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U.S. Farmers Risk Losing Everything Because Of Absurd Immigration Rule

Thu, 2016-08-25 06:35

Three years ago, Fishkill Farms owner and operator Joshua Morgenthau found himself facing a situation that is every farmer’s nightmare.


It was time to prepare his 100-acre fruit and vegetable farm’s cherries and strawberries for harvest, but the workers he’d hired for the job weren’t there to help. His employees were many miles away in Mexico, waiting for the green light to enter the U.S. and get to work.


Without enough hands to weed and prune the delicate crop, Morgenthau’s berries were at risk of rotting on the vine. Worse, he knew there was little he could do but wait and hope he didn’t lose his whole crop in the meantime.


Each year, Morgenthau employs eight seasonal migrant workers who travel to his farm in New York’s Hudson Valley through the labor department’s H-2A temporary agricultural worker program. The process of obtaining their H-2A visas had been relatively painless for the previous five years. But this time, he says the department changed the file number of his application without any warning. 


That meant he had to refile all the applications, creating “hours and hours and hours of more paperwork and hassle for us” and delaying the workers’ arrival by more than a month.


As a result, the farm’s cherry and strawberry production took a hit that season. His team of migrant and domestic workers were unable to make up for the decreased harvest preparation time.


“We managed to get it picked, but it was still kind of a mess,” he told The Huffington Post.


Despite setbacks like this one, the visa program is essential to Morgenthau’s farm. He works with the same employees each year and described them as “part of the farm family.” He credits them with being experts at operating the machinery specific to the crops he grows.


The H-2A program was created in the 1990s to help agricultural employers bring temporary foreign workers into the U.S. to do seasonal work that domestic workers cannot or are not willing to do. As part of the program, employers are required to offer certain wages, plus transportation and housing when necessary. The H-2A visa holders live and work in the U.S. for several months at a time but are not considered immigrants, and the program is not seen as a pathway to citizenship.


This so-called guest farm worker program is far from perfect. It has been criticized for being easy to abuse, with some employers neglecting worker safety and stealing wages while facing little recourse. However, those familiar with the visa program describe it as the industry’s sole legal option for getting temporary farm work done. 


The farming industry still relies heavily on undocumented workers, who are estimated to make up about half of the country’s 2.5 million hired farm hands, according to the Labor Department. The temporary visa program is responsible for just a fraction of the overall agricultural workforce.


Yet the program is growing increasingly popular ― due to the domestic labor shortages ― forcing more farmers to contend with a chaotic and heavily bureaucratic system that puts their crops in jeopardy. At the same time, calls to improve the program are being sounded by farmers and immigration reform advocates alike.



The U.S. has cracked down on the use of undocumented laborers coming into the country, resulting in a widespread labor shortage in agriculture and ballooning demand for H-2A visas. This has also meant more administrative delays in processing visa applications.


Delays of even a week can result in major crop losses for farmers. Delays of a month or more can be devastating. 


Morgenthau was able to save his harvest in 2013, the year his workers were delayed, but he knows just how easily things can fall apart. “We’re lucky to have never lost an entire crop,” he said.


Others aren’t so fortunate.


A number of farmers in Georgia reported six-digit losses this year due to delays in visa processing. Another farmer, in California, watched as one-third of his Napa cabbage rotted in the field while he waited for the H-2A workers to arrive.


Last year, a State Department computer glitch delayed workers on the West Coast, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue. Elise Bauman, executive director at Salem Harvest, a food recovery group that partners with dozens of farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, saw the fallout of this glitch firsthand. She and her team worked with just three strawberry farms in 2015, but she estimated seeing some 100 acres of the wasted berries with her own eyes.


“They have to be handled and harvested at exactly the right time, otherwise you get a pile of mush,” Bauman said. “Very delicious-tasting mush, but it’s not attractive.”


These issues will only compound as the visa program continues to grow. Visa applications increased by 40 percent over the past five years, according to NPR. Last year, 140,000 H-2A visas were granted. In the first half of this year, visa issuance is up another 17 percent over 2015.


type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related + articlesList=571e58fae4b0d912d5ff48d0,5798d388e4b02d5d5ed3b695,5609a0ebe4b0af3706dd66d9,576be8c4e4b065534f490c1f

The H-2A program’s issues have sent the farming industry into crisis mode, vocally criticizing the program’s backlog of visa applications and emerging as a somewhat surprising proponent of immigration reform.


In an April news release, the American Farm Bureau Federation warned of rotting fields of crops resulting from H-2A delays. Those delays, the organization says, could be avoided if the program were revamped.


So far, there hasn’t been much action on that advice.


In June, a bipartisan group of Congress members calling for H-2A reform sent a letter to the Labor Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leaders, asking them to streamline the guest worker visa process. Their effort has yet to gain traction.  


In a media call organized by the pro-immigration reform Partnership for a New American Economy earlier this month, AFB president Zippy Duvall called for a more flexible and efficient visa program for migrant farmworkers. One solution Duvall has offered would be filing paperwork for the program electronically. Currently, paperwork must be processed through standard mail.


Failure to act, Duvall warned, would threaten the nation’s food supply.


“We’re coming to a point where the American people need to make up their mind if they want to import their food or import their labor,” Duvall said.


Other voices are calling for bigger changes. 


Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, took his call for reform a step further. Beyond streamlining the H-2A program, he would like to find a way to keep some of these temporary farm workers in the U.S., instead of sending them back to their home countries when their visas expire.


“We want to take care of the workers who are with us,” Nassif said. “They have experience, families and roots here. We want to keep those people [here] and protect them. We want some sort of legal status for them.”


In 2013, Nassif backed legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that proposed a new “blue card” program that would make temporary workers in good legal standing eligible for a legal status, allowing them to stay in the country and granting them a path to citizenship. The bill passed in the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House after being blocked by Speaker John Boehner.  


In the absence of action in Washington, some believe employers in the industry should be doing more to offer better wages and conditions to their farmworkers, Bruce Goldstein, president of the Farmworker Justice advocacy group, argues.


“If employers want to retain their workforce and attract workers to their jobs, they collectively need to improve their reputation,” Goldstein told HuffPost.


Due to many farmworkers’ undocumented status, Goldstein argues, they silently endure subpar working conditions and pay, fearing that they’ll be reported or fired if they complain. 


The average seasonal migrant farmworker is paid between $12,500 and $14,999 a year. Most lack health insurance and many work far more than 40 hours a week. (By contrast, someone working full time for the federal minimum wage earns $15,080 a year.)


Guest farm workers are supposed to earn more under the temporary work program. H-2A wages are set by the Labor Department and vary from state to state ― between $10.59 and $13.80 an hour ― based on state minimums and typical wages for domestic farm workers in the region. In Washington state, for example, the minimum wage for H-2A workers is $12.69 an hour. That’s significantly more than the state’s minimum wage of $9.47.


Some research has raised questions about whether visa-holding guest workers fare much better than unauthorized workers, however. An Economic Policy Institute study released last year found no significant difference in pay or conditions between the two groups.


As of now, farmers are able to get away with this. While advocates like Goldstein believe some employers are treating their workers fairly, the ones who aren’t continue to hinder their progress. And they need to be held accountable.


“There are many employers that comply with the law, but they are being undermined by the companies that want to reduce their cost and increase their profitability by cheating workers,” Goldstein said. “We need to create a law-abiding agricultural sector to benefit both the farmworkers and the employers that comply with the law.”



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BuzzFeed has reported that the H-2A visa program and its sister program for short-term non-farm workers (H-2B) suffer from a host of other abuse problems. The Labor Department found that between 2010 and 2014 almost 1,000 companies had violated H-2 laws; however, fewer than 150 employers were banned from hiring guest workers through the program.


Still, some farmers believe the H-2A program is overburdened with regulations and expenses.


Dan Fazio, president of the Washington Farm Labor Association, connects farmers with migrant workers. He, too, described the H-2A program as flawed, but said he’s seen its popularity with participating farmworkers firsthand.


“Is it ideal to take a person from one country and bring them to another country to work? I don’t know,” Fazio said. “But I do know that the people coming to Washington state love the program and when their six months here are done and they go back, they make sure they’re on the list to come back next year.”


A lack of alternatives might have something to do with this popularity — and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.


But the lack of progress doesn’t mean the industry has to start from scratch to arrive at a solution, said Luawanna Halstrom, an agriculture consultant who previously served as president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers and has worked with a number of national and state organizations.


She’s hopeful that a fix is on the horizon — and it may not be as complex as it might initially seem.


“People are working with this old horse because it’s all they’ve got,” Halstrom said. “It can be a good program if we could reformulate it and figure out how to make it work.”


A revamped program would be welcomed by Morgenthau, too. Another delay like 2013’s might not turn out as well next time.


“The system should be streamlined,” he said. “When you have the whims of a bureaucracy and a heated political debate that could determine pretty quickly a positive or negative outcome in terms of being able to work with the qualified employees you have been working with, it’s just one too many variables to stomach.”


―-


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.


More stories like this:


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This Slaughterhouse Will Let You Watch What Actually Happens Inside

Thu, 2016-08-25 05:00

If you google the term “slaughterhouse photos,” the results tend to have certain adjectives connected to them — “shocking,” “heartbreaking.” Even, simply, “horror.”


There is a good reason for that, of course. Many meat-packing plants have been criticized not only for practices that torture the animals processed there but for conditions that endanger and exploit their workers. 


Evidence of such abuses is typically only obtained through undercover videos publicized by animal rights groups. Such videos, accompanied by the advent of industry-backed “ag-gag” laws that seek to prosecute those responsible for them, have given the entire industry a reputation of secrecy that runs counter to the food movement’s increasing interest in how the food we eat is made.


The Vermont Packinghouse, based in a North Springfield, Vermont, facility that previously produced Ben and Jerry’s Peace Pops, does things differently. 


The plant, which opened for business two years ago, prides itself on its transparency and appears to be one of the nation’s only examples of a glass-walled slaughterhouse.


The plant’s owner, Arion Thiboumery, says he wouldn’t have it any other way. He welcomes tours of the facility, which specializes in “niche” meat markets including organic, pasture-raised and grass-fed products, for anyone who is interested. All you have to do is call ahead and set a time.


“We feel like we’re proud of what we do here and we want everything to be above board,” Thiboumery told The Huffington Post. “We’ll tell you about how the animal was raised and we’ll talk about how it died. We’re not embarrassed about it.”



That level of openness attracted New York-based photographer Everett Meissner. Often attracted to subject matter “off the beaten path,” he became curious about slaughterhouse workers and sought out facilities near a small secondary residence he maintains in Vermont. His search led him to Vermont Packinghouse, just a few hours’ drive away from his second home. 


When Meissner arrived at the plant earlier this year, he met with Thiboumery and got a quick tour of the space before being told to go ahead and “do your thing.” Nothing was off limits, which came as a surprise to the photographer.


“I was kind of blown away by their open-door policy,” Meissner said. “The feeling you get at these other places is that it’s happening behind closed doors and you don’t look past the gate.” 


The images show the facility’s workers involved in various points of the process of breaking down an animal, as well as a group of college students that was visiting the site that same day.


One shot, one of Meissner’s favorites from the collection, captures a female student’s visual reaction as she watches a cow being processed, its reflection visible in the glass of the viewing window.


(More photos below.)


The frankness of the operation was appreciated by Meissner, who admitted he is among those carnivores who hadn’t given much thought to the slaughtering process that’s responsible for providing his food. 


“If you’re a meat eater, you have to accept that at some point the animal does have to get killed,” he said.


Thiboumery’s approach to his business appears to be catching on. He said the company’s business is experiencing rapid growth and high demand. But his operation of some 50 employees is still dwarfed by the size of the large producers that dominate the industry.


While some of the industry’s key players are beginning to dip their toe into “niche” markets by offering antibiotic- and hormone-free lines, he doubts many of them will embrace transparency in a similar way.


He wishes they would.


“Death is a part of life,” Thiboumery said. “When we acknowledge that, bring care to it and aren’t just trying to shove it into some dark corner and make it go away, I think it actually makes us more human when we do that.”



―-


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.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Here Are 11 New Illinois Laws You Should Know

Wed, 2016-08-24 13:37
There are a lot of new state laws that recently went into effect, including some pretty important ones you might not have heard much about in the news.

The laws address things like youth unemployment, 3D mammogram insurance coverage and animal protection, to name a few.

Here's a list of 11 notable and new state laws to help you stay up-to-date.

1. Southern Illinois University and Alcohol (SB 2824)



Alcohol now is allowed to be served or sold at Southern Illinois University events in buildings that are controlled by the board of trustees for the university. Also, students between 18 and 21 are allowed to taste but not completely drink alcohol while enrolled in a fermentation science class.

2. Chicago Fire Pension Fund (SB 2820)



The Chicago Firefighter Board of Trustees is now allowed to engage in "financial transactions that involves securities lending."

3. Lottery Scratch-Off Discontinuation (SB 2397)



The discontinuation of the Quality of Life scratch-off has been extended from the end of 2017 to the end of 2025.

4. Autism Awareness (SB 345)




A law called the Autism and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions Awareness Act allows insurance companies to more easily cover therapy people on the autism spectrum might require.

5. The Global Scholar Certification Program (HB 4983)



This law establishes the State Global Scholar Certification Program to reward certain public high school graduates who have achieved a level of competence in the global sphere.

You can see the rest of the list of new laws here.

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Obama Gave Chance The Rapper This Career Advice

Wed, 2016-08-24 13:07

President Barack Obama gave hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper a bit of career advice during a recent White House event.


In an August interview with GQ magazine, the artist said he joined other celebrities like DJ Khaled, Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj at the White House in April to discuss the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and criminal justice reform.


“At the end [of the meeting], everybody takes a group photo, and he’s signing stuff. And he keeps pushing me to the back, and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand why he won’t sign my shit.’ And he makes me wait till the end, and then he brings me up to his office, and we had a really good conversation about what I was working on. He told me I needed to start selling my music,” Chance says.


“He’s a good man. Even if he wasn’t president, if his ass worked at, like, Red Lobster, he’d be just a good man working at Red Lobster,” the Chicago rapper added.


Chance’s third mixtape, “Coloring Book”, was released exclusively on Apple Music this spring and according to him it’s in heavy rotation at the Obama’s residency.


“Oh yeah. They’re bumping ‘Coloring Book’ hard up there. If you go up there, you’ll probably hear ‘Coloring Book.’ This is not a joke at all,” the artist said.


“Malia listens to ‘Coloring Book,’” he added, referencing the president’s oldest daughter. “And I send them stuff sometimes. I haven’t seen Malia since I was a kid. I think [Malia and Sasha] were both in school the day that I went up there recently, but Barack was talking about it. Or, uh, President Obama was talking about it.”


One of Chance’s tracks, “Acid Rain,” is featured on the president’s Spotify summer playlists.


On Tuesday, the 23-year-old rapper took to Twitter to clarify that he will not be at ESPN’s town hall about race relations after a rumor was started that he would be in attendance.


In a series of tweets, Chance wrote about “the responsibility of all media outlets to correctly label all killings by 1st responders as what they are: Murders.”



I saw some publications report that I'll be at the @espn forum about athletes' and celebrities' responsibility to speak on issues. Not true.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016



@espn but since I won't be there let me just say a few thoughts on "responsibility".

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016



@espn it is the responsibility of all media outlets to correctly label all killings by 1st responders as what they are: Murders.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016



@espn it is the responsibility of all first responders to deescalate unlawful situations and restore peace without committing murder.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016



@espn and it is the responsibility of athletes and celebrities to say all that out loud whether at a forum, on twitter or at work.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016


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Illinois Voters Beware: Deceit Season Is Here

Wed, 2016-08-24 11:53
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

It's deceit season. Voters beware.

An envelope arrived last week from Friends of Marty Moylan. The letter inside was dated Aug. 16th and in big type, it read: "Petition to Crack Down on Child Sex Abuse."

"As a father, husband and state Representative, I take accusations of sexual abuse and assault very seriously, especially when it involves children," Moylan's letter began.

I don't know about you, but I'm guessing we'd have a hard time finding anyone who would say differently.

"That's why I was appalled" the letter went on, "to learn that former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert would not be charged with sexual crimes he allegedly committed against children as a wrestling coach."

Now, wait. What was the date on this letter again? Hastert was sentenced at the end of April.

Moylan's just now getting around to telling his constituents he's outraged? The letter goes on to say he pushed for bills to change the statute of limitations, but they have not been signed into law. Therefore, Moylan's letter says, he's asking me to sign his petition calling on Springfield to pass a law immediately. That sentence was bolded and underlined. Where do we go to sign the petition? Not to Moylan's government website. No, we're supposed to sign at www.martyforstaterep.com or we can call a phone number.

Moylan might very well be upset there's a statute of limitations for child sex assault. He was added as a co-sponsor to a bill that sought to end the child sex abuse statute of limitations a week before it passed out of the House to the Senate. Still, this letter also is plainly an attempt by him to get updated contact information from people who live in his district as he runs for re-election. I've heard about a few of these types of petition appeals lately.

Moylan did not do anything wrong that I'm aware of. In fact, the letter notes it was not paid for by taxpayers.

But to hook people who are worried about child sex abuse and angry about Republican Hastert into giving contact information so you can hit them up with appeals to vote for you is disingenuous.

Beware who's asking for what information and where it's going.

It's time also to pay particular attention to what you read. Just because something looks like a newspaper does not necessarily mean it is unbiased and produced by professional journalists. My Des Plaines neighborhood now gets the "North Cook News" on a weekly basis, while a portion of Springfield is having the "Sangamon Sun" delivered to homes. Political activist, former governor candidate and conservative radio host Dan Proft is financing the weekly newspapers -- through his Liberty Principles PAC -- in areas with competitive legislative races. There are a total of 13 such partner publications listed on the North Cook News website.

If you dig deeply enough on the website or in the print product, you will find this: "We believe in limited government, in the constructive role of the free market and in the rights of citizens to choose the size and scope of their government and the role it should play in their society. Funding for this news site is provided, in part, by advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government."

Jackie Spinner, of Columbia Journalism Review, first brought this effort to my attention in March. Proft told her then that mainstream news media "pretend that they are just objective scribes detailing the passing scene, and they're not. Everybody has a perspective. Everybody has an agenda. I'm transparent about mine."

In my role here, I get to share my view in spots clearly labeled as commentary. Sometimes, I critique Republicans; sometimes Democrats. Other times, I keep my opinions out of reported stories. You might have trouble understanding that Proft's publications are not likely to share negative information about Republican state legislative candidates running in the general election.

As I told Spinner last spring, "It looks to me like a piece of campaign literature masquerading as a newspaper."

I'm an equal-opportunity critic. A few days ago, there was much ado in the state comptroller's race when a reporter gave the candidates a pop quiz on multiplication. This is supposed to be relevant because the comptroller keeps the state's checkbook. Republican Leslie Munger failed and Democrat Susan Mendoza did not. Trust me, the elected comptroller will have computers and qualified state employees doing the math. If the quiz made you realize there was a comptroller election, then it did some good. But you should make your voting decision on more than a gimmicky pop math quiz. And every time you see, hear or read about journalists covering candidates and campaigns, ask yourself whether what they're doing really is relevant and will help you decide who best can solve the challenges we face.

That's what we should be doing: helping you vote well.

Next: 11 new state laws you should know

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Pearl Jam Stops Wrigley Field Show As Eddie Vedder Has Obnoxious Fan Tossed Out

Tue, 2016-08-23 22:04



Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder called the band to a halt in the middle of a song at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Monday night to have an unruly fan ejected. 


“Hey! Hey mister! Hey, hey, get your finger out of that woman’s face motherf-” he said, cutting off the start of a R-rated word. “Hey mister ― all the the fingers are pointing at you.” 


It’s not clear what the person was doing, but fans cheered as Vedder ordered the fan to “clear out” and waved as security took him away. 


“Ma’am, you’re OK? Yeah? You’re good?” Vedder asked the woman. “That’s a good man, taking care of your woman, and then she was taking care of herself too pretty good.”


The band then resumed the song “Lukin.” 


Here’s a look at it from another angle:





It wasn’t the show’s only unusual moment. 


Former Chicago Bulls star and Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman ― a noted Pearl Jam fan ― carried Vedder during the band’s performance of the song “Black, Red, Yellow.”



Eddie Vedder & Dennis Rodman Red, Black, Yellow #PJWrigley #pearljam pic.twitter.com/wSBv3NLaUz

— yael (@yaelant) August 23, 2016

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Computers Are For Girls, Too

Tue, 2016-08-23 15:42
I remember three things about my first computer science class in college. First, improbably, the professor was named Ramm, as in "random access memory." Second, the class was about processors, and I only had a vague idea what a processor was. Third, it was the last computer science class for most of my female classmates, who quickly decided they'd rather major in something else.

I never would have guessed that my time as a computer science student would turn out to be pretty much the high water mark for women in the field. The percentage of computer science majors who are women has gone down from 37 percent in 1984 to just 18 percent today. In other words, on average my daughters are half as likely to major in computer science as I was 30 years ago.


My daughters are half as likely to major in computer science as I was 30 years ago.


But the young women in this video are defying these odds -- they're pursuing careers in computer science and dismantling stereotypes about the field. I love hearing them talk about the sense of empowerment and joy that coding brings them. Kimberly got a standing ovation from her high school English classmates when she demonstrated a book review app she made. Kayla is preserving and sharing the rich history of her community with an app that customizes multimedia walking tours. Courtney helped design the landing legs on a rocket when she interned at SpaceX!



The gross underrepresentation of women in computer science is not just a problem for the girls who are left out. It's a problem for all of us, because we're not benefitting from the creativity girls have to offer. There's a mountain of research showing that diversity makes for better companies and better products -- that we're more innovative when we work in teams with different kinds of people -- yet the gender diversity in tech has been getting worse for decades.

One reason why is that somewhere along the way, society decided that computers are for boys. Or, as Aishwarya says, "guys in hoodies." And this toxic stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, virtually guaranteeing that computer science is indeed a male-dominated field.

First, since girls aren't supposed to be into computers, they aren't exposed to computer science when they're young, and even if they are, they often aren't encouraged to pursue their interests in the field. That helps explain why only 22 percent of the high school students who take the AP computer science exam today are girls. Kayla didn't know she wanted to be a computer scientist until she'd already started a totally different career, in library science. It was only when she started training staff to use the library's software that she realized she might be interested in making software herself, so she went back to college for a second time to be a computer scientist. Kimberly had never heard of computer science until she saw it was one of the classes she could take at her local community college.


The gross underrepresentation of women in computer science is... a problem for all of us.


The idea that computers are for boys doesn't just keep girls out of the field, though. It also drives women out. A host of implicit biases affect the way tech companies recruit, train, and promote--and make it easier for men to get ahead.

Luckily, there are great organizations like the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), whose mission is to increase the number of girls and women in tech. NCWIT and groups like it aim to make it easier for girls to discover that they love computers--and make it easier for women who love computer science to make a career in it. Eventually, as more and more girls choose this path, it won't seem like computer science is just for boys.

Aishwarya, Courtney, Kayla, and Kimberly all talk about the excitement of using code to turn an idea into a piece of software that can change the world, of creating something important from nothing. Let me tell you, it is a terrific feeling. Kayla says it makes her feel like "superwoman." I hope everyone gets the opportunity to feel that way.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Here's Another Reason To Be Worried About Bottled Water

Mon, 2016-08-22 15:41

The bottled water industry is in the midst of a banner year.


Bottled water sales are set to outstrip soda sales in the U.S. for the first time since the Beverage Marketing Corporation began tracking the industry in the 1970s, according data the firm released earlier this month. 


On one hand, this could be viewed as a public health victory, especially since industry leaders say rising health concerns linked with the consumption of sugary, calorie-laden sodas are largely driving the trend.


But there is also a more potentially disturbing explanation for bottled water’s surge in popularity, these same leaders say: Consumers are fearful of what’s coming out of their taps, thanks to public health crises like the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, and America’s immense and underfunded water infrastructure challenges more broadly.


Critics of the bottled water industry point out that these increased sales represent the privatization of something that has generally been recognized as a public good. There is an incredible amount of waste generated along the way, and plenty of thorny questions about the ethics of water sourcing come up.


One of those critics is Gay Hawkins, a professor at Western Sydney University and the co-author of the 2015 book Plastic Water: The Social And Material Life of Bottled Water.


There is “no good news” in letting beverage companies ― like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which each benefit from the rise in sales through their own water brands — take control of America’s drinking water, Hawkins argues.


The Huffington Post recently spoke with the professor about what can be done.


Were you surprised to see this recent news that bottled water sales are surging past soda in the U.S.?


No, that is playing out everywhere. The way the beverage companies see it, there is a major attack on their market for selling dangerously oversweetened beverages. The way in which they respond to that is the introduction of a substitute market, which is water. All of this sort of implicitly says, OK, if you’re not reaching for a Coke, reach for a branded water instead. They don’t want to see their overall market share decline, so they’ve had to create other beverage lines that will cope with this. 


I think it’s depressing to the extreme to think that there could be any positive hype about people reaching for water rather than Coke if you acknowledge the fact that they’re still reaching for a plastic bottle. If you want access to drinking water, you shouldn’t have to access that through a single-use [polyethylene terephthalate, the most common type of plastic used in water bottles] bottle, which is creating phenomenal waste problems around the world. If we’re committing to public health, what states and governments should be doing is intensifying people’s access to free water in public. We should see more water fountains everywhere, and they should be clean and readily available all over urban space. They should really be providing a genuine alternative to sweetened beverages.



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Situations like Flint are contributing to this. Recently, a new report found that 6 million Americans are dealing with PFOA and PFOS, industrial chemicals, in their water. There are justified reasons for people to be suspicious of their tap water, so how does that factor into this?


This is a tragedy, a failure of governing and a failure of the state. Flint should be ashamed of itself for taking taxes from people and not being able to meet its basic minimal obligation — to provide its people with the means of life which is safe public water, of course.


Beverage companies see a state failure as a market opportunity. If people are losing trust in public water, they say, “Here is our chance to insert branded bottled water into this state of uncertainty and make people think this is the only water people can trust.” I think this is directly connected to the fact that beverage companies are creating doubt and manipulating public disputes about water quality to their own advantage.


Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard for a beverage company to turn water into water. We’re getting access to water in a cheap, sustainable way through a massive, networked infrastructure of pipes. Sure, that costs a lot of money to provide, but it’s nothing like the kind of money that goes into making single-use bottles. You have to do an immense amount of work to turn water into a commodity. Exploiting insecurity and doubt about existing forms of supply and generating incredible branding strategies that create all these new qualities for water — “untouched,” organic and all the other bullshit — help create this brand platform that turns water into something that radically differentiates it from the ordinary old stuff coming out of the tap. But really, it’s still just water.


How does the U.S. compare to other countries in terms of this? Situations like Flint aside, why are we leading the way on this trend? 


I don’t want to be an expert on the U.S., but it’s pretty hard to promote government as a good thing there. It’s crazy the kind of anti-government sentiments I’ve heard from the U.S. All of us couldn’t function every day without government. Roads, traffic lights, being able to turn on the tap — all these things that we take for granted connect us as a community.


Government creates and maintains the common interest of the greater good. Water is at the heart of that and is something that should not be privatized. It’s something that we need to share and we need to collaborate in protecting. I think we need a much more vigorous defense of the public good and why governments matter, and why governments are central to protecting the commons, and water is part of the commons. 



Possible solutions like tougher environmental and water safety regulations and improved funding for infrastructure are complex issues that can bogged down in politics. What can we do about this now? 


There are some fantastic campaigns against bottled water, very impressive citizen-led campaigns to defend public water and demand access to water fountains in public, demanding that water supplies including aquifers or surface water be protected in the common interest. There’s a whole lot of strategies communities can engage in, but governments really need to step up here and really need to understand they’re in the business of providing services to populations and water supplies are the first one they need to insure and get right. 


Outsourcing this and letting beverage companies step in and appear as the new model for infrastructure is a very depressing and troubling scenario. Governments need to realize that if they hand over their water supply to a beverage company, they’re left with managing the externalities of that market — clearing up and taking away those discarded bottles and managing the hard waste generated from that is incredibly unsustainable and more expensive than providing proper infrastructure in the first place.


Some government entities, like Baltimore schools, are coming to the conclusion that given concern about lead or other issues, using bottled water instead of repairing a system is cheaper. What do you make of that?


That’s a really disturbing picture, but it’s one that beverage companies would love because they are now becoming the trusted infrastructure. If you let the public infrastructure become run down to the point where the amount of money to fix it and improve it is astronomical, that failure of the state just sets this opportunity for others to step in.


Do you think the bottled water boom will continue in the immediate future? Or could we be heading toward a bust? 


I thought a couple of years ago there was evidence to show that bottled water was declining in European markets as a direct result of some really powerful activism. The marketing of refillable portable bottles certainly had an impact. The other thing that happened was a lot of public or semi-public water infrastructures started re-branding and asserting to their populations that they are providing safe water that’s cheap and universally accessible. They had to engage in branding to compete with Coke and Pepsi, but it was quite successful in rebuilding trust in public water.


It worked in Europe, where there is still a lot of commitment to government. In the States, I don’t really know. If people don’t have that experience of accessing safe water when they turn on the tap, I can’t blame them for looking after their own interest and trusting a beverage corporation. But the only way you could address this is to engage in good governance of water and to say to your population your water is safe, we are investing in infrastructure, so celebrate what a shared water economy can do. It’s celebrating what we all have in common, and that is the need for water.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 



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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To Save The Village

Sat, 2016-08-20 05:54
There's a new documentary out dealing with the history of the Cabrini Green project in Chicago. 70 Acres in Chicago deals with the many complicated issues of race and urban poverty. But as the Slate article about the documentary notes, it underlines another huge issue with the "improvement" of some urban neighborhoods.

The idea behind these housing project upgrades is always pretty simple. Here comes the city to say to the poor folks living in the projects, "Aren't you tired of living like this? We are going to knock these projects down and replace them with something better. Yes, you are going to have to find another place to live, but when we've finished, you'll be eligible to come back here and live in the newer better place."

That seems like a great idea, a straightforward way to improve quality of live for those living in public-assistance housing.

But as writer Dianna Douglas notes, that's not how it works. Mostly, the people who have been displaced by the new project do not come back. The most successful such project in the country was in Atlanta, and that project brought back a whopping 25% of the original residents. The national average "hovers below 19 percent."

Some of this is simply circumstance. Moving is expensive. Doing it twice is way expensive. But some of this is also design. The Cabrini-Green redevelopment will follow the new model of mixing low-cost housing with higher SES models for a mixed neighborhood. But there's a problem.

The decrepit, infamous Cabrini-Green had 3,600 public housing units. When the rebuilding is complete in 2019, there will be around 2,830 units. Only 30 percent are for families in public housing. Got that? Fewer than 900 units.

And as Douglas notes, the rules for getting into those limited units can be pretty strict.

The message for the urban poor when it comes to gentrification is simple-- we're going to make this neighborhood better by moving you out of it. Meanwhile the actual humans who have been moved out may find themselves in a rougher situation, an equally bad neighborhood, but now without the neighborhood ties, the little bit of social capital that they had previously worked up in the original (now "improved") neighborhood.

Does this apply to charter schools in some cities? Here's a response from a reader in a recent Valerie Strauss/Carol Burris piece at Washington Post

As a mother of four whose children attend public schools and charter schools, I can tell you exactly what's occurring in both public and public charter schools.

I live in a neighborhood in Washington,DC that is undergoing regentrification. It is still prodominately African American but Whites have moved in within the last five years. The Washington Latin Public Charter School which opened about four years ago has a predominately White student body in a predominately African American neighborhood. I have two children that are in Middle School and High School and they are not allowed to attend the school that is in walking distance ( school sits at the end of my block). They have been wait listed for years. I finally just enrolled them in another charter school that has a predominately African American and Hispanic student body. When we drive past the school every morning we see White kids being bused from outside the neighborhood. My kids now know what segregation looks like in 2016. These white students are coming from Eastern market, Tenley Town, and Logan Circle. All of those white kids live outside the neighborhood. I brought it to the attention of the Charter School board here in Washington and nothing changed. As stated in the article the members of Washington Latin School Board are predominately all Attorneys from Georgetown, Yale and Harvard Law School. This means that trying to change the policies on how students are selected will be extremely difficult. It's as if the Charter School Board is afraid of the elected members at this school. 

The save the village, we have to lose the villagers.

But what good does it do to save a neighborhood or a school if we throw away the people? What good does it do to "fix" a neighborhood school when the neighbors are gone and the students come from some other neighborhood? If the actual problem was that the neighborhood or the school were not meeting the needs of the people, how have we solved that problem? The same people who were not served before are still not being served-- they're just not being served somewhere else. Of all the wrong ways to do charter schools, this is the wrongest.


Originally posted at Curmudgucation

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37 Times Donald Trump Should Have Apologized

Fri, 2016-08-19 16:24
Yesterday, Donald Trump read the following off a teleprompter in Charlotte, North Carolina:

Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.

It's a clever line. Hats off to Donald's speechwriter. But that's all it is: a line from a teleprompter.

For most of us, an apology involves looking someone in the eye and taking responsibility for what you did. But Trump didn't even bother to tell us what he regrets saying or who he regrets hurting over the past year.

Here's the truth: over the past year, Donald Trump has tried to insult and bully his way to the White House. He has fabricated lies and invented bizarre conspiracy theories to stoke racial animus and divide the American people. He repeatedly made racist remarks about a federal judge's heritage and attacked a Gold Star family because of their faith. He has preyed upon the most vulnerable and disparaged our men and women in uniform in his power-hungry quest for the presidency.

Even after winning his party's nomination, he has acted more like a Bully-in-Chief than a future leader of our country.

In Trump's warped world, it might be enough to vaguely say that you have regrets. But Trump owes the people he has attacked and bullied so much more than that. He needs to explain exactly what he regrets--and then sincerely apologize to the individuals, families and communities to whom he has caused personal pain.

Here's where he could start:


1. Slandering Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." [Campaign kickoff speech, 6/16/15]

2. Criticizing former POW Sen. John McCain: "He's not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." [Politico, 7/18/15]

3. Criticizing Fox News host Megyn Kelly: "I have no respect for her...You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." [CNN, 8/7/15]

4. Calling children of immigrants "anchor babies" [Fox News (reported by CBS), 8/19/15]

5. Questioning then-opponent Ben Carson's religion: "I just don't know about" the Seventh-Day Adventist church [Washington Post, 10/25/15]

6. Mocking a disabled reporter: "'I don't know what I said. I don't remember!' He's going, 'I don't remember!'" [South Carolina rally, 11/22/15]

7. Claiming that as the Twin Towers collapsed, "thousands of Muslims were cheering." [Birmingham rally, 11/21/15; debunked 12/4/15]

8. Calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." [12/4/15]

9. Using violent language: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn't lose voters." [Sioux Center, Iowa,1/23/16]

10. Retweeting an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz's wife. [Twitter, 3/23/16]

11. Saying it was "not my job to apologize" to the reporter who was allegedly assaulted by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski [NYT video, 3/29/16]

12. Accusing Hillary Clinton of playing the "woman card" and claiming that without it, she "would not even be a viable person to even run for a city council position." [Today Show, 4/28/16]

13. Putting out an offensive #CincoDeMayo tweet: "I love Hispanics!" with a photo of him with a taco bowl [Donald Trump tweet, 5/5/16]

14. Calling a Washington Post reporter "a nasty guy" for asking him about fulfilling his pledge to donate to veterans groups. [Washington Post,5/23/16]

15. Going after GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, saying she was "not doing the job" after she criticized him and didn't appear at his rally. [New York Times, 5/25/16]

16. Launching racist attacks on Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a class-action lawsuit against Trump University, saying he couldn't be impartial because he was "Mexican." [New York Times editorial, 5/31/16], [Wall Street Journal, 6/3/16], [New York Times, 6/3/16]

17. After being asked more than 20 times in one interview, denying he was being racist toward Judge Curiel. [CNN, 6/5/16]

18. Pointing out "my African-American" at a rally in California. [New York Times, 6/3/16]

19. Tripling down on his racist comments about "very strongly pro-Mexican" Judge Curiel, saying he is biased because Trump is "going to build a wall." [Face the Nation, CBS News, 6/5/16]

20. Saying it is "absolutely" possible a Muslim judge wouldn't treat him fairly. [Face the Nation, CBS News, 6/5/16]

21. Calling U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" (again). [Donald Trump tweet, 6/10/16], [Vox, 6/10/16]

22. Accusing President Obama of sympathizing with terrorists. [Washington Post, 6/13/16]

23. Calling for a ban on immigrants from areas of the world with a "proven history of terrorism." [Trump remarks via TIME, 6/13/16]

24. Calling for surveillance of U.S. mosques. [New York Times, 6/15/16]

25. Calling for profiling of U.S. Muslims. [Face the Nation, CBS, 6/19/16]

26. Posting an anti-Semitic graphic on Twitter, which originated on an alt-right message board. [Mic, 7/3/16]

27. Saying the Star of David image he tweeted was actually a "sheriff's star," "plain star," and "basic star" [CNN, 7/4/16] and that his staff should not have deleted the Star of David tweet. [The Hill, 7/6/16]

28. Attacking GOP senators, characterizing Sen. Mark Kirk as a "loser" and singling out Sens. Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse for criticizing him. [Washington Post, 7/7/16]

29. Tying Ted Cruz's father to the JFK assassination (again). [Politico, 7/22/16]

30. Calling on Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. [New York Times, 7/27/16]

31. Denying he mocked a disabled reporter. [Fox News via Mediaite, 7/28/16]

32. Attacking Gold Star parents Ghazala and Khizr Khan [New York Times column, 7/29/16], [This Week, ABC News, 7/31/16]

33. Predicting the election will be "rigged" [Huffington Post, 8/1/16]

34. Saying former POW John McCain "has not done a good job for the vets." [Washington Post, 8/2/16]

35. Inciting violence by saying "Second Amendment people" could stop Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices after assuming the presidency. [Trump rally, 8/9/16]

36. Declaring President Obama "the founder of ISIS." [New York Times, 8/10/16]

37. Hiring a campaign chairman who fully embraced the white supremacist alt-right on racist, conspiracy theory-laden Breitbart. [Daily Wire,8/17/16]

That's a long list. With 81 days left in this campaign, Trump should probably start apologizing.

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Americans Are Eating More Meat, But Not For The Reasons You Might Think

Fri, 2016-08-19 12:38

It seems the U.S. just can’t get enough meat. Or does it?


According to data released this week by Rabobank, a research firm specializing in food and agriculture, per-capita meat consumption in the U.S. last year rose at a higher rate than any other year over the past four decades — to roughly 193 pounds of meat annually, 3.7 pounds a week.  


This news comes after U.S. consumption of meat — red meat, in particular — dipped in 2014. In recent years, some in the industry have conjectured whether the U.S. had finally, much to the delight of environmentalists and animal protection groups alike, hit “peak meat.” 


That does not appear to be the case, but the recent surge in U.S. carnivorism might have little to do with an actual increase in demand for meat products.


An increase in chicken consumption is largely driving the boom in meat-eating. According to the Rabobank data, Americans are eating nearly twice the amount of chicken as they are beef and pork — 89 pounds of chicken a year compared to 54 pounds and 50 pounds of beef and pork, respectively.



In 2015, US meat consumption increased at the fastest rate in 40 years. https://t.co/73hIpuQ8xs pic.twitter.com/aYcrc7YXjf

— Tamar Haspel (@TamarHaspel) August 16, 2016


That’s likely due to an oversupply of poultry — the result of the industry ramping up production in response to previously-higher prices.


The oversupply pushed prices for chicken down, particularly when compared to the cost of beef and pork. 


Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the U.S., called the increased meat consumption “very disturbing” but attributed it to the chicken oversupply — conditions that appear likely to continue through this summer and will contribute to continued growth this year.


“It’s not correct to interpret the increased consumption as suggestive of increased consumer demand,” Shapiro said.


Shapiro pointed to the growing popularity of plant-based, alternative-protein products — a market the Plant Based Foods Association says grew an estimated 8.7 percent to $3.5 billion in annual sales over the past two years — as evidence that demand is not driving the surge in meat sales. 



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Diana Rice, associate director of nutrition communications for the Meatless Monday campaign, was also skeptical that the surge in meat consumption was indicative of a long-term trend.  


“I believe that we’ll see this trend reversed because consumers want to make dietary choices that are good for their health and the environment,” Rice said.


Still, there’s reason to believe advocates pushing for Americans to eat less meat still face a climb that is very much uphill.


Marta Zaraska, a France-based science journalist whose recent book Meathooked explored the historical and psychological context for mankind’s love affair with animal flesh, pointed out that sales of plant-based meat alternatives remain practically microscopic when compared to U.S. meat sales, which surpass the GDP of entire nations like Hungary and Ukraine.


“In general, the levels of consumption are steady and even climbing a bit,” Zaraska said. “We really are hooked on meat.”


type=type=RelatedArticlesblockTitle=Related... + articlesList=56fab8c5e4b014d3fe243ad1,56193168e4b0dbb8000ece70,57962c2ce4b01180b52f977b,567072d7e4b0e292150f95a4

The meat industry, she said, is also pushing back feverishly against calls to eat less meat — and has the marketing budgets to ensure the message is heard.


To counteract that, Zaraska said change can’t simply be left up to individuals. She said a “meat tax” like one currently being proposed in Denmark or a clear target for reduced meat consumption — as the European Union has implemented— could make an impact. 


If we want to reduce meat’s environmental impact, she argued, we simply don’t have a choice.


“Considering that meat eating contributes as much to global warming as all the transportation combined,” Zaraska said, “it’s absolutely vital for humanity to lower our consumption.”

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How the Sharing Economy is Reshaping the Business Services Sector

Fri, 2016-08-19 11:10


Lyft created an express pay program that lets its drivers get paid daily if they wish. Airbnb has at least one host in each of Chicago's 50 wards and, worldwide, 86 percent of its hosts live in the homes they share.

Lyft, Airbnb and the rest of the sharing economy are innovating in viral fashion while government and portions of the public constantly are trying to catch up to that exponential innovation.

So said entrepreneurial and government experts Thursday at a forum on the intersection of the sharing economy, tech and government hosted by Reboot Illinois at Chicago's start-up hub, 1871. About 100 attendees heard a discussion moderated by 1871 CEO Howard Tullman with Allison Schraub, Chicago program director for mobilization at Airbnb; Jean-Paul Biondi, Chicago marketing lead for Lyft; and Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who represents the 10th District.

The sharing economy not only has created new job and income opportunities for people who need them, but it also has introduced services to communities that never had them.

Biondi noted a big part of his job continues to be educating people about ride sharing and innovations like in-app tipping and express pay, while Schraub noted she was pleased with how well Airbnb hosts and users advocated for themselves at City Hall when regulations became a point of debate recently.

"The interesting thing about the sharing economy is -- if you look at them individually -- the services are so much better," said Gainer, who said she uses both Airbnb and Lyft. "But I think there's this larger question out there which is to say is it a good thing that it's a lifeline for people... but does it say something larger about the underlying economy?"

Gainer noted that as private companies have migrated away from defined-benefit pensions and employer-provided healthcare and from many people being full-time employees, it never was really replaced with anything, but some segments of the sharing economy are filling needs. Gainer noted her own parents in the Beverly neighborhood never used to be able to get a cab there.

Tullman said there used to be a very clear line between laws that related to businesses and people, but now people are businesses.

"What's really changed is that the web and the constant flow of information has permitted us to do something that nobody can even believe, which is it let's us trust people that we don't know," Tullman said. "At the same time when you look at the polls in this country -- basic trust- the people we do know, we trust less and less all the time."

However, as the sharing economy grows, so do questions over how governments will regulate and tax these new businesses.

Schraub acknowledged concerns some people have about Airbnb rentals being used as so-called "party houses" as well as the possibility that some hosts discriminate against potential renters. She said the company takes those concerns seriously and must try to address them as they can if they are to succeed.

One audience noted regulations are not keeping up with the speed of innovation and technology, and asked the panelists how they plan to work with local governments to address that.

Gainer said she believes the lag is a "super healthy" thing because it allows businesses to make mistakes and get some grounding before the regulatory structure comes in, which she said has been the case for hundreds of years.

"I think what's happened that's good with Uber and Lyft and Airbnb has been we finally have educated most of the regulators, most of the legislative bodies in the United States," Tullman said. "And so in today's world it's not who's first, it's who's best."

Biondi added that more of Lyft's marketing strategies focus on educating communities and governments.

"A lot of the tabling we do at events now is just an education perspective," Biondi said. "It's going to be a long road, but there's definitely a lot of education for a lot of people just to know who we are."

Next article: Best and worst cities in Illinois for job seekers: report

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Illinois Democrats Taunt GOP For Ignoring Trump

Fri, 2016-08-19 11:03


A day after Gov. Bruce Rauner called the Illinois Democratic Party a "corrupt political machine" during a rally at the Illinois State Fair, Democrats fired back on Thursday, accusing Rauner of holding the needy hostage over his reform agenda and mocking the state GOP for trying to distance itself from Donald Trump.

"We're going to actually do something the Republicans couldn't do yesterday, couldn't bring themselves to do," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told the crowd at the annual Democratic County Chairmen's Association breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield. "We're going to actually say the name of our presidential nominee out loud because we are proud of Hillary Clinton."

A few hours later, at Democrat Day at the Illinois State Fair, Durbin took another dig at the Republicans, who in their Governor's Day rally at the fair a day earlier barely mentioned Trump's name.

"(A)ll the Republicans who came here yesterday tried to deny the obvious," Durbin said. "Their candidate for president is unfit, unfit to be president of the United States."

Where Rauner had used his address to unite the Republican party faithful against what he called a "corrupt political machine," the Democrats rallied around a call for a united front against Rauner's agenda.

"No. 1, I think we can come together in opposition to the extremism of Donald Trump," said House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also is chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. "No. 2, I think we can all come together in opposition to the extremism of Bruce Rauner."



Throughout a historic budget impasse that has found the state operating without a full budget for more than a year, Madigan repeatedly has characterized Rauner as "operating in the extreme" due to the union-weakening demands on which Rauner has made budget negotiations contingent. He continued that theme on Thursday, with the connection of Rauner to Trump added as an extra twist.

Madigan reiterated his oft-repeated charge the Rauner's approach to government seeks to lower the wages and standard of living of the middle class by weakening unions, doing away with prevailing wage requirements for public construction projects and putting a greater burden of proof on workers in workers' compensation cases. He says Rauner is trying to reverse a fundamental government philosophy that dates back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1933.

"For 83 years the American national government and state governments including Illinois have always worked to raise wage levels and the standard of living and to protect the vulnerable in our society...," Madigan said. "However, today in Illinois, Gov. Rauner is attempting to advance an extreme agenda that would actually take Illinois in the opposite direction."

While Rauner on Wednesday said Republicans were about to launch the "biggest ground game ever" to get Republicans elected to the Legislature in November, Madigan predicted the effort would fail.

"He could learn from history that Illinois is not ready for his extreme agenda," Madigan said at a press conference after his speech.

In addition to the presidency, there are two statewide election in November, and both are shaping up to be hotly contested and brutal in tone.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in a race that has drawn heavy national attention as Democrats attempt to re-take the Senate.

Duckworth on Thursday criticized Kirk for his past history of embellishment to his military record, which she said he "lied about at least 10 different times."

"In fact he said he was shot at in Kandahar, he was shot at in Bosnia and he was shot at in Iraq," said Duckworth, who lost both legs when the helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was shot down in 2004. "I've been shot at. It's not the kind of thing you misremember."



The other statewide race is between incumbent Republican Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger and Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza. Munger was appointed to office by Rauner in January 2015 after the death of Judy Baar Topinka a month earlier. Topinka had won re-election in November 2014, and Rauner sought to appoint Munger to fill Topinka's full, four-year term. But Democrats on a party-line vote passed a bill requiring a special election after two years.

Munger on Wednesday described Mendoza, who served in the Illinois House from 2001 to 2011, as faithful soldier of Madigan during her years in the House. She also said Mendoza regarded Madigan as her mentor.

"You know who she is," Mendoza said Thursday of Munger. "She's the self-proclaimed wingman of this governor and clearly his appointee beholden to him."

Mendoza took special umbrage at Munger's implying that she owed her political career to Madigan.

"The sexist notion that any one of us was put into a position of power -- like, say, being appointed to a statewide spot -- ...only through the power of men, you know that has no place in 2016," Mendoza said. "And it's something that's straight out of the Donald Trump playbook on women."

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who emceed the Illinois State Fair Democrat Day rally, thanked the opposing party for providing extra motivation.

"Let me tell you something else we've been blessed with," Lang shouted from the podium. "We have the two best Democratic organizers ever out there helping us. Donald Trump and Bruce Rauner. These guys don't know what they've unleashed."

Next article: Mike Madigan meets the Truth-O-Meter

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My Journey To Embracing My Curly Dominican Hair

Fri, 2016-08-19 09:33

A photo posted by SunKissAlba (@sunkissalba) on Feb 23, 2016 at 1:28pm PST




My natural hair journey began in 2011, about a year after starting SunKissAlba, my YouTube channel. This is when I noticed the severe change and damage I've caused on my curls after years of mistreating them and not appreciating the beauty they possessed. My hair went from being naturally curly to brittle, dry, and straight strands due to constant heat styling and lack of knowledge on hair products and ingredients. I remember crying in the bathroom the day I noticed my texture wasn't coming back to its original pattern. That was the day I realized how much I actually love my curls. Unfortunately, most of us tend to value only what we once had and lost and usually only change what we suffer from, but I've learned my lesson, and I never looked back.



The process of gaining back my curls was scary, because I didn't have the support of my family and I didn't know where to start -- but I went with logic. I rejected heat styling tools and couldn't stand the thought of having them around, so I put them in the trash, because I decided that step one was to stop doing the very thing that gave me unhealthy, damaged hair. No more heat, no more straightening, no more hair dyes, and no more unnatural ingredients. I stopped using products with artificial ingredients while educating myself on the benefits of organic ones. I became inspired and was sure I wanted to commit to this journey. One of the first brands I found that supported my hair needs was SheaMoisture. I immediately stocked up on several of their products to help nourish and hydrate my dry damaged hair, so that I can feel more comfortable styling it naturally and creating fashionable hairstyles. Today, almost five years later SheaMoisture still remains one of my favorite brands.



A photo posted by SunKissAlba (@sunkissalba) on Sep 5, 2015 at 11:35am PDT




I also learned that cutting off the damaged straight pieces is part of this process, and imperative to see growth. Although I had long hair down my mid back, I accepted the fact that having long hair is worthless if it's damaged and dead. I went into my bathroom with scissors and I cut off about four inches of damaged straight pieces of hair and the next day booked an appointment with a curly hair stylist who specializes in the "dry cutting" method. She trimmed more hair off and styled my hair, while also showing me a better way to cleanse and style without using heat. My family did not understand what I'd gain from this, but I didn't expect them to: In my Dominican culture, having straight hair is valued as beautiful, the ideal. It wasn't their priority to have healthy curly hair; their priority was to have sleek straight hair. About six to eight months later, my family began to acknowledge the changes in my hair and shared their respect for my commitment, because I kept my word and never budged into the pressure and words of discouragement. It took me one whole year to fully get rid of all the damage after gradually trimming off the straight pieces left. A year later I was left with shoulder-length healthy curls, bouncy and cooperative without any sign of heat damage.




My family did not understand what I'd gain from this, but I didn't expect them to: In my Dominican culture, having straight hair is valued as beautiful, the ideal.


Today my family loves my natural curls and they often advise others to do the same with their damaged hair. My own hair journey has led them to change their views and their definition of beauty. My YouTube viewers have also witnessed my changes and progress, through the hundreds of hair videos I've published on my channel as I experienced how to recover my hair. Seeing me gain healthy curls and wear my natural curls with confidence has made them feel that they can do it, too. I'm so blessed to have such a diverse audience from all parts of the world who can come together on my channel, share stories and inspire one another through accepting their own curls with love. I didn't know what I'd gain from this when I started, but I can proudly say I gained more than I ever dreamed of. I'm so much more confident and have learned to embrace my natural self!




I'm so blessed to have such a diverse audience from all parts of the world who can come together on my channel.


This journey is not just about hair. It's about finding comfort in who you are and celebrating that in everything you do. I'm proud to say that beauty truly does come from within and same way we should care about the ingredients in our hair, we should care about the ingredients we consume from the inside out.



A photo posted by SunKissAlba (@sunkissalba) on Oct 3, 2015 at 7:14am PDT

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Clintonites' Feigned Outrage About Violence Threats

Thu, 2016-08-18 15:00
After Trump's asinine quip about a 2nd amendment "solution" to stopping Clinton's presidential run, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, had this to say:

"What Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the President of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

A presidential candidate should not suggest violence in any way?!? Really?

This coming from a high-level supporter of a candidate who...

...has supported every war during her political career?

...supported the use of civilian-butchering cluster bombs by Israel in Gaza?

...supported the brutal invasions by the Saudi dictatorship of Bahrain and Yemen?

...enthusiastically pushed for the bombing of Libya that turned it into a failed state?

...threatened use of nuclear weapons vs. Iran?

...supported the military coups against the elected governments in Honduras and Egypt, turning both into violence-ridden basket cases?

...adores as her mentor the arch war criminal Henry Kissinger, orchestrator of the tortures and killings of 10s of thousands?

So tell me, please, Clinton supporters, how is this not "suggest[ing] violence in any way."

Is it because threats of violence don't count when they're promoted against people who aren't Americans? Go ahead, probe the deeply caustic, Trump-like racism behind that assumption.

Last Friday, four days before Trump issued his violent threat and a few weeks after the constitution-waiving stunt at the Democratic convention, the ACLU and a federal court finally forced the release of the Obama administration's patently unconstitutional guidelines [2] for killing people with drones (nearly 90% of whom were not the intended targets).

And yesterday, while the Republican sociopath was issuing his threat, the Obama State Department approved the sale of more than $1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, no doubt to continue its bloody invasion of Yemen, where the UN recently estimated that two-thirds of the civilian casualties are caused by Saudi air strikes.

Where was the Democratic or Republican outrage against those very real, violent threats?

When Clinton wins the November election, will we stoop ever farther into an Orwellian world as our first "feminist" president continues to shovel billions in arms to arguably the most anti-feminist dictatorship on the planet? Where violence against people doesn't count as violence due to their nationality and/or the color of their skin?

If you're outraged about Trump's barbarous suggestion of 2nd Amendment "solutions" to elections, please don't stop there. Get your blood boiling and then also, and just as forcefully, challenge Clinton's own barbarous "solutions."

As journalist John Pilger recently noted,

A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington's boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal - Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama...


One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers - truth-tellers - than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried. Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.


In 2009, Obama promised to help "rid the world of nuclear weapons" and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama.

So please, no more sermonizing about stopping violence while taking a pass on condemning our government, then and now, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

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Hot Dog! Chicago Sure Knows Franks

Wed, 2016-08-17 14:36
Jim Mudd knows his Chicago dogs: Vienna all-beef frank, sesame seed bun, sliced tomatoes, pickle strips and even the secret ingredient: celery salt. I know this because I once had a Chicago dog party with these same ingredients, ordered direct from Vienna Beef Products and delivered to my home in dry ice. I fired up the Weber gas grill and cooked them to perfection, spiked with fork tines to let the dogs breathe and the juices sizzle, slightly blackened to perfection.

Let's put it this way: it was a huge hit, even vegans slammed them down -- albeit without the frank.

One of the guests was headed to Club Fed for a federal crime -- a Ponzi scheme in which he netted a paltry $2 million. Little did we know at that event as he chugged down dog after dog that this, he felt, was his last meal before his departure. I had purchased about 72 hot dogs and 24 Polish sausages (a misnomer, really, fatter than the hot dogs, but not a Polish kielbasa as many know it) -- and thought I would have enough for the 22 guests. Our felonious friend, however, devoured the hot dogs with such gusto that other guests started complaining they weren't "getting enough Polish."

He ended up, I think, eating about eight of the dogs and four of the Polish. Considering that he wouldn't be eating anymore for three to five years was some solace, I liked to think I gave him something to look back on as he served his time.

Chicago dogs can do that to people. As a kid in the suburbs of Chicago, I was a veteran of Stash's Place, a pioneer of the genre. These were different than the flat-dogs you would get at the Woolworth's counter on a buttered bun. Instead, the buns were soft without being too bready, the sport peppers sharp and biting and a little too risqué for a 10-year-old, and the Polish sausage serving as a template for all hot dogs to come.

Since that time I order Chicago dogs wherever I see that signature sign.

New York Didn't Get It

In New York they just didn't get it. I don't think they ever knew how to do a Chicago dog, and I scoured the five boroughs and suburbs. I think their allegiance to the "dirty water" dog -- served in a Sabrett steam wagon, slathered with sauerkraut and mustard -- was just too great.

In Los Angeles, friends told me Pinks was the place to go for most dog-lovers ("Number one in California"), but frankly, they didn't really wow me. Yes, I liked the room on Sunset, with the old train motif, but no, it wasn't a Chicago dog. They could do Philly Cheesesteaks like they make in Philadelphia at Great Western on Venice Boulevard, but the Chicago dog was not an option.

My son, Sam, took me to Zach's Shack on Hawthorne in Portland. Their Chicago dog is excellent. Nick's Coney Island makes "good dogs," Sam tells me, but while they say they do Chicago dogs on their site, "the ingredients are wrong. Zach's is legit."

I think Tsunami Dog in Seaside serves the best frank in town, but while you can get the "Kite-Flyer," "Highway 101" and "The Bonfire," the Chi-town connection is lacking. So that brings me to some good news for the local hot-dog purist.

Dedicated to Chicago Dog

Jim Mudd has dedicated himself to the Chicago dog. That's all he sells at Mudd Dog Stand in Manzanita. Set back in a courtyard on Laneda near the beach, Mudd celebrates the Chicago dog with devotion, manning the cart as his wife Lynn pitches in.

It would be enough for Mudd to stand proud as the Sears Tower of hot dogs carts, but he's got an even loftier side. Mudd is a board member and co-founder of the Mudd Nick Foundation, a charitable organization for kids.

Arts and humanities, science, technology, engineering and math, higher education and careers, camps, literacy, sports, community, children with special needs and talented and gifted -- all are supported by the foundation, whose programs are described as "learning experiences that stimulate children to aspire to their greatest potential and pursue their dreams."

The foundation supports camp and after-school programs that don't receive tax dollars.

"We founded it 25 years ago," Mudd said, over hot dogs.

Mudd and Doug Nicholson, friends since their days at Oregon State University, decided to start a coed golf tournament in 1990, which they christened the Mudd Nick Invitational.

In 2006, the Mudd Nick Foundation was formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a board of nine directors was selected to develop a mission.

Over the last nine years, more than $1 million has been raised to support 30 to 50 programs every year.

A former Bridgestone executive, Mudd and his family "moved all over the coast."

"When we retired, we came out here," he said. "This was my parents' home. Since this is the last chapter of my life, I thought what can I do to help? I thought we could open a hot-dog stand, a Chicago-deal like I've eaten all my life, and we'd draw people in and we'd talk about the Mudd Nick Foundation."

It worked. The hot dogs draw people in, and Mudd spreads the word. With international visitors to the coast, Mudd has attracted donations from people around the world. "It's been a great ride," he said.

The Mudd Nick Foundation celebrates its 27th annual fundraiser in September. The pre-golf tournament dinner takes place Sept. 16, followed by the foundation's annual charity golf tournament at Manzanita Golf Course. The annual dinner will be held the next day. They probably won't be serving hot dogs.

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What the #$%@ Happened to Lake Fannin

Tue, 2016-08-16 10:42



There is a tranquil place that replenishes my soul and rejuvenates my spirit. It physically resides behind my home, just 30-minutes from the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. I've intentionally hidden here a zillion times within its natural beauty. This is where my monthly "Silent Day" typically takes place. I am comforted here.

One day all is copacetic and the next day my landscape of tranquility is all but gone and shrouded in mystery.

The water and trees behind my house are a refuge for duck, fish, a giant turtle, an owl, rabbit, squirrel, vole, raccoon, muskrat, and an occasional deer, Although this body of water has no official name, I affectionately call it Lake Fannin. Okay, I know it's a pond, but it's still a big deal to me. Here I've contemplated all of my published, written work. I've spoken to countless clients on my cell phone, as I walked along the bank. I've meditated a zillion times after staring into these waters. The Zone finds me here.

Within 24 hours Lake Fannin all but disappeared

There was no warning! The sun was shining, with not a cloud in the sky. Swiftly the water began receding like someone pulled the plug on your peaceful, bathtub soak. After two days, my precious body of tranquility looks like a tiny stream trickling in a desert. The smell of dead fish permeates the air. Mosquitos now have stagnant pools of water to lay their eggs. Zika? With 46 cases in Illinois, it makes you ponder your family's safety. Where did the water go? To date, no one knows. Of course, the water had to go somewhere.



When I placed a frantic call to the local park district that oversees the water, the response was out of a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mystery. I was told, "We don't know what happened?" My neighbor heard the ominous, public game of "We need to see who's going to pay for this?" Will the Army Corp of Engineers, park district, EPA, city, county or state foot the bill and rectify my magical, retreat of solitude? Answer: "We'll get back to you."

What happens when life deals a blow to your inner peace? One day the water behind my home quenches my thirst for quietude and the next day I'm filled with angst.

Negative things happen to people. We are dealt cards beyond our control. Will the absence of Lake Fannin (as I knew it) alter my life? No. All I need to do is shut my eyes and it reappears. Yes...we control our thoughts and consequently our actions.

Am I mad? No. Disappointed? Absolutely. When will my Lake be restored? It could take months to identify, pay for and fix the challenge. Am I a victim of the circumstance, condition and situation? No. I'm a man that just adjusts and adapts. However, I do want to know one thing...

"What the %$&# happened to Lake Fannin?"

Okay...I now feel so much better. Thanks for listening to my short rant. The good news is I still have my Zen garden and a library of peaceful, tranquil memories that will comfort me and provide the solace I need and deserve.

Find your tranquil place either mentally and or physically. Join me in retreating into the "purposeful calm" of one of our greatest resources for being our most authentic, genuine best self...the Zone.

Make no mistake. Lake Fannin will return! I just hope it's sooner than later.

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Can We Have More Than Silly Sniping From Our U.S. Senate Contenders?

Tue, 2016-08-16 09:54
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

I had such high hopes for the U.S. Senate race in Illinois with Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, taking on incumbent Mark Kirk, R-Wilmette. Here we have two respected, disabled military veterans, both of whom are more moderate than extreme.

We could have a meaningful discussion about the struggles of Illinoisans. We could have a detailed discussion of the U.S. military's role in the world, of foreign affairs and our policies in Afghanistan and Iran and Syria. We could have a real-world conversation about health care or our state's heroin epidemic; about violence in Chicago's gang-plagued neighborhoods and about the lack of opportunity as our state's debts mount. We could have a thoughtful discussion about how to get Washington working for all Americans again. The campaign even could be an antidote to what seems the most bizarre presidential campaign ever.

Enlightening civic events? None so far. Civil discourse? Not here. Duckworth campaign strategists spent the first several months trying everything they could think of to tie Kirk to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, though back in June, Kirk disavowed Trump after he suggested he could not get a fair trial from a judge of Mexican heritage. Granted, Kirk did not help himself in the least by first telling reporters he would instead write in David Petraeus, a retired four-star general who had to resign as CIA director after it was revealed he had shared classified information with his mistress-biographer. Kirk followed that by saying he could not support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton because she supported President Obama's Iran deal and would instead write in Colin Powell. Alas, Powell also supports Obama's Iran deal.

Meanwhile, the Kirk camp spent months trying to tie Duckworth to convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich because she worked in his administration running the veterans' affairs department. Earlier this summer, a whistleblower lawsuit against her by two former veterans' department staffers who said they were victims of workplace retaliation was settled for $26,000, with no finding of wrongdoing. The Kirk camp suggested the settlement might collapse at one point, but that didn't happen.

Already in the muck, two true heroes -- the Army helicopter pilot who nearly died and sacrificed her legs in a U.S. military operation overseas and the former Naval Reserves officer who fought his way back from massive strokes -- can't seem to find a way to pull themselves out of it to get to dignified discourse.

When what follows landed in my inbox, what remained of my hope faded away:





I'd include more of that email, but I won't repeat claims that might be false. Suffice it to say there were more memes and the suggestion that I go check out a new Tumblr account the Democratic Party of Illinois started, called "$#*% my Senator Says."

This is our race for the esteemed United States Senate? Believe me, I know as well as anyone how incredibly difficult it is to get people's attention in Illinois. They're so sick of corruption and budget fights that far too many of them just tune out. And I do appreciate trying new things to wake people up. Heck, I even get a chuckle out of a lot of the memes we use at Reboot Illinois to lighten things up.

But this meme, the one that came after it and a social media account called "$#*% my Senator Says?" Well, maybe it's just me? Maybe this is a smart way to reach young voters?

It's possible. After all, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, working to help Kirk, is at it, too:



It's not like attaching candidates to others is a new trick. And certainly, Duckworth's management of her department and Kirk's misstatements should be weighed by voters. But so should so many other things. I thought I should see if I was alone in my distaste for the tenor and the use of these gimmicks in what is the top U.S. Senate race in the nation.

John Frendreis, a political scientist at Loyola University, noted in an email exchange that Kirk is in a difficult position.

"He cannot possibly win if he embraces Trump, who will lose Illinois by a large margin, but he cannot afford to push away any Republican voters.  So his Clinton-Iran position is not credible, but it gives him something to say.

"... As far as her comments about Kirk," he continued, "this race is off to a dismal start of negative campaigning, and there is little reason to think it is going to change. She would be better off spending her time using Kirk's record as part of the Republican Senate caucus to show that he has worked against many things that the people of Illinois would like to see done. His involvement in blocking Obama's agenda will play reasonably well in a state where Obama is still popular."

And David Yepsen, the former Des Moines Register political writer who runs the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in Carbondale, said in an email, "The dialogue in the Senate race - and many other races - leaves a lot to be desired these days. We've come a long way since Paul Simon and Everett Dirksen set the tone for political discourse."

Isn't that the truth?

"One reason this happens is people have such little respect for politicians these days that the best way to win is not to talk about your positives or your ideas," Yepsen continued, "but do things to drive up your opponent's negatives.

"... Another reason is social media and coarseness that come with it.  Attention spans are shorter.  F-Bombs are used by presidential candidates. We debate and argue in 140 characters and call each other names in ALL CAPS!

"And in Illinois it comes against a state facing a perfect storm of state budget deficits, Chicago budgets deficits and street violence," he said. "It's little wonder people tune it out.  Not only is this stuff coarse and often silly, but it's also irrelevant to the daily lives of hard-working people."

They nailed it. We have a long way to go to Nov. 8, so let's keep hope alive. Kirk just left on a bus tour of Illinois, so maybe some of those hard-working people will get him talking about how he can help bring better jobs back to Illinois. And Duckworth recently announced she'll join Kirk in participating in three debates and two joint editorial board endorsement sessions.

I'm going to count on the campaigns and my colleagues in journalism to set aside the coarse memes and tweets and tumblr silliness and put us back on track toward a Senate race discourse worthy of a state that faces a lot of challenges.

We're in dire need of a U.S. senator who can rise above gimmicks and offer detailed discussion about our problems and solutions. We need a campaign worthy of the two heroic, disabled military veterans running.

Next article: Landmark sex crime law deals with rape test backlog

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