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Illinois Bond Deal a Good Deal Only in the Most Optimistic Interpretation

Thu, 2016-06-23 11:49
For many years, whenever I typed the words "Illinois credit downgrade" in an editorial or column, I could practically feel my readers' eyes glaze over. As important as a government's credit rating is, stories describing the state's descent from Aa3 to Baa2 and the nuances of the bond market hardly could compete with political headlines that saw, among many other fascinating things, a governor being hauled out of bed by the FBI and booked for trying to sell the president-elect's U.S. Senate seat.

Credit rating downgrades are abstract, their effects spread over many years and they're hard to comprehend. There was nothing abstract about Rod Blagojevich looking stunned in his running suit in a mug shot. Or in a more modern example, about Bruce Rauner calling Democrats corrupt and Democrats claiming Rauner is trying to destroy the middle class.

Lately though, with news of Illinois' crumbling credit arriving bundled with well publicized bad news about our budget-free state's overall financial collapse, I've sensed that more and more people are starting to understand why this not only is important news that they should know, but also the kind of aggravating bad news that they need to know.

A report last week from the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois put a $12 million price tag on the credit rating downgrades Illinois incurred two weeks ago from Moody's Investors Services and S&P Global Ratings.

That's the amount in extra interest Illinois taxpayers will pay on $550 million in construction-related borrowing last week because of the state's newly demoted credit score.

If Illinois had the same credit rating it had 10 years ago, taxpayers would have saved $70 million.



"The $70 and $12 million financial condition penalty estimates only relate to the June 2016 Bonds. Assuming that future debt sales will be at typical levels of about $1 billion each year, this financial condition penalty will be much larger," wrote the study's author, Martin J. Luby of DePaul University.

That's a much different message than what we heard last week from the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner, which lauded the 3.75 percent interest rate on last week's transaction as the lowest in state history.

"It's clear from today's bond sale that investors realize Illinois now has a governor that is trying to turn the state around and right its financial ship," said Rauner Press Secretary Catherine Kelly.

Not so fast, says Luby.

"Due to a decline in overall market interest rates and favorable conditions in the municipal market at the time of the bond sale, the state realized a historically low overall borrowing cost on the June 2016 bond sale from an absolute interest rate level perspective," Luby writes. "However, on a relative basis, the state could have realized significantly higher prices (i.e., paid lower borrowing costs) for its June 2016 Bonds if its credit had not deteriorated over the last 10 years or even over the last six months."

In other words, 3.75 percent is a comparatively lousy interest rate that would have been much lower for any of the 49 other states that are running their governments with functioning budgets to guide spending and taxes.

Here's how the bond industry publication Bond Buyer reported it:

But the deal captured a record low true interest cost of 3.7425% because the widening spreads were more than outweighed by lower overall yields in the market that has seen record lows across scales, disguising the true cost of the state's fiscal deterioration.

If that paragraph has your eyes glazing over, just remember the last part: "disguising the true cost of the state's fiscal deterioration."

I'll add one more quote from Bond Buyer:

"The bonds were sold based on rabid demand for yield with minimal regard for credit quality. Kudos to the state for perfect market timing. It's a great time to be an issuer," said one investor.

Translation: Demand for these bonds is far ahead of supply so investors don't care much about the seller's credit rating. You got lucky, Illinois.

We can't expect it to happen again, says Luby. Illinois right now is looking at $4 billion in infrastructure maintenance -- roads, bridges and the like -- that will be financed with bonds.

"At this $4 billion annual bond level," he writes, "the financial condition penalty estimate will be in the hundreds of millions based on 2006 relative pricing levels and tens of millions of dollars based on the state's relative bond prices only six months ago."

There's something wrong when we're looking at "tens of millions of dollars" in extra, unnecessary interest as a best-case scenario. #doyourjobs #ilbudgetnow

Recommended: Get a load of this phone call I got about Gov. Bruce Rauner the other night

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In Defense Of The Seemingly Terrible Derrick Rose Trade

Thu, 2016-06-23 09:18

The New York Knicks screwed themselves, again.


The season just ended days ago, the NBA Draft is tomorrow, and free agency isn't for another few weeks. And yet, the Knicks have already found a way to execute a trade for 2011 NBA MVP and Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose.


The Knicks aren't trading for the 2011 MVP though. They're trading for a version of Rose whose once-elite athleticism has seemingly deserted him following two major knee surgeries. For the Rose whose jump shot looks shot. For the Rose who grades out as a mediocre point guard when considering more advanced metrics -- the same Rose whose crown as franchise star of the Bulls was usurped. Not the same old Rose, but the same old Rose.



The Knicks new big 3. pic.twitter.com/Slmyzw5y2U

— LegionNBA (@MySportsLegion) June 22, 2016


It's understandable that Knicks fans are bummed and angry about the trade. Over the past decade, the Knicks' front office has shown little restraint when it comes to trying to obtain name-brand players whose on-court capabilities leave something to be desired. 


But unlike previous Knicks trades and signings that have lead to either disappointment or disaster, the Rose trade is relatively low-risk. It's not like when the Toronto Raptors fleeced them by taking Andrea Bargnani in a first-round pick. Or when the Knicks almost traded actual players for Steve Nash in 2012. Or when they signed Amar'e Stoudemire. No, the Rose trade is not like any of those, despite the optics of it all.


Let's break this down into two parts:



Derrick Rose has the Garden crowd oohhing and ahhhing.

— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 25, 2016


 To MSG's delight, Rose lit up the Knicks for 30 points in March.


 


1. Trading For Derrick Rose Is Better Than Signing Rajon Rondo 

It's not a pretty comparison, but consider this: Critically, the Knicks gave up no draft picks to the Bulls -- which used to be typical in bad Knicks trades of the past. In all, the team sent center Robin Lopez, guard Jerian Grant and guard Jose Calderon to Chicago in exchange for Rose, guard Justin Holiday and a second-round pick. 


Grant's Knicks departure is unfortunate -- he showed promise early on as a rookie -- and Lopez was also a decent starting rim protector and rebounder. Lopez's contract in particular was team-friendly, a useful trade chip that perhaps could have drawn more value than it did here. 





 Hurry up and shoot it Calderon!


But swapping Rose for Calderon as the starting point guard gives the team its best point guard since Raymond Felton's brief career rebirth through 2013 and 2014. And, as more NBA offenses continue to develop ways to open the floor more, the best of contemporary NBA basketball teams should ideally revolve around a quick playmaking point guard. The Knicks haven't had one of those since (maybe) Jeremy Lin. Regardless of the faster triangle-ish offense that new head coach Jeff Hornacek and president Phil Jackson compromise on, having Rose run it over the terrible and expensive Calderon works out as a legitimate favor to fans. 


If Rose, still only 27, continues his streaky shooting and poor passing, failing to improve on his 66-game 2015-2016 season, that's fine -- he'll be gone next summer at a forgettable cost. Also, the departure of Lopez and Calderon clears about $21 million from the team's cap sheet this summer, leaving them room to work with this summer's free agent class.



The Knicks have a Big 3. pic.twitter.com/RZmbzJhKai

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 22, 2016


2. The Trade May Look Very Pretty In Summer 2017

Saying the Knicks' move is clever may be nonsense right now, but it certainly sets them up for an aggressive and flexible rebuild. The real end result of the Rose trade is that it leaves the Knicks with only three players -- Anthony, Porzingis and Kyle O'Quinn -- signed to guaranteed contracts beyond the 2016-2017 season.


According to NBA writer Tommy Beer, the team will have $60 million in cap space next summer to go after a player pool full of stars. Hornacek, Jackson or both of them may have a rare opportunity to cherry-pick free agents to fit how they want to play -- something a Knicks coach hasn't had the chance to do since perhaps Mike D'Antoni.


Of course, turning over the roster year after year is damaging, and coveted stars have outright declined the Knicks' recent free agent overtures, but an institutionalized team culture, clear playing style, and core superstars will alleviate that. If Hornacek can install a functioning offense and instill defensive discipline -- coupled with the star power of Anthony and Porzingis -- the team could suddenly become an attractive free agent destination for the backcourt superstar the Knicks need. They may have one in Rose. 





Coincidentally, Rose dunked for the first time all season in a March road game against the Knicks.


Derrick Rose isn't the answer for the Knicks. His name represented a franchise savior in 2011, but his current abilities, unfortunately, don't. At worst, he's an exciting stop-gap at point guard. At best, he's a top 20 player. The New York Knicks aren't immune to such extremes.


This upcoming season, however, a year of moderate success and watchable basketball would be an achievement. On the court, Rose still has the chance to deliver that much to Knicks fans, even if it's a surprise to some. 


Unless, of course, Dwight Howard comes to to town.

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Here's Another Way Uber, Lyft Are Beating Taxis

Tue, 2016-06-21 14:33

The taxi industry is tired of competing with ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. According to a new report, the taxi industry's tires are more than a little tired, too.


The report, conducted by ConsumerAffairs partner WeGoLook, found 16 percent of taxis pick up passengers with at least one balding, unsafe tire. In comparison, 14.7 percent of Lyfts and 12 percent of Ubers have the same problem.



Nationally, about 10 percent of vehicles on the road have at least one bald tire.


The study is based on a survey of tread depth on 300 different cars used by Lyft, Uber, and taxis, and was conducted across Chicago, Dallas and Miami, for a total sample size of 1,200 tires.


A tire's tread depth affects its ability to grip the road, especially in less-than-perfect driving conditions where snow or water is on the road surface. A 2012 NHTSA study traced back nine percent of crashes to tire problems.


Tire treads that measure less than 3/32 of an inch deep are considered "bald" and unsafe.


Of the taxis measured for ConsumerAffairs, the average tire tread depth was 6.66/32 of an inch, compared to 7/32 of an inch for both Ubers and Lyfts. Personal cars came out on top with an average of 7.58/32 of an inch of tread.



Of those surveyed, drivers in Chicago were found to have the safest tires, followed by Dallas. Miami tires ranked last.



Note: The Huffington Post's Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington is a member of Uber's board of directors, and has recused herself from any involvement in the site's coverage of the company.

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www.eths1966.com

Tue, 2016-06-21 10:06
The title of this piece is the website for the 50th high school reunion for the class of 1966 at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois. It is to be held September 9-10 in the stunning rooftop Monaco Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel (9599 Skokie Blvd.) in Skokie, Illinois. All the necessary information to attend can be found on the website.

As scribed in an earlier (11-08-15) post on this "noted" class (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/miles-j-zaremski/noted-evanston-high-class_b_8504638.html), there are many such events across the land each and every year. And no doubt the motivation for these reunions, certainly the one at the half-century mark, is to renew acquaintances left in the rearview mirror five decades ago, and, of course, to rekindle acquaintances, events, coursework, teachers, gripes, complaints, sporting events and school teams, fine arts presentations and plays, and the like. For Evanston High's class of 1966, the yearning to revisit these experiences will be no different. After all, none of us that were members of this class knew what our future would hold, so in a way we are---putting a twist on familiar movie titles---going back not to a future, but with most of a future already completed.

Presently, there are nearly 140 of a class that neared 1,000 ready to come from all parts of the country. Classmates now hail from as far away as France, Canada and Mexico. But with less than 90 days before the big weekend, this blog is a shout-out for many more to pen in that weekend on your calendars. Don't wait until the last moment to decide to come. So, too, and unfortunately, our class has lost over 100 members in the last 50 years. They will be remembered at the reunion too.

As this author wrote previously, members of this class upon graduation had no idea what the future was to hold. Sure, we had our academic stars and our jocks, so we sort of knew who would carry on their high school legacies into the college years and, if lucky and fortunate enough, perhaps beyond. Also previously written about were individuals that indeed reflected well on why our class was a noted one, even those that fell under the radar while at ETHS. There were, of course, others that made the press in not such good ways in the succeeding half century since graduation. But the good and proud since 1966 far outweighed what happened to some of our classmates due to life's experiences or of their own doing. The former included becoming breadwinners, raising a family on available resources, becoming grandparents, undertaking charitable endeavors to assist the less fortunate, partnering up with others, withstanding life's difficulties that reached into all corners, and leading and showing by example to others on how to become productive members of society and confront challenges.

And we did all this knowing that the fabric of our country was being stretched and reshaped in the years we attended ETHS, e.g., experiencing the "mopheads" from across the pond, protesting the Vietnam War, reading, listening and participating in racial, social and economic turmoil, and seeing the enactment of momentous legislation like the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and the Civil Rights Act.

So why not take a brief moment to see about "coming home"---albeit for only a weekend---and a home that had yet to be encumbered by a future we now know today. Check out: www.eths1966.com.

PS, Class representatives have recently been invited to participate in Evanston's upcoming 4th of July day parade. Any class member interested in walking, bicycling or riding in it, just come on out!

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Plenty of Anger, but Little Chance to Vent at Polls in November

Mon, 2016-06-20 11:43
With Illinois state finances in a shambles and our leaders -- who were elected to make hard decisions -- intent on postponing any hard decisions until after they're safely elected again in November, there's a lot of pent-up Illinois voter anger out there.

The problem is, most voters won't have a chance to take out their frustration on the people most responsible for the Illinois budget crisis.

Gov. Bruce Rauner isn't on the ballot this year and, unless you live in House Speaker Michael Madigan's district, you don't get to vote in his race.

And even those who would like simply to vote out all incumbents in Springfield are, mostly, out of luck. Of 158 legislative positions up for election this year, only 62 are competitive. Good luck finding an incumbent with a challenger to vote for.

Incumbents in Illinois are especially secure in part because they serve in districts that often have been created to ensure their re-election. When political parties draw district maps, they do so with an eye toward ensconcing their members in districts with the most friendly voters possible.

Thus, prospective opponents from the opposing party stand little chance and incumbents go unchallenged.

But there was good news this week for those who want to take the politics out of the redrawing of legislative district maps every 10 years. The Illinois State Board of Elections on Monday voted unanimously that Independent Map Amendment had surpassed the requirement of 290,000 valid voter signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would let voters remove politicians from the map-drawing process.

If the amendment survives a lawsuit and makes it onto the ballot, voters will at least have one solid way to vent their frustration with those in power.

Those are our topics on this week's "Only in Illinois."



Recommended: How easy is it to navigate the Illinois justice system?

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A Billionaire Governor Says Protests Don't Matter. He's Wrong.

Mon, 2016-06-20 07:54
"If protesting solved problems, Illinois wouldn't have any problems."

That's what Governor Bruce Rauner, a billionaire Republican politician and former private equity executive, had to say when 10,000 concerned citizens journeyed to the Illinois capital on May 18 to oppose his destructive policies.



The governor had already sped out of town by the time thousands of marchers set off through the streets of downtown Springfield. Clearly he wanted to convey that he had no interest in hearing their concerns, much less heeding them.

But, of course, Rauner couldn't really escape. As soon as he arrived at his destination, reporters began grilling him about the overflow crowd that jammed the street (and every other available space) in front of the Capitol.

That's when he professed his contempt for the value of protests--demonstrating a shocking ignorance of the history of our nation.

Weren't the American colonists who challenged British rule engaged in one of our country's pioneering protests when they marched down to Boston Harbor for that incendiary Tea Party? Of course that action alone did not drive out the Brits. But it did inspire countless colonists to enlist in the battle for freedom and liberty--a battle that, in case our governor hasn't noticed, was indeed eventually won.

That's the thing about protests. Seldom does one march, one rally or one sit-in bring about systemic change. But the accrual of such actions educates, inspires and conveys a sense of urgency. Each protest builds on the one before. And it is this growing intensity that demands attention and achieves action. Protests are potent messages delivered in human form that can shake the complacency of the powerful and lift the spirits of the disempowered.

The simple truth is that protests have been an essential element of every successful movement for social and political change.

We need only reflect on the civil rights movement and the vast transformation it has effected in our own lifetimes. Would change on that scale--the dismantling of an entire system of legally sanctioned segregation and discrimination--have been possible without the moral authority and passionate conviction expressed in the innumerable actions of protest, from lunch-counter sit-ins in the smallest of towns to massive marches in our nation's capital?



Or we can think back on how workers in our country gained the right to join together in unions to improve their lives. Standing against an entire corporate class bent on denying their right to have a voice on the job, millions of workers all across the country walked picket lines, went out on strike, and even occupied their factories until the day finally came that the corporate elite could resist no more.

Today we too often forget the workplace struggles and tumult that shook the entire country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but there is no denying that those multitudes of protests were essential to forging the rights workers have today.



Now we are in a battle to defend those rights here in Illinois. That is why the thousands of union members, human service advocates, and other concerned citizens thronged the State Capitol. We came to protest Rauner's budget blockade that is forcing program cuts and layoffs at social service agencies and state universities, his efforts to annihilate basic collective bargaining rights, and his refusal to negotiate with his own employees in state government.

We came to stand in solidarity with workers injured on the job whose benefits Rauner wants to cut, with construction workers whose right to a "prevailing wage" he wants to take away, with home health aides whose overtime hours he wants to eliminate, and with students whose college assistance grants he has blocked.

We came building on dozens of smaller protests that have been held at the Capitol in recent months--by university students, the homeless, child care providers, disability advocates, domestic violence survivors, clergy, and scores of others harmed by the governor's insistence that laws to diminish workers' rights must be passed before he will allow passage of a state budget.

We used our vacation time or took a day off with no pay. We got up at dawn to make the bus or packed our cars full of co-workers or rode in on our motorcycles. We scrambled to find child care or brought our children along for a great lesson in civic engagement. We came with canes and walkers, even in wheelchairs. And many of us who couldn't make it followed it all on Facebook or Twitter, and joined in the cheering from afar.



Will that one day of protest--even such a mighty day--turn Rauner around? Not very likely. But this much is certain: We sent a message of unity and determination that will build a stronger fighting force for the battles to come.

So yes, Governor Rauner, protests do solve problems. That's what history has shown time and again. That's why we'll keep standing up together in our worksites, in our communities and at the State Capitol until we have gained the fair treatment that all working people deserve.

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I On Beauty Chapter 18 - For Tresses Feeling Their Age

Fri, 2016-06-17 11:21


PHOTO COURTESY OF IRENE MICHAELS

One of the most frightening experiences to me was when my hair was starting to fall out, I was absolutely beside myself. Although it's common to lose up to 100 strands of hair in a day, hair loss can also occur because of the following reasons stress, after giving birth, some diseases or medical treatments, hereditary and, most commonly, because due to the aging process. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "about 80 million men and women in the United States have this type of hair loss. Luckily, most causes of hair loss can be stopped or treated. It was especially alarming to me since I was a hair model for many years and I was not prepared for this particular part of the aging process.  However, whether you are a model, a housewife or a corporate executive; it is never a good feeling. I tried all sorts of products to prevent hair loss, ate all sorts of nutrients related to rebuilding hair follicles, and slept with awful smelling creams that were not to appealing to me or the opposite sex.

With all this in mind, and knowing that at some point we will all go through this, I've put together a list of ways to prevent hair loss with some tips on what to do if you are already going through this.

Visit your doctor, dermatologist or your hairdresser - At the first sign of hair loss, especially if it's sudden instead of gradual, you should consult with your doctor, dermatologist and certainly your hairdresser to determine any underlying factors. These professionals will be able to determine the cause and provide necessary treatment accordingly. I use John Zuluaga, a virtual genius hair stylist, at MC Lash Studio & Beauty Bar in Chicago. John noticed I had patches of hair loss, that I did not even recognize and that is when we started to use the Keratasse line, which has helped tremendously.

Topical treatments - Following any advice provided by your healthcare or haircare professional, you can also try topical treatments that can be made at home. Some examples include: boiling potatoes with rosemary and using the liquid as a rinse; mixing egg yolk and honey to use as a hair mask; brewing two bags of green tea in one cup of water and applying (once cool) to hair leaving it in for one hour; adding aloe vera gel to your shampoo; mixing one tablespoon lemon juice with two teaspoons of coconut or olive oil and leaving mixture on scalp for one hour; rinsing hair with a combination of apple cider vinegar and warm water after washing.

Massage - A daily hand massage on your scalp will help stimulate circulation while stimulating hair follicles, keeping them active. Start near your forehead, with your thumbs at your temples, and slowly begin to make firm pressure with your fingers as you move along the middle of your scalp. Extending outward with each pulse of your fingers, taking time to slowly massage every section. As a bonus, adding essential oils - like lavender, almond, rosemary or peppermint - provides an extra layer of aromatherapy, enhancing your overall well-being. Do this daily, for a few minutes, whenever possible.

Maintenance - Using a natural bristle brush will help stimulate hair follicles, increasing blood flow to the scalp. Make sure to brush your hair once it's dry or use a wide-tooth comb, gently, on wet hair. Letting your hair dry naturally, instead of using a hot dryer, also helps prevent hair loss and hair damage. The same applies for any heating tools you may use. Washing your hair in lukewarm - not hot - water prevents scalp and hair damage. And, try not to pull your hair into tight ponytails, buns or braids, using soft methods instead (never in the same space).

Diet - Of course, a well-balanced diet does your body good, so adding supplements like sources rich in protein and B vitamins, can help promote full and healthy hair. Try smoothies made with lettuce, capsicum and carrots or spinach with berries and chia seeds. Vitamin C helps prevent breakage and brittle hair so load up on oranges, guava, peppers, papaya and dark leafy greens. And always make sure to drink plenty of liquids to keep your entire body, from head to toe, hydrated and replenished. As always consistency is key to success!!!
 
Happy Hair Days!

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Tribute to the Victims of the Orlando Shooting

Thu, 2016-06-16 14:43
When any human being dies, a part of me dies. The death of any human being should affect each of us because we are one; every human being belongs to me just as I belong to every human being. My life just as my death is of infinite significance to everyone out there in the same way that the life and death of any human being is of infinite significance to me and to the world. The deaths of these innocent brothers and sisters at Pulse Night club in Orlando is not only horrible but despicable. My heart bleeds in pain. All men and women of goodwill in the US and throughout the world are rightly appalled at this unmitigated tragedy.

But this horrible act is not only something we all should condemn and grieve about especially here in the US; it is something that America must confront. Tears are not enough; comforting words will ring hollow to the loved ones who are left to carry this terrible pain for the rest of their lives or many LGBTQ brothers and sisters who feel the heat of homophobia coming from religious and political extremists. These men and women who were slaughtered in the most senseless mass shooting in America will not rest in peace until this nation confronts the twin monsters of gun violence and home grown radical Islamic fundamentalism.


Political grandstanding or our politicians making political capital out of this unmitigated tragedy insults the memory of these brothers and sisters and the beautiful lives they led until their violent end. This is a time for our political gladiators to sheath their swords, and think only of these hapless victims, their families and a traumatized nation. What makes sense; what will speak to the darkness of these times is for America to answer the question: How long will this continue? How can this nation continue to stew in the blood of her citizens because of gun violence? How can we justify this irrationality under the guise of the right to bear arms? What nation on earth will simply allow anyone to carry assault weapons as a right as if to say that protecting ourselves is simply guaranteed through obtaining guns? All the people at pulse night club if they were Americans had a right to bear arms but who in his right mind will carry guns to a club?

These beautiful men and women were only thinking of life and not of death; they were simply celebrating life not preparing to die or to inflict violence on any person. They were celebrating the gift of love. Most of them were gays and Pulse was a sacred space where they gathered to simply feel the warmth of acceptance and love in the smiles, friendship and warmth of each other. They gathered to enter into the reality of the most beautiful thing happening on earth, to love and to be loved. In a world that often misunderstood them or even in many instances preach hatred towards the LGBTQ persons and judge them so harshly, Pulse was a safe space where they could touch the margins of heaven. Coming to Pulse was for most of these brothers and sisters like a little heaven where they felt a glimpse of the eternal in the ecstasy of love where time and eternity stopped in the beautiful dance of human affection beyond borders. It was in the midst of this heavenly presence, in the quiet of the morning that an angel of death came calling.


This angel of death was equipped with two false weapons. The first a false Islamic religious notion of purity and order distorted by a poisoned mind and a darkened soul. This was an unhappy young Islamist, who drank to the dregs a venom of hatred for the LGBTs community and for humanity. Second, he was equipped with guns and assault weapons because America has given evil and morbid people like him the right to acquire arms so easily. And in his conscienceless and irrational rage, these weapons offered a coward the most atrocious means of displaying his existential sterility in the most wicked and heartless destruction of these pure trees of life planted in God's garden of love at Pulse.

I believe that every human being is beautiful to God--this is true for everyone, black or white, gay or straight, saints and sinners. Everyone is someone beautiful to God. There is a divine light and life in all of us; we all bear the image and likeness of God. Each and everyone of us has a special gift; a special song to sing, and a special love and service to render to confer on creation a beauty beyond measure. This is why it is so hard to accept that a mass killer like this incarnation of evil who visited so much pain on so many in Orlando is beautiful to God. But the irony of it all is that when we think of what he could have become if he had been true to his identity as a child of God, and if he had been true to the authentic values of the Islamic religion, we see in its starkest form the reality of evil.


This is why I condemn in unequivocal terms those who will claim after this horror that bearing arms is a good thing for every American and those who will deny that what he did had nothing to do with radical Islam. This man does not come to my church; he goes to a mosque. The Islamic community while rightly condemning this man must also take responsibility in the US and Canada for the burgeoning of home grown terrorists who are emerging from the ranks of young Muslim Americans and Canadians. A new form of Islamic formation is needed for young Muslims in this country by the Muslim community to combat the radicalizing message from ISIS. But we all must spare a thought about the kind of society we have here in the US that produced monsters who do the kind of unspeakable evil that took place on Orlando and the mass shootings which have become a regular occurrence in the US. Only a healthy society will produce healthy minds and healthy and well integrated men and women who live up to the ideals which we all aspire toward as a nation.


Let me also say that gun or any weapon is evil. Arms are evil because they result in death. I am not a pacifist by any means but truth be told any society where murder is rampart and violence is so rife must ask herself it is not a sign of a return to barbarism of a bygone era. What can be so barbaric and uncivilized as killing innocent people? Is it not what obtained many years when people were not advanced in learning, conflict management and building community through law and order? Is it not what Hobbes calls the law of the jungle where 'man became wolf to man'? And guns are so available in America because there are many people who are making billions from gun business. But violence is not who we are.

A dying Freud did say in his little book, Civilization and its Discontent that one of the greatest challenges of the future for humanity is whether the invention of our hands especially weapons of violence will end up in disrupting permanently our common life. This is what gun violence does to America. As a professor at an American university, I go to work every day worrying if a crazy student or an angry colleague will visit us with death in the classroom. It is such a shame that professors in US universities are now receiving training on how to act if a shooter shows up in the classroom!

This is a time to weep. But it is also a time to think together. It is a time to thank God for the wonderful lives of these beautiful men and women who were slaughtered simply because of who they are. Those who know them and love them can cherish the fact that they died celebrating the gift of who they are. But we also thank God for so many people who risked their lives to save the hostages, for so many first responders and medics who saved lives; so many blood donors lining up to give blood, and many communities who are keeping vigil in memory of the dead. The news about our humanity which comes out from Orlando is not the victory of violence, but the triumph of love, hope, and courage that we all can say to the darkness of gun violence, terrorism and hate what we will differ especially to recommitting ourselves to love and holding on the finest values and virtues of our true humanity.


But I weep that in our world there are men and women who spend their time and resources planning on how to destroy the lives of other people. We weep that in some parts of the world that there are people who celebrate such massacres. It rends my heart asunder that such people who commit such heinous act will make such claim using the name of God. It gnaws at my liver that such people will find help for their poisonous passion through the laws of the land that allows them to bear arms. I pray that these gentle souls; these pure souls whose lives were caught midstream will find peace. What pain they bore as they died! What horrors they felt in their last moment! What did they think of our humanity? What did they think of our country? What did they think of the right to bear arms? What did they think of religion? Sure they did not have chance to process anything as they planned how to find safety. But we who are still alive here and who mourn their loss must answer these questions not through tears but through action because the blood of these innocent ones is crying to heaven.

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The Reason We Waste So Much Food Is Because We Love Too Much

Wed, 2016-06-15 16:22

If there’s one thing Americans do better than pretty much anyone else, it's putting perfectly good, edible food to waste.


An estimated 30-40 percent of food that is grown, harvested, processed and transported to retailers in this country ultimately goes uneaten. And all that wasted food has to go somewhere. Most of it -- an estimated 30 million tons each year, according to the EPA -- ends up in landfills where it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.


Thankfully, interest in combatting food waste is perhaps higher than ever -- the U.S. government announced its first-ever national target for cutting waste last year -- and the push for a solution is prompting a close examination of many contributing factors. According to a new study published this week in Journal of Food Products Marketing, one key issue has been left off the table.


Researchers from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab along with the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation and the Sao Paulo-based Getulio Vargas Foundation say that key issue is the way that many well-intended families over-prepare food, much of which goes uneaten, as a means of showing affection for their loved ones.


To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers analyzed food storage, preparation and disposal behaviors in 20 Upstate New York households with lower-middle class income levels. They observed that the caretakers in the homes -- all of them either mothers or grandmothers -- identified preparing and serving large portions and varieties of food and snacks to their families as a way of showing affection, of being a “good mother.”


These tendencies, the paper’s lead author Dr. Gustavo Porpino explained to The Huffington Post, can contribute significantly to the amount of food most households waste -- an estimated $640 per household annually -- as well as patterns of overeating and obesity.



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The leading source of household food waste identified in the paper was leftover cooked food that went uneaten, followed by unused raw vegetables.


Ironically, lower-income households facing significant budgetary constraints may be even more susceptible to the tendency to not only over-prepare food but also to stock more food than they need. This is particularly the case among mothers and other caregivers who have experienced food scarcity in the past, Porpino believes.


“It’s reassuring to serve food in large portions,” Porpino told HuffPost by email. “It has the symbolism of wealth. It is a form to distance themselves from the state of poverty.”


In order to address the issue, researchers suggested that informational campaigns centered on positive messages -- particularly the potential financial benefits of reducing food waste in the home -- would be more helpful than negative messages that shame families or simply aim to raise awareness of food waste more generally.


In addition, the researchers emphasized the importance of involving food pantries -- which 50 percent of the study’s participants relied on to supplement their family’s food supply -- with efforts to help caregivers manage their food supply at home and meal plan.


Such efforts, the researchers write, could not only help these families -- many of whom are Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) users -- waste less food, but also eat more healthily as they would be less reliant on often-cheaper, processed foods at the end of the month, when SNAP benefits are running low and pantries experience higher demand.


“Nudges can be used to guide them not only to healthy choices, but also to take home portions appropriate to family size,” Porpino added.


Norbert Wilson, a professor of agricultural economics and rural sociology at Auburn University who specializes in food pantry research, said pantries can also reduce waste in more straightforward ways, including simply offering clients to choose the food products they prefer rather than being given a box filled with foods they may or may not like.


“Having choice will allow clients to select products that are most likely to be consumed,” Wilson told HuffPost.


There are challenges there, however. Some pantries are hesitant to embrace a client choice model because they fear this would create unequal levels of access to all foods. Further, Wilson noted, pantries are typically run by volunteers who may lack both the time and training needed to pass along information on nutrition, meal planning or food preparation.


While meal planning is key to reducing food waste, other experts have also pointed out that simply educating oneself about what expiration dates on food really mean can make a big impact. In an effort to help consumers do just that, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced legislation last month that would standardize food date labeling.


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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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A Coalition Of Hope For Saving Imperiled Iguanas

Wed, 2016-06-15 14:50
Collaborative post by Charles Knapp, Vice President of Conservation Research, John G. Shedd Aquarium; Stesha Pasachnik, Conservation Research Postdoctoral Associate, San Diego Zoo Global; Tandora Grant, Senior Research Coordinator, San Diego Zoo Global; John Iverson, Biology Research Professor, Earlham College; and Allison Alberts, Chief Conservation and Research Officer, San Diego Zoo Global




This week the online journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology published a compilation of research papers titled Iguanas: Biology, Systematics, and Conservation. The compilation highlights the diversity and unique ecology of iguanas, while emphasizing the threats to their survival and need for conservation action. Though the Green Iguana, most commonly seen in pet stores, often comes to mind when people think of these lizards, researchers have described 44 unique species of iguanas, with more on the way. Iguanas are found throughout the New World including Central and South America, the islands of the West Indies, and within the Galápagos Archipelago. However, some species can even be found in Fiji and the Tonga Islands. With so many species and so many unique environments, the diversity of sizes, colors, and behaviors among iguanas is impressive. Iguanas live in trees and on the ground. Some climb volcanoes to lay their eggs in the warm soil within calderas, while others dig nests in termite mounds and guard them for months! Some swim in the ocean and munch on algae, others restrict their diet to mangrove leaves; however, most feed on leaves, fruits and flowers of terrestrial trees and shrubs. Regardless of where they live, iguanas serve a vital ecological role because of their herbivorous feeding strategy, which is relatively unique among lizards. By eating leaves and fruits, iguanas promote foliage growth, provide nutrients for seedlings, and disperse seeds to new areas.




Although iguanas are vital to many ecosystems, they face serious threats. Deforestation and other human-caused disturbances such as predation and competition from non-native species, hunting, smuggling for the illicit wildlife trade, and unregulated tourism, have brought many species near extinction. In fact, while we celebrate the recognition of 44 species, we also mourn the fact that 82% of the 34 species that have been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species are threatened with extinction. Consequently, these distinctive lizards are among the most threatened vertebrate groups on the planet, surpassing turtles (50-58%), primates (ca. 49%), and amphibians (ca. 41%).

There is hope. The iguana conservation and research community has grown over the last two decades. A major factor in bringing together this community has been the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Iguana Specialist Group (ISG). The ISG was formed in 1997 and has since expanded to 93 members in 24 countries, including representation from all regions in which iguanas occur naturally. The group has worked with local government agencies and NGOs to draft 14 Species Recovery and Conservation Management Plans that outline the most urgent research needs and conservation actions for individual taxa, many of which are reflected in Iguanas: Biology, Systematics, and Conservation. Not surprisingly, 29 of the 69 authors (42%) contributing to this collection are ISG members.

Conservation action requires that local stakeholders take ownership of initiatives aimed at studying the unique ecology of individual iguana species, and implementing tailored mitigation strategies that work best when socioeconomic and political considerations are addressed. Encouragingly, scientists from countries where iguanas occur contributed significantly to the compilation. Moreover, 42% percent of the authors contributing to the compilation represent eight countries outside of the United States and Europe. This is a dramatic increase from the past two iguana compilations, published in 1982 and 2004, demonstrating the expansion of the global iguana community.




Everyone can play a role in iguana conservation regardless of where you live, or if you have a scientific background. The IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group is always open to new collaborators, and we enthusiastically welcome those who have a contributing skillset to join us. Likewise, people can contribute to the International Iguana Foundation, which supports conservation, awareness, and scientific programs that enhance the survival of wild iguanas and their habitats. For pet enthusiasts interested in iguanas, it's important to understand the damage done to many threatened iguana species as a result of illegal or unregulated trade. Listing a species as captive bred is a loophole that traders sometimes use to sell illegally exported animals. Further even if iguanas are captive bred, it does not mean that the original breeding pairs were exported legally from their country of origin. Consider conducting research on the legality and ethics of commercially traded animals, as well as their status in the wild, when purchasing a rare species. One place to start is EcoHealthyPets. Your small collective actions can make a big difference for protecting endangered iguanas.

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Citizen-Led Illinois Redistricting Reform Effort Notches Another Key Milestone

Tue, 2016-06-14 17:22
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

How about some good news about citizens taking control of their own government?

The citizen-led Independent Map Amendment initiative easily cleared hefty signature requirement hurdles, was deemed valid and won tentative approval Monday to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed to try to thwart it.

In a first for an Illinois redistricting attempt after two previous attempts in 2010 and 2014, commissioners on the Illinois State Board of Elections declared the signatures valid, giving a tentative green light to the ballot question that would ask voters if they want an 11-member independent commission to design state legislative districts rather than letting ruling politicians draw them.

"This is a huge hurdle that we've cleared and it's one that no redistricting amendment has so far cleared in Illinois, so we're very excited," said Dave Mellet, campaign manager of the Independent Map Amendment. When this was tried in 2014, "they realized this is a pretty massive undertaking and there's a lot you need to learn about duplicate signatures," he added, "so to get to 290,000 valid signatures is a huge step."

Steven Sandvoss, executive director of the elections board, told commissioners a random sample of 5 percent of the voter signatures the group turned in showed map workers had far surpassed the minimum required number of 290,216 valid Illinois voters' signatures, so a second, random sample was not needed.

A similar citizen effort in 2014 failed at this stage when the sample showed problems with many of the signatures. Two years ago, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva ultimately ruled the previous independent redistricting effort unconstitutional because it would have banned commissioners from running for public office for 10 years after serving on the commission. The new redistricting proposal does not include that restriction.

A lawsuit filed by a group calling itself the People's Map and made up of Chicago-based minority business and advocacy executives suggests the Independent Map group's efforts are unconstitutional, contending it has not met the requirement to change both the process and structure of legislative mapmaking. The People's Map group hired Michael Kasper, the same lawyer who blocked the last independent redistricting effort and who has long been connected to Democratic Party of Illinois Chairman and House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown previously has denied Madigan is behind the People's Map objections. Kasper did not return a call for comment Monday.

The ballot question asking voters if they want to create an independent commission to draw maps could be officially certified for the ballot at the election board's August meeting if the court challenge is resolved. Cook County Circuit Court arguments over the constitutionality of the citizen redistricting effort are expected June 30.

Further, Sandvoss noted there has been no sign of any attempt at a line-by-line thorough review of the redistricting petition signatures and elections board General Counsel Kenneth Menzel said it "bodes well" that no one has asked for a copy of the petitions to examine them for problems.

"I think they understand that I think it was 73 percent of our signatures were found to be valid by a random sample," Mellet said. "The last attempt, they went through the 5 percent sample and they were found to have, I think, a 45 percent validity rate, so we're talking about almost 30 percent higher. We learned a lot of great lessons from the previous amendment and we had a lot of the same great volunteers. We had over 2,000 people, individual circulators, so it is a huge difference from that."

With the help of prominent citizens and strong donations, more than 2,000 Illinoisans did the tough work to try to change their state government and make it less political. Nearly 300,000 validated Illinois voters said all of us should have that chance to change the map rigging that occurs when politicians of one party or another draw districts after each census.

That power grab and political mapmaking is where corruption is born in Illinois. The 11-member commission would have Democrats and Republicans on it and likely won't be entirely free from political influence, but it is a giant step forward toward fairness and it just took one big leap toward a ballot near you.

With luck, and perhaps providence, the amendment will move past the courts and to your ballot. Illinois citizens are standing up and attempting to own their government.

Congratulations.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois' taxpayers paying for billionaires' stadiums

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10 Simple Strategies for Outstanding Customer Service

Tue, 2016-06-14 14:32
I remember very clearly the first time I really understood the importance of customer service.

We were still a young company when floods hit Chicago back in 2010. All of our teams stayed busy, but my employees were especially concerned about an elderly client.

The torrential rains had completely flooded his home and washed away his garden out back. His late wife had planted it with beautiful, yellow flowers, and he was so sad to see them all gone.

Several days after completing the flood damage restoration job, my technicians visited him again. They replanted his lost garden with fresh, yellow flowers. I didn't know that they had planned on doing this, but they were so happy when they returned to our headquarters and shared their experiences.

The gentleman had been moved to tears, and we were too when we heard about this wonderful act of kindness.

Setting the Standard for Customer Service

I knew that providing the best possible customer service was important to business success, but I realized that my caring employees had set a special standard.

They inspired me to add an Act of Kindness policy to our employee handbook, and it's a very important part of our company's culture.

Here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, we back up that policy with 10 simple strategies to make sure that our clients always receive outstanding customer service.

1. Define Your Brand


Determine what makes your business unique and how you can translate your products or services into a better customer experience.

Use that edge to deliver a level of client care that sets you apart from the competition.

Happy customers are repeat customers because they know that they can trust your brand.

2. Hire Employees Who Care


I hire people who take real pride in their work.

My employees are the face of my company, and they often help our clients through very difficult situations. I value their ability to really connect and make a difference.

They understand that we have our jobs because of our customers.

3. Address Your Online Presence

Keep up with your company's online presence by responding to review sites.

This shows that you really care about your customers' experiences. It also gives you a platform to politely answer the large percentage of people who post negative comments when they're unhappy with customer service.

4. Don't Assume Anything




Don't assume that customers are happy after a job or sale.

Follow up with a phone call or an email.

When a client is especially pleased with a project, I ask if he would mind leaving my employees a positive review online. Most people are happy to share great customer service experiences.

5. Listen to Your Customers

We get to know our customers by name and make the effort to understand their individual needs.

This helps us serve them better, and they appreciate knowing that we care enough to listen even when they're unhappy.

Let clients know that you hear what they're saying.

6. Develop a Resolution Process


Your employees are an excellent resource for identifying how to resolve problems with dissatisfied customers.

Start with brainstorming sessions, formalize your ideas into steps for dealing with complaints, and incorporate a formal resolution process into your employee manual.

7. Never Let It Get Personal


U.S. businesses lose more than $80 billion every year because of poor customer service.

The only way to combat that statistic is to do a good job when things go bad.

It can be challenging to deal with a complaint that you know is unfair. Rely on your resolution process, and never let it get personal.

8. Always Be Available

My company provides fire and flood damage restoration services 24/7, but not all businesses can keep our hours. Still, it's important to give clients dependable lines of communication.

Post solid contact information on your website, and regularly check and respond to emails and voice mails.

9. Keep Your Promises

You can't promise one thing, deliver another and expect that customers won't notice.

You have to exceed their expectations for outstanding client care. They vote with their pocketbooks, and 78 percent walk away from businesses that provide poor customer service.

10. Go the Extra Mile



I oftentimes finish projects by sending handwritten notes to clients thanking them for their business. I let them know that we're always here for them.

Not many companies do this anymore, but I believe that it shows our company's willingness to go the extra mile.

As a customer service strategy, I know that it pays off. It's always satisfying to hear back from clients who appreciate this extra effort.

Enjoy the Rewards

On a personal level, providing outstanding customer service is a rewarding experience. As a business strategy, it makes all the difference in achieving long-term success.

It's a team effort, and I'm fortunate to have a very dedicated group of employees on my side every day.

We help people deal with difficult situations. Our customers value our hard work, but they also appreciate our real concerns for their welfare.

Our teams here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba do more than restore their property. We restore their peace of mind, and that defines our special brand of customer service.

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Envisioning Peace

Tue, 2016-06-14 12:17
Chicago Foundation for Women joins the nation in honoring the lives of those lost in this weekend's deadly shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. What would already be a horrific crime is made all the more devastating that it happened during Pride month, a time when we celebrate the LGBTQIA movement, not mourn monumental loss.

The atrocities of early Sunday morning is a stark reminder that despite gains made over the last forty years, LGBTQIA individuals around the country continue to face unprecedented levels of violence. 2015 may have marked the historic marriage equality ruling, but it also noted a historically high number of transgender murders, particularly against trans women of color. And sadly, this year does not look to be much better with at least ten murders already accounted for. 2016 has also brought us "bathroom bills" in North Carolina and other states, which only opens trans people to more surveillance, harassment, and assault. The threat is now a reality. A local Target store recently experienced a small bomb going off in the women's restroom. The retail chain has been a site of protest recently for allowing transgender people to use the restroom and changing room of their choosing.

In the wake of the Orlando massacre, some have chosen to focus on the shooter's alleged ties to ISIS and global terrorism, avoiding "LGBTQIA" all together, including many politicians around the country. We cannot mask this as anything other than domestic terrorism and a hate crime. This happened to a very specific group of people and for a very specific reason. Not now or ever should we engage in Islamophobia to stand against homophobia. We must reject both. Political writer David Klion said it best: "There will be attempts to pit two vulnerable communities, LGBT and Muslims, against each other. Resist them."

Every day we must recommit ourselves to the movement of social and political progress. Grassroots activists, civic leaders, every day people dedicated to positive change, and organizations like Chicago Foundation for Women work tirelessly to carry the movement forward, creating a world where race, gender, and sexual orientation are no longer tools of control or a rationale for discrimination. Just as we must all come together to pick up the pieces from this tragedy and support our LGBTQIA communities, we must also recognize our role and responsibility in fostering a world free from hate.

Let us not give up on that vision. We all deserve to exist, and in a world where we can all live in peace and be at peace.

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Chicago Public School Students Are Learning How Outsider Art Can Combat Hate

Tue, 2016-06-14 08:46

The genre known as outsider art is loosely tied together by a few guiding principles. First, outsider artists are not typically trained in a traditional or academic way. Second, outsider artists usually work outside of the mainstream art world and its historical precedents. Third, the artistic process tends to serve a deep need or function for an outsider artist, unrelated to ambition or ego. And fourth, outsider artists often do not define themselves as artists. 


Beyond these characteristics, outsider artists generally work in isolation, partially or entirely disconnected from contemporary influences or a larger artistic community. This is, commonly, a matter of circumstance rather than preference, since the art world is generally perceived of as an insular and elitist bubble. As a result, many outsider artists are the first and last of their kind, particular gems whose subject matters, techniques and idiosyncrasies are not immortalized in museums or taught in schools. This is generally the case, but not always. 


Since the mid-1990s, Intuit: Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, the nation's only nonprofit devoted solely to self-taught and outsider artwork, has been in the business of teaching public school students how to be outsider artists. This year, the Teacher Fellowship Program (TFP) reached 600 students across 13 Chicago public schools, guiding them through a curriculum designed to inspire creative expression without all the rules, the rigid goals, or the expectations of mainstream art. 



Joel Javier is an education manager at the TFP, in charge of directing and coordinating all public education and outreach programs at Intuit including curator talks, panel discussions, film screenings, museum tours, and DIY Visionary Art workshops. One of only four full-time and three part-time TFP staff members, Javier is largely responsible for the small program's functional operation. 


The mission of the Teacher Fellowship Program, Javier explained to The Huffington Post, is to provide teachers with the opportunity to use the visual power of outsider art as a catalyst for arts-integrated, cross disciplinary learning. "The core value of the program is to enable teachers to give their students an opportunity to translate their personal vision into art-making using non-traditional materials and methods characteristic of self-taught/outsider art," he said. "The result is a supportive community of learners and educators in the field of outsider art."


This year, 24 teachers were enlisted to bring the TFP curriculum to life. This includes not only art teachers but educators from multiple related disciplines including special needs, music, social studies, dance, and science. 



For Javier, the decision to employ outsider art as a teaching model, as opposed to a more traditional fine art practice, rests on the former's ability to nurture free and unbridled expression, without as much anxiety or self-doubt. "Students are given the opportunity to let go of standard art studio training and to focus on their personal vision regardless of skill level and experience," he said. "This gives the student confidence not only in their ability to make art but it creates a pathway to innovative learning for the student."


On the Intuit website, students express what they've gained from the unorthodox learning experience. "I learned that ironically, outsider art comes from the inside of yourself and displays who you are," ninth grader Jesse Rose explains. 


Artwork from the most recent school year is currently on view at Intuit's 2015-2016 Teacher Fellowship Program Student Exhibition. The exhibit is up at Intuit, alongside the work of iconic outsider artist Lee Godie and skilled miniaturist Steve Moseley. As you can see in the featured images here, when fixed expectations and stylistic clichés go out the window, there is no hierarchy when it comes to talent.



The students' work, vibrant and passionate and obsessive and strange, radiates with honesty and intensity, the result of bringing personal imagination into the world. The exhibition communicates the core belief of outsider art: that the power of creativity is not in its technical acuity or clever themes, but in its ability to speak truths without words, to conjure worlds with only shapes and colors, to make the darkest and most personal of details beautiful and universal. 


According to Javier, 278 students, teachers and families attended the exhibition's opening, many surprised and moved by the creative energy in the space. "One teacher at the opening reception related a story about a mother who was brought to tears after realizing she was symbolically portrayed in a painting by her son," Javier said. "The mother mentioned to the teacher that they had been going through some difficulties at home and this was a break through moment in their relationship."


The innovative program, above all else, believes in the power of art to overcome hatred to create a more beautiful and connected world. In Javier's words: "Through the TFP program and exhibition we hope to communicate that the instinct to create is universal and the arts must embrace all, celebrate all, and be accessible to all regardless of education level or socio-economic status. With all the hatred in the world we want to also communicate that art can touch many lives and heal."


If you're in Chicago, be sure to check out the Teacher Fellowship Program Student Exhibition on view until July 5, 2016, at Intuit: Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.


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Every Major Development in the Stanford Rape Case, in One Place

Mon, 2016-06-13 13:45

The Stanford Rapist, Brock Turner. (jocelynbyrd/Flickr)


On January 17, 2015, Brock Turner, then a student at Stanford University, raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

The sexual assault was witnessed by two grad students passing by on bicycles, who tackled the rapist, who tried to flee, and helped the victim. Turner was found guilty of the crime in court.

Here are all the things people are talking about, and saying, surrounding the now-infamous Stanford rape case.

1. Turner got a light sentence for his crime


Brock Turner's mugshot. (Facebook)


After almost a year and a half, a judge finally sentenced Turner ... to six months in county jail.

The internet exploded with outrage. Tons of people have voiced their opinions in strongly-worded letters, provoking more responses and discussions.

Why the light sentence? The violent attack could have landed Turner in jail for 14 years. Prosecutors asked the judge to put Turner away for six years. But the judge decided to be lenient and sentenced the 20-year-old rapist to a fraction of that time. And he might end up staying for only three months, if he behaves well.

Defending his decision, Judge Aaron Persky said,

"A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others."

The whole Brock Turner case makes me sick to my stomach. The justice system is a joke.

— kenz (@MackenzieHays) June 10, 2016


2. Many have called for the judge to be fired

Prospective jurors refused this week to serve in a courtroom presided over by Aaron Persky: https://t.co/nHKpIk6JvI pic.twitter.com/PdAkKqo3T6

— Us Weekly (@usweekly) June 10, 2016


The judge's statement didn't satisfy a lot of people. Over 1 million people have signed a Change.org petition calling for the judge to be impeached. (Judges can't technically be fired, but they can be recalled from the bench.) Prospective jurors in a later case refused to serve when they found out Judge Pesky would preside.

The argument? The light sentence doesn't fit the violent and horrendous crime. Many attribute the light sentence to the fact that Turner is a white upper-class male. (Studies find that black men receive sentences that are 20% longer than those of white men.) Oh, and Persky also went to Stanford.

3. The survivor went public with her powerful statement

BuzzFeed published the statement the woman who survived the rape, who wishes to remain anonymous, addressed to her attacker in court.

It starts with the words,

"You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today."

The survivor then goes on to recall, in searing detail, her memories of that night and its aftermath, including the horrifying effect it has had on her life. The brutally vivid letter spread like wildfire.

The @Stanford rape victim's letter should be read aloud at freshman orientations. https://t.co/tjeDFMgX3X @BuzzFeed pic.twitter.com/mtdLysmM7V

— Harry Allen (@harryallen) June 7, 2016


CNN's Ashleigh Banfield read it live on the air.



Others have read it live to show support. It will even be read aloud in Congress on June 15th. Representative Jackie Speier said,

"I hope that by reading it into the record, by elevating this issue, that we're going to take some steps to provide leadership on the federal level to address sexual assault on campus and in the military."

4. The vice president of the United States responded

Even VP Joe Biden was moved to write an open letter to the woman being called the Stanford Survivor.

"You are a warrior."

VP Joe Biden writes letter to woman Brock Turner assaulted: https://t.co/y1IIajobpt pic.twitter.com/4kYEFFB3GZ

— espnW (@espnW) June 10, 2016


Biden--who has gone around the country trying to change rape culture on campus--praised the survivor's bravery:

"I am in awe of your courage for speaking out -- for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity. And I am filled with furious anger -- both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth."

5. The rapist's father defended his son

It wasn't just the light sentence the public found repulsive. The collective outcry also focused on Dan Turner's defense of his son in court.

Dan Turner father argued that Brock should just get probation, not jail, and attempted to invoke sympathy for his son by detailing he bright future he had had before him. In the father's most often quoted line, he said,

"His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

So basically, the father is painting sexually assaulting an unconscious woman as getting "action," and that he son doesn't deserve to pay for his crime. Dan Turner even suggested Brock was a victim who was suffering in this situation, unable to enjoy the foods he loves.

Brock Turner isn't an athlete who made a mistake, he's a rapist who can swim. #BrockTurnerIsARapistNotASwimmer

— haley (@ayyeitshaleyy_) June 10, 2016


#BrockTurner is now in protective custody so he doesn't get attacked. What if it's just 20 minutes though pic.twitter.com/dLRYJwaBbh

— Ryou Bakura (@HashBrownShawty) June 10, 2016


Brock Turner's father says his son has paid a steep price for '20 min of action'...that caused a lifetime of damage for this victim.

— Molly Qerim (@MollyQerim) June 10, 2016


Whether a rape lasts 20 mins or 2 days, what I know is that the impact lasts a lifetime for all the courageous survivors I know #brockturner

— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) June 10, 2016


One writer took it upon herself to fix the statement for him.

Here, I fixed his letter (changes in bold)... pic.twitter.com/qsa8TZWsPJ

— Ali Ozeri (@alexandraozeri) June 6, 2016


6. Another dad responded to Turner's father

Dan Turner's statement wasn't the only viral letter from a father to come out of this case.

Jon Pavlovitz, an author and pastor and a father himself, penned a letter on his blog taking Dan Turner to task for defending his son:

"I need you to understand something, and I say this as a father who dearly loves my son as much as you must love yours:

Brock is not the victim here.
His victim is the victim.
She is the wounded one.
He is the damager."

7. A friend of Turner's got backlash for defending him

Dan Turner was also not the only one to defend the Stanford rapist during his trial. Almost 40 people served as character witnesses for Brock Turner, including a longtime friend named Leslie Rasmussen. She famously blamed "political correctness" for the response to the rape. She also insisted that Turner isn't a real rapist and that alcohol, not Brock, is responsible for his actions.

Rasmussen wrote,

"I don't think it's fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn't remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn't right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn't always because people are rapists."

Rasmussen is in a band, The Good English, and they had to cancel their Brooklyn tour due to outrage over her statement.

The girl harping on alcohol being a contributing factor in Brock Turner sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is the dumbest human alive.

— Simply Perfect Girl (@SimplyPerfGirl) June 10, 2016


After the outrage broke out, Rasmussen apologized and admitted she has a lot to learn.



8. Turner's guidance counselor recanted her support

Brock Turner's high school guidance counselor, Kelly Owens, also wrote a letter supporting him to the court about what a good kid he is and pleading for leniency:

"I plead with you to consider the good things -- the positive contributions -- he can make to his community if given a chance to reclaim his life."


She got backlash too, and she published a statement walking back her support:

"In the statement I submitted to the judge during the criminal proceedings and before sentencing referencing Brock's character, I made a mistake. Of course he should be held accountable. I pray for the victim, her family and all those affected by this horrible event. I am truly sorry for the additional pain my statement has caused. I tell my students they have to be accountable, and Brock is no exception."

9. The Swedish bikers shared their story


Stanford at night. (P^2 - Paul/Flickr)


Swedish PhD students Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson were cycling to a party when they saw a Turner raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Arndt said,


"We saw that she was not moving, while he was moving a lot. So we stopped and thought, 'This is very strange.' When he got up we saw that she still wasn't moving at all."

Brock Turner is blowing up but these men (Carl Fredrik and Peter Jonsson) rescued the girl and called the police. RT pic.twitter.com/vMqZePrYMn

— Tweet Like A Girl (@TweetLikeAGirI) June 10, 2016


They spoke to Turner briefly, and then he took off. As Turner ran, one of the bikers chased him while the other made sure the woman was still alive. The survivor says she was told one of the men had trouble giving a statement because he was weeping over what he had seen.

Fortunately this story has heroes who stopped to intervene and help the young woman. But many have asked: If the sexual assault hadn't been witnessed, and interrupted, by these two men, would anyone have believed her? If Turner hadn't been caught in the act, would he have been brought to justice at all?

10. Stanford University made a statement about the case


Stanford University. (hoyip/Flickr)


Stanford released a statement about the case, praising the two bikers and defending the University's actions regarding the situation:

"In less than two weeks after the incident, Stanford had conducted an investigation and banned Turner from setting foot on campus - as a student or otherwise. This is the harshest sanction that a university can impose on a student."

11. It came out that Stanford has a high rape rate

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, Stanford reported 26 on-campus rapes. That's about one every two weeks, on average.

Campuses all over the country have been accused of being hotbeds for rape and sexual assault. Is Stanford helping or hurting the problem?

12. Turner was officially banned from competitive swimming

"Brock Turner is not a member of USA Swimming and, should he apply, he would not be eligible for membership." https://t.co/FOXyTUe52k

— josh (@motoyoshycle) June 10, 2016


Turner, who was a competitive swimmer, just got banned from USA swimming for life. So, you know, that's something.

This article was written by Alison Maney and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.

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Don't Allow Haters Win in Orlando

Mon, 2016-06-13 12:19
The worst thing we could do right now is compound a horrible act of anti-LGBT hate by promoting anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate. To use the worst shooting tragedy in U.S. history to promote Trump-like behavior would be despicable.

It is a race to the bottom -- outright bigotry -- branding all people in a group, regardless of character, as the enemy.

We LGBTs have recently won so many rights -- with the aid of so many non-LGBTs of all faiths -- that it would be unworthy of us to become haters towards any other group of people.

We have in our rainbow LGBT community many Muslims and immigrants who catch it from both sides -- racist Islamophobes on one side, anti-LGBT bigots on the other. We especially need to stand with them, and stand against scapegoating, period.

At the same time, we cannot allow political leaders to gloss over the fact that this was an attack directed specifically against LGBTs, and that the toxic hate directed against us by people of all different faith traditions has played a role in it.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson said yesterday that we need to refuse to be "hyphenated Americans, but stand together as Americans." Sorry, Mr. Senator, but this was an apparent anti-gay attack. Disregarding that fact is to disregard the hate that has been promoted by anti-gay political and religious leaders of both parties, especially in the American South.



Much of the U.S., especially the South, is currently being swept with anti-Transgender "bathroom bills" aimed at dehumanizing Trans people, and by extension, all LGBTs. These bills dehumanize us, and thus make it "okay" to attack us. We would be more inclined to believe politicians' expressions of sympathy for the Orlando victims and their families, were they not also pushing these anti-Trans, scaremongering bills.

Our country is already a violent, tinder box of hate. Things have gotten so bad that we now have a major party presidential candidate who has made it his calling card to make openly racist incitements against immigrants, Latinos and Muslims.

Knowing so much hate and violence directed at us as LGBTs over the decades, we have a responsibility to help end it, not augment it.

We must stand together as human beings of every race, nationality and religion -- not as parochial Americans concerned only with "our own."

We must confront what our own leaders are doing to perpetuate outrages like the scapegoating of groups here in the U.S. We must forcefully oppose the serial bombings and invasions of other countries, and support for despots against their own peoples, which breed terrorism.

Otherwise the cycle of violence will continue.

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Pat Quinn Pushes Chicago Term Limits, Elected Office for Chicago Consumer Advocate

Mon, 2016-06-13 11:51
Before serving as governor from 2009 to 2015, Pat Quinn was known as a rabble-rousing reformer who, most famously, led a 1980 citizen initiative that cut the membership of the Illinois House by one-third.

A year and a half after losing the governor's race to Bruce Rauner, Quinn announced he is reviving his political activity with an effort to impose a two-term limit on the mayor of Chicago and create an elected office of Chicago consumer advocate.

"As a long-time Chicagoan, I've been dismayed as insiders tighten their grip on the levers of our government," Quinn wrote in an email to supporters announcing the launch of takechargechicago.org. "That's why I'm launching the Take Charge Chicago petition drive to put two binding referendums on the ballot: a term limit on the Chicago Mayor and creation of a Chicago Consumer Advocate."

Quinn is up against an Aug. 8 deadline to get roughly 53,000 signatures of registered voters in Chicago on petitions to get the proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot. The next Chicago mayoral election not until 2019, so Take Charge Chicago could have an effect on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's future even if it fails to place the term limit question on this year's ballot. The group would get a second chance for the 2018 general election.

Quinn is not a newcomer to term limit advocacy. In 1994, as he was pursuing an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state against incumbent George Ryan, then-Treasurer Quinn led a statewide ballot initiative to put a term limits question for state elected officials on the ballot. The Illinois Supreme Court, however, ruled the measure unconstitutional. Ironically, 20 years later, Bruce Rauner -- during a hotly contested gubernatorial race against Quinn -- would lead a similar effort with the same result.

On the consumer front, Quinn's activism led to the creation in 1984 of the Citizens Utility Board, the state government consumer advocate on energy prices.

Quinn's referendum seeks to make Chicago consumer advocate an elected office, but he offered no hint whether he would pursue such an office to the Associated Press: 

He refused to answer if he'd seek public office again. Quinn has recently been making the rounds at political events, fueling talk that he's wants to throw his hat in the ring again.

"I've run for office before," Quinn said. "We'll see about the future."

Here's the complete email message Quinn sent to supporters on Sunday:

Dear Friends,

As you know, I'm a believer in the power of petition and referendum. Over the years, we've used these tools of direct democracy to win major reforms, such as cutting the size of the Illinois House, creating the Citizens Utility Board and allowing recall of Illinois governors.

As a long-time Chicagoan, I've been dismayed as insiders tighten their grip on the levers of our government. That's why I'm launching the Take Charge Chicago petition drive to put two binding referendums on the ballot: a term limit on the Chicago Mayor and creation of a Chicago Consumer Advocate.

These reforms would put everyday people in charge, not the plutocrats. Take Charge Chicago would bring openness to City Hall and offer relief to beleaguered taxpayers and consumers. It can be accomplished by Petition Power, but I need your help.

Consider three points:

1. Chicago is the only city among the nation's 10 biggest cities without a term limit on its mayor.

2. Incumbent Chicago mayors routinely outspend their challengers by millions of dollars reaped from lobbyists, corporations and billionaires.

3. The best way to achieve true campaign finance reform and end secrecy in City Hall is through mayoral term limits. And the only way to achieve term limits is through a petition drive and binding referendum, a power authorized by the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

So, here's the plan. We hope to gather 100,000 signatures from Chicago registered voters to put the Take Charge Chicago referendums on the ballot. Then, if a majority of voters say "Yes" to a term limit on the office of Chicago mayor and creation of a Consumer Advocate for consumers and taxpayers, both reforms become effective in time for the 2019 election.

We can make history: these would be Chicago's first binding referendums in memory. I expect it will be a healthy exercise in democracy and hope it sparks a citywide debate over the structure of our government.

The Take Charge Chicago referendums will open up City Hall and let the people of Chicago in. Let's change Chicago one petition signature at a time!

Go to TakeChargeChicago.org to learn more and download our petition, or call 773-999-2016 and we'll mail you a petition kit. And I invite you can join me this summer at a farmers' market or neighborhood festival to gather autographs from everyday Chicagoans for the Take Charge Chicago petition drive.

Thanks for your help.

Sincerely,
Pat Quinn

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois nabs two spots on the list of 10 hardest-working small towns in America

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#DoYourJob, #ILBudgetNow: Use These Hashtags and Send a Message to Springfield

Fri, 2016-06-10 15:17


Events this week in state politics inspired us to begin promotion of two Twitter hashtags: #doyourjob and #ilbudgetnow. We hope you'll join us in using these tags to send a message to Springfield.

A week that had started out with at least a glint of hope for progress on a state budget -- working groups of lawmakers said they were making progress behind the scenes -- rapidly devolved into sniping over blame for the budget crisis, a serious reprimand from two credit agencies and more sniping over who's to blame for the state's deteriorating credit rating.

Lots of finger pointing today on Illinois credit rating downgrade. Let us agree that it was a team effort.

— Mark Brown (@MarkBrownCST) June 9, 2016


This started Tuesday, when House Speaker Michael Madigan canceled the House's scheduled session on Wednesday because, he said, working groups of rank-and-file lawmakers were making progress on a temporary budget.

On Wednesday, as those groups were working in the Capitol, Gov. Bruce Rauner held a press conference in his office in which he accused Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton of trying to sandbag work on a budget to create a crisis. Rauner said the two top Democrats wanted a crisis in state government -- especially one that would arrive if there's no K-12 school budget within a month and schools can't open in the fall -- so they could use it as leverage to pass a tax increase without implementing any of Rauner's business or government reforms.

A few hours after Rauner met with reporters in Springfield, Cullerton did the same at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. He said he heard from Senate Democrats in the working group meetings that as they were trying to craft a stopgap budget based on the governor's own plan, they started seeing tweets on their phones from the governor's press conference.

Cullerton said Rauner's campaign-style rhetoric is not helping the budget cause and urged Rauner to "take a break" and let the working groups work out a compromise.

Senate Pres John Cullerton begins presser by congratulating Rauner on winning election - 18 months ago pic.twitter.com/0AlIkOPg7a

— Tony Arnold (@tonyjarnold) June 8, 2016


As if to remind Illinois taxpayers that their leaders' squabbling had real, adverse effects, Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday night downgraded the state's credit rating to two steps above junk status. On Thursday, S&P Global Ratings did the same.

Both ratings agencies said Illinois' leaders had all the tools to repair the state's broken finances but political gridlock was preventing them from getting to work.

It sounds so simple, right?

That's what we're talking about after a challenging week in state politics on this week's "Only in Illinois."

You can also listen to the podcast here or through iTunes:



NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois transportation coalition warns 25,000 jobs could be lost without funding by July 1

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Chicago Police Cannot Stop Killings

Fri, 2016-06-10 14:11

This post is not intended to serve as a criticism of the Chicago Police Department, but a learning opportunity for police and the community at large.



Since the beginning of 2016, shootings and homicides have escalated in Chicago. The current strategies being implemented by the police has fallen short as it relates to stopping the killings on the front end. The police are taught to respond to a crime and not to prevent it. It is hard to know when someone is about to take a life, which is not good for the public. The police can only do so much and now is the time for us to begin the dialogue in regards to addressing what it will take to stop the killings before it even happen.



If you look at the historical data in Chicago, you will see that this city has always experienced an increase in homicides. From 1928 to the 1990s, the average homicide rate ranged from 450-800 per year. One may argue that the numbers were down in the past. However, we know that homicides still exist and the question remains: How can we reduce the homicide rate by 70%? The police are doing more undercover work, beefing up patrols, cracking down on gangs, intercepting illegal guns, marching throughout the community, and using other collaborative efforts, even though the numbers continue to soar.



This represents a new problem for the police since the gangs are not structured like the old days. There are many different cliques that exist and motives behind the violence. How can you effectively stop killings on the front end when you do not know anything about the motives or when the person will commit the act? The Chicago Police Department should take a look at hiring a younger Police Superintendent with a background from a crime ridden community and one who understands the youth of today.



It's easy to keep playing a broken record because it's your favorite song, but when people are losing their lives, then it's time to stop playing the same old song. This is very important if the Chicago Police expect to get a handle on this issue. There are ways to stop the killings on the front end, but transparency from the community and police is crucial for this to happen. The Chicago Police Department is currently in the process of making several changes from the top to the bottom. Hopefully the changes will lead to a stronger relationship with the community which in turn can help reverse this epidemic of violence citywide. The only barrier in the way would be the old versus the new.

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The Water Circus is Coming to Town

Fri, 2016-06-10 09:25


Chicago is about to dive into the magical world of Cirque Italia, the first ever Italian water circus, when it returns to town with a brand new show June 9-12 and June 16-19.

This amazing traveling, European-style circus is filled with aerialists, acrobats, contortionists, high wire acts, giant bubbles, jetskis, a laser man, a mermaid, and even a dinosaur to add a little extra excitement.

As if that weren't enough, the entire show takes place on a custom built 35,000 gallon water stage which features a dynamic lid that lifts 35 feet into the air, "curtains" of rain, lasers, lights, and fountains which dazzle the audience. And of course, the show takes place under a majestic white and blue big top tent as any spectacular circus should.

For comparison, Cirque Italia's water circus is similar to Cirque du Soleil - although drastically more affordable, more family oriented, and more interactive with the audience - and nothing like the Ringling Brothers as there are no animals involved at all. The show makes for a perfect afternoon or evening for the family, a group of friends, or even a date night, and is guaranteed to bring a smile to every audience member's face, regardless of age.



The show's owner and founder, Manuel Rebecchi, has a deep seeded history in the circus industry as his late aunt ran one of the largest circus shows in Europe. When Manuel came to the states several years ago, he decided that Americans needed to experience a European-style show and had the brilliant idea to create the first traveling "water circus" in the US. He immediately wanted to create something special and memorable and has managed to put together an astounding stage production with some of the finest performers from around the world.

Each show takes place under a grand, swirling white and blue tent which seats about 1,200 people who are all welcomed into the big top setting as if it was their own home. The variety show can be fun, intimate, and romantic and truly appeals to all ages.

Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to meet and take photos with the performers, as well as bring home some special Italian souvenirs.



Tickets are extremely affordable, ranging from $10-$50 per person, and certain seating areas even have a "free child" offer with the purchase of an adult ticket. Basically, the show provides loads of entertainment for less than the price of a trip to the movies, enabling families, friends, and couples to make memories without breaking the bank.

Cirque Italia takes place in Cicero, IL and will be in town for a limited run, so make sure to experience the family-friendly, Vegas-style circus and variety show before they drain the massive pool, pull up to the tent poles, and take their water show on the road to the next town.


This article by Party Earth.

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