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Illinois remembers the life of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka

Wed, 2014-12-10 13:12
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died Dec. 10 at the age of 70 after suffering a stroke the day before. She had just been elected to her second term as comptroller in November and was the only woman in Illinois to ever hold two constitutional state offices, as comptroller and treasurer.

Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek remembered Topinka:

We lost one of the one-of-a-kind ones in Illinois politics today.

Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died of a stroke early Wednesday morning and we are left with a gaping void.

Judy Baar Topinka won election after election after election because she was real. She was genuine. When politicians were maddening because they could not possibly see plainly the noses on the end of their faces, Topinka would gladly poke her finger and point their schnoozes out to them.

She frequently said what most voters were thinking. And she said it colorfully, in ways all of us could understand. Months ago, when most politicians in the state were trying to avoid saying anything controversial, she told reporters in western Illinois that cutting the state income tax to 3.75 percent from 5 percent would be the equivalent of causing the state to have a coronary.

In that case, not what voters or her fellow politicians might have wanted to hear, but clearly there was some truth there.

Read the rest of Doubek's recollections of Topinka at Reboot Illinois.

Click through this timeline of Topinka's life to see many of her political accomplishments:

Read Topinka's own thoughts on rebooting Illinois from 2012 at Reboot Illinois.

6 Crazy Things People Used To Believe About Vaginas

Wed, 2014-12-10 13:09
Vaginas are an unfair source of widespread confusion and embarrassment: Plenty of us don't know how they work or what they look like. But it's not just popular culture that gets vaginas wrong. Scientific and medical minds long misunderstood female anatomy. We didn't even fully know how the clitoris worked until 2009, and even today, many textbooks still misrepresent female sexual anatomy.

Of course, we have it better than women in centuries past, when blatant misogyny shaped much of the mainstream cultural and medical understanding of women's bodies. Early mansplaining about women's bodies were used to validate sexist legal policies, keep women out of school and generally make humankind squeamish about the female form. Here are some of history's craziest myths about vaginas:

1. Watch out, some women's vaginas have teeth!

Image: Wikimedia

The myth of the toothed vagina, called vagina dentata, was a legitimate anxiety expressed in cultural folklore everywhere from Russia to Japan to India. In many of these myths, brave men needed to remove or break these vaginal teeth before safely sexing up their lady friends.

2. Women's vaginas are just penises that got cold.

Galen, a second-century Greek physician, believed that the body was ruled by "humor" fluids. Men typically had “hot and dry" humors while women had inferior "cold and wet" humors. Under his theory, women and men had the same sexual system, but because women were "cold," their sexual organs had simply moved inside their bodies to keep warm. In early medical illustrations, women's sexual organs were labeled in comparison to their male counterparts; ovaries were "female testicles."

3. Educate a woman, and you'll ruin her lady parts.

Image: Kurt Hutton via Getty Images/Shutterstock/Huffington Post

This theory is brought to you by 19th-century Harvard Medical faculty member Henry H. Clark who spent his life fighting the good fight to keep women out of school. He said that women's brains couldn't handle the same strain as men's, and that ladies who pursued a college education risked stressing their brains and destroying their wombs. Other scientists of the time also cautioned that over-developing the feminine brain would make the uterus shrivel up. In this sexist fantasy world, women especially needed to avoid thinking while on their period. Ugh.

4. Women can't get pregnant unless they have consensual sex.

Image: William Andrew via Getty Images

In 2012, former House Representative Todd Akin and his merry band of anatomically-confused Republicans helped revive this terrible myth. Maybe they were inspired by the 13th-century British legal text, Fleta, which said that "without a woman's consent she could not conceive," and thus could be used to invalidate a woman's rape accusation if she had become pregnant. The belief lived on through [terrible]CUT 19th century medical books, to misguided politicians today.

5. Sideways vaginas = a thing.

Think of this as early "bro-natomy." The rumor that Asian women had sideways vaginas originated as racist humor amongst gentlemen visiting Chinese prostitutes in California brothels in the mid-1800s. The rumor was part of the larger cultural fetishizing of Asian women, and persisted through the Korean War, because some people enjoy their misogyny with a side of racism.

6. Beware: Woman's menstrual blood is potentially life threatening to men.

Menstrual blood has been considered dangerous to men in a number of cultures. A first century Roman Encyclopedia notes that Roman Pliny observed that "hailstorms, they say, thunder, and even lighting will be scared away" by a menstruating woman, while "meat will become sour and fruit will fall from the tree beneath which she sits.” Period-shaming continued, and in the 19th century, it was commonly thought that a man could contract gonorrhea from having sex with a woman who was on her period.

Missing Dog Reunited With Owner After 3 Years Couldn't Stop 'Jumping And Wiggling'

Wed, 2014-12-10 08:06
Allen Williams got the happy surprise of his life last weekend, when a Missouri animal shelter called to tell him to come get his dog, Titan, who'd vanished from his yard about three years ago.

"It was pretty crazy," says Williams. "After all this time I'd given up."

As you can see from this photo, which the Kansas City Pet Project posted to Facebook, Titan was clearly excited for the reunion as well.

Titan and Williams, reunited at the shelter. Photo credit: Kansas City Pet Project

"Our staff said that Titan saw his owner and immediately started jumping and wiggling. It took a very long time to get their picture because Titan was wiggling so much," shelter representative Tori Fugate says.

Williams got Titan as a gorgeous, rambunctious puppy about five years ago. He was a gift from his then-girlfriend.

Titan was about 2 years old when he somehow got out of Williams' fenced backyard in Independence, Missouri, along with his daughter's German shepherd.

His dog was microchipped, though, and Williams -- who runs a small appliance sales service -- called around the local shelters and vets' offices, with no luck. He finally came to the conclusion that Titan must have been picked up by someone who'd decided to keep him.

"I always thought he was still alive," he says.

Titan was alive, indeed, and as it turned out, he was still playing the role of canine Harry Houdini.

Late last week, a family turned up at the Kansas City Pet Project with a now-middle-aged Doberman they were calling Cocoa.

"The people who surrendered Titan to our shelter said that he kept escaping their home and they didn’t have a fence," says Fugate. "They felt like they couldn’t handle him anymore so they made arrangements to bring him to our shelter for us to find him a new home."

The shelter checked for a microchip and found one that had migrated away from its original location and traveled down into Titan's leg. The chip was still registered to Williams, who then got an unexpected phone call.

"I was so surprised by the call," says Williams. "Nothing I expected after all this time."

"We made arrangements for him to come get him the next day," Fugate says. "It is thrilling to be able to reunite lost pets with their owners. This is definitely one of our happiest stories and we were so happy to bring the pair back together."

Titan in the car on his way back home. Photo credit: Allen Williams

There've been some changes in the last few years, of course. Titan is now older and bigger. And while his daughter's German shepherd is still at large, a couple of new dogs have moved into the house, where, Williams promises, a tall, locked fence keeps them from roaming.

Titan seems to be taking his old life in stride, Williams says. And so, after this ecstatic reunion, and peaceful settling-back-in period, Williams is optimistic that love, and a secure perimeter, will keep Titan safely at home this time around.

"So far he's been pretty good," he says. "Hopefully he's not an escape artist. Only time will tell, you know?"

Stay, Titan! Photo credit: Allen Williams

Head over to the Kansas City Pet Project's Facebook page for information about the many, many animals this open access, no-kill shelter has available for adoption.

Get in touch at if you have an animal story to share!

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Pitcher Jon Lester Agrees To $155 Million, 6-Year Contract With Chicago Cubs

Wed, 2014-12-10 01:39
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Jon Lester agreed Tuesday night to a $155 million, six-year contract with the Cubs, the first big deal of the offseason involving a top-level starting pitcher and one Chicago hopes will help end more than a century of frustration at Wrigley Field's Friendly Confines.

Lester's contract, agreed to on the second day of baseball's winter meetings, contains an option for 2021 that, if it becomes guaranteed, would make the deal worth $170 million over seven seasons. The average annual value of $25.8 million is the second-highest for a pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw's $30.7 million as part of a $215 million, seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers that began this year. "It's not often you get to win the lottery, and we won the baseball lottery this year," new Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Now it's up to us to put it into effect."

A three-time All-Star who turns 31 next month, Lester won two World Series titles with Boston. The left-hander joins a long-suffering team with a promising core of young players and a top-tier manager, Maddon, who left Tampa Bay and signed a $25 million, five-year contract with the Cubs.

Now, Chicago has an ace to lead the rotation as it tries to end a run of five straight losing seasons and a championship drought that dates to 1908.

Lester was dealt by the Red Sox to Oakland at the trade deadline in July and helped the A's reach the playoffs for the third straight year before a 9-8, 12-inning loss to Kansas City in the AL wild-card game. He went 16-11 with a career-best 2.46 ERA and 220 strikeouts last season and is 116-67 with a 3.58 ERA in nine big league seasons.

He also had been sought by the Red Sox, World Series champion San Francisco and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lester is headed to a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008, but he knows Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer from their time together in Boston.

Maddon had been used to small payrolls in Tampa Bay.

"I've not been on this side since my days with the Angels, when I got an email in Italy that we had signed Vladimir Guerrero," said Maddon, who was a coach in Anaheim before switching to Tampa Bay. "I think that definitely sends that message how Theo and the group feel about this particular group. But understand, we have a lot of young players that have to grow up as quickly as possible. But having Jon there adds to the flavor and the possibility."

The Cubs' management is making over the team in a big way.

Chicago has a pending $20 million, two-year deal with right-hander Jason Hammel, traded by the Cubs to Oakland last summer. Earlier Tuesday, the Cubs acquired All-Star catcher Miguel Montero from Arizona for minor league right-handers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley — a deal that added $40 million in payroll over the next three years.

Chicago's rotation is likely to also include Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, and Kyle Hendricks.

The Cubs also have a pair of All-Stars in the batting order in first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro and expect improved performances from young sluggers Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. Ahead is another wave of prospects that includes third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Addison Russell.

Maddon hopes an addition such as Lester helps change the mindset in the clubhouse when spring training starts in February.

"It definitely makes it more believable to everybody else in that room," he said. "I'll stand up and make the same speech regardless, but when you have it backed up by that particular kind of presence, it adds to it."


AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg contributed to this report.

Chicago Police Investigate Rape Allegation Against Uber Driver

Tue, 2014-12-09 19:28
(Reuters) - Chicago police said on Tuesday they are investigating an allegation that a driver for the online car service Uber raped a female customer.

Chicago police said in a statement that they have been in contact with the woman as well as Uber personnel, but declined to give further details.

Uber spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin called the incident "appalling and unacceptable." She said the company immediately removed the driver from the Uber platform when it learned of the incident, and is cooperating with police in the investigation.

Mullin said that all drivers with the ridesharing service undergo a "rigorous background check."

Uber is one of several ride-sharing services gaining popularity in cities, despite opposition from taxi companies that typically operate under stricter regulations.

The Chicago investigation comes as Uber has been in the news for other issues with government authorities.

Also on Tuesday, California prosecutors said that a former Uber driver was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter in the death of a 6-year-old girl who was struck in a San Francisco crosswalk on New Year's Eve.

On Monday, Portland, Oregon sued Uber to stop the service from operating in the city until it follows local regulations.

The same day, the company was banned from operating in India's capital, New Delhi, after a female passenger accused one of its drivers of rape.

The fast-growing company was valued at $40 billion last week after its latest funding round ahead of an expected initial public offering.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

Anthony Oplinger Acquitted Of Assaulting Barber Over Haircut

Tue, 2014-12-09 16:52
WHEATON, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois man has been acquitted of assault and gun charges after pointing a BB gun at a barber who gave him a "disappointing" haircut.

The Daily Herald ( ) reports a judge ruled Monday that there's no proof Anthony Oplinger knowingly and unlawfully used a BB gun when he pointed it at the Bensenville barber in November 2013. David Capales of the Barber Lounge testified he was awakened from a nap by an armed customer whose hair he had cut earlier that day. Capales said an argument ensued. Another barber told the pair to take it outside of the break room. Capales said he was able to calm Oplinger down and persuade him to leave.

Capales said he offered Oplinger a refund immediately after the haircut, when the Wood Dale expressed displeasure.


Information from: Daily Herald,

Chicago Police Fatally Shot A Teen In October. Now Some Are Calling For Department To Release Video.

Tue, 2014-12-09 16:33
More than a month after a 17-year-old was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer, a journalist and a law professor are calling for the release of squad car video they believe exists in hopes that the footage will clear up questions about what happened that night.

On Monday, journalist Jamie Kalven, founder of production company Invisible Institute, and University of Chicago Law School professor Craig Futterman, founder of the school’s Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project, published a news release calling for the Chicago Police Department to release video footage of the police shooting that resulted in Laquan McDonald’s death on Oct. 20.

“There’s lots of reasons to question and doubt whether this level of deadly force was required and the only way in which it can be addressed is making the videos public,” Kalven told The Huffington Post.

As the Chicago Police Department explained to news media at the time, at about 9:45 p.m., officers responded to a call from a person who said an individual was attempting to break into cars in the city’s Archer Heights neighborhood.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a police spokesman said officers found McDonald “with a strange gaze about him,” carrying a knife he used to slash a tire of a squad car and damage its windshield before running from officers. A second car arrived on the scene and attempted to box the teen into a fence. He allegedly refused requests to drop his knife, at which point an officer opened fire and shot him in the chest.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office ruled McDonald’s death as a homicide after an autopsy confirmed the teen died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The pair, who have observed questionable patterns of police conduct in the past, sought out witnesses.

In a statement released Monday, the pair state that a witness whose car was stopped by the police action saw McDonald “shying away” from the officers. The witness said the teen was not posing an immediate threat to anyone after he was successfully boxed in. He told Kalven and Futterman the teen fell to the ground after first being shot but that the officer continued to fire bullets into his body.

Futterman says the witness, who they believe contacted the city "on his own initiative" to report what he saw, claims to have seen the officer fire “as many as six or seven” more shots into the boy.

One witness told CBS Chicago the shooting didn't need to happen.

“They didn’t need to shoot him. They didn’t. They basically had him face-to-face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him,” Alma Benitez said.

Kalven and Futterman believe that, given how the two squad cars were positioned at the scene of the shooting, those cars’ dashboard cameras should have been recording at the time of the incident. Multiple businesses located on the same block of the shooting also may have captured relevant surveillance footage. Given what they believe to be the discrepancies in the CPD account of the shooting, they believe the footage should be released.

“The bottom line is there ought to be video that exists and that video will reveal the truth of what happened,” Futterman said.

The Chicago Police Department deferred comment to the Independent Police Review Authority, which said through a spokesman that an investigation into the Oct. 20 incident is ongoing. The IPRA spokesman declined to comment further on the ongoing probe.

It is exceedingly rare for a Chicago police officer to be convicted of, or even charged with, shooting a civilian. Though hundreds of Chicagoans, a disproportionate number of them African-American, have been shot by police throughout the past 17 years, only two officers have faced trial for a shooting death. One of them, Dante Servin, appeared in court last week on charges related to the shooting death of Rekia Boyd, a 22-year-old unarmed black woman.

While Kalven and Futterman acknowledge they have no formal legal standing to go beyond what they are calling their “public intervention” in the police shooting, they are hopeful others will heed their call for justice for the teen, who was reportedly a ward of the state with little, if any, family involvement in his upbringing.

“This is someone who was just utterly abandoned,” Futterman told HuffPost. “There is no one to speak out for Laquan.”

They are also cautiously optimistic the city and CPD could proceed more transparently with their investigation of the police shooting, given the city’s “historic” step to make previously-veiled police misconduct files in response to an appellate court ruling earlier this year. Futterman was involved in that case.

Chicago police shot 34 people in 2013, according to the Chicago Tribune. A CPD spokesman told HuffPost last month the department is "on pace" for a reduced number of police-involved shootings for the third consecutive year.

No Lovin' Feeling... for Science Fair

Tue, 2014-12-09 16:13
Hard to believe, but at one point in my life I was actually eager for my kids to participate in the Science Fair. So help me, it's true. I loved being in the Chicago Public School Science Fair when I was a kid. One year I even won my school competition and went on to compete at the district level. It was very exciting being in this big space with kids from all over the city, presenting my project "How Bees Make Honey" against the backdrop of my beautifully done trifold board. Another year I did "Everything but Oobleck: What Makes Water Fall as Rain, Snow Sleet or Hail?". I didn't advance that year, but to this day I am still am interested in weather and I can trace my interest back to that Science Fair project.

My love of Science Fair extended beyond the desire to present my own project. I also looked forward to seeing what all of my fellow students were secretly doing in their basements. Everyone kept his or her topics under wraps so that on the day you brought your science fair project to school there was a whipping off of a sheet and a big "Ta Da!" reveal, very mad scientist-like. There were a few days throughout the school year that gave kids an insight into the hidden psyches of their fellow classmates. One day of course was Halloween. You didn't need a degree, or even a class, in psychology to know that October 31st was also "alter-ego" day. Another glimpse into the kid sitting next to you happened on Valentine's Day. Were the Valentines he/she handed out funny? Cutesy? Traditional? Tom & Jerry themed? February 14 was "how I feel comfortable expressing affinity" day. The annual Science Fair was a look into the minds of the kids you only thought you knew. Once a year, kids got to choose what they wanted to research, learn more about and present. The idea being that they were the experts on that topic. Science Fair could have been called "what fascinates me" day. I recall projects with topics like "What do Cigarettes do to Your Lungs?" "How a Water Filtration System Works" "Why a Volcano Erupts" and "How Fossils are Formed". Some kid would build a piston engine. Another would somehow come up with a demonstration on how a diamond was formed. And you could always count on some kid making a pinhole camera...always. All of these projects were fascinating to kids and none of them would be acceptable Science Fair projects today. According to a CPS website students must "Have a purpose and hypothesis for your project; they must apply to a definite scientific question. The reason for doing a research project is to make a significant contribution to the body of scientific knowledge or to solve a problem". My friends and I never felt the beyond our years pressure to "make a significant contribution to the body of scientific knowledge". Isn't that for adults to tackle? We didn't feel the need to solve a problem either. All we needed was the desire to learn more and to share what we learned. These current day Science Fair parameters cut out a whole lot of "I wonder how/what/and whys".

To be clear, Science Fair or no Science Fair, I think it is important that every kid learn how to run an experiment correctly...making a hypothesis, keeping a constant, changing only one variable. I completely encourage the scientific method being taught in school and I support those kids who chose Science Fair projects that utilized the scientific method, but science is not all about one method, not even THE great and wonderful scientific method. Over the years as a Science Fair judge, I have seen the rule for testable experiments produce a gym full of "Consumer Reports" type projects; which paper towel sucks up the most water? What detergent gets out stains the best? Which tissue is the strongest? Sure they all fit the criteria but what's missing is any kind of passion regarding the project.... and for the amount of time, money and effort put into these projects, there should be a genuine, heartfelt interest in the topic. The kids I grew up with had great answers for "Why did you chose this as your topic?" "My mom smokes and I wondered what cigarettes were doing to her lungs." "I saw the Apollo mission on TV and wondered how a rocket worked." "I wondered how they clean Lake Michigan water before we drink it." Now when asked, "Why did you pick this topic?" kids often respond "because I found it on the Science Buddies site...and I could test it."

The other aspect of Science Fair that has diminished is the "you are the expert" component. First and foremost now is the written abstract, complete with a lengthy bibliography, cited sources, graphs and charts. I confess, we didn't even do an abstract back in the '70s. We needed to research our experiment and create the all important trifold board, but it was the presentation that carried the most weight, how well you knew your topic and how interesting you could present it to the public. Walking around the Science Fair...and it did have the feel of a "fair" back in the'd see reproductions, models, and demonstrations that were far more arresting than today's multi-paged abstract and carefully matted and meticulous placed charts and photos. The Science Fair has become a tedious, arduous, and totally stressful right of passage in public schools, but it's not doing much to inspire a love of science. In many Chicago Public Schools, the Science Fair makes up a substantial portion of the kid's grade, so the focus is on getting the maximum amount of points. This is especially true for kids in fifth and seventh grades, where grades are a key determinant for middle and high school acceptance letters. It's no longer about being an expert for a day. It's about meeting the rubric.

This is my seventh year of overseeing the Science Fair projects of my kids. Yes the projects were "testable". They had a hypothesis, a procedure and a conclusion. Yes the abstracts were thick and chock full of official citations and positioned exactly where they were supposed to be on the trifold board. Yes every project had its mandatory results chart or graph, also positioned exactly where it was supposed to be on the board. Of course everything was completed to spec and official looking, otherwise points would have been taken off. Most importantly from my children's perspective, the Science Fair project "was done." That is the overall feeling when completing the final swipe of the glue-stick..."it's done." This is why I have fallen out of love with the Science Fair. What once was a showcase of scientific interest, an opportunity to explore, a day that gave everyone an insight into where a kid's curiosity lay, has evolved into a tedious, arduous, rigid task to "get done". ...complete with twelve meticulously cited sources, a procedure written in step form, a hypothesis glued to the upper left hand corner of the trifold, board, and a ten-page abstract, located in the bottom middle of the board. My kingdom for a pinhole camera.

This Church Reportedly Had No Problem With Employee Being Gay -- Until He Wanted To Marry

Tue, 2014-12-09 15:41
The former music director for an Illinois church is suing the parish for dismissing him from his position of 17 years.

Colin Collette says he was fired after announcing his engagement to his male partner. Though same-sex marriages are legal in Illinois, Roman Catholic church officials tend to take a hardline stance on the issue of same-sex relationships. What's more, Collette's attorney says the parish has known for years that Collette is gay and only fired him once his intent to wed became public.

Holy Family Parish, located in the Chicago suburb of Inverness, dropped Collette from his longtime role in July, shortly after he posted on Facebook that he was engaged to marry his partner, William Nifong. Collette told local outlet the Daily Herald that Holy Family's Pastor Terry Keehan spoke with him and encouraged him to resign. But Collette said he declined to step down and instead was let go the next day.

Collette, a self-described lifelong Catholic, later partnered with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Cook County Human Rights Commission and on Dec. 4 filed a federal discrimination complaint against the parish and its pastor.

Kerry Lavelle, Collette's attorney, said the difference between Collette's case and other cases where the courts have ruled in favor of the church is that Collette ostensibly was terminated for announcing his marriage plans, not merely because his employer found out he is gay. The parish already knew about Collette's sexual orientation, according to Lavelle.

"That's a marriage that is rightfully allowable under the law now," Lavelle told The Huffington Post, referring to the Illinois law that took effect in June and officially allows same-sex marriages. "In the other cases, people weren't fired for getting married, they were fired for being gay. And [Holy Family] has known for years that Colin is gay."

Lavelle is hoping the state's same-sex marriage law will carry more weight in the case than the Catholic church's oft-used defense of "ministerial exception" to workplace discrimination laws. (In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that religious employers had “ministerial exception” under the First Amendment, meaning they could discriminate against their employees without any court review if the employee has “a role in conveying the church’s message and carrying out its mission.”)

"Maybe [the church] will argue that he's being fired for being gay," Lavelle added. "But if they do say that, they've waited 17 years to announce it."

Collette himself has told local media that Holy Family knew about his sexual orientation prior to the marriage announcement. Parishioner Gina Groberski told the Chicago Tribune that it wasn't much of a secret. "[I]t's not like he hid it," she said.

In a statement Thursday, Collette said he wants be reinstated, calling the job an "integral part of my life."

My goal is not just to continue a career in a community I love. Directing both worship and the music ministry is truly my vocation: It is who I am. And it saddens me to have this integral part of my life taken away because I have chosen to enter into a marriage, as is my right under Illinois law.

I look forward to a resolution of the issue, and I hope in addition to being allowed to return to my ministry, that perhaps I can open the door for other women and men the church has chosen to exclude.

Lavelle said Collette's case, if it goes to trial, will be unique among other discrimination suits of this nature.

"We did our diligence and we don’t know of a similar type case, and we can’t find one," Lavelle said. "I think we’re going to embark on some new ground."

Neither Pastor Keehan nor a representative of Holy Family was available to comment. Bishop Blase Cupich, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was not available, either. A statement sent to HuffPost from the archdiocese said it had not seen the complaint filed by Collette.

Holy Family has until Jan. 2 to respond to the lawsuit.

H/T Chicago Tribune

Alex Wiley's 'Top Of The World' Explores Life's Dark, Beautiful Duality

Tue, 2014-12-09 15:00
Alex Wiley caught the attention of the hip-hop world after the summer release of his "Village Party" album, proving himself to be one of Chicago's most promising artists on the rise. The Huffington Post is pleased to premiere his brand new track, "Top of the World," which was written and arranged by Wiley, Blev and Carter Lang.

“I made this song when I was working on a project called 'Generous Dubsack,'" Wiley said during his lunch break in the middle of a 12-hour studio session. "[The project] was loosely based on my high school experience, but it was about a kid who’s having a hard time in school, flunking out of high school basically. A lot of shit’s going on in his life, he’s really depressed and he’s suicidal. He plans to kill himself every weekend after school, but every Friday he has a ritual that he buys weed and his dealer always gives him more than he pays for. It was going to be about that human connection and I kind of scrapped the project, but I made a few songs for it -- including 'Sexual Dolphin' and 'Lil Stoner Boi' -- and this was the main song that made me want to make this project in the first place.”

"Top of the World" draws comparisons to the attitude and feeling that can be associated with Kid Cudi's "Man on the Moon" series, but provides a format that proves tougher on the listener's stomach. Eschewing any semblance of verse or chorus, Wiley forces listeners to count every beat, pressing replay after each listen to try to memorize its abstract structure. Sticking to his sing-song rhymes, as a helix of synthesizers whirls in and out overtop of a grounding steady four-on-the-floor kick, the song elevates while tapping into the burdens that are a part of everyday life. Searching for the beauty in the parts that aren't so pretty, Wiley wants to challenge his listeners by creating music that they wouldn't expect to hear from him.

"I’m trying to make music that’s uncomfortable, but the sound is progressive enough and intriguing enough that it makes you listen to something that you wouldn’t necessarily have before," Wiley said. "I want it to be more than just something you can put on and nod your head to with your friends in your car, but I don’t want it to be limited to something that you can only listen to by yourself because it's so sad and introspective that you feel awkward listening to it with other people.

“I’m trying to make dark, beautiful things, essentially, because I want my music to stand beyond now," Wiley added. "My whole thing now is perspective, like, how am I going to feel about this later? Am I going to be proud of all of this or am I going to be ashamed of the time that I was a young kid-rapper saying reckless shit on the Internet?”

About halfway into his next album, which will be titled "Silent Party," "Top of the World" functions as a sonic bridge. For fans in Chicago, Wiley will be headlining a free show Wednesday, Dec. 10.

Here Are The Most Horrific Details From The Senate Torture Report

Tue, 2014-12-09 14:05
On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited torture report, revealing horrific details about the CIA's post-9/11 detention and interrogation program.

Many of the details in the report are sickening and graphic. They are perhaps made only more disturbing by the overarching conclusion that the torture and "enhanced interrogation" employed by the CIA failed to produce the types of significant intelligence that had been used to defend the program in the past.

You can go here to read the Senate report in its entirety, including an initial summary and hundreds of pages of declassified documents. Below is a compilation of some of the most horrific details from it.

Detainees were subjected to "rectal feeding," a process by which food is pumped into the anus...

[Page 115]

... even when there was no medical need demonstrated for it.

[Page 82]

Detainees were told they would never leave these "black sites" and that their families would be sexually assaulted or murdered.

[Page 4 of summary]

One never did. He died of suspected hypothermia after being tortured at one of the covert facilities.

[Page 10 of summary]

During an extended period of stress, an interrogator operated a power drill near a detainee.

[Page 69]

Detainees were waterboarded until they turned blue...

[Page 107]

... and were on the verge of drowning.

[Page 86]

Forced nudity was regularly used as an interrogation technique.

[Page 79]

After this brutal regimen of torture, detainees often gave false information, which the U.S. acted on.

[Page 83]

One detainee, a Saudi Arabian citizen who is still being held at Guantanamo Bay and was one of the first detainees held during the torture program, faced nearly 19 days of nonstop "enhanced interrogation techniques."

[Page 40]

This included extended periods of isolation and confinement in a coffin-sized box.

[Page 42]

At one black site, groups of detainees were regularly stripped, beaten, hooded and bound with tape.

[Page 4 of summary]

Detainees were subjected to seemingly unimaginable periods of sleep deprivation, in conjunction with other forms of torture.

[Page 149]

Sleep deprivation often led to disturbing hallucinations.

[Page 16]

Detainees were also refused access to toilets, put in diapers and left hanging by their wrists in cells for extended periods of time.

[Page 53]

Others were forced to maintain "stress positions" even on broken limbs and though medical personnel had advised against it.

[Page 101]

An interrogator reportedly played Russian roulette with a detainee.

[Page 424]

The CIA detained individuals who did not meet its outlined detention standard, and they were used to extract information from family members. This included at least one "intellectually challenged" individual.

[Page 12 of summary]

Some mistakenly held detainees were subjected to prolonged periods of torture before being released.

[Page 42]

Many CIA officials were disturbed by the techniques and torture they witnessed at these sites.

[Page 44]

Ashley Alman, Mollie Reilly and Paige Lavender contributed reporting.

77 Meaningful Gift Ideas To Make The World Merrier

Tue, 2014-12-09 13:52
Gift-giving can be tough when you're shopping for conscious consumers. There's your eco-friendly uncle, your globally minded mother-in-law, your bighearted niece -- does the perfect gift even exist? Fret no more.

HuffPost sought out 77 gifts that make the world a better place for every one of your thoughtful loved ones. Click the images to see more:

For Women Who Support Woman

For Conscious Kids

For Humane Furry Friends

For Benevolent Beauties

For Your Granola Friends

For Everyone Else

Short Film 'This Is It' Beautifully Sums Up Your First Apartment And Roommate Experience

Tue, 2014-12-09 13:26
Remember your first roommate? You know, that person you're no longer friends with?

In "This Is It," Writer and director Alexander Engel brings one of the best and most succinct portrayals of two doe-eyed young friends' first apartment experience together. Did you do the dishes? Did you shower last? Did you use my mouthwash? The questions never end.

More than just your standard comedy short, "This Is It" is brilliant and creative storytelling. You may have to watch it a few times to catch the underlying narrative, but it's worth it.

Lessons from Ferguson, applied in Illinois

Tue, 2014-12-09 13:19
Four years after Illinois' fiasco with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment and trial, Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association says the state has learned from the ordeal. Reforms have been implemented to limit conflicts of interest, stop contract abuses and combat a general culture of corruption.

Shaw says the lessons learned in the national conversations surrounding race after Ferguson can be applied in the same way:

Protests are continuing, along with an examination of police protocols in threatening situations: When should cops use batons, stun guns and other non-lethal weapons to control suspects and protect themselves, and when is a potential kill shot appropriate?

Should there be video recorders in all police cars, and body cameras on every officer, to document confrontations?

And the justice system: Do current laws fairly and adequately protect both parties -- police and victims?

Should the same prosecutors who work side-by-side with police on criminal cases be managing grand jury proceedings that involve deaths at the hands of officers?

And, of course, the overarching issue: What role does race and racism continue to play in these volatile situations?

See the rest of his thoughts on how to learn from Ferguson at Reboot Illinois.

Another national conversation with Illinois implications is the debate over a minimum wage hike. While it looked like the General Assembly might pass an increase during the veto session, it's now clear any changes will have to wait until at least January. Capitol Fax's Rich Miller blames Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan for the delay.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does indeed have a lot of explaining to do. His decision to move up a vote to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage for his city completely undercut Springfield's efforts to pass a statewide minimum wage capped everywhere at $11 an hour.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel does indeed have a lot of explaining to do. His decision to move up a vote to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage for his city completely undercut Springfield's efforts to pass a statewide minimum wage capped everywhere at $11 an hour...

Even so, Speaker Madigan himself shares in the blame here. Yes, he's not all-powerful, but he probably could've passed a minimum wage bill during the spring session. Instead, he didn't want to rile up business groups before an election and believed he could use the issue to fire up his party's base and the unions in the November election.

See the rest at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Cartoon illustrates the national race discussion, post-Ferguson

22 Clever Christmas Cards That Are Actually Funny

Tue, 2014-12-09 11:36
Your Christmas card game just got a whole lot stronger.

Let's be real. Christmas cards suck. You're either getting some lame variation of a red-and-green-themed Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Season's Greetings OR some braggadocious novel of holiday newsletter that is solely aimed at making you feel even worse about your pathetic life. We can't force people to stop sending you either of these sad excuses for "holiday cheer," but we can make sure that you're never forced to do the same.

We've compiled a few hilarious card options for every person your list. Whether you need a card for your precocious 8-year-old cousin Olivia or your totally obnoxious brother-in-law Dave, we've got you covered.

For the person who loves pop culture...

Source: Imgur user rossmiers87

Source: Tay Ham Greeting Cards

Source: Claire Lordon Design

Source: Clever Printables

For the person who can appreciate a good biblical joke...

Source: shopsaplingpress

Source: Naughty Little Cards

Or a good tech joke...

Source: shopsaplingpress

For the person who knows how to truly enjoy the holiday...

Source: JessieandSquid

Source: Stuff Anna Loves

Source: Naughty Little Cards

And for the cynic who is approaching it all wrong...

Source: shopsaplingpress

For that special someone...

Source: Lost Marbles Co.

Source: Naughty Little Cards

Source: Lost Marbles Co.

Or not...

Source: Naughty Little Cards

For the G-rated crowd...

Source: Mudsplash Studios

Source: Claire Lordon Design

And the R-rated crowd...

Source: Lost Marbles Co.

Source: JessieandSquid

Source: Lost Marbles Co.

For mom or dad or anyone else who has "had it with the damn cell phones"...

Source: shopsaplingpress

And last, but not least, for Dave...

Source: JessieandSquid

One Idea, Many Consequences

Tue, 2014-12-09 10:39
Let me begin with an introduction for readers outside of Illinois. In the last election, a political novice but a successful businessman, Bruce Rauner, was elected as the state's new governor. One former Illinois governor is in prison, another was recently released -- both for corruption. The state government is perceived as inefficient and crooked. The numbers are not good, either. People argue about how big the debt is, but nobody questions that it is too big; Illinois has the worst credit rating among all states in the nation. Billboards in Chicago encourage businesses to move to Indiana.

Bruce Rauner has promised to reverse this down spin. Preparing to take office in January, the governor-elect has turned to Illinoisans for ideas. People providing ideas are asked to allocate them to one of the 88 state agencies. The Department of Aging, being the first on the list, caught my attention, because with me being above 60, aging is my great concern.

My first reflection was that even the best-run Department of Aging cannot stop or, even better, reverse my aging. Furthermore, a long time ago I knew when my senior years would come. I had decades to save money and make arrangements in securing for myself decent living conditions in retirement. I realize that if I miscalculate, in my senior years I might need to accept a lower standard of living than I enjoy now. Lastly, if I ever would need to ask for help from the Department of Aging, I would see it as a humiliating acknowledgment of my failure in securing my wellbeing at my old age, what I consider as my sole responsibility.

It is not how the Department of Aging sees its mission, as in the opening statement on its website one can read that it is in "administering quality and culturally appropriate programs that promote partnerships and encourage independence, dignity, and quality of life" for older Illinoisans. The difference is in taking away the -- obvious to me -- embarrassment of reaching for government support and replacing it with the pride of getting something that one is entitled to. In this difference there is encompassed the essence of the problems that Illinois faces; it is in the question of what the role of government is. Is it in facilitating individuals to become prosperous and self-sufficient by their own actions, or is it in building a network of government institutions guaranteeing everyone "dignity and quality of life"?

The latter seems to be the model of government practiced in Illinois. It seems to be the opposite to the ideal of government as envisioned at the origins of the United States and practiced up to about one hundred years ago, when gradually government began taking upon itself the ever-expanding obligations of providing "dignity and quality of life" for everyone. Before that, government was perceived as securing law and order, guaranteeing everyone the same chances to prosper. In that approach, the government role was in preserving the individual's unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Behind this lofty language is the sobering truth best described by Benjamin Franklin that "the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it." The reality was that those who caught up with it became rich, those who did not -- poor. Those unlucky poor were left to the mercy of the charity of others. It was perceived as unjust and undignified, as for many that misfortune was not their fault; it was due to sickness, accidents or the wrongdoing of others. From there, it was just one step to get government involved in assisting those unfortunate.

Once started, it could only grow. For example, the $1.12 billion budget (2014) of the Department of Aging means an average $502 spent per year for every Illinoisan older than 60. Yes, older than 60, because this is the age that qualifies for help from the Department of Aging. Presently 17.3 percent of the inhabitants of Illinois are 60 or older. Within the next fifteen years it will be reaching 25 percent, almost a 50 percent increase. The Rauner administration will need to find money to finance the expected 50 percent increase in the needs of the Department of Aging. Or, it may take a different approach; it can revitalize the economy so people will make enough money to become self-sufficient in their advanced years. Also, it can open opportunities for older people to get help in the most dignified way, by finding a job. Lastly, it can tell Illinoisans the sad truth that "dignity and quality of life" never will and never can come from the government handouts; they can only come from one's own work.

With this approach the Department of Aging could be completely eliminated, as most old people would not need it. Those very few needing assistance with housing could get it from the Illinois Housing Development Authority; those needing medical or living assistance could get it from the departments of Healthcare and Family Services or Human Services. The general idea is that the government should shift from providing "dignity and quality of life" into enabling and encouraging people to take care of their affairs themselves, so fewer of them would need and seek government assistance.

Are Illinoisans ready to accept this concept of working more and expecting less from the government? I doubt it. My conclusion is based on the result of the minimum wage referendum, where almost exactly two-thirds of Illinois voters supported increasing the minimum wage from the current $8.25 to $10.00. The argument for an increased minimum wage was that a person working full-time should earn a living wage. The fallacy of this argument is that neither the current nor proposed minimum wage suffices to support a family; the real living salary starts around double the minimum wage.

The legal minimum wage is a reference point for unskilled workers and in practice should apply mostly for beginners and seasonal workers. Only unqualified workers with a poor work ethic should stay on the minimum wage for a prolonged time; everybody else should advance. Hence, the real objective is not whether the minimum wage is one dollar higher or lower, it is in having a prevailing majority of workers making at least double the minimum wage. However, with the economy in stagnation, as in Illinois, many workers had no choice but to accept jobs paying minimum wage or not much above it. The only way out of it is by stimulating the economy. The government decree increasing the minimum wage arbitrarily, without a revitalization of the economy, will only cause inflation; people will be paid more, but each dollar earned will be worth less. Two-thirds of Illinois voters do not get it.

By electing Bruce Rauner, Illinois voters recognized the need for reforms. They are about to get a rude awakening to the painful truth that the near-bankruptcy of the state is not caused by a group of bad politicians. It is a logical consequence of the will of the majority of Illinoisans wanting the state government to maintain a system of regulations and government agencies guaranteeing "dignity and quality of life" for everyone. This concept of a complex government breeds corruption. It also gives the masses an illusion that, in exchange for some petty taxes now, in the future almost everyone will get government assistance far exceeding his or her contribution. This craftiness of a dodger eventually leads to too many takers and too few contributors. It leads to insolvency, exactly where Illinois is now.

Bruce Rauner succeeded in convincing Illinoisans that he can make Illinois great again. Judging from the minimum wage referendum, about two-thirds of the people in Illinois still did not get it that it can be done only by government doing less, not more. It can be done only by government making it easier to get prosperous for those who want to work harder and take a risk. And, by government giving away less to those who are not as much entrepreneurial in taking care of their own affairs. By winning the election, Bruce Rauner opened the doors to a better Illinois. The steep stairs up have just begun.

WARNING: Facebook Is Trying To Get You To Friend Your One-Night Stands

Tue, 2014-12-09 09:46
I love Facebook.

My page -- part diary, part cocktail party, part think tank -- has become a place where friends, acquaintances and complete strangers come together and joke, flirt, share stories and have really smart and often tough conversations about everything from sex and love to gender and race.

I also love that I'm never sure who is going to pop up in my feed and when I'm bored or avoiding doing something more important, I scroll through my "People You May Know" box on the off chance I'll bump into someone from my past or find someone I might want to be a part of my future. But mostly my friend suggestions involve people I don't know and fall into one of these four categories: guys who look like models, guys who look like porn stars, drag queens and guys who look like models that do drag porn.

At least that was true until last night. And then everything changed and all of a sudden I noticed that my "People You May Know" box was overrun with a decade's worth of guys that I've dated or hooked up with and then promptly forgot about (or actively took great pains to avoid).

There was the guy who was so arrogant that despite him having one of the prettiest dicks I've ever held in my left hand, I couldn't make it past a second date with him. There was the guy who didn't get any of my jokes and lived in what I imagine Freddy Krueger's basement bachelor pad would probably look like. And there was the guy who literally chewed on my tongue while we were making out (and not in a good way).

At first I thought I must be on some kind of low budget cable access hidden camera show or maybe my roommate had spiked my chili with PCP but when I mentioned the horror show that was unfolding on my page to my Facebook friends it became clear that I wasn't the only one being haunted and/or hunted and my feed immediately filled up with comments like, "OMG WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!?" "I thought I was going crazy" and "I noticed the change. Suddenly my vague work contacts were side by side with people I've seen naked. Memories..."

So, why is this happening and how do we make it stop? Facebook is infamously cagey when it comes to explaining their algorithms (and didn't immediately respond to a request for a statement) but it appears that the social media site is using our contacts in our phones to put us (back) in touch with people we may have (purposefully) forgotten about.

Someone in my comments section mentioned that you can go to this page and see the imported phone numbers and delete them. However, he also noted that "even if you didn't sync your phone book, if you provide your phone number to Facebook, you might get matched with other folks who have you in their phonebooks. So if you want to completely opt out, you need to take your phone number off Facebook. Also keep in mind that your phone book will be continuously synced so any new numbers you add might show up in People You May Know." (This may not actually solve the problem, though, as some are reporting that people they've chatted with on Grindr and Tinder but never swapped numbers with are now popping up.)

After my initial hysteria wore off I started to wonder if maybe -- just maybe -- there was some good that could come out of this nightmare. And, of course, there is. It's always a good idea (re)consider how often and how easily we offer up personal information about ourselves and how often and how easily corporations can make use of that personal information. And on a very practical level, it's a good reminder to clean out my phone book (something I haven't done in years -- if ever) more often.

But beyond that, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not every hook up or relationship was awful and a few of the faces that I saw in my "People You May Know" box were guys I actually had a really nice time with and, for one reason or another, we just never hung out again. I'm not saying that I'm going to contact all (or any) of these guys or that I'm having (or at least indulging) fantasies about finding my husband in the ruins of a once forgotten one-night stand, but I like the idea of remembering -- of memory -- and honoring those experiences (even the terrible ones) as being part of building who I am today. In our culture of the quick fix and the even quicker orgasm, when we're often so ready to flee from something that feels scary or challenging, being confronted by our failures can reveal how much we've grown.

That doesn't mean I really want to be reunited with mister arrogant pretty dick or Freddy Krueger or the tongue chewer. Some experiences and people belong in the past and that's an important lesson too. But I am going to take Facebook's lead and consider that maybe I judged some of those other guys a little too quickly and they might deserve another chance or -- at the very least -- a Facebook friend request.

'Rude Cakes' Are The Treat You Should Give To The People You Hate The Most

Tue, 2014-12-09 09:26
In search of the perfect gift to give someone you totally hate this holiday season? Look no further than these beautiful "rude cakes."

Sarah Brockett, the mastermind behind The Bold Bakery, whips up raunchy confections that are perfect for anyone on your shit list. "The idea for the Bold Bakery began as my senior thesis project, at Grand Valley State University, where I earned my BFA in Graphic Design," Brockett wrote to HuffPost Taste in an email. "I was trying to find a way to combine my two favorite activities -- baking and creating hand lettering. I knew I wanted to create baked goods with interesting typography, but I didn't want them to be 'normal.'"

Normal they are not. Crafting this exotic pumpkin pie was a tedious process, Brockett said. "I had to create the word 'whore' multiple times out of pie crust. Then I stood them upright in the bottom of the pie, rotating around the pie from the center." The word "whore" will be displayed no matter what part of the pie is sliced.

Each ineloquent word and indelicate phrase has either been said by Brockett herself or someone around her. She keeps track of them in her sketch book and, come baking time, pairs them with the food item that seems most appropriate.

As Brockett writes on her site, "The Bold Bakery is not where you want to purchase Grandma’s birthday cake from. It is, however, the perfect place to have a pie created for your cheating husband, or your bratty pre-teen daughter."

Surely there must be a few people on your list who are deserving of such a vulgar sweet.

If you happen to be void of hatred, these would still make a great gag gift because, holy shit, they're just awesome.

All photos courtesy of Sarah Brockett.

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Organizer in Chief?

Tue, 2014-12-09 08:46
Occasionally, President Barack Obama reminds us that he was once a community organizer.

In his interview Monday night with BET News, Obama said that he had invited some people who have been organizing protests against police misconduct to meet with him at the White House last week.

"Because the old adage, power concedes nothing without a fight -- I think that's true," Obama said.

Obama was closely paraphrasing a statement by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass that is well-known among community organizers and activists: "Power concedes nothing without a demand."

This is not a phrase that most politicians would be familiar with. Obama probably first heard Douglass' words during his three years as a community organizer in Chicago during the 1980s. Douglass' famous one-liner was actually part of a speech he gave on August 3, 1857 in Canandaigua, New York. Civil rights and community organizers rediscovered Douglass' words in the 1960s and they've become a key part of the ideas that young activists imbibe, especially these two paragraphs:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Obama echoed Douglass' sentiments in several parts of his BET interview. He said that he supported the protests over police killings of unarmed black males so long as they are peaceful.

"A country's conscience sometimes has to be triggered by some inconvenience, because I think a lot of people who saw the Eric Garner video are troubled, even if they haven't had that same experience themselves. Even if they're not African-American or Latino," said Obama.

He noted that the news media and the public, sometimes lose interest in an issue as new topics grab their attention, "so the value of peaceful protests -- activism, organizing -- is it reminds the society this is not yet done."

In 1985, at age 23, Obama was hired by the Developing Communities Project, a coalition of churches on Chicago's South Side, to help empower residents to win improved playgrounds, after-school programs, job training, housing, and other concerns affecting a neighborhood hurt by large-scale layoffs from the nearby steel mills and neglect by banks, retail stores, and the local government. He knocked on doors and talked to people in their kitchens, living rooms, and churches about the problems they faced and why they needed to get involved to change things.

As an organizer, Obama learned the skills of motivating and mobilizing people who had little faith in their ability to make politicians, corporations and other powerful institutions accountable. Obama taught low-income people how to analyze power relations, gain confidence in their own leadership abilities, and work together.

For example, he organized tenants in the troubled Altgelt Gardens public housing project to push the city to remove dangerous asbestos in their apartments, a campaign that he acknowledged resulted in only a partial victory. After Obama helped organize a large mass meeting of angry tenants, the city government started to test and seal asbestos in some apartments, but ran out of money to complete the task.

Although he didn't make community organizing a lifetime career -- he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law School -- Obama said that his organizing experience had shaped his approach to politics. After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice and teach law. But in the mid-1990s, he also began contemplating running for office. In 1995, he told a Chicago newspaper, "What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer -- as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?"

During his 2008 campaign for president, Obama frequently referred to the three years he spent as a community organizer as "the best education I ever had." He often referred to the valuable lessons he learned working "in the streets" of Chicago.

"I've won some good fights and I've also lost some fights, because good intentions are not enough, when not fortified with political will and political power," echoing Frederick Douglass' sentiments.

In 2008, Obama enlisted Marshall Ganz, a Harvard professor who is one of the country's leading organizing theorists and practitioners, to help train organizers and volunteers as a key component of his presidential campaign. Ganz was instrumental in shaping the volunteer training experience.

Many Obama campaign volunteers went through several days of intense training sessions called "Camp Obama." The sessions were led by Ganz and other experienced organizers, including Mike Kruglik, one of Obama's organizing mentors in Chicago. Potential field organizers were given an overview of the history of grassroots organizing techniques and the key lessons of campaigns that have succeeded and failed.

During that contest, the Obama campaign drew on community organizing techniques to build an effective grassroots organization that increased registration and turnout among voters, particularly African Americans and 18 to 29 year olds. Both groups not only voted overwhelmingly for Obama but also came to the polls in relatively high numbers.

Throughout that 2008 campaign, Obama consistently praised the young organizers working on his staff and the role of organizers in American history.

"Nothing in this country worthwhile has ever happened except when somebody somewhere was willing to hope," Obama said during that first campaign for the White House. "That is how workers won the right to organize against violence and intimidation. That's how women won the right to vote. That's how young people traveled south to march and to sit in and to be beaten, and some went to jail and some died for freedom's cause." Change comes about, Obama said, by "imagining, and then fighting for, and then working for, what did not seem possible before."

In town forums and living-room meetings, Obama told audiences that "real change" only comes about from the "bottom up," but that as president, he can give voice to those organizing in their workplaces, communities, and congregations around a positive vision for change. "That's leadership," he says.

Many of the organizers who worked on Obama's first campaign wound up working for Organizing for America (now called Organizing for Action), a White House-led organization that was intended to keep the campaign volunteers involved in issue battles in-between election cycles. OFA has not lived up to its early promise, but many people trained in organizing skills in the first and second Obama campaigns went on to play key roles in other Democratic Party contests for Congress, governor races, and various issue campaign.

As soon as Obama won the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and even more since entering the White House, he has been subjected to constant attacks by right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers for his background as a community organizer. They've sought to demonize Obama as a "radical" and a "socialist" by linking him to Saul Alinsky, one of the founders of modern community organizing who died at 63 in 1972. Obama never met Alinsky but he was no doubt familiar with his ideas, summarized in two books -- Reveille for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971).

Tens of thousands of organizers and activists have been directly or indirectly influenced by Alinsky's ideas about organizing. Most of them -- like the young Barack Obama -- have been liberals and progressives, following Alinsky's instincts to challenge the rich and powerful. The left, however, has no monopoly on using Alinsky's techniques. After Obama took office in 2009, even as the Tea Party and conservatives like Glenn Beck attacked Obama for being a radical, they began recommending Alinsky's books as training tools for building a right-wing movement. Freedom Works, a corporate-funded conservative group started by former Republican congressman Dick Armey, used Rules for Radicals as a primer for its training of Tea Party activists. One Tea Party leader explained, "Alinsky's book is important because there really is no equivalent book for conservatives. There's no 'Rules for Counter-Radicals.'"

There are tens of thousands of Americans today who earn a living as organizers for unions, environmental groups, LGBT and women's rights groups, community organizations, school reform groups, and others causes, and millions of people who participate in the meetings, lobbying campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts, and occasional protests that these groups sponsor.

The mainstream media routinely ignores community organizing except when groups engage in dramatic protest, such as the current turmoil in Ferguson and elsewhere. Not a single daily newspaper has a reporter assigned full-time to cover community organizing. Environmental reporters mainly focus on scientific debates or politicians' maneuverings over legislation, not the grassroots activism that helps turn pollution problems into public issues. Every newspaper has a business section that typically regurgitates the activities of corporate America, but the New York Times is the only major daily newspaper with a full-time reporter covering the labor movement, but last week that reporter, Steve Greenhouse, announced he would soon leave the paper and it isn't clear whether the Times will replace him on the labor beat.

The editors of most major newspapers and TV networks can probably tell you the name of the CEO of at least one major Wall Street bank or the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but few likely could identify the leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Center for Community Change, National Peoples Action, PICO, U.S. Action, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, or the NAACP, and few reporters for local papers cover the day-to-day activities of the thousands of groups that mobilize people at work, in their neighborhoods, and through their faith-based congregations. Occasionally, a mainstream media outlet will highlight the impressive work of a local grassroots organizing group -- such as Greenhouse's recent profile of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and stories by the Washington Post's Dina ElBoghdady and the Wall Street Journal's Joe Light about the growing success of a network of local community groups to pressure banks and Fannie Mae to halt foreclosures and instead renegotiate loans with "underwater" homeowners. But organizers know that if they want to get their campaigns and issues in the news, they usually have disrupt business-as-usual, because otherwise they are invisible to the vast majority of reporters and columnists.

Activists in the environmental, immigrant rights, community organizer, and labor movements had hoped that Obama would use the growing network of grassroots organizers to his advantage. They figured that he would understand that protest in the streets, workplaces, and neighborhoods would make it easier for the president to achieve his liberal policy agenda. They wanted Obama to follow the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who recognized that his ability to push New Deal legislation through Congress depended on the pressure generated by protesters -- workers, World War I veterans, the jobless, the homeless, and farmers -- even though he didn't always welcome it. They thought that Obama would learn the lessons that Lyndon Johnson learned in the 1960s, when the willingness of civil rights activists to put their bodies on the line against fists and fire hoses shifted public opinion and transformed LBJ from a reluctant advocate to a powerful ally, joining forces with Rev. Martin Luther King and others to get Congress to pass his Great Society plans, such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

But Obama seemed to abandon his affinity for organizing soon after he entered the White House. He tried to be a consensus-builder, eschewing conflict, even with those in Congress and in corporate boardrooms who pledged not only to defeat his policy agenda but also to undermine his legitimacy as president.

The battle over health care reform in 2009 and 2010 reflected Obama's ambivalence toward disruptive activism. At first, White House staffers discouraged Health Care for America Now (HCAN), a coalition of labor, consumer, and community groups, from mobilizing protests, worried that it would alienate moderate Democrats who had close ties to the drug and insurance industries. But when it appeared that Obama's signature legislative initiative was going down to embarrassing defeat -- due to the rise of the Tea Party movement and the insurance industry's unwillingness to broker a deal -- Obama undertook a cross-country speaking tour to energize voters to pressure Congress members to vote for reform.

"Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp," Obama implored his audience at Arcadia University outside Philadelphia. He denounced the insurance companies, which "continue to ration care on the basis of who's sick and who's healthy." Forgoing the bipartisan rhetoric that for months had frustrated activists, Obama taunted Republican critics who have stymied reform: "You had 10 years. What happened? What were you doing?"

"I'm kind of fired up," Obama continued, repeating a phrase he used in his campaign. Then he again appealed for help. "So I need you to knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors. Pick up the phone," he said.

While Obama was firing up audiences, HCAN -- with the White House's quiet support -- organized protests at the offices of leading insurance companies, and even at the homes of top industry executives. The group mounted more than 200 increasingly feisty protest events in 46 states.

It represented an escalation in HCAN's efforts to spotlight the industry's outrageous profits, abuse of consumers, and outsized political influence. HCAN publicly warned Democrats not to get duped by the industry's pledges of cooperation, echoing the old union song, "which side are you on? The industry or consumers?" The protests and media attention emboldened the Obama House to treat the industry as a target rather than an ally, reflected in his increasingly aggressive speeches critical of the insurance giants. Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, although he failed to give HCAN the credit it deserved for salvaging health care reform.

Today's organizers have mostly been disappointed that Obama has been reluctant to play this "inside/outside" game. Instead, he has often been the target of protests by progressive movements, such as the crusade to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the battle to pass immigrant reform. On both issues, however, these movements have influenced and shifted Obama's stance. He has indicated his willingness to stop the oil pipeline and he recently issues an executive order protecting at least 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Although he's been unable to push Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, he recently took the labor movement's advice to use his executive authority to increase wages for employees of private companies that have federal government contracts.

Every so often, however, Obama seems to remember his activist background and uses it to encourage a new generation to organize for change.

"I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change," Obama told students at Georgetown University in June of last year, during a speech announcing his proposal to cut pollution from power plants, expand renewable energy development on public lands, and support climate-resilient investments. Noting that big corporations will resist calls to reduce their unhealthy practices, Obama urged the students to "Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there's no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth."

The word "divest" was like a dog whistle to campus activists who've been pushing their colleges and universities to rid their endowments of stock in companies that are part of the fossil fuel industry. It looked like the former community organizer was embracing the movement to dump stock holdings in order to compel corporations to be more socially responsible?

"'Invest, divest' is the most crypto-radical line the president has ever uttered," tweeted Chris Hayes, host of a news show on MSNBC.

"President Obama's shout-out to the fossil fuel divestment movement is a huge endorsement for the students on over 300 campuses across the country who are running this campaign," said Jamie Henn, Communications Director for, a key advocacy group for campus divestment. "If the U.S. president supports divestment, surely university presidents should do the same. My Twitter feed absolutely lit up with students tweeting the news, people are pumped."

Two days later, while visiting Senegal, Obama recalled his first foray into activism.

"My first act of political activism was when I was at Occidental College. As a 19-year-old, I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement back in 1979, 1980, because I was inspired by what was taking place in South Africa."

Now, another protest movement against racist injustice -- triggered by the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the failure of the criminal justice to indict their killers -- has propelled Obama to recall his community organizing roots.


Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Couple Sorts Through 1,000 Letters To Santa To Fulfill Christmas Lists For Kids In Need

Tue, 2014-12-09 08:40
Jennifer Jones and Matt Beresh have a box of tissues handy when they read the letters to Santa that they've collected -- the kids who wrote them often include tear-jerking stories with their Christmas wish lists.

Many children who benefit from the couple's nonprofit, There Really Is a Santa, aren't asking for much -- they primarily request basic items for their families to get by during the holidays, as CBS 2 Chicago News reported.

"My dad needs cologne and he needs clippers so he can cut our hair because there's not enough money for us all to go to the barber shop," Beresh read off one of the letters, according to the news source.

Officially launched as a nonprofit in 2006, There Really Is a Santa recorded its biggest holiday season last year, helping provide more than 60 families with gifts and raking in $42,500 in donations. The group will read as many as 1,000 letters, according to CBS 2 Chicago.

The nonprofit selects children in need from letters that arrive at the Old Chicago Main Post Office, and then takes care of all communication and gift-giving coordination with the families. Its efforts are in conjunction with the city's "Operation Santa" letter-writing campaign -- a 102-year-old U.S. Postal Service program that garners participation from 20 major cities, the Daily Herald reported.

Mel Roberson reads through letters from children as he participates in the Postal Service's Operation Santa program in 2011 in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

According to the organization, There Really Is a Santa is in the process of speaking with all recipient families to coordinate gifts. On Dec. 10, gift assignments will be given to donors, and are to be dropped off to the "the North Pole" (in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago) on Dec. 17.

To donate or get involved in There Really Is a Santa, visit the organization's website.

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