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Poll: Rauner Job Approval Hits New Low

Tue, 2015-10-20 11:53
As Governor Bruce Rauner enters his ninth month in office, his job approval rating continues to fall, a new poll shows.

Burdened by a budget impasse that has lurched beyond 100 days, an October 10 survey conducted by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry of 533 likely voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer's subscription, e-newsletter, The Insider, finds that Rauner's job performance approval is now upside down by 17-points, falling to a new low of 32.3% and his disapproval rising to a new high, 49.9%.

Oof.

The survey, which had a +/- 4.33% margin of error, shows that 17.8% are undecided.

A June 20 Ogden & Fry poll of 711 likely 2016 voters commissioned by The Insider showed that 35.7% of voters approved of the way the governor was handling his job while 46.7% disapproved or net approval of minus 11 points.

That poll, which had a +/- 3.75% margin of error, found that 17.6% are undecided, which is nearly identical to 17.8% in last week's poll.

Essentially, the governor's earlier support in June shifted to the disapproval column.

Since his term began, Rauner has witnessed his approval rating slowly but steadily drop and has seen undecided voters shrink.

In an April 22 Ogden & Fry poll, after Rauner's first 100 days, the governor's approval stood at 40.6% and disapproval at 36.3% with 23.1% undecided. After the governor's first 30 days, an Ogden & Fry survey conducted for The Insider pegged Rauner's approval at 43.1% and disapproval at 28.2% with 28.6% undecided. And at the start of his term, a January 14 We Ask America poll placed Rauner's approval rating at 52%, with just 23% disapproving and 25% undecided.

Moreover, the governor's new 32.3% job approval is below the 34% registered by then Governor Pat Quinn in a November 22-25, 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, though Quinn had a higher disapproval rating, 60%, to Rauner's current 49.9%.

Nevertheless, Rauner's approval rating shows a large gap between Northern and Southern Illinois

The Insider's July 6 survey of 556 likely voters in the Lake County-district of State Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), which had a +/- 4.24% margin of error, found that Rauner had a 52.7% job approval rating from voters and a 30.9% disapproval. 16.3% were undecided.

In 2014, Rauner defeated Quinn in Bush's district 57.8-39.1%. Libertarian Chad Grimm took 2.9%. Rauner's July job rating was off by only five points from his 2014 victory.

However, The Insider's October 3 survey of 636 likely voters in the deep Downstate district of Republican State Senator Dave Luechtelfeld of Okawville showed that just 30.5% of voters approved of Rauner's job performance and 46.5% disapproved. 23.0% were undecided.

Rauner had walloped Quinn in the district, 61.78%-32.43%.

Still, despite the nearly 50% disapproval number, the 17.8% of voters who are undecided signals that the political bottom has not fallen out for Rauner and the GOP's political prospects for legislative gains in 2016 have not been foreclosed. They're still giving the freshman governor the benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, a top campaign operative told The Insider last week that campaign focus groups organized over the summer reveal that voters, though unhappy, see Rauner as someone who is attempting to fix the perceived problems plaguing state government and who are willing to give him some time.

"I'm not convinced -- yet -- that Rauner is a risk to the GOP," the source said.

Nevertheless, the electorate's patience with the governor is not limitless. If the budget conflict drags on further and negative headlines mount, the patience of undecided voters may exhaust itself and the bottom could indeed fall out.

But what is clear is that the trend line has not been the governor's friend.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

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

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Poll: Rauner Job Approval Hits New Low

Tue, 2015-10-20 11:53
As Governor Bruce Rauner enters his ninth month in office, his job approval rating continues to fall, a new poll shows.

Burdened by a budget impasse that has lurched beyond 100 days, an October 10 survey conducted by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry of 533 likely voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer's subscription, e-newsletter, The Insider, finds that Rauner's job performance approval is now upside down by 17-points, falling to a new low of 32.3% and his disapproval rising to a new high, 49.9%.

Oof.

The survey, which had a +/- 4.33% margin of error, shows that 17.8% are undecided.

A June 20 Ogden & Fry poll of 711 likely 2016 voters commissioned by The Insider showed that 35.7% of voters approved of the way the governor was handling his job while 46.7% disapproved or net approval of minus 11 points.

That poll, which had a +/- 3.75% margin of error, found that 17.6% are undecided, which is nearly identical to 17.8% in last week's poll.

Essentially, the governor's earlier support in June shifted to the disapproval column.

Since his term began, Rauner has witnessed his approval rating slowly but steadily drop and has seen undecided voters shrink.

In an April 22 Ogden & Fry poll, after Rauner's first 100 days, the governor's approval stood at 40.6% and disapproval at 36.3% with 23.1% undecided. After the governor's first 30 days, an Ogden & Fry survey conducted for The Insider pegged Rauner's approval at 43.1% and disapproval at 28.2% with 28.6% undecided. And at the start of his term, a January 14 We Ask America poll placed Rauner's approval rating at 52%, with just 23% disapproving and 25% undecided.

Moreover, the governor's new 32.3% job approval is below the 34% registered by then Governor Pat Quinn in a November 22-25, 2013 Public Policy Polling survey, though Quinn had a higher disapproval rating, 60%, to Rauner's current 49.9%.

Nevertheless, Rauner's approval rating shows a large gap between Northern and Southern Illinois

The Insider's July 6 survey of 556 likely voters in the Lake County-district of State Senator Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake), which had a +/- 4.24% margin of error, found that Rauner had a 52.7% job approval rating from voters and a 30.9% disapproval. 16.3% were undecided.

In 2014, Rauner defeated Quinn in Bush's district 57.8-39.1%. Libertarian Chad Grimm took 2.9%. Rauner's July job rating was off by only five points from his 2014 victory.

However, The Insider's October 3 survey of 636 likely voters in the deep Downstate district of Republican State Senator Dave Luechtelfeld of Okawville showed that just 30.5% of voters approved of Rauner's job performance and 46.5% disapproved. 23.0% were undecided.

Rauner had walloped Quinn in the district, 61.78%-32.43%.

Still, despite the nearly 50% disapproval number, the 17.8% of voters who are undecided signals that the political bottom has not fallen out for Rauner and the GOP's political prospects for legislative gains in 2016 have not been foreclosed. They're still giving the freshman governor the benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, a top campaign operative told The Insider last week that campaign focus groups organized over the summer reveal that voters, though unhappy, see Rauner as someone who is attempting to fix the perceived problems plaguing state government and who are willing to give him some time.

"I'm not convince - yet - that Rauner is a risk to the GOP," the source said.

Nevertheless, the electorate's patience with the governor is not limitless. If the budget conflict drags on further and negative headlines mount, the patience of undecided voters may exhaust itself and the bottom could indeed fall out.

But what is clear is that the trend line has not been the governor's friend.

Stay tuned.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com

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

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.










Fitch Issues First Credit Downgrade of Rauner Era, Cites Illinois Pension Trouble

Tue, 2015-10-20 11:51
Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect an Illinois credit rating downgrade issued by Fitch Ratings on Monday afternoon.

"With The Economy In Meltdown..."

Reality: Pat Quinn Has Seen Illinois' Credit Rating Downgraded 13 Times, And Our GDP Growth Is Among The Worst In The Midwest

Under Quinn, Illinois' Credit Rating Has Been Downgraded 13 Times.


The statement above appeared on Bruce Rauner's campaign website during the 2014 election. It's in a section titled, "Pat Quinn's Reality Check."

As a candidate, Rauner clearly saw the state's tumbling credit rating -- it's now the worst in the nation -- as the exclusive property of the state's chief executive.

On Monday afternoon, Rauner took ownership of the state's first credit rating downgrade on his watch when Fitch Ratings lowered the rating on $26.8 billion in outstanding Illinois general obligation bonds.

Fitch based its action on the state's failure to enact a budget to address a large gap between ongoing government spending and a budget shortfall that the comptroller's office has estimated will reach $5 billion. It also cited the state's highest-in-the-nation unfunded pension liability and the Illinois Supreme Court decision from May that means the state can't avoid its pension debt, which amounts to roughtly $110 billion through 2045.

From the Fitch report:

REDUCED FLEXIBILITY: The downgrade reflects the continued deterioration of the state's financial flexibility during its extended budget impasse. Illinois's inability to balance its operations, eliminate accumulated liabilities, and grow reserves during a period of economic expansion leaves it far more vulnerable to the next economic downturn.

ONGOING BUDGET GAPS: After four years of nominally balanced operations that benefitted from temporary tax increases, the fiscal 2015 budget was only balanced through extensive one-time action and a budget has not been enacted for fiscal 2016, which began on July 1. The state continues to spend in most areas at the fiscal 2015 rate, which is expected to lead to a sizeable deficit. As was the case during the most recent recession, this deficit spending is likely to be addressed by deferring state payments and increasing accumulated liabilities.

LONG TERM LIABILITIES HIGH: The state's debt burden is above average and unfunded pension liabilities are exceptionally high. The state has limited flexibility with regard to pension obligations following the May 2015 Illinois Supreme Court decision that found the 2013 pension reform unconstitutional. Pensions remain an acute pressure on the state's fiscal operations.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, with whom Rauner is locked in a bitter standoff over the state budget, said Fitch's action should be a wake-up call to Rauner to come to the budget bargaining table...

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Governing Magazine names Bruce Rauner one of two "struggling" freshman governors

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Polish Heritage Month Reveals Significant Under-reported Stories From World War II

Mon, 2015-10-19 19:52


Growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, I was aware that my parents were Polish immigrants. My father, William Krzos, was an engineer at GTE--I was intrigued by his vague remarks about being in a German labor camp. My mother, Bernice Migut Krzos, worked in a Chicago bakery and it was actually the vivid tales that she, and her brothers and sister, shared that truly fascinated me.

They were relayed to me once a month, on Saturday nights, when my parents arranged a festive get-together for their Polish friends and my mother's siblings. En masse they arrived at our house on Altgeld Street. These folks were stylishly dressed and impeccably proud. They sat on the edges of our foam-cushioned sofas and chairs from Sears as Kent cigarettes made repeated trips to and from their lips. Full ashtrays collected around the house. Empty highball glasses begged to be refilled. And attention almost always fell upon my gregarious father, who, after just one Scotch and soda, could recite a rhyming Polish joke and have the guests howling with laughter.

These Poles were loud. They were expressive. They were joyous ... on the outside.

But beneath the surface lurked stories--both dark and menacing--I was too young to fully grasp at the time. When I became an adult, the blinding truth could not be avoided.

In February, 1940, under Joseph Stalin's orders, my family was taken by force from their farm in eastern Poland--now Ukraine--by Russian soldiers. They were treated like criminals, locked in one of hundreds of boxcars crowded with other Polish citizens, and carted off to a Siberian labor camp thousands of kilometers away. Nearly 1 million Poles suffered these mass deportations. For eighteen long, dismal months, the family endured brutal conditions in the labor camp, conditions so harsh that, eventually, it robbed them of their health and vitality--and for some, their lives. In the summer of 1941, a surprising turn of events found these imprisoned Poles--those who survived their confinement-- released from the camps. They were left to wander southern Russia in search of aid. Some of them found it in Uzbekistan. A vast number of them perished. Those who, either by twists of fate or unshakable faith, managed to escape Russia--thanks to Gen. Anders and the Polish Army in Exile--found refuge in the Middle East, India and, later, the eastern stretches of Africa or in more distant locales such as Mexico or Australia.

The mass deportations of the Poles during the 1940s was, and to some extent still is, one of the most under-reported stories of Stalin's wrath. I take it that the U.S. and the rest of the world never wanted to bring up Stalin's atrocities at the time because he eventually became an ally to defeat Hitler. The world has been blatantly aware--as well it should--of what Hitler did to 6 million Jewish people, but so many souls are not fully aware of what Stalin did to Polish people, Jewish individuals, his own people and so many others.

As time went on and I excelled in a media career, I felt haunted and hunted to some extent by my Polish ancestors. Their story needed to be told. Earlier this year, the result of my efforts were birthed in a memoir Grace Revealed. I see it as one part of a colorful, much bigger historic kaleidoscope turning at this moment of time. For it was just the other day, during a recent book event, that a Ukrainian man reminded that, in what had once been Polish territory back in the 1940s, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) murdered an estimated 35,000-60,000 Poles in Volhynia and 25,000-40,000 in Eastern Galicia.

Again, these are among many of the historic events finally coming to light during October, which is Polish Heritage Month. Championing efforts for the Polish community are The Kresy-Siberia Foundation, The Polish Museum of America and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And Chicago, which still has one of the largest populations of Polish people, has been host to many prominent events.

On Monday, Oct. 19 in Downtown Chicago, a prominent luncheon--the 20th Chicago Luncheon for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum--unfolded to remarkable ends. About 2,000 people were in attendance at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. Remarkable because the event has become noteworthy for being the largest of its kind in attendance and funds raised. After a soul-stirring introduction by David Schwartz, acclaimed writer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic delivered a sobering speech about the realities of anti-semitism and more--he noted that of the world's Jewish population, the majority of them now live in the United States.

Goldberg's remarks echo the concerns of the Museum, which reports that in 2015, the world is faced with "an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and antisemitism--even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened--as well as genocide and threats of genocide in other parts of the world."

An Agent of Change on so many levels, the Museum, since 1993, has been on the receiving end of more than 38 million visitors--this includes 96 heads of state and more than 10 million school-age children. Its website remains the leading online resource and authority on the Holocaust.

Between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Polish citizens were deported to German territory for forced labor. Hundreds of thousands were also imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by Germans during World War II. The Germans murdered at least 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland, reports the Museum's website.

During Polish Heritage Month, these facts serve as a blatant reminder to preserve history and to continue sharing the often haunting stories of what few survivors remain from that time period. And, while the hashtag #NeverAgain will forever circulate around Twitter and other social media circles, more importantly may be calls to action--actually becoming involved. For its in taking action were solidarity actually builds.

Learn more about the Kresy-Siberia Foundation here; education programs at the Polish National Alliance here, the Polish Museum of America here; the USHMM here.

View a gripping video of the 20th Chicago Luncheon from WGN here.

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The 10 Oldest Women in the Illinois Department of Corrections System

Mon, 2015-10-19 19:24
In 2014, there were more than 7,500 inmates over the age of 50, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections' annual report. Both in Illinois and across the nation, the aging prison population has spurred debate over the growing healthcare costs associated with housing the state's elderly prisoners.

As a follow up to the list of the 10 oldest male inmates in the IDOC system, here are five of the 10 oldest female offenders currently serving time in the state's correctional facilities. The following information was obtained from IDOC through a Freedom of Information Act request.

10. Norma J. Short, 68



  • DoB: Dec. 28, 1946


  • Offense: Murder


  • County: Tazewell


  • Sentence: 70 years


  • Custody date: Sept. 17, 1997


  • Facility admission date: May 28, 1998


  • Projected discharge date: Sept. 17, 2035


  • Facility: Logan


9. Tauheedah Rasool, 68



  • DoB: Dec. 11, 1946


  • Offense: Aggravated Battery with a Firearm


  • County: McLean


  • Sentence: 18 years


  • Custody date: Nov. 5, 2004


  • Facility admission date: Jan. 25, 2006


  • Projected discharge date: Feb. 23, 2023


  • Facility: Logan


8. Ofelia Garcia, 68



  • DoB: Nov. 2, 1946


  • Offense: Heinous Battery


  • County: Cook


  • Sentence: 44 years


  • Custody date: Oct. 26, 2008


  • Facility admission date: Nov. 3, 2010


  • Projected discharge date: March 20, 2049


  • Facility: Logan


7. Christine Kazmirzak, 70



  • DoB: Sept. 7, 1945


  • Offense: Murder, Attempted Murder


  • County: Cook


  • Sentence: 21 years for each count


  • Custody date: June 16, 2001


  • Facility admission date: Feb. 13, 2003


  • Projected discharge date: June 16, 2025


  • Facility: Logan


6. Pearl V. Tuma, 70



  • DoB: March 23, 1945


  • Offense: Murder, Armed Robbery, Attempted Murder


  • County: Cook


  • Sentence: Life


  • Custody date: Sept. 22, 1979


  • Facility admission date: July 16, 1980


  • Projected discharge date: Life


  • Facility: Logan


You can see the five oldest here.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 sad things that have happened as a result of the Illinois budget standoff

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Lawmakers' Cubs-Mets Wager Involves Pizza, Of Course

Mon, 2015-10-19 17:14

Groups of lawmakers from Illinois and New York have a friendly wager going as the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets face off in the National League Championship Series -- and it involves pizza, naturally. 


Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton said Friday that he had accepted a bet from New York state Sen. Joe Addabbo on the best-of-seven NLCS games. The Mets now lead the series 2-0. 


Under the agreement, participating lawmakers from the losing team's state will have to "send the winning team their city-style pizza and wear winner’s apparel on their respective chamber floor to congratulate the winner," according to a statement Cullerton's office sent The Huffington Post. 


“Some consider Chicago the Second City, but we can all agree on two things: New York is second in baseball and pizza,” Cullerton said, alluding to the two cities' longstanding disagreement over whose version of pizza is better: the thin, hand-tossed pies of New York or Chicago's deep-dish fare.


The wager is a way for the two cities to celebrate their "legitimate baseball history," Addabbo said.


"For us New Yorkers, the Mets’ championship run is about more than just baseball; it’s about having pride in our city and our state, and I know that Chicago feels the same way," he said in the statement announcing the wager. "Let’s continue our excitement and show Chicago what we’re all about as we root for our hometown team.”


Participating lawmakers from New York include state Sens. Jose Peralta, Mike Gianaris, Toby Stavisky, Leroy Comrie and James Sanders, Addabbo wrote on Facebook. 


Additional Illinois lawmakers participating include state Sen. Heather Steans and state Reps. Greg Harris, Sara Feigenholtz, Kelly Cassidy and Ann Williams.


Game 3 of the NLCS kicks off Tuesday in Chicago at 7:07 p.m.


Also on HuffPost:


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Fly the W: Why Can't Chicago City Hall Be More Like the Cubs?

Mon, 2015-10-19 17:12
It takes grit and endurance to make it in Chicago.

It also takes hope. That's what the Chicago Cubs are giving their city.

They've showed Chicago that it's possible to change a losing culture. For as long as anyone can remember, the Cubs have been a laggard franchise used to scraping the bottom of the National League rankings. But with a new manager and a talented young lineup, the team has energy. Manager Joe Maddon has instilled an expectation of winning in the dugout.

And it's catching on. Chicagoans are emanating a palpable sense of hope and unity. People walk down Clark Street in Jake Arrieta and Kris Bryant jerseys. Strangers shout "Go Cubs" to each other as they walk to work in the Loop. Diners at restaurants across the city break bread with the TV on at the bar, enjoying a meal and cheering in unison for the lovable losers that just might have a shot at greatness.

But as the North Siders square off against the New York Mets for the National League pennant, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is poised to deliver a crushing blow.

His timing couldn't be worse.

While the Cubs have changed their destiny, Emanuel wants more of the same for Chicago. He's pushing for City Council to vote in the largest tax hike in modern Chicago history Oct. 28, the same day as Game 2 of the World Series -- a game in which the Cubs could be playing, if they can come back from a two-game deficit against the Mets. The mayor's tax hike includes a $588 million property-tax hike, a new $9.50-per-month garbage-collection fee, a $0.50-per-ride fee for Uber and other ridesharing services and more payment increases on residents.

Worst of all, it won't even be enough to balance the city's books in the long term.

The mayor and aldermen who run the city are scraping for money wherever they can find it, as the city of Chicago is facing more than $33 billion in debt.

Raising tax revenues on the back of a booming economy is one thing, but Chicago is not the Midwestern titan it once was. People are starting to feel the pain. Fewer than 1 in 5 Chicagoans think the city's economy is becoming more prosperous.

Chicago is also the slowest-growing major city in the country. Houston is poised to overtake Chicago as the third-largest city in the U.S. by as soon as 2030.

After years of pain on the field and in the city's 1 million households, it's time for a reason to cheer. For countless Cubs fans on the North Side and across the city, a pennant and a World Series title would be the renewal of a promise that "next year" might bring something better. Victory would be the culmination of a lifetime of cheering for the lovable losers; not just the lifetimes of today's Chicagoans, but those of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers as well, who remained blindly faithful that better days were ahead, despite a dry spell dating back to 1908.

Even down 0-2 to start their series against the Mets, nothing is impossible: In 2004, the Boston Red Sox, another long-beleaguered team, came back from an 0-3 deficit to capture their first World Series championship since 1918.

But say the Cubs do fight their way back, bringing a World Series trophy to Wrigleyville in 2015. What then? After fans dry tears of joy from their eyes? After all the confetti is swept off of Clark Street? After the 107-year itch is scratched?

A World Series ring doesn't mean much on a begging hand. The city's economy will continue sputtering under the weight of red tape, along with a tax-and-spend status quo at City Hall.

The biggest tax hike in a century shouldn't overshadow the city's biggest sporting event in 100 years. It's about time politicians were brave enough to hit reset like the city's beloved Cubs and give struggling residents the wide-eyed hope of October baseball outside the diamond.

Chicago needs a win.

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Rauner claims victim status in budget impasse; Jim Edgar doesn't buy it

Mon, 2015-10-19 13:18
The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece written by Reboot Illinois' Matt Dietrich:

Here is Gov. Bruce Rauner discussing the Illinois budget impasse last week at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago:



Here is Rauner three days later at a town hall meeting in Decatur:



Notice a recurring theme?

In recent appearances around Illinois, Rauner's perspective on the Illinois budget standoff has become that of the victim. He consistently has portrayed himself as being in the same boat as, for example, the 4,700 low-income working parents who have lost the state day-care assistance that allowed them to keep working.

"I'm very upset because right now people are hurting from no budget who should not be hurt. We're having to take actions and make cuts. We don't have the money to fund certain things that we should be funding," Rauner said at an Oct. 16 appearance in Decatur. "Let's get a budget as soon as possible. I'd like to get it today. The sooner the better."

Three days earlier, at a press conference to announce his plan to sell the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, Rauner made a similar statement...

You can read the rest of Dietrich's opinion piece here.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 sad things that have happened as a result of the Illinois budget standoff

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One Woman's Moving Experience At The Biggest Religious Event On Earth

Mon, 2015-10-19 07:34

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Reshma Thakkar was a 30-year-old woman working in healthcare IT in Chicago when she became overwhelmed by the sense that her life was missing something.


Though she was professionally successful, Reshma felt that her personal and spiritual lives were lacking. As a Hindu woman, she felt as if she should be "married and have two kids" already, but at the very least, the daily grind of focusing so much on work didn't seem like it was God's plan. So, Reshma quit her job, said goodbye to her family and made the journey to India, her spiritual homeland, to find what she was looking for. The documentary "Belief" helped tell her story.


Reshma's timing was no coincidence; she planned her trip to arrive in India for the Kumbh Mela, a sacred festival in which Hindus cleanse their sins by bathing in the water of the Ganges, a river believed to be a living goddess known as Mother Ganga. With 80 million people making the pilgrimage, the Kumbh Mela is known as the biggest religious event on Earth and the largest gathering of human beings in the world.


"A lot of people come here for the blessings, the healing, the community," Reshma said. "For them, it's a personal expression of their faith."


Reshma was looking for the true spirituality that she knew intellectually but longed to feel deep in her heart. As she wandered the riverbank one day during the festival, something extraordinary happened.


"It was the eyes that this man had that just drew me to him. They were warm and loving and just very gentle," Reshma said.



Reshma sat with the gentleman and struck up a conversation about belief and faith, asking him the question that had been plaguing her for some time.


"In America I'm doing well. I have a good life and a good job, but I still feel as if something is missing. How did you get such belief?" she asked.


"It's all given by the Goddess," he told her. "When she enters your heart, you will sense it. Until she dwells inside you, faith won't come."


As the two talked, others sat down and joined them. The experience was deeply moving for Reshma.


"It was just a few minutes of conversation, but I felt like they could see inside my heart," she said. "What they offered to me was something that I'll never forget: When it's your time, it will be revealed to you."



The next morning, the most important event of the Kumbh Mela began. It was the holiest day of the festival, and some 30 million people bathed in the Ganges River. For Hindus, bathing here at this special time was to be embraced by Mother Ganga herself.


Reshma made her way to the water and stepped in. She immersed herself several times. Surrounded by millions of other people all yearning for the same thing at the same time, Reshma had a profound realization.


"The answer I was looking for was within me the whole time," she said. "There's something bigger than us, but that something is also a part of us."


Explore more stories of diverse faiths in "Belief," airing every night from now to Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. ET on OWN.





 
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Police Department Bias Trainings Are More In Demand Than Ever

Mon, 2015-10-19 06:31

Lorie Fridell is an incredibly busy woman.


An associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Fridell is the mastermind of an in-demand training program for police departments looking to address their officers’ implicit biases and unconscious sources of prejudiced behavior.


In recent months, Fridell has been fielding more inquiries than ever before -- at least once a day -- from departments across the United States and Canada. To date, the trainings, which are partially funded by the Department of Justice, have reached about 350 different agencies. Among them, departments in Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Baltimore.


The surging interest in her program, which is titled Fair and Impartial Training, has left her scrambling to train more instructors so that she can keep up with the demand. Right now, 11 trainers -- all of whom are either current officers working during their vacation time or retired officers -- are facilitating the trainings, while many others are still in the process of trying out to land a spot on the team.


“There’s a lot of chiefs and sheriffs looking for answers and their quest for answers has increased,” Fridell told The Huffington Post. “They identified that this seems to be the model that makes the most sense.”


Following the high-profile incidents of police-involved killings of black males in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as New York, Cleveland and elsewhere -- and the continued impact of the Black Lives Matter movement -- the call for improved, less biased policing in the U.S. continues to be heard. 


Many communities have lost faith in the police entirely. A Gallup poll released this summer found that Americans' trust in the police has hit a 22-year low and communities of color remain particularly leery of law enforcement officers. Programs like Fridell’s have been touted by some as a promising step departments can take toward regaining that trust.




The trainings offered by Fridell’s group are intended to help police personnel understand the nature of their unconscious biases and how they can impact their policing. They also introduce tools to help officers recognize their biases and modify their behavioral responses to them in the interest of policing their communities more fairly.


But does it work? Fridell admits the majority of participants are “somewhere between defensive and hostile” to begin with, though she believes they “make the scale” with about 95 percent of those who take part, based on responses to the evaluations trainers distribute at the end of each session.


“There are absolutely people who won’t buy it, that 5 percent. I have nothing more to say to them than what we say in the training: ‘This is you, these are your biases, this is science and this is what you need to do,’” Fridell said. “We also get comments like they came into the training kicking and screaming and now they wonder why they didn’t get the training 20 years ago. That, to me, shows a transformation.”


Despite Fridell's confidence in the program, there isn't any evidence that it is having a real impact noted Joshua Correll, a University of Colorado psychology professor specializing in the study of bias. The trainings, he said, simply have not been tested in any significant way.


“I don’t necessarily question that [these departments] want to do the right thing, but I think there is a reasonable concern about these trainings and their real potential to undo bias or erase bias,” Correll told HuffPost.


Tony Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and the principal investigator at Harvard University’s Project Implicit, agrees that it is “plausible” Fridell’s and other similar police trainings accomplish nothing at all. As police departments have rarely been transparent about the trainings they are undergoing and what changes they may inform, he remains suspicious.


“These [biases] are things that are very long-ingrained and I think the secret in trying to deal with this is figuring out how to live with them and prevent them from interfering with doing proper work in a police setting,” Greenwald said. “There’s lots of talk but very little action about police operating more in the public eye.”


While Correll said that biases can prove malleable in a laboratory setting, they can return just as quickly outside of the controlled environments of trainings and workshops.


"Just as they can be changed or temporarily erased in the lab, they can be rebuilt in society, in a real world that rebuilds stereotypical affiliations," Correll added. "And guess what? The bias comes back, like they were never touched."


Biases are particularly prone to return in stressful situations, such as a police officer being engaged in a potentially life-or-death encounter, and that setting could not be more different from that of a lab.


Correll doubts anyone will take the time to figure out how to bridge that gap, because it would be time-consuming and expensive.


“If there were real political will from funding sources and from police departments, we could do this study to try and figure out which interventions work,” he continued. “But it’s an illogical approach to try to generalize from one population and one situation to a totally different one.” 


Given that there's little evidence that the trainings work, this raises the question of whether departments are genuinely interested in improving their policing -- particularly when it comes to communities of color -- or are simply looking for a public relations boost from media coverage of their efforts, to push back against recent criticisms.


Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s racial justice program, told HuffPost he believes it's too early to tell what the impact of such trainings will be. He sees the issue of police biases as part of the much larger problem of “broken windows” policing as well as a lack of transparency and accountability among police departments.


A valid solution, Parker explained, would need to consider those other factors as well.


“It’s a significant first step but it’s a step that could lead to nowhere,” Parker said. “This training is not like an inoculation you take once and you’re protected for life from unconscious bias. The effort to deal with this has to be continuous and reinforced.”


For her part, Fridell insists that the overwhelming majority of departments have a sincere interest in doing better and don’t simply “need a check mark for their communities.” She also argues that her training is not a cure-all when it comes to both abusive policing and explicit, racist biases, but is adamant we have to start somewhere.


"It takes a lot of work sometimes to break down those walls,” she said.

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Ballast Water Battle in DC and Federal Court

Sun, 2015-10-18 22:24


The battle against invasive species has been going on in the Great Lakes for decades. Zebra and quagga mussels. Round gobies. The VHS virus, often charmingly referred to as "fish ebola." These and the other tiny critters, plants and viruses which are literally transforming one of the world's most important fresh water ecosystems arrived and were moved around the Lakes via ships' ballast water tanks. That transformation is not for the better, with huge impacts to the biodiversity, water quality, infrastructure the region relies on and overall health of the Great Lakes.

And it would get worse if some in Congress have their way.

A new effort to undercut ballast water protections has been quietly making the rounds in DC at the behest of the cruise and shipping industries. There is an active effort afoot to remove ship ballast water discharges, the source of many invasive species, from Clean Water Act oversight. Worse, it basically makes more stringent ballast water rules impossible going forward. You can read the gory details in my recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed detailing the proposed rules.

Industry reps clearly read it. They responded with a counterpoint piece that cynically reinforces many of our concerns. The quiet effort to roll back and prevent further protections is not environmentally problematic; it's a head on swipe at democratic ideals. The piece makes a point to note I had missed a hearing held on the topic--it is true, one had been held, but it seems everyone missed it as it was a "show hearing" that only included voices in favor of the anti-ballast bill. To be clear, the industry does not want debate on this issue because they do not want public involvement at all. That is the clear point of moving ballast water discharges out from under the Clean Water Act which expressly empowers the public to launch citizen suits to protect their interests and the water bodies that they rely upon.

A recent decision by the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that EPA has failed in its legal responsibilities in adequately protecting the Great Lakes from invasives. Ironically, those shipping interests that oppose standards for ballast water discharges are trying to use this case to convince the Congress to essentially exempt their ships from any ballast water standards. Congress must ignore these efforts that are a losing proposition for democracy and clean water.

Invasive species in the Great Lakes have already cost our economy billions of dollars. Leaving the door wide open to more of the same, while cutting the public and other industries reliant on healthy Lakes is a very bad idea. That's why it is being shopped as an add-on to other public-facing bills at the moment. The public and the Lakes will be better served if it never emerges from the shadows for a vote.

Ballast image by Chris Bentley via Flickr

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard Blog.

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Father Charged After Son, 6, Fatally Shoots 3-Year-Old Brother

Sun, 2015-10-18 16:40


A Chicago man is in jail after his 6-year-old son fatally shot his 3-year-old brother with a gun left in the kitchen.


Michael Santiago, 25, was charged with one count of felony child endangerment resulting in death for knowingly storing a loaded firearm on top of the refrigerator at his West Side home, according to Chicago police. 



Santiago's 6-year-old son found the gun and accidentally shot the younger brother, Eian Santiago, in the head around 9 p.m. Saturday, police said. A family member then carried the young boy to the hospital at the end of the street; he was later transported to an area trauma center where he was pronounced dead. 


Police remained on the scene more than four hours after the incident. It was not immediately clear who was looking after the 6-year-old boy following his father's arrest. 


The boys were playing "cops and robbers" when the shooting occurred, police told the Chicago Tribune. Police told the paper Santiago admitted he was a former gang member and purchased the gun from another gang member to protect his family. 


Police are tracing the gun, which was not legally registered, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.


Chicago police said that Santiago was due in bond court Sunday. The Cook County state's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


In the United States, at least 2,694 children and teens died from guns in 2010, according to the juvenile advocacy group Children's Defense Fund. Having a gun in the home makes an accidental death four times more likely, according to the group's 2013 report. 


Neither the Centers for Disease Control nor the Department of Justice track specific numbers of now many children unintentionally shoot and kill people.


In a 2014 report on accidental shooting deaths of children younger than 14, gun safety group Everytown suggested at least 100 children in that age range died in just the year between December 2012 and December 2013. The report noted roughly two-thirds of the unintentional child deaths took place in a family's home or vehicle and that more than two-thirds of the tragedies could have been avoided if the gun had been properly locked and stored. 


Also on HuffPost:


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