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Introducing HuffPost Gratitude: Starting the Conversation on What We're Thankful For

Mon, 2015-03-23 23:07
Gratitude has always been one of the most powerful emotions for me. And it's no coincidence that "grace" and "gratitude" have the same Latin root, "gratus." Whenever we find ourselves in a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off mindset, we can remember that there is another way and open ourselves to grace. And it often starts with taking a moment to be grateful for this day, for being alive -- for anything.

That's why I'm delighted to announce HuffPost Gratitude, a new section in partnership with American Greetings, featuring stories that illuminate gratitude's transformative power to bring a much-needed dose of perspective to our lives. We hope HuffPost Gratitude will be a place to share not only personal stories but tools and tips that can help each of us tap into our own gratitude in ways that can make our lives, and the lives of others, more meaningful and more fulfilling. That's why we're kicking off the new section with a series around the theme "What I'm Most Thankful For."

As for me, what I'm most thankful for is the people in my life -- including those who are no longer here. I'm thankful for my mother, whose favorite saying, "Don't miss the moment," was the very embodiment of gratitude. For my daughters, Christina and Isabella, and my sister Agapi, lifetime members of what I call my Thrive Tribe, who are always there for me, whether I succeed or fail. For every member of our growing international HuffPost family, now in 13 countries around the world, with more on the way. And for all the people I've met as I've gone around the world in the past year, of all ages and from all walks of life, who are coming to realize that there's more to life than climbing the ladder, that we are more than our résumés and that we have it in our power to live our lives with more meaning and more purpose.

By flexing our gratitude muscle and taking even just a moment each day to intentionally focus on what we're grateful for, we can begin to see instant results. My older daughter Christina found tremendous value during her recovery from addiction by doing a nightly list of all she was grateful for that day and sharing it with three friends, who, in turn, emailed her their gratitude lists. And she has continued this practice to this day. The Oxford clinical psychologist Mark Williams suggests the "ten-finger gratitude exercise," in which once a day you list 10 things you're grateful for and count them out on your fingers. Sometimes it won't be easy. But that's the point: "intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day."

Gratitude exercises like these aren't just a nice way to spend a few minutes. They have been proven to have tangible benefits. According to a study by researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Florida, having participants write down a list of positive events at the close of a day -- and why the events made them happy -- lowered their self-reported stress levels and gave them a greater sense of calm at night.

HuffPost Gratitude will also be a place to expand our definition of gratitude. For example, I find that I'm not only grateful for all the blessings in my life; I'm also grateful for all that hasn't happened -- for all those close shaves with "disaster" of some kind or another, all the bad things that almost happened but didn't. The distance between them happening and not happening is grace.

Our launch-day bloggers include the Greater Good Science Center's science director, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, on how our relationships with other people can be among the best well-being boosters; scientist and author Dr. Hyder Zahed on how being a father has deepened his sense of gratitude; and social worker Kristi Jo Jedlicki on the daily blessings she encounters while working at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout the week we'll also have posts from a range of contributors, including Northeastern University psychology professor David DeSteno on how gratitude can help us temper our urges for instant gratification, Harvard University psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer on how to be grateful without being mindless or condescending, and fourth-grade teacher Owen Griffith on the many benefits for students and teachers alike of bringing gratitude into the classroom.

So welcome to HuffPost Gratitude. And as always, use the comments section to let us know what you think and what you're most thankful for.

16.4 Million Reasons to Celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Obamacare

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:49
Five years ago, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. What is crystal clear today is that the ACA, which I proudly call Obamacare, is working.

There are 16.4 million Americans all across our country who now have affordable, quality health insurance because of Obamacare. Here of four striking examples of how Obamacare is making a huge difference the lives of residents in my Congressional District:

Gary Wood, of Glenview, IL, had a heart attack when he was 37. His insurance would not pay for his care because the insurance company determined his chest pains were a pre-existing condition. His hospital bills swelled to $35,000, which forced him into bankruptcy and left him uninsured. Nearly 20 years later, Gary needed a quintuple bypass. My office helped him secure coverage through Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, which enabled him to get the surgery he needed. Obamacare literally saved Gary's life.

Jackie Berman, a 64-year-old widow and former special education teacher from Chicago, enrolled in Obamacare. She really needed coverage after sustaining serious injuries from being hit by a car. Now Jackie gets the care she needs at an affordable rate.

David Price, of Chicago, has melanoma. He wrote my office describing his various health issues and how thankful he was for Obamacare. "It's not whether I will have another cancer, it is when," he wrote. "ACA will save me $4,000 per year. I need this program."

Laurel Tyler, of Wilmette, IL, wrote that she and her husband are business owners who have benefited from Obamacare. Their small business health care policy premiums actually dropped, but for their family the benefits didn't stop there. "These savings don't include the benefit of being able to keep our 22-year-old on our policy," Laurel wrote, "and the no deductible checkups and preventative drug benefits that saved us over $1800."

These are four of more than 800,000 Illinois residents who secured insurance through Obamacare -- that includes those who got coverage through the Medicaid expansion. The majority of those Illinoisans are getting a considerable amount of financial assistance -- 78 percent of those who signed up by January 30 qualified for an average tax credit of $210 per month and almost 50 percent paid less than $100 per month for their coverage.

Obamacare does much more than provide coverage to the previously uninsured -- it improves the quality of coverage for all of us. Critical cancer and other health screenings are free. Women and people with disabilities or chronic conditions are no longer charged more - or priced out of the market altogether. Insurance companies cannot cancel coverage when you become sick or injured. Annual and lifetime limits are now a thing if the past. Seniors and people with disabilities are paying less for their drug costs, and children up to age 26 can stay on their parents' policies. Millions of lives are being changed because the security and the quality of health coverage have been dramatically improved.

This is a reason to celebrate. People across Illinois and the country are healthier - and lives are being saved. Sadly, Republicans in Congress want to roll back the clock and endanger American lives. The 'Work Harder for Less' Republican budget would attempt to repeal Obamacare (for the 57th time). Millions of men, women and children would lose insurance. We cannot let that happen. Efforts to repeal Obamacare are misguided, dangerous and just another instance of Republicans fighting the political wars of years passed. But, health care shouldn't be about politics; it must be about helping people lead healthier lives.

This anniversary is a great time to look forward, celebrating that we are a healthier country because of this landmark legislation. Our goal should be to together to improve Obamacare so that even more people have access to affordable, quality health insurance and services.

These Enchanting Mermaids Have An Important Message To Send About Our Oceans

Mon, 2015-03-23 17:02
These mermaids are trying to save our seas.

Since 2012, photographers Angelina Venturella and Chiara Salomoni have traveled around the world, turning regular people into these mystical ocean creatures and photographing them for an educational coffee-table book.

According to their charity project's website, the "goal of Project Mermaids is to bring awareness to how precious the ocean and beaches are and to keep this beautiful environment healthy and clean."

The book debuts this fall in conjunction with an art show in Los Angeles. Fifty percent of the profits will benefit Save Our Beach, a small nonprofit organization that has been cleaning up California's beaches and riverbeds for the past 16 years.

While a number of celebrities, such as Vanessa Hudgens and Disney star Bella Thorne, have been transformed for the project, Salomoni says they also look for people who are ocean activists, like Ocean Ramsey, a professional diver and shark conservationist whom Salomoni shot alongside wild sharks earlier this year in Hawaii.

"To me, the basic idea of a modern mermaid is someone who spends a lot of time in the water and respects, loves and cares for aquatic life," Ramsey told The Huffington Post. "I wanted sharks to be included in this book of underwater beauty because the ocean wouldn't be as beautiful without one of its most gorgeous and important inhabitants: sharks."

A photo posted by OceanRamsey, Ocean Ramsey (@oceanicramsey) on Mar 4, 2015 at 2:55am PST

Salomoni, who specializes in underwater fashion photography, told HuffPost the pair find their mer-people through word-of-mouth referrals and then fly to wherever they live to photograph them. So far, they've shot mermaids in pools, oceans, beaches, trees and waterfalls in places including California, Hawaii, Cancun, London and Paris -- and they still have six more months of shooting before their book debuts.

Salomoni covers all the underwater photo shoots, while Venturella shoots above water. They've also teamed up with Eric Ducharme, a dedicated merman and mertailor who creates elaborate mermaid tails -- which can cost thousands of dollars -- to help with the transformations.

Below, dive deep into a preview of Project Mermaids, and live vicariously through the legendary creatures' glittery, mystical scales.

5 Ways That Commuting Ages You

Mon, 2015-03-23 16:24
The long commute has become a staple of the American work experience: The average round-trip commute is close to an hour and at least 10 percent of the workforce spends more than an hour getting to work. In all likelihood, if you're employed, you knew that; heck, you live that. What you might not have known though is how much commuting ages you -- whether it's done by private automobile or public transit. Here are a few ways commuting may be shaving years off your life:

1. It's stressful.

A 2014 report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics found that people with commutes of more than 30 minutes each way had higher anxiety and stress levels than those with shorter commutes.

There's heavy traffic, the truck in the right lane won't let you merge and your exit's coming up; the train is late and you will miss your morning meeting; the subway is jam-packed as always and, the creepy guy keeps creeping closer in your direction.

Those situations are all stressors -- and we know that stress kills.

Another study, this one partially funded by Hewlett Packard, compared the heart rate and blood pressure of commuters to those of fighter pilots and policemen in training exercises. Commuters topped them in the not-so-good way. The researcher conducting the study was quoted by the BBC as saying that commuters' stress comes from their inability to control their situation. Dr. David Lewis said, "A riot policeman or a combat pilot have things they can do to combat the stress that is being triggered by the event. But the commuter, particularly on a train, cannot do anything about it at all."

Stress causes deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart, reports Live Science. It can make you more susceptible to illness and interferes with your ability to fall and stay asleep. Plus it makes you grumpier and can strain your relationships.

2. Using public transportation exposes you to lots of germs.

Even beyond your neighbor on the bus who repeatedly turns her head in your direction when she sneezes, public transportation is a Petri dish of contagions waiting to fell you. Somebody coughs into their hand, then uses that hand to grab the escalator railing, then you come along and unwittingly use that same railing and grab an apple to eat. Might as well call the boss now and tell them you'll be sick by Monday. Of course we all have different immune systems and resistance levels to catching things -- but commuters, in general, are exposed to a lot. Just this winter, scientists discovered a shocking number of bacteria in the New York subway system. Will "stay clean" replace "have a nice day" in our greeting vernacular?

Wash your hands, commuters.

3. It hurts your back.

Sitting hunched over in a car for hours each week wrecks your posture and hurts your back. Constant road vibrations and sitting in the same position for a long time puts pressure on the bottom disc in the lower back, the one most likely to deteriorate over the years. When you exit the car, you feel stiff, right? Uh-huh.

Back pain is more common the older you get, notes the NIH. So who needs to help that along?

4. It hurts a lot of other things, too.

Raymond W. Novaco, a professor at the University of California at Irvine's Institute of Transportation Studies who has researched commuting for three decades, found a correlation between contending with traffic congestion and negative health effects, ranging from higher blood pressure to poor life satisfaction.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported on an association between those who commute more than 15 miles to work and obesity. Commuters were less likely to meet recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity, said the report. Longer commutes were also associated with higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels -- again because of the lack of exercise when so much time is spent commuting.

And researchers at the University School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the Cooper Institute in Dallas found that those who commute 10 miles or more each way to work have a higher tendency toward depression, anxiety and social isolation. Time spent commuting is generally time spent alone.

Want more? Erika Sandow, a Swedish social geographer at Umea University, found that people who commuted more than 30 miles a day were more likely to get divorced. Sandow also found that women who lived more than 31 miles from work tended to die sooner than those who lived closer to their jobs. Another Swedish study, directed by Erik Hansson of Lund University, found that the longer a person commutes, the more health complaints they had. Lengthy commutes were associated with greater degrees of exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep and days missed from work.

5. It cuts into your exercise time.

Unless of course you commute by bicycle.

Making time to exercise -- perhaps a walk at lunch -- is one solution. Using the time spent commuting listening to audio books or soothing music also helps. And so does rethinking how you view commuting: What if you thought of it as your alone time? Trapped in traffic you are momentarily freed from responsibilities; it would be unsafe for you to even respond to work emails.

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Latino Victory Fund Throws Its Support Behind ‘Chuy' Garcia In Chicago Race

Mon, 2015-03-23 15:24
The Latino Victory Fund will back Jesús “Chuy” Garcia in the Chicago mayoral election, the group announced Monday.

In a press statement outlining its slate of endorsed candidates for 2015, the political action committee, dedicated to helping propel Hispanics into elected offices, said it would also back Nelson Diaz for mayor of Philadelphia and M. Lorena González in her bid for a Seattle City Council seat.

Garcia has attracted national attention for leading a grassroots campaign that threatens to unseat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a prominent establishment Democrat and former chief of staff for President Barack Obama.

“Chuy made history when he became the first Mexican-American member of the Illinois State Senate, and has shown how one Latino voice dedicated to making a difference can help to create change and empowerment across the board,” Latino Victory Project’s President Cristóbal Alex said in a press statement. “We enthusiastically stand with Chuy in his campaign to be Chicago’s next Mayor.”

Though the Garcia campaign's progressive coalition building has turned heads, he trails far behind the well connected Emanuel when it comes to fundraising. Emanuel has raised about $18 million for his reelection campaign -- about 10 times as much as the Garcia campaign, according to The Chicago Tribune.

The other two candidates backed by the Latino Victory Fund would be making history if elected.

Philadelphia would get its first Latino mayor if the 67-year-old Diaz, a progressive Democrat and former common pleas court judge, wins his race.

González, 37, is a lawyer by profession who works as legal counsel to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and has served on the board of the immigrant and human rights group One America. She would become Seattle’s first Hispanic city counselor.

Alex said the Latino Victory Fund was especially excited to support her because they played a role in urging her to run for public office.

“As the child in a Spanish-speaking home, who worked as a migrant farmworker alongside her parents and siblings, she fully understands the challenges facing the Latino community and has spent her life advocating for immigrant rights, economic justice and the end to gender discrimination,” the statement says.

Prominent activists Eva Longoria and Henry Muñoz III founded Latino Victory last year in an effort to boost the number of voices of Hispanics in elected office. The nonpartisan group offers support to Hispanic candidates running for local, state and federal offices and is working to build a permanent base of donors to support Hispanic candidates.

The Next Chipotle: 6 Chains Ready to Blow Up in 2015

Mon, 2015-03-23 14:19
By: Dan Gentile

While no restaurant chain has ever seen a meteoric rise quite like Chipotle, a select few are proving you don't need to serve 6-ton burritos to achieve fast-casual stardom. Predicting this type of success isn't easy, but there are tell-tale signs: a bulletproof concept, smart expansion strategy, and practical use of tinfoil are all solid indicators that a new chain might soon arrive at a corner near you. These are our best bets, ranging from tiny local chains that've yet to step outside their hometowns to well-established regional players that still have plenty of territory left to settle.

More: Every State in America, Ranked by Its Fast Food

Credit: Pancheros

Est. 1992, Iowa City, IA
Number of locations: 65
What they do: Burritos with fresh tortillas and ingredients that are thoroughly mixed together with what they call "Bob the Tool"
Why they might blow up: They carve out their own section of the burrito-market pie by upping the ante on ingredients and combating one of the food group's biggest pet peeves, uneven distribution of filling wealth.

Credit: Sugarfish

Est. 2008, Los Angeles, CA
Number of locations: 8
What they do: Fast-casual sushi with a strict sushi chef mentality
Why they might blow up: Their signature use of warm rice makes the sushi experience more palatable for Americans. Also important: reasonable prices.

Credit: &pizza

Est. 2010, Washington, DC
Number of locations: 10 (5 coming soon)
What they do: Oblong pies with creative sauces, luxe toppings like 39-day aged pepperoni, and cheese made in-house
Why they might blow up: The right combination of attitude, efficiency, and house-made cheese. & all of these 10 things.

Credit: Rosamunde Sausage Grill

Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Est. 1998, San Francisco, CA
Number of locations: 4
What they do: Sausages made for the craft beer lover
Why they might blow up: The rising tide of the craft beer industry is certainly helping to float these sausages. Plus, they've already got footholds in Williamsburg and New Williamsburg (Oakland).

Credit: Little Big Burger

Little Big Burger
Est. 2010, Portland, OR
Number of locations: 8
What they do: Quarter-pounders of natural beef on brioche buns out of an open kitchen, with sides of truffle fries and root beer floats
Why they might blow up: The tiny/tall burgers are a delightful contradiction, natural beef is totally in, and people go nuts for the homemade catsup. Plus, it's local enough to be endearing, but broad enough of a concept to be scalable. And the Portland birthplace automatically earns it cool points.

Credit: Mendocino Farms

Mendocino Farms
Est. 2006, Los Angeles, CA
Number of locations: 9
What they do: Unique upscale sandwiches you won't find anywhere else
Why they might blow up: The sandwich concept has been done to death, but a playful attitude towards menu innovation sets them apart. After all, no one's local sub shop does ethnic spins like Peruvian steak, pork belly bánh mìs, or not-so-fried chicken. A loyal-as-hell following makes this prime for expansion outside their home state of California.

For other 6 restaurants you're going to be seeing everywhere soon, head to!

More from Thrillist:

16 Things You Didn't Know About Chipotle

Who Makes the Best Fast-Food Cheeseburger?

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Don't Give Away Your Power on April 7

Mon, 2015-03-23 10:19
The men and women who risked their lives for the right to vote would never have imagined that 50 years after Bloody Sunday and the historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that a Black president would be paying homage to their sacrifice.

But it happened March 7, and many of us watched this historic occasion unfold. But I also bet those civil rights warriors would not ever have imagined that, 50 years after their historic struggle, voter apathy would be so widespread in America, especially among people of color.

This apathy was on full display in Chicago's municipal election on February 24. Turnout was dismal. In fact, less than 33 percent of eligible voters even bothered to go to the polls for this major election. Now, we're faced with a runoff election on April 7. Some see this as inconvenience. I see it as an opportunity.

Chicago voters have a chance to do this election over, to become genuinely engaged and demand answers to questions that weren't answered the first go-round, and to get out and vote. Let's not squander it this time.

Voters should demand real solutions and plans of action, not stock answers from stump speeches, debate talking points and campaign rhetoric. For instance, how will each candidate improve our schools, reduce violent crime, create jobs, share economic prosperity and improve public transportation? Voters should be asking how the two candidates really feel about raising property taxes and under which circumstances would they support a tax hike.

How does each man plan to pay the city's bills and employee pensions with the city so deeply in debt? If it comes down to it, is he willing to use taxpayer money to fight a legal battle over where to build the Obama library? And aside from whether or not we should keep red light cameras, how do voters, especially in communities of color, know this technology won't be used to unfairly target motorists in minority communities?

In addition, both should talk about how to improve relations between communities of color and law enforcement and their plans to reduce violence and protect our children.

By the time April 7 rolls around, eligible voters should have done their research, be full of knowledge and ready to cast their vote for the candidate they believe will provide the best leadership. But more importantly, eligible voters need to actually come out and vote -- especially in the Black community, where in the last election, some of the lowest turnout was in communities of color on the South and West Sides.

There is no reason for eligible voters in Illinois not to vote. Unlike states that have passed laws limiting who can vote or to make it harder to vote, Illinois has actually made it easier to vote by extending registration deadlines and making registration available online, through early voting and voting by mail.

Voter apathy is not just a Chicago problem. In fact, it's a national embarrassment. President Obama took time out in his Selma address to eloquently chastise American voters for failing at what he called "the imperative of citizenship."

"If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples," said our president, who went on to extoll the sacrifices made by Alabama residents before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

"In Selma, registering to vote meant risking your dignity and even your life. What's our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our vote in shaping America's future? Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time to go to the polling places? We give away our power."

From now until April 7, we have the power to push both candidates to give specific answers. After you get the questions you want answered, you must take the final step and cast your ballot. It's your right. It's your civic duty. It's your obligation.

What concerns me is that if so few voters cared enough to vote the first time, then maybe even fewer will care this time around. But when you don't exercise your right to vote, a right that so many people fought and died for you to have, you become a barrier to positive change.

I challenge Chicago's voters to exercise the imperative of citizenship and make the most of this runoff election. Don't give up your power by staying at home April 7.

Andrea L. Zopp is President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

Most Important Election of 2015: Chuy Garcia's People's Campaign Versus Rahm Emanuel's Big Money

Mon, 2015-03-23 10:00
Every so often, a local election comes along that has enormous implications in terms of the national political narrative. Back in the 1980s, Harold Washington's stunning upset of the Daley machine in Chicago was one of those moments. Bill de Blasio's surprising come from behind win in NYC a couple of years ago was the most recent example -- his win created months of discussion about the rising progressive populist movement in the Democratic party.

If Garcia wins, it will be an even bigger deal than either the Harold Washington or Bill de Blasio races, for the following reasons.

The first is that Rahm is an outsized national political figure, beloved by the national Democratic establishment for his tough talking swagger and his ability to raise money from Wall Street and big business -- an example of the latter being the $750,000 hedge fund speculator and major Republican giver Ken Griffin has already invested in re-electing Rahm. If a major national figure known so well by the national media like Rahm went down in spite of all the money he has raised and spent, it would probably be the number one political story of the year. A thousand political obituaries would be written; a hundred stunned DC pundits would be asking themselves how this could have possibly happened. And in all this conversation, a major underlying narrative would be about the rising progressive tide shaking up Democratic politics.

Secondly, electing a Hispanic mayor to a city like Chicago would be a huge political moment all by itself. Chicago is a city with an outsized place in America's imagination. It is a sort of capitol of the heartland, which is the most important swing region in American politics. And to have a Hispanic mayor in a city whose Hispanic population is not as big as either the white or African-American populations, and whose history has been dominated by black-white political conflict, would create a different level of conversation in America about the rising importance of Hispanics in America.
Third, Garcia winning would profoundly impact the presidential race. Even with Hillary Clinton so far ahead and with no strong challenger yet to emerge, the loss of the ultimate Clintonite, Rahm Emanuel, would change the discussion about presidential election dynamics and force a serious rethink of Clinton's strategy.

So this is a very big deal. Is it really winnable for Garcia? With Rahm being backed by all this corporate big money like the Ken Griffin 750K, he outspent Chuy 12-1 in the first round of the primary, and has had the airwaves to himself for a while in the runoff campaign, so he has a small lead -- although certainly not as big as the ridiculous Chicago Tribune poll several days ago that gave Chuy only 50 percent in the Hispanic vote when every other poll has him over 70 percent. But Chuy is going up with ads this week, and that will cut the margin. More importantly, the underlying dynamics in this race are in his favor: Rahm's unfavorable ratings are still through the roof; Chuy has picked up some very big African-American endorsements since the first vote, including Jesse Jackson, former IL Senate leader Emil Jones, Con. Danny Davis, and a group of influential black ministers; all the grassroots energy and the GOTV operations of most of the Democratic base organizations (including AFT, NEA SEIU, CWA, Moveon, DFA, and PCCC) are on the side of Garcia.

There is a money bomb today and tomorrow for Chuy. You should throw whatever you can into the hopper. It's the most important money bomb and most important election of the year. Rahm has his big money guys; Chuy has grassroots progressives. We can win this race, and if we do, it will be a very big deal.

America's Best Pepperoni Pizzas

Mon, 2015-03-23 09:30
From Philadelphia to Atlanta to Seattle, there are some excellent pepperoni pies being served across the nation.

When you think about it, few dishes are more American than a pepperoni pizza. Both pepperoni and pizza are versions of Italian specialties that we as a nation have made our own. (In fact, there's no such thing as "pepperoni" in Italy, and American visitors who order it there are often surprised and disappointed when what they end up with is peperone -- bell pepper.) Few other cuisines are as widely popular as pizza, and pepperoni is one of the most widely popular toppings, no matter the regional style of pie they are decorating.

Click Here to see the America's Best Pepperoni Pizzas

In our most recent ranking of the 101 best pizzas in America, more than 700 pizzas were considered by 78 pizza experts, who selected a wide variety of pies from all over the United States. There were a few pies that incorporated pepperoni, but it was usually not the starring ingredient. Take Eddie's special at Eddie's in New Hyde Park, New York -- sausage, meatball, pepperoni, pepper, mushroom, and onion -- or the deep dish with sausage and pepperoni at Pequod's in Chicago, Illinois. There were many pies on our list, however, that featured little else but sauce and cheese as their bases before being topped off with pepperoni. To us, this is the correct definition of a true pepperoni pizza, and here are the ones that made our list of the 101 best in the country:

#7 The Backspace, Austin, Texas

Photo Credit: Carrie Ryan, Sweet Louise Photography

With a pedigree that includes a degree from the Culinary Institute of America and stops at the French Laundry and Café Boulud, it's not a huge surprise that chef Shawn Cirkiel has found huge success with his restaurant Parkside -- but culinary degrees and highfalutin restaurant experience don't necessarily mean that you can make a great pizza. Luckily for Austin, Cirkiel does, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven from Naples at a temperature of 900 degrees. There are six pies on the menu at The Backspace, featuring toppings like fennel sausage, roasted peppers, and roasted mushrooms, but the one that garnered our enough of our experts' votes to come in at #92 is the Pepperoni Americano: picante salame, tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Pair it with an aranciata, just like in Naples, or enjoy it Texas -style with a glass bottle of Mexican Coke.

Click Here to see the America's Best Pepperoni Pizzas slideshow

#6 Pizza Brain, Philadelphia, Pa.

Photo Credit: yelp/MikeyI

"Increase the piece!" It's the world's first pizza museum, for heaven's sake, and those in the know know that when you're craving great pizza in Philly, you need go no further than this nineteenth-century brick building in Kensington. There, you'll eat thin-crust pizza cooked in the double-deck gas-fired oven at the cash-only joint Kickstarted in 2012 by Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer, and Michael Carter. As you wait for the crew to cook your pie, bask in Pizza Brain's unique ambience, check out their pizza memorabilia museum (featuring what the Guinness Book of World Records called the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world), or rummage through their pizza tattoo book for a few laughs. Pizza Brain's "Jane" is their version of a Margherita -- a cheesy trifecta of mozzarella, aged provolone, and grana padano blended with basil -- and that's a good place to begin. The salty and satisfying Forbes Waggensense is the one that was ranked #80 by our panel: it features mozzarella, fontina, Grana Padano, basil, smoked pepperoni, and tomato sauce.

Click Here to see the Original Story on The Daily Meal

-Kate Kolenda, The Daily Meal

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Rahm Emanuel Is Andrew Cuomo: Hillary Are You Listening?

Mon, 2015-03-23 07:05
Rahm Emanuel is in trouble. His re-election as Mayor of Chicago is no longer a lock. His challenger has come out of nowhere, parlayed unease with his right-wingish economic policies, and a big controversy, to gain real traction in the April 7 run-off. Her name is Zephyr Teachout.

Wait, that's wrong. His name is Jesus Garcia. But if you're looking for explanations, it's the right mistake to make. Teachout rode the same wave, organized similar political forces in New York, and got almost 40 percent of the Democratic gubernatorial primary vote in New York, against the previously formidable Andrew Cuomo.

What's up with that? Well, the parallels are eerie. Pundits point to Emanuel's tough guy personality, budget and financial issues, and coziness with corporate interests, stoked by a particular controversy about school closings. In New York, the same complaints emerged, but the controversy was about public ethics.

It's a description that fits both men. Both have records that include major accomplishments. But both men made a political calculation that backfired. Emanuel and Cuomo are "progr-actionaries." They're reliably left on social issues and reliably right on economic issues like tax policy, unions, and corporate giveaways.

It turns out that voters, especially Democrats, want no part of that calculated positioning, no part of austerity economics, Tea Party cuts in government spending, and tax policies that favor the 1%. That may be sound policy, or not. But it's a lesson that any politician needs to understand. Are you listening, Hillary?

After years of unchallenged dominance, the era of supply-side economics is over, at least to voters. Progressives and voters have been shaping an economic message that promotes demand-side economics, things that increase the spending power of middle-income and poor Americans. Jobs are created, not by bankers and CEO's whose taxes are cut, but by minimum wage increases, progressive tax policies, and government spending on human and physical infrastructure.

Cuomo/Emanuel missed an electoral shift, and are paying a political price, as they should in a democracy. Emanuel seems like he will struggle through with a Cuomo-esque margin, and egg on his face.

It will get more interesting. The organized forces promoting progressive, demand-side economics will shortly turn to the 2016 Presidential race. Hillary's inevitability notwithstanding, those folks are rumbling that her economic policies suffer from the same defects as Cuomo/Emanuel's do. She could ignore the problem: After all, where will the left go in 2016, to Elizabeth Warren? Or Jeb Bush? Unlikely.

But the lesson is there to be learned, if she's listening. Cuomo/Emanuel's electoral problems flow from a fundamental disconnect with voters over economic issues. Candidates supporting austerity, supply-side economics face electoral trouble, especially in Democratic primaries: Candidates who support the minimum wage, living wage, investment in schools, hospitals, roads and bridge, tax the 1%, an end to corporate giveaways, they prosper. I happen to think it's good economics. But I know it's good politics.

Chicago Cubs Shave Their Heads To Support Kids With Cancer, Reportedly Raise $12,000

Mon, 2015-03-23 03:57
Chicago Cubs stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and many others on the team shaved their heads on Sunday for a good cause.

It's for the kids #respectbald #theyoungcubbies

— Anthony Rizzo (@ARizzo44) March 22, 2015

Before playing the San Diego Padres at Sloan Park, the team -- including Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon, rookie Jorge Soler and pitcher Phil Coke -- participated in a fundraising event called “Respect Bald” that involved shaving their heads to support children battling cancer.

The first cut goes to @CubsJoeMadd. #RespectBald

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 22, 2015

Hey @JorgeSoler68, the new haircut will look great. #RespectBald

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 22, 2015

According to Maddon, the “Respect Bald” event helped raise more than $12,000.

Yahoo! Sports reports that 25 players were expected to shave their heads at the event. Several coaches and office staff also took part.

Today's #RespectBald wasn't just for players. #Cubs Baseball Ops execs went bald, too. #LetsGive

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 22, 2015

There are a lot of shaved heads on #Cubs today. #RespectBald

— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 22, 2015

Find out more about the "Respect Bald" event here.

Confronting Past, Mississippi Town Erects Emmett Till Museum 60 Years After His Killing

Sun, 2015-03-22 11:01
(Reuters) - Six decades after the brutal slaying of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, the small Mississippi Delta town where two white men were acquitted of his murder is dedicating a museum to the event credited with helping spark the U.S. civil rights movement.

The opening in Sumner on Saturday of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center is timed to coincide with the reopening across the town square of the refurbished Tallahatchie County Courthouse, where an all-white jury set Roy Bryant and J.W. Milan free after deliberating for one hour.

The museum's exhibits detail the 1955 murder and key moments in the trial, which attracted wide attention at the time.

Months after the trial, the pair confessed in a paid magazine interview to abducting and killing Till, who had been visiting from Chicago, in what they said was retribution for his having whistled at Bryant's wife.

Work on both projects in the struggling town of a few hundred people began after the Tallahatchie Board of Supervisors issued a formal apology over the Till affair in 2006. It also established the Emmett Till Memorial Commission to bring attention to a racially charged incident that had for decades gone mostly undiscussed locally, said commission co-chairman John Wilchie.

"For a long time, the people in Tallahatchie County were afraid to even talk about it," he said.

A public ceremony to celebrate the twin projects was set to take place on the square, which looks much as it did when journalists from around the world descended on it 60 years ago, and will feature speeches from Mississippi political leaders along with musical performances.

Museum director Patrick Weems said his facility, which features the only publicly available library in town, together with the restoration of the courthouse, has helped foster a long overdue sense of racial reconciliation in the area.

Coinciding with the renovation of several buildings on the square, along with the opening of an art gallery and a restaurant, the projects have also helped rejuvenate Sumner, he said.

"I don't think it's a stretch to say the courthouse has saved the town," he said. (Reporting by Bryn Stole; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Paul Tait)

Antibiotic Use In Meat Is Soaring

Sat, 2015-03-21 18:19
BLT sandwiches may need to add an A to the acronym -- for antibiotics.

Soaring demand for meat across the world has caused a major uptick in the amount of antimicrobial drugs in pork, beef and poultry, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But as bacon sales sizzle and China -- where pork is the favored meat -- becomes wealthier, pig farmers around the world are meeting demand by using about four times as much antibiotics per pound of meat as cattle ranchers. Poultry is a close second.

This charts shows that pigs, for the most part, consume the highest density and amount of antibiotics.

The antibiotics serve two purposes. First, they help fatten up livestock at a faster rate. Second, they keep animals healthy despite being raised in overcrowded, filthy conditions where disease spreads easily.

In 2010, farmers around the world used more than 63,000 tons of antibiotics to raise livestock. By 2030, the researchers expect that number to rise to more than 105,000 tons.

“People are getting richer and want to eat more meat,” Thomas Van Boeckel, an epidemiologist at Princeton University and an author of the study, told The Huffington Post by phone. “Antibiotics help to provide a lot of meat for people who can afford it.”

Consumption of antibiotic-fed meat poses a major threat to humanity. Exposure to human antibiotics through meat has given rise to antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” which some researchers suggest could kill up to 10 million people worldwide by 2050 if left unchecked.

As awareness of this threat grows, some companies have removed antibiotics from their meat supply. Earlier this month, McDonald’s vowed to remove human antibiotics from its chicken supply, though animal antibiotics would continue to be used and the human drugs would remain in beef and pork products. Chicken chain Chick-fil-A removed all antibiotics from its chicken last year.

But Chipotle remains the food industry’s poster child for antibiotic-free meat. The burrito chain showed its commitment earlier this year when it suffered a pork shortage after discovering issues with its supplier.

Still, the industry seems unlikely to change unless more consumers demand antibiotic-free meat. Legislation has done little to stymie the growth of the use of antibiotics in the United States. In China, no such legislation exists.

“If things change at all, it’ll be because customers demand better products, like organic bacon,” Van Boeckel said. “But, of course, not everyone can afford that.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner's Anti-Union Proposal Illegal, Illinois Attorney General Says

Sat, 2015-03-21 11:56
CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois' Democratic attorney general on Friday delivered a blow to Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to weaken labor unions, saying two of the main ideas the Republican has been pitching across the state would be illegal.

Lisa Madigan issued formal opinions at the request of Democratic lawmakers who anticipated legislation would be proposed after Rauner first trumpeted his plans in his State of the State speech last month.

One proposal would allow voters to create "right-to-work zones" in Illinois counties where union membership and dues would be voluntary. The other would let local governments or school districts opt out of prevailing wage agreements, which require workers on public works projects to receive wages that reflect local compensation for similar jobs.

Rauner's office, in a statement, noted voters would decide whether his proposed legislation to protect employee rights should apply within their respective county, municipality, school district or other unit of local government. It said that would comply with the National Labor Relations Act.

Before crowds across Illinois in recent weeks, the multimillionaire businessman has argued unions have too much power and that overly generous salaries, benefits and pensions helped create Illinois' financial crisis. He says local voters should decide whether union influence should be curbed.

Rauner also says school districts could save almost $160 million per year if prevailing wage laws were changed and that establishing zones where employees have a choice on whether to join a union would help attract businesses - and much-needed jobs - to the state.

But Madigan said federal labor law only allows right-to-work to be enacted on a statewide basis, not by individual counties. She said both ideas also would violate state law.

Changing those laws or passing a right-to-work on a statewide basis would be nearly impossible in Illinois, where Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and several Republican legislators also have been allies of organized labor.

Democratic state Sen. Gary Forby, one of the legislators who requested the legal opinion, said he hoped it would put an end to Rauner's rhetoric so lawmakers can instead focus on a state budget that is billions of dollars in the red.

"This guy, all he talks about is right-to-work states," said Forby, the chairman of the Senate's labor committee. "Well, now he can stop talking about right-to-work states and go back to trying to do a budget for the state of Illinois."

Madigan's opinions are just the latest in what's been a rocky early attempt by Rauner to take on organized labor. After he issued an executive order and sued to try to eliminate fees paid to unions by workers who choose not to join, more than two dozen unions filed their own lawsuit to stop him. Madigan also ruled that action by the governor was illegal, and the Republican comptroller said she wouldn't comply with the governor's plan to hold the dues in a state escrow account.

Rauner, who has called governors in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan who have stripped rights from unions his "role models," also has proposed banning unions from making campaign contributions.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said Madigan's opinions confirmed what unions suspected from the start.

"While Gov. Rauner continues his obsessive war on unions and the middle class, he just keeps running into huge road blocks - like the law," Carrigan said.

Fire Extinguisher Factory Erupts In Huge Blaze

Sat, 2015-03-21 09:49
Fire extinguishers protect us, but who protects the fire extinguishers?

It's a question firefighters will have to ask themselves after a huge blaze erupted at a fire extinguisher factory on Chicago's Southwest Side on Thursday night.

About 150 firefighters battled the inferno, which burned for hours, according to DNA Info.

The fire didn't spread past the building and it was contained by midnight. There were no injuries reported.

"We have found no danger to the public," Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford told the Chicago Tribune. "The smoke is not causing any harm."

The two-story building housed several companies, including the fire extinguisher factory, CBS Chicago reports.

The cause is under investigation.

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Mohammad Hossain Cleared In '50 Shades Of Grey' Rape Case

Fri, 2015-03-20 15:26
A judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to proceed with a case against a college student accused of raping a woman while he acted out scenes from "50 Shades of Grey."

Cook County Judge Peggy Chimapas made the decision on Thursday. She ordered 19-year-old Mohammad Hossain released from jail and lifted a bond forbidding him from going to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where both he and his accuser are students.

"This doesn't mean this is over," Chimapas told Hossain, according to DNA Info Chicago. The judge noted that prosecutors could still try to secure an indictment against him from a grand jury.

Chimapas said the two photographs showing bruising on the accusers body and her testimony were not enough to take the case to trial.

At a preliminary hearing, the 19-year-old accuser said the sexual encounter in February started off consensual but then turned violent.

From DNA Info:

The woman stripped down to her underwear before Hossain stuck a knit cap over her face and tied her hands above her head, binding her to the bottom of a lofted bed, she said. Hossain tied a belt around her feet and covered her mouth with a necktie.

Then, the accuser testified, Hossain told her "I want to see you resist." He then hit her repeatedly with a belt, harder and harder each time.

Hossain then allegedly said "I want to see how much you can take" and "I want to see you cry."

The victim testified that he pinned her arms down and raped her.

"I was saying, 'No, stop,' shaking my head from side to side," the victim said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But Hossain's lawyer, Joshua Kutnick, insisted the two were consensually acting out scenes from '50 Shades.'

"The two of you were role-playing the movie, correct?" Kutnick asked during cross-examination.

"I didn't see it that way," the accuser said.

Outside the courthouse, Kutnick proclaimed his client's innocence.

"It was clearly shown that this incident was consensual," Kutnick said, according to the Tribune. "It was two college students who were having a sexual encounter and that's all that it was."

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Behind the Mask: My Life as a Transvestite

Fri, 2015-03-20 14:44

Elio Leturia as Lolita, Marcopolo Soto as the fan and Oliver Aldape as María in Orquídeas a la Luz de la Luna (Orchids in the Moonlight), directed by Sándor Menéndez and produced by Aguijón Theater during its 25th-anniversary season.

It begins on Friday mornings. Green, white and red nail polish to represent the Mexican flag, alternating those colors on each toe. The glaze should be dry and hard to be ready for that night's show.

At the office, nobody notices that the transformation has already begun, because my socks and shoes hide it. But in my mind, garish colors and swaying images are slowly taking over.

The real metamorphosis begins around 7 p.m. in a basement on the west side of Chicago in front of a vanity covered by pencils, eyeliners, eye shadows and other makeup artifices. The table, lit by myriad lights, is reflected on mirrors that surround the theater dressing room.

I am about to become Dolores del Río,, or rather a transvestite who plays a poor Chicana who believes she is Dolores del Río. I'll go from being a 150-pound, 5-foot-11 Peruvian-born actor to a glamorous, exacerbated, exaggerated Mexican movie star.

I'm playing my character in Orchids in the Moonlight, a 1982 play by Carlos Fuentes that tells the story of two Mexican women living in Venice, California, whose delirious minds lead them into believing that their L.A. suburb is Venice, Italy. Their day-to-day lives involve recreating the films of the two most famous movie divas in Mexican history: Dolores del Río and María Félix. The first one -- who began her brilliant career as a star of Hollywood's silent films of the 1920s -- went from being a mute character to an English-speaking exotic beauty, from sex symbol to a "Comanche Indian," as she is described in the play. The latter, more beautiful than the most unbearable ecstasy, refused to cross her country's northern border and built her career in Mexico, France and Spain, becoming a legend in the process.

Beauty does not necessarily come with birth. It can be created. The challenge lies in making others believe it is real. You must pay close attention to every minute detail, every seductive line, the appropriate color. To create my character, I start with makeup foundation, followed by eyeliner, black and white pencils, brown color for thick eyebrows and fuchsia lip liner to create a full mouth. Then follows rouge, lipstick, brown and gray eye shadow, white and brown hues to hide a prominent chin and to highlight timid cheekbones.

The mask that hides me, a man dressed as a woman who plays a Chicana who believes she is a star, is like the many masks we wear in our daily lives. We wear them for various locations, times and situations: when we are reproaching our children, talking with colleagues, asking our boss for a raise or a favor to our next-door neighbor, making a comment on Facebook, sipping Dom Pérignon at a formal event with diplomats or having a beer with friends at the club. For each scenario, a different mask.

A skirt made of plastic trash bags, a size 36B green bustier from Victoria's Secret and 6-inch black patent leather stilettos bring my Lolita (a.k.a. Dolores) to life. Clip earrings, a pearl necklace and bracelet and a fake diamond ring complete the outfit of the delusional Chicana, who covers her shoulders with a fuchsia shawl with Indian motifs.

Chest hair? Clipped. Hair on legs? Trimmed. Hair? Tousled with gel.

Crossing the threshold and creating the transvestite mask involves drawing on prejudices, generalizations and stereotypes I have regarding obnoxious woman and then taking them to an extreme. My sources of inspiration? Latin American telenovelas, Lupita Ferrer and María Rubio, even Verónica Castro. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? come to mind as well.

My models for how to walk and sway? Miss Universe, or just watching Naomi Campbell on YouTube. My inspirations for treating everything and everyone with disdain? That's an easy one. I think of the old dismissive ladies I encountered as a child in Peru.

It takes cojones to become, or to pretend to become, a transvestite -- and to cover those cojones with tight black undies and leave them to sweat under a plastic skirt for an hour and 40 minutes on a stage.

Orchids in the Moonlight closes in a couple of weeks, so I have little time left to keep exploring this challenging transvestite life. After that, I'll probably cut my hair and let my beard and chest hair grow back. Still, I will continue to wear masks. They're necessary to navigate this society. Simple survival.

Elio Leturia teaches multimedia journalism at Columbia College Chicago and is an Aguijón Theater ensemble member. Orquídeas a la Luz de la Luna by Carlos Fuentes runs until March 29.

Let's Get Some Things Straight About Aaron Schock

Fri, 2015-03-20 12:05
So a reporter walked into GOP Congressman Aaron Schock's office last month and found what seemed to be an amazing recreation of the Downton Abbey set -- very lush and elaborate, and very red.

And Twitter went nuts with questions. Who paid for it? Was this with taxpayer dollars? Why was Schock spending his time and money on such an office? Why did the designer, whom the reporter bumped into, say she was giving her services for free, and who was paying for the velvet furniture and plumes of pheasant feathers? Others made conclusions, stating unequivocally that this demonstrated the hypocrisy of a congressman who came to Washington vowing to cut spending only to live like British nobility.

Not many facts were in yet, but people had questions and made conclusions. No one was screaming back at them, "Leave Aaron Schock alone!" or, "Stop the Downton-office baiting!" or, "Until you have facts, just shut up!" Nor were reporters sitting around waiting for the facts to materialize magically -- or running away from the facts while they busied themselves with other things they thought more important. They went out and began digging into this whiff of hypocrisy and possible ethical violation -- it's called a lead, which is not yet proof -- and they did bring back some facts. The office redecoration cost $40,000. Schock said he always intended to pay for it, and then did.

Then came the report of Schock having sold his house for well above market value to a former Caterpillar executive who had been a contributor to his campaign. Proof of something? No. Some people get lucky and sell well. Usually they don't even know to whom a realtor sells their home. But people rightly asked a lot of questions, and some made conclusions. And again, no one screamed, "Stop the Catepillar-executive-bought-his-house baiting!" Reporters dug further and further and brought up more facts. And so it went, with one after another instance of hypocrisy, possible violations and possible corruption -- with the FBI now investigating -- eventually leading to Schock's resignation this week.

Yet the media treated longstanding questions about Schock's sexual orientation and how it relates to his anti-gay voting record, questions that arose shortly after he took office and only came again and again, differently from questions about his official spending and how it relates to his fiscally conservative positions. Some of those questions, similar to those about the the office redecoration, were based simply on visual cues, what some saw as stereotyping based on his clothing choices; others were based on secondhand reports of sexual encounters. Again, these were not proof of anything, but they surely were leads. Schock has a terribly anti-gay record -- he voted against repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and has said he supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban marriage for gays -- prompting the Human Rights Campaign to rate his support for LGBT equality at 0 percent.

Those of us who pointed to the possible hypocrisy were met with -- and still are being met with -- cries of "Leave Aaron Schock alone!" and "Stop the gay baiting!" and "Stop the pink baiting!" Instead of seeing these as whiffs of hypocrisy and leads for a story that were OK to speculate about at that point, many people demanded that we offer "proof" or "shut up," holding this kind of alleged hypocrisy to a different standard of proof. Now, if homosexuality is supposedly so acceptable now, why, with this type of hypocrisy, was the "proof" necessary first for us to speculate -- or even come to conclusions, as some had in the other cases? Even New York's highest court, for example, ruled in 2012 that even falsely saying someone is gay is no longer "per se defamation." So why would it be wrong to even speculate, both morally and legally?

And why did reporters, rather than look into this hypocrisy -- similar to the hypocrisy of a politician running for office on cutting spending only to design his office in a way that countered that message -- run away from the story? Washington reporters have scoured every aspect of Rand Paul's and Ted Cruz's college years looking for evidence of hypocrisy in how they led their lives back then (e.g., bong using or elitist) compared with their positions now. But no one was able to engage them to even think about actually going to Peoria -- or Dupont Circle -- to do some digging into the possible hypocrisy story. The rumors about Schock were aplenty. They went far beyond what made it onto the blogs and the media that had picked them up, like the "Style" section of The New York Times, which wouldn't mention "the congressman" by name while discussing the fact that he'd been "outed" on Facebook by a former CBS reporter, Itay Hod, who said his friend, a Washington TV anchor, had walked in on his roommate and the congressman coming out of the shower together. (To his credit, Washington Post journalist Jonathan Capehart did use Schock's name at the time in discussing Hod's claim.)

Deception is deception. And, as with Congressman Mark Foley (R-Florida), whom reporters later admitted they knew was gay even as he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act a decade before he resigned in disgrace after a scandal involving male pages in 2006, had reporters exposed Schock's deception earlier, they might have stopped the later corruption. In both cases I believe the media is implicated in the ongoing corruption by looking the other way on this particular type of deception earlier on, not seeing it as valid.

It shows that the mostly straight Washington press corps has its priorities and knows the stories that will earn gold stars from their bosses (and which they themselves still feel queasy about) and those that their bosses will frown upon or absolutely say no to, seeing them as risky and wrong. It shows again that for those of us who are members of minorities fighting for our civil rights, our priorities and concerns are often not the media's. A possibly closeted gay politician voting anti-gay is a big issue for us within the context of the fight for civil rights, while to them it's a story that pushes too many buttons and isn't worth the hell they may get for publishing it. Then they get backup from gay apologists who write silly pieces about "bitchy gays" attacking politicians with a "moderately" anti-gay record.

It also shows that our battles moving forward are not just in the courts and legislatures, against sworn enemies, but even against a supposedly more enlightened media that still doesn't get it.

Michelangelo Signorile's next book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, will be published April 7 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Concussion Experts Pick Apart The Myth That Cycling Is More Dangerous Than Football

Fri, 2015-03-20 11:24
The idea that bicycling might be more dangerous than football crept back into the national consciousness this week after an NFL-affiliated doctor named Joseph Maroon suggested as much during an appearance on the NFL Network.

“It’s much more dangerous riding a bike or a skateboard than playing youth football,” said Maroon, who is a consultant to the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team neurosurgeon.

Listen to the full interview here. (Source: SoundCloud)

It's a startling claim, especially considering the number of parents who fear the effect football could have on their children. But when The Huffington Post contacted four concussion experts this week, they all either denied the comparison outright or described it as false or difficult to make.

“In some aspects, this is comparing apples to oranges,” Christopher Giza, a professor of pediatric neurology and neurosurgery at the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, said.

While bicycling and football both have the potential for traumatic brain injury (TBI), he said, “the frequency and severity and the relative risks are all slightly different."

“It’s difficult to compare injury risk of playing football to riding a bike or a skateboard,” agreed Kevin M. Guskiewicz, a leading concussion researcher from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center.

Christopher Nowinski, the co-founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to the sports concussion crisis, took a stronger stance when asked about the bicycling-to-football comparison, calling the claim "false" in an email.

“It is unfortunate that this important information is being miscommunicated in the media,” Nowinski wrote.

Both Nowinski and Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based educational and policy studies organization, cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracked brain injuries among a variety of physical activities between 2001 and 2009.

According to the CDC, bicycling does lead to more annual TBIs than all other activities for children 19 and younger, just barely topping football. But break down those totals by gender, and you’ll remember something important: Young women don’t play tackle football very often.

A breakdown of why women of various ages end up in the emergency room with TBIs. Football is nowhere to be seen. (Source: CDC)

If you take a look at the male numbers, you’ll notice something else: Football accounts for the most emergency room visits for all males between the ages of 10 and 19.

It’s pretty clear. (Source: CDC)

Injuries sustained while biking or at the playground send boys under 10 to the emergency room more often than football-related injuries -- but that's likely because children often don’t start playing tackle football until the age of 10 or so, Farrey and Nowinski noted. Consider the number of people who bike compared to play tackle football, and the discrepancy suddenly looks even more stark.

Football players also have to grapple with a number of neurological concerns that cyclists do not. Players may hide or not know how to properly identify concussion symptoms. A 2014 study from Harvard University and Boston University researchers estimated that college football players experience six suspected concussions for every one that is actually diagnosed.

Another consideration is how often the typical football player suffers significant -- if not concussion-causing -- hits to the head. Even at the youth level, in a single season a football player may take hundreds of hits to the head at magnitudes that can compare to those in college. The long-term effects of these subconcussive blows are not fully known, but there is a growing body of research to suggest they can lead to significant brain damage.

“Riding a bike or a skateboard are not known to cause hundreds of impacts to the head in a year,” Nowinski said.

When we reached out to the NFL for comment, the league directed us to comments made Wednesday by NFL Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Policy Jeff Miller during an interview on NBC Sports Radio.

“Joe Maroon doesn’t speak for the NFL, nor we for him,” Miller said when asked about Maroon’s description of the NFL’s brain trauma problem as “over-exaggerated.”

But Farrey from the Aspen Institute noted that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s wife, Jane Skinner, said in 2013 that “kids are more likely to get injured riding their bike on the way to (football) practice than at practice." A blog post that same year on the NFL-affiliated USA Football’s website depicted the claim that biking is more dangerous than football as not only accurate, but “nothing new.”

“The NFL is doing a lot of good work in terms of training coaches and reforming the game,” Farrey said. “But if they’re going to make real progress, they’re going to have to start telling parents the truth.”

“If you lie to mothers, they don’t forget it and they don’t forgive it,” he added.

Another person who disagrees with the idea that bicycling is safer than football: Chris Borland. The former San Francisco 49ers linebacker retired earlier this week after only one season in the league, citing brain trauma-related concerns -- which is why Maroon was brought onto the NFL Network for his interview in the first place.

“You can ride a bicycle and the act of riding a bicycle isn’t causing brain trauma,” Borland told “CBS This Morning" on Thursday. “Yeah, you could fall, but that’s if something goes wrong. Everything could go right in football and it’s still dangerous.”

Annaleigh Ashford Takes 'Lost In The Stars,' Her Glitzy Solo Cabaret, On The Road

Fri, 2015-03-20 10:40
Annaleigh Ashford is honored when friends and fans sum up her new cabaret act, "Lost in the Stars," as "gay magic."

"There are certain performers that the gay community receives and recognizes with love, and my whole life, I've always responded to those same artists," the 29-year-old singer-actress told The Huffington Post in an interview. She pointed out that the first venue she ever performed in was Denver's Theatre on Broadway, which was known for its queer-inclusive shows: "I've always felt very attuned to, and at home in, the gay community."

There's a sassy sensibility in the retro glamour of "Lost in the Stars," which Ashford is taking on the road with her band, The Whiskey 5, after a string of acclaimed performances at New York's 54 Below. The star, best known for her Tony-nominated stint in Broadway's "Kinky Boots" and her portrayal of lesbian prostitute Betty on Showtime's "Masters of Sex," is promising audiences in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Las Vegas plenty of sequins, sky-high wigs and classic disco.

Of course, Ashford doesn't limit her material to the late '70s or, more specifically, the confines of Studio 54. She and musical director Will Van Dyke have crafted an eclectic set including songs by Stephen Sondheim, Elton John, Cyndi Lauper and Alanis Morrisette that they hope will have universal appeal. One highlight is a medley that offers vestiges of Ashford's musical theater roles, including "Hair," "Rent," "Wicked," "Legally Blonde" and, of course, "Kinky Boots."

Annaleigh Ashford poses backstage at New York's 54 Below.

Although her career has taken her down a more thespian path, Ashford sees "Lost in the Stars" as fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a bonafide cabaret star on the road. Each city on the tour, she says, has special resonance. She was born in Denver, while her husband, actor Joe Tapper, hails from outside Chicago. Meanwhile, she played San Francisco as part of the out-of-town tryout for "Legally Blonde," and participated in dance competitions in Las Vegas each as an adolescent.

"I grew up listening to cabaret. At 7 and 8 years old, I was already singing like a club performer," Ashford, who cites "Patti LuPone at Les Mouches" and Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway's "Sibling Rivalry" as influences, explained. "One of our goals is to bring this art form to a younger audience. I think our generation isn't as versed on cabaret [as previous generations were], so I think it's important to expose younger audiences to the art form."

She and Van Dyke said they aim to keep the show as organic as possible by refreshing or swapping out musical numbers in each new city and "playing a bit off the cuff" throughout.

"She just flies off the handle sometimes, and it's amazing," Van Dyke said. "It's just so fun to be on that ride."

Ashford would ultimately like to expand the show into a full-scale production of "song, dance and epic storytelling" in the vein of Liza Minnelli's famed "Liza with a 'Z'" act. In the meantime, she and Van Dyke plan to produce an album that compiles the best of their live performances on the tour, which they'd like to release this fall.

She also hopes that "Lost in the Stars" will be the first of many cabaret acts, noting that she's currently listening to a lot of New Orleans jazz, Janet Jackson and '80s era Bonnie Raitt.

"My ambition for the piece is that you walk out the door with your heart having been touched by at least one song," she said. "I think that intention has carried us through."

Annaleigh Ashford and The Whiskey 5 will perform "Lost in the Stars" at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse on March 21. She plays the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on April 11-12, San Francisco's Venetian Room April 19 and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas on June 27-28.