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How The Art Community Is Helping A Nonprofit Bring Homemade Food To Those In Need

Fri, 2016-01-15 09:02

In 1985, hospice volunteer Ganga Stone delivered a hot meal via bicycle to a man named Richard who was living with HIV/AIDS. Not long after, along with friend Jane Best, Stone founded God's Love We Deliver. The organization delivered meals, often on bike, to Manhattan-based individuals diagnosed with terminal HIV/AIDS. They delivered around 50 meals per week. 

Thirty years later, GLWD delivers around 1.5 million meals a year, thanks to 90 staff employees and about 8,000 volunteers. They now provide for anyone with a life altering illness of any kind, catering to 6,200 clients with over 200 distinct diagnoses. This year, they are the official charity partner of the Outsider Art Fair.

"The people who founded this organization just wanted to do something," chief development officer David Ludwigson explained to The Huffington Post. "It was a time of tremendous fear and stigma. People were dying of AIDS and they were alone. For the first year or two, there were meals, but there was also apartment cleaning, pet sitting, giving someone a massage or just sitting with them and having a cup of coffee. We eventually started to focus solely on the food."

"Our tagline used to be 'food for the body and soul,'" added manager of communications Emmett Findley. "It’s a very personal act to have someone cook you a meal and bring it to you. It brings relief and dignity. Today the language we’re using around our work is 'food is medicine and food is love.'"

When describing GLWD, Ludwigson uses the term "nutrition nonprofit" -- not food, not hunger, he specifies. Everything in GLWD's kitchen is made from scratch in their SoHo kitchen, with no preservatives. When a new client is taken on, their first order of business is meeting with a registered dietician to do intake, establishing a meal plan that adapts to his or her medical regimen, ability to ingest, and personal preferences. Some meals are served minced or pureed. "We want to make a sick person better, or at least experience the best quality of life that they can," Ludwigson said. 

For this year's Outsider Art Fair, 15 art galleries have donated works for a silent auction, with all proceeds benefitting GLWD. Artists and the arts community, Ludwigson explained, have long been major supporters of GLWD's mission. Not to mention that art has wiggled its way into the GLWD formula. 

For example, every holiday season clients receive their meals in a white bag decorated by a New York City student, whether a four-year-old or a high schooler. And then there's the food itself. "Art shows up in the food we deliver," Findley said. "An artist we deliver to said, 'Tell your volunteers these are works of art.' We want to make food that is beautiful."

Ludwigson offered up another connection between the mission of GLWD and that of outsider art. "When you think of the people who started GLWD, I don’t think it’s that different than being an outsider artist. They weren’t trained in providing food service. It was something they were passionate about and wanted, needed to do."

Both Ludwigson and Findley look forward to meeting potential new volunteers and donors at the Outsider Art Fair. But just as much, they hope to spread knowledge of their organization to those who need it most.

"There’s not a waiting list," Findley said. "There never has been, never will be. That message is just as important."

Learn more about God's Love We Deliver at the Outsider Art Fair, from Jan. 21-24, 2016, at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City.

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This Is The Bluntest Weather Report You've Ever Seen

Fri, 2016-01-15 03:50

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Nancy Loo wasted no time on Wednesday morning in giving what could be the bluntest cold weather report ever.

The reporter for "The WGN Morning News" show braved icy conditions on Chicago's Magnificent Mile to tell viewers that it was "dang cold."

Loo then broke away from what should have been an in-depth forecast to say, "In fact, I wish I could do just this report: It's dangerously cold, it's about 5 degrees right now, wind chill about 15 to 20 below, don't be stupid. Back to you."

My shortest @WGNMorningNews report ever! #dontbestupid

— Nancy Loo (@NancyLoo) January 13, 2016

Loo's concise account earned her a standing ovation from the anchors sitting in the warm studio.

The camera later cut back to Loo, who pointed out a person covered from head to toe in order to survive the frigid weather. "In fact, she doesn't even see me. That's how you should dress. That's a smart person."

Footage of Loo's report was posted online Wednesday, and is going viral. The hashtag #dontbestupid also trended on Twitter.

Tired of reporters telling you to wear mittens when it's cold? @NancyLoo shows you how it's DONE. @WGNMorningNews

— Robin Baumgarten (@WGNRobin) January 13, 2016

Only @WGNMorningNews has the guts to do the ol' 'cold weather live shot' like this:

— Potash (@LarryPotash) January 13, 2016

It's not the first time "The WGN Morning News" team has made headlines for its reports. In 2014, the anchors used handwritten signs to communicate when a technical glitch killed the show's sound. A year earlier, they accidentally hung up on Oprah during a live interview.


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New Video Finally Shows 2013 Police Shooting Of Unarmed Black Chicago Teen

Thu, 2016-01-14 20:27

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For the third time in two months, the city of Chicago has been compelled to release footage of police fatally shooting a black teenager or young man.

The city's law department on Thursday released three videos of the 2013 shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman. A federal judge ruled earlier that day that the videos had to be made public, ending a three-year battle between the city and Chatman's family. 

The low-quality video shows the teen running away as a plainclothes officer fires his weapon. At the time of the shooting, official police accounts claimed that Chatman was armed and pointed a gun at police, causing at least one of the two pursuing officers to “fear for his life.” Chatman was later found to be unarmed and holding a black iPhone box. 

Chicago officials fought to keep the video under protective order, arguing that it would inflame the public and unfairly sway the jury in a trial over the family's wrongful death lawsuit.

That argument lost its impact after the high-profile release of the Laquan McDonald shooting footage on Nov. 24. That video, which the city also fought to keep from public view, shows a cop shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times as he walks away. 

Since November, the city has also released footage of the 2012 police shooting of Ronald Johnson, 25, as well as surveillance video showing 38-year-old Philip Coleman, a black man who died in police custody, being Tasered and roughly handled by officers. 

The videos come amid a period of intense scrutiny of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's police and law departments over how Chicago handles cases of police misconduct. The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating the CPD.

Chatman's family was not immediately available for comment Thursday, but they are moving forward with a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and against Officer Kevin Fry, who shot the teen.

Neither Fry nor his partner at the scene, Officer Lou Toth, were disciplined. Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority, a city agency tasked with investigating and disciplining police complaints, cleared the officers of wrongdoing, as it nearly always does.

Supervising investigator Lorenzo Davis, a 24-year veteran of the Chicago police force, disagreed with that decision and called Thursday's video release a "vindication." 

In an agency where cops are rarely punished, Davis was accused of having an anti-police bias and was fired in July. Davis was the "only supervisor at IPRA who resist[ed] making requested changes as directed by management in order to reflect the correct finding with respect to [officer-involved shootings]," according to performance records obtained by WBEZ. 

Davis is currently suing the city for wrongful termination. 

Reached at his home on Chicago's South Side, Davis told The Huffington Post Thursday that he stands by his assessment of Fry and Toth and that they should have resorted to several other tactics before using deadly force. 

"Fry didn’t appear to exhaust his options," Davis said, adding that he was able to review enhanced versions of the shooting footage while evaluating the case for IPRA.

"His partner, Officer Toth, had elected to chase Mr. Chatman and try to capture him," Davis said. "What Officer Fry could have done was use a radio to notify other groups [of] the direction of Mr. Chatman's flight and cut him off, or join in the pursuit." 

According to the lawsuit filed by Chatman's family, a maximum of seven seconds passed between Chatman jumping out of his vehicle and the police opening fire.

“The officers are told by their union, the Fraternal Order of Police, to make all of those statements,” Davis said. “Consequently, you have hundreds of police shootings where hundreds of officers are saying the same thing. That should destroy their credibility."

"They have to be trained to tell the truth and describe in their own words exactly what occurred," Davis went on, "rather than reading canned comments you always see."

A U.S. magistrate previously sided with the city, agreeing the video should be kept from the public, but lawyers for Chatman's family asked a federal judge in December to overturn the ruling.

The same day the Chatman family was in court fighting pushback from the city, Emanuel was busy apologizing for the city's handling of the McDonald video release and pledging greater transparency and accountability.

On Jan. 7, 2013, Fry and Toth spotted Chatman driving alone in a car that matched the description given to police of a stolen vehicle. Fry and Toth pulled Chatman over and ordered him out of the vehicle, prompting the teen to run. 

According to court records, Fry said he fired four shots. Chatman was struck twice. Attorney Brian Coffman, who represents Chatman's family, said that after the teen was on the ground, an officer flipped him over, handcuffed him and pressed his boot into the teen's back. Chatman later died of his injuries.  

While the officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing, two of Chatman's friends -- Martel Odom, 23, and Akeem Clarke, 22 -- were later charged with murder for allegedly "setting into motion" a chain of events that led to Chatman's death, according to DNAinfo Chicago. Chatman and his friends were allegedly involved in a carjacking before the shooting, but Odom and Clarke were not in the car when Chatman was stopped. The charges for the two men were later reduced. 

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Farm Seeks Volunteers To Cuddle Goats, And The Internet Comes To The Rescue

Thu, 2016-01-14 15:50

Need someone to cuddle a furry farm animal? Don't worry, the Internet's goat this.

Earlier this week, a Virginia farm put out an online ad seeking volunteers to cuddle and bottle-feed newborn baby goats -- and, in true Internet fashion, people all over the country flooded the farm with applications.

"We have had such an overwhelming response to our call for goat snugglers, you guys are awesome!" a representative for Caromont Farm wrote on its now-defunct Facebook page. "Unfortunately we could not fit all of you on to our volunteer schedule."

Caromont Farm, which specializes in making goat cheeses, is expecting to see 90 baby goats (aka kids) born on the farm starting in February, according to local news station NBC29. Since the farmers have to milk the mothers shortly after they give birth, volunteers are needed to bottle-feed the babies 24 hours after they're born.

Volunteers are also required to play, snuggle and generally love the newborn goats in four-hour shifts beginning next month and ending mid-March.

To protect the babies from the winter cold, they are placed in heated pens filled with hay and given tiny sweaters. The farm is basically a baby-goat-cuddling heaven.

Since all the volunteer slots were quickly filled, Caromont Farm has decided to host a "Goatapalooza" to appease all the hopeful snuggle bunnies that didn't make the cut.

"We want to get our community more involved," Izzy Zechini, the farm's sales and events manager, told the Washington Post. "We're kind of out in the middle of nowhere."

On April 3, Caromont Farm will open their doors to the public from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. for "anyone who would still like to come get some goat love in," the farm wrote on Facebook, according to CBS6 News.

As long as the kids are wearing their tiny sweaters, you can bet we'll be there.

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Kayla's Legacy

Thu, 2016-01-14 13:41
She had so little and she had so much.

I didn't know her, except for the tiny piece of her life that was revealed in the 2013 documentary "Hear Our Voices," directed by David and Patricia Earnhardt, but her candid, gutsy presence in that film was sufficient to pull her into my heart.

Kayla Bryanton died at the beginning of January in a single-car accident in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Her car wrapped around a light pole. She was 20 years old. She left behind a young son.

"Hear Our Voices" is a film about teen mental health issues.

"It's like I'm in a never-ending battle with my brain," Kayla says in the film. "They called me Crazy Kayla. I have anger problems. Someone messes with me, I lose it. I was molested, raped, physically and mentally abused. I was in 127 different homes. I have a 3-month-old baby . . ."

But she also says: "It makes me feel better when I help other kids. I've been through a lot. That doesn't mean you have to give up. That doesn't mean you can't stand up for what you believe in or move forward. So many kids are going through what I've been through. They need help. So if I can help them, then I'm going to do it."

Suddenly there's an embarrassed smile, then she bursts into tears. It's one of the film's deeply honest, powerful moments. You can see -- you can feel -- Kayla dig deep into her soul as she composes herself.

"If I give up on myself, then I'm giving up on thousands of other people. . . .

"Every person has their purpose on earth. This is mine. My God-given talent -- go through things, experience the worst, stay positive and help other people. It's the life I've been given."

So when David told me about Kayla's death, I felt such incredulity break loose -- such a stab of unfairness. Of course, of course, these things happen, but . . . this girl deserved to live.

She'd been born, as David said, without recourses. Whatever mental health issues she was struggling with were aggravated by the broken conditions in which she grew up. She wanted to be a good mom.

As I wrote in my column about "Hear Our Voices" two years ago: "Part of the film's dramatic narrative, for instance, is about Kayla's attempt to attain 'emancipation' from her current foster-care situation and be able to live as an adult, making life decisions for herself and her young son, Eli. We see her addressing the juvenile court judge and, ultimately, holding her disappointment in check when the request is denied until she turns 18."

She was still in that transition to adulthood when she died. She had wanted to go to college but hadn't attained that goal yet. What she did do was get herself into a terrifying amount of trouble, which included, at one point, being kidnapped and, apparently, tortured for several days, as reported by a local TV station after her death.

Despite everything, "the vibrancy of her personality animates the film," as I wrote two years ago.

Eli, who is now 4 years old, is now with Kayla's most recent foster parents, with whom she had a loving, positive relationship. At least he has a home. And that's it -- the last remaining piece of her lost life. Lots of people spoke and grieved at her funeral. Her biological mom, with whom Kayla had remained in touch, paid for the funeral with a GoFundMe account, to which many people had generously donated. She was loved, she was loved.

I don't know what else to say. But I can't stop sitting in wonder that some people get almost no break from the hell that is part of the human condition -- and have to build their lives within the downward spiral of hopelessness. This is life without opportunity, and yet Kayla made opportunity for herself anyway. I don't know how she did it.

Not knowing this, I meditate on her legacy, which, perhaps, was captured in the film. I think again about her words. If nothing else, these words are an antidote to the domination culture of American politics, which so permeates the news right now:

"Every person has their purpose on earth. This is mine. My God-given talent -- go through things, experience the worst, stay positive and help other people. It's the life I've been given."

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award--winning, Chicago--based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Top Aides Were Aware Of Laquan McDonald Details Months Before Emanuel Says He Knew

Thu, 2016-01-14 08:51

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he didn't understand the gravity of Laquan McDonald's shooting death at the hands of a Chicago police officer until just before the city settled with the teen's family last spring, and that he wasn't aware other officers may have falsified reports about the shooting until just after the video was released to the public.

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Gay Rights May Permanently Break the Anglican Communion

Wed, 2016-01-13 17:06
As the leaders of the global Anglican Communion converge in Canterbury this week for a week-long meeting, the number one concern for 80 million Anglicans worldwide is whether the church will have a major schism over same-sex unions. As a Catholic priest who has been involved in research and advocacy for equity and inclusivity in faith-based education and pastoral ministry, my hope is that this meeting will come up with a broad set of programs and best practices to address the cries of our gay brothers and sisters who are often treated as non-persons in our churches.

The attempt by Pope Francis to bring the Catholic Church to embrace a more inclusive approach to same-sex persons at the Roman synod in October 2015 was frustratingly a failure. However, the problem of people's sexuality is not one that can simply be legislated away or put under the carpet. The universal Christian community must open her doors to the gay community and embrace them as children of God because their sexuality is a gift from God meant to enrich the church and society. Tokens of goodwill and platitudes will not do, nor will simply proof-texting passages from the Bible or citing arcane church documents meet the command of love for these brothers and sisters who are knocking at the doors of the mercy of the churches and Christians. Each generation of Christians reading the signs of the times and drawing inspiration from the priorities and practices of Jesus Christ must find its own answers to the new questions of the day.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has trod a similar path as Pope Francis in grasping toward a church focusing more on issues of poverty and global justice rather than divisive personal issues. But some in the communion - especially those from the southern hemisphere of the globe - feel the question of sexuality is a central issue which needs to be dealt with using biblical principles.

There are indications that the rift has gone so deep that this meeting will only be the final death-knell on the structures of unity in the Anglican Communion.

But we shouldn't forget there are already, for practical purposes, two Anglican Communions, both of which claim biblical support for their stand. The conservative wing, Global Anglican Future, is led by the Australian Peter Jensen, who insists that unfailing allegiance to traditional marriage rites ought to trump institutional unity. The more liberal and progressive wing is headed by Welby himself, who angered many in Nigeria by appointing Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon as a top aide; his opposition to anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and many other African countries ran afoul of conservative ideology.

Those Anglican leaders in Africa who have stood up for same-sex liberality have suffered for these beliefs. A Kenyan Anglican pastor, Michael Kimundu, was expelled from the church because he continued to insist that his faith as a Christian required him to embrace the fledgling and often persecuted LGBTQ community in East Africa. Apart from South Africa, there is no Anglican Communion in Africa favorably disposed towards same-sex unions - at least officially.

Conditions in the United States are also tense. The conservative Anglican Church of North America led by Archbishop Foley Beach commands a sizeable population of US Anglicans who hold on to traditional teaching on homosexuality. When Gene Robinson was consecrated as the first openly gay Anglican bishop in New Hampshire in 2003, Archbishop Foley called it an "open depravity."

Words were even stronger in Africa, where Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria said:

The consecration of a bishop, who divorced his wife and separated from his children, now living as a non-celibate homosexual, clearly demonstrates that authorities within Ecusa (the Episcopal Church of United States) consider that their cultural-based agenda is of far greater importance than obedience to the Word of God, the integrity of the one mission of God in which we all share, the spiritual welfare and unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion and our ecumenical fellowship and inter-faith relationships.

But the African position is quite different from a more open disposition by the Anglican communions in Brazil, Canada, South India, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales and some communions in England, some of whom have called on the church to repent for discriminating against lesbian and gay Christians and treating them as second-class citizens. While the conservatives emphasize verses on men "laying" with men, the liberals emphasize verses on acceptance of others.

These divergent readings of scripture are the root of the crisis in the Anglican Communion and explain why this troubled marriage may end in divorce. Since the 19th century, when the Anglican Church defined itself, it has accepted the normativity of the Holy Scripture as the primary controlling authority for Church life and practices. Indeed, since the early 20th Century, Protestant theologians have given greater attention and resonance to the theology of the Word as assuming primacy over individual life styles. Protestant theologians like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others tried to recover the truth - content of Protestant theology and morality. They concentrated on the centrality of Christ in salvation history and the transcendental nature of the Christian truth, and its hold on human life and reality in general.

Many Catholics will see the present crisis in the Anglican Communion as the greatest reason why the Catholic Church should not change her position on the sinfulness of same-sex relations. When former Vatican top official, Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa came out as an openly gay priest on the eve of the Vatican Synod on the Family in October 2015, he was immediately dismissed from the clerical state and from his position at the Vatican. He had argued in an interview that he came out in order to draw attention to the fact that "the Catholic Church is homophobic and very difficult and harsh towards gays."

Many people might dismiss his claim as a subjective judgment, but Archbishop Idowu-Fearon in a recent interview on BBC stated that all churches must deal with the challenge of sexuality and that it is not simply an Anglican problem.

As a priest myself, I agree with him. Homosexuality is not simply a Christian problem to be solved rather it is a human mystery which needs to be embraced with respect, reverence and love. Indeed, the ultimate question is about what it means to be human. In Christian language, it is all about what it means to be a child of God. Christian anthropology, building on her Judeo-Christian tradition, asserts that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God.

What it means in concrete terms is that being gay is an integral part of the fullness of the beauty of any human person who is gifted with such an orientation by God. The capacity to see this beauty is what is at stake for all the primates coming to this meeting at Lambeth. As a Catholic priest, I will be praying for them in the hope that they come out with a welcoming and tolerant message which will illumine the dark and painful world of many of our gay brothers and sisters both inside and outside the Anglican Communion. We all have a stake in this meeting, regardless of our orientation or our denomination.

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The Unfortunate Effects of Illinois' Budget Crisis

Wed, 2016-01-13 15:21
By law, an Illinois budget for fiscal year 2016 should have been passed no later than July 1, 2015. Thousands of Illinoisans and organizations have been terribly affected by the Illinois budget crisis, and that number continues to grow every day.

Below you will find an interactive map of all those hurt by the state's budget impasse. Click on each map marker to learn more. Note that we will be updating this map regularly with new stories as they become available.

Below the map you'll find a link to a list of statewide problems created by the budget standoff.

The complete list of statewide problems stemming from the stalemate can be found here.

Have you or someone you know been impacted by the budget crisis? Please share your story with us in the comment section of our site so we can add it to the map.

NEXT ARTICLE: 8 ways you can help end the Illinois budget crisis and get active

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Why Illinois' Teacher Shortage Is No Mystery

Wed, 2016-01-13 14:11
When my oldest son began attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 2010, I told my newspaper coworkers that I would stage a standoff with the Illinois National Guard at the entrance to Gregory Hall -- home of the school's journalism department -- should he attempt to major in journalism.

I was joking. I believed then and still believe that journalism is a worthy academic and career pursuit. But it can't be denied that the newspaper industry's well-publicized struggles in recent years have made journalism a far less enticing career choice than when I chose it in the mid-'80s.

I thought about my George Wallace-esque quip about journalism as I skimmed the results of a survey titled "Illinois Educator Shortage Crisis" commissioned by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

Among its findings:

  • 60 percent of school districts surveyed reported difficulty finding qualified applicants to fill vacancies

  • 16 percent of respondents said they had canceled classes or programs due to the shortage of teachers

  • 76 percent said they had fewer qualified candidates applying for openings in their districts

  • 43 percent said the quality of applicants for openings this year was worse than in previous years

Meanwhile, the college entrance exam company ACT, Inc., released a report last April that showed a steady decline nationally in the percentage of students who intend to pursue education majors in college:

None of this should surprise anyone who has followed Illinois education funding in recent years. For years, school districts have lived year to year wondering how much state funding they'll get and how late it will arrive...

You can read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Chicago City Council factions prepare for inspector general showdown

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Rescue Pup Flashes Adorably Cheesy Smile After Recovering From The Flu

Wed, 2016-01-13 10:53

When Herbert, an American Straffordshire terrier mix, was rescued last month from a city pound by PAWS Chicago, a no-kill animal shelter, he was extremely shy, malnourished and sick with canine influenza (aka dog flu).

"His feet were splayed and he was under-socialized, which might suggest that he spent a lot of time in a cage," Sarah McDonald, a spokesperson for PAWS Chicago, told The Huffington Post.

But after spending a couple weeks recovering under the foster care of Amanda Robles -- and being showered with lots of snuggles, long walks and cheese (his favorite treat) -- Herbert quickly got his groove back. 

And the 5-month-old rescue pup has the grin to prove it: 

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say cheese

Posted by Amanda Robles on Saturday, January 9, 2016

Herbert's "smile" might've been his way of showing just how excited he is with all this newfound love.

"This was not a behavior he displayed while he was at our medical center," McDonald said. "Amanda was rewarding him with cheese and it happened on a whim."

The cheesy expression appears to be a submissive grin, which is when a dog exposes his front teeth with a closed mouth by lifting his upper lip, Kristina Lotz, a certified dog trainer and writer, explains on

Unlike an aggressive snarl -- which, btw, means back off! -- a submissive grin usually appears when dogs are trying to “appease” another dog or person. 

In Herbert's case, he probably really wanted that cheese: 

Herbert has since completed his antibiotics and is waiting for his next veterinarian appointment to make sure he has no leftover symptoms from the flu.

Once he's completely recovered, Herbert will be available for adoption at PAWS Chicago, McDonald said. 

"He's such a sweet boy and always wants to sleep in your lap," Amanda Robles wrote on Facebook. "Now that he made [you] laugh, help him find a home!"

If you want to bring home Herbert or any of the equally lovable animals at PAWS Chicago's shelters, visit the adoption page here.

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Catholic Teaching Says Support Unions. Catholic Colleges Are Fighting Them.

Wed, 2016-01-13 10:52

Joseph Fahey cherishes the Catholic Church's teachings on worker rights. "It's really beautiful teaching -- rock-bottom core, Matthew 25 stuff," says Fahey, a Catholic theologian. "A lot of Catholics would tell you that's why they're Catholic."

So Fahey took it as an insult to his faith when the Catholic school where he's taught for 50 years, Manhattan College, tried to prevent adjunct professors from unionizing. He was particularly galled because part-time adjuncts are among "the poorest and weakest people on campus," he says. In September, he dashed off a public letter on the matter, saying the school's trustees should be ashamed of themselves.

"This falls into the context of grave sin. This is serious stuff," Fahey, 76, told The Huffington Post. "They're violating their own mission statement that says the school is supposed to stand up for social justice. If they violate this [teaching], they may as well not call themselves a Catholic school."

Manhattan is one of a gaggle of Catholic colleges now holding up their spiritual mission as a shield against collective bargaining. At least four other schools -- Seattle University; Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh; Saint Xavier University, in Chicago; and Loyola University Chicago -- have recently sought religious exemptions from labor law that would scuttle faculty organizing campaigns.

Since at least the late 1800s, Catholic social teaching has recognized collective bargaining as a tool for social justice. Adjuncts and their allies say the schools are flouting Catholic principles by trying to deny teachers a path to join unions, particularly as Pope Francis rails against income inequality. The schools claim they are merely protecting themselves from government intrusion.

"It does make them squirm," said Daniel Kovalik, a lawyer for the United Steelworkers union, which has been organizing adjuncts at Duquesne. "If you look at their arguments on those issues, they're in a box. Going back to Pope Leo XIII, the Catholic Church has encouraged employers to recognize unions. With Pope Francis, it's even more embarrassing to take a position counter to that."

In a statement to HuffPost, Manhattan said its adjuncts play an "indispensable role" at the school, but it must be able to manage its relationship with them "free of [government] oversight." 

"We believe that it would be irresponsible not to question vigorously the right of the government to insert itself into decisions that directly affect the heart and soul of our institution, not because of opposition to employees or antipathy to the rights of working people," the college said.

Critics of that stance quickly point to Rerum Novarum, the encyclical on capital and labor issued by Pope Leo XIII. In this 1891 open letter to the Catholic bishops, the pope offered a few prescriptions for alleviating the "misery and wretchedness" he saw among the working classes of the Gilded Age. Near the top of his list was the right to free association with groups that can close the gap between rich and poor. "The most important of all are workingmen's unions," the pope wrote.

Just six years ago, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that his predecessor's appeal for unionism was even more relevant in an age of globalization. Unions, the pope said, were becoming too weak to effectively advocate for the working class. Calls to promote collective bargaining, Benedict urged, "must therefore be honored today even more than in the past."

Such texts aren't convenient to Catholic schools looking to stymie union campaigns, said Gerald Beyer, an associate theology professor at Villanova University who specializes in Catholic social ethics. Beyer recently penned a journal article in which he argued that Catholic universities have "no legitimate reason" for opposing the unionization efforts of their adjuncts, particularly by trying to stake out a religious exemption. If the schools want to avoid government involvement, he notes, they can simply recognize the unions through card check, a process that doesn't require going through the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union elections.

At stake, Beyer told HuffPost, is much more than a few isolated labor disputes.

"If we fail to model the values of Catholic tradition, then we say it's OK to violate it when we don't want to make the necessary commitment," Beyer said. "This [tactic] -- using legal recourse to thwart adjunct unions -- sows confusion and runs the risk of causing scandal. It cheapens the Church's witness to the gospel."

Over the years, U.S. colleges have come to rely on cheap adjuncts to keep costs down. Unlike tenured professors, adjuncts have no guarantee on their courses from year to year. The pay can be paltry and the benefits non-existent, forcing teachers to work at several different schools at once. The treatment of adjuncts became a national story after the sad death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a longtime French adjunct professor at Duquesne.

Loyola is holding itself to Jesuit principles, but it doesn't seem to be practicing them.
-- Alyson Paige Warren, adjunct professor at Loyola

The discontent among part-time and non-tenure-track faculty has made college classrooms fertile organizing territory for unions. Adjuncts have won a wave of union elections in recent years, with more than 20,000 adjuncts unionizing at more than 70 schools just since the start of 2013, according to William A. Herbert, director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College, CUNY. "One element that permeates a lot of these cases is [the idea of] respect, and how the contingent faculty are being treated," Herbert said.

One of the most aggressive labor groups on this front is the 2-million-member Service Employees International Union, better known for organizing the likes of janitors and fast-food workers. SEIU says it has successfully unionized adjuncts and other faculty at at least 30 schools in the last three years. Several SEIU campaigns, including the one at Loyola, include not just adjuncts but non-tenure-track professors as well.

Alyson Paige Warren, an adjunct teaching English at Loyola, said she hopes union representation will give her colleagues a voice with the school administration. Like many adjuncts, Warren teaches at three different schools in order make ends meet. She is paid anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $4,500 per course each semester, without benefits. (Loyola, she said, pays on the higher end compared to other schools.) She said she never knows how many courses she'll have the following semester, or whether it will be enough to survive on. The 35-year-old still bears $60,000 in student debt.

She said she was "shocked" when Loyola asserted that federal labor law has no jurisdiction at the school.

"Loyola is holding itself to Jesuit principles, but it doesn't seem to be practicing them," Warren said.

Steven Christensen, a Loyola spokesman, told HuffPost in an email that the school does support the right of workers to join unions. But Christensen said that as a Jesuit school, Loyola should have the right "to define its own mission" and to do so "free from government entanglement." He said Loyola disagrees with the labor board's criteria for what makes a school a religious one under the law.

"While we agree that employee unionization is both valuable and just, the issue at stake here is about the freedom of 'religious institutions' from government interference with regard to their religious identity and mission," he said.

Two Catholic university groups -- the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities -- supported Loyola in its petition seeking a religious exemption. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to multiple requests from HuffPost for a clarification of its own stance on adjunct unions at Catholic colleges. In a 1986 pastoral letter called "Economic Justice for All," the conference wrote that "no one may deny the right to organize without attacking human dignity itself."

For decades, religious schools of all kinds have sought to exclude teachers from collective bargaining on First Amendment grounds, with mixed success. In a 2014 ruling, the NLRB clarified how a college qualifies for a religious exemption. Not only must the school "hold itself out" as religious in its public image, the board said, but it must also hold out the teachers in question as "performing a religious function." The upshot: A Catholic school that purports to have secular classrooms can't avoid labor law.

Matt Williams, who teaches sociology and international studies at Loyola full-time, scoffs at the notion that he contributes to the school's Catholic atmosphere. Williams is a practicing Buddhist.

"They knew that when they hired me," said Williams. "I talked about it quite openly."

Christensen said Loyola would prefer to deal directly with its faculty, rather than through a union. "It is difficult to imagine how the [union] will be able to assist our deans, chairpersons, and faculty deliver the transformative education in the Jesuit tradition we promise our students," he said.

Not all Catholic schools have taken the hard line against the union that Loyola and Manhattan have. When SEIU submitted a petition on behalf of contingent faculty at St. Mary's College of California in 2014, the school did not seek a religious exemption. Citing its roots as a Catholic school in the Christian Brothers tradition, St. Mary's president said the "decision to unionize or not rests entirely with our contingent faculty and is theirs alone to make." The teachers voted 204-64 in favor of unionizing.

When Georgetown adjuncts began organizing in 2012, the school stayed out of the way. The relatively painless road to unionization stemmed from the school's "just employment" policy. Implemented in 2005, the policy guarantees Georgetown employees and contractors "the right to freely associate and organize" without opposition from the school. Fahey and Beyer say Georgetown's policy should be a model for other Catholic colleges.

The case of Manhattan College is still tied up at the NLRB. On Dec. 28, the labor board ordered an election for the Loyola faculty. Ballots went out this week and will be counted at the end of the month. Christensen said Loyola will "continue to work through the NLRB’s process." But the school administration hasn't exhausted its legal options. It could still refuse to bargain with the union after a successful election, sending the dispute to federal court. Herbert said it is "highly probable" that one of the schools seeking a religious exemption will eventually mount a court challenge on the issue.

Williams, the sociology lecturer, said that if the Loyola dispute was really about religious autonomy, the school would have found a way to deal with the union without government involvement. One option would have been to go through a third party to have union cards counted and certified, rather than through the NLRB. But according to SEIU, the union declined to go that route, forcing the process through the federal government.

"It's hard to make sense of it unless you see it as a delaying tactic," Williams said. "Faculty unionizing is a threat to the university administration's power. It's easy [for them] to get caught up in their own little world of administering the university and lose sight of the larger social justice mission."

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Is The Jobs Crisis Over?

Tue, 2016-01-12 19:02
If it were, you wouldn't know it.

Not if you sat in on a snowy evening for one of our Career Counseling Sessions at the Sulzer Regional Library in Chicago.

Listen first to Mary. (Names and identifying details changed to protect privacy.) She tells me she speaks seven languages and then asks me to guess what they are. I guess four right.

She leads the conversation into a story about her decades of waitressing at one of Chicago's iconic restaurants and the fact that just last week, she got a $50.00 tip on a $50.00 check. "People tell me all the time what a great server I am," she says, "and I never understand. It's my job. It's easy. So what?" She concludes with, "I wonder if it would be possible to do something with the seven languages I know? I'm 55 years old. And I'm not sure how much longer I can keep waitressing. Do you think knowing all those languages might help me get another job?"

Melinda comes in next. She's in an office manager kind of role for a government agency. She's been there for 12 years. All through the recession and now into the economic recovery. She describes her job as being "just under the political class." Laughing, she says, "We're the people who get all the work done." Despite the currently popular bashing of government employees in Illinois and the massive cutting of life altering government funds; Melinda's job won't be cut unless the very last light is turned out in state government and the health and safety of Illinois citizens is no longer an issue.

Chances are, she will not lose her job. Still, she says, echoing a message just like Mary's, "Do you think my background in public health and emergency planning will help me get another job?"

Then came Luke. Walking into the room with a grin and an aura so friendly, that it just might have stilled the whipping winter wind outside the Library. Luke, like Mary and Melinda, did have a job. He'd had it for 10 years. A true lover of history, Luke gave tours of a well-known Chicago historical institution. He made history come alive for the kids who visited. And he loved it. But as he got more comfortable in telling his story, he began to talk about how he really wanted a job that paid a salary. He'd had some health issues and he wasn't sure whether his disability would run out. Finally Luke asked be, "Do you think the mental health issues I once had will stop me from getting a job?"

And I thought about the huge drops in unemployment splayed out across the country for so many. More people working than any time since Bill Clinton was President.

Then there was the anger bubbling up like volcanic lava from those who never, ever, ever would understand that when you hold out your hand to the vulnerable, the person you are really serving is yourself. Those folks who honestly don't know the answer to the question, "I got mine, why can't you get yours?"

And I wondered if the jobs crisis would ever be over.

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On Hold in the Land of Lincoln

Tue, 2016-01-12 15:47
I don't expect my wife or my 13-year-old daughter to know the ID number for our family's current health insurance plan, but I was stunned to learn late Monday afternoon that nobody at Land of Lincoln Health, our new insurance provider, could come up with that basic information.

Should I need to visit a doctor's office or emergency room anytime soon, the conversation with the registration desk will be a disaster:

Attendant: And who is your insurer, Mr. Farmer?

Me: Land of Lincoln Health.

Attendant: May I see your card?

Me: They never sent me one.

Attendant: Do you know your plan ID number?

Me: No.

Attendant: You'll need to call Land of Lincoln and get that information.

Me: I did, and they don't have it.

Attendant: Are you certain you're insured by Land of Lincoln?

Me: Well, they sent me an email in December thanking me for paying my January 2016 premium, but now that you mention it, I don't know. I can't log into the member portal on their website, no one at the company answers the phone, and the Chicago Tribune has been running stories that suggest the company may be in over its head.

Looks like I picked a bad time to insure my family through what the Tribune calls "a struggling insurance startup."

I've long been a cheerleader for the Affordable Care Act, and I've purchased my family's coverage through the Illinois marketplace since it opened in late 2013, dutifully paying my premiums to insurance companies whose names I at least recognized -- Humana and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

Last month, however, I learned Humana would no longer offer marketplace coverage comparable to what I had in 2015, so I quickly did some homework and found a policy offered by Land of Lincoln Health (a company I'd never heard of) that listed all of my family's doctors as being "in-network."

In mid-December I pulled the trigger, enrolling with Land of Lincoln through the Get Covered Illinois website.

I make it a point to pay my bills on time, and to prevent a gap in health insurance coverage I damn sure wanted to get my January 2016 premium to Land of Lincoln before the end of 2015, but the company didn't make it easy.

I had no invoice from Land of Lincoln, and the company didn't send me a timely "Welcome to Land of Lincoln" email, so I found a phone number for the insurer and called it.

It was the first of many times that I waited unsuccessfully on hold for over an hour to speak to a Land of Lincoln representative -- and all I was trying to do was give the company my money.

I eventually got lucky and was able to speak to someone after waiting on hold for a mere 20 minutes. I felt like I'd won a radio contest that afternoon, even though my "prize" -- the chance to pay my January premium -- cost me over $1500.

I vented a bit to the Land of Lincoln representative about hold times and customer service before giving her my credit card information, but when I hung up the phone I was relieved, believing my family and I now had insurance coverage for January 2016.

Today, though, I'm not so sure.

My wife had been hoping to schedule a doctor's appointment this week, but we still don't have plan information from Land of Lincoln. I promised her that I'd contact the company, so on Monday I spent another two hours on hold with our new insurer, listening to the company's horrible on-hold music.

While on hold, I took to Twitter, expressing in 140-character blasts (a few of which are set out below) my growing frustration with this company.

Is there anyone home at @LLHInsured this morning who can give me some basic info about my family's new coverage so my wife can see a doctor?

— Matt Farmer (@mifarmer) January 11, 2016

Dear @LLHInsured -- Your phone answering system told me my estimated wait time to speak to a human was 15 minutes. That was 55 minutes ago.

— Matt Farmer (@mifarmer) January 11, 2016

Still unable to login to @LLHInsured member portal. Still unable to reach a human being to answer my basic coverage questions. Unbelievable.

— Matt Farmer (@mifarmer) January 11, 2016

My rapid-fire posts drew a response from a gentleman named "Vince," who runs (or at least monitors) Land of Lincoln's Twitter account. He took my phone number and promised someone would call me back.

Had I not taken to Twitter, I'd still be on hold.

When the callback came, a gentleman named "Mike M." told me the company has been having problems with its member portal. He also said he'd received a number of complaints from members and would-be members who were unable to confirm that they had Land of Lincoln coverage. He assured me all those problems were being addressed.

I cut to the chase.

Mike, I said, what do I tell an emergency room administrator when he asks me about my insurance coverage? I need some basic information. What's my plan ID number, Mike?

After a long pause, Mike told me my plan ID number wasn't in the Land of Lincoln system, but he assured me he'd look into it.

I hung up the phone and immediately told my family it's imperative that we stay healthy in 2016.

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One way Gov. Rauner can reduce the State's prison population: clemency

Tue, 2016-01-12 15:34
Illinois' huge prison population is a problem Governor Rauner wants to solve. His first step--setting up a commission to find ways the legislature can change state laws to reduce the number of prisoners--was a good start. That commission is expected to release its final report in early 2016.

But the Governor can, and should, do more. He can single-handedly reduce the state's prison population with a stroke of his pen, using a power that belongs only to him, as the state's chief executive: clemency.

On February 11, 2015, the newly-inaugurated Governor acted boldly, issuing an executive order taking on the costly problem of mass incarceration. Rauner's Executive Order 15-14 laid out that problem: in the past 40 years, the State's crime rate has gone down 20% but its prison population has soared 700%.

Rauner's order established a Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform whose job includes recommending "amendments to state laws that will reduce the State's prison population by 25% by 2025."

Asking his commission to find ways for lawmakers to cut the State's number of prisoners was one step toward reducing the state's prison population by a quarter in 10 years. But Rauner shouldn't rely on legislators alone to reach that goal. He could achieve it himself with an act he can carry out which no court can overturn, no legislature can undo: commuting the sentences of some state prisoners.

Commutations don't pardon criminals for their crimes. They don't say to a prisoner, "We are letting you go; it's as if you never committed the crime for which you are incarcerated."

Commutations mean that the prisoner is guilty of the crime for which he or she was convicted. The prisoner's conviction remains on his or her record. The sentence is merely shortened, to something less than the original amount of time given.

Governor Rauner alone has the power to commute sentences in Illinois. It's there in Article V, Section 12 of the Illinois Constitution: "The Governor may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses on such terms as he thinks proper."

That's it. No limits on what type of crimes or which prisoners can be considered for clemency. The Governor even has a body in place whose job includes recommending candidates for clemency to him: the Illinois Prisoner Review Board (PRB).

The PRB could screen applicants seeking clemency--looking for documented criteria such as rehabilitation, good behavior while in prison, a solid plan for re-entry into society, an absence of gang ties--and recommend those applicants to the Governor for consideration. A similar effort is now underway on the federal level, for federal prisoners seeking commutation of their sentences from President Obama. The President, who has also expressed concern about mass incarceration, has been steadily granting increasing numbers of petitions for clemency in his second term in office.

Why would the Governor not do this? Political risk, for one. Governors have sometimes been loathe to let people out of prison early, for fear that a released prisoner will commit a new crime. (Remember Willie Horton?)

But that political risk is spread when recommendations come from another source which stringently reviews prisoner petitions. Too, it would be unfair for Rauner to place all the political risk of letting prisoners out early on legislators; he should bear some himself. To do his own part in reducing the state's prison population would also be to act with the boldness he has shown on other issues. Gov. Rauner could proudly claim he is no Rod Blagojevich, who, in his six years as Governor of Illinois largely shirked his constitutional duty to act on clemency petitions.

Commuting sentences and issuing pardons has, in our modern era, become something Governors and Presidents often do only on the way out the door as they leave office, as if they are skulking and ashamed. The mercy of clemency is something enshrined in our most precious founding document: our Constitution. The exercise of clemency should be robust, unashamed and regular.

Governor Rauner should boldly use the power to help achieve the worthy goal he has set: to solve the fiscal and moral problem of mass incarceration in Illinois.

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Top 5 New Laws for Illinois Businesses in 2016

Tue, 2016-01-12 11:55
In recent years, Illinois has come under fire for a legal and regulatory environment that critics say is hostile to business. But the state's top business group is lauding the arrival of a handful of new Illinois laws for 2016 it says will improve the state's business climate.

"These laws will help businesses rather than hurt them, meaning improvement in the business climate," said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch.

Here's a look at some of the laws the Chamber is welcoming in 2016.

Unemployment insurance

The new law allows the state to deny unemployment insurance to people who were fired under circumstances like lying on job applications, destroying company property, endangering the safety of co-workers and using drugs or alcohol and on the job. The law also ends a Social Security offset which could have lowered an unemployed person's benefit by 50 percent.

Clean Air Act Permits

This new law amends the Environmental Protection Act, requiring the Pollution Control Board to set up a state program for issuing Permits of Significant Deterioration. New plants and those looking to expand need to get these to start construction, and this will allow them to go through the state instead of the federal government.

Bio-similar medications

Pharmacists will now be allowed to substitute "bio-similar" drugs for which could mean lower costs.

You can see the other two important new laws for the state's businesses here.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 MORE new Illinois laws for 2016

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Republicans Start 2016 By Attacking Women's Health, Again

Tue, 2016-01-12 11:39
It's a new year with a new Speaker, but the same old story - the decades long saga of Republican attacks on women's health care and their health care providers. The GOP continues to target not only Constitutionally-protected abortions and Planned Parenthood, but, incredibly, birth control which 99 per cent of American women depend on during their reproductive years. In their budget Republicans completely eliminated Title X funding for family planning.

This effort is part of a confounding political strategy. One can only presume, despite unequivocal polling to the contrary, that Republicans believe relentlessly attacking womens' abilities to make their own health care decisions is popular and will help them win elections. I believe it is at their peril that they pursue this anti-women agenda.

Last fall, in the wake of the release of doctored videos produced, likely illegally, by an anti-abortion group, the Republicans demanded the creation of a Select Panel to investigate Planned Parenthood. We know this new investigation will lead us nowhere, because the three House Committees and eight states that have investigated Planned Parenthood have already found no wrongdoing. In addition, the Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee (one of the committees that investigated Planned Parenthood), Jason Chaffetz, said, "I'm not suggesting that they broke the law."

What we do know is that millions of Americans could lose their health care if the Republicans were successful in their crusade against Planned Parenthood. Every year, Planned Parenthood serves three million Americans -- men and women -- and one in five women will receive care at a Planned Parenthood clinic in her lifetime. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 900,000 cervical cancer screenings and breast exams each year. What's more, Planned Parenthood's family planning services prevents thousands upon thousands of abortions.

Despite the creation of the Select Panel, last week, the Republicans chose, before even one meeting was held, to vote overwhelmingly to defund Planned Parenthood. As part of the reconciliation bill, they rendered a guilty verdict without any evidence.

President Obama has already vetoed this bill, which also repealed Obamacare for the 62nd time -- another blow to women's health care -- and his veto will be sustained. But we must remain vigilant because we know the Republicans will come back again and again to attack Planned Parenthood, threatening women's access to health care and using inflammatory rhetoric that spurs violence against clinics and providers.

Facts matter. The truth matters, and despite my objection to the creation of the Select Panel, as its Ranking Member, I will do all I can to ensure that as long at it continues, it will be as fair, transparent and objective as possible.

Republicans have made it clear from the first week of 2016 what their priorities are and whose side they are on. Women across the country are watching, they don't like what they see, and they won't forget.

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