

Indeed, the psychologist, Sara Konrath, who did the study that showed college students experiencing a 40 percent decline in empathy in the past 20 years, turned from that study to designing "empathy apps" for the iPhone. An "empathy app" might try to get you to imagine another's point of view by telling you a story and teaching you how different characters in the story might feel.

I respect that technology may have a role. But to my way of thinking, we are the empathy app. For the failing connections of our digital age, conversation is the talking cure.

How do we take action in our role as "empathy apps"?

We don't need to invent anything. We need to look up, look at each other, and start the conversation. We need to create device-free zones in our kitchens and dining rooms and cars. We have to take walks without our phones, especially with our children. We have to design for conversation in the workplace and make sure that we don't undermine our efforts by giving the people who work for us the signal that what we really want is for them to be on their email or on the company messaging system all day. If you are expected to answer an email within 10 to 15 minutes, if that is how you are expected to show your devotion to your company, there is no room for conversation!

I agree with so much of what you say. But hasn't every generation said that the technology that was new right then was the technology that would disrupt conversation? Didn't people claim that books would destroy conversation? Is the smart phone just the book of our time?

Here is the difference: In the case of the book, as we chat with friends, with our spouses and children, face-to-face, we don't put up a hand and say, give me a moment, I need to get in a few paragraphs of Madame Bovary. We don't cycle through being with our friends and being with Emma and Charles Bovary in our book.

Let's use phones the way we use books. We make time for them, we go to them!

What are the chief seductions of our phones? What makes us so vulnerable?

Our phones offer us gifts as though from a benevolent genie: that we will never again be alone, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be, that we can always be heard, that we can present ourselves as we wish to be seen, that we can avoid difficult confrontations, and that we never have to be bored.

Do you think people are ready for change? These seductions of technology are impressive.

During my interviews with many hundreds of people, in schools and universities, in professional worlds from medicine to software development, I found that we are past an initial love affair with connectivity technology. We are starting to see the costs. I like to say that when it came to our phones, we used to be like young lovers, afraid that too much talking would spoil the romance. Now, we are in a more mature phase of the relationship. We know it's time to talk. And I think that people are ready to talk.

What makes you sense this?

Two experiences stand out that dramatize this point. The first is a personal story. A father spoke to me about how he remembers that when his now-11-year-old daughter was little, he used to talk to her as she took a bath and how those conversations are his most cherished memories of their early intimacy. Now, he has a 2-year-old daughter and when he gives her a bath, he says he puts down the toilet seat and takes out his iPhone and does his email. He isn't happy. He feels that is doing something that is detrimental to his relationship with his daughter. He wants to change. He is ready for a change.

Technology makes us forget what we know about life. Food technology made us forget what we knew about the diets that had sustained us for generations. We began to eat processed foods that were stripped of nutrients. But then we chose to remember what we know about real food and wellness. Well, after a while, we are starting to remember what we know about life.

What about politics? Why is conversation vital to democracy? Is it under threat?

On this question, I think of the silencing effect of knowing that the Internet is not a private space. When I was a little girl, my grandmother took me to the public library twice a week, and when I was about 10, she explained to me that the books I took out from the library were a "secret" between me and the library. I could read anything I wanted, and no one had the right to know. For my grandmother, this notion, I think of it as "mindspace," was crucial to her patriotism, to what it meant to be an American.

When everything we read is shared, when we know that the history of our searches are the property of the software company that enables our searches, mindspace closes down.

And so I meet Lana, a brilliant young woman who has just graduated college, an economics major, who explains to me that she "is glad not to have anything controversial on my mind, because I can't think of any online place where it would be safe to have controversial conversations."

But Lana does not say that she finds any of this oppressive. It would be inconvenient to label it that way. If you label something as oppressive, that suggests that you should be thinking politically about changing it and Lana is not sure that this is the direction she wants to take her feelings of discontent, at least not now. Right now, as for many others, her line is that "we all are willing to trade off privacy for convenience." This costly trade-off is tempting for all of us, but we treat it as arithmetic -- as if, once it's calculated, it doesn't need to be revisited.

Yet politically, you see some openings for change. How is that? And you write that Edward Snowden is part of this optimism.

I wrote Reclaiming Conversation hoping that it would start conversations on two questions: "What is intimacy without privacy?" And "What is democracy without privacy?" I feel we have postponed our larger cultural conversation on both of these points. But on both of them, there is movement.

So, on the political point, many people have come to understand that we exist alongside digital representations of ourselves -- digital doubles -- that are useful to different parties at different times, or for some, at a time to be determined. Gradually, people have come to understand -- think of Lana -- that the digital self is archived forever. In the post-Snowden years, we have learned more -- that the calls, locations, and online searches of ordinary Americans have been monitored. But almost everything about this process remains as secret as possible, shrouded under the mantle of national security or the claim of proprietary interests. Exactly what is taken? In what form? How long is it kept? What is it used for?

I have been talking to high school and college students about online privacy for decades. When young people see the "results" of online data collection, chiefly through the advertisements that appear on their screens, it is hard for them to see the problem. The fact that a desirable sneaker or the perfect dress pops up doesn't seem like a big deal. But post-Snowden young people are more able to talk about the problems of data mining, in some measure because it has become associated (at least in their minds) with something easier to think about: spying.

And yet it is easy for this conversation to slip away from us. Because just as we start to have it, we become infatuated with a new entertainment or service on the Internet that asks us to reveal something of ourselves: We could report our moods to see if there are concerns to address. We could track our resting heart rate or the amount of exercise we get each week. So we offer up data to improve ourselves and postpone the conversation about what happens to the data we share.

Instead of pursuing the political conversation, we are tempted to sign up for another app. Keeping our minds clear, that is our challenge.

You spoke to a lot of families as you did the research for this book. I was surprised by how kids are critiquing their parents' choices. What are kids able to see that we sometimes cannot?

I'm with one family at dinner when a 5-year-old girl cajoles, "Mommy, please! You promised! You had five minutes before!" when her mother's phone vibrates for the third time. At another table, an 8-year-old boy gets up from the table and tugs at his mother's sleeve when she takes out her phone during the meal. "No. Not now. Not now!" To her child she says, "Mommy has to make a quick call," and turns her back to the table. The boy returns to his chair, sullen.

Recently, I see an encouraging sign: young people's discontent. Children, even very young children, say they are unhappy with how much attention their parents give to phones. Some formulate, as teenagers, that they are going to bring up their own children in a very different way than how they have been raised. One young man said to me "I want to raise my children not the way my parents are raising me, but the way they think they are raising me."

One of the things that surprised me in Reclaiming Conversation was that, in families and in relationships, people now want to fight by text. Is this widespread? Is it a problem?

I met families who prefer to air their differences this way. It's a way of avoiding a kind of conflict, a kind of stress. As one mother told me, "fighting by text" is a way to minimize the risk that anyone will say anything they might regret. And it makes it more likely that family members will say what they have on their minds because they don't feel as vulnerable.

For this woman, spontaneity is overrated when talking to your family. She thinks the key to successful family conversations is preparation and editing. She says she is able to have more successful interactions with her teenage son because she is able to compose her thoughts before sending them. Without the "time delay" of texting, she could not find the right words to reach him. And in her view, this is important: the "right words." And the right emotional tone: caring but cool, is also something she doesn't think she could consistently achieve in person. I have spoken of the "Goldilocks effect," the way that digital communication allows us to get at what seems like an optimal distance from the people we interact with, "not too close, not too far, but just right." This mother feels that texting allows "just right."

This implies that you think there is a way for people to talk to each other in which each party will say the right thing. Relations within families are messy and untidy. If we clean them up with technology, we don't necessarily do them justice.

You talk about a school you call Holbrooke where a faculty member says the 12 year olds play like 8 year olds. What does that have to do with conversation? What is at stake here developmentally?

The students were having trouble putting themselves in the place of the other, with having an empathic response to other children. So, for example, the director told me of one case that had made a deep impression on her. A seventh grader had excluded a classmate from a school-wide event, but when asked about why she did this, she could not say. She couldn't talk about her feelings or how her classmate might feel. She could only say, "I don't have any feelings about this." For teachers at the school, the connection to conversation was this: In conversation, we learn to put ourselves in the place of the other, we get practice in attending to the feelings of others.

Holbrooke teachers said that it is a struggle to get children to talk to each other in class, to directly address and debate each other. It is a struggle to get them to meet with faculty. In the dining room, the faculty say, when they share things, they are sharing what is on their phones. Is this the new conversation? If so, it is not doing the work of the old conversation. As these teachers see it, the old conversation taught empathy. These students seem to understand each other less.

I saw you contributed to a New York Times article on Hello, Barbie. What does it mean that kids are now talking to their toys? And in the book you talk about children talking to Siri. What is the harm in that?

Sociable robots such as Hello, Barbie offer pretend empathy. They may say, "I have a sister. I'm jealous of my sister. Do you have a sister too? Are you jealous of yours? Let's talk about that... " But they have no empathy to offer because they don't have a sister, don't have a mother, do not know the arc of a human life. They can deliver only performances of empathy and connection. And yet, we persist in the idea that we can draw empathy and connection from machines.

What is this about? People are lonely and fear intimacy, and robots seem ready to hand. And we are ready for their company if we forget what intimacy is. And having nothing to forget, our children learn new rules for when it is appropriate to talk to a machine. Her talks with the inanimate are taking her in another direction altogether: to a world without risk and without caring. And in the end, that is my fear for all of us. If we don't come back to valuing conversation, we may all end up in a world without risk and without caring.

-- 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.

I'm Tired of Pretending Figure Skating Isn't the Best Sport Ever (But It Needs Help)

Tue, 2015-10-27 10:29
I remember my first time watching figure skating with eerie clarity.

February 1994. Like millions upon millions of other people around the world, my 9-year-old eyes were glued to the television to watch the skating competitions during the Olympic Games in Lilllehammer, Norway. I distinctly remember Tonya Harding's skate lace meltdown, Nancy Kerrigan's twinkling beige dress and Scott Hamilton's commentary yelping exuberantly about it all.

I was totally hooked. In the years that followed, I began to obsessively follow every competition and show on TV, filling up hundreds of blank VHS tapes so that I could re-watch Michelle Kwan's every moment of glory whenever I wished. (Oh, the days before DVR.) I also attended dozens of events in person, including the Olympic-qualifier national championships in St. Louis in 2006.

After that, my interest waned. At the same time, figure skating's popularity in the United States has plummeted. While endless hours of skating coverage used to fill the airwaves, just more than a handful of events are broadcast on network television today. And while the sport is more popular than ever in Asia, it has been on steady decline here for years, retreating into obscurity.

Almost more than a decade since my last live event, I attended the Skate America competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin last weekend.

Gracie Gold points to the crowd after she performed in the ladies short program at the Skate America figure skating competition Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Kicking off the six-part Grand Prix international series, Skate America is the first major competition of the figure skating season. It's an important event, where skaters earn points toward their goal of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final, a competition that serves as a lucrative preview of the World Championships in the spring. But you wouldn't necessarily know that by looking around the half-empty stands at the UW Milwaukee Panther Arena.

With a 7,000-person capacity for figure skating events, the Panther Arena attracted, at its best-attended of four ticketed sessions, an audience only half that size. The event's first session of four, Friday afternoon, was attended by only 2,700.

Skate Americas as recently as 2008 have enjoyed a total attendance as high as nearly 30,000 for the full multi-day event, so where was everyone?

I have a few thoughts on where the gangly cousin of the American sports family went wrong, and how it can regain cultural relevancy anew:

1. Celebrate the sport for what it is, rather than making it something it's not.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: The action on the ice all weekend was remarkable. The achievements of top figure skaters, combining the athletic skill required, the strength and agility, with the artistry of performance factor is a tall order. Few achieve the rare moments of transcendence when it all falls into place all at once. On top of that, the costumes are stunning, often more intricate than the outfits worn by many pop stars on their arena tours, and the drama between rival skaters, coaches and nations is palpable.

All things considered, figure skating is the original reality show. And that's enough to let the sport, in many ways, speak for itself. It doesn't need an in-arena DJ spinning pop and hip-hop all weekend long during breaks and between performances. It doesn't need an in-arena host leading awkward trivia contests with fans. Just let the skaters skate -- and find a way to make it easier for interested viewers to find it on television. Only one hour of the event was broadcast on its network partner, NBC, over the weekend. This is insufficient exposure to build an audience.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, of Canada, compete in ice dance at the Skate America figure skating competition Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

2. But can we talk about the scoring system?

For anyone who hasn't watched figure skating in a long time, the days of a 6.0 marking a perfect score ended about a decade ago. The sport's new judging system assigns different point values to each move performed -- the harder it is, the more points you get -- and bonus points are offered, or taken away, based on how well it was executed. This means that a "good" score means something different for each skater, depending on what they planned to perform.

The winning total for Skate America's women's champion, Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva, was 206.01. That number is meaningless to the average person. Context is needed to educate viewers about what factors contributed to a skater's score being either low or high, why a skater who fell on a jump might still place high based on their overall performance, for example. To avoid fully explaining so, both on television and especially at a live event, causes only confusion. This is already a kind of ridiculous sport, let's not make it more so!

Evgenia Medvedeva, of Russia, performs in the ladies free skating at the Skate America figure skating competition Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Milwaukee. Medvedeva won the gold medal. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

3. But don't dumb it down.

While context is important, don't assume an audience is completely clueless. During one in-arena interview with a former champion about what to expect during the pairs event that was broadcast on the arena Jumbotron, the commentator explained that the male pairs skaters were throwing their partners the length of a couch during their throw jumps. That comparison is meaningless to the scoring system and somewhat demeaning to the audience.

More thorough commentary might have noted the difference in difficulty and point value of different throw jumps, which jumps top pairs were planning for their programs and how much of a role successful completion of their throw jumps plays in a pairs team's overall performance.

4. Send in the music consultants.

Beginning last year, the figure skating powers that be allowed, for the first time, all four disciplines of skating -- pairs, men's, ice dancing and women's -- to use music with lyrics for their programs. One would think this would open the floodgates to all sorts of different music being used in competition but, for the most part, most skaters continue to stick to generic, conservative musical selections that serve as Ambien for audiences.

At Skate America, the musical selections for the men's final were almost entirely dreary, ranging mostly from dirge-y movie soundtracks like The Piano and The Mission to tinkly, piano or string-heavy ballads. The uniformly dreary music created a low-energy vibe in the arena and, had it been on television, likely would have turned away viewers. Many of the musical selections among the ice dancers were similarly lacking in excitement, but more unexpected, energetic and diverse music choices could make a huge impact. (I heard enough Il Divo this weekend to last a lifetime.)

Shoma Uno, of Japan, shows off his unique cantilever move during the Skate America exhibition program Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

5. The sport is at its best at its most eccentric. Embrace and encourage that.

The weekend's highlights were the moments where a skater stuck out from the crowd. Pairs champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China's incredible lateral quadruple twist. Men's runner-up Shoma Uno of Japan's unusual, program-ending cantilever bend. Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier's strange and exciting "She Said/Neverland" free dance.

These are the sorts of moments that fans of the sport from long ago, the days of Tonya and Nancy, will be drawn to if given the chance. These are the moments skating promoters in the U.S. need to be emphasizing if they are to bring the sport back from its death spiral.

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How To Turn Supermarket Flowers Into A Show-Stopping Centerpiece

Tue, 2015-10-27 07:50

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Flowers from the supermarket don't often seem like they have the same level of finesse and vibrancy as their meticulously arranged counterparts from a professional florist -- but they can.

Floral design studio owner Clover Chadwick says that even the more ho-hum bouquets from the grocery store have the potential to transform into stunning centerpieces. As she demonstrates, it requires minimal effort to rearrange those bulky buds into a cohesive, blooming display. It just comes down to following a few simple steps.

Step 1: Start with your biggest, bulkiest flower (ex: hydrangea)

Many supermarket flower bouquets include hydrangeas, so separate these large blooms from the pack and cut the stems so that they rest around the lip of your vase.

Step 2: Add your "branchiest" greens (ex: eucalyptus)

Next, determine which greens have the most branches. "This is going to give you shape, plus stability," Chadwick explains. "Eucalyptus is great because it has lots of little branchy arms."

Step 3: Add leafier greens (ex: lemonleaf)

To tighten up the space and bolster the stability, reach for your leafy stems. "Lemonleaf is the other one you'll see quite commonly used in grocery store bouquets because it's super-bulky, has a great color and it's really durable," Chadwick says.

Step 4: Add the larger, more durable flowers (ex: chrysanthemums and carnations)

Now that you've created your basic shape, it's time to build into it with flowers. Chrysanthemums and carnations take up a decent amount of space and add a needed pop of color to add balance to the arrangement.

Step 5: Add your next-largest flower (ex: lilies)

This piece should be your show-stopper. Place these flowers -- like lilies -- strategically, in areas in which they are easily visible and can truly stand out. "Make sure with lilies that you always remove the pollen," Chadwick instructs. "That will make them last longer."

Step 6: Fill in the holes with your remaining pieces (ex: alstroemeria, roses and gerbera daisies)

Use whatever is left over to fill out the shape of your arrangement -- and be sure to save the most delicate flowers (like gerbera daisies) for last. Flowers with longer stems can also be used to add height as well as layered color.

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Food & Wine Festival Celebrates 20 Years

Mon, 2015-10-26 16:11

I prepared to fail at my diet this year, and I failed spectacularly.

I employed one of my close friends to help me to get in shape for my foodie weekend.

Eventually, I shed a few pounds that I regained at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Food & Wine now taking place at Walt Disney World thru November 16, is Santaland for foodies like myself.

For these few weeks, world-renowned chefs, food critics, and celebrities alike take over Walt Disney World, and are just as popular as Disney's first couple, Mickey and Minnie. (On that note, I totally screamed like a schoolgirl when I bumped into Chicago's own Chef Art Smith at Party for the Senses, opening night of the festival.)

7 Places to Wreck Your Diet Like a Boss

This year, I explored a few restaurants outside of the festival as well. I've compiled a shortlist of my seven favorite eateries, so you too, can wreck your diet like a boss.

Trattoria al Forno (Adults would love this)
This Italian eatery is authentic as you can get. Shown: cured Italian meat platter with tomatoes, Hard-boiled Egg, and Cheese with Fonduta.

Be Our Guest Restaurant, Magic Kingdom (Kiddies would love this)

Here, you're dining on fast casual fare at The Beast's castle. I strongly suggest the croissant doughnut, a fried doughnut topped with banana-caramel sauce and drizzled with chocolate.

Cape May Café (Adults and kiddies would love this)

Enjoy a scrumptious buffet breakfast with the famous Disney characters. Dress to impress for your photo with the impeccably dressed Minnie Mouse; I failed to do this.

The Boathouse (Adults and kiddies would love this)

Delicious seafood, vintage Amphicars, and desserts the size of Manhattan. The Boathouse is managed by Gibsons Restaurant Group and you can taste it.

The Hollywood Brown Derby, Disney's Hollywood Studios (Adults would love this)

Take a trip back to Old Hollywood in this beautiful establishment. American cuisine is served here. You must try the finely-chopped Cobb salad; it's delicious.

Morimoto Asia Restaurant (Adults would love this)
Chef Masaharu Morimoto (of Iron Chef America) - unveiled a beautiful restaurant in Disney Springs, and the artistically arranged food is to die for.

LATE NIGHT RUMBLE (Adults would love this)
Paradiso 37
North, Central and South America compete for your taste buds in this grown-up establishment that also has a dance floor and live entertainment. (Ladies, this place also has the cutest Colombian singer ever).

You're welcome :)

Photos: Zondra Hughes.

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No One Wants to Be Snack Mom -- No One

Mon, 2015-10-26 14:04
I did not start writing this blog with the intention of changing the world. I just wanted to make people laugh. But it has turned into so much more. I feel as though through my words, I can really change the way people think. One small mind at a time.

I'm thick-skinned. I can handle the backlash. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes. Because this is long overdue. It's the year 2015 and it's time. It's just freaking time. Time to put an end to being Snack Mom.

No more snacks. No one likes buying the snacks. No one likes seeing their kids binge on the snacks. A mouth full of Oreo cookies at 9:30 on a Saturday morning? Grody. To. The. Max.

No one is going to starve without the snacks. That's a fact. Isn't there a big enough problem with childhood obesity in this country as it is? Do we really need to reward our little athletes with food for each and every game? A game that will inevitably end in a tie. Because everyone's a winner. And everyone deserves to be rewarded gluttonously.

No one wants to spend the money on the snacks. No one likes to wake up early on a chilly Saturday morning to the realization that they are the Snack Mom and need to run to the store to buy the damn snacks. No one. Not one.

And being Snack Mom comes with a lot of pressure. How will my snacks add up? I pay full price for these name brand snacks. I buy my own kids the crappy generic snacks for their lunches. But when I'm snack mom, I buy the good stuff just to show off. It's a status symbol. You're only as good as your snacks.

And snacks don't discriminate. No sport is safe. A snack for baseball. A snack for soccer. A snack for dancing. A snack for gymnastics. And God forbid you have more than one kid on one team. You might as well just bring the entire team to Red Lobster. It would be cheaper.

And don't forget the drinks. Those kids who didn't even break a sweat out there are going to need something to wash the Oreos down with. And again, I spare no expense. I buy the good juice boxes. The ones with real fruit juice and no artificial additives. Because I want people to like me.

Then there's the allergies. You better know every kid on that team and their medical history. You better read those labels. If anyone needs to be hospitalized after ingesting one of your snacks, you got a problem. You'll never snack in this town again. You'll end up buying ten different snacks to accommodate everyone's dietary needs. Allergies. Gluten. Red dye number 40. I'm not even sure what that is. That kid is getting water. With a side of water. Just to be safe.

What we really should bring to every game is Tylenol. And fountain drinks. And McDonald's breakfast sandwiches. For all the parents who have raging hangovers from the previous night's transgressions. That might actually make Saturday morning soccer bearable.

I'm pretty sure kids will survive without the snacks. I think they can ride that bench without refreshments. I think they can make it from breakfast to lunch without a pack of cookies and sugary water. But what do I know. I'm just a mom. A freaking snack mom.

Eileen O'Connor lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses.

Follow her blog No Wire Hangers, Ever and on Facebook

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FBI Director Says Videos, Hashtags Are Worsening The Citizen-Police Divide

Mon, 2015-10-26 14:03

CHICAGO -- FBI Director James Comey told a gathering of police chiefs Monday that he believes officers are changing their behavior because they fear being caught in viral videos, and that the rise of crime in some cities may be a result of police officers staying in their vehicles more often due to an overabundance of caution. He described the law enforcement community and the black community as diverging further and further apart with each new controversy.

“Each time somebody interprets [the] hashtag 'Black Lives Matter' as anti-law enforcement, one line moves away, and each time that someone interprets [the] hashtag 'Police Lives Matter' as anti-black, the other line moves away," Comey said at a speech before the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "I actually feel the lines continuing to arch away, and maybe accelerating, incident by incident, video by video, hashtag by hashtag, and that's a terrible place to be."

Comey also echoed controversial comments he'd made in the days leading up to his Monday address, in which he linked an uptick in crime in a handful of cities with heightened public scrutiny of the police. 

"Just as those lines are arching away from each other -- and maybe, just maybe, in some places because those lines are arching away from each other -- we have a crisis of violent crime in some of our major cities in this country," the director said Monday.

Comey also described a "chill wind" that had gone through law enforcement in the wake of viral videos of the police over the past year. Comey's remarks seemed to be an endorsement of the so-called "Ferguson effect," which suggests that excessive scrutiny of law enforcement is to blame for the uptick in crime.

Comey said officers in one major city felt “under siege” because they were being recorded when they exited their vehicles. "They were honest and said they don't feel much like getting out of their cars," Comey said. 

“Of the explanations I have heard, it is the one that makes the most sense to me: Maybe something has changed in policing," he went on. "In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that prevents violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys with guns from standing around?” 

It wasn't clear Monday whether Comey sees any public policy or law enforcement solution to the issue of cell phone videos -- other than training officers to deal with citizens recording their behavior -- since recording the police is legal. He also said that the scrutiny of police will make policing better, as law enforcement officials discuss de-escalation and the use of force.

Protesters demonstrated for hours outside the IACP on Saturday, and one group even shut down a skywalk leading into the IACP.

From earlier today, #FundBlackFutures protesters shut down skywalk leading to police chiefs' conference in Chicago:

— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) October 24, 2015

Many of the protesters had locked themselves together on a street outside the IACP event in an attempt to shut down traffic. There were 66 arrests overall.

#FundBlackFutures protesters arrested outside IACP (police chiefs' conference) chant from the back of a police van:

— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) October 24, 2015

President Barack Obama, who last week defended the Black Lives Matter movement, will speak at the IACP conference on Tuesday.

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How This Reporter Uncovered A Corruption Scandal Everyone Missed

Mon, 2015-10-26 06:32
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Early in the summer of 2013, Sarah Karp was reading through a report on a Board of Education Meeting when she came across something suspicious.

Buried in the report was a notice that the Board had voted to approve a $20.5 million no-bid contract to a company called SUPES to provide professional development for principals.

Karp, one of just five full-time employees at an education-focused newsmagazine called Catalyst Chicago, routinely looked through these lengthy reports after board meetings. She knew that it was rare for a no-bid contract to be awarded to a company for professional development services that other groups in the area could provide. Karp became even more suspicious when she found that Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the head of Chicago Public Schools, had worked as a consultant for SUPES immediately before she started at CPS as a consultant. After about a month of reporting, Karp published a story drawing attention to the no-bid contract.

Karp didn't know it at the time, but her story would help jump-start a federal investigation into Byrd-Bennett and SUPES. Earlier this month, that investigation culminated in federal bribery and kickback charges for Byrd-Bennett and two owners of SUPES. Byrd-Bennett, who resigned from her public school post in June, subsequently pled guilty to the charges.

ImageContent(562a8ef1e4b0ec0a38947e72,562a9e9d1400001b013c90b0,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562a9e9d1400001b013c90b0.jpeg?cache=3uuOEkPrLd,Some(crop_6_4_567_523),Some(jpeg?cache=3uuOEkPrLd)),Courtesy of Sarah Karp/Catalyst Chicago,Sarah Karp, a reporter with Catalyst Chicago, broke the story of a no-bid contract and jump-started a federal investigation that eventually led to an indictment against the head of Chicago Public Schools.)

Already upending one of the largest public school systems in the country, the story now threatens to go further as focus turns to whether the mayor of the city, Rahm Emanuel (D), knew about the contract. But the sequence of events triggered by Karp's reporting is not just an education politics story -- it's a media one as well.

Catalyst Chicago's staff credit the particular niche of the outlet they worked for with allowing Karp to do this kind of reporting. Freed from the pressure of churning out daily stories at the magazine -- which publishes in print four times a year and online about three times a week --  Karp said she had the time to dig in and follow her initial hunch about the contract. She was well positioned to do so, her editors said, because of her expertise in covering schools.

"It just goes to show that especially in this day and age, not all of the important work is being done by the big media outlets," said Lorraine Forte, Catalyst's former editor-in-chief, who edited the series of stories Karp wrote about SUPES.

Forte also speculated that the strangeness of a no-bid contract may not have occurred to someone who didn't have the granular focus on schools of Karp, who has covered education and child and family issues for more than 15 years.

Karp's initial story, titled "$20 million no-bid contract raises questions about Supes Academy," came out in July 2013, a month after she first noticed the contract in the board meeting notes. As she was writing that story, principals across the city began to contact her to complain that their mandatory SUPES training was ineffective. Karp kept on the beat and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the Board of Education to find out who SUPES was using as coaches and what feedback principals were giving on the sessions. She appeared on Chicago's NPR affiliate and the local ABC station to talk about her reporting.

In December 2013, she published a story outlining principals' frustrations with the trainings. That same month, she broke the news that the Chicago Public Schools Inspector General was investigating the contract. Karp wrote two more pieces on SUPES in 2014, one in June in which she talked to principals about their bad experiences with the trainings, and another in August in which she mentioned that officials were touting improved attendance rates at the sessions.

While she was reporting, Karp worried that she lacked the megaphone to move the story further. So she did something anathema to her profession: she asked reporters at larger Chicago outlets to report on the item.

"I actually had talked to other reporters for bigger organizations and said, 'Do something on SUPES. Take credit, do something,'" Karp said. "It's like when you know there's something really really fishy about something and you're like, everyone is just gonna get away with it. I think I kind of felt like if I had worked for the [Chicago] Sun-Times or the [Chicago] Tribune and done the story, something would have happened much quicker."

ImageContent(562a8ef1e4b0ec0a38947e74,562a8b1b1400002200c7abc1,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562a8b1b1400002200c7abc1.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),Scott Olson via Getty Images,Neither the Chicago Tribune nor the Chicago Sun-Times paid much attention to Karp's story until a federal investigation was announced in April.)

Those larger media organizations didn't respond to her pleas. There were other huge issues to focus on at the time, including the impact of budget cuts to the public school system, including massive teacher layoffs and Mayor Emanuel's plan to close 50 public schools.  

It wasn't until mid-2014 that the city's two major papers noticed SUPES -- and they only did so peripherally, a Nexis search shows. The word "SUPES" first showed up in the Sun-Times in a June op-ed by a principal as an example of "political burdens" on educators. That summer, the papers reported simply that the SUPES contract was something that the retiring CPS Inspector General had been looking into. They did not mention the organization again until the federal investigation was announced the following April.

Lauren FitzPatrick, an education reporter for the Sun-Times, suggested that the overall upheaval in the Chicago public school system and relatively small number of education reporters contributed to the Sun-Times being late to the story.

"Look at the timing of what else was happening in CPS at that time, and at the number of [education] reporters in the city then too," she said in an email. (She declined to be interviewed, citing a full schedule).

The Sun-Times has lost about 30 editorial staff since 2012, Bob Mazzoni, a longtime copy editor and one of the paper's union representatives, told the Columbia Journalism Review. The Tribune lost about 80 editorial employees in 2008, when the paper went through bankruptcy proceedings; 10 more were cut this summer.

On April 15, 2015, federal authorities announced their investigation of CPS. Byrd-Bennett resigned several months later.

ImageContent(562a8ef1e4b0ec0a38947e76,562a8bd11400002b003c9071,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562a8bd11400002b003c9071.jpeg,Some(),Some(jpeg)),ASSOCIATED PRESS,U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon announced federal charges against Barbara Byrd-Bennett in October.)

Karp said she didn't feel any personal vindication.

"On the one hand I'm glad she didn't get away with it or no one got away with it," said Karp, who attended CPS herself and has one child in the system now. "On the other hand, you are kind of sad... we all get kind of hardened to the idea that politicians are not always the best people or might do wrong. But you hate to think that people take advantage of a position like that."

Karp never imagined that her initial story would snowball into a full-fledged scandal. Since none of her reporting actually alleged that anything illegal took place, when she first learned of the federal investigation into CPS, she didn’t even realize that it involved SUPES. 

For a tiny, nonprofit outlet like Catalyst, which is struggling for resources to merely stay afloat, the story is undoubtedly a huge victory -- but perhaps not one that will help financially. Linda Lenz, who founded Catalyst 25 years ago and is now its publisher, said the magazine recently lost a foundation grant and had to downsize. Having broken the biggest story of her career, Karp has since moved to the Better Government Association and Forte, her onetime editor, has become a freelance media consultant after spending just over a decade at Catalyst.

"It's been tough in recent years," said Lenz, who added that she was highlighting Karp's work to donors to show them the impact of their giving. "Schooling and education is just huge and you know the resources devoted to covering that and everything else are dwindling, and that's just really dangerous."

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University of Illinois, Cities of Champaign and Urbana, Throw Hat In Ring For "Mother Of Invention" Title

Fri, 2015-10-23 16:47

We've all heard the old English proverb, "Necessity is the mother of invention," meaning difficult or impossible scenarios prompt inventions aimed at reducing the difficulty.

A new effort called "You're Welcome" by the University of Illinois and the cities of Champaign and Urbana appears to throw the region's hat into the ring in an attempt to claim the "mother of invention" title. And realistically speaking, it's not that much of a stretch.

After all, have you ever used an Internet browser, central air conditioning, the iPhone's Siri function, whip cream in a can, or had an MRI? Or ever wondered where the minds who created Yelp, YouTube, Paypay or even "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" were educated?

Yep. In the middle of farmland a few hours south of Chicago.

"Champaign-Urbana is one of the most talent-dense, well educated, and diverse regions in the U.S.," said Laura Frerichs, director of the Research Park at the University of Illinois, which is home to software engineering hubs for companies like Yahoo, Anheuser-Busch, John Deere, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Raytheon and the award-winning EnterpriseWorks startup incubator. "The university's top ranked engineering, informatics and computer science programs have created a robust pipeline of innovators with technical skills to fuel an unusually large technology community that is balanced by an outstanding quality of life."

But why beat on the region's collective chests? It's so anti-Midwest, no? An ironic necessity, it would seem.

The university has long had one of the top computer science programs, often competing with the likes of MIT, Harvard, Cal Tech and Stanford. It's legacy has produced minds like Marc Andreessen, who was there building what would become Netscape (the aforementioned first Internet browser), YouTube founder Steve Chen, Mortal Combat creator Ed Boon, Oracle founder Larry Ellison - see where this is headed?

Smart minds, however, bring companies knocking on the doors. The region saw tech hubs opened by Raytheon, Intel, Yahoo, Anheuser-Busch, John Deere, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical and more.

Thus "You're Welcome" - a double entendre as in, "Yo, you're welcome for that MRI machine after you busted up your knee kicking your car," as well as, "You are so very welcome to come to our amazing Pygmalion music festival while enjoying a local craft beer."

It also should be noted that it's not just about tech for Champaign-Urbana. The endeavor goes out of its way to outline the region's cost of living, commitment to farm-to-table, a broad LGBT community, as well as the university's footprint in film and television.

"The University of Illinois is a great school, to be sure," said Nick Offerman, a U of I graduate. "But when combined with the rich cultural opportunities available in Champaign-Urbana, like the local theaters, Japan House, and the Champaign-Urbana Woodshop, not to mention its proximity to the idyllic Sangamon River, it becomes a downright magical place to spend one's collegiate years."

Mother of invention? Perhaps. As long as you know you're welcome.

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Multiple Choice/Answers

Fri, 2015-10-23 16:35
My third grade daughter is very bright, creative, perceptive and yet tanks multiple-choice tests. Judging by her test scores, it looks as though she is struggling to understand academic concepts. She's not. Her mind just thinks of all the ways the potential answers could possibly work out. So what would have been an obvious or "best" answer to my older two kids when they were her age, seems like one of several possible answers to this kid. She frequently tells me how she needs more information, more background regarding the questions on tests before she can make a decision as to which answer the "author" is looking for. She eats up a lot of test time wondering about the "author" of the test, what angle they are coming from. To my daughter, every multiple-choice question is actually a mini story to which she is being asked to supply the ending, the answer. How can she give the "author" his/her ending, if she doesn't know more about the circumstances surrounding the question?

Recently a worksheet came home with my daughter with several answers marked as incorrect. Students were supposed to put either a period, or an exclamation point at the end of sentences. I said, "What happened here? Did you have a hard time figuring out what needed an exclamation point and what didn't."? She sighed and said, "How am I supposed to know if the person who wrote the sentence wants it said in an excited tone or not? I don't know who is saying it or why. It's not like I'm hearing an audio version and can hear excitement or a boring voice. Maybe the person saying it is like Eeyore, where nothing is said with excitement. It's up to the author to decide how those sentences are to be said, not me. I didn't write these, so I don't know". This is not an eight year old who doesn't understand punctuation. This is an eight year old who won't make assumptions. However, if this were a "high stakes" test, it would appear as though she had trouble knowing when to use which punctuation mark. She'd be labeled "below standard".

Last night she came home with a graded "weekly lesson test". In the "robust vocabulary" section she got a total score of 6/10, just 60% correct. My daughter's vocabulary is plenty robust. Here are the four questions in their entirety, along with her explanation as to why she chose the answers she did....the "wrong" answers:

A good education focuses on_______.
A. resources
B. boarding
C. literacy
D. anticipation
Correct answer was C "literacy", but my daughter picked D "anticipation" because "If a school focused on having kids really looking forward to being there every day, (anticipation) that would be a great education". She also said that "resources" are important too since she is well aware that there are school that have little to none. And, she argued, that if the "author" was talking about a boarding school, than focusing on the "boarding" part of it, kids feeling comfortable being away from home, would be the best answer. She allowed that "literacy" was important, but since she reads at home, it didn't seem like the school needed to really focus on that.

A_______classroom has a computer and references for the teacher.
F. loyal
G. certain
H. proper
I. diverse
Correct answer was H "proper", but my daughter picked F "certain" because "Only certain classrooms do have a computer for the teacher". This seemed very obvious to her. Yes she allowed it would be "proper" but however proper it was, only certain classrooms have computers. She was very frustrated to get this one wrong. She has already lived through one teacher's strike and there is talk of another one. With that in mind she thought "loyal" could have been the right answer too. If a school board was loyal to their teachers, they'd give them a classroom with computer.

The committee members were a _________group, including a teacher, a scientist, and an actor.
A. diverse
B. loyal
C. proper
D. certain
Correct answer was A "diverse", but my daughter picked C "proper" because "All those different types of people together would be the right (proper) type of group to discuss or work on things. I can see it's diverse! That's what makes it proper!". She also said that it was possible that the committee was "loyal" as well. She would need more information as to what they were working on. She said it could have been a "certain" group too, as in a certain group working on a specific project. She just didn't have enough background information from the author of this question.

This year, Mr. Smyth is________his horses at Circle Q Stables.
F. pondering
G. conquering
H. dismissing
I. boarding
The correct answer was I "boarding", but my daughter chose H "dismissing" because "This one was so hard! It could have been any of them! He could have been "pondering" his horses, you know, thinking about them. Maybe they are wild and this year he is "conquering" them! I picked dismissing them because I thought maybe he's got a bunch of stables and this year he's dismissing them out to the pasture through the Circle Q. Maybe last year he used a different stable". Clearly more information was needed.

I am completely supportive of the way my daughter thinks. I like that she needs more information before making a decision. I like that she can easily see how one question can have multiple answers, depending on the circumstances. However, she will undoubtedly not do well on any kind of high stakes testing and these begin in third grade. In weekly tests like this one, I can talk to her teacher and let her know that my daughter does indeed understand how to use punctuation and her vocabulary is indeed "robust". In the case of standardized tests, her answers will be an indication of her acquired knowledge of concepts and material. Those tests will provide a false indication, but they will become a part of my daughter's academic record. Those scores will not only give a false reflection of her intellect but will also reflect incorrectly on her teachers and school as well. My daughter is not yet nine, and already has test anxiety. How could she not? She desperately tries to be open minded, fair and unassuming in all situations, even a multiple choice test, and for all her effort, she is told she is wrong, wrong, and yet again wrong. I understand that assessments are needed, but how the tests are worded, and what the results are used for should be very, very carefully thought out. My daughter is still young. With her mind as malleable as it is, she can indeed be taught to ignore her initial responses to seek out more information before formulating an answer, and be coached on how to pick the one and only "right" answer. She can be a taught to be good test taker. And what a shame that would be.

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Spike Lee Blasts Chicago Mayor Over 'Chi-raq' Movie Title

Fri, 2015-10-23 13:46
ImageContent(562a7692e4b0443bb563e593,562a747a1400001b013c9024,Image,HectorAssetUrl(562a747a1400001b013c9024.jpeg,Some(crop_0_420_1965_1131),Some(jpeg)),Johnny Nunez via Getty Images,)

Spike Lee has received criticism from local officials ever since announcing his intentions to make a film highlighting black on black gun violence in Chicago.  

In a candid interview with Chicago magazine, Lee shared his feelings on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's disapproval of the film’s title of "Chi-raq," a popular nickname coined by local rappers who compare the city’s crime rates to an Iraqi warzone.

“What I didn’t like was him trying to paint me as this villain. I’m not the bad guy, but that’s how he was trying to portray it,” he said. “Do I have the guns? Am I the one pulling the trigger? To be honest, he’s a bully... He’s not gonna bully me.”

In April Lee met with Emanuel to discuss his plans for the project. According to the filmmaker, Emanuel had concerns over the film affecting the city’s “economic development.”

“His whole thing was, the title is going to hurt tourism, the title is going to hurt economic development. But what tourism is he talking about? While we were shooting the film, you had the NFL draft here. Quarter million people in Grant Park… So this part of the city is booming,” he continued in the magazine. “But there are no bulletproof double-decker buses going through the Wild Hundreds [the gang-infested area from 100th to 130th Streets] or through Terror Town [a two-by-four-block patch of South Shore]. What economic development is going on in the South Side?”

This spring the city’s alderman William Burns said the film’s title is a “slap in the face” to residents who pay their taxes and work to clean up the city’s negative image. He also questioned Lee's choice to come from New York to do a movie about Chicago.

For Lee, the reception he received during his time filming in the city in June was contrary to Burns’ comments.

“There’s this perception that all of Chicago didn’t want me here. ‘Spike, get the f*ck out of here, go back to New York.’ But everywhere I went — North Side, West Side, South Side, black people, white people — I got nothing but love our entire time here. Love,” he said in the interview. 

“As I’d be walking the streets, going to games, the airports, everybody would say, ‘Keep Chi-Raq. Don’t change the title. F*ck him,’” he said of one encounter. “I swear on my mother’s grave. They are coming up to me. I’m not soliciting it.”

“Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq” is set to hit theaters and Amazon Prime in December. Read more of Spike Lee’s candid Chicago magazine interview here

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Moody's Knocks Illinois Credit Rating; Second Downgrade in Four Days

Fri, 2015-10-23 11:38
Two ratings agencies this week downgraded Illinois' credit rating.

What does this mean to you?

Mainly it means that more of your tax dollars now will go toward paying interest on state borrowing.

With the worst credit rating in the nation, Illinois is like the home buyer whose credit score is so bad that he gets his mortgage through a payday lender.

Both Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service delivered double warnings in the reports that accompanied their downgrades on $26.8 billion of bonds. First, they attributed Illinois' worsening fiscal position to the ongoing state budget standoff, which threatens to compress payment for the state's unpaid bills -- a little more than $7 billion as of today -- into just a few months. That's because it's likely that Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly won't get a budget signed into law until sometime in early 2016, with only a few months left in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

With Illinois now on pace to spend $34.5 billion in FY 2016 while only bringing in $32.1 billion in revenue, we know that any state budget will need to address a deficit of at least $2.4 billion. But that only covers court-ordered spending and expenditures that don't require authorization from a budget. When you count spending that needs to happen but can't until there's a budget -- like higher education funding -- the deficit is more like $5 billion.

That's the short-term trouble. Fitch and Moody's also criticized Illinois for failing to put forward any plan for paying the $110 billion pension debt it owes through 2045.

We explain more in this week's "Only in Illinois."

NEXT ARTICLE: Majority of Illinois metro areas lose jobs over the year

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10 of the Saddest Things That Have Happened Because of the Illinois Budget Battle

Fri, 2015-10-23 09:27
As the Illinois budget impasse drags on, we wanted to recap some of the saddest repercussions the logjam in Springfield has had on people and organizations across the state.

Here are five of the 10 sad things that have happened as a result of the ongoing budget battle between Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner:

  1. 911 emergency centers across the state are not receiving revenue from a tax on cell phone users, which could result in layoffs and longer wait times for people reporting emergencies.

  2. The 138-year-old Illinois State Museum in Springfield and its four satellite locations were closed on Sept. 30, along with the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta, leading to more than 100 layoffs.

  3. Hundreds of training classes for police department across the state have been canceled, despite the passage of a law on Aug. 14 that requires additional training and re-training for officers, among other things.

  4. At first, the Illinois Lottery said it wouldn't be able to pay people who win cash prizes of more than25,000. Now anyone who wins more than600 won't be collecting a dime of it until the state budget impasse is resolved. Tickets, however, still are being sold.

  5. Secretary of State Jesse White said his office will stop mailing out registration renewal reminders because there's no budget in place.

Here are the other five truly sad things that have happened because of the ongoing deadlock.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 25 most violent cities in Illinois, according to Law Street Media's 2016 rankings

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Double Trouble: Faced With Massive Local Tax Hike, Chicagoans Frustrated With Talk of Increase at State Level

Thu, 2015-10-22 20:12
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is poised to squeeze city residents with the largest tax hike in modern Chicago history on Oct. 28. His plan includes a $588 million property-tax hike, a new $9.50 per-month garbage fee and other payment increases.

Emanuel isn't the only politician soaking Chicagoans for more money. His counterparts in the state Capitol are hoping for more tax dollars as well.

Illinois has been without a state budget for more than 100 days; budget gridlock in the General Assembly has carried on for months as politicians who would continue asking for more from Illinoisans face off against those who want to fix Illinois' structural problems, including more than $111 billion in pension debt and $6 billion in unpaid bills.

Unsurprisingly, Chicagoans aren't warming to the idea of more tax hikes - on the state or local level.

When pollsters at Ogden & Fry surveyed people in Cook County, including many Chicagoans, on Oct. 21-22 to learn more about their opinions on government finances, more than 50 percent said they would have an unfavorable view of any elected official who votes for tax increases to balance the budget. The pollsters also found that the Illinoisans surveyed blame state politicians and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for the budget gridlock.

Raising tax revenues on the back of a booming economy is one thing, but neither Chicago nor Illinois is experiencing growth on par with the rest of the country. And people are starting to feel the pain: Fewer than 1 in 5 Chicagoans think the city's economy is becoming more prosperous.

The message is clear: The people of Illinois are frustrated with politicians who are unwilling to do what's needed. Just 9.8 percent of the Illinoisans Ogden & Fry surveyed approve of the General Assembly's performance; that's even worse than Congress' approval rating, which sits at 19 percent.

The hard truth elected officials are unwilling to face is that the only way to balance the budget in the long term without cutting services is through cost-saving measures and structural reforms to spur a moribund state economy.

As long as politicians refuse to do what's necessary, those in need will continue to go without essential services, people counting on life-changing lottery winnings will continue receiving IOUs and Chicagoans will continue having to worry each day if they're going to be able to pay the bills - in addition to footing the tab for more and more tax hikes.

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7 Reasons Why You Need to Start Screaming About the State of Our State

Thu, 2015-10-22 16:39
*This is an opinion piece written by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Why aren't all of us up in arms and screaming about our state?

I think about this a lot lately. I thought about it last week as I visited some of my family members who live in Colorado.

While I was there, I met an expert fly fisherman in Breckinridge who told me that at one point in the past few years, 134 people moved into Colorado every day. Every day.

My sister moved there decades ago. She and some of her children asked what the latest was in Illinois. When I told them about our budget and political stalemate, they shook their heads and asked why people here aren't doing something about it. They couldn't believe there wasn't more uproar. I can't either. Why isn't there?

I point, in part, to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich sitting in that federal prison in Colorado. And to his predecessor, George Ryan. And to Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi. And former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. And now, in what seems like the shortest tenure ever, Barbara Byrd-Bennett's taking financial advantage of her position at the helm of Chicago Public Schools.

The corruption is killing our spirit.

I returned home to a postcard from a friend who wrote that she thought of me when she saw it. (See the image with this rant.) It sums up our state and our nation.

What are we doing? Why do we allow it? Former governors Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson are beside themselves. One asks new Gov. Bruce Rauner to stop holding the budget hostage. The other spreads the blame and declines to name names.

In actuality, Edgar, Thompson, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate Democratic chiefs including John Cullerton and predecessors, along with former governors Pat Quinn, Blagojevich and Ryan all share the blame for our gargantuan pension debt and fiscal mess built up over decades of dealmaking, borrowing and pushing debt down the road and into our path. Oh and dear Speaker Madigan, those deals rarely had anything mostly or purely to do with the budget.

And so, because of all of this, we are beaten down. Numb. Tuned out. Unless or until it hits a loved one or friend, we just don't care. But it is hitting each of us. We just can't seem to shake off our lethargy to see it, so allow me to try to help us all wipe our eyes.

Here are seven reasons why it's time to start screaming about the paralyzed state of our state.

NEXT ARTICLE: Why the Illinois unemployment rate doesn't tell the whole story

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Challenging the Washington Consensus

Thu, 2015-10-22 14:17
Political wisdom always has a sharp, cynical edge. You can't utter it without feeling the throb of ancient wounds.

For instance: "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."

Emma Goldman's observation nestled into my subconscious decades ago, and each presidential go-around aggravates it with new intensity. The Washington consensus never changes. The mainstream media shills never cease their efforts to bully all seriousness -- all reality -- out of the process. And money and militarism silently, invisibly rule, no matter who wins.

The alleged result of this is an entrenched public complacency, as Americans settle for techno-consumerism as a substitute for participation in real, political life and a voice in who we are as a nation. Beyond our shores... whatever. Empires will be empires. What can you do?

I don't really believe this, but election campaigns bring out this despair in me -- or, at any rate, they used to.

"Donald Trump is throwing the GOP primary into chaos by channeling the GOP's id, spinning out wild fantasies of the Mexican government deliberately sending a flood of rapists and murderers across the border," Paul Rosenberg wrote back in July at Salon. "But Bernie Sanders is disrupting Hillary Clinton's coronation on the Democratic side by channeling the party's soul, with a specifically issue-based focus."

Could it be?

At the very least, something unexpected and against the wishes of the Washington consensus is happening in both major parties here in 2015, as the absurdly lengthy presidential election season begins to shake and rattle. At this early phase, it's difficult to assess the extent and significance of the change. Trump is beyond the edge of weird, as he lights up the Republican base with code-free racist diatribes and a political agenda he seems to be making up as he goes along.

But what about Sanders? And I don't mean, is he "electable"? I'm willing to suspend my doubt in that regard, but I have yet to fully embrace him politically. Does he simply look good because the Democratic Party has fled so far to the right over the last three decades?

There was a moment in last week's Democratic presidential debate that exemplified all of the above for me: the mainstream media's determination to continue shaping and defining the American political consensus and the still-marginalized but emerging counterpoint to the militarism of that consensus.

At one point, CNN's Anderson Cooper tried to nail Sanders with a "tough" question, bringing up the fact that the Vermont socialist had applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. "What would you say to a young soldier in Afghanistan about this?" Cooper asked, his question quietly loaded with implication.

Here's a young soldier in Afghanistan, risking his life to defend America's freedom! And here's a presidential candidate who not only didn't serve in his generation's war back in the '60s, but actually had the temerity to apply for I'm-against-war-in-general status, which politically speaking has the feel of a mortal sin.

Fascinatingly, this was the only time Cooper -- or anyone else on the stage, except the seriously marginalized Lincoln Chafee -- mentioned any of America's failed-but-ongoing wars in the Middle East. The moment was a glaring demonstration of how the media shape public consensus: not by overt propaganda but, far more effectively, by silent implication. An imaginary GI is trotted out in his battle gear to stand briefly in judgment of the CO applicant who, 50 years ago, wanted only to avoid risking his life in service to his country. Shame, shame.

I repeat: The wars themselves were never discussed, because that would have been... well, awkward.

Sanders could have stepped directly into the question and talked about the courage and moral clarity it takes to declare oneself a conscientious objector. He could have discussed the cost and pointlessness of our current wars, including the bombing, barely a week earlier, of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. He could have embraced the very GI Cooper had summoned in moral judgment, addressing PTSD and the dismal inadequacy of vets' health care -- in the process disrupting and exposing the game Cooper was trying to play.

Instead, Sanders settled for pointing out that, while he had been against the Vietnam War, "I'm not a pacifist." He added: "I supported the war in Afghanistan. War should be the last resort, (but) I am prepared to take this country to war if necessary."

OK, fine. The moment passed and (almost) disappeared. The debate went on. And while I was disappointed in Sanders' answer, I was fascinated that the issue had come up at all. Conscientious objection to war has a consensus-threatening volatility even at this marginal level of acknowledgment.

And the presidential campaign is still in its early stages. And Sanders, to his immense credit, is refusing to run as a candidate beholden to big money. And, as a blogger named Karim pointed out at the website Secular Nirvana: "An incredibly large portion of Bernie's supporters aren't just voters, they have become activists."

Being not just a voter but an activist is the antidote for Emma Goldman's observation. This is how to change the world.

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


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Daughter Hears Reason Behind Mother's Hurtful Behavior: 'She Doesn't Like You'

Thu, 2015-10-22 12:07
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"Classless," "hoe," "deadbeat mom."

These are some of the names that Dominique says her mother, Norma, has called her over the last decade. The relationship between the two women has been toxic for years, with Dominique blaming Norma for sending her down a destructive path, and Norma feeling frustrated that her daughter would rather party than take care of her 8-year-old son.

That boy, Bilal, is stuck in the middle of the two sparring women. Norma, a retired army officer, has had custody of Bilal for the last six years -- a time during which Dominique's own life has been a mess. She has been arrested, spent time in jail, been in and out of her mother's home, and is currently homeless.

The situation is at a breaking point, and now that Dominique says she wants her son back, it's also his future that is at stake. Life coach Iyanla Vanzant visits the broken family in Chicago, and makes the assessment that Norma is the root of the breakdown, blind to the pain she has caused Dominique and, by proxy, her grandson.

Since the mother and daughter cannot communicate effectively face-to-face, Iyanla places a tall barrier between them and soon validates what Dominique has often said about her mother.

"Dominique, you're absolutely right: she doesn't like you," Iyanla says. "I don't know why, and my heart weeps for you."

Iyanla turns to Norma and points out that Norma's misinterpretation of her daughter's words may be a major catalyst for their dysfunctional relationship.

"Maybe you hear her blaming you as opposed to her crying out to you," Iyanla says. "She needs her mother. She needs to be able to put her head on your shoulder and let her heart break."

Both women, Iyanla adds, absolutely must acknowledge that the aftermath of their behavior extends beyond just the two of them.

"Unless you have a relationship with each other, your relationship with Bilal is bogus! It's bull!" she says, before turning to Norma. "[You] can't love him and disrespect and disregard his mother!"

If mother and daughter can't see this and change their behaviors, the barrier between them will never come down.

"You came in here like this, you're going to leave here like this," Iyanla tells them.

"Iyanla: Fix My Life" airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.

Also on HuffPost:


A mother to her son: You have 34 children because I didn't love you enough

Woman confesses that she hates her own mother

What a single mom should tell her 6-year-old about his absent father

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Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

Thu, 2015-10-22 11:46

When former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger raised county taxes a penny on the dollar to help balance his budget, he was portrayed as a political monster in the press. He received front-page stories and made headline news.

His election opponent and now Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ran on the promise that she would repeal Todd's tax. Truth be told, Todd did the right thing in raising the tax to balance the budget. He was as frugal as possible, a penny on a dollar. Todd was disrespected.

It is one thing to run for office, it is another to sit in the seat and face the issues after the election. Preckwinkle won and did repeal the tax. However, realizing the economic necessity, Preckwinkle pushed hard to get the 1 percent tax increase reinstated. It barely squeezed by the county board back in July and will take effect January 1, 2016.


And now here we are again with Preckwinkle at the helm and she has proposed increasing the amusement tax by 3 percent to capture revenue from golfers, bowlers, people who subscribe to cable TV and folks who buy sports tickets from secondary outlets like Stub Hub.

That's in addition to the existing 9 percent amusement tax, which targets theater, musicals, and other live cultural performances and sporting events.

This is too too too damn much, all for a relatively paltry $22 million the expanded amusement tax is expected to bring in, though every penny counts when you're trying to provide service for people in Cook County.

But people are stressing and straining to keep up with the necessities of life and it's going a bit too far to tax everyday people trying to find escape in something as simple as bowling with friends or watching a good show on cable.

The County could find other things to tax. How about adding tax to luxury items like liquor, furs, tobacco, fine jewelry, luxury cars, boats, electronics, and the like. Commissioner Steele has a good idea, which is to have Cook County Fairs like Taste of Chicago.

The expanded amusement tax will make Chicago a very expensive place for entertainment and sports. In a minute we will have taxes on water, and air and walking on the lake front. But what happens to the politicians that misused the money. What happened to them? Its shameful the politicians can misuse dollars and then the next group simple tax us some more to make up for the deficit.

In light of this, we see some of the best land in the city gifted to Mr. George Lucas for his Star Wars museum for $10 for a 90-year lease. He will build at his own expense. Why not tax the museum build?

Indeed, taxes probably need to increase, in that it is the most likely way to meet budget expenses, but I hope the public responds and reacts to the proposals to give perspective to the increases and the impact on a public that is struggling as it already is.


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These New York Mets Fans Are Expert Chicago Cubs Trolls

Thu, 2015-10-22 08:47

The Chicago Cubs won 97 regular season games this year and made a deep postseason run. For a historically hapless franchise, the winning surge brought back a longtime Cubs tradition: The "W" flag

New York Mets fans who traveled to Chicago to watch their team beat the Cubs on Wednesday night to advance to the World Series decided to use SpongeBob-level cleverness to turn the classic Cubs banner into a victorious "METS" sign. 


ICYMI: Mets fans turned over a Cubs "W" flag at Wrigley last night to reveal their version

— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) October 22, 2015
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Signifying exactly what you think it does -- a win -- Cubs fans have been displaying the plain white-and-blue flag since the 1930s, according to The Wall Street Journal. Before Wrigley Field installed lights, the Cubs often played day games while Chicagoans were busy at work. To signify a win or loss, the Cubs began raising a "W" or "L" flag above the centerfield scoreboard to alert commuters heading home.  

It's such a rich part of Cubs history, but was completely desecrated by a bunch of Mets fans on Wednesday night. An NLCS sweep will do that.

Better luck next year (or century), Cubs fans. 

Also on HuffPost: 


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