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Bernie Sanders: Rahm Emanuel's Re-Election Is Proof Citizens United Decision Stinks

Wed, 2015-04-08 17:29
In an interview with HuffPost Live Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lamented the result of Chicago’s mayoral election following the tense, expensive runoff between Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Sanders said he supported Cook County Commissioner Garcia because “he had put together a strong coalition of working-class people, blacks and whites and Hispanics, and that is what we need to do all over this country.”

He added he was especially disappointed by the drastic disparity between the more than $23 million in campaign cash Emanuel raised in the race -- money that bankrolled what the Chicago Tribune called a “nonstop stream” of TV ads -- and the $6 million Garcia challenger raised. (Among Emanuel's campaign contributors were hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and billionaire finance executive Michael Sacks.)

“[Garcia] was outspent in that election 5-, 6-, 7-to-1, and I am wondering whether as a result of this terrible Citizens United decision, which says to billionaires you can now spend as much money as you want on elections, I am worried about whether any candidate who represents the working class and the middle class of this country will ever be able to beat the billionaire class,” Sanders said.

“So the lesson of Chicago is, you know, big money put a lot of money into Rahm Emanuel. We’re seeing this all over the country,” Sanders continued, “and unless we overturn this disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, I worry about the future of American democracy.”

While being drastically out-fundraised by Emanuel was certainly a factor in Garcia’s loss, other political pundits have pointed out the challenger, who was defeated by a margin of more than 64,000 votes and 11 percentage points, missed a number of opportunities to articulate his plan for Chicago and strike back at Emanuel in a way that resonated with a wider swath of voters.

Watch the interview above.

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Karlie Kloss Announces #KodeWithKarlie Scholarship So Teen Girls Can Learn To Code

Wed, 2015-04-08 16:43
Coding classes have made such an impact on Karlie Kloss' life that now she wants teen girls to have the chance to take them, too. Thanks to her latest project, a handful of them will get that chance without worrying about the cost.

The model announced on Instagram that she is partnering up with the Flatiron School to offer 20 girls the #KodeWithKarlie Scholarship. According to the scholarship website, the money will cover tuition for recipients to take Flatiron Pre-College Academy’s two-week Intro to Software Engineering course, the same one Kloss took herself a year ago.

I had fun learning how to fly drones with code today at @flatiron school ❤️ thanks @aviflombaum for the lesson, this will simplify the logistics for all future @karlieskookies deliveries!!!

A video posted by @karliekloss on Nov 8, 2014 at 9:15pm PST

During the summer course, students will study a programming language called Ruby and learn how to create an app. Ten of the scholarships are available at the school’s New York City location, while the other 10 are available in locations across the country. Girls 13 to 18 in high school can apply by uploading a video telling Kloss why they want to learn to code.

I am spending the last week of august learning how to program in ruby #girlswhocode #nerdalert

A photo posted by @karliekloss on Aug 25, 2014 at 4:24pm PDT

For Kloss, learning to code is especially important for women. In a video announcement of her scholarship, the healthy cookie expert (and Taylor Swift's bestie) explains that extending this experience to young girls will impact their lives now as well as help them have a say in their future.

“Code is only going to continue to play a major role in defining our future. I think it’s crucial that young women learn to code as early as possible to ensure that we, as young women, have a voice and a stake in what the world looks like.”

H/T BuzzFeed

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The Return of the General

Wed, 2015-04-08 15:46
The recent election of General Buhari as the next President of Nigeria is a victory for Nigeria in many ways. The first is that it shows that Africa's largest country and biggest economy can rise above skepticism and cynicism both from within and outside the country in embracing a new way of conducting free and fair elections. This election has produced a new Nigerian hero in President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who has cemented his place in history for his magnanimity and graciousness in defeat. He will be remembered for a long time as the first president in Nigeria's history to organize a credible election even when doing so meant the loss of power for him and his party. Failed and flawed elections have been the Achilles heel of Nigerian democracy. They have led to war, violence, and destruction of lives and property in the history of Nigeria going back to the 1963-64 elections. Many Nigerians had feared that the bloodbath which followed the June 12, 1993 annulled elections by General Babangida and the heating of the national polity in 2007 by President Obasanjo's failed attempt to perpetuate himself in power could have occurred if not for the statesmanship and character of President Goodluck. The second point is that this victory is a vindication of the true character of the Nigerian people. Nigerians can rise to the glorious heights of excellence and character when they are motivated by higher purpose. Nigerians can work hard when they are determined at resisting the normalization of kleptocracy, exploitation of the people and the abuse of the privilege of office by elected officials. Nigerians are resilient people. They desire and deserve a good government and a nation of justice, peace and prosperity. So in a real sense this election could mark the beginning of the transformation of Nigeria and her peoples. But this is only the beginning of a marathon and not simply a sprint.

Nigerians have voted for a change of direction in returning General Muhammadu Buhari to the state house. The majority of Nigerians may have placed their trust in him because of his famed discipline, simple lifestyle, honesty and integrity of life and unvarnished moral conduct in public service. Buhari seems to me to be a man on a mission. His conduct during the electioneering campaign; his utterances during the election and since his victory, his general carriage and sober and pensive demeanor bespeak of a man who has a date with history and who is aware of the burden of responsibility which lies on his lean shoulders. However, I am slow in anointing Buhari as the newest Nigerian saint; time shall tell. Nigeria is a complex nation with convoluted problems and challenges. Nigeria needs a president with a great insight and wisdom; a visionary strategist; a big picture imaginative pragmatist, and a person with a strong and enduring ethical character. Nigeria needs a president who is strong enough to swim against the current of tribalism, religious bias and crony capitalism which characterize party politics in Nigeria, and who is flexible enough to think outside the box. This way such a president can canalize the divergent cultural and religious streams of the nation into a calm and fresh confluence of opportunities for a smooth sail for our nation's ship.

Buharism, which Nigerians have embraced, comes with a lot of hope but with so many limitations. Many Nigerians believe that Buhari's toughness and personal conduct may be the only weapon in his armory for creating a new national ethical template. He might become the Father of the Nation and a political evangelist who changes Nigeria through his exemplary life and utterances. Nigerians believe that Buharism may be the architecture for the birth of a modern Nigerian nation. But that modern Nigeria cannot be built through a whole scale Westernization of Nigeria or through embracing neo-liberal capitalism and some of the death-dealing clinical economic orthodoxies and normative deterministic political ideologies from Chatham House, Cato Institute, or Foreign Affairs. If Buhari will be the architect of a modern Nigerian state and an African statesman he must understand the changing landscape of world politics, and the challenges and opportunities which Africa faces in the ensnaring hegemonic political and economic web spurned by the West.

For President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari the task has just begun. He must remember that Nigerians once danced like they did at his election victory when Obasanjo was inaugurated as president in 1999. That was when Nigeria emerged from many years of darkness from the two twin peaks of evil and malfeasance, the regrettable regimes of the two most repressive and brutal dictators in my living memory in Nigeria, Generals Babangida and Abacha. However, 16 years after President Obasanjo, the living condition of ordinary Nigerians is getting worse and whole scale corruption and impunity have taken over the nation. Many South Africans did rejoice when Mandela came to power too but 25 years after many Black South Africans are still living in poverty. When Barak Obama was elected the first black U.S. president, many African-Americans danced on the streets, but today more than six years later, I am not sure how much their lot has changed. Obama no doubt has done great as a president, but the point being made here is about expectations: hope is not achievement. Claiming that one will fight corruption or that one will restore the fortune of Nigeria does not mean that this will actually happen. Obasanjo made the same pledge, so did Goodluck Jonathan. Nigerians received the same pledge from both Balewa and Zik when Nigeria got independence in 1960. We must go deeper into the verities and contradictions of our history in order to find the critical realism and noble performances required for an irruption of a new urgency and agency within the historical process. This is the only way to bring about the change of the central historical consciousness of a people. This is so important for Africa because there is much more that is needed in Africa beyond successful change of governments. Western liberal democracy has its many advantages but Africa and Nigeria should find an African model of government. Such model may take many lessons from the West, but it must go beyond the winner takes all mentality to consensus building and from the dialectical tension and struggles of a ruling party against opposition party, and the 'us' and 'them' mentality. It should be something closer to an African sense of community where everyone belongs to the family and where the interest of all is the central concern and task of everyone.

My hope is that Buhari will first seek to unite this nation under a common purpose. He should become the President of all Nigeria and not succumb to the failed sectional politics, nepotism and cronyism of the PDP. Buhari must reject the exploitative political machine of some Northern oligarchs before him which continue to put doubt in the hearts of many South-Easterners, Middle Belters, and South-Southerners about the evangelical purity and nationalistic intentions of Northern politicians of the Hausa-Fulani extraction. Buhari must take the extra step to show the nay-sayers that he is truly a detribalized Nigerian and a lover of all Nigerians from the creeks of the Niger Delta to the dry dusty plains of Damaturu, and from the slums of Ajegunle, to the crowded shanty towns of Gwagwalada. Second, President-elect Buhari must run a corruption free government by first modeling in his own life a corruption-free and modest presidency. This will begin with the team he assembles around him and the perks which he will dole out to them. If those who form his core team and cabinet members are people who have dipped their hands in the national till then his anti-corruption mantra would suffer a premature death. The culture of waste in the corridors of power in Nigeria is simply sinful and cries to God for vengeance especially given the heart-wrenching poverty of many Nigerians. The crony capitalism, shameless nepotism, and naked abuse of power and the patron-client ties of suasion and 'settlement' which characterize party politics in Nigeria simply cannot continue and is unsustainable. The brazen daily theft of Nigeria's oil wealth and the neglect of the region where this wealth comes from is an unjust structure of sin which needs to be dismantled if Nigeria can move forward. As St Augustine wrote in his City of God, a state without justice is simply comparable to a land of robbers. Poverty--not ethnicity or religious differences--is the greatest cause of violence in Nigeria. There is no economic blueprint which will succeed in Nigeria with the level of waste, and corruption in these lands and without a just approach to spreading Nigeria's wealth to the least of the brethren and rewarding those who work hard and those who play by the rules.

Third, Buhari must bring back our girls. The first duty of the president is to guarantee the security of life and property. Nigeria is too big a country and too strong a country to be held in bondage by a few conscienceless husks of humanity who are parading themselves as Islamic militants. These are cultural anarchists and criminals who should be defeated and brought to trial, either in Nigeria or in their respective countries as I am convinced that some of these fighters are from other parts of Africa. But we must treat them with love because they are the products of our failed government and our failed national culture.

Finally, Buhari needs our prayers and patience. However, he should not replace the phony Christian prophets and ministers who surrounded Presidents Obasanjo and Goodluck with Muslim imans, marabouts and spiritual troubadours. The separation of religion and state which is enshrined in Nigeria's secular constitution needs to be enforced. The thirst for some theocratic state in Nigeria has proven a waste of time. It needs to be added by way of conclusion that no single individual can successfully transform Nigeria without an ethical and moral transformation of Nigerians. Nigeria has a dysfunctional value syndrome which needs to change if the country can move forward. So true are the immortal words of the Greek philosopher Socrates, "the brilliant statesman had enriched and embellished the city; had created protective walls around it; had built ports and dockyards; had launched navies; had eternalized the glory of the city by the temples of undying grandeur and beauty; has multiplied in Attica the feasts of arts and reason; but he did not occupy himself with the problem of how to make Athenians better men and women. As a result his work has remained incomplete and his creation cadulous."

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'Guitars Over Guns' Replaces Violence With Music To Keep At-Risk Kids In School

Wed, 2015-04-08 13:43
A musician is bringing some sweet sounds to young students in need.

Musician Chad Bernstein, together with his father, Bob Bernstein, founded Guitars Over Guns (GOGO), a mentorship program that provides at-risk students in Miami and Chicago with music education, in 2008. The organization promotes music as an alternative to violence, and aims to keep kids off the street and in school. Over the past seven years, GOGO has worked with more than 240 students, helping to reduce dropout rates, increase their school GPA and school attendance, according to its site.

GOGO students work with professional musicians and mentors on what the organization calls its “three pillars: mentoring, instrument instruction, and ensemble training.” The program began in Miami to benefit young adults in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and expanded to a chapter Chicago in fall 2014. A professional musician himself, who has worked with top artists like Pharell, Shakira and Pitbull, Bernstein started the organization “to use music as a tool to help transcend the cultural, religious, and social barriers.”

GOGO teaches students how to play a range of instruments, as well as music skills, including guitar, keyboard, trumpet, singing and music production. Students are paired up with a mentor to focus on one of these skills, and they work together throughout the school year. The young musicians then have the opportunity to showcase their talents in student concerts. Guitars Over Guns encourages students to “choose your sound,” and use music as something positive to combat sadness, frustration and negativity.

It's so apparent that they feel like they found something they can identify themselves through, the arts and music,” Bernstein told Miami New Times in an interview last summer. “And a sense of belonging and ownership goes a really long way in making these kids leaders who have the confidence to make the right choice.”

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Chicago mayor's race: Transcripts from Emanuel's and Garcia's speeches

Wed, 2015-04-08 13:13
After it became clear that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel had enough votes to declare victory over challenger Cook County Board Commissioner in the city's runoff election April 7, both candidates took to the podium to address their supporters and wrap up each of their campaigns.

Check out part of Emanuel's speech:

And to all the voters, I want to thank you for putting me through my paces. I will be a better mayor because of that. I will carry your voices, your concerns into the office of the mayor's office. I hear you on the importance of neighborhood high schools and better choices. I hear you on the importance of raising the minimum wage so that no family who works ever raises a child in poverty ever again. Not in the city of Chicago. If you work, a child should be raised in a home that if you work, never know that work leads to poverty. Work leads to the middle class and the American Dream. I also want to be clear that I hear you about the importance of finding jobs for our ex-offenders who made a different choice in life and they too want to come home. And I hear you about the importance of building a new Chicago where everybody gets a chance to participate in building this great city. From our roads, our waterways, our airports, our schools, our community colleges, our parks and our playgrounds. Everybody has a chance to participate in that great exercise called building a new Chicago.

And here is part of Garcia's speech:

Today, tens of thousands of people from all over this great city came together. People from the North Side, from the South Side, from the Southeast Side and the Northwest Side and the Southwest Side. People of every color, of every creed, people who speak every language on the face of this earth. People, good, hard-working people came together and spoke with one clear voice to say you want to be heard and you want a government that works for you. You want a city that works for everyone, and I mean everyone. Not just for downtown or for the neighborhoods, but for both. We've got some big problems in Chicago, and no matter who is mayor, we've got to work together to solve them.

See the entire transcripts of both speeches at Reboot Illinois.

Even with a victory, Emanuel still has a lot of work to do to get the city on track with the budget, pensions, education and jobs. Cartoonist Scott Stantis shared his view of Emanuel at April 7's victory rally--happy to win but still under the image of a few looming problems.

Check out the full cartoon to see what could be haunting Emanuel's second term at Reboot Illinois.

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

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181 House Democrats File Brief in Support of the Obama Administration's Immigration Executive Actions

Wed, 2015-04-08 11:15
I was proud to join 180 House Democrats in filing an amicus brief in support of the Obama Administration's appeal in the Fifth Circuit case of Texas v. United States. The case reached the Fifth Circuit after a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks the Secretary of Homeland Security from implementing the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

President Obama's executive actions on immigration are designed to temporarily address major flaws in our broken immigration system. The President's actions include steps to enhance border security, prioritize resources to ensure deportation of felons not families, and to allow certain undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check and receive temporary relief from deportation.

For far too long, the Republican leadership in Congress has refused to act and pass comprehensive reform fixing our broken immigration system. In light of Republican inaction, I strongly support President Obama's executive actions on immigration. The President is not the first to use executive authority on immigration. In fact, 11 Presidents have taken similar actions 39 times in the past 60 years. We cannot wait any longer -- the President's actions take an important step toward a better immigration system.

I've seen the impact of deportation in my district. It is heartbreaking to see families torn apart for no good reason. Two months ago I participated in an Immigration Action workshop in Des Plaines, IL with Congressman Luis Gutiérrez to educate families about the President's Executive Actions -- 1,000 people attended. They are ready to go -- and we should be, too. That is why we have filed this brief. We have always been a country of immigrants and we must make the changes our country needs. I will continue to stand strongly with my fellow House Democrats, with immigration reform advocates and with millions of hard-working, law-abiding families who want simply to remain together and contribute to our great country.

Additional information, including the full text of the amicus brief, can be found here.

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In Rahm Emanuel's 'Embarrassing' Victory, A Warning for Democrats

Wed, 2015-04-08 10:44
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Despite the power of incumbency, the backing of the President, and an array of wealthy and powerful backers, Rahm Emanuel nevertheless became the first mayor in Chicago history to be forced into a runoff. Sure, Chuy Garcia's defeat was a setback for the left, but Emanuel's struggle to retain his office is a warning for politicians everywhere: Corporate Democrats are likely to find themselves on the defensive in 2016 and beyond.

As the Chicago Sun-Times concluded, being forced into a runoff was a "huge national embarrassment" for Emanuel -- one that could have ended his mayoralty. The nickname Emanuel earned during this race was "Mayor 1 Percent," and it's a name which is likely to stick. That reflects a new reality for "centrists" in the Emanuel/Third Way mold: corporate-friendly policies bring serious political risk.

Why did Emanuel ultimately survive this challenge? For one thing, he raised enormous sums of money -- much of it from Republicans, and much of it from executives who are making large profits from their relationships with the city. Emanuel outspent his challenger by an estimated 8 to 1. Garcia was never able to overcome the barrage of spending, much of it spent on negative ads. He was also hamstrung by other demographic and other factors which seemed to work to Emanuel's advantage.

In an attempt to rebrand himself with a more progressive image, Emanuel supported raising the minimum wage to $13 (although not until 2019) and sought to reframe his educational policies (which included school closings that primarily affected lower-income and minority students) in a more progressive light.

Emanuel also had a surfeit of luck. Karen Lewis, the immensely popular head of the Chicago Teachers Union, led Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent in head-to-head polling last July after confronting the mayor before and during a 2012 teachers' strike. Tragically, Lewis was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and was unable to run. That left Garcia short on time and resources with which to overtake the cash-rich incumbent. Another formidable challenger who chose not to run was Toni Preckwinkle, head of the Cook County Board of Supervisors.

Despite the final outcome, Emanuel's unexpected upset in the initial vote sent a clear signal to corporate-friendly Democrats everywhere that excessive coziness with the business community carries electoral risks. A number of Emanuel allies were forced into runoffs in races for the position of alderman. An Emanuel appointee was overwhelmingly defeated in Ward 7, and incumbents lost several other races as well.

The fact that Emanuel was forced into Chicago's first mayoral runoff is itself a sign of vulnerability for corporate-friendly politicians. As Chicago-based historian Rick Perlstein told me today in an email exchange:

Chicago has a tradition of machine politics. In the olden days, mayors held onto power by handing out jobs. Now that that's nominally illegal, they do it by handing out favors to rich donors who help them buy scads of TV commercials. That's why this is the first mayoral runoff we've had since the new system was initiated twenty years ago.

That sentiment was echoed by David Hatch. Hatch is Executive Director of Reclaim Chicago, a grassroots effort jointly sponsored by the People's Lobby and National Nurses United. In an email exchange yesterday, Hatch described the vote which forced Emanuel into a runoff as "a clear rejection of corporate austerity politics," adding:

Much like the election of Bill Di Blasio in New York, Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the Syriza victory in Greece, and the rise of Podemos in Spain, the vote in Chicago is indicative of widespread and deep dissatisfaction with a politics of the corporate austerity agenda.

I asked Hatch how this election was likely to affect Chicago politics going forward. "We've strengthened the progressive movement in Chicago," he responded, "we're in a better position to fight back." Hatch noted that "with progressives still a minority" on the City Council, "Garcia alone could not have been our savior."

"We've got tremendous work ahead of us," said Hatch. "Chicago's fiscal crisis is not unique. It is the result not just of poor decisions made in city council and in the mayors office, but is also the result of broader global and national economic conditions and state level politics. Right now, Illinois faces a six billion dollar budget deficit for next fiscal year, and the cuts coming down from Springfield will also hand the next mayor an even worse set of fiscal cards. We'll see cuts to education, infrastructure, public transit, health care and much, much more."

When asked about the challenges facing Chicago progressives going forward, Hatch said that "we've got tremendous work ahead of us."

Writing in The Nation, Micah Utrecht profiled another activist group which expects to have a long-term impact on Chicago politics. Utrecht describes United Working Families as a coalition founded by the Chicago Teachers Union, the Illinois SEIU, and "a passel of other unions and grassroots community groups." He quotes a UWF board member, Matthew Luskin, as saying that the group isn't just focused on winning the next election. ""It's also about building space for movement politics," said Luskin, "politics to the left of the Democrats -- and trying to recruit people to those politics."

National groups were active in the mayoral effort as well, including National People's Action Campaign (NPAC), the Working Families Party, MoveOn, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the American Federation of Teachers. Their efforts resulted in an impromptu coalition that is likely to resurface in future races. In a published statement, NPAC Executive Director (and Chicago resident) George Goehl said that "we're seeing a new left pole emerge in American politics." Goehl added:

In cities across the country, progressive populists are talking on corporate politicians ... As discontent with a system that's rigged in favor of corporations and the super-wealthy continues to grow, so too will a new political movement.

According to polling on issues such as taxation, Social Security, and Wall Street, Goehl may well be right. This incipient national mood is one reason why the question posed this week in the Atlantic, "Why Can't the Left Unseat Rahm Emanuel," is the wrong one. Emanuel survived because he caught a number of lucky breaks, and because he received major financial support from Republicans and corporate interests doing business with the city.

The real question is one which corporate-backed Democrats across the country should be asking themselves today: Why was a powerful mayor forced into a runoff in a city known for patronage and machine politics, despite the backing of wealthy interests and national party leaders? Corporate Democrats should be asking themselves: Am I next?

Chicago's political scene is unique in many ways. But what is striking about the Emanuel agenda is how closely it resembles that of the "Third Way" Democratic faction nationally. Like other "centrist" Dems (a label which is inaccurate, since polls show their economic views are to the right of the general public), Emanuel supports the privatization of many government functions, courts investors and other financial interests, and successfully solicits large donations from private interests that benefit from their government ties. He confronts schoolteachers and exaggerates the accomplishments of private-sector education.

As a result of this election, Emanuel has been rebranded -- some might say "unmasked" -- as a tool of corporate interests. The agenda he reflects would have a hard time succeeding outside Chicago's unique environment. His "huge national embarrassment" is an object lesson for Democrats everywhere: there is no cheap grace to be purchased if you ally yourselves with moneyed interests. New coalitions are coming together to resist the "Third Way." Democrats have a decision to make, well in advance of the next election: will you support a populist agenda, or will you ally yourselves with the kinds of policies and interests that gave "Mayor 1 Percent" his name and reputation?

The electoral future of Democrats everywhere may rest on the answer to that question.

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A Tour Of The United States, One Mosque At A Time

Wed, 2015-04-08 08:13
A filmmaker and a stand-up comic get in a car with the "half-baked" idea to visit 30 mosques in 30 days.

It sounds like the beginning of a farce. But the men, Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali, are Muslim Americans, and their 30 days of travel spanned the month of Ramadan, a time when Muslims fast, pray and give to charity. Their efforts resulted in the visually stunning "30 Mosques" photography project, which showcases the many faces of Islam in the United States.

(Scroll down to see photos from the "30 Mosques" project.)

"The mission was to tell interesting and compelling stories about Muslims in America," Ali, the 29-year-old stand-up comic, told The Huffington Post. "There is no monolithic story of our community."

There are at least 2,106 mosques in the United States, according to a 2011 report by University of Kentucky researcher Ihsan Bagby and sponsored in part by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. When Ali and Tariq first got the idea for the project in 2009, they researched mosques in New York and found that there were 153 within a 10-mile radius of their address.

The following year they took the project on the road, visiting 30 mosques in 30 different states during Ramadan. In 2011, they did it all over again, covering the 20 states they hadn't gotten to the year before.

Ali, with his brother Zeshwan, has since embarked on a new creative project to share the stories of Muslim Americans -- a series of short documentaries on the YouTube channel "Homegrown Homies." In many ways, said Ali, "30 Mosques" raised new questions and insights for him about the complex history of his community, and he's still exploring them.

"This was an eye-opening experience," said Ali, who was born and raised in Ohio and comes from an Indian family. "I thought that the narrative of Muslims in America was Arab and Indian... But we found communities like North Dakota where the Muslim community been there since the 1700s, communities founded by Muslim slaves."

What Ali and Tariq stumbled upon was the well-documented but little-known history of Muslims in the United States, a history that dates back at least to the 17th century. They were getting to see firsthand what President Barack Obama spoke about in February, during his closing remarks at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism: "Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding."

But Ali's projects are less about countering or responding to extremism, he said, and more about sharing a more complete narrative of what it means to be Muslim -- a narrative that many people, including some young Muslim Americans, might not know about.

"We’re a kick-ass community," he said, "and we want to showcase this."

Scroll down to see photos from the "30 Mosques" project.

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The Chicago That We Want

Wed, 2015-04-08 08:09
Back to work, Mayor Emanuel. The campaign is over and you have been re-elected. With a second term in office assured, you have another four years to lead and govern Chicago. Voters decided that you're the leader that we want. Now we need you to lead Chicago by bringing together a city, without regard for race or ethnicity.

You can start by building a more transparent police department, a department more responsive to the needs of the community. Recent data revealed that Chicago now leads the nation in the use of the controversial "stop and frisk" practice. Over the course of four months during the summer of 2014, more than 250,000 Chicago residents were stopped and detained on the streets, even though they were never charged with a crime or given a ticket.

We also know that these stops disproportionately target African Americans, who comprise 72 percent of all such stops, even though African-Americans make up only 32 percent of the city's population. The numbers are even worse for African American men when they are in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Police are responsible for no more than a brief comment card when they make these stops, and the reasons offered too often are vague and incomplete. This is unacceptable. You can use your second term to begin collecting and making public detailed data on these stops, data that will help residents in every Chicago neighborhood understand that they are being treated equally.

You also need to make sure that each neighborhood, no matter the color of its residents, has enough police protecting them. We need to know that whether we're in Lakeview, Jefferson Park, or Austin, police will be proportionately assigned, properly trained and ready to work. Police need to be assigned and deployed both equally and fairly. There shouldn't be a discrepancy in police response time between Lincoln Park and Englewood. That is not the Chicago any of us want.

You won another four years, Mayor Emanuel. You told us you'd listen to us and do what is best for Chicago. We want a safe, effective, united Chicago for all residents, no matter our neighborhood or skin color. We want to know that no matter our race or home neighborhood that we can walk down the streets without fear of an intrusive and unjustified search by police. We want to know that if a crime is committed that there will be follow up with law enforcement. We want to know that if we call the police for something, that we can be in River North or Lawndale and they will be there as quickly as possible. This is the Chicago that we want.

We look forward to you leading us toward that.

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