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These Pin-Up Photos From 'Shameless Photography' Show That Every Body Is Gorgeous

Tue, 2015-01-20 08:40
Anyone can be a gorgeous, glamorous pin-up model.

That's the idea behind Shameless Photography, started by photographer Sophie Spinelle in 2009. Spinelle, alongside fellow photographers Carey Lynne and Maxine Nienow, aims to help clients feel beautiful and confident in their bodies during their photoshoots. The result is sexy, feminist, body-positive images.

(Some images below may be considered NSFW.)

As well as providing commercial photoshoots, Shameless hosts a yearly "Love Your Body" competition, inviting women to write love letters to their bodies for the chance to win a photoshoot with the Shameless team. More importantly, according to Spinelle, the letters create a sense of online community, and spread the message of body love.

"We get hundreds of amazing letters from around the world," Spinelle told The Huffington Post. "People with cancer, rape survivors, mothers of seven, trans women, pole dancers -- you name it. We post a selection of the letters and invite people to read them and share them."

"Doing this work has transformed my life," Spinelle told The Huffington Post. "I've met the most amazing people, and they've been brave enough to share their fears and dreams with me, and to have that become part of the photographs. I've learned how rare confidence really is, and how precious. You'd be amazed how many truly beautiful people have no idea that they're beautiful, and it has a huge affect on what they feel is possible for their lives."

Spinelle hopes that clients and strangers alike will be inspired by the images and learn to love their bodies.

"The most important audience for the Shameless pinups series is the models themselves," Spinelle told HuffPost. "I hope that when they look at these images, they can see how truly powerful, inspiring, and soul-deep beautiful they really are."

See more incredible photographs from Shameless Photography below.

Obama's State Of The Union Speech Will Aim To Influence 2016 Debate

Tue, 2015-01-20 04:40

WASHINGTON (AP) — Key elements of the economic proposals President Barack Obama will outline in his State of the Union address Tuesday appear to be aimed at driving the debate in the 2016 election on income inequality and middle-class economic issues, rather than setting a realistic agenda for Congress.

Obama's calls for increasing taxes on the wealthy, making community college free for many students and expanding paid leave for workers stand little chance of winning approval from the new Republican majority on Capitol Hill. But the debate over middle-class economics is looking critical for the coming campaign.

"Inequality_and especially the growing opportunity gap_have become the top litmus test of seriousness for 2016," said Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist who has discussed inequality issues with the president and his advisers. "The entry ticket for the presidential sweepstakes is that you have a policy — some policy — for dealing with this issue."

Indeed, potential Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have been talking openly about income inequality and the need to give lower-earning Americans more opportunities. On the Democratic side, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren appears intent on keeping the party focused on a populist economic agenda, even if she doesn't plan to run for president herself.

As the nation's attention increasingly turns to the 2016 election, the Obama White House is making clear that it still wants to set the terms of the economic conversation.

"I think we should have a debate in this country between middle-class economics and trickle-down economics and see if we can come to an agreement on the things we do agree on," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

The president's advisers argue that's a debate they have won previously, including in Obama's victory over Romney in the 2012 presidential campaign and the fiscal cliff fight with Congress that led to the raising of George W. Bush-era tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

However, Obama no longer has the political advantage on Capitol Hill that he would need to enact more tax increases. When Obama addresses Congress Tuesday night, he will be standing before a Republican majority in both chambers for the first time in his presidency.

The president and GOP leaders have spoken about their desire to compromise, but the opening weeks of the new Congress have offered few glimpses of where both sides plan to find common ground. Obama's economic proposals will do little to move the White House and Republicans closer together, given the GOP leadership's aversion to raising taxes on wealthy Americans.

The president's proposal would increase the capital gains rate on couples making more than $500,000 annually to 28 percent, require estates to pay capital gains taxes on securities at the time they're inherited, and slap a fee on the roughly 100 U.S. financial firms with assets of more than $50 billion.

Administration officials said much of the $320 billion in new taxes and fees would be used for measures aimed at helping the middle class, including a $500 tax credit for some families with two spouses working and a $60 billion program to make community college free.

Obama is also asking lawmakers to increase paid leave for workers. And he's moved unilaterally to lower a mortgage insurance rate that could help attract first-time homebuyers.

The White House cast the president's measures as steps that can help keep up economic momentum amid a recent spurt of growth that has also seen the unemployment rate fall below 6 percent.

There has been little Republican support for much of what the White House has rolled out ahead of Obama's address.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the White House's tax proposal "the same old top-down approach we've come to expect from President Obama that hasn't worked." And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is weighing a bid for the GOP presidential nomination, said the president's approach was outdated.

"Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful," Rubio said.

In keeping with State of the Union tradition, first lady Michelle Obama will watch the speech along with invited guests whose stories bring to life some of the policies the president will tout.

Among those joining Mrs. Obama for this year's speech are Alan Gross, who was released from a Cuban prison last month as part of Obama's decision to normalize relations with the communist island nation; Chelsey Davis, a student from Tennessee who plans to graduate community college in May; and Dr. Pranav Shetty, who has been working on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The effort to control Ebola is expected to be one of the foreign policy matters Obama addresses in a speech. While the president is not likely to make any major foreign policy announcements, he is expected to tout the formal end of the Afghan war, update the nation on the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and urge lawmakers not to enact new sanctions on Iran while the U.S. and its partners are in the midst of nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic.


Follow Julie Pace at

#ReclaimMLK: Activists Nationwide Follow In MLK's Footsteps To Protest Racial Injustice

Mon, 2015-01-19 17:09
Martin Luther King Jr. Day held special significance for many this year, as people across the country came out to volunteer, march and celebrate the civil rights leader's legacy on the first MLK Day since the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.

Activist groups called for the celebrations and demonstrations this year to be tied to recent efforts to draw attention to racial inequality and police brutality. Leaders from groups like Black Lives Matter and Ferguson Action helped organize events for the holiday through a campaign called #ReclaimMLK. Several other hashtags were associated with MLK Day events as well, including #DayOfAction, #WWMLKD, #PledgeOfResistance and #BeLikeKing.

With its #ReclaimMLK events, Ferguson Action, a grassroots civil rights organization birthed out of the heightened racial tension in Ferguson following Brown’s death, encouraged activists to resurface the “radical, principled and uncompromising" nonviolent protest tactics King used during the civil rights movement.

“Martin Luther King Jr’s life’s work was the elevation, honoring, and defense of Black Lives. His tools included non-violent civil disobedience and direct action,” reads a statement on “From here on, MLK weekend will be known as a time of national resistance to injustice.”

People around the nation took that sentiment to heart:

On early Monday morning, protesters in California gathered outside the home of newly elected Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spent her first day in office with Oakland police.

Protesters chanted “Wake up Libby!” “No sleeping on the job!” and “You chose to prioritize blue, but today you will hear black,” according to

In a statement emailed to The Huffington Post, Schaaf wrote: "We live in the best and most diverse city in the greatest nation on earth with the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. As Oakland's Mayor I am committed to connecting our police and our communities to ensure public safety and the protection of our ideals."

And on Sunday night, about 150 people marched through the streets in the Bay Area to protest against racial injustice as part MLK weekend activities.

The cast of the Oscar-nominated film "Selma" also took to the streets Sunday evening to hold their own demonstration in Selma, Alabama, in tribute to King. The film's director, Ava Duvernay, and Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo and Common led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Meanwhile, across the nation in New York City, hundreds gathered in Harlem and marched downtown as they chanted “No justice, no peace” and held signs saying “Black Lives Matter.”

In Philadelphia, thousands of people gathered to march through Center City, calling for police and criminal justice reform.

"[T]his year, King's legacy is being thought of in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement which has spread like wildfire throughout the United States and around the world. Ignited by the killings of Islan Nettles, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Aiyana Jones, Jordan Davis and too many more by police and vigilantes, Dr. King's legacy and his work take on a different meaning in today's world," #BlackLivesMatter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors-Brignac wrote in a blog post for HuffPost.

Here are more photos from protests that occurred over the MLK holiday and weekend, aimed at continuing the leader's fight for racial justice:

'SNL' Shows How Different 'The Wire' Would Be If Set In Brooklyn

Mon, 2015-01-19 15:11
On this weekend's "Saturday Night Live," Kenan Thompson, Jay Pharaoh and host Kevin Hart portrayed their own version of "corner boys," the low-ranking street-level drug dealers many associate with "The Wire." Except instead of the mean streets of Baltimore, they're just trying to survive the artisanal coffee bean streets of Brooklyn's Bushwick area, where dog-walking businesses and paint parties rule the day.

Tinder Conversations In Real Life Will Make You Question The Future Of Dating In General

Mon, 2015-01-19 15:08
Tinder messaging is like the Mad Max wasteland of social media conversation platforms.

People on Tinder say basically whatever they want, because they can. They have nothing to lose. Is it possible that some Tinder users have genuinely found matches on the app? Sure, but there's a reason more than 700,000 people subscribe to Tinder Nightmares.

The good people at Good People Media have started a new series where they take actual Tinder conversations and set them in real life settings. After you watch "Episode 1: The Park" up top, check out "Episode 2: The Gym."

[Swipes right.]

Martin Luther King Jr. Inspirations From The Black Community

Mon, 2015-01-19 09:30
Why do we have Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

In the spirit of remembering one of the most famous Civil Rights Movement heroes of all time, we asked the Black Voices community how MLK has inspired them -- to which there was no shortage of heartening responses.

We asked for your thoughts, feelings and opinions on the iconic figure of MLK:

Martin Luther King Jr. left a mountain of lessons in his legacy. We want to know how Dr. King has inspired you -- as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sister and brothers, friends and citizens. Tell us how MLK changed your life and why!

Here are some of the responses we received that prove MLK's inspirational legacy is as strong as ever in 2015.

“No one can ride you if your back is straight. Happy birthday Doc!” -- Tim Randall

“If you're gonna dream, be bold, speak loudly, clearly, intelligently, with soul force, for the highest good!” -- Noam Winter

“Hope. He gives me hope for the future. If a man can take a stand on so simple a principal there is hope for the men and women today. Stand when there is no one with you; Stand when all you have is a principal. But take a stand and defend it by any means necessary.” -- Ernie Middleton

“The biggest lesson I gleaned from Dr. King is the value of service. At its best it requires sacrifice and courage.” -- Pat J. Lissade

“Dr. King's legacy has challenge me to raise my sons to look at the person and not the color of their skin. We all are created in the image of God and therefore we all are the one.” -- Kimberley Lindeman Kenny

“I too have a dream” -- Joe Crews

“I grew up in a small, all-white town. When I was in elementary school, I read all the time, everything I could get my hands on. At some point I came across the "I Have a Dream" speech. I remember clearly how I felt when I read it: it gave me goosebumps, and it made me deeply sad, and although I didn't understand racism on a deep level at that age, it resonated with me. It inspired me. I tore it out of the book, hung it next to my bed, and memorized it.” -- Amy Lynn Miller

“He changed my life while growing up in the Caribbean. Listening to any of his speeches and to his powerful voice gives me the inner strength to deal with adversity and to push for positive change, but most of all empathy for all people-- in all walks of life. May his voice and message of peace echo throughout time forever.” -- Jason Budsan

“His views on loving your fellow man rings loudly in my ears daily.” -- James Gladden

“He inspired me to serve others!” -- Charmaine Yates

“I will not miss a voting opportunity” -- Carlita R. Grazier

“He pioneered the civil rights movement for me and my Latino brothers and sisters... I will forever be grateful.” -- Matha Lugo

“Taught me that you can be a man with flaws, and still have dreams. Inspite of severe obstacles privately and publically, he obtained leadership that helped change generations, and generations to come. #Salute MLK” -- Gregory O’Neil II

“If it weren't for Dr. King, I wouldn't have my family. My African American son, Tyler, was adopted at 13 days of age, and my wonderful granddaughter. I'm irish and Tuscarora.” - Denise Boyle

“In 1986 I was a freshmen at Norfolk State University. I was also a barber apprentice at Kappatal Cuts Barbershop. The man who's barber chair I first began cutting hair in had crazy stuff left in his station. He had passed a year earlier. One day I cleaned out the station and found a Jet Magazine Dated on the Year Day and Month that I was born. 10/24/1968... On the cover of that magazine was Dr King. He was a "HISTORICAL" figure in my mind to that point, but when I did the math, I realized that I was in the womb when he was assassinated. I know that maybe silly but that connection made me read and research more about him and who he was, how his words where about children and people like me.” -- Kevo Desh

Some responses have been edited for clarity.

Here's Who's Sitting With Michelle Obama During The State Of The Union Address

Mon, 2015-01-19 06:35
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Maryland man who returned home last month after spending five years imprisoned in Cuba will have a prime viewing spot for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address: a seat near first lady Michelle Obama.

Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, are among 22 special guests the White House invited to Tuesday night's speech.

It's become tradition for presidents to invite people whose stories of tragedy or triumph highlight an issue or public policy. President Ronald Reagan was the first to do so in 1982 and acknowledge the guests, who sit with the first lady, during the speech. Every president since has continued the tradition.

The year's group includes astronaut Scott Kelly, the president and CEO of CVS Health and eight people who wrote letters to Obama, including four he spent time with last year.

Gross is a former federal subcontractor who was arrested in Cuba in 2009. His wife and others said he was there to set up Internet access for the small Jewish community on the communist island. He was released last month as part of a historic announcement by Obama that the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after five decades.

Kelly, of Houston, is preparing to blast off in March on a yearlong space mission, longer than any other U.S. astronaut. His identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, is married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. She was gravely wounded four years ago during a shooting at a political event she held in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 were injured. Scientists will compare medical data from the brothers to understand how the human body responds to longer durations in space.

CVS Health pulled cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products from its store shelves last year, a move that was applauded by Obama, a former smoker often seen chewing nicotine gum. The decision by CVS Health earned Larry Merlo, the drugstore chain's top executive, a seat in the first lady's box.

The other guests, as identified by the White House, are:

— Malik Bryant, of Chicago. The 13-year-old wrote a letter to Santa over the holidays asking for safety. Instead of forwarding the letter to the North Pole, a nonprofit organization redirected it to the White House. Obama wrote back to say that security was a priority for him, too.

— Chelsey Davis, of Knoxville, Tennessee. Davis is scheduled to graduate in May from Pellissippi State Community College with a bachelor's degree in nutritional science. She met Obama when he visited her school this month to announce a plan to make two years of community college free for students who keep their grades up.

— LeDaya Epps, of Compton, California. The mother of three completed a union apprenticeship in construction, one of only two women to do so, and is on the crew building the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. Obama has promoted apprenticeships as a way for people to get training for skilled jobs.

— Rebekah Erler, of Minneapolis. The wife and mother of two young boys wrote to Obama about how her family suffered after her husband's construction business folded. Both are working again and recently bought their first home. Obama spent a day with Erler in Minnesota last year.

— Victor Fugate, of Kansas City. Fugate wrote to Obama to share how he went from being an unemployed new father to getting his degree and helping low-income patients obtain medical care. Fugate says he and his wife are benefiting from an Obama program that caps monthly student loan payments. Obama met Fugate in Kansas City in July.

— Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson, of Westerville, Ohio. Gibson wrote to Obama to thank the president for visiting him as he recovered from injuries, including the loss of both legs. Gibson surfs, skis, has completed marathons on a hand cycle and earned a pilot's license. He welcomed his first child in November.

— Nicole Hernandez Hammer, of southeast Florida. Hammer is a sea-level researcher who studies how cities and other areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change also have large Hispanic populations. She works to raise Latinos' awareness of climate change. Addressing climate change is an Obama priority.

— Anthony Mendez, of New York City. The University of Hartford freshman once had to rise at 4:30 a.m. to get to school after his family was evicted and forced to live in a homeless shelter. Mendez was among students who met Mrs. Obama last year. She spearheads an initiative encouraging students to pursue education after high school.

— Katrice Mubiru, of Woodland Heights, California. Mubiru, a career-technical education teacher in Los Angeles, encouraged Obama in a letter to support K-12 adult and career technical education. She met and introduced Obama in July when he visited Los Angeles Trade-Technical College to highlight technical skills programs.

— Astrid Muhammad, of Charlotte, North Carolina. Muhammad, a wife and mother of two, wrote to thank Obama for signing the Affordable Care Act. Last year, she obtained coverage under the law and had surgery to remove a potentially fatal brain tumor that was diagnosed in May 2013, when she had no health insurance.

— Kathy Pham, of Washington, D.C. Pham is a government computer scientist who works to improve health information technology, expand access to benefits for veterans and improve the way government provides services to families like hers. Her mother received cancer treatment under the new health care law and her brother earned a Purple Heart for service in Afghanistan.

—Capt. Phillip C. Tingirides, of Irvine, California. A husband and father of six, the veteran Los Angeles police officer heads the Community Safety Partnership program in the neighborhood of Watts, once scarred by race riots and subsequent gang violence. Under the program, begun in 2011, police engage with residents.

— Catherine Pugh, of Baltimore. Pugh is majority leader of the Maryland Senate who helped pass legislation increasing the state minimum wage to $10.10. She has also introduced legislation to provide the state's workers with earned paid sick leave. Both are issues Obama is pushing at the federal level.

— Carolyn Reed, of Denver. Reed described in a letter to Obama how she expanded her submarine sandwich shop business with a loan from the Small Business Administration. Obama dined last year with Reed and other Coloradans who wrote to him. Reed also told the president she was raising her hourly employees' wages to $10.10.

— Dr. Pranav Shetty, of Washington, D.C. Shetty is the global emergency health coordinator for International Medical Corps, a partner in the U.S.-backed effort to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Shetty went to Liberia in August, returned to the U.S. late last month and is going back to West Africa later this week.

— Prophet Walker, Carson, California. While serving time for robbery, Walker started a prison program to help fellow inmates complete a two-year degree. After prison, Walker became a construction engineer and has worked to improve relations among law enforcement, community activists, parents and the children of local housing projects.

—Tiairris Woodward, of Harrison, Michigan. Woodward started a second job working on Chrysler's assembly line in 2010 to help support herself and three children, including one with special needs. She eventually began working only for Chrysler and after a year saved enough money to buy a car and rent a new apartment. The company's tuition assistance program is aiding her pursuit of a bachelor's degree in business management. The White House says her story is possible due to the comeback of Detroit and the U.S. auto industry.

—Ana Zamora, of Dallas. A student at Northwood University, Zamora was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child and has benefited under Obama's program to defer deportations for eligible immigrants. Zamora wrote to Obama about her experience and says her parents will also be eligible for protection under Obama's recent executive actions on immigration.

NFL Hall Of Famer Mike Ditka: I Wouldn't Want My Child To Play Football

Sun, 2015-01-18 18:07
NFL Hall of Famer Mike Ditka has dedicated his life to football. But if he had a son today, he wouldn’t want that child to do the same, according to a Saturday report by the Chicago Tribune.

In an episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” set to air on HBO on Tuesday, Ditka asks sports reporter Bryant Gumbel if he himself would want his child to play football.

“I wouldn’t,” Gumbel says. “Would you?”

“Nope,” Ditka replies. “I wouldn't. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do.”

Ditka’s and Gumbel’s views are in line with those of fully half the country. A 2014 Bloomberg survey found that 50 percent of Americans don’t want their children to play football. Only 17 percent said they expect football to be more popular 20 years from now than it is today.

The “Real Sports” episode will focus on the use of drugs by a team Ditka coached: the NFL 1985 champion Chicago Bears. The NFL named Ditka Coach of the Year for his work that season, but the HBO report claims that Bears players regularly used painkillers and other drugs to play through injuries, much to their detriment later in life.

Ditka confirmed to Gumbel that drugs were “plentiful” during his time in the NFL. “There’s no question about it,” he said.

A number of Bears were among the 500-plus NFL players who sued the league in 2014 for allegedly providing illegal drugs to injured players so they could stay on the field. Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon even said he suffered a broken neck at one point in his career but played through it simply because he was never informed of the injury. Instead, he was allegedly given drugs to allow him to keep playing.

The players in the suit claimed that as a result of the drugs, many have had to struggle with long-term drug addiction and deteriorating health in retirement.

"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it, while in the NFL," said J.D. Hill, a former wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, in a statement at the time of the lawsuit. "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."

Dave Duerson, a star safety for the 1985 Bears, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011 after complaining to his family of severe headaches and memory issues. He was later found to have CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease most often found in people with a history of concussions or other head injuries. There were more than 120 concussions in the NFL in 2014.

More Than Half Of American Schoolchildren Now Live In Poverty

Fri, 2015-01-16 18:28
For the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students live in low-income households, according to a new analysis from the Southern Education Foundation.

Overall, 51 percent of U.S. schoolchildren came from low-income households in 2013, according to the foundation, which analyzed data from National Center for Education Statistics on students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Eligibility for free or subsidized lunch for students from low-income households serves as a proxy for gauging poverty, says the foundation, which advocates education equity for students in the South.

The report shows the percentage of schoolchildren from poor households has grown steadily for nearly a quarter-century, from 32 percent in 1989. "By 2006, the national rate was 42 percent and, after the Great Recession, the rate climbed in 2011 to 48 percent," says the report.

Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation, told The Washington Post that the analysis shows poverty has reached a "watershed moment."

The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,” McGuire said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”

The analysis shows the highest percentages of poor students in Southern and Western states. Mississippi had the highest rate of low-income students -- 71 percent. New Hampshire had the lowest, at 27 percent.

“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness," the report says. "... Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future."

Being a Person Who Stutters Shouldn't Hold You Back When Pursuing a Career

Fri, 2015-01-16 16:51
I didn't know what to think when I read the headline and heard the news that a cadet from the Cleveland Police Department was allegedly not allowed to graduate with his class (even though he finished his training) because of his stutter.

Jane Fraser from The Stuttering Foundation commented:

If press reports out of Cleveland are accurate, we must be very concerned about the chilling effect this sort of decision will have on the stuttering community, especially those seeking employment. Every day, we hear stories of those who stutter being denied gainful employment. In most cases, unfortunately, it is because the potential employer does not understand stuttering.

I grew up with a stutter. Does this mean I shouldn't have pursued journalism because I stutter? Does this mean I shouldn't conduct interviews, speak up in meetings or ask questions when I want more clarification?

Does this mean that my voice doesn't matter because at times I may need an extra moment or two to get my words together?

I remember in high school and college when, as students, we were preparing to choose what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives. Many of my friends had ambitions -- and are successful at what they do -- in teaching, graphic design, engineering, as nurses and doctors, as account executives and media buyers.

Some of my friends crossed careers off the list simply because they didn't want to pursue that particular field. No ulterior motive. They just didn't want to go down a certain path.

For me, I self-limited options because of my stutter. I crossed off being a television anchor since I would have to talk fluently for long periods of time. I'm clearly not going to be an orator. I shied away from being a teacher and standing in front of a classroom full of students.

As I look back now, I realize that the thing holding me back wasn't stuttering.

It was fear.

Fear of being made fun of because of a stutter. Fear of not being able to achieve my dream because the stutter would hold me back. Fear of having anxiety in a situation where I would have needed to say something but was unable to. Fear of people not taking me seriously when sometimes my spoken words go awry but my thoughts are clear.

Fear should never hold us back.

Words hold so much power, and to read that a cadet wasn't able to graduate in his class because of his stutter has been extremely disheartening to myself and to those in the stuttering community.

"Conflating a person's stuttering with an inability to succeed in professional employment is wrong and reinforces negative and false stereotypes," said Kenny Koroll, chairman of the NSA, in a statement.

This news not only impacts Mr. Jackson and other people who stutter, but countless other individuals with various communication disorders seeking employment, especially those who have proven capable of the career they are pursuing despite their challenge. People who stutter have achieved success in every profession imaginable. Stuttering should not be a barrier from entering any profession.

We should be able to follow our dreams wherever they may take us. Nothing should stop us.

There are so many celebrities and people who have made it despite having a stutter that it gives me hope that I am able to pursue what I want to do, when I want to do it and how I want to do it as well.

Of course, the road isn't perfect. It hasn't been paved in a while, and it needs a bit of upkeep.

Sometimes, I thought I couldn't go on. Maybe I should've picked out something else -- anything else -- and hidden behind a computer screen.

But something in my thoughts wouldn't allow that. This is where I need to be. There is a relentless drive instilled in me that continues to push me toward my pursuit of my goals and dreams.

Through hard work and dedication, I've learned that the sweetest feeling is triumph.

I want everyone to be victorious. I want people who stutter to experience the feeling of victory, the feeling of walking on clouds, of walking into a room of applause, to the adrenaline coursing through as if riding on a roller coaster.

There is nothing like feeling triumphant.

I've pursued the more-challenging career, and I've never looked back.

Industry Campaign Contributions Should Disqualify Rauner's Pick for Natural Resources Director

Fri, 2015-01-16 14:32
Governor Bruce Rauner's pick to head the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has taken at least $20,000 in campaign contributions from corporate interests he would be charged with regulating. State Representative Wayne Rosenthal is expected to be named to lead the agency that manages safety, permitting, and regulation of mining and drilling.

Coal billionaire Chris Cline's Foresight Energy and two other Cline Group companies, Hillsboro Energy and Macoupin Energy, gave a combined $13,250.00 to Rosenthal's campaign fund over the past five years. The Cline Group operates several mines in Illinois.

Other contributions include $2,470 from the Illinois Coal Association, $2,880 from Petroleum Political Education Committee, and $1,500 from Exxon Mobil.

Foresight Energy also gave $10,000 to Rauner's campaign fund and was a top inauguration sponsor giving up to $100,000. It's looking like business as usual in the new administration.

Two former acting directors of Mines & Minerals were removed from their positions last year after it was discovered they accepted political contributions from Chris Cline companies. Donations were given to county Democratic Party funds chaired by the two men while they were employed by IDNR.

Following the donations, two fatal accidents occurred at Cline Group's Class M mine in Franklin county. An investigation by the Federal Mine Safety & Health Administration blamed the company for failing to maintain a roof bolting machine in safe operating condition and failing to have proper policies and procedures in place that could have prevented the accident in May of 2014.

Mine workers deserve to know their safety isn't in the hands of someone who took campaign cash from the coal industry. There are deadly consequences if companies receive special treatment from state regulators. The contributions will leave a cloud of suspicion around any action Rosenthal may take in favor of corporate special interests.

Besides being an enthusiastic supporter of fracking, Rosenthal's focus in the last session of the legislature was on a series of bills to allow hunting for nearly every conceivable animal. He was chief sponsor of a bill vetoed by Pat Quinn that would have allowed bobcat hunting and passed another bill into law that allows shooting "any fur-bearing mammal with a shotgun loaded with slugs." Rosenthal owns a hunting and fishing preserve that may be impacted by several bills he sponsored.

The Department of Natural Resources is an agency badly in need of the new start Rauner promised during the campaign, free from corrupt influence by special interests. If Rauner refuses to withdrawal the nomination, the Senate Executive Appointments committee should vote to reject Rosenthal and insist on someone without close ties to the coal, oil, or gas industries.

12 Funny Signs That Laugh In The Face Of Winter

Fri, 2015-01-16 14:18
We're glad at least SOMEBODY appreciates all this cold weather.

Unless you're one of the privileged few living where the sun still shines, you've probably been freezing these last couple weeks. Long gone are the early days of winter, when the chill was comfortable. Refreshing, even! Ha! These days it's all brutal wind, bracing cold, and never-ending snow.

Because we still have weeks of winter ahead of us, it's time to embrace the chill. The signs below have all decided to make the best of the cold weather and it's about time that you did the same. The cold never bothered you anyway, right? Right?!

Illinois lawyer to Gov. Rauner: Cut waste in prisons

Fri, 2015-01-16 13:44
One southern Illinois lawyer, Joni Beth Bailey, has a message for the new governor as he looks to take the state in a new direction. She appreciates Gov. Bruce Rauner's plan so far, but wants to suggest how he can effect change in a particular area.

Dear Gov. Rauner:

I have voted for more Democrats than Republicans since I started voting, but I'm beginning to think my friend, Dan Bost, Congressman Bost's brother, was correct years ago when he told me I was an "R" and just didn't realize it.

I appreciate many things about your first few days in office:

Yes, everyone is going to have to sacrifice to pull off this enormous turn around.

Yes, it's going to take time. Create reasonable expectations.

Yes, it starts with morals and ethics. The lobbyist revolving door is a revolting practice and clearly an invitation to unethical behavior. I applaud your approach....

I am emailing you with an observation about a tremendously wasteful practice that will not be pointed out to you by employees of the Department of Corrections because so many jobs (and so much overtime pay) depend on it:

Why are prisoners escorted hours away for hearings on procedural matters that take only a few minutes instead of using video teleconferencing?

Read the rest of Bailey's message to Rauner at Reboot Illinois.

Speaking of the Department of Corrections, Scott Reeder of the Illinois News Network, has a take on the re-hiring of DoC policy advisor Xadrian McCraven. McCraven got his $111,000 job back after being fired from the Doc and the Department of Children and Family Services and a long arrest record. Get the scoop about McCraven's situation from Reeder at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois prison worker reinstated after firing, even with his own long arrest record

This Is What You May Be Missing When You Skip Ads On YouTube

Fri, 2015-01-16 13:42
Don't skip the ad on this YouTube video!

Oh, did you already skip? Well, we don't blame you, but you missed the actual sketch. Go back and rewatch!*

Hate to break it to the advertisers, but no one is watching your ads for more than the five seconds that they're required to. But the Los Angeles Digital wing of UCB Comedy wants YouTubers to know that they might actually be missing key information by skipping out early on advertisements.**

*Sorry if you were looking forward to a sketch about "The Bachelor."
**Also, sorry that you like "The Bachelor."

Grateful Dead To Reunite For Final Concerts In July

Fri, 2015-01-16 12:22
NEW YORK (AP) — The Grateful Dead is coming back to life for final concerts in July.

The band announced Friday that surviving members Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir will perform three shows from July 3-5 at Soldier Field in Chicago. The band is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the shows will mark its final performances, the band said. They last performed at the Chicago venue in 1995 with band member Jerry Garcia, who died a month after the show.

Tickets for "Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead" will be available through a mail order system on Jan. 20. They go on sale online Feb. 14.

The Grateful Dead will be joined by Phish's Trey Anastasio, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and pianist Bruce Hornsby at the concerts.



Governor Rauner's Environment & Energy Adviser Represents Many of Illinois' Worst Polluters

Fri, 2015-01-16 11:59
One of Bruce Rauner's first appointments as Governor is a troubling sign for citizens hoping he'll protect the public and environment from toxic pollutants. Rauner's new Policy Adviser for Environment & Energy is Alec Messina, previously Executive Director and registered lobbyist for the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group (IERG).

At IERG, Messina represented the interests of some of the state's largest polluters, including Peabody Energy, ExxonMobil, Chris Cline's Foresight Energy, Prairie State Generating Company, Dynegy Midwest Generation, Ameren, ADM and others. Messina previously worked for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency during the Blagojevich administration.

IERG was founded by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce to help their members study and influence regulation. They comment on proposed rules and often assist companies that argue for delaying compliance. The group has argued for expediting and "streamlining" the process of attaining permits for major sources of pollution in order to create a more business-friendly climate.

Rauner's report released this week outlining an agenda for the state echoes those demands in its recommendations for energy and the environment. Although the report avoids the overused "all of the above energy" cliche, it suggests policies similar to Quinn and Blagojevich that would promote renewable energy as well as dirty sources, including coal and fracked gas.

The report criticizes the time it takes for agencies to approve permits and recommends cutting "unnecessary energy and environmental policies that impede business." There are no specifics about whether speedy permitting would be achieved by limiting public involvement and thorough study. Messina's background dealing with regulatory minutia gives him the expertise to make obscure, subtle rule changes that could have profound impacts on the environment and public health.

On the positive side, Ruaner's team emphasizes energy efficiency with healthy criticism of the state for failing to meet its reduction goals. However, it also calls for increasing energy exports. Promoting efficiency and renewable energy within Illinois won't bring relief to communities impacted by increased extraction of fossil fuels intended for export. Additionally, the report calls for increasing staff to quickly approve permits for fracking, but doesn't mention hiring additional staff to enforce compliance with the new law.

Rauner distinguished himself among Republicans during the campaign by acknowledging the scientific reality of climate change. Yet, Rauner's report includes more than a dozen calls for changing the business climate while making no mention of addressing the global climate crisis.

Despite some negative signals, Rauner won't have an easy time compiling a worse record than departing Governor Pat Quinn, whose most significant actions on energy policy include launching fracking, expanding coal mining, creating new coal subsidies, and giving a pollution waiver to five aging coal power plants.

Illinois medical marijuana program leaves questions

Fri, 2015-01-16 11:02
The headline on a Daily Beast article Wednesday gives Illinois government way too much credit: "Illinois' Absurd Fight to Block Medical Marijuana."

That title implies a measure of organization that, unfortunately, doesn't apply to anything about the state's medical marijuana program since Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law in August 2013.

A better headline might be, "Illinois' Incompetence and Legacy of Corruption Blocks Medical Marijuana."

When Quinn on Aug. 1, 2013, signed what officially is known as the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act - an oxymoron given what would transpire over the next 17 months -- he made Illinois the 23rd state with a medical marijuana law on its books. It capped years of effort by sufferers of numerous chronic diseases to persuade Illinois lawmakers that marijuana provided them relief where prescription drugs failed.

Read more about medical marijuana in Illinois and the program's possible future at Reboot Illinois.

Another program ready for the new Gov. Bruce Rauner to take a look? How to deal with the state's unfunded pension liabilities. One Illinois teacher has a plea for Rauner: "Deliver me my pension required by Illinois law." As the government figures out how to cover the $100 billion of unfunded pensions in the state, this teacher doesn't want his own retirement to suffer after he spent years serving the children of Illinois. Read more at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois prison worker reinstated after firing, even with his own long arrest record

8 Athletes Explain Why Their Protest Matters

Fri, 2015-01-16 10:52
John Carlos had been waiting a long time for Kenny Britt and Kobe Bryant.

The former U.S. Olympian, along with Tommie Smith, became synonymous with athlete activism by raising a gloved fist in a Black Power salute while on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. In the decades since that galvanizing gesture, athlete activism waned, seeming to exist in inverse proportion to rising salaries and increased marketing opportunities.

“How about those Rams? They may be under contract to play football, but greater than that, they have a right to care about humanity," Carlos told Dave Zirin of The Nation in December after a group of St. Louis Rams players, including Britt, showed solidarity with those protesting in Ferguson, Mo., following the lack of an indictment following the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. "They have the right to feel whether something is just or unjust. They are entitled to their opinions, most centrally that Michael Brown’s life should not have been taken. Asking them to just ‘shut up and play’ is like asking a human being to be paint on the wall. They have the right to say what they feel in their heart. A lot more athletes need to step up and speak up as well. These atrocities have been going on and we are saying enough is enough. I remember saying in 1968, you think I’m bad, just wait until this new generation comes out. I feel like that new generation is here at last.”

Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, another outspoken athlete activist, also took note of the increased social consciousness among athletes toward the end of 2014.

"The thing that I feel most about is the emerging of young players that are intelligently protesting what they feel are injustices," Brown told The Associated Press in December.

From Kenny Britt and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Reggie Bush, here are several athletes explaining why they chose to stand with protestors in Ferguson, New York and across the country:

A Mother's Wish for Her Son: Just Stay Alive

Fri, 2015-01-16 08:18
My son turns 14 today. I'm sure he's wishing for all sorts of stuff: an Xbox, Beats headphones, maybe even good grades.

However, my wish for my son on his 14th birthday is much more fundamental. I wish for him to be able to walk to the grocery store without being harassed or gunned down. I wish for him to live.

I know my fear may seem dramatic, but the facts are clear.

Today, young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than young white men. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that blacks are more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience use or threat of force from police. In a seven-year study from the FBI, one out of four police shootings where white-on-black, and black men were much more likely to be killed by officers than white men.

All parents worry about their children -- where they're going, who they spend their time with, what their futures will hold. But for parents like myself who have black children -- especially boys -- there are added fears. Will my black son get hurt, arrested, or even killed, not because of his own actions or indiscretions, but because of the shameful realities of police aggression and brutality in America?

The recent killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City are two of the most recent occurrences of excessive force by police in this country. In both cases grand juries chose not indict police officers responsible for the deaths of unarmed black men.

The problem of police brutality is nothing new. Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1970s, a battleground for the Civil Rights movement, I witnessed on more than one occasion aggressive police behavior towards young black men -- my neighbors, my relatives, my classmates. They would be randomly stopped or slammed to the ground, sometimes guns were pointed at the heads of teenagers. Many cops acted as though they could do whatever they wanted, with impunity. Every family had to teach their sons how to respond if and when they were approached by the police, because their lives were, quite literally, at stake.

Police brutality today may not be as rampant as it once was in the Deep South, but it remains just as insidious. Long-held and deeply rooted prejudices in society will also present in the people who represent the justice system. What makes the problem lethal is that those people have guns.

We have to be able to hold men and women in uniform to higher standards. We know that training and education can be effective, but if a community does not put pressure on the local department to require it, and repeat it often, it will not be put in place. We know police have strict use-of-force standards, but if department leadership and the court system do not view it necessary to enforce these guidelines, they will be ignored. We know that community pressure can be a major motivator for change, but if those who believe they are unaffected by this injustice stay silent, the aggression will continue.

As my son grows into a young black man, he will do things and go places alone or with friends, and I will not always be there to protect him. I worry that in a fraction of a second he could be struck down by a police officer who has no idea he is a straight-A student, captain of his track team, a star soccer player with bright future. I worry for his well-being and safety and that of millions of other boys with bright futures.

The protesters in Ferguson and around the country have brought this critical issue front and center in public discourse. Many policy makers and activists are working to find ways to hold police accountable for their behavior. Now, we all must take action.

It's time for people to stand up and act, because as difficult as the problems may be to tackle, it can be overcome. Candace Simpson, a contributor, beautifully challenges every one of us to find a personal way to contribute to the movement, because "there's enough work to be done for everyone to be busy."

As a nation that stands for freedom and justice, no one may be afforded the luxury of ignorance. Together we must all take a stand for social justice to ensure that those who enforce the law are held to the highest standards, without exception.

Though I fear for my child every time he walks out of the house, I remain optimistic that the realities my son faces needn't be the one his future children face.

What will you do to change the future?

Common's Critics' Choice Awards Speech Was Charming, Powerful & Perfect

Fri, 2015-01-16 08:18
The Oscars didn't get a lot of things right when it came to "Selma," but voters were smart enough to put Common and John Legend in the Best Original Song category for "Glory." The track won two awards this week, first at the Golden Globes and then at the Critics' Choice Awards. Common accepted both trophies, and his speech on Thursday night mixed good humor with some powerful social commentary:

Thank you, Ava DuVernay, for making the first feature film about Dr. King so beautifully. When Ava first heard "Glory," the first draft, she was like, "That's good, but I need something bigger, like 'We Are The World.'" I said, "'We Are the World'? You talking Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, 'We Are the World'? 20 million copies, 'We Are The World'?" No pressure, right Ava? Well, we knew the spirit and intention of that song, and we knew the spirit and intention of "Selma," and of what Dr. King is about. That's love, that's justice, that's freedom. For all people. We created "Glory" in that spirit.

Watch Common's full speech, which also includes a touching tribute to his father, below:

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