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Illinois is One of Six States Taking in the Most Syrian Refugees

Mon, 2015-09-21 12:55
Since March 2011, nearly 1,600 Syrian refugees have fled their war-torn country for the U.S., according to the State Department. And Illinois is one of six states taking in the most refugees.

Over the last four and a half years, the state has accepted 132 people who have resettled in Illinois after leaving Syria. Thirty-five other states also have seen Syrian people arrive, though Time Magazine reports that the State Department has highlighted six in particular that have taken the most:

Texas - 180
California - 171
Michigan - 159
Illinois - 132
Arizona - 107
Florida - 97

Time reports that the biggest states tend to be the ones that take on the most people, as seen in the list above. They have more existing infrastructure and can absorb small population increases more easily.

From Time:

In the U.S., a number of factors go into where refugees are moved, says Sarah Margon, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch. Refugees are relocated through negotiations between the federal government and non-governmental organizations called VOLAGs (voluntary agencies), which contract with the State Department. Those NGOs help determine which communities are right for relocation based on factors like housing availability. At the same time, refugees can also indicate if they have family in the U.S. and can try to be reunited with relatives, which can help direct where they're relocated.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 3 million Syrians have left to seek safety in neighboring countries and another 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria.

The Chicago Tribune used a different set of calculations from the U.N. to make six charts that show the Syrian conflict in comparison to Illinois. According to those calculations, 4.1 million Syrians might have left the country as of last month. That is more than double the population of Chicago:

You can see the other five eye-opening charts here, as well as a timeline of Syrian refugees coming to Illinois.

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Pope Francis and the Renewal of American Religious Ideals

Mon, 2015-09-21 12:44
What message will Pope Francis give to the American people amidst the cacophony of contending moral and ethical issues facing America and the world? Listening to the political debates and the public discourse in the United States is not only interesting but also intriguing. The passion for religiously informed standpoints has been transformed into a new art especially by the religious right. It is also often driven by ideologically encrusted political perspectives often removed from the inner virtues and essence of religion. And the issues are as long as one can imagine: abortion, same-sex marriage, climate change, gun control, immigration reform, Obamacare, foreign policy, war on terrorism, right of America to defend itself and the limits of self defense or preemptive strikes against terrorists etc. Within the Catholic Church in America the battle goes on between culture warriors who embrace a classic and unchanging notion of Catholicism, and progressives who will like Catholicism to become a religious guinea pig for testing every social experiment. There are those Catholics who support the quiet revolution of Pope Francis and those who see the changes as a passing fad which will fade soon after Pope Francis is gone. There is also the unresolved question of authority and leadership in the church in the United States, the place of women, the need to renew American philanthropy and social outreach to the marginalized in the U.S. and people suffering in many parts of the world. There is also the question of priestly celibacy, pastoral ministry to families and divorced and separated Catholics among others. There is the lingering question as to what extent the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 has helped to protect our children from abusive priests. So Francis has a full plate awaiting him!

This seventh papal visit coming 31 years after the United States established full diplomatic relations with the Holy See is significant in many ways. In the first place, Francis comes to the United States as a friend of the country and a messenger of peace and goodwill. In helping to negotiate the detente between the U.S. and Cuba, he indicates his willingness to help build bridges and heal the wounds which separation, fear of each other and mutual suspicion impose on nations, communities and peoples. Secondly, Francis comes to the United States as a leader of the Catholic Church and one of the most influential religious leaders in the world today in order to waken again in these great lands a renewed sense of ultimate concerns and greater respect for the values and virtues of Christianity as reflected in the priorities and practices of Jesus Christ. Finally, the visit of Pope Francis and the significant amount of good will and enthusiasm about his visit shows to use the words of Martin Marty that "the worldview of fearful and defensive Protestant, anti-Papal America" is fading.

This is the first time that a Roman Catholic pontiff will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Pope Francis will speak to American law makers as a pastor, priest and servant, and not so much as a political leader. He prefers to see himself not in the mould of power and pomp conferred on him by this ancient institution. He was not invited to address the joint session of Congress because he is a head of state. I think he was invited because of how he has embodied in his lifestyle, his kind words, and outreach to the world, those fine Christian ideals which the Founding Fathers of this Great nation wanted to preserve through the First Amendment on religious liberty. Religious liberty was meant to make better Americans and not to create an a religious nation.

Pope Francis represents not only a new face of Catholicism, but also a new face of religion. One of the victims of the post-Enlightenment secularizing momentum was religion which was relinquished to the sphere of personal and private life. Stripped of its sacred aura and validating canons, the status of limitations with regard to religious claims gradually faded away. Gone too were any generally accepted quality control with regard to the claims and actions which people promote in the name of any religion and also what people do in opposition to people of faith. Many years ago, French sociologist, Gilles Kepel warned in The Revenge of God that the resurgence of religious groups in the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) seems to be driven by more radical and violent ideals and theocratic apocalypticism. He argues that emerging religious patterns not only in the Middle East, but also in Europe, Africa and North America are not only fundamentalist in nature but also resistant to modernity and the secular ideals of Western liberalism. Kepel is right to some extent. However, one cannot characterize religious revivals especially every religiously motivated spiritual revivalism or political activism as fundamentalism. On the other hand, many people are wondering what role religion (and more specifically for this essay Catholicism) should play in America today? What kind of religion do we need in the world today? What kind of Catholicism does Pope Francis present to the world which is so attractive to American people and which cuts across denominational and creedal differences?

Pope Francis is bringing his quiet revolution to the United States. He will teach Americans that religion still matters but it is not a religion of ideologies and dialectically opposed positions, but that Catholicism is a religion of inclusion, a religion of both/and. He is teaching the world that power does not lie in materialism and liberal capitalism but in the beauty of the spirit, and the freedom of sharing every good things around us with everyone in need. For Pope Francis the force which will defeat evil today is the force of love, justice, truth, compassion and mercy, not of violence, guns, national or cultural hubris or ecclesial triumphalism and the exclusion of others. He will show the American public that what is required to heal and restore the world to its beauty are simple acts of kindness and humble service and that the church speaks credibly when she shows in her priorities and practices the face of the simple man of Galilee (Jesus Christ) who went about doing good. So today what the world is looking for from the church is not a hierarchy of power but a hierarchy of service through sacrifice for the good of our neighbors. Pope Francis is reminding us that the concerns and needs of the ordinary people, especially those on the margins and those who are poor, is the new Gospel revealing to us where God is present in history. This is the kind of religion the world needs today and I think it is the kind of religion whose fruits the Founding Fathers wanted to preserve for all ages. The measure of the true value of any religion is not the beauty of her creeds, rituals, and rites; nor is it in the ordered nature of her ranks and the splendor of her officials and the political and economic power and influence which they wield. The true value of religion is found in how it projects the ideals of love and friendship; how it transforms people into loving and lovable creatures who are at home with themselves, the world of nature, and their neighbors. Such a religion brings forth people who see others as subjects of love and dignity, whose intrinsic goodness calls us every moment to ponder beauty, to imagine the impossible, and to engage the possible through simple acts of loyalty, fidelity, and surrender. Such religious ideals are written in the very arc of the history of America, and I hope America and the world will be reminded of these ideals in the words and actions of Pope Francis during his visit.

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Reunited Punks L7's To Millennials: 'Get It Together, Step Up'

Mon, 2015-09-21 09:05

Everywhere a music fan turns these days, it feels like a band at their height in the ‘90s is reuniting -- and the quality of the ensuing musical output has varied widely from inspired to “why?!”

But there have been few reunions met with as much exuberance of critics and fans alike than that of L7, the explosive all-female Los Angeles grunge-punk outfit fronted by the effervescent Donita Sparks and known for their trashing, high-energy songs like “Shitlist” and “Shove.”

it all started a couple of years back when Sparks began curating the band’s Facebook page, posting photos, fliers and other band ephemera she was in the process of digitizing. In that process, Sparks also came across many hours of videos the band had shot during their original run. She showed them to filmmaker Sarah Price and the group decided to pursue the creation of a documentary using the newly discovered footage, launching a successful $130,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund it. 

The fan response to the Kickstarter and Facebook posts was so deafening the band, whose original lineup had last performed together in 1996, decided to give live shows another go, playing their first show in almost two decades together in LA in May. They followed that show up with a run of 11 shows in Europe and are in the midst of a mini-tour of 15 U.S. cities, playing Riot Fest in Chicago earlier this month.

The response to L7’s resurrection, especially from fans so young they weren’t alive when the band’s most recent album was released in 1999, came as a surprise to Sparks, she admitted shortly before taking the stage in Chicago’s Douglas Park. Her band is a good place, she said.

“A lot of people are like, ‘L7? Who are they? Who cares?’ And other people are like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s fucking L7!’” Sparks said. “We’re kind of in this cool, weird spot that we dig. We don’t have to be known by the masses, we just want to be known by the cool people anyway. We don’t have to convince the squares that we are a decent band.”

Decent doesn’t even come close to doing the band justice. Sparks and her bandmates -- Suzi Gardner, Jennifer Finch and Demetra “Dee” Plakas -- ripped through 13 songs from their catalog over the course of a taut hourlong set that felt like one of the packed weekend’s loudest and most-anticipated. One would have never guessed they were watching a band that "peaked" some 20 years earlier.

Closing with the thrilling “Fast and Frightening,” the band delivered on a request they made of the stage’s sound tent earlier in the set: to “melt off their balls and titties, in a nice way.” 

As much as the shows have represented a family reunion of sorts for L7, the Riot Fest set was also a literal homecoming for half the band’s lineup, as both Plakas and Sparks were born in Chicago.

Growing up in the Chicago area, Sparks said she turned to bands like the Ramones, Blondie and the B-52s, all of whom represented a level of eccentricity and unapologetic weirdness that provided solace from her “square” suburban surroundings.

After high school, she spent a year working in downtown Chicago as a foot messenger for a photo lab to save up money to move to Los Angeles, where she launched L7 with Gardner in 1985. The hotel the band was staying at while in Chicago actually overlooked the office building where Sparks delivered artwork on foot to advertising agencies. 

In Los Angeles, the band worked to develop their signature sound, a fiery blend of punk, metal and grunge elements, and were signed by Sub Pop, the label known for breaking artists like Nirvana and helping create Seattle-style grunge.

L7 didn’t quite breakthrough to the mainstream until their third album, 1992’s “Bricks Are Heavy.” They were even featured in a John Waters film, playing the part of a band called “Camel Lips” alongside Kathleen Turner in 1994’s “Serial Mom.”

They went on to influence a whole generation of women-fronted bands associated with the riot grrrl movement not only because of their music but also because of their politics. The band founded Rock for Choice, a decade-long series of feminist, pro-choice women’s rights benefit shows.

Sparks has stated in other interviews that she can see the need to revive the Rock for Choice series. Still, she admitted that she is disappointed in what she perceives as a lack of younger artists today who are embracing political activism at a time when many of the same pressing questions that prompted benefits like Rock for Choice remain unanswered today.

She is particularly concerned about environmental issues and though she said she was thrilled by the Supreme Court’s decision this year on marriage equality, she quipped, "If we’re all underwater, who cares if you’re gay [and] getting married.”

“I scratch my head and wonder why aren’t these younger bands doing benefits, I mean, are they? Are any of them organizing?” Sparks said. “We fucking built [Rock for Choice] from scratch. The Beastie Boys built the Free Tibet series from scratch. Are any young bands stepping up because I don’t know, they should be. I don’t get it. It’s needed now more than ever. Basically we’re the fucking Titanic sinking on every issue that we can think of. Millennials, get it together. Step up!” 

While Sparks is happy to see more popular artists embracing the term “feminist” she added that she would like to see more action in that arena as well.

“They probably are feminists but I don’t know how much that is speaking to teenage women, I really don’t. I mean, rock and roll women,” Sparks said. “If I were a teenager I’d be looking for ways to get my aggression and frustration out. I’d really just want to scream and yell at a concert because there’s a lot of stuff to be pissed off about.”

As for L7’s future past a string of shows on the west coast in November, Sparks said there are currently “no plans” for the band to create new music and that they have been exclusively focused on the live shows and the forthcoming documentary. Beyond that, she added, “you never know.” 

“We’re not being salespeople to get people to like our new album,” Sparks said. “We don’t care. We’re playing shit that’s 20 years old that people really like and they want to hear. It's been a love fest.”

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Punk Rock Frontman's Drug Addiction Almost Killed Him, But He Lives To Scream About It

Mon, 2015-09-21 09:05

Given that some of FIDLAR's best-known songs have titles like “Cheap Bear” and “Cocaine,” it’s hard to blame fans of the Los Angeles band, itself an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk,” for associating the skate punk outfit with a live-fast-die-young party-hardy ethos.

But it wasn’t until very recently that most FIDLAR fans realized just how serious the partying had gotten, particularly for frontman Zac Carper.

As Carper and his bandmates -- Brandon Schwartzel, Elvis Kuehn and Max Kuehn -- began doing interviews promoting the Sept. 4 release of their second full-length album, “Too,” that reality surfaced as songs with titles like “Overdose” and “Sober” required some explanation. Carper has not minced words about the turmoil that almost killed the band. And him.

In conversations with music journalists from Vice, Spin and other outlets, Carper spoke in detail about how his struggles with addiction to a wide gamut of drugs -- including cocaine, meth and heroin -- and his efforts to, finally, sober up served as the source material for many of the songs. 

Carper’s newfound sobriety --  he’s been clean for over a year following six stints at rehab and a pep talk from Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, a fellow California punk who's dealt with addiction -- may have come as a surprise to some fans accustomed to the beer-slamming, YOLO-friendly party jams that dominated their successful, self-titled debut record, released in 2013. But in conversation with The Huffington Post backstage following the band’s high-energy set at Riot Fest in Chicago, Carper said he couldn’t imagine it any other way. 

“I was a fucking junkie and a meth head for like the whole [previous] tour cycle and after doing this record I was like, I just gotta be honest,” Carper explained. “I’ve felt so much better saying in the press, you know what, I don’t get fucked up anymore.”

Some fans have reached out to him to share that they’ve dealt with similar substance abuse problems, but there’s also been some backlash, of course. Others seem to liken the news of Carper’s struggles to something of a buzzkill -- Carper’s sister told him that one person on the band’s Facebook page called him a “fucking narc,” he laughed.

“I’m not going to let that fuck with me. This is the only fucking thing I know how to do and I love doing it,” Carper said of the negative comments. “It’s the classic, especially in punk music: ‘Oh, God, he’s sober, album’s gonna suck, man.’ Look at old punk rock dudes. They’re either dead or sober. Really, there’s no fucking in between.” 

Fans and music writers alike who have latched onto the band’s party-centric tone have been missing the point all along, Carper argues. Their coverage in the press has been a source of frustration for him.

“The way that the first record turned out, the press really pushed that we were the skater-party-punk people but that wasn’t the case with us. … I never preached getting fucked up,” Carper said. “All the songs were just shit about shit I was going through. A lot of people make assumptions and I’m half to blame here -- I wrote songs called ‘Cocaine’ and ‘Wake Bake Skate’ and ‘Cheap Beer’ -- but I just wish people would just take the songs and interpret it for themselves and not think it’s, like, who I am really.”

Compared to the mostly loud, relentless jams on FIDLAR’s first album, many of the songs on “Too” take a slower and more nuanced approach.

The result is a sort of aural hangover. A handful of songs -- like “Punks” and “West Coast,” which originally appeared on a 2012 EP the band released -- wouldn’t have felt out of place on that first album, while its darker, more confessional moments -- like the mid-album trio of “Sober,” “Overdose” and “Leave Me Alone” -- are new territory for the band. They make for some of the album’s finest, most unexpected moments.

The self-deprecating lyrics on these songs dive into Carper’s experiences with overdosing on heroin a reported three times in one month, his intervention -- when a group of friends and family members gathered and told him, “Dude, you’re fucking dying” -- and his mixed feeling about sobriety. 

The band worked with a producer, the Nashville-based Jay Joyce, for the first time on this album and Carper credits Joyce with how those songs turned out. “Sober,” he added, wouldn’t have been on the record were it not for Joyce’s influence. The song deals with Carper’s reaction to his girlfriend at the time breaking up with him over the phone while he was in rehab.

Though they cover darker subject matter than FIDLAR's older work, songs like the regret-laden “Stupid Decisions” fit in seamlessly with the older, lighter material in the band’s Riot Fest set. The band's fans crowd-surfed and pumped their fists in the air.

The contradiction between playing songs including the lyrics “I’m spending all my cash on cheap cocaine / And I’ve been wasted, every day” and the newer songs in live sets today is not lost on Carper. Channeling the emotions behind songs written about the darkest moments of his life serves a function “like therapy” for him, he said.

It's not all gravy, of course. Life on the road comes with a minefield of triggers -- he admits he misses "getting fucked up” -- so he deals with lingering temptations by listening to a lot of music and helping produce records for other bands while on the road. He’s already produced work for bands including the Frights and Swimmers and is also working on a new album for the Australian band Dune Rats. He is also in ongoing therapy to help him along in his recovery.

But all things considered, Carper said the sober life is getting better each day. He described the band as tighter than ever and said he finds it easier to connect with fans at shows now that he’s not using. He also believes the band’s live sets are stronger than when he was high. 

“I’m really grateful I’m not fucking sticking heroin up my ass and smoking meth,” Carper said. “You can’t shoot dope like a gentleman. You can drink like a gentleman, you can smoke weed like a gentleman, but once you start shooting dope.. That heroin chic thing never worked for me.”

-- 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.

Poll: Duckworth Lead over Kirk Shrivels

Sun, 2015-09-20 15:53
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth's U.S. Senate campaign is hoping that supporters and reporters have no long-term memory.

On Thursday, Duckworth's campaign fired off a fundraising e-mail to supporters bragging about a new poll showing her leading Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk by four-points.

"Today's poll is great news, but we can't take a 4-point lead for granted - we need to build up the resources now to withstand millions in right-wing Super PAC spending," wrote Duckworth finance director Leah Israel.


The poll, commissioned by the left-leaning End Citizens United PAC, surveyed 948 voters between 9/10-14/15 and found that Duckworth leads Kirk 45-41. The survey, conducted by Clarity Campaign Labs, had a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

Typically, when a challenger is besting an incumbent U.S. Senator that is indeed news to trumpet. No doubt.

When the poll reveals, however, that your opponent has regained strength and narrowed the contest, it's a poll, perhaps, to ignore.

On July 29, Public Policy Polling published the results of a July 20-21 survey of 931 registered voters that showed Duckworth leading Kirk by six-points or 42-36%.

The PPP poll broadly hinted that Duckworth's lead is driven more by voters' disapproval of Kirk than a groundswell of enthusiasm for the second-term House Democrat.

The survey found that just 25% of voters approve of Kirk's job performance while 42% disapprove, an upside-down rating of 17 points. Not good. Still, just 34% of voters have favorable impression of Duckworth and 23% have an unfavorable impression with a whopping 43% undecided. She's essentially a blank slate.

More significantly, a June 23 Ogden & Fry survey of 598 likely 2016 Illinois voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider, found that Duckworth led Kirk 43.8-27.3% or 16.5 points.

At the time of the June poll, Kirk had already committed his infamous "bro with no ho" gaffe - among other verbal pratfalls - referring to his colleague U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is a bachelor.

But, in less than 90 days, Kirk seems to have recovered lost ground by adding 14-points while Duckworth has remained flat.

In fact, Duckworth's support has not budget since December 2014 when a poll found Duckworth-Kirk tied.

The survey of 1,003 Illinois voters, commissioned by The Illinois Observer and conducted by We Ask America on December 18, had Duckworth leading Kirk 45.59-45.02%, with 9.39% undecided.

Why has her lead shrunk?

Duckworth's campaign declined to provide an on the record comment.

Kirk's campaign, unsurprisingly, was more forthcoming.

"Illinois voters want an effective, independent senator and the more they learn of Rep. Duckworth the more they are troubled by her ineffectiveness and concerned about her upcoming trial on ethics violations," Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said. "As Illinois' Director of Veterans Affairs under Rod Blagojevich, Rep. Duckworth had a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable, but when it came time for her to stand up and protect the most vulnerable, she did not."

A looming trial on a lawsuit alleging workplace ethics violations from almost a decade ago when Duckworth served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs brought a slew of unflattering headlines over the summer. Kirk and his GOP allies also spent under $50,000 to move that and other messages around social media over the summer.

Still, though the news did almost nothing to dent her support, perhaps it did help nudge undecided voters back into Kirk's corner. Additionally, failing to snag the Cook County Democratic Party endorsement endorsement did little to fire up Democratic partisans in Duckworth's favor.

Of course, drawing conclusions about polling data related to a general election 14-months away is a fool's errand. Predicting a Cubs pennant win would be easier. But the polling does reveal Duckworth's campaign, despite endorsements from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, has remained stuck at about 45% for nine-months. Zippo forward movement.

On the other hand, the newest survey does little to dispel the notion that Kirk remains one of the most vulnerable Republican senators heading into 2016. But it does suggest that that the contest may not be a Duckworth-rout that some had thought it would be just a few months ago.

It would behoove Duckworth, who still has to win a Democratic primary against former Chicago Public Schools board member Andrea Zopp, to prove that she can indeed move the needle forward, rather just sit and sit and sit on her lead for friggin' ever.

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These Chicago Protesters Have Been Starving Themselves For 34 Days

Sat, 2015-09-19 07:00

For the past month, the same eight Chicago protesters have spent their days in front of Walter H. Dyett High School, a once-bustling but now vacant institution located on the city’s south side. They often spend their mornings strategizing, thinking of ways to make sure Dyett once again transforms into community hub. They spend long, langorous afternoons chatting with supporters and members of the media. They never spend their evenings around a dinner table.

These protesters have forgone food, consuming only liquids, for the past 34 days. They don't just want Dyett reopened -- they want it reopened on their terms. And they are ready to continue to starve themselves -- and risk their lives -- in order to make sure that happens.

The group has been on a hunger strike since Aug. 17, three years after it was first announced that Dyett High School was slated for closure due to low enrollment rates and poor academic performance. In June, the school closed its doors for good, although the Chicago Board of Education said it would weigh plans to reconstitute the Bronzeville neighborhood institution. After continual delays and inconsistencies, community members involved in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School were skeptical the board would ever make a decision. They decided to take drastic action.

In the month since, protestors have seen results -- but not exactly the ones they want. Earlier this month, the city announced that it would reopen Dyett, but as an arts-focused school. The group wants -- and previously proposed -- for Dyett to be reopened as a green technology school -- a plan that they heavily researched and think will best serve community needs. The board rejected their proposal, so the hunger strike continues.

The larger issue, the protesters say, is how the district and city government ignore the input of local parents and students, especially when that input comes from racial minorities. In 2013, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, closed 49 schools -- a move that was met with widespread resistance and disproportionately impacted minority communities.

“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” protester Jitu Brown previously told The Huffington Post.

“They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true,” he said.

Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said the district worked with community partners when deciding the future of Dyett.

"We arrived at a solution that meets multiple needs: Creating an open enrollment neighborhood high school, producing an enrollment stream that can weather population changes, filling the critical demand for an arts high school on the south side and working with education leaders to create a technology hub," he said in a statement.

The group of eight demonstrators includes mothers, fathers, grandmothers, teachers and community organizers. There were originally 12 protestors, but several had to drop out over serious health concerns, and since that time, others have joined the group.

Below are testimonials from eight of the original protesters about why they are still on strike, and how going without food has impacted their bodies and minds.

Jitu Brown

“I’m on this hunger strike because we were rendered voiceless. We met with every bureaucrat, attended every sham hearing and smiled when we should have roared. We have a right to a significant voice in the education of the children we are raising, in the decisions about how our tax dollars are spent. Bronzeville has spoken. Time for the decision-makers to listen.” 


Anna Jones

"I’m fed up with witnessing kids, especially my own, suffer due to corporate interests opposed to the needs of children.”


Irene Robinson

 “Tell me why our children have to die every day because of the violence inflicted on them by a government that doesn’t care about them. Closing schools is a hate crime. We who believe in freedom cannot rest. I break down and cry every night, not because I’m hungry, but because of the pain our children are enduring.

They are going to have to take me out in a hospital stretcher with tubes up my nose before I will give up this fight.”


April Stogner


“I’m in this fight because first and foremost I’m a parent and now a grandparent who has seen firsthand the inequality when it comes to our children. They have to have someone who will stand up for them and do what’s right, as well as someone to show them how to fight when you are constantly faced with injustice. God chose me for the good fight and I had to answer that calling. When my grandsons look at me and say ‘What did you do, Granny?’ I will say, ‘I did all I could!’”


Rev. Robert Jones

“I could not sit I the safety of my church and community and watch families and children in Bronzeville face another denial.”


Marc Kaplan

"This is a defining struggle for this century. When we win this, it will change the dialogue about what is possible. With a vision, an organized community and strong leadership, we can win the institutions we need so our young people and communities can survive and thrive."


Dr. Monique Redeaux

"I'm striking because as a member of the black community we have been rendered voiceless. As a black teacher and parent, I am tired of having wealthy corporate capitalists claim that they are more invested in the education of our children than the parents, teachers and communities who work and labor with these students every day.

My health is shaky. I went to the doctor on Tuesday and she is concerned because I've now lost 10 percent of my body weight. I've also had kidney issues in the past so that is a definite concern. I am physically exhausted most days but I can't show it because I'm a mom and teacher and my kids need me. I need them just as much. During the day, being active with them is what keeps me going."


Prudence Browne 

"Physically I am much weaker than I was before the strike, without a doubt. It is scary to think of all of the known and unknown ways this is affecting my body. Doctors and nurses are warning us about the increased debilitation and potential permanent damage that can come about.

Mentally I am not as sharp as I need to be, but I still have to work, study and be there for my family. I didn’t realize that our elected officials -- the Mayor and the Alderman, with the power to stop this hunger strike -- would show such utter disdain for lives, for black lives, by prolonging the strike and risking our health. This is the greatest heartbreak of all." 

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Illinois' Legislature Sits Backs and Lets the Courts Do All the Work

Fri, 2015-09-18 11:51
Scott Reeder, from the Illinois News Network, shared an update on Illinois' continuing two-and-a-half-month-long budget standoff, saying that at this point, the legislative branch of Illinois' state government handed over the majority of governing to the judicial branch.

SPRINGFIELD - It seems everyone is mad at the state of Illinois.

And one of the hottest is Danny Chasteen, who in July won $250,000 in the Illinois Lottery but, so far, has had to settle for an IOU.

The factory foreman from Oglesby is none too happy.

"When you buy a winning lottery ticket, you ought to get paid," Chasteen told me. "I paid $5 for that ticket and had to look at it four times before I convinced myself that I had just won $250,000. And then I got a call from the lottery department and was told they can't pay me until the state passes a budget."

So Chasteen has made a federal case out of it. He is suing the state.

A judge will decide whether the state should start forking over the dough.

An unfortunate part of the budget impasse our state now faces is that it's judges - not lawmakers - who are deciding how tax dollars are being spent.

That's not the way things are supposed to work.

In June, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed most of the budget passed by the state legislature because it was $4 billion out of balance.

Since then, we have had a constant tug-of-war between the state's chief executive and the legislative leaders.

And we have been without a budget.

A judge has stepped in and said state employees must get paid.

And judges are enforcing a dozen other agreements regarding funding for state programs. And more lawsuits are being filed asking judges to order more spending.

In fact, state Comptroller Leslie Munger said last week between the court orders, numerous judicial agreements and some statutory requirements, the state is fulfilling 90 percent of its financial obligations.

And we are also going broke one court order at a time.

The Illinois General Assembly is supposed to be a deliberative body that sets priorities and develops policy.

Instead we have seen lots of posturing but not much action.

The Legislature is allowing other branches of government to do the heavy lifting.

When the General Assembly passed a budget billions of dollars out of whack, they whined that the governor vetoed it rather than try to make cuts on his own.

And increasingly lawmakers have sat back and watched the judicial branch do their job for them by authorizing spending.

And what have legislators been doing?

Looking busy, but accomplishing little.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

The Better Government Association's Andy Shaw highlighted another blight on government that has touched Illinois and national circles:

There's an epidemic in this country, and it's not the latest flu.

This one is government secrecy: From federal agencies to local offices and everywhere in between, the public sector is making it harder and harder to obtain information under open records laws, even as advances in technology should be making it easier.

Some governmental entities do a good job of putting documents they want to release online, but when it comes to really important stuff--things they don't want us to see--we're often in for a fight.

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

NEXT ARTICLE: Editorial: Let Rauner do what he was elected to do

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Will DJ Chicago Radio Show, Because Why Not

Thu, 2015-09-17 18:47

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- the Notorious RBG -- will be the guest DJ on a radio show next week in Chicago.

Ginsburg will share some of her favorite classical music on WFMT, a classical radio station. According to the station, Ginsburg, whose son runs a classical music record label in Chicago, also will participate in a performance by the Lyric Opera of Chicago called "Opera and the Law."

The performance, which will be broadcast live on the station, features these law-related scenes from operas, handpicked by Ginsburg herself:

The “Seguidilla” scene from Bizet’s "Carmen" -- Ms. Rosen and Mr. Donner as Carmen and Don José, performing a duet that is arguably opera’s most famous plea bargain.

“Abendlich” from Wagner’s "Das Rheingold" -- The character of Wotan, on the importance of contracts (a recording).

“I Accept Their Verdict” from Britten’s "Billy Budd" -- Mr. Donner as Capt. Vere, on the difference between law and justice.

Patrick De Rocher’s aria from "Dead Man Walking" by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally -- Ms. Rosen, on the death penalty.

“A Paradox” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s "The Pirates of Penzance" -- Mr. Carlson, Ms. Rosen, and Mr. Guetti as Frederick, Ruth, and the Pirate King, on strict versus sensible construction.

Ginsburg, a noted opera fan, also will tape a segment unveiling her five favorite operas for the station's website.

"We are thrilled to welcome Justice Ginsburg to WFMT," Steve Robinson, the station's general manager, said in a statement. "To have someone of her stature who has such a passion for classical music on our air is a great honor."

Ginsburg can frequently be seen attending opera performances, often accompanied by her friend, fellow justice Antonin Scalia. Derrick Wang, a lawyer and composer, even wrote a comic opera entitled "Scalia/Ginsburg," setting their judicial disagreements to dramatic music.

Wang said he sought the justices' permission before writing the opera. When he presented excerpts of it at the Supreme Court in 2013, the justices both said that they highly enjoyed it. 

"The truth is, if God could give me any talent in the world, I would be a great diva," Ginsburg quipped.

Ginsburg's stint as DJ will air live on the station and on its website at 10 a.m. Central time on Monday, Sept. 21. The live opera performance will air at 11 a.m.


Also on HuffPost:

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It's Groundhog Day at CPS

Thu, 2015-09-17 15:33
An autocratic Chicago mayor strategizes with his trusted Chicago Public Schools CEO (who previously ran the Chicago Transit Authority) about how best to deal with a group of CPS parents and community activists who are putting their bodies on the line outside a historically under-resourced neighborhood school in a protest that continues to generate national interest.

Question: is this 2010 or 2015?

Welcome to CPS, where it's always Groundhog Day.

Five years ago, on September 15, 2010, a group of mothers began a sit-in at Whittier Elementary School in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. The mothers took this action only after trying unsuccessfully for years to get a library for their kids' school.

The sit-in, which lasted 42 days, sparked national attention and highlighted, among other things, the lack of libraries in CPS schools concentrated in high-poverty areas on the city's South and West Sides.

The Whittier sit-in happened on the watch of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his CPS CEO Ron Huberman, who took over CPS after a stint running the CTA.

Fast-forward five years.

September 15, 2015 marked Day 30 of the Dyett Hunger Strike. Twelve determined individuals are continuing to starve themselves in an effort to force CPS to reopen the now-shuttered Dyett High School as a green technology and global leadership school.

The Dyett hunger strikers are trying to get the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his current CPS boss Forrest Claypool, who held the top job at the CTA until mid-April 2015.

But it's not just these similarities that give a Groundhog Day feel to all things CPS.

Consider press accounts from both 2010 and 2015.

1. That's B as in billion . . .

CPS faces $1 billion deficit, Huberman says. (Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2010)

To help close a $1.1 billion gap, Claypool relies heavily on $255 million in 'debt restructuring,' a favorite euphemism of the financially distressed. (Crain's Chicago Business, August 22, 2015)

2. We've cut Central Office to the bone . . .

At a May 11 press conference with the mayor, Huberman insisted that he's pretty much cut the central office payroll to the bone. "Throughout this year, the mayor has challenged us to tighten our belt in many ways," Huberman said. "And in the administrative ranks we've reduced or eliminated over 50 positions that make over $100,000, all to tighten our belts internally." (Chicago Reader, May 27, 2010)

Last week, Claypool cut 11 central office staffers, including two from his own 10-member staff. Along with policy changes, he projected savings of about $1.7 million, a symbolic gesture in light of the $1.1 billion budget shortfall. (Chicago Sun-Times, August 11, 2015)

3. It's not our fault, says CPS. Blame it on Springfield . . .

Chicago Public Schools chief Ron Huberman said today that "thousands" more CPS employees, including teachers, will receive layoff notices in the coming days if state lawmakers don't reject Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to cut $1.3 billion in school funding. (Chicago Breaking News, April 21, 2010)

"We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget," said Chicago schools chief Forrest Claypool in a call with reporters. "Unfortunately, if Springfield fails to do its part, we will be forced to close a $500 million gap later this year with a mixture of more unsustainable borrowing and even deeper cuts." (Chicago Tribune, August 10, 2015)

4. But never fear, test scores are always on the rise . . .

Daley noted that test score gains have occurred every year since he took control of the school system. (Catalyst Chicago, June 23, 2010)

"Ultimately, Springfield is going to have a big say whether we continue to have academic gains we've seen in the last four years," Claypool said. (ABC-7 Eyewitness News, September 8, 2015)

It's long past time for Chicago to make Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania one of its sister cities.

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The Squirming Buddha

Thu, 2015-09-17 14:00
The world hemorrhages. Refugees flow from its wounds.

Is there a way to be innocent of this?

People are washed ashore. They die of suffocation in humanity-stuffed trucks. They flee war and politics; they flee starvation. And finally, we don't even have sufficient air for them to breathe.

For words to matter about all this, they have to express more than "concern" or even outrage -- that is to say, they have to cut internally as well as externally. They have to cut into our own lives and personal comfort. They have to cut as deep as prayer.

"Wonderful column, Bob. It brings up the post-Katrina images of armed citizens blocking a bridge so that our own refugees could not infest their neighborhoods."

These are the words of my sister, Sue Melcher, who emailed me last week in response to my column about the refugee crisis and the global shock over the picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi's body, which washed ashore in Turkey after his family's boat capsized during the short crossing to the Greek island of Kos in their attempt to flee to Germany. As she let her personal feelings wash ashore as well, I thought about where I had not gone with that column: into the realm of personal responsibility for the larger welfare of the human race.

"I thought," she went on, "of offering to open my home, and then the multiple worries, inconveniences, fears, etc., etc. sounded in, trumpets shooting fire as 'practical arguments' shot down compassion.

"What in my life today, in myself, in my community, in my culture, prepares ME, not some other person in some border area trying to live his or her own complicated life, what prepares ME to take in a refugee?"

This is where I felt the cut of razor wire.

"My bigger TV? The little glider in my backyard? Any of my stuff? My careful savings in order to have enough to pay my quarterly estimated taxes and what'll come due next April? My love of poetry and Shakespeare? . . . I look around at my conservative neighbors, who and wherever they are, and I wonder just how very different I am -- not in what I believe but in what I will actually do.

"I'd contribute money -- and occasionally do -- but to which Band-Aid?"

I open this door of uncertainty not to pretend I have answers but precisely because I don't.

Sue concluded: "I really and truly do not know how to work effectively for the changes that are needed. I know it is not 'up to me' -- thank goodness for that -- but my day-to-day life just leaves me so unfit for much more. Even taking the time for this email effort at dialogue means that I've blown the window of time I had to maybe catch up on my paperwork, a daily and weekly depressing dilemma for me. I've never fit in solidly with collective humanity, and that I have not remedied this in any realistic way, I can truly attest, is a failing."

I confess not knowing what to say in response. I think about the words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire: "no one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark . . ." I think about the refugees in my own city, Chicago, standing at intersections holding signs that plead for help. Help means money. Maybe it also means eye contact. Sometimes I don't even have any of the latter to spare.

But no, that's not quite it. Eye contact can be the beginning of God knows what. A dozen years ago I gave eye contact to an old friend, a Guatemalan who had fled U.S.-sponsored hell in his native country in the 1980s. I'd written about him when I was a reporter. We were friends, but I hadn't seen him in a long time.

Then, there he was. It was 2004, a year into George Bush's occupation of Iraq. We were at the Federal Building, at the end of a march protesting the war. When I saw him, my blood ran cold because I could tell in an instant that his life had collapsed. I could tell that he was destitute and homeless and utterly lost and the last thing I wanted to give him was eye contact, but I did. And with it I offered him the mirage of hope.

We talked. I invited him for dinner. He was a skilled carpenter and did some work for me. Eventually, a few months into our reconnection, I invited him to move into my house. He lived there for almost five years.

This was not an easy situation. His spiritual wounds were deep; he treated them with alcohol. I know that I helped him, but I don't think I would be so open again. I'm careful about the eye contact I dole out, but I cannot sever myself from a sense of responsibility to others in need.

Once I found a $10 bill in a parking garage. As I exited the garage, I passed a man panhandling for spare change and kept on walking, but half a block later, stopped, paralyzed with guilt. Whose money had I just found? I returned to the panhandler, reached into my pocket and dug out a dollar in change. I was still $9 ahead. As I continued to my destination (a movie theater), I felt my inner Buddha squirming inside me with disappointment. I had selfishly kept the bulk of my lucky find, to be squandered, no doubt, on junk food. And suddenly I knew the title of my autobiography, if I ever wrote it: The Squirming Buddha.

I hate the idea of razor wire on national borders. I am torn apart by the suffering of refugees and the bombastic manipulation of politicians, who try to turn the planet's most vulnerable into national enemies. But like my sister I don't trust or understand my relationship with collective humanity. Who are we in relation to others? What do we owe them? What do we owe ourselves? How do we unite in all our flawed humanity? Let the dialogue begin.

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


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Senator Kirk: Polluting water bodies connected to the Great Lakes = Polluting the Great Lakes

Thu, 2015-09-17 12:26

It has been very interesting watching the way Senator Mark Kirk has been cloaking himself in the mantel of Great Lakes champion, while taking actions in DC that clearly would negatively impact those water bodies.

Just look at his actions last week. On the same day he posted an Op-Ed on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tut-tutting the paper and advocates for "accepting the status quo" for the Great Lakes, he signed on to sponsor a bill that would hamstring new Obama Administration policies which have restored protections for water bodies that flow into the Great Lakes (and elsewhere). Clearly, the Senator is advocating for policy that envisions a far worse water quality future than the status quo; not just in the Great Lakes but also, across the country.

The bill Senator Kirk has jumped onto would kill the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers' new "Clean Water Rule," a commonsense initiative to restore protections against pollution that once existed for a variety of small water bodies and wetlands. My colleague Jon Devine analyzed the bill here, identifying how it relies on false assumptions, how it would make it harder to protect other important water bodies, creates confusion and wastes taxpayer money.

It's a clear departure from the stance Senator Kirk took when he represented the 10th District of Illinois. At that time, he was a strong supporter of the need to clarify which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act--the very essence of the "Clean Water Rule" he is now trying to kill. And in two consecutive Congresses he pushed for bills that would have gone further in protecting the same water bodies than the Clean Water Rule does (Clean Water Restoration Act of 2007 and Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2005). This is reminiscent of his 180 on climate change too; going from a supporter of bold action to someone who has tried to kill essential domestic cuts on the carbon pollution at the heart of the problem.

Senator Kirk, if you are not fighting climate change and you are not fighting for the health of the Great Lakes. And if you are not fighting pollution dumping in connected water bodies, then you simply aren't fighting to clean up the Lakes either.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Chicago from the air over Lake Michigan image by OZinOH via Flickr

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A look at Illinois' bill backlogs over 10 years

Thu, 2015-09-17 11:20
Illinois rang in New Year's Day 2011 with an unpaid bill backlog that totaled $6.38 billion.

Within two weeks, in the final hours of a lame duck Legislature, Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn had passed a four-year, 67 percent state income tax increase to address what rapidly had become a financial crisis for state government.

This report from CBS2 Chicago was typical:

Democrats said the tax hike will help plug a $15 billion budget hole.

"We're going to pay bills on time, and that's a huge change," said state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Ill.)

Cullerton emphasized that the tax hike is only one portion of a solution to the state's budget crisis.

"The taxes are going to not borrow anymore; to make our pension payments without borrowing our pension payments; to make up for the loss in federal revenues. They're not going for any new programs or any new spending," Cullerton said. "There's going to have to be further cuts, even with this tax."

The tax hike will be coupled with strict 2 percent limits on spending growth. If officials spend above those limits, the tax increase will automatically be canceled. The plan's supporters warned that rising pension and health care costs probably will eat up all the spending allowed by the caps, forcing cuts in other areas of government.

But Republican critics say the hike will harm middle class families.

"This means hundreds of dollars for Illinois families that they'll be paying more to the State of Illinois, and the irony is the money they have been sending to the state has been so grossly mismanaged for the last decade," said state Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont.)

But when the tax increase expired as scheduled on New Year's Day 2015, the bill backlog remained at $4.36 billion. Growth in the state's pension obligations had consumed much of the revenue from the tax increase.

With the state moving into its third month with no budget and spending continuing at an unsustainable pace, Illinois State Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger warned that Illinois is on pace to be in even worse shape on Dec. 31, 2015, than it was five years earlier.

Read the rest of the report at Reboot Illinois, where you can also check out this chart of Illinois' bill backlogs over the last 10 years.

Given these annual funding crises, how should the state re-orient itself when it comes to budgets and spending? What is the best way to fund government? Cook County Board Commissioner and former Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri examined this question at Reboot Illinois. Check out some of their ideas, including government restructuring.

NEXT ARTICLE: Editorial: Let Rauner do what he was elected to do

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10 Places in Illinois Where Pension Spiking Costs Are Highest

Thu, 2015-09-17 11:04
A recent investigation from the Better Government Association took a deep look into pension spiking in Illinois and the impact reforms have had on the controversial practice.

While laws have been enacted to deter pension spiking -- a practice in which public employees nearing retirement are awarded pay raises to boost pension payouts -- taxpayers continue to be saddled with artificially inflated pension costs.

Since the Illinois General Assembly's passing of a 2012 law that gives municipalities three years to fully fund added retirement benefits that result from pension spiking, more than 450 government entities now owe nearly $29 million to the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, the BGA found.

To be sure, retirees collect money according to rules set by the government employers. Proponents of the state law say it provides much-needed transparency in the pension accounting process and is leading to governments changing their exit package policies.

'It is bad pension policy to pay large sums of money to people retiring, which, in turn, boosts their pensions,' IMRF Executive Director Louis Kosiba said via email. 'By spiking salaries to enhance pensions, the costs to the employer [and] taxpayer are increased. . . . Spiking is antithetical to both the design, goal and spirit of these plans.'

IMRF is the taxpayer-supported pension fund that covers many suburban and Downstate government employees in Illinois.

The amount these municipalities are on the hook for range from as little as $5,000 to more than $4 million, according to the BGA's analysis.

This map shows where pension spiking costs are the highest:

Check out 10 of the suburban and downstate government entities that are paying the most in pension spiking costs:

20. Deerfield School District 109 - $204,424

19. Village of Winnetka - $226,986

18. Winnebago County - $227,363

17. Marquardt School District 15 - $229,144

16. Park Ridge School District 64 - $255,041

15. Village of Lombard - $298,344

14. Madison County - $371,725

13. City of Galesburg - $383,316

12. City of Rockford - $390,360

11. Fox Metro Water Reclamation District - $413,716

Check out the 10 government entities that are paying the very most in pension spiking at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Top 12 most popular state parks to visit this fall

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In America, Only Some Nipples Can Be Free

Thu, 2015-09-17 10:48
Nipples should never be free. To clarify: Women's nipples should never be free.

It's fine if a man's nipples are exposed to the public, because a man's body is obviously great and inoffensive in any and every possible form. Society has even created a term for men who aren't the most fit, to make them feel better about themselves: dad bod.

Women's bodies, on the other hand, need to be criticized in every form and photoshopped beyond recognition. We all know that advertisements geared to women only work if they make women feel bad about themselves.

A woman's nipples cannot be exposed in public, because men will be unable to control themselves. If men can barely control themselves around women who wear clothes in the workplace or on the street, how can a man control himself next to a woman who is not wearing a top and has exposed breasts and not one but two exposed nipples? If a woman's nipples are exposed in public for non-sexual purposes, and something happens to her, it's clearly her own fault. She should have known that men cannot control themselves when they ogle a woman in the street, and that a provocation like this can result in catcalling or worse behavior.

If society allows a woman's nipples to be exposed in public, why, she will feel empowered! We cannot have empowered nipples of empowered women released upon the world. It would be a detriment to all the battles people have fought to take away women's rights. Nipples of women must remain hidden!

If men and women currently do not live in an equal United States, why should the nipples of men and women be equal? If there is nipple equality, then women will take that as a leap forward in modern feminism, and we cannot have that. What'll be next? Equal pay in the workplace? Maternity and paternity leave? A woman's control over her own body?

Absolutely not.

If men and women cannot be equal in the workforce while actually wearing clothing, then it makes sense that men and women cannot be equal with exposed nipples and no clothing.

Can women actually be trusted to make their own educated decisions when it comes to whether or not they should expose a breast in public? Men are flaunting their nipples with pride on public beaches, and that's OK because it's been that way for decades. Women have always been hiding their breasts and nipples behind fashionable bathing suits. What will happen when women are no longer required to cover up? Why should a woman be given the power to pop a boob out of her top, on a whim? What will the fashion industry do -- continue to sell bikinis as two-pieces, with separate tops and bottoms?

Men can wear whatever they want, but women should never be allowed to make their own choices, especially when it pertains to how they dress. Even then, men should have a final say in what women wear. Actually, men and only men should have a say about the female body!

A woman's nipples cannot be exposed and used for healthy, useful things like breastfeeding. If a baby is hungry, that baby should cry and remain unhappy until the mother can cover the baby's head and the offending nipple with a blanket (or some other uncomfortable cloth). The mother should be resourceful enough to find a remote location in which to expose her breast to the natural world. In the best case scenario, she should avoid using her breasts entirely, even if she has no difficulty breastfeeding and would like to nurse her child.

In summary, a woman's nipples should only be exposed for entertainment and sexual purposes -- specifically, but not limited to, movies, television shows, Broadway plays and porn.

Needless to say, keeping a woman's nipples hidden also applies to social media. Women can only be topless with exposed nipples if said nipples are actually photoshopped nipples, copied and pasted from photos of men. Yes, it is actually acceptable to have a man's nipple photoshopped over a woman's nipple. Again, a woman must never reveal her nipples under any circumstance, unless it's for the pleasure of a man.

But men -- please expose yourselves whenever and wherever you want! In fact, the exposing of men's nipples should be a requirement whenever the temperature soars above a comfortable 80 degrees. Heck, why not snowboard topless -- the world is your shirtless oyster, men!

So please, ladies, keep those nipples hidden. This is America, after all, and only some nipples can, and should, be free.

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A Weekend in Central Mass: The Hills

Thu, 2015-09-17 08:28

Have you ever driven through Massachusetts in early August? Let me tell you about the every-shade-of-green mountains: they hide things. If you're from a place with actual mountains (I am not), these are probably hills. If you're from a place with actual hills (I am not), these are just sun-blocking verdant mounds running along the Mass Turnpike.

For the sake of this story, let's meet in the middle: let's call them hills; let's talk about what they hide. Specifically, let's talk about the seven hills of Worcester and the Tenth Annual Worcester World Cup, a three-day single-elimination soccer tournament.

The Worcester World Cup is organized by Cultural Exchange Through Soccer (CETS).

According to the World Cup's gold-paper program, "CETS is a youth/adult volunteer community soccer effort. We play soccer. We get involved in community projects. We promote youth development and youth leadership. We are a mixture of nationalities, ages and backgrounds. We ask our City leaders why they're not fixing and building soccer fields."

Worcester (pronounced Woos-ter, or Woos-tah, for reasons beyond my schooling) is the second-largest city in New England. If you're coming from the west, exit the Mass Turnpike for I-290 and Worcester appears, seemingly out of nowhere, like a wrongly-placed brick pile, like an industrial secret.

Driving through Worcester feels like driving through any city built around manufacturing, a feeling I can only describe as an overbearing atmosphere of lost significance.

I got off the Mass Turnpike, got onto I-290, and got off I-290 at Kelly Square. At a stoplight, my introduction to the city was a man with dirt-covered hands holding a sign asking for money and help. Saturday-afternoon traffic kept on driving. I followed without rolling down my window.

I moved to Western Massachusetts from Chicago last summer. I grew up in Chicago. I know that expressway exits are strategically the best place for people with dirt-covered hands to hold up signs asking for money and help. Expressway exits are ideal for invisible people demonstrating their existence.

General Foley Stadium is under ten minutes from the expressway. That's where I was headed. I spent that short drive trying to construct a narrative for Worcester from industrial narratives I already knew. trying to familiarize it, trying to figure out what Worcester is.

This feels like Gary, Indiana. This is an obsolete city that wasn't told it would one day turn obsolete. Outsourcing. Closed factories. Unemployment. Crime. General desolation. Best days long in the past. Romanticized suffering. Stoic perseverance.

Potholes represented a broken infrastructure. Sirens exemplified a community in decline. Grey buildings loomed like ghosts.

Before we go any further, here's some info about Worcester you should know, courtesy of the Worcester Historical Museum: in the early part of the 19th century "inventive genius and forward-thinking entrepreneurs" helped turn the century-old town into a manufacturing force while "overcoming the geographic isolation and lack of waterpower that made an unlikely place of an industrial city"; Boston, the largest city in New England, sits an hour towards the sea; the liquid-fuel rocket was invented in Worcester; the Smiley face was invented in Worcester; known as the Heart of the Commonwealth there are tiny red hearts on its flag, seal, and street signs; "for nearly 100 years, Worcester was the center of the commercial valentine industry."
You should also know that, during its initial boom, Worcester's population was primarily foreign-born. European immigrants, as is the case with most industrial cities, came in droves to work the machines. That was over a century ago.

Over the past decade, however, another immigrant wave has increased Worcester's population by nearly six percent, according to a 2014 study by Worcester's Clark University. Over that same amount of time the native-born population decreased by one and a half percent. Worcester's population is currently 20.5 percent foreign-born. Ten percent of that foreign-born population is refugees. According to the study, between 2007-2012, Worcester's refugees came from 24 different counties.

Compared to other major New England cities (Boston, New Haven, Bridgeport, Springfield, and Providence), Worcester is statistically the least diverse. That's if you consider the percentage of white residents vs. the percentage of non-white a basic indicator of diversity. I do. White residents in those other cities make up about 50 percent of the total population. In Worcester, white residents account for almost 70 percent of the total population. If the current demographic trend holds true, that shouldn't be the case for very long. Another way Worcester could represent unease in America: the faces are changing.

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Expo Chicago Surpasses Itself

Wed, 2015-09-16 19:45
Expo Chicago 2015 at Navy Pier opens today, Thursday, September 17th, with a private reception--and to the public on Friday. It's really quite excellent. It's hard to maintain an upward trajectory. They've surpassed themselves again. Tony Karman and staff have a lot to be proud of.

It's an excellent exhibit, full of wonderful surprises. I previewed it yesterday. Everyone was casual, but focused-- anxiously optimistic.

Some of these fairs are ostentatious; some erudite; some look like dorm rooms with the beds removed but the mess, and the dorm art, still in place; some are satellite fairs balancing the behemoths, and some are for the also-rans. Expo Chicago is unique. It's way bigger than regional. Yet just about manageable. And amazing galleries have brought amazing art.

There are new and/or small galleries from far away who've come with a suitcase full of conviction, made possible by the fairs ability to provide them affordable space. There are print publishers and curated exhibitions. The quality and the breadth are impressive.

There are not many shows that have both Ebony Patterson and Wilhelm de Kooning. This show does.

I'll be there a lot. Say hi.


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Brave Teen Saves Man Whose Wheelchair Was Stuck In Train Tracks

Wed, 2015-09-16 15:19

A 19-year-old Illinois woman pulled a 75-year-old man from a set of train tracks moments before a train barreled through at over 80 miles per hour, police said. 

The young woman, Ashley Aldridge, saved the life of Earl Moorman on Tuesday, the State Journal-Register reported. Aldridge looked out the window over her home in the town of Auburn, and spotted Moorman, whose motorized scooter was stuck in the tracks at a nearby railroad crossing. 

 “I was making lunch for my kids and I just happened to have my window open this morning,” Aldridge told local news station WTAX. “I went to ask my neighbor if he would watch my kids for me for a minute, and as I’m doing that I hear the horn from the train and the arms start coming down -- I didn’t even think, I just ran over.”

Despite her small size, Aldridge was able to pull the roughly 200-pound Moorman out of harm’s way. Aldridge said the train hit his wheelchair just as she got Moorman off of the tracks.

Moorman called Aldridge his “guardian angel.” Both he and Aldridge escaped with no injuries, according to CBS Chicago.

His wheelchair was destroyed, but WTAX has posted information for anyone who wishes to donate to his getting a new one.

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#FightForDyett: What Would You Sacrifice for a Fully Supported, Fully Public School?

Wed, 2015-09-16 14:48
The hunger strike by 12 parents and community activists in Chicago fighting for an open enrollment, fully public, high school in the Bronzeville neighborhood will soon pass the one month mark. On September 3rd, Chicago Public Schools announced a "compromise" that would have Dyett re-open as an open enrollment school but with an arts-based focus instead of the as the Global Leadership and Green Technology school that was submitted by the Coalition to Save Dyett. That school proposal, developed over the course of years with assistance from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Teachers for Social Justice, Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, Blacks in Green, the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Annenberg Institute, was submitted earlier in the year when CPS solicited proposals to re-open the Dyett campus. The announcement of an arts-based school was done suddenly and with no discussion with community members who have been fighting for years to keep a fully public high school open in Bronzeville.

And so the hunger strike continues, including continued public pressure on CPS and elected officials, and candlelight vigils outside the Obama family home:

Pressure has perhaps increased with national media picking up on the story in outlets such as The New York Times, Slate Magazine, Essence Magazine, and Public Radio International. The Takeaway's John Hockenberry spoke with hunger striker and grandmother of three, April Stogner, for nearly seven minutes on the 25th day of the hunger strike.

April Stogner, courtesy Teachers For Justice.

"...the decision to re-open Dyett as an open enrollment school we already had that decision last year to re-open it. What we've been fighting for is to have it as the global leadership school. What they're trying to give us is not what the community asked for. They never brought us to the table to make this decision. Many people think that it's a win for us, but we don't see it as that. We don't feel that that's victorious, and for that reason, that's why we're in day 25 of the hunger strike."

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation made an excellent point about this on his blog shortly after the CPS decision was announced:

Emanuel faced an ever-growing mess, and he had to decide what to save, what absolutely could not be sacrificed in salvaging some sort of end to the public hunger strike. And he decided the one thing that he absolutely could not give up was the policy of keeping community voices silent. Okay, let them have open enrollment. But don't let them speak. Don't let them have a say in making any decisions about the school. And just to make it clear, don't use their years of research and planning for the school design- because that'll make it clear who's still in complete control of what happens in their school.

This effort to run around the community activists -- the very people who have been in Bronzeville trying to make Dyett a success despite the continuous history of being undermined by Chicago Public Schools from day one -- allows Mayor Rahm Emanuel to claim he met the protestors "part way" and made a "compromise" while entirely ignoring their voices. The move was for public relations, not for the community and their goals.

And what are their goals? Ms. Stogner explained that to Mr. Hockenberry as well (emphasis by the author):

I would envision Dyett being a school that's connected to the other schools in the community, the grammar schools. You're talking about a school that has a beautiful garden, a rooftop where you can have a garden. Everything is geared toward green technology where our kids would be ensured to have a future in green technology and be sure that they'll have jobs. Yes, we like arts and all that. That's fine and dandy. But our kids can do more than dance and sing and jump around.....It's crazy when I was listening to the statement that you played from the mayor and they always say that they want to do what's best for the children. This is not what's best for our children. When you talk about community, the community should be involved in the decisions, and we were not involved. We submitted this plan. We've been working on this plan for well over five years, so it's funny that he said you're doing what's best for our community. You don't know what's best for our community, or we wouldn't have had 49 schools closing at one time. Tell the truth and say what it is. They just want to make money off the backs of our children, and they feel like they can just come into our community and take what they want. But we're not having that anymore.

This vision is incredibly powerful because it is not simply about what kinds of schools are available for the children in Bronzeville, but also it is about whether or not the community itself will be heard when it plainly makes clear what is desired. It is also about pointing out that when communities are called upon to "sacrifice" during times of economic crisis, the bulk of that sacrifice comes from communities that are disproportionately black, brown, and poor:

Julian Vasquez Heilig makes this abundantly clear in one of his recent posts about the Dyett hunger strikers. Chicago Public Schools spends $13,433 per pupil. How does that compare to wealthy, suburban communities unaffected by school closures or the need to go on a hunger strike to highlight the plight of their schools? Seneca Township spends $25,289 per pupil. Sunset Ridge spends $22,683. Evanston Township, $21,428. Ms. Stogner is keenly aware of this:

The mayor -- he's one of the biggest gangsters I've seen in a long time. Yes, anyone who doesn't value our kids that already speaks to what kind of person our mayor is. Anyone who closes schools -- those are community institutions. Where else would our children have to go? What schools need is to be invested in, not disinvested in. It's easy to take away all the resources from these children and these schools and say that they're failing. But what did you do to make sure that they were excelling? You took everything. They don't have libraries. No resources. You take out all of our black and brown teachers, people who love and care about our kids, who can teach them their history. That's not what you want, but you have money for charters, turnaround schools. I have a problem with that. Everybody should have a problem with that.

The perversity of this is abundantly clear: we task public education with offering opportunity to those willing to take it in our society, and to ensure that such opportunity is equitably available, we charge truly public schools with taking and accommodating all the students who arrive at their door, regardless of circumstances. It is one of the most truly democratic exercises in our society and it has historically expanded its reach as we have expanded the political and social franchise as well. But there is one glaring obstacle to it truly functioning that way: the same economic inequality that infuses and segregates our society along race and class similarly segregates our schools into institutions offering astonishing opportunities and institutions struggling to keep up with the needs that arrive every day without equitable funding. That term, equitable, is important because when a school has a high concentration of students with needs that must be accommodated, the appropriate per-pupil funding will almost certainly be greater than in communities where almost all children come from comfortable homes with abundant family resources.

And yet, instead of that promise, they are given closed schools, fired teachers, unaccountable charters, and blighted neighborhoods; the hunger strike continues.

The #Dyett12 require all of us to ask just what would we sacrifice for the principals of democratic education and community voices in our own schools? I have to confess that I have been entirely lucky in my life in this question. I grew up in a suburban Massachusetts town with well-resourced schools. My own children are growing up in a neighborhood of New York City where we have never had to question if they would have access to excellent public schools. My children go through their lives never knowing what it is like to be suspected of wrongdoing simply for the color of their skin. Residents of our borough who live a mere two miles from us are not so lucky and live with injustices we can read about but will never experience. That in the city of Chicago in 2015 there are people who have been on hunger strike for nearly a month to simply have what their peers in the suburbs never even question -- an excellent, fully public school -- is heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.

Ms. Stogner and her fellow hunger strikers offer a glimpse of a potential shifting of our education debate in this country to one that listens to the voices from the ground up instead of imposing solutions from above that more often than not hurt rather than help. When asked about her family, Ms. Stogner said:

My grandson, I brought him out with me yesterday for the first time because I felt like he needed to know why when they're at home eating, and grandma is just drinking water, why she isn't eating. I need him to understand that you are important, you do matter. I don't want him to believe that people can just come in his neighborhood and tell him he's not good enough to have a school to go to up the street from him -- a good community school, a great community school, a world class community school. He needs to know whatever you believe in, you stand up and you fight for it by any means necessary.

We should all be teaching lessons so valuable to our children.

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An Open Letter to <i>The View</i>: #NursesMatter

Wed, 2015-09-16 14:40
This is an open letter to the ladies on the daytime TV show, The View. Yesterday I caught a small snippet of their show and I have to say I was quite unimpressed with how they took something that I, and so many people are passionate about, and made it into a joke. So I do what I do best, and I wrote them a letter to tell them just exactly what I thought.

Normally I wouldn't let this bother me, but I can't not say anything. I am writing to you from the comfort of my bed, after working a full 12-hour night shift on no sleep, and I have only slept for about 3 hours today. And, I'll need to get up soon and go back to work. I am a Registered Nurse.

This morning the four of you decided it would be a good idea to talk about the Miss America Pageant, you know the one where women from across the country come and share their talents and get crowned for being beautiful and smart and talented, something along those lines? That's not my normal television because I truly don't have time to care about it. But I did catch an extremely inspiring monologue by Kelley Johnson, Miss Colorado -- you know the one who came out in her -- and I quote Joy Behar -- "doctor's stethoscope"?

Now I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt because, maybe by the grace of God, none of the four of you or your families have ever had to have been hospitalized, but let me share something with you. A nurse wears a stethoscope too. Did you know, we are often the first ones to assess your family and our patients before the doctor does, using our very own stethoscopes? And did you also know, that many nurses have a four-year, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (it varies in some of the States, but up here in Canada, we have just one route to be a registered nurse & and one to be a licensed practical nurse - huge shout out to my LPN colleagues in both places). Don't get me wrong - a medical doctor (MD) is an MD, and they are a crucial team member, but what you've got wrong is that a nurse, is not 'just a nurse'. And had you listened to Kelley's monologue instead of calling it 'reading her emails', you might have caught her very important message.

I would like to direct this at Michelle Collins: Could you please tell me why you thought it was okay to belittle Kelley's monologue? The way you introduced the topic, "but then there was the girl who wrote her own monologue..." as if you couldn't believe she considered nursing a talent? Furthermore, I would like you to explain how being a nurse isn't a talent? You even said "she helps patients with Alzheimer's which I know is not funny" - whilst smiling and seemingly suppressing a laugh. You're right. It isn't funny. It's terrifying for both the patient and the family who has to go through it.  And you know what else? It's a talent for a nurse to be able to calm someone who can't even remember their own birthday or their own family members' faces. It's a talent for a nurse to work on little sleep, long hours and hard labor to provide excellent and unwavering care for people who need them -- people who aren't their own family members, but you would often be none the wiser because nurses treat patients and families like one of their own. I could continue to share with you how many times I've single-handedly witnessed a nurse - yes, just a nurse, save a patient's life, without having time to notify the doctor (who isn't always present) until after the fact. Or how a team of nurses is the most indestructible machine on this earth, purely because we are strong, educated and wise women and men. I could even go into detail about how nurses can get a Master's Degree and become a Nurse Practitioner and go head-to-head with doctors. But I don't think I want to share specific details about the people who I've encountered: patients, families and other nurses, who've inspired me. I wouldn't want to share my emails with you, after all. If any of this is news to you, I would gladly encourage you to join me for a day of work. I'll even let you borrow my stethoscope.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure your job criticizing others' is quite difficult. To take intimate and heartfelt messages from someone who is clearly so passionate and make them into a joke couldn't be easy. But I am asking you this, Michelle, please think before you speak. Not only have you offended me, a proud Canadian Registered Nurse, but you have offended many other of my nursing colleagues across North America; who work endless hours, have many sleepless days and nights to provide excellent care to some of the sickest people, and have seen things that you probably could not even imagine.

I would like to think that you did not intentionally offend a group of the one of the most trusted professions in both the United States and Canada, but you did. And for that, you owe us an apology.  That's all it will take - a simple "I'm sorry" and we will forgive you. Because that's what we do. We don't judge. We are compassionate, hard-working and forgiving people.

Do me a favor and check out the #NursesMatter and #NursingIsMyTalent hashtags on Twitter, educate yourself a little on what we do & then make your opinion.


Breanna Boros

BScN, R.N.

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Apple-Picking Season Is Just Around the Corner for These Illinois Orchards!

Wed, 2015-09-16 12:08
It's almost apple picking season, and that means it's almost time to enjoy all the apple orchards Illinois has to offer. In central, southern, and northern Illinois, all can enjoy these Illinois orchards.

Using the website OrangePippin, we've compiled a list of apple orchards in Illinois and sorted them by the northern, central and southern regions of the state. Click on "more info" to see additional information about that particular apple orchard, including contact information, hours, apple varieties, activities and more. Just make sure to call before traveling since many places open during the last week of August and first week of September.

If we missed any of your favorites, please let us know in the comment section!

Apple orchards in central Illinois
Camp Grove Orchard | Roseville 

Christ Orchard | Elmwood 

Curtis Orchard & Pumpkin Patch | Champaign 

Harmony Hill Orchard | Virginia

Jefferies Orchard | Springfield 

Okaw Valley Orchard | Sullivan

Pleasant Row Orchard | Cuba

Tanners Orchard | Speer 

Wolfe Orchard | Monticello 

Apple orchards in southern Illinois
Braeutigam Orchards | Belleville 

Doll's Orchard | Pocahontas 

Eckert's | Belleville 

Eckert's | Grafton 

Edgewood Orchards | Quincy 

Flamm Orchards | Cobden 

Grissom's Lost Creek Orchards | Greenup 

Guten Tag Orchard | Chester 

Hagen Family Orchard | Brussels 

Liberty Apple Orchard | Edwardsville 

Lipe Orchards | Carbondale 

Mileur Orchard | Murphysboro 

Mills Apple Farm | Marine 

Rendleman Orchards | Alto Pass 

Ringhausen Orchard & Apple House | Jerseyville 

Schwartz Orchard | Centralia

Schwartz Orchard | Mount Vernon 

To see the apple orchards in northern Illinois, including some in Rockford and Woodstock, check out Reboot Illinois.

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