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Lessons from Ferguson, applied in Illinois

Tue, 2014-12-09 13:19
Four years after Illinois' fiasco with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment and trial, Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association says the state has learned from the ordeal. Reforms have been implemented to limit conflicts of interest, stop contract abuses and combat a general culture of corruption.

Shaw says the lessons learned in the national conversations surrounding race after Ferguson can be applied in the same way:

Protests are continuing, along with an examination of police protocols in threatening situations: When should cops use batons, stun guns and other non-lethal weapons to control suspects and protect themselves, and when is a potential kill shot appropriate?

Should there be video recorders in all police cars, and body cameras on every officer, to document confrontations?

And the justice system: Do current laws fairly and adequately protect both parties -- police and victims?

Should the same prosecutors who work side-by-side with police on criminal cases be managing grand jury proceedings that involve deaths at the hands of officers?

And, of course, the overarching issue: What role does race and racism continue to play in these volatile situations?

See the rest of his thoughts on how to learn from Ferguson at Reboot Illinois.

Another national conversation with Illinois implications is the debate over a minimum wage hike. While it looked like the General Assembly might pass an increase during the veto session, it's now clear any changes will have to wait until at least January. Capitol Fax's Rich Miller blames Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan for the delay.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does indeed have a lot of explaining to do. His decision to move up a vote to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage for his city completely undercut Springfield's efforts to pass a statewide minimum wage capped everywhere at $11 an hour.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does indeed have a lot of explaining to do. His decision to move up a vote to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage for his city completely undercut Springfield's efforts to pass a statewide minimum wage capped everywhere at $11 an hour...

Even so, Speaker Madigan himself shares in the blame here. Yes, he's not all-powerful, but he probably could've passed a minimum wage bill during the spring session. Instead, he didn't want to rile up business groups before an election and believed he could use the issue to fire up his party's base and the unions in the November election.

See the rest at Reboot Illinois.



NEXT ARTICLE: Cartoon illustrates the national race discussion, post-Ferguson

22 Clever Christmas Cards That Are Actually Funny

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:36
Your Christmas card game just got a whole lot stronger.

Let's be real. Christmas cards suck. You're either getting some lame variation of a red-and-green-themed Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Season's Greetings OR some braggadocious novel of holiday newsletter that is solely aimed at making you feel even worse about your pathetic life. We can't force people to stop sending you either of these sad excuses for "holiday cheer," but we can make sure that you're never forced to do the same.

We've compiled a few hilarious card options for every person your list. Whether you need a card for your precocious 8-year-old cousin Olivia or your totally obnoxious brother-in-law Dave, we've got you covered.

For the person who loves pop culture...


Source: Imgur user rossmiers87


Source: Tay Ham Greeting Cards


Source: Claire Lordon Design


Source: Clever Printables

For the person who can appreciate a good biblical joke...


Source: shopsaplingpress


Source: Naughty Little Cards

Or a good tech joke...


Source: shopsaplingpress

For the person who knows how to truly enjoy the holiday...


Source: JessieandSquid


Source: Stuff Anna Loves


Source: Naughty Little Cards

And for the cynic who is approaching it all wrong...


Source: shopsaplingpress

For that special someone...


Source: Lost Marbles Co.


Source: Naughty Little Cards


Source: Lost Marbles Co.

Or not...


Source: Naughty Little Cards

For the G-rated crowd...


Source: Mudsplash Studios


Source: Claire Lordon Design

And the R-rated crowd...


Source: Lost Marbles Co.


Source: JessieandSquid


Source: Lost Marbles Co.

For mom or dad or anyone else who has "had it with the damn cell phones"...


Source: shopsaplingpress


And last, but not least, for Dave...


Source: JessieandSquid

One Idea, Many Consequences

Tue, 2014-12-09 10:39
Let me begin with an introduction for readers outside of Illinois. In the last election, a political novice but a successful businessman, Bruce Rauner, was elected as the state's new governor. One former Illinois governor is in prison, another was recently released -- both for corruption. The state government is perceived as inefficient and crooked. The numbers are not good, either. People argue about how big the debt is, but nobody questions that it is too big; Illinois has the worst credit rating among all states in the nation. Billboards in Chicago encourage businesses to move to Indiana.

Bruce Rauner has promised to reverse this down spin. Preparing to take office in January, the governor-elect has turned to Illinoisans for ideas. People providing ideas are asked to allocate them to one of the 88 state agencies. The Department of Aging, being the first on the list, caught my attention, because with me being above 60, aging is my great concern.

My first reflection was that even the best-run Department of Aging cannot stop or, even better, reverse my aging. Furthermore, a long time ago I knew when my senior years would come. I had decades to save money and make arrangements in securing for myself decent living conditions in retirement. I realize that if I miscalculate, in my senior years I might need to accept a lower standard of living than I enjoy now. Lastly, if I ever would need to ask for help from the Department of Aging, I would see it as a humiliating acknowledgment of my failure in securing my wellbeing at my old age, what I consider as my sole responsibility.

It is not how the Department of Aging sees its mission, as in the opening statement on its website one can read that it is in "administering quality and culturally appropriate programs that promote partnerships and encourage independence, dignity, and quality of life" for older Illinoisans. The difference is in taking away the -- obvious to me -- embarrassment of reaching for government support and replacing it with the pride of getting something that one is entitled to. In this difference there is encompassed the essence of the problems that Illinois faces; it is in the question of what the role of government is. Is it in facilitating individuals to become prosperous and self-sufficient by their own actions, or is it in building a network of government institutions guaranteeing everyone "dignity and quality of life"?

The latter seems to be the model of government practiced in Illinois. It seems to be the opposite to the ideal of government as envisioned at the origins of the United States and practiced up to about one hundred years ago, when gradually government began taking upon itself the ever-expanding obligations of providing "dignity and quality of life" for everyone. Before that, government was perceived as securing law and order, guaranteeing everyone the same chances to prosper. In that approach, the government role was in preserving the individual's unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Behind this lofty language is the sobering truth best described by Benjamin Franklin that "the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it." The reality was that those who caught up with it became rich, those who did not -- poor. Those unlucky poor were left to the mercy of the charity of others. It was perceived as unjust and undignified, as for many that misfortune was not their fault; it was due to sickness, accidents or the wrongdoing of others. From there, it was just one step to get government involved in assisting those unfortunate.

Once started, it could only grow. For example, the $1.12 billion budget (2014) of the Department of Aging means an average $502 spent per year for every Illinoisan older than 60. Yes, older than 60, because this is the age that qualifies for help from the Department of Aging. Presently 17.3 percent of the inhabitants of Illinois are 60 or older. Within the next fifteen years it will be reaching 25 percent, almost a 50 percent increase. The Rauner administration will need to find money to finance the expected 50 percent increase in the needs of the Department of Aging. Or, it may take a different approach; it can revitalize the economy so people will make enough money to become self-sufficient in their advanced years. Also, it can open opportunities for older people to get help in the most dignified way, by finding a job. Lastly, it can tell Illinoisans the sad truth that "dignity and quality of life" never will and never can come from the government handouts; they can only come from one's own work.

With this approach the Department of Aging could be completely eliminated, as most old people would not need it. Those very few needing assistance with housing could get it from the Illinois Housing Development Authority; those needing medical or living assistance could get it from the departments of Healthcare and Family Services or Human Services. The general idea is that the government should shift from providing "dignity and quality of life" into enabling and encouraging people to take care of their affairs themselves, so fewer of them would need and seek government assistance.

Are Illinoisans ready to accept this concept of working more and expecting less from the government? I doubt it. My conclusion is based on the result of the minimum wage referendum, where almost exactly two-thirds of Illinois voters supported increasing the minimum wage from the current $8.25 to $10.00. The argument for an increased minimum wage was that a person working full-time should earn a living wage. The fallacy of this argument is that neither the current nor proposed minimum wage suffices to support a family; the real living salary starts around double the minimum wage.

The legal minimum wage is a reference point for unskilled workers and in practice should apply mostly for beginners and seasonal workers. Only unqualified workers with a poor work ethic should stay on the minimum wage for a prolonged time; everybody else should advance. Hence, the real objective is not whether the minimum wage is one dollar higher or lower, it is in having a prevailing majority of workers making at least double the minimum wage. However, with the economy in stagnation, as in Illinois, many workers had no choice but to accept jobs paying minimum wage or not much above it. The only way out of it is by stimulating the economy. The government decree increasing the minimum wage arbitrarily, without a revitalization of the economy, will only cause inflation; people will be paid more, but each dollar earned will be worth less. Two-thirds of Illinois voters do not get it.

By electing Bruce Rauner, Illinois voters recognized the need for reforms. They are about to get a rude awakening to the painful truth that the near-bankruptcy of the state is not caused by a group of bad politicians. It is a logical consequence of the will of the majority of Illinoisans wanting the state government to maintain a system of regulations and government agencies guaranteeing "dignity and quality of life" for everyone. This concept of a complex government breeds corruption. It also gives the masses an illusion that, in exchange for some petty taxes now, in the future almost everyone will get government assistance far exceeding his or her contribution. This craftiness of a dodger eventually leads to too many takers and too few contributors. It leads to insolvency, exactly where Illinois is now.

Bruce Rauner succeeded in convincing Illinoisans that he can make Illinois great again. Judging from the minimum wage referendum, about two-thirds of the people in Illinois still did not get it that it can be done only by government doing less, not more. It can be done only by government making it easier to get prosperous for those who want to work harder and take a risk. And, by government giving away less to those who are not as much entrepreneurial in taking care of their own affairs. By winning the election, Bruce Rauner opened the doors to a better Illinois. The steep stairs up have just begun.

WARNING: Facebook Is Trying To Get You To Friend Your One-Night Stands

Tue, 2014-12-09 09:46
I love Facebook.

My page -- part diary, part cocktail party, part think tank -- has become a place where friends, acquaintances and complete strangers come together and joke, flirt, share stories and have really smart and often tough conversations about everything from sex and love to gender and race.

I also love that I'm never sure who is going to pop up in my feed and when I'm bored or avoiding doing something more important, I scroll through my "People You May Know" box on the off chance I'll bump into someone from my past or find someone I might want to be a part of my future. But mostly my friend suggestions involve people I don't know and fall into one of these four categories: guys who look like models, guys who look like porn stars, drag queens and guys who look like models that do drag porn.

At least that was true until last night. And then everything changed and all of a sudden I noticed that my "People You May Know" box was overrun with a decade's worth of guys that I've dated or hooked up with and then promptly forgot about (or actively took great pains to avoid).

There was the guy who was so arrogant that despite him having one of the prettiest dicks I've ever held in my left hand, I couldn't make it past a second date with him. There was the guy who didn't get any of my jokes and lived in what I imagine Freddy Krueger's basement bachelor pad would probably look like. And there was the guy who literally chewed on my tongue while we were making out (and not in a good way).

At first I thought I must be on some kind of low budget cable access hidden camera show or maybe my roommate had spiked my chili with PCP but when I mentioned the horror show that was unfolding on my page to my Facebook friends it became clear that I wasn't the only one being haunted and/or hunted and my feed immediately filled up with comments like, "OMG WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!?" "I thought I was going crazy" and "I noticed the change. Suddenly my vague work contacts were side by side with people I've seen naked. Memories..."

So, why is this happening and how do we make it stop? Facebook is infamously cagey when it comes to explaining their algorithms (and didn't immediately respond to a request for a statement) but it appears that the social media site is using our contacts in our phones to put us (back) in touch with people we may have (purposefully) forgotten about.

Someone in my comments section mentioned that you can go to this page and see the imported phone numbers and delete them. However, he also noted that "even if you didn't sync your phone book, if you provide your phone number to Facebook, you might get matched with other folks who have you in their phonebooks. So if you want to completely opt out, you need to take your phone number off Facebook. Also keep in mind that your phone book will be continuously synced so any new numbers you add might show up in People You May Know." (This may not actually solve the problem, though, as some are reporting that people they've chatted with on Grindr and Tinder but never swapped numbers with are now popping up.)

After my initial hysteria wore off I started to wonder if maybe -- just maybe -- there was some good that could come out of this nightmare. And, of course, there is. It's always a good idea (re)consider how often and how easily we offer up personal information about ourselves and how often and how easily corporations can make use of that personal information. And on a very practical level, it's a good reminder to clean out my phone book (something I haven't done in years -- if ever) more often.

But beyond that, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every hook up or relationship was awful and a few of the faces that I saw in my "People You May Know" box were guys I actually had a really nice time with and, for one reason or another, we just never hung out again. I'm not saying that I'm going to contact all (or any) of these guys or that I'm having (or at least indulging) fantasies about finding my husband in the ruins of a once forgotten one-night stand, but I like the idea of remembering -- of memory -- and honoring those experiences (even the terrible ones) as being part of building who I am today. In our culture of the quick fix and the even quicker orgasm, when we're often so ready to flee from something that feels scary or challenging, being confronted by our failures can reveal how much we've grown.

That doesn't mean I really want to be reunited with mister arrogant pretty dick or Freddy Krueger or the tongue chewer. Some experiences and people belong in the past and that's an important lesson too. But I am going to take Facebook's lead and consider that maybe I judged some of those other guys a little too quickly and they might deserve another chance or -- at the very least -- a Facebook friend request.

'Rude Cakes' Are The Treat You Should Give To The People You Hate The Most

Tue, 2014-12-09 09:26
In search of the perfect gift to give someone you totally hate this holiday season? Look no further than these beautiful "rude cakes."



Sarah Brockett, the mastermind behind The Bold Bakery, whips up raunchy confections that are perfect for anyone on your shit list. "The idea for the Bold Bakery began as my senior thesis project, at Grand Valley State University, where I earned my BFA in Graphic Design," Brockett wrote to HuffPost Taste in an email. "I was trying to find a way to combine my two favorite activities -- baking and creating hand lettering. I knew I wanted to create baked goods with interesting typography, but I didn't want them to be 'normal.'"



Normal they are not. Crafting this exotic pumpkin pie was a tedious process, Brockett said. "I had to create the word 'whore' multiple times out of pie crust. Then I stood them upright in the bottom of the pie, rotating around the pie from the center." The word "whore" will be displayed no matter what part of the pie is sliced.

Each ineloquent word and indelicate phrase has either been said by Brockett herself or someone around her. She keeps track of them in her sketch book and, come baking time, pairs them with the food item that seems most appropriate.



As Brockett writes on her site, "The Bold Bakery is not where you want to purchase Grandma’s birthday cake from. It is, however, the perfect place to have a pie created for your cheating husband, or your bratty pre-teen daughter."

Surely there must be a few people on your list who are deserving of such a vulgar sweet.



If you happen to be void of hatred, these would still make a great gag gift because, holy shit, they're just awesome.




All photos courtesy of Sarah Brockett.

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Organizer in Chief?

Tue, 2014-12-09 08:46
Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.

In his interview Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.

"Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight -- I think that's true," Obama said.

Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass' words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass' famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua, New York. Civil rights and community organizers rediscovered Douglass' words in the 1960s and they've become a key part of the ideas that young activists imbibe, especially these two paragraphs:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.


Obama echoed Douglass' sentiments in several parts of his BET interview. He said that he supported the protests over police killings of unarmed black males so long as they are peaceful.

"A country's conscience sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience, because I think a lot of people who saw the Eric Garner video are troubled, even if they haven't had that same experience themselves. Even if they're not African-American or Latino," said Obama.

He noted that the news media and the public, sometimes lose interest in an issue as new topics grab their attention, "so the value of peaceful protests -- activism, organizing -- is it reminds the society this is not yet done."

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago's South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing, and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores, and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms, and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities, and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledged resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.

Although he didn't make community organizing a lifetime career -- he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law School -- Obama said that his organizing experience had shaped his approach to politics. After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice and teach law. But in the mid-1990s, he also began contemplating running for office. In 1995, he told a Chicago newspaper, "What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer -- as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?"

During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama frequently referred to the three years he spent as a community organizer as "the best education I ever had." He often referred to the valuable lessons he learned working "in the streets" of Chicago.

"I've won some good fights and I've also lost some fights, because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power," echoing Frederick Douglass' sentiments.

In 2008, Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country's leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called "Camp Obama." The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama's organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

During that contest, the Obama campaign drew on community organizing techniques to build an effective grassroots organization that increased registration and turnout among voters, particularly African Americans and 18 to 29 year olds. Both groups not only voted overwhelmingly for Obama but also came to the polls in relatively high numbers.

Throughout that 2008 campaign, Obama consistently praised the young organizers working on his staff and the role of organizers in American history.

"Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope," Obama said during that first campaign for the White House. "That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That's how women won the right to vote. That's how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom's cause." Change comes about, Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before."

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama told audiences that "real change" only comes about from the "bottom up," but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities, and congregations around a positive vision for change. "That's leadership," he says.

Many of the organizers who worked on Obama's first campaign wound up working for Organizing for America (now called Organizing for Action), a White House-led organization that was intended to keep the campaign volunteers involved in issue battles in-between election cycles. OFA has not lived up to its early promise, but many people trained in organizing skills in the first and second Obama campaigns went on to play key roles in other Democratic Party contests for Congress, governor races, and various issue campaign.

As soon as Obama won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and even more since entering the White House, he has been subjected to constant attacks by right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers for his background as a community organizer. They've sought to demonize Obama as a "radical" and a "socialist" by linking him to Saul Alinsky, one of the founders of modern community organizing who died at 63 in 1972. Obama never met Alinsky but he was no doubt familiar with his ideas, summarized in two books -- Reveille for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971).

Tens of thousands of organizers and activists have been directly or indirectly influenced by Alinsky's ideas about organizing. Most of them -- like the young Barack Obama -- have been liberals and progressives, following Alinsky's instincts to challenge the rich and powerful. The left, however, has no monopoly on using Alinsky's techniques. After Obama took office in 2009, even as the Tea Party and conservatives like Glenn Beck attacked Obama for being a radical, they began recommending Alinsky's books as training tools for building a right-wing movement. Freedom Works, a corporate-funded conservative group started by former Republican congressman Dick Armey, used Rules for Radicals as a primer for its training of Tea Party activists. One Tea Party leader explained, "Alinsky's book is important because there really is no equivalent book for conservatives. There's no 'Rules for Counter-Radicals.'"

There are tens of thousands of Americans today who earn a living as organizers for unions, environmental groups, LGBT and women's rights groups, community organizations, school reform groups, and others causes, and millions of people who participate in the meetings, lobbying campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts, and occasional protests that these groups sponsor.

The mainstream media routinely ignores community organizing except when groups engage in dramatic protest, such as the current turmoil in Ferguson and elsewhere. Not a single daily newspaper has a reporter assigned full-time to cover community organizing. Environmental reporters mainly focus on scientific debates or politicians' maneuverings over legislation, not the grassroots activism that helps turn pollution problems into public issues. Every newspaper has a business section that typically regurgitates the activities of corporate America, but the New York Times is the only major daily newspaper with a full-time reporter covering the labor movement, but last week that reporter, Steve Greenhouse, announced he would soon leave the paper and it isn't clear whether the Times will replace him on the labor beat.

The editors of most major newspapers and TV networks can probably tell you the name of the CEO of at least one major Wall Street bank or the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but few likely could identify the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Center for Community Change, National Peoples Action, PICO, U.S. Action, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or the NAACP, and few reporters for local papers cover the day-to-day activities of the thousands of groups that mobilize people at work, in their neighborhoods, and through their faith-based congregations. Occasionally, a mainstream media outlet will highlight the impressive work of a local grassroots organizing group -- such as Greenhouse's recent profile of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and stories by the Washington Post's Dina ElBoghdady and the Wall Street Journal's Joe Light about the growing success of a network of local community groups to pressure banks and Fannie Mae to halt foreclosures and instead renegotiate loans with "underwater" homeowners. But organizers know that if they want to get their campaigns and issues in the news, they usually have disrupt business-as-usual, because otherwise they are invisible to the vast majority of reporters and columnists.

Activists in the environmental, immigrant rights, community organizer, and labor movements had hoped that Obama would use the growing network of grassroots organizers to his advantage. They figured that he would understand that protest in the streets, workplaces, and neighborhoods would make it easier for the president to achieve his liberal policy agenda. They wanted Obama to follow the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters -- workers, World War I veterans, the jobless, the homeless, and farmers -- even though he didn't always welcome it. They thought that Obama would learn the lessons that Lyndon Johnson learned in the 1960s, when the willingness of civil rights activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses shifted public opinion and transformed LBJ from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally, joining forces with Rev. Martin Luther King and others to get Congress to pass his Great Society plans, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But Obama seemed to abandon his affinity for organizing soon after he entered the White House. He tried to be a consensus-builder, eschewing conflict, even with those in Congress and in corporate boardrooms who pledged not only to defeat his policy agenda but also to undermine his legitimacy as president.

The battle over health care reform in 2009 and 2010 reflected Obama's ambivalence toward disruptive activism. At first, White House staffers discouraged Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of labor, consumer, and community groups, from mobilizing protests, worried that it would alienate moderate Democrats who had close ties to the drug and insurance industries. But when it appeared that Obama's signature legislative initiative was going down to embarrassing defeat -- due to the rise of the Tea Party movement and the insurance industry's unwillingness to broker a deal -- Obama undertook a cross-country speaking tour to energize voters to pressure Congress members to vote for reform.

"Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp," Obama implored his audience at Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He denounced the insurance companies, which "continue to ration care on the basis of who's sick and who's healthy." Forgoing the bipartisan rhetoric that for months had frustrated activists, Obama taunted Republican critics who have stymied reform: "You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?"

"I'm kind of fired up," Obama continued, repeating a phrase he used in his campaign. Then he again appealed for help. "So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone," he said.

While Obama was firing up audiences, HCAN -- with the White House's quiet support -- organized protests at the offices of leading insurance companies, and even at the homes of top industry executives. The group mounted more than 200 increasingly feisty protest events in 46 states.

It represented an escalation in HCAN's efforts to spotlight the industry's outrageous profits, abuse of consumers, and outsized political influence. HCAN publicly warned Democrats not to get duped by the industry's pledges of cooperation, echoing the old union song, "which side are you on? The industry or consumers?" The protests and media attention emboldened the Obama House to treat the industry as a target rather than an ally, reflected in his increasingly aggressive speeches critical of the insurance giants. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, although he failed to give HCAN the credit it deserved for salvaging health care reform.

Today's organizers have mostly been disappointed that Obama has been reluctant to play this "inside/outside" game. Instead, he has often been the target of protests by progressive movements, such as the crusade to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the battle to pass immigrant reform. On both issues, however, these movements have influenced and shifted Obama's stance. He has indicated his willingness to stop the oil pipeline and he recently issues an executive order protecting at least 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Although he's been unable to push Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, he recently took the labor movement's advice to use his executive authority to increase wages for employees of private companies that have federal government contracts.

Every so often, however, Obama seems to remember his activist background and uses it to encourage a new generation to organize for change.

"I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change," Obama told students at Georgetown University in June of last year, during a speech announcing his proposal to cut pollution from power plants, expand renewable energy development on public lands, and support climate-resilient investments. Noting that big corporations will resist calls to reduce their unhealthy practices, Obama urged the students to "Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there's no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth."

The word "divest" was like a dog whistle to campus activists who've been pushing their colleges and universities to rid their endowments of stock in companies that are part of the fossil fuel industry. It looked like the former community organizer was embracing the movement to dump stock holdings in order to compel corporations to be more socially responsible?

"'Invest, divest' is the most crypto-radical line the president has ever uttered," tweeted Chris Hayes, host of a news show on MSNBC.

"President Obama's shout-out to the fossil fuel divestment movement is a huge endorsement for the students on over 300 campuses across the country who are running this campaign," said Jamie Henn, Communications Director for 350.org, a key advocacy group for campus divestment. "If the U.S. president supports divestment, surely university presidents should do the same. My Twitter feed absolutely lit up with students tweeting the news, people are pumped."

Two days later, while visiting Senegal, Obama recalled his first foray into activism.

"My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College. As a 19-year-old, I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement back in 1979, 1980, because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa."

Now, another protest movement against racist injustice -- triggered by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the failure of the criminal justice to indict their killers -- has propelled Obama to recall his community organizing roots.

--

Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Couple Sorts Through 1,000 Letters To Santa To Fulfill Christmas Lists For Kids In Need

Tue, 2014-12-09 08:40
Jennifer Jones and Matt Beresh have a box of tissues handy when they read the letters to Santa that they've collected -- the kids who wrote them often include tear-jerking stories with their Christmas wish lists.

Many children who benefit from the couple's nonprofit, There Really Is a Santa, aren't asking for much -- they primarily request basic items for their families to get by during the holidays, as CBS 2 Chicago News reported.

"My dad needs cologne and he needs clippers so he can cut our hair because there's not enough money for us all to go to the barber shop," Beresh read off one of the letters, according to the news source.

Officially launched as a nonprofit in 2006, There Really Is a Santa recorded its biggest holiday season last year, helping provide more than 60 families with gifts and raking in $42,500 in donations. The group will read as many as 1,000 letters, according to CBS 2 Chicago.

The nonprofit selects children in need from letters that arrive at the Old Chicago Main Post Office, and then takes care of all communication and gift-giving coordination with the families. Its efforts are in conjunction with the city's "Operation Santa" letter-writing campaign -- a 102-year-old U.S. Postal Service program that garners participation from 20 major cities, the Daily Herald reported.


Mel Roberson reads through letters from children as he participates in the Postal Service's Operation Santa program in 2011 in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

According to the organization, There Really Is a Santa is in the process of speaking with all recipient families to coordinate gifts. On Dec. 10, gift assignments will be given to donors, and are to be dropped off to the "the North Pole" (in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago) on Dec. 17.

To donate or get involved in There Really Is a Santa, visit the organization's website.

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Americans Want States With Legal Marijuana Protected From Federal Prohibition

Mon, 2014-12-08 19:30
A majority of Americans want each state to decide its own marijuana laws and don't want federal interference with those that legalize cannabis.

A report released Monday by centrist think tank Third Way says 60 percent of American voters believe states should decide whether to legalize marijuana. And 67 percent of Americans want a new federal law that would make states that legalize medical or recreational marijuana "safe haven" from U.S. laws against cannabis, as long as the states have a strong regulatory framework.

Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana (although D.C.'s law still bans the sale of cannabis). Twenty-three states, as well as D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. But federal law continues to outlaw all uses of marijuana. The Obama administration issued guidance urging federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations. But guidance isn't law, and can be changed.

Third Way proposes a federal "waiver" system allowing a state to act outside of federal law on marijuana policy without fear of prosecution. Those states would have to show the federal government that a robust regulatory system was in place and be re-evaluated periodically.

"This 'waive but restrict' framework would provide consistency and protect public safety more effectively than either current law or the other policy proposals on the table," Third Way says in a report.

Federal laws against marijuana foster fear of prosecution by those compliant with their state laws, and put burdens on state-legal marijuana businesses, which often cannot open traditional bank accounts or participate in business tax and payroll services. Most banks refuse to work with marijuana businesses lest they be implicated as money launderers.

Some members of Congress have been working for years to reform U.S. marijuana laws. About a dozen bills were introduced in 2013 aimed at limiting the federal government's ability to interfere with states' legal marijuana programs. While Congress has failed to pass those bills, the House in May passed bipartisan measures aimed at limiting Drug Enforcement Administration crackdowns on state-legal medical marijuana shops, and at preventing the agency from interfering in states' legal industrial hemp programs.

"A supermajority of Americans believe that federal policymakers have a role to play in this discussion, and that they should act to provide a safe haven from federal law for states that have already legalized marijuana and are acting responsibly to strictly regulate it," " the Third Way report says.

The Third Way poll was conducted Aug. 21 to Aug. 24, interviewing 20 likely voters, and Sept. 25 to Oct. 29, surveying 856 registered voters.

Chicago Police Allegedly Blast 'Sweet Home Alabama?' At 'Black Lives Matter' Protest

Mon, 2014-12-08 17:54

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Chicago police said on Monday they are investigating an incident caught on video during a weekend protest that appears to show a Chicago police car blasting the song "Sweet Home Alabama."

The 1974 song, by the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, has been taken by some as supporting former Alabama Governor George Wallace, a segregationist, but members of the band have said the lyrics were misunderstood.

The video was shot at the "Black Lives Matter" protest on the west side of the nation's third largest city on Saturday by photographer Gabriel Michael, according to the news website DNAinfo.com. Michael could not be reached immediately for comment.

The video shows an unmarked police car seems to be playing the song while driving along with several other Chicago police vehicles.

Protests have been held in several cities since a grand jury's decision last week not to indict a white police officer whose chokehold contributed to Eric Garner's death in New York City in July.

The killings by white police officers of Garner and of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, have highlighted the strained relations between police and the black community.

Chicago police spokesman Martin Maloney confirmed that police are investigating the matter. Police are committed to "community policing and fostering stronger relationships" with the communities they serve, he said.

"With respect to the peaceful protests, as you have seen over the past week CPD is dedicated to protecting residents' right to free speech and peaceful assemblies," Maloney said in an email.

Stop Mass Incarceration Network Chicago, the group that organized the Saturday protest in question, said in a statement that the video is "grotesque testimony to the genocidal logic of the police across this country who are acting as the modern-day lynch mob under the authority of the state." (Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Here's How You Can Honor The Newtown Victims

Mon, 2014-12-08 16:54
This Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and community organizers and gun control groups have planned a number of vigils and memorials across the country to mark the occasion.

Members of the Newtown community are still deliberating the best way to permanently honor the victims, which included 20 children and 6 teachers. In the mean time, check the map below (zoom in to see multiple events in one area, and click to see location and time information) to see if there's an event near you.



Source: Newtown Action Alliance

Know of an event we missed? Let us know on Twitter.

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Barack And Michelle Obama's Love Story Is Getting The Hollywood Treatment

Mon, 2014-12-08 16:04
The love story of Barack and Michelle Obama is headed for the big screen.

The forthcoming film, titled "Southside With You," will center on the day young Barack first convinced Michelle to go on the couple's now-storied first date, Deadline first reported.

Actress Tika Sumpter ("Get On Up") is slated to play the young Michelle Obama (nèe Robinson) in the flick, written and directed by Richard Tanne ("Worst Friends"). No actor has been attached to the role of young Barack Obama, though The Guardian speculated possible stars could include musician Drake, actor Michael B Jordan or even "Saturday Night Live" Obama impersonator Jay Pharoah.

The indie film has a relative unknown in the director's chair, but it has a double dose of veteran executive producing talent from women of color: Tracey Bing, a former executive from Warner Independent, and Stephanie Allain, the indie producer behind films like "Hustle & Flow" and "Black Snake Moan."


Actress Tika Sumpter is slated to play Michelle Obama (nèe Robinson) in the forthcoming "Southside With You."

Michelle Obama famously rebuffed her now-husband's advances when they met at the prestigious Sidley & Austin law firm in Chicago where she was a 25-year-old attorney and he was a 27-year-old summer associate.

On meeting the man who would become her husband, Michelle Obama previously told Obama: From Promise to Power author David Mendell: "So we had lunch, and he had this bad sport jacket and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and I thought: 'Oh, here you go. Here's this good-looking, smooth-talking guy. I've been down this road before.'"

The first lady also recalled to The Washington Post in 2008 that "she felt it would be 'tacky' if they started to date because they were 'the only two black people' at the firm."

Still, love conquers all, and eventually she agreed to go out with him. The couple's first date had them criss-crossing Chicago to the Art Institute, taking a long walk, seeing Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing," and eventually heading back to the city's South Side for some ice cream.

"On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb," Barack Obama said in a 2007 O Magazine feature. "I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate."

(There's now a plaque at the site commemorating the first couple's first kiss.)

The filming for "Southside With You" will begin next July in Chicago.

Beautiful Pit Bull Mix Tastes Freedom After Spending Over 4 Months At Chicago's City Pound

Mon, 2014-12-08 16:03
Her name is Fancy, but at this point she may as well be named "Lucky."

A 3-year-old pit bull mix who spent 135 days — more than four months — at the Chicago Animal Care and Control facility was finally saved by Woof Gang Rescue, a no-kill, volunteer-run nonprofit rescue group based in Wisconsin.

The Chicago Animal Care and Control's Facebook page posted photos Saturday of Fancy’s “freedom ride:”

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Post by CACC Adoptable Pets.



According to the Dog News Examiner blog, which featured Fancy’s story in a post last month, Fancy was the longest resident of the city pound. She arrived as a stray in July and for the months that followed, adopters and rescue groups alike passed her by, despite her being described as intelligent, energetic and loving. With space running low at the pound, Fancy's days were numbered.

It was unclear exactly how close Fancy had come to being euthanized, as CACC staff did not respond to a request for more information. In an e-mail to The Huffington Post, shelter volunteer Lucy Scharbach said she and other volunteers were surprised Fancy had been at the facility so long because “she is gorgeous, attentive and going to make a wonderful pet.”


Fancy, seen here at the CACC facility, waited over four months for freedom. (Photo: Amstaphy)

Fancy will now live with a professional trainer for a time before she is ready to transition from her extended stay in the shelter to life in a forever home. A YouCaring.com page set up to help fund her continued rehabilitation met its $1,000 fundraising goal almost immediately.

"Fancy says hello to all her fans," read a Facebook update posted Monday. "She would like to tell you she is settling in at her trainers house nicely and has an awesome new coat."


(Photo: Woof Gang Rescue president Jodie Hoffman)

Awkward Auntie Kisses To Plague Nieces And Nephews For Yet Another Holiday Season

Mon, 2014-12-08 15:43
Awk-ward.

You love your aunties, and kisses from your aunties are perfectly acceptable. But as the auntie kisses accumulate, they can reach awkward levels. Soon you're covered in lipstick marks and spending the whole holiday party in hiding.

Comedian TJ Miller and the good people at Above Average are here to bring us a PSA of sorts explaining the growing awkwardness of aunt-based affection.

Watch the video above and look out for two more episodes of "Deck The Balls" coming to Above Average Wednesday Dec. 10 and 17.

Illinois municipalities could face bankruptcy issues

Mon, 2014-12-08 13:48
With Detroit having filed for bankruptcy and dozens of Illinois municipalities facing financial calamity over pension obligations they can't meet, a natural question is whether Illinois cities will follow Detroit's example. But the Better Government Association reports that it will take some legal wrangling before Illinois cities, towns and villages even are allowed to pursue bankruptcy.The Better Government Association says Illinois municipalities could face fiscal troubles next.

From the BGA:

At the very least, these [municipal] leaders are now, more than ever before, openly questioning if bankruptcy is a viable option to reorganize or slash their growing financial obligations, including public pensions for retirees and current workers.

Technically, Illinois municipalities can't file for bankruptcy, although a pair of small downstate towns actually did, but they flew far under the radar and went though the process virtually undetected.

Still, efforts are emerging to formally sanction bankruptcy, and among the most outspoken proponents is the mayor of Rockford, the state's third largest city and one of its most debt-ridden.

See how these municipal bankruptcies could play out at Reboot Illinois.

One unit of local government, DuPage County, is facing troubles with its community college. College of DuPage may have been paying its president an illegally high salary for two years.

From Adam Andrzejewski:

Governor Pat Quinn stopped a $20 million state construction grant to the College of DuPage last June when a troubling email surfaced from President Robert Breuder to the Board of Trustees. The email outlined a political strategy helpful to the incumbent governor in an effort to procure the millions of dollars. Furthermore, Breuder suggested "bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then building something." It was the first in a long line of irregularities uncovered during our seven-month investigation of the $300 million-per-year community college.

See the details at Reboot Illinois.



NEXT ARTICLE: Cartoon: Plenty of work for Gov. -elect Bruce Rauner as Inauguration Day draws near

From "The Nutcracker" to the NFL: Celebrating Auditorium Theatre's 125 Years

Mon, 2014-12-08 13:44
One of my favorite Chicago theatre memories to date is when Broadway in Chicago presented Fuerza Bruta - a theatrical event that I can only describe as a near-chaotic interactive dance party performance art. While the experience itself proved jaw-dropping, what elevated it was the venue. All the action took place on the Auditorium Theatre's stage - and from that vantage point, you could look out and see the venue's vast grandeur: the nearly 4,000 seats, the tiered balcony, the golden arches, the curtained boxes. It simply took my breath away.

While I've been to the Auditorium Theatre many times before, this perspective made me realize why this space is considered a Chicago landmark. Nestled on the east edge of Chicago's loop, it's our golden gem. And this gem is now celebrating an unparalleled 125-year anniversary, crowned by a celebration on December 9.

This event promises an eclectic evening of dance, musicianship and good, old-school showbiz. Highlights include the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Joffrey Ballet and a performance by Broadway powerhouse Patti LuPone, whose great-grand-aunt, soprano Adelina Patti, performed at the venue's gala opening in 1889.

In honoring this landmark milestone, I took a moment to speak with Auditorium Theatre's Executive Director Brett Batterson about his personal history with the space and what he sees for its future.

Batterson, who's led the venue since 2004, highlighted that over the past 125 years, the theatre has had milestone moments in nearly every decade. "We gave birth to the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra," he notes. "During the late '60s, nearly every great rock icon performed here, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and and Jim Morrison -- who, according to legend, was arrested after leaving the stage for allegedly flashing the audience."

Beyond its celebrated history, what makes the venue so special? "Our versatility," says Batterson. "The original architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan made the venue flexible to host a wide variety of events and artists." The space has gone through a few significant restorations, including a grand reopening in 1967 after a 20-year shutdown, and in the early '90s and 2000s to modernize the space for big-budget mega-musicals such as Phantom and Les Miz.

But while pretty architecture and noteworthy history are great, it's the programming and talent that bring in patrons. Beyond musical theatre fare, "we're the only performing arts venue in the Chicago loop that hosts such an eclectic mix of entertainment, including world-class ballet, opera, rock concerts, and original programming -- as well as Broadway in Chicago," Batterson explains. "And on Sunday, we host church."

The venue's versatility clearly makes for a strong selling point to presenters and audience members. In fact, when the NFL was looking for a space to host the 2015 draft, they selected the Auditorium Theatre out of all the possible venues in the country because of this asset. "This is truly a testament to Adler and Sullivan, who ensured the space was flexible for any type of event," notes Batterson. Once the Mayor's office did the heavy lifting of getting the NFL to consider Chicago and the Auditorium Theatre, "the theatre simply had to sell itself."

Most importantly, the exposure the venue will receive when the draft airs in April next year will be off the charts. "In our 125 years, we've accommodated more than 20 million patrons," notes Batterson. "But in just three days, more than 50 million people will see the venue - which is staggering."

Not to mention the positive economic impact this will have on Chicago, which could be in the hundreds of millions.

Certainly, a bright future exists for the Auditorium Theatre. "While I can't pretend to foresee what entertainment will look like in the next 125 years, I do know that we all have a basic human need to share experiences, laughter and tears," says Batterson. "Live entertainment will always be relevant and essential, and the Auditorium Theatre will be here to deliver that."

Visit auditoriumtheatre.org for more information on the Auditorium Theatre's 125th season.

What Happens When Museum Scientists Open An Egyptian Mummy's Coffin

Mon, 2014-12-08 10:33
CHICAGO (AP) -- Once the lid was off the wood coffin holding the 2,500-year-old mummified remains of a 14-year-old Egyptian boy, scientist J.P. Brown could relax.

The conservator at Chicago's Field Museum and three other scientists had just used clamps and pieces of metal to create a cradle to lift the fragile lid. Wearing blue surgical gloves, they slowly lifted the contraption containing the coffin lid and carefully walked it to a table in a humidity-controlled lab at the museum.

"Sweet!" Brown said, after helping set the lid down. He later added: "Oh yeah, god, I was nervous."

The well-planned routine came Friday as scientists started conservation work on the mummy of Minirdis, the son of a stolist priest. The mummy needs to be stabilized so it can travel in the upcoming exhibit, "Mummies: Images of the Afterlife," which is expected to premier next September at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It is expected to travel to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in fall 2016.

The Field Museum has had the mummy since the 1920s, when the institution received it from the Chicago Historical Society. It's part of the museum's collection of 30 complete human mummies from Egypt.

"There's always a risk of damage," said Brown, who did the work in a lab filled with plastic-covered examination tables set behind a large window to let schoolchildren watch his daily work. "So we like to handle these things as little as possible."

Inside the coffin, there was expected damage. CT scans, which make X-ray images that allow scientists to see inside the coffin before opening it, showed the boy's feet were detached and partially unwrapped with his toes sticking out. His shroud and mask were torn and twisted sideways. Those also will be repaired.

Brown didn't worry that the mummy would scatter to dust when opened - something common in the movies. Pieces of the coffin had previously gone missing, exposing the mummy to the elements.

"The last bit of `Indiana Jones' and all that," Brown explained before opening the coffin. "That's not going to happen."

And it didn't.

Walking around the opened coffin, Brown pointed and explained the significance of a certain marking, the colored resin on the linen wrappings or the gilded gold on the mask. If Minirdis had lived, he would have been a priest like his father, Brown said. Scientists don't know why he died so young.

"The fascinating thing about any mummy is that it's survived as long as it has," Brown said. "They're actually amazingly fragile."

This kind of work is always painstaking, filled with pre-planning and tests so scientists are prepared for the unexpected, said Molly Gleeson, who works with mummies as project conservator at Penn Museum's "In the Artifact Lab: Conserving Egyptian Mummies" exhibition in Philadelphia.

"These are unique individuals, unique objects," she said. "There's nothing else like them. If damage were to happen, we can't put things back together exactly the way they were before."


P.J. Brown, Regenstein Conservator at the Field Museum describes what a CT scan reveled about the mummified body of Minirdis, a 14-year-old Egyptian boy who was the son of a priest. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


In this photo taken Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, in Chicago, P.J. Brown, Regenstein Conservator at the Field Museum examines the burial mask on the mummified body of Minirdis, a 14-year-old Egyptian boy who was the son of a priest. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)


The mummified body of Minirdis, a 14-year-old Egyptian boy and his exposed toes lie in his opened coffin. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

---

Online:

Field Museum, http://www.fieldmuseum.org

The 27 Greatest Pizza Moments Of 2014

Mon, 2014-12-08 10:02
This was a great year for pizza. We've graduated from 2013's astronaut pizza and The Pizza Underground to pizza cake and pizza at the Oscars. Luckily nobody had need to be crust-fallen, as 2014 held its own in the canon of pizza history. As the year winds down, please take a moment to order yourself a pie remember the pizza doughs that have risen and fallen throughout the last 12 months:



1. The tiny hamster who ate a slice of pizza.



Tiny hamsters ate various types of food on camera this year, but Chicken the Russian dwarf hamster having a slice of pizza certainly took the pizza cake. The slice of pizza was apparently composed of "pita bread, peanut butter, carrots and topped with cut up worms."



2. Pizza cake becoming a thing.



The hype for the "pizza cake" started taking off when the Canadian pizza chain, Boston Pizza, held a vote to see what pizza creation they should add to their menu. Naturally, the pizza cake won. Pizza cake recipes began floating around the Internet and people actually received this thing for their birthdays.

Image: chiiza



3. The pizza delivery to the Academy Awards.



During the 87th Academy Awards, a live event, host Ellen DeGeneres ordered a pizza for the A-list celebrities sitting near the front of the stage. The delivery person, Edgar Martirosyan, had thought the pizza was just going to be for backstage workers, but when he arrived, DeGeneres told him there was a different plan. As Martirosyan said, “[Ellen] said just follow me, and I’m going and I’m on a stage. I was in shock.”



4. The invention of the pizza bed.



Unfortunately, this project may not become a reality. On Kickstarter, inventor Claire Manganiello set the project goal at $125,848 which is still over $100,000 more than what's been raised so far. If you'd like to join the current 150ish backers and throw your money into the about $17,000 already raised, head on over to the project page and help make this bed happen.

Image: Claire Manganiello Kickstarter



5. The arrested man who used his "one call" to order a pizza to jail.



Michael Harp, 29, was originally arrested for shoplifting and public intoxication, which were minor charges. While at the jail, Harp was given permission to make a call on his cellphone. Harp then allegedly used this call to impersonate the officer who arrested him and order five pizzas from Domino's. When the pizzas came, since they were under the officer's name, the station paid for the pizzas. Harp was given three more charges including the felony of identity theft for the prank. It is unclear if he was given the pizzas.



6. Aaron Paul handing out free pizza to people waiting in line for an Arcade Fire concert.



While a crowd was waiting outside for a semi-secret Arcade Fire show in West Hollywood, "Breaking Bad" star Aaron Paul showed up to give away multiple boxes of pizza. Apparently this was a deal Paul had made with Arcade Fire frontman, Win Butler, where Paul received last-minute entry to the show in exchange for the pizza delivery.


Image: RobotMonster99



7. The culinary professor who turned a burnt pizza into a clock.



According to the Reddit user who uploaded this photo, a culinary professor simply found this super-burnt pizza in the oven and said, "We should make it into a clock!" Now it's always pizza time!

Image: firekiller37



8. The man who has survived on a nearly all-pizza diet for 25 years.



A Vice writer friends with pizza-man Dan Janssen brought his incredible story to the public early this year. At almost 40-years-old, Janssen has diabetes and low-blood sugar, which causes the occasional blackout, but besides that the all pizza diet has worked alright enough. Janssen explained his lifestyle:

I've been eating pizza exclusively every day of my life for the past 25 years, and I'm not just talking about a slice of pizza every day. I usually eat an entire 14-inch pizza, and I only eat cheese pizza. I never get sick of it. If I go to one pizza shop or another brand, it's like eating a completely different meal.



9. This kid's all pizza outfit.



This is apparently a Reddit user's nephew and is the official model for all the pizza gear he is wearing that's made by Beloved. The kid is America's child now.

Image: Imgur



10. When someone called 911 to report that Subway put marinara sauce on her pizza.




A woman in North Carolina called 911 and insisted an officer come to the Subway that had just served her a pizza with marinara sauce instead of "pizza sauce." The dispatcher did send an officer, but to arrest the woman instead of charge the Subway. (Using marinara sauce is standard for Subway pizzas.)



11. The revival of a classic Domino's prank where two stores are tricked into talking to each other.



You've just got to watch this one. Very funny -- or -- ha, 'za!



12. A futuristic pizza is invented that can last for years.



Although it may look pretty gross, this is still an impressive feat in pizza technology. The Department of Defense was responsible for this pizza breakthrough through their ready-to-eat meals program. Michelle Richardson, a food scientist at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center explained, "You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it'd still be edible."



13. A whole pizza parlor is fit into a storage truck.



Here's the Facebook page for the 900 Degreez Pizza Food Truck. As Reddit user ymo explained:

Next level food truck: pizza parlor inside a 35-foot storage truck containing a 3500 pound Italian wood-fired oven that cooks pizza in 90 seconds. A stairwell leads to the recessed point of sale area.

Image: ymo



14. The saddest picture of people holding a giant pizza is taken.



This picture was used for a big pizza promotion at JJ's Pizza in northwest Indiana, according to the Reddit user who uploaded the photo. The two pizza makers simply don't seem as happy as they should be about holding such a humongous pizza.

Image: aceofblue



15. Pizza Hut starts a "Book It" program for adults.



Pizza Hut created the Book It Alumni program, where simply signing up gets you one of those personal pan pizzas you had dreams about as a kid.



16. This kid uses a Domino's delivery bag as a backpack.



Living his best life.

Image: alocalnative



17. Salad is vastly improved with the addition of a new "vegetable."



The photo was apparently an advertisement for a local pizza shop. Although the health benefits may be questionable when compared to a more traditional salad, it's hard to say this pizza version isn't a clear improvement to a lettuce-based salad.

In other viral pizza salad news, Instagram user fuckjerry had this recipe:

Ate salad for dinner! Mostly croutons & tomatoes. Really just one big, round crouton covered with tomato sauce. And cheese. I ate a pizza.

Image: nevermatter



18. A marijuana-infused pizza place opens.



Mega iLL pizzeria opened in early 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, and offers "medicated pizzas" to patrons who have been permitted by a doctor to receive medical marijuana.

Image: Mega Ill



19. This vending machine is added to the FLCC campus, offering "old fashioned" style pizzas from a robot.



Shouldn't we all be so lucky to have a pizza vending machine near us at all times? Kind of surprising this hasn't already been rolled out to every college campus.

Image: Imgur



20. Creation of the pizza-version of Olaf from "Frozen."



In "Frozen," Olaf said, "I don't have a skull. Or bones." At least now he has a crust, sauce and cheese.

Image: HVdrumr



21. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim create a commercial that may actually cause you to want Totino's pizza rolls.



Alternately, you may never be able to look at a pizza roll the same way again.



22. The pizza box that was opened upside down.

Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, Its Just Bread @dominos

— ㅤㅤ (@SadderDre) September 1, 2014


@SadderDre We're sorry to hear about this! Please let our friends at @dominos_uk know of this so they can help. *EV

— Domino's Pizza (@dominos) September 1, 2014


Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down :/ @dominos @Dominos_UK

— ㅤㅤ (@SadderDre) September 1, 2014




23. The time someone had sex with a pizza.



In February, a man tweeted to the official Domino's Twitter account for the United Kingdom, "HELLO I'VE JUST MADE LOVE TO ONE OF YOUR PIZZAS AND BURNT MY PENIS SEVERELY. PLEASE ADVISE ON YOUR TERMS FOR A REFUND. THANKS." Since Domino's Twitter account is set to automatically reply, the account offered help for this claim. When the pizza-loving man told the account their stores needed to warn customers about the dangers of "MAKING LOVE" to their pizzas, the account still continued to try and help. Eventually someone actually took over the Domino's account for the conversation and said the man should contact the head office and tweeted:

@indiantank @ITK_AGENT_VIGO It is definitely recommended, as that is not what is expected of our pizzas. We raised them better than that!

— Domino's Pizza UK (@Dominos_UK) February 24, 2014


Image: Getty


24. When a tourist confused Richard Gere for a homeless person on the street and gave him pizza.



A French woman visiting New York City saw Richard Gere while he was in character as a homeless person for an upcoming movie and the tourist mistook him for an actual homeless person. The woman gave Gere her family's leftover cold pizza and apparently Gere simply responded, "Thank you so much. God bless you." Before leaving the city, the tourist was shown a copy of the New York Post's story about the incident and she responded saying the whole thing was "magical."


Image: henriksen1



25. This special delivery.



The customer then threw money out the window and the pizza guy caught it all right out of the air. Here's the full video. Gawker declared him "the best pizza delivery guy of all time."



26. Vinnie's Pizzeria remembering Robin Williams.



This is how Vinnie's Pizzeria in Brooklyn, New York, commemorated the death of Robin Williams in July of 2014. The pizza place often has celebrity themed pizzas and made the "greatest moments" list last year with their Miley Cyrus themed "Wrecking (Meat)ball" slice.

Vinnie's Pizzeria Instagram



27. The man who ate a slice of pizza while doing sit ups at the gym.



Nothing compares to this man's pizza dedication. Clear eyes. Full bellies with pizza. Can't lose.

Furry Convention Chlorine Gas Incident Sickens 19 Near Chicago

Mon, 2014-12-08 03:46
The streets outside a Chicago-area hotel were filled with people in costume early Sunday after a furry convention was evacuated due to a chlorine gas incident that police believe may have been intentional.

Several thousand people were ordered out of the Hyatt Regency Hotel around 1 a.m. after guests reported a chlorine odor on the 9th floor, according to local media.

Many of the guests were staying at the hotel while attending the 2014 Midwest Furfest convention, an annual gathering for people who enjoy art, literature, and performance based around anthropomorphic animals, according to the group's website. Many attendees enjoy dressing as those characters, and were in costume when the evacuation order was given.

Although 19 people were taken to local hospitals after being sickened, 18 were soon released.

A hazmat team at the scene said they found a “substance, consistent in odor and appearance to powdered chlorine" in the stairwell, according to a statement cited by Fox6.

“It was like when you walk into a pool. It was pungent,” evacuee Chris Delaney told the Chicago Tribune.

“It was shocking,” Morgan Smejkal, who was dressed as a red panda, told the paper.

The way the chlorine was found leads police to believe the incident was intentional.

"In the course of investigating the scene, the Rosemont Police Department determined that this was a criminal act and began investigating it as such," Furfest organizers said in a statement released online.

Video from the scene showed people milling outside the hote.

"We've been having a grand old time and we do not know what's going on at this time," Anthrocon organizer Samuel Conway, a.k.a. "Uncle Kage," told AP. "We've been asked to leave the hotel for unknown reasons but we have a lot of costumers out here with big fluffy costumes that'll keep people warm so at this point we're not at all worried."

For those not warmed by their costumes, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and other nearby facilities opened to offer the guests refuge.

"There was a dog-grooming trade show going on and in walk all these people dressed like dogs and foxes," Pieter Van Hiel told AP.

The furry convention continued on Sunday without further incident.

In a statement, Furfest said:

"As we wake up today we want to continue to provide the best possible convention that we can, despite the trying circumstances. The convention will be running on a full normal programming schedule today. We ask you to continue to be patient, and remember that the volunteers who make Midwest FurFest happen intend to give 110% to make sure that the fun, friendship, and good times of Midwest FurFest 2014 overshadow last night’s unfortunate incident."


The organization said it would not offer refunds, and the hotel would not be comping rooms, as a result of the incident.

College Football Playoff Teams Revealed: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State And ... Ohio State

Sun, 2014-12-07 11:56
And then there were four.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State were selected for the debut edition of the College Football Playoff. The final rankings of the 12-member College Football Playoff selection committee were revealed on Sunday:

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State pic.twitter.com/xUF0XgF1L8

— CFB Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) December 7, 2014


As the top seed, Alabama will face No. 4 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal to be played in New Orleans. Oregon, the No. 2 seed, will face defending national champion No. 3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl semifinal.

The American Stories That Cannot Be Untold

Sun, 2014-12-07 09:01
The scar over my grandfather's left eye tells a story, and it is this: In 1930, my maternal grandparents Prisciliano and Francisca Sánchez were married in Indiana Harbor, Indiana (pictured above). Though technically across the state line, Indiana Harbor is part of Chicago's sprawling metropolitan empire, not too far from downtown's picture postcard shoreline.

My grandparents lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly Mexican: They rented a small apartment and began buying pieces of furniture to outfit their new life. They had their wedding photo framed. A year later, Francisca gave birth to their first child, a girl they named María de la Luz. (Mary of the Light, if English leant itself to such lyrically faith-filled names.)

In 1932, Francisca became pregnant with their second child, who would be a son. Also in 1932, white cops stopped Prisciliano and almost beat him to death: Another punch, maybe another kick or two, and my grandmother would have been a widow on the eve of her 30th birthday.

This is the story that Prisciliano's friends, who carried him home to the little apartment, told Francisca, and which she in turn told her children: The cops often harassed Mexican men, less-than-welcoming to the new immigrants on the block. Many of the police were also Catholic, according to Francisca, but in 1930s Chicago, that meant nothing. The old fairy tales of Irish American soldiers deserting U.S. forces during the 1846-48 War, and joining their fellow Catholics on the Mexican side, were just that -- fables of a very distant past.

The police were white, American white, at least in their own minds. My grandparents, on the other hand, possessed only the most fragile, tenuous claims to any Europeanness. Between them, three of their four parents were, in old terms, criollos: Mexicans of Spanish ancestry. In the United States, though, that term was meaningless, as weightless as old alliances recorded in history books; even my grandparents themselves never would have used the word.

Prisciliano and Francisca were not white in this country, and that was that. Thus the cops would stop Mexican men like my grandfather, mocking their accents, belittling their darker skins, and they would ask the men for their names. In an effort to defuse the situation, many Mexicanos would adopt Irish surnames right on the spot. "My name is Juan O'Reilly." "Manuel O'Brien." "My name, it's Felipe O'Malley, señor." O'Reilly, O'Malley, O'Something -- whatever names they had heard and knew.

No one believed any of this, according to my grandfather's friends. It was a charade for the moment, an imposed deference to the greater power of the men with badges -- an obeisance to the greater social legitimacy of the police and the institution that paid them. Everyone knew it was a farce, and everyone joined in. They were supposed to, at least.

Prisciliano, however, wore his national pride with the same swagger with which he dressed himself in tailored suits and carefully chosen fedoras. He'd come to the United States, to Chicago, almost ten years earlier during Mexico's endlessly brutal revolution. In his retelling, the flight from his homeland was imagined and then acted upon in less than a day. In the middle of the war -- when it seemed to have gone on so long already, and yet still had so long to go -- federal forces came to my grandfather's home town, and shot two of his brothers dead. The boys "failed to volunteer" to join the federalistas, and thus they died.

Later that night, before his siblings were even buried, my grandfather kissed his mother goodbye, and began the two thousand mile journey from Encarnación de Díaz, in the southern state of Jalisco, to Chicago. Leave quickly, and live another day. Two thousand miles: Through war zones, and then through a strange country with a language he didn't then know. And yet he made it. If he could survive that, he could survive anything, right? So when the cops stopped my grandfather and his friends that night in 1932, my grandfather did not join in the charade. He spoke his name clearly and slowly: Prisciliano Sánchez Olmedo. He held his head high. And then the first cop hit him.

Francisca said that she thought my grandfather would die that night. The blood obscured the features of the man she loved, and the blood was surrounded by noise -- his moans, his friends' frantic debate over what to do first, her toddler daughter beginning to cry. Someone went for a doctor, and someone else went for Francisca's sister and brother-in-law who lived nearby. A neighbor came and picked up baby Luz, trying to rock her and comfort her. Another made my grandmother tea; when my great-aunt arrived, she hovered over her younger, pregnant, and terrified sister. My great-aunt was scared too; everyone was.

Fear was the strongest thing in the room, pulling at and controlling everything and everyone. The doctor came. My grandfather was in bed for days, not working. Friends came, brought food, watched the baby; my great-aunt never left her sister's side. Eventually my grandfather got better. Even with healing injuries, he was still young and strong, and of course, he was cheap immigrant labor, so he got another job quickly. The Great Depression, though, was settling in for a long stay, and the fear that had entered the apartment with my grandfather's limp body never left, not for Francisca. Times were hard, and people became hard with them. My grandparents' second baby had come, and Francisca worried about her husband constantly. What if it happened again? What if they were not "lucky" this time?

My grandparents gave their notice, packed the furniture and the wedding photo, and bought train tickets. They did not go to Jalisco, but to Coahuila, Francisca's home state in the north of the country. There they found a small house near that of her parents, on a street where everyone -- Riveras, Adáns, Martinezes, Gómezes -- was related in some way.

When they were older -- María de la Luz, José, and then later, Antonieta and Conchita -- Francisca told her children about how the racist police had nearly killed their father. How they had ruined our life in Chicago. How they threatened other men, and thus other women and other children, every single day. In Coahuila, though, everyone liked her husband, and her, and her children. No one made fun of their accents, their skin, their food, their Virgin Mary, their anything. Aunts and uncles, cousins, in-laws, and the large soft web of familia were everywhere. No threats, and no fear.

This is the story that Francisca told her children, and that they told me. Prisciliano did not tell the story of his beating at the hands of white cops. The stories that he did tell -- to me, his only granddaughter -- were actually stories of love. Chicago was the place where his escape led him: A huge expanse of lights and life, of refuge from war. In Chicago, he got good jobs, and could buy the nice clothes he took so much pleasure in wearing. Chicago was where he met the most beautiful woman in the world, the norteña with reddish-brown hair whose picture he kept tucked into his Bible. We found it there when he died, protected in a small plastic sleeve amongst the pages of the Psalms. ("Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.")

My grandfather only told me how much he loved Chicago -- and Jalisco, and mariachi, and baseball, and a shot of tequila in his morning coffee "to start up my heart." He loved growing tomatoes and peppers in the backyard; he loved the pale sunsets of the Midwest in winter. He loved his wife, and his children, and me. And I, in turn, adored him -- adore him still, in his grave.

There was one part of the story, though, that told itself despite him: The scar above his left eye. A small rift of skin, joined eventually by wrinkles and yet, not quite of them. I knew that scar. And so his reticence was of no matter: When my mother, and my aunts, and my uncle, told me the story of his beating, I recognized it. I knew it as well as I knew his kind and loving face.

***


I have been thinking of these stories, the one uttered and the one worn in my grandfather's skin, ever since Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9.

I actually think of these stories frequently: I think of them every time I hear of a black man or a Latino man being killed by police. I think of related stories over the years from friends, colleagues, and students I have taught: men being stopped, questioned, followed, treated with disdain and disrespect, suspicion, and always, with violence looming, instantly there, filling up a car, a street, a campus, materialized as if plucked from the air. Mostly men, though not always.

And I think, well, it happened to my grandfather. It happened to Sara's brother, and my student Jaime, and my mom's friend Rudy, and on and on and on. I mean, we're fucking Latino in the United States -- what are the chances I wouldn't know stories of our men, and of our black neighbors, friends, lovers, coworkers, fellow citizens, being harassed by police? Do I really have to say that is almost always white police? (I am trying to think, as I write this, if any of the stories I know are not about white police, and I am coming up empty.)

The point of this is not to provide hard data -- the numbers and facts that are volleyed back and forth, like so much ammunition, in every form of media we have. The data are meaningless, and they do not move us; activists and politicians, lobbyists and prosecutors, friends about to unfriend each other and family about to sit down to very uncomfortable dinners, scream numbers at each other every day, and nothing changes.

What I care about most is story: It is stories that crawl inside our hearts, lodge themselves in our consciences, make themselves comfortable and at home in our memories. How could I ever forget that scar on my grandfather's face? Can I forget how it felt to be held with such love, to be smiled at as if I were, in fact, "una princesa" just like he said? The moment when I learned why that scar was there is just as permanently settled in my mind as my grandfather's love is settled in my heart.

Stories like these cannot be untold and they cannot be undone. More constant than law, than nation, than theories such as "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," stories put down roots, they live and persevere. They survive.

Thus, when I hear of black and Latino men being stopped, being searched, being harassed, being beaten, being shot, being killed, I never think, well, this has nothing to do with race. Laughable; contemptuously laughable. The very idea that somehow, of all areas of life, this is the one where race does not enter, makes me shake with anger.

It's always about race. Every dawn I have lived and every story that has come with that dawn has taught me this. But I do not expect to convince anyone with this telling of my own. I write it down, in part, because I am thinking of the stories that Michael Brown's family will now tell. I have seen the pain etched into his mother's face, and I recognize it. I've heard the anger in his father's voice, and that, too, is as familiar as my own mother's tones. I believe them, I believe their son was murdered, and I believe our "justice system" failed them. I believe it as instinctively as I believe that right now, I am typing, reading, correcting, breathing, telling. So many stories: Mike Brown's, and Eric Garner's, and Tamir Rice's, Oscar Grant's, John Crawford's... but none of them as "lucky" as my family. All of their stories take the place of their lives.

Both Prisciliano and Francisca are dead. So are two of their children. But I have inherited their stories, the ones they told, and the ones they wore written on their faces. So now these are my stories, and I pass them on. Right now, I tell them to you. Make of them what you will -- I tell them nonetheless.

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