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Museveni's Flawed Election Victory in Uganda

Tue, 2016-03-01 14:49
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, or M-7 as his ardent followers like to call him, won another election on Feb. 18 which is confirmation of the old national joke that everything in Uganda changes except the president.

Musevani has been in power since 1986 after seizing power by force and then changing the constitution to eliminate a term limit to the presidency. Some of the opposition media highlighted his endless reign with series of photos of him growing increasingly older and standing alongside six American presidents--Reagan, Carter, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama.

Ordinary Ugandans are not celebrating this, but neither are they grieving or protesting because there seems an inevitability of his dominance, even though the elections have been condemned by the European Union and other Western powers. According to the deputy spokesperson at the U.S. State Department Mark Toner the elections were "deeply inconsistent with international standards and expectations for any democratic process." The elections, according to the State Department, were characterized by "delays in the delivery of voting materials, reports of pre-checked ballots and vote buying, ongoing blockage of social media sites, and excessive use of force by the police."

Most African leaders have kept silent about the elections. Only Botswana has denounced the election in strong terms. But President Museveni is riding the waves of victory. While addressing journalists at his country home in Rwakitura on February 23, he dismissed election observers saying that they are "jokers; I am not a joker."
He dismissed claims of rigging, saying that those who may harbor the intentions of contesting the results in court should not be taken seriously by the people. He wondered why anyone would think that he rigged the elections if he could lose in the capital city, Kampala.

Museveni is the typical African dictator who combines some benevolence with a streak of vengeful brutality which chills his opposition into silence. Like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Paul Biya in Cameroun, and Sassou-Nguesso of Congo-Brazaville, Museveni has a Messiah complex which drives his unconscionable and insatiable quest for power. All African dictators follow a common pattern, with each attuned to the specific geo-political and economic dynamics of their respective countries.

They first sustain their retention of power through a patron-client relation of reward and punishment. Those who support Museveni have access to jobs and contracts, while his opponents are totally neglected. In 2013 when I went to Mbale and Soroti in the North-East, I could see the neglect of this whole area. The people's crime? They did not vote for Museveni in the previous elections. At a school which we set up to help displaced young men and women, one could see the parameter walls of the abandoned air strip in Soroti. One of my Ugandan colleagues told me that by 2015 the road would be constructed and the airport will be active because Museveni's helicopters will need a safe space to land when he comes for campaign. And it happened just as he said.

These sit-tight dictators also rule by fear, intimidation and violence. A mystique of life and death surrounds these presidents-for-life. They are demi-gods and political demagogues whose words and wishes are commands in their countries. They are also vampires who suck up blood and life from their country and from their opponents. Uganda revolves around Museveni. He gives life and he can also give death; those who adulate him enjoy some portion of the national wealth, and those who loath or oppose him suffer.

A third method of retaining power is the destruction of the apparatus of state that builds civil society. The first victim of a dictator is usually the national constitution; then comes the different arms of government, and then finally the rule of law, civil society and any sense of transparency. I have been visiting and working in Uganda for the last seven years but I have never been able to comprehend its basic government footing. Is it presidential, parliamentary, federal, confederal, welfarist, consensual, royalist? It is all of these, and none of these, depending on the daily whim of Museveni. Making the system so unclear helps to create confusion. It is in such atmosphere that the strong arm tactics of dictators become the only compass to navigate the unchartered waters of statecraft.

Most Ugandans are at least relieved that peace has returned to most part of the country, that the economy is picking up and that there is security in the land and that people can go to school, hospital and to their farms. They are even grateful to Museveni for the part he played in bringing this about. But they also know that it is their own courage and determination that makes life bearable.

Poverty is still very evident in this land and many people are uncertain about the future. Museveni is a friend of the U.S., which provides about $760m (Shs2.62 trillion) in support to Uganda annually with more than half of it ($440m [Shs1.5 trillion]) going to the health sector and military. This props up the dictator.
This is why the US and the international community must decide how it is going to reckon with Museveni after these farcical elections. I don't think that gentle reprimand from a junior staff at the State Department is enough for the old man to change his ways or remedy the fraud which he has contrived so well and for so long.

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Heroin-related Overdose Deaths Surge in Illinois

Tue, 2016-03-01 12:34


By Reboot Illinois' Kevin Hoffman

Like many states across the country, Illinois is experiencing an unsettling surge in drug overdose deaths, in large part because of the growing heroin and opioid epidemic.

Between 2013 and 2014, the number of Illinoisans who died of an overdose increased 8.3 percent from 1,579 to 1,705, according to an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illinois was one of 14 states that had a statistically significant increase in the rate of drug overdose deaths.

During that same time period, the age-adjusted rate rose from 12.1 to 13.1 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in Illinois.

In 2014, about 42 percent (711) of the total drug overdose deaths in Illinois were heroin-related, compared to 37 percent (583) in 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

As of Feb. 2, 2016, the date for which most recent data is available, there were 692 overdose deaths involving heroin in 2015, though this number is provisional and likely underrepresented as some death investigations are ongoing and causes of death have yet to be determined.

Previously released provisional data on Jan. 5 had the death toll at 618, meaning an additional 74 fatal heroin overdoses were reported to the state's public health department in less than a month.

While prescription opioid pain relievers continue to be the leading cause of overdose deaths, the explosion in heroin use has led to an unprecedented increase in fatal overdoses.

According to the CDC, more people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2014 than during any previous year on record, and deaths involving heroin have more than tripled over the past four years. "The increased availability of heroin, combined with its relatively low price and high purity appear to be major drivers of the upward trend in heroin use and overdose."

The majority of overdose deaths involving heroin in 2014 occurred in Cook County, according to the public health department. But over the past several years, heroin has gained a foothold in the state's rural communities. The map below shows the counties in which the most heroin-related overdose deaths occurred in 2014. More detailed statistics for the hardest-hit counties follow, including provisional data for 2015 (as of Feb. 2, 2016).

Counties with the most overdose deaths involving heroin

Heroin-related overdose deaths by county

Here are more detailed statistics on the hardest-hit counties, including provisional data for 2015.

Also, read up on the latest efforts in Illinois to combat the spiraling epidemic.

NEXT ARTICLE: Durbin introduces bill to expand addiction treatment services for Medicaid recipients

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Little-Known Legislation Aims To Reduce Local Bureaucracy, Impose Term Limits

Tue, 2016-03-01 10:31


Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

While the 800-ton gorilla of a budget impasse continues and colleges and social service agencies continue to try not to completely collapse, there are some other efforts under way by rank-and-file lawmakers to change the way Illinois government and politics work.

These aren't the kinds of plans that will draw dramatic changes or headlines in Illinois, but they are worth knowing about and are the kinds of plans you might want to follow and weigh in on in addition to speaking up about the state's budget fiasco.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti trumpeted the work she produced recently designed to consolidate Illinois' governments. We have about 7,000 government bodies, about 2,000 more than any other state nationwide. When they announced their 27-point plan to consolidate and deal with unfunded mandates, they had a Democrat or two with them.

State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Park Democrat, wasn't one of them, but he's been a proponent of consolidating township government almost since he was elected Avon Township Supervisor back in 2009 and he's ecstatic to see growing support for township consolidation.

"After being in the job for a little over a year, " he said, "I realized what an archaic and ineffectual form of government it was and I worked to try to dissolve it."

Yingling's own consolidation bill, HB4975, would allow for the dissolution of township government either by a county ordinance or by citizen petition. A vote on a ballot question also would be required. It would manage a process by which counties would assume the assets, debt and responsibilities of townships where citizens voted to consolidate.

In Chicago and the suburbs, township governments provide services to unincorporated areas that have shrunk considerably over the years, but they frequently are duplicative of municipal and county governments.

Yingling's heard the howls from Township Officials of Illinois and others whose salaries and benefits come from township government over the years.

"Township government exists to support township government," Yingling said. "When you look at the amount of money that is spent in services versus population served, it's most inefficient. If it is closest to the people, we need to make sure the people have an apparatus to get together and dissolve it."

Yingling said he fully expects Township Officials of Illinois and other local government associations to band together to fight his bill and Rauner's efforts.

"At some point, tough decisions are going to have to be made. And we have to do that for the health and future of the state," he said.

"This bill does not mandate the consolidation of the township," he added." If you like your township, keep it. If your township is duplicative of other governments, then get rid of it. The residents of a township providing vital services are not going to want to dissolve it."

Yingling also has a bill aimed at limiting terms of lawmakers to three consecutive terms in the Illinois Senate, where terms can be two or four years in length, and no more than five consecutive terms, or 10 years, in the Illinois House. Statewide officers like governors would be limited to three consecutive terms or 12 years total. That plan is in the form of a constitutional amendment to the state constitution, HC0053.

The amendment also would make it possible for any local government or judge to impose term limits on elected local officials within their jurisdiction.

I've long been opposed to general term limits and think if they were in place for all state officials, we could see a boatload of unintended consequences and empower government workers, bureaucrats and lobbyists more than would be wise or healthy.

Personally, if we're dreaming, and we are, I'd rather see lawmakers rebel and institute term limits on their legislative leaders. Neither will come to pass in Illinois any time soon unless there's a major shift in power and Republicans control the legislative branch with Rauner in the mansion, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of them and push for them if you support them.

Democrat Yingling acknowledges the term limit effort is an even bigger uphill battle. Both were referred to House Speaker Mike Madigan's rules committee, where they likely will sit gathering dust unless there's some kind of surprise uprising.

"Any constitutional amendment will be a challenge," Yingling said. "Filing this legislation will keep the conversation going and, if I can get a hearing, that will be fantastic."

Starting and keeping conversations going about changing and consolidating government is how it all begins.

NEXT ARTICLE: Amid budget impasse, Eastern Illinois University President seeks to ease students' worries in letter


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Why Chicago's Loop Will Survive Property Tax Increases

Tue, 2016-03-01 09:35
Last fall, the Chicago City Council passed a record $588 million property tax increase. Downtown properties will shoulder a substantial portion of that sum, so Chicagoans can thank Loop landlords when their tax bills come.

But my firm, Origin Investments, believes the higher tax bill is still a good value for those properties and the businesses they house.

Loop landlords have reaped admirable benefits from their properties' prime location to date. Their buildings, and those in the surrounding central business district, command premium rents -- $36.79 per square foot across all classes and about 59 percent above the asking rents for suburban properties, according to JLL's year-end report.



Among Class A properties, the $40.69 asking rent is favorable for Chicago's businesses compared with New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Even the most expensive Loop properties have a long way to go before they reach Manhattan's $100 per square foot rental top tier.

Chicago residents are also luckier than they think: New investment in the Loop has kept them from shouldering an even bigger tax burden since Cook County assesses commercial real estate at a higher value than housing, notes The Civic Federation. Apartment buildings get a lower rate, and exemptions cut homeowners' tax bills even further. Even after a tax increase, a Chicago Tribune analysis finds the city's effective tax rate for homeowners will still be in the region's bottom 10 percent.

And real estate investors who choose properties in Chicago's Loop and central business district will be able to maintain their advantages for several reasons.

First is Chicago's ability to draw a highly educated workforce that is attracted to city living. Investors are capitalizing on a factor that even suburban landlords rely on: the city's continued central role in the region's health.

This is especially true for millennials. The U.S. Census finds these young adults are more likely to move to urban centers and research hubs. Many matriculate here. With DePaul, Loyola, Northwestern, University of Chicago and more, Chicago has one of the strongest higher education systems nationally. And post-graduation, students from prestigious Midwest schools make a beeline to Chicago for its robust job market, vibrant urban attractions, conveniences and cross-country and international access from O'Hare and Midway airports.

Second is Chicago's business and cultural assets. Coupled with that rush of well-educated, new talent, these resources attract big business to the city's center. Kraft, Heinz, United Airlines, BP, ConAgra and Hillshire brands are major old-line companies moving suburban operations to the city and among dozens of firms that chose to locate or expand in the Chicago area in 2015, notes World Business Chicago.

Finally, when we look at a commercial real estate investment, we measure things such as walkability; we want areas that have it all. The Loop and its contiguous neighborhoods do, and their advantage is borne out in a commuting shift. Since 1994, CTA ridership has increased 97 percent while Metra ridership has increased 17 percent. Young people are choosing to live closer to the action.

Development patterns bear out the Loop's advantage. In JLL's market survey, 64 percent of the Chicago market's office space is concentrated in the central city.

Millennials have also driven a heated downtown market for apartments and condos. Appraisal Research Counselors estimates 3,101 multifamily units were added last year and predicts even faster growth in the next two years -- to 4,500 units by 2017.

Origin owns buildings in 10 major cities, from Seattle to Orlando. If you draw a circle around Chicago's City Hall for two miles in every direction, you have the fastest growing "city" in America, according to a JLL report that quoted U.S. Census data. Downtown housing creates more demand, not less, as it spurs retail growth and even more demand. The Loop is a positive feedback loop. We don't see any signs that will change.

This growth will help investors and their tenants meet the higher tax burden. Our research of 95 central-city buildings indicates property taxes have been rising proportionally at the same rate. With all downtown properties on a level playing field, landlords are more likely to pass on the higher taxes to tenants, and tenants who pay taxes directly are unlikely to find lower taxes nearby.

All this means the downtown office market will keep expanding: Between new construction and scheduled vacancies, CBRE estimates in the next three years, 6 million square feet of downtown office space will be on the market. With the building pace since 2010 at a historic low--only 4.5 million square feet built or under construction, compared with 15 million in the 2000s and 11 million in the 1990s, according to JLL -- the Loop will be able to absorb all of that space and more, as it has for generations.

It's a point worth remembering at tax time.




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What Everyone Can Do During Sex To Make It Even Better

Tue, 2016-03-01 07:26



It's one of the most basic facts of long-term relationships: Intimacy can ebb and flow.


As relationship expert and author Dr. Laura Berman notes, everyone struggles with sexual energy at some point in their busy lives. For those in this position at the moment -- not due to deep-rooted relationship conflicts or any underlying medical issues -- there is good news, Berman says. You can help get things back on track simply by using your body's energy.


The first step, she explains, is to open your heart to your partner by being more tuned in and present in the relationship.


"Look into each other's eyes, synchronize your breath with one another," Berman suggests. "Imagine light flowing back and forth between your hearts."


Then, in the midst of being intimate, focus your mind on that energy and its movement.


"Imagine the energy rising up through your body, through all of your chakras," Berman says, using the Sanskrit word for wheel, or the centers of spiritual power in the body. "Imagine your chakras spinning and vibrating with your body's energy and with the passion between you, being fed not only by your heart's love, but by your partner's love as well."


The end result, she adds, can be quite powerful.


"Not only does your arousal increase and your enjoyment increase and your desire increase, but the response is astronomical," she says. "So try it!"


Related: Can sex help you lose weight?

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4 Leadership Lessons from Justin Trudeau

Mon, 2016-02-29 09:53


The breakout star of last month's elite Davos gathering was, without a doubt, new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While I'm not a fan of the aristocratic nature of the summit, there's no doubt that the conference puts a spotlight on global trends. So, when Justin Trudeau wins the praise of politicians and business leaders from around the world, it's worth looking at why (and, although I am a big fan of them, it's not just his colorful socks).

What makes Justin Trudeau a leader who many follow?

There are four lessons I believe we all can learn from Trudeau's leadership.

1. Emotional Intelligence Matters

Without a doubt, between the technologists and economists in Davos, the median IQ was off the charts. But it's not Trudeau's IQ that's getting attention -- it's his emotional intelligence, or EQ. Though John Oliver humorously mocked political commentators claiming Trudeau had higher EQ than IQ, it's his empathy and relational abilities that are driving his success.

As Rosie Linder, Founder and CEO of PeppyPals (a brilliant app which teaches emotional intelligence and empathy to children aged 2-6) is fond of saying: though our society tends to value IQ over EQ, it's actually EQ that is a huge determinant in one's success. Trudeau is proving this to be true. He may or may not have his father's IQ (his father is regarded as one of Canada's most intellectual Prime Ministers ever), but it's clear Justin has an exceedingly high EQ, which is driving much of his success.

2. Diversity is a Strength

One of the first things Trudeau did as Prime Minister was to announce his Cabinet, which "looks like Canada." His cabinet is half men, half women, with two Sikhs and two Aboriginal members. It has an openly gay member, three members born outside of Canada and one who is blind. For years, politicians around the world have built cabinets which -- more or less -- are built in the imagine of its leader. Trudeau takes a different approach, saying his goal is simply to "surround himself with brilliant people." Many politicians talk a good game when it comes to diversity, but Trudeau -- in one of his very first decisions -- took action on it.

3. Humility

Let's be clear, politics is not a game for the humblest among us. But as far as politicians go, Trudeau is refreshingly humble on both a personal level, and in his leadership of the country. In an interview, CNN's Fareed Zakaria pushed Trudeau to envision his brand of politics going global. Trudeau refrained, saying that his focus was chiefly on Canada and making it as great as it can be. He rejected Zakaria's push to use Canada as a global, ego-centric podium, and instead -- in humble Canadian fashion -- Trudeau said he would let the world take whatever it liked about his approach in Canada, to use in their countries.

Too often as leaders we buy into self-centered visions of grandiosity, when really we would do better to simply focus on what we can control ourselves; and trust that if we do a good enough job, others will want to follow. It requires humility to relinquish that control -- but in so doing, as Trudeau exemplifies, it makes it that much more likely others will be drawn by our pull, rather than begrudgingly following our push.

4. Positivity

Especially in contrast to outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Trudeau's campaigning and governing is marked by an incredibly positive tone. While most of Europe and the US has been fearing refugees and closing their borders, Trudeau not only welcomed refugees; he went to the airport to welcome Canada's first Syrian refugees as they arrived in the country. Where others saw potential problems and concerns, Trudeau led through a lens of seeing what is possible.

It's a lesson I first learned from the incredible social entrepreneur Hildy Gottlieb, of Creating the Future. She says, "we know that a better world is possible simply because we know it is not impossible." Trudeau sees in line with Gottlieb -- he paints a picture for a better Canada and invites others to join. His positivity creates an umbrella under which a diverse group can assemble and thrive.

In many ways, Trudeau exemplifies a new style of leadership for a rapidly changing world. With the international spotlight now placed on him, it's also worth us, as leaders, examining how our own approaches might benefit from these lessons. While you may not want to rock bright red maple leaf socks like Trudeau, all four of these leadership lessons are applicable to every changemaker reading this. So get out there and lead, eh?

Ready to take your leadership and changemaking to the next level? Join The Changemaker Toolkit -- a free (almost) weekly newsletter I send out with ideas, insight and inspiration like this to guide you on your changemaker journey at http://TheChangemakerToolkit.com. Cheers!


*Image via Alex Guibord on Flickr.

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Chicago Schools Were Racist 50 Years Ago. This Documentary Shows How Little Has Changed.

Mon, 2016-02-29 09:09



In 1963, public education for black students in Chicago was so deplorable that parents like Rosie Simpson urged kids to stay home in protest.


Simpson, now 85, was incensed by segregationist policies in the city that relegated black students to classrooms in trailers, while white students attended well-resourced buildings. She and more than 200,000 other citizens took to the streets that October for a massive, daylong Chicago schools boycott.


The boycott and demonstrations that followed spurred several short-term gains. Superintendent Benjamin Willis was eventually ousted. Plans to house classrooms for black students in trailers were scrapped. 


But now, more than a half-century later, Simpson said many obstacles remain for black students. Schools that serve students of color are still far from comparable with schools for white students. 


"The system is even worse now than it was then," said Simpson, who had six children who attended Chicago public schools and was a key player in the '63 boycott. "They’ve closed schools. Kids are under pressure my kids didn’t have to go through. They don’t have the books. They don't have access to a library." 


The story of Simpson's activism is featured in a forthcoming documentary by Kartemquin Films about the Chicago schools boycott. Producers said they hope the film will reveal parallels about unequal schooling that still exist today in Chicago and elsewhere.  



The producers recently received attention after posting footage of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders getting arrested in 1963 at a Chicago schools protest.


They've been interviewing activists involved with the boycott for several years. Most of the documentary's footage comes from the founder of Kartemquin Films, Gordon Quinn, the documentary's producer and director. Quinn shot the video when he was a student at the University of Chicago. 


"I think what's important about this stuff is the issues that were behind it. We forget that it's not just important because there's a guy running for president" who protested, said Quinn, who continues raising money for the film and hopes to have it finished by early 2017. "These are critically important issues that 50 years later we’re still struggling with."


Quinn said some of the '63 protesters he has spoken with expressed "a mix of anger that things were still so bad and frustration. I think for some of them there was this certain sense of hopelessness."





Chicago public schools have been roiled with conflict in recent years. In 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed nearly 50 public schools that served mostly low-income, African-American or Latino students. The move inspired public outrage and a summer of protests.


In 2015, former Chicago superintendent Barbara Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Students of color, who make up about 85 percent of Chicago students, post depressing test scores. In many ways, city schools remain racially segregated -- like many other districts -- with black students and white students occupying separate facilities. 


Jenner Elementary School exemplifies this struggle. In 1963, 95 percent of Jenner students participated in the schools boycott, according to Kartemquin Films producers. 


Families in the Jenner community are still fighting the same battle. Since late 2015, parents and school leaders have been trying to merge Jenner, a majority black, low-income school, and nearby Ogden International School, which is more racially diverse and affluent. 


Ogden's building is over capacity, while Jenner's is under-enrolled. School leaders have said a merger could lift both school populations, while solving space issues. Many parents remain anxious.


"A segment of our community just went bezerk," said Rebecca Wells, a white Ogden parent who has championed the merger. "When we started to peel away the layers, we realized maybe it's race, maybe it's class." 



The present story of Chicago schools isn't all bad, of course. Average ACT scores are on the rise. The district has pioneered restorative justice programs that seek to reduce student suspensions and expulsions


But when Simpson looks back on her time as an activist, she said she worries that she and her peers gave up too soon.


"We got relaxed," said Simpson. "We thought the battle was over. We had a little success and thought things [would] keep going up and changing for the better. Of course that didn't happen." 

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25 Times White Actors Played People Of Color And No One Really Gave A Sh*t

Sat, 2016-02-27 14:47

As if it wasn't enough that Hollywood lacks serious diversity behind and in-front of the camera, the industry also has a nasty (not-so) little habit of giving diverse roles to white actors. 


That means that while an average of 75.2 percent of speaking roles already go to white actors, according the USC study "Inequality in 100 Popular Films," some of those parts are actually characters of color.


Over time we have come to expect a tsunami-sized wave of backlash when an actor of color is cast as a fictional character that audiences feel should be white -- see controversies over Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch or Amandla Stenberg as Rue of "The Hunger Games" -- but the outrage isn't quite the same when white actors portray characters of color. Even when, often, they are based of off real-life people of color. 


Think whitewashing, blackface and yellowface are a thing of the past? Get ready to cringe. Here are 25 times white actors played people of color and no one really gave a sh*t.



But these are just a handful of examples from a long list of cringe-worthy and shameless casting decisions in Hollywood. We could also talk about Emma Stone as part-Asian Allison Ng in "Aloha," Justin Chatwin as Goku in "Dragonball: Evolution," Fred Astaire in blackface in "Swing Time," Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in "Pan" -- because it's a seemingly never-ending story. And what have we learned after all this time? 




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Jesus "Chuy" Garcia Issues Rare, First-Time Endorsement For Mike Madigan In Illinois House Race

Fri, 2016-02-26 12:08


By Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

In a rare development, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, sought out and received the support of progressive Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy Garcia in his contested bid for the 22nd House District against newcomer Jason Gonzales.

Told it sure seemed he'd never endorsed Madigan before, Garcia, the former candidate who forced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff election last spring, laughed for several seconds, then said, "That's very, very well put. That's very perceptive. This is very new for me. Kind of like coming out.

"It's interesting because we've been on different sides," Garcia continued, "especially on local politics, for a long time. It's interesting to find a point of convergence and that's Bruce Rauner."

Garcia's press release noting the unusual endorsement immediately tied it directly to his concerns about the governor.

"In light of Governor Rauner's 'turn-around' agenda that has resulted in devastating austerity measures that affect middle class and struggling families, I am endorsing Speaker Michael Madigan for reelection as State Representative of the 22nd District of Illinois," it said.

In a phone interview, Garcia described what led to the endorsement. "He doesn't call once a week, for sure, that is the case, but he called, very politely, and asked if we could sit down and talk and we did, several times in fact."

Garcia said he and Madigan talked about the budget crisis and its effects on social service providers, right-to-work and labor concerns, school closures and the Chicago Public Schools' financial crisis.

"I felt Illinois has never been in a position like this," he added, "where a very wealthy person has become governor and then embarks on an agenda that goes against the interest of working people and low-income people. I think that the threat is real and it reminds me of the type of attitude that is exemplified by the Koch brothers at the national level."

Steve Brown, Madigan's spokesman, confirmed the Speaker asked for Garcia's endorsement, but he said it was not an unusual event.

"The Speaker's contacted hundreds of people during the course of his career and always welcomes support and that recognition," Brown said. "That's a good testimonial in terms of his support.

Asked if Madigan's asking for Garcia's support was a sign that Madigan was running scared or concerned about his contested primary from Gonzales Brown said, "No, it's a recognition of the fact that the 22nd District is increasingly Hispanic and Commissioner Garcia is a Hispanic leader in the district and so that endorsement will help."

Two other candidates with Hispanic surnames - Joe Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez - also are running in the 22nd District but are widely thought to be straw men put up by Madigan supporters to dilute votes for Gonzales.

Garcia said Gonzales was being supported financially by some wealthy hedge fund executives who share Rauner's anti-labor agenda. He suggested he did not have roots in the community.

Gonzales, meanwhile, played into that last contention by announcing Wednesday he'd won the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who, like Gonzales, is a Harvard graduate. Gonzales' release said Moulton was an Iraq war veteran who was a "rising" member of the progressive caucus.

"Jason brings the passion and experience to join a new generation of leaders who will fight for democratic principles and bring innovative, principled leadership to the 22nd District and Illinois," Moulton said in a press release. "I am pleased to support him in his effort to change the direction of Illinois."

As Primary Election Day nears March 15, Gonzales' profile has been rising with a number of media outlets featuring him in coverage as he seeks to topple the powerful Speaker who has represented a southwest side Chicago district for 45 years since 1971. Voters regularly have elected Madigan to represent them. Madigan's fellow House Democratic caucus members regularly elect him to lead their majority as he funds their election campaigns and provides them with needed election foot soldiers. Madigan also has served as chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois for several years.

Madigan supporters in the 22nd District also seem to be making campaigning difficult for Gonzales in other ways. Check out the tweet below from WTTW's Paris Schutz and note the date when the parking ban expires.

Hmm. No Parking signs go up without explanation outside the office of Madigan opponent @jasongonzo until 3/16 pic.twitter.com/9pPuR0WPkj

— Paris Schutz (@paschutz) February 23, 2016


Watch: Michael Madigan's unlikely alliance with Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, record spending in House race make 2016 primary fascinating

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Like Knowing If GMOs Are In Your Food? Congress Is Trying To Make That Harder

Thu, 2016-02-25 16:06

With just over four months to go before Vermont becomes the first state to require the labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms, the fate of that bill -- and other state-level GMO legislation -- is in question.


Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) announced Thursday morning that his legislation, originally scheduled for a Thursday hearing, will be marked up in the Senate Agriculture Committee next Tuesday, March 1.


That bill would pave the way for voluntary labeling of GMO products and block state labeling laws like Vermont's. Similar legislation was already approved by the House last summer.


Meanwhile, celebrity chef and “Top Chef” host Tom Colicchio’s Food Policy Action advocacy group on Thursday unveiled the news that their petition calling on the Senate to reject the legislation has been signed by 2,000 chefs and food professionals just two days after the petition went live. Opponents have dubbed the legislation, which Colicchio described in a statement as “ridiculous,” the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act.


“As chefs, we have a fundamental right to know what's in the food we cook and serve to our customers,” the petition reads. “We urge you to reject any attempt to prevent the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food.”


 



Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director at the Environmental Working Group, which has collaborated with Colicchio’s group on its efforts around this issue, described the chefs’ actions as powerful testimony amid the Senate’s looming consideration of the bill.


“Chefs are some of the most trusted sources of information on health and nutrition for consumers,” O’Neil told The Huffington Post “It’s clear that people look to chefs for their wisdom and as barometers on food policy issues. I think that respect certainly extends to members of Congress on Capitol Hill.”


The bill’s proponents were unmoved by the petition.


“I think it’s easy for chefs at high-priced restaurants to make these statements,” Claire Parker, spokeswoman of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food told HuffPost. “These restaurants are exempt from the law but it’s not so easy for families who are facing more than $1,000 in increased grocery bills.”


Parker was referencing an analysis commissioned and released this week by the Corn Refiners Association, a member of the CFSAF group, which estimated that Vermont’s labeling law would result in increased food costs for consumers totaling an estimated $1,050 a year per capita. Those costs, the analysis argued, would stem from manufacturers removing GMOs from their products should consumers view GMO labels as a warning not to buy products in their current form.


Further, supporters of the legislation say the Vermont law going into effect would help usher in a patchwork of state labeling laws “that simply will not serve the American people well,” Parker said.


 



That concern was reflected in an open letter addressed to the Senate Agriculture Committee and signed by some 650 groups that the coalition issued Tuesday. Among the signers were industry heavyweights including ConAgra, DuPont, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo and Walmart, plus coalition members including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Restaurant Association.


In remarks before a hearing of the agriculture committee on Tuesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack echoed the same fear, arguing that the Vermont law will “create chaotic circumstances” if it goes into effect.


Still, the opposition to the legislation is spirited and it appears the legislation faces an uphill climb to passage. And even if the bill is to succeed in the Senate, it’s unclear whether President Barack Obama would sign it in into law.


Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders stated his opposition to the bill and support for state labeling laws in Tuesday's remarks, though he has previously noted that he does not believe GMOs cause health problems.


Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have also passed state-level GMO labeling laws, though both laws only go into effect if additional neighboring states pass similar legislation.


Most Americans appear to be in favor of mandatory labeling of products containing GMOs. An Associated Press/GfK poll released last December found 66 percent of respondents supported labeling versus just 7 percent who were opposed. A separate poll commissioned by a coalition of advocacy groups last November found even higher support for labeling -- 89 percent.


Roberts’ office did not respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment by publication time.


---


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

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Finding Peace at the Heart of Grief

Thu, 2016-02-25 13:38
A young, much-beloved woman was gang-raped three years ago on a bus in Delhi and a culture exploded.

The documentary India's Daughter, which addresses the horrific rape-murder and its aftermath, is part of that explosion of awareness, aimed straight at the heart of India's cultural dismissal of women as full-fledged members of society and full-fledged human beings. It opens up a world where people can still say: "A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock. A girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy."

Remarkably, it also does more than that. It envisions the sort of peace that looks squarely at the worst of who we are ... and calls, not for more scapegoating, but for collective responsibility. The stories of the six young men convicted of the crime are also part of Leslee Udwin's documentary. Their lives, just as the victim's life, are embraced with compassion and openness.

And India's Daughter is just one of 25 films that will be featured at the eighth annual Peace on Earth Film Festival, an event I am proud to say I've been a part of since the outset.

The Festival, presented in partnership with Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs, will take place March 3-6 in the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center. As always, it's free of charge.

This year's event, as well as featuring both a directors' panel and a peacemakers' panel, will also give a special focus -- on Saturday evening, from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. -- to women's and children's rights and the "invisible" global problem of sexual exploitation. The evening includes five internationally diverse films, including India's Daughter. Other films are set in Guatemala, Israel and the United States. There will also be a special panel discussion, moderated by Milissa Pacelli, called Actions: Implementation to Aid and Rectify Injustice.

What always amazes me about the festival is the quality of the documentaries, which cut deep to the heart of complex issues. This is what I call peace journalism -- journalism that never surrenders to cynicism, never dehumanizes, never shrugs at the necessity of collateral damage. Nor does it ever ignore a glaring wrong.

At the center of India's Daughter is 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, who, in December of 2012 was on the verge of a medical career. She had just completed classwork and was about to embark on a six-month internship.

"'Mum, Dad, now you don't need to worry about me. Your little girl is a doctor. Now everything will be fine.'"

So remembers Jyoti's mother, whose grief and torment over her daughter's death are palpable. She adds: "It seems God didn't like this. He ended everything right there."

On the evening of Dec. 16, 2012, Jyoti and her boyfriend decided to go to a movie, possibly in celebration of the end of classes. On the way home, they boarded what they must have thought was an ordinary bus but was, in fact, an off-duty tour bus with six young men inside who apparently were simply cruising the streets of Delhi for the purpose of having fun that night.

The film goes into excruciating detail about what happened on the bus, including interviews with one of the arrested young men, along with a police officer and the doctor who treated Jyoti after the incident. The boyfriend was knocked unconscious and the young men, all of whom have been convicted of rape and murder, proceeded to "teach Jyoti a lesson," as Mukesh, the driver of the bus, put it in a remarkably frank interview from his jail cell. Jyoti was violated with so much savagery the whole country -- indeed the whole world -- was horrified when the news became known.

The two victims were eventually thrown from the moving bus. They were still alive. Jyoti lived for 13 days.

"Why did she have to bear all this?" said the doctor. "The question remained on my mind for months."

After the incident, the country convulsed in protests, footage of which, including police clubbings and water hose blasts, recalls the civil rights demonstrations in the U.S. half a century ago. "It was like a dam bursting, the accumulated anger that burst out," said Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association. "Not a single woman didn't feel the pain that woman went through."

Along with the protests and the fury, and the calls for the execution of the arrestees, India also convened an investigation of its judicial system and the way it deals with rape. Five of the six suspects were sentenced to death (one of whom died of apparent suicide while in custody), and the sixth, a juvenile, was sentenced to three years in prison.

The film portrays all of it: the horror and the fury and the humanity.

Jyoti's father at one point laments, speaking of his daughter's killers: "To call them human is to give humanity a bad name."

Moments later in the film, Gopal Subramaniam, co-author of the report that came out in the wake of the crime, declares: "These men are ours! Society has to take responsibility for them."

Both messages come through in India's Daughter, which posits a truth that is bigger than anger without in the least minimizing the legitimacy of the anger and the grief, or minimizing the wrongness of what happened to Jyoti. Indeed, the film includes extended interviews with some of the accused men's parents and a compassionate look at the poverty they grew up in. Ironically, Jyoti herself had stood up in her life to the hell of India's enormous poverty.

A friend of hers at one point tells a story of how a boy once stole her purse. A police officer caught the boy and began beating him. She begged the officer to stop, the friend says, then asked the boy, "'Why do you do this?' 'I also want new clothes like you people,' the boy said. 'I want shoes. I want a hamburger.' Jyoti bought him everything he asked for. She said, 'Promise me you won't do this again.'"

This beautiful young woman was raped, tortured, murdered. The wrongness of this is soul-wrenching. But thanks to the film about this terrible incident, I can still hear her voice. I can feel her determination to make this world a better place for everyone.

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 koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

2016 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

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Will the Lincoln Park Pirates Sail?

Thu, 2016-02-25 13:09
My entire adult life, they've been "stealing" cars across Chicago and then ransoming them back to the owners. Legally.

Or you could see it as "providing a towing service."

A few years back, they slipped into the lot behind the Unemployment Office as I was standing in line inside. While I waited in that endless line, they jacked up my 10 year old Accord and slithered on back to their razor wire compound where they waited for me to take the $25 cab ride and then pay them the $200 to get my car back.

And I was not at the Unemployment Office on a social call.

But there was that one time, so long ago, when my pal Eddie and I got them. It was after this sleet gray snowy night prowling the Lincoln Avenue bars looking for any kind of warmth.

Come closing time, stumbling out into the night to Eddie's dirty yellow Datsun, parked legally because we knew where those legal spots were, we found his car was gone.

We knew Lincoln Towing had nabbed us. No one else would take that car. So off we walked to their compound which was then about a mile west on Fullerton Avenue.

Standing at the bulletproof glass window of Lincoln Towing, an assortment of firearms mounted on the wall, the really scary woman sitting at the desk inside snarled "$200 boys."

And that's when Eddie started playing dumb. Slow motion, looks of confusion, looks of total bewilderment on our faces--I picked up on the game quick--we started turning every pocket we each had inside out. Except the ones that had our wallets. Shrugging our shoulders, we each took off our boots, felt around inside them looking for spare change, pounded them on the steel counter. All this while the line behind us got longer and longer, eventually spilling out on to the railroad tracks that still crossed Fullerton. After what seemed like 10 minutes, we finally located our wallets, paid her, and were buzzed in to get the battered yellow Datsun.

Eddie starts the car, the razor wire fence starts to rise in front of us, and just as we get the car under the raised fence, Eddie grins, says, "Watch this," and when we have the car in perfect position to block any access in or out, Eddie kills the engine. Scary lady up in the booth above us starts screaming and raising her arms, motioning us to get the damn car moving. But of course we can't hear her through the bulletproof glass. So we put our hands behind our ears. "What? Huh???" Shrugging our shoulders, we raise the hood. Now cars on both sides are honking. Two guys with chains in one hand and holstered very visible handguns under leather vests, approach and say "Problem here?"

"We can't get the car started! Don't know what's wrong!"

By this time, cars and tow trucks were slowing down traffic on Fullerton.

One of the leather vest guys starts swinging his chain and says, "Why don't you boys try again. Or we can pick your car up and move it? Course it would be a shame if we slipped and dropped it on your heads."

So we tried again and this time the car started.

Lincoln Towing. Steve Goodman even wrote a song about them. "Lincoln Park Pirates." They've been around forever. And now a coalition that includes Alderman Ameya Pawar is working to control and maybe even close them down. There are Chicagoans who believe that could never happen. No one has ever done it before. Many have tried.

Will this time be different?

I'd say yes. Time for these pirates to sail.

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Top 25 Illinois Counties With The Highest Property Taxes

Thu, 2016-02-25 11:01
Illinoisans pay a lot in property taxes compared to the rest of the nation -- the state has the second-highest property taxes in the country, almost double the national average. But what you pay depends on where you live, and some residents are spending a lot more than others.

SmartAsset has put together a list of the average effective property tax rate, the median property tax payment and the median home value by county across the state of Illinois. The counties with the Top 25 highest average rates, along with their median home values and median annual property tax payments, are listed below the map.




25) DuPage County, IL


  • Median Home Value: $286,500

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $6,115

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.13%


24) Champaign County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $149,500

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $3,181

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.13%


23) Kankakee County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $145,900

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $3,108

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.13%


22) Macon County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $93,300

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,005

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.15%


21) Ogle County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $149,500

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $3,236

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.16%


20) Rock Island County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $113,800

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,455

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.16%


19) Ford County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $89,600

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $1,934

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.16%


18) Grundy County, IL


  • Median Home Value: $182,200

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $3,966

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.18%


17) Peoria County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $123,200

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,711

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.20%


16) Whiteside County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $99,400

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,183

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.20%


15) Lee County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $112,100

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,493

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.22%


14) McLean County, IL


  • Median Home Value: $157,200

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $3,503

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.23%


13) Iroquois County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $96,500

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,160

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.24%


12) LaSalle County, IL


  • Median Home Value: $125,200

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,840

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.27%


11) Marshall County, IL

  • Median Home Value: $100,600

  • Median Annual Property Tax Payment: $2,327

  • Average Effective Property Tax Rate: 2.31%


Here are the Top 10 counties with the highest property tax rates in Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Map shows which states have the highest property tax rates

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Don't Believe The Derrick Rose Hype

Thu, 2016-02-25 10:37

No sooner had Derrick Rose declared he was back, than he was sidelined with hamstring tendinitis.


The 27-year-old Chicago Bulls point guard was playing his best basketball all season, averaging over 19 points in the 2016 calendar year. 


Rose's steadiness and renewed sense of confidence stems from no longer having to wear a protective face mask. Amid tremendous dysfunction with a first-year head coach in Fred Hoiberg, along with a front office that was expecting a winner this year and instead got a clunky mix of disappointments, Rose's play has been a pleasant surprise. 


Unfortunately though, the former league MVP has cemented his legacy as an extremely talented, oft injured player of unfulfilled promise. Bulls fans know all too well that when things with Rose seem too good to be true, it's because they usually are. This recent stretch of production should be viewed as no different.


After playing 81 games during the 2010-11 campaign, he combined to play in a mere 100 matches over three seasons. And, in that span, Rose was supplanted by fellow backcourt mate Jimmy Butler -- who caught up with The Huffington Post in 2013 on the verge of his breakout success -- as the clear-cut face of the franchise. Interestingly enough, the former No. 1 overall pick is far more productive with Butler (a two-time All-Star) on the bench and vise-versa. 



According to ESPN, Butler's scoring increases from 19.4 points per 36 minutes to 24.5 when Rose is out. Moreover, when Butler is out, Rose improves his scoring from 16.8 points to 23.4, per 36. Despite the immense combined talent of both guards, they cannot co-exist at an elite clip together.Rose has proven to be too ball dominant. Furthermore, with Butler recently sidelined with a knee injury, Rose has played some of his best ball yet.


Rose's recent surge is not sustainable because he still struggles to shoot the ball proficiently, nor does he get to the rim frequently enough to augment such long-range deficiencies. He has never shot fewer free-throws in his career (3), and his sub-27 percent shooting from 3 is the worst of any starting point guard in the NBA. 


But even if we can overlook those issues, Rose's key problem -- even with his improved play -- is a lack of overall efficiency. Of the 25 players with a usage rate (the number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes) of 26 or more, Rose's 13.54 player efficiency rating is the lowest clip.


Kobe Bryant offered insight last week into how Chicago's prodigal son can maximize his ability without the top notch athleticism and speed he once possessed.



"Derrick is at a position in his career where he'll have to adjust his game," Bryant told ESPN. "And what I mean by that is start using his size a lot more instead of his speed and quickness and start going to the post a little bit more."


While Rose is certainly not at fault for his slew of injuries and diminished athletic ability, adjusting his style to highlight what plus attributes he still has is a necessity. Whether or not he has done so depends on who you ask.


And Rose hasn't been shy to voice his opinion either: "I think I'm a little bit more efficient," he said. "I feel like I'm getting to spots, my spots that I want to get to on the floor, instead of settling."


Perhaps we can attribute his improved production to such a philosophy or maybe new-found confidence. And perhaps it will continue. Then again, when it comes to Derrick Rose, the injury questions always persist, and so too does the reality that he is completely removed from the NBA elite.


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

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Madigan vs. Rauner Proxy Wars Shattering Campaign Spending Records

Thu, 2016-02-25 10:20

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, and primary challenger Juliana Stratton

When we last checked in on the Democratic primary race in the 5th Illinois House District, incumbent Ken Dunkin had received $240,000 in campaign help from a Super PAC connected to Gov. Bruce Rauner. His opponent, Juliana Stratton, had received $70,600 in direct donations, mostly from unions.

In a race that's become a test case in the Michael Madigan vs. Bruce Rauner proxy war over unions and the political balance of the Illinois House, the $240,000 spent on Dunkin's behalf by the IllinoisGO committee -- which, as a Super PAC, can't coordinate with or donate directly to a candidate -- meant that campaign contribution limits no longer applied in the Dunkin-Stratton race.

That was on Jan. 31. We should have waited a day to run those numbers.

On Feb. 1, Dunkin, a seven-term incumbent who angered his fellow Democrats last summer and fall by not supporting two bills important to them, received a $500,000 donation from the Illinois Opportunity Project, which describes itself as "an independent research and public policy enterprise that promotes legislative solutions in advance of free markets and free minds."

What's a conservative, Libertarian group doing donating to a traditionally liberal Democrat like Dunkin?

"IOP decided that a substantial financial commitment is warranted to support State Rep. Ken Dunkin against the onslaught he is facing from House Speaker Mike Madigan and his public sector union allies in the March primary election," the IOP wrote on its website.

The Illinois Opportunity Project is not a Super PAC. It's a 501(c)(4) non-profit, and is not prohibited from direct donations to candidates. And because the IllinoisGO Super Pac had spent more than $100,000 in support of Dunkin, the state's $10,800 limit on corporate donations to candidates no longer applied. (To complicate things, IllinoisGO has a companion 501(c)(4) that can donate directly to candidates.)

Stratton, meanwhile, also benefited handsomely from the lifting of contribution limits. On Jan. 31, she had received $70,600 in union support. Since then, campaign records show nine donations totaling more than $586,000 for a total campaign fund of $715,000.

The largest donation was $138,900 from AFSCME Council 31's political action committee. Dunkin's non-vote on a bill to limit Rauner's power in contract negotiations with AFSCME Council 31 was among the actions that earned Dunkin the enmity of Madigan and many of his fellow Democrats.


The campaign funds of Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, and his primary challenger, Juliana Stratton, recorded some of the highest donations of the 30 days before Feb. 24, 2016. (IllinoisSunshine.org)

Under Illinois' campaign contribution limits law, union donations to candidates normally are limited to $10,800.

Another front on the Rauner-Madigan proxy battle is in the downstate 50th Illinois Senate District, which includes part of Springfield and stretches south and west to the Mississippi River.

Incumbent Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, angered Rauner in August when he was the lone Republican to vote in support of a bill to weaken Rauner's position in negotiating with AFSCME Council 31. (It was the same bill that Dunkin refused to support in the House.) McCann defended his vote, saying he has more public union members in his district than any other state senator.

Rauner has endorsed McCann's challenger, Bryce Benton. Rauner's Super PAC, Turnaround Illinois, in January gave $1,818,000 to Liberty Principles PAC, which reports having spent more than $1.35 million in support of Benton.


Liberty Principles PAC has spent more than $1.35 million on behalf of Bryce Benton in the 50th Senate District Republican primary. (IllinoisSunshine.org)

There's a connection between the support for Dunkin and Benton: Dan Proft, a conservative talk radio host and 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate, is chairman of Liberty Principles PAC (which is providing heavy support to Republican Benton) and co-founder of the Illinois Opportunity Project (which gave $500,000 to Democrat Dunkin).

Unions have gotten behind McCann, though their donations don't compare to the support Liberty Principles PAC has given Benton. McCann reports $337,000 on hand, $227,000 of which has come since Jan. 1 and mostly from unions.

Last week, the campaign finance website Illinois Sunshine summed up the money situation through mid-February:

Just one month before the March 15th Illinois Primary, both political parties in Illinois have amassed major war chests to aid their goals of upsetting (or defending) the balance of power in state government. The Democratic side, consisting of Senate, House, Leadership, and Party Committees, currently holds over $34 Million. Illinois Republican funds, consisting of those plus the Governor's committee, currently have over $28 Million ready to spend. The top three Super PACs in the state, each with an individual balance of over $1 Million, have a total of $16 Million in the bank.

This all amounts to nearly $80 Million in cash on hand between both parties. This is in addition to the $17 Million already spent in the first month and a half of 2016.

And we're not even in the stretch run to the March 15 primary yet.

The Dunkin-Stratton race already has broken the record for spending in a primary. As the Rauner-Madigan proxy war moves to the general election season after March 15, expect to see numbers like you've never seen in Statehouse campaigns.

Be sure to bookmark Illinois Sunshine and keep an eye on the money in your local races. You can't control the media storm headed your way, but you should at least know who's paying for it.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois among Top 5 states that had the most tornadoes in 2015

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Americans Overwhelmingly Want Our Aging Water Systems To Get Fixed

Wed, 2016-02-24 17:26

A vast majority of Americans want public officials to invest in the nation’s water systems in an effort to avoid tragedies like the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, and many appear to be willing to pay higher water bills to help do just that, according to a new poll released Wednesday.


The national poll of adults, conducted by American Viewpoints and Hart Research and commissioned by the Value of Water Coalition, reported that 95 percent of respondents wanted to see more investment in water infrastructure.


In addition, 47 percent of respondents were willing to personally pay more for water to help support investments in their local water systems, a number that increased to 60 percent after respondents were given additional information about water issues.


In a Wednesday press call introducing the poll results, Hart Research president Geoffrey Garin said the willingness to pay more was “a remarkably high starting point” when compared to how customers have typically reacted to possible rate increases for electric or natural gas service.


And Garin pointed to similar levels of support to personally fund infrastructure improvements among respondents who identified as Republican or Democrat as evidence that the issue is resonating with Americans regardless of politics. 


“Water really stands out among the broad array of issues in the country today that transcends partisanship, where interest in having safe and environmentally-friendly water systems cuts deeply across party lines and unites people across party lines,” Garin said.





The Value of Water Coalition has emphasized that water bills are generally “affordable relative to other utilities” and that the average American water bill “does not reflect the cost of service,” however, there is reason to be somewhat skeptical of the poll’s results. The coalition's members include both public and private water agencies, plus business and community leaders who have a natural interest in higher water rates.


The coalition has argued that further investment is necessary to meet the nation’s costly water infrastructure needs, currently estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency to cost more than $600 billion. Those needs include replacing aging, leaky pipes and old water mains. 


The American Water Works says the price tag could exceed $1 trillion in the coming decades and replacing lead pipes in Flint alone will cost an estimated $55 million.


Mary Grant, director of the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Food and Water Watch advocacy group’s Public Water for All campaign, acknowledged that the United States has massive water infrastructure needs, but also emphasized that affordability remains key.


“We need investment in the water systems but we can't put that burden disproportionately on middle- and working-class families,” Grant told The Huffington Post by phone. 



Flint, she argues, is a clear example of that. In a recent analysis, Food and Water Watch found that the residents of the poverty-stricken Michigan city have been forced to pay some of the highest water rates in the nation.


Grant believes more federal assistance is necessary to fund water system improvements.


“There’s some sort of disconnect there when many Flint residents simply can’t afford their bills,” she added.


For its part, the coalition’s poll did find lower-income respondents, who represented 31 percent of their overall sample size, were only slightly less likely to agree to pay a higher water bill to protect their local water system’s health.


Thirty-seven percent of respondents who reported earning less than $40,000 in pre-tax household income last year said they strongly agreed that they would be willing to pay more, compared to 39 percent of respondents earning $75,000 or more. 


Radhika Fox, director of the Value of Water Coalition and CEO of the U.S. Water Alliance, also noted that affordability was a major priority for the coalition and applauded the efforts of Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to push for a low-income sewer and water assistance program.


The coalition’s poll reached 1,000 adults by phone in late January 2016. The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent at 95 percent confidence.


______


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


 


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TIF for One, Then TIF for All...High Schools

Wed, 2016-02-24 12:04
The city of Chicago wants to build another selective enrollment high school using TIF money to pay for it. I can see how spending millions of taxpayer dollars to create yet another SEHS would be tempting. Thousands of Chicago kids spend their entire seventh grade year thinking and worrying about their grades and test scores. There are far more kids who want to get into a selective enrollment high school than there are seats available for them. In theory, the cream of the seventh grade crop of students will earn, by their academic and testing prowess, a seat at one of those selective enrollment high schools. Many Chicagoans believe that the kids who get a letter of acceptance to an SEHS are indeed the brightest kids in the city. The SEHS's are by definition "selective". They don't take just any adolescent with hopes and dreams and ambitions. Nope. Only the "smartest" will be selected. Many fourteen year olds will open a letter this spring, only to read, "We don't allow your kind in here". Whether explicitly said or not, the SEHS process passes judgment on a kid's intelligence. A conversation between CPS adolescents regarding SEHS cannot be had without the word "smart" coming in to play. "I don't think I'm smart enough to get in to an SEHS." "He got into to Payton. He's smart." "See that kid? He's not that smart. He didn't get in anywhere". (If you have to ask "in where?" you aren't from around here are you?) Smart kids go to a SEHS. This is the cultural belief of the majority of kids in CPS, no matter how much the adults who love them argue otherwise. I would go even further than that, and say that many adults in Chicago feel that the kids who do not get accepted into an SEHS just don't belong in one. They do not belong at a high school that has wonderful programs housed in state of the art facilities. They just wouldn't fit in, because that type of environment is only for a selective few. No one ever said public education was fair, at least no one in Chicago.

If only small percentage of students will actually benefit from one additional SEHS, and if CPS is in a budget crisis, why build another very expensive selective enrollment high school, especially using TIF monies to do so? Actually, by creating another couple of hundred of seats via one additional SEHS, won't CPS be admitting kids into a selective school who the year prior to this new build, would not have made the cut? A score that labeled a kid as "not fit for SEHS" one year, will be deemed "you're our kind of student" the following year, because a new SEHS means more seats will be available. So are those seats really just for the cream of the crop? Or will they now be accepting some plain old milk into an SEHS too? I think, if the city of Chicago sees the need to spend 60million in TIF monies on a new SEHS, then CPS is saying that they need to provide more of it's city's youth with an well funded and well appointed high school experience. By the same token, if CPS is acknowledging MORE students should get a "world class" education, why not just admit that EVERY kid in Chicago should be able to attend a kick ass, state of the art high school? Chicago certainly can't afford to build enough brand new high schools for ALL of its youth. It can't even afford the $60million one currently being discussed. Right now, the proposal to use TIF money to build even one more selective enrollment high school, with or without Obama's name on it, should be out of the question. If nothing else, it is fiscally, completely irresponsible.

I live in a small house. It has one bathroom on the main floor and another one in the basement. The one in the basement looks like many Chicago basement bathrooms. The floor is a little uneven. The ceiling is low. The foundation wall is exposed. It is far from fancy. However, the toilet flushes. The sink drains. The lights work. The door closes for privacy. It is a perfectly fine, functional bathroom. The problem is, I can't get anyone in my family to use it. Everyone wants to use the upstairs bathroom, even though the one in the basement would absolutely meet everyone's needs. No matter how much I try to convince my family to use the basement bathroom, they absolutely believe it provides a sub-par bathroom experience. They are wrong, but it's a tough perception to crack. I have even conducted tours of the basement bathroom...for real...drawing attention to its good points. "Look, the toilet works just as well as the one upstairs. You can have even MORE privacy in this bathroom because no one will bother you down here! Walk in! It's actually bigger than the bathroom on the main floor. The lighting is brighter, and the soap smells better! It's got a lot going for it!" I get no takers. I can't convince a soul to use that bathroom. It's not the "good" one.

Borrowing from the CPS model, I could pay someone 500k to walk around my property and see if they could find a location to build a brand NEW bathroom, so that the bathroom experience on the main floor could be duplicated. Once a suitable location was found, I could build a brand-new "world class" bathroom. Like CPS, my husband and I have our share of debt, and absolutely do not have the funds to build a brand new bathroom. It would be a fiscally irresponsible, but we do want to provide "better bathroom options" for our family. Here's a thought: we could spruce up the bathroom we already have. We could put some drywall up, apply a coat of paint, tile the floor, and maybe get glass block windows so the neighbor's cat doesn't get a free show. If we fixed up the bathroom we already have, make it desirable, on par with the main floor bathroom, my family would actually want to use it. It would be consider a "good" bathroom too. Plus, we could save that 500k finders fee.

This is why although a building a brand new SEHS sounds like a good idea, it's not. A good idea would be allocating at least some of the TIF funds to the neighborhood high schools that already exist. Of course it would require far more than a coat of paint to get Chicagoans to view the neighborhood high schools they way they do the selective enrollment ones, but investing in the neighborhood high schools is what is truly needed in this city, not another selective school. Claiming the need for another SEHS is CPS admitting that there is a need to offer a greater number of Chicago kids a better high school experience. Why not go all in and admit that EVERY Chicago kid deserves the best high school experience this city has to offer? Chicago already has a bunch of neighborhood high schools. It only makes sense to put the money into the high schools you already have, to benefit the teens of the entire city, rather than sink TIF money into a solitary new school, which will ultimately just benefit a select few.

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4 Things You Can Do To Make Your Pet Happier And Healthier

Wed, 2016-02-24 11:39



Any loving pet owner would want to improve the life of his or her pet, but exactly how to do that can seem mystifying to most. For clear-cut strategies, we turn to the professionals.


Barbara Royal, a Chicago-based veterinarian, has worked with people's four-legged companions for decades, and she's full of advice for creating happier, healthier animals. Here are four things she says you can do that not only benefit your pets, but also benefit those who treat and care for them.


Randomly take your dog into the vet clinic.

The panting, the pacing, the cowering -- many times, pets panic as soon as they arrive at the vet. So, Royal suggests making quick stops into the clinic and rewarding your pups with a treat each time to get them more comfortable ahead of their next appointment.


"Part of the problem as a veterinarian is that we're always examining animals in a state of stress," she points out. "It really makes a difference for heart rate, for getting appropriate blood values, things like that, if you can get an animal to relax."


Treat minor stomach issues with pumpkin and white rice.

If your pet is experiencing stomach issues -- like diarrhea -- and your vet doesn't believe it's something serious, you can treat your pets at home by making them a simple meal.


"Dogs and cats both can do pretty well if you can give them pumpkin and then rice," Royal says. "White rice -- you overcook it, you add extra water to it, make it really goopy. It's very absorptive; it really can help with diarrhea." 


Play "rough" with your animal.

Every so often, set the cuddling aside and get down on the floor for some intense playtime with your dogs and cats, Royal suggests.


"It's really important to get out that sort of instinctual urge of 'wolf games' or 'wild cat,'" she says. "You can really play sort of rough -- not really rough; you don't want to encourage biting or things like that -- but let them get wild a little bit."


Prevent pets from biting.

Cats and dogs each give warning signs before they bite, and it's a good idea to know what those signals are, particularly with felines.


"Cats sort of get a little bit quieter. Their eyes get really wide, the tail starts to wag, their ears get a little flatter," Royal says. "Keep a big, thick towel around to cover the cat to keep them from biting."



Related: What your veterinarian wishes you'd stop feeding your pets



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These Are The 10 Most 'Miserable' Places in Illinois, says RoadSnacks

Wed, 2016-02-24 10:23
Illinois has its share of state government problems, but the website Roadsnacks says some cities in the Land of Lincoln have it a lot worse than others. Using U.S. Census data, Roadsnacks put together a list of what it considers the most miserable Illinois cities.

Roadsnacks ranked 403 Illinois cities with populations higher than 2,000. "It isn't a stretch to assume that happy people earn great salaries, are relatively stress free, and have a stable home life," Roadsnacks writes.

The criteria for unhappy cities included factors like percentage of residents with a college degree, unemployment rates, cost of living, poverty rates, percent of married adults, percent of people who own their home and average commute times.

Below is a map of where the most miserable Illinois cities are located, including data on the percent of adult married couples and percent of homeowners. Scroll down for a text version of the list.



See the complete list here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 25 retired Illinois lawmakers receiving the biggest pensions

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Illinois Politicians Hellbent On Destroying Higher Education

Wed, 2016-02-24 09:43


Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

Our politicians appear to be hellbent on destroying our Illinois public colleges.

If you have a child or grandchild in Illinois, you need to read this. If you don't have a child or grandchild you love, you still need to read this.

Our lives are intertwined. Our communities are intertwined. Our futures are intertwined. Wrecking our public college systems is about the dumbest move possible, but that's what just the Democrats and Republicans are doing.

They've proven they don't care about anything but raw political power and the next election. It's a riveting lesson in political science. But while they're teaching us, they're destroying Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, University of Illinois, all the community colleges and all the rest.

Here's the simple math: Public colleges have not gotten any taxpayer dollars since last July. They will get $0 for 2016 and take a cut if there's a 2017 budget approved at less than the 2015 level. Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget plan shows $1.95 billion for higher education in 2015 and $1.75 billion in the year that starts in July.

Rauner said all the 2016 money has been spent. Court orders and other legal mechanisms mean 90 percent of state government has been funded at 2015 levels when income tax rates were higher, putting us on course to spend $6.2 billion more than we take in. The 10 percent getting nothing are colleges and not-for-profit social service agencies.

That means the most vulnerable in our state and those associated with higher education get zilch, zero, nada, nothing. Rauner vetoed a Democratic bill that would have provided $721 million in aid to community colleges and to the Monetary Assistance Program that gives small grants to needy kids who were promised the money. Republicans have their own bills to send $1.6 billion to students and universities. They would find the funding by changing the way the state purchases things and by giving Rauner wide power to cut spending and move funds around.

Of course, neither party will help the other as both sides point and blame each other for the spilled milk like preschoolers.

"I'm disappointed in the governor," Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said. "He had a chance to back up his promises with funding. Instead, he let those students down again."

Monday, Rauner said, "I, personally, am a big advocate for our university systems. I want the best in America. I want a fully funded MAP grant program. I'm a huge supporter of scholarships for low-income kids." Universities are under House Speaker Michael Madigan's control, he said. "He won't do any reforms. We should be doing that today," Rauner added. "So far, the Speaker says no. He's blocking virtually everything we're trying to do."

Madigan has been in control of the House for most of the past 30 years. He and Cullerton have been passing unbalanced budgets for the past several years while refusing to put up votes themselves to raise taxes. Rauner expects to win a few changes after taking the governorship.

It's all about political power. The people be damned.

Are there too many administrators and some who are too well-paid at our state schools? No doubt. That's the complaint Rauner has with Chicago State. I'm a proud graduate of Eastern Illinois University and I know from experience, it's still a community where students can get personal attention, caring and a strong education.

I spent some time Saturday with about 300 college journalism students from all over Illinois. Every one of them was accompanied by one or more advisers who sacrificed most of a weekend.

Yet now we have high school counselors telling kids to pick out-of-state colleges. When you kill a college community like Eastern, you're hurting generations of future entrepreneurs, farmers, teachers and politicians. You're hurting dedicated support staff and instructors who give up nights and weekends to help their students. You're creating higher unemployment. You're hurting restaurants, bars, landlords and other businesses. You're hurting business owners and their families who depend on the colleges and students in places like Charleston and DeKalb and Carbondale.

I learned long ago that that's like cutting off your nose and poking out your eyes to spite your face.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois workers' compensation system could be starting point to breaking budget deadlock, GOP leader says

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