Chicago City Council Passes $7.3 Billion Budget for 2015

Chicago Skyline
The Chicago City Council passed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed $7.3 billion 2015 budget on Nov. 19.

Critics say that a property tax increase will make up a $62.4 million shortfall, and that the budget simply delays problems until after the mayoral election coming up in February.

Emanuel is seeking a second term against stiff opposition.

Alderman Bob Fioretti, who will be challenging Emanuel for the mayorship next year, criticized the City Council’s decision. “This budget does not do enough to make our streets safe and our neighborhoods strong and does not bring Chicago together,” he said. “This budget does not give us a road map to long-term financial security. It continues to use long-term bonds to fund operations and pushes the burden of payments on our children.”

The vote was 46-4 in favor of the budget.

Big Projects, Big Backlogs
Chicago faces massive staffing and infrastructure shortages that Emanuel says his budget will address.

The mayor’s allies in the council hearing praised the budget’s additional attention to tree trimming, graffiti removal and pothole repair.

It was revealed in late October that there is a two-year backlog on tree trimming in the city. A CBS investigation over the summer found that unanswered resident requests to have dead and potentially dangerous trees removed date back to 2011.

The budget’s supporters also touted investments in early childhood education, as well as after-school and summer job programs.

“Our Work Is Not Done”
Emanuel hailed the vote as a commonsense victory, saying that while “we’re not where we need to be,” “we’re definitely not continuing the past practices that got us into the problem.”

“This is a tough budget,” he continued. “We didn’t defer. We didn’t delay. We didn’t deny. We were honest with people. And our work is not done.”

Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said that the amount Chicago taxpayers will be on the hook for will depend not only on city action, but also on Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner and the state assembly.

“This budget is a short-term answer to the city’s immediate financial situation,” he said, “but it does not provide long-term stability without further action in Springfield.”

Naked Teenager Burglarizes Houses While Own Home Is on Fire

Street of residential houses
Police found a naked teenager in one of two houses he broke into in mid-November, while his own home a couple miles away was on fire. According to court documents, he was under the influence of drugs, which appear to have been the synthetic stimulant “bath salts.”

Eighteen-year-old Logan Valle of Falmouth, Maine remained in jail on $10,000 bail on November 18 after his arrest on November 15 on charges of burglary, theft, criminal mischief, and criminal trespass. Police did not, however, implicate him in the fire that destroyed his family’s home. Court documents state that after his arrest, it was determined that he’d overdosed on drugs and suffered from frostbite. His friends said that they believe his actions were attributed to drug usage.

On the night of the incidents, Valle had first broken into the home of Barry and Paula Spencer, whose son Valle knew, on Fieldstone Lane, entering the house through the unlocked garage door. Barry and Paula had been watching TV when the naked Valle, whom they described as being agitated, irrational, and possibly under the influence of drugs, walked into their kitchen, grabbed keys, and then got into each of their three cars, trying to get one started without success. When they told him they’d called the authorities, Valle fled.

Mark and Renae Roy, another family on Fieldstone, were already in bed when two bangs and a crash alerted them that something rather unscripted was going on. Valle allegedly broken one of the Roy Family’s outdoor lights off and then used it to small the glass in a door. Mark Roy confronted the nude intruder, who then booked it to the family’s basement.

Fearing he might need to defend himself, Roy grabbed the nearest thing he could use as a weapon, which happened to be a vacuum cleaner.

Authorities had already been on their way to the Valle house fire when they got a call about a naked man running across a street with a homeowner in pursuit. The two then arrived and found Valle in a narrow storage room.

The teenager surrendered, allowed himself to be handcuffed, and taken outside. He walked unsteadily, had a cold temperature, breathed rapidly, and moaned with each exhale. Things got worse, so he was taken to Portland’s Maine Medical Center.

One of the officers who’d accompanied Valle told his supervisor that the teen appeared to be under “bath salts.

Often confused with literal bath salts, the designer, synthetic drug actually have nothing to do with them. Authorities, however, are still unclear as to what’s really in bath salts, though.

“The presumption is that most ‘bath salts’ are MDPV, or methylenedioxypyrovalerone, although newer… derivatives are being made by illegal street chemists,” says Zane Horowitz, MD, an ER doctor and medical director of the Oregon Poison Center. “Nobody really knows, because there has been no way to test for these substances. However, that is changing, and some tests for certain of these chemicals have been developed.”

Whatever is in the hallucinogenic stimulant causes bizarre, paranoid behavior. Sometimes, it makes users feel extremely hot, which prompts them to take off their clothes.

Since baths salts have become more popular, some rather bizarre headlines have appeared, like: “Man reportedly drinking hand sanitizer at Kroger,” “‘Bath salts’ blamed for machete attack,” and even “Burglar high on bath salts breaks into family’s home, puts up Christmas decorations.”

Once at the jail, Valle reportedly couldn’t remember any of the things he’d been accused of doing.

“These are crimes that require intent or knowing action. If he was suffering from mental illness, that would be relevant,” said Valle’s court-appointed lawyer, Robert LeBrasseur, who also noted that the teen was around the age when schizophrenia starts manifesting. “I don’t know if that’s the case or not.”

Degradable Electronics: a Thing of the Very Near Future?

woman uses a smartphone
The computers, tablets and smartphones we rely on every day were never meant to be used forever. That’s one reason why the average American replaces his or her cellphone about once every two years.

But once we dispose of them, every electronic device we replace contributes to the countless tons of waste thrown into landfills each year. Only a small portion of the devices are able to be salvaged and recycled.

And when experts predict a future controlled by the “Internet of Things,” in which virtually every item people own has some kind of sensor or electronic device on it, the pattern of clogging up landfills with old electronics isn’t expected to get any better.

That’s why, according to a Nov. 20 NanoWerk article, electronics manufacturers are working toward eventually introducing degradable electronics that will virtually dissolve back into the ecosystem once disposed of.

In New Orleans, researchers have developed electronic circuits that, when implanted into a rat’s surgical wound, help speed along the animal’s post-op healing process. The electronics become safely absorbed into the rat’s body within a few weeks, eliminating the need to surgically remove the device, according to NanoWerk.

Researchers at Norway’s SINTEF have also begun to manufacture degradable electronics. Electronics parts containing magnesium circuits are water-soluble, and completely dissolve in just a few hours.

What does this mean for those of us who rely on electronics for virtually every aspect of our lives?

The idea of degradable electronics poses interesting questions, but there’s no doubt it would help reduce the amount of waste humans generate. Degradable electronics would also greatly benefit surgical patients — as the devices implanted into their bodies to monitor their recoveries would no longer have to be surgically removed later.

However, NanoWerk reports that these electronics won’t be without opposition in the coming years.

“Electronics companies which manufacture circuits are more interested in selling their products than in investing in research that results in their products disappearing. And companies which rely on recycling for their revenues may regard these new ideas as a threat to their existence,” the article explains.

What are your thoughts on the possibility of degradable electronics? Share with us in the comments below.

There’s a New Trend of Animals in Weddings, but Are They Symbol or Spectacle?

Bride and groom making a toast with champagne
Many people want their wedding to be memorable, meaningful, and fun, but a new trend in tying the knot is really pushing the envelope. The Wall Street Journal reports that more and more couples are opting to include wedding guests that are a little less than conventional to make the wedding itself more exciting, but they’re probably not what you think. They’re animals.

One groom, Garrette Ziem, decided to surprise his bride, Kim Dalton, with a pair of llamas in their ceremony because he knew they would entertain and calm her. When the blushing bride saw the llamas, she “exploded in happiness and tears,” Ziem told The Wall Street Journal.

It’s not actually uncommon to include an animal in a wedding ceremony — people have used dogs as ring-bearers and for other similar roles — but people are more and more often choosing exotic animals for their events.

In some cases, the use of animals is cited as symbolic, like the metamorphosis of a butterfly represents a girl’s transformation into a woman at a bat mitzvah. Elephants in an Indian wedding are seen as a symbol of good luck. But are animals in events actually symbolic, or a grasp at spectacular novelty?

Tory Cooper, who’s been an event planner in Las Vegas for 20 years, says that she’s gotten requests for snakes, monkeys, and elephants for all kinds of events. An elephant rental can run a couple about $10,000. Since the average cost of a wedding in the United States is about $26,000 and 25% of couples pay for their entire wedding themselves, however, this is probably not a practical move for most couples.

“You have to be careful of the animals coming inside the dining spaces due to food services that share the same space. Couples will often have dogs and cats as ring bearers which often makes a wedding more memorable for the couple,” says Jeff Robinson, Director of Sales for Deerfield  Golf Club. “Just be honest with the venue owner and let them know that you plan on bringing an animal to the ceremony. As long as the client is fair and up front with what they want to do, then it should end up being a joyous occasion.”

If a couple is interested in enlisting the help of animals — llamas, elephants, or otherwise — for their nuptials, they should make sure to check with their venues ahead of time.

Did ESPN Rip Tosh.0 Off?

Allegory of Justice

In mid-November, Tosh.0 host and stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh blasted sports news network ESPN, accusing the TV channel of stealing one of his bits from a recent episode of his show.

For years, Tosh.0 has played cringe-worthy, embarrassing viral videos, but with a twist — the subjects of the videos are invited on the show, where they’re interviewed and given a chance to get things right. The segment is appropriately titled “Web Redemption.”

Recently, ESPN debuted its new segment, called “The Awesome Video Segment,” the first of which showed a Canadian anthem singer falling over a carpet that’d been laid out on a hockey rink. ESPN hosts then gave the singer a second chance to successfully jump over the carpet without falling.

“The Awesome Video Segment” sounds, as Tosh says, “eerily familiar.” He also accused ESPN of stealing his trademarked catchphrase (“Are you ready to give it another shot?”), and had some other choice words on a recent episode of his show.

“You [expletive] hacks are cheapening my brand,” the comedian said. “I’m fine with kids in high school and college plagiarizing, but once you work for a real network, you should have some [expletive] self-respect.”

ESPN has since responded, saying that they did not steal his phrase, nor will they stop producing “The Awesome Video Segment.”

“This was more of an instance of us using a common phrase than it was copying his wording,” ESPN told the entertainment website TMZ. “We know that doesn’t sound like the strongest explanation yet it’s the truth.”

Whether or not a lawsuit will actually emerge is still unknown.

ESPN was also sure to add that they’re “looking forward to ‘giving it another shot’ in future installments of ‘The Awesome Video Segment.'”

Florida Neighborhood Tries to Oust HOA Board Members

Mallet, legal code and scales of justice

Homeowners associations across the United States have surely experienced the occasional argument between a board member and a local homeowner. Unfortunately, one Florida community has taken their dispute to the authorities: a group of homeowners have asked the Broward Circuit Court to help remove four members of their HOA board, after claiming that the alleged offenders were writing unapproved checks.

Mainlands 3 is a neighborhood in Tamarac, Florida for homeowners aged 55 and older. Like many neighborhoods in the state, the community is managed by a 10-member community board that runs the local HOA. Four of those board members, William and Linda Villela and Earl and Arlene Ostrander, have been accused of mismanagement and disregarding check-writing protocols. Now, 75 homeowners from the 256-home community have asked a judge from the Broward Circuit Court to forbid the accused from writing checks and to create a special meeting within 48 hours to allow a removal vote.

The current Mainlands 3 HOA board has served since December 2013. The homeowner’s lawsuit claims that residents attempted to force a recall election in September, only to have the meeting adjourned. They report that there have been no HOA meetings since. However, William Villela, the board president and one of the members named in the suit, has stated that there was no need for a recall election. He also described the lawsuit as a “vindictive vendetta” against the current board.

The homeowners’ lawyer has correctly called the case an “exotic” occurrence: few HOA disputes ever go to court. Instead, communities are typically able to resolve problems through meetings and negotiations within the neighborhood.

“Board members of homeowner associations have a fiduciary duty to all members to exercise ordinary care in the daily operations of their association. They are responsible to stay within the annual budgets they adopt and should never act without the overall good of all owners in mind. Community managers play an important role in making sure proper procedures are in place to insure the funds of the association are secure and board adheres to the procedures. Transparency in board actions at properly noticed board meetings keeps owners informed and not feeling excluded,” says Anne Calarco, DCAL, CMCA, AMS, PCAM President and Managing Partner of Level Property.

Circuit Court Judge Dale Ross has scheduled a hearing for the case on Wednesday, November 19. If the homeowners are successful, this would be the second recall for Earl Ostrander, who made headlines across the U.S. in 1984 after he became the first mayor to be recalled in Wildwood, New Jersey’s history.

You Won’t Believe How Much Video Content Gets Uploaded to YouTube Each Minute


In a mere 18-month span of time, the amount of video content that gets uploaded to YouTube each minute has skyrocketed by more than 200%.

According to a Nov. 21 Reel SEO article, more than 300 hours’ worth of video is now uploaded to YouTube’s servers in any given minute. That’s the same as 12 and a half days of video!

While the figure hasn’t been confirmed in an official statement from YouTube or its owner, Google, Reel SEO reports that a Google spokesperson confirmed the statistic at its recent “Brand Lab” session in New York City.

While the news may be troubling to smaller brands that fear their video marketing content may become lost in the growing amount of content on YouTube, the Reel SEO article states that it’s still possible for a company of any size to benefit from using online video marketing.

The same principles of creating high-quality, attention-grabbing and engaging content for the brand’s target audience still apply, and are still just as effective at generating brand buzz.

“I think the mindset of how businesses look at youtube has to change,” says Bryan Bolan, Founder and Creative Director, b-Mc creative. “How much video uploaded every minute has no bearing on your video or marketing goals because we need to treat youtube as a search engine. Everyday there are millions of blogs, infographics, and websites released yet it doesn’t prevent us from doing the same. We optimize this content to reach our target audience. Video on youtube is no different.”

The best thing for brands to remember when embarking on a video marketing campaign is to not expect every video to go viral — as only a small minority of YouTube videos are able to reach that level of attention. Instead, it’s better to focus on building consumer loyalty among the brand’s target audience and make the brand a reliable source of accurate information and great content.

In the time it took you to read this article, about 62 days’ worth of video have been uploaded to YouTube. So what are you waiting for? Endless potential awaits for companies who take advantage of all that a video marketing campaign has to offer.

Four Cheerleaders Take on Mayor In Court

Justice scale on blue background

Four cheerleaders filed a lawsuit against Alan Long, the former mayor of Murrieta, California, on November 10, after the then-mayor rear ended their vehicle with his pickup truck on October 16.

At the time of the crash, Long’s blood-alcohol content was .08, the legal limit, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. He was arrested at the scene of the accident, and resigned from office shortly after. He was later charged with felony drunken driving.

One of the girls, Melissa Reynolds, suffered fractured neck vertebrae and was confined to a hospital bed at home.

“She’s in a lot of pain, she’s suffering,” said her grandmother, Rozette Dewart. “She’s suffering tremendously.”

“She can’t move her head,” said Riverside attorney Jean-Simon Serrano, who filed the lawsuit, and also added that the three other girls — Adrienna Williams and sisters Chloe and Camille Rogers, were out of the hospital, but still receiving treatment.

Now, the high-school students have filed a lawsuit against Long, alleging negligence in connection with violation of California’s drunken and reckless driving laws. According to the complaint, “As fire battalion chief and as a ‘first responder’ and as mayor of the city of Murrieta at the time of the incident, Alan William Long had sworn to uphold these laws, yet he knowingly and intentionally violated them.”

The civil complaint alleges that the four teens suffered “severe personal injuries,” which consequently incurred medical expenses and loss of earnings.

Most worrying of all, Serrano alleges that on the night of the initial incident, Long tried to delay the authorities’ arrival, saying that he “delayed and tried to deflect any involvement of authorities while his blood alcohol was too high for driving. These attempts failed.”

“Even after and with these delays and after emergency personnel had come and gone taking the injured teens to the hospital, police conducted field sobriety tests on Mr. Long. He failed these tests and was arrested for driving while intoxicated,” said Serrano.

Long is currently free on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to be arraigned on December 11.

After Summer of Floods, Detroit Still Trying to Clean Up

entrance and staircase of the House invaded by mud 1
More than three months after being hit with torrential rains and floods, the city of Detroit is still struggling to clean up and return to its former state.

According to a November 17 Michigan Radio article, organizations like AmeriCorps are working to help residents clear out their waterlogged basements, getting rid of rotting wood, mildew and black mold — which can pose a major threat to human health.

“I didn’t realize I still had water in the basement until three weeks ago when I called to get the furnace going because it started getting cold. And, he told me there was still six inches of water in the basement,” Duane Van Geison, a 74-year-old Detroit resident, told Michigan Radio. “(AmeriCorps) came and pumped out the water last week and then they started cleaning out Monday, cleaning out all the damaged material, which I have plenty of.”

Van Geison’s situation is hardly unique. AmeriCorps has already cleaned up 120 homes that had been flooded, and 400 more homes await aid, according to Michigan Radio. With only 35 volunteers from the organization working in the area, the work will continue to go slowly.

“Prevention really is the key here. Stopping the problem before it becomes an issue can easily prevent a family from having to pay thousands of dollars in home damages. Once your basement floods, that’s it. You’re going to need mold remediation and maybe even complete renovations in order to recover from a basement flood,” explains Austin Werner, Owner of The Real Seal, LLC.

According to Sara Ann Levine, a member of AmeriCorps St. Louis’s Emergency Response Team who is coordinating the clean-up effort in Detroit, finding volunteers has become difficult because media coverage of the floods ended months ago.

“When there’s not that big publicity push, we don’t get a lot of volunteers that come out, and most of the time on disasters the clean-up is really driven by volunteers,” Levine told Michigan Radio.

It may be a slow recovery for a city plagued with numerous problems in recent years, but it’s necessary to make sure residents’ basements are moisture-free.

Buffalo Snowstorm Leads to Eight Dead, Countless Homes with Property Damage


Although Thanksgiving hasn’t yet arrived, the snow has in many parts of the country. Buffalo, NY, is one such area that has seen potentially record-breaking amounts of snowfall, with some areas buried under six feet or more of snow.

The snow has already caused a number of problems for residents: doors, windows, and roofs have caved in under the pressure from the snow, and the highways have been shut down, leaving many stuck indoors. The Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres have both had to postpone and relocate their respective games for the week.

In fact, the exact amount of snow is unknown, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo. The national record for snowfall was 76″ in Silver Lake, CO, but Buffalo has no way of properly measuring their snowfall because some of the snow spotters for the National Weather Service were unable to leave their homes due to barricades of snow.

Many Buffalonians have had to dig themselves out of their houses through tunnels and large paths starting at their front doors. This is especially difficult for homeowners who don’t have snow blowers.

One Twitter user from Buffalo even displayed the view from his garage on social media. Upon opening his garage door, he could see only a sliver of the outdoors above the massive piles of snow.

“When the winter months hit, the cold weather can actually cause garage door motors to freeze up and stop working,” says James Knoll, Owner, Durbin Garage Doors. “Routine inspections and, more importantly, having an insulated garage door installed can be the difference between a quick repair and a more costly replacement when the temperatures drop.”

Meanwhile, the mountains of snow have engulfed some homes, and about 15 to 20 people had to be evacuated from a trailer park after their roofs caved in. Other homeowners have seen broken doors and windows due to the snow’s weight.

The storm will likely cause homeowners a significant amount of damage. Weather forecasters also predict flooding once the snow melts.

Meanwhile, other parts of Erie County weren’t hit nearly as hard by the storm. The region’s “lake effect” snow means that the snow falls more on some areas than others.

But the sections of the city and its surrounding suburbs that have been hurt the worst have also seen as many as eight deaths so far. A 60-year-old Cheektowaga man succumbed to a heart attack when he tried to get a snowblower out of his shed.

Others might still be at risk. Residents who use snow blowers to clear a path beyond the garage are warned to be careful using the machines in an enclosed space.