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Over 100 People Were Killed by Police in March. How Many More Will It Take?

Wed, 2015-04-01 13:35

Here's a statistic for you: It's been 31 days since the release of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing report, but the number of fatal police encounters is already over 100 and counting. That's an average of more than three people killed each day in March by police in America.

Too many of this month's victims fit a profile we know all too well -- unarmed men of color, some of whom have psychiatric disabilities. Victims like Charly Keunang in Los Angeles, California; Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin; Anthony Hill in DeKalb County, Georgia; and Brandon Jones in Cleveland, Ohio; confirm that the problems with policing are national in scope.

This isn't a problem concentrated in a few rogue police departments. Even those police departments with the best of intentions need reform. Take, for example, last week'sDepartment of Justice report that Philadelphia police shot 400 people -- over 80 percent African-American -- in seven years. This is in a city where the police commissioner is an author of the very same White House task force report calling for police reform.

So clearly we must do more than read -- or even write -- these reports. Report recommendations, several of which are adopted from ACLU recommendations, must be implemented. The task force report makes 63 recommendations, but let's focus on just two. Neither one is novel, but both are critical to real police reform.

Deescalate Situations

This is stating the obvious, but clearly it needs to be repeated -- police departments should adopt use-of-force policies that emphasize de-escalation.

Excessive and deadly use of force, disproportionately against people of color and people with psychiatric disabilities, is driving national discourse. Jaywalking and selling individual cigarettes should not result in death - nor should failing to take your medication.

The ACLU told the task force that de-escalation, training, and incident review are necessary components to any use-of-force policy. The task force agreed, recommending that, "Law enforcement agency policies for training on use of force should emphasize de-escalation and alternatives to arrest or summons in situations where appropriate."

DOJ's Community Oriented Policing Services office must continue working with local police departments to implement appropriate use-of-force standards. The federal government must commit the appropriate resources for this.

And particular attention must be paid to how these policies are impacting people of color, people with disabilities, and other marginalized populations. Otherwise police will continue to be seen as an oppressive force in certain communities, thereby making community policing impossible.

Collect Data

The public needs legitimate data collection practices that promote transparency and accountability when police use unreasonable force. We need something a little more thoughtful than a Google search to give us the stats on the number of police shootings -- fatal or nonfatal -- in any given period of time.

As the ACLU explained to the task force, data collection and reporting is the easiest single thing any police department can do starting today. And it will offer the best depiction of what policing in the 21st century looks like.

Both the ACLU and the task force recommend data collection on a range of police and citizen encounters -- from stops and arrests to nonfatal and fatal police shootings. "Policies on use of force," the task force writes, "should also require agencies to collect, maintain, and report data to the Federal Government on all officer-involved shootings, whether fatal or nonfatal, as well as any in-custody death." And data must be inclusive not just of race and gender but disability as well.

In order for local law enforcement to get serious about data collection, it may take the dangling of federal dollars. The recently enacted Death in Custody Act, which requires data collection on what the title suggests, is taking that approach by penalizing noncompliant agencies through Department of Justice funds. Earlier mandates around data collection - ones that allow law enforcement tovoluntarily report data without penalty --aren't working.

The task force report -- like so many others before it -- has spelled out what's needed for police reform. How many more reports or police shootings do we need before we get to work?

This post first appeared on the ACLU's "Blog of Rights."

These Religious Groups Want Nothing To Do With Indiana's New Law

Wed, 2015-04-01 13:35
A battle is raging in Indiana and around the country, with faith groups accusing the state's leaders of misrepresenting what "religious freedom" really means.

On March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which will take effect July 1. The law allows individuals and corporations to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party, and a broad coalition of critics have argued that it could legitimize widespread discrimination against the LGBT community and other groups.

The Islamic Society of North America released a statement Wednesday expressing concern that the law could open the door to discrimination against Muslims.

"If a corporation refused to hire a person because they were a Muslim and their religious beliefs did not permit them to hire Muslims," the statement reads, "then the prospective employee could not succeed in a lawsuit alleging discrimination against the corporation, because the law is a defense to liability. Similarly, the state government could not levy fines or other punishments against a corporation for discrimination."

ISNA President Azhar Azeez also urged Pence and the Indiana legislature "to either repeal this law or add sufficient anti-discrimination protections to insure no one's rights are undermined in the name of religious freedom."

Pence said on Tuesday that he supports amending the RFRA with new language to clarify that the law does not allow businesses to deny services to anyone. He has stopped short, however, of calling for a state law that would explicitly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Disciples of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination that has long made Indiana its headquarters, is seeking a new location for its 2017 General Assembly in protest of the law.

"Religious freedom is also one of the cherished tenets of our Disciples tradition," the group said in a letter to followers posted on its website Tuesday. "The freedom of one goes too far, however, when that one’s freedom threatens to exclude or inhibits the freedoms of others."

Many of the law's opponents believe it will negatively affect the LGBT community, which has faced discrimination in the past based on employers' and business owners' stated religious beliefs. In one recent case, an Oregon bakery went to court in March for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The bakers in that case could face a fine of up to $150,000, according to KATU News. But in Indiana, the new law would make such a court case virtually null.

The Sikh Coalition spoke out against this aspect of the RFRA on Wednesday, although it argued that fundamental protections for religious freedom should remain intact.

“RFRA is a lifeline for religious minorities, especially Sikh Americans,” Rajdeep Singh, senior director of law and policy for the Sikh Coalition, said in a statement. “Whether it's Indiana or Arkansas -- it is wrong to discriminate against people based on what they believe, but we also cannot allow RFRA to be used to discriminate against people because of who they love.”

In a press release sent to The Huffington Post on Tuesday, the Central Conference of American Rabbis argued that the bill had been "motivated by animus against LGBT Americans." The CCAR, which appointed its first openly gay president in March, drew upon Jewish history to make a statement of solidarity with all people targeted by "state-sanctioned" discrimination.

"We further call upon Gov. Pence to declare that Indiana will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation or perceived orientation, gender identity or expression or perceived gender identity or expression," the statement said.

Right in Pence's backyard, Bishop Catherine Waynick of the Diocese of Indianapolis called the RFRA "an embarrassment to ‘Hoosier Hospitality’" in a March 26 letter to the clergy. Holy Week and Easter offer an opportunity for Christians to "become faithful advocates for justice," Waynick wrote, and to reflect on the "indiscriminate love of God."

In a statement to HuffPost Tuesday, Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that the matter at stake is bigger than Indiana and bigger than just one marginalized community. Laser said the RFRA offers an opportunity for minority groups and all people of conscience to stand together to protect "fundamental" freedoms.

"Our nation’s dedication to religious freedom has allowed religious minorities, including Jews, to flourish across America," Laser said. "This history inspires us to speak out -- not only to ensure that individuals and religious communities can freely practice and observe their faith -- but also to fight discrimination against other minorities."

"We can protect fundamental religious freedoms while ensuring that the LGBT community, as well as other communities in need of protections, are treated with dignity and respect in all aspects of public life," she went on.

Has your religious community taken a stand against the RFRA? Tell us about it in the comments section below or on Twitter at @HuffPostRelig.

'This Body Of Work' Is Helping Women Rewrite Their Own Body Narratives

Wed, 2015-04-01 12:17
Writer, photographer and speaker Jen Hecht wants you to know: Your body is worth loving.

Hecht is behind the body love project "This Body Of Work," which consists of a workbook to help women learn to love their bodies and a series of photographs accompanied by women's narratives about themselves.

(Story continues below. Some images may be considered NSFW.)

Katie, photographed by Kate McElwee

"I hated myself -- how I looked, who I was, where I came from. I felt rage inside me that I carried with me in all my actions, relationships, and decisions. It was taxing, and felt endless. In recent years I have been trying to be kinder to myself, and healing from my past self-loathing. I just want to feel healthy and whole, comfortable in my own skin, unafraid to be myself. I've been working towards this place, a little each day, and I can feel a difference. I mainly feel like I have more energy, which I do, because I have been holding myself back."

Hecht was inspired to create the project by her own experiences with low self-esteem.

"As a chubby kid, I was painfully aware that there was 'something wrong' with me," she told HuffPost. "The inner narrative that took up residence in my mind was full of self-loathing and shame. I felt worthless because I wasn’t pretty and thin."

As an adult, Hecht continued to feel insecure about her appearance. In her early 30s, after obsessive exercising and dieting caused a back injury and debilitating chronic nerve pain, Hecht gave up striving to be thin. She vowed to be gentle with herself, and learned to love her body.

"From this new place I was able to approach self-care from a place of worthiness, love, and self-compassion," she said. "When I felt my life changing, I began to ask myself –- what if I could teach this to other women who are stuck like I was?"

In spring 2014, Hecht began photographing women and collecting their stories about their bodies. She also created the This Body Of Work workbook, a printable, guided self-exploration book that helps women write about -- and learn to love -- their bodies.

Hecht is now fundraising to self-publish an expanded, revised version of the workbook, and will continue to share women's stories alongside their portraits.

"I want every woman to know she is already worthy, beautiful, and enough, exactly the way she is, right now," Hecht said. No matter what her size, shape, condition, situation, or stage of life."

Learn more about the workbook here, and see more portraits and narrative excerpts from "This Body Of Work" below.

Heather, photographed by Jen Hecht

"I want to stop seeing my health as some kind of competition. I want to move, and eat, and love, and sleep out of appreciation and respect for my body. I want to stop punishing myself for not GETTING THERE FASTER, stop responding to pain with anger and start reacting with understanding. So much more peaceful, when it's living with love, not running with hate."

Stephanie, photographed by Emmerlee Sherman

"My old body story was one of loss, of being insecure, of rejecting myself. I felt lost, desperate, angry, devastated, ashamed. I didn't let myself enjoy loving my body for how it is. I felt a lot of shame. Sometimes I felt paralyzed by self-loathing. I felt hopeless, and that was what I deserved; shame and hopelessness.

I want my body story to be one of acceptance, celebration, joy... being unapologetic for things I can't control and looking forward to doing something about the things I can control. I want it to be a story of self-forgiveness and of moving onward. It feels amazing, a weight off my shoulders and my heart. It feels like I can finally really breathe. I can free myself."

Katie, photographed by Jacklyn Greenberg

"I am a vessel with the privilege and power to create life. Previously despising the contour of my stomach, I now caress the curve of my growing belly. The newly acquired stretch marks that my prior self would reject and hide now serve as proof of my baby’s existence. My hips have expanded greater than I could have ever imagined but they cradle my growing child and soon will sway my baby to sleep. My thighs may be big, but they are strong and faithfully carry us through our 9 month journey without reservation. While I continue to grow in size, I also grow in spirit and emotional strength. I am not even close to what I once was physically and because of that, I now understand that it is not about what my body looks like, it is what my body does for me and my baby. I acknowledge and appreciate my body for what it has and will continue to provide me."

Ali, photographed by Lisa Gendron

"Looking at the pictures now is a powerful experience. When I see pictures of myself, I usually focus on problem areas of my body, on my imperfections. In these photos I can look past all of that. I feel like I can see what others say they see in me. Lisa has captured my essence -- an essence I didn’t believe was visible, or perhaps never allowed myself to show. I can see my strength and my spirit and my courage and my heart and my peace. I am a strong survivor and I am alive and I can see life within me and I am so very grateful for this life and this body."

Top Republican On Schumer: ‘He's A Guy That We Can Do Business With'

Wed, 2015-04-01 11:54
The Senate’s third-ranking Republican sees room for collaboration with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is looking to take the top Democratic spot in the upper chamber.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday that he is hopeful Republicans will be able to work with Democrats under a new leader like Schumer.

In the past two years, fighting between Republicans and Democrats reached a fever pitch, with the GOP filibustering nearly every bill brought to the floor by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who recently announced that his current term in the Senate will be his last. In 2013, Reid, citing the ongoing gridlock, invoked the so-called "nuclear option," making it easier for Democrats, then the majority party in the Senate, to approve the president's executive and judicial nominees.

Republicans criticized that move as hostile and divisive. But under Schumer, the dynamics could change, Thune indicated on Wednesday.

“I think he's a guy that we can do business with,” Thune said. “And so I have hopes.”

Thune added that Schumer is a guy “who likes to get things done. He likes to make deals.”

Thune’s comments signal willingness on the GOP side to work with Schumer, who appears poised to become the Senate's next Democratic leader. Schumer nailed down overwhelming support within hours of Reid’s announcement last week that he will not run for re-election in 2016.

Schumer has gained support from key Senate Democrats Dick Durbin (Ill.), the minority whip, and Patty Murray (Wash.).

Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, has said he supports Schumer’s bid for leader, and will run to remain whip in 2016.

The leadership shuffle has shaken up the relationship between Schumer and Durbin, however. Last week, Durbin said that Schumer promised to support him as whip, but Schumer’s office confirmed a Politico report that the endorsement never happened.

The apparent tiff creates an early rift in the leadership races, which won’t take place for another 22 months.

Kiki, A Pit Bull Who Uses A Wheelchair, Has A Can-Do Spirit And Needs A Forever Home

Wed, 2015-04-01 11:17
Most mornings, Kiki the pit bull wakes up to her foster mom, Kara Severson, singing her show tunes from the couch. She sleeps there so the dog -- whose back legs don't work, likely from a neurological condition -- can snooze next to her person.

"My couch is low enough to the ground, I can hold her paw as we go to sleep," Severson says of the pup, who's currently up for adoption. "She seems to appreciate being able to get close to me during the night."

Specifically, and rather perfectly, the song is usually "Good Morning," from the movie "Singin' in the Rain."

"No lie," says Severson. "Good morning, good morning, it's such a pretty day. Good morning, good morning, to you, and you, and you!"

This musical start of the day is followed by a some healthy food, a good bone-chewing session, napping, going out for walks (using an adorable wheelchair) and then playing some tug and fetch. Kiki also has her bladder "squeezed," as Severson puts it, every eight hours or so because she can't pee on her own.

Don't worry; Kiki doesn't mind that part of things, either.

"She flips herself up to a sitting position and usually licks my face," says Severson. "The face licks feel like a 'thank you for helping me!'"

Recently, a new addition was made to Kiki's routine.

Bialy's Wellness Foundation, a group that helps special needs animals get the care they need, arranged for Kiki to receive physical therapy at a local clinic called Integrative Pet Care. (This clinic also treats some other famous special needs pits, like Fifty the two-legged pit bull.)

It's there that Kiki was put on this underwater treadmill:

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I'm walking! I'm walking! Emma says that's really my back legs walking!!! Yay me! #ParalyzedDog #RecycledPits #BicksPit #BialysWellness #Miracle

Posted by Kiki on Monday, March 23, 2015

"I was blown away when she began using her hind legs," says Severson. "That was the first time her legs have ever moved with purpose."

It's not clear if Kiki will ever be able to walk unassisted, but the point of this treatment isn't to produce miraculous results; it's to make sure Kiki is as strong and comfortable as possible.

"The resilience dogs have and the drive to continue forward is incredible," says Erin Kowalski, founder of Bialy's Wellness Foundation. "To watch Kiki progress is truly humbling and puts a smile on my face."

"Just like humans, we believe that every animal deserves a shot at life as long as they are happy, comfortable and pain free. Why not give them a chance?" says Liz Schock, the patient services manager for Integrative Pet Care.

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Good morning! Today I will accomplish great things. How about you? #ParalyzedDog #BicksPit #SaveThemAll

Posted by Kiki on Friday, March 13, 2015

Kiki is very, very lucky to be getting this chance.

She was a little over a year old when she was dropped off at Chicago's city shelter, with legs that didn't work and an unknown history, along with that adorable little face and sweet disposition.

Severson, who'd taken in special needs foster pets before, saw Kiki's photo on Facebook and knew she had to help. Kiki's been living, quite happily, with Severson's 8-year-old shar–pei and two cats since July 2013.

"She's a living doll," says Severson. "I swear if she was in a Steven Spielberg movie, the toy modeled after her would be the biggest toy of the year!"

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Severson says she hopes whoever adopts the pup will see and love Kiki for what she is: a gorgeous dog who loves her life and brings happiness wherever she goes -- even if she needs a little help getting there.

"I've seen so many faces cheer up instantly upon seeing her," says Severson. "Think of all those smiles that would not have happened if she wasn't saved and loved. Don't we need more joy in this world?"

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Here's Kiki's adoption listing.

You can keep tabs on Kiki on her Facebook page.

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Miller: Aaron Schock could have a bright career post-Congressional resignation

Wed, 2015-04-01 10:34
March 31 was U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock's last day in office after resigning from Congress following questions about possibly improper spending. But while the resignation and fall from public favor have been a disappointment for Illinoisans and the national Republican party, Capitol Fax's Rich Miller says Schock could still have better days ahead of him.

Miller writes:

Just eight weeks ago, Schock was widely believed to be next in line to chair the National Republican Congressional Committee. But his rapid fall from grace ruined his career and deprived the NRCC of a chance to project a far more youthful public image.

Needless to say, the Illinois House Republicans are heartbroken by this loss. Schock is a former state House member and he retained quite a bit of personal affection and even admiration by his onetime colleagues and staffers. But it's the loss of his assistance which will be felt the most. Schock has been very helpful to the point of being almost indispensable to the House Republicans. He's helped recruit candidates, raised money for them and helped them campaign. And he was quite successful.

Ever since he defeated a sitting Democratic Representative in a solidly Democratic district at the age of 23, Schock has been the HGOP's wonder boy. And they've used his help and his model to win other districts, including state Reps. Adam Brown and Michael Unes, who both won Democratic-controlled districts with Schock's assistance in 2010.

Read the rest of Miller's thoughts on Schock at Reboot Illinois.

Another member of Congress from Illinois is in the news. U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth announced March 30 that she plans to run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Mark Kirk from Illinois in 2016. Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran who lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down in 2004. Watch Duckworth's campaign announcement and learn more about how the race could gain national attention at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

If You're Anti-Gay, Indiana Wants You To Visit

Wed, 2015-04-01 08:56
Bigots need vacation, too.

Indiana's so-called "religious freedom" law, seen by many as enabling discrimination against the gay community, has opened up a new avenue for state tourism in Funny Or Die's ad spoof. (Warning: The video contains some NSFW language.)

While Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) has promised changes to the bill, FOD's faux welcome to the intolerant gets the message across loud and clear -- and hilariously.

Not So Simple Machines

Wed, 2015-04-01 07:31
My second grade daughter has lived through an extreme fixation on the study of simple machines at school. My sixth and eighth grade kids also studied simple machines when they were in second grade, but it involved a few worksheets and a classroom project designed to catch a leprechaun. My current second grader has studied simple machines via classroom discussions, sing along songs, the leprechaun project, worksheets, homework, study guides, quizzes AND a final test. What follows is the conversation I had with my eight year old after finding the "Simple Machine Test" in her backpack. The publisher of the test, has the words "Second Grade, Simple Machines Made Simple" written in small print at the bottom of each page. They may want to rethink that title. Here's the conversation:

"I found your Simple Machine Test. You got 32/43 points. You missed a few huh? Let's see what happened to those questions. You can tell me what you were thinking okay?"

"Okay. It was really hard though. Everyone said so."

"No big deal. I just want to see what you were thinking as you answered these. Okay, first one you missed, true or false, a screwdriver is a kind of wheel and axle. You said false. It's true."

"What wheel? Where's the wheel in a screwdriver? Did they mean a power screwdriver? Because there's no wheel in the hand kind, not that I can see. I can see the axle part, but where's the wheel?"

"Yeah. That's a little tricky. Next one. True or false, a nail is an example of a wedge. You said false. It's true."

"A nail doesn't look like a wedge to me. A wedge looks like a slice of pizza or pie."

"I can see your point. Next one. A pencil sharpener is a type of pulley. You said true. Honey, there is no pulley device in a pencil sharpener."

"You know, I've never seen the inside of our pencil sharpener. How do I know what's in it? Maybe when you stick the pencil in the sharpener, and the motor starts going, and a pulley type thing pulls the blades around and around the pencil. I don't know."

"I think they meant the little cheap hand sharpeners. Not the electric kind."

"It didn't say that."

"And even the electric kind don't use pulleys."

"Now I know that. I didn't before."

"True or false, a car is an example of an incline plane. You said true? How did you figure that a car is like an incline plane?"

"Mom, come here. Look out the window at our van. Do you see the front of it? The windshield? It's Incline plane."

"Yeah you're right it is. Okay next section on the test. It says to label the simple machine in each picture. You said the picture of the bucket and well was a pulley. It's a wheel and axle."

"Maybe the illustrator of this test just can't draw very good pictures, because THAT picture looks like a pulley using rope to pull up a bucket from a well. It does not look like a wheel and an axle."
"And you labeled the actual picture of a pulley as being the wheel and axle."

"That's because I already used pulley to label the picture of the bucket and well. I couldn't use it twice. I think this guy just couldn't draw very good pictures."

"Okay. Next section. What two simple machines are in a pair of scissors? Wow. Even I would have to think about that one. You said wedge, and wheel and axle. The wedge is right. There is no wheel and axle in a scissors."

"There is that middle circle that holds the two blades together. It looks like a wheel. Maybe there is a tiny axle that attaches it to the circle on the other side. Wheel and axle."

"I think it's a screw"

"Screws have a pointy end. The only points on a scissors are the tips of the blades."

"I can see how you were thinking with that one. Here's a straight question. What simple machine would you use to open a door? Sweetie you put down wedge. How can a wedge open a door?"

"A wedge can HOLD OPEN a door, you know KEEP the door OPEN. It doesn't stay it had to be opened up for the first time."

"How about the next question. What simple machine would you use to hold two boards together? You said wedge again. How did you think a wedge would hold two boards together?"

"Well, I was actually thinking about making a teepee shape thing with the two boards, like two slides. If you tipped the two boards together like a triangle, they wouldn't hold for long, BUT if you put a wedge in the middle and leaned the two boards up against it, they would be able to stay together at the top see? Leaning on the wedge."

"The answer was screw."

"Two boards screwed together wouldn't make a very good teepee slide."

"You are right again. Well, I can completely understand why you answered those questions the way you did."

"Do you see what I mean Mom? It was a hard test. I just don't always get what they are asking. You know what it is? I just don't think like they do."

No she doesn't, and I hope it lasts.

Total Lunar Eclipse On Saturday Will Last For Just 5 Minutes

Wed, 2015-04-01 03:12
Keep your eyes on the skies on Saturday morning for what promises to be a spectacular -- if brief -- total eclipse of the moon.

The totality will last for less than 5 minutes, making it the shortest lunar eclipse of the century, according to NASA. During some lunar eclipses, totality can last for more than an hour.

Lunar eclipses occur when the moon enters Earth's shadow. In this case, the moon is entering the very edge of that shadow instead of running right through the heart of it, which is why the eclipse will be so fleeting.

NASA has prepared a map showing where the eclipse will be visible. In the United States, the total eclipse will be observable from the West Coast to the U3 line (which runs roughly along the Mississippi River), while a partial lunar eclipse will be visible east of that line, with sunrise cutting the event short:

More diagrams of the eclipse are available on the Sky & Telescope website.

The eclipse will begin at 3:16 a.m. PT when the shadow of the earth begins to cover the moon. Totality will begin at 4:58 a.m. PT, with the greatest eclipse at 5 a.m. and totality ending at 5:03 a.m. The remaining partial eclipse will last until 6:45 a.m. PT, according to NASA.

Because the moon can look red during an eclipse, the event is sometimes called a "blood moon."

This eclipse is the third in a tetrad, or a period of four eclipses, which began on April 15, 2014. The next and final lunar eclipse in the cycle will be on Sept. 28.

A map of that event is visible here.

For those unable to see the eclipse, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will provide a livestream.

In addition, NASA astronomer Mitzi Adams will answer questions on Twitter (@NASA_Marshall) from 6 a.m. ET until the end of the eclipse.

Dog Flu: Canine Influenza

Tue, 2015-03-31 19:52
Approximately three weeks ago, my Chicago practice experienced a tremendous rise in the number of dogs experiencing respiratory diseases. Initially many of these dogs were energetic with deep, harsh coughs without a fever. The doctors at Animal Medical Center of Chicago tentatively diagnosed them with Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis, or "Kennel Cough". Viral agents, like Canine Adenovirus 2 or Canine Parainfluenza, and bacterial agents, like Bordetella Bronchiseptica and Mycoplasma, can cause Canine Infectious Tracheobronchitis. All of our patients responded well to supportive therapy, which included antibiotics and cough suppressants. However, recently we have been seeing a number of dogs with more severe respiratory disease. These dogs are presenting with high fevers (103 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit), moderate to profound lethargy, nasal discharge, depressed appetites and labored respiration. These patients, we suspect, have Canine Influenza caused by the Influenza virus H3N8 strain.

Canine Influenza Facts:

Morbidity: 20-50 percent of the dogs exposed to this virus will make antibodies against this virus and will successfully clear the infection. These pets will not show overt signs of their infection.

50-80 percent of the dogs exposed to the virus will show flu like symptoms -- like fever, lethargy, coughing and purulent nasal discharge. A small percentage of these pets will develop pneumonia and it is this population that is at risk for death.

Mortality: 5-8 percent.
Most pets will recover with supportive care only.

Incubation Period: 2-5 days.

Length of Infection: 2 weeks.

Transmission: The virus can persist on toys, bedding, clothing, leashes and other objects for days. Regardless if they display illness or not, all dogs infected with the virus will shed the virus in their respiratory secretions for 14 days. People exposed to dogs with Canine Influenza should wash their hands and change their outer clothing to minimize the spread of this virus to other dogs.

During the next few weeks in Chicago, I would strongly advise all pet owners to avoid or at best, minimize, your dog's exposure to other dogs and areas of high concentration of dogs, such as dog parks, boarding, grooming and training facilities. If you chose to go to these facilities, please call them in advance of your pet's arrival to see if any ill pets have been there recently.

Treatment: Supportive therapy may include intravenous fluid therapy, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections, nebulization therapy, and/or cough suppressants. As a result of viral damage to lung tissue, opportunistic bacteria invade the lung and may cause pneumonia.

Immunity: Dogs that recover from Canine Influenza are believed to be protective for 2 years. A Canine Influenza (H3N8) vaccine exists and aids in reducing the shedding and severity of the infection. This vaccine does NOT prevent the disease. The vaccine is given in two doses separated by 2-3 weeks. Yearly re-vaccination is recommended for high-risk dogs.

Dogs that travel, who have contact with many other dogs, frequent boarding or training facilities, or go to dog parks may benefit from this vaccine. At this time, Canine Influenza vaccine is not considered a core annual vaccine, which means it is not a vaccine recommended to all dogs. Just because a vaccine exists, does not mean that your dog should receive it. Please consult with your veterinarian to assess your pet's risk for acquiring Canine Influenza virus and need for this vaccine.

Zoonosis: No. This strain is not contagious to humans.

If your pet is experiencing flu-like symptoms, like coughing, runny nose and lethargy, please contact your veterinarian as soon as possible for medical advice. This disease can progress quickly and it is best to medically address it as soon as possible to increase your pet's chance of a swift recovery.

Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her your questions or future topic ideas to

The First Annual Huffington Post Weedvent Calendar

Tue, 2015-03-31 17:00
It's that time of year again, HuffPost readers, and we know for some of you the anticipation of the national 4/20 holiday is almost too much to bear. We're here to help with our first annual Huffington Post Weedvent Calendar.

Weedvent is exactly like Advent, but without any of the meaning. Each day you come back to your Weedvent Calendar, a new video will appear. We've picked videos that we hope will educate you, outrage you, make you laugh and make you think.

As Budweiser might say: Happy 420, and please enjoy responsibly.

Want to Solve Inequality and Child Poverty? End the War on Drugs

Tue, 2015-03-31 16:06
Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, has just published an exhaustively researched book on inequality, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015). He explores the differences between rich children, defined as those with parents having college degrees, and poor children, parents with high school degrees or less. With social science survey data complemented by vignettes showing the lives and choices of young people and their families, he documents a steadily-increasing divergence in opportunity between rich and poor.

Putnam identifies a number of factors that contribute to rising inequality, including the loss of factory wages that stabilized blue collar families, the deteriorating quality of public schools in poor neighborhoods, and personal choices such as eating unhealthy food and smoking cigarettes. The thread that runs throughout, however, is the breakdown of families.

Though such a large problem seems insurmountable, Putnam points out one key factor that is both within our power to change, and likely to have a real and immediate effect on family dysfunction and hence on inequality: ending the War on Drugs. He cites the drug war and related "three strikes" sentencing policies that created the sharp increase in incarceration since 1980 as contributing to family breakdown (pp. 76-78). Incarceration divides and impoverishes families, removes adult males from communities, and leaves men even less employable.

Those with convictions are consequently less marriageable, leading to even lower rates of strong, cohabitating family formation. While poor women are as likely as wealthy women to aspire to marriage, a poor woman could sensibly conclude that a man with no job and a criminal record is a poor prospect. It is no wonder that marriage promotion programs have failed. They have the causality backwards. It isn't lack of marriage that leads to poverty; it is poverty that leads to low rates of marriage.

Incarceration is a major factor contributing to child poverty. The U.S. now has the world's highest incarceration rate: 707 per 100,000. Russia is the runner-up, with 474 per 100,000. With violent crime dropping across the country, it is largely drug cases that account for the high U.S. prison population. As the ACLU has documented, the drug war comes down most heavily on minority communities even though rates of drug usage are similar across races. According to the U.S. Department of Justice figures, about one in three black American males can expect to spend time in prison.

Parental incarceration puts poor children at an even further disadvantage (with stigma and reduced future family prospects on top of absence), and children of color are more likely to have one or more parents incarcerated. The Sentencing Project reports that in 2007, one in 15 black children, one in 42 Latino children, and one in 111 white children had a parent in prison. Putnam notes that the pernicious effects of parental incarceration "spill over" to affect even classmates whose fathers are not incarcerated. Perhaps this is the "PTA effect" at work -- fewer engaged adults per classroom, resulting in a detriment to all. In A Plague of Prisons; The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (2012), Ernest Drucker explores in even more depth the terrible societal costs of American overincarceration for families and communities.

Stopping the drug war is a major change that, in one fell swoop, would ameliorate a whole host of problems for poor children and their families. Both liberals and conservatives are getting behind the idea. For conservatives, ending the drug war may be the best marriage-promotion program on offer. With no need for special programs or incentives, it automatically changes the dynamic in impoverished communities. We simply remove the obstacles presented by the drug war and let the market and individual choice work. For liberals, ending the drug war would reduce the damage to minority communities.

All this would happen at no additional cost to the taxpayer, which should delight both the left and right, because we would be dramatically reducing spending in this area -- on the DEA, police and court time, jail and prison costs, drug eradication and interdiction overseas. With money freed up, we could even spend more on treatment for those who are addicted, and maybe also try to address the social problems that lead young people to turn to drugs in the first place.

Of course, simply stopping the war on drugs is not a panacea for the issue of increasing inequality, especially because many problems, such as lack of education, role models and parenting skills, have been generations in the making and will take time to overcome. However, it is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet. We can be quite confident that repealing prohibition would start to reverse the inequality trends because the interrelationships among criminality, employment, incarceration, child welfare, and education are already so well mapped out by Putnam, Drucker, and others. Other suggestions for addressing inequality -- raising the minimum wage, investing in pre-K education, more mentoring -- are neither systemic nor scalable. Stopping the drug war is a systemic nationwide policy change that we can and should take immediately.

How This D.C. Clinic Wants To 'De-Medicalize' Abortion

Tue, 2015-03-31 14:18
“Abortion. Yeah, we do that.”

That's one of the advertising slogans used by Carafem, an abortion clinic opening this week in Washington, D.C. The clinic plans to approach abortion as a straightforward part of women's health care, hoping to make the procedure a streamlined process that is easy to access.

Carafem will provide the abortion pill to women who are less than 10 weeks pregnant. Patients will be able to book appointments -- offered on evenings and weekends, as well as during weekdays -- through an online portal or via a 24-hour hotline manned by multilingual staff members. The clinic also promises a short procedure time of around one hour, and a lower-than-average price point of approximately $400 for an abortion.

Image via

Terminating a pregnancy with the abortion pill involves two steps. Patients take the first pill, mifepristone, which stops the embryo from growing and detaches it from the uterine wall. Between 24 and 72 hours later, they take the second pill, misoprostol, which causes the uterus to contract and expel the embryo. Carafem patients will take the mifepristone pill at the clinic after undergoing tests and speaking with a doctor, then be sent home with the misoprostol pill. Staff members will follow up with each patient to ensure that the termination was successful.

Chris Purdy, the president & CEO of Carafem, told The Huffington Post that he came up with the idea for the clinic around 18 months ago, after returning from 20 years working for family planning programs in Turkey, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Purdy was shocked to find that it was still so difficult for many women in the U.S. to access abortion care. He worked with Melissa S. Grant, a former Planned Parenthood director who is now Carafem's vice president of health services, on a model to provide early-term abortion services that reduce some of the barriers women seeking abortion commonly face, and make the experience less clinical.

"We wanted to make the experience one that was more caring and more kind," Purdy told The Huffington Post. "Very professional, focused on the quality of care, the woman and her experience."

Grant told HuffPost that they hope to "de-medicalize" the procedure as much as possible, providing "non-judgmental and unapologetic care." The pair has worked to eliminate some of the intimidating sights, noises and smells of a traditional doctor's office. Patients will speak with medical staff one-on-one in small, comfortable rooms devoid of intimidating medical equipment. As much of the testing and preliminary work as possible will be carried out in one room, rather than moving the patient from place to place within the clinic. And, while staff members are fully briefed on security and safety procedures, the abortion clinic will look no different from any other office.

“It was important for us to try to present an upgraded, almost spa-like feel,” Grant told The Washington Post.

Grant and Purdy stressed that they wanted women who visited the clinic for an abortion to be completely educated on each step of the procedure, and to feel comfortable and supported throughout. Grant emphasized the clinic's focus on "the language that we use, the welcoming policies and procedures that we put in place, and making sure that if a woman needs additional time with a doctor, she has it."

Ultimately, their hope is to demonstrate a new standard of care for women seeking abortions.

"There is a myth that abortion clinics are lonely and scary places," Grant said. "That doesn't have to be true."

6 Worst Relationship Myths Women Believe

Tue, 2015-03-31 12:57

Several notable men--fitness advocate Vince Adams, motivational speakers Dwayne Bryant and Vincent K. Harris, political analyst Maze Jackson, and hip hop icon/activist Che Rhymefest Smith--held court at the 21st annual Black Women's Expo and told the captive audience what many were shocked to learn.

The relationship panel, Wives, Girlfriends and Side Chicks Decoded, facilitated by the lifestyle bloggers Six Brown Chicks, exposed several destructive relationship myths that women tend to believe.

6 Worst Relationship Myths Women Believe

I can put on my best face on our date. "Before the date, a person can (and will) spend time on your Facebook page to know exactly what you're about," says Vince Adams. You can't pretend to be Miss Goody Two Shoes on your date when your posts present you in a totally different manner.

Potential lovers avoid me because I have children.
"Women put themselves in that box of having kids and making it a negative," explains Maze Jackson. "[Men don't mind] if the children are well-behaved. What you see oftentimes is a woman so interested in keeping up with the dude that she neglects the kids. That has a negative effect on how a man sees you; it tells that man something about your character."

My long-term relationship will lead to marriage.
Read this carefully: You are wasting your time if you've been dating someone for two years or more and you do not have a commitment, according to Dwayne Bryant. "I will only commit to a woman that I think has the capacity to be my wife," says Bryant. "If she is bringing greatness to the table, and is an asset, it won't take more than a couple months (for a commitment)--a few at the most."

I have too much baggage with my ex, and no one will want me. Your drama-filled past will not halt you from starting a future with someone else, says Che Rhymefest Smith, because most people have drama in their pasts. "My ex-wife took me to court while I was running for public office, and she worked in the office of my opponent," Che Rhymefest Smith says. "A lot of times men have more drama because we were with women we shouldn't have been with in the first place."

My lover cheated on me because I am not enough. More often than not, a man's desire to cheat has nothing to do with you. "I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, and didn't think I was handsome as a child. When I went to college and realized women found me attractive, I cheated just to make up for lost time. It was revenge," says Maze Jackson, who is now engaged. Vincent K. Harris adds: "I juggled women just to see what I could get away with; but having side chicks is expensive," so that behavior ceased.

I must let him know upfront how valuable I am. It may be best to demonstrate your character rather than talk about it, says Che Rhymefest Smith. "When someone says, 'I can do this, and I can do that,' I think, well you're okay then [by yourself]. Why don't you just do what you say you are? People do too much talking about who they think they are and not enough DOING who they are."

(Photo by Bobby Barnhill/KP Enterprises: l. to r. Maze Jackson, Vincent K. Harris, Dwayne Bryant, Vince Adams and Che Rhymefest Smith.)

Acadia's Special Chef, Ryan McCaskey

Tue, 2015-03-31 12:34
Memory is a strange thing. And food memory, one's remembrance of not just the first time they tasted something, but the exact taste for the first time, is even stranger.

"As a kid, I didn't eat a lot of fresh vegetables or have exposure to them until I tried them from my grandparents' garden," Chef Ryan McCaskey of Acadia told me while we were filming for the upcoming April 6th Dinner Party. "That was where the learning and eventual epiphany happened. I remember the first time I had a radish and I was blown away. It was so hot!"

Chef also remembers the first time he had a banana and mayonnaise. "I don't know why. I can remember all of these tastes and experiences as if they were yesterday." Pretty handy if one is the Executive Chef of a three-time Michelin Star decorated restaurant and two-time Five Diamond award winner. All that and his restaurant Acadia only opened in 2010.

In addition to Chef's incredible food memory, Acadia does something else that is very special, something that most Michelin Star restaurants don't do, which why I was quick to have him on my show. Acadia's bar is open late and it serves bar food. And what's so special about that? Well, it isn't any ol' bar food. Acadia serves gourmet bar food, with most dishes $16 or under, at the chill-chic front of the house bar.

Now, many restaurants claim to have gourmet bar food, but what they usually mean is French fries in duck fat or a gussied up burger. Not here. Acadia is the real deal. At the bar, one can order Oxtail Agnolotti, Parmesan Broth, Wild Mushrooms, $15, Pork Banh Mi, Daikon, Carrot, Jalapeño, Cilantro, $10, Korean Fried Jidori Chicken, Cole Slaw, Sesame, $12, Potato Wild Garlic Soup, Lentils, Caviar, Black Trumpet Mushroom, Truffle, Celery, $12...well, you get the drift. Although they have burgers, it's not your typical bar menu and it isn't your typical restaurant bar scene. Chic is as chic does and Acadia pulls in an elegant, jet-set crowd that considers both the restaurant and bar fair dining game.

Enjoy the videos below to watch Chef McCaskey work his magic in the kitchen making menu items of Slagel Farm Pork Belly, Grains, Kohlrabi, Smoked Banana Puree with Uni and Slagel Farm Beef Tri-tip over Vegetable Ash, Baby Leek, Garlic, Celery Root Gratin, Tokyo Turnips, with Oxtail Prune Consomme, both of which will be served to the audience at the April 6th Dinner Party. The Dinner Party will also feature Chaz Ebert, international photographer, SANDRO and classical pianist and Beethoven Festival Founder, George Lepauw for an evening of unscripted conversation and extraordinary food, preceded by a reception benefiting Common Threads.

My Q and A With Insomnia Expert Gregg Jacobs

Tue, 2015-03-31 11:49
Gregg Jacobs is an insomnia specialist at the Sleep Disorders Center at the UMass Memorial Medical Center and the author of Say Good Night to Insomnia. In answer to my questions, he shared his insights on how human sleep patterns have changed over time, healthier and more effective alternatives to sleeping pills, and how to reverse our worst sleep habits and behaviors.

Describe your research on insomnia.

I have a longstanding interest in the relationship between the mind and health. My doctoral research, which assessed the ability of the mind to control physiology, showed that it was possible to use deep relaxation techniques to voluntarily produce brain wave patterns that were identical to the initial stages of sleep. My postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School included research on the meditative practices of Tibetan monks. This research, conducted in a Tibetan monastery in Sikkim under the auspices of the Dalai Lama, revealed that advanced Tibetan monks possess remarkable control over their brain waves and physiology. This led to my efforts to develop a safe, drug-free intervention for insomnia, called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), over the past 30 years at the Harvard and University of Massachusetts medical schools. This research culminated in a landmark study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, showing that CBT-I is more effective than Ambien. Because few people have access to CBT-I, my more recent efforts have focused on making CBT-I widely available in an inexpensive, practical format through my website, Numerous studies have recently demonstrated that internet-based CBT-I can be delivered as effectively as face-to-face CBT-I and is more practical and cost-effective.

You've discussed the history of segmented sleep. Do you believe we have evolved past this pattern, or are our bodies struggling against us when we try to sleep in one chunk of time? How does insomnia relate to this?

Research suggests that we may have displayed a polyphasic (i.e., multiple periods) sleep pattern for virtually all of our evolution until the recent advent of nighttime lighting. Prior to that, humans likely went to sleep soon after dusk and awakened at dawn in longer sleep periods that consisted of alternating bouts of sleep and wakefulness. This non-continuous sleep pattern is characteristic of virtually all mammals and is also the pattern we experience early and late in life. It is only in adult life, and the last 350 years of human history, that a more consolidated nocturnal sleep pattern is apparent. However, many adults still experience polyphasic sleep in the form of insomnia, and regular intervals of waking are still experienced in normal sleepers today, as evidenced by six to 12 brief awakenings per night (which most of us don't recall, for they are too short). Evidently, this polyphasic sleep pattern lies dormant in our physiology, met an evolutionary need, and therefore may be adaptive rather than a sleep disorder.

In segmented sleep, how was waking time between the two sleeps spent?

In prehistoric times, it may have been spent tending to the fire, being vigilant for predators, in deep relaxation, for creativity and problem solving, and a channel of communication between dreams and waking life. Historical accounts suggest it was used for sexual activity and socializing, reading and writing, praying, meditating on dreams, or tending to the fire in the cold months.

Tell me about cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. How does this treatment for insomnia compare with other methods like sleeping pills? What successes have you seen among your patients, and how can others incorporate the strategies into their sleep habits?

CBT-I is the most effective psychology-based treatment for a health problem and has consistently been proven to be the most effective first-line treatment for chronic insomnia. It improves sleep in 75 to 80 percent of insomnia patients and reduces or eliminates sleeping pill use in 90 percent of patients. It is so effective that I am surprised if my patients do not report improvement in sleep, or a reduction or elimination of sleeping pills, from CBT-I. And in three studies published in major medical journals that directly compared CBT with sleeping pills, including my study at Harvard Medical School, CBT-I was more effective than sleeping pills. CBT-I also has no side effects and maintains improvements in sleep long-term, and new research shows that CBT-I doubles the improvement rates of depression compared with antidepressant medication alone in depressed patients with insomnia.

In contrast to CBT-I, sleeping pills do not greatly improve sleep. Objectively, newer-generation sleeping pills such as Ambien are no more effective than a placebo. Subjectively, they only increase total sleep time, and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, by about 10 minutes. Furthermore, these small to moderate short-term improvements in sleep are often outweighed by significant side effects and risks, particularly in older adults. These include impairment of alertness, driving, and learning and memory (including sleep-dependent memory consolidation); increased mortality risk, as shown in almost two dozen scientific studies; and dependence, addiction, and activation of the same neurobiological pathways involved in drugs of abuse.

CBT-I is based on the idea that some individuals react to short-term insomnia (usually caused by stress) by worrying about sleep loss. After a few weeks of lying awake at night, frustrated and anxious about insomnia, they start to anticipate not sleeping and become apprehensive about going to bed. They soon learn to associate the bed with sleeplessness and frustration; consequently, the bed quickly becomes a learned cue for wakefulness and insomnia. As a result, they begin to engage in these types of maladaptive sleep habits, thoughts and behaviors that exacerbate insomnia that must be changed with CBT-I (sleeping pills are marginally effective because they do not change these behaviors):

  • Negative, distorted thoughts and beliefs about insomnia such as "I must get eight hours of sleep" or "I did not sleep a wink last night."

  • Going to bed too early or sleeping too late and spending excessive time in bed.

  • Irregular arising times.

  • Trying to control sleep rather than letting it happen.

  • Lying awake in bed, frustrated and tense.

  • Using the bed and bedroom for activities other than sleep.

  • Use of electronic devices before bedtime.

Betty White Doesn't Understand Why People Say She's Had A 'Comeback' (VIDEO)

Tue, 2015-03-31 11:28
Betty White is, as Oprah calls her, a "national treasure." For the last seven decades, White has delighted audiences in sitcoms, commercials and films -- and she doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Now 93, the TV legend says she is thrilled to be able to continue working, which she understands is not a guarantee for someone at her age.

"When you're as blessed as I am with the good health I have, that's the bottom line," White tells Oprah in the above video. "I never take it for granted. I appreciate it more than I can say."

Though the actress credits good genes as the main cause behind her strong health, White also cites a rather unusual exercise routine as another factor. "I have a two-story house and a very bad memory," she says. "So I'm up and down those stairs all the time!"

On a serious note, Oprah mentions that White never caved into the pressure of the rather common Hollywood practice of lying about her age.

"There was no need to," she says simply. "What's the point of trying to fool anybody? Besides, my mother always said, 'Don't lie about your age. You'll forget and you'll slip up, and then you'll look ridiculous.'"

As the years went on, White's career began to evolve. Then, in 2010, a new generation of fans started to take notice. White had all but stolen the show opposite Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal," had viewers falling out of their seats in a hilarious Super Bowl commercial and quickly found herself in the midst of a social media campaign to have her host "Saturday Night Live." Soon, the media began covering White's "comeback," as they called it, dubbing her the Golden-Girl-turned-It-Girl of Hollywood.

As grateful as White is to still be working, she admits that the "comeback" label is a little confusing.

"I don't know where the 'comeback' story came [from]," White says. "I've been working steadily for the last 70 years!"

Even now, with this incredible professional longevity, White says she never imagined her career lasting as long as it has.

"Who would ever dream that I would not only be this healthy, but still be invited to work?" White says. "That's the privilege... To still have jobs to do is such a privilege."

Also in the interview: White shares her biggest regret from the last 93 years.

"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.

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These Events Were Canceled Because Of Indiana's New Anti-Gay 'Religious Freedom' Law

Tue, 2015-03-31 10:27
WASHINGTON -- Indiana has been facing a national backlash after Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a "religious freedom" bill into law last week that could open the door to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act would allow any individual or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

The criticism is already hitting the state economically. The governors of Connecticut and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana. Organizers of Gen Con, which has been called the largest gaming convention in the country, are also considering no longer having their event in Indiana.

Cities like Chicago are capitalizing on the controversy, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) trying to lure Indiana-based businesses into his city.

Here are some of the events that have been canceled in the state since Pence signed RFRA:

Wilco Concert

Indie rock band Wilco tweeted Monday that it will cancel its May 7 show in Indianapolis because RFRA "feels like thinly disguised legal discrimination." "Hope to get back to the Hoosier State someday soon, when this odious measure is repealed. Refunds available at point of purchase," the band added.

Comedy Show

Comedian Nick Offerman, perhaps best known for playing Ron Swanson on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," tweeted Tuesday that he is canceling a May 16 show in Indiana. He and his wife, fellow comedian Megan Mullally, are touring the country with their "Summer of 69: No Apostrophe" comedy-variety show. They will go ahead with their appearance at Indiana University Wednesday but will be donating the proceeds to the Human Rights Campaign.

AFSCME Conference

On Monday, Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, announced that he was pulling the union's 2015 Women's Conference out of Indianapolis in October. "The 1.6 million members of AFSCME cannot in good conscience make such a sizable financial investment in Indiana knowing that women and men in that state are deliberately being targeted for discrimination," said Saunders. A new location has not yet been chosen.

Angie's List Expansion

Indianapolis-based business Angie's List has cancelled a planned $40 million headquarters expansion, a move that could cost the city 1,000 jobs over a five-year period. "Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none, and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," said CEO Bill Oesterle, who used to be an aide to former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

Tech Conference Sponsorship

Marc Benioff, CEO of tech giant Salesforce, said he is canceling all company travel to Indiana in the wake of RFRA. This means Salesforce will no longer sponsor or attend the Indy Big Data Conference set to be held May 7 in Indianapolis. EMC, Cloudera, Pivotal and Platfora have pulled their sponsorships as well. Conference organizers issued a statement calling on state politicians to come up with "an immediate correction to this law in order to prohibit discrimination in Indiana on any grounds.”

HUFFPOST READERS: If you live in Indiana, we want to hear about how this law is affecting you. Email your story or any tips to Please include your name, the city you live in, and a phone number if you're willing to be contacted by a reporter.

Hero Drives Jeep Off Tow Truck, Escapes In A Flash Of Glory (VIDEO)

Tue, 2015-03-31 09:11
Tow trucks are the bane of the working man's existence.

We've all been there: You spend your hard-earned cash on a few groceries after a long day of work and think to yourself, "I deserve a coffee at that fancy hipster joint across the street." You do! But what you don't notice are the sharks circling your vehicle. The moment you walk out of the grocery store lot, your precious Toyota Camry is gone, on its way to the tow pound along with your dignity and temper.

This is our plight. But there is a shining light in our midst. A man willing to stand up for what's right. A Katniss Everdeen to our District 12. A King Leonidas to our Sparta. He's a Jeep owner in Chicago, and he's the first hero on record escaping a tow by driving his vehicle off the truck that victimized him.

In dramatic footage caught by Tony Marengo on Sunday night, the Jeep driver can be seen sitting in his vehicle -- which was atop the tow truck at the time -- yelling at the driver to stop. The tow truck pulls over.

"We could hear the guy in the driver’s seat of the car yelling out of the window," Marengo told NBC Chicago. "He was like, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey, buddy!'"

Then, our hero leaps into action, doing what none of us ever had the guts to do: He guns it, and makes a clean getaway (video above).

We'll go out on a limb and assume that the mean old tow truck driver got the Jeep's info before the great escape -- but it's a small victory, and a small victory we'll take.

May the odds be ever in your favor, Jeep driver.

How Police And Prosecutors Are Treating 'Rapping While Black' Like A Crime

Tue, 2015-03-31 06:34
Since the birth of rap music, artists have written songs about pretty much everything: progress, struggle, success, failure, societal ills and the responsibility of hip-hop, even an “extraterrestrial time-traveling gynecologist and surgeon from the planet Jupiter.” Sometimes, their lyrics are an unvarnished reflection of the realities they live. Other times their words are less grounded in the truth, or are complete fiction. Rap, like any other musical genre, is about artistry, expression and entertainment. It has no obligation to absolute accuracy.

But what happens when a rapper's lyrics are used against them, cherry-picked by police and prosecutors and held up as evidence of a crime? A number of recent cases have highlighted this concern, reigniting debate around the controversial practice and how it is applied exclusively to rap music.

Last week, a San Diego judge threw out felony conspiracy charges against Brandon Duncan, a 33-year-old rapper who goes by the stage name Tiny Doo. He had been accused of contributing to gang activity. Prosecutors offered the lyrics of Duncan's self-produced mixtape, released in 2014, as proof. Duncan had faced the possibility of life in prison under a 2000 California law that has been used to crack down on gang activity and those who promote or benefit from it. In some cases, however, critics claim the law is also used to criminalize black culture.

“This is one of the most disturbing examples of where kids are using poetry to get out of the hood and we are sending them right back in,” Erik Nielson, a professor at the University of Richmond who has studied the prosecution of rap lyrics extensively, told The Huffington Post.

Duncan was being prosecuted under California's Street Terrorism and Prevention Act, or STEP Act, which deems it illegal to “willfully promote” or “benefit” from criminal gang activity. At the time of Duncan's arrest, he had no criminal record and no idea that he was facing nine felony conspiracy charges based almost entirely on rap lyrics published in his latest album, “No Safety.” Prosecutors argued that the material in the mixtape -- which includes lyrics like “Ain't no safety on this pistol I'm holding," and a sample of a speech by Black Panther Fred Hampton, also used by electronic artist Thievery Corporation -- had inspired a series of local rival gang shootings the year before.

Duncan claimed he was not a gang member, and that he hadn't even profited from his mixtape. One fact was never in doubt throughout the legal proceedings: Prosecutors did not believe Duncan was directly involved in any of the gang crimes. But they maintained they had enough evidence to link Duncan's rap lyrics -- which he says reflected his experience growing up in a rough San Diego neighborhood -- to crimes allegedly committed by other gang members.

“What is so frightening and disturbing about his case is that they were going to essentially pin the whole murder charge on this outrageous theory that because he was a rapper, his street credibility and therefore his popularity in records sales would have increased as a result,” Nielson said.

Duncan spent seven months behind bars after his arrest. Earlier this year, he posted bail after successfully petitioning to have it reduced from $500,000 to $50,000. While Duncan’s charges were ultimately dropped, his case highlights a disturbing trend of rap lyrics being used in courtrooms across the country, often in the absence of more traditional forms of hard evidence to link suspects to a crime.

“It is a cheap way to get a conviction, and we found in many cases that prosecutors are likely to do so when they don't have much evidence otherwise,” Nielson said. “No one seems to understand the severity of the problem.”

In one such case in 2000, up-and-coming rapper McKinley "Mac" Phipps was charged with first-degree murder after a concertgoer was shot during one of his performances near New Orleans. Phipps had no prior criminal record, and prosecutors for the state had no forensic evidence to tie him to the murder. Instead, they turned to his rap lyrics to attack his character. In his closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Dearing took lyrics from Phipps' song "Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill” and stitched them together with altered lyrics from another song, "Shell Shocked," presenting them to the all-white jury as proof that Phipps was a killer.

"This defendant who did this is the same defendant whose message is, 'Murder murder, kill, kill, you f**k with me you get a bullet in your brain,'" he said. "You don't have to be a genius to figure out that one plus one equals two."

The actual lyrics, "Ya f--k with me, he'll give you a bullet in yo brain," were about Phipps' father, a Vietnam War veteran. But the jury bought Dearing's simple math and found Phipps guilty. He was eventually sentenced to 30 years in jail.

"The rap got his mind all messed up," jury foreman Robert Hammell told The Huffington Post of the jury's decision to convict. "He was living a life that he thought he was a gangsta. He was making it big time with the gold chains and all that s**t that went with it. To shoot somebody in a public place on the dance floor, you gotta think you're a bad son of a b***h."

Phipps performing "Murda, Murda, Kill, Kill” at a concert in 1999.

In the past few months, the prosecution’s witnesses have come forward and recanted their testimony, citing bullying by authorities who allegedly forced them to lie under oath. The allegations have added another wrinkle to an already complicated case, and again led to questions about how significant Phipps' lyrics were in obtaining a conviction.

Rap music -- and particularly what has become known in some circles as "gangster rap" -- often delves into violent and obscene topics. It's not unusual for these songs to cover details of actual events. But rap is also a genre in which stories are regularly told through the lens of a fictional persona assumed by the artist. With the success of amateur rappers often relying on their ability to come across as authentic in their music, performers may recount episodes that are well-known in a community but that they themselves weren't necessarily a part of. In other instances, rappers might simply embellish or fabricate details of an encounter or their involvement in it, in an effort to advance their career. The criminal justice system often appears disinterested in these nuances.

Critics also say there's a clear racial dynamic in how rap lyrics are seized upon and used against suspects.

“A lot of people have a difficult time viewing young men of color and frequent producers of rap lyrics as artists in the first place,” Nielson said. “It's a potent tool for prosecutors because, frankly, they can serve a guilty verdict by playing into those stereotypes.”

In effect, people are more willing to take the content of a song at face value if the lyrics reinforce racially charged preconceptions about young, black males, particularly regarding sexuality and violence.

This makes rap a perfect weapon for law enforcement and prosecutors. Police have been encouraged to parse rap songs to see if they can make a connection between lyrics and unsolved crimes. As NPR noted in 2014, a sergeant for a Virginia gang task force told a German newspaper that his officers regularly scour social networks and amateur videos for potential clues, effectively spending about as much time on the computer as they do on the street. In 2006, the FBI advised prosecutors to examine suspects' rap lyrics, suggesting they should be considered literal reflections of "true-life experiences."

Prosecutors have introduced lyrics both as evidence of an actual crime, and of a suspect's supposed capacity to commit a crime. There are concerns that rap music is regularly misinterpreted or deliberately manipulated in these legal settings, leading to unfair trials that can end with an innocent person being convicted. And the controversy stemming from these practices extends beyond Duncan and Phipps.

In 2014, Antwain Steward was convicted on weapons charges linked to a 2007 double-murder in Newport News, Virginia. Steward was charged years later, after a detective assigned to the case was tipped off to a YouTube video of his song, “Ride Out,” which police said boasted about his role in the shootings. While there were clear discrepancies between the lyrics and the details of the crime, the prosecution brought forth witnesses that, years later, corroborated their claims that Steward was the shooter. During the trial, the defense cast doubt on the credibility of these witnesses. The prosecution objected to any mention of the lyrics that had led to the trial in the first place. The jury found Steward not guilty on the murder charges, but guilty on the weapons charges. He is now serving a 16-year jail sentence.

A recording of "Ride Out," by Steward, also known as Twain Gotti.

In Pennsylvania, Vonte Skinner is currently standing trial for a third time on charges that he shot and paralyzed a drug dealer in 2005. Skinner had previously been convicted for the crime and given a 30-year jail sentence after prosecution introduced rap lyrics as evidence of his violent predisposition and involvement in the shooting. The New Jersey Supreme Court later overturned that ruling, declaring his rap lyrics inadmissible and offering him another trial.

In March 2014, The New York Times reported that rap lyrics had played a significant part in nearly 40 prosecutions over the preceding two years. In a recent article for Vox, Nielson and co-author Michael Render -- the rapper better known as Killer Mike -- say they've "identified hundreds of cases so far, and we suspect that's just the tip of the iceberg."

Nielson told HuffPost these cases expose a deeply flawed double standard in determining what is real and what is metaphorical when it comes to artistic expression. He believes “the rules of evidence should automatically preclude the introduction of rap as evidence.” Such lyrics, Nielson says, should be protected as a nuanced art form, not put up for analysis under the hyper-literal mindset typically undertaken in the courtroom.

"The vast majority of aspiring rappers are spending hours a day working on rap music ... to escape a life of violence, not to perpetuate it."

Even if a guilty defendant is prosecuted and convicted with the help of rap lyrics, should those words be allowed to serve as a replacement for more traditional forms of evidence? Do we think it's fair for a prosecutor to tell a jury that they must judge a rap song's lyrics as an honest reflection of the artist's mental psyche, especially knowing the underlying racial biases likely to be at play? And more generally, which forms of expression should be protected and which should be allowed to be used against the person expressing them? The Supreme Court will take up this last question in a case later this year.

Enabled by murky legal territory, cultural ignorance and engrained racial bias, police and prosecutors have been rewarded for criminalizing aspects of an art form overwhelmingly practiced by young, black men. Nielson believes there's a particularly troubling irony in this trend of targeting.

“What most people are missing is that the vast majority of aspiring rappers are spending hours a day working on rap music and, regardless of the content, the reason they are doing it is to escape a life of violence, not to perpetuate it."