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Porchlight's <i>Sondheim on Sondheim</i> Explores the Art of Making Art

Fri, 2015-02-13 14:00
In the new musical revue, Sondheim on Sondheim, the chorus opens the second act with a self-deprecating number about how Stephen Sondheim is a "God." Though the purpose of this second act opener is tongue-in-cheek (Sondheim himself wrote it), I'd argue that most people in the opening night audience of Porchlight Music Theatre's incandescent production certainly felt like they were worshiping one of America's most gifted artists.

As any Sond-head knows, a handful of Sondheim revues, such as Putting it Together or Marry Me a Little, already exist. However, as smartly arranged as they are, they often feel like a crisp and hollow examination of Sondheim's canon. However, Sondheim on Sondheim, which was conceived by Sondheim's long-time collaborator James Lapine and premiered on Broadway in 2010, is the first revue that actually seems to have a firm point of view and an emotional core.


The cast of Porchlight's "Sondheim on Sondheim"

Sondheim on Sondheim's unique structure gives us the backstory behind each tune, as narrated by the master himself via video snippets of both new and archival footage (expert video design by Mike Tutaj). And, as anyone who's seen him speak in interviews, Sondheim is a relaxed and affable storyteller -- one who isn't afraid to speak pridefully of his work, but is also refreshingly frank in admitting when the work didn't hit the mark. The second act digs deeper, letting us peek into the famously reserved Sondheim's personal life, including matters of the heart and his harrowing relationship with his mother.

In short: We fall in love with Sondheim -- the man.

A risk with such a format is the actual performances can be overshadowed by the creator. Thankfully, director Nick Bowling has cast a richly talented and diverse cast of eight performers who more than match the material. Sure -- I've heard many of these songs performed more beautifully, but never with so much singularity and heart. Highlights include Porchlight stalwart Rebecca Finnegan's understated "In Buddy's Eyes," Stephen Rader's tightly wound "Franklin Shepard, Inc.," and a chilling "Something Just Broke" by the cast.

The surprising anchor of this production, however, is the mega-talented Austin Cook, who sets the music spinning through his deft accompaniment and charisma. Sporting a Sondheim-like beard, Cook represents the next generation of talent that "God" himself, I'm sure, would be proud of.

For anyone who finds fascination in the art of making art, Sondheim on Sondheim is a must-see.

"Sondheim on Sondheim" plays through March 15 at Stage 773. More info here >

Civic Federation says Illinois needs a higher income tax

Fri, 2015-02-13 12:25
The Civic Federation, the respected, Chicago-based fiscal watchdog, is hardly a bastion of tax-and-spend liberalism.

It was the leading voice in warning that the state's growing pension debt endangered all of state government. It has issued reams of reports over the years warning that the state was spending far more than it was taking in and needed to overhaul its budget approach. Last May, it ripped Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget as a formula for continued fiscal disaster. (That prediction, incidentally, has come true, as the state needs to find $1.5 billion to stay on budget through June 30.)

Yet for the second time in less than a year, the Civic Federation this week issued a warning that the state had put itself in serious financial danger when it allowed its personal and corporate income tax rates to fall by 25 percent on Jan. 1. It also recommends, again, that Illinois consider taxing retirement income and expanding its sales tax as it attempts to stabilize its finances and pay down a $6.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

As it recommended last year, the new Civic Federation report advises lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner to raise the personal state income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.25 percent and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to 6 percent. On Jan. 1, a four-year temporary tax increase partially expired, dropping the personal income tax rate from 5 to 3.75 percent and the corporate rate from 7 to 5.25 percent. Letting the tax increase expire arguably was the biggest plank in Rauner's election platform, and he has continued to support the rollback - while occasionally dropping vague hints that the rate might be open to negotiation -- since taking office.

"The incomplete FY2015 budget resulted in a greater deterioration of Illinois' finances and made the necessary actions to fix this crisis even more painful," said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. "Illinois cannot afford such a steep rollback of its tax rates without eliminating entire areas of State services or completely restructuring the government."

In last year's "State of Illinois 2015 Fiscal Roadmap," the Civic Federation warned that allowing the 2011 income tax increase to expire would send state government over a "fiscal cliff." It recommended numerous changes in tax policy along with spending cuts.

Lawmakers ignored both the tax and spending advice, a fact noted in the newly released "State of Illinois 2016 Fiscal Roadmap."

"Largely as a result, State income tax revenues are expected to plummet by $5.2 billion from FY2014 to FY2016. Because no structural changes in revenues or spending were undertaken for FY2015, the current year's budget is estimated to have a shortfall of as much as $1.5 billion," the new report states.

Read the rest of the article at Reboot Illinois to see a chart explaining Illinois' tax revenues and a few frustrating facts about the state's finances, including its bill backlog pattern.

For many people, another frustrating part of living in Illinois is the state's transportation system. The Metropolitan Planning Council found that half of all Illinoisans are annoyed by their commutes every day and that Chicagoland drivers spend almost three days a year just sitting in traffic. So how do we ease the issue? Read the MPC's Peter Skosey's analysis at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Devils Advocate: When will legal marijuana come to Illinois?

Jason Robert Brown Is The Busiest Man On Broadway

Fri, 2015-02-13 12:21
Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown often finds himself with little time to write. With multiple projects in the air, his impressive body of work ensures endless revivals and adaptations, though he eagerly awaits downtime to pen something new. Leaping from stage to screen, "The Last Five Years," starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, marks a career milestone.

Conceived as a two-person musical with minimal set design, "The Last Five Years" examines an unraveling relationship between Cathy (Kendrick) and Jamie (Jordan). Shot on location throughout New York City, the film explores the couple's tender moments and unnerving heartbreak with a series of breathtaking solos -- hers tracing the romance in reverse chronology; his rocketing forward from the onset of the relationship. Unlikely to be a box-office smash, "The Last Five Years" will nonetheless resonate with fans of the short-lived though critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway musical.

The Huffington Post spoke with Brown to discuss what makes him tick and the tricks to balancing a successful career in the industry.

"The Last Five Years" premiered in 2001. Fourteen years later, as the movie is about to debut, what's changed?
Certainly, compared to any other show I've written, "Last Five Years" barely changed at all. But every time we revisit it, I have a different viewpoint. When I wrote it, in Chicago, it was very much still something I was in the middle of. I could feel all the wounds in my own marriage. By the time we opened in New York, a year and a half later, I was in another relationship and moving forward and feeling a little bit trapped by my old relationship. When we did the revival Off-Broadway [in 2013], I felt like [the characters'] uncle, like, "Oh, you silly kids! That's a rough deal you've got." And the movie came around shortly after that and I was ever farther away from it. Two young people in New York who don't know what they're getting into? As I get further away from the emotions that inspired the show in the first place, I look at it differently as a writer.

Was it easy for you to choose the leads for the film?
We never thought the movie would get made. But Anna [Kendrick] was a no-brainer. I got a call that she was interested, and she came to my house in Los Angeles and she sang about four notes, and I said, "We're good, we're great." Once she signed on, the movie started to gain some momentum, and it was suddenly imperative that we cast the guy, Jamie. And Jamie is always the hardest part to cast -- the singing is brutally difficult. We were looking for someone who really had the chops, and when Jeremy sent his audition tape, I thought, "What do you need other than that?" He was exactly what we needed. He embodied the character so completely, and could sing the living shit out of it. I said, "If you guys want to try to find an established movie star, keep looking, I guess, but if you want the right person, then that's Jeremy."



Both characters can be so beautiful and yet so flawed, and you're torn when it comes to taking sides.
That was always the intention: to paint neither as a villain. I've looked at the reviews over the years from all over the world, and people do take sides, but they're evenly divided. You'll read one that says, "He only wrote good songs for Jamie." Another says, "Thank God Cathy's got something, because Jamie's just dreadful and miserable." It doesn't fall along gender lines though. People come in with their own baggage and watches the story unfold through that prism.

With "The Last Five Years" filming, "Bridges of Madison Country" running on Broadway, "Honeymoon in Vegas" about to open on Broadway, and the "13" movie announcement, how do you recommend working in a multiple-project mindset?
I don't really. A lot of stuff got piled up on the runway and then cleared for takeoff at the same time. The movie of "The Last Five Years," we shot it a year and a half ago and it's been in the can for a long time. "Honeymoon in Vegas" I've been working on since 2003, and "Bridges of Madison County" started five years ago.

The downside has been that since I've been in continuous production for the last two years, I haven't been able to do much writing. And I'm looking forward to that. I've got this concert for "Parade" that I'm rehearsing now, and really once I get through that on Monday, I'm free and clear for the first time in two years. I have a month on my calendar blocked out, with nothing on it, so that all I can do is write, because I have an idea for a new show.



Of all of the songs you've written, which will you never tire of hearing, never tire of playing?
You know, I love my stuff -- you're not supposed to say that. But because I'm performer as well as a writer, I'm constantly interacting with my own work. I always get to find these little secrets that I left for myself, little notes -- I find them all over the scores.

I'm going to be playing a production of "The Last Five Years" in Alabama this weekend, and then I go to Germany to conduct "The Trumpet of the Swan," and all of that while talking about a revival of "Songs for a New World." So, I don't have to pick favorites because the work keeps crossing my keyboard. As it does, I get reacquainted with that guy who wrote that piece in 1998, or this guy who wrote this in 2005. And he inspires me to do something with a new thing I'm working on. It must be what bands with long catalogs, like U2 or Bruce Springsteen, feel -- constantly connecting one era of your work to another. Having said that, I don't ever need to hear "I'm Not Afraid of Anything" again.

Do you recognize any through-line in your artistic sensibilities?
I write about outsiders. I write about people who are outside and don't know quite how to get in because it's how I've always felt. On a musical level, I want to write music that is fun to play. There's something about the acoustic property of musicians playing together that's a key to the kind of writing that I do. I see both of those through-lines, which is one thing about being an outside and another about being a community of musicians, and I think those two ideas do talk to each other.

Anything running now in New York or Los Angeles that you've been recommending to friends?
See "Honeymoon in Vegas" as soon as possible, and bring your 40 closest friends.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

In Case You Forgot How Much You Want To 'Be Like Mike,' Here's Your Reminder

Fri, 2015-02-13 09:34
Yep, we still want to be like Mike.

Gatorade is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a digitally remastered "Be Like Mike" ad. The commercial originally aired in the summer of 1991, right after the Chicago Bulls won their first of six titles.

Reminisce by watching 29-year-old Michael Jordan shoot hoops and drink gatorade with your own special bottle of MJ's favorite flavor, Citrus Cooler. The drink will be available with a "retro" label at the end of March.

"In celebration of 50 years of fueling champions, Gatorade presents the iconic Be Like Mike commercial featuring the one, the only, Michael Jordan," the YouTube description of the commercial, which will air this weekend, reads.

According to ESPN, the Gatorade crew couldn't be more excited about the return of "Be Like Mike."

"The return of Gatorade's iconic 'Be Like Mike' commercial during NBA All-Star Weekend is the perfect complement to our brand's continued 50th anniversary celebration in 2015," Gatorade chief marketing officer Morgan Flatley reportedly said in a statement. "What better way to celebrate our first athlete spokesman, Michael Jordan; the NBA, one of Gatorade's longest tenured partners; and the national revival of one of MJ's favorite Gatorade flavors, Citrus Cooler.”

H/T For The Win

Jackie Robinson West Lawyer Investigating Whether Other Little League Teams Are Held To Same Standard

Fri, 2015-02-13 09:24
CHICAGO (AP) -- A day after Little League International stripped Chicago's Jackie Robinson West of its national championship, team officials announced they've hired a high-profile attorney to conduct an investigation they hope will end with the return of their title.

The sport's governing body announced Wednesday that team officials had violated regulations by including players who didn't qualify because they lived outside the team's boundaries, then scrambled to get adjacent leagues to go along with the scheme. But attorney Victor Henderson said Thursday he will try to determine not only whether the team broke any rules but whether - as supporters in Chicago have suggested - Little League International unfairly singled them out.


Henderson addresses the media during a press conference on Thursday

"I want to make sure that whatever rules and regulations are being applied to Jackie Robinson West are being applied to any other team," Henderson said during a news conference, flanked by members of the family that runs the league on the city's South Side and the team's manager, who has been suspended.

Henderson said it is too early to say if Jackie Robinson West will file a lawsuit against Little League International.

"Clearly, we have one more battle," said Bill Haley, the director of the team, whose father was the founder. "You were not wrong for sticking with our boys then (during the Little League World Series), and you are not wrong for sticking with our boys now."

The announcement that the title the team won at last summer's Little League World Series triggered an emotional response from parents and supporters in Chicago and around the country, some of whom suggested that the race of the all-black team may have been a factor in the stunning decision to remove the title. On Thursday, Henderson tried to tamp down those criticisms.

"We aren't raising the race card," he said. He also addressed threats made against the life of the suburban baseball league official whose allegations triggered the investigation.

"The Haley family, they want no part of that," he said.

The family members who attended the press conference and Darold Butler, the team's suspended manager, did not take questions. Henderson said he could not answer any questions until he receives paperwork from Little League International, which he said he will request.

In the meantime, he said he is telling the boys that, as far as he is concerned, they remain the national champions.

"I'm saying to them, `You do not give up your championship yet,'" he said.

Whether the investigation could prompt Little League International to reverse its decision remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the organization to ask that the title be given back to the team because the boys did nothing wrong.

But the president and CEO of Little League International, who on Wednesday said there was no indication the boys were complicit in the scheme of the adults, told the mayor that the decision was final.

Listen To This Couple Say 'I Love You' For The First Time After 8 Years Of Dating

Fri, 2015-02-13 08:55
Know how putting something off can make it harder and harder to do? Like doing the dishes after they've piled up in the sink, or making use of your gym membership. Or, maybe, telling someone you love them.

As part of a new video series produced by This American Life called Videos 4 U, filmmaker Bianca Giaever set out to find people who'd been having trouble putting something into words, and to help them express it. A callout for submissions on the podcast led Giaever to a Chicago woman named Maia.

Over goat cheese and hummus at her apartment, Maia explained the problem. In the eight years she'd been dating her boyfriend Alex, neither one had said "I love you." But Maia did, in fact, love her boyfriend of eight whole entire years -- as a "fluke," she just hadn't said it aloud. Not at any of the weddings the couple attended last summer, not in Paris, and not alone together at Olympic National Park. And so Giaever got to work helping her break the news with a video.

It was worth it, of course. "The more I said [I love you], the more comfortable I got with it," Maia reveals in the video. She even filmed Alex's reaction, which you can watch below. (Spoiler: It's a happy ending.)

Have something of your own to get out? Giaever and producers at M ss ng P eces are looking for volunteers -- send them an email at personalvideo@thislife.org.



Poll: Jeb Bush Trails Badly Among Illinois GOP Voters

Fri, 2015-02-13 06:48
Last week, Chicago Sun-Times' Washington political columnist Lynn Sweet gushed over ex-Florida Governor Jeb Bush's strength in Illinois among the establishment, writing that Bush is "seizing the Illinois GOP establishment's big donor momentum."

Sweet claimed that Bush is on his way to vacuum up "at least $3 million for his new Right to Rise super PAC between events in Chicago and Lake Forest on Feb. 18..."

Whatever "momentum" Bush has among the moneyed crowd is offset by the commanding lead Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has among Illinois Republican primary voters, according to a new poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider.

A survey of 971 likely GOP primary voters on Thursday, February 5, reveals that Walker is grabbing 38.4% of the Illinois GOP presidential primary vote while Bush is trailing nearly 20 points behind Wisconsin's chief executive at 19.26%

Meanwhile, ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is nearly tied with Bush, grabbing 17.0% of GOP voters.

Bringing up the rear in distant fourth and fifth place showings are Florida Senator Marco Rubio and neighboring Kentucky Senator Rand Paul with 7.6% and 5.6% respectively.

In fact, Walker, who grabbed a narrow lead, 16%, in a recent Iowa poll after a rousing speech at a conservative summit sponsored by conservative U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) in January, was in Peoria last Friday sounding like a presidential candidate.

"On Friday night I was at Eureka College to help celebrate President Ronald W. Reagan's birthday (104th)," State Senator Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) posted on his Facebook page. "The speaker at the celebration event was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. [...] I get the strong sense that Gov. Walker is gearing up to run for President in the 2016 election."

LaHood asked his followers to sound off on a Walker run.

"What are your thoughts on his chances of winning the Republican nomination?," LaHood asked.

Surprisingly, the reaction was mixed.

"I am all in for Scott Walker for President. What he did for Wisconsin he can do for our country. How fitting that he was speaking for Ronald Reagan's birthday. I think he's a Ronald Reagan type candidate who can save the USA!!," wrote Sheri Campbell Diekman.

"He has no chance, but I hope he's the nominee because Hillary will wipe the floor with him. Go ahead Repubs, run him," posted Barb Beitz.

We Ask America's Gregg Durham credits Walker's Illinois standing to "name recognition".

"Scott Walker's 34% mark is most likely attributable to name recognition from his very public battles in Wisconsin and recall election effort," Durham said.

Undoubtedly, Walker's political battles have drawn attention from his Illinois neighbors.

But if an early poll of GOP presidential contenders were only a game of "name recognition", then the son and brother of former presidents and a "moderate" ex-governor would be crushing the other candidates in "moderate" Illinois, no?

The Bush brand may have momentum fueled by the moneyed elite, but rank-and-file GOP voters, no strangers to the Bush family, have yet to get the Illinois establishment's memo.

Meanwhile, the new poll shows that U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is drawing thumbs up from 59% of GOP voters for his job performance while 20% disapprove and 21% are unsure.

Durham is encouraged by Kirk's latest numbers.

"Considering the electorate's general view of Congress, Sen. Kirk has a high approval rating of nearly 60 percent," said Durham. "His ratings in suburban Cook soar to nearly 67% in suburban Cook where he's best known."

Still, there are some clouds hovering over Kirk's GOP base.

In Downstate, he draws just 53.6% job approval from GOP voters while 17.8% disapprove and a hefty 28.4% are unsure. In fact, in the City of Chicago, Kirk has a slightly better job approval number, registering 55.2%.

Interestingly, Kirk, who is pro-choice, is doing slightly worse with Republican women than with men, who approve of his job performance 58.7% to 59.6%. Kirk's disapproval numbers among women fare better than among men, 15.6% to 25.0%, but 25.3% of GOP women are "unsure" about his job performance compared to just 15.3% of men.

Kirk has a solid base among GOP voters, but describing it as enthusiastic may be an adjective too far.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.

These 15 Black Women Were Killed During Police Encounters. Their Lives Matter, Too

Fri, 2015-02-13 06:30
Three months after Tanisha Anderson lost her life in an incident with Cleveland police officers, the community is still waiting for answers.

The 37-year-old died in November after her mother called 911 while Anderson was having a “mental health episode.” Officials say when officers tried to take Anderson to a treatment facility, she struggled and then went limp; her family says police slammed her to the ground and put a knee in her back. Her death was ruled a homicide.

In recent months, such deaths of unarmed black individuals -- and in some cases, the lack of indictments for officers involved -- have sparked protests in cities around the country, including Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police a week after Anderson's death as he carried a toy gun in a park. Rice, Eric Garner and Michael Brown have come to symbolize the Black Lives Matter movement focused on excessive force and racial disparities in policing.

But as thousands march for justice, the names of the women killed by police -- particularly women of color killed by police -- continue to be less known.

“We wanted to make sure [Anderson’s death] didn’t get swept under the rug,” Rachelle Smith told The Huffington Post. She and others protested at Cleveland's Justice Center this week over the lack of information in Anderson's case. “We hear a lot about Tamir Rice and Eric Garner … There’s no hierarchy in these tragedies, but she was unarmed, and the police were called to help her -- there’s this intersectionality of oppression there, and innocence.”

Some activists, like writer Dream Hampton, intentionally amplify the experiences of other black women. She told HuffPost she was encouraged the country was finally talking about police militarization after years of raising concerns in a “pro-policing culture,” but conversations need to be more inclusive.

“The reason why it’s important to center girls and women in this conversation is because the other narrative, and it’s not a competing narrative, but it’s just not a complete narrative, is that this only happens to black boys and men,” Hampton said. "We have always only framed this as a black male problem, and it is time to tell the entire truth about who police violence and terrorism happens to.”

The more complete narrative includes a small child shot while she was sleeping, as well as women killed while in violation of the law. While an important part of the latters' stories, it doesn’t somehow erase their deaths or mean the actions of police involved shouldn’t receive scrutiny. Below, see the stories of 15 black women and girls killed during police encounters over the last 15 years.


Tanisha Anderson
Died Nov. 13, 2014, age 37, Cleveland

Family Photo

As noted above, a medical examiner ruled Anderson’s death a homicide, the result of being “physically restrained in a prone position by Cleveland police." Her heart condition and bipolar disorder were also considered factors.

The police department hasn't finished an investigation into her death, though it will likely conclude by next week, a spokesman told The Huffington Post. The case will go to a grand jury as a matter of policy.

In a wrongful death lawsuit, Anderson's family alleges CPD Officers Scott Aldridge and Bryan Myers did not provide medical attention as Anderson lay on the ground unconscious.

Aldridge had previously been suspended for violating the department's use of force policies, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group, and was disciplined in 2012 for his role in the deaths of Malissa Williams (see below) and Timothy Russell. He is currently on desk duty.

In December, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Cleveland police have a pattern of using excessive force, including against people who are mentally ill, and don’t use appropriate techniques to account for mental illness.

Mauvion Green, Anderson’s daughter, told the Northeast Ohio Media Group she wanted to work for conscientious treatment of those with mental illnesses. "I'm fighting for my mother, but I'm fighting for everyone else, too," Green said.


Yvette Smith
Died Feb. 16, 2014, age 47, Bastrop, Texas


Family Photo

A year ago, Yvette Smith was fatally shot when Bastrop County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Willis responded to a 911 call about a fight between several men at a residence, according to KXAN. At the scene, authorities say, Willis ordered Smith to come out of the house then shot her twice when she stepped through the doorway. An original statement that claimed Smith was armed was retracted by police officials.

Willis was fired, and his previous record was questioned. An evaluation from a past employer stated he needed “more development in handling explosive situations" and "utilization of common sense."

He was indicted by a grand jury for murder in June. Smith’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August.

"A part of me is gone, you know, and I wish I could have that back, but I can't. I just want justice for her," Yvonne Williams, Smith’s twin sister, told KVUE.


Miriam Carey
Died Oct. 3, 2013, age 34, Washington, D.C.


Miriam Carey's mother, Idella Carey, and Charles Barron protest Carey's death on the West Front of the Capitol, October 3, 2014. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

U.S. Secret Service and Capitol Police officers fatally shot Miriam Carey in a car chase after she drove her car into a security checkpoint near the White House, refusing orders to stop. Officers fired multiple shots at Carey, a dental hygienist from Connecticut, hitting her five times.

Her 1-year-old daughter was in the car at the time and survived.

An autopsy found Carey was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, her family's attorney said, and no weapons were found in her car. She had previously been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.

Federal prosecutors said in July that they would not file charges against the officers; Carey’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The emphasis shouldn’t be on why [Miriam was in Washington, D.C.]," sister Valarie Carey told the Washington Post. "The emphasis should be what those officers did. Were their actions proper?”


Shelly Frey
Died Dec. 6, 2012, age 27, Houston


Facebook

Shelly Frey was killed after she and two other women were allegedly caught stealing from a Walmart in 2012, the Houston Chronicle reports. Louis Campbell, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working as a security guard, tried to detain them and then shot into a car in which Frey was a passenger. She was struck twice in the neck.

Campbell reportedly told investigators that he opened fire after the driver of the car tried to run him over. The other women and two children were in the car with Frey; they continued to drive away before stopping, and paramedics called to the scene were unable to revive her.

Frey had previously pleaded guilty to stealing shirts and meat from Walmart, according to Houston's KHOU, and was prohibited from entering the store.

Her family has sued Walmart for wrongful death. Campbell has not faced any charges.


Darnisha Harris
Died Dec. 2, 2012, age 16, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana




Darnisha Harris was 16 when Breaux Bridge Police Officer Travis Guillot fired two shots into the car she was driving. Guillot and two other officers were responding to a 911 call about an outdoor fight. According to the Advocate of Baton Rouge, they saw Harris driving erratically, hitting parked cars and a bystander before Guillot opened fire.

Harris was on probation for battery on a police officer and violating a court-ordered curfew when she died, according to the Advocate.

Guillot was previously accused of misconduct while working at three different law enforcement agencies, according to KATC of Lafayette, Louisiana. The incidents include shooting a dog while on patrol, allegedly fondling female inmates and alleged improper treatment of an inmate who died of cocaine intoxication while in custody. A lawsuit regarding the latter allegation was settled out of court.

A grand jury declined to indict Guillot.


Malissa Williams
Died Nov. 29, 2012, age 30, Cleveland

Cleveland Police Department/AP


Malissa Williams was a passenger in a car driven by a man named Timothy Russell when a police officer thought he heard shots fired from the vehicle and began following them, according to the Associated Press. A 25-minute chase through Cleveland ended with 13 officers firing 137 rounds at the car, which was eventually cornered in a school parking lot. Twenty-three bullets struck Russell, and 24 hit Williams. They were both killed.

Williams and Russell, who both had criminal records, were unarmed.

Six officers were indicted in the car chase: Officer Michael Brelo was charged with manslaughter, and five supervisors were charged with dereliction of duty. Brelo, who allegedly fired 49 shots at the vehicle, 15 of them from atop the hood, goes to trial in April. The city settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $3 million.

"This shooting is one of the worst examples of police misconduct in American history,'' attorneys for Williams' and Russell's families said in a statement last year. "This settlement sends the clearest signal yet that real reform must be achieved inside the Cleveland Police Department."


Alesia Thomas
Died July 22, 2012, age 35, Los Angeles

Damian Dovarganes/AP


Alesia Thomas was arrested at her home on suspicion of child endangerment after she left her children at a police station because she couldn't care for them. A struggle with Los Angeles Police Officer Mary O'Callaghan and several other officers ensued; while putting a handcuffed Thomas in a squad car, prosecutors said O'Callaghan threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals and then did so seven times, hitting her in the groin, abdomen and thigh.

Thomas died shortly after at a hospital. An autopsy found that she had cocaine in her system. The cause of death was listed as undetermined.

O'Callaghan pleaded not guilty to an assault charge in Thomas' death in 2013. The trial is still pending.


Shantel Davis
Died June 14, 2012, age 23, New York City


Facebook

Shantel Davis was fatally shot while driving a stolen car. Plainclothes NYPD officers approached her after she ran multiple red lights; when she tried to escape, Phil Atkins, a narcotics officer, allegedly tried to shift her car into park as it was moving, the New York Times reports. His gun fired once, striking Davis in the chest.

Davis had been arrested eight times previously and was due in court the day after her death for kidnapping and attempted murder charges, according to The New York Times. She was unarmed when she was shot.

Atkins had been sued seven times over the previous decade, with allegations including undue use of force, according to DNAinfo.


Rekia Boyd
Died March 22, 2012, age 22, Chicago


Facebook

Rekia Boyd was unarmed when she was shot in the back of the head by Chicago Police Detective Dante Servin, who was off-duty at the time.

Servin was driving near his home late at night when he saw a group of four people walking outside. He had a brief conversation with them through his window, then turned the wrong way on a one-way street. According to the Chicago Tribune, he said he then looked over his shoulder and thought he saw a man from the group pull a gun from his pants and point it at him.

Servin fired five rounds over his left shoulder through his car window, striking the man in the hand and Boyd in the back of the head. The man who Servin believed had a gun was actually holding a cell phone.

Boyd was taken to a hospital and died the next day.

In 2013, Servin was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct. He has been stripped of his police powers, and the city awarded Boyd’s family $4.5 million as part of a wrongful death settlement.

My mother holds a lot inside but she’s hurting, especially when she hears about police violence," Martinez Sutton, Boyd’s brother, told the Chicago Citizen.


Shereese Francis
Died March 15, 2012, age 29, New York City


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Shereese Francis was killed after family members called authorities seeking help because Francis, who had schizophrenia, had not been taking her medication and seemed like she needed medical attention. She refused to go to a hospital voluntarily.

The family’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges Francis, who was unarmed, was not aware arriving NYPD officers were police because of her mental illness. When she tried to leave the room against their orders, they allegedly pursued her, grabbed her and “tackled” her onto a bed. The suit claims four officers put their weight onto Francis’ back while trying to cuff her, and her sister believes she saw them hitting and using a Taser on Francis until Francis stopped moving.

Francis was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after the incident. Her cause of death was "compression of trunk during agitated violent behavior (schizophrenia) while prone on bed and attempted restraint by police officers,” according to the Village Voice.

The lawsuit said the officers overwhelmingly violated NYPD policies on mental illness, in part because the department has failed to provide training.

The city settled with Francis’ family for $1.1 million.


Aiyana Stanley-Jones
Died May 16, 2010, age 7, Detroit

Charles Jones, the father of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, holds a photo of his daughter in attorney Geoffrey Fieger's office in Southfield, Mich., Tuesday, May 18, 2010. Carlos Osorio/AP

Aiyana Stanley-Jones was sleeping on her couch with her grandmother when police conducted a "no knock" raid of their home. Officer Joseph Weekley was first through the door and after a flash-bang grenade went off, he fired his gun, killing Aiyana. Weekley testified the grandmother struck his weapon and caused him to fire, but she denies being near the gun.

Police said the raid was in search of a murder suspect who lived in the second floor unit of the home.

Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor charge, but the case was dismissed after two mistrials.

Tarika Wilson
Died Jan. 4, 2008, age 26, Lima, Ohio


Family Photo

Tarika Wilson was killed when a Lima Police SWAT team raided her rental home to arrest her boyfriend on drug charges, according to The New York Times. She had her youngest son, Sincere, in her arms when she was shot by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia. Sincere, who was 14 months old, was shot in the shoulder and hand but survived.

Chavalia was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges of negligent homicide and negligent assault. He testified that he felt his life was in danger when he shot Wilson, thinking he saw a shadow and heard gun shots nearby, when they actually came from officers downstairs, according to the Associated Press.

The city settled a wrongful death suit with Wilson’s family for $2.5 million in 2011.


Kathryn Johnston
Died Nov. 21, 2006, age 92, Atlanta


Family Photo/AP

Kathryn Johnston was 92 when she was killed in a botched "no knock" drug raid by Atlanta police that was revealed to be based on false information. Officers broke down her security gate and without warning entered her home.

As the door opened, Johnston fired the pistol she kept for self-defense, hitting no one. Officers fired back 39 times. Five or six bullets hit Johnston, and several others hit fellow police.

Officers later admitted to falsely claiming cocaine submitted into evidence had come from a drug deal at her house, and to planting marijuana at her house after the raid.

Officers Jason Smith, Greg Junnier and Arthur Tesler pleaded guilty to charges related to her death and the subsequent coverup. All three received prison time.

The city of Atlanta agreed to pay Johnston’s family $4.8 million as part of a settlement.


Alberta Spruill
Died May 16, 2003, age 57, New York City


Neighbors and friends of Alberta Spruill gather for a vigil. Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Alberta Spruill also died after police conducted a "no knock" raid at her home in error. Officers broke through her door and threw a concussion grenade while Spruill, a city employee, was getting ready for work. She was briefly handcuffed but released when officers realized they were in the wrong place and that the information they were given -- that guns and drugs were being stored in the apartment -- was incorrect. Spruill died of a heart attack at a nearby hospital less than two hours later.

The city of New York agreed to pay a $1.6 million settlement to Spruill’s family.

This case for them is not about money. It’s about changing procedure,” Johnnie Cochran, lawyer for Spruill’s sisters, said in 2003. “It’s about the fact that their sister should not have died in vain.”


Kendra James
Died May 5, 2003, age 21, Portland


Ten years after Kendra James was killed by a Portland police officer, Huey P. Martin Jr. holds a booklet from her funeral during a rally for police accountability, May 5, 2013. Alex Milan Tracy/Corbis

Portland Police Officer Scott McCollister fatally shot Kendra James during a traffic stop. When McCollister pulled over James and driver Terry Jackson, he took Jackson into custody after seeing he had an outstanding warrant. James moved behind the wheel of the car and tried to drive away, and McCollister tried to stop her by clambering partially into the car and pulling her hair and using pepper spray and a Taser. James put the car into drive and McCollister shot her, claiming he was stuck in the doorway and feared for his life.

A grand jury declined to prosecute. The officer was initially suspended, but the disciplinary action was overturned by an arbitrator.

“It’s been 10 years later, justice has still not served,” James’ mother, Shirley Isadore, said at a 2013 rally marking the anniversary of her daughter’s death.


.

Four of the above women were killed during police raids.

Three women had young children with them when they were killed.

Two were children when they were killed.

Two women with mental illnesses were killed after their family members called authorities for help.

Seven of the incidents resulted in charges. Only only one woman’s death has led to conviction. Several cases are still open.

There are many more women of color who have died in incidents involving police -- including all-too-frequent encounters with the mentally ill, like Michelle Cusseaux, Aura Rosser, or Margaret Mitchell. These women were armed and considered dangerous according to police, but their deaths point to failings in how police work with with mentally ill individuals.

"That's why it's necessary for this to be out there," George Francis told the Village Voice about the police’s role in his daughter Shereese’s death. "So that they put a new system in place to prevent this from happening to other people. They will be more careful when they know that they will be brought to account."

The Sociology of Dead Children

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:38
Experts have put urban violence under the microscope. You might call it the sociology of dead kids.

There's a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called "Tragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries." It's an attempt to create categories of likely future shooting victims in Chicago and thus determine who among us is most in danger. Well, sure, why not? But in the process the study, at least as it was reported a few days ago in the Chicago Sun-Times, utterly depersonalized the potential victims, along with the communities in which they lived, reducing them to components in a mathematical formula.

The researchers "sought to go beyond a racial explanation for nonfatal shootings," according to the Sun-Times. "They were trying to explain why a specific young African-American male in a high-crime neighborhood becomes a shooting victim, while another young black man in the same neighborhood doesn't, the study said."

It was all so cold and "scientific," so grandly removed from the hoo-hah of growing up in the big city -- of life, death, guns, gangs, poverty and the criminal justice system. As we go about the business of trying to create meaningful lives, it turns out that disinterested mega-forces, as impersonal as gravity, are colluding to determine our fate. Don't worry. Scientists are studying these forces. They'll get them figured out. Meanwhile, go shopping. Or whatever.

Yeah, that was it. What ground against my sensibilities wasn't the science itself but its transmutation, via the clueless media, into popular culture. The omnipresent assumption of the mainstream media is that you and I are "consumers" -- consumers, ultimately, of reality itself -- and live in our culture and our world as spectators rather than participants. This means the reality that's conveyed to us is simplistic and gawk-worthy rather than complex, multidimensional and evolving. Such news promotes and prolongs the status quo, including the troubles embedded therein, even when it purports to report on solutions to these troubles.

As Einstein said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."

These words silently reverberated as I read on, about the sociology of taking a bullet in your chest: "If you and another person get arrested together in Chicago, you're both part of a loose network of people with a high risk of getting shot in the future. . .

"Only 6 percent of the people in Chicago between 2006 and 2012 were listed on arrest reports as co-offenders in crimes, the study says. But those people became the victims of 70 percent of the nonfatal shootings in the city over the same period."

OK. Guys who get arrested with other guys get shot more often than soccer moms and hedge fund managers (at least those with clean arrest records).

In two struggling Chicago neighborhoods, West Garfield and North Lawndale, "about 70 percent of the killings occurred in . . . a social network of only about 1,600 people -- out of a population of about 80,000 in those neighborhoods," the story informed us. "Inside that social network, the risk of being killed was 30 out of 1,000. For the others in those neighborhoods, the risk of getting murdered was less than one in 1,000."

Enter the Chicago Police Department, which, in accordance with the study, has come up with a list of names of people with a high likelihood of getting shot. And: "We're keeping track of them," a department spokesman said. "Arming our officers with more intelligence has helped us drive down crime."

I guess what I felt as I read this was the ache of same old, same old. An impersonal study postulates an impersonal way of looking at the shooting deaths of young male Chicagoans (of color, of course); and a large, impersonal governing force, the Police Department, "armed" with impersonal data, watches and manipulates human beings from a distance in the name of crime prevention. And the consumers of spectator culture, the American public, read about it and move on, slightly reassured, perhaps, that the experts are handling these matters.

This is our world, and it feels, increasingly, like a cul-de-sac without empathy. Shortly after I read about the sociology of dead children, I read about the death of 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman, who lived in Yemen. The boy was killed by a U.S. drone attack at the end of January. His death had news value because, a few weeks earlier, he had spoken to Western journalists, according to a story at Common Dreams, "about his pervasive fear of the U.S. drones flying overhead. . . .

"Mohammed's father and one of his brothers were killed by a U.S. drone in 2011, which sparked the young boy's fear of what he called the U.S. 'death machines.' Subsequently interviewed by the Guardian, and given a camera in order to document his life in war-torn Yemen, Mohammed spoke earnestly and openly about the dangers and fears that plagued his life."

The connection between the two stories is intuitive, but not random. The level of thinking in each is the same: impersonal control, maintenance of security from a distance. How long before the "manpower-strapped" Chicago Police Department begins employing drone technology to keep its eye on the city's scientifically determined at-risk young people?

Missing from the Sun-Times story was any mention of community, at least as something organic and protective. Also missing were words such as valuing, listening, respecting -- without which, my God, security for anyone is a travesty. Missing also was any mention of militarized police or our national obsession with war. These are the forces of dehumanization and they put all of us at risk.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

When Life Changes, Create a Fun Calendar

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:28
Even 18 months later, a tear wells up as Mike Pisarcik mentions his little girl settling too far away to reach quickly. For Mike and his wife Paula, the summer of 2013 brought dramatic change. Their son married, locating 40 miles away in downtown Chicago. When their daughter married that same summer, she settled 1,000 miles away.

Pride, joy and absolute delight for their children came with a parental price. A close family, Mike knew the weddings sealed it. Dinners together would become even more rare. Shared laughter was destined to slip in frequency. Even the hugs, shoulder touches and other comforts of family life would fade.

A sense of mortality, long fought to a mental corner, moved to the center of Mike's thoughts. It would hurt, he knew, if he didn't do something about it. So he did.

Mike created the Fun Calendar.

Mike needed to know that life would deliver delights to replace the soul-enriching pleasures of daily family life now moving to his past. Always a diligent, detailed planner, organizing became Mike's outlet.

Mike pulled out torn sheets he'd made a habit of accumulating in his briefcase: a Downers Grove, Illinois concert schedule from one newspaper, event lists at Naperville's Ribfest and Last Fling festivals, student concert timetables at nearby North Central College, and other bits of paper containing details on interesting activities. He'd been collecting and occasionally using papers like these over the years, going through an infrequent cleaning ritual that brought too many reminders he'd forgotten many of the events he wished he and Paula would have attended.

With the current schedules in front of him, he dealt with family relationships standing forever changed. He created a Fun Calendar through the end of the year, buying tickets whenever tickets were required. He always had something ahead to anticipate enjoying with Paula.

If Mike is the planner, Paula is the communicator. She took Mike's Fun Calendar and shared it with close family and friends. That's when the real magic began.

Family and a few friends, some of the people Mike and Paula care about, began joining them at Fun Calendar events. When they attended Wednesday Woods and Wine events at the Morton Arboretum, other friends and family signed up too. Some friends joined them at student concerts, often sharing a meal before or after. Their son and his bride would make way to the suburbs to join in listening to a summer outdoor concert. On occasion, it was Mike and Paula alone, and that was wonderful. But when others joined in, it was even better.



As I sat with Mike at Al's Pizza, downing a few beers and a crisp, comfort-covered pizza with my former University of Chicago classmate, Mike's Fun Calendar made me think of how I respond when I feel sadness sinking me back toward depression.

Since the depths of my depression in high school, I've known that sunlight, losing weight, sleeping well and exercising all help me feel better. Each is easier said than done, of course, but at least I generally know some of the physical steps I can take to heal.

At times, between work and kids as our children grew, I couldn't find the time or energy to even focus on these basics. Instead, I found myself buying lottery tickets for every drawing. I spent a dollar or two at a time to buy a few days dreaming that my miseries--magnified by my unfortunate ability to dwell in each failure--could conceivably end. I knew I was deceiving myself with the idea I might win. I understood the odds. But I needed a bit of hope to help get through a day or a week.

Mike's Fun Calendar is far better than a lottery ticket. It leads to actual enjoyment, not just the hope of happiness that passes as soon as the lottery numbers are drawn.

The planning-to-be-happy concept struck a particular chord with me as we talked.

Since my wife moved to New York City to pursue her dream job last summer, I've made a concerted effort to continuously identify activities worth relishing. In addition to trips to see her, many of these are activities I can do alone, such as hiking up Humphrey's Peak on a trip to Arizona or visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the way home from New York. I also started consciously doing something Mike said he does in conjunction with the Fun Calendar: taking time to simply think about each pleasurable experience. Without this time, it's too easy to forget the moments that make life's struggles worth fighting through.

When Mike's first Fun Calendar ran out at the end of 2013, requests started coming in. When will we have the next fun calendar, family and friends asked?

Mike keeps creating them, usually three a year with the summer as the middle. Paula and Mike have enjoyment to anticipate. Family and friends keep joining them.

The calendar certainly has led to a great deal of fun.

But at an important time when life continues to change around Mike and Paula, the Fun Calendar delivers far more.

This Flip-Book Marriage Proposal Is Pretty Flippin' Cute

Thu, 2015-02-12 14:10
Elaborate proposals can be romantic and impressive, but there's something sweet about keeping things simple.

One Chicago boyfriend named Rodney Nelson popped the question to his girlfriend Alexa Wenning with a customized flip-book hand-drawn by an artist called The Flippist.

According to proposal website HowHeAsked.com, Nelson proposed around the holidays at the Lincoln Park Zoo lights festival in Chicago. He told Wenning that he wanted to give her a Christmas gift and then presented her with the flip-book. After she got to the end, he pulled out the real ring (the one in the book was just for show) and placed it on her finger.

"Of course, I started bawling," she said. "I almost got frostbite afterwards because I refused to put my gloves back on!"

Watch the short-and-sweet video above.

H/T How He Asked

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Chicago Mayor Wants Little League To Reverse Jackie Robinson West Decision

Thu, 2015-02-12 13:35
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried personally to convince the president and CEO of Little League International to rescind the decision to strip the Jackie Robinson West team of its national championship.

Little League International confirmed that the mayor made the call Wednesday afternoon to Stephen D. Keener, as first reported in the Chicago Sun-Times. The organization did not detail what Emanuel said but the mayor's office said he told Keener that the decision announced earlier in the day has turned the young players into "perpetrators when they are victims."

The mayor's office says Emanuel suggested alternative punishments to Keener, such as forbidding the team from playing for a certain amount of time. But Little League International says Keener informed the mayor that the organization's decision was final.

A John Hughes Guide to Movie Filming Locations in Chicago

Thu, 2015-02-12 13:17

It's not often that movies remain popular for as long as John Hughes's 1980's teen classics have-- and it's even more rare to find teen movies that were (and still are) as well received as Hughes's. Part of what makes his movies so awesome is how authentic they are-- which probably has something to do with the fact that he wrote his movies to take place in the suburbs where he grew up, just outside Chicago; he even filmed a majority of them in and around the Windy City, too. So hop in your 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder (if you can pick one up, I highly recommend it. It is so choice) and head for Illinois to check out some of the many filming locations with this John Hughes guide to Chicago!





Ferris Bueller's Day Off: John Hughes described this movie as his "love letter to Chicago", and it definitely shows. The city's landmarks are highlighted as Ferris and friends ditch school one last time to have the ultimate day off that only Chicago can provide. According to the Internet, the specific day was likely June 5th 1985 based on the baseball game Ferris, Cameron and Sloan attended at Wrigley Field, although the Von Steuben Day Parade (where Ferris jumped on the float and did a rousing lip synch to "Twist and Shout") always takes place in September. And don't forget, you have to start your trip at Glenbrook High School and you still need to make time to visit the Art Institute Of Chicago, the Chicago Board Of Trade, and The Willis Tower. The restaurant where Ferris claims to be Abe Froman (the sausage king of Chicago) is a private residence now, so you'll have to find somewhere else to eat (may we suggest The Radler for some tube steaks?) When your bud spazzes out, take him to Glencoe Beach to unwind before heading back to Cameron's house. Unfortunately, Ferris Bueller's House is actually in Los Angeles, so if you want to have a final showdown with Ed Rooney, you'll have to get out to California... otherwise visiting Save Ferris Watertower (which, sadly, was repainted) makes for a good ending to your day off.





16 Candles: Who doesn't relate to Molly Ringwald's sassy Sam Baker in this 80's teen classic? First and foremost, there's the high school: the building where the exterior scenes were shot is no longer, but the gym and cafeteria from Niles North High School were used in the film. Or, stop by Jake Ryan's House-- hopefully there won't be any carnage from a huge rager the night before. There's also Glencoe Union Church, where Sam's sister's ill-fated wedding took place (word to the wise, go easy on the muscle relaxers). And, of course, there's always Sam Baker's House: if you look really closely, you just might be able to see Sam and Jake Ryan (swoon to the max) sitting in the bay window by the candlelight of a birthday cake.





The Breakfast Club: John Hughes intended this to be his first film, so he wrote it to take place in one location and feature relatively unknown actors to keep costs down and convince investors to fund the movie-- little did he know that what started as a small movie would become a classic. It was all filmed at Maine North High School, which closed in 1981 and is now a police communications center/Illinois lottery payment office/government building. Fun fact: since the school's actual library was too small, they built a larger library set in the gymnasium. Oh, and that iconic last scene, where Bender walks across the football field? That was shot at Maine West High School.





Home Alone: KEVIIIIIIIIIN! Roll up to the Home Alone House, where the wily 8-year-old Kevin McCallister spent a few days all on his own in this Christmas classic-- it's actually a really swanky mansion (no wonder the neighborhood was being targeted by burglars in the film). There's also the pharmacy where Kevin went to buy a toothbrush (preferably approved by the American Dental Association), which is now a Panera, and the church, Trinity United Methodist Church, where Kevin finally talks to the South Bend Shovel Slayer. When you're around the area, just be sure to keep an eye peeled for the Wet Bandits -- those guys can be brutal, and take a beating to boot.





Weird Science: Northbrook Court Shopping Center is a great place to scope out babes, or just have a slushie poured on you by Robert Downey, Jr. The only houses from the movie that are still standing are Gary's House and Deb's House, though, so don't expect to find a wild party (complete with missiles) at Wyatt's. And, to top it off, the high school was the one that was used in 16 Candles...furthering the theory that all of John Hughes's movies take place in the same universe (which I, for one, want to believe so bad).

What's Love Got To Do With It? For These Politicians, A Lot

Thu, 2015-02-12 13:15
As Valentine’s Day approaches, we've been wondering how politicians and their spouses plan to celebrate this year.

When Vice President Joe Biden appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" in January, he wouldn’t spill the beans on his Valentine’s Day plans with his wife, saying the couple would be doing "a lot and I’m not gonna tell you."

Last year on Feb. 14, when President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were on opposite sides of the country, they sent each other virtual love notes over Twitter.

We can only guess how politicians will be spending the holiday this year, but we've compiled the love stories of a few famous politicians.

Watch their tales above.

Federal Officials From Illinois Raking in Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Taxpayer-Funded Pension Payments

Thu, 2015-02-12 12:52
Illinois may be facing its own state pension crisis, and many federal elected and appointed officials from Illinois are also facing giant national pension payouts, some through tax-payer subsidized payments.

The Better Government Association examined the pensions of some of these officials.

Retired U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.)

That top pension amount goes to retired U.S. House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.), who started his career in Washington in 1949 as a congressional staffer, then served in Congress for 38 years, representing the Peoria area until 1995. Michel is 91 and lives in Washington, D.C.

Congressional Officer and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood

Ray LaHood, a former congressional staffer, congressman and U.S. transportation secretary under President Obama, is drawing the next biggest federal pension from Illinois, at an estimated $126,000 a year.

See the rest of the officials the BGA found are still collecting federal pensions at Reboot Illinois.

Speaking of national politicians in Illinois and money, Politico this week examined the spending of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican from Peoria. The congressman already faced media scrutiny earlier in the month for his newly decorated Downton Abbey-themed office and racially charged remarks made on social media by his communications director. Find out at Reboot Illinois on what Schock has spent his millions of dollars in political fundraising money (besides a personal photographer and private jet trips).

NEXT ARTICLE: Devils Advocate: When will legal marijuana come to Illinois?

Vivian Maier, The Mysterious Nanny Behind A Trove Of Brilliant Street Photography, Is Going To The Oscars

Thu, 2015-02-12 09:52
The story of Vivian Maier is probably one of the art world's most compelling mysteries. A nanny by profession, she was an alarmingly talented and vastly prolific photographer whose keen eye for the mundane produced some of the 20th century's most intriguing works of street photography. At times she was a Mary Poppins, trekking across a city like Chicago with a gaggle of children passing like ducklings behind her. At other times, she was Weegee, tuned into the pulse of urban centers, her lens drawn to crowds of celebrity, crime and everything squished in between.

The juxtaposition of being a lifelong caretaker in one moment, chasing kids and bickering with parents, and a relentless documentarian on the other, churning out rolls of film a day, is enigmatic in itself. But the real kick is that Vivian Maier is a name no one truly knew until about 2007. It was then that a former real estate agent named John Maloof unknowingly purchased a box of her photographic negatives for $400. Fast forward through a heavy dose of research and detective work, and you have "Finding Vivian Maier," the Oscar-nominated film that recounts the life of a woman the art world reveres, but no one actually seems to know.


Vivian Maier self-portrait from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection.

Maloof worked with "Bowling for Columbine" filmmaker Charlie Siskel to create the documentary, a portrait of Maier, a woman of French ancestry who many met, but few understood, as countless interviews Maloof and Siskel conducted with the children she nannied and the mothers she encountered reveal. At best, and perhaps most plausibly, she was a devoted photographer who resorted to childcare in order to sustain her relentless love of art. At worst, according to more wild accounts of her life, she was a spy, dropped into the American hinterlands with a fake French accent and a penchant for hoarding newspapers and ephemera in the various homes she occupied throughout her largely nomadic life.

However, the film is as much a speculative glimpse into the psyche of a late photographic icon as it is the story of a local historical society president who simply got lucky and proceeded to make the very most of his good fortune. Maloof started a blog devoted to Maier's work and staged her first (posthumous) gallery show, eventually identifying Maier's closest -- and contested -- relative in order to attain the rights to Maier's work. The documentary is just one piece of a massive campaign to bring Maier to the world's attention. And while Maloof might not be the only collector vying to maintain Maier's legacy, he's certainly the most ardent.

Ahead of the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony, we chatted with Maloof and Siskel about the making of a Vivian Maier film and the fate of a woman photographer catapulted to fame without her consent.



How do you describe Vivian Maier to someone who’s never encountered her work?

John Maloof: This is an artist who used her occupation as a nanny to allow her to execute her work. She was an artist first; an extremely private person who made thousands of photographs in her lifetime, never really showing them to anybody. Really, it’s hard to describe in short, because there’s just so much to unpack.

Charlie Siskel: Yes. Vivian was really a larger-than-life character. She seems right out of fiction, but she was a real person. A nanny by day, and secretly a brilliant artist who averaged a roll of film a day. As a woman, she traveled the world, traveled to inner cities and the roughest parts of town, often alone. Sometimes she had the children in tow, taking them to skid row and slaughterhouses to take pictures. But like John said, she was first and foremost an artist. Through and through. She wasn’t just a dabbler, she was committed to developing her art and her eye, and she worked at it tirelessly. She was dogged in her pursuit of art.

Of course, as we know she didn’t really get to share her work during her lifetime. Partly because of her private nature, and perhaps partly because of the challenges that all artists face. And by that I mean risk of rejection. She might have shied away from sharing work because of that. It was also expensive and labor intensive to print photography while moving from house to house [nannying for families]. I mean, she was ultimately creating art in order to make the work and not because she was hoping for or planning on recognition. But I don’t think she was necessarily determined to hide her work. Vivian knew that she was a great artist, and she meticulously saved her work. If she didn’t want it to be seen, she would have destroyed it. But in terms of the financial expenses and time that went into to saving the work, I think she preserved this work so that it would be seen. And thankfully it is.

In the documentary, you spend a lot of time speaking to people who encountered Vivian during her life. How many people, in total, did you end up speaking to?

JM: We probably found around 90 people who knew her, and we interviewed about 40 of them.

How long, approximately, did it take to track down this web of people?

JM: A long time. I started in late 2009 and it went until the film wrapped up. We were still talking to people and hearing back from people shortly before the final cut. You know, there are a lot of people who have the same stories, or were not really worthy of including. A lot of times, with an artist like this, with such a mystery surrounding her, people might over emphasize things that aren’t really that important.

CS: We continue to have people come up to us at screenings, who might recognize themselves in Vivian’s photographs. You know, there was the person in The Guardian, who recognized himself in one of Vivian's pictures. And there are still people who knew her, were a neighbor or friends with people she nannied for, who’ve only come forward now that the film is out. But I think the people who made it into the film are representative of the range of opinions and memories people have of Vivian.


Woman at the NY Public Library still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection.

Did you experience any major revelations during the process of researching and making this film, that drastically changed the way you viewed Vivian?

CS: For me, the main revelation was that we came to the film -- and to telling Vivian’s story -- with this idea that Vivian was primarily a nanny who had some way lucked into taking all these pictures. That she wasn’t a professional, wasn’t a journalist. So our initial thought was: How could she have ended up taking such great photos? How did she lead this double life, as a nanny and a photographer?

And then we did a 180. Over the course of learning about her, we recognized that she was first and foremost an artist. Being a nanny was a means to an end. It allowed her to have the freedom to do her work. It started out feeling like a mystery, and part of that was wondering why she didn’t share her work. Was there some master plan or a big choice not to show it? As soon as you recognize she’s through and through an artist, these mysteries start to make a little more sense. She lived as many artists do; doing whatever it takes. She was making art she felt compelled to do, and she had to make sacrifices. For Vivian, that meant being a full time nanny, and having this double life.

JM: I totally echo what Charlie said. But also, with her character, as we learned more about her, I realized how much of a real, kind of proud and strong woman she was. In the sense that she didn’t care about opinions that were cast upon her, or how she came across to people. She was completely alone in this profession, and she had a kind of punk rock attitude for a nanny. If she wanted to travel the world for a few months, she’d tell her employers that her job would be there when she got back. And she’d go alone with her camera to all these destinations that you’d think somebody like her wouldn’t even consider. But she wasn’t a stereotype of a nanny. She doesn’t fit the mold. She didn’t take what was given; instead, she made her own plot in life.

CS: Vivian was a force of nature. Some people describe her as reclusive. I think Vivian was the opposite. Sure she was private about the details of her life, and she didn’t share them with the people in the film. But many of them were her employers or friends of her employers. How much do we share about our private lives and artistic inspirations with employers? Vivian was, as we show in the flm, out there with her equipment making mini documentaries and interviewing people about the political issues of the day. She didn’t have outlets for her work that we have today. She couldn’t have a blog or a podcast. But these are the kinds of things that she was really creating.


Man being dragged by cops at night still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection.

One of my favorite, sort of recurring moments in the documentary is when some of Vivian’s acquaintances speculate on whether or not she was a spy, or whether or not she spoke in a fake French accent. To what extent are you willing to indulge wild theories like these?

JM: That reminds me of a question we’ve been asked a lot: Do you have a hard time getting [people who knew Vivian] to talk to you? The answer is no! For some reason, the people who hired her or kind of knew her, I think that they have their opinions, and now that they know she’s a brilliant photographer, they want to have their say. Now all of a sudden, they’re connecting the dots, trying to figure out what drove her. One of them is, you know, the spy story and the fake French accent story. Who knows? Even some of the other stories, people are making them larger than what they really are. It was interesting, now all of a sudden her employers were talking about things that they’d once just shoved under the carpet. It’s kind of interesting.

CS: We did want to play with these, at times, wild theories. We play with that in the scene, for example, when one of the people wonders whether she was a spy. And then we sort of created this debate between two people who knew her very briefly, but they had very strong opinions about her accent. And conflicting ones! It shows that our memories are flawed, and we as human beings can get each other wrong as often as we get each other right. It’s all an exercise in trying to pin her down, which becomes in some ways a speculative enterprise. And that can be misguided.

Another moving moment in the film is when you travel to France to speak with people and relatives who knew her as a child. Did you meet Sylvain Jaussaud, the legal "heir" to Vivian’s work, on this trip?

JM: Yes, I met him on that trip. Before the genealogy confirmed who’s who, or that he was the so-called heir. All I knew at the time was that these were her relatives. Actually, meeting Sylvain was a huge moment for me. I didn’t know Vivian had given any photographs to anybody, outside of a few snapshots of children. Those were family photos, not her art. But [Sylvain], he had a photo that Vivian had taken, and I actually had a duplicate copy of the same photo in my archives. It was the exact same paper, so I knew she made this. I was completely taken aback. Then he pulled out her mom’s camera, and photos of him and Vivian as babies. I thought, wow, this is a real relative.

Recently, another man -- lawyer and photographer David C. Deal -- has moved to identify a relative he believes is the legal heir to Vivian Maier’s collection. Can you comment on the state of that case?

JM: That other relative, I knew about way, way, way before David Deal came into the picture. So it wasn’t a big surprise. Based on the advice and the research and all the people involved in Vivian’s genealogy, we just didn’t go through that guy. We went through Sylvain. Now it’s, like, kind of blown out of proportion. There are no lawsuits, just to be clear. You know, a probate case was opened, and we’re working on some sort of agreement that we hope we can do. Anyway, it’s not like he found a relative that we didn’t know about.

CS: What was wonderful about the actual connection Sylvain had and has to Vivian was that they had spent parts of their childhood together. They had fond family memories, and it seemed that he was really the only living person who had these. No one else had come forward with any real connection. So, as an outside observer to that part of the story, I speak for many people who say that it would be a tragedy if Vivian’s work were threatened or withdrawn from public view. If the public were to lose out, in order for lawyer’s to win...

Has the case actually resulted in any institutions pulling Vivian’s work?

CS: It doesn’t seem that it’s going in that direction.


African-American Man on Horse NYC still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. Credit Vivian Maier courtesy of the Maloof Collection.

The documentary is as much about Vivian as it is about you, John, and your experience discovering a previously unknown artist. Was this an intentional part of the storytelling?

JM: When we first started to work on the structure of the film, it was up in the air, but it became an obvious way to go. To tell the two stories -- my story of discovering Vivian’s life, and this detective journey. What better way to show the mystery than through me, who actually lived it? It is a documentary after all, so why not show it through the eyes of the person who experienced it? So we filmed it that way. I’m there with the subjects and I’m there in France.

CS: As a detective story, and as a mystery story, it helped to have a central character who is the detective. And not only was John doing this detective work, the viewer gets to feel as though they are making the discoveries alongside John. That’s certainly how I felt. I wasn’t there when he opened the first box of photos, or when he contacted the first family. But I got to feel that I was along for this roller coaster ride of discovery. And John then became an advocate for Vivian. He is not just looking to uncover the facts of Vivian’s life and learn about her story, he becomes an advocate her her work right from the beginning. He can be seen in the film sort of overwhelmed with the work ahead of him in this capacity. He needed help, and he reached out to various institutions but they didn’t respond in the way that he hoped. And we wanted to track that journey too -- how he mounted Vivian’s first show in Chicago, and the way Vivian went from a complete unknown to one of the more recognizable figures in the photography word.

Was there any aspect of Vivian’s life you wish you would have been able to address in the film that just didn’t make the final cut?

JM: Short answer -- no!

CS: Well, one thing that we didn’t end up figuring out was that Vivian, along with all of these sort of journalistic endeavors that she was doing, would take these Weegee-like crimes scene photographs at night. She was roaming the streets as if she’d had a police scanner, finding these crime scenes and shooting the rough areas of town. And she’s also show up at press conferences or parades, documenting the goings-on. One thing we found a lot of, and some of which has been displayed but didn’t make it into the film, was that she would show up at movie openings in the press scrum. She’d be in there taking pictures as if she were a stringer. Taking pictures of John Wayne, Lena Horne, Audrey Hepburn. There she is clicking away as if she’s a member of the press corps. But we just never ended up fitting it in.

Chicago Park District Approves Controversial Land Transfer For Proposed Obama Library Site

Thu, 2015-02-12 09:47
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposal to use parkland as a site for Barack Obama's presidential library received a boost with approval from the Chicago Park District.

The University of Chicago's bid for the library depends on using land in either Jackson Park or Washington Park on the city's South Side.

The Chicago Park District voted unanimously Wednesday to transfer 20 acres in either park to the city for the library.

The proposed use of park land has generated opposition due to fears it could open the door for more land acquisitions that could chop away at park district land.

The University of Chicago is competing with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu to host the Obama library.

Measles Diagnoses Rise To 11 In Illinois

Thu, 2015-02-12 09:22
ELGIN, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois public health officials are now reporting 11 people have diagnosed with measles.

Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Amy Poore confirmed Wednesday the most recent case involves an infant associated with KinderCare in suburban Palatine. Officials say eight other infants and one adult from the day care have also been diagnosed. The adult is not an employee.

A student at a suburban Chicago community college has also been diagnosed with measles.

Kane County Health Department spokesman Tom Schlueter said Wednesday the Elgin Community College student with measles lives in Cook County.

A notice on the college website says the student attended classes Feb. 3 and 5 and visited the library Feb. 3. Health officials are recommending anyone exposed and not vaccinated stay out of school for three weeks.

In Chapel Hill And Across The Country, Thousands Honor Slain Muslim Students

Thu, 2015-02-12 08:01
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Thousands of people gathered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Wednesday to pay tribute to the three young Muslims who were killed by a neighbor a day earlier.

The gathering was held at a central meeting space on UNC's campus. In a show of solidarity, some of those who attended were students from nearby arch-rival Duke University. As scenes from the short lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha played in the background on a projector, a parade of speakers came to a podium to honor the victims.

"I know that I can't make sense of it. Many others can't make sense of it," said Barakat's brother, Farris. Speaking through his grief, he made a simple request, one that many of the other speakers echoed: "I plead that you live in their legacy," Farris said.

Friends and family members spoke of the three victims' commitment to public service and scholarship, as well as their general good nature. Other than the speakers, the vigil was nearly totally silent, interrupted by the occasional sound of police sirens in the distance. And though many were in tears, there was also some laughter, as mourners recalled fond memories of the three murdered on Tuesday.


Dentistry students and others look on as a makeshift memorial is made at UNC.


As the ceremony ended, dental students from Barakat's program wearing white lab coats joined hands, lit candles and wept together in a small circle. Barakat was in his second year of dentistry school at UNC.

"We're all very close, very tight-knit," said dental student Michael Vick. The several dozen students in the program spent eight or more hours a day together. Vick said he'd known Barakat since high school and called him "one of the nicest, sincerest guys you've ever met."

Dozens of the vigil-goers wore hijabs, skullcaps or other traditional emblems of Muslim faith. But many hundreds of others seemed to come from a variety of backgrounds. Some were undergraduates, and it's likely that many attendees may never have crossed paths at all with the victims.

"It's powerful, and it needs to be the first step," said Omid Safi, the head of the Islamic Studies department at Duke, of the crowd. "We need a chance for people to know they're not alone."


UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt speaks to mourners.


On Tuesday, Barakat, 23, was shot to death along with his wife, 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Abu-Salha, in their Chapel Hill home. A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, was charged in the shooting after surrendering to police.

Police said on Wednesday that Hicks' motive stemmed from an ongoing dispute over parking. But the father of the female victims, Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, told a local newspaper that the killing was a hate crime.

"I'm still trying to get my head around it," Asid Khan, a friend of Barakat's, told The Huffington Post from his home in Scotland. Khan first met Barakat in 2012 during a "Muslims Without Borders" mission, on which the two worked to help Palestinian children in need of dental care.

"All the kids were extremely nervous and had never been to the dentist before," Khan said of their trip. "They would come in very tense and anxious, but once Deah started speaking to them, within five minutes the kids were smiling and laughing, ready for their treatments. He had such a gentle manner and soft way of speaking to the children. He was really able to put himself in their position."


Deah's parents, Namee and Layla Barakat, attend the UNC vigil.


Elsewhere around the country, hundreds of others gathered on Wednesday to pay homage to the victims. In Chicago, a group of about 100 endured frigid weather and gathered outside Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law.

Yusef Al-Jarani, a University of Chicago student who had helped mobilize other Muslim-Americans for the vigil, said the Muslim community felt "sadness" but also "outrage" about the reports that characterized the shooter's motive as anger over a parking dispute.

"There's a general normalization of Islamophobia," Al-Jarani told HuffPost ahead of the Wednesday vigil. "We feel a mix of sadness and frustration."

Bayan Abad, who attends nursing school and works at the University of Illinois, said that as a woman of Muslim descent pursuing a career in medicine, she could relate to the victims. “It could have been me,” she said. “I don’t feel safe anywhere in America or in the Middle East. You’re not safe anywhere you go; people are just so small-minded."


Mourners gather in Chicago.



Abad added that she was disappointed by news coverage of the shooting, which she felt “brushed off” the tragedy.

“It’s sad to see how some peoples’ lives are not treated as equal,” she said. “Nobody’s equal, unfortunately, whether it’s somebody from Ferguson or somebody from Chicago, somebody from North Carolina, wherever you’re from. You’re just automatically judged by your skin color, by what you wear, how you talk or where you or your family comes from."

In Palo Alto, California, more than 100 Stanford University students and others from the community gathered on campus Wednesday night, clutching candles and photos of the victims.

The shooting hit especially close to home for Moustafa Moustafa, a Yale medical student on rotation in San Francisco and a friend of Barakat's eldest sister, Suzanne. Just a few weeks ago, he'd spoken on the phone with Yusor about fundraising for a mission to Syria.

“The fact that it happened in their own homes, the fact that they were all young students with such bright futures -- none of them had even said anything that could be misconstrued in any way as being hateful,” Moustafa said. “They were the most incredibly loving people who just lived their lives to serve others.”


Mourners hold candles on the Stanford University campus.

Muslim students at the Palo Alto vigil said they felt particularly shaken by the shooting.

“When I saw the pictures of them I thought, it could have been any one of us,” said Tesay Yusef, a Stanford student and member of the school’s Muslim Student Awareness Network. “I just saw myself a lot in them, being a Muslim going to college.”

Zeshan Hussain, another Stanford student, echoed Yusef. “That could have been our story,” he said.

The crowd grew in size as students biking by noticed the candlelit crowd and stopped to join their peers. The vigil’s organizers choked back tears as they addressed the circle and read poems.

“In response, we can do one of two things,” Hussain said to the crowd. "We can either perpetuate the hate, the evil and intolerance that has caused this crime ... or we can respond with love."

"We can respond with hope and understanding and tolerance and be an embodiment of these values," Hussain added. "We can reach out to those who we perceive to be different than us.”

Kim Bellware contributed reporting from Chicago.

Is Bruce Rauner Sneaking a Tax Increase Past Illinois Voters?

Thu, 2015-02-12 07:45
When Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014, he ran on an anti-tax platform. But is he trying to sneak a tax increase past voters that he never called for in last year's campaign?

When businessman Bruce Rauner ran for the top spot in Illinois, he made taxes a big focus of his election. Here's the exact message his campaign site said during the 2014 election:

Illinois' tax system is holding the state back and hurting the middle class. Read below to learn more about what Bruce would do to improve Illinois' tax climate:

The Quinn-Madigan 67% income tax hike.

Out-of-control property taxes.

A broken tax system. Giveaways for big businesses with no regard for the small businesses that are the jobs engine of our economy.

The result? Among the highest taxes in the nation and the worst unemployment in the Midwest.
We need to completely overhaul the tax code; not just tinker around the edges. To do that, we can:
• Get rid of the Quinn-Madigan 67% income tax hike.
• Get rid of the Quinn-Madigan 45% corporate tax hike.
• Ensure your property taxes never go up if the value of your home decreases.
• Overhaul the tax code so that it's fair to all taxpayers.



For those who don't know, Pat Quinn was the Democratic Party incumbent at the time.

Well, what a difference a year can make. At a speech at the University of Illinois, GOP Governor Rauner called for an expansion of the sales tax. According to Jessie Hellmann and Ray Long with the Chicago Tribune, Rauner wants to expand the state's sales tax to the service economy.

"The idea of expanding the state's sales tax base to include services, such as on auto repairs, dog grooming or haircuts, has been debated in Illinois since the late 1980s," Hellmann and Long write. "Expansion efforts repeatedly have stalled in the face of heavy resistance, but Rauner outlined how he thinks Illinois is 'out of balance' with other states."

And there may be more changes in Illinois taxes. "Expanding the sales tax is one of the few items Rauner repeatedly has mentioned as a part of an unspecific overhaul of the entire tax code, saying Illinois can't 'just nibble around the edges,'" Hellmann and Long add.

It's interesting that in his first month in office, Rauner rolled out a service sales tax increase that he never shared with voters on the campaign trail in 2014. But announcing a service sales tax increase before the 2014 election would have probably handed a win to Quinn in a tight election. So perhaps that's why Rauner didn't mention it... until he was elected.

It's a similar story to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose 2010 campaign site said nothing about unions, and made sticking it to state unions his primary policy once elected governor.


David Rutter of the Chicago Tribune
calls Rauner the best governor in the Midwest, although if you actually read his column, he notes that there are some pretty weak governors in the region (including Walker).

In the land of "Honest Abe" Lincoln, Illinois voters may wonder what other surprises Rauner has in store that he didn't share with the voters on the campaign trail.


John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

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