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Martese Johnson Did Not Have A Fake ID, Attorney Says

Thu, 2015-03-19 18:05
The bloody arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson all started when an employee for a local bar approached him on a sidewalk, Johnson's attorney, Daniel Watkins, said in a press conference Thursday.

Watkins said his client was never in possession of a fake ID and was simply standing on the sidewalk when the bar employee walked up to him. The student's subsequent arrest, which UVA officials have described as "brutal" and "highly unusual," prompted Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to order a state investigation Wednesday into the behavior of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents who took Johnson into custody.

Johnson was standing near the Trinity Irish Pub around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Watkins said, when "an employee of the establishment approached him and asked for his license."

The employee quizzed Johnson about his zip code, and Johnson provided his mother's current zip code, Watkins said. The number is different from the one listed on his current Illinois license. Watkins said that at that point, Virginia ABC agents questioned Johnson about being in possession of false identification.

Johnson is originally from Chicago, where his mother still lives. He was never in possession of a fake ID, Watkins said.

The Virginia ABC agents then forced Johnson to the ground, where they handcuffed him while "his face and skull [were] bleeding and needing surgery, all of this over two alleged offenses," Watkins said.

Virginia ABC declined to comment further about the incident to The Huffington Post on Thursday. Trinity Irish Pub told HuffPost it had no comment. Watkins declined to take questions Thursday.

"I'm shocked that my face was slammed into the brick pavement just across the street from where I go to school," Johnson said in a statement, read by Watkins. As Johnson was on the ground, he added, "One thought raced through my mind: How could this happen? I still believe in our community. I know this community will support me during this time."

UVA students marched on campus Wednesday night and Thursday in protest of what they believe was excessive force used by Virginia ABC agents. Johnson has asked for activists to remain civil in their protests.

Here's How To Talk About Race In Starbucks Terms

Thu, 2015-03-19 17:33
Starbucks respects your heritage AND your order.

The coffee franchise's recent #racetogether hashtag campaign was not received as well as the company would have wanted, but in this instructional video from comedy site Internet Action Force, Starbucks is ready to mend any and all fences.

With help from this "Senior Vice President of Barista Strategies," Starbucks can now offer its baristas some new tips on how to discuss race with customers, such as, "How would you like your coffee? African-American or with milk?"

The Heroin Epidemic: It's 'Our' Problem, Not "Their" Problem

Thu, 2015-03-19 16:37
Why are people dying to get high?

Approx 30-60 seconds after injecting or inhaling heroin, users feel a surge of warmth, emanating from the lower spinal region - a "rush" of sensation that slithers through the CNS. Immediately, an overriding sense of wellbeing envelops the user. Within seconds of use, both the rate and depth of respiration sharply decrease. The rate of breathing can fall to two to four breaths a minute. As respiratory rates decline, blood pressure begins to drop, body temp plummets and the epidermis becomes cold and clammy, eventually turning blue-grey. Seizures may occur and respiratory failure can occur. The brainstem drowns in the drug and the signals to breathe, sent to the diaphragm and lungs, drown with it. Nothing glamorous here.

People are overdosing for two reasons. One, the heroin coming in from Colombia and Mexico is more pure than ever before. In 1980, average purity was four percent; now it is in the range of 70 percent pure. There is evidence that some blocks of heroin are up to 90 percent pure. Increase in purity can be attributed to more sophisticated production and marketing ploys used by retailers.
People are also getting poisoned with low-quality heroin now cut with a number of additives such as fentanyl quinine, milk sugar, starch, powdered milk, and even talcum powder. The problem is, to the consumer, both products look the same so they never know what they are getting.

The End Result
It is not uncommon for the user to experience imprisonment, violence, social condemnation, physical disfigurement, dangerous STDs, Hepatitis C, and other diseases as a result of recapturing this feeling of bliss. Heroin users may ultimately chase the "bliss" to the gates of insanity or death.

Analogous to my own personal powerlessness over my heroin addiction, I am also beginning to feel powerless over the current heroin epidemic. The local government will hold hearings and discussions and dictate policy that will hopefully assist communities in understanding the nature of the problem and, perhaps more importantly, offer solutions. Meanwhile, the law enforcement will continue to incarcerate the drug users.

Why All the Fuss?
The CDC released their research findings on heroin. To summarize:

  • Drug poisoning is the number one cause of injury-related death in the US with 44,000 in 2013.

  • From 2000-2013, the number of deaths involving heroin nearly quadrupled. Most of the increase occurred after 2010.

  • The number of drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin were nearly four times higher for men than women.

  • From 2000-2013, drug-poisoning deaths involving heroin increased nationwide with the greatest increase here in the Midwest.

  • Those aged 25-44 had the highest rate of heroin-related drug poisoning.

  • During the 14-year period, there was an average of six percent per year -- after 2010, it spiked to 37 percent.

What Are We Doing About It?
In response to the opioid crisis, Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has developed one of the most comprehensive opioid specific treatment protocols I have seen to date. Hazelden in Chicago has developed one of the first outpatient opioid-specific treatment groups that supports both medically assisted treatment along with traditional abstinence-based treatment adjunct to 12-step facilitation. Additionally, Sen. Kirk's anti-heroin task force is working hard to put a nasal spray version of Naloxone in the hands of all first responders, but it's not yet passed by the FDA.

What More Can We Be Doing?
I am working directly with families and those addicted to heroin. I am in contact with some of the top leaders addressing this issue including those conducting research, advocating for recovery and those helping to reduce supply and demand of heroin, as well as those developing cutting-edge treatments. This is where all of you the savvy readers come in. I am doing my part, but "I" alone am not enough. This is a "We Problem" and a "We Solution." We need to join forces and create a treatment product that is more compelling than heroin. We are all in our pods doing extraordinary work, doing the best we can, but we need to be coordinating our resources in an effort to share and exchange best practices across disciplines. Please share ideas of what is working or has not worked for you. Together, we can design and implement a more efficient, strengths-based, individualized, cost-effective, comprehensive treatment protocol that additionally takes into consideration the context of the family in recovery.

Presidential Libraries: Taking Stock as Obama Readies His Own

Thu, 2015-03-19 16:09
By voting yesterday to approve release of 20 acres of public parkland to the University of Chicago, the local City Council finally cleared the last obstacle to its pending hometown bid for the Barack Obama Library and Museum. While initially expected this month, announcement of the White House selection from among the finalist cities of Chicago, Honolulu, and New York shifted to after April 7, when the run-off mayoral election takes place between the incumbent, Rahm Emanuel, and challenger, Jesús García.

Rumors circulating about the cause of this postponement range from the assumption that New York's Columbia University will prevail on its ambitious new West Harlem campus and that such news --reported now-- would hurt loyalist Emanuel's prospects, to just the opposite: Chicago is the favored choice so why not leave it in doubt so that Rahm's re-election remains a presumed advantage in the final decision-making? Others believe it will be split among the cities with distinct departments functioning as part of a synchronized whole in contrast to other recent presidential examples.

In any case, the choice is imminent and the civic stakes are high for what will stand as the 14th such namesake museum and archive, which by now seems to be the inevitable legacy of every American chief executive. With this pending presidential archive in mind, it also makes sense to look briefly at the trajectory of this expensive and essentially American public/private siloing of historical memory and future interpretation.

When the British burned the nascent congressional library of the young American Republic in 1814, it was Thomas Jefferson, known for his obsessive list- keeping and declining finances, who agreed to revivify it through the sale of his own book collection from the shelves of his beloved Monticello. Within the year, therefore, the nation again had a good leg up on a diverse and rigorously conceived central holding of the great books of global civilization. The third president gladly took the $23,900 purchase price and in turn declared with thinly concealed self-celebration, "There is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may now not have occasion to refer."

An ever-growing and institutionalized Library of Congress finally got its own separate headquarters across from the Capitol in 1897 with construction of a Beaux-Arts extravaganza by prestigious architects Pelz and Smithmeyer and duly named the Thomas Jefferson Building. Among all other duties in what stands today as the world's second largest library, the archivists are assiduously recreating these full original purchase contents, whether with the actual Monticello copies or their contemporaneous facsimiles.

While unique as the measure of a single curious mind, this library nonetheless serves as a spiritual antecedent to the present imperative for housing the records of each successive president in an eponymous facility under the official care of the National Archives and Records Administration.

This division of the federal Department of the Interior first gained the mantle for the 31st President, Herbert Hoover, and they have continued ever since. Over time its purpose has grown from mere repository to active interpretive center, housing celebratory museum, library, and research institute, where the presidency, American society, and important issues of public policy are placed before scholars and the public alike, regardless finally of the partisan origins of each (so far) man elected to the world's most powerful job.

Many times, however, such dual but linked missions have been split geographically under distinct governing boards. The best example is the distinguished Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University, housed in the landmark tower by the great West coast classicist, Arthur Brown, Jr. (1941)...

..and today conjoined with its Washington, D.C. Johnson Center satellite by Fox Architects (2013). It overshadows in more ways than one the more traditional blend of the Hoover Presidential Museum and Library in West Branch, Iowa by the forgotten firm of Eggers & Higgins (1962).

Next up, although in fact the first to open: The FDR Presidential Library and Museum of the legendary four-term chief executive who delivered America from the Great Depression and stood at the helm of our victory in the most just of wars. So far the nearest to New York City, it arose next door to his childhood home at Hyde Park, where the house and its fabled Hudson Valley setting are central to America's historic cultural identity.


Robert A. M. Stern, credited below for his own part in this library tradition, has called the longest-serving 32nd president an architect manqué. The Dutch Colonial Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, like the earlier wheelchair accessible retreat (also at Hyde Park) called Top Cottage, was conceived and first sketched by Roosevelt who called in a licensed professional, Henry Toombs, to complete the working drawings and sign off accordingly. His respectful client collaborator later called Roosevelt the first disabled man, as well as the first president since Jefferson nearly 200 years earlier, to deserve the label "architect". Upon hearing Toomb's sincere apotheosis, Frank Lloyd Wright's reactionary son John Lloyd Wright wrote LIFE Magazine stating, "After seeing the title 'Architect' after Roosevelt in your magazine, please put me in a concentration camp. The moral breakdown of the integrity and dignity of the profession seems now complete." FDR quipped, "Did Jefferson have a license when he drew sketches of rather satisfactory architectural productions?"

Also separated from its academic nucleus is I.M. Pei & Associate's JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, dedicated in 1979, 16 years after his assassination despite a 1964 selection of the still obscure Pei firm by widow Jacqueline. Meanwhile, years earlier during protracted battles about the Pei building's sighting, Harvard created its John F. Kennedy School of Government, obviating any regional rationale for another educational institute honoring the 35th president.

This place-making split finally converged in 1971, when Lyndon Baines Johnson cut the ribbon for his legacy addition on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum was designed by the Pritzker-Prize winning Modernist acolyte, Gordon Bunshaft and his colleagues at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Two bombastic, larger-than-life soul mates hit the commission jackpot with an ideal pairing of client and designer that also brought with it the advent of the adjacent LBJ School of Public Affairs. At last library, museum, and living civics laboratory took form side by side. With the high-visibility exceptions of The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Foundation along with its cousin The Clinton Global Initiative, this precedent became a norm:

-The Harry S. Truman, Independence MO

-The Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene, KS

-The Richard M. Nixon, Yorba Linda, CA

-The Gerald R. Ford, Grand Rapids, MI

-The Carter, Atlanta, GA

-The Ronald Reagan, Simi Valley, CA

-The George H. W. Bush, College Station (Texas A&M), TX

-The William Jefferson Clinton, Little Rock, AR

The George W. Bush Presidential Museum, Library, and Institute, on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, serves as the latest metaphor for such blending of past, present, and unknowable future in the context of the legacy it empathically celebrates, as do all these separated and privately influenced repositories. The formal impulse and the private funds raised guarantee such celebration as the sine qua non of visitor experience.

Inaugurated in 2013 by Bush 43 alongside his father and the other three surviving Presidents, it was designed by Robert A. M. Stern as the first green version, built with an eye on public transpiration and site topography.

If one believes, as any patriot must, that American civilization will endure at least as long as the Chinese one has already, that makes about 3,400 years to go. If every president in that interval won two terms, we'd end up with a combined total of 436 such evocations of the Oval Office and very likely many more, as of course not everyone wins a second term. In sum, finally, building and operating these individual paeans in constant sequence cannot go on indefinitely. Future generations will adjust the model to contemporary values, needs, and tools yet unknown. And thank goodness for that.

Meanwhile with the decision pending in just a couple of weeks on Library #14 for President #44, the binding force of these successive projects is the fact that there is not and never should be a single political narrative.

Such shifting values rely instead on the bedrock of freedom to sustain the dynamic bonds of the social contract it upholds.

What 'Empire' Got Right (And Wrong) About Music Therapy

Thu, 2015-03-19 15:45
Perhaps one of the most stirring and sympathetic characters in Fox’s hit show “Empire" is Andre, who suffers from Bipolar disorder. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past three months and haven’t watched the hottest TV show of 2015, here’s a quick recap of Andre’s situation: the oldest son of a music conglomerate CEO vies for power over the company he helped build, but between all the pressure (and betrayal, and violence, and lack of love and support), as well as his attempts to keep a lid on his emotions, Andre eventually flushes his meds down the toilet, precipitating a mental breakdown and entry into an in-patient therapy program. That’s where he meets Michelle White, a lovely and talented music therapist played by Jennifer Hudson.

Certain members of the Lyon family (cough-Cookie!-cough) express skepticism about music therapy, and there’s no doubt that Andre’s status as the “talentless” son who can’t sing doesn’t help things, either. But the show’s depiction of music therapy, along with the peace that Andre experiences at the piano bench with his therapist, isn’t just a way to shoehorn music into every aspect of the TV show. Instead, said Al Bumanis, a board-certified music therapist, the show is correct to represent music therapy as a powerful tool for people coping with mental illness.

“Music has a way of reaching people where other interventions, like regular talk therapy, occupational therapy, may not,” said Bumanis, a spokesman for the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). "I think it was a positive that people saw that music therapy is a viable and real health care profession.”

The Roots Of Modern Music Therapy

Music therapy, as the name suggests, uses music as a treatment tool to address non-musical goals. The idea that music can heal is an ancient one, but its status as a contemporary therapy truly began after World War I and World War II, according to the AMTA. Musicians would visit veterans hospitals to play for people suffering from both mental and physical war injuries. Medical workers immediately recognized a powerful patient response, which led hospitals to start hiring musicians to help care for patients. Eventually, training for music therapists began creeping into university curricula, where standards were established and board-certification programs instituted.

Nowadays, music therapy is an option for people going through a variety of illnesses. Like Hudson’s character Michelle in “Empire,” Bumanis has also had success drawing clients out of their shells or helping them reach their physical goals by using his voice, a piano or a guitar during therapy sessions. For physical therapy clients, Bumanis has in the past used a guitar to strum along as someone goes through physical therapy. Live music is important: A music therapist can slowly increasing the tempo on an instrument to encourage, for example, a stroke survivor to try faster movements during rehab -- something that can’t be re-created by popping a CD in a boom box, he explained.

“Because I’m in the room, I’m much more aware and much more flexible and in the moment,” said Bumanis. For people with brain conditions, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, music can be a way to stimulate them and, in turn, provide much-needed sense of connection between patient and family. As for those with mental illness like Andre, singing or writing songs together can be a simple way to draw reluctant clients into any kind of therapy, at all.

"In that way, it worked to reduce Andre’s stress and anxiety, and to just engage him in the therapeutic process,” he said, although he does quibble at how Andre doesn't sing along with his therapist the way a client usually would. At heart, that’s the point of music therapy: to find a way for client and therapist to connect beyond speech.

Beyond The Small Screen

Real-life, high-profile examples of music therapy success include former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who famously sustained a brain injury from a gunshot wound on Jan. 8, 2011. Last February, she posted a Facebook video of herself singing a few lines from the musical “Annie” with her music therapist. In an interview with People, she explained that "music therapy was so important in the early stages of my recovery because it can help retrain different parts of your brain to form language centers in areas where they weren't before you were injured.”

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President Barack Obama has also praised the power of music therapy. In a speech last November, he relayed a story of a woman who helped her veteran husband wake up from his coma by playing his favorite songs. From Obama’s speech:

And then finally, Luis woke up. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t talk. But he’d heard those songs. And in the months and years that followed, he kept fighting back with the help of hundreds of hours of music therapy. And today, Luis can see again, he can eat again, he can speak again. He’s even playing, as I understand, a little bit of golf. (Laughter.) And every night, he still goes to sleep with music playing.

Music has also been shown as an effective, drug-free way to relieve pain, which is crucial in special patient populations like children who don’t have the benefit of prescription strength pain killers especially designed and tested for them. A randomized, controlled trial conducted among post-operative pediatric patients showed that listening to their favorite music had significant reduction in pain as compared to the control group: those who simply put on noise-cancelling headphones. A group of scientists in Germany also found that listening to live harp music lowered stress hormones in premature infants living in a neonatal intensive-care unit.

It should be remembered that “Empire’s” depiction of music therapy is, in the end, fictional. In a blog for HuffPost that published before Hudson's debut on "Empire," music therapy instructor Ronna Kaplan of the Center for Music Therapy at The Music Settlement, wrote about what a board-certified music therapist could truly provide for a client like Andre:

The question arises as to whether music therapist Michelle White (Hudson's character) is a "real" music therapist with appropriate education and credentials. Assuming she is, will she engage Andre in the therapeutic process? Will she elicit contributions from him as the treatment progresses? Will they make music together? Will she collaborate with Andre's psychiatrist and the other professionals on his interdisciplinary team? Will she apply conclusions drawn in music therapy research to her own practice in the hospital where she is treating Andre? These are just a small sampling of the myriad skills and competencies a Board Certified Music Therapist utilizes on a daily basis.

And of course, it was a complete breach of protocol for Michelle to ask Andre to pray with her later on in the episode; Bumanis explained that therapists would normally wait for the client to bring up prayer before figuring out how, and if, to incorporate it into sessions. Finally, there was no mention of continued music therapy in the episode following Michelle's introduction -- something that Bumanis hopes will change with season two.

"I think it was a positive that people saw that music therapy is a viable and real health care profession, but I think it would have been better to have continuity on the issue,” said Bumanis. “We’ve written to [ask] Lee Daniels to be technical advisors for the show."

Here’s hoping that Daniels takes him up on the offer, if only for more scenes of Michelle and Andre back at the piano together.

Republicans Heap Money On Rahm Emanuel's Reelection Campaign

Thu, 2015-03-19 15:34
WASHINGTON -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel received a big cash infusion to a super PAC supporting his reelection bid in the last weeks before the April 7 Democratic Party primary runoff election he faces against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Standing out among the big contributions to Emanuel’s super PAC, Chicago Forward, is a $500,000 donation -- more than half of the group’s fundraising haul for the month of March so far -- from hedge fund billionaire and Republican donor Ken Griffin. Chicago Forward money is now being used to attack Garcia with negative television ads.

Raising money from Republican donors might seem odd for the former chief of staff to the Obama White House, but Emanuel’s campaign and super PAC have received millions from wealthy benefactors from the opposing party. In total, Republican donors have put more than $2.3 million behind Emanuel’s reelection since Jan. 1, 2013, according to Illinois campaign finance records. These contributions account for 10 percent of all donations Emanuel and his super PAC have received in that period of time.

Emanuel has come under attack from Garcia and the coalition of progressive groups and labor unions backing him for siding with wealthy billionaires rather than working-class Chicagoans on several issues. These range from the closing of public schools to the direction of public pension money into hedge funds and other alternative investment accounts to the privatization of parking meters, roads, subway cards, school maintenance and other pieces of the city’s infrastructure.

All of this has been a boon to many financial investors. It just so happens that many of Emanuel’s Republican backers are wealthy investors themselves.

The biggest Republican supporter of Emanuel is the billionaire Griffin -- best known for saying the wealthy have "an insufficient influence" in politics -- who gave $330,300 to the campaign and an additional $650,000 to Chicago Forward.

Katie Spring, a spokeswoman for Griffin's Chicago-based hedge fund, Citadel, said that Griffin supports the mayor because he "is friends and an admirer of Rahm's."

The billionaire donor backed Emanuel’s first mayoral campaign in 2011, calling him "one of the brightest men I've ever spent time with" in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Tribune. Although he acknowledged that the two didn't agree on every issue, Griffin highlighted where their interests aligned -- like on the free trade deals and balanced budgets Emanuel worked on in the Clinton administration and his support for the Chicago business community.

The mayor's education policy of promoting charter schools and closing public schools has created perhaps the most controversy of his first term, but it also may be the policy Republican donors support most.

"The attraction to Rahm is based on my belief that one of the biggest issues our city faces is education in the inner city and the lack of equal opportunity which we have and the need for education reform," Chicago-based investor David Herro, who has given $150,000 to Chicago Forward, told The Huffington Post.

Two of Emanuel’s biggest Republican backers are investor Muneer Satter and Craig Duchossois of the investment and holding company Duchossois Group. Satter and his wife have donated $210,600 to Emanuel’s campaign and $100,000 to Chicago Forward, according to Illinois campaign records, and Duchossois has given $100,000 to the campaign and $10,000 to the super PAC. They are also both early backers of former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

Other big Republican donors to Emanuel and Chicago Forward include former Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Madison Dearborn Partners CEO John Canning and food and beer service provider J. Christopher Reyes and a host of subsidiary companies he owns.

Black Leadership for Sale in Chicago

Thu, 2015-03-19 15:04

The African American vote plays a crucial role in electoral politics, especially in a big city like Chicago. Many candidates have to gain approval from the African American community in order to secure the mayor's office. You have several prominent ministers and community leaders endorsing one candidate over the other. However, when you look at the political landscape of the Caucasian or Hispanic communities, you won't see many preachers endorsing candidates because it's understood that their vote is personal. This would make one think that the African American vote is up for sale. Maybe the candidates are not paying outright for the votes, but some of the select community leaders and preachers receive some form of benefits from the candidate that wins his or her office.

African American voters make up a great majority of the votes in Chicago. Due to the divisional layers in leadership, African American candidates have unsuccessfully run for the office of mayor on many occasions.

The late Mayor Harold Washington was the only successful candidate that was able to unify everyone in Chicago to assure his victory. Maybe there is too much competition and bickering in the African American community since everyone wants a piece of the electoral pie. With all of the social issues facing this community, the candidates depend on the African American votes. You would think that some of the problems would get better if African American voters help a candidate win the Office of Mayor, but the problems still exist no matter who the people vote for.

This type of practice should be examined a little closer to find out why there is such a lack of support for African American candidates in the race for Mayor of Chicago. In the real world, it really doesn't matter what race the candidate happens to be. You would have to think twice when there is a majority of African American voters and you cannot secure a victory because the so-called traditional leaders are standing in the way of progress. President Barack Obama did not seek approval from the traditional leaders and went on to become the President of the United States. Several traditional leaders actually criticized Barack Obama. Another example, Dr. Amara Enyia was a rising star to make the ballot for Mayor of Chicago and another African American candidate challenged her petitions and she dropped out of the race. This represents a sad day in the African American community because the people really need hope and not broken promises. No matter what happens in the upcoming Mayoral Race with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, the African American community is still up for grabs.

Aaron Schock and the Closets of <i>Downton Abbey</i>

Thu, 2015-03-19 14:05
Who'd have guessed that after years of gay-baiting rumors, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Illinois) would have been undone by plain old financial impropriety?

The nitty-gritty details of his undoing are woefully pedestrian, at least when compared with the snowball that started the avalanche: His troubles started after he spent tens of thousands of dollars on redecorating his office, allegedly to look like Downton Abbey. That peculiar bit of gossip led to an investigation that uncovered far more serious financial mismanagement, and rather than deal with the fallout, he simply resigned. Bye, Rep. Felicia (R-Straight-acting).

It's far more fun to talk about the gay rumors than his fiscal shenanigans. Those rumors have followed him throughout his career, fueled in part by the endless parade of flamboyant outfits and shirtless muscle pics on Schock's own Instagram feed. Once he was photographed wearing a pink shirt and teal belt, and given the way the Internet reacted, you'd have thought Liberace had just come out of hiding.

Of course, we don't know for sure whether Schock is gay. All we know is that relatively few heterosexuals are forced from office by an interior decorating scandal.

If Schock is in the closet, it's a closet that he helped perpetuate during his years in Congress. Thanks to his opposition to open military service, marriage equality, and hate crime protection for LGBT people, he earned a perfect 0-percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. Too bad HRC doesn't award bonus points for best swimwear.

I explain how Schock used the closet to his advantage in this video:

When I talk about Schock's "closet," I mean the system of keeping LGBTs down by intimidating and disadvantaging them. Schock never met an anti-gay law he didn't like, even though he was uncomfortable when asked why. Laws like those Schock supported are designed to oppress gays and lesbians, and they send a clear message: Sure, go ahead and be openly gay; just remember that you could lose your job, your home, your safety, or your life.

In other words, the closet forces LGBTs to choose between living openly, or being able to participate in society. Come out, and you may lose everything, but keep your mouth shut, and you may have a shot at success.

But for decades, that success has come with a heavy price: The only way to hang on to power was to keep your secret hidden. And that meant perpetuating the closet, passing it along, and forcing others to stay hidden as well.

For example, look at Roy Cohn: He was a closeted gay man who worked with Joe McCarthy on the Communist witch hunts and fabricated the "Lavender Scare," the fear that Russian homosexual spies had infiltrated the government. Aided by Cohn, McCarthy once famously told reporters, "If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you've got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker." The two men forced countless gays and lesbians out of their jobs, while Cohn maintained his hold on power.

I'm not saying Schock is closeted. I just hope he has a nice safe place for his collection of espadrilles.

It's no wonder that for decades, gays and lesbians chose to stay hidden. I can't blame them: They didn't invent the closet; they inherited it, passed down from one generation to the next. The only way to avoid persecution was to adopt the secrecy of those who came before you.

Peek inside the closets of today's politicians, and you'll see Roy Cohn's remains. And maybe also a pink shirt and teal belt.

Whether he's in the closet himself or just putting others in there, Andrew Schock helped keep that cycle of secrets and intimidation alive. And why not? He probably discovered that there are donors and voters who are hungry for homophobic rhetoric. Like Roy Cohn, he found that the closet could be a means to amass power and influence by exploiting peoples' fear of LGBTs.

But those days are quickly coming to an end. For the first time, it's possible to be successful without choosing the closet. Just look at Neil Patrick Harris, or Barney Frank, or pretty much the entire cast of Glee at this point.

The closet's cycle of secrets and intimidation is finally coming to an end.

Being outed used to mean the end of your career. These days, it means the start of your career on the cover of People magazine. That doesn't mean that Andrew Schock is going to follow in the footsteps of Lance Bass and Clay Aiken. But he and his chest have already posed for the cover of Men's Health. And who among us doesn't have a passion for healthy men?

Is he gay or straight? Who cares. The important thing is that he's an opportunist who used the closet for his own gain with no regard for the harm he caused his LGBT constituents -- or at least he was an opportunist, while the gay-bashing was good. He's getting out of politics at the right time, now that the closet's power is dwindling.

If he's gay, he's a terrible hypocrite. And if he's straight, he's a terrible person. Either way, Congress is rid of him, and now the only person who has to think about Aaron Schock's sexuality is Aaron Schock.

Of course, I'm not saying Schock is as gay as Roy Cohn. But he sure doesn't seem like a Communist to me.

A Budget That's Best for All Americans

Thu, 2015-03-19 13:50
Over the past 35 years, economic productivity has grown 80 percent and the cost of living has risen along with it. Over the same time, incomes of hardworking American families have remained flat.

Yet the Republican "Work Harder for Less" budget, released this week, attempts to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and those trying to reach it. It deeply cuts programs that our families need to get ahead -- from nutrition assistance to Medicare and Medicaid, from job training to college affordability. At the same time, their budget includes an outrageous $50,000 tax cut for millionaires, among other gifts for the super-rich.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus' "People's Budget: A Raise for America," which I helped draft, strikes a strong contrast with the Republican plan. The "People's Budget" rewards hard work and invests in our country. It ensures that everyone has an opportunity to get a good education, find a good job, live in a safe and secure home, put food on the table, have affordable health care, save for retirement and maybe have a little left over.

We pay for these critical investments by making sure that the richest among us, who have benefited the most from our economic growth -- some of whom are actively dodging taxes -- contribute a little more to our country. The "People's Budget" raises trillions of dollars in revenue by taking common-sense steps to make the tax code fair for regular folks.

Our budget taxes all money -- whether made from work or investment -- at the same rate. It adopts my Fairness in Taxation Act, raising tax rates for millionaires and billionaires to between 45 and 49 percent. Those rates are more than fair; after all, Ronald Reagan's administration had higher top rates for most of his time in office. The "People's Budget" stops tax breaks that encourage corporations to send jobs and profits overseas. It ends deferral of taxes owed on profits earned around the world; stops so-called inversions, in which companies relocate overseas to avoid taxes; and eliminates a provision that allows companies to write off taxes for multimillion-dollar bonus payments to senior executives.

The Republican budget repeals Obamacare, even though it has helped 16.4 million people get health insurance and improved the quality of coverage for millions more. The "People's Budget" builds on Obamacare by creating a public option, which would lead to even more healthcare savings. Our budget would repeal the misnamed "Cadillac Tax," which is just a way to increase out-of-pocket healthcare costs for hardworking men and women and their families.

The contrast couldn't be clearer. The Republican "Work Harder for Less" budget leaves more Americans even worse off than they are today. The "People's Budget" makes the critical investments needed to give the American people exactly what they deserve -- economic security and peace of mind -- and helps grow our economy from the middle out.

Best for All Americans

Only for the Super-Rich

15 Things You Didn't Know About NCAA Basketball, Even If You're Obsessed

Thu, 2015-03-19 12:52
1. A No. 16 seed has never beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s March Madness tournament. But the Harvard women’s basketball team pulled it off in 1998.

2. March Madness was originally pitched in 1939 as a way to keep people sane and “keep society on an even keel.” That’s certainly backfired.

3. “It would be easier to win the Mega Millions lottery two times in a row buying one ticket both times than it would be to [randomly] get a perfect bracket,” according to DePaul University's Jeff Bergen. You basically have a one in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 chance of randomly selecting right.

Yeah, but have you filled out a bracket correctly?

4. The NCAA once opposed the idea of a postseason. Those in charge said the idea held “no sound educational ends.” True.

5. The NCAA banned the dunk from 1967 until 1976. The association was trying to limit the dominance of Lew Alcindor, who would later become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It didn’t work very well.

He was still very good.

6. And college coaches were so scared of Wilt Chamberlain that they changed two rules before he even played a game. One of the rules was created to stop Wilt from dunking his free throws.


7. The Butler basketball program made only a single dollar last year. All that hard work for a lousy buck?

8. The first thing famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden did with his players every season was teach them to tie their shoes and put on their socks.You must not permit your socks to have wrinkles around the little toe -- where you generally get blisters -- or around the heels,” he once wrote in Newsweek.

It's the little things, no?

9. A lot of men supposedly get vasectomies the week before March Madness, so that the “recovery period” lines up with the tournament.

10. UConn is the only school to win the men’s and women’s national Division I basketball championship in the same year. They’ve done it twice.

Good times.

11. Yale has never won an NCAA tournament game. And to add insult to injury, Harvard has won multiple times.

12. No one has ever recorded a perfect March Madness bracket before. But a 17-year-old with autism once correctly picked the first two rounds.

13. An NCAA basketball player at a top-25 program was worth $488,000 on average this year, according to a recent study by NerdWallet. That’s if you divide up the revenue pot in a manner similar to the NBA.

14. And Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is worth $2.6 million on his own. At least if you are using the advanced metric known as win shares to determine value.

He's very good.

15. Yet not one player in the tournament will make a cent for their efforts. OK, maybe you already knew this one.

And now you know.

Rocka My Soul

Thu, 2015-03-19 12:38
"I wanna be ready..."

And suddenly the glass case shattered. You know the one, perhaps. I'd been agitated by it for the past hour or so, sitting as I was maybe 25 rows back from the stage at Chicago's ornate Auditorium Theater, watching the Alvin Ailey troupe dance their hearts out, moving their bodies with such lithe precision and grace.

A huge hunger, a wanting, a hope stirred in the cage inside my breast. "Appreciating" a "performance" wasn't enough. Oh God. This great inner wanting yearned for a freedom we don't much talk about these days, in our relative affluence and comfort, but the music and the movement of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, with its roots in Africa, in Gospel revival -- in growing up black in America -- went so much deeper than that. I didn't want to feel separated from the dancers, some disengaged spectator watching fine art in motion behind the glass case of culture. That felt so wrong.

I had never seen them perform before and didn't know what to expect. The troupe has been around since 1959. I guess I waited till I was old enough to be truly ready for them: this heritage of African-American dance, born of the "blood memories," as Alvin Ailey himself described them, of a man who grew up black in Texas in the 1930s and '40s.

"There was the white school up on the hill," he said of his upbringing in Rogers, Texas, "and the black Baptist church, and the segregated theaters and neighborhoods. Like most of my generation, I grew up feeling like an outsider, like someone who didn't matter."

After the second intermission, the troupe moved into the show's finale, its signature, multi-part dance called "Revelations." As I say, I didn't know what to expect. I admit this sheepishly. Ailey choreographed "Revelations" in 1960. It's been performed in over 70 countries in the half century since then and has been described as "the most widely seen modern dance work in the world."

Pia Catton, writing last year in the Wall Street Journal, said of "Revelations" that it "reliably brings audiences to their feet, even dancing in the aisles. The combination of modern dance and spirituals creates a sense of uplift so infectious that most people leave the theater either singing the music or trying to dance the steps."

Like I say, I didn't know this. But something in me was waking up. And then Vernard Gilmore began dancing a solo number called "I Wanna Be Ready." The dance is an aching spiritual cry to mortality.

"I wanna be ready... to put on the long white robe."

This is gospel. It's deeply religious -- and I'm not a religious person in the least. I avoid describing myself spiritually as anything at all, except open, willing to listen, reverent, sort of Buddhist, sort of agnostic. I was raised as a Lutheran. My moral template begins with the concept "turn the other cheek." I listen to everyone, remain skeptical, believe in the soul, communicate as best I can with the universe that exists beyond my ego, understand that I will die and sense that death is not a cul-de-sac of non-existence but rather a transition to... God knows what.

"I wanna be ready..."

As I sat in my seat, listening and watching, the words and the movement pierced something profound. "I would not be a sinner. I'll tell you the reason why. 'Cause if my Lord should call on me, Lord, I wouldn't be ready to die."

The words I heard had nothing to do with specific religious precepts on how to behave. The words I heard were barely words at all, but a plaintive, prayerful cry commingling with music and the billowing movement of a young man on stage dressed in white. And what I heard was an homage to life. To be ready to die means no more than to be alive with conviction and integrity, to live fully, to say yes to life in this moment -- now -- and breathe it in, looking, reaching beyond what I think I know.

And as I breathed this in, the yearning caged inside me freed itself. Tears filled my eyes. I became aware that I was clapping and swaying with the music and so was pretty much everyone else in the theater.

And then it ended. But as the dance numbers that comprise "Revelations" continued, I was fully present, no longer ruminating about some mysterious, socially imposed divide between performer and audience. I was spiritually part of the performance.

The last dance, performed by the whole company, was "Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham" -- so big and spiritual, with women in yellow dresses, men in their Sunday finest. I was utterly open to the joy it exuded, yet aware, in spite of myself, of the pain -- the depths of America's history of cruelty and racism, the "blood memories" -- from which this joy flowed. And the music and the dance went on and on, filling the moment like few things in my life have ever filled a moment. Time didn't simply stop; it vanished, as we, the audience, stood swaying and dancing in the aisles.

And this is the heritage of America's pain. It ends in joy. It ends in redemption. I can still hear the music and feel the dancing inside me. "Oh rocka my soul."


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


10 Illinois Counties With the Lowest Rates of Income Inequality

Thu, 2015-03-19 12:24
High income inequality occurs when people who make a lot of money and people who make not very much money live in close proximity to each other. Based on stagnating wages for the poor and middle class and increasing wages for the very rich, income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing for the last 30 years, says

Illinois is the 36th most income unequal state in the country. Washington, D.C. has the most inequality, while Alaska has the smallest income gap in the country.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says that the richest 5 percent of Illinois' households have incomes that are nearly 15 times higher than the poorest 20 percent and nearly five percent higher than the middle 20 percent.

Though Illinois' overall state rank means it has less income inequality than much of the country, its individual communities have different income inequality rates.

Here are the top 10 most income equal counties in Illinois, meaning everyone who lives there makes a similar amount of money.

  1. Kendall County

  2. Jasper County

  3. Washington County

  4. Henderson County

  5. Menard County

  6. Schuyler County

  7. Ogle County

  8. Pope County

  9. Grundy County

  10. Putnam County

Check out Reboot Illinois to see those counties' national inequality rankings, plus see the most income unequal counties in the state.

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NEXT ARTICLE: How much did Illinois colleges make in 2014?

GOP Lawmaker Donating Campaign Funds From Aaron Schock To Charity

Thu, 2015-03-19 12:10
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) has been a prolific fundraiser and generously contributed to his colleagues over the years, aiming to take over the campaign committee that helps get Republicans into the House. But now, Republicans are starting to question whether they want his money anymore, in the wake of the congressman's announcement that he's resigning under a cloud of scandal.

Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday that he will be donating the $5,000 contribution he received from Schock to charity.

Schock announced his resignation from Congress on Tuesday, after weeks of mounting questions about his use of taxpayer funds. He was also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, although that probe will go away once Schock steps down on March 31.

On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Committee called on Republican lawmakers who received donations from Schock to donate the funds to the Treasury Department.

Schock has donated almost $750,000 to his Republican colleagues since 2008 through his Generation Y Fund leadership political action committee and campaign, according to the DCCC. He has also given $980,787 to the Republican National Committee, the Illinois Republican Party, National Republican Congressional Committee and several unsuccessful House bids of GOP hopefuls.

“As Congressman Jolly said himself, he is returning the $5,000 he received from Congressman Schock because it is in 'an abundance of good faith,'" said DCCC spokesman Matt Thornton Thursday in response to the Jolly news. "Will Republicans return the money and step up in the good faith of the American taxpayer?"

Barney Frank Sounds Off On Rumors About Aaron Schock's Sexuality

Thu, 2015-03-19 11:53
Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is the latest to sound off on the persistent rumors surrounding soon-to-be-ex Republican Congressman Aaron Schock's sexuality.

In a candid Daily Beast interview, Frank tells writer Eleanor Clift that he doesn't know if Schock is gay or not, "but I admit I did say if he’s not gay he spends an awful lot of time in the gym."

"I don’t know a lot of straight guys who go to the gym and parade around with their shirts off," Frank, who became one of the first openly gay members of the U.S. Congress when he came out in 1987, said. "Generally gay men do that to attract other men."

He then added, "You have every right to privacy but you do not have a right to go into public office or any other office and enforce rules that are against your own behavior."

Still, he seemed to imply that the media should ease up when it came to speculation over Schock's sexuality, noting that the "only problem he’s got -- if he’s gay --is that in the Republican Party you get punished."

"Let’s stop treating [him] as though we’re accusing him of being a mass murderer," he said. In regard to Schock's alleged misspending of campaign funds, he added, "It does look like there was some misspending of public money, and it’s true that once you resign, the ethics committee has no further jurisdiction. ...He’s now avoided any possibility that he will be reprimanded or censured."

Meanwhile, Schock's father, Richard Schock, spoke to ABC 7 following his son's surprise resignation earlier this week, and also touched on the rumors as part of the interview.

"Aaron is a little different. He wears stylish clothing, and yet he’s not gay," the elder Schock told the network. "He’s not married, and he’s not running around with women. So, everybody’s throwing up their arms; they can’t figure out Aaron. So he must be crooked.”

For his part, the 33-year-old Schock has stated that he is straight or avoided questions about his sexuality. In a 2012 interview with HuffPost Gay Voices Editor-At-Large Michelangelo Signorile, he said questions regarding his sexuality were "completely ridiculous and inappropriate.”

Meanwhile, in January 2014, journalist Itay Hod sparked a social media firestorm after he appeared to out the congressman -- who became a sensation after appearing shirtless on a Men's Health cover spread in 2011 -- on Facebook.

Illinois' pension reform opens the door for some confusing politics

Thu, 2015-03-19 11:51
To those who have followed the epic Illinois pension reform battle over the past three years or so, Wednesday's arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court in a landmark pension reform lawsuit may have been disorienting.

Here was Justice Bob Thomas, a Republican from Wheaton, throwing dart after dart at the state's argument that the current pension situation -- $111 billion in unfunded liability, 25 cents of every tax dollar to pensions, pension funds headed toward collapse -- constitutes a legitimate emergency. That emergency, the state contends, should allow it to override the state constitution's pension protection clause and reduce pension benefits for public employees.

"If the court holds that the state can invoke its police powers to violate core constitutional provisions to respond to an emergency that, arguably, the state itself created, then aren't we giving the state the power to modify its contractual obligations whenever it wants?" Thomas asked Illinois Solicitor General Carolyn Shapiro during oral arguments. And if the court granted special power for this "emergency," Thomas asked later, what's to stop state government from labeling any disagreeable financial arrangement an emergency and opting out of its obligations?

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

Another mess of government money is underway at the College of DuPage.

Sometimes it seems as if we're electing reasonable, public-service-minded people and then once they've worked for us in Illinois for a while, all common sense falls by the wayside.

How else to explain a $763,000 severance deal for College of DuPage President Robert Breuder, a $718,000 severance deal for former Metra CEO Alex Clifford, and nearly $190,000 in taxpayer funds spent on lavish booze and gourmet meals on nearly 500 occasions spent by Breuder, his top administrators and the elected trustees who gave him the severance?

People get in, get entrenched and then they get to feeling their entitled. Sure, holding a local office is a lot of thankless work for a lot of extra hours outside the regular job and for not a whole lot of pay.

College of DuPage trustees went for dinner and drinks at the college's Waterleaf French restaurant 17 times, racking up $16,000 in bills on taxpayers since the place opened in October, 2011. What were they thinking?

Oh, that's right. They weren't. They were too busy toasting each other with fine wine on our dime. Public service doesn't mean you get to gorge at the public trough.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Best of the best: The top 10 hospitals in Illinois

Former Illinois State Lawmaker Sentenced To 8 Years For Child Porn

Thu, 2015-03-19 11:46

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO, March 19 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a former Illinois state lawmaker to eight years in prison for sending child pornography through office computers, rejecting a request that the critically ill man be allowed to die at home.

Former Democratic Illinois State Representative Keith Farnham, 67, of Elgin, has pulmonary fibrosis and is expected to have only a few months to live, according to court documents. U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang rejected a defense request that Farnham be allowed to remain on electronic home detention for six months to give him the chance to die at home.

Chang, in a hearing at a Chicago suburban courthouse, ordered Farnham to report to prison on May 19.

Farnham resigned his seat in the Illinois General Assembly last March, less than a week after federal agents seized his computers.

Farnham admitted that on Nov. 25, 2013, he sent an email from a computer in his Elgin office with the following message: "do you trade. This is what I lik." Farnham attached two files to the email that he knew contained child pornography, according to the plea agreement.

Federal agents found 2,765 images of child pornography on Farnham's computers and electronic storage devices. Many of the images were graphic in nature and involved sexual acts with children as young as 2 years old, the plea agreement said. Some of the images involved sadistic conduct and depictions of violence. (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bill Trott)

Get Ready to Be Amazed by <i>The Illusionists</i>

Thu, 2015-03-19 10:30
Upon receiving the marketing materials for The Illusionists - a new multi-city magic show now playing Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre through March 22 - I couldn't help but conjure up camptacular images of '90s David Copperfield specials and Burt Wonderstone.

But, let me tell you: This show is anything but. Sure, there is a degree of cheese factor, but the kind that's delightful because it's self-aware and smartly played. There's also beauty, excitement and, most importantly, finely-tuned talent and craft.

Among the highlights from these seven wildly diverse world-class performers are Yu Ho-Jin ("The Manipulator"), whose serene and sensational slight-of-hand sends shivers, the adorable Adam Trent ("The Futurist") who charms the crowd with this futuristic trickery, and Dan Sperry ("The Anti-Conjuror"), who overcomes his goth getup with jaw-gaping visuals and zanily off-kilter audience interaction. I also enjoyed Jeff Hobson ("The Trickster") whose clever comebacks are perhaps quicker than his illusions.

Now a word of warning: If you're the kind of person who shies away from any type of audience interaction, I'd suggest you exercise caution when sitting in the first 10 rows or so. This is the kind of show where the houselights come up and people are reluctantly dragged onstage to participate. Sure, folks may be plants or pre-chosen, but I certainly felt exposed. Thankfully, all the folks selected on press night seemed to take it all in stride.

Only one moment felt a misstep in this otherwise fantastical, family-friendly evening: One of the tricks conducted by "The Inventor" obviously features a person with a disability (I won't mention which one, but astute viewers will know what I'm talking about). I'm not sure how I felt about that, especially since this person is depicted as something fearful and creepy.

That instance aside, watching The Illusionists, I was reminded of the sheer skill and artistry that goes into refining the perfect magic trick. And at the Cadillac Palace, you can see some of the world's best in a tight, two-hour performance that will certainly delight and amaze.

"The Illusionists" plays through March 22 at the Cadillac Palace.

6 Disturbing Facts About Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Thu, 2015-03-19 09:11
Crisis pregnancy centers claim to offer advice and support to women conflicted about their pregnancies. But a new report sheds lights on just how misleading and dangerous the information these centers give out can be for women who are seeking genuine medical advice.

A report released this week by NARAL Pro-Choice America details how Crisis Pregnancy Centers, or CPCs, masquerade as places where women can get information about abortion -- but offer no such services. Instead, the goal of CPCs is to persuade women to follow through with a pregnancy, regardless of what factors may have led a woman to seek termination.

There are currently an estimated 2,500 CPCs in the U.S., compared to an estimated 1,700 abortion clinics. CPCs are well-known for targeting vulnerable or confused women with misleading ads, and providing them with false information.

NARAL has gathered information on CPCs in more than 10 states. Investigators, posing as pregnant women, reported back on their experiences with CPC staff and the information given to them at these clinics, much of which was factually inaccurate.

“Pregnant women absolutely need objective, accurate information and superior services in order to make the best decision. Crisis pregnancy centers offer the exact opposite of that,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a press release. “These institutions are driven by a desire to limit women's options and to do whatever it takes to keep all women from choosing abortion. They lie, they scare, they humiliate. This report shows that these are in no way medical institutions and everyone deserves to know this before they walk into a CPC.”

Here are six facts from the NARAL report that anyone who cares about women's health needs to know:

1. In some parts of the country, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics by far.
A whopping 95 percent of Minnesota counties do not have an abortion provider, but there are over 90 CPCs in the state. This means that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers by almost 15 to 1. In North Carolina, CPCs outnumber abortion providers by 4 to 1.

2. CPCs often present themselves as legitimate reproductive health clinics.
Many centers are purposefully located near abortion providers. Vague signage and websites lead some women to believe that these centers offer abortion services and contraception, when they do not. Women are told that they will be examined by licensed medical practitioners; instead, they are "counseled" by CPC staff, many of whom are not medically trained. In one example mentioned in the report, a CPC staff member performing a sonogram identified a women's IUD as her baby.

3. CPC staff regularly exaggerate the risks of abortion to terrify women into following through with their pregnancies.
According to the NARAL report, undercover investigators were told by CPC staff that terminating a pregnancy would put them at significantly increased risk for breast cancer, infertility, the non-existent mental illness “post-abortion syndrome” and other health issues. All of these claims have been debunked by medical experts.

4. CPCs provide false information about birth control.
Many CPCs have an anti-contraception bias. According to the report, "89 percent of CPCs investigated in Montana presented inaccurate information about birth control, including that birth control is the same as abortion, condoms don’t work, and birth control leads to breast and cervical cancer." Furthermore, 69 percent of Missouri CPCs investigated told women that hormonal birth control increases the risk of infertility -- and 92 percent refused to tell women where they could get access to contraception.

5. CPC staff often encourage women to delay making a decision about whether to have an abortion.
Fifty-three percent of investigated Minnesota CPCs urged women to put off making a decision, by recommending that they take another pregnancy test in a month or undergo an ultrasound to see if the pregnancy is viable. One CPC volunteer in Maryland told an investigator: "Don’t panic. Abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy, so you have plenty of time to make a decision" -- something that is simply not true.

6. CPC staff regularly judge women for seeking legal abortion.
Numerous investigators reported being shamed by CPC staff for their interest in termination. In North Carolina, 61 percent of investigated CPCs pressured women not to have abortions by giving them baby items. In New York City, 73 percent of CPC staffers investigated "referred to the fetus as a 'baby' or 'unborn child' and to abortion as 'killing.'"

The NARAL report shows just how damaging CPCs can be for women who genuinely need help and reputable information about pregnancy, birth control and abortion. The conclusion of the report says it perfectly: "Women will never achieve reproductive freedom until all CPCs are exposed, and women are made aware of their rights and understand their medical options."

Read the full report here.

Mark Kirk Likens Democrats' Refusal To Support Anti-Trafficking Bill To Refusal To Abolish Slavery

Wed, 2015-03-18 17:02
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) on Tuesday said Democrats' refusal to pass an anti-human trafficking bill with anti-abortion language was akin to refusing to abolish slavery in the 19th century.

“They are making the same mistake that Democrats made in the 1850s when they defended slavery,” Kirk told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. “We should all be neo-abolitionists here, to make sure that there is no right in America to enslave others using the Internet.”

Democrats actually back the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking Act, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. Democrats are now refusing to support the legislation, which would create a fund for the victims of human trafficking, because they say that they were unaware that anti-abortion language was in the bill.

The language in the bill would prevent federal money in the compensation fund from being used for an abortion, except in the case of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger. This means that survivors of human trafficking who were raped would have a burden to prove they were raped to use money from the fund for an abortion.

Despite criticizing Democrats for holding up the bill, Kirk also said Tuesday that he wished that the anti-abortion language wasn't in the bill.

"My wish is we hadn't junked that bill up with abortion politics," he said. "Let's just stand for the principle that we are all against slavery and keep the bill clean of extraneous measures."

Democrats have already filibustered the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the Senate will vote again on the legislation on Thursday.

McConnell is also refusing to consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder until the anti-trafficking legislation is resolved.

H/T Roll Call

How the Super-Rich Are Attempting an Illinois Takeover -- and Trying to Shut Out Working Families

Wed, 2015-03-18 16:44

You have to go all the way back to ancient Athens to find an explanation for what's happening in our country today. It was the political philosopher Aristotle who first used the term "oligarchy" to refer to rule by the rich, warning against the dangers posed to democracy when a small elite takes control of the reins of power to advance its own interests.

That danger has never been more real in our lifetimes than it is right now, and perhaps no greater anywhere in this country than in my own state of Illinois. Bruce Rauner, our newly-elected billionaire Republican governor, spent more than $25 million of his own money to win election, then immediately created a $20 million intimidation fund to threaten any politician who won't go along with his agenda.

Rauner's rise to power was fueled by close ties to other billionaires, like Chicago-based hedge fund honcho Ken Griffin, who attracted national attention when he bemoaned the fact that the super-rich have "insufficient influence" on politics.

The reality, of course, is that the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision striking down campaign finance restrictions accelerated the steadily-swelling influence of the über-wealthy on the political process. That means the very rich exert ever more sway over not just the outcome of elections, but also the critical policy issues that affect all our lives.

Many goals unite the New American Oligarchy to which Bruce Rauner belongs: the privatization of public services, a tax system that shields their riches, the destruction of public education, diminished workplace rights and consumer protections, lower wages, and far too much more of that ilk.

But there's no doubt that their first and foremost goal is to clear the playing field of one of the few entities that has the resources and determination to stand up to them -- America's labor unions.

Pundits all across Illinois have been puzzling as to why the new governor, faced with a massive budget shortfall and in need of all the help he can get to resolve it, would make an assault on labor unions a top priority. But that's just what he's done, blemishing his first State of the State address with ugly, divisive rhetoric and flat-out false attacks on unions.

He swiftly followed that verbal volley with a blatantly illegal anti-union executive order that flouts state law by directing state agencies to confiscate employee payroll deductions intended for unions representing state workers. His goal, clearly stated in the executive order, is to deprive unions of the resources they've successfully used to raise employee wages and benefits. Using phony charts and doctored statistics, he's launched a full-fledged campaign to portray state government workers as "overpaid" and their benefits as "excessively generous" -- and to blame them for the $4 billion budget deficit that looms on the state's fiscal horizon.

While Rauner's hatred of public employees and their unions is particularly scalding, it doesn't stop there. He's also launched a full-fledged attack on the members of the construction trades as well, pressing to drive down their wages by eliminating prevailing wage standards and project labor agreements.

The governor's schedule finds him traversing the state almost every day to preach the gospel of union destruction. Calling for "employee empowerment zones," he urges local governments to establish their own so-called "right-to-work" laws that would rob the resources of every union, public or private, in their jurisdiction, and -- again in blatant violation of state law -- to simply refuse to negotiate with teachers and other public employees.

Behind closed doors, Rauner admits where his attacks are headed. In a recent meeting with lawmakers, he "predicted the eventual eradication of union membership in Illinois. ... [T]he governor suggested that if his policies are adopted by the Legislature, union membership will be eliminated in Illinois within the next four years."

While it may seem mysterious to many in the Illinois media, Gov. Rauner's obsession with weakening unions fits within the context of the corporate elite's nationwide crusade to eliminate organized labor from the American political landscape. The New York Times called it "A War on Workers in Illinois", and it's part and parcel of a larger effort to drive down the standard of living of middle class families and shift an ever greater share of the nation's wealth to the top.

Rauner's attack on fair-share fees and his support for "right-to-work" zones is no more about the rights of workers than allowing corporations to give unlimited amounts of money to politicians is about freedom of speech.

Even as he devotes countless hours to his union-destruction roadshow, the governor has not made even a passingly serious attempt to address the state's massive budget shortfall -- a shortfall that derives entirely from his successful push to roll back the state's income tax rate, already the nation's lowest flat tax. The resulting tax breaks will drain more than $5 billion a year away from funding public services, flowing disproportionately to corporations ($1.3 billion) and the top three percent ($1.2 billion).

The budget plan that Rauner recently unveiled for the coming year includes no new revenue to pay for those tax breaks, instead focusing entirely on drastic cuts in essential services such as Medicaid, child care, disability support programs, as well as steep reductions in state funding for local governments, state universities, and nonprofit service providers.

Yet for all the blame he spreads for driving up state spending and all his talk of "shared sacrifice," never once has the governor expressed any concern about the vast sums of money poured into political coffers by the state's super-rich and big corporations, or suggested eliminating some of the $2 billion a year in tax loopholes that mostly benefit Illinois' own oligarchy.

While Rauner rails against public employees coming together through their union to have a voice in the democratic process, he sees no "conflict of interest" in taking big contributions from those big businesses that benefit from those loopholes.

To those outside of the labor movement, the issues involved may seem arcane or parochial. What the heck, they ask, is "right-to-work" all about anyway?

America's incipient oligarchy has staked out Illinois as perhaps its biggest proving ground yet. It's a battle that should rouse not just organized labor, but everyone concerned with preserving the democracy that is the bedrock of our nation. If we want to stave off further consolidation of political and economic power in the hands of the very few, the time is now to stand up and stand together.