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Gun Laws Blamed For Chicago's Holiday Weekend Shooting Surge

Mon, 2014-07-07 14:55
After a violent holiday weekend during which 11 people were killed and more than 60 others were wounded in shootings -- two of the deaths and five of the woundings at the hands of police officers -- Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Monday that the city's gun sentencing laws aren't strict enough to help police stem city violence.

"It all comes down to these guns: there's too many guns coming in and too little punishment going out," McCarthy said in a Monday press conference.

In a news release, McCarthy noted police have seized over 3,300 illegal firearms so far this year, but said many gun offenders quickly return to the street because sentences for those caught carrying illegally are too lax.

"Our efforts will continue unabated until all Chicagoans gain the same sense of security, but better laws are needed to reduce the proliferation of illegal guns in our communities," Chicago's top cop continued.

While some have suggested that the city's police have been overextended due to understaffing and working overtime in high-crime areas, McCarthy maintained that illegal firearms remained the root of the problem. Sunday alone, the city recorded 21 shooting incidents, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

"Yesterday is the day that really blew it up for us," McCarthy said Monday, according to the Sun-Times.

In a separate statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the weekend violence was "simply unacceptable, and points out that we still have work to do."

"This violence is unacceptable wherever it occurs in our city and all of us need to take a stand," Emanuel continued. "The only way we will meet this challenge to our future is to join with one another and create a partnership for peace.”

While Chicago reported a lower homicide total for the first six months of the year than the same period in 2013, its total number of shooting incidents is up 5 percent compared to last year -- and the number of shooting victims has surged 8 percent.

Last month, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved Emanuel's plan for strict gun shop restrictions in the city, requiring that all purchases be videotaped and that sales be limited to only one gun per month per buyer.

The plan is an attempt to reduce the number of "straw" purchases, during which a gun is legally purchased but transferred to individuals not legally allowed to own. Still, the plan is not likely to have a large impact because the mayor himself has admitted that over three quarters of the firearms recovered from crime scenes in Chicago were purchased outside of the city's immediate vicinity, while four shops just outside city limits account for about 20 percent of recovered guns.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that Emanuel was likely factoring gun stores located just outside the city among those selling guns purchased near Chicago, compared to those purchased from other states and non-bordering suburbs.

Expression Through Style at Illinois State University

Mon, 2014-07-07 13:33
To define the style of Illinois State University would take away from the individuality of the campus. College fashion is part of the evolution of finding ones place in a world full of options. It is a way of expressing how you feel and the path you are on. Those who stand out are the ones who effortlessly express who they are. The beauty of fashion and the art of it all come from that individual expression. The great thing about this place we call ISU is the diversity of the people and the lack of uniformity. Our uniforms are our own to build as we simultaneously build ourselves through our education. I confirmed the individuality of my school the day I sat in class besides a girl wearing a chiffon maxi skirt, cowboy boot combo. We do not follow rules of style because we think for ourselves. Style at Illinois State is not always off the runway but it is always inspiring.

Illinois State University is located in the quaint town of Normal, Illinois. A few hours out of Chicago, many students come here to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. A melting pot similar to the nearby city, many different people and ideas meet in this town. There seems to be a place for everyone. Walking to class through the tree-covered quad, along the dark brick buildings people from all walks of life come together. The students define themselves by their dedication to their education, commitment to having a good time, and of course, sense of style.

In this melting pot, fashion sense is scattered in a wonderful way. During the week students often show their Redbird pride in cozy ISU sweaters and cozier yoga pants. The remaining students can be seen in any style from bohemian crop tops and cut-off shorts to leather leggings and white t-shirts. Walk in one of the Uptown coffee shops and you find students in rolled up skinny jeans, loose fitting tees, and colored Converse listening to the latest Black Keys album. Travel down the street to Pub II restaurant and bar and see guys chatting on the patio sporting button down shirts and dark wash jeans, while girls wear tank tops and skinny jeans, perfectly accessorized with gold jewelry and a cross-body bag hanging over their shoulder.

When the sun goes down, an even more exciting and busy time begins. Roommates' closets are raided in a race to find the most perfect outfit. Style is always present and always evolving. We may be in the town of Normal but there is nothing uniform or routine about us.

This Fashionista defines Illinois State University style with her edgy and feminine outfit. She is comfortable while being fashion-conscious. The accessories accent her outfit and portray effortless style. Cutouts, fringe and lace detail add interest to the outfit. This Fashionista is ready to take on any class or any college event with confidence. Illinois State style is detail-orientated, confident and individual in the best way.

Kelly Alexander is a senior at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois majoring in Apparel Merchandising with a double minor in Business Administration and Business Environment and Sustainability. She has been working for CollegeFashionista for two semesters and counting. This summer she is also working as a marketing and sales intern for Lana Jewelry in Chicago and enjoying her life in the city. After graduation, she plans on traveling Europe before beginning her career in the fashion industry.

These Amazing Drawings Show Us Practice Really Does Make Perfect

Mon, 2014-07-07 08:18
"For the first couple years you make stuff," public radio host Ira Glass stated once, "it's just not that good. It's trying to be, but it's not."

Glass' pep talk, directed at creatives but applicable to pretty much everyone, may sound familiar. "There is this gap" between your ambitions and reality, he declares, going on to explain how that disappointment is too, well, disappointing for some, who abandon the pursuit of whatever it was they were trying to achieve. "They quit," he said simply.

But eventually, those who practice will have a lot more to show for their efforts. "It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap," Glass said. Below we give you before-and-after examples of artists who tried hard to do precisely that in their own work, and it's clearly paid off.

After years of practicing his observation skills, Ethan Tens now works as a graphic designer.

Tens explained on Reddit how he improved after he learned to disassociate personal bias from his subject and "see it as pure visual information." That, and a lot of doing what you love.

"All it is is time and practice," he wrote. "I think practice shouldn't be labor."

It took the self-taught Marc Allante nearly two decades to find his own unique style.

Allante now works as an artist, but he told The Huffington Post that "a huge part" of his success has been "constant practice." Still, he feels he has more to learn, visiting museums and reading technical guides to pick up any tips he can.

"It is not a static process," Allante said. "I would say to anyone who has passion for art and creating to not stop ... regardless of what gets thrown your way."

Years of drawing celebs has left Ray Sampang with some hyperrealism skills to envy.

But Sampang wouldn't want you to compare yourself to him. "In the beginning," he told HuffPost, "I compared myself to other artists that were lightyears ahead of me ... and got frustrated and discouraged when I couldn't match up to them." Sampang is entirely self-taught and credits the tutorials he found online with his improvement.

"As long as you keep at it and continue enjoying what you do," he said, "you'll get to where you want to be."

Self-proclaimed dinosaur enthusiast RJ Palmer credits school for some of his progress.

But not all of it came from school, Palmer told HuffPost. Although his experience at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco was overwhelmingly positive, simply signing up for classes won't get you all that far. "You have to really want it," he said, "and push yourself really hard to become successful."

Practice, clearly, is one thing you won't regret.

According to Isabella Addison, these two images were drawn only six months (!) apart. She now updates her Instagram feed with new drawings.

Chicago Shootings Over July 4th Weekend Leave At Least 9 Dead, Dozens Wounded

Sun, 2014-07-06 23:56
The July 4th weekend is always filled with the loud booms of fireworks. But in Chicago, residents are far more likely to hear the bangs of gunfire.

More than 60 people were shot in the Windy City over the long holiday weekend, leaving at least nine people dead, ABC7 Chicago reported.

The bloody weekend began around 2:30 a.m. Friday when a 34-year-old man was fatally shot in a drive-by. From there, the violence intensified.

A teenager was shot in his car.

A woman in her 60s was grazed in the head by a stray bullet while standing on her front porch.

A man was struck by a falling bullet.

A teen was standing on the sidewalk when her ex-boyfriend allegedly walked up and shot her in the legs.

A man sitting in his car was killed when a gunman fired shots into the vehicle. A woman who was also sitting inside was injured by glass.

Two people were killed and another three wounded in police-involved shootings.

The shootings were so numerous this weekend that the Chicago Tribune ended up publishing a roundup of attacks, focusing on just a four-hour period Sunday afternoon.

Tribune staff has been diligently following Chicagoland's shootings, mapping the incidents and listing the most recent victims by date, gender, age and location.

Since Jan. 1, more than 1,100 people have been shot in Chicago.

Two years ago, when the city's murder rate topped 500, authorities launched a campaign to turn the tide of this violent trend. According to ABC World News, hundreds of police officers have been dispatched to patrol dangerous neighborhoods and authorities have been working with community leaders to stem some of the gang activity.

In 2013, this effort appeared to be working as homicides dropped to 415. But that rate was still higher than those of many major American cities, including New York City, which recorded less than 350 murders that same year.

Police spokesman Martin Maloney told the Chicago Sun-Times that since Jan. 1, Chicago has had its lowest homicide rate since 1963. And the toll from violence over the July 4th holiday weekend was actually lower than last year when 12 men were killed and at least 60 others wounded, NBC Chicago reported.

However, police also noted an 8 percent increase in shooting victims through the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2013.

To those Chicagoans affected by shootings, the city has not done enough.

"We're celebrating independence, but we feel like we're in prison," Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church told ABC7. "It's unacceptable. We wouldn't accept it in Iraq, we shouldn't accept it in Chicago."

Chicago Police on the scene of a police involved shooting at 74th & Vincennes. #chicagoland #crimeisdown

— ITakePix (@slow911) July 4, 2014

Alan Dixon, Former Democratic Senator, Dies At 86

Sun, 2014-07-06 13:14

CHICAGO (AP) — Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois has died.

His son Jeffrey Dixon tells The Associated Press that the 86-year-old died Sunday at his home in Fairview Heights. He had recently been hospitalized for heart problems, but his condition had improved and he had returned home.

Dixon served in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1993. He also had a long career in state politics, serving in the Illinois House, Illinois Senate and as the state's treasurer and secretary of state.

He lost the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat in 1992 to Carol Moseley Braun. She was the first African-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

The Belleville-born Dixon was an attorney.

His memoir titled "The Gentleman from Illinois" was published in 2013.

George Ryan, Ex-Governor And Ex-Cont, Renews Call To Ban Death Penalty

Sat, 2014-07-05 12:23
KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) — George Ryan, an ex-Illinois governor and now an ex-convict, says he'd like to re-engage with the cause he left behind when he went to prison in 2007 — campaigning for the end of the death penalty in the U.S.

"Americans should come to their senses," Ryan said this week, in an hourlong interview with The Associated Press at his kitchen table. Newly free to speak after a year of federal supervision that followed his more than five years in prison for corruption, Ryan appeared to have recovered some of his old voice and feistiness, in contrast to the subdued figure that emerged a year ago from the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, and ducked briefly into a Chicago halfway house.

At his home in Kankakee, south of Chicago, the 80-year-old Republican held forth on capital punishment, the state of American politics and the criminal justice system — though not the difficult details of his own corruption case.

He said he'd like to spend some time on the national circuit to encourage other states to follow Illinois' lead in abolishing capital punishment in 2011, which stemmed from Ryan's decision to clear death row in 2003. While he was treated as a champion by death penalty opponents at the time, he acknowledged some public figures now may have trouble openly associating with him.

"I'm an ex-convict," he said. "People tend to frown on that."

Ryan, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was indicted in 2003 and convicted in 2006 on multiple corruption counts, including racketeering and tax fraud. He said he does not plan to discuss the details of the criminal case — to which he always maintained his innocence — though he might in an autobiography he is writing.

Ryan hasn't apologized for actions that prosecutors and jurors deemed criminal.

"I spent five years in apology," he said, bristling. "I paid the price they asked me to pay."

He also lashed out at the U.S. justice system, calling it "corrupt" and bluntly contending that the fervor with which he was prosecuted was due in part to his nationally prominent campaign to end the death penalty.

"It put a target on my back when I did what I did," he said, adding that even prison guards derided and mocked him. "It certainly didn't win me any favor with the federal authorities."

It's unclear whether Ryan's re-emergence on the public scene will be welcomed. But at least one former federal prosecutor balked at Ryan's contention that he may have been singled out because of his death penalty stance.

"It's absurd," said Jeff Cramer, a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, noting that four of Illinois' last seven governors have gone to prison. "It wasn't his political stand that made him a target. It is what he did ... He's trying to rewrite history."

During Thursday's interview, Ryan also lamented the increased acrimony between Democrats and Republicans from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., and their unwillingness to compromise. He recalled days in the Illinois capital when the two parties would gather at the same restaurant and even discuss how to support each other's bills.

He also expressed some sympathy for his Democratic successor, Rod Blagojevich, saying the 14-year prison sentence the former governor is serving in Colorado for trying to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and other pay-to-play schemes was excessive. The sentence is now under appeal.

"I wasn't a fan," he said of Blagojevich. "Irrespective, his sentence was out of line."

But Ryan displayed the most passion while discussing capital punishment. Once a fervent advocate of the death penalty, he said he agonized about approving the last execution in Illinois before he issued a moratorium in 2000.

"I killed the guy," he said of the man who had raped, kidnapped and murdered a 21-year-old Elmhurst woman. "You can't feel good about that."

As he contemplated commuting all death sentences in 2003, he said he felt increasing pressure not to do it, including from one influential politician who he remembers asking him directly not to spare one man convicted of murdering a friend's daughter. After the commutations, Ryan said the politician never spoke to him again.

Ryan may have to tread lightly, at least at first, in trying to rejoin the anti-death penalty movement.

Tom Gradel, a Chicago-area researcher who has written about Illinois corruption, said Ryan is rightly praised for what he says were sincere measures to end capital punishment. But, he added, Ryan's conviction could make it difficult for him to once again champion moral arguments.

"He lacks credibility," Gradel said. "It was destroyed by the jury."

The 10 Most Underutilized Spaces In Your Home

Sat, 2014-07-05 10:48
No matter the square footage of your home, the hunt for a little extra space will ensue every now and then. The go-to solution, typically, is to haul items off to local storage facility until you can figure your space issues out. As tempting as that may be, there's a good chance there are a couple spots you're overlooking (and underutilizing) right within your home. Whether it's a place to display a few extra odds and ends or a hidden room you didn't know you had, these places are just begging to get the attention they finally deserve.

Above the door. If you think you've run out of space, look up. There tends to be extra space at the tops of doors, bookshelves and other vertical structures that are ideal for storage.

The attic. Contrary to popular belief, the attic does not only function as an in-home storage unit or a clutter graveyard. Clear it out and you'll have an extra bedroom or hideaway office in no time.

On the bookshelves themselves. When wall space is scarce, go ahead and hang things directly on the front of your storage units. Consider it a bold, new approach to displaying your best pieces.

The closet. Using a closet for nothing else but coats, shoes and cleaning products is so last year. Turn the space into a desk, reading nook or craft station. And as an added bonus, look at the doors as additional hanging room for everything from mail to art.

The foot of the bed. Everyone knows that stashing odds and ends under the bed is a great way to carve out more space in the bedroom, but you can't incorporate extra seating and additional storage down there, now can you?

The fireplace. Instead of letting it go unnoticed during the nine months out of the year that aren't winter, use it as the basis for a beautiful vignette.

That awkward nook... It's time to stop seeing those quirky spaces as inconveniences -- create a small sitting area or vibrant entryway feature.

Under the stairs. While you might not necessarily have the room down there to turn this space into a bedroom or office, it's still a great little area for a home bar, work station or more.

Below the coffee table. Everyone knows there's nothing better than a beautifully decorated coffee table -- but what about underneath it? Use this spot to collect all the things that don't fit on top or work with your design scheme.

The windowsill. From seating to an extra place to pile books, windowsills are a naturally beautiful spot to start using for something other than catching curtains.

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Terrance Doddy, Suspected Rest Stop Killer, Arrested After Manhunt

Fri, 2014-07-04 16:12

July 4 (Reuters) - Police in Wisconsin arrested an Illinois man on Friday who is suspected of killing two people and became the target of a nationwide manhunt.

Terrance Doddy, 36, of Rockford, Illinois, was apprehended in Beloit, Wisconsin, after leading police on a high-speed car chase across the Illinois-Wisconsin border, police said. Police earlier in the week said his first name was spelled Terence.

Doddy is suspected of killing a woman at a rest stop west of Chicago and taking her car a day after killing a man in the northern part of the state, authorities said.

The car chase began when the stolen vehicle was spotted by an Illinois State Police trooper, Rockford police said in a statement.

Attempting to flee police at speeds exceeding 100 mph (160 kph), Doddy lost control of the car and crashed into a tree on Highway 81 in Beloit, police said.

"After a short struggle, Doddy was taken into custody," police said in the statement.

He was hospitalized for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries suffered in the crash, police said.

Doddy is wanted in the killings of Todd Hansmeier, 37, on Monday in Rockford and Tonya Bargman, 44, at a rest stop on Interstate 39 about 40 miles (64 km) south of Rockford on Tuesday night.

Police have said surveillance video showed Bargman being attacked by a man as she left a restroom at the Willow Creek rest stop.

Doddy was seen leaving the rest stop in Bargman's car, police said.

He faces charges of first-degree murder and domestic battery in connection with the earlier incident, police said. No charges have yet been established in connection with the rest stop incident, a Rockford police spokesman said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Cooney)

College Presidents Say No To Unions For Student Athletes

Fri, 2014-07-04 13:10
WASHINGTON (AP) — Northwestern University on Thursday urged the National Labor Relations Board to overturn a regional ruling that would allow its scholarship football players to unionize, holding up the football program as exemplifying the university's integration of athletics and education.

In a 60-page brief filed with the labor board in Washington just hours ahead of a midnight deadline, the university laid out its opposition to student athletes forming a union and asked to argue its case before the board. The regional director's decision "transforms what has always been a cooperative educational relationship between university and student into an adversarial employer-employee relationship," the university said in the brief.

Northwestern's brief was one of several filed Thursday by organizations on both sides of a March 26 ruling by a regional director of the labor board that could revolutionize college sports. The director ruled that football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can unionize.

An employee is regarded by law as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. In the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation.

An organization of college presidents filed a friend-of-the-court brief taking strong issue with the regional director's ruling.

"Student-athletes participate for their own benefit; they do not render services for compensation," said the 1,800 member American Council on Education. They "are not employees and therefore not subject to the National Labor Relations Act."

The full labor board is weighing the case but has no deadline for a ruling.

In asking the board to overturn the ruling, Northwestern University said that its Chicago-region director "overlooked or ignored key evidence that Northwestern presented showing that its student-athletes are primarily students, not employees."

Instead the regional director's decision "relied incorrectly on a common-law definition of employee that considered the amount of control an employer has over an employee," said Northwestern, which is located in Evanston, Illinois.

In its own brief, the fledgling College Athletes Players Association argued that Northwestern football is a commercial enterprise from which the university derives substantial financial benefits. "They are entitled to representation ... the regional director's decision should be affirmed," the union said.

At its core, the players' union said, "this case involves the same questions that arise in every representation case: Do the players perform services for the university? Do they work under the university's supervision and direction? Do they receive compensation for their work?"

Answering in the affirmative, the players' union said that under federal law, the players are entitled to vote on whether to unionize "and to pursue a collective voice to address their working conditions."

The Northwestern college athletes on scholarship did hold an election in the spring. However, the ballot box was sealed pending a final NLRB decision.

In other voices in the case:

—The AFL-CIO labor union asserted in its brief that the Northwestern football program "functions as a largely autonomous commercial enterprise that is affiliated with and generates revenue for the university. There is no question that the players...'work for' the Northwestern football program in much the same way as professional athletes."

— Republican members on the House Education and Workforce Committee, led by its chairman, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., urged the labor board to rule against the college athletes' union. "The profound and inherent differences between the student-university and employee-employer relationship makes employee status unworkable both as a matter of laws and in practice."

— Republican members of the Senate Labor Committee also sided with Northwestern, saying in its court filing, "Congress never intended for college athletes to be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act, and doing so is incompatible with the student-university relationship."

— A coalition of unions representing major league professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey players filed its own brief supporting the players, noting that Northwestern should be able "to negotiate clearly delineated contract terms" with the university "that respect each other's vital concerns and include a fair and effective dispute resolution mechanism."


AP Education Writer Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report


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Republicans Formally Oppose A Union For College Athletes

Fri, 2014-07-04 09:40
WASHINGTON -- After holding a hearing to air their concerns over college football players unionizing, congressional Republicans took their opposition to the idea a step further on Thursday, filing a brief with the federal labor board against collective bargaining for college athletes.

The brief, submitted by six Republicans who help oversee the National Labor Relations Board, took aim at the decision by the agency's regional director in Chicago to allow a union election for athletes at Northwestern University. The lawmakers argued that the ruling "artificially conflated and improperly applied" labor law in determining that the players were employees of the school and therefore covered under the law.

"As a matter of policy and law, this is wrong: scholarship football players are not and should not be treated as ... employees," they wrote. "The inevitable conclusion from the [regional director's] analysis in this case would lead to countless undergraduate students -- in a variety of extracurricular activities -- being considered employees of their colleges and universities."

With the backing of the United Steelworkers, Northwestern players had presented the labor board with a petition earlier this year seeking an election for their would-be union, the College Athletes Players Association. The players' case rested on the argument that college scholarships constitute a form of payment for services rendered and that Northwestern controlled the terms of those services.

The players cleared the first hurdle to their potentially historic unionization effort in March, when Peter S. Ohr, the board's Chicago regional director, issued a ruling letting the election proceed.

That decision, however, has been appealed to the five-member labor board in Washington, which can affirm or overturn Ohr's ruling. (Even if the board sides with the players, Northwestern can still take its case to federal court.) The election went ahead, but the ballots have been impounded until the board makes its determination.

The brief from the six Republican lawmakers was one of a batch of amicus filings in the case on Thursday by interested groups. These include the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which isn't a formal party in the case but could see its entire model shaken by the outcome. In its brief in support of Northwestern, the NCAA contended that letting players unionize would lead to "significant and irreversible, negative impact on the future of intercollegiate athletics and higher education in the United States."

The congressional Republicans on the filing were Rep. John Kline (Minn.), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce; Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.); Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.); Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.); and Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.).

Unions representing athletes in five pro sports -- MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL and NHL -- filed a joint brief in support of the college athletes on Thursday.

Going Deep: Race and the Third Rail

Thu, 2014-07-03 23:21
Let's take a stroll along the third rail of American culture, shall we?

We can follow it straight into the grocery store, where Joy DeGruy and her sister-in-law are standing at the checkout line. The sister-in-law, who is biracial but looks white, chats amiably with the clerk as she writes out a check for her groceries, and life is lovely as can be. But when Joy, who is black, tries to pay for her groceries, the clerk stares at her coldly and asks for two pieces of ID, then searches for her name on the "bad check" list. Joy's 10-year-old daughter, standing with her mom, wells up with tears, unable to fathom why this sweet, friendly checkout girl has suddenly turned mean.

Well, here's why: ". . .these people are a danger to America greater and more insuperable than any of those that menaced the other great civilized states of the world."

We just need to follow the third rail back to 1884, as Harvard scholar Nathaniel Southgate Shaler (quoted above) holds forth in Atlantic magazine. Or back, back, across time and oceans, to a 15th century papal directive: "Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be 'discovered.'"

The third rail is, of course, race -- racial insanity, actually: the schism, deeper than the Mariana Trench, separating Europe from the rest of humanity. We've inherited it and we're stuck with it, whether we're black or white, brown or red, light-skinned or dark-skinned, abolitionist or flag-waving son of the Old South. And we don't talk about it, at least not during the normal course of the day. But race is ever-present as we go about our lives, igniting emotions we usually succeed in politely suppressing, unless . . . oh, an African-American woman, say, wants to write a check for her groceries.

Author Joy DeGruy tells her story in a remarkable documentary called Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality, produced and directed by Shakti Butler, who is the founder of World Trust, an organization committed to breaking through the shame, secrecy and dishonesty that American culture is trapped in regarding both its racial history and present-day practices. The other quotes were also part of the film, which dug relentlessly at the structural and institutional racism of our society for the purpose of getting people to talk about it.

DeGruy told her story not for the purpose of vilifying the clerk at the store, but to address the complexity of everyday racial encounters, which pull in everyone. The sister-in-law, Kathleen, turned around when she saw what was happening, using her "white privilege" to intervene and ask the clerk, "Why are you doing this?" Other customers then expressed outrage and eventually the manager came over. And a fragment of American society addressed its racial assumptions more deeply than it normally does.

The film, and the unique discussion that accompanied it, were part of a three-day conference on race and restorative justice I attended last week in Chicago. The planning committee for this amazing, multiracial event, held at Roosevelt University, included the Community Justice for Youth Institute, the Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice Project and many other participants in this city's growing movement to change the criminal justice paradigm and replace a punishment mentality with the consciousness of healing.

I'm happy to say over 100 people attended it. Something big is happening here. The conference was called "Going Deep" and that's what we did, though I flail right now in wordlessness, not knowing how to dig at the complexity of what occurred.

We walked the third rail of racism and white privilege. We revisited the outrage and unhealed wound called slavery. Indeed, Joy DeGruy, who told the tale of being humiliated at the grocery store, is the author of Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, a book that examines slavery's psychological legacy, which includes a slave mother's hesitancy to praise her own children for fear that positive attention could lead to their sale. She had to denigrate her children in order to protect them, DeGruy pointed out. And this perversely protective instinct may still be alive many generations later, wreaking damage on family ties.

This is not easy to talk about. That's why the discussions, often among smaller, breakout groups of conference participants, were unlike any I've ever participated in. I found myself at sea, some of the time, coming to grips with my own white privilege, which was usually invisible to me. I grew up in the then-all white suburb of Dearborn, Mich., where whiteness was disguised, simply, as "normalcy."

Race was an abstraction. We were far from its raw edge, unless we crossed Wyoming Avenue into Detroit. We said things like "That's very white of you." And much, much worse. The city fathers and the real estate industry were aligned in their commitment to keep Dearborn white. The schools taught a version of history that included such phrases as "the first white man to explore . . ." I grew up in fortified ignorance.

At the conference I confronted my upbringing and my whiteness. In one of the breakout circles we read the poem "The Usual Suspects," by Reginald Harris, which gouged a hole in the fortification of whiteness that I thought I had disavowed and dismantled. The poem addresses the phenomenon of criminalizing black males. It consists solely of police blotter descriptions of the usual suspects, which go on and on:

. . . Black Man, 50, says he is a college professor. See
how well he grades papers handcuffed in a cell
Black Man, 57. Occupation: jazz musician. Has clippings
in pocket as quote-unquote proof. Burn them
Black Man, 39. Protests he has no interest in, would never rape
a woman. Says he's gay. Mention this when throwing him
in cell with other inmates. If not one now, he will be
once they're done
Black Man, height 5'8", 5'7", 4'9", 6'1", 6'3", 6'5", 7'4" -
A 6'9" Senior from the University of North Carolina
Black Man, weight 150, 195, 210, 200, 260, 190, 300 -
Weighing in at two twenty-five, pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world
Black Man, age 27, 32, 48, 73, 16, 17, 18, 8 -
aged 13 and 9 respectively, under arrest for attempted murder,
have been charged as adults (charges later dropped)
Black Man Black Man Black Man Black Man Black Man

Somehow this undid me, but I wanted to be undone. The conference churned up discomfort for everyone, but in that discomfort -- as we discussed, among so much else, the prison industrial complex and the living continuation of legal racism -- I could feel a national conversation getting underway. This conversation has to continue and it has to expand. At the far end of it is, I hope, atonement and a different kind of world.

I know this much. I came away deciding I identify with one race only: the human race.

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


America The Beautiful, In 14 Hypnotic Time Lapse GIFs

Thu, 2014-07-03 21:28
The Fourth of July usually means that most of us get a whole federal holiday to stop and smell America's roses.

And oh, how they smell good.

Seriously, look at her. With canyons so grand, waves of grain so amber, and national parks so vast that they include volcanoes, deserts and glaciers, it's obvious that America is a special place.

Below, take a tour of some of our favorite places in this great country, because somewhere in between a photograph and actually being there is a beautifully animated timelapse GIF.

Mount Hood, Oregon:

Central Park, New York City:

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico:

Aurora Borealis, as seen from South Dakota:

Brian Head, Utah:

Greektown, Chicago, Illinois:

Haleakala, Maui:

Kalapana Coast, Hawaii Island:

Interstate 405, Los Angeles*:

*While this gif is awesome, we seem to remember the 405 being shut down when Endeavour crossed over in 2012, but we still think both NASA and a free-flowing 405 are equally awesome and the stuff of dreams.

One New World Trade Center, Manhattan:

A river in Wyoming:

San Francisco, California:

Very Large Array, San Agustin, New Mexico:

Hollywood, California:

Bonus video (because we just couldn't get enough of photographer Andrew Walker's time lapse footage:

National Hunt For Illinois Man Suspected Of 2 Slayings

Thu, 2014-07-03 19:49

July 3 (Reuters) - Authorities released new pictures on Thursday in a national hunt for an Illinois man suspected of killing a woman at a rest stop west of Chicago and taking her car a day after killing a man in the northern part of the state.

Terence Doddy, 36, is a person of interest in the killing of Todd Hansmeier, 37, on Monday in Rockford, Illinois, and Tonya Bargman, 44, at a rest stop on Interstate 39 about 40 miles (64 km) south of Rockford on Tuesday night, Illinois State Police said.

Police on Thursday released a surveillance photograph of Doddy, who lives in Rockford, exiting a Rockford-area store with several items in a shopping cart. They did not identify the store or say what date or time the image was captured.

State police said Doddy also might have a blue dome-style tent and urged the public to take precautions when visiting rest stops, campgrounds and other outdoor areas.

Police have said surveillance video showed Bargman being attacked by a male as she exited a restroom at the Willow Creek rest stop on I-39. She was found by a rest stop attendant.

Doddy was seen leaving the rest stop in Bargman's gray 2013 Nissan Altima, which bears the Illinois license plates BARGMN 2, police said. The car also has a silver colored "Illini Nissan" decal at the lower rear bumper, police said. (Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Another photo of Terence Doddy provided by the Illinois State Police

Northwestern Professor Accused Of Sexual Assault Won't Get Rutgers Job

Thu, 2014-07-03 15:01
A Northwestern University professor accused of sexually assaulting a student will not be taking on a new job at Rutgers University as previously announced.

Peter Ludlow was slated to join the Rutgers philosophy department for the upcoming school year, but The Daily Northwestern confirmed Wednesday that Ludlow will instead remain at Northwestern. Ludlow is at the center of a Title IX lawsuit brought by a student who claims he sexually attacked her in 2012. The student, who still attends Northwestern, claims school officials mishandled her complaint and failed to properly discipline Ludlow.

Ludlow has denied the student's allegations, while the Northwestern maintains it took proper action on the student's complaint.

Ludlow reportedly accepted Rutgers' offer in the fall of 2013, before the student filed her Title IX suit against Northwestern and a civil suit against him. After news of the allegations drew sharp criticism from students and faculty on both campuses, Rutgers officials denied they had offered Ludlow a position to begin with.

In March, Rutgers spokesman Greg Trevor told HuffPost via email, "No final offer has been made to Dr. Ludlow and the university intends to review all pertinent information before considering whether to make such an offer."

A spokesman for Rutgers told The Daily Northwestern on Wednesday, “When Rutgers learned of allegations against Professor Ludlow at Northwestern, the university requested relevant information from Professor Ludlow and his attorney. This information was not provided. As a result, Professor Ludlow will not be coming to Rutgers University.”

The tenured position at Rutgers would have been Ludlow's fourth such position in 12 years.

Growing controversy over Ludlow's continued employment at Northwestern -- inclduing a student protest in his classroom and a petition signed by faculty and staff -- prompted the administration to announce he would not teach for the rest of the academic year.

Good Riddance to Common Core Testing

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:46
A few years ago, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and a merry band of policy wonks had a grand plan. The non-governmental groups like Achieve, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Coleman's own Student Achievement Partners would write the Common Core standards (paid for by the Gates Foundation); Duncan would require states to agree to adopt them as a condition of eligibility for a share of the billions of Race to the Top funds at a time when states were broke; the Feds would spend $370 million to develop tests for the standards; and within a few short years the U.S. would have a seamless system of standards and assessments that could be used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.

The reason that the Gates Foundation had to pay for the standards is that federal law prohibits the government from controlling, directing, or supervising curriculum or instruction. Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that the federally-funded tests do not have any direct influence on curriculum or instruction. Many years ago, I interviewed a professor at MIT about his role in the new science programs of the 1960s, and he said something I never forgot: "Let me write a nation's tests, and I care not who writes its songs or poetry."

So how fares the seamless system? Not so well. Critics of the standards and tests seem to gathering strength and growing bolder. The lack of any democratic process for writing, reviewing, and revising the standards is coming back to bite the architects and generals who assumed they could engineer a swift and silent coup. The claim, often made by Duncan, that the U.S. needs a way to compare the performance of students in different states ignores the fact that the Federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) already exists to do precisely that. In addition, critics like Carol Burris and John Murphy have pointed out that the Common Core tests agreed upon a cut score (passing mark) that is designed to fail most students.

As Politico reports, support for the federally-funded tests is crumbling as states discover the costs, the amount of time required, and their loss of sovereignty over a basic state function. The federal government pays about 10 percent of the cost of education, while states and localities pay the other 90 percent. Why should the federal government determine what happens in the nation's schools? What happened to the long-established tradition that states are "laboratories of democracy"? Why shouldn't the federal government stick to its mandate to fund poor schools and to defend the civil rights of students, instead of trying to standardize curriculum, instruction, and testing?

So far, at least 17 states have backed away from using the federal tests this spring, and some are determined not to use them ever. Another half-dozen may drop out. In many, legislators are appalled at the costs of adopting a federal test. Both the NEA and the AFT, which have supported the standards, have balked at the tests because teachers are not ready, nor is curriculum, teaching resources, and professional development.

Time and costs are big issues for the federal exams:

"PARCC estimates its exams will take eight hours for an average third-grader and nearly 10 hours for high school students -- not counting optional midyear assessments to make sure students and teachers are on track.

PARCC also plans to develop tests for kindergarten, first- and second- graders, instead of starting with third grade as is typical now. And it aims to test older students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades instead of just once during high school.

Cost is also an issue. Many states need to spend heavily on computers and broadband so schools can deliver the exams online as planned. And the tests themselves cost more than many states currently spend -- an estimated $19 to $24 per student if they're administered online and up to $33 per student for paper-and-pencil versions.

That adds up to big money for testing companies. Pearson, which won the right to deliver PARCC tests, could earn more than $1 billion over the next eight years if enough states sign on."

One of the two federally-funded testing consortia, PARCC, is now entangled in a legal battle in New Mexico, which was sued by AIR for failing to take competitive bids for the lucrative testing contract. This could lead to copycat suits in other states whose laws require competitive bidding but ignored the law to award the contract to Pearson.

Frankly, the idea of subjecting third graders to an eight-hour exam is repugnant, as is the prospect of a 10-hour exam for high school students, as is the absurd idea of testing children in kindergarten, first, and second grades. All of these tests will be accompanied by test prep and interim exams and periodic exams. This is testing run amok, and the biggest beneficiary will be the testing industry, certainly not students.

Students don't become smarter or wiser or more creative because of testing. Instead, all this testing will deduct as much as a month of instruction for testing and preparation for testing. In addition, states will spend tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even more, to buy the technology and bandwidth necessary for the Common Core testing (Los Angeles -- just one district -- plans to spend a cool $1 billion to buy the technology for the Common Core tests). The money spent for Common Core testing means there will be less money to reduce class sizes, to hire arts teachers, to repair crumbling buildings, to hire school nurses, to keep libraries open and staffed, and to meet other basic needs). States are cutting the budget for schools at the same time that the Common Core is diverting huge sums for new technology, new textbooks, new professional development, and other requirements to prepare for the Common Core.

Common Core testing will turn out to be the money pit that consumed American education. The sooner it dies, the sooner schools and teachers will be freed of the Giant Federal Accountability Plan hatched in secret and foisted upon our nation's schools. And when it does die, teachers will have more time to do their job and to use their professional judgment to do what is best for each student.

'Life Itself' Crafts Heartfelt, Candid Portrait Of Roger Ebert

Thu, 2014-07-03 14:00
"Life Itself," the documentary about the many years Roger Ebert spent as the country's primo film critic and the rich but complicated personal life he led on the side, may be 2014's most wrenching film. Directed by Steve James ("The Interrupters," "Hoop Dreams"), the movie is based on Ebert's 2011 memoir by the same name. It's not a sycophantic take on the life of an American treasure, nor is it an excuse to fawn over an outsized personality who rightfully captured the nation's admiration.

James offers a warts-and-all take on Ebert's life, just as the former Chicago Sun-Times critic does in his own writing. Sandwiched between a recap of Ebert's childhood and a celebration of his contributions to popular culture, James delivers the portrait of a man who made no apologies for his bouts with alcoholism, his love of voluptuous women and his temperamental dynamic with "At the Movies" co-host Gene Siskel. The documentary proves that, even if not everyone loved Ebert's thumbs, no one denies his resilient legacy.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") and his producing partner, Garrett Basch, approached James in 2012 with the rights to Ebert's memoir for their company, Film Rites. James hadn't yet read the book, but he quickly devoured it. A longtime Ebert fan, James watched "At the Movies" in its original, Chicago-based iteration (called "Sneak Previews") in the 1970s. When he later moved from southern Illinois to the Windy City, James began reading Ebert's reviews in the Sun-Times.

"I just thought, you know, what a great critic," James recalled when HuffPost Entertainment spoke with him at the movie's New York press day.

Ebert himself was the one to break the news that "Life Itself" would become a feature film. He did so in a tweet on Sept. 7, 2012, about a month after awarding "The Interrupters" four stars and 18 years after calling "Hoop Dreams" the best movie of 1994.

Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and Steven Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer.

— Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) September 7, 2012

Days before the shoot was slated to begin, Ebert, who'd battled papillary thyroid cancer since 2002, entered the hospital with a fractured hip. "Life Itself" offers a glimpse at the days of a decaying cultural figurehead, told through the most intimate and compassionate framework. It's tough to watch at times, if only because we feel such deep sympathy for the subject. Ebert maintains a smile as nurses care for his needs and rehabilitation becomes increasingly onerous. That struggle provides a poignant fabric for the nostalgia of Ebert's heyday, when he was galavanting across the Chicago bar scene, the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, the Conference on World Affairs and other "cosmopolitan" (his word) stages, making friends and enemies aplenty along the way.

"My goal as a filmmaker is always to help you understand a main subject, including their warts," James said. "But I’m also trying to discourage you from sitting in judgment of them. I’m trying to sit back and look at it as the viewer and go, 'Okay, if you’re going to think he’s an asshole in this moment, it’s not like I want to take that out, but what can I do to kind of reposition you a little bit to think about that reaction, so that you don’t just condemn him?' No one articulated better than Roger: Movies are like a machine to help you generate empathy, to help you understand the hopes and fears of other people and their lives, and walk in their shoes, essentially."

"Life Itself" elicits deep empathy in candid interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese (whose career Ebert helped to propel), documentarians Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, TIME critic Richard Corliss, New York Times critic A.O. Scott and a plethora of Chicago newspapermen who knew Ebert in his early days. Together they share heartfelt memories of Ebert's best and worst times, his unflinching passion for cinema and his perennial status as the best raconteur in any room.

"Outside of Chaz, [Gene Siskel] was arguably the most significant relationship of his life."

The movie's most surprising moments are exposed in Ebert's volatile relationship with Siskel. While Siskel was writing for the Chicago Tribune and Ebert for the Sun-Times, the critics were bitter rivals. By the time they were cajoled into doing a television program together, their dynamic became the utmost blend of love and hate. Vintage outtakes from "At the Movies" show the men bickering over the way they read their lines for the camera. Each hurls insults at the other as they struggle to find the perfect take while recording intros to various episodes. One might think there is nothing but animosity between the pair. It's only through interviews with Ebert's devoted wife Chaz, Siskel's wife Marlene and the show's producers that we learn there was much more to the relationship.

"There are other things that he didn’t really write as candidly about in the memoir, like his relationship with Gene," James said, referring to Ebert having documented his own weaknesses in the book without fixating much on his struggles with Siskel. "He talks about it some and he definitely talks about how there was this competitiveness, but the tone of the chapter he devotes to Gene is much more wistful, like, 'Yes, we once had our battles, but I miss him every day. [...] I knew that if we were going to do this we have to dig deeper than this memoir does into that relationship, because, outside of Chaz, it was arguably the most significant relationship of his life."

Therein lies the documentary's charm. That unbridled honesty gives way to true joy, when Ebert is at his professional best or when portions of the memoir are read aloud, enunciating his affection for Chaz -- who is arguably the movie's shining star -- and the industry in which he works.

Chaz Ebert and Steve James attend the Los Angeles premiere of "Life Itself" on June 26.

It's that generous spirit that James says pervaded Ebert's life throughout his final years, even before he became ill. A.O. Scott says that's why Ebert was a "tougher" critic in his younger days, but James thinks it's because Ebert kicked some of his vices, fell in love and garnered a richer appreciation for, well, life itself.

"I think Roger became a more generous spirit in later years with films, because with all that he’d been through he kind of appreciated that he was able to be doing what he was doing at the level he was doing it," James said. "I do think that made him a little more generous of spirit. I don’t fault him for that."

America hasn't, either. Even after Ebert left broadcasting in 2006, he remained the nation's most celebrated critic. Not everyone appreciated his thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to reviewing for television, particularly Richard Corliss, who challenged the binary approach in a 1990 Film Comment essay discussed heavily in the film. Yet, regardless of whatever objections arise, everyone seems to recognize the cultural fortress that is Roger Ebert. That's what the documentary sets out to depict. And it does, ever so lovingly. Listening to Ebert's passion for film, and for his own life, is so enriching that by the time his final days are upon us on-screen, it's sob-inducing.

"The level of candor was pretty remarkable, and the only place it really changed was at the end," James said. "You see in the movie that once he leaves home and goes back to the hospital and rehab, there’s not another image of Roger in the movie. And, in fact, there was not another image recorded of Roger anywhere. I have, I think, the last image of Roger. It’s not in the movie -- it’s a shot where my DP is on him and then pans off of him, and that was the end of the shoot.

"Even though Roger lived his life in this incredibly courageous, public way, and the way in which he dealt with the cancer he did in a very public way, just like this film shows a degree of candor you hadn’t seen before, there’s also a degree of candor beyond the scope of this film that you never will see. And that’s kind of as it should be."

"Life Itself" opens in limited release on July 4.

The 21 Most Perfectly American Things To Happen Since America's Last Birthday

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:43
Every day, amazing and unbelievable events take place across the United States. Sometimes, they fill us with pride and make us excited to celebrate the Fourth of July. But just as often, we're left shaking our heads, reminded that the land of the free and the home of the brave can be as embarrassing as it is great.

Why are these two emotions so frequently at odds? How can we have open-carry rallies, where people bring assault-style weapons into fast-food restaurants one day, and an open-carry guitar rally, where people just rock out in public the next? There's no doubt a complex answer. But there's also a simple one: Because America, dammit!

Here's a list of unbelievably "American" events that have taken place since last July 4. They represent this nation, in all of its flawed perfection.

1. A man called his neighbor to complain that her soccer viewing was getting in the way of his NASCAR.

In Amherst, Massachusetts, a woman called the police to report that her neighbor had verbally abused her for being too excited about the World Cup. He also apparently accused her of taking jobs from Americans. This line from the MassLive report is almost too good to be true:

He called her a name and said he wanted to watch the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing and listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but her celebration for the World Cup was disturbing him, according to the police report.

2. Coke released an ad celebrating American diversity, which of course led Americans to complain that it was un-American.

Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ad was a tribute to U.S. diversity, including multicultural actors, verses of "America the Beautiful" in non-English languages, even a gay couple.

You better believe those things pissed off some red-blooded Americans. Some complained that the people in the ad should "learn English," while others were upset to see a couple of gay dudes looking happy. But the last laugh was on them. As HuffPost noted, Katharine Lee Bates, the woman who wrote "America the Beautiful," was thought by many to be gay herself.

3. This badass WWII vet recalled slamming some Johnnie Walker with Patton after getting a Purple Heart.

Last month, World War II veteran Jack Schlegel recounted taking a shot of scotch with U.S. Gen. George S. Patton after being awarded a Purple Heart for his service, which included surviving capture by the Germans four times. Just a few weeks after his return to Normandy, where he was again honored on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Schlegel died. Remember this great American by watching his interview.

4. A dude ordered every single McDonald's sandwich to create the McEverything.

In September, a Wisconsin man threw down more than $140 at a Mickey D's to get every sandwich on the menu -- including the breakfast ones. He then stacked them up to create this delectable monstrosity. He didn't even try to eat it all, and claimed he'd have leftovers for a week. Nothing like week-old Quarter Pounders.

5. A Florida drug court judge showed up for work while intoxicated and tried to tell people that drugs are bad.

Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack may not have been the best person to oversee offenders with substance abuse problems. Late last year, she had a meltdown in court, and following her incoherent appearance, checked herself into a rehab program. Pollack's woes mounted later. It took a further on-the-job offense and DUI charges before she was removed from the bench without pay.

In Broward County alone, three judges have been arrested for DUI over the past six months. So much for the moral superiority of American judges.

6. This guy became a feature at U.S. World Cup soccer games in Brazil.

Dubbed Teddy Goalsevelt, this spitting image of the 26th U.S. president first made waves when he was captured by cameras celebrating in the stands. He later became a hit, getting invites to official press events and becoming a de facto mascot for the American team. His real name is Mike D'Amico and there's something distinctly American about his rise to temporary stardom, even if it didn't end with a U.S. World Cup trophy.

7. Cadillac crammed everything people hate about America into one douchetastic ad.

If you haven't watched this ad yet, don't -- unless you want to have a sad. It effectively encourages you to work yourself into the ground, trading family time and your mental well-being for money, so you can buy a $75,000 car and other material items that you will barely have time to enjoy. Isn't that what the American dream is all about?

8. An 84-year-old Army veteran fought off an armed robber trying to steal his car.

When a robber showed up at his door in North Carolina, 84-year-old Neil Meisch and his wife Bonnie weren't about to give him what he wanted. The suspect flashed a gun in Bonnie's face and demanded her car keys.

"I said like hell you're going to get my keys. It'll never happen. And he said yes it will and he put his gun further up to my face," Bonnie said. Her husband then tackled the robber and hit him in the face in their front yard. Police arrested him.

Stupid criminals mixed with geriatric stubbornness and resolve. You better believe that's American.

9. A Republican candidate couldn't win over Latino voters with his politics, so he just changed his name to Cesar Chavez.

After Republican congressional candidate Scott Fistler failed to win two elections in a heavily Hispanic district in Arizona, he knew he'd need a new tactic in his next campaign. So, in preparation for his 7th Congressional District race, Fistler changed his name to Cesar Chavez, like the famed labor leader and Latino icon. He also tried to become a Democrat. Fistler -- or Chavez -- was later thrown off the ballot due to invalid petition signatures.

10. A plastic surgeon sculpted his perfect woman, then married her.

Some true American romance here: When a patient entered Los Angeles surgeon David Matlock's office, the renowned doctor convinced her to get the "Wonder Woman Makeover," including liposuction of the chin, arms and thighs. Then he took her on a date, where he wasted no time proposing marriage. Matlock has since done a number of other procedures on his wife. But don't worry. He's gone under the knife himself a number of times, helping to ensure that he, too, keeps the perfect body.

11. This hands-free chokeslam happened.

We don't know what else to say. Professional wrestling. Magical powers. 'Murica.

12. Marine Cpl. William "Kyle" Carpenter won a Medal of Honor after taking a grenade blast for a fellow soldier.

If you think there's gonna be some snark here, there's not. This guy just kicks ass.

While guarding a base in remote Afghanistan in 2010, Carpenter's position came under attack by enemy forces. When a grenade came into the outpost, Carpenter used his body to shield his partner from the blast. He suffered extensive wounds from head to toe, and during ensuing medical procedures, flatlined three times, only to be revived. For being a real American hero, Carpenter received the nation's highest military honor.

Another service member, Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, also received a Medal of Honor last year for his valiance during a firefight in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama helped underscore the nation's best ideals by retroactively awarding the Medal of Honor to 24 ethnic or minority U.S. soldiers who were deemed to have been bypassed earlier because of prejudice.

13. A man tried to rob a gun store with baseball bat -- and failed very predictably.

There aren't many things more American than baseball and firearms, but things didn't go well for one Portland, Oregon, man who tried to mix the two. When a man entered a gun shop and laid lumber to a display case, the store owner pulled out his own firearm, pointed it at the man and detained him for police.

14. This minor league baseball team adopted a bacon mascot.

Phillies Triple-A team, @IronPigs, will wear bacon caps this season. Yes, they're for sale:

— Mike Oz (@mikeoz) February 24, 2014

In February, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Pennsylvania revealed new uniforms that mixed two of America's favorite themes -- bacon and baseball. Sports fan or not, these threads are the USA at its best.

While we're on the topic of bacon, a bacon fan club held a competition that promised the winner a bacon selfie -- a life-sized bust of their face made entirely out of bacon. Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon. America.

15. This guy assaulted a fellow churchgoer after a dispute over pew seating.

A verbal dispute between two Mormon church attendees turned physical last year after a visitor tried to reserve three rows of pews, including a seat that a regular member usually sat in. When the regular church member refused a request to leave, the two got into a confrontation, which continued outside the church. The church member reportedly punched the visitor in the face and later struck him with his vehicle. #America.

16. When high schoolers trashed this ex-NLFer's house, he somehow ended up being threatened with a bunch of lawsuits.

Brian Holloway, a former NFL football star, was upset when he found that his New York home had been ravaged by 300 partying teenagers. But after discovering the kids were dumb enough to have documented the vandalism on social media, he called them out instead of seeking legal action, encouraging them to help clean up. When the parents caught wind of Holloway's response to their kids' crimes, they did what any loving suburban American mom or dad would do and made their kids clean up the mess threatened to sue him. Ain't that America?

17. A mother decided it would be smart to let her kid dress up as a Klansman for Halloween -- an idea that even the KKK thought stupid.

When a 7-year-old showed up to school in full KKK garb, people were understandably pissed. But the kid's mother couldn't understand the big deal. She claimed wearing the robes was a Halloween tradition that others in her family had observed. And while she appeared to know that it would bring her son negative attention, she didn't stop him from wearing the costume.

The move even upset the KKK. In a statement, the imperial wizard of the United Klans of America called the robes a "sacred symbol" that shouldn't be joked with, and went on to question the mother's judgment.

18. A proponent of arming schoolteachers accidentally shot one during a drill.

Late last summer, it was reported that Arkansas state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R), a supporter of giving teachers guns in order to make schools safer in the wake of of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, mistakenly shot a teacher with a rubber bullet during an "active shooter" drill.

19. KFC brought back a sandwich made completely out of fried chicken, bacon and cheese, and Taco Bell got in on the breakfast game.

Just in time for 4/20, KFC announced it would again offer the Double Down, promising to clog the nation's arteries by serving an item that replaced bread with fried chicken, and whatever normally goes inside a sandwich with bacon and cheese. It later retired the "sandwich" again.

Then, Taco Bell revealed its highly anticipated breakfast menu. Among the items, a waffle taco, or "breakfast sandwich of sausage and eggs wedged into the crevice of a folded waffle, then topped off with maple syrup." Pure American goodness.

20. An American state decided that guns should be allowed pretty much everywhere.

Earlier this year, Georgia passed a law allowing people with concealed carry firearms permits to bring guns into most bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and parts of airports. What could possibly go wrong? Guess we'll find out -- the law just went into effect.

21. A biker got buried in a see-through box casket, atop his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Billy Standley of Ohio loved his 1967 Electra Glide cruiser, and his dying wish was to ride it for eternity, or something. So, when he died at age 82 this year, his family made arrangements for an extra-large cemetery plot to accommodate a massive plexiglass casket that could hold both Standley and his Harley. As The Associated Press reported, "Five embalmers worked to prepare his body with a metal back brace and straps to ensure he'll never lose his seat."

God bless America.

This Is Not Your Independence Day

Thu, 2014-07-03 08:20
Every year, proud U.S. citizens across the country take a break from daily life to commemorate the birth of America. Dusting off the grill, buying frozen meat en masse, attempting to retreat to the nearest body of water, and putting sparklers in the hands of small children might not be exactly what our founding fathers envisioned, but who am I to argue with a long weekend? I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as the next girl. And beachside BBQs? I'm in. Red, white, and blue happens to be the color scheme of my most flattering bikini, so by all means, pass the veggie dogs and pump up the revelry.

But amidst the pomp and circumstance, please don't wish me a "Happy Independence Day!"

The 4th of July might commemorate the independence of our country -- but it also serves as a bitter reminder that in 1776, the country that I love had no place for me in it.

When our founding fathers penned, "All men are created equal," they meant it. Not all people. Not all humans. Just all men -- the only reason they didn't feel obliged to specify "white" men is because, at the time, men of color were considered less than men, less than human.

The 4th is not my Independence Day -- and if you're a Caucasian woman, it isn't yours either. Our "independence" didn't come for another 143 years, with the passage of The Woman's Suffrage Amendment in 1919. The 4th of July is also not Independence Day for people of color. It wasn't until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that all men had the right to vote regardless of race -- on paper, that is, not in practice. People of color were systematically, and all too successfully, disenfranchised for another century. July 4th of 1776 was certainly not a day of Independence or reverence for Native Americans. It wasn't until 1924 that Native Americans could unilaterally become citizens of the United States and have the voting rights to go with it.

Now, before anyone argues that Independence is about more than voting rights, I'd like to point out that our Founding Fathers would fundamentally disagree with you. The Revolutionary War was fought, in large part, because of "taxation without representation" -- the then English colonists believed they were not free because their voices were not represented. The right to vote, the right to have your say is the delineating characteristic of a democracy.

There is nothing finite about freedom. July 4, 1776 was a definitive step forward in the struggle toward freedom and democracy but we were a long way off from achieving it. And while we have advanced in leaps and bounds -- my patriotic swimwear goes over way better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than it would have in Colonial Williamsburg -- we are still a far way off from the freedom and independence we're celebrating.

A resurgence in voter ID laws put in place to once again disenfranchise minorities challenges our collective independence.

This week's Hobby Lobby ruling -- deciding that a woman's employer has any say in her health care -- is a challenge to the ideology of freedom and autonomy our country was founded upon.

The on-going fight for marriage equality prevents same-sex couples in many states from the pursuit of happiness that they are constitutionally guaranteed.

So by all means, enjoy your long weekend. Raise a beer to the ideals of progress and democracy that the 4th of July represents.

But remember that you are celebrating the birth of an imperfect union, remember that the fight for 'freedom' has yet to be won -- and if you must wish someone a "Happy Independence Day!", make sure you're doing something to maintain and advance the Independence you have come to appreciate.

33 Photos That Prove There Is No One Way To Be An American Family

Thu, 2014-07-03 06:30
The American family looks different than it did 50, or even 10, years ago.

The number of children living with two married parents has steadily decreased since the '80s. A 2012 Pew study found that 2 million dads stay at home with their kids -- a statistic that is also climbing. Around six million kids and adults have an LGBT parent. Minorities make up 37 percent of the population, but will increase to 57 percent in 2060. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2043, no group will make up a majority.

It's clearly time to celebrate all of the families in this country. So to ring in the Fourth of July this year, we asked our readers for family photos that represent the real America. The images we received include a single mom by choice who adopted her son when he was 2 years old, a military family with a dad who is in active duty in the Air Force, and a Sikh family who takes an annual road trip to Washington D.C. to celebrate the Independence Day.

Scroll down to seem them all below.

Shred, White and Blue: Freedom From Identity Theft?

Thu, 2014-07-03 06:29
It's finally here. You've been saving up for months. This is your day. You are the Master of the Data Security Universe, Ms. Never-Gonna-Happen-To-Me, Captain Try-Personally-Identifying-This. And you're going to... a Shred-a-Thon!

Yes, it's that time of the year when friends and neighbors gather in the haze of grilling hot dogs and burgers as they feed their old papers to a municipality-owned, or financial institutionally-leased shred-mobile, while talking about data security and sharing a horror story or two about identity theft.

While the goal of a shred-a-thon is laudable, and the action is certainly a concrete one, the gesture is more or less symbolic in terms of actually stopping identity theft. And as we ready ourselves to enjoy the colorful symbolism in the evening skies of Independence Day celebrations across the nation, it's crucial that you not allow a little something like document shredding to stand between you and the truth.

The Privacy Rights Clearing House estimates that some 867,810,607 records with personally identifiable information (PII) have been exposed in data breaches since 2005. Others have reported numbers far in excess of 1 billion files. The sheer quantity of purloined, as well as willingly over-shared, information floating in the cyber-sphere has pushed us way beyond mere symbolic gestures. The chances that chunks of that information include pieces of your own identity puzzle are pretty close to a slam dunk.

So it's time to trade that false sense of security pervading shred-a-thons for some real-world actions that can push off your inevitable day of reckoning and help keep you and your family as safe as possible. Because in this Everyone's Exposed world where pieces of your PII can be had for pennies, it's really just a matter of time before someone cobbles together enough of your data to cause you pain.

How Do I Prevent Identity Theft?

That was a trick question. There are no complete solutions, but if you follow the 3Ms -- minimize your exposure, monitor and manage the damage -- you can make your life a lot less painful when the inevitable happens. So while shredding gets you part of the way to the first M - minimizing your exposure -- you can't stop there. Instead, you have to change the way you think about identity theft and your PII, and most importantly, become significantly more vigilant.

A veritable cornucopia of companies are peddling all stripes of products and services to help protect you from identity theft. While I'm not going to rate them here, I would suggest avoiding those that promise to prevent identity theft, since the third certainty in life is that you will become a victim.

Monitoring for Signs of Fraud

Being vigilant means you have to keep a close eye on your credit. You can get a copy of your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies for free every year at You can also get a snapshot of your credit portfolio and two free scores (updated every month) any time of the year on, where you'll find a number of tools to help you manage and monitor your personal identity and credit profile.

It's also a good idea to enroll in transactional notification programs that are offered for free through your bank, credit union and credit card issuers -- or you can purchase credit and fraud monitoring services. You can set notices so tightly that a new line of credit cannot be opened without a PIN code and/or be instantly alerted when someone tries to obtain credit in your name, or so loosely that you simply receive notice when activity occurs in any of your financial accounts. It may seem like a nuisance to field an email or text every time you buy something with your credit or debit card, but you'll be glad you have the notification set up the day you get one about a purchase you didn't make.

Another option: fraud alerts. All three reporting agencies offer a service that provides an initial fraud alert, extended fraud alerts and active duty military alerts. If you already subscribe to a credit monitoring service, fraud alerts may be an inexpensive add-on. There are also services that allow you to monitor your children's Social Security number for signs of identity theft.

Managing the Damage

How horrific will it be when you get got? Here's where choosing the right company and service matters. In many cases, a company with which you already do business--whether that's an insurance carrier, your financial services provider or your employer--may well offer a product or service that will help you navigate the turbulent waters of victimization and restore your credit and identity when the inevitable knocks on your door.

Check to see if any of your existing relationships can provide you with identity theft resolution services and other identity management products. You may be pleased to find out that they do, and it could cost you little or nothing to enroll.

If there is any hope of containing the nightmare of identity theft, you must be engaged and invested in the process. The goal of a shred-a-thon is peace of mind, but a false sense of security is in no one's best interest. Real peace of mind comes with real knowledge.

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe by the optimists among us, the threat of identity theft is very real, and feel-good symbolism won't keep you from getting got by one of the legions of fraudsters out there working the seams of the identity mines to make a quick buck (or worse) at your expense.