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How does Illinois' income tax compare to the rest of the country?

Wed, 2014-08-06 12:53
The Illinois income tax has been a topic of hot debate in the 2014 governor's race. Currently, Illinoisans must give 5 percent of their income to the state government. That rate is scheduled to expire at the end of the year, when it would fall to 3.75 percent. Some members of the General Assembly have expressed support for continuing the 5 percent rate into 2015 to help the state pay off debts. Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn has led the charge. His opponent, Republican nominee Bruce Rauner, has said he would work to move the income tax to a flat 3 percent by the end of his four-year term.

The 1970 Illinois constitution says Illinois' state income tax must be flat, with just one rate for all taxpayers.

Nine other states also have a flat-rate income tax. There are 33 states that use a graduated income tax system--people pay a certain percentage depending on how much they make. Seven states don't have an income tax at all. Check out our chart at Reboot Illinois to see which state has which income tax plan.

Politicians are likely to take up the income tax system again after the election in January. The lawmakers have a new watchdog in the form of newly appointed, interim Inspector General J. William Roberts. His job is to investigate complaints of misconduct about lawmakers.The IG is supposed to be impartial himself, but the Better Government Association has found that Roberts may have connections to those he is meant to be overseeing.


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Toledo's Water Ban Exposes Testing Inconsistencies, Need For Phosphorus Regulation

Wed, 2014-08-06 11:45
Half a million residents of the Toledo, Ohio area were forced to live without tap water this past weekend after tests revealed the presence of a dangerous toxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches and fever.

The toxin, known as microcystin, was produced by an excess of a specific type of algae in Lake Erie, the body that supplies Toledo and surrounding towns with water. The algae turned the water in parts of Lake Erie into a thick, green mess. The two-day ban on tap water was lifted Monday morning, but concerns linger about how to prevent and monitor future microcystin contamination.

Algae from Lake Erie washes ashore at Maumee Bay State Park August 4, 2014 in Oregon, Ohio. Toledo, Ohio-area residents were once again able to drink tap water Monday after a two-day ban due to algae-related toxins.




"We are going to have to have a realistic approach to this through the federal government and through our state partners," Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins told WTOL reporters Monday. "We must address the algae bloom problem. That is really the critical component of it."

An algal bloom is the term for what happens when the algae population in a water system suddenly explodes. In Lake Erie, blooms of the blue-green algae that produce microcystin occur when excess phosphorus washes into lake from the surrounding watershed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the severity of algal blooms, predicted harmful blooms earlier this year, but said they would not be as bad as those of 2011 and 2013.

Other areas of the Great Lakes, including parts of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, are also vulnerable to rampant algal growth, but Lake Erie is the warmest and shallowest of the five bodies. This creates good growing conditions and makes Lake Erie especially prone to algal blooms, according to the Associated Press. The lake is also loaded with the nutrient phosphorus, which promotes algal growth.

According to the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, part of the state Environmental Protection Agency, there's not a good system in place for keeping phosphorus out of the water supply. In a report last fall, the task force recommended reducing the total phosphorus load in the Maumee River, which empties into Lake Erie, by 39 percent annually. Though sewage treatment plants, which used to be the biggest source of phosphorus, are now regulated, agricultural sources are not. Fertilizers and animal manure from farms, along with runoff from lawns and streets, all contribute to phosphorus pollution. But despite pressure from environmental groups to reduce phosphorus runoff in the Great Lakes states, Ohio legislators have yet to impose restrictions on fertilizer to protect the lake.

Climate change and invasive mussels can also increase algal blooms, Don Scavia, an aquatic ecologist at the University of Michigan, told The Huffington Post. But, he said, reducing the phosphorus load in waterways "is the only thing we can control."

"Reducing that load is the key focus for management," said Scavia. "This has been known for quite some time, and hopefully this human health issue will draw sufficient attention to it for action."

The City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio.



Toledo officials told local news stations that the latest spike in toxin levels happened because the algal bloom occurred right over the city's water intake site in Lake Erie. Toledo's water incident prompted Chicago officials to conduct additional tests for microcystin, in addition to their routine blue-green algae testing. Chicago's water department found no increase in levels of the toxin.

"The continuing problem of nutrients flowing through this Maumee River, flushing through here and then going out into the bay, will add to what's already out here," Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) told WTOL. "We have to stop the source of the problem, and that's where it's going to take cooperation."

U.S. EPA documents show that treating water affected by harmful algal blooms can be difficult, as certain methods of water treatment remove some algal toxins but not others. Moreover, there are no standard testing or sampling protocols and no federal standards for microcystin.

"There are no exact tests. There is no exact protocol," Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said in a press conference Sunday. This means that the different agencies testing for the toxin kept getting different results, which in turn made it difficult for them to confirm each others' findings and may have delayed the lifting of the water ban.

"[The federal government] must develop a protocol that is much more exact and efficient than was used this weekend," Kaptur told WTOL.

A U.S. EPA spokesperson told HuffPost that approved methods for testing algal blooms will only be needed if the EPA comes up with regulatory requirements.

"Since EPA does not require monitoring for algal toxins the Agency has not yet established an approved analytical method," the spokesperson said in an email. "EPA-approved analytical methods must be sensitive, accurate and reproducible in the drinking water laboratories across the country. EPA has been working with other government agencies, universities, consensus methods organizations, water laboratories, and instrument manufacturers to ensure that the approved methods meet the three characteristics listed above."

The state says that as a result of the recent water ban, the Toledo Department of Public Utility has established a set of protocols that can be used to standardize water testing across Ohio. But there are still questions about the best possible test for the toxin, and the EPA says it hasn't finished research on which detection method is best.

"Our government has to come to the realization it's time to stop talking about western Lake Erie and do something about it," Collins said earlier this week, according to the Toledo Blade. "I'd like them to stop acting like feral cats trying to organize a parade."

This Rapper Thinks Your Boyfriend Sucks And Found A Very Catchy Way To Tell You

Wed, 2014-08-06 11:36
We're sorry to break the news to you, but Chicago rapper Blake does not approve of your boyfriend and has a straightforward course of action in mind.

Blake -- who previously released music as Jams Dean -- wants you to dump your man and get with him and says so in an infectious new video for "Your Boyfriend Sucks," the first single off Blake's upcoming album "BLAKE 4EVER."

In the video, which also features Chicago drag queen Trannika Rex and garage rockers Rabble Rabble and was directed by Jason Culver, Blake says the object of his affection and he are "ice cream perfect" together, even if his apartment might have "a couple of cockroaches." Based on the surprisingly pleasant brainworm of a song the attraction inspired, we can't disagree!

Anti-Gay Fans Rant On Facebook Over White Sox LGBT Night

Wed, 2014-08-06 11:35
Ready for today's eye roll-inspiring news? Because apparently people like this still exist.

Last week the Chicago White Sox announced that the sporting organization would begin sponsoring a night called "LGBT Pride Night: Out at the Sox," in celebration and support of the queer community. According to the organization's Facebook post, the night is in partnership with Equality Illinois and will take place on Aug. 16 when the White Sox take on the Blue Jays.

This move, predictably, brought out the bigots who are once again here to remind us how backwards some people in America still are when it comes to issues of power and privilege.

"When is the Straight Pride night going to be? If it's all about equality then let's make it across the board," one insightful individual mused on the Facebook page, and the comment received a whopping 112 likes.

"When is white male night? Do we really need an event for every belief and ethnicity?" another individual questioned, apparently unaware that every night throughout The United States' history has essentially been a celebration of "white men."

The comments continued to get worse, but there do seem to be a few voices of reason among the White Sox's Facebook following, like this one:
Hey, look... it's a bunch of people whining because a baseball team is holding a night for people who aren't liked by an ignorant section of a religion. I don't see any whining about Jewish Heritage Nights, or Latino Heritage Nights, etc. Why should this be any different?

And to those "Where is straight pride night" people... come back to me when you can point out a time when straight people were persecuted and alienated because of their orientation. I'll give you a hint and save you time: IT'S NEVER HAPPENED. EVER.

You jerks are an absolute disgrace to humanity.

Regardless of the backlash (or, perhaps because of it), we'd like to offer our thanks to the Chicago White Sox for supporting LGBT individuals and standing on the right side of history.

Check out the flyer below for more information about "LGBT Pride Night: Out at the Sox."

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Post by Chicago White Sox.

These Disturbing Photos Show Why Algae Blooms Are A Growing Global Water Threat

Wed, 2014-08-06 10:54
When more than 400,000 people were left without safe drinking water in Ohio and Michigan this past weekend, Lake Erie's troubling algae blooms received intense scrutiny. Though people were told Monday it was once again safe to drink the water, there's still major concern: harmful algae blooms have been a growing problem in Lake Erie for the last decade, and are a worldwide issue with consequences for the environment and human health.

Water treatment tests over the weekend had found unsafe levels of microcystin, a toxin that can be created by cyanobacteria algae blooms, in the Toledo water system that serves Ohioans and some Michiganders.

August 1 satellite image courtesy of NASA shows an algae bloom on the western side of Lake Erie.

Tim Davis, a harmful algae specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, was on the lake Monday.

“The water looks like someone painted the surface with green paint,” Davis said, according to NASA.

Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. AP Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari.


Here's what to know about harmful algae blooms.

Harmful algae bloom toxins can cause illness in humans.

Sometimes, rapid growths of algae can form harmful toxins (though not all algae blooms do). With cyanobacteria algae, the most prevalent is microcystin, which in humans can cause abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, liver inflammation and hemorrhage, pneumonia, dermatitis and potential tumor growth promotion.

Humans can be exposed to cyanobacteria toxins through the mouth and skin when swimming in contaminated areas, drinking water, or showering with it.

The tests of drinking water in Toledo last weekend found microcsytin levels more than double the World Health Organization's 1.0 ppb threshold, according to the Toledo Blade. The Columbus Dispatch reports 70 people went to hospitals because of health concerns stemming from the toxic water.

A member of the Ohio Air National Guard carries a bag of water to a nearby car, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, at Woodward High School in Toledo, Ohio. AP Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari.

Algae blooms can be a death sentence for fish and water life.

Algae grows organically in freshwater and marine environments. But when conditions are right for it to multiply quickly, blooms can cause fish kills and damage to the rest of the ecosystem. When algae decomposes, it consumes dissolved oxygen in water. If enough oxygen is used, it creates a condition called hypoxia or so-called "dead zones" where fish and other life can't survive.

Flickr photo of 2011 Lake Erie algae bloom by Tom Archer.

Red tide, a marine species of harmful algae bloom, caused the deaths of thousands of fish, sea turtles and crabs in the Gulf of Mexico last month, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Algae blooms also posed a threat to a delicate ecosystem in a Florida lagoon, killing off sea grass, a manatee food source. The manatee took to eating a toxic form of macro algae, and more than 100 died in about a year, according to a 2013 NPR article.

In the Great Lakes, avian botulism has become more common -- more than 80,000 birds have died because of exposure to the neurotoxin in the region since 1999. Scientists believe one of the linked factors is the increased growth of macro algae Cladophora. When the algae decomposes on the lake floor, it creates a ripe environment for the bacterium that produces the toxin.


Common fertilizer and farming practices have increased the destructive power of algae blooms.

Algae blooms rely on natural warmth and light and can't be linked to just one cause. But one of the main factors in the Lake Erie algae blooms is thought to be increased phosphorous -- present in fertilizers (both commercial and manure) for agriculture and lawn maintenance, it enters the water way through runoff, where algae feeds on it.

Flickr photo of aerial view of 2009 Lake Erie algae bloom by Tom Archer.

Of all the Great Lakes, the Lake Erie basin receives the most phosphorous, 9.8 million pounds per year, and its load comprises 44 percent of the total for the whole lake system.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio lawmakers are considering imposing tighter restrictions for agriculture uses of the harmful fertilizer.


Climate change shares part of the blame for the rise of algae blooms -- and may only make them worse.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that more research is needed to understand the role climate change plays in algae blooms, but acknowledges they're likely to get worse.

Salinity fluctuation, higher water temperatures, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and changes in rainfall are all possible effects of climate change that could lead to better conditions for algae blooms.

According to Scientific American, more rain is expected with climate change, which increases runoff and therefore the phosphorous that will enter Lake Erie. Not all Microcystis algae blooms are toxic (and size isn't necessarily an indicator of severity), but according to National Geographic, climate change may be making the toxic strains of bacteria more common.

Chinese military officers clean up a beach covered with blue green algae in Qingdao, eastern China, Thursday, July 3, 2008. China's Olympics nightmare was a vast algae bloom covering one third of the sea where the world's best sailors were to compete. AP Photo by Ng Han Guan.

Invasive species have also contributed to the rise of algae blooms in Lake Erie.

Since the 1980s, zebra and quagga mussels have spread throughout the Great Lakes, tipping the balance in the lakes' ecosystems. The mussels eat phytoplankton, often increasing water clarity when they first appear. But by selectively consuming non-toxic algae, they reduce competition for the toxic strains in Lake Erie, according to the New York Times. They also do not absorb phosphorus, leaving it for algae to feed on.


Decades ago, Lake Erie successfully dealt with its algae bloom problem. But it's come back full force.

Before the 1970s, Lake Erie became steadily more and more compromised, mostly by phosphorus, at that point mainly from wastewater treatment plants. The lake was full of algae that piled up high on beaches and needed to be removed with bulldozers. Drinking water had taste and odor problems.

In the decades that followed, Canada and the United States signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and spent billions restoring the lakes, reducing phosphorus loading in Lake Erie by 60 percent.

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows the algae bloom on Lake Erie in 2011. AP Photo courtesy of NOAA.

But in 1995, algae blooms returned to Lake Erie. The bloom in 2003 lasted a month, and Microcystis blooms have often been a problem since. At 1,920 square feet, the 2011 bloom was three times larger than the second largest ever recorded. The algae bloom last year caused a scare in a small Ohio town, when the Carroll Gardens water treatment plant found microcystin levels more than 3 times the acceptable level.


It's not just Ohio: algae blooms are a national and global problem.

In 2008, NOAA pegged the economic damage of algae blooms across the country at more than $100 million in today's dollars, with costs adding up for public health, coastal monitoring and management, and losses for fishing and the tourism industries. An EPA survey found microcystin in 30 percent of lakes across the country.

Cyanobacteria harmful algae blooms "caused human illness, animal mortalities, and adverse ecosystem and economic impacts in the United States and worldwide, as well as human mortalities in some other nations," according to a 2008 federal report.

In China, huge mats of algae are a yearly occurrence in the coastal city of Qingdao -- last year , the Yellow Sea bloom was spread over an area larger than Connecticut, according to The New York Times, and cleanup efforts cleared 20,000 tons of the algae. While not toxic to humans, the algae blooms, which were first reported in 2007, are destructive to marine life.

An algae covered public beach in Qingdao, northeast China's Shandong province on July 4, 2013. STR/AFP/Getty Images.

Scientists writing in a paper published in the Polish Journal of Environmental Studies said increasing cyanobacteria blooms are "one of the most serious risks to human health in the 21st century."

On the coast of Brittany in France, algae piles up each year, releasing toxic gasses when it decomposes. Its increase has been tied to the release of nitrates from pig and poultry farming, according to the Telegraph. In 2009, a horse died from exposure to the toxic algae and his rider suffered symptoms. A man who worked emptying algae bins also died in 2009, though courts have not ruled on his cause of death, according to the Associated Press. Dogs and wild boars have also been found dead in the area.

A town employee walks in a mire of algae, on the beach at Saint-Michel-en-Greve, Brittany, France, in this file photo dated Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009. AP Photo by David Vincent.

Scientists are studying algae blooms and have made recommendations to limit phosphorus, the pollutant in the Lake Erie bloom, though lawmakers and regulators may need to catch up -- the Ohio EPA hasn't even required water treatment facilities to test for microcystin.

This year's Lake Erie bloom isn't necessarily worse than years past, it just happened to be in a location that had more of a direct impact on humans, NOAA scientist Tim Davis pointed out. But seeing possible consequences may spark some change, or so hopes U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

“I think it’s going to make everybody realize we’ve got to do better,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. “I would hope that when 500,000 people lose their drinking water for a couple, three days, that it would have an impact on public policy, not just in Ohio, but around the country.”

The City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae, Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. AP Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari.

10 Music Apps You Need To Become The Hipster You Always Dreamed Of

Wed, 2014-08-06 09:09
At this point, most people have downloaded Spotify, Pandora and Shazam on their smartphones. They are the three basic apps needed to stay musically relevant. But for the true music lovers out there, those who visit blog after blog on the daily, there is much left to be desired when it comes to musical prowess on the go. Here are 10 apps that will help transform music from a hobby to a lifestyle.

Next



Next is basically the Tinder of music apps. Users can watch short video clips from a variety of different artists and swipe to upvote them, bringing the best to the top. You can even participate yourself and maybe catch that break you have been waiting for. This is app is still very new and so it doesn't have the largest pool of artists yet (and still has some running issues), but for those interested in discovery, Next could be great in time.

Download: Free

Hype Machine



If you want to hear the most talked about songs from the best music blogs all over the world by the minute, then you need Hype Machine. There's no better way to keep up with each day's hottest releases ... unless you have the time to shuffle through over 800 blogs a day.

Download: $3.99

Genius



For some people, the lyrics of a song hold a lot of weight. Not only does Genius offer you the lyrics to just about any song ever, but the vast majority are annotated line by line. Genius is even making a move into literature and news now, so you can decipher some Dickens with your Kanye.

Download: Free

Songza



Not only does Songza wield fantastic playlists curated by music experts, but it is one of the few services dedicated to providing users with the music they want to hear depending on time of day, the weather, location, mood and what you are doing. Even though Songza was recently purchased by Google, the app should remain intact for the time being.

Download: Free

Bandsintown Concerts



Bandsintown is capable of syncing with your iTunes library or your accounts on Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many others. You will never miss your favorite artist's performances again.

Download: Free

Timbre



What Timbre excels in that Bandsintown does not is finding concerts and performances outside of one's artist repertoire. Whether you are trying to find some local favorites or catch what's happening at the jazz bar down the block, Timbre's daily concert listings are thorough and for the adventurous.

Download: Free

Whosampled



Whether you are trying to determine what song has been sampled in another song, how many times a certain song has been sampled or who covered your favorite songs, Whosampled is the app that builds a musical web that will have you entertained for hours and hours.

Download: $2.99

Rapchat



Rapchat is like Snapchat, but instead of sharing pictures and videos, you record the dirtiest short freestyles over a number of given beats and then send it off to your friends. Your career in hip-hop begins here.

Download: Free

Soundhound



Soundhound has a lot of the same abilities as Shazam, like music identification, but its greatest asset is that whenever a melody or a few lyrics get stuck in your head, you can hum or sing into your phone and the app will bring you the peace you long desired.

Download: Free

Hum



For the songwriters who have had an idea on the go but had no means of getting their ideas down in an orderly fashion, Hum is the solution. Pair recordings and lyrics, add separate notes to a song and sort your songs by key, tuning and mood. There are definitely some improvements that Hum could make, but for what it is offering, it is the best around.

Download: $1.99

Adam Dunn Pitched An Inning Because The Baseball Gods Are Good (VIDEO)

Wed, 2014-08-06 09:09
Adam Dunn pitched an inning on Tuesday night. Yes, Adam Dunn, the hulking 285-pound slugger with 457 career home runs, took the mound in the ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox.

Trailing 15-0 to the Texas Rangers at the time, Dunn pitching might have been the only thing (besides a miraculous comeback) that could make the White Sox fans at U.S. Cellular Field happy. Even Rangers star Adrian Beltre seemed to be impressed.

(GIF via @cjzero)

Dunn ended up throwing 22 pitches while allowing two hits, a walk and a run, all with a smile on his face. He walked off the field to a standing ovation.

“I haven’t laughed on a baseball field like that in a long time,” center fielder Adam Eaton said after the game, per CSNChicago.com. “It takes you back to the glory days and like I said, he had good sink, that’s all I can say."

Dunn, who apparently had been "begging" White Sox manager Robin Ventura to pitch for a while, didn't just please the White Sox fans. Those on Twitter could not believe what was taking place.

A Benefit Corporation Steps Up to Purchase a Chicago Hospital

Wed, 2014-08-06 05:36
Community First Healthcare of Illinois ("Community First"), an Illinois benefit corporation, recently announced plans to purchase Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center (formerly Northwest Hospital) in Chicago from Presence Health. It is encouraging to see the benefit corporation structure used for a hospital. Advantages of doing this were discussed in my article published last summer in Bloomberg BNA Health Insurance Report.

The benefit corporation structure is a "natural" for a hospital providing community health care. In fact, authorizing statutes typically include a public benefit purpose of this nature. Illinois' statute, for example, speaks in terms of "improving public health."

The benefit corporation structure is a particularly good fit in this case because Resurrection Medical Center is mission-driven. The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and Sisters of the Resurrection sponsor the Medical Center, which has long been embedded with mission, and Presence, the largest Catholic health care system in Illinois, has set a pre-condition of the sale that the community service mission continue under the buyer.

Resurrection Medical Center and predecessor entities operated as Illinois nonprofits. Community First was incorporated in Illinois in June 2014, reportedly as a benefit corporation, so Community First's acquisition offers an opportunity to assess a benefit corporation hospital in operation. Benefit corporation status embeds community service in the new entity in a way that satisfies the pre-condition of the sale, and, conversely, benefit corporation status cannot be terminated without a two-thirds vote.

From a legal perspective, the benefit corporation structure enables directors to allocate resources to serve mission goals and stakeholder interests above and beyond traditional shareholder interests. In this case, providing quality community health care would be a priority. Preliminary indications are that Community First intends to make good on its name. The hospital, which experienced years of operating losses and anticipated a financial shortfall, will be improved and the emergency room modernized to the tune of $20 million over five years.

This contrasts with some nonprofit hospitals which may have a low ratio of community service relative to their high profitability and which spend large sums on administrative salaries, acquisitions, or infrastructure because the hospital holds large profits which cannot be distributed since there are no shareholders. Benefit corporation status has the additional advantage that owners retain the authority to insure mission through injunctive proceedings, whereas original donors to a nonprofit may be without meaningful recourse if the entity does not reflect their intent. (See BNA article.)

Of course, benefit corporations are a relatively new phenomena and do not go unquestioned. Concerns raised in other contexts question the wisdom of adopting a relatively new and untested model, as well as the feasibility of maintaining the primacy of patient care in a corporate setting. The succinct answer is that benefit corporations generally have received bipartisan support in the 26 states and the District of Columbia which have adopted authorizing statutes, and the model can operate with physicians in key positions as to patient care and operation of the business such that inappropriate corporate practice of medicine is not a concern. In addition to the specific benefit purpose of improving human health mentioned above, Illinois' benefit corporation statute expressly provides that professional service corporations (of physicians, for example) can be benefit corporations. Licensed hospitals employ physicians to provide health care as well.

Questions may arise, depending upon the location of the benefit corporation statute in a state's overall code system, as to whether a benefit corporation satisfies specific regulatory requirements for particular types of health care organizations. In this case, Illinois' Benefit Corporation Act happens to reside within the Corporations Code, as do the Professional Service Corporation Act and the Medical Corporation Act. However, if necessary, amendments can be enacted at the state level.

In terms of overall regulatory structure, this author's view is that innovators can drive regulatory change, particularly in times of budgetary constraints, and that regulators do well to rely on the good practices of mission-driven businesses in achieving goals.

Truth be told, benefit corporations may put the patient first and optimize outcomes in ways that raise the bar for the delivery of quality affordable health care to all patients. Given all the circumstances, Community First's experiment is worth watching and, if successful, modeling

Walgreen Ditches Controversial Inversion Plan To Cut Tax Bill

Wed, 2014-08-06 03:31

* Obama administration says weighing options on inversions

* Democratic senators urge prompt action by White House

* Walgreen shares down after news of its retreat from deal (Adds Senator, analyst comment, background)

By Kevin Drawbaugh and Olivia Oran

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Aug 5 (Reuters) - U.S. retailer Walgreen Co has backed away from a plan to reincorporate abroad to cut its U.S. tax bill, while the Obama administration said it was considering steps to curb such corporate tax domicile-shifting deals.

Walgreen, the operator of the largest U.S. pharmacy chain, will buy the 55 percent it does not already own of European rival Alliance Boots, but the U.S. company will not use the deal to move its tax domicile overseas, said a person familiar with the matter.

Walgreen issued a statement late on Tuesday saying it would announce "several updates" on Alliance Boots at 6 a.m. Eastern time (1000 GMT) on Wednesday, followed by a conference call with management at 8 a.m. ET. The company said the updates would cover "the transaction's timing and structure."

Walgreen's retreat will be the third major possible "inversion" deal involving a major company to collapse in recent months amid controversy, underscoring the complexity and heightened political sensitivity in the United States of these transactions.

Walgreen had been under pressure from investors to do such a deal as part of its buyout of Alliance Boots so the U.S. retailer's tax domicile could be moved to Switzerland or Britain.

But the company also faced criticism from Democratic politicians, including the senior U.S. senator from its home state, Richard Durbin.

"I believe you will find that your customers are deeply patriotic and will not support Walgreen's decision to turn its back on the United States," Durbin wrote to Walgreen CEO Gregory Wasson last month. "Nearly all of your $2.5 billion in profits earned last year were from sales to U.S. taxpaying customers."

In an inversion, a U.S. corporation buys or sets up a foreign company and then moves its tax domicile to that foreign company and its home country, while leaving core business operations in the United States. Doing such a deal ends U.S. taxation of the company's foreign profits and makes it easier for the company to take other tax-cutting steps.

Walgreen shares ended regular trading on Tuesday at $69.12, down 4.4 percent.

"Given Walgreen's physical retail presence in the U.S. we believe Walgreen is somewhat unique relative to recent pharma manufacturer tax inversion deals. Walgreen ability to trim its tax bill may be less substantial relative to other industry tax inversions," wrote Leerink Partners analysts in a note.

"We believe long-term fundamentals are sound and management will likely also provide updated fiscal 2016 guidance ... which could help offset potential investor disappointment if a tax inversion is abandoned," they added.

A spokeswoman for Alliance Boots declined to comment.


TREASURY WEIGHS OPTIONS

Separately, the Obama administration said on Tuesday it was considering administrative actions to discourage inversions, given the failure of Congress to address the issue.

"Treasury is reviewing a broad range of authorities for possible administrative actions that could limit the ability of companies to engage in inversions, as well as approaches that could meaningfully reduce the tax benefits after inversions take place," a Treasury Department spokesperson said in an email.

The spokesperson added there were limits to what Treasury could do without action by Congress, and that "legislation is the only way to fully address inversions."

Three prominent Democratic senators on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to reduce or eliminate tax breaks for companies that invert.

Nine inversion deals have been agreed to this year by U.S. companies ranging from banana distributor Chiquita Brands International Inc to drugmaker AbbVie Inc and more are being considered. The transactions are occurring at a record pace since the first inversion three decades ago.

But two large inversions recently collapsed: one involved U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc ; and the other, U.S. advertising company Omnicom Group Inc. Both had targeted European rivals for acquisition, with a tax domicile move abroad included in their plans, but the deals unraveled.


SENATORS URGE ACTION

Senator Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, along with Senators Jack Reed and Elizabeth Warren, said immediate action was needed to stem these transactions, citing concerns about fairness and the eroding U.S. corporate tax base.

Durbin, who is personally close to Obama, is from Illinois and had publicly urged Walgreen not to go through with an inversion. Obama himself formerly was a senator for Illinois.

In his letter to Walgreen last month, Durbin closed with a jab at the firm's advertising tagline, Durbin asked: "Is "the corner of happy and healthy" somewhere in the Swiss Alps?"

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has publicly questioned the patriotism of companies that do inversions. "We are looking at a very long list of possible ways to address the issue," he said in an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday.

Alliance Boots has itself come under attack in Britain for cutting its taxes through its Swiss domicile, with trade union Unite noting it has lowered its UK tax bill by over 1 billion pounds since 2007 although about 40 percent of its total revenues come from British taxpayers.

Inversions are still rare but are becoming more common. Of the roughly 50 inversion deals done since 1983, about 40 percent have been completed since 2009 and more are being finalized, with many others said to be in the planning stages.

Inversion deals are legal, and company executives who arrange them say they are only trying to minimize the amount of taxes the company pays, as investors expect them to do.

UK-based Sky News was first to report that Walgreen had decided not to proceed with its planned reincorporation. (Additional reporting by Esha Vaish and Ramkumar Iyer in Bangalore; Greg Roumeliotis in New York; David Lawder, Mark Felsenthal and Jason lange in Washington and Emma Thomasson in Berlin; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Mark Potter)

Illinois GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Steps Back From Government Shutdown Threat

Tue, 2014-08-05 16:54
Shortly after video surfaced of Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner (R) stating that he is open to shutting down the state government in order to address the state's underfunded pension system, the millionaire's campaign distanced itself from the remark.

The video (above) -- posted to YouTube on Monday by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which backs incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn (D) -- shows Rauner speaking during a March 2013 event. The candidate can be heard saying, "If we sort of have to do a do-over and shut things down for a little while, that's what we're gonna do."

Rauner also suggests in the video that the state may have to "do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers." The comment references President Reagan's 1981 decision to fire 11,000 air traffic controllers who had gone on strike seeking better pay and working conditions. As Mother Jones notes, the fired workers were banned from ever holding a federal post again, though some were rehired and the ban was later lifted by President Bill Clinton.

In response to the clip, Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf told CNN the candidate "has put forth a detailed plan for reviving Illinois, and shutting down state government is not among those plans."

At a separate event in March 2013, Rauner was also filmed saying he would "proudly" shut down the state government "for a few weeks."

(Story continues below.)


These videos have resurfaced following an Aug. 1 report from the Chicago Sun-Times which confirmed that the candidate channeled at least a portion of his multi-million dollar fortune into accounts in the Cayman Islands, which has a reputation for being an offshore tax haven.

The Quinn campaign criticized Rauner's Cayman investments and urged the Republican to release his full 2013 tax forms. Rauner, however, spoke to the Chicago Tribune, dismissing the Sun-Times report as "political spin."

“Those particular setups had no impact on my personal tax rate," Rauner said. "None whatsoever."

Rauner continues to out-poll the incumbent in the closely watched gubernatorial race. On Tuesday, Roll Call said Quinn's re-election bid is "in rough shape" and reclassified the race from a tossup to tilting in Rauner's favor.

Guitar Center Accused Of Unfair Labor Practices

Tue, 2014-08-05 16:05
WASHINGTON -- More than a year after its initial election victory at a Guitar Center store, the union representing the chain's first unionized employees is accusing the retailer of bargaining in "bad faith" and trying to purge the union.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that Guitar Center has stalled in bargaining talks and "punished" workers who voted in favor of representation. Last year, RWDSU won elections at three Guitar Center stores, although those workers have yet to reach a collective bargaining contract with the company.

On Tuesday, Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation, accused Guitar Center ownership of using "shameful" tactics to avoid a contract with the unionized workers.

"The fight against Bain Capital and Ares Management for fair pay and decent health care for the Guitar Center workers is what the labor movement is all about," Trumka said at RWDSU's convention in Orlando, Florida. "The dirty tactics of Bain and Ares have been shameful and ugly. I want every Guitar Center worker to know the entire AFL-CIO and every one of our affiliates stands behind them in their efforts to win a fair contract."

Bain Capital, Mitt Romney's old investment firm, held a controlling stake in the music equipment retailer until April, when it completed a deal handing the reins over to the private equity firm Ares Management.

A Guitar Center spokesman declined to comment.

As HuffPost reported last year, RWDSU launched an organizing campaign at several Guitar Center stores, where workers had grievances related to job security, health care coverage and the company's wage system for commissioned salespeople. The apparent discontent helped the union notch election victories at shops in New York, Chicago and Las Vegas, with two failed bids at other stores in New York.

The union now alleges that Guitar Center management has made a show of addressing workers' grievances -- but only at the company's non-union stores.

Because unionized workers would be covered by their own contract, it's perfectly normal for a company with both unionized and non-unionized employees to enact new pay-and-benefit policies exclusively for the non-union workforce. But in a letter to the federal labor board, RWDSU said that the company had "refused" to consider the same improvements for the unionized workers at the bargaining table, "all as a method for punishing the RWDSU represented employee for joining the Union."

The labor board is investigating RWDSU's complaints, which it could dismiss or choose to pursue further on behalf of the union.

Phil Andrews, director of the union's retail organizing project, argued that Guitar Center is trying to send a message to other workers who might consider unionizing. "It's a situation where the non-union stores were given a carrot in order to stay away from the union, and the union stores were being punished," Andrews said. "That was the impression they wanted to give."

When it comes to bargaining talks, RWDSU contends that Guitar Center has been dragging its feet in hopes that support for the union will erode before a contract gets signed. In its letter to the labor board, the union accused the company of engaging in "regressive bargaining," changing its stance on wage-and-hour issues and "failing to respond" to proposals from the union.

"It became clear a few months ago to us that their intention was never to negotiate a good contract," Andrews said.

According to National Labor Relations Board filings, Guitar Center is represented by Jackson Lewis, a law firm known for its "union avoidance" work.

Belly Up to Trenchermen Bar With Famed Actor George Wendt

Tue, 2014-08-05 16:01
Fame is a very funny thing. Some people become completely inaccessible and others remain totally unchanged. This was the feeling I had when famed actor George Wendt, best known for playing NORM! on Cheers and the ultimate Superfan on Saturday Night Live, and I bellied up to the bar at Trenchermen to talk with Executive Chef Pat Sheerin over food and beer for the inaugural podcast of "The Dinner Party To Go". Given Trenchermen's consistently solid food in a classic location -- it was previously an old Chicago bathhouse -- with a strong neighborhood following, there was no better place for me to take George while he was back in town.

For a man who has traveled the world performing on stage, been in countless movies and was on one of the most famous sitcoms ever created, George was surprisingly like the guy next door. Over the decades he has amazingly stayed true to his Chicago South side roots. Unassuming and almost quiet until I drew him out, it was a delight and joy to share some beers with him. Hesitant to steal the spotlight or overpower with his keen comedic sensibilities, George let Chef Pat take center stage until the two of them hit it off like long-lost pals. The second round of beers didn't hurt either.

As you will hear in the podcast below, over Pickled Tots, Octopus Posole, Burrata, Pork Ribs and beer, we discussed the Chicago Work Ethic, Chicago Hot Dogs, hot peppers vs. Giardiniera, words of advice for young actors and young chefs, favorite junk foods, George flunking out of Notre Dame, George's early years at Second City and much more. It just goes to show how food and drink really can bring people together, bring barriers down and create meaningful connection, even among strangers.

17 Things To Read If You're Trying To See All Sides Of The Israel-Gaza Conflict

Tue, 2014-08-05 13:57
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza began observing a 72-hour cease-fire on Tuesday after nearly a month of fighting. But the complicated history and context of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict can make it difficult to form a coherent opinion on the current offensive.

One thing is undeniable, regardless of one's political views, nationality or cultural or religious affiliation: The death and destruction is catastrophic and ever-mounting. But in response to the violence that has claimed more than 1,800 Palestinian lives -- the majority of them civilians -- and killed nearly 70 Israeli soldiers and civilians, a common assumption is that one must choose a side, and that blame can be assigned exclusively to one party or the other. Such an approach to the conflict tends to be selective and overly simplistic, so we've compiled a variety of editorials and voices to get a better sense of the situation. Here's what you need to know:

1. The pain of loss cuts incredibly deep on both sides.

The same day that thousands of Israelis gathered to mourn at the funeral of slain Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, of the Israel Defense Forces, Asmaa al-Ghoul wrote a column in Al-Monitor describing the tragedy her family had suffered a few miles across the border.

Tears flowed until my body ran dry of them when I received a telephone call on Aug. 3, informing me that my family had been targeted by two F-16 missiles in the city of Rafah. Such was the fate of our family in a war that still continues, with every family in the Gaza Strip receiving its share of sorrow and pain.

My father’s brother, Ismail al-Ghoul, 60, was not a member of Hamas. His wife, Khadra, 62, was not a militant of Hamas. Their sons, Wael, 35, and Mohammed, 32, were not combatants for Hamas. Their daughters, Hanadi, 28, and Asmaa, 22, were not operatives for Hamas, nor were my cousin Wael’s children, Ismail, 11, Malak, 5, and baby Mustafa, only 24 days old, members of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or Fatah. Yet, they all died in the Israeli shelling that targeted their home at 6:20 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Read the rest of al-Ghoul's piece here.


Israeli soldiers, family and friends mourn over the grave of Sgt. Sagi Erez at his funeral in Haifa, northern Israel, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Erez, 19, was killed in combat after Gaza militants used a tunnel to sneak into Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

2. The objectively terrible conditions in Gaza play a part in the disproportionate casualties.

Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision Program Manager in Gaza, writes of "The day seven of my family died in Gaza," explaining the conditions that have made Israeli shelling so deadly. As a reminder, most Palestinians in Gaza literally can't leave.

Life in the Gaza Strip is like being trapped inside a giant prison. More than 1.8 million people live in an area only 32 kilometres long and a few kilometres wide. In other conflict zones around the world, families are usually able to flee to other parts of the country, or across borders. But here there is no escape, United Nations shelters are already overwhelmed.

Read the rest here.

3. But while Palestinians in Gaza may not wholeheartedly support Hamas, many prefer it to what they see as an Israeli occupation.

In a column for the independent Israeli +972 Magazine, Noam Sheizaf explains that during the Vietnam War, many civilians in the Asian nation saw their struggle as one for independence, not as one for or against communism or the U.S. or any other particular ideology. Sheizaf argues that many Palestinians in Gaza see their conflict in similar terms, with Hamas -- the ruling political party, which the U.S. and the European Union have designated as a terrorist group -- as a potential means to an end, but not a party with which they closely identify.

I’ve exchanged emails with people in Gaza in the past few days. These are people who don’t care much for Hamas in their everyday lives, whether due to its fundamentalist ideology, political oppression or other aspects of its rule. But they do support Hamas in its war against Israel; for them, fighting the siege is their war of independence. Or at least one part of it. ... Israelis, both left and right, are wrong to assume that Hamas is a dictatorship fighting Israel against its people’s will. Hamas is indeed a dictatorship, and there are many Palestinians who would gladly see it fall, but not at this moment in time.

Read the rest here.

4. As a consequence, many in Gaza end up siding with a group that uses undeniably heinous tactics in its efforts to maintain power.

Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, a former member of the IDF, writes the world "suffers from a kind of Hamas-specific amnesia" in regard to the group's guerrilla tactics. The group has notoriously used a network of tunnels to kidnap Israelis, fired more than 1,800 rockets indiscriminately over the border, and hidden its weapons caches in buildings designed to safeguard civilians, ostensibly for the purpose of encouraging collateral casualties. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "In This Gaza War, The Truth Is Buried":

But there is no Iron Dome for tunnels. The tunnels give me real pause. It’s hard enough to imagine a situation in which your neighbors are quite intentionally trying to blow up your house and kill your children with rockets. But Hamas’s well-developed kidnapping strategy represents a whole other category of depravity. The handcuffs and tranquilizers are mere baroque, Pulp Fictionish details. The core depravity of Hamas is its longstanding policy of treating every Jew as a target for elimination.

Read the rest here.


Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

5. Yet even in light of the provocations, some question the logic Israel has used to justify the siege.

While Hamas is clear-cut in its intention to kill as many Israelis as it can, Israel has maintained that it is seeking to minimize casualties among Palestinian civilians, even as the death toll rises, most controversially at schools, hospitals and other buildings designated as United Nations shelters. But Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, argues in The National that the Israeli government's rhetoric in support of its military offensive evades responsibility for civilian deaths:

Intentions are important. People instinctively understand this. But they also instinctively understand, unless taught to think otherwise, that inevitable and unavoidable consequences of an action are important as well and have a major impact on the question of culpability. Simply asserting that one had a legitimate overriding intention (killing an “enemy combatant”), and that this renders moot the predictable if not inevitable consequences (the deaths of non-combatants), is repugnant to reason and universal human values.

Read the rest here.

6. And on the other side, there are highly disturbing and undeniable truths about the threat Israel faces from Hamas.

Israeli writer Amos Oz gave an interview with German network Deutsche Welle, in which he spoke against the severity of Israel's military response in Gaza, while also explaining how many Israelis view Hamas' stated goals of killing Israeli civilians.

Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?

Question 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

Read the rest of the interview here.


Palestinian paramedics move a victim of an Israeli air strike on a market place to an ambulance in the Shejaiya neighborhood near Gaza City on July 30, 2014. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

7. While extreme factions within Israel are calling for an even harsher response.

From calls for Palestinian genocide to the murder of all Palestinian mothers in Gaza, Israel's controversial far-right has been outspoken during the latest flareup of violence. While they represent an outlier in the broader political landscape of Israel, their views have been held up by anti-Israel protesters who have decried the nation's offensive into Gaza. HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed recently broke down a column by Moshe Feiglin, a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, in which Feiglin argued that Israeli forces should conquer the Gaza Strip and drive its Palestinian inhabitants into Egypt.

He came to these conclusions after laying out a six-step plan for a full-scale Israeli takeover of Gaza. "The limit of Israel's humanitarian efforts," he suggested, should be the issuing of an ultimatum to Gaza's residents prior to the Israel Defense Forces attack and some "generous" assistance to help them escape. "Sinai is not far from Gaza and they can leave."

Once the Gazans have been given a chance to depart, Feiglin wrote, "All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’. ... After the IDF completes the 'softening' of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations."

Read the rest of Ahmed's piece here.

8. The extreme polarization of the conflict has made it hard to see what's fundamentally at stake.

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes of both the Israeli and Palestinian desire for freedom and independence, a narrative that is lost amidst expressions of "hatred and dehumanization" and complicated by frequent violence. In his piece for Time, "In Ramallah, A Wedding Stands Against The Chaos And Hate," he writes:

Neither side, nor their respective supporters and allies, seems aware of the humanity of the other. After an unbearable seven-year-long siege, Gazans want to live in freedom and independence with open borders so they can visit relatives and friends in Cairo or pray in Jerusalem. And Israelis don’t want to have to run to their shelters every time a siren warns of an incoming rocket.

Read the whole piece here.

9. And some American supporters of Israel believe the current military operation is a sign the nation has given up on peace.

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait finds himself less supportive of Israel's political stance in light of the Gaza operation. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "Why I Have Become Less Pro-Israel":

It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy -- to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” -- yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.

Read the rest here.

10. Other Israelis are quick to describe the operation and its civilian casualties as immoral.

Amira Hass, a Haaretz correspondent and one of the harshest critics of the Israeli government's position on the Palestinian territories, writes that even if the Israeli Army considers itself victorious in a military sense, it will have experienced a "moral defeat" that will damage the country far into the future. Below is an excerpt from her piece, "Israel's Moral Defeat Will Haunt Us For Years":

These victories add up to our moral implosion, the ethical defeat of a society that now engages in no self-inspection, that wallows in self pity over postponed airline flights and burnishes itself with the pride of the enlightened. This is a society that mourns, naturally, its more than 40 soldiers who were killed, but at the same time hardens its heart and mind in the face of all the suffering and moral courage and heroism of the people we are attacking. A society that does not understand the extent to which the balance of forces is against it.

Read the whole (paywalled) piece here.

11. In the end, one's perspective on the violence isn't determined by one's faith.

Activist and writer Sally Kohn explains that her faith compels her to oppose all forms of violence, whether it takes the form of rockets from Hamas or Israeli military operations. The same could surely be said of many Muslims and Palestinians around the world. Here's an excerpt from Kohn's Daily Beast piece, "Why I'm Against Hamas, Against What Israel Is Doing, and For Judaism":

If faith is the belief in a power greater than ourselves as human beings, then my faith derives from a belief that there is a power to be kind and understanding and generous and, yes, to love thy neighbor -- a faith that the Holocaust will never happen again and nor will anything echoing such dehumanization and destruction. Believing that peace is both good and possible, believing that our respect for humanity can triumph over our urge toward violence, does not mean I’m a terrorist sympathizer or naïve or anything in between. As far as I’m concerned, it just means I’m Jewish.

Read the whole piece here.


Israeli soldiers take part in a briefing at an army staging area along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014, as they prepare to enter the Gaza Strip. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

12. Even if those on both sides of the conflict have found that speaking out against the war isn't always easy.

Israeli novelist Etgar Keret decries the internal suppression of "legitimate discourse" in relation to the conflict. Over the border in Gaza, Palestinians against Hamas have reportedly been executed for publicly expressing their disapproval, or after being accused of collaborating with Israel. Here's an excerpt from Keret's New Yorker piece, "Israel's Other War":

We are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion -- especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives -- is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.

Read the rest here.

13. And Palestinians who attempt to protest peacefully often face serious repercussions.

Graduate student Sam Sussman takes on The New York Times' Nick Kristof, who asked why there aren't more Palestinians gathering peacefully to revolt against the offensive. Sussman's piece in Dissent magazine, "Dear Nick Kristof: Your Palestinian Gandhis Are Already Here," illustrates how there have been regular peaceful Palestinian protests, though these gatherings are heavily restricted by Israeli ordinances:

While Mr. Kristof is wrong that Palestinians have yet to learn the value of peaceful grassroots campaigns, he is right that the Gandhi-like Palestinian movement is not “huge.” Why haven’t more Palestinians joined the movement? One theory is that Palestinians refuse to reject militancy. Another is that they fear the draconian violence visited upon peaceful protesters by the Israel Defense Force. To understand why more Palestinians haven’t joined weekly peaceful protests, it’s important to consider something that Mr. Kristof likely overlooked in formulating his advice: Israeli Military Executive Order 101 outlaws political gatherings of more than ten Palestinians in the West Bank, meaning that Palestinian peaceful gatherings inherently amount to illegal civil disobedience.

Read the whole piece here.

14. When looking for solutions, it's crucial to evaluate the historical context of the conflict.

Israeli political consultant Dahlia Scheindlin spells out her opposition to the war in +972. Her piece is excerpted below:

There is no such thing as today devoid of yesterday and tomorrow; it is a fiction. The measures of the last ten days grow directly out of the measures in recent years. They will have devastating consequences in years to come. My criticism of this war is not “I told you so,” because some of us have warned for years that the status quo is illusory. Opposition to this war means finding a different response to predictable situations, so that there won’t be a next time, and in two years Israelis won’t have to say 'this is no time to analyze the past.’

See the rest of the piece here.

15. Because both sides should be willing to look beyond the status quo.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) advocates for Hamas to give up its rockets and other weapons, but also for an end to the Gaza blockade within the context of a cease-fire. He calls the blockade evidence of "short-term thinking," saying mobility for Gazans and economic development is within Israel's long-term interest. Here's an excerpt from his piece, "End the Gaza Blockade to Achieve Peace":

There is no military solution to this conflict. The status quo brings only continued pain, suffering and war. Promoting economic development and social interaction in Gaza is in the long-term security interest of Israel and the rest of the region. The relative calm that existed during Secretary of State John Kerry’s extended diplomatic talks between Israel and the Palestinians during 2013-14 shows that engaging in dialogue is the first step toward stopping the violence.

Read the rest in the Washington Post.


Palestinians carry bodies of 10 members of the Al Astal immediate and extended family, killed by an Israeli strike early at their houses, during their funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)

16. Including the U.S., which may need to change its approach to seeking peace in the region.

In a piece for The New Yorker, Rashid Khalidi writes that, given the conditions in Gaza, unrest has always been inevitable and will remain so until their quality of life improves. He argues that the U.S. has successfully taken an active role in the peace process of nations in the past, but is ignoring those lessons in its current approach to Mideast peace:

This is precisely why the United States’ support of current Israeli policy is folly. Peace was achieved in Northern Ireland and in South Africa because the United States and the world realized that they had to put pressure on the stronger party, holding it accountable and ending its impunity. Northern Ireland and South Africa are far from perfect examples, but it is worth remembering that, to achieve a just outcome, it was necessary for the United States to deal with groups like the Irish Republican Army and the African National Congress, which engaged in guerrilla war and even terrorism. That was the only way to embark on a road toward true peace and reconciliation. The case of Palestine is not fundamentally different.

Read the rest here.

17. Peace is not a likely outcome if one insists on being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestinian."

Pakistani-Canadian writer and physician Ali A. Rizvi argues that choosing a side only furthers polarization. In answering seven questions about the conflict, Rizvi examines historical and religious nuances to explain some key factors driving it, in "7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict":

At its very core, this is a tribal religious conflict that will never be resolved unless people stop choosing sides. So you really don't have to choose between being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestine." If you support secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution -- and you oppose Hamas, settlement expansion, and the occupation -- you can be both.

Read the whole piece here.

One Way to Stem Violence in Chicago Is by Fighting Hunger

Tue, 2014-08-05 13:05

If there is one thing that gives children a positive sense of connection to their community, it is a good meal shared with others. Share Our Strength, No Child Hungry is feeding kids in the summer and throughout the year where they live, learn and play. You can help them continue to do that by attending their major fundraising event in Chicago, The Taste of the Nation on Wednesday, August 13th at Navy Pier.

Only three million children in America receive a free summer meal when school is out. Kids are not only missing out on necessary nutrition during the summer recess but fewer good meals leads to a time of anxiety and uncertainty. Twenty one million kids rely on free meals at school. What happens when school isn't in session? You can help save summer for kids facing hunger by taking action and attending the Taste of the Nation.

There are many pieces to the "how to reduce violence in Chicago puzzle." Feeding children who don't have access to good food, particularly in the summer, is one key piece to that very complicated puzzle. Feeding children gives them a sense of security and it has been proven that in school when they receive breakfast they are able to concentrate better throughout the day, their health improves, they are sick less and their academic performance improves. Feeding children breakfast in school gives them more energy to start their day. Feeding children makes them feel a part of a community and a connectedness to the people around them, which is one way to disconnect them from violence in their neighborhoods.

In Illinois, 23 percent of kids struggle with hunger. 790,000 low-income children in Illinois receive free or reduced price school lunch. The problem is that all of these kids are eligible for other critical meals, but too many are missing out. Only 44 percent of children eating free or reduced-price school lunch are getting school breakfast. Only 12 percent of children eating free or reduced-price school lunch are getting summer meals.

Since 2011, the No Kid Hungry network has helped bring more than 34 million additional meals to kids who need them and created ways to replicate that success throughout the country. In Illinois, No Kid Hungry has empowered more than 5,700 Illinois families with the skills, knowledge and confidence to prepare healthy affordable meals through Cooking Matters to reach children where they LIVE. The campaign is focused on expanding access to school breakfast to feed kids where they LEARN. Finally, a big focus has been to provide free meals in the summer where children PLAY.

Summer presents a time of uncertainty for kids without consistent access to food. With school out of session, kids who rely on free or reduced-price school meals find themselves without the safety net of those meals, and families who are struggling financially face an added strain of providing more meals. But too few families know about the availability of free summer meals.

To spread the word, Illinois No Kid Hungry has partnered with the Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI) organization to have parent "food ambassadors" do door to door outreach in hard-to-reach, at-risk neighborhoods in the summer months, however, much more of this needs to be done.

The No Kid Hungry network in Illinois includes many partners, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, the Illinois Hunger Coalition, the Illinois Coalition of Community Services, the Central Illinois Food Bank, and the Midwest Dairy Council.

The Chicago restaurant, food and beverage community, including many well-known chefs and sommeliers, have truly rallied together to create a fabulous event in The Taste of the Nation, held once again at the beautiful grand ballroom of Navy Pier and it just takes one more thing, you to participate. You certainly will not leave hungry at this incredible event and at the same time you will be making a positive contribution to changing the face of hunger in Chicago.

It is one thing to complain about violence in Chicago and it is another to do something about it. Feeding children who don't have access to good food, providing them with a full stomach gives them a sense of security, and reinforces a connectedness to their community, one mouth, one stomach, one child at a time.

Should Illinois end public employee pensions?

Tue, 2014-08-05 11:39
Illinois currently has at least $100 billion in unfunded pensions and the amount public workers and all Illinoisans must contribute to the retirement funds of teachers, police officers and others is only expected to increase. Is it time to end the public pensions in Illinois? Republican Chris Robling and Democrat Dave Lundy discussed the pros and cons of getting rid of it all together.

Robling argues maybe the first step is to switch all new employees to a 401(k)-style plan. If the state can't manage it's money, Robling said, the choice is between changing the pension system or seeing huge layoffs for current employees. Layoffs would cap the pensions for fired workers and allow the state to hire new, cheaper ones.

Lundy, however, notes the state constitution prohibits public workers from having their pensions diminished or taken away. He also points out that Illinois actually has fewer public workers than many other states. The numbers of employees aren't the reason our pension debt is the worst in the nation, he says.

They agree reform is needed. Join the conversation at Reboot Illinois. Let's figure out this pension mess.

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner also is weighing drastic measures to get Illinois' finances working again. A new video posted by the Illinois Federation of Teachers union that has endorsed Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn shows Rauner saying he'd consider shutting down state government. In response to questions, Rauner's campaign said shutting down government is not part of his plan, but they also noted lots of Illinoisans probably would favor that action. You really need to check this one out.

This Is What It's Like To Lose Your Own Child To Gun Violence

Tue, 2014-08-05 10:23
On May 10, 2007, Annette Nance-Holt lost her only child, 16-year-old Blair, when a gang member opened fire on the Chicago bus he was riding. Blair dove in front of a bullet, saving the life of a classmate.

Chicago is again facing startling levels of gun violence this summer. Though more than seven years have passed since Blair was shot, Nance-Holt, a Chicago Fire Department battalion chief, says she still thinks about her son daily -- he is the first thing on her mind every morning, and the last thing each night. This is her story.


I remember taking Blair to school that day. He was a junior at Julian High School. We were talking that day about what was next for him.

He loved music -- writing lyrics and producing -- and that was his goal. To do music. He knew he wanted to go to college; he wanted to go to Clark in Atlanta. He said he wanted to get a degree in business so he could have his own record company and know how to run it and not lose it.

He was very conscientious about everything so early. I remember telling him that this weekend we're going to have a heart-to-heart, that's what we called it, on what to do and how we were going to get there.

When we got to the school, I told him to do good. I always said "do good" to him [when I dropped him off]. That was our thing. Whatever you do today, make sure it's good. And I told him I loved him. He's like, "Love you too, Mom," and "See you later," and we said goodbye. I was going to see a play that day -- "The Color Purple" with my sorority sisters -- so he said he would take the bus to his grandma and grandpa's store in Roseland after school.


Blair graduating from kindergarten.

I got a call when I got back home from a cousin who said they thought Blair'd been shot. I was like, "What?" I knew Blair was a good kid and there was no way he'd been shot, there was no way anything like that could happen to somebody who was so good.

Everyone I called didn't know who I was because I was so rattled. I called the fire house nearest to me and asked if they heard anything about somebody being shot at Julian. The lieutenant said for me to calm down and said he would check and get back to me. I got in the car and was driving and called his father, who's a cop, and told him I thought something had happened to Blair. I told him I called Blair's phone but hadn't heard from him.

[His father] had called me earlier that day to ask me what my badge number was because I'd just been promoted to captain and he said Blair wanted to buy me an exact replica of the badge for Mother's Day. He said I should calm down and that nothing had happened to Blair. That he was a good kid and nothing was wrong. At that same moment, he was fighting for his life, but I didn't know that.

I swear I was driving through red lights and through everything because I had to get to him. I knew if I could get to him, he'd live. I went to Mary's, the first hospital nearest to Julian, and they said, yes, he'd been shot. It's not a critical trauma center so I knew it was bad when they told me he went to [Advocate Christ Medical Center].

When I got to Christ, they let me upstairs. All our coworkers and neighbors in Roseland came. It got so crowded up there that they closed a whole floor up because it was nothing but city employees and young people. My mother and father came. My pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, started praying.

I was just like, "God, just let him live. I will quit my job and do whatever it is to take care of him if I need to. Just let him live." He was fighting for his life. But then his heart stopped. They came out and said he'd gone and I remember saying, "God, come on!" He's my only child and he means everything to me. Now I don't understand what you're telling me."

I ran through the crowds of people because I just didn't want to deal with that. And I just collapsed on the floor.


A young Blair with Annette for Annette's lieutenant promotion ceremony.

I have so many memories with Blair. All these trips we used to take. He was so smart. He was such a handsome young child becoming a man. He was starting to get this facial hair growing long. I remember looking at him thinking, "Man, he's blowing up."

Now I don't have anybody to teach me about the new cell phones, the new dances and the cool new music. I think about how happy he'd be that certain things have changed and upset and disappointed that other things have stayed the same. That so many young people still don't have opportunities or jobs and still aren't treated fairly. He was beyond his time, being so socially conscious, knowing so much about life and what was going on.

He read books like crazy. He loved to read. He liked reading Malcolm X, and the last book he had was a book about Martin Luther King Jr. because he'd just gone to Atlanta for a college tour. He read some fiction and more serious books, too. And he wrote poetry about things that were happening in Chicago. He felt that black kids needed education. And he wrote something about how he knew one day he'd see me grieving.


Blair with his grandfather and grandmother at his eighth grade graduation ceremony.

I don't care what any report says, the city is not improving on violence. When young people still have guns in their hands, it's not improving. I speak to school groups, and the kids say it's faster and easier to get a gun than anything else. Can't get an education, can't get a job, but you can get a gun.

I don't want more parents to experience what I experienced. For the rest of your life, your memory of your child is your child being murdered. Of standing at the funeral home trying to decide if it's real life. Of going to the morgue and seeing your kid lying on a cold slab. He's the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing at night.

I look at his friends now and they've finished college, they're getting married and starting families. I'll never be a grandmother and I'll never have grandchildren or a daughter-in-law. I'll never have those experiences that are normal to most families.

I won't have any of that. We never got to say goodbye; he was just snatched.


Blair's final high school yearbook photo.

In 2007, Nance-Holt co-founded Purpose Over Pain, a group for parents who have lost children to gun violence. As told to Joseph Erbentraut.

Betty Who Talks First Full Album, Due Out This Fall

Tue, 2014-08-05 09:46
Betty Who was tucked away on a side stage during Lollapalooza's final day, but to the fans singing her hit single "Somebody Who Loves You," it was the most important set of the weekend. "You guys are so amazing. I'm obsessed with you all!" she said to the crowd. They knew all the lyrics to every song off her two EPs, and when she covered Destiny Child's "Say My Name," fans pushed three feet forward, screaming every word.

After the set, Betty Who, also known as Jessica Newham and from Australia, posted on Instagram that Lollapalooza was her biggest show ever. With a couple of EPs, an appearance on "Late Night With Seth Meyers," and a gig opening for Katy Perry, Betty Who is poised to be the next huge pop star of the decade. She's set to release her first full album, headline her a tour in October and, if all goes to plan, take over the Billboard charts. The LP's tile has yet to be revealed but Newham told HuffPost that four songs from the EPs, including "Somebody Who Loves You," will appear on the record.

"More than anything, the emotional growth I’ve had over the last year is very prevalent," Newham said before her set at Lollapalooza in Chicago. "I fell out of love with someone who I was not supposed to be in love with in the first place, then I fell in love with somebody who’s absolutely the best person with this world. You feel that arc of this very taboo relationship and having that struggle being really tough, then coming out of it and moving onwards and upwards where it’s like, 'Wait I really love you and it’s really simple and this doesn’t have to be that hard.'"



She collaborated with powerhouse producers Claude Kelly, Martin Johnson, Mag, Starsmith and Babydaddy on the new tracks, and recorded most of the album in Los Angeles' Westlake studio. "I finished the rest of it literally in my producer’s bedroom," she said. Inspiration also came from one unlikely piano. "When I was writing one of the songs, I was playing on Michael Jackson’s piano that him and Paul McCartney wrote 'The Girl Is Mine' on. I was writing this song and I could feel the energy and it was probably one of the craziest experiences of my life, playing the piano and singing this song that I was writing. It was insane."

Betty Who's fans have been waiting for new music with anticipation fueled by a strong and steady internet buzz. She's a huge One Direction fan -- "My phone case literally has Harry Styles on the back of it" -- but Newham has gained an obsessive fan base whose loyalty is on par with the British boy band. She's the star of internet memes, a Twitter force to be reckoned with and has no problem asking her audience to be on "nipple patrol" while she's on stage.

Newham and her band, made up of friends from Berklee School of Music, have a strict pre-show ritual. Before jumping on stage, they huddle up and chant. Inspired by a line in One Direction's movie, "This Is Us," Newham will yell out, "I’m just a little girl from [insert city/ festival/ music venue here]!" Her band responds "And now I'm smashing it!" After a show, she said, they just turn up.



See more of our Lollapalooza coverage here:
10 Of Your Favorite Artists Pick The Song Of The Summer (Spoiler: It's Not 'Fancy')
R. Kelly Showed Up At Chance The Rapper's Lollapalooza Set
Rihanna Was The Best Thing About Eminem's Lollapalooza Set

Kids Get Governor To Increase Penalties For Animal Abuse. This Is How Government Should Work

Tue, 2014-08-05 09:07
The youth of today! They're pretty great for animals, if what just happened in Illinois is any indication.

Three third-graders from the Chicago suburbs were the force behind a new law that increases penalties for animal abuse.

The Chicago Tribune reports that Brooke Martin, Claire Hackmann and Maddie O'Dell became animal welfare activists after reading a book about two kids who rescued a puppy from a puppy mill.

The three almost immediately got political: they contacted their state representative, gave a school presentation, collected signatures from other students and community members, then -- as could happen with any bunch of grade-schoolers, really -- testified before the Illinois House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.

House Bill 4410 passed both houses in May, and Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed the bill on Saturday at the no-kill shelter PAWS Chicago. The bill raises the fine for a first violation of the Animal Welfare Act from $200 to $500 and a second violation from $500 to $1,000. A third violation now results in a $2,500 fine plus probationary status, all effective immediately.

You can see the effective young politicos flanking Quinn in this video from the event:




“Our pets are a part of the family, and we must always treat them with care and respect,” Quinn said in a news release. “Three students from Arlington Heights created this new law because they wanted to make a difference and protect animals across Illinois.”

Paula Fasseas, founder and chairman of PAWS Chicago, is also thrilled that the students have taken up animal welfare as their cause.

“Animals are defenseless living beings," he said in a statement, "and we must be their voice and protectors."


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Dold's Israel Partisanship is Unacceptable

Tue, 2014-08-05 08:50
Ex-Congressman Robert Dold continues to cross a time-honored line by refusing to respect the hard-earned, bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship in Congress. I've been active in pro-Israel politics for a long time, and I thought I'd seen everything. But I never thought I'd see someone who claims to be a friend of the pro-Israel community, as Dold does, so blatantly use Israel for personal partisan gain.

On July 31, as many of us were glued to our TV or computer for news about our loved ones in Israel, and as Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10) was on the floor of the House passionately speaking out against Hamas and uniting Congress in support of Israel, his opponent, Robert Dold, sent out a campaign fundraising email blast claiming that Rep. Schneider "has been silent and watched this happen."

We cannot let Dold get away with trying to weaken broad, bipartisan U.S. support for Israel. It's an insult to our intelligence and to the values we cherish. Schneider has written op-eds, taken the lead in pushing through letters and resolutions, and has sponsored and co-sponsored key legislation to strengthen Israel, including introducing the Israel Qualitative Edge Enhancement Act, which was unanimously passed by the House. He is a leader in Congress on stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and a strong advocate for increased sanctions against Iran. Schneider introduced the most recent Hezbollah sanctions bill, which also was unanimously passed by the House. And on all these efforts, Congressman Schneider has worked closely with both his Democratic and Republican colleagues, just as he did before joining Congress.

Trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, particularly in Israel's critical hour of need, is disgraceful. Deliberately spreading falsehoods about Congressman Schneider sends a signal that we are divided on Israel, when the signal we need to send the world is that the United States stands united behind Israel.

There's a word for what Mr. Dold is trying to do: Swiftboating. That's when unethical politicians attack their opponent's strength by telling lies designed to turn that strength into a weakness to raise money or get votes. It can work, but only if we let it.

Mr. Dold does not deserve our vote. He is not qualified to represent us in Congress. Anyone who would use our ally Israel so shamefully, especially at a time like this, and especially against a staunch pro-Israel leader like Representative Brad Schneider, deserves only our scorn.

Mark Twain said a lie can get half-way around the world before the truth puts its pants on. Please help give the truth a fighting chance. Don't let Robert Dold weaken U.S support for Israel by misrepresenting Brad Schneider's outstanding record of leadership on Israel. Don't let Dold diminish the bipartisan support Israel rightly deserves, and at this moment, absolutely needs.

We Tried It: Sproing Sport

Tue, 2014-08-05 07:38
What We Tried: Sproing Sport

Where: The Sproing Sport studio is located in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood at 1652 N. Wells Street.

What We Did: Classes are 45 minutes long and consist of 30 minutes of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) plus a 15-minute period ahead of time to set up your heart rate monitor, situate yourself in the Sproing harness and get the rundown on which skills (lunges, bicep curls, planks, forward running, backward running, etc.) will be performed during that particular session. When trying a new class, I hate feeling like I'm constantly two beats behind as I catch on to what we're supposed to be doing, so this preparation time was much appreciated.

How'd It Feel: Sproing's philosophy is "train hard, land soft." The machine itself looks a bit like a backward treadmill, only instead of a moving belt beneath your feet, you have a soft stationary pad reminiscent of a camping air mattress (in fact, that's what the founders used in their very first prototype). You're attached to the machine via a harness that allows you to run in place and that also contributes to the low-impact nature of the class.



Arguably more important is how the class didn't feel -- painful. Typically, after 30 minutes of strenuous, "actually no, I cannot do another burpee, because I don't have a drop of energy left in me" exercise, I wobble home on aching knees and strained shins. When I clipped out of the harness and returned to solid ground, there was the feel-good burn and fatigue that comes with a good workout but no aches to be had.

What It Helps With: Runners will appreciate that the Sproing Trainer was designed with them in mind as a way to build endurance and strength without the pain that can come with pounding the pavement. This is a low-impact workout that gets your blood (and sweat -- lots of sweat) flowing.

What Fitness Level Is Required: Everyone's max intensity is different, and the nice thing about classes that focus on heart rate zones is class-goers can customize to their fitness level. If certain skills are more difficult for you than others -- say, for example, you loathe planks of all varieties... ahem -- there are ways to change up your positioning on the pad to utilize the Sproing's harness and take a bit of the strain off your body while still completing the exercise.

What It Costs: Individual classes are $25, and package deals are available. Special heart rate monitors are required; you can purchase and personalize your own (helpful for those who like to know how many calories they're burning) or borrow a loaner.

Would We Do It Again: Definitely. This would be a nice supplement to my regular running activities as a way of building endurance and strength while also giving my joints a respite.

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