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What Does It Mean To Be Human? (VIDEO)

Tue, 2015-06-09 11:39

What does it mean to be human?

The Big History Project initiative -- a free online program for teachers and students -- recently posed that question to the world in a new video contest, seeking responses from science enthusiasts, teachers, and students.

And HuffPost Science's "Talk Nerdy To Me" series has stepped in to offer our thoughts on what exactly separates the human species from the rest of the animal kingdom -- check out the video above to hear our answer and leave your ideas in the comments below. C'mon, talk nerdy to me!

See all Talk Nerdy to Me posts.

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'Shame Of Thrones' Parody Highlights The Pressure On Women As Summer Approaches

Tue, 2015-06-09 11:12
Summer is coming.

Women everywhere (and probably some guys) are feeling the pressure of the approaching summer season. No longer are people going to be layered head-to-toe, bodies creatively hidden behind flattering clothing. And whether it's self-imposed or brought on by society, it's clear: for many, the pressure is there.

Clothes will be shed.

CHIX Productions has created the perfect parody to show how every woman feels when warm weather sets in. They're expected to be smooth, thin and athletic. For dudes, it seems the transition is less fraught: summer preparation consists of looking in the mirror, flexing a few times (unsuccessfully) and throwing on a pair of sunglasses.

By the time summer begins, most women probably want to kill more than George R.R. Martin.

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Gina Rodriguez: Hollywood 'Isn't About Racism, It's About Money'

Tue, 2015-06-09 10:12
Gina Rodriguez wants to show Hollywood the money.

The “Jane the Virgin” star recently sat down with Glam Belleza Latina for their summer issue and discussed the power of the Latino community when it comes to increasing the number of actors of color on television.

Rodriguez, 30, urged Latino audiences to join forces to create change in the industry, which she says is driven by profit rather than racism.

“We just have to understand our collective strength,” Rodriguez told Glam Belleza Latina. “Because if 'Jane the Virgin' does well, [Hollywood] is going to open the door for five new shows that are Latino focused. We’ve already seen this start to happen. 'Jane the Virgin' got a Golden Globe, and this pilot season everybody wants a Latino lead. ... The more we show them that our united front can blow something up, the more they’re going to open those doors because it’s no longer a risk. This isn’t about racism. It’s about money.”

The Golden Globe-winning star’s comments echoed her words during The Hollywood Reporter’s comedy actress roundtable late last month. During the conversation, Rodriguez insisted that Hollywood’s diversity problem stemmed from a lack of knowledge of other cultures rather than “hard-core racism.”

Rodriguez has been a vocal advocate about the need for diversity in the media, going as far as making it a focal point of her career.

"[It's about] creating a different perception of minorities in the media,” Rodriguez told HuffPost Live in April. “That was a huge mission and still is for me. So I will choose what's best for my career, my journey and my integrity."

In her interview with Glam Belleza Latina, the actress expanded her thoughts on that mission and the childhood experiences that drive it.

“I want to change the idea of minorities in the media. Or contribute to that movement -- I’m not single-handedly doing it,” Rodriguez told the magazine. “Growing up, I never saw my home life reflected on-screen, and that made me feel a certain way about myself.”

“It’s not only about my ethnicity; it made me feel a certain way about my beauty,” she continued. “Not seeing a woman like me as a lead made me feel like I’d never be skinny enough, I’d never be pretty enough. I want to give young girls, like my niece, the tools to see a billboard and think, That [non-Latina] girl is beautiful, but that’s not the only form of beauty. Jane’s story is about a beautiful, normal girl. We don’t talk about her weight or her looks.”

Take a look at Gina Rodriguez’s cover and more photos from Glam Belleza Latina below.

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19 Things Multiracial Women Want You To Know

Tue, 2015-06-09 08:24
Apparently, by 2050 everyone in the world is going to be beige. But right now, in 2015, being a multiracial woman is not common, so it's not always easy.

While being able to move through different cultures is a privilege, being multiracial is still relatively unusual in a society so deeply defined along racial lines. Being multiracial means fitting into many different groups -- but never entirely.

My sister and I are half black, a quarter white, and a quarter Indian with British accents, and everyone we meet seems eager to immediately "place" us into neat boxes. It's human nature to be curious about people's backgrounds, and trying to solve the "puzzle" of a multiracial person is understandably interesting. But being the puzzle that people want to solve isn't always great.

I'm not alone in feeling these things. We asked women from the HuffPost Women and HuffPost Black Voices Facebook communities to share what they wish they could tell the world about the experience of being mixed-race. Here are 19 things multiracial women want you to know:

1. "What are you?" is a really frustrating question to answer. We're not deep sea specimens or a rare type of pondweed. "I wish people knew that I am open to discussing my heritage, upbringing, or anything in between, however the question, 'What are you?' is entirely offensive. I am a human being, just like the rest of us." -- Jessica, age 28, Washington

2. Please -- we beg of you -- stop asking to touch our hair.

3. We know race is just a social construct, and that it's character that really matters. "We always see people for the love and laughter and kindness, honesty, loyalty, or anything else they bring to the friendship or relationship that makes them great friends and significant others. We don't ever worry our family may not like someone based on race because we know skin color never divides us when it comes to love and friends. A person's character and love are what matter." -- Kristy, age 34, Alaska

4. Our identities sometimes make it tough to "belong." "Society has a habit of trying to box you into one category or another, whether it be gender, religion, race, etc., and when you fall in between those lines it can be really hard to fit in." -- Nadhia, age 20, Florida

5. We don't want to hear your racist garbage. "I wish that white people would stop unleashing their racism around me. Just because I have light skin doesn't mean it's 'safe' for you to share your offensive comments, so don't tell me things you wouldn't tell a black person." -- Sarah, age 32, Brooklyn

6. We define our own narratives. "You yourself get to decide what your story is, when you tell it, how you tell it, to whom you tell it, when you decide not to tell. When life changes, you get to change your story." -- Iffy, age 37, Brussels

7. There is no such thing as being "color blind" when it comes to race.

8. Our siblings probably don't look exactly like us. "Yes, my siblings are darker and lighter than me. This is normal." -- Alicia, age 28, Oregon

9. "Being multiracial is a blessing -- it's the love of two people from different cultures and perspectives that collide to add understanding, tolerance and beauty to a chaotic world." -- Yumi, age 40, Texas

10. "Exotic" is not a compliment.

11. "Some of us prefer not to go into fractions and percentages because we are one whole human being. Again, this is our right." -- Jackie, 25, California

12. Please don't confuse our kids by asking if they are adopted, fostered, or have different parents. "I have two daughters who have the same biological parent, me and my husband. One is tall and dark skinned with very dark straight hair. The other lighter skinned short and has crazy curly brown hair with natural blond highlights. I am constantly asked if they are adopted because one looks very much like her father, and the other has dark skin." -- Kristy, age 34, Alaska

13. We want to be seen as more than a skin color. "I would love people to see beyond the color of my skin. I would love for people to not think it is acceptable to refer to me by the color of my skin. I am so much more. My heritage and culture is comprised of so much more than they see or assume. And I am proud of every race that combined to make this body. And i refuse to deny any of my lineage to fit into someone's racial identity box!" -- Marissa, age 32

14. Yes, you can be "both." Or all three. Or all four. "If anyone asks how I identify myself, I say I am BOTH. I have a Māori mother and a Pākehā father; why should I have to identify as one thing when I am not?? People tried to fit me into a box and I thought that was how it was supposed to be. I know now how wrong that was." -- Courtney, age 28, New Zealand

15. "Don't EVER presume to tell someone they're not '(insert race/culture) enough.' People who come from a multicultural background all experience those cultures differently, and more than likely they've struggled with their identity a LOT throughout life. Maybe I don't present myself the way you expect, but it's MY life and MY cultural identity. I will express that however I see fit, and NO one has a right to say I'm not enough of one or another. -- Alysha, age 25, Baltimore

16. "I knew you weren't all white!" is not a polite thing to say. If you feel the need to comment at all, rephrase.

17. Don't assume we will conform to racial stereotypes. "I don't feel like I should have to act a certain way because of the color of my skin." -- Victoria, age 21, Washington

18. Use the words we use to define ourselves. If you don't know what label someone prefers, stay away from phrases like "half-breed" and "mutt" -- we are humans, not dogs.

19. We are unique. "I am me, stop comparing me with stereotypes." -- Adele, age 21, California

What would you add to this list? Comment below, or tweet us @HuffPostWomen.

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Doc The Pit Bull Finally Gets Her First Night In Bed, After Living Her Life Outside On A Chain

Mon, 2015-06-08 17:20
Doc the pit bull recently spent what's thought to be the first night of her life snuggled up to a person in bed.

She seemed thrilled with the experience.

"She slept soundly all night and really enjoyed having a home, even if it was just for the night," says Jason Cooke, a volunteer with Animal Charity of Ohio.

Cooke had the pleasure of Doc's company -- but briefly -- because he was bringing this doggie to a TV station in the morning for a spot, with the hopes of helping her find a home where she'll sleep in bed every night. Or, at least, be off a kennel floor.

In the meantime, for that one night: bliss.

"She jumped on my bed and honestly never left my side the whole night," Cooke says.

Photo: Jason Cooke

Doc's one of five dogs found chained up and severely underweight, outside a Youngstown, Ohio, house a little over a year ago.

The dogs' conditions were so bad that animal control officers took them away on the spot. (They were all given Snow White-related names, even though there are seven dwarfs and only five dogs.)

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But their owner refused to give up his legal rights in the dogs, while criminal proceedings were underway. That meant that the dogs couldn't be spayed or neutered; they couldn't be adopted.

Some went into foster homes. Doc, about 2 at the time she was seized, was put up at a kennel, which took her in for free, and where she gets walked and fed and played with and loved during the day, but then goes to sleep alone.

In late May, the dogs' owner pleaded guilty to animal cruelty. The dogs themselves became available for adoption.

Doc's fellow survivors quickly found homes, encountering their own enhanced sleeping arrangements.

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Posted by Animal Charity of Ohio on Friday, February 27, 2015

But Doc's still in the kennel (where she's even gotten a little chunky due to being fed so many treats by the staff, who've grown to love her).

Doc's healthy. She's great with kids. "Doc wants to snuggle. She loves stuffed animals. She loves to walk. She kisses everyone. She's just a sweetheart," says Mary Louk, Animal Charity's board president, listing off the dog's many positive attributes.

Louk is so enthusiastic about Doc, and so eager to see her get on to a wonderful future, that she's even thinking of taking out a billboard advertising this dog's availability.

Her only downsides, Louk says, are that she can be a little finicky about other dogs. And then there's the fact of her being a type of pup who can be all-too-easy to overlook.

"In the world of needy animals, she's just another pit," says Louk. "We believe she's really special."

After 400 days in a cage, Doc the pup still manages to love unconditionally. Help us find her a forever home... 330-788-1064

A photo posted by laurenlind123 (@laurenlind123) on Jun 4, 2015 at 3:40am PDT

The TV spot went great. But didn't attract an adopter. Doc is still available.

Cooke says he feels certain that however long it takes, a family will pick Doc. They'll see what others have missed: a terrific dog with some hard luck, who deserves a fairy tale ending -- maybe not involving a castle, but definitely with a comfortable mattress and a lot of cuddle time.

"She was dealt a bad hand," Cooke says. "But despite all her pain and suffering, she is still full of love and is ready to lead a good life."

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Doc getting some love from one of Youngstown's finest...officer Jeffrey Roberts... :)

Posted by Jason Cooke on Thursday, June 4, 2015

Animal Charity is based in Ohio, but will work with potential adopters -- and foster families -- outside the state as well. Find out more on the group's Facebook page.

Get in touch at if you have an animal story to share!

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Dennis Hastert Hires Top D.C. Defense Lawyer

Mon, 2015-06-08 17:15
CHICAGO, June 8 (Reuters) - A high-profile Washington, D.C., defense attorney will represent former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert on criminal charges he tried to hide $3.5 million in payments he was making to conceal past misconduct, the attorney's law firm confirmed on Monday.

Thomas Green of Sidley Austin will represent Hastert, 73, according to Carter Phillips, chair of Sidley's executive committee. The former lawmaker will be arraigned on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, the court's website says.

Green has represented clients tied to the Whitewater and Iran-Contra investigations, according to the Sidley Austin website. A 2003 national poll conducted by the "Corporate Crime Reporter" newsletter named Green as one of the top five white collar defense attorneys in the United States, the website said.

Green declined to comment on the charges.

Hastert has made no public statement since the federal charges were filed late last month. He left Congress in 2007 after eight years as House Speaker, the longest time a Republican has held the powerful political post.

According to the indictment, Hastert structured the withdrawal of $952,000 in cash to evade a requirement that banks report cash transactions over $10,000 and then lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the withdrawals.

The indictment said Hastert agreed several years ago to make a total of $3.5 million in payments to an individual to compensate for and conceal past misconduct. Several media outlets have cited law enforcement officials who said the past misconduct was sexual and dated from Hastert's time as a teacher and sports coach at Yorkville High School in rural Illinois. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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Lady Gaga Teams Up With Gov. Andrew Cuomo To Fight Campus Sexual Assault

Mon, 2015-06-08 16:54
Lady Gaga joined forces with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Monday in an op-ed calling on the state legislature to move forward on a bill to fight sexual violence on college campuses.

"Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime. ... Unfortunately, for thousands of these students that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities," wrote Cuomo and Lady Gaga in Billboard on Monday. "It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge."

The Billboard op-ed is part of Cuomo's "Enough is Enough" campaign to push for the legislation. The bill would make all public and private colleges and universities in the state adopt a comprehensive sexual assault prevention and response policy, which was already adopted by all 64 of the public schools in the State University of New York system. The legislative session ends on June 17.

"Last year, the Governor’s office asked the state’s public university system to step up on this issue. They did," wrote Cuomo and Lady Gaga. "Now, every public college student in New York is protected by a strong policy against sexual assault. But without changing New York’s laws, private colleges don’t have to live up to the same standard. That’s why the state legislature must pass the proposed bill. Without it, students at private institutions are more likely to be left at risk."

Lady Gaga revealed in an interview last year that she was raped when she was 19, and she has been a vocal advocate for young people who face the same horrific experience.

Last year, a Huffington Post investigation found that less than one-third of campus sexual assault cases result in an expulsion, with suspensions in 47 percent of cases. At least 17 percent of students received educational sanctions, while 13 percent were placed on probation, sometimes in addition to other punishments.

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How Did Everyone On 'Orange Is The New Black' End Up In Prison? Here's What We Know So Far

Mon, 2015-06-08 15:10
How much do you remember about the women of Litchfield Penitentiary? It's been a year, so we wouldn't blame you for being a little hazy on the details of Piper And Frienemies' Incarcerated Adventures.

But one of our favorite parts of this show is that it doesn't just portray the complexities of everyday prison life. It gives us a deeper understanding of each character through detailed flashbacks of their lives before they were sent inside. We see what happened to Watson that turned her so bitter, and what really happened with Morello's fiancé that she wouldn't, or couldn't, tell anyone.

With Season 3 of "Orange Is The New Black" going up June 12, we made you this guide to the backstories we've seen so far, listed in order of how much we like each character. Crimes are listed in [brackets] if we suspect that's why an inmate landed at Litchfield but don't have quite enough info.


Poussey Washington: [Marijuana Dealing]

Poussey grew up with a father whose military job sent them traveling all over the world. Finding her niche at a base in Germany, we see Poussey having fun at a high-school party, lightly chastising an American boy for not having learned to speak the language of her German girlfriend. She's young and in love! And smoking a lot of weed.

Later, we flash to her father relaying some serious news: The family is being transferred back to the States. Knowing her girlfriend's father, a German officer, had discovered the girls' relationship -- the real reason for the transfer -- Poussey confronts him tearfully. Her own father intervenes just before she can pull a gun out of her waistband.

Nicky Nichols: [Heroin Abuse]

Nicky's privileged childhood was quickly followed by drug abuse. One flashback shows her lying in a hospital bed, coming to as her mother informs her that she's undergone surgery and blood transfusions for a bacterial infection caused by dirty needles. We learn she'd been raised mainly by a nanny while her mother spent all her time with a "prick" boyfriend in another apartment.

"I want you to do things mothers do. Hold me, give me sips of water, anything," Nicky pleads to her indifferent mother in the hospital. A later flashback shows Nicky, new to prison and miserably detoxing, comforted by Red, who fills her mother's shoes.

Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson: Drug Dealing

Season 2 shows us a lot of Taystee's past -- particularly, how it's tied up with Vee. In her first flashback, we see Taystee under a banner that reads "Black Adoption Festival," trying to butter up potential new parents and cursing other kids who get in her way. (But she knows 50-some digits of Pi!) Sitting dejectedly on a park bench with a sno cone, she's joined by Vee, who gives Taystee her iconic nickname.

Knowing Vee's illicit business, Taystee tries keeping her distance, opting to continue living in a group home. She works a legitimate, if irritating, job at a fast food joint in her teens until getting fired and turning to Vee at last, proving her worth as an accountant. Soon she and RJ, another Vee-sponsored youth, form a brother-sister closeness over family-style dinners. And when RJ is shot and killed by a police officer, Vee acts as a source of comfort. "I protect my babies," she promises Taystee.

Sophia Burset: Credit Fraud

Episode 3 of Season 1 opens on a flashback of Sophia as a firefighter, years before she began presenting as a woman, taking covert snapshots of fire victims' credit card information. She changes in a locker room stall after her shift, revealing hot-pink ladies' undergarments. Later, we see Sophia trying on a sparkly outfit for her wife, Crystal, who very kindly suggests a different, "classier" number while Sophia laments having missed the chance to experiment with clothes as a teenager.

The couple's son, Michael, clearly has a difficult relationship with his father. A flashback shows the painful discomfort Michael feels when he and Sophia run into an old acquaintance at a shoe store -- but not before Michael catches a glimpse of Sophia's wallet, stuffed with credit cards. When the authorities come to arrest her for fraud, we see Michael with the wallet and a look of guilt.

Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren: [Unknown]

Season 1 reveals Crazy Eyes' hilariously bougie, white parents. And in Season 2, we finally get her backstory. Suzanne was adopted by a couple who'd thought they were infertile but ended up having a "miracle" daughter of their own, Grace. When Suzanne can't hold "the miracle" for more than a few seconds in the hospital, she throws a tantrum. A kind nurse, also black, subdues her by styling her hair in the bantu buns Suzanne wears almost constantly from then on.

Another flashback six years later shows the sisters getting dropped off at a slumber party for one of Grace's friends. Mrs. Warren passionately defends her attempts to give both daughters equal opportunities when the birthday girl's mother has a problem with Suzanne attending, too. ("Is this because she's black?") But at the party, we hear Grace beg her sister to please not "be weird." Suzanne's mental-health issues are obvious, so it's unclear why her mother pushes her so hard into social situations. Finally, at her high-school graduation, we witness Suzanne's breakdown onstage while she's supposed to be performing a song.

Lorna Morello: Fraud, Stalking and Attempted Murder

In one of the most WTF backstories we've seen so far, we learn that nothing Morello has said about her planned wedding has been remotely true. Not only has she only been on one date with her purported fiancé, Christopher, after bumping into him at the post office, but she'd stalked him. After her countless emails, calls, Facebook messages and threatening notes left on his car, Christopher testifies in court that he'd moved twice to escape her. But she'd found him, going so far as to plant a homemade explosive device under his new girlfriend's car.

Earlier flashbacks illustrate a chaotic Morello home life -- noisy kids run around as a baby propped up against the wall topples over trying to nibble a pack of cigarettes, and the family patriarch sits uselessly in front of the TV. Lorna's sister does much of the housework while Lorna flits off to see a movie ("Twilight," of course) and quickly escapes to her bedroom. We see childish wedding magazine cutouts hanging above a desk, where Lorna calls customer service, claiming a pair of Prada heels never arrived as she admired them in their box. Her sister questions Lorna's ability to afford such nice clothes as the delusional Morello packs for a "weekend away" at the Jersey Shore with "her boyfriend" -- but doesn't press it.

Galina "Red" Reznikov: [Russian Mafia-Related]

Red's flashback shows us the restaurant-slash-grocery she ran with her husband, who wanted to get in with a group of Russian mafia men. On his suggestion, she attempts to befriend their wives by joining their 80s-tastic power walk through the neighborhood, but puts them off with a crass joke. Later, seeing the women on a walk without her, Red confronts them. The ringleader insults her dye job, and Red punches her in the chest, deflating one breast implant. Instead of the $60,000 the woman's husband demanded as repayment, the Reznikovs let the mafia store something in the restaurant freezer.

In another flashback, however, we witness Red's own business savvy. As she waits on her husband and his associates at the restaurant, she makes a suggestion they take seriously. Later, we see the couple's roles reversed -- Red finding her place at the businessmen's table, not off with their wives or fetching refills.

Dayanara & Aleida Diaz: Drug Dealing

The mother-daughter prison duo seem to have always had a tough relationship. Daya, often in charge of her many younger siblings in the family's run-down home, resented Aleida for failing to appreciate her daughter's contributions. Aleida, who let her asshole boyfriend Cesar use the kitchen for his drug business -- when he wasn't taking her on fancy dates -- resented Daya for seducing him.

Gloria Mendoza: EBT Fraud

Gloria ran a convenience store with her sister, specializing in prayer candles and herbal remedies. We see a man come in demanding a refund -- his candle had not helped him get a new job, even though he didn't actually send any applications -- and she caves. As the man browses, Gloria secretly runs a fraudulent government benefits transaction. For a $100 EBT card, she lets someone walk away with a case of beer and $50 cash, charging the government for merchandise she hadn't sold.

In another flashback, we watch her loyal sister defend a battered Gloria as Arturo, her abusive boyfriend, shows up begging forgiveness. (And, we suspect, not for the first time.) She reluctantly takes him back. Some time later, as she's frantically preparing to leave him for good, Gloria is arrested -- turned in by the dissatisfied customer -- but not before Arturo catches a glimpse of her cash spoils. After she's gone, he returns for the cash, but accidentally locks himself in the back room, knocks over a candle and burns to death. Because karma.

Miss Claudette: Murder

A young Claudette came to New York City from Haiti to work off her parents' debt as a maid. She's befriended by the man who brought her, Baptiste, who's apparently made a living recruiting new girls. He promises her new life will be okay. She secretly falls for him, but he marries someone else.

Years later, we see Claudette has taken over the cleaning business. When she discovers bruises all over one of her young workers, she pays a visit to the client responsible, stabbing him to death but leaving his house spotlessly clean.

Rosa Cisneros: Bank Robbery

In a flashback, Rosa is having her own Bonnie and Clyde moment with her husband Marco and two others in a '50s-style sedan. She and Marco kiss once before the robbery, with the idea that after the job, they'll kiss again. (A thieves' good luck charm, or something?) They run inside, pulling a classic put-the-money-in-the-bag stickup as Rosa's hands shake holding her gun -- clearly a novice. A guard shoots as they run back to the car, catching Marco in the back. He slumps over Rosa's lap in the back of the car, dead.

Later, we see Rosa filling Marco's shoes, leading a new man through another robbery. (He won't follow the double-kiss schtick, though -- it's bad luck.) The post-theft adrenaline goes to Rosa's head. She steps out of the car to hold up another bank immediately afterward -- alone, abandoned by her cronies -- and gets caught.

Janae Watson: Theft

Janae is plagued by the sad feeling that she's too competitive for boys to like her. "Quit showing off!" one of them shouts after her during a race on the school playground, hanging back to chase a girl they could "catch." But Janae's running pays off -- in high school, her track coach tells her colleges will be fighting over the right to give her a scholarship. Later, she shows up at a party in a tight dress -- still trying to fit into the guy-girl social scene -- only to be told to leave. She's too good to hang around "thugs." She has potential.

But Janae is arrested after robbing a store with a friend far less concerned about her future. Echoing those playground days, he yells for her to slow down as they sprint from the cops. She does.

Sister Jane Ingalls: Trespassing

Jane got her first taste of protest shortly after joining the convent. In a flashback, we see her being shown around by an older nun, whom Jane asks how long it'll be before she hears the voice of Jesus. The nun can't say. Soon we flash to Jane and two friends getting out of a Volkswagen van, high off the war protest they'd just been to. An event, it turns out, they didn't exactly have permission to attend. "I can't believe it; I fell in with the bad nuns!" Jane laments. But she'd had fun.

In another flashback, we see an older Sister Jane trespassing with some others. She throws fake blood onto a defaced building as someone snaps photos. Later, we see Jane sitting with a pastor. She'd written a book with various passages that suggested she wasn't totally doing the nun thing for the right reasons anymore. The Church, she learns, would no longer support her or pay for her legal fees.

Tricia Miller: Theft

Remember her? The one who overdosed? Tricia's backstory is a sad one -- a life spent mainly on the streets to dodge an unhappy family situation and "rapist stepdad." We see her panhandling with a friend on the sidewalk, and learn that she's been stealing -- but keeps a record of everything so she can pay it back eventually. Later, Tricia bumps into the same friend looking clean and healthy, having found a job and an apartment. Tricia bids a quick goodbye, wanting none of her friend's charity. A scene showing Tricia's attempt to repay one of her debts -- a pair of cheap headphones -- ends with Tricia running from a police officer, having just stolen a necklace.

Cindy Hayes: [Theft]

Working as a hilariously power-hungry TSA agent, we see Cindy paw through luggage, stealing valuables as she sees fit. Later we see her giving a stolen iPad to her "little sister" -- who, we learn, is actually Cindy's daughter -- as a birthday present. As the two drive off for ice cream, Cindy's mother is disappointed, but not surprised, to learn the iPad was stolen. Further proving herself an irresponsible parent, Cindy leaves her daughter parked in the car as she goes to catch up with a friend for ten -- then 20 -- minutes, "tops." That night, her mother confronts her, reminding Cindy why it's important to keep her parentage a secret.

Piper Chapman: Conspiracy

The basics: Little blonde Piper was just a freewheeling post-grad trotting around the globe with her international-drug-cartel-employed girlfriend, Alex Vause, when she flew a little too close to the fire. Ten years later, she's in prison because someone (*cough, ALEX, cough*) named her as an accomplice. Her relationship with Alex burned fast and bright, but started to fizzle as Alex got more and more involved in the drug biz, leaving Piper to fend for herself in luxury hotels like "a pathetic housewife." It ended when Alex asked for too much of Piper's help -- after flying a suitcase full of money across international borders, Piper swore off risky behavior. She left the day Alex learned her mother had died.

In flashbacks over Seasons 1 and 2, we learn little details about Piper's life. Piper met Alex at a bar. Piper and fiancé Larry did a juice cleanse together. Piper was once attacked by Alex's live-in girlfriend, who exacted further revenge by lighting a bag of (human?) shit aflame on her front porch. Piper met Larry because he was housesitting for her BFF Polly -- whose home Piper waltzed into after getting a dog bite -- and helped patch up her bloody leg. Piper once introduced Alex to Polly and watched as the two did not get along. Piper thought she might have been pregnant one time. Piper was never a risk-taker in her early years, and in true WASP style was taught to keep feelings to herself, even if her dad was having an affair.

Alex Vause: Heroin Trafficking

Mean girls used to torment Alex by calling her "pigsty" and making fun of her off-brand shoes after school. But Alex's mom was a no-nonsense woman who worked several jobs trying to make ends meet, and raised her daughter to revere her absentee father, a supposed rock god. When Alex is older, she finds her dad, an immediate and unsurprising disappointment, in a dirty apartment surrounded by groupies. He points out Alex's "serious rack" and the fact that it'd be very wrong for him to sleep with his daughter. When she goes to the bathroom to cry, Alex runs into her father's dealer. And her career in the drug biz is born.

Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett: [Attempted] Murder

In a flashback, we see her lying in filthy bed with a boyfriend. She's pregnant, and wants to get an abortion, again. He tries to point out the benefits of having a kid -- the baby food that comes in WIC packages can make a mean casserole! But Pennsatucky ends up at the clinic, waking up groggily from her operation when a nurse makes a quip about her patient's record. "We should give you a punch card, get the sixth one free," she deadpans. Pennsatucky returns with a gun, and we hear a shot -- presumably meant for the sassy nurse who "disrespected" her.

Later, we learn that the pro-life community was so pleased with her actions, they arranged a good lawyer for her case and a stipend for her family. The moment she walks into the courtroom to a round of applause is the moment, we presume, Pennsatucky began her overzealous devotion to Christianity.

Yvonne "Vee" Parker: Drug Dealing

Ugh, Vee. Most of her history we see shared with Taystee, the surrogate daughter she lied to, and Red, a friend she backstabbed. We know early in Season 2 that she once commanded a drug ring of vulnerable children and teens, manipulating them by offering some stability in their lives.

Actually, if she weren't funding her lifestyle with morally reprehensible activity, Vee's outward persona wouldn't be so different from a nice suburban mom. She cooks butternut squash soup for Taystee and R.J., one of her longtime worker bees, and scolds them for bringing home junk food. She comforts Taystee when R.J. is killed -- a tragedy, we learn in a later flashback, that she orchestrated. Because underneath the niceties, Vee is the villain of Season 2 we didn't really need. After discovering R.J. going into business for himself, Vee seduces him (ew) and sends him out for an errand. He bumps into a crooked cop who tosses him a gun as a setup, and is shot despite his pleas.

But Vee isn't new to Litchfield when she shows up in Season 2. We learn that she'd been inside at least twice before -- and was used to running things. She'd befriended Red when both women enter the prison at the same time, showing Red the ropes and suggesting she use her Neptune produce connection to smuggle contraband into the prison kitchen. But soon after Red takes the advice, Vee strong-arms her way into Red's budding business. When she tries to protest, Vee's cronies leave her bloodied on the floor of the kitchen.

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Rauner's Superstars: Big Names, Big Reputations, Big Salaries

Mon, 2015-06-08 14:45
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has assembled a team of budget and education expert since taking office in January. He says these staffers, whom he calls "superstars" are vital to helping him get the state government back on track.

While questions have been raised over the pay of some members of his leadership team, particularly the funds from which they're drawing their salaries, Rauner told Natasha Korecki of the Sun-Times that his team comprises the most talented people he knows:

"We are all about reform. We have assembled the most talented team of leaders that I know of to turn around a state government. I'm very proud of our team. And we are going to drive a transformation. The people of Illinois deserve it."

Here are three of Rauner's superstars, along with their title, previous experience and salary:

1. Donna Arduin

Title: Chief Financial Officer

Previous experience: Budget director for former Governors John Engler, Michigan; George Pataki, New York; Jeb Bush, Florida; Arnold Schwarzenegger, California.

Salary: $120,000 for 4-month contract (Feb. 2-May 31, 2015)

From Capitol Fax:

"Because she's the best in America," Rauner said when asked by a reporter how he can justify that expense. "She's a brilliant lady who's done financial turnarounds at a number of states. She's the smartest state government budget person in America that I was able to find and she's well worth it, because she's going to save us billions."

2. Mike Zolnierowicz

Title: Chief of Staff

Previous experience: Served as Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk

Salary: $180,000

From the Governor's office:

"I've worked closely with Mike Zolnierowicz for more than a year and he has my complete trust and confidence," Rauner said in a press release. "I know he shares my commitment to making our state the most compassionate and competitive in the nation. Mike will be a dedicated public servant whose only focus is on bringing back Illinois."

3. Linda Lingle

Title: Chief Operating Officer

Previous Experience: Governor of Hawaii (December 2002-2010)

Salary: $198,000

From the Governor's office:

"Linda Lingle was the first woman elected governor of Hawaii, serving two terms from 2002-2010. Gov. Lingle oversaw a $10 billion annual budget and made state government more transparent, responsive and accountable."

From the Sun-Times:

"I want people from the private sector like me, but I also really, really need talented people in government because I want to minimize the number of rookie mistakes I make," Rauner said. "This is going to be a learning curve for me, and so it's all about the team."

Check out Reboot Illinois for more salary information on three more members of Rauner's "superstar" team.

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Illinois' Democrats and Republicans have a fundamental misunderstanding

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:33
With Illinois' state government divided, (a Republican executive and a Democratic legislature), Rich Miller of Capitol Fax wonders why, after months of being forced to work together, members of the two parties haven't been able to understand each other:

[L]ast week's bitter and divisive House overtime session showed that they still fundamentally misunderstand one another.

What follows are some questions I'm hearing and my own responses.

* Republicans: Why would the House Democrats propose such a weak workers' compensation reform plan last week when they knew Gov. Bruce Rauner wants so much more?

The Democrats' plan didn't contain much real world progress, and actually regressed in part. Unless you read between the lines. Workers' comp insurance is essentially a no-fault system designed to keep disputes out of the courts. Republicans have for years attempted to insert "causation" into the system in order to weed out employees whose injuries are mostly not the fault of employers...

* Democrats: Why won't the Republicans accept the fact that we're moving in their direction, but can only go so far? We're not Republicans.

The governor believes that Republican legislators were far too content in the past to accept any crumbs the Democrats would offer. Those days are over. We now have a Republican governor who is demanding significant change. And with the session currently in overtime, he's not going to want to look like he's caving to Madigan, as so many of his predecessors did. The Democrats must keep moving toward the governor's position or this thing ain't ever gonna end.

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

The political divide has caused other contentions recently. Scott Reeder of the Illinois News Network explains that he thinks the Democratic criticism of Rauner education adviser Beth Purvis is hypocritical. Democrats have expressed anger that Purvis is being paid $250,000 from the Department of Human Services' budget instead of the governor's office. But, Reeder says, Democrats have been guilty of similar practices in Illinois history. Get the whole scoop on "ghost payrolling" at Reboot Illinois.

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

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As Illinois Suspends Big Tax Breaks, It's Time to Recognize How Special Treatment Undermines a Welcoming Economy for All

Mon, 2015-06-08 13:20
In the wake of Illinois state lawmakers passing a budget with a nearly $4-billion deficit, Gov. Bruce Rauner on June 2 froze two flagship tax-credit programs administered by Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Proponents of the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, and Illinois Film Tax Credit programs say they're necessary to make the state competitive -- acknowledging that lower tax burdens boost growth. The catch? Through selective tax breaks, the state gets to pick who succeeds.

Illinois' budget impasse provides an opportunity to examine the existence of these tax credits and what makes them so attractive for politicians desperate to muster some semblance of economic growth.

First, film tax credits.

Starting in 2004, Illinois began giving out millions of dollars' worth of tax breaks for TV and film production.

An influx of film and television activity has cropped up across the state: Superman found a temporary home in Aurora; the Dark Knight and the Joker squared off on LaSalle Street in front of the Chicago Board of Trade; and the cast of Empire, a show set in New York, has made a film studio on the west side of Chicago its home.

Illinois gave out $26.5 million in film tax credits between August 2013 and June 2014 alone, according to data obtained via Freedom of Information Act request from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Politicians point to growth in spending from the film industry and tout government's ability to manipulate policy to trigger job creation. Every so often, someone in Illinois recognizes the spot of a memorable movie scene.

They also recognize a broken state when they see one.

Because jobs are scarce and the cost of living is high, people continue to flee the state. In 2014, 95,000 more people left Illinois for other states than moved to Illinois from other states -- an all-time record high. There are 244,000 fewer Illinoisans working today than when the Great Recession began.

While the rest of the state is suffering, the film industry is enjoying sales- and income-tax breaks. But the film industry isn't alone in receiving special treatment from the state. Since 2001, Illinois has given out more than $1 billion to the biggest businesses in the state through the EDGE tax-credit program, which is meant to spur economic growth.

It's not working. Over the course of the EDGE tax credit's life span, Illinois is down 123,000 payroll jobs.

Additional incentives are only necessary when something is unattractive. In the case of these two tax-credit programs, the state is seeking to address the high cost of buying goods (by providing sales-tax breaks) and the high cost of doing business (by providing income-tax breaks) in Illinois.

The Illinois Film Tax Credit allows for a 30-percent tax credit for qualified production spending. This concept is not a bad one, as it allows businesses to avoid paying taxes on business inputs (a practice that results in repeated taxation across the chain of production). The state, through the film tax credit, acknowledges that multiple layers of sales taxation hinders job creation but only applies an exemption from this financial strain to certain players in a certain industry.

Both the Illinois Film Tax Credit and EDGE tax credits also allow for tax breaks on income, which is a perk that small businesses and regular taxpayers do not enjoy. If the state realizes that industries won't set up shop in Illinois without a lowered cost of doing business, then why doesn't it address the underlying problem instead of handing out piecemeal tax breaks?

Solutions already exist that would make Illinois a more appealing place to do business.

For starters, lawmakers should fix Illinois' workers' compensation laws, which have led to the seventh-highest workers' compensation costs in the nation. That seventh-worst ranking is after half-hearted reforms in 2011.

Good tax policy shouldn't be restricted to select industries. If Illinois politicians want sustainable jobs growth, lower taxes should be applied across the board, not just to the politically connected.

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How You Brew Your Coffee Can Say A Lot About Your Personality

Mon, 2015-06-08 11:20
Brewing the perfect cup of coffee is a science. Some picky coffee experts swear by pour overs for the perfect cup o' joe. Others? They're instant coffee, all the way.

And while the way you brew your coffee can affect how it tastes, it can also shed some light on your personality. Thanks to a hilarious infographic from our friends at the Coffee Tasting Club, we now know EXACTLY what it means when a friend breaks out a French press (lookin' at you, Brooklyn hipster!)

Scroll through the infographic below to see what your coffee-making habits reveal about you:

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25 Years Of Oprah's Hairstyles In Just 2 Minutes

Mon, 2015-06-08 11:09
In its 25-year history, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" covered a huge range of stories, from the somber to the silly. But perhaps the only thing that rivaled the versatility of the show's content was Ms. Winfrey's ever-changing hairstyles.

In the '80s, Oprah's hair had height. In the '90s, it was sleek. In the 2000s, she brought back her curl. And in between, there were plenty of other looks, some of which even became their own news stories. "It seems like I've had... every hairstyle under the salon," Oprah says. "Sometimes I look back at some of them and think, 'Why didn't somebody tell me?'"

The above video captures the full 25-year journey of Oprah's hairstyles, but here are a few of our favorites.


"The Oprah Winfrey Show" debuted on September 8, 1986, and that season, Oprah's hair certainly had volume.


"We began this new season with me sporting a different hairdo, and I could not get over all the fuss in the newspapers the next day," Oprah said. "The Chicago Sun Times... actually did a poll asking its readers to vote on whether or not they liked my hair. The results were this: 42 percent said yes; 58 percent of you said no!"


During Madonna's 1997 appearance on the show, the singer suggested that Oprah would look good with long hair pulled back. Oprah gave it a shot, but wasn't completely sold on the style.


Oprah wears the curly 'do similar to her look today.


During the show's final season, Oprah went with a straight and sleek ponytail for a surprise star-studded affair put together by her team of producers.

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11 Things A Woman Can Be That Are So Much Better Than 'Beautiful'

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:48

Given that the first thing you notice about a person is their appearance, it's all too easy to focus on beauty at the expense of other important qualities -- especially when discussing women.

Little girls are taught to be "seen and not heard." Tabloids consistently focus on female celebrities' cellulite and other physical "flaws," and there are entire articles dedicated to how women look without makeup on. Ads encourage women to buy products that will give them longer eyelashes, glossier hair, bigger lips, smaller waists and perkier asses.

At the same time, women are told to embrace their "natural beauty," to choose to feel beautiful inside, and to feel assured that every woman is beautiful. These are worthy sentiments -- there's nothing wrong with wanting to look good and feel confident -- but sometimes it feels like a woman's value is defined by beauty above all else. In today's society, being beautiful has a lot of benefits, but it isn't everything.

Here are 11 things a woman can be that are so much more important than “beautiful:”

1. Funny. Being funny gives you the ability to bring joy to anyone around you. Plus, research shows that funny people are more socially attractive. Why wouldn’t you want to be friends with the person cracking jokes all night? And laughter is truly the best medicine.

2. Creative. Creative people observe everything, seek out new experiences, and take risks. They also live longer, which is a pretty great perk.

3. Unapologetic. Not in the way where you don’t apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but in the way where you own exactly who you are -- ***Flawless, natch -- without apology.

4. Spontaneous. Everyone needs that friend they can call about a last-minute concert, movie, ski trip, road trip and everything in-between. Saying "yes" for the sake of experience is underrated.

5. Honest. Even if you're not the type for brutal honesty, having the ability to be direct about your wants and needs is an admirable quality. Plus, lying less is good for your health.

6. Loyal. One of the most important things in any relationship is knowing you can depend on the other person to be on your side and hold you accountable without letting you down. Studies show that people who are loyal in their romantic relationships feel more satisfied with their lives. And loyalty is just as impactful in platonic relationships as romantic ones.

7. Open-Minded. Being willing to learn more about something and potentially change your mind isn't always easy. The effort that takes is worth more than having a pretty face.

8. Thoughtful. People will remember the fact that you called them on their birthday and knew about their dairy allergy at a dinner party for much longer than they'll remember the effort you put into straightening your hair and having perfect nails all the time.

9. Empathetic. Being able to relate to people and imagine yourself in their shoes is something you should never underestimate. Being pretty doesn't help you build friendships the way having empathy does.

10. Generous. Whether it's generosity with your time, your advice, your resources, your skills -- it all matters. Being generous benefits both the receiver and the giver, because giving makes people happy.

11. Reliable. Reliable people get sh*t done. They are there when you need them. Enough said.

What would you add to this list? Comment below, or tweet @HuffPostWomen using the hashtag #MoreThanBeautiful.

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Taco Bell's Gooey Cap'n Crunch Delights Are Coming To Stores July 2

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:47
Well this is a delightful surprise.

After a brief taste-testing period, Taco Bell announced that it is finally bringing its much-anticipated Cap'n Crunch Delights to stores on July 2. The donut-like hybrid is a sphere of fried dough, filled with warm milky icing and topped with Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries.

According to Taco Bell, the dessert will come in packs of 2 for $1, 4 for $1.69 or 12 for $4.49. Sounds like something we don't need to start eating in the summer, but probably will anyways.

Damn you, delicious Delights!

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John Oliver Completely Destroys The Concept Of Bail In America's Justice System

Mon, 2015-06-08 09:03
Plead guilty and get out of jail, or maintain your innocence, wait for trial and stay in. Yeah, sounds like a solid plan.

On Sunday's "Last Week Tonight," John Oliver dug into one of the more questionable aspects of our criminal justice system: Bail. That's when the court asks you to put up a certain amount of money as insurance that you will show up for your court date.

But people without cash or resources are increasingly pleading guilty to crimes they didn't commit -- simply because they can't afford bail, and they don't want to remain in a dangerous prison. They, understandably, want to go home.

That, of course, has huge ramifications for them. When they're out, they will then have to contend with being a "convicted criminal," which affects things down the line like employment and housing.

As Oliver explains, the system seems better suited for the reality-TV industry than it is for the poor.

Once again, when it comes to America ...

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Why Conservatives Love to Fan the Black Murder Myth

Sun, 2015-06-07 14:52
Conservative blogs, webs, newspapers, and pundits are at it again screaming that young black males are killing each other with abandon in city after city. They repeatedly toss out the supposedly raging murder violence in Baltimore, Chicago and now New York City as proof that black on black carnage has mounted to national epidemic levels. It makes no difference that murder rates have drastically plunged in most big cities over the past two decades. And that Chicago and Baltimore are glaring aberrations to the consistent steady national decline in murders.

Their real punch line is this: Let a white cop gun down a young black, and civil rights leaders storm the protest barricades demanding arrests, prosecutions and throw the book at em' jail sentences for the man or woman with a badge accused of the slaying. This is an idiotic charge. It deliberately ignores the fact that civil rights leaders and organizations have staged countless marches, rallies and walks against murder violence in black neighborhoods. They have lobbied hard for tougher gun laws and enforcement and have lobbied business leaders and elected officials to radically boost spending on education, job training, drug counseling and diversion programs for young blacks, and for greater support programs for needy families.

No matter, conservatives take giddy delight in constantly screeching that the cause of all the black violence is the absence of all those fathers from the homes. This myth has been debunked in so many ways that it's almost ludicrous to have to repeatedly try to refute it. However, the Center for Disease Control did. In May, it released the results of one of the most comprehensive studies of parental involvement with children -- by race. It found in every child age category, from age 5 to 18, black fathers, whether in the home or not, not only were just as engaged with their children as white or Hispanic dads, but in some activities such as reading to them, helping with homework, and having daily discussions with them, they were more likely to be engaged with their children than white or Hispanic fathers.

You can cite these facts all day, and it won't mean much. In fact, they have been repeatedly cited ever since Daniel Patrick Moynihan's thoroughly refuted study a half century ago blamed the absent black family for every ill that ever plagued blacks. We can see decades later the same tired line is still repeatedly trotted out to slam civil rights leaders and organizations for their alleged see no evil, hear no evil hypocrisy when it comes to black on black murders.

The blame the victim blinders on this aren't tied tight out of ignorance or misinformation but out of a cold, calculated and cynical agenda. This ploy has been the perfect rationale for the wild spending on and expansion of jails, and prisons. It spurred a massive ramp up in spending on more police, judges, and probation and parole officers. It cowered state and federal lawmakers into trying to outdo each other in shouting the loudest about getting tough on crime and torpedoing every sane and sensible initiative on crime reduction from expanded treatment to job and skills training programs. This also included the scrapping or radical overhaul of the blatantly race tinged drug sentencing, three strikes laws, and the harsh sentences for non-violent offenders.

The prime reason that lawmakers, particularly GOP lawmakers, have finally made some glacial movement toward pushing for a so-called "smart" approach to crime prevention is because of the skyrocketing and increasingly prohibitive cost of locking up tens of thousands of petty drug and non-violent offenders for years, if not decades. But even this movement toward more humane and cost effective measures for dealing with crime is fragile to say the least. It still turns on public perceptions about crime, especially black crime. This tracks directly back to how the media plays up, or rather sensationalizes, violent crime. When that happens, it simply deepens public belief and fears, that inner city neighborhoods are lawless, violent, out of control, killing zones, that must be dealt with as if they were ISIS controlled rebel territory. Notions of smart policing will always give way to draconian policing and sentencing, and perpetual crime fear and hysteria.

This ploy has always had a hard political agenda behind it. Nowhere is this more glaringly evident than in New York City. The target there is a conservative's favorite whipping boy, outside of Hillary Clinton, and that's New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. He gets the blame from New York police unions every time an NYPD officer is killed or assaulted for allegedly mollycoddling anti-police violence protestors. Now he's getting it for allegedly falling asleep at the wheel on the uptick in the city's murders. While the issues of terrorism and security have largely replaced the old-fashioned pander to law and order on the campaign trail in past few presidential elections, it still lurks just beneath the surface of national politics. It only takes one well-placed and prolonged panic story on the alleged new murder wave in America to reignite it as the issue of national concern again. The black on black murder myth will always be the prime candidate for doing just that.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of the forthcoming book From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History (Middle Passage Press).

He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.

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Should You Eat Your Own Placenta? Scientists Find No Risks, But No Benefits Either

Sun, 2015-06-07 10:16
Sure, actress January Jones, reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian, and many other celebrities have done it and loved it.

But a new scientific paper on placentophagy finds no health benefits for women who chow down on their own afterbirth (or pop placenta pills).

“There are a lot of subjective reports from women who perceived benefits, but there hasn’t been any systematic research investigating the benefits or the risk of placenta ingestion,” Dr. Crystal Clark, an assistant professor in psychology and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University and co-author of the paper, said in a written statement. “The studies on mice aren’t translatable into human benefits."

For the review, the researchers analyzed 10 studies on placentophagy published between January 1950 and January 2014, all of which looked at purported health benefits like protecting against postpartum depression or reducing post-delivery pain.

The researchers found no evidence of such benefits -- nor any clear indication of risks.

"While previous research has identified some important areas to direct future studies, the data supporting the benefits of placentophagy for human mothers is limited to anecdotal and self-reported evidence," Sharon Young, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has studied placentophagy but was not involved in the new paper, told The Huffington Post in an email, "and the empirical data come from animal studies and less rigorous human studies from the early to mid-1900's."

(Story continues below.)

A close look at the placenta.

Though the research didn't turn up any obvious risks to placentophagy, the placenta -- the organ that's attached to the lining of a mother's womb during pregnancy -- is known to keep potential pathogens from reaching the fetus. That suggests the need for additional research.

"Bacteria and elements such as mercury and lead have been identified in the post-term placenta," Clark told CBS News. "So if the theory is that we retain nutrients and hormones such as estrogen and iron that could be beneficial, then the question becomes what harmful substances can also be retained that could harm the mother or the baby if she is breastfeeding."

The researchers concluded that women with post-baby placenta plans should discuss them with their doctors.

The paper was published online in the Archives of Women's Mental Health on June 4, 2015.

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Obamacare Enrollees Anxiously Await Supreme Court Decision That Threatens Their Coverage

Sun, 2015-06-07 06:30
WASHINGTON-- Karen Hines is worried about getting two pieces of very bad news this June. The first would be her cancer returning. The second would be her health insurance becoming abruptly unaffordable.

“I’ve got my six-month, regular cancer checkup in June, and so I’m saying I hope they don’t come out with any kind of decision, just in case it’s bad news, until after,” Hines said. “You always get nervous, usually a day before or day of, going for a checkup. But I think I started a little more on the worrying ahead of time.”

Hines, 59, has been relying on health insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces to help cover the costs of those checkups. But she has the misfortune of residing in a state, Virginia, where the federal government is operating that marketplace. Because of that, she could end up losing her tax subsidy to help purchase coverage right at the time her health takes a dive for the worse.

The Supreme Court will issue a ruling this month on a lawsuit engineered by conservative activists alleging that a brief phrase in the law -- “exchange established by the state” -- means subsidies can only be provided to individuals residing in states that set up their own health insurance exchanges. Should the justices side with Obamacare's critics, Hines would be one of an estimated 6.4 million people in 34 states whose subsidies will disappear. Many will be forced to drop their health insurance because of heightened cost.

For someone like Hines, who has had breast cancer three times, most recently in 2009, this presents a Hobbesian choice. She considers health care coverage essential and must get screenings twice a year to ensure her cancer doesn't come back. But she has little money to afford insurance on her own. A former public relations professional, she’s devoted her life to caring for her ailing, octogenarian mother, and currently works part-time as an educator at the aquarium near her home in Virginia Beach. Her low income, qualifies Hines for a subsidy that cuts the price she pays by about half, to $200 a month.

“I could probably manage another year,” Hines said when asked if she could afford the coverage without the subsidy. She would have to draw down more of her retirement savings to pay for health care. But doesn’t have enough money to hold on to health insurance until she turns 65 and becomes eligible for Medicare, she said.

“I’m doing what I can to try to prepare for the worst, but I don’t want to think about the worst,” Hines said.

Hines was one of six people the Huffington Post featured in a report this March on the case surrounding Obamacare's subsidies. At the time, the Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on the case and the prospect of those subsidies potentially disappearing was becoming less abstract for those in states with federally run exchanges. The clock is ticking even louder now. And so, we decided to catch up with those we interviewed to see how their circumstances, health and mental well-being has changed.

I’m very disgusted and tired of being a political football.
Joe Lucas

In Pittsburgh, house painter Joe Lucas bitterly keeps up with the news about the Supreme Court case. Like Hines, he lives in a state where his subsidy could disappear. But unlike Hines, he’s sure he’d have to drop his coverage immediately if the court rules with the law's critics. He can’t pay for the health insurance without it.

“I’m following it very closely, because it has a very profound effect on my life, and I’m very disgusted and tired of being a political football,” said Lucas, 53. “They look upon me as like some kind of moocher,” he said of the Affordable Care Act's opponents.

Lucas had an aortic aneurysm in 2010, so he has to keep monitoring his heart condition. Even though his most recent tests came up clean in May, Lucas knows the computed tomography (CT) scan he needs as part of his checkup every two years would cost him $11,000 without insurance, instead of $50 now. He also knows his prescriptions would run to $2,600 every three months rather than $65 with insurance. Lucas, who is self-employed, earns $25,000 to $30,000 a year, he said.

Lucas might be shielded from the ramifications of a ruling against the subsidy if Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) persuades the GOP-majority state legislature to go along with his proposal to set up a state-run exchange. But as Lucas takes stock of the court decision to come, he's struck by what he sees as dramatically misplaced priorities among lawmakers in Washington.

“Billions of dollars in corporate welfare to oil companies and whatnot, you know, and that’s not a problem for them, but I’m a person who gets $2,400 a year in subsidies to help pay for my insurance -- and I pay almost three times that much in taxes, so it’s not like I’m taking them on the negative side,” Lucas said.

Jared Blitz, a teacher in Mesa, Arizona, with an Obamacare plan, also has a heart problem and little patience for being held in limbo while the Supreme Court decides his fate.

“You know, it sucks,” said Blitz. “The stress isn’t good for the heart.”

Blitz turns 33 on Monday. Since birth, he has dealt with aortic valve stenosis, meaning he has a heart valve that is too narrow. He recently received good news from his cardiologist that he can delay an expensive major operation he thought he’d need this year. But he will have to undergo a less serious procedure at a later date.

All this would be difficult to handle on its own. But it's compounded by the problems Blitz has had in navigating the health care law. He ended up with a plan he doesn't recall picking. He lost his subsidy of $30 a month even though his income level should qualify him for some tax credit. And he assumed that his home state would get rid of all Obamacare exchanges entirely if the court ruled against the subsidies (in fact, state Republicans have passed a bill saying that Arizona won't set up a state exchange. The federal one will remain regardless).

Blitz is in the process of trying to get his subsidy back and is hopeful he can do so. Though the credit is relatively small, for someone making about $29,000 a year, every bit helps.

"Even though it is only $30, it creates a small problem at least getting through the summer," he said.

Were he to ultimately lose the subsidy, Blitz would figure out a way to pay for his insurance. He calls himself "fortunate" in that regard, compared to those who don't have savings to dip into or expenses to cut or friends to rely on. But Blitz's fortune -- if you want to call it that -- comes at a cost, and it underscores how the damage from a Supreme Court ruling for the plaintiffs extends beyond those who currently receive tax credits.

Without the subsidies, most of the low- and moderate-income people using the health insurance exchanges will exit the exchanges, leaving those with the greatest health care needs -- people like Blitz with medical conditions -- as an increasing share of the market. Because people with greater medical needs generate more medical bills, that would increase expenses for insurance companies, forcing them to increase premiums. Those higher premiums, in turn, would lead more people to drop coverage. In the industry, they call this a “death spiral.”

Blitz hasn't thought that far ahead. He lives his life, in many ways, appointment-to-appointment, waiting to hear word on when or if he will need a major medical procedure for the condition he was born with. The current court case is, for him, the type of high-stakes drama he wishes he could avoid.

"There is a lot of information and it gets confusing," he said. "You are dependent on something, something that is new basically, and you haven't been able to get access to it in the past and it can make and break your life. That's frustrating."

Read more on the latest Obamacare Supreme Court case below:

This Is What The Latest Obamacare Supreme Court Case Is All About

The Real Reason Republicans Don't Have A Contingency Plan For Obamacare

Obamacare Enrollment Is 10 Million, But Supreme Court Ruling Could Shrink It Dramatically

The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Obamacare, Explained In 2 Minutes

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Somebody Forgot To Tell Bush, Cruz And Rubio The GM Bailout Worked

Sun, 2015-06-07 06:30
If you want to understand the temperaments and governing philosophies of the Republican presidential candidates, pay close attention to the way they talk about an iconic moment of President Barack Obama’s tenure: His decision, in the spring of 2009, to rescue Chrysler and General Motors.

Most of the top GOP contenders have said the decision was a mistake. The latest to do so was Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas, who boasted Friday during MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he was against all bailouts -- including the one for General Motors. “When corporate leaders make bad mistakes, they need to be held accountable, whether they are on Wall Street or on Main Street,” Perry said.

Perry and the other Republicans critical of the auto industry rescue might sincerely believe it was the wrong policy. Or they might simply fear the wrath of Republican primary voters who can’t stomach support for an initiative that came from Obama. Whatever their motives, Republicans who say they would not have extended the same lifeline that Obama did need to reckon with a key fact:

By nearly all accounts, the 2009 rescue package saved a vital U.S. industry and, just maybe, the economic fortunes for an entire region.


Six years after the fact, it’s easy to forget the dire plight that Chrysler and General Motors faced at the time. Decades of poor decision-making by management and labor had saddled the firms with manufacturing capacity they couldn’t use, wage and benefit obligations they couldn’t meet, and, yes, cars they couldn’t sell. Unlike Ford, which had confronted and addressed similar problems while it still had time to save itself, Chrysler and GM had postponed their reckoning until late 2008 -- the very same time that the collapse of the financial and housing markets had thrown the economy into a deep recession.

They came to Washington for help and the Bush administration obliged with an emergency, short-term loan eventually worth about $23 billion -- enough to last until the spring, when the newly elected Obama could make up his own mind about what to do. (Before Obama took office, his advisers had quietly urged Bush to keep the companies going, according to a memoir subsequently written by former White House adviser David Axelrod.)

With full control over the situation, and following intense debate among his aides, Obama decided to offer the car companies a deal. The government would infuse Chrysler and GM with federal dollars, but it would also take control of them -- steering the firms into bankruptcy and then managing a massive restructuring of operations so that they could become once profitable again.

To justify such extraordinary measures, Obama cited the extraordinary circumstances: At a time of economic crisis, the president explained, the collapse of Chrysler and GM would likely have severe repercussions, wrecking not just two iconic American companies but also the myriad businesses -- from parts suppliers to mom-and-pop restaurants near factories -- that depended on the two companies. The damage may even drag down Ford, Obama warned, despite that company’s relative health.

Obama’s arguments did not go over particularly well the public, which was angry over bailouts of banks and the apparent insolence of the auto executives, who flew to Washington on private jets in order to make their appeals. But the decision to save Chrysler and GM most infuriated Republicans and their allies, who thought the federal government had no business meddling in the economy or taking over private corporations -- even, or especially, for the sake of saving firms that couldn’t survive on their own.

“Every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise,” Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host, said at the time. Eric Cantor, then a Republican leader in the House, predicted “they’ll run it into the ground.”

Infographic by Alissa Scheller

In the end, pretty much the opposite happened. Employment in the auto industry, which had been on a steady and then steep decline since 2005, hit rock bottom in June 2009 -- the same month GM declared bankruptcy and, under Obama administration supervision, started restructuring its operations. The ensuing transformation included plenty of pain, from shuttered factories to bondholders who lost money to an agreement, with the unions, that new workers would make less money than the old ones.

But the companies emerged from bankruptcy stronger -- in Chrysler’s case, after a sale to Fiat -- and they’ve been growing ever since. Jobs in automobile manufacturing began rising the very month that GM started its bankruptcy reorganization. Today, employment in the sector is back to where it was before the recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate in Michigan and other states with large numbers of auto industry jobs began a similarly dramatic improvement around the time of the two bankruptcies. Today, Michigan’s unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since 2001.

And while the companies still face problems, which for GM include the legacy of massive vehicle recalls and a business model heavily reliant on large vehicles, most analysts think they are on solid footing again.

The auto industry rescue isn’t the only reason that employment in the automobile sector and the Great Lakes states has rebounded. The economy a whole has grown since that time, albeit with some stalls, and that’s included a rebound in all manufacturing jobs, not just those in the automobile industry. But the reverse is probably true, as well. Without growth from GM and Chrysler, the recovery in manufacturing specifically and the economy overall might have been weaker.

How much weaker? A report from the Center for Automotive Research, which is based in Michigan and receives some funding from the auto industry, suggested that the rescue of GM and Chrysler saved as many as 2.6 million jobs in 2009. Car-making would have eventually migrated elsewhere, the research center found, including to other countries. Parts of the Midwest would have been devastated.


The rescue’s success, particularly in politically contested states of Michigan and Ohio, was a topic that Obama raised at every opportunity during the 2012 campaign. His opponent, Mitt Romney, struggled to find a position, offering slightly different responses generally depending on when and to whom he was speaking. A Michigander by birth and son to a former auto industry executive who later became governor, Romney eventually settled on the argument that the problem wasn’t with the carmakers or their workers -- it was with Obama’s decision to put taxpayer dollars at risk.

Four years later, many of Romney’s would-be successors as Republican presidential nominee have adopted more or less the same posture -- opposing the rescue on principle, though making an effort to say they are glad the industry survived. Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, told a New Hampshire audience a few weeks ago, “I don’t think that was the right way to handle it,” and called Obama’s approach “problematic.” (Rubio had also predicted that the federal government would never relinquish control of the companies. The government sold back its last shares in 2013.) Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, has said on several occasions he opposes the bailout -- at one point calling it a “form of capitalism when the government intervenes in a very muscular kind of way. And I don’t believe that is appropriate.”

During a campaign stop in Michigan this week, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Obama’s rescue was simply unnecessary. “I don’t think the federal government should be engaged in bailouts,” Cruz told a local audience. “Those industries would have [survived] and thrived.”

But few experts believe that today. Companies can’t emerge from bankruptcy if they can’t get financing to operate while they are reorganizing. And, when Chrysler and GM were in trouble, the banks were in no position to provide that kind of money. Steve Rattner, the Wall Street executive was lead adviser to Obama's automobile rescue team, later explained that relying on private sector loans "sounds like a wonderfully sensible approach -- except that it’s utter fantasy. In late 2008 and early 2009, when GM and Chrysler had exhausted their liquidity, every scrap of private capital had fled to the sidelines. I know this because the administration’s auto task force, for which I was the lead adviser, spoke diligently to all conceivable providers of funds, and not one had the slightest interest in financing those companies on any terms."

At one point in 2009, according to a separate report in The New York Times, Obama administration officials approached the partners at Bain Capital -- Romney's old firm -- to see if they could supply some of the money. They said no, which meant the government was likely the only financier available. And while taxpayers ultimately lost $9 billion on the transaction, according to the Treasury Department, it was a fraction of the total $80 billion loan and almost certainly far less than the government would have spent on assistance to help all of the workers a liquidation of Chrysler and GM would have displaced.

In the end, even the editors of The Economist -- staunch free-market champions who had opposed the rescue at the time admitted they owed Obama an “apology” because “the doomsayers were wrong.”


Of course, not every Republican candidate has spoken out on the auto industry rescue. Conspicuous among the silent has been Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who on a trip to Lansing, Michigan, last month, told reporters “that’s a hypothetical question in the past. We’re going to talk about the future.”

As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted afterward, Walker has been known to answer hypothetical questions when convenient. Given Wisconsin‘s longstanding ties to the auto industry, it’s possible that Walker may simply understand, better than most Republicans, how much those jobs mean in an area of the country critical to their presidential fortunes.

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