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Crime Survivors Are Organizing. They Want Criminal Justice Reform, Too.

Tue, 2016-08-30 22:19

Change has come to the criminal justice system in America’s most populous state. California’s arrest rate last year dropped to its lowest level ever recorded, the result of a voter-approved initiative to reclassify several nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors. Funds saved by the drop in arrests are being shifted to other priorities like victim services and mental health treatment. Meanwhile, state residents with criminal records are currently benefitting from the largest opportunity in U.S. history to remove certain felonies from their records. Supporting these policy changes is a first-of-its-kind statewide network of crime victims, including survivors of violent crimes, who have lent their moral authority to reform efforts.

A linchpin of all these developments is a former punk drummer turned prosecutor named Lenore Anderson. She was the co-author and campaign chair of Proposition 47, the state ballot initiative that reclassified several felonies, and the nonprofit she leads organized the network of crime survivors. With big victories under her belt, Anderson is expanding her focus. Her new organization, Alliance for Safety and Justice, will deploy a similar model in a host of other states with large prison populations. The group is organizing new networks of crime survivors and pushing more states to shift resources from incarceration to effective alternatives.

“Our most important goal is safety,” she said. “Over-incarceration is really unsafe. So our intervention is to ask, how are we spending our safety dollars?”

We spoke with Lenore Anderson for Sophia, a project to collect life lessons from fascinating people. She shared personal stories of the lives caught up in a broken justice system, and of the alternative approaches that are rising to replace it. 

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You said of your younger years, “I made a lot of mistakes. For a time, it wasn’t clear I would make it safely into adulthood.” What shifted you to the path you’re on now?

(Laughs) Hindsight is always much more linear than reality, right? I was a troublemaker as a kid. I got in trouble with neighbors, parents, police, teachers, and it wasn’t until I was older that I understood that the help that was offered me is not the help that is offered to kids of color in my exact same position. In realizing that, I made a commitment to work on racial equity and criminal justice reform for my career.

I was in California in the 80s. During the exact same time that I was in high school, the number of tough-on-crime laws that were being passed in the legislature, the number of laws that were focused on the juvenile predator ― that was when it was occurring. And at that same time, I’m in high school ― middle-class white female ― doing things that are not that different from what a lot of young kids of color would be doing at that time in their lives, and the response to me was one of forgiveness.

Police would take me home instead of taking me to juvenile hall; my parents had resources to get me counseling and therapy; teachers let me pass classes that I didn’t actually pass. There was a perception that what I was doing were cries for help, and we need to figure out how to help her get on the right path; to see me as one that needed to be protected through my juvenile confusion to adulthood.

Fast-forward ten years and I’m talking to parents of incarcerated youth. These are young people whose stories are not that markedly different from mine, with the exception of the response ― the exception of what police did, what parents had resources to do, what teachers did. I think that’s really why I do the work I do.

I didn’t go straight to college after high school. Eventually I went to junior college, mainly because I needed health insurance, and I enjoyed it. I did really well and ended up at UC Berkeley, and there I was very much interested in social justice. I go to an event where one of the speakers is Cornelius Hall, whose son Jerrold Hall was shot in the back by a law enforcement officer working for BART [the Bay Area’s rapid transit system] upon suspicion that he had stolen a Walkman.

That was a pivotal moment for me because, you know, half my friends stole Walkmans. No doubt, no question, I was one of the many teenagers who could have been Jerrold Hall, with the difference being he’s an African-American male and I’m a white female. I think that was one of the key moments where I was clear on the privilege that I had benefitted from.

What we’ve done is just so far beyond the number of people we’ve stuffed into prisons. We actually took generations of people, mostly low-income communities of color, and completely stripped hope and opportunities for basic economic stability and dignity. And we called it public safety.
- Lenore Anderson

You’ve made it a major priority to elevate the voices of victims of crime.

I worked with parents of incarcerated youth for a long time. We were organizing to replace youth prisons with community alternatives. Then I was in the district attorney’s office in San Francisco, and I similarly saw the gap between who is commonly victimized by crime and where the resources and attention go in the criminal justice system.

So when we started Californians for Safety and Justice, the mission was to replace over-incarceration with new safety priorities. And to me there has been a real big missing voice here ― the people who are most commonly victimized by crime. What are their current experiences with the criminal justice system? And what would they prefer to see?

When you look at the tough-on-crime era, they had a pretty successful media strategy. That was a 30-plus year march of dramatic expansion of a public system, dramatic expansion of the number of people incarcerated. And there were some myths that have been propping it up. One of the myths is, incarceration is the best way you protect public safety. The other myth is that that’s what crime victims want.

Well, most of the people that have been victims of crime had never been the center of public policy making during the tough-on-crime era. So the question is, how can we be more authentic in integrating the experiences of people who are victimized by crime and violence in what we’re going to replace over-incarceration with?

Safety has obviously got to be a top priority. There’s possibly no more important role that government can play in the lives of its citizenry. And to know how we’re going to deliver safety, you would think that we would talk a lot more to people who have experienced a lack of safety. We really have not. So from the outset, I wanted to make sure that we had a strategy for incorporating the voices of the victims of crime.

Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna recently announced donations of $2 million to the Alliance for Safety and Justice. They compared your political strategy to the one used by Freedom To Marry, the group that helped legalize gay marriage. What is your strategy?

Man, [Freedom To Marry] were great, weren’t they? We certainly aspire to be that effective and that successful. They’ve changed the country in a pretty short period of time.  

In terms of what we’re doing in states, we’re supporting local state-based advocacy organizations to advance criminal justice reform. We’re building crime survivor leadership to advance criminal justice reform. And we’re trying to advance public policies in states that reduce over-incarceration and replace spending on prisons with spending that’ll get us safer. Smarter safety investments.

Our focus has been the state systems because that’s where the majority of the money is and the majority of the people are.
Lenore Anderson

The role of the crime survivor work is valuable in terms of the substance, valuable in terms of a missing voice, and also valuable in terms of the political dynamic around criminal justice reform. The tough-on-crime era was very successful at framing all of those policies as “the pro-victim approach,” so we’ve tried to put forward an alternative vision that can allow us to see how those policies have been flawed. Those tough-on-crime policies actually haven’t helped the majority of crime victims, and so here’s the majority of crime victims ― here’s who they are and these are the kinds of things that they want to see. Promoting their voices has both substantive value as well as political value.  

In terms of political strategy, we’re looking at the top 15 incarceration population states in the country. A smaller number of states are disproportionately responsible for a lot of the over-incarceration in the country. When you look at national incarceration rates and you start to see them come down a little bit starting in 2012, it’s almost all California. One state has that much of an impact on that curve. Why? Because we’re such a large state. We have a huge general population and a very, very large incarceration population. When we’re talking about making big change, it makes sense to go to the big states, so we’re looking at the top 15 large incarceration population states ― it’s Florida, it’s Texas, it’s Illinois, Michigan, places where a lot of people live and a lot of people are incarcerated.

Are you focusing at all on federal legislation?

We just released a report on crime victims and we both hope and anticipate that it affects the conversation on federal approaches to criminal justice. But our focus has been the state systems because that’s where the majority of the money is and the majority of the people are.

You just surveyed crime victims nationwide about criminal justice issues. What did they say?

Lots of things that are counterintuitive. The common assumption is that crime victims want vengeance, or that they want the toughest possible longest sentence. What we found is actually quite different.

We found that the majority of crime victims want rehabilitation over punishment. The majority of crime victims want shorter sentences and prevention spending over long sentences. We found the majority of crime victims think that prosecutors should spend more time focused on neighborhood problem solving and rehabilitation, even if it means fewer convictions ― even if it means fewer convictions. Those kinds of findings really stand out, and these are diverse crime victims from all backgrounds across the country.

There are enough people at this point that have had direct personal experience with the failings of our current approach to criminal justice that pretty much everybody agrees that most people get worse in prison, not better. How can that possibly be a good investment? Hearing that from victims I think is a really powerful intervention on the conversation on what we should be doing.

You told the New York Times, “My highest hope is that we start to really see some innovation that we haven’t seen in the past.” What sorts of criminal justice innovations are you impressed by right now?

There is great innovation happening in the sphere of safety and justice. For the most part, they are boutique programs, they’re on the side, they’re operating on a dime. Getting those things to scale is the issue. We know what to do. The problem is, it’s not the centerpiece.

So we have general run-of-the-mill felony calendars that all day churn out the same sort of stuff. And then you have the neighborhood court program that operates in one neighborhood, that’s holistic in its approach, that has caseworkers on site that evaluate the drivers behind why someone’s involved in crime and addresses those drivers, like addiction or mental illness or homelessness. Then the person is stable, the crime stops happening, the neighborhood’s in better shape. Those things are often on the side. So I can definitely share the things that work well and are exciting, but also recognize the main issue is scaling them up.

So neighborhood court programs are excellent models of what could be done differently, especially when it comes to cycles of low-level crime.

There are a lot of wonderful restorative justice programs. They’re really powerful because they involve the crime victim in the resolution of the case in a way that the traditional criminal justice system can’t and won’t. A lot of the members of our Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice team have become inspired around criminal justice reform precisely because of a restorative justice experience that they had in their own dealings with the crime that occurred. It is really a missing piece that victims should have when it comes to solving crimes, up to and including serious crime. That’s a huge one.

There are a lot of excellent diversion programs. There’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion that comes out of Seattle; this is where police officers say to people who are struggling with addiction: “Hey, I won’t arrest you if you go into X treatment and case management program.” It’s more of a public health approach, understanding that people may relapse, that that’s part of the process of addiction. Law enforcement officers and case managers are trying to get this person out of the cycle of addiction and that is the goal of the program. It’s very different than a goal of, “Hey, I saw you on the street again, you’re still possessing drugs, we’re going to arrest you once again.”

So, diversion programs; all of the collaborative court models, in particular the community court models; and then restorative justice stand out to me as some of the things that have really been missing in terms of priorities.

I’ll mention one other, the Trauma Recovery Center model. We talk a lot in criminal justice reform about people committing repeat crimes and recidivism rates. But there’s another less-discussed reality: the people who are most likely to be victims of crime have been victims before. Their pathway to recovery is one that we completely miss when it comes to our safety investments, and this is something that we’ve been pushing a lot. 

What if we had a better sense of who around us are victims of crime that are vulnerable to being repeat victims of crime because they haven’t gotten the help that they need to recover? There’s this model in San Francisco called the Trauma Recovery Center, and we’ve been supporting them. Any victim can use it, and when you come in, you get help filling out your victim compensation forms, but you also get on-site access to mental health counseling, relocation assistance, and other things, they’re all incorporated.

So we found this one program and started working with our state senator. We’ve now gotten enough pieces of legislation and budget allocations passed in the last four years such that in California, there are now nine Trauma Recovery Centers across the state. One of them, it’s called Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, in San Joaquin County, a remarkable organization. They also work with kids who have been incarcerated and kids who are on probation. So right there in that one community center, they have the awareness and understanding of the risks that kids face to become victims of crime, and also are helping kids who have committed crimes get off that pathway and get onto productive lives. Really amazing stuff that’s popping up.

The majority of crime victims want rehabilitation over punishment. The majority of crime victims want shorter sentences and prevention spending over long sentences. We found the majority of crime victims think that prosecutors should spend more time focused on neighborhood problem solving and rehabilitation.
Lenore Anderson

And how do you view the ideal role of prisons?

The Vera Institute of Justice took a group of people from the U.S. to Germany to see their system. One of them was the Santa Clara District Attorney, Jeff Rosen, and hearing him talk about what that looks like is really interesting. He’s written a few pieces on it and given some speeches, you should check it out if you can because I think he paints an interesting picture of an actual real system today that works.

For example, in Germany, the people who run the prisons, it’s a highly-regarded job. They are Ph.D.’s in criminology and sociology, they understand rehabilitation and so forth. It’s taken very differently in that regard.

The proper role of our criminal justice system is to stop cycles of crime, and the vast majority of ways to best do that are at the community level; if people are a danger and cannot be in the community, then the priority responsibility is to rehabilitate them during the time that they’re separated from society.

So the focus is on the pathways for someone to safely return to the community. A system that emphasized that and focused on that would look radically different than what we have now, and it would be for a smaller number of people. Because if we had the kinds of programs in place on the front-end at the community level that offered alternatives to incarceration ― diversion and mental health treatment, drug treatment, all those kinds of things ― you’d see a lot fewer people get far downfield in their involvement in crime.

What are some books that had a substantial impact on your intellectual development?

Certainly Maya Angelou was very influential. “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” I read that when I was young, a very influential book, taught me perseverance and growth through challenge.

And when I was in college, Frederick Douglass. I had a college professor tell me there are only about 200 written autobiographies by people who were enslaved in this country. Slavery lasted over 200 years and there are only 200 autobiographies actually in print. Isn’t that amazing? It’s just horrifying that we have that little direct knowledge of what this country did. At any rate, Frederick Douglass’s first autobiography was really impactful.

Violent crime in California was up about 10 percent last year. Why do you think that is?

There are a couple of things that are important to note. One is, most criminologists would say you want to look at crime trends for longer periods of time to be able to accurately evaluate where they’re going and why.

Two, we know that crime trends are often very localized. A severe challenge in one jurisdiction may not be the same in another. So when you break out what’s happening in San Francisco versus what’s happening in Monterey versus what’s happening in Fresno or Richmond, it looks pretty different. It doesn’t look quite like there’s one statewide trend. You can see a lot of diversity in how crime is happening. For example, it’s down in Oakland, it’s down in Pasadena.

There are a lot of jurisdictions where it’s going up and I would say that there’s a lot more that needs to be researched and understood to get a sense of what’s happening. Violent crime is certainly up in other parts of the country, as well. This requires close attention.

The other thing I will say is that every reform that occurs does need to result in adaptive practices at the local level. Sometimes those adaptations happen and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what you’re gonna do now that a particular crime no longer means automatic incarceration. What are the other strategies you’re going to use to address these things? We’ve been clear, as it relates to Proposition 47, that implementation requires that locals change their practices. If locals do or don’t, that could be having an impact as well. 

There are enough people at this point that have had direct personal experience with the failings of our current approach to criminal justice that pretty much everybody agrees that most people get worse in prison, not better.
Lenore Anderson

You’ve been doing this work for years. Is there a moment that stands out when you knew you’d made a major impact?

Proposition 47 took six crimes, changed them from felony to misdemeanor, and applied that retroactively very broadly. Anyone in California who had one of these crimes on their old criminal record can apply to get that felony removed. Rough estimates are that there are about 1 million Californians that may be eligible for record change under Proposition 47. 

So we’re like: Let’s tell the public about this. We did outreach to grassroots organizations, we did billboards, we did television, radio, and then we decided we wanted to organize a large-scale fair, like a community fair, where we would have free lawyers on site, we would have hot dogs, music, and get people to come on down and get their records changed.

So it was Exposition Park in Los Angeles, and we got 150 lawyer volunteers all trained up, and they came to volunteer. And we got 150 event volunteers. We had no idea how many people were going to show up. Just no idea, we’re rolling the dice here.

The event starts at 11am on a Sunday and our team shows up at seven in the morning, and there are people who are already in line. At seven in the morning. My staff is like, “Hey, you know we don’t start until 11am?” And people have lawn chairs, sleeping bags. The response from the people in line was, “Oh no, we’ve been here since four in the morning. This is a really important day for us.” Five thousand people showed up at this event!

Watch the video below for scenes from the Los Angeles record change event.

I mean, it was totally overwhelming, total chaos, computer systems break down (laughs), we need to get more water. We had no idea, we had no idea. And the stories of the impact of these felony convictions on people’s lives was devastating and overwhelming. The grandma who can’t get her granddaughter out of foster care because she has some drug possession conviction from like 30 years ago. The guy who’s been only able to find part-time work for a decade, even though he has three kids. The woman who wants to get a student loan to go to college. I mean, it just goes on and on and on. There were moments where it was just tears.

And it is overwhelming. How are we ever going to possibly be able to help all these people ― not just on this day but in this country? What we’ve done is just so far beyond the number of people we’ve stuffed into prisons. We actually took generations of people, mostly low-income communities of color, and completely stripped hope and opportunities for basic economic stability and dignity. And we called it public safety. 

Looking back, would you have handled your own education any differently?

I sure wish I took high school more seriously than I did because I probably would have gone straight to college. On the other hand, perhaps I needed those years for growing up. I certainly encourage younger folks to take high school seriously and go to college when they can. I am grateful for the junior college system in California. I think community colleges are critical tools. Not everyone can go to a four-year.

There’s so much about education that is a luxury, in terms of the chance to grapple with ideas, learn as much as you can, absorb as much information as you can. Especially as a mom and working all the time, the opportunity to just read and learn is not the luxury that I have. I really wish that I’d spent more time in the libraries. I really wish I had taken more opportunities to learn everything I possibly could from the brilliant teachers that I was around.

Think of it as this very very short period of time where you’re actual job is to learn. I mean, that’s the coolest thing ever. And it’s not permanent. That’s a very, very short window. So absorb as much as you can.

I spent some time in other countries while I was in law school, and I remember a colleague of mine in Guatemala asking me all kinds of questions about the library at the law school that I went to. It was just such a remarkable thing that there would be this many books. Recognize that college and law school in particular are serious privileges and you should take them seriously and absorb everything you can.

To know how we’re going to deliver safety, you would think that we would talk a lot more to people who have experienced a lack of safety. We really have not.
Lenore Anderson

Anything else to mention?

It’s funny to me that this is even of interest to you, to be honest. Criminal justice reform is a totally new thing to all of a sudden be a very big issue. For the majority of the time I’ve been working on criminal justice issues, it has not been a major topic in the media or a major subject of presidential candidates, all this kind of stuff. That change just in the time that I’ve been doing this work has been interesting.

I’m really hopeful that means we’ve reached a point where we can have a breakthrough on this issue in the country. It certainly wasn’t what I would have expected 10 or 15 years ago. I mean, we now have Democrats and Republicans talking about some of the same things when it comes to criminal justice reform. Wayne Hughes Jr. was a major backer of Proposition 47, a very prominent conservative business leader here in California. Newt Gingrich endorsed Proposition 47. It’s just kind of amazing, right?

It’s such an exciting time for criminal justice reform and the possibility of completely changing how the country understands safety. What that will mean for millions of people is really humbling to me. It’s so important that we turn this moment into something meaningful, that we actually take the opportunity that I think we’re being handed right now.

What’s going to make the biggest difference? How are we going to turn mass incarceration into something of the past, something that we recognize was a huge mistake in terms of public policy and human development? That’s a very humbling but exciting opportunity that I see that exists right now in this country, and something that I don’t think I foresaw happening so soon.

This interview transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

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The Chicago Gang Diaspora And The Origin Of Gun Violence

Tue, 2016-08-30 11:28

Chicago is front and center in the gun violence debate that is happening within the presidential campaign. The issue was underscored by the shooting of basketball great Dwayne Wade's cousin while she was walking with a stroller post registering her other children for school. Everyone keeps asking, "why?" Why in the adopted hometown of President Obama?

The answer is simple; the Chicago gang diaspora. Gang violence in Chicago has increased dramatically since the closing of the city's housing projects, most notably Cabrini-Greene which housed 15,000 residents. As with most housing projects, Cabrini-Green was known for crime, drugs, violence and gangs. When it was decided that the Near North real estate was too close to Chicago's Miracle Mile, and too valuable with the backdrop of the murder of a young girl, it was announced that the housing project would be closed.

Cabrini-Green had a dividing line with different gangs on the north and south sides of Division Street. When the projects were closed, families were moved to other housing projects or used housing vouchers to move into areas on the West and Southsides of Chicago. During this diaspora, no consideration was given for the gang affiliation of the family. Whether it was a young son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter who was affiliated with a gang, no one asked before the family was placed in a new neighborhood.

The end result is the gangs that were divided by Division Street in Cabrini-Green now live next to each other in new neighborhoods, resulting in shootings across the entire city on the West and Southsides. Middle-class African American neighborhoods are now experiencing violence they have never known, all because of the gang diaspora.

Everyone wants a solution; politicians, the Chicago Police, the Nation. Unfortunately, it is too late. The families have been relocated without any concern for familial gang affiliation. A generation will be lost until those affiliations are somehow realigned. So the killings will continue until the current gang bangers retire. That's what happens when gang leaders and members don't understand where their territory begins and ends.

I know it sounds strange to equate a diaspora with gangs, but in the end, they believe that they are culturally a family. Gangs have been split and placed next to their rivals; house by house, apartment by apartment. The result is over 2700 shootings in Chicago this year.

The only solution is to reevaluate each family and move them again to concentrate familial gangs within certain neighborhoods. I know it sounds crazy but it will save lives.

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Democrats Kill Redistricting Reform While Taking Credit for Supporting It

Tue, 2016-08-30 10:10
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

On Thursday, we got the news that the Democrats elected to the Illinois Supreme Court had rejected giving Illinois voters a chance to have their say on redistricting with some of the partisanship removed.

The decision was completely partisan. Majority Democrats on the court voted no to letting the redistricting question go before voters while the Republicans voted yes.

On Friday, I came home to another letter from one of the Democrats who is supposed to represent me in Springfield. This one was all about how that Democrat voted to make legislative mapmaking fairer.

What fortuitous timing, she wrote sarcastically. I'm guessing nearly everyone who lives in a district considered contested or competitive got one of these letters that surely were ordered and designed by House Speaker Mike Madigan's and Senate President John Cullerton's minions. Of course, less than a third of districts up for election this year even are contested because of the political control over redistricting.

My letter said Legislator or Candidate X "believes Illinois must change the way the state's legislative district boundaries are drawn so politics can be removed from the process and true reform can begin." It even implied my legislator owned or authored a House Joint Resolution that was "superior to other so-called 'reform' proposals because it provides: true independence," true diversity, true transparency...blah, blah, blah.

What a crock of baloney. Do not buy it.

In classic, clever campaign legislating, majority House Democrats pushed through and approved one redistricting reform proposal, while majority Senate Democrats pushed through a different one. In order for redistricting changes to be made law, the two Democratic-run chambers would have to approve the same plan and then it could go to the governor for his consideration.

That didn't happen. On purpose. So now you still can have Democratic lawmakers and Democratic candidates saying they support redistricting reform, or they're on record supporting it, or they practically sponsored it as they campaign to win your vote Nov. 8.

Let's be crystal clear on three points:

  1. If Republicans won the power to draw legislative maps after a U.S. Census, they would draw them to their political advantage too, just as they did once in the 1990s.

  2. Democrats have won the power more lately and have used it to full advantage.

  3. Democrats are the ones blocking a less-partisan approach to legislative mapmaking.

If you want to have a shot at fixing Illinois politics, redistricting reform is one of the best ways to start. Corruption is born when politicians draw maps to their advantage, packing voters into districts they know will vote for their candidates based on their voting histories. Or they pack candidates or lawmakers from their opposing party into the same district so one of them can't win. Often in the process, they draw districts that look like ear muffs or spaghetti or spiders. Or they draw districts where one side of a block is represented by one lawmaker and the neighbors across the street have a different politician.

There's no guarantee that changing the way legislative maps are drawn will fix everything. Few things are perfect and most such attempts create unintended consequences. But nearly any change in the redistricting process that removes the conflict inherent in politicians drawing their own home bases is worth a shot.

The Independent Map Amendment group that was the second consecutive one to try and to be shot down by Democrats in the courts is weighing whether to ask the court for a rehearing.

Last week, Democratic Supreme Court justices said the amendment group erred by including the state's Auditor General in its plan by having that officer oversee the process for selecting independent commissioners to draw maps.

Having seen the history of rigged mapping and attempts at changing it in Illinois, Republicans on the supreme court assailed their Democratic brethren.

"The Illinois Constitution was meant to prevent tyranny, not enshrine it," Republican Justice Bob Thomas wrote.

Enshrined tyranny. That's just what we have in Illinois. We've become numb to it.

Independents and Democrats with common sense have to join Republicans in concluding any attempt at changing redistricting is rigged against the people as the current maps are. Our very democratic, small d, rights are being stripped from us. We need to wake ourselves up from the stupor of our Illinois political slavery. Stop thinking that it doesn't matter or it's hopeless. Recruit family, friends and neighbors.

Call, email, visit your elected officials. Tell them to work with the other chamber and approve the same form of redistricting changes to send to the governor. Keep telling them. Keep up the pressure. Again and again. When they tell you they voted for reform, laugh at them. Tell them you'll vote for them after they see that redistricting changes are Illinois law.

That letter? The amendment it mentions, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 58, was supported by some reputable groups in Illinois that also supported the Independent Map Amendment. The letter correctly says that other version of redistricting reform was supported by Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Advocacy Council.

But again, Madigan and Cullerton made sure each chamber passed different versions of redistricting reform. Tell them to get HJRCA 58 to Gov. Bruce Rauner after the election or to call a special session and get it done now. Or tell them to pass the Independent Map Amendment version because lawmakers can approve whatever they want, unlike citizen voters. Tell them then, and only then, will you consider voting for them.

Call them on their campaign crocks of nonsense. Democrats control the Supreme Court, the state House and Senate. Voting for something isn't enough. Give us a real redistricting reform law supported by non-partisan experts.

Call the Democrats' bluff. Hold them accountable. Illinois Republicans, Democrats, and independents of common sense must unite. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Next article: Personal info of up to 200,000 Illinois voters compromised in cyber attack

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23 Reasons To Love Having Natural Hair

Tue, 2016-08-30 09:40

The presence of Black American Olympians dominating their respective sports this summer was a representative testament to our country’s diversity. The ongoing shaming of Gabby Douglas’ natural edges, however, portrays our country’s lack of acceptance of that diversity ― particularly when it comes to natural hair. 

What better way to combat that prejudice than with unapologetic and celebratory expressions of self love from the natural hair community? That’s why The Huffington Post asked readers to share a selfie of their natural curls, coils and kinks with a caption telling the whole world what their hair means to them using our hashtag #MyNaturalHairJourneyIs.

The submissions show that no two hair journeys are exactly alike. Some wear their hair natural as a declaration of defiance, a symbolic crown worn proudly against the status quo. Others do it to be true to nature, their heritage and their beautiful selves.

Check out all of the compelling photos below and join the conversation in the comments section, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #MyNaturalHairJourneyIs. We may even feature your selfie next time!

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs a celebration of my Blackness @HuffPostBlog @blackvoices

— Ogorchukwu (@ogorchukwuu) July 21, 2016

A photo posted by Aevin Dugas (@aevindugas) on Nov 27, 2014 at 5:36am PST

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs natural by any means necessary.

A photo posted by Safi Mai (@eyeamqueenmai) on Jun 18, 2016 at 8:17am PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs proof that I don’t have to follow rules to be accepted by society! My hair is loc’d, not my mind or the way I handle myself.

A photo posted by Stacys_FaithandStars (@stacys_faithandstars) on Jul 14, 2016 at 9:36pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs glorious! My crown is a reflection of God’s creativity.

A photo posted by Terri Hardaway (@projectnaptural) on Jul 12, 2016 at 7:39pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs hopefully an inspiration to women who need help accepting their natural beauty in a society that values Eurocentric beauty standards.

A photo posted by Denise (@dlsprat) on Jul 24, 2016 at 9:31am PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs explorative. 

A photo posted by Taylor Paige (@mstaylorpaige_) on Jul 21, 2016 at 8:43am PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs responsible for my confidence. 

A photo posted by Amber Amour (@ambertheactivist) on Jul 21, 2016 at 9:35am PDT

Growing my hair ― all of it everywhere ― makes me feel free, wild, and connected to the divine. 

A photo posted by Jassy Onya'e (@jassyonyae) on Jul 21, 2016 at 12:16pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs learning to be comfortable with my thick wool-like hair that I was born with. 

A photo posted by Dr. Phoenyx Austin, MD (@drphoenyx) on Jul 25, 2016 at 3:35pm PDT

#NyNaturalHairJourneyIs is a great expression of self-love. 

A photo posted by Kenya W. Ross (@kenyawinifred) on Jul 21, 2016 at 12:59pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs cosmopolitan, not comical.

A photo posted by deecii (@deecii) on Jul 24, 2016 at 8:54pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs my return to to my ancestors.

A photo posted by Deb Gregoire (@heymommyabc) on Jul 22, 2016 at 5:16am PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs big and fun! I love my hair! 

A photo posted by SASHA D. (@zuri_natturals) on Jul 24, 2016 at 6:24pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs feeling one with nature.

A photo posted by Nurse_Write_or_die (@nurse_write_or_die) on Jun 18, 2016 at 12:53pm PDT

 Loving our coils helps us feel a closeness to our lineage.

A photo posted by Jasmine (@eenerenimsaj) on Jul 28, 2016 at 8:10pm PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs dauntless, deliberate me.

A photo posted by Lady Bizness (@ladybizness) on Jul 30, 2016 at 8:30am PDT

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs something that makes me feel proud, healthy, and happy that I made the choice to stop using relaxer.

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs Carefree, versatile, beautiful and strong.

— Elaine Hegwood Bowen (@englewoodelaine) July 21, 2016

@HuffingtonPost #MyNaturalHairJourneyIs Liberation! Even with stares all hair is good hair. #negrabella

— Black Latina (@BLnegrabella) July 22, 2016

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs gorgeous, versatile, it's my crown, it's ME. #MyDaughter @blackvoices

— Roy Williams Jr. (@RoyWilliamsJr) July 21, 2016

@blackvoices everyday I proudly rock my short hair celebrating its strength & versatility! #Mynaturalhairjourneyis

— Jam Gamble (@MsJamPccs) July 21, 2016

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs About Me EXPRESSING Myself AUTHENTICALLY and CELEBRATING My #RealRootz w/#RealRootzPride! ✊

— Real Rootz Naturals (@RootzNaturals) August 13, 2016

#MyNaturalHairJourneyIs . . . One that frees me to love myself after hiding it all these years

— Deborah Washington (@nugslilsis) July 23, 2016


— gusta booker (@GustaB3) July 21, 2016

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Donald Trump Is Wrong About Crime In Cities

Mon, 2016-08-29 12:13

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Donald Trump on Monday continued his clumsy efforts to appeal to black voters, tweeting a false claim about “inner-city” crime nearing record highs.  

As his campaign again attempts to right itself after plummeting in the polls, Trump has argued that black voters should support him because Democratic policies have failed their communities. He’s largely relied on stereotypes and generalizations to make his case, and it hasn’t been especially effective: Trump’s support among black voters continues to hover in the single digits. 

Still, Trump is sticking to this approach even as it alienates the people he’s ostensibly trying to attract. Last week, Nykea Aldridge, cousin of NBA star Dwyane Wade, was shot and killed in Chicago. Trump’s reaction to the death of Aldridge, a mother of four, was to brag that it proved him right about unsafe cities, and to seize on it as evidence that “African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!” Not even Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, could defend that statement.

On Monday, Trump fired off several tweets about crime in cities, again leaning heavily on stereotypes and dubious claims:  

Look how bad it is getting! How much more crime, how many more shootings, will it take for African-Americans and Latinos to vote Trump=SAFE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2016

Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2016

Now that African-Americans are seeing what a bad job Hillary type policy and management has done to the inner-cities, they want TRUMP!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2016

There’s a problem with Trump’s claims, though: Violent crime is on the decline nationally, having hit its lowest point in decades in 2014. And while some cities saw upticks in the homicide rate in 2015 from the previous year, the overall trend in most cities is still downward. Year-over-year changes don’t really give you the whole picture.

In New York City, for example, there were 350 homicides in 2015 versus 333 in 2014. But that’s nowhere near the city’s peak. In 1990, 2,245 people were killed in New York City. Something similar is happening in Chicago, where the murder rate fell dramatically from the 1990s to the mid-2000s. There are, of course, exceptions ― 2015 was Baltimore’s deadliest year on record, with 344 homicides.

A Brennan Center for Justice analysis of America’s 30 largest cities found that while the homicide rate did rise in 19 of those cities between 2014 and 2015, the overall number of homicides is relatively low compared to the 1990s.

“Murder rates are so low that a small numerical increase can lead to a large percentage change,” reads the report. “Murder rates vary widely from year to year, and there is little evidence of a national coming wave in violent crime.”

Also on HuffPost: Donald Trump Wants To Remind White People That Gun Violence Is A Black Problem

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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We Pick The 20 Breakout Stars Of The 2016 NFL Season

Mon, 2016-08-29 09:46

Football is a game of opportunity, and every season of the NFL reminds us of that. Take last season, for example: Who envisioned Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman amassing 14 touchdowns on over 1,600 total yards, while earning All-Pro honors? Better yet, who predicted Doug Baldwin ― an undrafted free agent in 2011 ― catching 14 touchdown passes for the Seahawks? And who can forget about the sensational rookie campaigns by running backs David Johnson and Thomas Rawls, of Arizona and Seattle respectively?

"There are a lot of weapons in that offense... I think Dallas wins the East." @Schultz_Report #GMFB

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 23, 2016

However, it is worth noting that this column has yielded some quality results in years past. Top sleeper predictions from last preseason included Derek Carr, Allen Robinson, Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins, Doug Martin and Tyler Eifert.

My top sleeper from a rather inaccurate 2014 was Jordan Reed.

"This is the biggest of the bold!" @Schultz_Report on predicting @RGIII being the comeback player of the year

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 23, 2016

2013 included Eddie Lacy, T.Y. Hilton, Jamaal Charles, Greg Olsen, Emmanuel Sanders and ― yikes ― Montee Ball! 

And 2012 was a stellar series of predictions, including Russell Wilson, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Doug Martin and ― oh no ― Isaiah Pead.

With that in mind, here are the top breakout candidates of 2016. For more NFL, click here to read my five bold predictions.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified the team John Brown plays for. It is the Arizona Cardinals, not the San Francisco 49ers.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related on Twitter at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram at @Schultz_Report. Also, check out my SiriusXM Radio show 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. ET on Bleacher Report channel 83.

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Donald Trump Makes Another Tragedy All About Him

Sat, 2016-08-27 09:42

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump exploited the death of a black mother in Chicago on Friday, saying it was a clear example of why African-Americans should vote for him.

Nykea Aldridge, the cousin of Chicago Bulls player Dwyane Wade and a mother of four, was killed on Friday as she pushed a baby in a stroller. Aldridge was not the intended target. Wade tweeted about his cousin’s death on Friday, calling  for an end to “senseless gun violence.”

Less than 24 hours later, Trump was exploiting Aldridge’s death in a tweet in which he misspelled Wade’s first name. Trump later deleted the tweet and posted another, correcting the spelling of Wade’s name.

Dwyane Wade's cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2016

Several hours after his initial tweet, Trump tweeted his condolences to Wade and his family.

My condolences to Dwyane Wade and his family, on the loss of Nykea Aldridge. They are in my thoughts and prayers.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2016

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released at the beginning of August showed Hillary Clinton led Trump among African-Americans 91 to 1 percent.

Recently, he has tried to appeal to African-Americans by claiming their communities had gotten so bad they have nothing to lose by voting for him. African-Americans have said that Trump’s description of their lives isn’t accurate.

Trump tweeted a similar boast after a deadly shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub, where gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people, saying it showed his warnings about terrorism were correct.

In an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Monday, Trump claimed to have met with a top Chicago police officer who told him he could stop Chicago crime in a week. A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said no senior member of the department met with Trump or anyone from his campaign.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

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Remap Reform Kicked Off Ballot Again. So What's Next?

Fri, 2016-08-26 13:36

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday closed the door on the Independent Map Amendment for the 2016 election, but not too tightly.

The ruling majority of justices in their decision singled out one problem with the proposed amendment that put it in violation of the state constitution. Fix that, the court said, and we'd give this another chance.

It has to do with two issues: First, the constitution says citizen-led initiatives like this one "shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects" of the General Assembly. Second, the Independent Map Amendment sought to set up an independent map-drawing commission in which the Illinois Auditor General -- who is not a member of the General Assembly -- would play a role.

"Independent Maps makes the policy argument that upholding the circuit court's finding that the plaintiffs were entitled to judgment on the pleadings will 'make it largely impossible to make meaningful reforms in the redistricting process.,'" writes Justice Thomas Kilbride, writing for the four Democrats on the court. "We respectfully disagree. The Auditor General is not the only potential nonlegislative actor capable of filling the duties outlined in its proposal."

Later, Kilbride writes, "Our decision is not intended to reflect in any way on the viability of other possible redistricting reform initiatives." (The full decision is here.)

Two years ago, the court was more explicit in ruling that term limits are not a subject that citizens can impose via a ballot proposal. (The court also had rejected a citizen-led term limits effort in 1994.) Thursday's decision hints that absent the auditor general in the process, redistricting reform might make it onto a general election ballot.

But given the tremendously arduous process necessary to get any ballot initiative before the court -- it starts with gathering a minimum of nearly 300,000 verifiable voter signatures -- another Independent Map-style effort for the 2018 election is anything but certain.

"The Supreme Court rules give us the opportunity to seek rehearing and our legal team is weighing that option," said Dennis FitzSimons, chairman of Independent Maps. But  FitzSimons' statement did not indicate optimism. "...In short, the system is broken, and the way this Court interprets the Constitution seems likely to prevent its repair."

The Illinois General Assembly could place a redistricting reform amendment onto the 2018 with three-fifths majority votes in the House and Senate. Lawmakers are not restricted in what they can amend.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent the summer giving speeches that emphasize the heavy public support for redistricting reform and legislative term limits. He wants the General Assembly to act on both when it returns to Springfield a week after the November election.

But there is virtually no chance of either being taken up in the Legislature, where Democrats hold three-fifths majorities and where its most powerful member -- House Speaker Michael Madigan -- has been the state's most vocal and adamant opponent of both.

But Madigan is taking a gamble by fighting to preserve the current map-drawing system, in which Democrats have substantially boosted their power with maps they drew in 2001 and 2011.

Under the Illinois Constitution, new district maps following each U.S. Census are passed much bills in the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor. This is no problem when the House, Senate and governor's office all are controlled by a single party. But if there are two parties involved, it's a different story. If the House, Senate and governor can't agree on a map, the constitution calls for creation of an eight-member commission with four members of each party to hash it out.

If the commission can't agree, "Supreme Court shall submit the names of two persons, not of the same political party, to the Secretary of State (who) shall draw by random selection the name of one of the two persons to serve as the ninth member of the Commission," says the state constitution.

The luck-of-the-draw option was inserted in the 1970 constitution because the framers believed it would force compromise. They had faith that state leaders would never leave a decision as important as drawing district maps to an all-or-nothing gamble.  Instead, the parties have opted three times to go for the luck of the draw.  Democrats won in 1981 and 2001. Republicans won in 1991, and their map helped win them the majority in the House for the 89th General Assembly (January 1995-January 1997). Those were the only two years between 1983 and today that Michael Madigan was not Speaker of the House.

Should Rauner run for and win re-election in 2018 and the system remains as it is, Republicans will have a 50-50 shot at drawing the new map in 2021.

Next: Soaring premiums, fewer choices on Illinois Obamacare exchange

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Poll: IL Voters Want More Spending on Mental Health, Drug Treatment

Thu, 2016-08-25 16:07
Historically, stigma weighed heavily on individuals struggling with mental illness or drug/alcohol addiction or both. In the '70s and '80, families easily shunned and abandoned relatives who were under psychiatric care, embarrassed by their existence. Politicians acted scarcely better.

But over the last 30-years, persistent advocacy and political trench warfare by committed mental health care and addiction treatment activists have demonstrated effective therapies exist and have helped reverse the tide of negative public opinion.

In fact, in recent years after mass-shootings, a broad bipartisan consensus of lawmakers has loudly embraced increased investment in mental health care as a long-term strategy to deflect potential shooters from horrific crimes - (though after individual, inner city shootings a bi-partisan embrace of tougher gun crime prison sentences has been the typical public policy response) - and that has undoubtedly helped change public opinion.

In Illinois, spending more on mental health care is a big winner among voters, according to a new poll.

A July 26 automated poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer of 826 likely voters finds that 70.1% back "investing more money in mental health care" while just 11.5% oppose "investing more money." That's a net +59 points. Wow. 18.4% are undecided.

In the legislative district of State Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago), who is being targeted by Democrats in November, voters are nearly as equally supportive of increased expenditure for mental health. An August 1-2 automated survey commissioned by The Illinois Observer of 548 likely 2016 voters in McAuliffe's district finds that 66.9% support more mental health funding and 13.6% oppose or a 53-point net positive on the issue. 19.5% are undecided.

Those are some eye-ball popping numbers.

Voter support for investing more money in drug treatment is less dramatic than compared to mental health, but still startling from the perspective where voters stood barely two years ago.

The new poll says that 55.4% of likely voters support investing more money to "provide treatment to individuals struggling with drug addiction, such as addiction to heroin" and 27.2% oppose. 17.4% are undecided.

However, in 2014, on the edge of an unfolding heroin epidemic in Illinois, voters were in an ungenerous mood.

According to a May 12, 2014 automated poll commissioned by the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health (IABH) (formerly Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association) few Illinois voters wanted to spend money on drug treatment even with a heroin crisis exploding.

The poll of 534 likely voters, conducted by Strive Strategies of LaGrange, found that only 24.4% supported "increasing state government funding for drug treatment to fight the Illinois heroin crisis" and 40.4% opposed the idea. 35.2% were undecided.

It's public opinion whiplash.

"Two years ago voters were unprepared to spend money to fight the emerging heroin crisis," said IABH COO Eric Foster. "But in the ensuing two years, the heroin conversation and the perception around the issue is being transformed as the crisis has expanded to every community and deepened as deaths have mounted and as bipartisan coalitions of lawmakers here in Illinois and across the country have fought to respond.

"Even 2016 presidential primary candidates addressed the issue."

In McAuliffe's district support of more money for drug treatment stands at nearly half of voters, 46.7%, backing increased funding and 30.4% opposed. 22.9% are undecided.

Voter support for increased funding for mental health care and addiction treatment comes as the Rauner Administration has placed behavioral healthcare at the "center" of its human services "transformation" plan and as a key component of its criminal justice reform ambitions.

While behavioral health serves as a strategic policy centerpiece for the governor, funding for both programs has retreated.

In Fiscal Year 2016, state addiction treatment contracts issued to community providers, with money coming from the state's general revenue fund for drug treatment, were cut 25% from FY 2015 levels. Mental health care contracts saw a 21.8% cut. In 2017, addiction treatment contracts had 21.4% reduction and mental health got a 26.7% cut.

Insiders note that "some" of that money was "shifted" to Illinois' Medicaid system to provide behavioral health services, but they argue that that provides no benefit to large non-Medicaid eligible populations served by non-profit community providers. And advocates point out that it is notoriously difficult to track behavioral health money from one budget year to the next once that money is shifted into the larger Medicaid pot.

Budget cuts to mental health and addiction treatment are, however, not a recent phenomenon. The state legislature cut addiction treatment funding by 40% between FY 2009 and FY 2015. Mental health suffered a similar budgetary fate, getting cut by approximately 30%, during the same period.

The social stigma falling on those struggling with either mental illness or addiction has been rapidly lifting with public opinion swinging sharply in favor of public support for care and treatment. For those folks working to recover, that is swell news.

For elected officials, they must be alert on the campaign trail to the political stigma of cutting those programs that voters now strongly embrace. Otherwise, they may find themselves shunned, abandoned in November and beyond.

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5 Stadium Names the White Sox Should've Chosen Instead of Guaranteed Rate Field

Thu, 2016-08-25 11:28

The Chicago White Sox are having a bit of an identity crisis.

After starting the 2016 season looking like an aggressive playoff contender, the wheels came off. Now, White Sox fans will have to make another adjustment. Starting Nov. 1, the South Side stadium no longer will be known as U.S. Cellular Field and instead, will be named Guaranteed Rate Field in a sponsorship deal. Guaranteed Rate is the name of a national mortgage company based in Chicago.

The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and Guaranteed Rate ran into a bit of bad press recently. Earlier this year, a judge ordered the company to pay $25 million in an alleged loan diversion scheme.

Can @WhiteSox mascot called the Guaranteed Rat be far behind? via @RebootIllinois #guaranteedratefield

— Matt Dietrich (@MattReboot) August 25, 2016

So if not Guaranteed Rate Field, then what? Glad you asked, dear reader.

Here are the five names we think would be a bit more befitting.

Have any better ones in mind? Tweet us at @rebootillinois with your top pick!

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

U.S. Farmers Risk Losing Everything Because Of Absurd Immigration Rule

Thu, 2016-08-25 06:35

Three years ago, Fishkill Farms owner and operator Joshua Morgenthau found himself facing a situation that is every farmer’s nightmare.

It was time to prepare his 100-acre fruit and vegetable farm’s cherries and strawberries for harvest, but the workers he’d hired for the job weren’t there to help. His employees were many miles away in Mexico, waiting for the green light to enter the U.S. and get to work.

Without enough hands to weed and prune the delicate crop, Morgenthau’s berries were at risk of rotting on the vine. Worse, he knew there was little he could do but wait and hope he didn’t lose his whole crop in the meantime.

Each year, Morgenthau employs eight seasonal migrant workers who travel to his farm in New York’s Hudson Valley through the labor department’s H-2A temporary agricultural worker program. The process of obtaining their H-2A visas had been relatively painless for the previous five years. But this time, he says the department changed the file number of his application without any warning. 

That meant he had to refile all the applications, creating “hours and hours and hours of more paperwork and hassle for us” and delaying the workers’ arrival by more than a month.

As a result, the farm’s cherry and strawberry production took a hit that season. His team of migrant and domestic workers were unable to make up for the decreased harvest preparation time.

“We managed to get it picked, but it was still kind of a mess,” he told The Huffington Post.

Despite setbacks like this one, the visa program is essential to Morgenthau’s farm. He works with the same employees each year and described them as “part of the farm family.” He credits them with being experts at operating the machinery specific to the crops he grows.

The H-2A program was created in the 1990s to help agricultural employers bring temporary foreign workers into the U.S. to do seasonal work that domestic workers cannot or are not willing to do. As part of the program, employers are required to offer certain wages, plus transportation and housing when necessary. The H-2A visa holders live and work in the U.S. for several months at a time but are not considered immigrants, and the program is not seen as a pathway to citizenship.

This so-called guest farm worker program is far from perfect. It has been criticized for being easy to abuse, with some employers neglecting worker safety and stealing wages while facing little recourse. However, those familiar with the visa program describe it as the industry’s sole legal option for getting temporary farm work done. 

The farming industry still relies heavily on undocumented workers, who are estimated to make up about half of the country’s 2.5 million hired farm hands, according to the Labor Department. The temporary visa program is responsible for just a fraction of the overall agricultural workforce.

Yet the program is growing increasingly popular ― due to the domestic labor shortages ― forcing more farmers to contend with a chaotic and heavily bureaucratic system that puts their crops in jeopardy. At the same time, calls to improve the program are being sounded by farmers and immigration reform advocates alike.

The U.S. has cracked down on the use of undocumented laborers coming into the country, resulting in a widespread labor shortage in agriculture and ballooning demand for H-2A visas. This has also meant more administrative delays in processing visa applications.

Delays of even a week can result in major crop losses for farmers. Delays of a month or more can be devastating. 

Morgenthau was able to save his harvest in 2013, the year his workers were delayed, but he knows just how easily things can fall apart. “We’re lucky to have never lost an entire crop,” he said.

Others aren’t so fortunate.

A number of farmers in Georgia reported six-digit losses this year due to delays in visa processing. Another farmer, in California, watched as one-third of his Napa cabbage rotted in the field while he waited for the H-2A workers to arrive.

Last year, a State Department computer glitch delayed workers on the West Coast, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue. Elise Bauman, executive director at Salem Harvest, a food recovery group that partners with dozens of farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, saw the fallout of this glitch firsthand. She and her team worked with just three strawberry farms in 2015, but she estimated seeing some 100 acres of the wasted berries with her own eyes.

“They have to be handled and harvested at exactly the right time, otherwise you get a pile of mush,” Bauman said. “Very delicious-tasting mush, but it’s not attractive.”

These issues will only compound as the visa program continues to grow. Visa applications increased by 40 percent over the past five years, according to NPR. Last year, 140,000 H-2A visas were granted. In the first half of this year, visa issuance is up another 17 percent over 2015.

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The H-2A program’s issues have sent the farming industry into crisis mode, vocally criticizing the program’s backlog of visa applications and emerging as a somewhat surprising proponent of immigration reform.

In an April news release, the American Farm Bureau Federation warned of rotting fields of crops resulting from H-2A delays. Those delays, the organization says, could be avoided if the program were revamped.

So far, there hasn’t been much action on that advice.

In June, a bipartisan group of Congress members calling for H-2A reform sent a letter to the Labor Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leaders, asking them to streamline the guest worker visa process. Their effort has yet to gain traction.  

In a media call organized by the pro-immigration reform Partnership for a New American Economy earlier this month, AFB president Zippy Duvall called for a more flexible and efficient visa program for migrant farmworkers. One solution Duvall has offered would be filing paperwork for the program electronically. Currently, paperwork must be processed through standard mail.

Failure to act, Duvall warned, would threaten the nation’s food supply.

“We’re coming to a point where the American people need to make up their mind if they want to import their food or import their labor,” Duvall said.

Other voices are calling for bigger changes. 

Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado, took his call for reform a step further. Beyond streamlining the H-2A program, he would like to find a way to keep some of these temporary farm workers in the U.S., instead of sending them back to their home countries when their visas expire.

“We want to take care of the workers who are with us,” Nassif said. “They have experience, families and roots here. We want to keep those people [here] and protect them. We want some sort of legal status for them.”

In 2013, Nassif backed legislation sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that proposed a new “blue card” program that would make temporary workers in good legal standing eligible for a legal status, allowing them to stay in the country and granting them a path to citizenship. The bill passed in the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House after being blocked by Speaker John Boehner.  

In the absence of action in Washington, some believe employers in the industry should be doing more to offer better wages and conditions to their farmworkers, Bruce Goldstein, president of the Farmworker Justice advocacy group, argues.

“If employers want to retain their workforce and attract workers to their jobs, they collectively need to improve their reputation,” Goldstein told HuffPost.

Due to many farmworkers’ undocumented status, Goldstein argues, they silently endure subpar working conditions and pay, fearing that they’ll be reported or fired if they complain. 

The average seasonal migrant farmworker is paid between $12,500 and $14,999 a year. Most lack health insurance and many work far more than 40 hours a week. (By contrast, someone working full time for the federal minimum wage earns $15,080 a year.)

Guest farm workers are supposed to earn more under the temporary work program. H-2A wages are set by the Labor Department and vary from state to state ― between $10.59 and $13.80 an hour ― based on state minimums and typical wages for domestic farm workers in the region. In Washington state, for example, the minimum wage for H-2A workers is $12.69 an hour. That’s significantly more than the state’s minimum wage of $9.47.

Some research has raised questions about whether visa-holding guest workers fare much better than unauthorized workers, however. An Economic Policy Institute study released last year found no significant difference in pay or conditions between the two groups.

As of now, farmers are able to get away with this. While advocates like Goldstein believe some employers are treating their workers fairly, the ones who aren’t continue to hinder their progress. And they need to be held accountable.

“There are many employers that comply with the law, but they are being undermined by the companies that want to reduce their cost and increase their profitability by cheating workers,” Goldstein said. “We need to create a law-abiding agricultural sector to benefit both the farmworkers and the employers that comply with the law.”

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BuzzFeed has reported that the H-2A visa program and its sister program for short-term non-farm workers (H-2B) suffer from a host of other abuse problems. The Labor Department found that between 2010 and 2014 almost 1,000 companies had violated H-2 laws; however, fewer than 150 employers were banned from hiring guest workers through the program.

Still, some farmers believe the H-2A program is overburdened with regulations and expenses.

Dan Fazio, president of the Washington Farm Labor Association, connects farmers with migrant workers. He, too, described the H-2A program as flawed, but said he’s seen its popularity with participating farmworkers firsthand.

“Is it ideal to take a person from one country and bring them to another country to work? I don’t know,” Fazio said. “But I do know that the people coming to Washington state love the program and when their six months here are done and they go back, they make sure they’re on the list to come back next year.”

A lack of alternatives might have something to do with this popularity — and there’s no sign of that changing anytime soon.

But the lack of progress doesn’t mean the industry has to start from scratch to arrive at a solution, said Luawanna Halstrom, an agriculture consultant who previously served as president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers and has worked with a number of national and state organizations.

She’s hopeful that a fix is on the horizon — and it may not be as complex as it might initially seem.

“People are working with this old horse because it’s all they’ve got,” Halstrom said. “It can be a good program if we could reformulate it and figure out how to make it work.”

A revamped program would be welcomed by Morgenthau, too. Another delay like 2013’s might not turn out as well next time.

“The system should be streamlined,” he said. “When you have the whims of a bureaucracy and a heated political debate that could determine pretty quickly a positive or negative outcome in terms of being able to work with the qualified employees you have been working with, it’s just one too many variables to stomach.”


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

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This Slaughterhouse Will Let You Watch What Actually Happens Inside

Thu, 2016-08-25 05:00

If you google the term “slaughterhouse photos,” the results tend to have certain adjectives connected to them — “shocking,” “heartbreaking.” Even, simply, “horror.”

There is a good reason for that, of course. Many meat-packing plants have been criticized not only for practices that torture the animals processed there but for conditions that endanger and exploit their workers. 

Evidence of such abuses is typically only obtained through undercover videos publicized by animal rights groups. Such videos, accompanied by the advent of industry-backed “ag-gag” laws that seek to prosecute those responsible for them, have given the entire industry a reputation of secrecy that runs counter to the food movement’s increasing interest in how the food we eat is made.

The Vermont Packinghouse, based in a North Springfield, Vermont, facility that previously produced Ben and Jerry’s Peace Pops, does things differently. 

The plant, which opened for business two years ago, prides itself on its transparency and appears to be one of the nation’s only examples of a glass-walled slaughterhouse.

The plant’s owner, Arion Thiboumery, says he wouldn’t have it any other way. He welcomes tours of the facility, which specializes in “niche” meat markets including organic, pasture-raised and grass-fed products, for anyone who is interested. All you have to do is call ahead and set a time.

“We feel like we’re proud of what we do here and we want everything to be above board,” Thiboumery told The Huffington Post. “We’ll tell you about how the animal was raised and we’ll talk about how it died. We’re not embarrassed about it.”

That level of openness attracted New York-based photographer Everett Meissner. Often attracted to subject matter “off the beaten path,” he became curious about slaughterhouse workers and sought out facilities near a small secondary residence he maintains in Vermont. His search led him to Vermont Packinghouse, just a few hours’ drive away from his second home. 

When Meissner arrived at the plant earlier this year, he met with Thiboumery and got a quick tour of the space before being told to go ahead and “do your thing.” Nothing was off limits, which came as a surprise to the photographer.

“I was kind of blown away by their open-door policy,” Meissner said. “The feeling you get at these other places is that it’s happening behind closed doors and you don’t look past the gate.” 

The images show the facility’s workers involved in various points of the process of breaking down an animal, as well as a group of college students that was visiting the site that same day.

One shot, one of Meissner’s favorites from the collection, captures a female student’s visual reaction as she watches a cow being processed, its reflection visible in the glass of the viewing window.

(More photos below.)

The frankness of the operation was appreciated by Meissner, who admitted he is among those carnivores who hadn’t given much thought to the slaughtering process that’s responsible for providing his food. 

“If you’re a meat eater, you have to accept that at some point the animal does have to get killed,” he said.

Thiboumery’s approach to his business appears to be catching on. He said the company’s business is experiencing rapid growth and high demand. But his operation of some 50 employees is still dwarfed by the size of the large producers that dominate the industry.

While some of the industry’s key players are beginning to dip their toe into “niche” markets by offering antibiotic- and hormone-free lines, he doubts many of them will embrace transparency in a similar way.

He wishes they would.

“Death is a part of life,” Thiboumery said. “When we acknowledge that, bring care to it and aren’t just trying to shove it into some dark corner and make it go away, I think it actually makes us more human when we do that.”


Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Here Are 11 New Illinois Laws You Should Know

Wed, 2016-08-24 13:37
There are a lot of new state laws that recently went into effect, including some pretty important ones you might not have heard much about in the news.

The laws address things like youth unemployment, 3D mammogram insurance coverage and animal protection, to name a few.

Here's a list of 11 notable and new state laws to help you stay up-to-date.

1. Southern Illinois University and Alcohol (SB 2824)

Alcohol now is allowed to be served or sold at Southern Illinois University events in buildings that are controlled by the board of trustees for the university. Also, students between 18 and 21 are allowed to taste but not completely drink alcohol while enrolled in a fermentation science class.

2. Chicago Fire Pension Fund (SB 2820)

The Chicago Firefighter Board of Trustees is now allowed to engage in "financial transactions that involves securities lending."

3. Lottery Scratch-Off Discontinuation (SB 2397)

The discontinuation of the Quality of Life scratch-off has been extended from the end of 2017 to the end of 2025.

4. Autism Awareness (SB 345)

A law called the Autism and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions Awareness Act allows insurance companies to more easily cover therapy people on the autism spectrum might require.

5. The Global Scholar Certification Program (HB 4983)

This law establishes the State Global Scholar Certification Program to reward certain public high school graduates who have achieved a level of competence in the global sphere.

You can see the rest of the list of new laws here.

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Obama Gave Chance The Rapper This Career Advice

Wed, 2016-08-24 13:07

President Barack Obama gave hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper a bit of career advice during a recent White House event.

In an August interview with GQ magazine, the artist said he joined other celebrities like DJ Khaled, Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj at the White House in April to discuss the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and criminal justice reform.

“At the end [of the meeting], everybody takes a group photo, and he’s signing stuff. And he keeps pushing me to the back, and I’m like, ‘I don’t understand why he won’t sign my shit.’ And he makes me wait till the end, and then he brings me up to his office, and we had a really good conversation about what I was working on. He told me I needed to start selling my music,” Chance says.

“He’s a good man. Even if he wasn’t president, if his ass worked at, like, Red Lobster, he’d be just a good man working at Red Lobster,” the Chicago rapper added.

Chance’s third mixtape, “Coloring Book”, was released exclusively on Apple Music this spring and according to him it’s in heavy rotation at the Obama’s residency.

“Oh yeah. They’re bumping ‘Coloring Book’ hard up there. If you go up there, you’ll probably hear ‘Coloring Book.’ This is not a joke at all,” the artist said.

“Malia listens to ‘Coloring Book,’” he added, referencing the president’s oldest daughter. “And I send them stuff sometimes. I haven’t seen Malia since I was a kid. I think [Malia and Sasha] were both in school the day that I went up there recently, but Barack was talking about it. Or, uh, President Obama was talking about it.”

One of Chance’s tracks, “Acid Rain,” is featured on the president’s Spotify summer playlists.

On Tuesday, the 23-year-old rapper took to Twitter to clarify that he will not be at ESPN’s town hall about race relations after a rumor was started that he would be in attendance.

In a series of tweets, Chance wrote about “the responsibility of all media outlets to correctly label all killings by 1st responders as what they are: Murders.”

I saw some publications report that I'll be at the @espn forum about athletes' and celebrities' responsibility to speak on issues. Not true.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016

@espn but since I won't be there let me just say a few thoughts on "responsibility".

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016

@espn it is the responsibility of all media outlets to correctly label all killings by 1st responders as what they are: Murders.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016

@espn it is the responsibility of all first responders to deescalate unlawful situations and restore peace without committing murder.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016

@espn and it is the responsibility of athletes and celebrities to say all that out loud whether at a forum, on twitter or at work.

— Lil Chano From 79th (@chancetherapper) August 23, 2016

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Illinois Voters Beware: Deceit Season Is Here

Wed, 2016-08-24 11:53
Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

It's deceit season. Voters beware.

An envelope arrived last week from Friends of Marty Moylan. The letter inside was dated Aug. 16th and in big type, it read: "Petition to Crack Down on Child Sex Abuse."

"As a father, husband and state Representative, I take accusations of sexual abuse and assault very seriously, especially when it involves children," Moylan's letter began.

I don't know about you, but I'm guessing we'd have a hard time finding anyone who would say differently.

"That's why I was appalled" the letter went on, "to learn that former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert would not be charged with sexual crimes he allegedly committed against children as a wrestling coach."

Now, wait. What was the date on this letter again? Hastert was sentenced at the end of April.

Moylan's just now getting around to telling his constituents he's outraged? The letter goes on to say he pushed for bills to change the statute of limitations, but they have not been signed into law. Therefore, Moylan's letter says, he's asking me to sign his petition calling on Springfield to pass a law immediately. That sentence was bolded and underlined. Where do we go to sign the petition? Not to Moylan's government website. No, we're supposed to sign at or we can call a phone number.

Moylan might very well be upset there's a statute of limitations for child sex assault. He was added as a co-sponsor to a bill that sought to end the child sex abuse statute of limitations a week before it passed out of the House to the Senate. Still, this letter also is plainly an attempt by him to get updated contact information from people who live in his district as he runs for re-election. I've heard about a few of these types of petition appeals lately.

Moylan did not do anything wrong that I'm aware of. In fact, the letter notes it was not paid for by taxpayers.

But to hook people who are worried about child sex abuse and angry about Republican Hastert into giving contact information so you can hit them up with appeals to vote for you is disingenuous.

Beware who's asking for what information and where it's going.

It's time also to pay particular attention to what you read. Just because something looks like a newspaper does not necessarily mean it is unbiased and produced by professional journalists. My Des Plaines neighborhood now gets the "North Cook News" on a weekly basis, while a portion of Springfield is having the "Sangamon Sun" delivered to homes. Political activist, former governor candidate and conservative radio host Dan Proft is financing the weekly newspapers -- through his Liberty Principles PAC -- in areas with competitive legislative races. There are a total of 13 such partner publications listed on the North Cook News website.

If you dig deeply enough on the website or in the print product, you will find this: "We believe in limited government, in the constructive role of the free market and in the rights of citizens to choose the size and scope of their government and the role it should play in their society. Funding for this news site is provided, in part, by advocacy groups who share our beliefs in limited government."

Jackie Spinner, of Columbia Journalism Review, first brought this effort to my attention in March. Proft told her then that mainstream news media "pretend that they are just objective scribes detailing the passing scene, and they're not. Everybody has a perspective. Everybody has an agenda. I'm transparent about mine."

In my role here, I get to share my view in spots clearly labeled as commentary. Sometimes, I critique Republicans; sometimes Democrats. Other times, I keep my opinions out of reported stories. You might have trouble understanding that Proft's publications are not likely to share negative information about Republican state legislative candidates running in the general election.

As I told Spinner last spring, "It looks to me like a piece of campaign literature masquerading as a newspaper."

I'm an equal-opportunity critic. A few days ago, there was much ado in the state comptroller's race when a reporter gave the candidates a pop quiz on multiplication. This is supposed to be relevant because the comptroller keeps the state's checkbook. Republican Leslie Munger failed and Democrat Susan Mendoza did not. Trust me, the elected comptroller will have computers and qualified state employees doing the math. If the quiz made you realize there was a comptroller election, then it did some good. But you should make your voting decision on more than a gimmicky pop math quiz. And every time you see, hear or read about journalists covering candidates and campaigns, ask yourself whether what they're doing really is relevant and will help you decide who best can solve the challenges we face.

That's what we should be doing: helping you vote well.

Next: 11 new state laws you should know

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Pearl Jam Stops Wrigley Field Show As Eddie Vedder Has Obnoxious Fan Tossed Out

Tue, 2016-08-23 22:04

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder called the band to a halt in the middle of a song at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Monday night to have an unruly fan ejected. 

“Hey! Hey mister! Hey, hey, get your finger out of that woman’s face motherf-” he said, cutting off the start of a R-rated word. “Hey mister ― all the the fingers are pointing at you.” 

It’s not clear what the person was doing, but fans cheered as Vedder ordered the fan to “clear out” and waved as security took him away. 

“Ma’am, you’re OK? Yeah? You’re good?” Vedder asked the woman. “That’s a good man, taking care of your woman, and then she was taking care of herself too pretty good.”

The band then resumed the song “Lukin.” 

Here’s a look at it from another angle:

It wasn’t the show’s only unusual moment. 

Former Chicago Bulls star and Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman ― a noted Pearl Jam fan ― carried Vedder during the band’s performance of the song “Black, Red, Yellow.”

Eddie Vedder & Dennis Rodman Red, Black, Yellow #PJWrigley #pearljam

— yael (@yaelant) August 23, 2016

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Computers Are For Girls, Too

Tue, 2016-08-23 15:42
I remember three things about my first computer science class in college. First, improbably, the professor was named Ramm, as in "random access memory." Second, the class was about processors, and I only had a vague idea what a processor was. Third, it was the last computer science class for most of my female classmates, who quickly decided they'd rather major in something else.

I never would have guessed that my time as a computer science student would turn out to be pretty much the high water mark for women in the field. The percentage of computer science majors who are women has gone down from 37 percent in 1984 to just 18 percent today. In other words, on average my daughters are half as likely to major in computer science as I was 30 years ago.

My daughters are half as likely to major in computer science as I was 30 years ago.

But the young women in this video are defying these odds -- they're pursuing careers in computer science and dismantling stereotypes about the field. I love hearing them talk about the sense of empowerment and joy that coding brings them. Kimberly got a standing ovation from her high school English classmates when she demonstrated a book review app she made. Kayla is preserving and sharing the rich history of her community with an app that customizes multimedia walking tours. Courtney helped design the landing legs on a rocket when she interned at SpaceX!

The gross underrepresentation of women in computer science is not just a problem for the girls who are left out. It's a problem for all of us, because we're not benefitting from the creativity girls have to offer. There's a mountain of research showing that diversity makes for better companies and better products -- that we're more innovative when we work in teams with different kinds of people -- yet the gender diversity in tech has been getting worse for decades.

One reason why is that somewhere along the way, society decided that computers are for boys. Or, as Aishwarya says, "guys in hoodies." And this toxic stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, virtually guaranteeing that computer science is indeed a male-dominated field.

First, since girls aren't supposed to be into computers, they aren't exposed to computer science when they're young, and even if they are, they often aren't encouraged to pursue their interests in the field. That helps explain why only 22 percent of the high school students who take the AP computer science exam today are girls. Kayla didn't know she wanted to be a computer scientist until she'd already started a totally different career, in library science. It was only when she started training staff to use the library's software that she realized she might be interested in making software herself, so she went back to college for a second time to be a computer scientist. Kimberly had never heard of computer science until she saw it was one of the classes she could take at her local community college.

The gross underrepresentation of women in computer science is... a problem for all of us.

The idea that computers are for boys doesn't just keep girls out of the field, though. It also drives women out. A host of implicit biases affect the way tech companies recruit, train, and promote--and make it easier for men to get ahead.

Luckily, there are great organizations like the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), whose mission is to increase the number of girls and women in tech. NCWIT and groups like it aim to make it easier for girls to discover that they love computers--and make it easier for women who love computer science to make a career in it. Eventually, as more and more girls choose this path, it won't seem like computer science is just for boys.

Aishwarya, Courtney, Kayla, and Kimberly all talk about the excitement of using code to turn an idea into a piece of software that can change the world, of creating something important from nothing. Let me tell you, it is a terrific feeling. Kayla says it makes her feel like "superwoman." I hope everyone gets the opportunity to feel that way.

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Here's Another Reason To Be Worried About Bottled Water

Mon, 2016-08-22 15:41

The bottled water industry is in the midst of a banner year.

Bottled water sales are set to outstrip soda sales in the U.S. for the first time since the Beverage Marketing Corporation began tracking the industry in the 1970s, according data the firm released earlier this month. 

On one hand, this could be viewed as a public health victory, especially since industry leaders say rising health concerns linked with the consumption of sugary, calorie-laden sodas are largely driving the trend.

But there is also a more potentially disturbing explanation for bottled water’s surge in popularity, these same leaders say: Consumers are fearful of what’s coming out of their taps, thanks to public health crises like the ongoing situation in Flint, Michigan, and America’s immense and underfunded water infrastructure challenges more broadly.

Critics of the bottled water industry point out that these increased sales represent the privatization of something that has generally been recognized as a public good. There is an incredible amount of waste generated along the way, and plenty of thorny questions about the ethics of water sourcing come up.

One of those critics is Gay Hawkins, a professor at Western Sydney University and the co-author of the 2015 book Plastic Water: The Social And Material Life of Bottled Water.

There is “no good news” in letting beverage companies ― like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, which each benefit from the rise in sales through their own water brands — take control of America’s drinking water, Hawkins argues.

The Huffington Post recently spoke with the professor about what can be done.

Were you surprised to see this recent news that bottled water sales are surging past soda in the U.S.?

No, that is playing out everywhere. The way the beverage companies see it, there is a major attack on their market for selling dangerously oversweetened beverages. The way in which they respond to that is the introduction of a substitute market, which is water. All of this sort of implicitly says, OK, if you’re not reaching for a Coke, reach for a branded water instead. They don’t want to see their overall market share decline, so they’ve had to create other beverage lines that will cope with this. 

I think it’s depressing to the extreme to think that there could be any positive hype about people reaching for water rather than Coke if you acknowledge the fact that they’re still reaching for a plastic bottle. If you want access to drinking water, you shouldn’t have to access that through a single-use [polyethylene terephthalate, the most common type of plastic used in water bottles] bottle, which is creating phenomenal waste problems around the world. If we’re committing to public health, what states and governments should be doing is intensifying people’s access to free water in public. We should see more water fountains everywhere, and they should be clean and readily available all over urban space. They should really be providing a genuine alternative to sweetened beverages.

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Situations like Flint are contributing to this. Recently, a new report found that 6 million Americans are dealing with PFOA and PFOS, industrial chemicals, in their water. There are justified reasons for people to be suspicious of their tap water, so how does that factor into this?

This is a tragedy, a failure of governing and a failure of the state. Flint should be ashamed of itself for taking taxes from people and not being able to meet its basic minimal obligation — to provide its people with the means of life which is safe public water, of course.

Beverage companies see a state failure as a market opportunity. If people are losing trust in public water, they say, “Here is our chance to insert branded bottled water into this state of uncertainty and make people think this is the only water people can trust.” I think this is directly connected to the fact that beverage companies are creating doubt and manipulating public disputes about water quality to their own advantage.

Let’s face it, it’s pretty hard for a beverage company to turn water into water. We’re getting access to water in a cheap, sustainable way through a massive, networked infrastructure of pipes. Sure, that costs a lot of money to provide, but it’s nothing like the kind of money that goes into making single-use bottles. You have to do an immense amount of work to turn water into a commodity. Exploiting insecurity and doubt about existing forms of supply and generating incredible branding strategies that create all these new qualities for water — “untouched,” organic and all the other bullshit — help create this brand platform that turns water into something that radically differentiates it from the ordinary old stuff coming out of the tap. But really, it’s still just water.

How does the U.S. compare to other countries in terms of this? Situations like Flint aside, why are we leading the way on this trend? 

I don’t want to be an expert on the U.S., but it’s pretty hard to promote government as a good thing there. It’s crazy the kind of anti-government sentiments I’ve heard from the U.S. All of us couldn’t function every day without government. Roads, traffic lights, being able to turn on the tap — all these things that we take for granted connect us as a community.

Government creates and maintains the common interest of the greater good. Water is at the heart of that and is something that should not be privatized. It’s something that we need to share and we need to collaborate in protecting. I think we need a much more vigorous defense of the public good and why governments matter, and why governments are central to protecting the commons, and water is part of the commons. 

Possible solutions like tougher environmental and water safety regulations and improved funding for infrastructure are complex issues that can bogged down in politics. What can we do about this now? 

There are some fantastic campaigns against bottled water, very impressive citizen-led campaigns to defend public water and demand access to water fountains in public, demanding that water supplies including aquifers or surface water be protected in the common interest. There’s a whole lot of strategies communities can engage in, but governments really need to step up here and really need to understand they’re in the business of providing services to populations and water supplies are the first one they need to insure and get right. 

Outsourcing this and letting beverage companies step in and appear as the new model for infrastructure is a very depressing and troubling scenario. Governments need to realize that if they hand over their water supply to a beverage company, they’re left with managing the externalities of that market — clearing up and taking away those discarded bottles and managing the hard waste generated from that is incredibly unsustainable and more expensive than providing proper infrastructure in the first place.

Some government entities, like Baltimore schools, are coming to the conclusion that given concern about lead or other issues, using bottled water instead of repairing a system is cheaper. What do you make of that?

That’s a really disturbing picture, but it’s one that beverage companies would love because they are now becoming the trusted infrastructure. If you let the public infrastructure become run down to the point where the amount of money to fix it and improve it is astronomical, that failure of the state just sets this opportunity for others to step in.

Do you think the bottled water boom will continue in the immediate future? Or could we be heading toward a bust? 

I thought a couple of years ago there was evidence to show that bottled water was declining in European markets as a direct result of some really powerful activism. The marketing of refillable portable bottles certainly had an impact. The other thing that happened was a lot of public or semi-public water infrastructures started re-branding and asserting to their populations that they are providing safe water that’s cheap and universally accessible. They had to engage in branding to compete with Coke and Pepsi, but it was quite successful in rebuilding trust in public water.

It worked in Europe, where there is still a lot of commitment to government. In the States, I don’t really know. If people don’t have that experience of accessing safe water when they turn on the tap, I can’t blame them for looking after their own interest and trusting a beverage corporation. But the only way you could address this is to engage in good governance of water and to say to your population your water is safe, we are investing in infrastructure, so celebrate what a shared water economy can do. It’s celebrating what we all have in common, and that is the need for water.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

To Save The Village

Sat, 2016-08-20 05:54
There's a new documentary out dealing with the history of the Cabrini Green project in Chicago. 70 Acres in Chicago deals with the many complicated issues of race and urban poverty. But as the Slate article about the documentary notes, it underlines another huge issue with the "improvement" of some urban neighborhoods.

The idea behind these housing project upgrades is always pretty simple. Here comes the city to say to the poor folks living in the projects, "Aren't you tired of living like this? We are going to knock these projects down and replace them with something better. Yes, you are going to have to find another place to live, but when we've finished, you'll be eligible to come back here and live in the newer better place."

That seems like a great idea, a straightforward way to improve quality of live for those living in public-assistance housing.

But as writer Dianna Douglas notes, that's not how it works. Mostly, the people who have been displaced by the new project do not come back. The most successful such project in the country was in Atlanta, and that project brought back a whopping 25% of the original residents. The national average "hovers below 19 percent."

Some of this is simply circumstance. Moving is expensive. Doing it twice is way expensive. But some of this is also design. The Cabrini-Green redevelopment will follow the new model of mixing low-cost housing with higher SES models for a mixed neighborhood. But there's a problem.

The decrepit, infamous Cabrini-Green had 3,600 public housing units. When the rebuilding is complete in 2019, there will be around 2,830 units. Only 30 percent are for families in public housing. Got that? Fewer than 900 units.

And as Douglas notes, the rules for getting into those limited units can be pretty strict.

The message for the urban poor when it comes to gentrification is simple-- we're going to make this neighborhood better by moving you out of it. Meanwhile the actual humans who have been moved out may find themselves in a rougher situation, an equally bad neighborhood, but now without the neighborhood ties, the little bit of social capital that they had previously worked up in the original (now "improved") neighborhood.

Does this apply to charter schools in some cities? Here's a response from a reader in a recent Valerie Strauss/Carol Burris piece at Washington Post

As a mother of four whose children attend public schools and charter schools, I can tell you exactly what's occurring in both public and public charter schools.

I live in a neighborhood in Washington,DC that is undergoing regentrification. It is still prodominately African American but Whites have moved in within the last five years. The Washington Latin Public Charter School which opened about four years ago has a predominately White student body in a predominately African American neighborhood. I have two children that are in Middle School and High School and they are not allowed to attend the school that is in walking distance ( school sits at the end of my block). They have been wait listed for years. I finally just enrolled them in another charter school that has a predominately African American and Hispanic student body. When we drive past the school every morning we see White kids being bused from outside the neighborhood. My kids now know what segregation looks like in 2016. These white students are coming from Eastern market, Tenley Town, and Logan Circle. All of those white kids live outside the neighborhood. I brought it to the attention of the Charter School board here in Washington and nothing changed. As stated in the article the members of Washington Latin School Board are predominately all Attorneys from Georgetown, Yale and Harvard Law School. This means that trying to change the policies on how students are selected will be extremely difficult. It's as if the Charter School Board is afraid of the elected members at this school. 

The save the village, we have to lose the villagers.

But what good does it do to save a neighborhood or a school if we throw away the people? What good does it do to "fix" a neighborhood school when the neighbors are gone and the students come from some other neighborhood? If the actual problem was that the neighborhood or the school were not meeting the needs of the people, how have we solved that problem? The same people who were not served before are still not being served-- they're just not being served somewhere else. Of all the wrong ways to do charter schools, this is the wrongest.

Originally posted at Curmudgucation

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37 Times Donald Trump Should Have Apologized

Fri, 2016-08-19 16:24
Yesterday, Donald Trump read the following off a teleprompter in Charlotte, North Carolina:

Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.

It's a clever line. Hats off to Donald's speechwriter. But that's all it is: a line from a teleprompter.

For most of us, an apology involves looking someone in the eye and taking responsibility for what you did. But Trump didn't even bother to tell us what he regrets saying or who he regrets hurting over the past year.

Here's the truth: over the past year, Donald Trump has tried to insult and bully his way to the White House. He has fabricated lies and invented bizarre conspiracy theories to stoke racial animus and divide the American people. He repeatedly made racist remarks about a federal judge's heritage and attacked a Gold Star family because of their faith. He has preyed upon the most vulnerable and disparaged our men and women in uniform in his power-hungry quest for the presidency.

Even after winning his party's nomination, he has acted more like a Bully-in-Chief than a future leader of our country.

In Trump's warped world, it might be enough to vaguely say that you have regrets. But Trump owes the people he has attacked and bullied so much more than that. He needs to explain exactly what he regrets--and then sincerely apologize to the individuals, families and communities to whom he has caused personal pain.

Here's where he could start:

1. Slandering Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." [Campaign kickoff speech, 6/16/15]

2. Criticizing former POW Sen. John McCain: "He's not a war hero. He is a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured." [Politico, 7/18/15]

3. Criticizing Fox News host Megyn Kelly: "I have no respect for her...You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." [CNN, 8/7/15]

4. Calling children of immigrants "anchor babies" [Fox News (reported by CBS), 8/19/15]

5. Questioning then-opponent Ben Carson's religion: "I just don't know about" the Seventh-Day Adventist church [Washington Post, 10/25/15]

6. Mocking a disabled reporter: "'I don't know what I said. I don't remember!' He's going, 'I don't remember!'" [South Carolina rally, 11/22/15]

7. Claiming that as the Twin Towers collapsed, "thousands of Muslims were cheering." [Birmingham rally, 11/21/15; debunked 12/4/15]

8. Calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." [12/4/15]

9. Using violent language: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot people and I wouldn't lose voters." [Sioux Center, Iowa,1/23/16]

10. Retweeting an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz's wife. [Twitter, 3/23/16]

11. Saying it was "not my job to apologize" to the reporter who was allegedly assaulted by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski [NYT video, 3/29/16]

12. Accusing Hillary Clinton of playing the "woman card" and claiming that without it, she "would not even be a viable person to even run for a city council position." [Today Show, 4/28/16]

13. Putting out an offensive #CincoDeMayo tweet: "I love Hispanics!" with a photo of him with a taco bowl [Donald Trump tweet, 5/5/16]

14. Calling a Washington Post reporter "a nasty guy" for asking him about fulfilling his pledge to donate to veterans groups. [Washington Post,5/23/16]

15. Going after GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, saying she was "not doing the job" after she criticized him and didn't appear at his rally. [New York Times, 5/25/16]

16. Launching racist attacks on Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a class-action lawsuit against Trump University, saying he couldn't be impartial because he was "Mexican." [New York Times editorial, 5/31/16], [Wall Street Journal, 6/3/16], [New York Times, 6/3/16]

17. After being asked more than 20 times in one interview, denying he was being racist toward Judge Curiel. [CNN, 6/5/16]

18. Pointing out "my African-American" at a rally in California. [New York Times, 6/3/16]

19. Tripling down on his racist comments about "very strongly pro-Mexican" Judge Curiel, saying he is biased because Trump is "going to build a wall." [Face the Nation, CBS News, 6/5/16]

20. Saying it is "absolutely" possible a Muslim judge wouldn't treat him fairly. [Face the Nation, CBS News, 6/5/16]

21. Calling U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas" (again). [Donald Trump tweet, 6/10/16], [Vox, 6/10/16]

22. Accusing President Obama of sympathizing with terrorists. [Washington Post, 6/13/16]

23. Calling for a ban on immigrants from areas of the world with a "proven history of terrorism." [Trump remarks via TIME, 6/13/16]

24. Calling for surveillance of U.S. mosques. [New York Times, 6/15/16]

25. Calling for profiling of U.S. Muslims. [Face the Nation, CBS, 6/19/16]

26. Posting an anti-Semitic graphic on Twitter, which originated on an alt-right message board. [Mic, 7/3/16]

27. Saying the Star of David image he tweeted was actually a "sheriff's star," "plain star," and "basic star" [CNN, 7/4/16] and that his staff should not have deleted the Star of David tweet. [The Hill, 7/6/16]

28. Attacking GOP senators, characterizing Sen. Mark Kirk as a "loser" and singling out Sens. Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse for criticizing him. [Washington Post, 7/7/16]

29. Tying Ted Cruz's father to the JFK assassination (again). [Politico, 7/22/16]

30. Calling on Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. [New York Times, 7/27/16]

31. Denying he mocked a disabled reporter. [Fox News via Mediaite, 7/28/16]

32. Attacking Gold Star parents Ghazala and Khizr Khan [New York Times column, 7/29/16], [This Week, ABC News, 7/31/16]

33. Predicting the election will be "rigged" [Huffington Post, 8/1/16]

34. Saying former POW John McCain "has not done a good job for the vets." [Washington Post, 8/2/16]

35. Inciting violence by saying "Second Amendment people" could stop Hillary Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices after assuming the presidency. [Trump rally, 8/9/16]

36. Declaring President Obama "the founder of ISIS." [New York Times, 8/10/16]

37. Hiring a campaign chairman who fully embraced the white supremacist alt-right on racist, conspiracy theory-laden Breitbart. [Daily Wire,8/17/16]

That's a long list. With 81 days left in this campaign, Trump should probably start apologizing.

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