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Bill Clinton Stumps For Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin In Chicago

Tue, 2014-10-21 15:42
CHICAGO (AP) -- Former President Bill Clinton became the latest high-profile Democrat to back the re-election bids of Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, saying Tuesday that the candidates focus on issues important to voters, like jobs and health care.

"I'm here to support Dick Durbin and Pat Quinn because I think they're about the future," Clinton told workers at Chicago-based manufacturing company Wheatland Tube. "What this election should be about is what your lives are about ... more jobs, higher incomes, better education and training, secure health care and stronger families and communities. ... The rest of it is all background music."

Clinton has stumped for vulnerable Democrats in Arkansas and Louisiana, with upcoming stops in Kentucky, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Campaigns hope his star power and continued popularity will help sway undecided voters and boost minority turnout. In Chicago, he played to President Barack Obama's hometown crowd by saying Republicans in other states are using the Nov. 4 contest as a protest vote against the president.

Illinois' gubernatorial matchup is one of the most expensive and competitive nationwide. Quinn is seeking a second full term, but faces a tough challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist trying to wrest away one of the last Democratic strongholds in the Midwest. Clinton's visit was preceded by a Sunday rally headlined by Obama and events with first lady Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Rauner's campaign deemed the visits by Democrats "full rescue mode." Rauner appeared with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Rockford on Tuesday, part of a nationwide tour for Christie, who serves as the head of the Republican Governors Association. Christie has been to Illinois for Rauner several times.

Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, is seeking a fourth term against Republican dairy magnate and state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

Clinton reiterated themes that have been prominent in Quinn's re-election bid: That the Chicago Democrat took over and led Illinois at a time of ethical and economic crisis. Quinn, a former lieutenant governor, assumed office in 2009 in the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal.

Quinn noted the drop in unemployment during his tenure. State figures showed a September rate of 6.6 percent, compared to 9.1 percent a year earlier. Durbin also praised Quinn's jobs record.

But Rauner has said Illinois still lags behind other states and isn't growing or competitive.

Clinton told the enthusiastic crowd - including several state lawmakers - that the GOP elsewhere are "relentlessly attacking the president," and using the midterm election as a referendum on his presidency. He said voters shouldn't become pessimistic.

He said he's been thinking about the future more, in part because of his new granddaughter, and reflected on his role in politics.

"I feel like an old racehorse that's retired. I'm in a barn somewhere. About once every two or four years they come and bring a little extra hay," he said. "They brush me down real good, take me out to the track, slap me on the rear and just see if I can get around that track one more time."


Follow Sophia Tareen at

Top Illinois Gubernatorial Campaign Donors for Third Quarter

Tue, 2014-10-21 15:09
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican candidate Bruce Rauner raised and spent a staggering amount between July 1 and Oct. 1, the latest campaign funding reports show.

Combined, both candidates reported $35 million in expenditures during the third quarter alone. Quinn and Rauner also raked in a considerable chunk of change. Between July 1 and October 1, Quinn raised roughly $8.3 million, whereas Rauner reported more than $20 million in donations.

While Quinn ended the third quarter with just over $1 million more cash on hand than this opponent, Rauner threw in an additional $3 million into his campaign with two, $1.5 million contributions on Oct. 3 and Oct. 10.

Now it's time to take a look at where all this money is coming from. Since Rauner began his bid for governor in March 2013, we've tracked donations back to the first of that month.

Contributions to Quinn, who never had an official Democratic challenger, date back to Jan. 1, 2014. Here are five of the top campaign donors for each candidate:

Pat Quinn:

10. IBEW PAC voluntary fund--$314,102

9. United Food and Commercial Workers Union--$350,000

8. DRIVE Committee--$400,000

7. International Association of Firefighters--$500,000

6. Engineers Political Education Committee--$530,000

Bruce Rauner:

10. Digital Greensigns--$253,200

9. Glen Tullman--$280,300

8. Illinois Manufacturer's Association--$350,000

7. Elizabeth Christie--$405,300

6. Edgar Jannotta, Jr.--4405,300

See the top five donors for each campaign at Reboot Illinois.

NEXT ARTICLE: Who's endorsing whom in the Illinois governor's race?
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Hey Bruce Rauner voters, the Devil's Advocate would like a word with you

Tribune Publishing May Buy The Chicago Sun-Times' Suburban Papers, According To Report

Tue, 2014-10-21 14:51
The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times reportedly plans to sell its entire stable of suburban newspapers to Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the rival Chicago Tribune.

Calling the sale "a blockbuster deal that could change the Chicago journalism landscape," independent media reporter Robert Feder broke the news of the rumored sale Tuesday afternoon. If the deal is completed, Feder reports, Sun-Times Media Group's parent company Wrapports LLC will be left with just two metro papers: the daily Sun-Times tabloid and a free alternative weekly, The Chicago Reader, which Wrapports acquired for a song in 2012.

Tribune Publishing would acquire 38 daily and weekly newspapers currently in the Wrapports fold. The larger editions -- the Aurora Beacon-News, the Elgin Courier-News, the Lake County News-Sun, the Naperville Sun, the Southtown Star and the Indiana Post-Tribune -- serve the Chicagoland suburbs and northwest Indiana.

Though terms are unknown, Feder's sources said the rumored deal was on a "very aggressive timeline" for changes that could take place as early as November. Poynter notes that in July, Tribune CEO Jack Griffin expressed his intent to purchase smaller papers "geographically adjacent to where we run big papers and big brands."

Matthew Hutchison, a spokesperson for Tribune Publishing, refused to confirm or deny reports when contacted by Poynter.

“We do not comment on speculation,” Hutchinson said. Wrapports CEO Timothy P. Knight reportedly sent an email to employees stating the company was "evaluating a variety of investments."

The suburban papers are thought by many to be the most profitable part of the Wrapports newspaper portfolio. Just last year, Wrapports unloaded its Joliet, Illinois paper -- believed to be the most profitable in the chain -- for an estimated $6 million.

Wrapports purchased the Sun-Times Media Group in 2011 after the publisher emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy; it has continued to struggle financially. In 2013, two years after winning its eighth Pulitzer Prize, the Sun-Times notoriously laid off its entire staff of 28 full-time photographers to trim costs.

5 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Oscar de la Renta

Tue, 2014-10-21 14:10
"Fashion is about dressing according to what’s fashionable. Style is more about being yourself." -- Oscar de la Renta, Vanity Fair, 2009.

Legendary fashion designer Oscar de la Renta died on Monday but his iconic designs will live on. A true American icon, de la Renta dressed women in the public eye. His beautiful designs were seen on the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker to Oprah to Hillary Clinton (you can thank him for some pretty awesome pantsuits).

Since becoming a household name in the 1960s, de la Renta has been referenced repeatedly in pop culture and fashion. But there's more to this designer than stunning evening gowns. Here are five surprising things you might not have known about de la Renta.

1. He reimagined the official uniforms for Boy Scouts of America in 1980.

Most people think of couture gowns when they think of de la Renta, but according to Scouting Magazine, the designer took on the two-year task of remaking the official uniforms boys, girls and adults. He transformed the previously constricting military-style uniforms into more functional outfits by switching out the pants and designing new shirts that were made to use "de la Renta-designed neckerchiefs."

"It should be suitable for strenuous activity; it should be made from an easy care fabric; and at the same time the wearer should still look like a Scout," de la Renta told "Scouting Magazine" in 1980.

2. He convinced Anna Wintour to put Hillary Clinton on the cover of Vogue.

Vogue has a history of photographing first ladies, however the magazine did not put a first lady on its cover until de la Renta told Anna Wintour that Hillary Clinton's 1998 photo shoot should be a cover. "I think that article, it helped demystify my mom," Chelsea Clinton said in a 2013 interview about the designer. "The first encounter that [readers] would have had with her before they read the article was her looking so magnificent in Oscar's dress on the cover."

3. He took out a full-page ad to respond to a negative review.

In 2012, then New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn wrote some pretty harsh comments about his 2012 collection (read: "Mr. de la Renta is far more a hot dog than an éminence grise of American fashion.") As a response, de la Renta purchased a full-page ad in Women's Wear Daily and wrote, "If you have the right to call me a hot dog, why do I not have the right to call you a stale three-day old hamburger?"

4. He adopted his son from the orphanage he founded in the Dominican Republic.

De la Renta said in a Bill Clinton Presidential Library tribute video that his orphanage in his native country was started "totally by accident" when a woman asked him if he would help her. It started with a small school but then he "fell in love with it." He loved it so much he even adopted his son, Moises, from the orphanage. "My only ambition for Moises was that he would be a good-hearted man," de la Renta said in the video. "And that he is."

5. Michelle Obama made her first public appearance in an Oscar de la Renta dress just weeks before his death.

My First Lady is beautiful and inspiring. @michelleobama @reachhigher2020 @thewhitehouse #FashionEDU

A photo posted by Nneya Richards (@doublenrich) on Oct 10, 2014 at 6:31pm PDT

The first lady is known more for putting smaller designers on the map and steering towards more affordable options, but for the first time in her tenure as first lady, Obama followed in the footsteps of Kennedy and Clinton and donned a de la Renta frock from his 2014 Fall collection at her White House Fashion Education Workshop.

BONUS: Many of his closest friends say he was a great singer.

De la Renta with Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo in 2013.

In the Bill Clinton Presidential Library tribute video to de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg says, "Oscar is [...] an incredible singer. I love to watch him sing." And Anna Wintour says, "You know, he sings every night!"

All images courtesy of Getty unless otherwise indicated.

Illinois Coal Rush Crisis: Citizens Sue Feds to Take Over Rogue State Mining Agencies

Tue, 2014-10-21 14:08
As the onslaught of the nation's fast-growing coal-mining boom tears across the heartland, citizens in southern Illinois have filed a Writ of Mandamus in Federal District Court against the US Secretary of Interior, in an attempt to revoke the state's control over its notoriously inept and rogue mining agencies.

The huge coal-mining rush in Illinois, against the grain of the nation's shift from coal and in defiance of climate action initiatives, might be the most under-reported environmental story in the nation. But the residents in southern and central Illinois, home of the massive expansion of longwall mines and strip mines, are holding the line against mounting coal slurry and mining damages.

"The goal of the Writ is to ensure Illinois citizens have a working coal program as required under Federal regulations," says Bob Johnson, with Citizens Opposing Pollution (COP). "We hope the Federal District Court agrees."

Meanwhile, in the small farming community of Rocky Branch in Saline County, elderly residents continued to document the pollution fallout and health and civil rights violations from nearby blasts by a controversial Peabody strip mine operation.

Photo courtesy of Shawnee Hills and Hollers/Justice for Rocky Branch

In a written statement released at the courthouse last week, Citizens Opposing Pollution (COP) claimed Illinois citizens are currently unable to ensure "compliance and clean up of coal slurry disposal sites in Illinois" due to a 2012 Illinois Supreme Court ruling. The group is requesting the Court to require Secretary Sally Jewell of the U.S. Department of the Interior to revoke Illinois' coal mining program. According to the COP statement:

"COP claims that precious Illinois underground fresh water resources underneath coal refuse sites are at stake. The group points to the Pearl Sand and the Trivoli Sandstone Aquifer, both located underneath a former coal mine owned by a division of ExxonMobil Coal USA. The Pearl Sand aquifer was the primary fresh water source for Clinton County residents until 2001. However, in 2001, it was determined that it was no longer safe for human consumption. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency allowed ExxonMobil Coal USA to donate 1 million dollars to help set up an alternative public water supply for residents living above the Pearl Sand Aquifer instead of requiring clean-up of the site. To this day, the coal refuse, a sludge like material, continues to leach contaminants into the Pearl Sand Aquifer, making the groundwater unusable for human consumption."

"COP wants to ensure that if coal extraction continues to exist in Illinois," says Penni S. Livingston, attorney for COP, "that coal production operators abide by the rules; and if they are unable to do it, then they should reconsider whether coal production is really a profitable enterprise."

What Does the Illinois Constitution Do for the State?

Tue, 2014-10-21 13:43
It's not easy to change the Illinois Constitution, nor should it be. The framers in 1970 made sure of that.

So voters should not take lightly two amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot that, at first glance, seem like no brainers: One is an amendment to protect voters' rights and the other establishes rights for crime victims.

Madeleine Doubek shared her thoughts on the Illinois constitution:

I have a confession to make. I've never paid all that much attention to the Illinois constitution until recently. You either? Imagine that.

Lately, though, I'm coming to appreciate more and more what a significant document it is and what problems it can cause, or solutions it can block.

Consider if you will, the clause in the state constitution that says, "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

That clause added at the last constitutional convention in 1970 is making it extremely difficult for Illinoisans to figure out a way to provide retirement income for public workers while not taxing all of us out of our homes as we stare down our worst-in-the-nation $100 billion pension debt.

Read the rest of Doubek's thoughts at Reboot Illinois.

Questions about changing the Illinois constitution played an important part in the gubernatorial election this summer, and the topic made a comeback Oct. 21 at the candidates' third and final debate. Republican Bruce Rauner knocked Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn on his opposition to adding language that would impose legislative term limits into the state constitution. The panelists and the candidates themselves challenged each other on evading questions and avoiding critical issues. Check out the highlights at Reboot Illinois.

Chicago Sun-Times endorses Rauner, but not without controversy

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:47
Are newspaper endorsements more trouble than they're worth?

Here's the Cliffs Notes version of the Chicago Sun-Times' endorsement of Bruce Rauner for Illinois governor:

2011: Sun-Times announces abandonment of political endorsements. October 6, 2014: Sun-Times reports lawsuit story that paints Rauner in bad light. October 6-18, 2014: Rauner campaign complains to Sun-Times about said story. October 2014: Writer of story hires big-name anti-corruption attorney who alleges Rauner campaign sought retribution. October 17, 2014: Sun-Times announces return to endorsing. October 19, 2014: Sun-Times endorses Rauner. October 20, 2014: Sun-Times editor writes column defending "fearless" coverage by reporter who co-wrote Oct. 6 story.

Oct. 17: Crain's Chicago Business begins reporting on the controversy and back story.

Thus, the Sun-Times nod arrived in a wave of drama that's unprecedented in the newspaper endorsement process, which can generate tension even under normal circumstances.

So now the Sun-Times has trouble four ways. The Rauner campaign is promoting the paper's endorsement but is still sore that the Oct. 6 story ever appeared. The campaign of Pat Quinn, which loved (and probably encouraged) the Oct. 6 story is mad at the Sun-Times because it believes the Rauner endorsement was an apology of sorts for running the story. Reporter Dave McKinney has had his reputation (a sterling reputation, at that) besmirched. And Sun-Times readers are left to wonder what to make of all this.

The Rauner camp may also be contending with another issue that could drain just as many votes as negative publicity. Libertarian candidate Chad Grimm has been a non-factor in polling thus far but could have a substantial effect on the outcome on Nov. 4.

Capitol Fax publisher Rich Miller writes in his column today that Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers plans to donate a six-figure amount to Grimm's campaign as the election comes to a close. The union already is Grimm's sole donor, having given him $30,000 on Oct. 8. See how this could affect the race as a whole at Reboot Illinois.

NBA Preview: LeBron's Return Home, Derrick Rose's Return To The Court And The Wild West

Tue, 2014-10-21 11:36
The NBA offseason has replaced MLB's hot stove as the premier destination for high drama. The good news for NBA fans is the 2014 regular season will be even better. LeBron James returned home -- we all know that. But how about Kevin Love teaming up with Kyrie Irving? Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony took the big dollars to stay in New York and play under Phil Jackson's happy halo. And don't forget about a healthy Kobe's return to the court in Tinseltown. Let's take a look at the best storylines heading into the first full season of Adam Silver -- whom we caught up with in February -- as the league's commissioner.

Return of the King

LeBron is a Cleveland Cavalier again, but the scariest part about this team is the balance. Irving is coming off a second All-Star appearance, and we can think of Love as a far better version of Chris Bosh in terms of how he pairs with those two. Love is the best shooting big man in the game, but he excels in transition as a trailer and in pick-and-pop, where both Irving and James are two of the best in the business. When HuffPost caught up with Irving, he was excited about the possibilities: "What are teams going to do? You’re going to have to decide who you’re going to guard and how you’re going to guard us, and that’s going to be tough."

Newly minted Cavs head coach David Blatt's biggest challenge with this offense is to create balance, but the beauty of his Big Three is that all three are inherently unselfish. James, for all his scoring prowess, loves to be the playmaker, and with a slew of shooters around him (don't forget Ray Allen just signed on), he can dictate what he wants to defenses. With both the Russian National team and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Blatt has displayed a knack for innovative offense that thrives on ball movement and pick-and-roll.

Same Ol' Knicks?

Eight teams from the Eastern Conference have to make the playoffs, but most NBA fans are asking who those teams will be, other than Cleveland, Chicago and perhaps upstart Washington. Knicks fans hope that new hire Derek Fisher can coax Carmelo into being more than just a high-volume scorer, but good luck with that. Jose Calderon was a nice addition at point guard -- he can really pass the ball and has always been a terrific shooter -- and maybe second-year pro Shane Larkin can become a spark. But this roster simply doesn't have horses. And as much as we like Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Iman Shumpert, neither is a serious difference-maker for 82 games.

Return of Rose

Derrick Rose tore it up at times during the FIBA games for Team USA, but Bulls fans want to know whether can he do it for an entire season. Let's look past his shooting woes during the tournament (he converted just 27.4 percent from the floor), and check out what's most important: the explosiveness, the torque, the change of direction. That's what makes Rose great, and that's what ultimately will determine if he's the MVP-type player he was before the slew of knee injuries. The good news for Rose is that he has a fantastic coach in Tom Thibodeau who understands schemes better than most. And just as importantly, he has a balanced roster, namely with Jimmy Butler in the backcourt. Don't forget about offseason acquisition Pau Gasol, either, whose supreme comfort level in pick-and-roll will help his point guard adjust smoothly back into the two-man game.

Rookie Star Power

Needless to say, 2013 was not a banner year for rookies, with all due respect to Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. But 2014 appears to be a completely different story. First overall pick Andrew Wiggins instantly becomes the face of Minnesota after being dealt from the Cavs. Wiggins is a freak talent with tremendous ability, but one who is equally green -- he scored four points in Kansas' NCAA Tournament loss to Stanford. Nearby is fellow freshman draft entry Jabari Parker (pictured above with Wiggins), a Carmelo clone in terms of his natural scoring ability and dynamic inside-out game. Parker could legitimately average 17-plus for a hapless Milwaukee team. Australian native Dante Exum has a Penny Hardaway-esque game and could team up beautifully with 2013 lottery pick Trey Burke. Off the radar a bit are Rodney Hood in Utah, Nik Stauskas in Charlotte, Elfrid Payton in Orlando, and Julius Randle in LA. Speaking of LA….

The Black Mamba

The 36-year-old Kobe Bryant has been in the NBA over half his life. Unfortunately for the 16-time All-Star, he won't be getting much help from the roster this season other than Randle. The good news is that he finally has a coach he can trust in Brian Shaw, his former teammate and a guy that probably deserved the job years ago. Nevertheless, Shaw will be responsible for finding creative ways for Bryant to have easy scoring chances while also diligently managing his minutes on a roster bereft of talent. "If anybody could come back and be effective and play at a high level, it would be Kobe," Shaw said. There is also the matter of 40-year-old point guard and two-time league MVP Steve Nash, who teams up with Bryant to form an ancient backcourt. Nash hasn't shot 50 percent or averaged more than 13 points during his two injury-riddled seasons as a Laker, and he has to be much better for both his and Kobe's sakes.

Kevin Durant's Injury

Speaking of injury woes, the news that Durant, the reigning league MVP and superior public speaker, will miss up to eight weeks (which translates to 19 games) with a fracture in his foot is a devastating blow to an Oklahoma City team yearning to get back to the finals. It is a bit of irony too for Durant, who sat out during Team USA's FIBA World Cup championship last summer to rest and prepare for just that. When I spoke with the 26-year-old in July, he believed then that his team wasn't quite a title contender, noting that something was "missing." Fortunately for the Thunder, that something can be fixed by precocious All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook, the other superstar who for all his greatness, has also hampered this team's progress, particularly in the playoffs when head coach Scott Brooks has been unable to harness his talent. Durant and OKC's best basketball last season came during a Westbrook injury, when the team rallied off 14 of 16 wins while KD notched 30-plus points in 12 straight games.

Old Faithful

The West is loaded, so perhaps it's fitting that we mention San Antonio last -- that's the way coach and leader Gregg Popovich prefers it. While the rest of the league eagerly searches to find sustainable success, we can count on the Spurs winning 60 games they way we count on the sun coming up every morning and Nicolas Cage making mindless films. As Tony Parker told HuffPost recently, "I think we never get satisfied with ourselves, and that starts with Coach Pop." What is most impressive about the Spurs' dynasty is not merely the five titles in 15 years, but the sheer consistency every single year. While just eight franchises have won titles since 1984, Popovich has missed the postseason just one time during his tenure as coach. With free agency creating a carousel of changing rosters, that record is almost inconceivable -- and 2014 shouldn't be any different for the Spurs, who have the league's oldest roster.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram @Schultz_Report. Also, be sure to catch my NBC Sports Radio show "Kup and Schultz," which airs Sunday mornings from 9 to 12 EST and 12-1 for fantasy football, right here.

Michelin Star Chef Paul Virant: A Preserves Pro!

Tue, 2014-10-21 10:11
As I interview chefs each month for The Dinner Party, it is so fun to see how completely varied their personalities and techniques are. While filming at Vie Restaurant, I have never seen a chef so dedicated to making everything in-house as Michelin-starred Chef, Paul Virant of Vie, Perennial Virant and his newest venture, Vistro.

Known for preserving foods so that they can last all year long - key for us Midwesterners, Virant is the king of making and cooking with pickles, preserves and aigre-doux, a sweet-sour sauce. At Vie alone, he has over 75 different preserves at any one time that can be used to accompany meats, cheeses, fish or sides throughout the year. In addition, Chef makes more than just pickles and preserves in house. In the video below, Chef adds a 2009 hand-made Nocino (Black/Green Walnut Liquor) to the Chicken Liver Mousse saying, "It just needs some booze!" My kind of chef!

Not one to keep knowledge to himself, Chef Virant wrote the bible on preserving foods. He wrote the first canning manual and cookbook authored by a Michelin-starred chef, entitled, The Preservation Kitchen, in 2012. This makes complete sense because Chef Virant is a natural sharer of information and a giver of time and energy.

For example, Virant was full of helpful tidbits during our shoot, including "Hone your knife as much as you use your knife," and "Season aggressively when you are serving something cold. " Then there is my favorite, "Never go without a spatula! You want everything from the bowl."

He also had this to say about time management in the kitchen. "When you are cooking for family and friends, ultimately you have to be organized if you want to have fun." No kidding! Virant runs three restaurants in three wildly different parts of town (Vie/Western Springs, Vistro/Hinsdale and Perennial Virant/Lincoln Park) and is as prepared as they come. Vie, his Michelin Starred restaurant, is a sumptuous and elegant affair, and it was a thrill just to be there for the shoot. New Vistro focuses on relaxed bistro fare with a distinct Virant style, and Perrenial Virant has a swank, city feel. All three definitely have Virant's distinct signature: incredible representations of food, products and artisans of the Midwest. And with Perennial Virant just opposite the Green City Market in Chicago's Lincoln Park, it couldn't be a better match.

Yet, more impressive than having the three restaurants and preserving anything he can get his hands are the dishes Virant creates. During our shoot, and for The October 27th Dinner Party, Virant made Chicken Liver Mousse with a Cranberry Aigre-doux on Rye Toast and Rushing Waters Trout, Creamed Beets and Bacon, with Horseradish and Dill. (Videos below.) The combinations of sweet and tart, and fresh and light - even in late Fall - made my tongue sing. His preserves really brought out the flavors in the food, giving variety to dishes even when ingredients should be out of season. Virant made me a believer in his philosophy, "Eat what you can, can what you can't."

Financing Public Education

Tue, 2014-10-21 09:52
The financial problems facing the City and the State seem dire, and many of the issues are directly related to public education, but there are simple solutions no one is talking about: redundant administrative overhead costs, increasing our tax base, and re-amortizing our debt.

Illinois has more than 850 school districts. Some are very small with a handful of schools. Every district requires a superintendent, always earning a generous six-figure salary, along with salaries for staff. The Brookings Institute recently released a report that superintendents have at most a 0.3 percent effect on student achievement. That's more than $150 million Illinois spends for a 0.3 percent effect. The same is true in CPS, where there are bureaucrats that do the same work as do bureaucrats from the Illinois State Board of Education.

In nations like Finland, Canada, and Poland, all of which have better student achievement than the United States, schools are held accountable but they are granted autonomy, saving the cost of redundant administration. We should do the same. You'll never hear this solution from your local superintendent because it would put their job at risk and dismantle an old-boys network. Less than a third of Illinois State Superintendents are female, despite education being a field dominated by women.

The second issue is how we fund schools. A handful of districts in our State spend far more than they need to, whereas the majority of districts spend far less than they need to guarantee our children a world-class education. Illinois is routinely ranked one of the worst in school funding. The main cause of this is our reliance on property taxes. In our racially and economically segregated State and City, this leads to massive inequity. We can't raise property taxes enough to bring equity or adequate funding. Even if we started using income taxes and the current sales taxes to fund our schools, no one would support raising our tax rates, which in total are the highest in the nation.

What you never hear from politicians is that we need to expand our tax base. This is different from tax rate. More than two years ago, Joe Cahill of Crain's Business wrote, "As the service sector grew during the past several decades, most states extended sales taxes to a range of consumer services. Illinois, however, still confines its sales tax almost exclusively to tangible goods. The state taxes just 17 services, fewer than only three other states, and well below the national average of 56. Iowa, by contrast, taxes 94 services." He cited research suggesting we are leaving $5 billion on the table at the State level alone.

Using sales taxes for education can help reduce the disproportionality of school funding that exists in Illinois, especially downstate and in Chicago. Families in affluent districts might not care so much about poorer districts, but in the end, they pay even more when children receive a subpar education that leads to unemployment and too often, prison. Some might argue that increasing the number of services that are taxed puts the burden on lower-income families, but this isn't necessarily true. Many services are only used by those with more affluence, such as dog-walkers, dry-cleaning, housekeeping, landscaping, and manicures.

The fact Illinois and Chicago politicians haven't decided to take this route suggests they are either immeasurably incompetent or astoundingly corrupt. The Chicago mob famously purchased Laundromats because of the cash-nature of the business that was untaxed, and therefore nearly impossible to track. It's where the term 'money-laundering' comes from. Perhaps our politicians enjoy the untaxed services a bit too much?

Lastly, the pension crisis. First, it's fair to note the State of New York doesn't have a pension crisis because their elected officials didn't redirect payments from pensions to pet projects. The problem isn't that we have pensions, which are more reliable than 401Ks. The problem is that our elected officials do not make good decisions, and we the voters don't hold them accountable. Now we're stuck with solving the problem.

The only solutions we hear are to raise taxes or cut grandma's pension. A viable solution is to re-amortize our debt. Currently our politicians are acting on the notion that we can pay our pension debt in 30 years. The only reason is because actuaries prefer loans in 30-year increments; it's actually one of their industry-standards. Unfortunately, trying to pay off the pension debt in Illinois and Chicago in 30 years is unrealistic because our politicians are doing anything to avoid making a payment, forcing the amount to grow each year. If we re-amortize our pension debt for 45 years, we will make a slightly higher payment the first few years, but over time the payment amounts remain flat. Due to depreciation from inflation, we will save money with a longer-term loan, while avoiding the immediate financial cliff. The catch to this solution is that we then have to hold elected officials accountable if they don't make the required payments.

Three simple solutions anyone can understand: cut costs by reducing redundant administration, increase our tax base, and re-amortize our debt. You might wonder why our political leaders don't even mention these solutions. Instead you hear campaigns to dismantle a 150 year-old public education system and replace it with a free market charter school system in which private corporations, not the citizens, have control over the schools. Their solution is to give public taxes to private corporations. Perhaps, just perhaps, the pension and school funding crisis are manufactured for political and economic gains?

Democrats Hope Minimum Wage Ballot Questions Will Drive Turnout In Key States

Tue, 2014-10-21 09:18
CHICAGO (AP) -- As Democrats across the country make an election-year push to raise the minimum wage, they often point to fast food workers, baristas and others who are struggling to raise families, pay rent or get through school - some on as little as $7.25 per hour.

First, though, they are out to help themselves.

Looking to motivate younger people, minorities and others in their base to go to the polls on Nov. 4, the party has put questions on the ballot in five states asking voters whether the minimum wage should be increased. The issue is also a near-constant topic on the campaign trail, as Democrats work to identify themselves as stalwarts for the middle class and to paint Republicans - who typically oppose raising the wage because they say it will lead to job cuts - as uncaring.

In one state, Illinois, the campaign to support the minimum wage would not actually raise the wage. The ballot question is non-binding and would only ask voters their opinion.

But for getting out the vote, the issue is "a winner with everybody in our state," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who said he urged party leaders to put it on the ballot. "So encouraging people to vote that issue when it came to the ballot questions, and contrasting Democratic positions with Republican positions, I thought was a worthy issue for this election campaign."

Illinois Democrats are fighting to keep control of one of the party's last strongholds in the Midwest. Gov. Pat Quinn, with backing from labor unions, has hit his wealthy Republican rival repeatedly for earlier statements that he wanted to cut and even eliminate the minimum wage, calling him an "out-of-touch" multimillionaire.

Quinn also spent a week trying to live on a minimum wage budget and talking about the experience on the trail. While the Chicago Democrat said he ate Graham Crackers for dinner and had to order water instead of drinks when dining out, he also managed to catch country artist Garth Brooks during the first stop of the musician's tour.

The wage measures are found in other states with hard-fought races, including Alaska and Arkansas, where the outcome could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate. The party also is battling to pick up a congressional seat in Nebraska and keep a Senate seat in South Dakota.

Durbin said Democrats have been "victimized" in the past when Republicans put their own turnout-stoking measures like gay marriage bans on the ballot in conservative states.

Quinn's opponent, Bruce Rauner, is among the Republicans accusing Democrats of playing games with the wage issue.

"If he was serious about this, he could have gotten it done" in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Rauner said. Quinn says he hopes an overwhelming vote in support on the ballot measure will persuade reluctant legislators to approve an increase.

The impact of raising the minimum wage has been much debated over the years. A report by the Congressional Budget Office in February estimated that a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, which President Barack Obama supports, could cost 500,000 jobs nationwide. But the 13 states that raised their minimum wages at the beginning of 2014 were adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not, according to a Labor Department analysis in July of state-by-state hiring data.

Minimum wage proposals tend to be popular even in conservative states, said John Matsusaka, a University of Southern California economist who studies public ballot issues. All 10 of the statewide measures considered since 2000 have passed, he said.

Although ballot initiatives generally increase turnout by about 1 or 2 percent, Matsusaka said, it's less clear how they affect candidates on the ballot.

The popularity of the issue has put some Republican candidates in a difficult spot.

In Alaska, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan opposed a federal minimum wage hike during the GOP primary campaign then came out for the state minimum wage measure in his general election race against Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his Republican opponent, Tom Cotton, have both endorsed the state-level ballot measure in Arkansas, but Cotton had previously said the issue should be left for voters to decide.

Democratic officials in Nebraska hope the wage issue makes a difference in the close race between Democrat Brad Ashford and Republican incumbent Lee Terry in an Omaha-based congressional district.

In South Dakota, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson's retirement created an open seat, Democrat Rick Weiland helped carry signed petitions to the Secretary of State's office to get the minimum wage issue on the ballot. His GOP opponent, former Gov. Mike Rounds, opposes it.

In Illinois, Rauner admitted he'd made a mistake after video surfaced of him saying he was "adamantly, adamantly against" increasing the minimum wage.

Rauner now says he supports an increase to $10 per hour, as long as it's accompanied by pro-business reforms, but the shift hasn't stopped Quinn from airing ads featuring video clips of the Republican's earlier comments.


Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska and Nicholas Riccardi in Kodiak, Alaska, contributed to this report.


Follow Sara Burnett at

These Amazing Pups Would Like To Remind You It's 'Adopt A Shelter Dog Month'

Tue, 2014-10-21 09:01
The details of how these 52 dogs came to be available for adoption are varied, inspiring and sometimes tragic.

Sophie, it's thought, was used as a breeding dog, later abandoned in an attic with a litter of pups. Caliber is one of 26 dogs rescued out of a dogfighting ring in Apopka, Florida.

Sweet Kit was found running about as a stray in Washington, D.C. And someone -- we can't imagine who would do this -- left precious little Columbo in a box at a gas station in Indiana.

This is Columbo. He's up for adoption through Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Rescue.

Whatever sad and mysterious circumstances led to their availability, what we know for sure is that each of these doggies is now hoping you'll heed October as "National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month" to make one of them your own.

“Shelters have all types of dogs in need of new homes for a variety of reasons,” says Jessica Vaccaro, adoption manager at New York City's Animal Care & Control. “These dogs deserve a second chance, and the love they’ll give you when you open up your heart and home is immeasurable.”

These dogs -- and their photos and descriptions -- come from these shelters and rescue groups, from around the country: The Providence Animal Rescue League; Florida-based Barkies Legacy; Best Friends Animal Society, with adoption centers in Utah and Los Angeles; Brooklyn Badass; the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C.; the Humane Society of Calvert County in Maryland; Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Rescue in Indiana; the Milton Animal League in Massachusetts; the Kauai Humane Society in Hawaii; PAWS Chicago; Animal Care and Control of New York City; Lilo's Promise Animal Rescue, based in New Jersey; and Pittsburgh-based Hello Bully.

Have an animal story to share? Get in touch at!

Obama Has Perfect Reaction To Woman's Jealous Boyfriend

Tue, 2014-10-21 08:14
President Barack Obama had no problems casting his ballot for the midterm elections on Monday, but he did run into another problem at the voting booth -- a jealous boyfriend.

According to CNN, Obama stood next to Aia Cooper as he voted in Chicago. While the two were voting, Cooper's fiancé Mike Jones warned the president: "Don't touch my girlfriend."

"You know, I really wasn't planning on it," Obama replied.

Cooper, clearly embarrassed, apologized to the president, saying, "Please excuse him." But Obama called out Cooper's fiancé, calling him "an example of a brother just embarrassing you for no reason, just for no reason whatsoever."

Obama told Cooper she'd go home to tell her friends and family, "I can't believe Mike, he's such a fool."

"He really is," Cooper agreed, laughing.

Obama didn't totally pile on the criticism. He joked that despite the comment, "Mike seems like a decent guy."

Watch a video of Obama expertly handling a jealous boyfriend above.

17 Adorably Nonsensical Things That Make Zero Sense, And Therefore Are Perfect

Tue, 2014-10-21 07:58
These 17 silly random things exist purely to make you smile.

1. This hedgehog who now knows he can fit perfectly inside a Starbucks cup.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: Niccalv2015

2. And this Yorkie who now knows her head can fit perfectly inside a slice of bread.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: thehaasofpain

3. The way turtles value teamwork.

4. The fact that you are now aware that one can purchase this 93-inch teddy bear at Costco.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: thunder_cunt333

5. This little kid noticing the power of his eyebrows for the first time.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: washedupwornout

6. This baby turtle who decided to turn a boring day into the most exciting day.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: eja61387

7. This dog who found a new (and much better) purpose for a vacuum.

8. These bears waving "Hi" to you.

9. And this pig who takes the best bath selfies.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: meghanthegreat

10. This human sushi roll.

Credit: Embedded via Imgur user: warmwhiskey

11. And these dogs who love to celebrate Halloween just as much as humans.


Working on our #howloween costumes this morning Storm's didn't fit her..been eatin' too much @beggin What are y'all going to be?

View on Instagram

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12. The wonderful relationship turtles have with toothbrushes.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur

13. This bird who just wants to find someone to carry his weight.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur user: KevinSledge12

14. And this dog who found someone to do just that.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur user: Pillsplitterx

15. This baby who is curious about the elasticity of a dog's cheek.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur user: yummie4mytummie

16. This confused pup who needs someone to explain pumpkins to him.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur user: PSU_STIG

17. And this hedgehog who seems perfectly content not thinking about anything at all.

Credit: Embedded from Imgur

The Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Philharmonic Set the Auditorium Theatre Ablaze in <em>Swan Lake</em>

Mon, 2014-10-20 20:17

As symphony orchestras buckle, opera companies bite the dust, and ballet companies abandon live music or fold altogether, count as a rare blessing the Joffrey Ballet and its continued alliance with the Chicago Philharmonic.

The partnership delivered a glittering performance of Swan Lake on Saturday night, underpinned by a sensitive reading of Tchaikovsky's glorious score, with Scott Speck at the podium and Janet Sung on solo violin, alternately wistful and electrifying.

Choreographer Christopher Wheelman embedded the classic tale of bewitched swan-maidens in a jewel-box setting at the Paris Opera of the 19th century, in the rehearsal studios haunted by French painter Edgar Degas. The traditional court scene of Act III is transformed into a fancy dinner at a club of the type frequented by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, complete with strippers and can-can dancers.

While daring in some aspects, Wheeldon did not mess with the concept of the White Swan/ Black Swan. The Odette-Odile character is often regarded as a metaphor for the composer's double life as a closeted homosexual - the cause of great psychological turmoil, described candidly by Tchaikovsky in letters which for many years were censored by the Soviet authorities.

Wheeldon's is hardly the first, nor the most radical, revision of Swan Lake. Yet purists may object to his elimination of the court scenes and the bracing folk dances that add a more respectable character to Act III than the striptease and the can-can; they may also object to Wheeldon's swapping around of the music to fit his frequent shifting of the space-time continuum.

Here's what Ballet to the People thought of Saturday night's performance: review of The Joffrey Ballet in Swan Lake at the Auditorium Theatre.

Photos by Cheryl Mann:

1. Victoria Jaiani, Dylan Gutierrez and the corps de ballet of The Joffrey Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake
2. Victoria Jaiani in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake
3. Anastacia Holden in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake
4. Dylan Gutierrez and Victoria Jaiani in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake
5. Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake

Frank Lloyd Wright's Chicago Landmarks

Mon, 2014-10-20 16:43
Text and photography by Lee F. Mindel for Architectural Digest

Inside Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Oak Park, Illinois.

Frank Lloyd Wright traveled to Chicago in search of employment in 1887, a time when the midwestern capital had emerged from the devastating fire of 1871 as a once-again bustling metropolis. Wright would go on to become the impossibly prolific leader of the Prairie School: He completed more than 1,100 designs, nearly half of which were built, and a number of his masterworks were set in and around the Windy City. I recently found myself there on a job as well, and thanks to the generosity of the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust was able to visit many of those sites, including Wright's own home in the suburb of Oak Park, the Frederick C. Robie House, and the interior of Daniel Burnham and John Root's landmark Rookery Building. Thank you, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Join me on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Chicago landmarks:

Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois.

Another Wright-designed home across the street from his residence and studio in Oak Park.

Wright's Robie House sits on the campus of the University of Chicago.

The entry to the Rookery Building in downtown Chicago, originally designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root. Wright remodeled the lobby in 1905.

See more images of Wright's masterpieces at

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  • Stunning Celebrity Living Rooms

  • Inspiring Bathroom Renovations

  • Chicago Sun-Times Reverses No-Endorsement Policy To Endorse Ex-Stakeholder GOP Candidate

    Mon, 2014-10-20 16:15
    A major newspaper's decision to issue its first political endorsement in three years -- for a candidate who previously owned a stake in its parent company, no less -- is turning heads as the heated Illinois gubernatorial campaign stretches into its final days.

    The Chicago Sun-Times announced Friday that it is "back in the endorsement business" and that it would "make endorsements without fear or favor." The same day, the paper issued its endorsement of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner in its only endorsement since the policy change, as of this writing. Rauner is challenging Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in a tight contest, one of the nation's most closely watched governor's races.

    The paper's Rauner endorsement came just days after an editorial lauded Rauner in such a way that some political writers read it as a "non-endorsement" endorsement, though Sun-Times publisher and editor-in-chief Jim Kirk insisted to Chicago magazine's Carol Felsenthal that the Oct. 14 editorial was not "a backdoor endorsement."

    Rauner was formerly a 10-percent owner of Wrapports, LLC, which owns the Sun-Times. He sold his stake in the company to Wrapports CEO Michael Ferro Jr. shortly before he began his gubernatorial campaign.

    The endorsement also comes amid questions of whether the Rauner campaign pressured the Sun-Times to retaliate against one if its reporters, Dave McKinney, after he co-wrote a story centered on allegations that Rauner verbally threatened an executive of a company owned by GTCR, Rauner's investment firm. The Rauner campaign has repeatedly denied these allegations, pointing out that the complaint was dismissed in summary judgement, though the Quinn campaign has been using the story in both radio and television ads.

    Crain's Chicago Business reports that McKinney has hired former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins to look into the Rauner campaign's actions following his story.

    In response to the Crain's coverage, Kirk wrote Monday that the Rauner campaign had contacted the paper to question the story, suggesting a conflict of interest between McKinney and his wife, Ann Liston, who works as a political consultant. The Rauner campaign confirmed to Crain's that it believed the story to be "misleading and inaccurate" but claimed it "followed all proper channels" to voice concerns.

    Kirk also said McKinney and Liston have "taken extraordinary steps" to avoid a conflict and stated that the paper stands by McKinney's story. As for Rauner's past involvement with Wrapports, Kirk wrote that "those former ties mean nothing when it comes to the Sun-Times’ ability and determination to report on him and his campaign fairly and accurately."

    The Sun-Times announced back in January 2012 it would stop making political endorsements. At the time, the paper said it had "come to doubt" the value of endorsements, "especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before." But this current race, the paper wrote in its Rauner endorsement, is "simply too important to the future of Illinois for us to stay silent."

    The final debate between Quinn and Rauner before the Nov. 4 election takes place Monday night.

    The Art of Urban Conversation

    Mon, 2014-10-20 14:24
    "Don't talk to strangers!" is one of the cardinal rules of urban life. In cities we live on top of each other and move in a complex dance of connection and disconnection - sometimes because of fear, sometimes because we don't know what to say to someone who seems very different, and sometimes because staying in our own bubbles affords all of us a bit of privacy.

    But what if there's also a cost to living in our own bubble? What if this disconnection also sows the seeds for violence and prejudice in our cities and communities? If you don't know the people around you, is it easier to misunderstand, hurt and be hurt, fight and fear one another?

    Some urban innovators like Detroit-dweller Shel Kimen are using social experiments in art, design and the unexpected to get us to break one of the rules of urban life and connect and talk to others. Disconnection between "New Detroiters" and "Old Detroiters" is on the rise as Detroit's recent renaissance attracts new people and new investment. Many residents, new and old, feel excluded from revitalization efforts and are interested in culture issues but don't know how to engage.

    Shel's Collision Works projects respond to this disconnect, and the first installation was a crowdfunded shipping container popup community storytelling space called First Container. So far they've facilitated over 150 hours of open-minded, empathy building conversations.

    Shel shared three main lessons after phase one of the project:

    1. Even a reasonably simple environment like a shipping container can be designed and act as an ice breaker to bring people together. Different kinds of distance separating people (class, race, etc) are all suspended for a moment in First Container. Shel says that "it helps when you are being unsettled a little from the normal routine by absurdity, surprise -- it all adds up to give people an excuse to be open."

    2. First Container draws people in off the streets by featuring authors, artists and community leaders hanging out together in the space that feels like a popup living room. The homey design inspires people to share their experiences as old Detroiters, newer Detroiters and visitors.

    3. First Container is also about the democratization of design and space. Shel notes, "People from all walks of life respond to cool design. I got more support from lower income visitors because the space was neat and different. That flies in the face of conventional design theory, but these days a lot of people are watching home renovation TV shows and getting inspired to design something new in their homes and communities."

    First Container is no longer open at Eastern Market -- like all good popups it has come to an end, but only for now. The Collision Works programs live on and the conversations will continue in new spaces. Shel's long-term vision is to place storytelling containers throughout Detroit and to build a 46-room boutique hotel with a mentoring program and collaborative community space.

    Why would this matter for Detroit? As urban sociologist Richard Sennet notes, "Gathering together strangers enables certain kinds of activities which cannot happen, or do not happen as well, in the private realm. In public, people can access unfamiliar knowledge, expanding the horizons of their information. In public, people can discuss and debate with people who may not share the same assumptions or the same interests. Democratic government depends on such exchanges between strangers." First Container is not just an experiment in storytelling for the sake of storytelling. It is an experiment in designing a more democratic society, demonstrating the possibility of using uncommon spaces to create uncommon connections.

    Here's to building a better Detroit, one conversation at a time.

    This 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Halloween Light Show Can Only Be Described As Epic

    Mon, 2014-10-20 14:14
    Freddie would be proud.

    With Halloween drawing near, a Naperville, Illinois home's outrageous decor is again attracting national attention for its intricate light displays timed perfectly to popular music, including spooky standards like "Thriller," "This Is Halloween" and, new this year, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

    The show is the creation of homeowner Nick Thomas, 60, and Steve Jandick, the 25-year-old son of his next-door neighbor. The Chicago Tribune reports that Jandick handles the music and light design, while Thomas takes care of the dozens upon dozens of tombstones, skeletons and corpses that pack his front lawn.

    A video of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" show, embedded above, has been viewed over 100,000 times.

    Featuring about 30 different songs, Thomas' show runs from dusk until 9:30 p.m. on weeknights and 10:30 p.m. on weeknights and attracts thousands of people to his cul-de-sac. But do the neighbors mind, the TODAY Show wondered?

    "There are one or two complainers, but mostly everyone's been fine with it," he told TODAY.

    Though Thomas will not accept money toward his electric bill from visitors, he is taking donations for charity this year -- all funds put into a metal box in front of the home will go to Gigi's Playhouse, a Chicago non-profit that helps people with Down syndrome.

    Urgency of Now: Why We Must Vote

    Mon, 2014-10-20 13:45
    Over the weekend I read a piece in The New York Times titled "Black Vote Seen as Last Hope for Democrats to Hold Senate." In short, the black vote can swing elections in key states and ultimately decide which direction the nation will go. As I've toured six states in the last three weeks, I've witnessed a perceptible lack of enthusiasm among black voters, largely because there's a disconnect between voting and what we are concerned about. With continued officer-involved shootings, attempts at voter suppression, and ongoing racial and economic disparities, it is easy to push voting to the side. But it is precisely because of tragedies like the deaths of young Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, and because of an unequal educational and employment system, that we need to show up at the polls now more than ever. Even though at times we may feel as if the cards are stacked just too high against us, we must remember how much power we truly have. The black vote can literally dictate the course of this country, and that's exactly why so many are trying to stop us from getting to the voting booth this November.

    We are now more than three months since police used an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner, a father of six, in Staten Island. The horrific incident was captured on videotape and went viral across the country and around the world. National Action Network (NAN) and I led thousands in rallies demanding justice for Garner and his family. We continue to host vigils and marches pushing for an arrest of the officer(s) involved, or for federal intervention to take over the case. We have yet to see either come to fruition.

    At the same time in Ferguson, it is now over two months since the death of Michael Brown. Over the weekend we saw published reports that Darren Wilson, the officer accused of shooting and killing the 18-year-old, is now claiming that he killed Brown because he allegedly feared for his life, but the only gun at that scene was Wilson's. NAN and I also led rallies in Ferguson demanding that Wilson be arrested and/or that federal authorities take over the case. When I was there, I did a eulogy for the young man, and at the end of the month, we will be leading a four-day rally in Ferguson, as we have yet to see a hint of justice for the Brown family.

    There is a strange, troubling parallel between the claims made by Officer Wilson and those made by George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, Michael Dunn (who was just sentenced to life for murdering a Florida teen over loud music) and Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the Garner case: They all claim that they were somehow in fear for their lives when the only gun present was the one in their hands. It is a peculiar fear that has been directed toward the black community, and especially toward young black men, for far too long. From racial profiling and being pulled over just for "driving while black" to this new phenomenon of killing unarmed people out of some preconceived idea of fear, our lives and our children's lives are not being valued. It is up to us to change laws on the books like "Stand Your Ground" laws and push elected officials to enact regulations that hold police officers to the same standards as the rest of society. This is why we vote.

    A few days ago the Supreme Court ruled that Texas could indeed proceed with draconian voter-ID requirements despite the fact that many, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have called the law discriminatory and compared it to a poll tax. Justice Ginsburg wrote a scathing, six-page dissent on the decision and said this voter-ID requirement risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. Early voting for the midterms begins today in Texas, and unfortunately many minority, elderly, poor and young voters will be disenfranchised from the process yet again.

    In an era of so many police-involved shootings, attempts at blocking our vote and continued institutional racial divides in many areas, including housing, employment and education, it is easy to become disillusioned. But we must remember that the only way to change things is to change things. Everything from who sits on your local board of education to the prosecutors and judicial appointments in your area and much more are all impacted by who holds political office. The power rests in our hands this November.

    If the black vote does not come out in big numbers in the age of Ferguson and voter ID, it will empower our adversaries and enhance our marginalization. We cannot be distracted by professional anarchists on the left or cynics on the right who would deter us from channeling our justified outrage and anger into concrete measures for progress and change. Despite voter-suppression tactics in 2012, black voters outvoted whites, percentage-wise; let's do that once again.

    As we continue to peacefully march with our hands up and our resolve unshaken, we must go to the polls and show that we're mad enough to make change. That is the fierce urgency of now.