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Credit Card Companies Abandon Backpage.com Over Sex Trafficking Complaints

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:48
CHICAGO -- Major credit card companies, including American Express, Visa and MasterCard, will no longer let their cards be used to purchase adult ads on Backpage.com, a popular and controversial classified-ads site that critics say serves as a hub for sex trafficking and exploitation.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a longtime and vocal opponent of Backpage's adult services business, sent letters to the credit card companies earlier this week. Dart will publicly announce the call to action during a press conference in Chicago on Wednesday.

“Backpage has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for would-be sex traffickers, giving them easy access to millions of johns while cloaking them in anonymity and putting all risk on the shoulders of their victims," Dart said in a statement. "Raising that barrier will lead to less would-be sex traffickers entering the business as well as less victims."

Dart's office had previously reached out to American Express, which already complied. Visa and MasterCard confirmed to The Huffington Post on Tuesday that they have also dropped Backpage.

"MasterCard has rules that prohibit our cards from being used for illegal or brand-damaging activities," said Seth Eisen, MasterCard's external communications leader, in an email to HuffPost. "When the activity is confirmed, we work with the merchant’s bank to resolve the situation. Based on a request from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, we contacted Backpage’s acquiring bank about the issue. They have advised us that they are terminating acceptance at this time."

Fighting sex trafficking and child exploitation has for years been a major focus of Dart's department. In 2009, Dart sued Craigslist in an effort to have the popular site remove its adult services ads. Since 2011, his team has worked with sheriff's departments nationwide for the National Day of Johns Arrests initiative, a high-profile sting of pimps and prostitution customers that coincides with the Super Bowl.

“I’m pretty happy with how fast the response was. The civic responsibility shown by the companies is really fantastic,” Dart told HuffPost on Wednesday, adding, "I guess I’ve been so tainted with having to deal with Backpage and the responses from them that I’m used to things taking a long time."

Dart said he didn't know exactly when the credit card companies will remove their logos and service from Backpage. But, he said, "I’m under the distinct impression it’ll be very quick.”

With American Express, Visa and Mastercard all agreeing to stop processing payments for Backpage, anyone who wants to place an adult services ad on the site will have to pay with the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Backpage was spun off in 2012 from Village Voice Media, which publishes the New York City alt-weekly of the same name. That move came after years of pressure for online classifieds sites to scrub their listings of dubious "adult services" and escort listings. When Craigslist shuttered its lucrative adult services section in 2010, much of the business then jumped to Backpage.

The website now does approximately $9 million a month in revenue, according to Cook County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ben Breit, who told HuffPost the figure was "a very conservative estimate."

"Our researchers put the number at about 1.4 million adult ads published in the U.S., in April alone," Breit said.

The website's finances are difficult to trace, and Backpage did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its financials and about the Cook County Sheriff's Department's efforts to wipe out its payment options.

The compliance of the credit cart companies marks a rare victory for law enforcement and other officials fighting Backpage's adult services section.

In 2013, the National Association of Attorneys General asked Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 to empower state and local governments to investigate and prosecute online classified-ads sites that were proven to promote prostitution and child sex trafficking.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the effort "misguided" and argued that it would "cripple" free speech. The law was left unchanged.

In 2014, two alleged victims of child sex trafficking in Massachusetts sued Backpage, claiming that it had assisted in their abuse and exploitation. The alleged victims, who said they were 15 when they began to be trafficked by pimps, said they were sold a combined 1,900 times between the ages of 15 and 17.

Earlier this year, a judge dismissed the suit, noting that the site is protected under the CDA.

After the legislative and litigious efforts failed, Breit said the Cook County sheriff's office finally looked to the financial route.

"We needed to come up with an out-of-the-box idea," Breit said. “A lot of this would simply not be possible if Visa and MasterCard would say ‘no more.'"

When they hit upon that realization, Breit said they moved "full speed ahead" and devoted a team to working "almost full-time" on the effort.

"Everyone was kind of surprised no one had thought of it," he said. "Everyone who has been working to fight Backpage, they’ve been, frankly, used to disappointment. They were waiting for the other shoe to drop -- and it didn’t.”

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Chicago Public Schools Make Pension Payment Impacting 1,400 Jobs

Wed, 2015-07-01 11:31
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- The interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday 1,400 jobs will be "impacted" after Illinois lawmakers failed to provide relief and the financially struggling district had to borrow money to make a $634 million contribution to its teacher pension funds.

Jesse Ruiz said in a statement that CPS must make $200 million in cuts, and he blamed Illinois lawmakers for "driving the district further into debt." Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at a news conference earlier in the day, described the nation's third-largest district as being at "a breaking point."

"As we have said, CPS could not make the payment and keep cuts away from the classroom, so while school will start on time, our classrooms will be impacted," Ruiz said.

Ruiz said only that the jobs would be "impacted" beginning Wednesday, without further elaborating on how. A spokeswoman for CPS - which has about 40,000 employees - didn't respond to questions. A city official says Emanuel and Ruiz will lay out a plan Wednesday.

Tuesday was the deadline for CPS to make the mandated payment, and for weeks Emanuel and the district had been pushing lawmakers to approve a 40-day delay they said would provide breathing room to find a longer-term solution. But the Illinois House voted down that plan last week, and bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie said Tuesday she "didn't have the votes" for the measure to pass and wouldn't call it again.

House Speaker Michael Madigan later said he thought the bill was "moot" because he was told that CPS planned to make the full payment by the end of the day. Asked whether the district would have enough money remaining to keep classrooms open and pay teachers, the Chicago Democrat responded: "I don't know."

The Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund later confirmed the full payment had been made.

Emanuel used the situation to once again call for changes in how pensions are funded. Currently, the state makes the employer contribution to teacher pensions for districts outside Chicago, while CPS pensions are funded by Chicago taxpayers. The mayor calls that system unfair, saying no other districts have to worry about whether to fund pensions or classrooms.

"The school system is supposed to be focused on the education of our children," he said. "Because of the structural inequity and because of the system, Chicago Public Schools now are questioned about whether they make a pension payment, not whether they hit a graduation rate."

Emanuel's critics say CPS gets more money than other districts through other types of state funding.

Senate President John Cullerton introduced legislation late Tuesday that would shift the employer contribution for CPS pensions to the state, among other changes. It's scheduled for a hearing Wednesday. While Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, has supported the concept, he's likely to oppose the Chicago Democrat's bill because it omits other key provisions he wants.

Rauner also had floated a plan to accelerate $450 million in state grant payments that would have been provided to CPS over the course of the year and for other purposes. Emanuel rejected the offer, with a spokeswoman saying using 2016 funds to pay 2015 pension costs "follows the same path that got the schools into the current financial mess."

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Misty Copeland On Stepping Out From Behind The Other Swans

Tue, 2015-06-30 20:20



Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre's first African-American female principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history, spoke about her career on Tuesday at Lincoln Center. Amid the overwhelming response to her historic appointment, she was adamant that she isn't an "overnight sensation."

Having struggled with self-doubt as a young ballerina, she strives to encourage aspiring dancers to envision a brighter future. "You have to have believe in yourself. Before anyone else, you really have to believe that you're good enough, you're worthy and know that it's not easy," Copeland said. "You have to put in the work, but you also have to allow yourself to dream."

Copeland, 32, joined ABT as a member of the corps de ballet in 2001, and was later appointed a soloist in 2007. The show-stopping ballerina most recently starred as Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake" at the Met.

"I am so honored, so extremely honored to be a principal dancer," she said, "and so proud of my fellow dancers who were also promoted today: Stella Abrera, who's been with the company longer than I have, who represents what ABT stands for -- the hard work and the sacrifice. Cassie Trenary was promoted to soloist, and Skylar Brandt, Arron Scott and Thomas Forster. It's an exciting day for all of us."

Copeland recalled a particularly significant moment of trepidation when she first arrived in the corps de ballet at ABT. "When I looked around and saw that I was the only one in a company of 80 dancers," she said, referring to the fact that she was the only black dancer in the company. "I had to remind myself that ABT was my dream company and that I would be giving up had I left."

She doesn't shy away from talking about the lack of diversity in international ballet companies. And she embraces her position at the forefront of change.

"I think I would have had a completely different path had there been more [African-American dancers] before me. Maybe I wouldn't have worked as hard. I don't know," Copeland said. "I didn't know that there would a future for an African-American woman to make it to this level. At the same time, it made me so hungry to push through, to carry the next generation. It's not me up here, it's everyone that came before me that got me to this position, and all the little girls that can see themselves through me."


Copeland's peers, instructors and critics often remind her that the success she's found is well-deserved. Though, she adds, she still faces intense scrutiny.

"I go into ballet class every morning. I work my butt off eight hours a day because I know that I have to deliver when I get on stage," she said. "I have to go out there every night and perform live and prove myself, maybe more so than other dancers, because people are assuming, 'Why is she getting this attention, is it really based on her dancing?'"

With the celebrated promotion, Copeland anticipates some changes in her life. "I think that the work load will now be a little bit less," she said. "It will allow me to focus on these major roles. At the same time, every single time you go on stage you're being looked at, so you can't hide behind the other swans anymore."

Asked about the next step, the the ballet star broke down in tears as she contemplated a dream fulfilled. "It just sounds so surreal to hear those words. No, this is it. My dream had been ABT since I was 13. To be a principal dancer is reaching those heights, and now I feel like I can breathe. But [principal dancer] David Hallberg told me this morning, 'The hard work is just now starting.' And I love a challenge."



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46th Annual Chicago Pride Parade (PHOTOS)

Tue, 2015-06-30 16:35
An estimated 1 million people attended this past weekend's 46th Annual Chicago Pride Parade which was even more of a celebration thanks to the Supreme Court's historic ruling to make same-sex marriages legal across the country.

Starting at noon in Uptown, the parade wound its four-mile path through Boystown down to Lincoln Park showcasing over 200 floats and thousands of participants (Mayor Rahm Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, and the Stanley Cup to name a few). I hopped on board a float with my friends at Broadway in Chicago who blasted show tunes from their upcoming season featuring amazing Tony award-winning productions including Kinky Boots, The Lion King, and Cabaret. Cheering crowds bedecked in rainbow flags and glitter offering free hugs and exposing plenty of skin (as per usual) met us along the entire parade route. "Love Wins" emblazoned on numerous posters and windows was the beautiful message of the afternoon - a reminder of how far our country has come since the Stonewall riots in 1969.

Follow my trip down this year's historic Pride Parade in the gallery below and remember to make love win every day!

(Some photos could possibly be NSFW...but I'll let you have final say on that one!)


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New Overtime Pay Protections for American Workers

Tue, 2015-06-30 15:22
American workers have been extremely productive for decades, while seeing little to no raise in pay. In the richest country in the world, at our richest moment, we should make sure workers get the pay they have earned. That includes overtime pay for those who work more than 40 hours a week.

In January, I joined with House Democrats in sending a letter to the President to urge an update of overtime regulations. Today, only eight percent of all workers are guaranteed overtime, and millions who are struggling to meet their families' needs are denied that protection. I applaud the Obama Administration for hearing us out and listening to the concerns of hardworking Americans. This new proposed rule would ensure up to five million more workers will be able to earn overtime pay, starting in 2016.

This would not have been possible without the hard work and advocacy of American workers, including those in unions, who spoke up and demanded to be paid fairly. Their work has made our country stronger, and their advocacy has been instrumental in getting to today's announcement.

The fight for fair wages is far from over. We have already heard opposition from some Congressional Republicans who want to block this common-sense measure to expand overtime pay for hardworking families. I will work hard to make sure that the proposed rule goes into effect.

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Map: Which States Illinoisans Moved To The Most

Tue, 2015-06-30 14:48
New research from Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies (CGS) found that Illinois lost nearly 10,000 citizens between 2013 and 2014. This was the largest decline in absolute numbers of any state in the nation and the first statewide population decline in Illinois since the 1980s, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data.

Sherrie Taylor, a researcher at Northern Illinois University's CGS, said six states lost population from 2013-2014: Illinois, West Virginia, Connecticut, New Mexico, Alaska, and Vermont.

Of those, Illinois easily had the largest numerical population decline - 9,972 people - followed by West Virginia with a loss of 3,269 residents.

CGS receives embargoed U.S. Census Bureau reports several times each year as one of three coordinating agencies of the State Data Center Network. While the latest report focused on counties, NIU researchers are able to extrapolate that data to draw statewide, regional and even national conclusions.

Overall, the U.S. population grew by less than 1 percent. The states that saw the largest gains nationwide were Texas, California and Florida.

Taylor said past trends indicate most of those leaving the Land of Lincoln are not seeking warmer climates but rather moving to neighboring states.

Check out this map from the NIU study to see where Illinoisans moved in 2013:



Check out which 8 states Illinoisans moved to the most between 2010 and 2013 at Reboot Illinois.

NOTE: This article originally appeared on the NIU Newsroom.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 Illinois laws every resident should know

RECOMMENDED:

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WNBA Player Reads Mean Tweets, Proves Sexism Is Alive And Well

Tue, 2015-06-30 13:20
Chicago Sky player Elena Delle Donne made headlines for her impressive performance at a recent game. Haters on Twitter don't care about that, though. They only seem to care that she's a woman.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Delle Donne scored a career-high 45 points against the Atlanta Dream last Wednesday and set a league record when she made 19 of 19 free throws. "SportsCenter" tweeted about her success, but it wasn’t long until the trolls pounced with some sexist responses. In the style of Jimmy Kimmel’s "Mean Tweets" series, the star read the tweets aloud in a video posted on the Chicago Sky's YouTube channel.

"I’d rather watch paint dry," she said as she read a tweet. "The WNBA is a complete joke and totally unwatchable," she said as she read another.

Other users decided to completely give up on creativity and went with an outdated sexist stereotype. "Where is the oven?" one user tweeted.

Delle Donne’s response? "In the kitchen. We're on the court. Get over it."

Take that, haters.

H/T The Cut

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Comedians Join The Waterkeeper Alliance To Help Keep Earth's Many Waterways Clean

Tue, 2015-06-30 11:55
Safe water is no joke.

Comedians have a way of making light of very serious issues for the sake of laughter, but that doesn't mean they can't "reverse flow," so to speak, and use comedy to bring awareness to very serious issues.

The Waterkeeper Alliance was founded in 1999 to patrol the world's waterways, ensuring that corporations obey the law and that this precious resource stays clean. This citizen advocacy group unites more than 244 waterkeeping organizations in countries on all continents (minus Antarctica).

And now they've joined forces with the world's top actors and comedians to spread the word on the importance of this cause. Neil Patrick Harris, Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan of "SNL," and Alicia Silverstone are just some of the stars helping The Waterkeeper Alliance promote a clean and safe environment.

Check out the video above to see actors and comedians explain (in their own funny way) what the Waterkeeper Alliance does, and then watch the clip below to hear them recall their favorite memories of the bodies of water they grew up around.

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53 Plays Written By Women That Deserve Your Attention

Tue, 2015-06-30 11:20
"Really, producers? Really" Suzy Evans pled in a 2014 piece for American Theatre, mimicking the comedic angst of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers.

"The Pulitzer Prize [for drama] and all finalist nods go to women in 2014 and 68 percent of the Broadway audience is female, but you don’t have a single new play by a woman on Broadway in the 2013–14 season? Really?"

Evans is not alone in her frustration. A group of Los Angeles-based producers and playwrights named the Kilroys are equally vexed by the persistent and systemic underrepresentation of female and trans playwrights in American theater.

Photography by Elisabeth Caren at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Comprised of Zakiyyah Alexander, Bekah Brunstetter, Sheila Callaghan, Carla Ching, Annah Feinberg, Sarah Gubbins, Laura Jacqmin, Joy Meads, Kelly Miller, Meg Miroshnik, Daria Polatin, Tanya Saracho and Marisa Wegrzyn, the self-professed "gang" of women are "done talking about gender parity and are taking action." They've opted to funnel their distaste with their industry into an annual project -- subtly titled "The List" -- that brings together the names of female and trans playwrights who've written plays in the past year.

To do so, the Kilroys survey artistic directors, literary managers, professors, producers, directors and dramaturgs who nominate individual plays they've seen -- specifically works written by female or trans authors that have yet to be produced. This year, the group narrowed down a field of 755 suggested plays to 53. The 2015 list is meant primarily as a tool for those contemporary producers who claim they want to showcase underrepresented writers, but believe female playwrights are hard to find.

"We created The List, because time and time again we heard that artistic directors would love to produce female playwrights, but were having trouble locating good plays," Zakiyyah Alexander explained to The Huffington Post. "Ultimately, we know it's possible to program an exciting season of theater that reflects the landscape we live in, which is more than just a landscape of men."



Gender parity statistics in the United States theater scene are less than ideal. "Really, theatres? Really?" Evans goes on to address in her essay, noting that while 51 percent of the American population is female, only around 24 percent of all plays produced across the country in the 2014-2015 season were written by a woman, living or dead. "Really?"

It's not much better in the U.K. "A decade ago, 30 percent of new plays produced in UK theatres were written by women. In 2013 it was 31 percent," Lyn Gardner wrote in the Guardian.



The Kilroys' Alexander believes the biggest obstacle women playwrights face today is getting into the canon: "Many great female writers have been left out over the years, not due to talent, but simply that they were never produced as much as their male peers. This is a disservice, not only to them, but for all of American theater."

"With the creation of, The List, we also call for American theater to up its game, and do the work necessary for gender equality on the stage," she added.

The Kilroys, founded in 2013, named themselves after the subversive graffiti tag “Kilroy Was Here,” famously plastered by WWII soldiers in Europe as a way of quietly leaving their mark. The group published its first list last year and have since seen results in both visibility of the women writers they highlighted and increases in script requests. "We've already heard of playwrights on this year's list having a significant amount of queries," Alexander noted. "Exposure is crucial in this career, and we hope The List allows for a push for the listed writers."

She added that seasons often take more than one year to plan, so gathering accurate numbers of the number of Kilroy-certified plays that end up being produced is difficult. "We will continue to mark the number of performances, so that we begin to have a better since of how The List is being used," Alexander said.



For those interested in taking part in the Kilroys' survey, the group makes contact with nominators in two ways. First, they compile a list of all the theater practitioners they know or know of, dividing up the country in search of possible nominators that might be interested in participating. The catch is, each nominator needs to have seen 40 plays that year. The second wave of nominators comes from theater practitioners themselves, as the group hosts an open invitation on their website, allowing interested parties to nominate themselves or someone else.

"Our goal this year was to diversify the nominators in all ways," Alexander said, "and we will continue to work on this in the future."

Kilroy's website contains a detailed list of the 53 most recommended new plays by female and trans authors, including "The Tiger Among Us," by Lauren Yee; "Feathers and Teeth," by Charise Castro Smith; and "Soldier X," by Rehana Lew Mirza. HuffPost's previous coverage can be used to compare the results with this year's Tony Award winners.

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The Court Didn't Give Us the Right to Marry

Tue, 2015-06-30 10:46
Neither Did the Politicians, Nor Their Hangers-on -- Random Thoughts on Last Friday's Supreme Court Victory

It's been a long road to get where we are today. I can remember back when most even in the LGBT community could give a damn about equal marriage rights, despite so many dying from AIDS and surviving partners being left without SSI benefits, being evicted from their apartments, straight relatives stealing the survivor's possessions, etc.

Many self-styled "radicals" (the quotes are intentional) tried to cast marriage as solely a white, upper middle class gay obsession. But not only did the material facts belie this argument, so has polling the data of Black and Latino LGBTs.

It is a commonplace that one of the primary motivations for young het couples to marry is to provide a more secure two-parent situation for their new or impending offspring.

Well guess what? Of all groups in the LGBT community, Black [1] same-sex couples are roughly twice as likely to be raising kids white same-sex couples, and same-sex Latino couples are more than three times as likely to raising kids as white male same-sex couples, according studies carried out the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Latino/a Coalition for Justice. So who in the LGBT community really benefits most from legalized same-sex marriage?

And this material reality was also reflected in attitudes towards marriage from early on. As Robin Tyler and I wrote [2], a year

2000 survey of black LGBT people [by eight Black Pride organizations and the NGLTF], which was published well before the marriage issue dominated mainstream press coverage of the LGBT community, directly contradicts the stereotype that only wealthy white gay males want marriage rights. When asked what are the most important issues facing black LGBT people, respondents to the survey listed "marriage/domestic partnership" as their number three priority.

Given the enduring racism and sexism, not to mention homophobia, that disproportionately shunt such African American LGBT couples into working-class occupations, it is fair to say that the above figures on child rearing reflect not only racial realities also class distinctions. In other words, marriage and the family are much more important to the material security of working-class people than they are to wealthier people, who are usually better able to afford attorneys to construct the intricate web of legal documents needed to imperfectly mimic the contractual features of heterosexual marriage.

As the report itself noted,

The support for marriage in the sample is especially interesting not only because it was most forcefully embraced by [Black] women, but also because it contradicts the position of those, most often on the left, whose marriage as an issue most salient to White GLBT communities.

And far from the Democratic Party and their white-dominated LGBT NGO allies leading the charge for equal marriage rights, the former saw it as an electoral loser, and the latter took their cues from their party allies. NGLTF, for example, had as one of its few major plenaries at its 2005 "Creating Change" two speakers, both who savaged the marriage rights movement, and gave no opportunity for the fuming grassroots activists in the audience to respond.

You see the Dems were deeply implicated in the status quo bigotry. After Bill Clinton appeased the right by passing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (and NAFTA, and Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, etc, etc), he took out ads on Christian Right radio stations bragging about it, as part of his re-election bid.

One of the many hidden stories of how we got to today involves how some Dems got "turned" on the issue. It wasn't through polite lobbying. Or reasoned argument. It was power politics.

In 2003 the Dems nearly got served in one of their primary local strongholds -- San Francisco. An insurgent Green Party candidate, Matt Gonzalez, took 47 percent of the vote for mayor against Gavin Newsom. To shore up support for the local DP that had just received the scare of its life, a few months after his election Newsom began issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples in a city that was estimated to be 1/3 gay.

This totally pissed off the Dem bigwigs in the rest of the country. It made them look bad. They had long proclaimed support for LGBTs, but following Bill Clinton's lead, and polling on the issue, had steadfastly opposed equal marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Gay Democratic Congressman Barney Frank (who introduced the notorious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" bill into Congress) was the principal hatchet man against Gavin Newsom, blistering him with criticism for doing what the DP as a whole should have been doing if it truly supported LGBT equality.

But Newsom's actions totally gave a shot in the arm to grass-roots LGBT activism for equal marriage rights around the country, including here in Chicago.

And then many of the early court decisions for equal marriage rights came from Republican justices, no shit. The Dems were petrified of taking any stance on the issue, seeing it as a "loser."

Country club Republicans, on the other hand, had more freedom. It was an "only Nixon can go to China" moment. So it was a predominantly Republican court, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, that issued the first state-wide legalization of same-sex marriages. Another early pro-LGBT decider was an elected state supreme court in Iowa, which was Republican. And it was a Republican justice, and yes he was also gay, who struck down California's notorious Proposition 8.

I don't say this as a fan of the Republicans, whom I loathe, it's just that you'll never get these truths from the LGBT NGOs which almost to a one operate as wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party.

So if not from the politicians of either party, where did equal marriage rights truly emanate from?

Where rights have always emanated from -- from regular working people.

It has long been said that the anti-gay right has lost the younger generation on LGBT rights. As these younger generations aged, and were followed up by further pro-LGBT generations coming after them, the anti-gay right entered a literal demographic death spiral.

What hasn't been examined is WHY this was so. Young people are not necessarily concerned about social issues, but they were about this one, and there's an historical reason for that.

In the fall of 1998 a young gay college student, Matthew Shepard, was lynched in Wyoming. Thanks to what was the first successful example of internet organizing, a flurry of protests, vigils and marches occurred in every major, and many minor cities around the country. It was an unprecedented phenomenon.

It didn't change things legislatively. Democrats talked about hate crimes laws, blah blah blah - a really dodgy way to promote civil rights in a country that had just sent its mass incarceration rate into high gear with Clinton's 1996 "Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act."

And they couldn't talk about equal rights for LGBTs with a straight face so soon after passing their Defense of Marriage Act against us (and before that, Don't Ask Don't Tell). Instead, they cynically used talk of hate crimes laws as a way to beat up on Republican legislators, while avoid discussion of their own complicity in producing the hate climate that killed Shepard through their passage of DOMA and DADT.

Even though the flurry of Shepard protests died down after about a month, things on the ground, among the youth, had qualitatively changed. Whereas there were only 200 gay-straight alliances in the nation's secondary schools at the time of Shepard's lynching, within three months that number had tripled.

In essence, our LGBT youth and their allies began organizing at the base, challenging homophobic students, teachers, parents and administrators, and changing attitudes especially among their peers. They weren't campaigning about same-sex marriage per se, but they were campaigning for our civil rights nonetheless.

The countless protests of countless, many anonymous local marriage rights activists helped move the issue to the top of the LGBT agenda (at least according to polls), but it was the youth, and their in-school organizing for dignity and respect that led the demographic wave that led us to today's victory.

That's who deserves the credit for today, not politicians of either party, and certainly not justices.

This was truly a collective effort. From plaintiffs to protesters, all of the early and most important initiatives were from mostly anonymous people who were just pissed off and didn't want to wait, with zero institutional support, and frequently with their direct opposition. It was only after those "ordinary" people worked up momentum on the issue that the big organizations came in to get credit for what was initiated by others.

So next time an HRC staffer asks "Can you spare a few minutes for human rights?" Say "No, I can't spare any $ for NGOs with their six-figure corporate salaries."

++++++++++++

Finally, a personal indulgence. A full recounting of my favorite equal marriage rights action can now be told, now that the statute of limitations has lapsed, and our crimes can be safely confessed, lol.

In 2004 we did a banner drop from the restricted roof of Chicago City / County Building -- and didn't get caught! A pair of us dressed up in maintenance workers' uniforms with our banner rolled up in paper like a carpet, we had an official-looking clipboard that looked like we had a work order.

The key to our act, though, was our Teamster caps -- "No one messes with the Teamsters" (I think that's a line from a movie). Rather than climbing a scary, see-thru-to-the-ground outside fire escape about 15 stories up as we originally planned (yes, we had previously cased the joint), we got an escorted ride on a freight elevator all the way to the top "restricted" area.

We did our banner drop, then ran in opposite directions, shedding our uniforms into garbage cans as we ran down the stairwells. It was fun, it pushed the envelope, it shamed the alleged pro-LGBT city and county administrations who a few years earlier had clapped us with bogus felony charges in the same building.

Sweet revenge!

+++++++++++++

[1] "Black same-sex households are nearly twice as likely as White same-sex households to include children. Black male same-sex households are twice as likely as White male same-sex households to include at least one child under 18, 36 percent versus 18 percent respectively. Fifty-two percent of Black female same-sex households are comprised of parents living with at least one child under 18, compared with 32 percent of White female same-sex households." p 22, Alain Dang and Somjen Frazer, "Black Same-Sex Households in the United States," National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Black Justice Coalition, 2005.

[2] Robin Tyler and Andy Thayer, "The Gay Marriage Struggle: What's at Stake and How Can We Win?" in Martin Dupuis and William A. Thompson, editors, Defending Same-Sex Marriage:The Freedom-to-Marry Movement, Vol. 3, Praeger Press, 2007. Yes, the reference to "gay marriage" in the article's title was unfortunate, but was a product of the times.

+++++++++++++

Andy Thayer has written previously about the then-impending Supreme Court decisions here and here.

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Here Are The 5 Things You Need To Know Entering NBA Free Agency

Tue, 2015-06-30 10:18
If the NBA Draft is a full-on crapshoot (read my winners and losers here and my interview with Karl-Anthony Towns here) then we might as well call free agency a poker game. Why? Because teams have a better idea of who's who at this point, although second and third contracts have a way of changing players. Fit is often just as important as talent, and the right system can make or break a player. As we will examine, that hardly excuses teams of making costly mistakes.

The 2015 free agency may be one year removed from the LeBron James saga, but with two of the league's premier power forwards, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, opting out, there remains star power. Free agency begins July 1, and unlike the draft, it lasts more than just a few hours on primetime television. Here are the five most important questions as we get set for the league's second season.

Are The Lakers On Their Way Back?



Kobe Bryant returning to the lineup isn't the only good news in Tinseltown. Armed with a future superstar in point guard D'Angelo Russell -- the second pick in the draft -- the Lakers also have an abundance of cash. The two obvious targets are the former UCLA product Love, 26, and Aldridge, 29, both of whom can come in right away and help propel them back to sustained postseason runs. The beauty of both these guys is the ability to stretch the floor and play the two-man game. Both thrive in pick-and-roll because of their passing and shooting, but also because of their sound footwork and capacity to make tough catches. That has to be a huge selling point with Russell, whose prodigious passing talent draws comparisons to Jason Kidd and even Magic Johnson.

As I've reported, Aldridge -- who is from Dallas and went to Texas -- is highly unlikely to become a Laker. The two best bets are Dallas and San Antonio, with the Spurs having an edge. Don't forget either that Texas doesn't have a state income tax, surely an added bonus for a contract this large. Aldridge, an All-Star for four consecutive years, averaged a career-high 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds while leading Portland to the playoffs last year. San Antonio's patented side pick-and-roll action with Tony Parker -- which vanquished Aldridge and the Blazers during the 2014 postseason -- would be an easy marriage.

LaMarcus Aldridge remains undecided, but multiple NBA insiders have also told me that Spurs are the favorite as of now.

— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) June 28, 2015


Reports swirling that Aldridge is going 2 Lakers. Heard from multiple league insiders today more likely he signs w/Dallas or San Antonio.

— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) June 28, 2015


All may be well in Lakerland even if Love or Aldridge doesn't sign: the Lakers will get $25 million when Bryant's "loyalty" contract expires next season, not to mention the added funding of a raised salary cap (see below).

Does Marc Gasol's Market Value Even Matter?



The NBA's best center will earn his final big contract at 30 years old, right smack in his prime. Gasol, who averaged a career best 17.4 points last year for a playoff Memphis squad, will draw interest from several teams, likely including the Lakers and Spurs. The general consensus, though, is that in all likelihood, it will be the Grizz resigning Gasol, despite him being unrestricted. Gasol has lived in Memphis since his teenage years, he's comfortable there and the team has weapons around him. The physical Zach Randolph can bang with other 4s and even 5s, and a terrific pick-and-roll triggerman in Mike Conley aids in Gasol's offensive prowess.

What Happens To The "Other" Big?



Dare we sleep on Los Angeles Clippers' Third-Team All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan, the NBA's leader in field goal percentage at 71 percent? The 26-year-old had a career year -- free-throw woes and all -- and has become one of the game's elite shot blockers and finishers. While the market for Jordan isn't as robust as Love's or Aldridge's, we can expect him to field a series of offers. Having already dealt 7-footer Spencer Hawes, vice president and head coach Doc Rivers -- prone to questionable decision-making -- appears to be banking on Jordan's return. Presumably, part of that stems from the fact that the Clippers can offer more years -- and more cash -- than anyone else. Then again, Dallas appears to be a front-runner for the unrestricted Jordan, given that the Mavs have two sizable deals coming off the books in center Tyson Chandler and disgruntled point guard Rajon Rondo. If the Clips cannot retain Jordan, it would be a massive blow for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, whose patented "Lob City" would be cut in half.

Is D-Wade Leaving South Beach?



In a pretty bare market for guards, a rickety Dwyane Wade is one of the best available. The 33-year-old may only give you 50 games, but realistically, how many guys on the open market are more dynamic on both ends? Sans LeBron, Wade averaged a healthy 21.5 points, albeit on 47 percent shooting, the third lowest clip of his marvelous 12-year career. After opting out of his player option, Wade -- who was scheduled to earn more than $16 million next season -- is now believed to be seeking three more years, averaging $16 million, according to ESPN.com.

If he chooses to stay, however, help is on the way. Team president Pat Riley stole Justise Winslow with the 10th pick, giving Wade an immensely gifted perimeter running mate that Mike Krzyzewski -- who has coached them both -- even went so far as to compare to Wade. Ideally, Winslow can both alleviate some of the defensive and offensive onus, but also absorb some of Wade's minutes. The other matter for the future Hall of Famer to consider is free agent point guard Goran Dragic, a Third-Team All-NBA performer whom Riley shrewdly acquired at the trade deadline (see my deadline winners and losers) and who will surely command a five-year deal.

"I feel confident that this is where he wants to be," Riley said recently. "He stated that when we traded for him. He knew how much we gave up for him. And he wants to be here. He let me know that in the exit meeting."

A splendid playmaker who has shown the capacity to go off the ball as well, the efficient Dragic (17 points, 5 assists on 50 percent shooting in 26 games with Miami) can presumably make life easier for Wade moving forward because of his versatility. All in all, Riley has a pretty decent roster if he retains the Slovenian, given his found gold in former D-League center Hassan Whiteside. The continually solid, if not spectacular Chris Bosh -- locked up on a max deal last summer -- gives the Heat a formidable, rangy front line that can create a litany of problems. Presumably, Wade would want to remain in Miami in the measly Eastern Conference, and he may ultimately think that staying put gives him the best chance to go for a fourth ring. Regardless, this is the last marquee contract of his career, so the decision holds that much more weight.

Who's Getting Overpaid?



It's not a matter of if, but when. The annual barrage of inflated contracts is as much a part of free agency as anything. Sorry, Knick fans, but remember salary albatrosses Jerome James and Eddy Curry? Washington was burned when it gave Gilbert Arenas a six-figure deal, and don't forget Philly ponying up $80 million to Elton Brand for his middling numbers on sorry teams.

Circumstances are different for every team: a GM might think he's one piece away from contending. Or, he might have such an abundance of cap space that it's worth taking a chance on a sizable deal, even if he's overpaying. Or better yet, his evaluation of a player might be completely wrong. With the cap set to expand considerably for the 2016-17 season, we can expect to see more of the same colossal-failure free agent signings. And, in this specific class, there are several prime candidates, two of whom are especially worth highlighting.

Orlando's Tobias Harris (above), 22, has been floated as a potential max guy with Detroit or Boston. Harris is a fine young player and he should command a hefty deal -- maybe with the Lakers or Knicks -- but giving the max to a guy who put up decent numbers for a terrible Orlando team seems like an awful lot.

Another young forward expected to get max money is Cleveland's Tristan Thompson, who emerged in the playoffs as a terrific offensive rebounder, capable defender and an adequate finisher around the rim. In other words, the 24-year-old is a nice asset to have as part of a winning core. But has Thompson ever displayed any sort of a skill set to suggest he can become a reliable go-to option or shot blocker? This may be more of LeBron flexing his muscles given the extensive reports that he wants Thompson -- a former top-five pick -- back for the long haul. Any bargaining chip the Cavs front office may have had is long gone.

Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpost.com or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report.

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Cops Coach Chicago Youth Baseball League To Foster Peace In Crime-Ridden Neighborhood

Tue, 2015-06-30 09:32
Police officers in Chicago are stepping up to the plate to coach a youth baseball team for boys and girls.

The Englewood Police Youth Baseball League aims to combat violence through the sport, by uniting young athletes in a crime-ridden neighborhood with mentors from the local police force, NBC Nightly News reported.

"Showing them that police are human, that we're their friend, that they are safe around us. That's an extension of being a police officer," Angela Wormley, police officer and volunteer coach, told the news outlet.

The league launched in May as part of a partnership with Get In Chicago, a program that works to eliminate juvenile violence, and the community welfare organization Teamwork Englewood. Comprised of six co-ed teams of athletes ages 9-12, the league meets free of charge, weekly for baseball practices and clinics, as well as mentoring sessions, according to a press release.

“With the core goal of creating a better understanding between youth and police officers in our communities, we also hope to create leadership and learning opportunities for youth and their parents in community policing, planning and engagement,” Toni Irving, executive director of Get In Chicago, said in a statement.

The league celebrated their opening day on Wednesday in Hamilton Park, in the south side of Chicago. Led by both current and retired Chicago officers, about 100 girls and boys have signed up for the program.

“I think this is such a good thing for young black boys, and they’ve even got the girls playing,” Kenyatta Jones, whose 9-year-old son plays the league, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “With as much violence going on in the city, it’s a real good thing to have police actually involved with the community.”

The program will run through August, but its mission to unify the Englewood community aims to make a long-lasting impact.

“The goal ... is really building trust between the community and police,” Irving told the Sun-Times. “There’s a problematic representation of African-American youth, and these perceptions manifest themselves in action. This is an opportunity, not legislated or mandated, for young people and police to get to know each other better.”

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21 Things That Are Complete Smartasses

Tue, 2015-06-30 08:47
Smartasses. They're everywhere. Usually where you'd rather they weren't. Because they know you don't want them there. Which is why they're smartasses.

Still, you can't deny the fun that general smartassery brings into our daily lives. If you can allow yourself to laugh a bit, you'll usually see that the smartasses of the world are providing a very worthwhile service to all of us: Entertainment at the expense of (hopefully) someone else.

As if we didn't have enough human smartasses, here are a bunch of everyday things being smartasses too. And do you know why? Because they can be.

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A Hard Day's Work Deserves a Fair Day's Pay

Mon, 2015-06-29 20:16
It's been a good few days for America.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Affordable Care Act. It is here to stay.

And, Democrats and Republicans in Congress paved the way for the United States to rewrite the rules of global trade to benefit American workers and American businesses.

On Friday, the Court recognized the Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality. With that ruling, our union became a little more perfect -- a place where more people are treated equally, no matter who they are or who they love.

These steps build upon America's steady progress in recent years. Out of the depths of recession, we've emerged ready to write our own future. Our businesses have created 12.6 million new jobs over the past 63 months -- the longest streak on record. More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance. More kids are graduating from high school and college than ever before.

But more work lies ahead, if we are to succeed in making sure this recovery reaches all hardworking Americans and their families.

We've got to keep expanding access to affordable health care. Right now, 22 states haven't expanded Medicaid -- even though, under the ACA, they can. We'll keep encouraging those governors to do the right thing for their constituents. And we're making sure people know all the ways that they can benefit from the ACA. Wednesday, I'll go to Tennessee to meet Americans whose lives have been changed by this law, and to talk about how, instead of refighting settled battles of the past, we can move forward together.

We've got to keep making sure hard work is rewarded. Right now, too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve. That's partly because we've failed to update overtime regulations for years -- and an exemption meant for highly paid, white collar employees now leaves out workers making as little as $23,660 a year -- no matter how many hours they work.

This week, I'll head to Wisconsin to discuss my plan to extend overtime protections to nearly 5 million workers in 2016, covering all salaried workers making up to about $50,400 next year. That's good for workers who want fair pay, and it's good for business owners who are already paying their employees what they deserve -- since those who are doing right by their employees are undercut by competitors who aren't.

That's how America should do business. In this country, a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay. That's at the heart of what it means to be middle class in America.

As president, my top priority is to strengthen the middle class, expand opportunity and grow the economy. That's why I believe in middle-class economics -- the idea that our country does best when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. It's driven me from day one. It's fueled our American comeback. And it's at the heart of the fundamental choice our country faces today.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do exceptionally well? Or will we push for an economy where every American who works hard can contribute to and benefit from our success?

Will we invest in programs that would help educate our children, maintain our roads and bridges, and train our workers for the high-paying jobs of the future? Or will we cut these programs, and decide to give more to the wealthiest Americans instead?

To me, the answer is clear. Let's invest in America's future. Let's commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America. Let's reverse harmful cuts to vital programs, and instead make the critical investments we need to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class.

That's what I'll be talking about this week -- this choice, and these priorities.

America is at its best when we look out for one another. We soar when we strive to do better for one another. That's what I'm focused on and that's what I'll fight for every day for the next 18 months.

Let's get to work.

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Nina Simone's Daughter Says New Documentary About Her Mother Gets It Right

Mon, 2015-06-29 16:15
After a decade in development, Nina Simone’s authorized documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” was released in select theaters and on Netflix Friday.

The Netflix original documentary, directed by Academy Award-nominee Liz Garbus, follows the famed singer as she narrates her life story through archival audio and video footage. In addition to personal anecdotes told by friends and collaborators, Simone’s daughter and executive producer Lisa Simone Kelly also talks about her experience growing up with her mother.

According to Simone Kelly, a tribute project was initially discussed in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until after Simone's 2003 passing that the project got off the ground. Now, after a 10-year search for a director and distributor, Simone Kelly feels “What Happened Miss Simone?” accurately captures her mother's tale and sets the bar for future Nina Simone projects.

“It reboots everything to what it’s supposed to be in terms of mom’s journey and mom’s life the way she deserves and the way she wants to be remembered in her own voice on her own terms,” Simone Kelly said during an interview with The Huffington Post. “The rest for me is gravy at this point, because we were able to get our project out first. That’s what’s most important, because this is what people will refer to.”

“I look at all the other projects as keeping my mother’s memory alive. I no longer have to worry or lose sleep over the facts that more misinformation is being shared with the masses that could further distort what my mother’s truth was. That was my biggest thing,” she added.

Later this year, the biopic, “Nina,”, which stars actress Zoe Saldana in the lead role, will be released. The project has dominated headlines, been slapped with lawsuits and has received heavy backlash against Saldana's casting -- critics feel the actress is too light-skinned to portray the singer.



Although Saldana initially stated the criticism -- which sparked an online petition for a boycott of the film -- wouldn’t “deter” her from telling Simone’s story, the 36-year-old actress admitted July issue of InStyle magazine that she wasn’t the right choice for the role.

“I missed that particular article. I don’t want to come down on Zoe any more than I already have,” Simone Kelly told HuffPost. “I love her as an actress. Truly, I do, but not all people are meant to play certain parts. The energy and the name behind this project is Cynthia Mort. She’s the writer, she’s the director, she’s the one who came up with the concept. And she’s the one who set this whole thing in motion. And it has been full of non-truth since its inception. And the addition of Zoe Saldana to the casting -- for me -- was only a further example of how much this project really just veered away from what the truth was.”

Instead, Simone Kelly would have preferred either Kimberly Elise, Viola Davis or Adepero Oduye portray her mother on screen. Simone Kelly that "Nina" is "totally unauthorized," claiming the Simone estate was “ignored” after an attempt to “engage the energies that were behind the scenes.”

In speaking with the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, Mort said that she understood the negative reaction to her decision to cast Saldana for the role, but stated, “Nina was much more than that and lived beyond those definitions," and added that she is very excited for the release of “What Happened, Miss Simone?”



Simone also held incredible influence as a Civil Rights activist. She leveraged her voice and platform to record songs that aligned with the Black Power Movement, including “Mississippi Goddam,” “Baltimore,” “To Be Young Gifted & Black" and “Backlash Blues”, among others.

Though the recording of her 1960s civil rights-themed music helped rally and uplift those seeking racial equality in America, it also cost her commercial success, accolades and bookings, which is addressed in the documentary.

In one particular scene -- filmed during a 1986 interview segment with the “Ebony/JET Showcase” TV program -- Simone discussed her role in the Civil Rights Movement and how her political songs were a liability for her career.

“I wouldn’t change being a part of the civil rights movement. I wouldn’t change that, but some of the songs that I sang it hurt my career. All of the controversial songs, the industry decided to punish me for and they put a boycott on my records and it’s hard for me to incorporate those songs anymore because they are not relevant to the times…there is no reason to sing those songs. Nothing is happening. There is no civil rights movement. Everybody’s calm.”

Simone Kelly said that had her mother lived to witness America's current issues with police misconduct and such violence as the Charleston church massacre , she would’ve written an entire album.

“She would probably be right back on fire all over again,” Simone Kelly said. “It’s interesting how when you’re so far ahead of your time and when you’re courageous and outspoken and fearless, you know that’s a double edge sword. And for her to use the stage and her prowess as an artist to inspire and to enlighten and to shine a light on so much on the horrible things taking place.”

“And when I see that scene [of the documentary] my heart actually hurts, because she’s speaking very clearly but what I feel in my heart is… she had to find a way to resurrect herself and do it without that fire.”

The 52-year-old singer-actress went on discuss some of today’s big name artists who she feels lack the same passion for social issues her mother frequently expressed.

“I think about the artists today, the big names that we all know and recognize. Where are they? What are they doing,” she asked. “My mom, she decided to forgo awards and a lot of the accolades in order to use the stage to achieve something for the greater good.”

“‘What Happened Miss Simone?” is now available on Netflix and in theaters.

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10 Best Illinois Cities For Starting A New Business

Mon, 2015-06-29 15:10
Illinoisans are used to less-than-great economic news about the state, especially when it comes to jobs and business. But new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) seemingly contradicts the notion that new businesses avoid Illinois because of the state's financial mess and high taxes.

Along with this unexpected news is a recent analysis by NerdWallet that ranks the best cities in Illinois to start a business, but we'll get to that in a minute.

In the fourth quarter of 2014, the number of businesses in Illinois increased 4.7 percent to 421,908 when compared to the previous year. The only other state that added more businesses during this period was Massachusetts.

Yes, you read that correctly. Illinois ranked second among states where new businesses are being created the fastest, followed by Oregon, Delaware and Georgia, according to Bloomberg's analysis of BLS data.

While the data doesn't specify the type of businesses, top-notch universities seem to be a common denominator in states that had the biggest growth in new employers, said Robert Atkinson, president of Washington's Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The density of young firms and population diversity in large metropolitan areas also could play a role.

Here's what Jeff Winick, an attorney at the Chicago-based law firm, Harris Winick Harris LLP, told Crain's Chicago Business:

"We haven't gotten behind these numbers, but the numbers are more important than the anecdotes. If the numbers suggest in fact there is business creation and in fact they are making more money, that is the reality," Winick said. "That's a very good thing for the state."

Although the data did not break down business creation numbers for every county in Illinois, Winick said the state's boost is likely coming from Chicago. Young professionals flock to the city and Illinois natives stay in the state because it has such an attractive metropolitan area, which bodes well for business creation. The construction boom in the city has also likely helped, creating an environment ripe with opportunity for small contracting businesses to get off the ground, he said.

Illinois is the state with the second-best environment for starting a new business. Here are 10 of the best cities for starting a new business in Illinois:



Check out Reboot Illinois to see more of the state's best business-starting metro areas.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 Illinois laws every resident should know

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Illinois rewind: This little girl sees the way forward for the state's children

Mon, 2015-06-29 14:10
A series of reports by the Daily Herald and Chicago public radio station WBEZ finds indisputable evidence of something we've suspected for decades: "Kids who come from poverty plainly do not perform as well as those who are born to better circumstance." Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek calls on Illinoisans to care for all children in their communities and remembers her own community-aided upbringing:

Certain childhood memories stand out for me as the youngest of eight children. My dad died shortly after my third birthday, so I think I can accurately say my care came by committee.

I vividly recall my older sisters reading - and helping me read--Dr. Seuss books and other fine stories. My sister Margie and I frequently tagged along with them on shopping mall trips. My brothers tossed baseballs with me out front and helped me heave a basketball up into the hoop on our garage.

During most of my grade school years at Kate Starr Kellogg, a public school in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, I didn't go home for lunch. I'd cross the street to eat with the six Reynolds kids, who were like my second family. I was even lucky enough to join them on lake vacations in Michigan, riding in the way-back of their brown woody station wagon.

Those images popped up this week as I read the Daily Herald's significant school series "Our Promise to Our Kids." I wasn't raised in poverty, but I'm sure my mom struggled to give us all we needed as she went back to school herself while working a job to become re-certified to teach in Chicago Public Schools.

She would be the first to say she got a lot of help from the tremendous community around us.

As much as life for kids has changed in the ensuing decades, it struck me as I read the series how much, at its core, it really hasn't. Kids need all the love and support and modeling and discipline and structure as they can get, now as then.

Read the rest at Reboot Illinois.

But if Illinoisans leave the state, they won't be able to help build a community around the residents who remain. A new report by the Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies found that a net of 10,000 people left Illinois between 2013 and 2014--the largest decline in the country for that time period. Check out the whole report and what it means for the state at Reboot Illinois.

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

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Turns Down State Cash Advance For Schools

Mon, 2015-06-29 13:52

CHICAGO, June 29 (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday turned down an offer by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to advance a fiscal 2016 state payment to the city's cash-strapped school system to help make a pension payment.

"We appreciate the governor's gesture, but the use of this year's dollars to pay last year's pension payment follows the same path that got the schools into the current financial mess," said a statement from Emanuel's office.

It added that a "real solution" was needed so that pension payments for all Illinois school districts are treated the same way.

The Associated Press reported that the Illinois State Board of Education had identified $450 million in state grants due the Chicago Public Schools during fiscal 2016 that could be released this week.

The nation's third-largest public school system is facing a state-mandated $634 million payment to its teachers' pension fund on Tuesday. The Chicago Board of Education, which is appointed by the mayor, has approved a plan to privately place $200 million of tax anticipation notes with J.P. Morgan Securities and possibly use the proceeds for the pension payment.

Also, a bill to delay the pension payment for 40 days could come up for another vote in the Illinois House this week after failing to pass last week.

(Reporting By Karen Pierog)

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Top 10 Outlandish Ice Cream Sandwiches to Eat This Summer (PHOTOS)

Mon, 2015-06-29 11:00
Welcome to the land of fancy ice cream sandwiches, where donuts, brownies, puff pastries are just some of the anything-but-boring bookends for sweet (and sometimes spicy) cold fillings. From east to west, fine dining restaurants to humble service counter windows, the after-dinner treat is being remade with innovative flavors and haute techniques. Your inner kid would go gangbusters for one of these ten. Summer diet be dammed.

-- By Hilary Sheinbaum

See All of the Top 10 Outlandish Ice Cream Sandwiches to Eat this Summer

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Meet The Man Who Helps Hollywood Stay Sober

Mon, 2015-06-29 10:52




Until two years ago, Jon Paul Crimi kept his career, and his client base, mostly a secret.

He has a 20-year background as a fitness trainer and used to be an actor -- but now when he gets a phone call and finds himself on an airplane two hours later heading to a movie set, he isn't going there to act.

Instead, Crimi is a professional sober coach who works with some of Hollywood’s most elite and others struggling with substance use disorders. He has been sober himself for 15 years.

“The best sober coaches are the ones who had a lot of experience struggling with sobriety," he told The Huffington Post in an interview in Los Angeles. "The further down the ladder you’ve gone and the more things you’ve been through, the more you can help people.”

Crimi is 5 feet 11 inches tall, fit and has eyes so blue that you think he must be wearing colored lenses. He is not. Crimi stands up straight, is comfortable in his body and has that kind of a smile so deeply grounded that he radiates confidence without a shred of cockiness.

But the very first thing you notice about him is that he has no eyebrows, eyelashes or hair, due to adult-onset alopecia. His Boston accent pokes out at times -- especially when he’s cracking a joke at his own expense -- which is a lot of the time. “I got kicked out of Catholic school. I had a learning disability, it was called ‘Fuck You,’” he joked, adding that he couldn't sit still in school and always felt uncomfortable.


Crimi during his childhood.

“There is a big question mark about what causes drinking. Is it hereditary? Is it nature versus nurture? I think it’s both,” he said. “My joke is I’m Irish, Italian and Scottish. Which means I like to drink a lot, I don’t want to pay for it and then I want to start a fight. I’m also from Boston, and that kind of means the same thing.”

Crimi grew up in a rough neighborhood. He was jumped regularly and, in one case, stabbed. Looking back now, he marvels at how casual he was about it. The stabbing was serious -- he got 41 stitches in his head and nearly died from blood loss. Crimi, then 19, was out at a party drinking the very next night with his head wrapped in a bandage.

“Somebody said, ‘Didn’t you get stabbed last night?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. But what’s going on with you?’”


Crimi with friends in his early 20s.

He lost a lot of friends to drugs and alcohol while growing up. Six of them. “Overdoses, suicide, car crashes. It was really hard,” he said. The people around him didn’t talk about their feelings much. He had two DUIs before the age of 21. But his best friend had four. “We call it lower companions. We seek people around us who are worse off than we are. That way we don’t have to look at ourselves,” he said.

Crimi says he didn’t know how to process everything that had happened to him. “I didn’t have any tools to deal with it. My only tool was to drink around it. If there was a bad feeling, I drank or used drugs,” he said.

Before he was a sobriety coach -- before he was even sober -- Crimi moved to LA with big Hollywood dreams. He was accepted to a three-year Method acting program on a scholarship. But as he began to do the work, which can be deeply emotional and draining, the trauma from his youth began to come to out -- and so did his hair.

“There was one scene where someone was stabbing me and I had to stop. Processing all that in an acting class was a terrible idea.”

He began to notice bald patches all over his head, arms and legs and his doctor told him the hair loss was brought on by stress and trauma. He was put on high doses of steroids and was given excruciating shots in his eyebrows and head -- sometimes 75 or 100 at a time. He began to take Vicodin to help with the pain.

“I was 23 years old and at the peak of my life. I was trying to be an actor and my looks were everything to me. That was all being stripped away,” he said.


Crimi's headshot as an actor.

To make a living during acting school, Crimi trained clients and managed sales at Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach -- a famous destination for bodybuilders around the world. He was good at his job and started to snatch up some prestigious Hollywood clients. They helped him get more auditions.

But the high doses of steroids made him gain weight and bloat. “I was this fat trainer, trying to be an actor, bald patches everywhere, penciling in my eyebrows and going to auditions. I was eating Vicodin all day and drinking all night.”

His business was growing, but he was a mess.

Crimi flirted with sobriety, but didn't commit. “I would go 20 days without using or drinking and I was so uncomfortable I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. It was painful,” he said of his life at 25.

“Alcohol and drugs aren’t the problem. I’m the problem. The alcohol and drugs are my solution to the problem -- which is how I feel about myself when I don’t have anything in there. Until you fix that, you’re going to keep going back to it,” he said.

He sought out a therapist for the first time and she suggested he go to a 12-step recovery program. Crimi scoffed at the idea and tried even harder to get sober on his own. After a few months, it all came crashing down.

“Finally I bottomed out. I lost another really close friend and I went on this big bender, jumping the bridges of the Venice Canals drunk in my car. The next day, my stripper roommate told me to get help.”

He listened. When he walked into his first 12-step meeting, he realized he had been wrong. He saw young, successful people around him, saying things that he had always felt in his heart but had never said out loud.

“It rocked me to my core. I thought, ‘Wow. This is what’s wrong with me. I have alcoholism.’ It was a tough moment. But I also knew that I was in the right place for the first time in my life,” he said.

Talking about this makes Crimi choke up, even 15 years later. His eyes moisten and the rims of his eyes without eyelashes get especially red. But he also exudes a deep sense of gratitude for where he is today.

“If you’re willing to ask for help, then people will take care of you,” he said.

He worked all the steps and found a strong community of people around him. Unwisely, he continued working while he detoxed. “That’s never a good idea” he said. “I head-butted a co-worker and they let me go. The guy was kind enough to let me stay and train my personal clients.”

He built his business around his recovery. Sobriety became more important than clients and more important than making money. It’s the biggest mistake he sees people make today.

“You get sober, you start working, you get a girlfriend and go, ‘Oh, I’m good now.’ They say anything you put in front of your recovery you will lose.”

Sober coaches, who can also be called sober companions, started off in the rock and roll industry. The late Bob Timmins is thought of as the original sober companion and was described in his Los Angeles Times obituary as a “titan in the world of recovery,” particularly for rock musicians rising to fame in the 1990s.

Crimi knew Timmins personally and attributes the birth of the industry to a combination of factors. “People wanted to have their careers and play their music, but being out on the road is the one hardest places for an alcoholic or addict.” Crimi said. “There's too much temptation and they needed someone with them for support.”

The music industry is where Crimi started too. But after a couple of years of touring around the world, which Crimi says cured his rock star fantasy, he began to work with actors. It’s a business with a ticking clock: When he gets a phone call for a job, he is expected to pick up and go almost immediately.

Many of his sober coaching jobs are 24/7. He lives with the client on set and they eat together, work out together and even sometimes sleep in the same room.

But most of the time, no one else on location knows who Crimi is. “I’m the trainer, I’m the assistant, I’m the meditation teacher or I’m the bodyguard. I’ve been everything.”

It gets more complicated when the client doesn’t want him there. Many times, he is hired as a contingency of a film's insurance policy. He has had people try to lose him through airport security, use in front of him, become verbally abusive and physically confrontational.

He is the first to say that he cannot force clients to stop using. What he can do is help redirect their focus by getting them out of the room to go on a walk or take them to a meeting. He is there for support. He might help them through a meditation exercise or a gratitude list. His background in fitness helps, too. Exercise can be a big part of recovery.

“You can interrupt the disease. Even if someone is using, you can help. Some say you have to let people bottom out," he said. "But I’ve seen people who don’t want to get sober eventually get sober because they had somebody there supporting them, in their ear talking to them.”

Crimi’s mentor of 15 years, Irwin Feinberg, put it best. “Jon Paul has worked with a lot of guys who other people had given up on. He is the guy who got them into recovery,” he told HuffPost. “But it all began with him jumping into his own recovery with both feet.”

Part of Crimi’s job is borne out of the limitations of rehabilitation facilities. “It’s a cushy bubble,” he said. “Then they go home and all of their triggers come up that made them want to drink or do drugs before. It’s about helping them in their environment but it’s also about helping them re-create their lives.”

A good number of his clients have been drinking or using for most of their lives. They don’t know what to do sober. They don’t know how to handle Christmas or New Year’s sober. They don’t know how to handle a death in the family. Crimi helps them implement new habits.

But the most powerful tool in his own recovery and what he stresses the most with clients is to focus on helping someone else. That’s why when he was first sober, he joined the Big Brother program and became a mentor.

“I had really low self-esteem when I got sober. It was my first estimable act. It builds you up. When I am helping someone who is going through something, I cannot be in my problem. The faster you can do that, the better off you are,” he said.

John Hanney has worked with Crimi for the last nine years and says that his life has been re-created as a result of their relationship. “I was quite possibly one of the worst cases that anybody had ever seen,” Hanney told HuffPost over the phone. He tried to get sober for 17 years.

“Jon Paul has helped me recover from this disease one day at a time. I could trust him and could disclose my deepest, darkest secrets to him. It took time but he instilled confidence in me,” he said.

Many sober coaches don’t have families. The unpredictable lifestyle and expectation that you can be gone for weeks or months at a time aren’t exactly conducive to building relationships at home.


Crimi with his daughter, Mika.

But Crimi is the exception. He has been married for six years and has a 2-year-old daughter. He is on the road less and less, and is building his company to train sober coaches to take the out-of-town work so that he can be home with his family. Being a father has presented a new list of challenges for him.

“I worry about genetics. Am I going to pass this on to her? I see her doing things like spinning around and around in circles and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, she’s trying to get high!’”

His wife, Nomi, tells him it’s just a toddler thing. “My wife is not an addict. She’s a totally normal person. She calms me down.”


Crimi and his wife, Nomi.

Aside from being grounded by his family, Crimi's deepest source of strength ultimately comes from paying it forward. It's what connects him most fully to a sense of spirituality. “For the longest time my spirituality was simply helping other people. I don’t know anything more spiritual than helping someone and expecting nothing back,” he said. Being vulnerable and letting clients see who he really is can be just as powerful a tool.

“That’s what puts people at ease with me. When you open your heart to someone, they see that. They connect to you,” he said. “That’s spirituality to me. That’s God. That’s love. And for an East Coast former tough guy to say something like that is a miraculous thing.”

Jon Paul Crimi’s company also works with dual diagnosis clients, such as those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and traumatic brain injuries. More information can be found on his website.

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