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Nicki Minaj Releases 'Chi-Raq,' Addresses Malcom X Controversy In Verse

Tue, 2014-04-08 09:26
Nicki Minaj has released an aggressive single off her upcoming album. The song, "Chi-Raq" (feat. Lil Herb), marks the first bit of promotion for "The Pink Print," a projected followup to "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded."

This new song is decidedly more gritty than some of the mainstream dance-pop more recently associated with the rapper. She churns out hard-hitting wordplay over a beat by Boi-1da, Vinylz and Allen Ritter, making sure to address the controversy attached to the cover art of her "Lookin' Ass" single: "Malcom X daughter came at me / Lookin' ass n----s ain't happy."

Whatever your thoughts on "Chi-Raq," there'll be more of this re-upped return to form. “I always got a trick up my sleeve,” Minaj teases in the final verse of the song. “I might give you a new trick every week until this album drop / I don’t know, I figured they wanted some more.”

Coal Rush Kids! Illinois Votes to Keep Big Coal in Schools

Tue, 2014-04-08 09:24
While coal mining families in West Virginia and across the country mourned the fourth anniversary of the tragic Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster last week, hailed by US Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II as "a conspiracy to violate mine safety and health laws," the Illinois state legislature rolled out the red carpet for Big Coal and voted to keep a notorious "coal education program" for schools that has been widely denounced by former coal miners and educators as inaccurate industry propaganda.

It's really hard not to get jaded about the state of corrupt coal politics in Illinois.

Sadly enough, last fall former coal miners and citizens groups from southern Illinois, working with national education organizations, waged a successful campaign to take down the state's cringe-worthy "kids coal" website -- but environmental groups in Chicago caught up in the twisted state Democratic politics didn't even bother to contact them.

Last week's episode in the "coal education" fiasco, called out five years ago for unleashing dime-bag coal pushers into our classrooms, places Illinois into the shameless ranks of last decade's Kansas board of education decision to teach creationism.

Here are some Orwellian coal nuggets for the Prairie State's youngest minds:

While the uncritical media reported that Illinois House members "bemoan the decline of the Illinois coal industry," it's a fact that Illinois is in the throes of an unprecedented and unmatched coal mining rush in the nation. Do the frickin' math: In 2010, Illinois coal mined 33 million tons; in 2013, Illinois coal mined 52 million tons. Last summer, Gov. Quinn celebrated a 5-fold increase in coal exports.

While uniformed House members beat their chests and claimed, "the Elkhart mine is clean -- sulfur is not emitted in any measurable amount," whatever that odd comment means, the truth is : 1) black lung disease for coal miners is increasing, 2) Illinois has one of the most disastrous coal slurry enforcement programs in the nation, 3) Illinois ranks as the worst coal ash contamination offenders, 4) strip mining operations have left communities in ruin, destroyed cherished forests, and covered residents in toxic coal dust, 5) untold numbers of abandoned mines continue to discharge toxins, and 6) union-busted coal miners have had to fight for health benefits, 7) prime farmland is being lost to longwall mining, and 8) Peabody Energy even had to shut down a southern Illinois coal mine for a fatal accident and violations.

Check your facts: Coal is dirty, deadly and costly.

While Democrats continue to pander to Big Coal contributors and hail the chimera of "clean coal," even Peabody Energy admitted last fall that carbon capture and storage "clean coal" is "simply not commercially available."

While House members waxed nostalgia about the coal industry, they never teach our kids the historical fact of African-American slavery in the mines, the century of mine disasters and death, or the reality that some of our most historic communities have been stripmined and destroyed.

And here's the best lesson of all, kids: According to a state audit, Illinois has defiantly remained in violation of the law for failing to hire the required number of mine inspectors.

Oh well, at least the summer break is not too far away.

Perhaps instead of the state bankrolling a taxpayer slush fund for a Big Coal education conference in June, teachers might want to contact citizens groups in southern Illinois -- or even visit the extraordinary movement by Rocky Branch farmers and residents to stop a devastating strip mine expansion in Saline County.

Today Is Equal Pay Day -- No One's Favorite Holiday

Mon, 2014-04-07 23:02
April 8 is Equal Pay Day, marking the number of extra days into 2014 the average woman has to work to earn as much as her male counterpart did in 2013.

No one who cares about economic justice and the rights of women is celebrating this occasion. Although, of course, over at Fox News, according to Media Matters:

Fox News contributor Erick Erickson argued that the increase in female breadwinners defies natural order because "the male typically is the dominant role" in "the natural world." He added that these changes showed that "we as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complimentary relationships in nuclear families, and it's tearing us apart."

Meanwhile, back in the real world -- for full-time, year-round workers, women are paid on average only 77 percent of what men are paid; for women of color, the gap is significantly wider. African American women on average earn only 64 cents and Latinas on average earn only 55 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men.

In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, full-time working women were paid 59 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. This means it took 45 years for the wage gap to close just 18 cents -- a rate of less than half a penny a year. This narrowing of the gap has slowed substantially since the turn of the century.

In fact, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, at the current pace the wage gap won't be closed until the year 2058! That's a lot more Equal Pay Days than I care to observe.

We need a plan to erase Equal Pay Day from the calendar. A good place to start is the Women's Economic Agenda that was put forward by House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats. This package of legislation would raise wages for women and their families, and allow working parents to support and care for their families.

In addition, yesterday President Obama welcomed Lilly Ledbetter back to the White House as he signed two executive actions on equal pay, and the U.S. Senate is expected to vote this week on the Paycheck Fairness Act, designed to help eliminate pay disparities between men and women.

Sign a petition here to tell Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The gender wage gap not only affects women's spending power, it also penalizes their retirement security by creating gaps in Social Security and pensions. As I've written here before, Social Security is a vitally important women's issue, because we live longer than men and typically retire with less savings than men. But Social Security benefits (and pension benefits, for those fortunate enough to have pensions) are based on a worker's average lifetime earnings -- so the disparity in women's pay shows up to make their retirement income that much less, to boot.

The Paycheck Fairness Act would help end straight-up pay discrimination against women. But women's pay disparity is also partly due to more subtle disadvantages women face. Far more women than men for example, have to work reduced hours or drop out of the paid workforce altogether to care for children or ill or disabled family members. The immediate sacrifice in wages is obvious, but less obvious is the longer-term earnings hit women take: it's more difficult to move back to the paid workforce or up the job ladder.

The frustrating reality is that employers won't create family friendly environments unless and until the law requires it. We need a holistic approach like the Women's Economic Agenda: paid family leave, paid sick days, high quality affordable child care, in addition to equal pay for work of equal value. We also need to strengthen and expand Social Security, in particular by providing caregiver credits so that women (and men) are not penalized in retirement for providing unpaid care to family members during their working lives. Does anyone really think that devoting your full-time attention and effort to caring for a loved one is somehow not valuable work?

And of course, we must raise the minimum wage, including the minimum wage for tipped workers. The minimum wage is a women's issue; nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Yet the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation over the last 45 years - with the minimum wage now, in inflation-adjusted terms, more than 30 percent lower than it was in 1968.

Just think: If equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $447.6 billion gain nationally for women and their families. Over fifteen years, a typical woman loses $499,101 because she is paid less than a man. Find out how much less a woman earns than a man in your state.

I'll be glad when we no longer have to observe Equal Pay Day, but until then, we need to educate ourselves about the wage gap between women and men, organize our friends and communities to press Congress for meaningful solutions, and vote out of office the inequality deniers who think income inequality is a "myth." We know it's all too real.

What are some examples of income inequality you've seen in your own life?

Rahm Emanuel Faces Public Pension Crisis

Mon, 2014-04-07 22:45
CHICAGO (AP) — Rahm Emanuel has been a force in politics — the mastermind behind a Democratic takeover of Congress, dealmaker in two White Houses and now the hard-charging mayor intent on fixing what ails the nation's third-largest city, no matter whom he ticks off in the process.

But less than a year before asking voters to give him a second four-year term, the man once nicknamed "Rahmbo" for his fierce political maneuvering has now come face to face with a mess that could undermine Chicago's reputation as an efficient metropolis and derail its ambitions to become a high-tech business mecca: the worst public pension crisis of any major U.S. city. Emanuel last week announced his first concrete proposal to bail out the city's drastically underfunded employee retirement systems, a festering problem inherited from his predecessor, Richard M. Daley. The plan, designed to cut Chicago's nearly $20 billion shortfall in half by reducing worker benefits and raising property taxes, would address only half the problem, but even this first attempt was met with fierce resistance from unions and taxpayer groups — and little enthusiasm from fellow Democrats he needs to get it approved.

Emanuel's supporters say that after decades of inaction by Chicago and Illinois politicians, the former White House chief of staff is finally dealing with the pain necessary to fix the problem. The mayor says it's the only answer for keeping the system out of insolvency and avoiding massive cuts in public services and a far larger tax hike.

"I said (during the 2011 mayoral campaign) that Rahm is the only one who has the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done," said Bernie Hansen, a former Chicago alderman for nearly two decades. "He's ruthless at times, but sometimes you have to be."

But Emanuel's critics — including a union leader who called the plan "criminal" — say it's just the latest affront from City Hall. During his tenure, Chicago already has shuttered about 50 neighborhood schools to cut costs.

Other cities have run into pension problems, particularly during the recession, that required cutbacks and tough negotiations. Providence, R.I., was on the brink of bankruptcy when its mayor got unions and retirees to agree to a cut in benefits. But no major city compares to Chicago, where pension systems have just 35 percent of the money needed to pay benefits. The next worst-funded major city, Philadelphia, has about 48 percent.

And there are questions about whether the 54-year-old Emanuel, known for being quick-talking and occasionally brusque, has the temperament and relationships to build a consensus.

Already, there is talk in Chicago's black community, which would be hit hard by the cuts, of recruiting a challenger to run against the mayor, who currently has no announced opponent.

"When ordinary people are talking about this every day, there's no way they're going to let him run unopposed," said Delmarie Cobb, a veteran political consultant who worked on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential bid and other federal campaigns.

Emanuel declined to comment for this story, but he told reporters after announcing the plan last week that he is focused on doing what's best for the city, not his own career.

"The voters did not elect me to think about my political future. They elected me to think about Chicago's future," Emanuel said.

Without relief, he said, the city's pension payment next year could be about $1 billion — an increase roughly equal to the annual cost of having 4,300 police officers on the street or raising property taxes by 150 percent.

The huge shortfall mounted during the 22 years of the Daley administration, which did not make large enough contributions to the retirement funds for city laborers, police, firefighters and teachers. Daley created a task force to study the problem, but his administration focused mostly on modernizing and beautifying "the city that works," with parks, public art and cultural attractions. His supporters insist he saved Chicago from the woeful fate of other Rust Belt cities.

By the time the recession strained the city budget, the problem was too big to overlook. Even Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy last year, has healthier pension funds.

Making a solution especially tricky, a state law requires the Illinois Legislature to approve any changes to city pensions. Already, lawmakers have gotten cold feet about simultaneously increasing taxes and angering powerful labor unions. Late Monday, the sponsor of the legislation filed an amendment to remove the property tax hike.

Among the opponents is Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union who presided over the two-week strike in 2012 and labeled Emanuel "the murder mayor" for his plan to close schools and send kids across gang lines to new ones.

Lewis calls the pension plan "criminal" and "just awful," saying it will hit school employees — who don't receive Social Security and are predominantly women of color — with both a loss of benefits and, for those who own homes, a property tax increase they can't afford to pay. She said Emanuel could have easily solved the problem by tapping Chicago's wealthy business community — some of whom are friends who have helped the mayor amass a more than $6 million campaign fund.

"But they don't ever want to go there. For some reason, those people are sacrosanct," she said. "They just want us all working until we die."

Perhaps the only thing more damaging for both Chicago and the mayor than the plan going through is if it doesn't, said former Chicago Alderman Dick Simpson.

"The employees and the unions already are mad at you. And then everyone else will be mad at you because you didn't fix it and now their taxes are going up," Simpson said. "If it doesn't pass, you get the worst of both worlds."

6 Unspoken Rules Of Dating

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:58
Dating is a complicated venture.

Much as we scoff at explicit dating rules -- and with good reason -- there's a certain etiquette that comes with meeting new people in a romantic context. And often, it's in everyone's best interest to be aware of these things going into a date. Reddit user mertell asked users to share an "unspoken rule of dating" that no one wants to admit to, and people responded with a number of uncomfortable truths.

Here are six unspoken rules of the dating world:

1. Your standards shift based on how attracted you are to someone. Much as we would all like to think that a date's looks don't matter, they do (to an extent). Specifically, you'll put up with more frustrating behavior from someone you are attracted to -- physcially and otherwise -- than someone you are not.

2. Dating success often comes down to dumb luck. As one user wrote: "A lot of people look at dating as a science, with calculations, and facts and figures. It's not science, the probability of finding someone that is right for you bottles down a lot to luck and timing." Timing really is everything.

3. Everybody "plays games," whether it's getting into a power struggle when the check comes or waiting to admit your feelings until the other person does first.

4. Dating will always suck at some point. Whether or not you're happy being single, the process of dating is stressful and things rarely work out immediately. As one Redditor put it, it's more than likely that you'll encounter at least one of the following situations during the span of your dating life:
Falling hard for someone who doesn't notice you, meeting someone wonderful who you click instantly with who is already taken, having someone lead you on only to use you for sex or attention with no intention of progressing the relationship the way you'd want to, investing in someone only to find out they're a total asshole, having to reject someone who is a good person because there is no feelings on your part, being cheated on or getting dumped because your [partner] found someone they like better etc.

5. Race matters, particularly when online dating. Data from OKCupid has shown that a user's race and the race of the people they are messaging affect the likelihood that he or she will receive a response. OKCupid specifically found that, compared to users of other races, black women write back most frequently and white men get the highest number of responses when they send messages.

6. Nobody is completely themselves on a first date. While it's always best to be honest with a potential new partner, everyone has certain cards that they play close to the chest. Furthermore, being true to yourself doesn't mean putting absolutely everything out there right away. As one user wrote, "You can be honest without giving a full 411 on every personal flaw you have. Being honest doesn't mean reenacting your life story to everyone you meet."

What other unspoken rules of dating have you encountered? Comment below, or tweet @HuffPostWomen.

Which is a Friendlier Town -- New Orleans or Chicago?

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:49
As a Yankee, I fell in love with the City that Care Forgot (a.k.a. the Crescent City, the Big Easy and the Birthplace of Jazz) in my twenties and, like many a Yankee before me, moved there. (It was also called the Land of the Lotus Eaters because we forgot where we came from.) Like many a Yankee before me, I learned that a bald egg is a boiled egg, oysters are ersters, oil is erl and the plural of y'all is y'alls (not your). Who knew?

With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, New Orleanians are different from you and me if you and me are Yankees. Difference number one is -- they socialize! They sally forth. They mingle. In New Orleans, unlike in Chicago where I now live, when you talk to your neighbor on the street, on the streetcar or in the park -- they talk back! In Chicago, your neighbor will first scrunch up his face, then move his seat or chair and then actually call security because you are obviously panhandling or mentally ill. Welcome to Chicago.

Contrast that with New Orleanians who actually say "Hi y'all," when they get on the bus and the other New Orleanians actually hear them because they don't have ear buds stuck in their ears! Hello!

This week, as I road the St. Charles trolley and the Magazine, Franklin and Elysian Fields buses, I saw only one or two iPhone addicts. Whether college kids, people on their way to work or tourists, almost everyone realizes it is a little unseemly, if not outright rude, to ignore your neighbor in favor of...a phone.

And speaking of the St. Charles trolley, it serves as a metaphor for how New Orleanians are different from you and me. The seats are as old and "comfortable" as a church's pews -- and made out of the same, unforgiving ancient wood. There is no air conditioning or heat. "Lighting" is courtesy of bald light bulbs which are screwed in. The trolley goes so slowly that bicyclists and joggers outrun it. Probably fast walkers, too. But who would change it?

This month they are repairing some of the trolley tracks and we riders are expunged at Louisiana street where we get on a bus. There is no announcement from the operator or in fact a P.A. system if he wanted to announce something. You just follow your neighbor who you have been talking to anyway and get on the bus. Then you follow your neighbor off the bus and back on to the trolley. The changes in public conveyance do not even stop our conversation. Unlike Chicago, no one is angry or indignant.

Almost twenty years ago, the city of Chicago phased out open windows on its commuter trains. Certainly open windows, when heads and arms protrude, can cause accidents. But another reason for no more opening windows on Chicago's trains is that, allegedly, low-level criminals would reach in and pull off people's gold chains as the trains were pulling away.

The St. Charles trolley is nothing but open windows. The windows open so wide, you could grab some of the Carnival trinkets still hanging from the wires, live oaks and magnolia trees we are passing. And lest anyone fail to realize that this is a city that is not litigation orientated, the trolley tracks are full of runners and dog walkers and sundry groups of adults and children out getting their air. There are no "get off the tracks" snarls from the operator. There are no "Keep Off The Tracks" or "Joggers Run At Their Own Risk" signs. Nor are there ads on the local news asking if you have been "injured while running along the St. Charles trolley."

Here's something else that would never happen in Chicago. This week I was walking down a country road in the hot sun with no shade or water close by, returning from a bird watching trip. It was a several mile trip. A car stops. The driver says "Get in" -- and I do. Imagine a motorist in Chicago stopping for a pedestrian who was walking in the hot sun for no other reason than the motorist had a car and the pedestrian didn't. And imagine the pedestrian getting in! Another example of how New Orleanians are different from you and me.

'Whatever They Need, We Will Get Them'

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:25
Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald strongly urged his players to reject the effort to unionize the Wildcat team. In doing so, he reiterated themes that have characterized management's response to unionization since the Wagner Act was enacted in 1935. Apparently, only management knows what their employees really need. Only the employer can improve wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment for its workers.

Of course, national labor law proceeds from a very different set of assumptions. Workers have the protected right to organize unions that will represent them. It is the employees who know what they want and not their supervisors or managers. Whether a union can obtain what employees decide they need is a matter for the negotiating table and not for unilateral management decision making.

We are witnessing a unique phenomenon with the scheduled representation election of college football players at Northwestern University. However, none of the players who will vote in the election run by the Labor Board on April 25 will ever benefit from the terms of any collective bargaining agreement. With the University vowing to appeal the recent decision of the Regional Director of the Labor Board, it will take years for the legal process to run its course. Assuming the employees vote to unionize and the Regional Director's determination that they are "employees" covered by national labor law is upheld on appeal, the parties would then need bargain collectively but they are not obligated to reach an agreement. If they finally do reach an agreement, all the current players are likely to have graduated.

We are a long way from what NCAA President Mark Emmert in his State of the NCAA address recently called the "ridiculous idea" that college athletics would be governed by unionization and collective bargaining. Emmert said, "It would blow up everything about the collegiate model of athletics." He said the notion of unionization would "strike most people as a grossly inappropriate solution to the problem."

Emmert is correct that unionization of college athletics would "blow up everything about the collegiate model." The core assumptions of that model are that athletes are primarily students and that colleges and universities are strictly limited under the rules of the NCAA as to what they can offer their athletes. He is correct that it would be "ridiculous" for colleges and universities to dismantle this remarkable business structure. That decision, however, is no longer one for the NCAA and its members to make unilaterally. The workers will get their say.

I am sure that Northwestern University and the NCAA have very good labor counsel who will advise them about the representation process. During the period leading up to a representation election the participants must maintain what is referred to as "laboratory conditions" within which a free and fair election can be conducted. The Labor Board will not look favorably on express or implied threats made by management concerning the job security of the football players. For example, any suggestion that players who vote to unionize will lose their scholarships or playing time will be sufficient to vitiate any anti-union vote. Similarly, management -- in this case, Coach Fitzgerald -- has to be careful not to promise his players anything for turning down the union. When he tells his players he doesn't think they need a union, that is perfectly fine. However, when he lets them know that he will get them what they need, he comes close to a promised benefit for voting "no."

Companies have always had problems staying on the clean side of the line when it comes to campaigning against unionization. Unionization is a significant threat to the absolute control management believes is its right in the workplace. Management hires employees and fires those who don't make the grade. To have to justify everything it does and even seek the union's approval presents a major impediment to management. Promising to make things better if the employees do not unionize and even threatening that thing will get worse if they do unionize is a perfectly natural -- albeit illegal -- thing to do when presented with this threat to management hegemony.

As the lead-up to the representation election proceeds, it will be interesting to watch how the parties campaign. The fact that management -- both at the university and indirectly by the NCAA -- has already suggested that financial circumstances will improve for the players without unionization demonstrates that the union's effort has already proven successful. Nothing was about to change before the union filed its representation petition. Now, all of a sudden, the life of college athletes will improve! Even if the players turn down the union -- and that is a significant possibility since half of all elections result in a "no" majority -- they have achieved a great deal.

Just in case Emmert forgets about his pronouncement that unionization is "ridiculous" and the life of athletes will improve without it, the union can file another representation petition. The Northwestern University football players have found a way to make management take notice of their needs whether they unionize or not.

Catch This <i>Starcatcher</i> Before it Flies Off

Mon, 2014-04-07 16:02
The musical Peter Pan is one of my childhood delights. I love me some Mary Martin in a flying rig. Or Cathy Rigby. The story, about a boy who won't grow up and the magic and heartbreak of choosing to do so, hits me right in the sweet spot of simply sincere and slightly sad.

While the play Peter and the Starcatcher is essentially the backstory of Peter Pan (kind of like what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz), don't expect lighthearted tunes and choreographed flying. Starcatcher, now playing at the Bank of America Theatre, is a much different and grounded story, but no less thrilling.

Adapted by Rick Elice from a 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Starcatcher uses the art of collective storytelling delivered through a tight, high-energy ensemble. And, notably to this Chicago audience, many of the players in this first-rate national tour -- including Joey DeBettencourt, who delights as the boy who eventually becomes Peter, and the scene-stealing John Sanders, who plays Black Stache -- are Chicago-based.

While the the tale of how the lost boys came to be is certainly the narrative focus, the driver behind this magical story is a young woman named Molly (the outstanding Megan Stern) -- a fearless teenager who sets her sights on Peter and helps him out of a sticky situation involving orphan trafficking, while also helping her father, a "star catcher" on a secret mission to transport "starstuff" to the Queen of England. (Ok, so the exposition is a bit convoluted, and it took me a good 20 minutes to track the narrative, but trust me: you will eventually catch up and it's a fun ride to the end).

There were a number of young children in the opening night audience, and while there is much to entertain them, particularly in the second half of this quirky and touching show, this is ultimately a tale about growing up. And as us grown ups know, the magic of youth quickly turns to sobering reality -- unless we have some starstuff on our side.

"Peter and the Starcatcher" plays through April 13 at the Bank of America Theatre. More info here

Unofficial Cubs Mascot Punches Man At Wrigleyville Bar (VIDEO)

Mon, 2014-04-07 15:25
Event the friendliest of furry mascots have a breaking point.

A man dressed as the unsanctioned Chicago Cubs mascot "Billy Cub" apparently reached his this weekend in a now-viral video that shows him throwing a vicious-looking punch at a bar patron who removed the costume's head.

Patrick Weier, the man wearing the Billy Cub costume, told NBC Chicago the short video clip of the Saturday altercation inside the popular John Barleycorn bar near Wrigley Field doesn't tell the whole story.

"About 30 seconds before that video starts, I was standing there taking a picture with a guy and all of a sudden the guy I ended up hitting blindsided me and tried to tackle me from behind," Weier told The Big Lead.

Weier said the man, reportedly out with a bachelor party, had been bothering him before the situation came to blows.

“He assaulted me first,” Weier told the Tribune. The 36-year-old is one of three men who wear the costume on Cubs game days and pose with fans hoping to score tips. Weier insists the Billy Cub mascot is popular with fans, though admits the men have also "taken our fair share of abuse."

John Barleycorn bouncers reportedly kicked out the man Weier punched, and tossed out a second man who knocked over the cooler used to carry the tips. Police were not called to the restaurant.

"This is the first time it’s escalated to that point," Weier noted, according to NBC.

Weier's younger brother John Paul Weier, who invented and also wears the Billy Cub costume, told The Big Lead he worries the fight will give the Cubs the excuse he says they've been looking for to "come after" the brothers. The organization has made no secret of its disapproval of Billy Cub and just last season, sent the brothers a 100-page cease-and-desist letter.

The Weier brothers have been dressing as Billy Cub for roughly seven years, in hopes of becoming the team's first official mascot. To their dismay, the organization debuted Clark the Cub in January, which quickly became the subject of negative reactions and some very non-PG-13 Photoshop jobs.

Days after the incident, Patrick Weier told NBC, "I do want to apologize to those at Barleycorn for letting that happen. I lost my head. Ninety-nine percent of the people that we come in contact with love interacting with Billy Cub. We take pictures with people, we make their day. Every once in a while you get a person that tries to mess with you."

An Open Letter to Public School Teachers: We Apologize

Mon, 2014-04-07 14:25
Dear Public School Teachers,

We are sorry. On behalf of graduates of public schools, parents of children in public schools, those who value public education and teachers unions, we apologize. Your profession has been vilified, scapegoated, mined for profit, and deprofessionalized.

Earlier this year, a kindergarten teacher named Suzi Sluyter resigned after more than 25 years as an educator. She wrote: "I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them... I did not feel I was leaving my job. I felt then and feel now that my job left me."

Ms. Sluyter taught in Cambridge, MA, but her letter articulated the concerns of teachers from across the country -- from small towns to cities. Tenure protections have been gutted and public schools starved while standardized tests, lay-offs and charters proliferate.

Here in New Jersey, in the city of Newark, under the state appointed superintendent's One Newark plan, several schools will be closed, turned over to charters, or "renewed." A "renewed" school means that all the teachers have to reapply for their jobs. (It's quite the euphemism.) Black teachers would be disproportionately affected by the plan as they are more likely to teach at schools targeted by One Newark. Black and/or low-income students are also more likely to attend these schools.

From students to PTO presidents, Newark residents are fighting the plans to privatize, close or "renew" their schools. This month, hundreds of students walked out to protest One Newark and the underfunding of their public schools. "I'm sick and afraid about what's going to happen to our school," said Nydiqua Johnson, 16, a junior at West Side High School in Newark. "They're closing my school, and I really don't appreciate it. And most of our teachers are getting fired."

Down the turnpike, off Exit 9, the small town of Highland Park has not been immune to the school reform agenda. Last fall, the district eliminated nearly a dozen essential positions, including literacy coaches and a counselor who helped students with substance abuse issues; two of the eliminated positions were held by the local union President and Vice President. At the same time, a data analyst (a new position to the district) and two administrators were hired, each commanding a six-figure salary. In response, the teachers and staff union endorsed a letter stating, in part: "We are currently working in a climate of fear and uncertainty due to the lack of good judgment, foresight, communication, and absence of humanity shown by our Board of Education as well as the sweeping changes that are being implemented by our administrative leadership."

As teacher autonomy and creativity is replaced with uniformity and data-driven instruction, no detail is too small to be managed, scripted and judged. Earlier this year, administrators in Highland Park told teachers at the primary school, which houses pre-Kindergarten through first grade, how to craft their bulletin boards. The bulletin boards were to follow specific guidelines on how and what was displayed. The teachers' evaluations were to be based, in part, on their bulletin boards. In New Jersey, poor evaluations in two successive years jeopardize a teacher's tenure. More than 200 parents, residents and alumni signed a letter (including this author) addressed to the Board of Education, stating their opposition to using bulletin boards to assess teachers.

And, so, to the educators in Highland Park, to those in Newark, to those in Cambridge, to those across the nation, we apologize. To those educators who value play, critical thinking and creativity, we apologize. To those educators who are driven from the profession, we apologize. To those educators who believe that not all children learn at the same speed or in the same way, we apologize. To those educators who have seen public education turned into a business to make the rich even richer, we apologize.

But we know words are not enough. We all learned the importance of "show, don't tell" in the public schools that educated us.

We refuse to allow public education to be privatized, perverted by profits, and reduced to endless hours of test preparation. We refuse to allow our schools to be judged, opened, closed, and funded on the basis of test scores. We refuse to allow the teaching profession to be scripted and threatened.

We write this letter to apologize, yes. But also to say we are angry, fed up, and inspired to opt-out, speak out and stand with you.

In solidarity,

Those who care about and value public education

Look to Chicago Suburbs for Illinois' Lowest Unemployment Rates

Mon, 2014-04-07 14:01

While Illinois' unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in February, plenty of cities were below that. We've got the top 10 in terms of lowest unemployment rates in Illinois. The common thread with all of the cities on the list is they are all suburbs of Chicago -- specifically the west, northwest and north suburbs. Can you guess which suburb is number one?


You can compare the cities with the lowest unemployment rates with the 10 cities in Illinois with the highest unemployment rates in February.


26 Majestic Dogs Who Totally Redefine Perfection

Mon, 2014-04-07 13:22
For millennia, there has existed a symbiotic relationship between man and dog. Humans across cultural boundaries have partnered with these magnificent four-legged beasts in the name of necessity and companionship -- from the earliest days of agriculture to later days of recreational hunting -- and, in doing so, have forged an unbreakable alliance, their raw instincts paired with our ability to provide treats.

Let us take a moment to admire the elegance of nature, embodied wholly in the grace and composure of the modern canine.

Behold the majestic dog.

A fabulously nimble creature...

It's also a skilled and versatile hunter.

The dog's remarkable agility makes it just as comfortable near water...

As it is on land...


Or somewhere in between.

With its acutely coordinated legs moving in unison...

It can handle any terrain.

Yes, the dog is perfectly elegant in every way...

Maintaining unflappable focus...

Whether in motion...

Or at rest...

Rarely do these magnificent animals err in judgement.

With the utmost levels of both speed and accuracy...

Every decision the dog makes is approached with supreme caution...

Ensuring that things always go exactly as planned.

For these sprightly companions, even playtime becomes an impressive display of wit.

But it's not all fun and games for man's best friend. The dog occasionally stops to ponder its noble existence...

Maintaining its poise, of course...

Delicately taking it all in...

Instagram: thriverlife

And letting its guard down only briefly to enjoy the tender embrace of its master...

Before returning to its alert self.

But each long and glorious day will eventually come to an end, and even the dog must succumb to peaceful slumber...

Gracefully sleeping...

And remaining ever-vigilant.

This Map Shows The Deadly Aftermath Of War Right Here At Home

Mon, 2014-04-07 13:16
Army Spc. Ivan Lopez, the veteran who fatally shot three people before taking his own life Wednesday at Fort Hood, Texas, is among a growing number of recent veterans who have committed violent crimes after returning from war.

In 2008, The New York Times compiled a list of 121 cases in which veterans were charged with a killing after returning home, and Current TV, GOOD and collaborated to update the research in 2010. The Huffington Post collected data from these sources and more recent news articles to create the infographic below, which shows that at least 194 veterans have been charged with killings after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. It also shows that there has been a concentration of such incidents around military bases. Our research may not be a complete tally, but these were the cases we could confirm.

Lopez, 34, was struggling with depression, anxiety and insomnia and was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder, military officials said. Of the more than 2.6 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is estimated that about one in five have suffered from PTSD, according to data provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Researchers and therapists have found that PTSD can sometimes lead to anger and aggression, but there is no detailed research on a possible link between war trauma and killings back home. The vast majority of veterans do not come home to commit violent crimes. Still, each time a former service member takes the life of an American citizen -- often a loved one, as shown below -- people struggle to figure out how the tragedy could have been averted.

"Obviously we have a gap," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters on Thursday. "Any time we lose an individual, something's gone wrong."

Infographic by Jan Diehm for The Huffington Post.

Additional research by Alissa Scheller and Katy Hall.

NTSB Report Reveals O'Hare Train Crash Caused $9.1 Million In Damage

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:27
CHICAGO (AP) — A sensor for an automatic braking system was too close to the end of the track to prevent a crash at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to a preliminary federal report released Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board's one-page analysis of the dramatic March 24 crash at the airport's underground station said the Chicago Transit Authority train was traveling at 26 mph when it passed a "trip stop" that activated the emergency braking system. "Due to the train speed, the distance from the fixed trip stop to the track bumper post was too short to stop the train," according to the report.

More than 30 people were injured when the train slammed into the bumper at the end of the line, hopped onto the platform and scaled an escalator, causing $9.1 million in damage. Authorities have said the timing of the crash, which happened just before 3 a.m., limited the number of injuries because so few people were on the typically busy platform and escalator.

In a statement Monday, the CTA said has taken steps to improve safety, lowering the speed limit for trains entering the O'Hare station to 15 mph. The transit agency also moved the trip stop further back to increase stopping distance.

The driver told NTSB investigators she dozed off in the minutes before the before the crash and had done so on another occasion in February when she overshot another station platform. She had been operating trains for only two months and was an extra-board employee, which means she filled in for other drivers who called in sick or were on vacation.

Her union has said she worked a lot of overtime and was exhausted, a sentiment echoed Monday by the NTSB. The federal agency said the operator had worked nearly 60 hours in the previous week and was working her third-consecutive night shift.

"She told investigators that she had inadequate sleep," the night before the crash, according to the report.

The CTA fired the operator on Friday.

Transit officials said they don't believe her work schedule played a role in the crash, but announced a series of changes that the agency said will make its scheduling guidelines some of the most stringent among the nation's large transit operations.

The investigation into the crash is continuing.

16-Year-Old Fatally Shot Outside Church Among 27 Struck In Chicago Weekend Shootings

Mon, 2014-04-07 11:33
A high school sophomore gunned down outside a church was among more than two dozen people hurt in weekend gun violence in Chicago.

Michael Flournoy, 16, was fatally shot in the head just before 8 p.m. Saturday in the 1000 block of East 93rd Street in the city's Burnside neighborhood, according to the Chicago Tribune. The shooting took place outside St. Anthony's Church. The teen had reportedly left a relative's home to buy a bag of chips and got into an argument with someone inside a car he encountered along the way.

Flournoy was a popular student at Simeon Career Academy, where he was a member of both the football and wrestling teams. He had planned to go to college, dreamed of becoming an architect and was looking forward to a possible summer job at Navy Pier, his grandfather told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Flournoy's wrestling coach, Carnell Jones, told ABC Chicago the teen "was just a conscientious kid, had a good spirit, and at the same time was really focused on his grades and just wanted to do what he could, whether it was in a classroom or on the wrestling mat, to pick up extra work to improve and get better."

The boy's mother, Tymeka Woods, told CBS Chicago she was so protective of her son that she rarely let him attend parties. "I just feel like this time, I dropped the ball," she added.

A vigil was held Sunday evening for Flournoy. A $1,000 reward is being offered by community activist Andrew Holmes to anyone who has information leading to an arrest in the shooting.

Another person was killed and 25 others were injured in shootings over the weekend in Chicago, according to the Sun-Times. 24-year-old Jordan Harris was fatally shot at a house party in the city's West Garfield Park neighborhood early Saturday morning. Five other people were wounded in the shooting after someone opened fire on a group gathered on the back porch of the two-flat building.

The weekend violence comes just after the Chicago Police Department reported last week that the city's homicide total for the first quarter of 2014 was at its lowest level since 1958, despite the March homicide total surpassing its total from the same month last year.

No arrests have been made in any of the weekend shootings as of Monday morning while police investigations continue.

Michael Jordan Sunk An Impressive 50-Foot Shot At His Own Golf Tournament (VIDEO)

Mon, 2014-04-07 11:16
Michael Jordan may have made the best shot of the 2014 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational in Las Vegas. During the third round on the 17th green, Jordan sank an incredible 50-foot chip shot from the rough and then celebrated accordingly with a fist pump.

Bill De Blasio Is Actually More Helpful To Charter Schools Than Some Republicans, Report Says

Mon, 2014-04-07 11:00
NEW YORK -- Last fall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) waged his successful populist campaign in part on reversing his predecessor Michael Bloomberg's education policies -- particularly Bloomberg's dramatic expansion and preferential treatment of charter schools. In a move that pleased many voters, de Blasio threatened to start charging the charter schools rent.

But despite taking the rhetorical hatchet to those 183 schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run, in the months since the election, de Blasio ultimately has helped charter schools -- even more than some Republicans, according to a new brief from Democrats for Education Reform, released on Monday.

"If you look at what [de Blasio] actually did as opposed to what he said, he did approve the opening of most of the charters," Charles Barone, DFER's policy director, told The Huffington Post. "He gave co-location space to most of the charters that wanted co-location space. We're not saying he had an ideological conversion, but regardless, he wound up doing a lot more on charters than one might have expected, given his campaign."

And after months of charter wars, Barone argued, the schools are now better off, at least in New York. "Now the situation for providing building space to charters is better than it was when he [de Blasio] started, as a result of negotiations with the governor [Andrew Cuomo]," Barone said.

DFER argues that while Republicans have been more outspoken on charters, de Blasio, who ran against them, ultimately has yielded more benefits for the schools. The group's brief points to a January speech House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) gave at the Brookings Institution, in which he chided de Blasio for his charter school rhetoric. Cantor threatened to hold hearings if de Blasio hurt charters in New York.

"Three months later, however, it turns out that de Blasio has arguably done more to help public charters in three months than Cantor has done the entire 13 years he’s been in Congress," DFER wrote. Despite Cantor's sharp words on charter schools, he has not worked publicly or behind the scenes to increase federal spending on charter schools, DFER argues.

"As it turns out ... the folks advocating for more charter school money have not been able to get Republicans to commit to that," Barone said. "It's been Democrats."

A de Blasio representative declined to comment on the brief.

DFER, a national, New York-based political action committee founded in 2007 by hedge funders and politicos, said it released the brief so that other Democratic mayors can take heed. DFER promotes policies that have come to the fore in the so-called education reform movement, such as charter school growth and teacher evaluations that rely, in part, on student test scores.

Many of these policies have had Republican support, with Democrats generally relying on teachers unions to create education policies. DFER uses advocacy and campaign contributions to support Democratic candidates such as President Barack Obama and others whose education policies butt up against the unions. The group became an influential force as its policies took hold throughout the country over the past decade, particularly in New York City, with Bloomberg embracing them wholeheartedly.

The report on de Blasio's record so far comes as DFER tries to situate itself in a new policy environment where their prescriptions aren't followed by the current New York administration.

That changing of the tide was evident in the city's latest charter school battle: In late February, de Blasio announced he had reviewed Bloomberg-approved arrangements that allowed 49 charter schools to share space with other schools, and was approving 36 of those so-called "co-locations." Of the schools he rejected, though, four belonged to Success Academy, a charter chain managed by de Blasio opponent Eva Moskowitz. One of the four was not a new school, but rather an existing middle school.

Immediately, the well-funded charter school lobby rose up, launching a series of rallies, expensive attack advertisements and op-eds that painted de Blasio as waging a war on charter schools -- despite having approved most of the charters.

After getting hammered by the charter lobby, de Blasio appeared to change his tone. In a late March speech in Riverside Church, de Blasio apologized.

"I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city,” he said. “Those [charter school] children matter to me. If I failed to communicate that, that’s my mistake. … The idea is to create a fullness, a totality, a completeness in which our charter schools help to uplift our traditional public schools.”

And more recently, New York State passed a budget deal that funded de Blasio's major push to expand pre-kindergarten, but that also included the state subsidizing charter school facilities.

"The state is now committed to helping fund the space that charters need beyond the co-location issue," Barone said. "I'm not saying he's the world's biggest champion, but when you look at what he actually did, there's a lot. After suggesting charters would pay rent, he sat down with Cuomo and reversed that decision."

Bruce Rauner's Wife Says She's A Democrat, But Mostly Gives To GOP Candidates

Mon, 2014-04-07 09:42
Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who is running to unseat Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), aimed to moderate his message in a new campaign ad featuring his wife, Diana, who says she is a Democrat.

In the TV spot, which was released Friday, the Rauners explain that they don't agree on everything, including politics. When Diana Rauner explains that she's a Democrat, Bruce Rauner emphasizes that he loves her regardless of her political affiliation.

And yet it appears that Diana Rauner's political contributions don't match up with her stated party affiliation. The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that 77 percent of the more than $500,000 she's given since 1995 has gone to Republican candidates and causes. Ninety-one percent of her $238,150 in political donations since 2009 went to GOP candidates and conservative groups.

Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf told the paper that Rauner "voted Democrat throughout the last decade and every time for Barack Obama" on the statewide ballot.

"If that doesn't make you a Democrat, I don't know what does," he added.

The candidate, who is a venture capitalist, owns nine homes and made more than $50 million in 2013. His wife serves as the president of a group advocating for early childhood services, but takes no salary for that work.

Diana Rauner voted in Democratic primaries in 2004, 2006 and 2008, according to election records, and gave $2,300 to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2007 after he announced his presidential bid.

President Obama: Don't Build a Library!

Mon, 2014-04-07 08:51
I urge President Obama not to build a library, but instead to build a center devoted to eradicating urban violence and to locate it in a Chicago neighborhood where that is an ever-present reality.

Different ideas for President Obama's future library are being actively circulated, even though the official announcement of the location will not be until 2015. One such idea is locating the future library in an economically depressed area in Chicago. Some residents think it could bring Hope and Change .

This is a good idea, but I believe a "library" is not enough to bring "hope and change" to what ails Chicago, and most of the United States.

I would certainly urge President Obama to choose a Chicago neighborhood that needs economic development, but I would also urge him not to build a "library," defined as a place to put memorabilia.

Instead, I think the most important legacy for President Obama would be to build a center devoted to working on strategies to eradicate urban violence, and especially the scourge of gun violence that plagues the nation.

President Obama's presidency has coincided with an exponential increase in the number of mass shootings in the United States. The President himself has become
our mourner-in-chief a national pastoral counselor who goes from one mass shooting to another, bringing words of comfort.

As the president moves from one community to another ravaged by gun violence, from Newtown, Connecticut to Aurora, Colorado and others, he has looked worn down by this task. It is clear these mass deaths weigh on him, and he has not been passive in the face of them. After a string of mass shootings, the President unveiled a comprehensive gun control agenda called "Now is the Time," but the proposal went nowhere due to congressional gridlock.

Time for another approach. The work of an Obama Center could address the multiple and interlocking forces that co-conspire to create and even accelerate our staggeringly violent culture in the United States, including the gun culture. Rather than build a library in Chicago, it would be a powerful statement on the part of President Obama to build a center that focuses on research and action into prevention and eradication of urban violence, and promotes alternative strategies for community empowerment.

So many communities could become involved with the leadership of such a mission for the Obama Center. Religious communities in particular could be helped by the Obama Center in better coordinating their voices and their actions to contribute to solutions. This would also send a strong message that violence prevention and community economic empowerment are a profound moral imperative in our time.

Locating such an Obama Center not only in Chicago, but also in an area of Chicago that needs economic empowerment as well as violence eradication, would be, in itself, a powerful statement of affirmation that change is possible.

Chicago has so many shooting deaths, in recent years the numbers can work out to a
Newtown massacre every two to three weeks.

Everything that contributes to the epidemic of violence in the United States is present in Chicago, from great economic disparities, to an easy flow of guns, to racial inequalities, to a lack of political will to confront the gun lobby. In a year's time, Illinois went from a complete ban on public carrying of firearms to concealed carry law that's now being implemented.

As a constitutional lawyer, President Obama, in his Center, could even take on the question of the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment, and contribute legal arguments to free it, in my view, from judicial activism and the biases of political conservatism. Today, it is my fear, the whole of the freedoms protected by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are being reduced to the right to own and use as many guns as you like. Is that really the sum total of what "freedom" means?

I hope and pray that an Obama Center will be located in Chicago, in a neighborhood that could benefit from economic empowerment, and that it will be devoted to urban violence eradication.

26 Slogans That Frankly Make More Sense Than the Real Ones, Pt. 4

Mon, 2014-04-07 08:35
April showers bring more Honest Slogans. Now that the April Fools' antics are out of the way, we can once again look for sincerity in our friends and brands alike. Here is my fourth installment of Honest Slogans for popular brands. For those that may have missed them, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 are also available.