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Illinoisans see the legal limits of their constitution

Mon, 2014-08-25 11:46
Following last week's ruling from the First District Court of Appeals in Chicago that said a question about whether or not a legislative term limits amendment to the Illinois constitution could not appear on November's ballot, Illinoisans have come face to face with the limits of their state constitution.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board even said this: "People of Illinois, an appellate court has spoken: Your constitution is stacked against you."

It's an accurate statement in more ways than the Tribune editorial board intended. The Illinois Constitution is designed to protect itself from amendments with grassroots origins. The authors of the 1970 constitution and the voters who ratified it made a clear statement: Constitutional amendments offered to voters should, with one narrow exception, come from elected lawmakers, not ordinary citizens.

In Illinois, constitutional amendments are limited to changing the structure and procedure of the legislature. The court ruling said this amendment was too broad, especially in that it had several other provisions in it that had nothing to do with term limits. What are all the legal ins and outs of such a decision, and what would be the ramifications if our constitution could be changed that way?

While the ruling might be bad news for those in favor of term limits and good new for those against them, almost all Illinoisans can agree that a housing market in decline is bad news all around, even when the symptoms can look like good news at first. A new report from RealtyTrac found that Illinois had the highest discounts on foreclosed houses out of every state in the country. This is good for buyers who want to scoop up the foreclosed homes at low prices, but RealtyTrac Daren Blomquist said this could be an indicator of a much bigger problem in the Illinois market.

The Best Time To Book Your Thanksgiving Flight Is NOW

Mon, 2014-08-25 11:13
It's almost the most wonderful time of the year -- and therefore the most horrendous travel weekend of all time.

To ensure a leg up on the travel competition this Thanksgiving, it's best to book your ticket NOW -- or more specifically, this Tuesday around 3 p.m.

Travel website Hipmunk crunched the numbers from historical travel data to find that travelers will save an average of about $140 if they book Thanksgiving flights before Labor Day. The average round-trip Thanksgiving flight will cost $424 this week -- and from there, prices will rise an average of five percent during the last week of September, 17 percent during the last week of October and 32 percent the week of Thanksgiving.

So get your tickets now, while they're hot.

While Hipmunk found that this week will be best to book your flight, airfare expert Rick Seaney has an even more specific timeframe in mind. Tuesday afternoon around 3 p.m. is when flights are at their absolute cheapest, according to his years of research. That's when most airlines launch their sales and start competing with each other to offer the lowest prices.

As far as which day to fly, it's historically cheaper to fly on Thanksgiving Day itself than on the day before (no surprise there). Avoid returning on Saturday or Sunday if you can -- according to Hipmunk, that's when 88 percent of travelers make their return trips.

So whether you're headed home or somewhere far away to escape your crazy aunt, the bottom line remains the same: buy your Thanksgiving flight before Labor Day gets underway this weekend.

...and get pumped, because Christmas travel is just around the corner, with all its costs and chaos. 'Tis the season!

How are floods and Illinois government connected?

Mon, 2014-08-25 10:55
The weather has been wet in Illinois this week, with rain-inundated streets enough to set off middle-of-the-night emergency alert flood warnings.

But it's not just the rain that Illinois has to thank for its flooding tendencies. The state's rivers, infrastructure and landscape all play their parts. Sustainable water advocate Pete Mulvaney wants to know who is going to fix the state's mess so floods don't continue to flow in at every heavy downpour.

Illinois has 966 publicly owned waste water treatment plants, 1,742 regulated community water supplies[1] within 33 major watersheds. To regulate these assets, we have local utilities, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, State Water Survey, Department of Natural Resources and various health departments. Then there are the Feds--the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency. While managing water is no small task, getting all these agencies to coordinate is an even bigger challenge. This quagmire of management agencies fractures the water cycle--and too often undermines our ability to respond in times of crises-leads to inefficient use of resources and buries solutions in a byzantine bureaucracy.

How the state can more efficiently manage its water resources will be among the topics Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican governor nominee Bruce Rauner will address at the Metropolitan Planning Council's Annual Luncheon on Aug. 28. I'll be interested to hear their ideas because solving these issues in Illinois will not be easy.

Illinois' problems with governments and floods don't stop there. Back in 2010, Iroquois County Board Chairman Rodney Copas says, the Ford-Iroquois County Health Department funneled federal flood-relief funds into the homes of its own employees. Plus, he and Edgar County Watchdogs' Allen Kirk says the same health department double-billed federal grants and the county's Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, spend department money on personal items and mishandled county contract bidding. Check out the story of how one anonymous
whistleblower put a stop to it.

The Future Of Fast Food Is A Quality Burger Served By A Worker Who Is Paid Well

Mon, 2014-08-25 09:58
When your grandchildren go out to lunch many years from now, they'll probably still be able to order fast-food burgers and fries, but the meal -- and the people serving it -- will likely be very different.

Decades ago, McDonald's was the quintessential American restaurant. Now, as the "golden arches" fall out of favor -- the chain's U.S. eateries have suffered from months of flat or negative same-store sales, an important metric of a retailer's health -- a new type of burger joint is taking its place.

These "better burger" restaurants, a category that includes Shake Shack, Smashburger and Five Guys, are known more for their quality offerings, trendy aesthetic and exclusive air than for low prices. The group makes up just 4 to 5 percent of the burger segment, but its sales are growing at a rate of about 16 percent, according to Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at food research firm Technomic. At the same time, the burger industry overall is contracting by about 0.8 percent, adjusting for inflation.

As Shake Shack reportedly prepares to ride that wave of popularity into a successful initial public offering, the question remains whether the company can maintain another one of its signature initiatives: treating its employees well.

A Shake Shack employee serves up burgers and fries at the Madison Square Park location.

In the service industry, private companies are more likely to offer meaningful jobs that pay well than their public counterparts are, according to Zeynep Ton, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management who does research on low-wage jobs.

Public companies "have more short-term pressure from their investors," said Ton, the author of The Good Jobs Strategy.

Indeed, John Pepper, the co-founder of burrito chain Boloco, told The New York Times last month that when he raised wages at his restaurants to $8 an hour from $5.15 several years ago, he didn't have to worry as much as his public competitors about maximizing profits immediately. The NYT story, which highlighted restaurant chains that pay their employees above average, also featured Shake Shack, where workers reportedly earn at least $9.50 an hour and the median pay is $10.70.

Despite public companies' focus on maximizing profits, it's not unheard of for them to pay well, Ton said. She cited Costco and its co-founder, Jim Sinegal, who was known for standing up to investor pressure for lower wages.

Ton argues that companies that treat their employees well, such as Shake Shack and Costco, actually gain an edge over competitors. Her research shows that training workers and paying them a decent wage means they're more likely to be knowledgeable about products, answer customers' questions and ultimately drive sales.

"Investment in people could be a huge success driver," Ton said.

For Shake Shack, there's an added incentive to keep treating workers well: It's one of the reasons customers flock to the restaurant. Tristano of Technomic said by paying more, Shake Shack attracts better and more experienced workers who add another element of quality to the eatery besides just the food. That helps to differentiate the company from more traditional fast-food chains, which have been criticized in recent months for their low wages as well as their cheap and unhealthy food.

The Shake Shack experience is "far more memorable," Tristano said. "When you're charging more and you're certainly paying more rent because you're in great locations, you have to treat your employees with the same respect. You have to have the service level that brings the whole thing up full circle."

The line outside the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park on a recent weekday afternoon.

Indeed, Shake Shack's reputation for quality lured customers from as far away as France to its half-hour-long line on a recent afternoon. Those asked all agreed they would never wait for food at a traditional fast-food eatery such as McDonald's.

Robby Wecksler, a 21-year-old Cornell University student waiting in line with his friends, cited the quality of the staff specifically as one of the big reasons he comes to Shake Shack, adding that it always seems clean and "well managed."

"The focus on the customer service is definitely noticeable," he said.

In addition to attracting customers, paying workers well helps to create a positive buzz around the company, which could help it make money and deliver good returns to shareholders. Estimates currently put Shake Shack's revenue around $100 million a year. A Shake Shack spokesman declined to comment on "any rumors or speculation around going public."

The eatery's public relations approach has successfully attracted so-called earned media attention (like that New York Times story), which puts less pressure on the company to pay for advertising, according to Aaron Allen, the founder of Aaron Allen and Associates, a restaurant consultancy group.

The strategy mirrors that of other successful restaurant chains such as Chipotle and Starbucks, which try to highlight their ethical streaks by emphasizing things like employee benefits and a commitment to quality ingredients.

Neither have had trouble living up to shareholders' needs. Sales at stores that were open at least a year -- a closely watched measure of retailer health -- grew 6 percent at Starbucks and 17.3 percent at Chipotle last quarter.

"This is a testament to the value of modern-day public relations," Allen said.

A Foundation for Change in Post-Ferguson America

Mon, 2014-08-25 08:57
The slaying of Michael Brown has cast a tragic pall over race relations in America, and the faces of his heart-broken parents provide the emblematic image of the summer of 2014. It should have been otherwise.

As the investigation into the facts of this horrifying incident proceeds, we are left with the painful, inescapable realization that our justice system has brutally failed once again, for there can be no justification whatsoever for the police slaying of an unarmed young man. The preliminary forensic evidence adds further outrage to the public reaction, and we are left to wonder how a travesty of justice of this magnitude could occur in the 21st century. Have we learned nothing from numerous incidents of police overreaction resulting in tragedy in recent years?

The tragedy was compounded by the release of a video, which appeared to be intended to discredit the victim and suggest that somehow killing him was justified. We have seen the outrage from people responding to the video. But where is the human decency and shame of those who would use such a video to try to whitewash the slaying of an unarmed young man?

There is no mystery, however, as to why the community has risen up in outrage. And yes, rioting, looting and destruction of property are unacceptable, if understandable, responses. In the words of my father, Martin Luther King, Jr., "violence is the language of the unheard."

But it is absolutely critical that community leaders and activists put an end to the rioting, because the credibility of the protest depends upon it. As my father shared in a speech he delivered in 1960, "if we ever succumb to the temptation of using violence in our struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness." Conversely, the American Civil Rights Movement demonstrated time and again, it is possible to set an example of dignified protest that can win the support of the public for a good cause, but only with a firm commitment to nonviolence.

The overwhelming majority of those in Ferguson who have protested the slaying of Michael Brown have demonstrated peacefully, despite the negative character of the media coverage. Indeed, most of the protesters should be commended for their commitment to nonviolence and the creative techniques they have used to raise consciousness about this injustice, including the raising of arms above their heads and saying "Please don't shoot," as Michael Brown is reported to have done just before he was slain.

I am also encouraged that some white citizens have also participated in the nonviolent demonstrations, earnest in their participation in protesting against racial injustice. It's my hope that the character of the demonstrations will be strengthened in the days ahead by enhanced multi-racial participation, along with an ever-increasing commitment to nonviolence. Americans of all races have a stake in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ferguson and in strengthening the integrity of our system of justice.

Among the reforms needed to prevent such travesties of justice in the future, it is essential that law enforcement personnel be better-trained in practical nonviolent alternatives to threatening and assaulting suspects. Police departments across the nation must develop nonviolent "rules of engagement," so that they don't reflexively respond to suspected crimes with violence. This will require more in-depth training in the behavioral psychology of conflict-resolution, so police have tried and true techniques of preventing and de-escalating violence.

Law enforcement personnel should also be more closely screened for attitudinal problems with respect to people of different cultures. After acknowledging that most law enforcement personnel are fair-minded and do a difficult job, it only takes one exception to create a terrible tragedy. Racial insensitivity and outright racism among law enforcement personnel is still a major concern of people of color in their communities, and there is an urgent need for greater understanding and bridge-building in police-community relations.

In addition to a stronger focus on better training for law enforcement, America urgently needs programs to provide jobs and educational opportunities in economically-depressed communities. With teenage unemployment rates approaching 50 percent or more in many communities, it is not surprising that many young people become vulnerable to violence. We can put millions of America's idle young people to work helping to repair and restore America's deteriorating infrastructure, public utilities and transportation systems. Nothing would revitalize the nation's sagging economy more than such a commitment. It's hard to imagine a major project that would do more good for our young people --- and our country.

Granted, it is hard to imagine such reforms being implemented in the current political climate, in which needed change is routinely obstructed by congressional gridlock. But the current legislative paralysis should not be accepted as a permanent reality. An increase in voter turnout by 15-20 percent in underserved communities would shake up incumbents in Congress and motivate them to embrace a more bipartisan and constructive spirit. They would surely get the message that a new day of elevated expectations for them has arrived, and their continued service as elected officials depends on their embracing a real commitment to cooperation. For this to happen, citizens must take the lead in mobilizing voter registration, education and turnout programs on a scale yet unseen across the nation.

Above all, the people of Ferguson, law enforcement and citizens alike, and every American community must aspire to forge a new unity based on mutual respect, understanding and goodwill. One way to meet this challenge is for communities to initiate creative projects to help develop a culture of nonviolence, like The King Center is doing with our "Choose Nonviolence," "Nonviolence 365" and "N.O.W. (Nonviolence Opportunity Watch) Encounter" initiatives.

As my father said, "The aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community." This is the way forward to end the current climate of violence and despair --- and to a new era of progress and hope for our country.

How Transit, Walkability Help Make Cities More Affordable

Mon, 2014-08-25 07:30


Highly enlightening new data from the New York City-based Citizens Budget Commission demonstrate the immense importance of walkability and transit in shaping how affordable large US cities are for a range of household types.  When typical housing and transportation costs are considered together and measured against incomes, cities generally thought to be relatively unaffordable because of high rents – such as San Francisco and New York – actually turn out to be more affordable than sprawling cities because of the high cost of driving in spread-out locations.

For example, San Francisco, Washington, DC and New York City have relatively high housing costs, all ranking in the top seven of 22 large US cities studied by the CBC.  But all also rank among the lowest-cost cities for transportation, because of their relative urban density, facilitating walking, and their extensive and heavily used mass transit networks.

The authors explain:

“Because low transportation costs help balance the relatively higher price of housing in New York City, it ranks ninth lowest among the 22 cities in combined housing and transportation costs. Location costs total $20,452 in New York City compared to the lowest costs in Philadelphia ($19,283) and the highest costs in San Jose ($29,337).

“The relatively low transportation costs combine with relatively high incomes to boost New York City’s overall location affordability. New York is the third most affordable city for a typical household, behind Washington, D.C. and San Francisco (See Figure 6.) The location cost burden in New York City is 32 percent for the typical household, well below the 45 percent threshold for combined housing (30 percent) and transportation (15 percent) suggested by HUD as a criterion for affordable housing.”

The least affordable cities when housing and transportation costs are combined and compared to typical household income turn out to be sprawling, Sun Belt cities:  Riverside, California; Miami; and Jacksonville.  Those three cities also have the study’s highest transportation costs for a typical household, because of high rates of driving and relatively low use of mass transit.


The 45 percent threshold for combined housing and transportation affordability was developed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of its Location Affordability Index.  The database and criteria (which, I am proud to say, were developed under the leadership of my NRDC colleague Shelley Poticha when she was HUD’s sustainability director) build upon the spectacular Housing + Transportation Affordability Index created and maintained over the years by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology.

The CBC findings on city affordability become considerably richer when analyzed for a range of different income levels and types of households.  In particular, the Commission looked at seven household types, including three low-income (family, single worker, and very low-income single worker) categories and four moderate- and middle-income categories (“regional moderate,” retirees, dual-income family, and single professional).

The most striking finding is that, for the three low-income household types, cities were generally unaffordable, the study average above the 45 percent threshold.  Alarmingly, for very low-income single workers earning wages at the poverty line, every city studied showed combined housing and transportation costs near or above 100 percent of typical incomes.

Still, in all categories there was considerable variation among the cities.  For the important category of low-income families, San Francisco and Washington both came in with typical housing and transportation costs (just) below 45 percent of typical incomes, at 42 and 43 percent, respectively.  All other cities were above the affordability threshold, with San Antonio the most expensive at 71 percent of typical income.  In general, the relatively better-performing cities were the ones with the most density and best networks of transportation options.

For all four categories of moderate- and middle-income households, Washington ranked most affordable of the cities studied.  Other relatively good performers across all four groups were, you guessed it, Philadelphia and San Francisco; Seattle and New York also did particularly well.  Riverside came in last in all four categories.  For the details, go here.


It is interesting to note that some cities with high rents, where controversies about affordability dominate social and political agendas, are actually good performers when compared to the nation at large.  Robert Samuels, writing in The Washington Post, calls the conclusions “jaw-dropping” and elaborates:

“The researchers were surprised to find that cities debating the issue of affordability, such as the District and San Francisco, fared so well, according to Charles Brecher, consulting research director for the group.

“Still, Brecher was quick to point out that being the most affordable place to live is not the same as actually being an affordable place to live . . . Even the cities at the top of the list for affordability came extremely close to being unaffordable to poor residents.”

That’s a very fair point.

(Curiously, Samuels’s online article is not the same as the article in the Post’s print edition, at least not as of this writing.  The longer quote above comes from the print edition.)

What is inescapable from a fair reading of the complex findings is that whether a city is sprawling or walkable and whether it does or does not have a well-used public transportation system make a huge difference in its affordability to all residents.  While the precise results vary from one part of the study to another, in all parts the cities that had relatively dense cores and good transportation options generally fared better than those that did not, in some cases despite having decidedly higher costs for housing when separated from transportation. 

The clear implication is that cities should do all they can to link low- and moderate-income households with their best transportation assets.  Some cities are much farther along this path than others.  Those that lag should particularly be working on transit-oriented and pedestrian-oriented development for all income levels.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Huffington Post and in other national media.  Kaid’s latest book is People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities.

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20 Things You'll Only See In Chicago

Mon, 2014-08-25 07:00
There's a poutine factory. They make a hundred-dollar grilled cheese. A "Star Wars" museum could be in the works.

...and those aren't the only attractions that make our beloved Chicago unique. With a river, lake, museums, architecture, art and some darn ABSURDLY delicious food, everyone's favorite Midwestern cultural hub is home to more one-offs than you could ever imagine.

Hold on to your hats, because only in the Windy City -- and nowhere else on earth! -- will you find...

1. The original Portillo's
In 1963, Dick Portillo opened "The Dog House" in a 12-foot trailer hooked up to a garden hose. These days, meat fiends wait hours for juicy Italian beef sandwiches at 38 Portillo's locations in Illinois, Indiana, Arizona and California. With a buyout in the works, the char-grilled goodness might soon reach all corners of the nation.

2. Thirty-seven moveable bridges
Chicago has more moveable bridges than any city in the world -- at last count, there were nearly 40. Most are of a design called bascule, from the French word for teeter-totter.

3. Train crawls from the 'burbs to the beach
Tradition goes that you'll hop on Metra in your respective suburb and ride it into the city. Then, shoot down the Red Line on Chicago's "L" train and get off at one bar, two bars, three or more -- however many you can handle before falling asleep mid-ride. Good thing the line runs 24/7.

4. Water as blue as the Caribbean, but not in the Caribbean
Is that Barbados, or the Chicago lakeshore? We're never quite sure, because that water is so. Darn. Blue.

5. Hot dogs without ketchup
Some say it's because the relish is too sweet, and some say it's because ketchup is a taste bud attention hog. Whatever the case, Obama agrees: a real Chicago-style hot dog is comprised of bun, dog, mustard, relish, onion, tomato, pickle, sport peppers and celery salt. BAM!

7. Two concrete corn cobs
Chicago is famous for its architecture tours -- and the informative boat rides are anything but boring, because there are dozens of skyscrapers to ogle along the way. Some of our favorites are the "corn cob buildings," also known as the Marina Towers. They're actually a set of condominiums built in the 60's.

8. A hundred-year-old ballpark
This year marks Wrigley Field's hundredth birthday. Yes, there are older ballparks out there. But they weren't the first park to let fans keep foul balls, and they don't have a manually-operated scoreboard from 1937. Nor are they home to the world-famous Chicago Cubs.

9. The fiercest pizza rivalry in the country
When Lou Malnati's beat out Pizzeria Uno, Gino's East and Giordano's as Chicago's best deep dish earlier this year, employees celebrated with a sauced-up version of the Gatorade shower. If this isn't a sign that the competition is fierce, then we don't know what is.

10. A bright green river
For more than 40 years, "a leprechaun" has dyed the Chicago River a brilliant shade of emerald, always just in time for the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

11. Spitting LED faces
At the Crown Fountain art installation, 50-foot light-up faces spew water from their "mouths" at regular intervals, causing little kids to go pretty much berserk with glee.

12. America's hottest hockey bachelor
Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks hockey team can be regularly spotted on the ice at United Center or at Chicago hotspots like Pony Inn, Chicago Cut and Studio Paris. We like to pretend Toews is single and ready to mingle... Lindsey who?

13. Green Line beer
You'll only find this "honey-colored" pale ale -- named after the L's Green Line route -- on draft in Chicago bars. It's a way for local brewery Goose Island to reduce its carbon footprint.

14. A stainless steel bean
It's actually called Cloud Gate -- the 110-ton structure was inspired by liquid mercury and meant to reflect the city skyline. At 33 feet high, it's one of the largest artworks of its kind in the world.

15. A single-double cheeseburger
The "single cheeseburger" at Au Cheval comes with two patties, and the "double" comes with three. It's confusing -- but when you're the best burger in America, you can do what you want.

16. The original highchair for dolls
The American Girl Cafe -- complete with "Treat Seats" for your doll -- is every little girl's favorite part of American Girl Place. The store's flagship location is downtown on Michigan Avenue just outside the John Hancock Center.

17. Daaa Bears and Daaa Bulls
Probably no other sports teams have earned such late-night television fame... and we like it that way.

18. The world's first TILT
This engineering miracle in the John Hancock Center lets visitors "tilt" over the Chicago skyline in glass capsules from 1,000 feet high. Cue stomach drop.

19. A giant red grill next to Nordstrom
Yup, that massive charcoal wonder marks the site of Chicago's Weber Grill Restaurant, located less than a block from the classy Nordstrom department store in The Shops at North Bridge. The restaurant dishes up baby back ribs, steak skewers and wood-fired crab cakes, all in an open kitchen... that's par for the course in the city that invented America's most iconic grill.

20. A pyramid on a city street
The base of the Tribune Tower has stones from 120 iconic spots around the world embedded in its exterior walls. It's the only way to lay your hands on the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Alamo and Notre Dame, all in one hour.

Little League World Series Winner: South Korea Tops Chicago Squad With 8-4 Victory

Sun, 2014-08-24 16:54
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — Jae Yeong Hwang drove in two runs and Hae Chan Choi weathered a late Chicago rally to lead South Korea to an 8-4 win in Sunday's Little League World Series championship game.

Hwang gave up one hit in two-plus innings while striking out four. He also drove in the Asia-Pacific Region champs' first two runs as they built an 8-1 lead before Jackie Robinson West made it close. Choi, who had a homer and scored twice, pitched the last four innings for South Korea, which won its third title after back-to-back championships in 1985 and '85.

International teams have won the last three and four of the last five titles.

Brandon Green went 5 2-3 innings for Chicago, which had survived four straight knockout games before the final.

Dong Wan Sin scored twice, including a solo homer, for the South Koreans.

After the final out, a force play, the Seoul team's bench emptied and the players dumped cups of water on their teammates near the mound. The players took a victory lap, waving and laughing.

The game was played in bright sunshine and temperatures in the high 70s before a crowd of 28,671 at Lamade Stadium.

South Korean fans, brightly dressed in flowing satin robes of yellow and electric blue, danced with large fans in the latter innings.

Chicago, the Great Lakes Region champions, came back from 3-0 and 5-4 deficits to beat favored West champ Las Vegas Mountain Ridge 7-5 in the U.S. title game on Saturday. Earlier, South Korea, the Asia-Pacific Region winner, rolled over Japan, 12-3.

But they couldn't come back against the powerful South Koreans, who asserted themselves early.

Leadoff hitter Choi drilled the very first pitch over the wall in right, but a few feet foul. He then flied out deep to right.

Dong Wan Sin followed by smacking a screaming liner to center that slipped out of the glove of DJ Butler for a two-base error. Hwang's double brought in the first run.

They made it 2-0 in the third. With one out, Choi walked and Sin singled sharply up the middle. After a double steal, Choi came home on Hwang's ground-out to third.

Meanwhile, Hwang set down the first six Chicago hitters, four on strikeouts.

Butler broke up Hwang's no-hitter with a spinning cue shot to short that he beat out leading off the third. That was all for Hwang — one scrub hit — who had thrown two innings the day before. He traded places with first baseman Choi as Seoul manager Jong Wook Park continued his philosophy of throwing multiple pitchers each game. No South Korean pitcher had gone even three innings in a game at the World Series until Choi in the championship game.

Shortstop Ed Howard greeted Choi with a bouncer to the mound that was scored a single, prompting the first prolonged chants of "U-S-A!" for the day. Choi then fanned Cameron Bufford before leadoff hitter Pierce Jones — who had three homers in the LLWS opener but was just 1 for 12 since — walked to load the bases with one out.

That brought up Trey Hondras, who had a homer and three RBIs in the U.S. final, and his high hopper to second on a nice grab by Jin Woo Jeon scored Butler. The rally died when Marquis Jackson bounced out sharply to third on the next pitch.

South Korea came right back to tack on a run in the top of the fourth. With one out, Ji Ho Park's soft hit to left turned into a double when he beat the throw. He then came around on pinch-hitter Jun Ha Yoo's single for a 3-1 advantage.

Sin pounded the ball over the wall near the camera bay in left center in the fifth. A U.S. fan threw the ball back on the field. The next hitter, Hwang, belted a long ball to dead center but Butler caught it at the top of the fence.

The Seoul team added three runs in the sixth on an RBI double by Shane Jaemin Kim and Jin Woo Jeon's two-run single.

Jackie Robinson West lived up to its never-say-die credo — continually winning when a loss would have ended its journey through the tournament — by opening the sixth on singles by Jones and Hondras.

After a terrific diving catch by Dong Wan Sin on Jackson's hard shot, Darion Radcliff came through with a two-run single and Joshua Houston — the pitching and hitting hero of the U.S. final win a day earlier — also had a single to bring the Chicago fans to their feet.

A passed ball scored Radcliff to make it 8-4, with Houston moving to second, but Choi got Green on a foul-tip third strike and Ed Howard on the force out.

Illinois teams have made 15 trips to South Williamsport, with the Jackie Robinson West league appearing once before, winning two of three games in 1983.


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People Care More About This Little League Team Than The City's Pro Sports Teams

Sun, 2014-08-24 13:30
CHICAGO (AP) -- Chicago is gearing up to cheer on the hottest sports team in town at the moment.

The buzz in the nation's third largest city isn't for the Chicago Bears, White Sox, Bulls or Blackhawks. It's 11 and 12-year-old boys who are taking on South Korea on Sunday in the Little League World Series championship game.

Watch parties are happening across the city to support the Jackie Robinson West All Stars team, which is based on the city's far south side.

There'll be one on State Street outside the city's iconic Chicago Theater. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn are expected to view the game at another public gathering.

Jackie Robinson West beat Las Vegas 7-5 in the U.S. final on Saturday.


Sun, 2014-08-24 07:44
Women all around the world will be getting something off their chest on Sunday: Mainly their tops.

Aug. 24 marks Go Topless Day, a 24-hour period where women (and men) are encouraged to bare their upper bodies in order to protest hypocritical laws that force women to cover their breasts while allowing men to walk around with no shirts.

This year marks the seventh anniversary of the pro-breast protest, organized by a group of UFO believers called the Raelians.

Members believe that humans were created by advanced extraterrestrial scientists known as the "Elohim," and that not allowing women to go topless is an insult to the aliens' artistry.

This year, rallies are planned in 54 cities around the world, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Denver, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Go Topless spokeswoman Rachel Jessee said the principle of the protest is to promote "equal rights and respect for each other."

"The idea that women should cover up is shameful," she told The Huffington Post. "We should not feel ashamed. We want to instill self love and a love for each other."

In some cities, like Washington, the female protesters will bare their breasts while males will wear bikini tops to show their support.

In cities with more rigorous public decency laws, protesters will wear something called "The Tata Top," a bikini top designed to resemble naked female breasts, complete with nipples.

Jessee has participated in two other topless protests and said the reaction from spectators varies.

"Lots of people are supportive," she said. "Some people who are against it don't stay around too long -- except for the people with signs that say, 'You're going to hell.'"

As the photo below amply demonstrates, many of the female participants are attractive. Jessee admits she'd like to attract more conventional-looking people to this year's rallies.

"We encourage people of all ages and sizes to join in," she said. "Sometimes, it's much more difficult to get people who aren't fit to show themselves."

There is also another contingent she is concerned about: Guys who ironically support the cause as an excuse to see bare-breasted women.

"I say to them: If you really are for this cause, bring your girlfriend, sister and mom to the rally, as well," she said.

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Jackie Robinson West Little League Team Has Become The 'Pride Of Chicago'

Sat, 2014-08-23 12:33
CHICAGO (AP) -- The success that a baseball team from Chicago's South Side has had at the Little League World Series is giving the whole city something to cheer about.

Large crowds are expected at watch parties in Chicago as the 11- and 12-year-olds from the Jackie Robinson West All Stars take on a team from Las Vegas in Saturday afternoon's U.S. final in Pennsylvania. The winner will face an international team in the championship game Sunday.

The Chicago team has captured the attention of politicians and residents.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel can't miss a game, and has organized two watch parties Saturday, one in the heart of downtown and the other at a Far South Side community center.

Emanuel says the team has brought neighborhoods together and is the "pride of Chicago."

Cubs' Epic Tarp Fail Caused By Obamacare, Sources Say

Sat, 2014-08-23 09:34
Oh, Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs' now-famous tarp fail during a rain delay earlier this week is being blamed on the team's cost-cutting reaction to Obamacare by unnamed sources who spoke with The Chicago Sun-Times.

During Tuesday's home game against the San Francisco Giants, heavy rains sent the Cubs' ground crew scrambling as they fought a sad (or hilarious?) losing battle against a rain-soaked tarp. The 20-minute downpour and not-quite-covered infield led to a four hour and 34 minute delay.

As many as 10 crew members were reportedly sent home early on Tuesday night with "little, if any" input from the field-level supervisors. The move was purportedly part of a massive reorganization that the Cubs enacted last winter designed to keep as many workers as possible under the hourly limit that would qualify them for employer-healthcare provided under the Affordable Care Act.

And like the wealthy uncle who annually gives $5 checks for family birthdays, the Cubs -- Major League Baseball's fourth most-valuable team -- are "cheap," according to unnamed high-ranking official from another team who spoke with the Sun-Times.

The Cubs, whose owners are noted Obama and ACA opponents, subsequently told ESPN Chicago that the tarp mishap was a "freak thing" and not connected to ACA policies.

Not only was the tarp fail a national embarrassment for the team, it also cleared the way for the Giants to lodge the first successful protest of a game's results since 1986.

6 Small Stylish Spaces That Show Us How To Live Large In A Tiny Home

Sat, 2014-08-23 07:00
All too often, small spaces are associated with unattractively cramped quarters and uncomfortable dorm-sized furniture. But hiding behind all those misconceptions are rooms that remind us that being short on square footage doesn't mean you have to skimp on style.

Behold, the work below from the talented designers that submitted their projects to our friends at Get inspired to re-imagine the meaning of small-space living, and check out 6 ways to instantly add square footage to any space...

Have something to say? Check out HuffPost Home on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.


Are you an architect, designer or blogger and would like to get your work seen on HuffPost Home? Reach out to us at with the subject line "Project submission." (All PR pitches sent to this address will be ignored.)

Awful Racism Prompts Organizers To Shut Off Comments On Darren Wilson Fundraising Site

Fri, 2014-08-22 18:01
Shut it down, folks.

That was the reaction organizers of the fundraising campaign set up to support Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown, had toward open comments on the campaign's GoFundMe Page.

In the scant week since it was created, the campaign -- the funds of which will be used "to cover potential legal fees, relocation and living expenses of both Officer Darren Wilson and his immediate family," the site notes -- has drawn more than $235,000 in donations, along with a barrage of tremendously racist language.

Commenters referred to the teen as "a common street thug" and black Americans as "aggressive and entitled primitive savages." One donor, who identified himself as a Chicago police officer, offered $50 for Wilson to use toward "a lap dance to ease the mind of the negativity surrounding the incident and beyond."

"Support Officer Darren Wilson" organizers pulled the plug on comments roughly one day into the campaign, according to updates on the campaign page.

Over $100,000 has been raised for Darren Wilson. But man, why must liberals bring RACE into this?! It's about...oh.

— Bastard Keith (@BastardKeith) August 21, 2014

Some of the racist comments were bad enough that GoFundMe even tweeted about the issue:

In regard to the 'Officer Darren Wilson' campaign, donors' comments posted in violation of GoFundMe's terms have been removed.

— GoFundMe (@gofundme) August 22, 2014

Gawker reports that many of the inflammatory comments originated from noted troll-bait site 4chan.

On Friday afternoon, organizers stopped accepting donations for the current campaign so that subsequent donations could go to the authorized charity collecting donations on Wilson's behalf.

Despite the majority of Americans feeling Wilson's actions were unjustified, according to a recent NYT/CBS poll, the minority that supports Wilson has been vocal and active.

The Maryland FOP Lodge 70 donated more than $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign, making it among the top supporters. The Miami Fraternal Order of Police union showed symbolic support on its website. Around the St. Louis area and across the country, residents are lighting porch lamps blue in solidarity with Wilson, Yahoo News reports.

For Crime-Weary Englewood, Free Yoga Classes Are About So Much More Than Warrior Pose

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:50
Though Tameka Lawson has been practicing yoga for only a bit over a year, the art form has already made a big impression on her life and on the Chicago community she calls home.

Lawson is the mother of three small children and the executive director of I Grow Chicago, a young nonprofit based in the city's notorious Englewood neighborhood and focused on providing a haven for at-risk community members. Her hectic lifestyle was wearing her down and she knew something had to change.

"I was at a point in my life where I just needed to be still. I could not slow down. Even when I would slow my body down, my mind would still be racing," Lawson told HuffPost. "I wanted to find my center, where I could calm myself down to be present and not have the worries of the day or the next task overwhelm me."

(Story continues below.)

Lawson teaching an I Grow Chicago yoga class. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Not long after she took up yoga, the student became a teacher as she began to lead classes for youth in Englewood through her organization.

Initially, the classes took place inside the five area schools her group works with as a means of helping the young students cope with the stresses of their environment. While Lawson does go through basic yoga poses and breathing exercises with her young students, the lessons she hopes they will take away from her work extend far beyond the practice of yoga itself.

Built into each class, she says, are elements of art therapy, motivational speaking, mentoring and job skills. Yoga is simply the gateway to that information.

"There are lots of elements causing these youth to have stress," Lawson said. "We want to get at the center of these youth and give them a moment to breathe in a way that will change the way they react and process things."

The classes have been such a hit that Lawson and her group have taken their show on the road -- or, more specifically, to the street. They've held regular, free community yoga classes on a blocked-off stretch of 64th Street, and are also offering free lessons the first Monday of every month at Kusanya Cafe.

On Saturday, in a partnership with the neighborhood's annual back-to-school parade, I Grow Chicago is hosting the first-ever Englewood Yoga Fest at the the Peace House, the organization's community headquarters.

"We're the traveling yoga folks in Englewood," Lawson laughs.

Andres Brown, a member of I Grow Chicago, looks on during a yoga class. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Others outside of the South Side neighborhood are also beginning to take note of Lawson's work through I Grow Chicago, which also runs a community peace garden and offers a swath of other art, mentoring and job programs. Lawson and her colleague Shango Johnson, I Grow Chicago's youth male coordinator, were chosen this summer to serve among only 28 delegates from North America in the United Nations' inaugural World Conference on Indigenous Peoples next month in New York City.

Her group's yoga offerings have not been without critics, of course. Some have questioned the level of impact such programming can have on the neighborhood's struggles with violence, poverty and gangs. Thursday night, three men were wounded in a shooting about a mile and a half southwest of the Peace House. Last week, a 16-year-old girl was fatally shot in the neighborhood.

I Grow Chicago's Peace House. (I Grow Chicago/Facebook)

Lawson emphasizes that she sees her group's work as part of a much larger puzzle when it comes to addressing the very real issues facing her neighborhood.

"This is one approach to something that doesn't have many," she told HuffPost. "We're taking an approach to get people active, to get people calm and to get people to feel again. A lot of people are desensitized to the gun violence, to the fact that little boys and girls are dying on the street and that that's not normal. We all have to learn to feel again."

On Saturday, Lawson plans to cap off the yoga fest with what she's calling a "meditation for peace" and safety for Englewood's youth during the upcoming school year.

"If we can prevent one 8-year-old from growing up to become a person who could potentially pick up a gun, we've succeeded," she said. "If we can intervene for a 14-year-old who has made bad choices from making another bad choice, we've succeeded. If a 28-year-old who says he wants to stop selling drugs and just needs the opportunity, we've succeeded. We don't have the answers, but we're trying to come up with creative solutions."

Teachers, Like Mr. Keating, Deserve Due Process, Support, and Our Respect

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:48
Co-authored by Kevin Lindsey of First Focus

As the nation pays tribute to and reflects on the life and work of Robin Williams, it is notable that Williams earned Academy Award nominations and one Oscar for his incredible portrayal of teachers dedicated to making personal connections to young people that are both inspiring and life-changing. Those two characters are Professors John Keating in Dead Poets Society and Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting.

Ask yourself, family members, friends, successful community leaders, and current students to describe a great teacher and they will invariably use words like "life-changing," "motivating," "encouraging," "caring," "helpful," "creative," "outside-the-box," and "fun." They are also described as "someone you can talk to," an adult who "gets me," or someone who "got me to think about things in a new and different way."

This is what we should want and encourage in our nation's teachers. The challenges the next generation will face won't be found on any standardized test. What we need are teachers who are pushing students to be outside-the-box and creative thinkers to keep our nation strong, vibrant, and forward-thinking.

As Professor Keating said:

Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. When you read, don't just consider what the author thinks; consider what you think. Boys, you must strive to find your own voice, because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you will find it at all.

As the tagline for Dead Poets Society reads in describing Keating's impact on his students, "He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary."

Unfortunately, in real life, rather than inspiring respect and admiration, these qualities and attributes can get a teacher in trouble with school administrators, parents, politicians, and some "school reformers" who sometimes are more interested in conformity, tradition, and standardized-test scores. In one exchange, Keating defends himself against criticism of his teaching style:

Keating: I always thought the idea of education was to learn to think for yourself.

Headmaster Nolan: At these boys' age? Not on your life!

Another exchange with a fellow teacher:

McAllister: Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams and I'll show you a happy man.

Keating: But only in their dreams can men be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus will be.

Pushing students to think about poetry, beauty, romance, and love and pursue their passions, hopes, and dreams is not the type of material found amidst multiple-choice questions or rewarded on the standardized tests that have been increasingly imposed upon schools, teachers, and students by some education reformers.

In Keating's case, he was railroaded for the tragic suicide of one of his students. Although the child's parent is at fault, the parent wishes to point blame at Keating, and the private-school administration works to force Keating's students to turn against him in an effort to impose blame upon him. Such a situation is a good example of why real-life teachers should be guaranteed due-process protections, which have been recently threatened by the Los Angeles County Superior Court decision in Vergara v. California. That decision radically weakens California's teacher-tenure law, and, as Peter Greene explains:

It forces teachers to work under a chilling cloud where their best professional judgment, their desire to advocate for and help students, their ability to speak out and stand up are all smothered by people with the power to say, "Do as I tell you, or else."

Advocating for and helping students should be the first priority in any school, yet, as has been shown in case after case, institutional interests can often displace those of a child or the teacher. As an example, there have been reported instances where teachers who reported suspected child abuse were threatened, pushed to resign, or reassigned.

A Vergara-copycat anti-teacher-tenure lawsuit was recently filed in Staten Island, New York, and alleges that teacher tenure and due-process protections violate the right of New York schoolchildren to a "sound basic education." David Sciarra of the Education Law Center and Billy Eastor of the Alliance for Quality Education argue that the lawsuit misses the point. As they point out:

The complaint ... presents no evidence to suggest that ending tenure or altering due process protections for teachers will somehow improve student outcomes. Nor could it because there is none.

This lawsuit gets one thing right: Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived their constitutional right to a sound basic education. What is gets completely wrong is why: the state's continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.

Teachers can and do make a real difference in children's lives, and a real reform agenda would make investments in improving teacher quality. But we must not pretend that eliminating due process would improve teacher quality, that raising students' test scores is the sole solution or that teacher quality is the only educational obstacle facing students. Research has shown time and again that, whether it's poverty, hunger, health or safety threats, or other challenges, the experiences a child has outside the classroom are at least as important as, and often more important to his or her chances of educational success than, anything that happens inside the classroom.

A real reform agenda would face these hard truths head-on and offer real solutions. Such an agenda should include addressing child poverty in this nation in a systematic way, as has been accomplished more successfully in Great Britain.

Such an agenda should also demand that school funding be more equitable so that students disadvantaged outside school aren't disadvantaged again at school. As Arthur Camins, the director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology, recently wrote for the Washington Post:

We need to ensure that the resources for effective education are equitably distributed and not a function of local or parent wealth. ... With some recognition of geographic variance in school operating costs, equity must be guaranteed at the state and national level.

For the same reason a real reform agenda would invest in "wraparound" services to help deal with the out-of-the-classroom issues that affect classroom performance, including more school counselors, health and mental-health services for some schools, anti-violence interventions, etc. Camins says:

The conditions of children's lives outside of school -- in their homes and their communities -- have profound impact on their ability to learn in classrooms. We can make those conditions better, but as a society, we have not made this a priority. This is an unconscionable choice that undermines learning and children's success. We need to start by providing "wrap around" economic, social, and emotional support services for children and their families. Other countries do it. We can too.

Schools need teachers and administrators who are child-centered rather than test-focused. Rather than list knowledge facts, students need to be taught how to, as Keating said, "think for yourself" and see things from different perspectives. Adds Camins:

It is certain that our children will function as adults in a world substantially different from the one in which they were born. Therefore, while knowing what is now known is vital, learning how to learn must be the primary goal.

Children need to be prepared for that world or we will have failed them. At the very least, that means our nation's political leaders must take responsibility for tackling incredibly important issues, such as child poverty and equitable school finance, rather than imposing more teacher blaming and student-mind-numbing standardized testing. Rather than demonizing the teaching profession, politicians would be wise to partner with, listen to, support, and respect our nation's teachers in their mission to teach our nation's children.

That would be real education reform.

A Primer on Educational Technology: 5 Terms Parents Need to Understand

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:19
This back-to-school season, students more than ever are arriving to classrooms equipped with digital devices and learning tools. Apps, videos and other online resources that can be accessed from iPads, Androids devices, Chromebooks and the like are profoundly impacting the learning process.

While many elementary, middle and high school students are already accustomed to technology-enabled classrooms, educators continue to incorporate digital learning innovations into their teaching styles. Even the most tech-savvy parents can find it difficult to keep up with all of the trends and terminology.

To that end, it might help to do a little bit of homework and read up on how lessons are delivered and knowledge is exchanged in many classrooms today. Here are five educational technology terms and trends every parent should understand.

Flipped Classroom

As we all know, kids with access to tablets, laptops or virtually any connected device understand how to find and watch videos online. Inspired by organizations like Kahn Academy, teachers can easily (and inexpensively) screencast their own videos around lesson plans and topical lectures. These videos typically include audio narration, virtual whiteboards and complementary images and animation.

Teachers are now assigning their students video lessons via email, storing them in Dropbox or Google Drive, or posting directly to YouTube or Vimeo. This is "flipping" the traditional teaching model, reserving classroom time for facilitated group projects and individualized instruction for students who tend to absorb different concepts at their own pace.

Which brings us to...

Personalized Learning

Not only can technology accommodate more direct interaction between teachers and students, but more quickly and accurately assess if and to what degree a kid is understanding a particular lesson or concept. There are now thousands of apps and digital learning tools designed to assess everything from reading comprehension to calculus to foreign language fluency. Students shown to have difficulty picking up particular topics can spend more time on interactive quizzes and personal tutorials, while others can move on to the next subject or chapter. There are also tools that identify how children best learn, whether visually, auditorily, or perhaps through gamification. Individuals learn differently and at their own pace. Part of teaching moving forward will be to identify the best mix of digital learning tools for each student.


It's no secret that the highest paying jobs in the 21st Century typically require a fluency (if not mastery) of science and mathematics. From coding courses in elementary school to high school robotics teams, schools are encouraging and implementing STEM-based programs and extracurricular activities that focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Newer variations of STEM that attempt to weave in liberal arts principals include STEAM and STREAM, which emphasize Art and Reading.

Frances Judd, a long-time kindergarten teacher turned educational app developer and maker culture evangelist, described each new method of science and technology-based learning in a recent interview with ABC News. One component of STEM often overlooked is the multimedia fluency skills involved in knowing how to use and control the apps and devices that deliver all of the important math and science-oriented content. In this respect, it is advantageous for students to learn from the technology that they will eventually reinvent.

Common Core Standards Alignment

Parents who send their kids to public schools in most of the country will hear a lot about the Common Core State Standards Initiatives over the next school year and beyond. Like it or not, schools are aligning their math and english language arts curricula around the Common Core, which emphasizes analytical and critical thinking skills to solve problems. There are thousands of apps, videos and digital learning tools (in addition to textbooks) that claim to teach particular Common Core-based lessons.

One new service, Verizon Educational Tools, identifies and showcases the best apps and videos that teach Common Core standards. Developed by Appolicious, Verizon Educational Tools gives Report Cards to thousands of iOS and Android apps (as well as educational videos), and lets users browse by device, grade level and subject. Parents and teachers can also search for apps and videos based on particular Common Core Standards. I recently demonstrated the service during an interview ABC News.

Device Agnostic Learning

Not every school (or household, for that matter) is beholden to one type of Internet-connected device. A high school student, for instance, may carry around an Android phone, use the family Windows-based personal computer at home and access to an iPad in the classroom. While videos and websites are essentially ubiquitous across all devices, many apps are native (and often exclusive) to one device or mobile operating system.

Increasingly, services like screencasting app Explain Everything are becoming device agnostic and accessible across iOS, Android and Windows devices. However, not every educational app and software developer has the resources or commercial motivation to expand beyond one platform or device. The good news is no matter which one or combination of devices you own, there is an unprecedented wealth of educational resources available.. There are also great services to help you identify which apps, videos and online tools are the best for your kid.


Download the free appoLearning iPad app and visit us online at

Massive 'Hulk' Statue Interrupts News Station's Flood Coverage

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:05
It's just another day on the set of Chicago's "WGN Morning News."

No, they didn't hang up on Oprah again. But Friday morning, as the WGN crew reported on extensive flooding in south suburban Chicago, anchor Robin Baumgarten couldn't help but point out an unmistakable giant statue of The Incredible Hulk towering over the backyard of one home.

Just seconds after the WGN chopper focuses its live shot on the "Hulk," its apparent owner comes charging out from his home to send a message to the station's viewers: This storm's got nothing on us.

"Safest house in town!"

11 Documentaries You Can Watch Right Now To Understand How ISIS Rose To Power

Fri, 2014-08-22 16:03
Last month, the Islamic State jihadist group, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, declared its sovereignty and promoted one of its leaders, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to the helm. The Islamic State has been calling their newfound Syrian-Iraqi realm a caliphate, or a singular Muslim nation, with al-Baghdadi serving as caliph.

This particular type of religiously guided state hasn't been seen in centuries, and they're not inherently bad. What is inherently bad, however, is the Islamic State and the gruesome and inhumane methods it employs to seize control of Iraq. For the past several weeks, the group has been terrorizing Iraqis, particularly an ethnic minority known as the Yazidis, prompting U.S. airstrikes to halt their progression. Air raids are even now being considered in neighboring Syria, where much of the group resides.

It's a complex issue, and much of the current state of affairs is best explained by analyzing the events of the past decade. The documentaries below are all available for free online, and will help you understand what's going on.

Inside the Islamic State: "The Islamic State" (via YouTube)

This timely documentary by Vice News takes a look at the extremist group's grab for power in Syria and Iraq. Journalist Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks traveling with the Islamic State, from the front lines of battle to a recruitment camp and other establishments, where he witnessed the group's brutal tactics as they advanced across the region.

The Rise of the Islamic State: "Losing Iraq" (via PBS)

PBS Frontline released this documentary last month to tell the story of Iraq's growing unrest. The film charts the growth of the Islamic State, beginning years before U.S. troops withdrew in 2011, as they worked to build a military force. Interviewing journalists and former high-level military officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "Losing Iraq" also offers a critique of the Bush administration's military planning, or lack thereof.

Extremism in Syria: "Syria's Second Front" (via PBS)

While peace talks in Syria's civil war stalled back in February, PBS Frontline aired this documentary detailing the war-torn country's new challenge -- extremist groups. These groups are tied to al-Qaeda, as the Islamic State was until being disavowed earlier this year after a dispute. The documentary follows the Free Syrian Army as it swings from fighting against jihadist rebels in the north and the regime of president Bashar al-Assad in the south.

Sectarian Violence: "Iraq in Fragments" (via Veoh)

Filmmaker James Longley recorded these ordinary Iraqis' stories on trips to the region between 2003 and 2005. His finished product includes no scripted narration, simply showing interviews with its subjects' and telling the stories of their everyday lives. Beginning with a young working-class Sunni boy, the film also focuses on two other representatives of the "fragmented" nation -- a Shiite cleric and a group of Kurds. At the time of filming, the northern Kurdish region seems the most stable.

A Critique of U.S. Occupancy: "No End in Sight" (via YouTube)

Subtitled "Iraq's Descent Into Chaos," this 2007 film by Charles Ferguson takes a critical look at the failures of the war in Iraq. More specifically, Ferguson focuses on decisions made by the Bush administration in 2003 that led to harmful long-term effects. Interviews with journalists and many formerly high-ranking officials tell a tale of hardline party ideology and refusal to hear dissenting opinions.

Syrian Civil War: "Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution" (via Medium)

This 30-minute documentary released in February tells the story of Syrian rebel fighters, refugees and humanitarians trying to survive the civil war. David Axe, an experienced war reporter, gives a brief history of the deadly conflict as he talks to ordinary Syrians.

The Kurdish Conflict: "Female Fighters of Kurdistan" (via YouTube)

Another product of Vice News, this three-part series released in 2012 follows a group of female Peshmerga, part of what is generally regarded as a highly trained army of guerrilla fighters. It explains how the Kurdistan region came to be, more or less, occupying the mountainous part of northern Iraq, Iran and Syria, along with a southern bit of Turkey. Recently, some of this territory -- portions in northern Iraq -- was seized by the Islamic State. Until then, however, a combination of Peshmerga protection and oil access had allowed Iraq's Kurdish region to remain relatively stable for decades. The group aims to one day create their own officially recognized nation.

Post-Occupancy Life: "Iraq After the Occupation" (via YouTube)

Part of Al Jazeera's investigative series Fault Lines, this film takes viewers on a tour of major cities to see the damage caused by years of fighting. Several fragmented families are interviewed -- according to the documentary, one in 10 women had been widowed by the end of the occupation. Other personal accounts tell the story of a country with a long way to go in rebuilding its cities and industries.

A Female Iraqi Perspective: "Iraq: The Women's Story" (via YouTube)

Feeling that women's stories were not being told in the media, an Iraqi journalist traveled her country to create this documentary in 2006. She argues, throughout her dangerous journey, how the American invasion is to blame for the rise in religious extremism that has curtailed women's rights. Under Saddam Hussein's rein, she explained in an interview with The Guardian, life was hard. "We had no freedom of speech, no freedom of expression," she said. "But I never imagined the change would be this way, so bad."

American Soldiers' Perspective: "The War Tapes" (via YouTube)

In 2004, filmmakers gave cameras to 17 members of the National Guard deployed to Iraq. Together, the troops recorded 800 hours of footage. The finished documentary features three of them: Sergeant Stephen Pink, an aspiring writer, Sergeant Zack Bazzi, an Arabic-speaking college student, and Specialist Mike Moriarty, a self-described super-patriot. The film won Best International Documentary at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival for its poignant, yet absorbing, take on the war.

A Cultural History: "Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization" (via YouTube)

Michael Wood's 1991 film on the rise of early civilization in Iraq puts present-day conflict in a much broader context. Touring key landmarks, he walks us through their ancient history and into the rise of Islam. Interestingly, according to Wood, everyday life remained relatively stagnant in the region until the oil industry took hold.

Sergio Vicenteno Suspected Of Biting 2 Men At Lollapalooza

Fri, 2014-08-22 15:45
CHICAGO (AP) — A 33-year-old Chicago man is accused of biting two men in a seemingly random attack as the Arctic Monkeys performed at Lollapalooza earlier this month.

Cook County State's Attorney's Office spokesman Steve Campbell says Sergio Vicenteno is charged with aggravated battery in the Aug. 1 attack in Chicago. He has not entered a plea. Vicenteno's attorney, Michael Gillespie, told The Associated Press Friday that the construction worker did not attack the other men but defended himself.

Prosecutors say Vicenteno bit one man's shin. When Ben Lenet, a friend of the man who was attacked, intervened Vicenteno bit Lenet's arm and drew blood.

The 29-year-old Lenet says another friend kicked the attacker, who then calmly walked away.

Lenet says he is taking antibiotics and has been tested for hepatitis and HIV.