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Cross, Frerichs Treasurer Contest Cues up Fierce Clash

Sat, 2014-04-12 14:00
Both the rhetoric and the tactics are heating up in race for State Treasurer, which other than the Governor's race, offers the most potential for drama in Illinois' 2014 campaign season.

While this race may not feature stark ideological differences on social issues, former House GOP Minority Leader Tom Cross and State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) are two well-established pols who are eager to move up and who both have enough political history to make opposition researchers gleeful.

Cross recently went on the offensive after the Governor Pat Quinn's budget address, pinning Frerichs to Quinn's attempt at "doubling down" on the permanent extension of the 2011 income tax hike and generally laying the entire sorry state of the Illinois budget on the "Quinn/Frerichs" leadership of Illinois.

Frerichs' camp counters that Cross is attempting to persuade voters to forget that the former House Minority Leader participated in crafting multiple inflated budgets built on questionable gimmicks over the years. The senator is liberally using the word "hypocrite" to define Cross.

Cross' camp blames Frerichs for the early negative campaign tone, saying that he used his victory speech on primary night to attack Cross for "consistently siding with wealthy and powerful interests in Springfield" and for saying that Cross has "little regard for the middle class."

The early and angry public rhetoric between the Cross and Frerichs camps is undoubtedly the result of a tight race.

The Cross campaign recently released poll results that reveal Cross leading Frerichs 34-30 percent, a lead within the margin of error.

The survey, conducted by GS Strategy Group, found Cross, who is both pro-choice and a supporter of same sex marriage, grabbing an astonishing 21 percent of the vote in Chicago.

That poll, taken March 6 and 7, had an error margin of plus or minus 4.8 percent.

A source in Frerichs' campaign said that its own poll yielded a similar result - essentially a tied race.

But while the public war of words over economic issues is following predictable partisan talking points, an inside source is saying the real drama is heating up behind the scenes.

Frerichs' campaign is reportedly angry that Cross staffers have begun issuing Freedom of Information Requests not only looking for information on Frerichs, but extending their requests to family members in government, including two of Frerichs' brothers who are non-classroom, blue-color employees at the University of Illinois at Champaign.

It is common for opposition researchers to review candidate family members and to tar their opponent with any problematic information. But Frerichs reportedly was unhappy to hear to the news that his family was already being dragged into the fray.

In addition to the FOIA's, Cross' team is considering rehashing an attack line from Frerichs' 2012 campaign for reelection in which his opponent claimed that Frerichs' family moved their trucking business out of state. The business is owned by a distant cousin and the charge is a stretch, but voters often fail to look past the first couple of lines of an attack ad. Frerichs cruised to victory in 2012, but Cross may still think the issue has traction when properly amplified.

The Cross campaign is, however, making it clear that its opposition research operation will avoid any "dumpster diving," saying it will steer clear of any probe of Frerichs' recent divorce settlement.

Frerichs' campaign got off to a rough start when his announcement video featured him touting that he "voted to end free health care for legislators", a measure he actually voted against. But early mistakes are better than late ones, and it is doubtful that it will wound him fatally in the long run.

Still, Frerichs recognizes that he is largely undefined statewide.

"No body knows who the hell we are," said a Frerichs campaign source citing polling data. "An no one knows who Cross is either."

Meanwhile, the Frerichs operation is comfortable with their financial position.

At the end of the fourth quarter, Frerichs reported a significant money advantage over Cross with $800,000 in the bank to Cross' $388,000. And on Tuesday, Frerichs, who had no primary opponent, announced that he had raised $387,000 in the first quarter of 2014 and that he ended with $1,082,000 on hand.

In the first quarter, Cross raised $147,988 in large contributions for his treasurer account and $22,000 for his legislative campaign committee. But he faced a primary opponent and spent nearly $150,000 on broadcast ads, according to one estimate from an ad tracker.

What's next?

Trying to determine the moment when to pull the trigger on advertising to define the candidate and the opponent is the most important question for a campaign. A million dollars is a lot of dough, but that's just a few weeks of a solid TV buy in the Chicago media market.

Still, a pile of unused cash does little for a candidate's poll numbers.

Spend early? Spend late?

That's a key decision that awaits Frerichs.

For observers, only the unfolding campaign drama between Cross and Frerichs awaits.

David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller,
The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.

16 Shot, 2 Fatally, In 12 Hours

Sat, 2014-04-12 12:47
Two people were shot to death and 14 others were wounded in city shootings from Friday afternoon into Saturday morning.

The most recent homicide happened about 9:25 p.m. Friday in the 2700 block of East 76th Street in the South Shore neighborhood on the South Side, police said. A 37-year-old man, who has not yet been officially identified, sustained "multiple" gunshot wounds and died on a front porch of a frame home on that block.

The Best And Worst Predictions From The 1964 World's Fair

Sat, 2014-04-12 10:03

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York World's Fair of 1964 introduced 51 million visitors to a range of technological innovations and predictions during its run. Fifty years later, some of those ideas have turned out to be commonplace in our world. Others? Not so much.

What they had right:

— "Picturephone": Bell System introduced this innovation, which allowed people to see whom they were calling. It didn't go over well at the time, but it's a concept that's an everyday part of our lives now in apps such as Skype and Facetime.

— Personal use of the computer: Several pavilions had exhibits set up where visitors could ask computers for information and get responses in seconds.

— Robotics: Walt Disney's "It's a Small World" exhibit introduced robotic animation in which characters sing, speak and make lifelike gestures such as smiles and blinks. It's still in use in theme parks and movies today.

— Ford Mustang: The two-seater sports car with its long hood and short rear deck was officially unveiled at the World's Fair and immediately became popular. It has remained in production ever since.

— Touch-tone phones: Originally introduced at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962, this was still the first time many visitors were exposed to this technology.

What they had wrong:

— Colonies on the moon, underwater and in Antarctica: The "Futurama 2" ride from General Motors, which featured images of people living in places where they clearly don't.

— Paved-over rainforests: Another image from "Futurama 2" featured a machine that used a laser to cut through the rainforests and left behind paved roads.

— Jet packs: There were demonstrations of jet pack power at the fair, with men wearing them and zooming around the grounds. Sadly, they remain a mode of transport found mainly in science fiction.

Paul Ryan: My Budget Is A Step Toward GOP Unity

Sat, 2014-04-12 09:19
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told an Iowa audience Friday that his party can and must come together, and he held out his recently passed budget plan as a sign of growing GOP unity.

Although blocs of Republicans object to aspects of the plan passed Thursday in the U.S. House, Ryan said it embodies the principles upon which the nation was founded. "Some people wanted to go further, some people thought it went too far. The point is we unified around these common principles in a plan," the Wisconsin congressman told reporters after headlining a state party dinner in Cedar Rapids. "That's very important to me — which is we can't just oppose, we have to propose."

Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, also played down the significance of his speech in Iowa, home of the leadoff presidential nominating caucuses. He declined to discuss plans beyond the election in November, including whether he would seek the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, in light of Michigan Rep. David Camp's decision to retire after 2014.

"It's just premature to get into all that stuff," he said.

Instead he said during his speech that Republicans must unify behind goals.

"We may disagree from time to time on tactics, but let's put it all in perspective and come together and unify on the task," he said after the speech.

Ryan headlined a fundraiser in Illinois before swinging west to Iowa, and he was headed home to southern Wisconsin after Friday night's event. He was invited to headline the Iowa dinner more than a year ago, and spoke to an audience of about 400. The annual spring dinner typically draws would-be presidential candidates as marquee speakers.

Many GOP officials in Iowa, the state where a Ryan presidential campaign would likely start, praised Ryan's effort drafting the budget, including Gov. Terry Branstad. But they also said it's far from perfect.

"I certainly do not endorse all the details in that budget. But I do give him credit for at least trying to do something," Branstad told The Associated Press this week. "I obviously am concerned about those things that would have a negative impact on our state or on our state budget."

Ryan authored the mostly symbolic measure. It promises a balanced federal ledger in 10 years through sweeping cuts in social spending, including major changes to the health care law.

The plan, which also calls for steps toward private market solutions, could be a sort of political credo for Ryan, should he seek the presidency.

Under the plan passed in the GOP-controlled House, Congress would repeal the Medicaid component of the 2010 health care bill. Last year, Branstad, like several GOP governors, agreed to expand and modify the state-administered health care plan for poor people, with the understanding that the federal government would provide financing for the expansion for three years before gradually decreasing the portion to 90 percent.

The GOP plan would cut more than $5 trillion over the coming decade. It would rely on sharp cuts to domestic programs, but leave Social Security untouched and shift more money to the Pentagon and health care for veterans. The cuts would come at the expense of poor people and seniors on Medicaid, lower-income workers receiving the health care law's subsidies, and people receiving food stamps or Pell Grants.

"House Republicans put our votes on the line, and we passed for the fourth year in a row a budget that balances the budget and pays off our debt," Ryan said, in his lone mention of the measure during his 20 minute speech Friday night.

The comment sparked a slow roll of applause across the banquet hall. But, several other Iowa GOP leaders and candidates said it would not go far enough.

Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler said "conservatives certainly don't like it," chiefly because it does not project a balanced budget until 2024.

Ten years is too long, said U.S. House candidate Matt Schultz, Iowa's secretary of state.

"We've got to start making serious decisions now," said Schultz. "A budget that says, '10 years from now,' is not good enough."

But the six-way GOP field for the June 3 primary Schultz is running in is divided on the measure, according to interviews with other 3rd District candidates.

"It moves the ball down the field," David Young, a former senior aide to Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, said of Ryan's plan. "And that's a good thing."

But it would allow increased total spending next year, the ultimate problem for conservatives, said former state GOP executive director Chuck Laudner.

"It's the same trap, even if the numbers add up," Laudner said. "People can't get past that opening paragraph: We're going to spend more."

News Anchor Caught Off Guard By Lab-Grown Vaginas: 'That Was A Tough Story For Me To Read' (VIDEO)

Fri, 2014-04-11 16:28
A Chicago morning news team earned itself yet another gold star for awkwardness during a Friday segment on -- wait for it -- lab-grown vaginas.

WGN Morning News anchor Robin Baumgarten could barely hold it together during the segment about four teenage girls who successfully received the lab-grown organs and confessed at the end of the clip, "That was a tough story for me to read, I just want you to know that."

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Baumgarten's colleagues, including co-anchor Larry Potash, wasted no time chiming in with the wisecracks.

"A coochie-coo? Is that better? Just say what it is, it's just biology," Potash said, adding, "I just did a story about the Wig and Penis."

Another anchor off-camera chimed in on the exchange: "Put your stories together and you'll have something going on!"

No stranger to off-the-wall moments that range from reporting on a fake plane crash to coining infamous phrases like "sweater stretchers" and "caboose pistol," WGN Morning News has pretty much cornered the market on hilariously awkward newscasts by now.

Don't ever change, WGN. Don't ever change.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal George Asks Church To Begin Process To Find His Successor

Fri, 2014-04-11 16:21
CHICAGO (AP) — Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago who is being treated for cancer, said Friday that the Roman Catholic Church has agreed to begin formally searching for his successor as head of the nation's third-largest diocese.

George spoke about his most recent bout with cancer while meeting with reporters to share his thoughts on the canonizations later this month of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. George had been scheduled to travel to Rome for the April 27 canonizations, but canceled his plans on the advice of his doctors. A recent infection forced him to be hospitalized for a week, delaying the start of his second round of chemotherapy, and doctors were worried that he could be vulnerable to another infection during the trip, George said. "I can't do that, it would be very foolish," he said of traveling against that advice. "I'm not going to do something dangerous. ... But I'll be there in prayer."

George spoke admiringly of both popes and said of John Paul that he was down to earth and had an ironic sense of humor even while being "a monumental figure."

"He was a genius and a poet and a philosopher and a very, very kind bishop and a saint," he said. "When you talked to him you had the sense that he was also having a conversation with the Lord, that there were three people in that conversation."

The 77-year-old said it was time to begin the search for his successor as the spiritual leader of Chicago's more than 2 million Roman Catholics. He said he has spoken with the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador, who agreed to formally begin the process. That follows a resignation letter he submitted when he turned 75, as all bishops are required to do at that age. But many bishops continue serve beyond that point, and George had said at the time that he hoped the pope would not immediately accept the resignation and allow him to serve two or three more years.

"The fact that my health is uncertain — it isn't a question of imminent death; I'm not going to be dying, I don't think, in the next few months — but it's a question of being able to spend your entire energy on what is my responsibility as archbishop of Chicago," George said. "... Now, it looks as if I'm going to have to be spending a little more attention on my health. And so it's just not fair to the archdiocese."

George said the formal succession process is lengthy and will begin soon, although he had no precise timeframe.

He has resumed his chemotherapy after being hospitalized for an infection that left him dehydrated and with flu-like symptoms. The cancer is near his right kidney.

George survived bladder cancer eight years ago and was diagnosed with urothelial cancer in 2012.

He had planned to meet with Pope Francis during the visit to Rome and said he still hopes to do so on another occasion.

George still intends to participate in the Holy Week services and Easter Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral.

Illinois Man With Infectious TB Must Stay Home Alone, Judge Says

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:52

CHICAGO, April 11 (Reuters) - An Illinois judge on Friday ordered a disobedient patient with infectious tuberculosis to wear an ankle bracelet and stay home alone or be taken into custody.

Christian Mbemba Ibanda, of Champaign, Illinois, failed to appear at a hearing for which Judge Chase Leonhard and his entire courtroom had been fitted with protective masks to guard against the highly contagious disease.

Authorities later found Ibanda, who is in his 20s, and he is now wearing an ankle bracelet, said Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde.

Pryde, who sought the order, said the man had refused to come to the hearing and told her he was staying home.

However, when a team of health officials arrived at his apartment in Champaign, about 140 miles (225 km) south of Chicago, it was vacant. Pryde slapped a sign on the door reading "Quarantine. Contagious Disease. Keep Out."

Ibanda was diagnosed in March with active pulmonary tuberculosis, and was ordered to stay home on his own and await a nurse's daily visit to administer medication, Pryde said.

"We go and he's not there," she said before the hearing.

On previous occasions, when health workers contacted Ibanda by phone, he had said he was out shopping and "basically told us he has things to do," Pryde said.

Another time, he was found to be home with a woman and a 5-year-old girl, both sleeping in the house and neither wearing masks, she said.

Ibanda could not be reached for comment.

Pryde said it was not immediately clear whether Ibanda would face consequences for failing to show up at Friday's proceeding.

Tuberculosis is a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease with symptoms including night sweats and extreme exhaustion and is spread through sneezing or coughing.

Unlike some forms of multidrug-resistant TB, active pulmonary tuberculosis responds to drug therapy. If Ibanda was compliant, he could be rendered noninfectious in five weeks and cured in six months to a year, Pryde said.

It is not known how Ibanda contracted the disease.

In a similar case in 2009, another Champaign TB patient was in court-ordered isolation for about six weeks and, after a year of therapy, he was cured of TB, Pryde said. (Editing by Matthew Lewis and Mohammad Zargham)

You Can't Buy Ikea's Newest Item In Stores, But It Just May Change The World

Fri, 2014-04-11 14:31
Ikea just got one step closer to going off the grid.

The Swedish home goods giant, best known for its affordable and efficiently flat-packed furniture, announced Tuesday the purchase of a 98-megawatt wind farm in Hoopestown, Ill.

The farm, about 110 miles south of Chicago, marks the company's single-largest renewable energy investment to date.

“It’s about taking care of the environment and living within our means," Rob Olson, chief financial officer of Ikea U.S., told the Tribune Thursday.

The Hoopestown wind farm is currently under construction and expected to be up and running by the first part of 2015, the company said in a statement. Upon its completion, the farm is expected to generate up to 380 gigawatt hours of renewable energy a year, or the equivalent of taking 55,000 cars off the road annually. The company says the projected output represents the energy consumed by 70 Ikea stores or 18 percent of the electricity used by the Ikea Group worldwide.

“We are committed to renewable energy and to running our business in a way that minimizes our carbon emissions, not only because of the environmental impact, but also because it makes good financial sense,” Olson said according to the news release.

Terms of the deal weren't released, though the company said Charlottesville, Va.-based Apex Clean Energy will run the farm on Ikea's behalf.

Back in 2012, the company announced a roughly $2 billion stratedy to be energy independent by 2020.

Currently, Ikea owns wind farms in eight other countries including Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden. The company also boasts sizeable solar energy investments with 90 percent of its U.S. stores generating solar power, Forbes reports.

Other big energy-consuming corporations like Wal-Mart, Intel, Whole Foods, Khol's and Google have already invested heavily in wind power and other renewable energy sources.

Greg Hasevlat, a sustainability research analyst at Pax World Management LLC, told the Tribune beyond corporate responsibility, the investments are way to maintain some stability despite volatile and ever-fluctuating fossil fuel costs.

“All those stores in aggregate consume a lot of electricity,’’ Hasevlat said. “These are not small investments, these are long term business decisions.”

U.S. Legal Pot Sales To Hit $8 Billion A Year In 2018: Report

Fri, 2014-04-11 14:02
Combined sales of legal recreational and medical marijuana in the United States is projected to reach more than $8 billion in 2018. That's according to a new report by Marijuana Business Daily citing data from the Marijuana Business Factbook, which forecasts that the 2018 retail marijuana industry could see an estimated $7.4 to $8.2 billion in sales.

The projection is based on sales estimates from the state-legal medical and recreational marijuana markets that already exist, as well as 4-5 additional states that are expected to legalize recreational marijuana and 2-3 states expected to legalize medical marijuana by 2018.

Currently, there are 20 states with legal medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington have both legalized recreational marijuana and about a dozen other states are expected to legalize marijuana in some form in the coming years.

“This total is conservative –- the reality of retail sales could be larger,” Chris Walsh, editor of CannaBusiness Media, the publisher of both the Factbook and Marijuana Business Daily, said in a statement. “Nor does it include wholesale cannabis sales, or the billions of dollars in ancillary cannabusiness revenues such as growing equipment, real estate, legal fees, testing labs, paraphernalia, etc.”

Walsh's suggestion that sales could exceed that $8 billion mark is supported by another recent study that projects that the U.S. marijuana industry could be worth $10 billion by 2018.

If Colorado's first two months of legal recreational sales are any sign, the market nationally could see tremendous revenues. In January alone, 59 marijuana dispensaries -- a small fraction of the approximately 550 total dispensaries in the state that could qualify to sell legal cannabis -- generated $14 million in sales. Sales were also up slightly in February, bringing in a two-month total of about $7.6 million in medical and recreational taxes and fees into the state's coffers.

Why Is John Cullerton Talking About Sunshine, Rainbows and Liking Illinois?

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:32

Senate President John Cullerton says he likes Illinois. And it's in writing too, so it would be hard for anyone to dispute him on that fact. Cullerton wrote an op-ed saying despite it being "not all sunshine and rainbows" in Illinois, he is optimistic about the state's future because of the progress he says the state has made the past five years.

What progress you may say? Cullerton has it all laid out for you in his op-ed.


Cullerton definitely says he likes Illinois, but why? It could be for the reasons he laid out in his op-ed, or perhaps it's because he read our awesome list of 25 Illinois fun facts which you can read too.


The One Question I Am Asked In Every Country I Visit

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:17
I have been asked about Miley Cyrus a handful of times during my travels abroad. I am often asked if I know someone named "John" who also lives in New York City.

But the only question I have been asked on every coast of every country I've visited is: "Why do Americans love guns so much?"

One of my Tasmanian friends wants to travel to the U.S. but told me she is "scared I'll be shot." A New Zealander informed me last night that, were she to summarize the U.S. in one word, it would be: "violent." My Saudi Arabian friend gently suggested, "Every country has its problems. Yours is guns."

As the U.S. repeatedly fails to prevent gun violence, I find myself often slipping into a disillusioned resignation that perhaps this is just how the world is now. But what is happening in America is not normal.

I was studying in an American middle school classroom the day two high-schoolers entered Columbine High School and shot to death 12 students and one teacher.

I was traveling alone for the first time in Belgium when a student killed 32 people on Virginia Tech's campus, and a street vendor asked me if I was scared to return to a U.S. university.

I was in India when a boy shot a 14-year-old student in the neck outside an Atlanta middle school, and a driver asked me why America's children keep shooting other children.

I was in Japan when a 10-year-old boy was accidentally shot to death while playing with other children in Ohio and the Senate rejected efforts to expand gun control.

I was in Tasmania, Australia when a soldier shot and killed fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. The second time.

Tasmania knows gun violence. The country's southernmost state -- which boasts one of the tallest tree species on Earth, the world's best single malt whisky, and pre-Looney Tunes Tasmanian devils -- is also where, one Sunday in 1996, a young man shot 35 people to death.

Tasmania knows what it's like to have a community brought to its knees as media swarm for quotes, scoops and then disappear as the more fixed pain sets in. But when Australia witnessed dozens of its citizens murdered one weekend afternoon, it did something rather foreign to America: it enacted change. Australians turned in nearly 700,000 guns and laws were tightened. There were 11 mass shootings in Australia the decade before 1996. There have been no mass shootings ever since.

Our nation may see itself as a gun-toting "Dirty Harry" hero, but some regard us more as an immature brute unwilling to pry his fingers off deadly toys, drunk on a wildly wealthy gun lobby's stale elixir mislabeled as American pride.

I do not believe that everyone looks at our country's gun obsession with bewilderment and ridicule. But the small percentage of the world's population that I've met sure do.

When I try to explain to my baffled new friends that, well, some Americans feel safer with guns, I get blank stares. Maybe because a study last year found that guns do not make a country safer, and "There was a significant correlation between guns per head per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths." A separate report last year found that many of the states with weak gun laws also saw the greatest levels of gun violence.

When I suggest that some people believe unrestricted gun ownership is their Second Amendment right, I get cocked heads. Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia found that "the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."

When I ask my international friends why they don't own guns, I get blinks of confusion. "I'm not a hunter," an Australian co-worker suggested. "It's just not our culture," my friend in Japan shrugged.

Australia's former Prime Minister John Howard explained in a New York Times op-ed last year that in his country, "The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun."

Gun Owners of America's Larry Pratt responded to Australia's initiative: "We're not interested in being like Australia. We're Americans."

Perhaps that's the trouble: A hijacking of the word "American." My passport reads "United States of America," I've voted in every election since turning 18 (and before that I voted in the first three seasons of American Idol.) I grew up on North Carolina hushpuppies, New York bagels, California avocados and Florida orange juice. But I choose life over guns, and it's time that became "American."

Where Did the Good Jobs Go?

Fri, 2014-04-11 13:15
Several days ago, the Labor Department released its most recent figures -- 192,000 new jobs were created in March. That's good news, right? Not necessarily. It's not just the quantity of jobs but the quality that matters, and the quality isn't there.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released its own set of data, identifying the fastest growing and largest employment sectors this week. Its findings were sobering but unfortunately not unexpected. As of May 2013, the most recent date for which data is available, the lion's share of jobs are increasingly in low-wage industries such as food service (including fast food, food preparation and waiting tables), office administration, retail, and customer service. With the exception of nursing, average wages for the 10 most common occupations ranged from $18,800 to $34,000. In light of this new data, it's clear that we're overlooking an important angle. If our economy is in recovery, with new jobs being created and profits on the rise, why are wages declining? And how are these low-wage workers making ends meet?

If we look at the numbers, we can see that the answer is simple: They aren't. Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, is based in Illinois, where the average yearly wage for a cashier is $21,250, or $10.22 an hour. This simply isn't a wage you can live off of and as these jobs have multiplied, so has the number of families relying on government programs such as food stamps to make ends meet. Today, one in seven Americans utilize this program -- in 2007 there were less than half as many.

With monthly benefits averaging $130 per person, these low-income workers must spend their food stamp dollars in the most economical possible manner or go hungry. Often, they end up shopping at local discount stores -- which rely largely on low-wage labor -- perpetuating the cycle. These families work hard but can't get by, they rely on benefits to close the gap but have no choice but to patronize the businesses that keep wages low in the first place. That's a cycle that's bad for families, bad for communities and bad for the economy.

We don't have to accept this as a give -- or pick between profitable businesses and well-paid workers. Costco is a great example of this -- it pays its employees an average of just over $20 per hour with pensions and health insurance available and its profits have grown 15 percent annually since 2009. By paying workers well, we also create a cycle -- one we want to encourage. Well-paid workers spend their increased income in their communities, helping to lift their families out of poverty and create thriving local businesses. As communities grow, they become more attractive to businesses looking to invest, bringing new job opportunities and furthering the cycle of growth, which can minimize ties to government programs and help balance our nation's budget. It's a cycle that leads to stability, rather than stagnation and poverty.

In America, short-sighted policy decisions are an issue we're faced with on a consistent basis. Poverty doesn't exist in a bubble; those who receive government benefits increasingly live in a household in which someone works full-time year-round. The problem isn't that there are too few jobs -- it's that there are too few jobs that pay a living wage. Let's take the long view on this. A higher minimum wage would reward work and decrease the need for government benefits and it needn't strip businesses of a healthy profit margin. It's time to decide where our priorities are and make the investment our workers deserve.

An Overwhelming Number Of Fast Food Workers Report Getting Ripped Off By Their Bosses: Poll

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:31
Before she got fed up and quit last month, it wasn't uncommon for Darenisha Mills to keep working after her shift ended at the McDonald's in Pontiac, Mich., where she was a cashier.

"They're asking you to clean the bathrooms, sweep the lobby, run the register," the 26-year-old told The Huffington Post, "but they don't pay you anything for the time you work over."

The formal name for that is wage theft, which occurs when an employer withholds pay rightfully earned by an hourly worker. It happens in a variety of ways, from not paying for overtime, to denying mandated breaks, to subtracting hours from employees' weekly total.

A recent poll commissioned by labor group Fast Food Forward estimates that a stunning 89 percent of fast-food workers have experienced at least one form of wage theft. A previous study, conducted in the first half of 2008 before the recession, found 68 percent of low-wage workers had been victims of wage theft in their previous work week, and estimated that wage theft cost workers an average of $2,634 annually.

"The survey [from Fast Food Forward] lays bare the fact that wage theft is rampant," said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which advocates for low-wage workers and performed the 2008 survey. "It's pervasive throughout our economy."

"They want to keep labor costs very low," said Kwanza Brooks, 37, who was a McDonald's manager for over a decade in Maryland and North Carolina before quitting a couple years ago. "Taking the wages was the only way they could control it," says Brooks, who now volunteers for Fast Food Forward in Charlotte.

The Fast Food Forward poll found that 84 percent of McDonald's workers who responded had experienced wage theft. Hart Research conducted the online survey between Feb. 15 and March 19 on behalf of "Low Pay Is Not OK," a campaign affiliated with Fast Food Forward. The poll surveyed 1,088 fast food employees, including workers at Wendy's and Burger King, in the top 10 metro areas nationally.

McDonald's cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from the survey. In a statement the company called it a "small, random informal sampling." The company said it believed workers should be paid correctly.

McDonald's and its franchisees are now facing six lawsuits in three states, involving tens of thousands of employees, claiming various wage theft violations.

Wage theft can become increasingly common in times of high unemployment, experts say. "When people are desperate for jobs, they're afraid to risk them by taking on their boss," said Ross Eisenbrey, of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

And because the amounts of wages being withheld are often small, it can be hard for a low-wage worker to find an attorney willing to take their case.

For their part, fast-food managers are under "tremendous pressure" to keep labor costs low, especially when sales are sluggish, said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Companies may also engage in the practice when the risk of getting caught is low. There aren't nearly enough U.S. Department of Labor investigators to enforce the laws, said Gebreselassie. He added, "The chance any worksite will be investigated is miniscule."

Nevertheless, the issue of wage theft has been getting increased attention in recent months. In March, the owner of seven McDonald's restaurants in New York was ordered to pay almost $500,000 to more than 1,000 employees who performed work off the clock and had other pay illegally withheld.

The restaurant chain's sales have been slumping of late, and executives acknowledged recently that the company's menu had grown complicated and less appealing to customers.

Drink Like The Truthiest American This Weekend By Channeling Stephen Colbert

Fri, 2014-04-11 12:00
Happy Friday! Welcome to Drink Like A Famous Person, where we let you bring out your fabulous side in the name of some well-earned R&R. Eschew your regular habits this weekend by drinking like...

Stephen Colbert!

Our very favorite Lord of the Rings superfan and faux-conservative news host will be leaving his right-wing alter ego behind for new adventures in late night as he replaces David Letterman next year. Let's show off our own patriotic sides by mixing up...

The "Colbert Bump"!

Back in 2009, Colbert hosted Esquire magazine's resident mixologist, David Wondrich, whom he implored to create a namesake cocktail on his own behalf. Named after the bump in popularity candidates are scientifically proven to enjoy after appearing on "The Colbert Report," you'll need your very best "good ol' Republican gin" for this one -- by the look of things, that'd be Seagrams or Beefeater.

Fill a highball glass three-quarters full of ice as cold as a bald eagle's glare, and stir in the following in order:

1 ounce cherry liquor
1.5 ounces gin
1/4 ounce lemon juice
Splash of soda

Watch Colbert totally own a game of Tolkien trivia with James Franco below.


Teen Asks Netflix To Prom Via Twitter, Netflix Says Yes

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:34
How to become the coolest, most popular guy in high school? Ask Netflix to prom.

Muthana Sweis, a 17-year-old from Chicago, asked Netflix via Twitter if the streaming company would go with him to junior prom if his tweet got 1,000 retweets.

Hey @netflix if this gets 1,000 retweets will you go to my junior prom with me?

— Muthana Sweis (@muthanasweis) January 30, 2014

We said yes! We’re third wheeling to #Prom2014 with @muthanasweis and his date:

— Netflix US (@netflix) March 28, 2014

Of course, Netflix obliged, and also decided to hook up Sweis with a bunch of cool swag from iconic movies and TV shows -- a tux, a car and a driver.

Sweis picked James Bond's "Skyfall" tux (kid's got class) and the 1950's Buick from "Grease," with a Danny Zuko look-alike behind the wheel. The teen was given the the choice to ride in one of Don Draper's gorgeous cars or Walt and Jesse's meth mobile from "Breaking Bad," but maybe the latter was a little too edgy.

Netflix sent a camera crew to Sweis' hometown and followed him all the way to prom where nearly every student hopped into an Instagram photo with him -- further proof that Netflix isn't just a great date for when you're home alone binge-watching in bed.

[h/t Adweek, Uproxx]

Are These Really the '10 Best Cities' in Illinois?

Fri, 2014-04-11 11:06

It's not scientific in any way, and rankings were determined by a real estate blog, but it still presents an interesting discussion point.

What are the 10 best cities in Illinois?

Movoto thinks they know the answer to that question. According to Movoto, north suburban Northbrook is the top city in Illinois. In fact, you can stay in the north suburbs for the top four cities.

Then stay in the north and west suburbs for the rest of the list. No downstate cities are on the list. No southern suburbs. No Chicago.

Do you agree with Movoto?


One of the criteria Movoto used in their rankings was median income. Obviously, if a city has millionaires, that would raise the median income. And speaking of millionaires, they have reason to be happy today (besides, you know, being millionaires). House Speaker Michael Madigan pulled the plug on a proposed millionaire tax amendment.


WATCH: The Amazing Story of How This Astronaut Went to Space, Went Blind and Returned to Earth Will Leave You in Awe

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:59
He tweeted from the International Space Station. Now astronaut Chris Hadfield tells the amazing story of going blind in space. Then he covers David Bowie, just because.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.
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23 Real Struggles Of Going To A Music Festival

Fri, 2014-04-11 10:05
Hundreds of thousands have experienced it.

Days without food and water. Scorching temperatures. Difficulty finding shelter. Sound like a life or death situation? Well it sort of is, because you're attending a music festival. While festivals can be an insane party with 60,000 of your best friends, they can also become a living hell of sweat, grime and body odor. Just in time for Coachella 2014, here are the 23 reasons why America's much-hyped music festivals can actually be the worst.

1. Solving the lineup puzzle before you attend the festival is impossible.

Releasing clues like this doesn't make it easy to guess what the lineup will be. "Hey, Instagram followers! We're just gonna post an obscure picture of a band's artwork, so you can go crazy for the next 15 hours trying to figure out who will be playing!" No thanks, just give us the lineups please.

2. Getting friends to commit means 6,000 text messages.


Once you've gotten over the fact that you're investing most of your life savings into one purchase, rounding up friends becomes the next challenge. Enjoy those wasted work days of group messaging, Facebook messages and threads that reach 200+ emails... and then deal with collecting money.

3. Just getting to the festival is a struggle.

You just dropped $400 on a festival ticket, but now you have to buy a plane ticket, rent an RV and figure out which friend is going to "volunteer" to drive everyone to the obscure festival location. Oh, and good luck fitting everyone's luggage in the trunk.

4. You will immediately lose all of your worldly possessions.

Including but not limited to: friends, phone, car, car keys, cooler, sunscreen, sunglasses, venue wristband, wallet, everything inside said wallet, turquoise rings, clothing, dignity, sanity, happiness, consciousness...

5. Your quest for food is reduced to scavenging.

How do you pack fresh food for a three-day festival? You don't. Those Doritos and granola bars you packed will disappear by the time you arrive at the venue, and you'll most likely spend your life savings on festival food.

6. Water costs roughly $45.

The price fluctuates based on the gold standard (we assume), but you can easily secure a bottle by trading your first born or one of your vital organs once you make it to the water station. Seems reasonable.

7. Your phone battery will die at the worst possible time.

Your phone will never be charged enough for the all the Snapchats, Instagram pics, real pics, videos and "muploads" you want to take. Is your favorite band about to take the stage? Congratulations, your battery just died.

8. You will never look as Instagram-worthy as you think you do.

Celebrities always seem to make music fests their boho-chic runways. But your plans on gracing Instagram in that adorable skirt, crop top and floppy hat are foiled when you discover your hair has turned into one giant dreadlock, your body is as red as the surface of Mars and your face is oilier than a BP spill. And that fringe skirt? Destroyed by mud.

9. Committing to your favorite band means sitting through five acts you don't know.

You and your friends are only at the concert to see one band -- the same band that you've followed since 7th grade. The only problem? You have to sit through six other acts without letting go of your friend's hand or you'll lose her forever, and most of the time the other acts aren't even that good.

10. You're sweating like crazy... except when you're shivering.

After the sun is done destroying your body in every way possible, get ready for the cool desert nights to set in. Your day sweat will turn to icicles just in time for you to shiver yourself to sleep in the front seat of your car or whatever patch of grass you end up passing out in after a 4am set.

11. You will beg for rain to relieve you, then immediately curse its presence.

Just beware that when the apocalypse sets in and your tent starts to leak, Noah's ark won't be coming to save you and it's every festival goer for themselves.

12. Bathrooms will become your own version of the Hunger Games.

May the odds be ever in your favor, because nothing will stress you out more than trying not to pee your jorts in a three-mile long line to the port-a-potty. Just wait until paranoia sets in. "Will there be toilet paper? Did that man just throw up in the stall I'm walking into? Oh my God, is that... a dead person?!" Oh, and ladies, if you're on your period, you might as well just wait for toxic shock syndrome to set in.

13. Your shoes will be destroyed.

Gladiator sandals? Bloody mess. Sneakers? Blisters for days. If you wear flip flops, you'll lose them in a mud pit. And that nonchalant Kate-Moss-in-wellies-at-Glastonbury look? Save it for the pros (also remember she probably packed a dozen alternative pairs of shoes to change into).

14. You will smell terrible, and so will everyone around you.

Forget showering and even the faintest notion that putting on deodorant will help your BO. Making your way through the music festival will soon become smelling your way through the music festival.

15. Occasionally the performances don't live up to expectations.

It's inevitable: Performers won't take the stage on time, and once they do, those performers might be stumbling around and vomiting on stage. Oh, and there's a good chance that they don't sound as good in person as they did on your favorite album, recorded in a studio. That's fine... except you just paid $400 to see them live. Awesome.

16. The celebrities will totally show you and your friends up... because they're now being paid to attend.

The real reason those celebrities that float by you to the VIP section look amazing? It's because of the $20,000 they're pulling in to attend the festival in their sponsored clothing and smiles. And, as sorry as we are to say it, you'll never be ever to pull off that Vanessa Hudgens look unless you bring your own team of people with you, too.

17. The festival lineups are all starting to look eerily identical...

Kings of Leon, Outkast, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire -- they're all headlining multiple festivals across the globe this year, on top of the festivals they've already played in the recent past. We hope you like the Avett Brothers -- you'll be seeing them on multiple stages. Same goes for Vampire Weekend. Wouldn't it be nice to see some new faces headlining these fests once in a while?

18. Crowdsurfers and hula-hoopers will make you kind of loathe humankind.

People you will likely encounter at a festival: "fairies" hula-hooping, people violently dancing -- sorry, "feeling" the music, sweaty people with their shirts off, people who are still really into mosh pits, crowdsurfers attempting to break your neck and countless pushy concertgoers who you'll have to box out for three hours during your front row adventure at Mumford & Sons. Also, special shout-out to the people watching the concert through the lens of their iPhones (or worse, iPads).

19. But the truly special people are the ones who bring their children to festivals.

"A baby? Someone seriously brought a child to this?" Yes, they did. Perhaps the parents can find some daytime babysitters from among the tweens in their barely-there neon rave gear. Did their parents drive them there?

20. It seems like everyone is drunk, hallucinating, high or passed out.

Everyone has their own idea of fun, but watching the guy on ten tabs of acid wig out is never a great moment, and neither is carrying your friend who's passed out from heat exhaustion to the medical tent. And getting thrown up on by that random drunk girl before your favorite show? Never fun.

21. It's impossible to get sleep, and you will go crazy. Seriously. Crazy.

Get ready to sleep in places that you no one could pay you to lie down in any other time of the year. Your other option? "Selling out" and getting a hotel room or an RV so you can actually be well-rested and enjoy the music. Either way, try to avoid loud crowds. Guy with the stereo blasting all night? Dead to us.

22. But giving up is not an option.

Are you tired? Feeling exhausted? Want to give up? Sick of sleeping in a van? Well, good luck, because there is no escaping. Especially after you paid all that money...

23. But you'll be sad when the festival is over... and want to do it all again

By the end of the festival, you'll feel like you've gone through a pop cultural war zone and somehow made it out alive. You'll have pics to prove that you went, survived and conquered, plus more than enough selective memories to last a lifetime... or at least long enough to ensure that you're going again next year.

This Web Series Proves Internet Cat Videos Aren't A Waste Of Time

Fri, 2014-04-11 09:18
When "Ken" signed up for a language tutor through, the last thing he was expecting was a beret-wearing cat to show up at his door in search of a feline lady love.

Curious? That's the point of the improbable -- and entirely fictional -- story told by the Chicago-based web series, "CATastrophes."

Promising that "funny things happen when cats appear," the series casts cats from local no-kill shelters in the starring roles. The hope, says "CATastrophes" co-creator Alana Grelyak, is that viewers will see playful cats in funny situations and want to adopt an animal for adventures of their own.

"[The films] get people into a different mindframe," Grelyak told The Huffington Post. "We're hoping that while we're making people laugh and putting adorable kittens in their face, we can get the message across and have a whole new audience reached."

In 2013, Grelyak and her husband, Michael Gabriele, were looking for a way to build their respective film reels -- hers for writing and acting and his for directing. The pair entered 2013's feline-themed film competition, Catdance, where their first video, “Catalogue,” racked up nearly half a million YouTube views and was later picked up for The Walker Art Center's Internet Cat Video Festival.

Following the competition, Grelyak started a blog about special needs cat adoption, "Cat In The Fridge." When their second one-off video, “The Inheritance,” found Internet success, the pair wanted to see if they could push adoption and related issues by launching the "CATastrophes" series.

"There's a whole set of people who aren't getting reached by the animal welfare agencies," Grelyak said, referring to ad spots like the well-known tearjerker singer Sarah McLachlan created in 2007 for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "I'm a huge animal welfare proponent and I can't even watch those!"

A revelation came to Grelyak when she attended the pet-oriented social media and marketing conference, BlogPaws, last year.

"I was talking to people and a lot of them were feeling the same way: They were tired of having their heartstrings tugged and feeling guilted into giving money [to shelters]," Grelyak said. "We wanted to do it in a fun way. We didn't want to show animals sad or miserable. We wanted to show people, 'Here's how much fun you can have adopting a cat.'"

So far, "CATastrophes" shorts have featured cats from the Tree House Humane Society and Chicago Cat Rescue. "We write around what we think the cats can do," Grelyak explained. "We try to find out what the cats like to do and then write the [human] actors around them."

"The extra exposure of what they're doing is so creative and it's reaching new audiences," Jenny Schlueter, development director of Tree House Humane Society, told HuffPost. "Having a fresh perspective from someone who works outside the shelter is really valuable."

While the "CATastrophes" series spotlights local shelters and their cats, Grelyak is using her blog to get support for the shelters themselves. Already, she's helped Tree House secure professional social media work, 5,000 donated meals and a $2,500 grant.

In the future, Grelyak says she and Gabriele want to spotlight shelters in other states -- the two fund "CATastrophes" out of their own pockets -- and maybe extend roles to shelter dogs or even internet cat superstars like Lil' Bub, who recently endorsed "CATastrophes" on her YouTube channel.

"You may see some guest stars in the future," Grelyak said.

Calling All Pagans

Fri, 2014-04-11 08:25
Somewhere between these two quotes lies the future:

"And I would like to emphasize that nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."

"The Judeo-Christian worldview is that man is at the center of the universe; nature was therefore created for man. Nature has no intrinsic worth other than man's appreciation and moral use of it."

The first quote is from Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, summing up the dire and much-discussed findings of its recent report: Human civilization -- its technology, its war games, its helpless short-sightedness and addiction to fossil fuels -- is wrecking the environment that sustains all life. Time is running out on our ability to make changes; and the world's, uh, "leadership" -- political, corporate -- has shown little will to step beyond more of the same, to figure out how we can reduce carbon emissions and live in eco-harmony, with a sense of responsibility for the future.

The second quote is from radio talk-show host Dennis Prager, writing recently in the National Review Online. He goes on, in his remarkable rant against environmentalism, to point out that "worship of nature was the pagan worldview" and "for the Left, the earth has supplanted patriotism." Eventually he compares environmentalism to loving wild dogs more than mauled children.

Prager's diatribe isn't my normal reading matter and I only bring it up here because I think it has relevance to the leadership void I've been pondering. The contemptuous dismissal of nature as lacking intrinsic worth -- an unworthy competitor with God for human allegiance -- may no longer have mainstream credibility, but, like racism, it's part of the mindset that has shaped Western civilization.

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

We're still caught up in the momentum of dominion. Thus: ". . . for all the alarming warnings generated by the scientific community and confirmed by the IPCC's comprehensive analysis of that science," according to a recent Common Dreams article, "world governments and the powerful private sector have done next to nothing to meet the challenge now before humanity."

Indeed, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in The New Yorker: "Currently, instead of discouraging fossil-fuel use, the U.S. government underwrites it, with tax incentives for producers worth about four billion dollars a year."

We've got, as the IPCC report states, "a 15-year window" to start making serious changes in how we structure our world. Human society will need, the Common Dreams piece says, to "revolutionize the structures of its economies, food systems, and energy grids."

This is not going to happen -- not at current levels of awareness, concern and empowerment. This is the dawning realization I find myself less and less able to live with. Climate change and global weather chaos -- droughts and fires, tsunamis and tidal waves, crop failure, undrinkable water, devastating cold, rising oceans, new levels of social turmoil -- are the future we are unable to hold off. But maybe we can start learning, at long last, that we are not the masters of the universe and that "dominion" and exploitation are immature expressions of power.

My only hope is that, in so learning -- as humanity finds itself increasingly entangled with environmental chaos and recognizes its utter vulnerability to nature -- we will begin to transcend our isolated sense of entitlement to do with Planet Earth what we will and revolutionize the way we organize every aspect of our social structure, rethinking ten millennia of dominance-motivated social organization. Nobody, after all, no matter how wealthy and fortified, is immune to the impact of a changing climate.

We're all in it together. We're part of nature, not its master. This concept is the missing foundation stone of contemporary civilization.

It was in this state of mind that I read Prager's essay, wondering if such an awareness change were possible, or whether, as the consequences of unsustainable living intensified, we'd become, instead, increasingly isolated and survivalist in our thinking.

"Worship of nature was the pagan worldview," he wrote, sounding the note of ultimate contempt for any suggestion that environmental sustainability matters and our way of life needs to change profoundly.

Perhaps the word "pagan" embodies the most deeply embedded prejudice in the Western, civilized mindset -- the first and last justification for global dominance. Pagans are the ultimate "other." We've built a moral structure on this prejudice, and as a consequence the U.S. government continues to subsidize rather than tax fossil fuel production. As a consequence, we're far more prepared to go to war than we are to make peace with the planet.

We have to undo this prejudice before it undoes us.

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