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Why I Choose to Be the Annoying Friend

Tue, 2015-02-24 12:07
I am an annoying friend. I am the person that gets unfollowed on Facebook and that people avoid mentioning certain topics around. I am the friend constantly sharing petition and calls to action, political articles and news stories. At parties, I am the one that shouts at friends to go vote, and lectures siblings when they don't update their voter registration address. I talk incessantly about the importance of staying informed and being involved, even when those I am talking to are lamenting their frustration at those very things. I spend Saturday mornings debating with my partner whether voting matters, how any elected leader can be worthy of our support, whether the Chicago/Illinois/American populace really is too apathetic or unintelligent to deserve anything better than the leadership and policies we have.

Some couples spend Saturday morning doing the crossword.

In my better moments, at my most positive, I am encouraging and hopefu l -- deeming fellow advocates "Superheroes" and assuring people that the grassroots organizing work on voter registration, getting out the vote, and policy issues such as overturning Citizens United are all signs that true democratic participation is still possible, and that perhaps even progress might be made. In my more defeated moments, I want to quit. I want to turn away and admit to my more cynical friends that they are right. That no matter what we do it won't matter, our system is broken beyond repair and we should all just have as much fun as possible before the world goes up in flames. I want to stop participating.

Then, inevitably, my partner will ask me how much it really matters whether he or anyone else shows up to the polls for the Chicago mayoral and aldermanic elections. Or three separate friends approach me for advice on where to find information on the candidates or how to get another non-voting friend to the polls, and I am participating still.

I wasn't born this way. In high school and college, and even a bit after, I acted under the assumption many people do -- that politics is corrupt, the system is broken, our voices and votes don't matter. The first Presidential election I was eligible to vote in was 2004. A year and a half prior, two of my new friends from my college dorm floor had been shipped out to Iraq, and my motivation for voting in 2004 was a direct result of the night my other friends and I hugged them goodbye and went sobbing back to our rooms. I wanted my friends, back, I wanted no one else to have to go to fight a war many of us did not understand or support. On election night 2004, I watched the votes roll in, and over the course of the evening my roommates' and my hearts sank deeper and deeper. It was not a promising start to my voting life.

After that, I don't remember paying much attention. I still voted, and I did get swept up in the excitement of the 2008 election. I celebrated with countless others in Chicago, watching Barack Obama give his victory speech from my precarious perch atop a garbage can in Grant Park. It felt exciting and historic and far more inspiring than the previous Presidential election... and then it was back to business as usual.

It wasn't until 2010 that I became what I am now. In 2010, I went to Washington, D.C. for the first time. I had that year, as part of my work as a nonprofit consultant, begun designing and conducting advocacy trainings and coordinating lobby day activities as part of HealthConnect One's annual conference for community-based doula and breastfeeding peer counselor sites. I spent the weeks leading up to March 11, 2010 assisting registrants, setting up meetings with elected officials' staff, and creating materials for legislative packets. Much attention was paid to our "ask" -- the passage of and inclusion in health reform.

Then, after weeks of work I found myself following my colleagues through the halls of the Hart Senate Office Building, being greeted by a staffer who looked to be about my age in Senator Durbin's office. Behind the front desk were shelves displaying football helmets from many of the major Illinois college teams, and I smiled at the familiar black helmet bearing the Northern Illinois University Huskies logo. We were ushered into a small meeting room in which I watched my colleagues speak about the importance and impact of community-based doulas and their role in health care. I listened as my boss related their work to the larger health system and noted our support for the passage of health reform. I saw Senator Durbin's staff respond with interest and encouragement, and provide practical recommendations for action to further support for the program. Once the business part of the conversation was out the way, I watched these remarkable women, my colleagues and a member of a Senator's staff, compliment each other's style, check in about families, and swap vacation stories. Like real people. Then, I saw the same thing again and again, in office after office, and I left Washington, D.C. an excited, energized, advocate.

Health Reform, a the time dubbed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was signed on March 23, 2010. I'm not saying it was just because of us, but we helped. Community-based doulas and mothers and families and one awestruck cynic told their stories and raised their voices, and were heard.

I have been back to D.C. several times and to a couple of state capitals for similar work. Not every visit leads to a landmark victory, not every visit leads to any sort of victory at all, but some do. Even in those that don't, I have seen people who started out like I did leave the way I left. People who had never even sent a form email leave with plans for their Representative to visit their site, and more meetings with other staff scheduled. They walk in nervous and unsure, and walk out empowered and determined.

Of course, when you are conducting legislative visits as part of a group of 40 people, it is easier to pick up energy and have a positive experience. It's very different in a long line at an overcrowded polling place in the dead of a Chicago winter. Add to that navigating Chicago traffic and trying to work an extra trip into an already busy day, and I understand why someone would balk at the extra effort to cast a ballot for a race that could seem to to have only one plausible outcome anyway.

I know that much of our current political system is broken; that there are so many problems facing us as a city, a state, a nation, that it can be so overwhelming the option appears to be to turn away, in the interest of self-preservation. I know that at times, the more invested and involved someone becomes, the more infuriating it becomes when when other are not, the more heartbreaking the disappointments are.

I agree with everyone who says all of that to me when I get on my voting soapbox. I understand why friends ask me how I can believe there is hope for such a soul-crushing system, how I can honestly believe any of our voices matter.

My answer is: because I've seen them matter. I have seen what happens when people come together and support each other in demanding more from their leaders. I see people everyday working to make our city, state, country better. Dedicated people, working diligently to get money out of politics, voter rights restored and protected, working every day to make the lives of people they have never met, better. I see people every day who, no matter how many defeats they experience, get up and keep moving. I believe I owe them my vote. I owe them my participation.

And so do you.

It's election day in Chicago. Find your polling place here.

David Axelrod: Working On Bill Clinton's Campaign Would've 'Destroyed My Family'

Tue, 2015-02-24 10:56
Despite being offered the opportunity of his dreams, President Barack Obama’s former top adviser David Axelrod says he turned down working on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign because he “knew it would destroy [his] family.”

While discussing his new memoir Believer: My Forty Years in Politics on HuffPost Live, Axelrod said he feels a “sense of guilt for devoting so much time to politics" and not always being there for his wife and children. He said turning down Clinton in the early 1990s wasn't easy, but he knew taking the job would have a negative impact on his family.

“I knew it would destroy my family. I would have to leave Chicago and have to leave my wife for an extended period of time,” Axelrod said.

The former Chicago Tribune political writer said the suicide of his father ended his career in journalism, and his daughter Lauren’s battle with epilepsy was “formative” in his life. He recalled a time that his wife found their daughter “blue and limp in the crib" and they "thought she had died.”

Axelrod told HuffPost Live the start of his career “was a painful learning process” for him and his family, and that his relationship with his wife, Susan Landau, was “very fragile at that time.” He credited his wife for her “willingness to give [him] a chance” to learn how to balance work and family life.

Watch Axelrod's comments above, and click herefor his full HuffPost Live conversation.

Suspect Says Sex Assault Was '50 Shades Of Grey' Reenactment

Tue, 2015-02-24 10:56
A 19-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student allegedly said he was reenacting scenes from "50 Shades of Grey" with a consenting fellow student, but prosecutors say he is guilty of sex assault.

Freshman Mohammad Hossain, 19, allegedly took a 19-year-old female student to his dorm room on Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune.

From the Tribune:

Once inside his dorm, in the 900 block of West Harrison Street, Hossain allegedly asked the woman to remove her clothing and she did, keeping on her bra and underwear, Karr said. He then bound her hands above her head and to a bed with a belt, used another belt to bind her legs and stuffed a necktie into her mouth, Karr said.

Hossain used a knit cap to cover the woman's eyes, Karr said, and removed the woman's bra and underwear. He then began striking the woman with a belt.

Prosecutors said the woman started crying and pleaded for Hossain to stop, DNA Info reports.

The woman broke free from the restraints, prosecutors said, but Hossain allegedly held her arms down and sexually assaulted her.

She later reported the incident to police.

When he was arrested on Saturday, Hossain allegedly told cops he was acting out scenes from '50 Shades.'

Students on campus told WGN they were perplexed by the story.

"It’s crazy that he would allow a movie to make him do something like that or even make him think that it’s okay to do something like that to another person,” UIC student Monet Felton told the station.

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Chicago Heads To The Polls As Rahm Emanuel Seeks Second Term

Tue, 2015-02-24 09:47
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hoped to avoid being forced into a runoff as voters headed to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to give the former White House chief of staff a second term.

Emanuel was poised to get the most votes after having raised millions of dollars, plastering the airwaves with ads and winning an endorsement from his former boss, President Barack Obama. However, his four challengers say Emanuel's tenacious style and handling of some major city issues have left voters wanting a change.

He needs more than 50 percent to win re-election outright in the nonpartisan race. Otherwise, he'll have to go head-to-head with the runner up, which could be embarrassing for the incumbent, who enjoys not only a huge financial advantage but the backing of business leaders and the endorsement of the city's major newspapers.

The key will be turnout, which could rival numbers four years ago when Mayor Richard Daley retired after more than two decades and the race was wide open. Already, early voting numbers - pushed by all the candidates - have bested 2011 levels, with a more than 20 percent increase despite a blast of cold weather.

Turnout was light early Tuesday, as wind chills dipped below zero, said Chicago Board of Elections spokesman James Allen. Temperatures are forecast to rise as the day progresses.

Several voters casting ballots in Englewood on the South Side said they were supporting Emanuel because he is positive on issues such as jobs, education and safer neighborhoods.

"He's bringing big corporations here to give the guys getting out of prison hope," said Willie King, a 56-year-old retired janitor. "Rahm has all (those) contacts and he is getting those corporations here, so he is giving people hope they can get a good job."

Emanuel has campaigned on the idea that his tested leadership is what the city needs.

"You gave me a chance to make the tough decisions this city needed, and we've improved our schools, our infrastructure, and our public safety," he told supporters in an email Monday. "But there's more work to be done, and I'll need your help to make sure we can continue the progress we've made."

The Democrat is facing Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, Alderman Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and perennial candidate William Walls.

They've put Emanuel on the defensive over his handling of a contract dispute that led to Chicago's first teachers' strike in 25 years, the closing of nearly 50 neighborhood schools and a spike in violent crime. They have also criticized his sometimes-combative style.

"In Chicago neighborhoods, people are largely turned off," Garcia said. "They have found him to be distant and uncaring, not really engaging in neighborhoods."

Several South Side voters disagreed, saying they felt Emanuel was compelled to close underperforming schools and those where enrollment had declined.

"If they ain't performing, what are you going to do? Keep them going?" said Ernest Hudson, a 49-year-old unemployed maintenance worker. "You can take that money and spend it somewhere else where it can do some good."

Emanuel has argued that he made decisions that helped the city and challenged the status quo. He's countered claims by taking a neighborhood-focused approach to the campaign trail, including talking up his push to increase the city's minimum wage, from $8.25 to $13 by 2019.

Also, Tuesday, Chicago voters will decide several hotly contested aldermanic races. Election officials hope turnout will match 2011 levels. Roughly 42 percent of eligible Chicago voters cast ballots that year, up from 33 percent in 2007.


Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.


Follow Sophia Tareen at

IL Governor Rauner Gets $750,000 Tax Break, Proposes Slashing Services to Middle Class and Poor

Tue, 2015-02-24 07:07
Illinois' new GOP Governor, Bruce Rauner, will personally receive a $750,000 per year tax cut as a result of his decision not to continue the state's temporary 1.25% income tax surcharge that expired last year.

His taxes were cut by an amount equal to the annual income of 14 families of four making the median income. And remember that after adjusting for inflation, that median income number has not materially increased in about 35 years, since virtually all of the income growth resulting from the massive increase in worker productivity over that period has been siphoned off by speculators like Rauner.

Rauner, who made $61 million in 2013 - or $29,000 per hour - is one of a small group of multi-millionaire speculators who would directly benefit enormously from lower state tax rates. Among them is his friend Ken Griffin, reputedly the wealthiest man in Illinois, who contributed $2.5 million to Rauner's campaign for Governor - and has also pitched in $10 million to a $20 million campaign war chest that Rauner plans to use to run opponents to members of the Legislature that oppose his policies.

Griffin and his soon-to-be former wife, Anne Dias Griffin, are involved in a high profile multi-million dollar divorce battle. He and Dias are fighting over the control of tens of millions of dollars.

One filing by Dias, quoted by CNBC, gives you a flavor:

Dias said she and their children have come to "enjoy a lifestyle reserved only for the very wealthy," including houses in Chicago, Aspen, Hawaii, Miami Beach and New York. They also have "unrestricted access" to two private jets "to travel to the aforementioned homes" as well as other destinations.

She said the family has a "large group of staff members assisting the family, including extensive household, security and family office employees," and their own company that employs staffers, called "Griffin Family Services."

Dias is asking a million dollars a month -- $12 million a year -- in child support. That's right, $12 million per year in child support - you can't make this stuff up.

Just by way of comparison, remember that a highway worker for the state of Illinois who makes an average income of $49,000 a year laying hot asphalt and filling pot holes, would take about 244 years to make $12 million. But Griffin's pal, Rauner, says he wants to cut the pay for such workers - claiming they make too much and should be paid something closer to the $39,000 a year he says they make in surrounding states.

None of this seems to bother Rauner one bit, since at the same time he and his friends get that big tax cut, Rauner's new state budget promises draconian cuts in services that benefit the middle class and the poor.

Rauner proposed six billion dollars in cuts for state spending on universities, health care, local governments and pensions for state employees.

Here are some high points:

  • Limiting eligibility for Department of Aging Community Care Programs.

  • Cutting health care benefits for homecare workers.

  • Slashing funding for the Department of Children and Family Services.

  • Eliminating all Department of Children and Family services for youths 18-21.

  • Cutting adult dental and podiatry services as well as kidney transplants for undocumented children.

  • Eliminating exemptions for drugs for severe mental illness from a state 4-prescription limit.

  • Reducing payments to facilities for children on ventilators, supportive living facilities and children with severe mental illness.

  • Cutting Medicaid spending by1.5 billion - including735 million in cuts to hospitals serving Medicaid patients.

  • Eliminating assistance to families with Hemophilia.

  • Freezing intakes on childcare for children over 6.

  • Increasing childcare copays for working parents.

  • $27.5 million in reductions to community substance abuse programs.

  • $82 million reduction to community mental health programs.

Eliminating State funding for specific organizations providing:
- Services for people with disabilities
- Services to children with autism
- Services to homeless young people
- Services to run away teenagers
- Immigrant integration services
- Advanced placement classes
- After school programs
- Agricultural education
- Arts and foreign language programs
- Parent mentoring
- Safe Schools initiatives

  • Cuts to breast and cervical cancer programs.

  • And a 31.5% cut to higher education.

His plan would also move state employees - most of whom make middle class salaries or less - into pension plans with lower benefits.

Rauner claims that his proposal is a "turnaround budget." "Like a family, we must come together to address the reality we face. Families know that every member can't get everything they want," he said. Unless, of course, you are Bruce Rauner or one of his mega-wealthy friends.

Seems that the state can't afford more childcare for working parents, but it can afford huge tax cuts for the very rich. After all, Ken Griffin needs to make that million dollar a month "child care" payment.

The fact is, of course, that Illinois - like most other states - are not in the midst of dramatic declines in economic performance that would require this kind of "belt tightening." In fact, Illinois, like most of America, is wealthier today per person, than at any other time in its history.

The problem is that the wealthy have rigged the economic rules of the game to allow people like Bruce Rauner and the millionaires who got him elected to siphon off most of the wealth for themselves and leave middle income incomes flat.

One of those rigged rules is found in the Illinois State Constitution. It would make sense to get much of the money needed to finance public services from those who have benefited most from the state's economy - rather than those whose incomes have been flat. You'd do that with higher income tax rates on millionaires and billionaires than the one charged for ordinary working people.

But when the state constitution was rewritten in the 1970's, the wealthy organized to insert a provision preventing State Government from having progressive income tax rates. They wanted to keep their own share of taxes low, and to shrink state revenue in general by requiring that if tax rates go up for them, they have to go up for ordinary people as well.

That problem needs to be fixed with a Constitutional amendment that allows a progressive income tax - which of course Rauner adamantly opposes. But in the meantime it would still be possible to raise desperately-needed revenue in ways that mainly target the wealthy taxpayers by providing substantial personal exemptions in any new tax aimed at replacing the state's temporary income tax surcharge that expired last year.

Rauner, of course, opposes any new state taxes and if you want to know why, just ask the mega-wealthy donors who financed his $63.9 million campaign to occupy the Governor's mansion.

Through his new state budget, Rauner intends to continue his life's work excavating the pockets of the poor and middle class in order to benefit himself and his wealthy associates. That's why Rauner serves as the personal embodiment - the poster boy -- for Wall Street's War on the Middle Class.

Bruce Rauner may think that he is auditioning for a spot on the 2016 GOP ticket or a cabinet post in a Bush, Walker or Christie administration.

In fact he could easily become the national symbol of the trickle down economic theory that has failed to produce benefits for everyday Americans and is at the core of the economic philosophy of every one of the 2016 Republican Presidential aspirants and their billionaire backers.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

Women's Rights at 87th Oscars: Why #AskHerMore Should Focus on Asking Actresses to Run for Office!

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:33
The #AskHerMore twitter campaign highlighted at last night's 87th Academy Awards by Reese Witherspoon and others, points out the disparity in the types of questions asked of the 44 women nominees compared with those asked of their male counterparts. Ask her more than who she's wearing, in particular, what causes she supports. "We're more than just our dresses," Witherspoon says.

Asking is great. Doing is even better. So, let's take this #AskHerMore one step further. Ask her if she'll run for office to make these causes happen and to make equal rights happen for women. We need more women in the House and Senate. Ask her to get out of the house and into the House -- and Senate.

Boyhood Best Actress winner, Chicago-born Patricia Arquette in closing out her thank yous at the Oscars, pushed for pay equality for women now with Meryl Streep standing up to second the motion from the floor. See these actresses already have Robert's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure down pat. Why wouldn't they?

Meryl Streep took acting classes at Vassar with Jean Arthur, as did I, though not at the same time. She was a senior when I was a freshman. What a tribute to the late Jean Arthur who starred with Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, if Ms. Streep goes to Washington, elected to the House or Senate. It was a popular movie on campus during our Vassar years, don't need a remake of the film, a first response, no doubt from Ms. Streep. Instead, we need her to run in real life. She can get her fourth Oscar later after she leaves office. She needs to literally live the role first.

Ask her more. If I were to interview Reese Witherspoon, my first question would be why haven't you run for office with your Stanford education? Julianne Moore of Boston University, what's your excuse? Catholic University of America's Susan Sarandon, how about it? Sarah Lawrence alumnae Joanne Woodward and Yoko Ono who share their alma mater with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Barbara Walters, what's stopping you?

To the hesitant, don't be. I remember interviewing Mayor Emanuel in the West Wing as he was exiting the Clinton White House in 1998. In response to my question, he said he had no interest in running for office himself. Then he changed his mind. Look where he is now.

Jessica Lange, Faye Dunaway, why not run? Annette Bening danced with the president. Okay, it was a movie president, Michael Douglas in The American President (1995). But with Warren Beatty as her campaign manager, how could Senator Bening lose?

These actresses have name recognition, poise, speaking ability, a base already, okay it's a fan base but could easily become a political base, have studied at some of the globe's top schools.

Television and radio call-in shows already clamor to give actresses free air time to express their views, cutting down greatly on the amount of money they will need to raise and spend for political commercials to get their messages out.

In fact, actresses might not have to spend any money at all for paid commercials. Just be articulate and well-informed on the talk shows. There will be no lack of invitations to appear and discuss your political views.

And the best thing about these actresses, is they are not lawyers. Too many lawyers are representing us in Washington. Our country desperately needs a diversity of occupations in the House and Senate. Those bodies are just too lawyered up.

Clearly, Warren Beatty, when he finishes managing Annette's campaign, should run, as should The West Wing's Martin Sheen and Bradley Whitford, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, who has already held office, should run again and may be willing to share some pointers with the other actors and actresses running even though they may be on opposite sides of the aisle.

When will Illinois' own Oprah Winfrey, talk queen/actress, fill the shoes of former Senator Carol Moseley Braun, the only African-American woman to be in that mostly all-boys club? Or kick off those shoes and fill her own? The Land of Lincoln is awaiting.

I mean it's not as if we've never had an actor in the White House. President Ronald Reagan was quite popular even with those who didn't agree with most of his policies. And he did get the Berlin Wall torn down.

So when you ask her more, don't stop with what causes she supports or whether she prefers to be referred to as an actor or actress. Act as if President John F. Kennedy is still around. Ask her not what her country can do for her, but what she can do for her country!

Lonna Saunders may be reached at

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Aims To Avoid Runoff In Push For Second Term

Mon, 2015-02-23 17:16
CHICAGO (AP) -- In a city where the voters like tough-talking politicians, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pugnacious style is being put to the test Tuesday as he tries to win a second term without having to go through a runoff.

After raising more than $15 million, or roughly quadruple the combined total of his four rivals, the former White House chief of staff is the clear favorite.

But the 55-year-old Emanuel has been campaigning like a first-timer, hoping to get the more than 50 percent necessary to win re-election outright. Otherwise, he will have to face the runner-up in April.

Since taking over for longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley four years ago, Emanuel has won praise for bringing about a longer school day, luring companies to the city and taking steps to address the worst-funded pension system of any major U.S. city.

But his challengers have put him on the defensive over his handling of a contract dispute that led to Chicago's first teachers' strike in 25 years, over the closing of nearly 50 neighborhood schools, and over a spike in violent crime. They have also criticized his sometimes-combative style.

But in almost half a dozen debates and a barrage of campaign ads, including an endorsement from his former boss, President Barack Obama, Emanuel at times seems to revel in his tough-guy reputation, cracks jokes about it and insists his just-get-it-done approach is what Chicago needs after decades of "failed politics" that have "shortchanged this great city."

A Chicago Tribune poll released last week showed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia running second. He has accused the mayor of catering to downtown businesses and neglecting neighborhoods, where the school closings and the violence resonate most.

The field also includes an outspoken alderman, Bob Fioretti, wealthy businessman Willie Wilson and perennial officer-seeker William Walls. Some prominent potential candidates opted out, including Karen Lewis, a charismatic teachers union leader who clashed often with the mayor. She took herself out of the running after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Although Chicago's major newspapers endorsed Emanuel, they all noted his gruff management style, which has turned off swaths of neighborhood residents.

He pushed for the school closings despite protests and many anguished hearings, and angered activists further when he took a Utah ski vacation during the announcement.

He has been accused of bulldozing ahead on other issues. Last year, he announced the naming of a North Side school after Obama, irking aldermen and community members who insisted Emanuel should have considered the president's ties to the South Side, where he got his political start and owns a home.

The neighborhood issues - especially the school closings - have led to particular discontent among minority voters. The vast majority of Chicago's public school students are black and Latino. Emanuel says the schools were underused; opponents say the closings haven't saved the promised money and have created more safety concerns.

"He's a bully," said Jacob Karni, a parent casting an early ballot last week for Garcia.

But that same approach to the job has won the mayor praise. Jackson Adams voted early for Emanuel, singling out his attention to transportation projects such as new bike lanes.

"He's not afraid to ruffle feathers," said Adams, who works for a health care software company.

Emanuel has tried to counteract that perception with neighborhood-focused campaigning, participating in five debates compared with just one in 2011. His commercials portray a softer side, with footage of him spending one-on-one time with an environmental activist and helping a minimum-wage-earning mom. In December, he successfully pushed to raise Chicago's hourly rate to $13 by 2019 from $8.25.

Emanuel's administration has also scrambled to reduce violence, running up roughly $100 million in overtime each of the last two years to flood high-crime areas with officers. Yet even as Chicago has seen an overall drop in crime, some of the most dangerous neighborhoods saw homicides climb in 2014.

"People feel that they've been left behind and that the neighborhoods are left behind," Garcia said.

The key for Emanuel could be turnout. To help Emanuel, especially with black voters, Obama paid a visit last week to the South Side, where he praised the mayor as passionate and dogged after calling him a "hard-headed" fighter in an earlier radio spot.

Emanuel has embraced the persona. At one forum, when his lapel microphone needed adjustment, he quipped that he had never had trouble being heard before. The crowd, including critics, laughed.


Follow Sophia Tareen at


Associated Press writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.

Aaron Schock, Lawmaker With Lavish Office Decor, Used Taxpayer Funds For Private Planes, Concerts

Mon, 2015-02-23 16:00

WASHINGTON (AP) — Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, a rising Republican star already facing an ethics inquiry, has spent taxpayer and campaign funds on flights aboard private planes owned by some of his key donors, The Associated Press has found. There also have been other expensive travel and entertainment charges, including for a massage company and music concerts.

The expenses highlight the relationships that lawmakers sometimes have with donors who fund their political ambitions, an unwelcome message for a congressman billed as a fresh face of the GOP. The AP identified at least one dozen flights worth more than $40,000 on donors' planes since mid-2011.

The AP tracked Schock's reliance on the aircraft partly through the congressman's penchant for uploading pictures and videos of himself to his Instagram account. The AP extracted location data associated with each image then correlated it with flight records showing airport stopovers and expenses later billed for air travel against Schock's office and campaign records.

Asked for comment, Schock responded in an email on Monday that he travels frequently throughout his Peoria-area district "to stay connected with my constituents" and also travels to raise money for his campaign committee and congressional colleagues.

He said he takes compliance with congressional funding rules seriously and has begun a review of his office's procedures "concerning this issue and others to determine whether they can be improved."

Donors who owned planes on which travel was paid for by Schock's House and political accounts did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment Monday.

Schock's high-flying lifestyle, combined with questions about expenses decorating his office after the TV show "Downton Abbey," add to awkward perceptions on top of allegations he illegally solicited donations in 2012.

The Office of Congressional Ethics said in a 2013 report that there was reason to believe Schock violated House rules by soliciting campaign contributions for a committee that backed Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., in a 2012 primary. The House Ethics Committee has said that query remains open.

"Haters are gonna hate," Schock, 33, told ABC News after the "Downton Abbey" story broke in The Washington Post, brushing off the controversy by invoking a line from one of pop singer Taylor Swift's songs.

Lawmakers can use office funds for private flights as long as payments cover their share of the costs. But most of the flights Schock covered with office funds occurred before the House changed its rules in January 2013. The earlier rules prohibited lawmakers from using those accounts to pay for flights on private aircraft, allowing payments only for federally licensed charter and commercial flights.

Schock's House account paid more than $24,000 directly to a Peoria aviation firm for eight flights provided by one of Schock's donor's planes in 2011 and 2012. While the aircraft flies as part of an Illinois charter service, the owner of the service told the AP on Monday that any payments made directly to the donor's aviation company would not have been for charter flights.

Beyond air travel, Schock spent thousands more on tickets for concerts, car mileage reimbursements — among the highest in Congress — and took his interns to a sold-out Katy Perry concert in Washington last June.

The donor planes include an Italian-made Piaggio twin-engine turboprop owned by Todd Green of Springfield, Illinois, who runs car dealerships in Schock's district with his brother, Jeff. Todd Green told a Springfield newspaper that Jeff — a pilot and campaign contributor — and Schock have been friends for a long time.

The AP found that Green's plane traveled to at least eight cities last October in the Midwest and East Coast, cities where Schock met with political candidates ahead of the midterm elections. His Instagram account's location data and information from the service FlightAware even pinpointed Schock's location on a stretch of road near one airport before Green's plane departed.

Campaign records show a $12,560 expense later that month to Jeff Green from a political action committee associated with Schock, called the "GOP Generation Y Fund." That same month, the PAC paid $1,440 to massage parlor for a fundraising event.

In November 2013, Schock cast votes in the Capitol just after Green's plane landed at nearby Reagan National Airport. Shortly after Green's return to Peoria, Schock posted a photo from his "Schocktoberfest" fundraising event at a brewery in his district. Schock billed his office account $11,433 for commercial transportation during that same, four-day period to a Peoria flight company, Byerly Aviation.

The AP's review covered Schock's travel and entertainment expenses in his taxpayer-funded House account, in his campaign committee and the GOP Generation Y Fund. Records show more than $1.5 million in contributions to the Generation Y Fund since he took office in 2009.

Schock used House office expenses to pay more than $24,000 for eight flights between May 2011 and December 2012 on a six-passenger Cessna Golden Eagle owned by D&B Jet Inc., run by Peoria agribusiness consultant and major Schock donor Darren Frye. While D&B is a private corporate aviation firm, it also flies with Jet Air Inc., an Illinois-based aviation firm licensed by the FAA for charter service.

Records show Schock used House funds to directly pay D&B instead of Jet Air for the eight flights. Under the old rules that previously allowed House funds to pay only for charter or commercial aircraft, Schock's office would likely not have been authorized to pay for private flights unless the House Ethics Committee approved it.

Harrel W. Timmons, Jet Air's owner, said in a telephone interview that any charter flights D&B flies through his firm are paid directly to Jet Air. "They've got their own corporate jet and pilot," he said.

House records also show that, since 2013, Schock has flown four times on a Cessna owned by Peoria auto dealer Michael J. Miller and businessman Matthew Vonachen, who heads a janitorial firm, Vonachen Services Inc. Schock's House office account paid nearly $6,000 total for the four flights, according to federal data published online by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

Under current House rules, the payments for the private flights would be authorized if they paid for Schock's portion of each flight. It is not clear from records how many other passengers flew on the same flights.

Vonachen and his family donated at least $27,000 to Schock's campaigns, while Miller contributed $10,000 to the Automotive Free International Trade PAC. Schock has supported recent free trade agreements with South Korea and with several other countries, which the Automotive PAC — a Schock contributor — lauded.

Schock's reliance on donor-owned planes and on his government allowance to pay for the flights mirrors the use by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., of a private jet owned by a wealthy eye doctor and major donor. Prompted by an ethics investigation, Menendez reimbursed donor Salomon Melgen $58,500 for two flights.

GOP Generation Y paid more than $24,000 for tickets and festivals, including $13,000 to country music events, $4,700 in expenses to Chicago ticket broker, and $3,000 for a "fundraising event" to an organization that runs the Global Citizen Festival in New York.

"You can't say no when your boss invites you. Danced my butt off," one former intern posted on his Instagram account with a picture of Perry at her June 2014 show. PAC records show a $1,928 expense for the ticket service two months later, listing it only as a "PAC fundraising event."

Records show Schock also requested more than $18,000 in mileage reimbursements since 2013, among the highest in Congress. His office has previously said it was reviewing those expenses.


Associated Press writers Kerry Lester in Peoria, Illinois, and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.


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How My Black Mother Made Me Love Chicago

Mon, 2015-02-23 15:00
I stood with Mama safely under an awning as shards of ice slipped from tree branches and shattered onto the sidewalk. We'd been there for ten minutes at my insistence, waiting for the ice to stop threatening our vulnerable heads, but my petite 70-year-old Mama kept tugging on my 27-year-old arm.

"Come on now, we've got to catch that bus and buy those groceries," Mama said.

"No, we're not moving 'til it's safe. How do you deal with this for six months straight?!"

It was December in Chicago and Mama wasn't fazed; she'd lived there for years and I was just visiting. I'd established myself in New York and felt that Chicago deserved its nickname "Second City."

I didn't have anything against Chicago, it just "didn't do it for me," as I'd frequently say. I felt that whatever Chicago had, New York had the same, but more and better: Lincoln Park versus Central Park, the Sears Tower versus the Empire State Building, Lake Michigan versus the Atlantic Ocean. The kicker was that winters in Chicago were totally homicidal -- the term "Chiberia" seemed far more apt than "Lake Effect."

Photo by Sarah Enelow.

Chicago meant the world to Mama. She'd lived there in the '60s as a single twenty-something, teaching French to kids and sharing an apartment in Old Town, throwing inexpensive dinner parties for her bohemian friends. She eventually met and married my father, gave birth to my older brother and me, and then my father's teaching career brought our family to Texas. That's where I grew up, at the end of a dirt road, on a deserted rocky hill in the middle of nowhere. Mama didn't move back to Chicago until she and my father divorced, and it was during those post-divorce years that I cowered under an awning with her, waiting for the ice to stop falling.

Our home in Texas was a very traditional one. My father made the money while Mama stayed at home. My father made the big decisions while Mama made the small ones. My father's opinion was highly respected while Mama's was usually just a suggestion. I was 21 years old and visiting my parents in Texas when the divorce got underway, and soon I found myself behind the wheel, driving Mama and me into town. I breathed in deeply and broke our weighty silence.

"This must be so hard for you, but I want you to know something: You can leave Texas right now. I can turn around, pack you a bag, and take you straight to the airport."

She didn't say anything, but stared out the window with brown eyes that were tired and hard like copper. Her short curly hair was glistening black, still wet from showering, just like my longer curls piled on top of my head. Her skin was, as always, a beautiful rich brown, while my pale face was getting sunburned through the windshield.

"I love you," I offered, feeling fairly useless.

"I love you too, honey." She might have been old-fashioned, but she was tough and never broke down. I didn't drive her to the airport that day, but it was only a few months before she moved back to the Jewel of the Midwest.

During her post-divorce years in Chicago, Mama opened up and told me things I'd never heard before in my life, and I finally learned that she'd hated living in the country. She was a true city girl and lover of Chicago, for historical reasons. Mama and her family were black, from the Yazoo City area of Mississippi, and they'd dealt with the racism of the pre-civil-rights Deep South. Mama was born down there in 1939, and then in 1941 during the second Great Migration, her family moved up to Detroit. That's where her father found work on a Chrysler assembly line; one of her aunts ended up in Chicago, then later Mama herself. During these migrations, millions of black people uprooted and moved away from old plantations and dusty small towns and violence, going north in search of peace, jobs and the support of a big city.

Living in the country required a sort of libertarian self-sufficiency, which my Jewish father happened to enjoy, but for many people of color who weren't so lucky, cities had crucial public resources: transportation, schools, libraries, health clinics, apartments instead of houses, comforting community instead of rural isolation.

I finally understood how difficult it was for Mama to go from glittering Chicago down to middle-of-nowhere Texas, like part of her had been sold down the river. And suddenly, Chicago in my mind became a beacon of happiness. Who cared whether the Magnificent Mile was "better" or "worse" than Fifth Avenue? Chicago was a ticket out of the south and freedom from the confines of marriage.

And then, I started having a love affair with the Windy City. I'd visited a dozen times already, but I started really paying attention: identifying skyscrapers from the top of the Hancock Center, hunting for good barbecue in Roscoe Village, watching the Pride Parade shimmy up Halstead, going to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs (who got destroyed by the Dodgers that afternoon). Mama showed me her old apartment building in Old Town, then the South Side where her aunt lived, and I found that Chicago and New York couldn't be compared side-by-side. It wasn't about "better" or "worse," but the fact that Chicago felt like home to me, even though I'd never lived there, because Mama had long been at home there.

So we'd been standing there under the awning for ten minutes, watching ice fall from the trees, and finally Mama'd had enough.

"Come on honey, we can't stay under here all day. We have a dinner to make! And you're finally going to learn how to bake a fish properly," she said, taking a confident step out into the snowy, twinkling, and actually rather beautiful urban tundra.

The Most Important (and New) Rule of Elevator Etiquette

Mon, 2015-02-23 14:27
I have never asked anyone to hold an elevator for me, nor do I think that anyone should ever make such a request.

It's rude.

I'm standing in the elevator, floor button depressed and alighted, doors sliding shut, ready to launch, when some savage who woke up ten seconds after me or spent ten extra seconds in the shower or wasted ten seconds listening to the end of a Lady Gaga song in their car wants me to stop the impending closure of these doors so that he or she can catch up to my day and probably press a floor button lower than my own, thus delaying me even further.

No, I say. It's not right. I arrived at this elevator on time. I am ahead for a reason. I arose earlier or walked faster or planned my route to this location more strategically. Whatever the reason, I am in the lead and should not be forced to cede my position because of a simple request.

Except it's rarely a request. Most often it's a demand. "Hold that elevator!" Sometimes followed by a please and more often not, but either way, it's no request. It's an order issued by a stranger to strangers who often feel compelled by societal obligation and basic decency to comply.

It's admittedly difficult to ignore these injurious demands. Stand idle and you risk the savage sliding his serpentine hand between the doors at the last moment and thus gaining access to your car. Then you're forced to occupy the same awkward, uncomfortable space with your oppressor for what can feel like a very long time, the whole time feeling unjustifiably guilty about your attempt to preserve your precious time at his expense.

So I'm not asking elevator riders to ignore these inappropriate demands. People are too nice for that. I'm asking for a cessation of these demands completely.

If you're asked to hold an elevator, do so if that is your prerogative, but make your collective feelings known once the savage has boarded the car. Sigh. Engage in orchestrated eye rolls. Employ the unified, disappointed shake of the head usually reserved for mothers who would rather laden their progeny with disappointment and guilt than simply ground them for a week.

Stop the insanity. There are other elevators. Wait for the next one, just like we waited for this one.
Or climb out of bed a little earlier. Spend a little less time in front of the mirror. Lay out your clothes the night before. Stop staring at the Internet and get moving.

Whatever it takes to arrive at this elevator before the doors begin to close.

Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and wait for the next one.

That, my friends, is proper elevator etiquette. Anything less is pure savagery.

The Agency Vince Built: Chicago Entrepeneur and Family's Five Decades in Travel Industry

Mon, 2015-02-23 14:18

The formula for a profitable, long-lasting business has yet to be conceived. It doesn't exist. Even the entrepreneur with the most chutzpah and proven track record will invariably reference numerous false starts, bad timing, and personal failures before finding success. Most of the world's would-be risk takers ultimately err on the side of job security and the comfort of having health benefits.

Vincent Conenna clearly knew the risks in 1968 when he left a stable executive position at Chicago's Mid-City National Bank and brazenly made the travel business a full-time endeavor.

"There were seven travel agencies down the avenue at one time," Conenna told us from the same desk he's commandeered at Venus Travel on 7418 West Belmont Ave. for nearly five decades. An Italian-born accountant who came to the U.S. at 20, Conenna, is quick with a colorful anecdote about keeping his business afloat amidst changes and cut-backs in the travel industry, as well as the emergence of the internet age which knocked many a brick-and-mortar company out of business.

A typical Venus Travel destination

In their heyday, travel agencies thrived, servicing the world of corporate travel. Sizable commissions from the airlines not only kept agencies, like Venus, in the black but very busy. There were no e-tickets, everything was done manually; offices buzzed with activity, phones rang off the hook and stacks of paper tickets and travel vouchers stood at eye-level.

Conenna's son John, now the President of Venus Travel recalls the hardworking father who tirelessly kept long hours.

"He was a 9-9 guy, working twelve months out of the year and I really didn't see him," said John Connena who recalls his father's ubiquitous presence among the local clientele. "If there was a wedding, a wake, or any celebration he was there."

Vincenzo Conenna was born in 1927 and raised in Mola di Bari, in the southeast province of Bari. During WWII he worked in a local branch of Italy's department of revenue where he learned a life-long vocation, accounting. After the war he emigrated to the U.S. on an Italian passenger ship called The Saturnia. His father had immigrated years earlier to the states and worked for the Brach Candy Company in Chicago. Nevertheless, he was there at the port of debarkation in New York to see the son he hadn't seen since he was a toddler and immediately brought him back to the Windy City where a job at the travel bureau awaited.

Italian immigrants on the ship Saturnia in New York Harbor (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt)

The boon of post-war travel kept the young immigrant busy. He improved his English language skills attending Wells High school at night and explored everything the city had to offer. It was an exciting time which, unfortunately, lasted only two years, when in 1950 the army drafted him.

"My basic training was in the worst camp in the United States - Fort Leonard Wood. They used to say, 'If you have a son in Korea write to him. If you have a son in Ft Leonard Wood, Missouri pray for him,'" laughed Conenna. "After my basic I was actually on the bus to go to Officer Candidate School and I heard 'Conenna, what are you doing on this bus?' You're not a citizen.' So they sent me military law school and I was attached to G-2, military intelligence."

However extreme, the army accelerated an immigrant's acculturation process and introduced Conenna to all-walks of American life.

"When I was in the army I started to love the country but it was hard. Every morning I used to receive reports from the sergeants of four companies...they would tease me and call me Mussolini. When my first officer a Colonel McPartland heard them he leaned out of a window and shouted, 'When Conenna talks I'm talking.'

Honorably discharged in 1953 Conenna traveled back to Bari and met the woman he'd marry and eventually start a family with in Chicago. Upon his return Mid-City National Bank offered Conenna a job where he remained from 1953 -1968, and worked his way up to VP of International Banking.

Travel work was always in the foreground since his nights were spent at an office where he would farm out for airline and steamship tickets, and translate Italian legal documents.

From the moment of inception Conenna was determined to make the agency known-- from the storefront's enormous sign to his 1980 Pontiac Sunbird hatchback which bore the Venus Travel logos on both side-doors.

"I could be at the stop light at Harlem and Belmont and people would shout at me, 'How much is a ticket to NY?' and I'd say 'hundred dollars.' Back then it took 15-20 days for the fare to change. Nowadays it changes every two minutes."

Vincent Conenna surrounded by John and Connie Conenna and grandchildren Vincent and Julianna

Like most travel agencies Venus initially serviced commercial operations with airline tickets, specifically various local manufacturers. It also handled all travel arrangements for Cabrini, Cuneo, Columbus hospitals.

"I would come in on a Tuesday to pay the airlines and you wouldn't believe the stacks of tickets," said Conenna's daughter-in-law Connie who started working at Venus in the mid-80s. Everything was done manually and we would always hand deliver the airline tickets."

Conenna's son John, a former high-school hockey star and current hockey coach (recently awarded Conant High School's Coach of the Year in 2009) spent his summers working at Venus before graduating from Loyola University. Since 1977 both father and son piloted the business through the lucrative 80's and into the new electronic era.

"We had to reinvent this place a couple of times," John Conenna told us. "Back in the 80s we were corporate focus and the airlines were paying us 10% commission to write a ticket it was booming... The change started when they started to book online and the airline put a cap on the commission. Now we have to charge a service fee. These days we do a lot of family oriented trips, tours, destination weddings."

At 87, Conenna might be slowing down but continues to make the daily trek from his home in Norridge to work beside his son and daughter-in-law. His grandchildren too have gotten a taste of the family business but have sought careers in different fields - Vincent is an account manager at ACCO BRANDS in Lake Zurich and head coach of the northwest chargers hockey. Julianna works at Wilson Dow advertising and is on the Chicago Blackhawks Ice Crew.

What remains a constant is the focus on the customers which Conenna Sr strongly feels his son carries on that tradition.

"I'm so proud of what he's learned and the business is in the right hands, 100%. There's no place in Chicago what John does for the clients 24hr service, 365 page service.....if a flight is cancelled at 1:00am, or the hotel room is painted brown instead of white he takes care of the clients....he follows them."

The 21 Best Fried Chicken Spots in America

Mon, 2015-02-23 13:41
By: Kevin Alexander and Liz Childers

Fried chicken just might be the world's most versatile food. It makes just as much sense at the dinner table or in your car or at breakfast with waffles, as it does at 3 a.m. out of the fridge or during the seventh-inning stretch of an intramural, co-ed softball game. Though there are many styles, we opted to stick to Southern fried chicken because it's the truest, oldest, American-est form. Our research took us from famed chicken shacks in Nashville to an 1800s log cabin in Kansas City and down to Miami. Yes, even Miami. Disagreements? Omissions? Compliments for our impeccable taste? Leave 'em in the comments. But for now, tuck your napkin into your shirt, break out the biscuits and sweet tea, and savor our picks for the best fried chicken across the US of A.

More: The 21 Best Sandwich Shops in America

Courtesy of the Barbecue Inn

Barbecue Inn

Houston, TX
Since 1946, the place that sounds like my favorite fever dream hotel ever has been serving up outstanding barbecue and fried foods to the citizens of Houston. My mom claims that -- when I was born -- they used to drive 45 minutes from our house over on Westleigh just to get the Chicken Fried Steak and that incredible, crispy Southern Fried Chicken, while I sat there sleeping and NOT EVEN ENJOYING THE INCREDIBLE FOODS PRESENTED TO ME. The best move is to order the alarmingly juicy All Dark. You've got to wait a half hour to get it, but when you do (alongside a stuffed baked potato with chopped beef) you'll understand why I'm still mad at my mom for refusing to give me some.

Courtesy of Brenda's Meat & Three

Brenda's Meat and Three

San Francisco, CA
For years, Brenda's French Soul Food had people standing in line for brunch way before it was trendy. And now that she's opened a more casual diner on Divis, people are going to have to get used to standing in line for dinner. Though you have no choice but to get Brenda's Fried Chicken -- just a little spicy and peppery and crispy, and it's perfect with the collards and that cauliflower gratin -- we're also pretty damn partial to the spicy chicken sandwich, which utilizes that same secret recipe crispy chicken, but throws in enough heat to balance against the coolness coming from the mayo, pickles, and lettuce.

Courtesy of Marcus Ryan

Busy Bee Cafe

Atlanta, GA
Don't let the cute name fool you: this isn't a ladies-who-lunch spot, unless those ladies like grease spots on their cardigans. Busy Bee has been the best fried chicken spot in Atlanta since it opened in 1947, and, in a city that boasts soul food spots like lesser cities boast McDonald's, that means a lot. The chicken brines for 12 hours before it's tossed in lightly seasoned flour and plunged into a hot peanut oil bath. The only thing better than the chicken is the chicken smothered in pan gravy with two sides: get collards and broccoli and cheese casserole.

Credit: Mike Gebert/Thrillist

The Chicken Shack

Evanston, IL
Just North of the Chicago city limits, this chicken shack (they are aptly named!) has been winning Chicagoland over for a quarter-century with its juicy bird thoroughly covered in a batter that achieves just the right levels of crispness and seasoning. While it doesn't need any help, dipping it in some of their delightfully spiced BBQ isn't a half-bad move. Foregoing the biscuits, however, is an extremely bad move.

Credit: Flickr/Evan Blaser

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken

Memphis, TN
If I'd written this a week ago, I could have told you that Gus's chicken is famous enough to have 10 locations, 5 in its Tennessee home state and a few more dotted through the South. But I'm writing this RIGHT NOW, two days after the Memphis-based restaurant announced its paprika and cayenne-spiked fried chicken will be arriving in spots as far as Los Angeles and Chicago this year. So, Midwest & West Coast friends, do yourself a favor and get yourself to one of these gingham-draped tables, ease yourself into Deep South flavor with fried pickles spears, order a beer, and get to know Gus's spicy chicken.

Courtesy of Hollyhock Hill

Hollyhock Hill

Indianapolis, IN
Do you know what a hollyhock is? I didn't. It's a tall Eurasian plant of the mallow family and has "large showy flowers." Well, apparently they grow in Indiana in the place where V.D. Vincent and his wife started serving special dinners at their cottage. It's only had two other owners since that time, run now by the Snyders, who've been a part of the restaurant for over fifty years. But enough history, let's get to the good stuff. The fried chicken is the first thing you'll see on those menus, as they've already figured out the appetizers, salad, and side dishes for you. They call it "famous, Hoosier, pan-fried chicken." You'll just call it "that thing I need to eat at least fifty more times in my life."

Courtesy of Bob Hodson Photography

Honey's Kettle

Culver City, CA
Vincent Williams, the master chef at Honey's Kettle, has "over 40 years of fried chicken cooking experience." He is purported to have fried "millions of pieces of chicken every year." And according to Malcolm Gladwell theories, that puts him so far over the 10,000 hour mark, he likely has no choice but to be the best fried chicken chef in the damn world. And judging by his chicken, that theory might hold up. All of it is hand-dipped in a special batter that is impervious to high temperatures and cooked up in peanut oil. Do yourself a favor and get the three-piece with a wing, leg, and thigh in the mix, plus those buttermilk biscuits. Then dip everything in honey and figure out what you should dedicate 10,000 hours to. It might just be eating this chicken.

Courtesy of Michael Persico

Federal Donuts

Philadelphia, PA
Though the hype surrounding Federal Doughnuts can -- at times -- reach some sort of a deafening fever pitch, what with the lines and the handing out of cards entitling you to fried chicken, chef Michael Solomonov's bastion of fried birds and dough continues to be worth temporarily losing your hearing over. Though the chili-garlic glaze is delicious, you're going to want to get the buttermilk ranch or za'atar dry rub on a half order (the "naked" version is very good, but the spices move it into Nic Cage 'High Praise' territory. Oh, AND: it comes with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut, because that's really the only thing that can show waffles what's up.

Credit: Flickr/Jennifer Yin

Mama Dip's

Chapel Hill, NC
The first time I went to Chapel Hill, it was for a wedding. But REALLY, it was to backseat-drive a car-ful of my extended family to Mama Dip's, tucked off the college town's main drag, for a two-hour lunch. Mildred Council, aka Mama Dip, so nicknamed because her "long arms allowed her to 'dip'" to the bottom of the rain barrel as a kid, started serving her lightly peppered shortening-fried chicken back in 1976. The move is half a fried chicken with greens (it changes daily, but you can trust it all, collards, turnips, or mustards), and black eyed peas -- both are cooked with pork, of course. And your next move is to avoid falling asleep in the wood-paneled restaurant with its Grandma-approved patterned curtains and front porch. It may look like a living room, but, just because you ate half a bird, you can't sleep there.

Credit: Megan Frye/Thrillist

Motor City Soul Food

Detroit, MI
Detroit takes its soul very, very seriously, whether it's coming from the voices of Motown legends or the kitchens of its restaurants. Motor City Soul Food is basically Detroit on a plate, a pile of perfectly cooked soul favorites served up by hard-working folks who take immense pride in their work, even if they're forced to do that work from behind bulletproof glass. The chicken itself is a thing of such simple, crispy perfection that more than warrants the line that frequently wraps out the door. The sides do it equal justice, but don't fill up too much on candied yams and okra, or you'll miss out on one of the best damned banana puddings in the world.

Head to for 11 more of the best spots in America for fried chicken!

More from Thrillist:

Which Fast-Food Fried Chicken is the Most Delicious?

The Best Pizzeria in Every State in America

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Rauner's Illinois Pension Plan a Budget 'Booby Trap'?

Mon, 2015-02-23 12:06
Back in December, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner said Democrats had concocted a "booby-trap budget" that would detonate just as he took office. He was right. But is Rauner setting another trap with a new pension reform plan he proposed last week? Rich Miller of Capitol Fax explains.

Miller writes:

Set aside the fact that both Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss, who both worked very hard on the legislature's pension reform law, cannot fathom how Rauner's proposal to move every state employee and public school teacher into the lower-cost "Tier Two" pension plan on July 1st will actually save that much money in the first year, or "immediately" knock $25 billion off the state's massive unfunded liability. Let's just take him at his word on this one, as supremely difficult as that likely is.

The problem with the plan is that he's counting on that $2.2 billion "savings" to help balance the budget next fiscal year. All those who believe that a judge won't almost immediately stop the plan's implementation, as another judge did to the last pension reform law, please raise their hands.



I didn't think so.

There is no way on God's green Earth that the state can rely on that $2.2 billion savings next fiscal year. It's a complete and utter fantasy, which makes this yet another dishonest budget.

(Read the rest of Miller's thoughts on Rauner's budget plans at Reboot Illinois.)

It's not just individual Illinoisans with strong opinions on Rauner's budget ideas. Eric Weinheimer, the president and CEO of Donors Forum, a group of Illinois nonprofits, said he believes that the proposed budget would make life in Illinois unduly difficult for Illinois' philanthropic organizations. He urged the governor and the state's legislators to work together to create a plan that both balances Illinois' budget and creates an environment that allows Illinois' philanthropic sector to thrive.

(Check out Weinheimer's thoughts at Reboot Illinois.)

NEXT ARTICLE: Devils Advocate: When will legal marijuana come to Illinois?

A Gun Violence Vaccine

Mon, 2015-02-23 10:09

Sean Palfrey is a Boston-based pediatrician who has been a long-time advocate for improving children's welfare through aggressive public health strategies, including the use of vaccinations to protect kids from all sorts of disease. His latest comment in this regard appeared last week in HuffPost, and while you might wonder what this has to do with guns, indulge me for a few paragraphs and let me explain.

The recent public spat over the efficacy of vaccinating children erupted after a measles outbreak was traced to an amusement park in Southern California, which then prompted the Republicans to try and score a few anti-immigration points by forecasting a potential catastrophe due to infections spread by unvaccinated illegal immigrants, which then led to the usual Republican pandering about why government should be getting into the vaccination game at all. And that a physician turned presidential candidate used to be against vaccinations but now isn't sure what he's for or against, has just muddied the waters a little more.

For a moment, let's put all that nonsense behind us and focus on what Sean Palfrey really says. The point he's making about vaccinations is they protect the human species against diseases for which there is no cure once the infection occurs. In this respect, vaccines become the cure for certain diseases through prevention, whereas we usually think of being cured as what doctors do to us after we get sick. We wouldn't need government-mandated vaccinations if everyone shared Sean Palfrey's belief about the positive effects of this proactive response to medical risk. But prevention of disease is simply too important to be left to everybody's individual choice.

One disease which continues to escape government-mandated controls is something called gun violence, which kills more than 30,000 Americans each year. And if the NRA and other pro-gun folks want to continue to debase this discussion by claiming that these deaths have nothing to do with guns, that's fine. But notice that I'm not casting blame on anyone for these gun deaths; I'm not saying that people with guns are good or bad. I'm simply saying that, at the end of the day, if someone puts a loaded gun to their own head or to someone else's head and pulls the trigger, I guarantee you that someone will be dead. And death from anything other than natural causes is a medical issue and if it is not brought under control, it constitutes a medical risk.

A recent study confirms what I have long suspected, namely, that most people who visit doctors really don't care, nor are they insulted or angered when the physician asks them whether they own guns. And while the study was based on a small sample of patients, it was conducted in Texas, where opposition to more restrictive gun laws ranges from fierce to worse. The fact is that nobody ever committed an act of gun violence, no matter how it's defined, without first getting hold of a gun. And since, by definition, none of the 31,000 Americans who will die from gunshots this year will die a natural death, physicians need to adopt, in the words of Sean Palfrey, the strongest possible defense in order to go on the offense regarding the medical risks of guns.

If a gun-owning patient believes that anything said by a doctor about guns is out of bounds, he's not required to accept the doctor's advice. And God knows there are plenty of us walking around, sicut me, refusing to follow medical advice about our smoking, our drinking, our guns or our weight. But the government's inability to go on the offense about gun violence has absolutely nothing to do with any evidence-based knowledge that having guns around reduces medical risk. And until a credible, evidence-based argument proving that guns reduce harm is produced by the pro-gun side, physicians should continue to ask patients to immunize themselves against gun violence by getting rid of the guns.

Photographer Captures Former Inmates' Dreams, Fundraises For Group That Rehabilitated Them

Mon, 2015-02-23 09:19
It’s not every day that Chicago photographer Sandro Miller — whose John Malkovich photo series received widespread media acclaim — receives a handwritten letter in the mail.

But one day in early 2014, Miller opened his mailbox and found a message from advertising copywriter Brandon Crockett, who proposed an idea for a project that was close to his heart.

The contents of that letter set into motion “Finding Freedom,” a captivating art book that's currently in the works. It features Miller's photographs alongside poetry written by residents at St. Leonard's Ministry, a halfway house on Chicago’s near west side where Crockett began teaching a monthly poetry class seven years ago.

(Story continues below.)

Miguel, one of the residents in Crockett's poetry class, is pictured (right), next to his poetry (left) in this mockup of how the book.

In 2008, then a recent college graduate who had just moved to Chicago, Crockett discovered St. Leonard’s through a volunteer organization called Chicago Cares. He began attending a monthly discussion at the halfway house, and through that event, he developed an interest in its residents. Having taken up writing poetry on the side, he spoke to the halfway house’s volunteer coordinator and asked whether he could teach the residents how to write poetry. She said yes.

“Luckily she didn't ask for any qualifications because I have absolutely none,” Crockett told HuffPost via email.

The classes follow a simple structure that hasn’t changed much since Crockett started volunteering. He begins each one-hour class with an icebreaker to help get residents to loosen up, followed by a discussion on a poem or two concerning a certain topic, such as friendship or dreams. After that, he encourages the residents to write their own poems, which are finally shared out loud.

It wasn’t long after the classes got underway that Crockett felt he had something truly special on his hands.

He began to visualize putting it all together in a book, with each poem placed directly next to its author’s photograph, but he ran into roadblocks in his early attempts to get the project off the ground. After he discovered Miller's photo book spotlighting actors at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, however, something clicked.

Another of Crockett's students.

Miller responded to Crockett immediately after reading his letter, and the two met shortly thereafter to discuss the project. Soon, they began to photograph the residents taking part in Crockett’s poetry classes.

Crockett said it was a marvel to watch Miller photograph the residents.

“He would compliment the men telling them how powerful, courageous and inspiring they looked,” Crockett told HuffPost. “And when they walked away from their photo session, they were walking in the clouds. I didn't ask any of them, but there was a feeling in the room that he was treating them better than they possibly have ever been treated before.”

The process clearly touched Miller, as well.

“Several times I was moved to tears as in front of my camera sat a person, with heart, feelings and an undeniable need for understanding,” Sandro wrote in a statement. “I wanted to save them, hold them and listen to them. Instead they saved me with their words of life, broken dreams, new dreams, uplifting dreams and dreams of a new beginning.”

That new beginning now is “Finding Freedom,” which Crockett is attempting to finance via a Kickstarter fundraising campaign launched Thursday. Any donations beyond the book’s production costs will be donated to benefit St. Leonard’s, which provides housing and a range of programs — including education, employment training, exercise, addiction recovery and life skills — to help low-level offenders transition from prison to newly independent living.

In addition to raising awareness of the important work done at St. Leonard’s, Crockett said he hopes the book will help everyday people understand that the core hopes, dreams, fears and desires of the formerly incarcerated aren’t all that different from anyone else’s -- that they, too, are deserving of compassion and understanding. Should the Kickstarter be successful, proceeds from the book will also benefit St. Leonard's.

“The people at St. Leonard's are people. And that's about it,” Crockett said. “I came in there thinking the guys would be hard or put on fronts, or whatever it may be and I'd be one who could break through. And it wasn't about that. The guys were just like anyone else you'd meet on the street.”

Take a look at more of Miller's photographs accompanying Crockett's students' writing below:

16 Reasons Why Fostering A Shelter Pet Is Basically The Best Thing In The World

Mon, 2015-02-23 08:15
Want to make the world a better place in one easy step? Take home a foster pet from a local shelter or rescue group.

Fostering means bringing in a cat or dog -- or parrot, or baby pig, or any other homeless pet -- with the goal of nurturing them for a while until they can be dispatched to a permanent home with a family who'll love them forever.

It's a crucial part of the animal rescue world. It's also amazing, for you and for the animals. Here's why:

I Saw Roger Ebert at the Oscars -- Did You?

Mon, 2015-02-23 08:04
When I went to see the Oscar-nominated Selma directed by Ava DuVernay, I wondered what Roger Ebert would think of it.

What kind of review would he write? How would he write it? What personal experiences would he bring to it? It's these types of questions I always ask myself when I go to the movies. Every time I go see something in a theater, I never really go in alone, but Roger Ebert comes with me, as with questions of what Roger would write.

These are questions that will never be answered.

We will never know what Ebert thought about Selma or Boyhood. We will never know what criticism or nugget of wisdom he would give us about Birdman or The Theory of Everything. We are unknowing, because Ebert is no longer with us.

In death, Ebert's silence is deafening. I miss his presence deeply, and I read his past reviews in hopes of somehow grasping an idea of how he could write reviews that were so humble, human and full of empathy and compassion.

Ebert, as a critic, transcended film criticism.

His influence on movies is tremendous, which is why when the Oscar nominations for "Best Documentary Feature" went up, I -- as long with many others -- was heartbroken and livid that Steve James' documentary about Pulitzer prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert's life, Life Itself was not among the nominees. I was in disbelief.

Life Itself, directed by Steve James, was a documentary film about a writer who changed the way we view movies today. James carefully assembled a history of Ebert's life, detailing his early start in journalism as a student journalist at the Illini, his rise at the Chicago Sun-Times, his fame as a television film critic, his alcoholism, his sobriety, his women, his love for movies, his rivalry and friendship with Gene Siskel. Within the film, we saw rare footage of Ebert in his last days, full of humor to the end.

Through the film, we saw Ebert the good, Ebert the bad and Ebert the funny.

Life Itself detailed a flawed man, but as imperfect as he was, above everything, we saw his love for the cinema and his unparalleled talent, writing reviews that were critical, yet human.

However, what's most important about Life Itself isn't about how Roger came to be, or his history, or even his writing. It was about the multitudes of film makers, writers, reporters and creative minds whose lives were touched and changed forever because of Roger's words.

And that's what I saw at the Oscars.

I didn't see the harrowing absence of Life Itself in the nominations category, but the living presence of Ebert in every filmmaker there. He lives in DuVernay's Selma. He's alive in Birdman. And, he thrives in Boyhood.

There was one particular face I recognized from Life Itself at the Oscars, and that was Ava DuVernay, who directed Selma. She is the first black female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

In Life Itself, DuVernay detailed an anecdote from her childhood in which her aunt took her to an Oscars' rehearsal where she met Roger Ebert for the first time. DuVernay recalled, with an enthusiasm that matched her own when she was a child, reaching out to Ebert yelling, "Thumbs up! Thumbs up!"

Duvernay came out with her first film in 2011, titled I Will Follow. The film followed the death of a beloved aunt, and detailed the harrowing nature of the death of a close one. It was in Life Itself that DuVernay revealed that "It was Ebert's review that really got to the heart of what I was trying to articulate."

DuVernay wrote a heartfelt email to Ebert with a childhood picture of her and Ebert together. In response, she got a touching blog post noting his own beloved aunt who introduced him to the movies.

In response to reading Ebert's blog post, DuVernay remembered breaking down crying. She stated that as a black woman, in a film world dominated by white males, she feared her work would be misread or misunderstood. However, with Ebert, she felt safe. She stated:

It's dangerous as a black woman to give something that you've made from your point of view, that's very steeped in your identity and your personhood, to a white man whose gaze is usually the exact opposite. To say 'you're the carrier of this film to the public; you're the one who's going to dictate whether or not if it has value.' You had a lot less fears with that with Roger, because you knew he was someone who was going to take it seriously and come with some sort of historical context, some sort of cultural nuance.

And she was right.

Ebert, in reviewing her film, emphasized that the film was about the grief about losing the one you love, and the void that is left because of it. Race, as what most critics would have focused on, was the last thing that Ebert noticed in it. He stated, "Why do I mention race? I wasn't going to. This is a universal story about universal emotions. Maybe I mention it because this is the kind of film black filmmakers are rarely able to get made these days, offering roles for actors who remind us here of their gifts."

In Selma, Ebert would be so proud of DuVernay.

And as we saw Oscar night, DuVernay stood proudly as the first black female director ever nominated for Best Picture with Selma. I looked back on her scene in Life Itself and instantly knew Ebert would be proud of her.

Roger once said, "The purpose of civilization and growth is to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us."

Selma does just that, and more.

DuVernay created a work of art that not only detailed the accurate history of the black civil rights movement of American past, but a work of empathy in a relevant time where injustices against African-Americans are at an all-time high. In a time of too many Michael Browns, Tamir Rices and Trayvon Martins, empathy and compassion is desperately needed. There is immediacy to this empathy that can be sensed through Selma.

As someone who used to roll his eyes at the Ferguson protests, I can say that watching Selma has changed my perspective forever. In seeing how long these injustices run, I am no longer indifferent. This is the power of cinema, as testified by Ebert.

DuVemay is one of many new, young filmmakers whose careers were given life to because of Ebert's reviews. Ebert was always one to give life to new and varied voices who reflected the diversity and different shades of the American narrative. His reviews jump-started new, diverse voices such as Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, Gregory Nava, Ramin Bahrani and even Steve James, whose films would have fallen under obscurity unless Roger Ebert hadn't brought perspective to it.

Ebert's writing made careers, and it allowed filmmakers like DuVernay the future to create masterpieces such as Selma and break barriers previously erected against black females in the film industry. Ebert's legacy lives on in DuVernay's work.

As I watched the Oscars on Sunday night, I noticed that Ebert hadn't left us at all. He didn't die. He was alive. He didn't lose. He was the biggest winner of all.

As much as I would have loved to see Life Itself win an Oscar -- or hell, even get nominated -- I don't think it would have done Ebert's legacy justice.

Ebert didn't need an Oscar to speak for him.

Ebert's voice and power lives on in DuVernay's Selma. Ebert is alive in Boyhood. He is alive in Birdman. He is alive and loud where movies exist and persist to make the world a better place.

The last sentence of his last blog post before he died said, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

And, see him I did.

On Oscar night, I gave him two thumbs up.

13 Million Illinois Citizens Named Bruce

Mon, 2015-02-23 06:34

The billionaire Republican Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, injected himself into ceremonies in Chicago last week presided over by the city’s Democratic mayor and the nation’s Democratic president.

Rauner insisted on attending because he wrongheadedly thought the Democrats were honoring his idol, kingpin George Pullman, the guy who invented the luxury railroad sleeper car, oppressed his workers and suppressed their union.

Rauner, and other kowtow-to-the-rich Republican governors, adhere to the Pullman philosophy that rich people are better than everyone else and that gives them the right to control the lives of everyone else. They don’t comprehend the dreams and desires of the middle class and working poor. So Rauner couldn’t conceive that the ceremony in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood named Pullman by Pullman for his personal self-aggrandizement was not about placing the mogul on a pedestal but really about recognizing the people who ultimately prevailed despite his exploitation.

This 1943 image taken at Union Station in Chicago, Ill., by photographer Jack Delano of a sleeping car porter employed by the Pullman Company is from the U.S. Library of Congress. 

At ceremonies designating the Pullman Historic District as a national monument, President Obama’s speech served as both a rebuke and history lesson for Rauner. The president told the tale of Pullman from the workers’ point of view.

Pullman constructed his first sleeper car three years after the Civil War ended and nine years later employed his first black porters for an expanded service. These black men and women were hired at low wages to work long hours to wait on wealthy white customers hand and foot. This was a Southern plantation travelling America on rails.

Porters, who had to pay for their own uniforms and equipment such as shoe shine boxes, depended on tips for much of their income. As a result, most kept silent as white passengers referred to them all by Pullman’s first name, “George.” This demeaning treatment inspired the 2002 Robert Townsend film 10,000 Black Men Named George.

The community Pullman built around his factory was a company town in all the worst ways. Pullman owned everything, the homes, the hospital, the shops, the hotel named for his daughter Florence, and, of course, the source of all income – the jobs.

Pullman believed he should decide what was best for all the residents. The town contained no taverns because he felt residents were better off without alcohol. He refused to allow workers to own their homes because he feared “the risk of seeing families settle who are not sufficiently accustomed to the habits I wish to develop in the inhabitants of Pullman City."

During the recession of 1893 and 1894, Pullman slashed wages for workers, but not his own pay. He refused to ease rents and grocery costs, which would have reduced his profits, even as his workers and their children suffered. His row house inhabitants, barely surviving on soup kitchen handouts from Chicago charities, sent a delegation to negotiate with him. He wouldn’t relent, contending, as if he were a benevolent parent and not a insensitive tyrant, that they were “all his children.” 

Not willing to subsist as helpless inhabitants of a rich man’s dollhouse, the community’s workers, who believed in America’s promise of self-determination, organized a strike. It eventually spread across the country as the porters joined in. Pullman got the President to send in federal troops who fixed bayonets on the populace and killed more than 30 workers.

The workers returned to their jobs, but they’d experienced the power of collective action. And that couldn’t be repressed. The workers cheered in 1898 when the state Supreme Court ordered the company town sold. It would take decades longer, but the workers eventually secured their goal of collective action on the job.

In 1925, the porters established a labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and chose civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph to lead it. At that meeting, Randolph explained why workers’ concerted action was essential: “What this is about is making you master of your economic fate.” 

Pullman refused to recognize the union and tried to squelch it, firing as many members of the brotherhood as his spies could find. It took the workers 12 years, but finally after passage of the National Labor Relations Act, which provided a clear legal path to unionization, Pullman was forced to acknowledge and negotiate with the brotherhood.

Standing in the Pullman Historic District Thursday, President Obama said, “So this site is at the heart of what would become America’s labor movement — and as a consequence, at the heart of what would become America’s middle class.”

"As Americans we believe workers' rights are civil rights. That dignity and opportunity aren’t just gifts to be handed down by a generous government or by a generous employer; they are rights given by God, as undeniable and worth protecting as the Grand Canyon or the Great Smoky Mountains.” President Obama said.

That, however, is not what Republicans like Bruce Rauner believe. They think, just as Pullman did, that workers’ rights should be circumvented, slighted and squashed for the benefit of the rich. 

And they’re striving to accomplish that. In one of his first acts as governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker slashed the rights, pay and benefits of public sector union members. Republicans in Indiana and Michigan passed laws to ensure their citizens could work for less than what a labor union could bargain for them, and several other Republican-dominated states including Wisconsin, Nevada and West Virginia are considering measures to constrain the ability of workers to collectively seek better wages and working conditions.

The Republican governor of Ohio tried to restrict the rights of public sector workers to collectively bargain, but citizens overwhelmingly reversed him in a referendum.

In the weeks before the ceremony in Chicago, Rauner attempted by executive fiat to financially hobble labor unions representing state workers and urged the state’s cities and counties to ignore state and federal labor laws by creating zones where employees would have the right to work for less than the amount labor unions could negotiate for them. 

Similarly, he proposed in the budget he offered last week that the middle class and working poor take all of the hits to mend the state’s finances. He plans, for example, to cut Medicaid for the poor and elderly, health insurance and pensions for government workers, mass transit used by the working poor to get to jobs, and services to vulnerable former foster kids.

In the meantime, he had the state hire a $100,000-a-year assistant for his wife and plans to renovate the governor’s Civil War-era mansion.

Like Pullman, “Daddy” Rauner is intent on controlling Illinois’ “children.”  He said as he issued his budget, “Instilling discipline is not easy, saying ‘no’ is not popular.” That is a budget requiring no discipline for billionaire private equity CEOs like Rauner. His aides said he never even considered new taxes on his country club buddies. Only workers are to endure austerity in Rauner’s Illinois.

Rauner is making a bid for a new film set in Chicago. This one will be called 13 Million Illinois Citizens Named Bruce. Already it’s a flop with the populace.  

The 10 American Cities Most Obsessed With Eating Organic Food

Mon, 2015-02-23 06:00
Stereotypically, organic leafy greens washed down with a recycled jar of kombucha might be considered a typical meal for those hippie Californians. But those earthy West Coasters aren't the only ones interested in eating organic anymore.

A new study commissioned by Campbell Soup Company and Sperling’s Best Places analyzed the most organic-eating cities in America, narrowing the list down to a top 10.

As it turns out, eating organic food is growing as a priority nationwide. As reported in a 2014 Gallup study, 45 percent of Americans actively seek out organic foods. This same study found that city-dwellers (as opposed to those who report living in a rural area) and West Coasters are more likely to include organic food in their diets.

According to Campbell Soup Company and Sperling’s Best Places study, these are the 10 most organic cities in America:

  1. Portland, OR

  2. San Francisco, CA

  3. Providence, RI

  4. Sacramento, CA

  5. Minneapolis, MN

  6. Boston, MA

  7. Seattle, WA

  8. Austin, TX

  9. Philadelphia, PA

  10. Washington, D.C.

Investigators combined the findings of original research and existing related research and data on this topic to find the most popular cities for organic eating. The data was based on metrics related to consumers' preferences for organic foods. A poll conducted on Sperling’s Best Places website, which yielded 6,500 responses from participants across the U.S. in three days, was included, as well as Yelp results for "Organic Grocery Stores" and "Organic Restaurants," local farmers' markets and community supported agriculture groups (CSAs), and consumers' buying habits at the grocery store.

So what exactly does "organic" mean, besides more expensive? The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as food that is "produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations." One hundred percent organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are produced from animals that are fed no growth hormones or antibiotics. Organic produce is grown without using conventional pesticides or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients.

While the term organic is often subjected to the health halo effect, there are cases when organic may be better. For example, a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that people who eat organic fruits and vegetables may have lower levels of certain pesticides in their bodies compared to those who eat conventionally grown produce.

Before a product is labeled "organic," it has to be reviewed by a USDA National Organic certifying agent, who inspects the farm from where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is abiding by the required rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

The market certainly reflects Americans' increasing interest in eating organic: In 2013, mega-retailer Target launched its "Simply Balanced" grocery wellness brand, in which 40 percent of its products are organic. Campbell's recently put out a line of organic soups and even American dogs have the option to eat pesticide free.

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.

The 10 American Cities Most Obsessed With Eating Organic Food

Mon, 2015-02-23 06:00
Stereotypically, organic leafy greens washed down with a recycled jar of kombucha might be considered a typical meal for those hippie Californians. But those earthy West Coasters aren't the only ones interested in eating organic anymore.

A new study commissioned by Campbell Soup Company and Sperling’s Best Places analyzed the most organic-eating cities in America, narrowing the list down to a top 10.

As it turns out, eating organic food is growing as a priority nationwide. As reported in a 2014 Gallup study, 45 percent of Americans actively seek out organic foods. This same study found that city-dwellers (as opposed to those who report living in a rural area) and West Coasters are more likely to include organic food in their diets.

According to Campbell Soup Company and Sperling’s Best Places study, these are the 10 most organic cities in America:

  1. Portland, OR

  2. San Francisco, CA

  3. Providence, RI

  4. Sacramento, CA

  5. Minneapolis, MN

  6. Boston, MA

  7. Seattle, WA

  8. Austin, TX

  9. Philadelphia, PA

  10. Washington, D.C.

Investigators combined the findings of original research and existing related research and data on this topic to find the most popular cities for organic eating. The data was based on metrics related to consumers' preferences for organic foods. A poll conducted on Sperling’s Best Places website, which yielded 6,500 responses from participants across the U.S. in three days, was included, as well as Yelp results for "Organic Grocery Stores" and "Organic Restaurants," local farmers' markets and community supported agriculture groups (CSAs), and consumers' buying habits at the grocery store.

So what exactly does "organic" mean, besides more expensive? The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as food that is "produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations." One hundred percent organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products are produced from animals that are fed no growth hormones or antibiotics. Organic produce is grown without using conventional pesticides or fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients.

While the term organic is often subjected to the health halo effect, there are cases when organic may be better. For example, a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that people who eat organic fruits and vegetables may have lower levels of certain pesticides in their bodies compared to those who eat conventionally grown produce.

Before a product is labeled "organic," it has to be reviewed by a USDA National Organic certifying agent, who inspects the farm from where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is abiding by the required rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

The market certainly reflects Americans' increasing interest in eating organic: In 2013, mega-retailer Target launched its "Simply Balanced" grocery wellness brand, in which 40 percent of its products are organic. Campbell's recently put out a line of organic soups and even American dogs have the option to eat pesticide free.

Want to read more from HuffPost Taste? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr.