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Oprah And Her Audience Losing It Over An iPod In 2003 Is Pure Magic

Thu, 2016-04-28 10:31

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Screaming, cheering, Oprah dancing.

That's the kind of reaction Apple's iPod got when it was featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in May of 2003. The iTunes Music Store had just launched the month before (on April 27), so when the "itty bitty" third-generation iPod was brought out during a special spring edition of "Oprah's Favorite Things," everyone was already obsessed.

Understandably. It was 15GB, people. It held 3,700 songs. Oprah called it "genius," and her entire audience seemed downright giddy -- especially when they realized that each one of them was getting with one of the $399 devices for free. 

Watch the clip above to fully appreciate (and perhaps relive) the 2003 enthusiasm, and try not to get tripped up over the iPod music process. After all, as Oprah's guest explained, it's "much like you might copy your CDs to tape."

My, how far we've come.

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Dennis Hastert Admits He Sexually Abused Former Students

Wed, 2016-04-27 11:17

CHICAGO -- Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R) sexually abused some students while he worked at a high school decades ago, the former lawmaker said Wednesday during a sentencing hearing related to bank fraud charges tied to a $3.5 million coverup of the allegations.

Hastert said in court that he had "mistreated" his students and athletes.  

"I'm deeply ashamed to be standing here today," Hastert told the judge, adding that he is getting professional help.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin sentenced Hastert to two years of supervised release. The former speaker must also attend sex offender treatment and will not be allowed to contact his alleged victims, Durkin added. 

The statute of limitations for the abuse allegations has lapsed, and the banking charges carry a maximum sentence of just five years. The recommended sentence was zero to five months, and Hastert's defense argued that the 74-year-old should be given probation due in part to his age and his failing health.

While looking into some large, unreported cash withdrawals Hastert had made, federal investigators learned the former speaker had been accused of abusing or having inappropriate sexual contact with at least five students while working as a high school teacher and wrestling coach some 40 years ago. 

They determined that Hastert began structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting rules in 2010, and that he used the money to pay off an alleged victim known in court filings as "Individual A."

Durkin previously warned that false statements Hastert made to investigators a year ago would factor significantly into the sentencing decision. Hastert initially told agents that he was being extorted by Individual A, a claim they later determined was untrue.  

I always felt what Coach Hastert had done to me was my darkest secret.
Scott Cross, known previously as Individual D, who testified on Wednesday

An alleged victim previously known only as Individual D testified in court on Wednesday, and identified himself as 53-year-old Scott Cross. 

"I respected and trusted Coach Hastert," Cross said. "Coach Hastert sexually abused me in 1979, my senior year in high school."

Cross described how Hastert offered to massage him after wrestling practice one day under to guise of helping him make weight. He said Hastert asked him to lie down, then removed his shirt and fondled his genitals.

"I always felt what Coach Hastert had done to me was my darkest secret," said Cross, who was 17 when the alleged abuse took place.

Jolene Burdge also testified. She said her brother, Stephen Reinboldt, had told her before his death in 1995 that Hastert had abused him as a high school student. 

Hastert sat motionless with his eyes downcast as the witnesses read their statements.  

John Green, Hastert's lawyer, apologized to the witnesses and said he understood the trauma they had experienced. 

However, when addressing the judge, he said he believed Hastert had "compartmentalized" his behavior and believed Hastert had mental "deficits" connected to his current medical condition. The former speaker had a stroke last year. 

Some former high-ranking political figures publicly supported Hastert ahead of the sentencing, including his congressional colleague Tom DeLay and former CIA Director Porter Goss. 

Former Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner described Hastert in a March 8 letter as "a kind, strong, principled, and unselfish man," and urged the court to let Hastert live out the rest of his days a free man "with his family and friends, and all those who love and admire him."

Many members of the public wrote to Durkin in the weeks ahead of the sentencing, expressing outrage that Hastert could have committed such alleged sexual abuse and go unpunished. 

Prosecutors slammed the former speaker in a recent court filing for what they called "stunning hypocrisy."

They highlighted a passage from Hastert's 2004 autobiography in which he wrote, “There’s never sufficient reason to try to strip away another person’s dignity.”

"(T)hat is exactly what defendant did to his victims," prosecutors wrote. "[Hastert] made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity. While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them."

Individual A filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Hastert on Monday, accusing the former speaker of still owing him $1.8 million plus interest as part of their agreement to keep the abuse allegations from going public. 

Hastert retired from teaching in 1981 to enter politics. He quickly won a seat in the Illinois legislature, serving three terms before ascending to Congress.

He became House speaker in 1999, after speaker-designate Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) resigned from Congress over an extramarital affair. Hastert was considered a morally upstanding figure at a time when both parties were embroiled in sex scandals. 

Before retiring from politics in 2007, Hastert championed tough punishment for child predators and worked extensively on health care laws. 

Ironically, one of the most consequential laws Hastert helped shepherd though his chamber later proved to be his undoing: He helped pass the controversial 2001 USA Patriot Act, which increased the scope of cash reporting laws “to help trace funds used for terrorism.”

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Kasonja Holley Still Uses Her Lunch Break To Feed The Homeless In Chicago

Tue, 2016-04-26 14:42
By Marcelle Hutchins

It's been over a year since Kasonja Holley first made headlines about using her own lunch hour to help people fighting homelessness. The Chicago native is still going strong.

Once a week Holley heads to a Subway shop to purchase boxed lunches that she distributes to homeless people.

"Growing up I saw my grandmother take in people from the streets and put them up in our church, where there was a shelter," Holley told She also distributes toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, and toilet paper.

To help fund her project, she launched Love In Motion campaign on GoFundMe to cover her costs. In the last two years she has since then raised $16,000.

"Everyone is very gracious and supportive," says Holley. "People come up to me and say 'thank you,' or hand me money to help my cause."

In addition to raising enough money to rent a space where people can shower and get clean clothes, Holley wants to bring awareness to the issue. "There are so many people who are doing things for the homeless, but there are so many homeless people in Chicago," says Holley. "I don't know what could be done to lower it, but something needs to be done."

Since its inception in 2011, Holley says she's seen people seek support and services they need to get off the streets. "I want to be that person they can talk to. I love making connection with people I come across. I'll never stop helping people."

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The 2016 NFL 'Do Not Draft' List

Tue, 2016-04-26 11:11

If the NFL draft has taught us anything over the past several years, it's that there's no such thing as a sure thing. A sure superstar doesn't exist, and neither does a surefire bust.

That being said, here's a list of eight high-profile players -- think Johnny Manziel -- that I think GMs should stay away from this year. I tried my luck with a similar article for the 2014 class, and Ebron was one of the players I identified as a bust. Then again, so too was Oakland Raiders standout quarterback Derek Carr. In 2011, I highlighted future Pro Bowlers Cam Jordan and Muhammad Wilkerson as steals, as well as J.J. Watt and Washington star outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

Email me at or ask me questions about anything sports-related on Twitter at @Schultz_Report, and follow me on Instagram at @Schultz_Report. Also, check out my SiriusXM Radio show Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-6 PM ET on Bleacher Report channel 83.

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The Mess in Illinois and the Public Trust Case for Pension Reform

Mon, 2016-04-25 11:41
Public pensions are wildly underfunded in many political jurisdictions across this country. The pension crisis in Illinois is perhaps the most dramatic: Illinois municipal bonds are treated as "junk" by the markets for good reason. How and indeed whether Illinois successfully undertakes pension reform and puts its financial house in order is important for Illinois, but also for the other States and localities with underfunded pension obligations, because Illinois is, in a sense, the canary in the coal mine. And one issue that has already been key in Illinois - and will be elsewhere - is whether the state courts support or defeat statutory efforts at pension reform. So far, the Illinois courts are a model of what courts elsewhere should not do.

In 1892, the modern "public trust" doctrine was born when the United States Supreme Court in Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois held that the public trust doctrine - a doctrine that holds that the government has a duty to future electorates and future generations and thus cannot alienate key public resources - prohibited the Illinois legislature from selling three million acres of Lake Michigan lakebed and shoreline to a railroad company. The United States Supreme Court essentially undid an imprudent and almost certainly corrupt legislative giveaway of complete and exclusive control of what since has become the very heart of the Chicago metropolitan area.

Fast forward one hundred and twenty plus years, and consider, by contrast, the Illinois Supreme Court's recent decisions regarding public pension reform, which invalidate State and City of Chicago efforts to modestly lessen the staggering pension crisis they face. In 1970, Illinois adopted a new state constitution that contains a provision stating that public pensions cannot be diminished. Reading this provision in a highly literal, absolutist manner, the Illinois Supreme Court seemed to hold that any modifications to pension terms and benefits for past or current employees were therefore prohibited by the Illinois constitution. Quite possibly, the result is going to be that, because of an imprudent choice of wording made in 1970, wording that opened up the possibility that pension liabilities would come to consume state and localities' budgets, already-inadequate state services for the most vulnerable people in Illinois, disabled and poor kids, will be cut. And already understaffed public agencies of all sorts will continue to freeze hiring or be forced to cut payrolls. The state's financial ability to pay for education, disability services, health care and the like is, of course, very different from a tangible public resource like Lake Michigan, but that financial ability also could be considered part of the public trust - part of what one poorly-thought-out act of lawmaking in 1970 should not be allowed to undermine almost a half century later.

It might be argued that the Illinois Supreme Court had to defer to what the State Constitution says because the State Constitution is the final word in the law, above everything else (except the federal Constitution). But if a group of land developers today somehow got together the political power to push through a state constitutional amendment to sell Lake Michigan, or if a group of libertarian activists pushed through an amendment that could be read as prohibiting any property tax increases no matter the public need for more money, one would hope that the Illinois Supreme Court would at least view those amendments with suspicion. Faced with such amendments, one would hope that the Illinois Supreme Court would try to interpret them in the way that made them as consistent as possible with the idea of a public trust. Likewise, in the pension context, the Illinois Court could and should have recognized that public trust concerns should guide its interpretation.

In this case of the 1970 pension provision, the wording was open-ended enough that the Illinois Supreme Court could have defensibly interpreted the provision to allow the very modest pension reforms embodied in recent state legislation. "Diminish" can be understood in a variety of ways. The Court could have and should have been guided by public trust concerns in coming to a constitutional interpretation that would have both protected overwhelmingly the interests of past and current public employees and helped ensure that Illinois would meet its obligations to all its current citizens.

It is possible that, in the wake of the Illinois Supreme Court's decision, there will be a new constitutional amendment to undo the 1970 provision. Or perhaps the State Legislature will enact new taxes large enough to cover at least some of the unfunded pension liabilities. But that will take time, and in the meantime, there are localities in Illinois simply not paying their bills to private agencies that provide critical services, and there are individuals and families at risk of losing services they desperately need. As the New York Times recently reported, Chicago State, a local college that serves predominantly African-American students from low-income households, may soon close for lack of State funds. If the Illinois Supreme Court had heeded the wisdom of the United States Supreme Court's 1892 decision in Illinois Central Railroad, Illinois would already be on the path to ensuring that its citizens today receive and will receive the services that, by all rights, they should be able to expect.

Although other States lack Illinois' constitutional provision regarding pensions, legal suits seeking to block pension reform in other States, including Takings claims for the Taking of pension rights as form of property, almost certainly will be brought as those States confront the extent to which their pension obligations are underfunded and perhaps simply impossible to meet. And perhaps some of these suits should succeed on the merits, but the consideration of the merits should include consideration of public trust principles and the need to ensure that the welfare of the public, including future generations, is safeguarded.

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Earth Day Scorecard for a Greener Chicago

Fri, 2016-04-22 09:27
Chicago is becoming a "greener city," but let's recognize some key challenges and the need for solutions moving forward. Environmental progress is being achieved together with job creation and economic development. The old myth about jobs versus the environment is simply that: old and false. This Earth Day, we should be proud of what Chicago has accomplished and candid about some important environmental challenges still requiring solutions.

Wind Power: Illinois has leaped from no wind power in 2003 to more than 3,842 megawatts today. A decade ago, who thought that Illinois would become No. 5 in the nation for wind power capacity and that Chicago would now have 11 major wind power corporate headquarters?

Next Steps: Illinois policymakers should say "no" to Exelon's opposition and finally modernize the Illinois Renewable Energy Standard, which helps drive wind power development. Let's make it work well and advance Illinois' national leadership in the restructured electricity market.

Solar Energy can be our next boom. The city and county are advancing policies to streamline solar energy installations by speeding up permitting and standardizing grid connections. Solar panel efficiencies are steadily improving -- think about other rapid technological advances in smart phones, digital cameras and computer speeds -- and becoming economically competitive. Solar energy is truly a disruptive technology, especially combined with battery technology improvements. It can succeed by installations on residential rooftops and commercial buildings' spacious flat roofs, and can transform underutilized industrial brownfields into "solar brightfields" in Chicago.

Next Steps: Let's seize the opportunities to accelerate solar energy by better using Chicago's many flat rooftops on commercial, industrial and multifamily residential buildings for solar photovoltaic panel installations producing clean electricity? First, the Illinois Commerce Commission should remove regulatory barriers that protect monopoly utilities from competition. Second, the Commission and state legislators should adopt policies that better enable community solar projects for local businesses and neighborhood residents to join together in sharing clean energy resources. Third, if Argonne National Labs' engineers and scientists achieve their goal of batteries that are five times more efficient at one-fifth the cost, that's a game changer.

Energy Efficiency saves businesses and residential consumers money on their utility bills, avoids pollution, creates jobs and keeps money in Chicago's economy. There's a quiet revolution occurring with more energy efficient lighting, appliances, cooling and heating equipment, pumps and motors, and other technologies. Commonwealth Edison reports that electricity sales declined (-1.5 percent) in 2015 in Northern Illinois while the Chicago regional economy grew 2.5 - 3.0 percent. Chicago's economy is growing, more efficiently.

Next Steps: Let's make sure that homes in all Chicago neighborhoods gain energy efficiency benefits through job-creating retrofits that can reduce electricity and natural gas bills. Electricity waste costs businesses and people money and drains dollars out of the Chicago economy for the part of the utility bills spent on out-of-town uranium, coal and gas fuels. Let's save money, boost our economy, create more installation jobs and reduce pollution. That's a winner.

Public Transit: Chicagoans are driving less with fewer cars, but Chicago can't be a greener "city that works" unless CTA is modernized. Chicago is looking to both innovative financing and new transportation approaches, including Bus Rapid Transit and Divvy bikes, in addition to upgrading the aging Red Line and other transit lines.

Next Steps: Let's face it -- no good public transit, no green city. Chicago's public transit system must become faster and provide improved, more efficient passenger services. CTA is working on it. Mayor Emanuel, Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Congressmen Lipinski and Quigley are working hard to gain more federal funds for CTA modernization. That's a priority and necessity.

Higher-Speed Rail: Chicago is the natural hub of the growing Midwest higher-speed rail network connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit and St. Louis, and the mid-sized cities in-between. Modern higher-speed passenger rail development will improve mobility, reduce pollution, create jobs and spur regional economic growth.

Next Steps: Modernize Union Station so it works well for intercity passenger rail, is attractive to new visitors and can be a multimodal hub connecting with CTA while anchoring West Loop commercial development. Let's accelerate high-speed rail development here.

Great Lakes: The Great Lakes ecosystem is the Chicago region's global gem, vital source of drinking water supply and place of recreational joy. The Obama Administration's investment of about $2 billion in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is paying off. Water quality should improve as investments are made in upgrading treatment facilities, building green infrastructure, and restoring wetlands and habitat.

Next Steps: Water efficiency is more than 20 years behind energy efficiency. We can't afford to waste fresh water that the rest of the world craves and values highly. Let's make Chicago a water efficiency leader among the Great Lakes cities. Let's also figure out savvy ways of using lower-cost greywater for industrial processes and save fresh water for drinking supply.

Chicago River: It's our namesake river and should be a gem increasing recreational enjoyment and property values for all. There's progress as the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) finally begins to disinfect its wastewater. The Chicago River, however, is still not "fishable and swimmable," and there's more cleanup to be done.

Next Steps: The new Chicago Riverwalk and river-focused development on both the north and south sides highlights and builds support for the importance of cleaning up the river as a safe place for recreational use and community enjoyment. MWRD should continue to step up its pollution reduction actions and equipment investments that pay off in clean water benefits for all.

Clean air, clean water, cleaner energy and fewer toxics are important values shared by all Chicagoans. This Earth Day, let's be proud of our progress, and let's seize opportunities to advance a cleaner, greener and safer community that works for all.

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The New Enlightenment

Thu, 2016-04-21 18:37
What remains endlessly hinted at about the 2016 presidential race, but not fully articulated, is that something enormous -- bigger than politics, bigger than America itself, perhaps -- is trembling and kicking just below the surface, struggling to emerge.

I have a name to suggest for this hypothetical phenomenon: the New Enlightenment. Nothing less than that seems adequate.

There are millions of midwives at the ready -- angry, despairing citizens -- desperately hoping to assist in the birthing process . . . by being part of the Bernie Sanders campaign. I say this with full cognizance of the flawed, compromised nature of politics in general and the Democratic Party in particular. The political process is a stew of money and competing interests, power, compromise, cynicism and secret deals. But that's not all it is.

It's also the opening to our collective future. A failure to acknowledge this leaves the process in the hands of those who think they own it.

The New Enlightenment?

The old Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, which began sweeping across the consciousness of Western Civilization in the 17th and 18th centuries, implanted science, democracy and capitalism at our social foundations and fomented the industrial revolution. But the shortcomings of this enlightenment are many. Slavery, for instance, flourished through much of the Age of Reason. So did war. So did genocide. The worst of who we are maintained its grip on power. We have yet to begin implementing our deepest values in the social and political realm.

The political mindset that sees Hillary Clinton as the pragmatic candidate in the Democratic race is unable to see beyond the parameters of a stunted political system. What she has accomplished in her political career is essentially defined by that stunted system, which not only serves (often in secrecy) the interests of those already in power, but fails to envision the implementation of power except in domination over some enemy or other.

This is illustrated with agonizing clarity by the recent controversy over the tough-on-crime and "welfare reform" policies of the Bill Clinton presidency in the 1990s, which, of course, Hillary supported and promoted, and which have begun coming back to haunt her. While the "war on crime," the backlash against social spending and the implementation -- via imprisonment -- of what Michelle Alexander has labeled the new Jim Crow, got seriously underway in the Reagan era, Clinton continued and promoted rather than tried to undo these policies.

As Alexander wrote recently in The Nation: "Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn't reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine." (Italics mine.)

She added that: "By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps" and "funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion . . . while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion."

The result of all this, as Alexander and others have noted -- and that Black Lives Matter activists recently brought to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign, confronting Bill Clinton as he campaigned for his wife -- is that African-American incarceration rates went through the roof and families and communities were shattered. This phenomenon has resulted in recent, stunning apologies from former supporters of Clinton-era tough-on-crime policies.

For instance, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago, a one-time Black Panther, tore his heart out in an MSNBC interview this month over his support of that bill. "I am ashamed of my role. I sincerely apologize to my God, I apologize to my community, to my family," he said, lamenting that, in his urgent desire to deal with the devastating impact of crime and crack in the black community, he became ensnared in single-focus thinking: "locking them up, keeping them in jail."

Despite the anguished sincerity of Rush's apology, I remain pierced by the question: Why?

Why did sheer, vindictive punishment loom in that moment as the solution to crime? Why was Reagan still the de facto president, with the head of his chosen scapegoat still on the altar of American politics? Bill Clinton's Democrats surrendered to Reaganism: to the pursuit of black "super-predators" and the defunding of "welfare queens." They surrendered to racism, as American as apple pie. The New Deal was dead and the Old Deal had reclaimed control over American politics and American thought. And it's still in control today, settled and unquestioned at the level of the political status quo.

"Of course 'sorry' isn't enough, given the magnitude of the harm that has been done," Alexander wrote, referring to Rush's apology. "A brand new system of racial and social control has been born again in the United States, one that has functioned as a literal war on poor communities of color."

The focus, she says, must be on rebuilding these communities that have been so devastated over recent decades. Yes, yes . . . but I would push it further. Social spending must be utterly redirected away from prisons and punishment, away from militarism and war, and toward the construction of real peace. The original New Deal was conceived in coexistence with war, but war eventually consumed it.

The cry of the New Enlightenment must be heard: Do not dehumanize! The only true enemy is the darkness we all share, lodged deeply in the collective human heart. When we try to kill it in "the enemy," we kill ourselves.

- - -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. Contact him at or visit his website at


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Tubman Selection Is Right on the Money

Thu, 2016-04-21 15:57

A year ago, I introduced the "Put a Woman on the Twenty Act of 2015" (H.R. 1910) to urge the Secretary of the Treasury to put a woman's portrait on American money. The bill didn't pass, but it didn't have to. After first announcing in 2015 that the ten dollar bill would be changed to include a woman or women, Secretary Jack Lew announced yesterday that Alexander Hamilton would remain on the $10 note, but abolitionist leader Harriet Tubman would grace the $20 note when it is redesigned.

Also about a year ago, I gave a speech in Congress about why I though Harriet Tubman would be an excellent choice to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. She had just won an on-line poll in which 600,000 people had cast votes as part of the "Women on 20s" campaign. What follows is adapted from my speech in Congress on May 20, 2015:

From my perspective, as we see women breaking barriers at every level of society -- and, by the way, as we see people of color breaking barriers at every level of society -- our money ought to more accurately reflect who we are as a nation in the 21st century.

I am not saying that President Andrew Jackson or any of the men we honor on our money are not worthy. Many of our founding fathers made important contributions to this country which we continue to enjoy today in the United States and throughout the world by the spread of democracy. It is also true that part of our history includes practices and decisions that we certainly are not proud of.

Let's be straight, President Jackson was a war hero, a great defender of the young American Republic, and the first President and Founder of the Democratic Party. He oversaw our great nation as it came together and expanded west.

But it is the expansion of this nation, the manifest destiny that pushed settlers west, that pushed the institution of slavery west, and that pushed the extermination and forced migration of Native peoples west -- that is precisely the nexus of Andrew Jackson and Harriett Tubman and illustrates why putting a new face on our money makes sense.

The forced removal of Native peoples from their land so that we could expand slavery is at the heart of Andrew Jackson's legacy. It is the land-grab and the trail of tears that is key to contextualizing President Jackson and his era.

It was when Harriett Tubman was about six years old that Jackson became President. She was born a slave in Maryland and eventually walked to freedom in Pennsylvania.

But she went back. Again and again. At least 19 times, showing more than 300 black people how to follow the Big Dipper and the North Star to freedom in the North -- as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

She was an agitator. She was a subversive. She used the tools of social change to improve America. She fought for the little guy against the strong guy. And she was willing to put herself at great risk to ensure justice for others.

And she was a woman and she was black.

In other words, she was an ideal American!

Harriet Tubman -- because she is a woman, because she is a woman of color, because she fought for freedom and for a better America in the face of this nation's greatest -- and still unresolved -- sin of slavery and racism; Because she turned the tide of history for the better -- she is a very, very worthy nominee for this honor.

In a few years, maybe in a few months, when the idea of putting a woman on our money is considered a quaint, old-fashioned debate, and similarly when the idea of putting a person of color on our money no longer seems like such a remarkable step, we will wonder why it took so long.

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Incredible Video Captures Dolphin Birth At Chicago Aquarium

Thu, 2016-04-21 14:32

After three hours of a dolphin's labor, the mixture of nervous and excited chatter from onlookers gave way to gasps and applause.

"It's out!" someone exclaimed as a tiny dolphin wriggled to the tank's surface and took its first breath of air.

With that, dozens of employees at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium on Monday witnessed a Pacific white-sided dolphin’s birth.

Now, we can all share in that moment, as the aquarium on Tuesday uploaded a new video (above) to YouTube showing the birth in breathtaking detail.

By all accounts, the estimated 3-foot, 25-pound calf is a beauty -- just like mom. The tiny gray and white torpedo was filmed gracefully zooming around its tank alongside first-time mom Katrl (“kuh-TREHL”).

The video shows the pair gracefully splashing in and out of the water as mom guided her overzealous newborn so it doesn't crash into a wall.

“To watch a dolphin be born is beautiful, but to also see its natural instincts fully take over in a matter of seconds as it kicks its tiny tail to propel its little body to the surface to take its first breath is overwhelmingly emotional,” Lisa Takaki, senior director of marine mammals, said in a statement.

As for Katrl, Takaki says they’re all proud of her motherly instincts.


“We couldn’t be more proud of the job Katrl is doing as a new mother, showing signs of protectiveness by steering her calf away from the sides of the habitat and helping to guide it into position to conserve its energy reserves,” said Takaki. “Not all first-time mothers are successful in knowing how to rear their newborns. She is being extremely attentive.”

Though clearly an adorable addition to the aquarium, the dolphin’s birth is especially significant since there are only 16 Pacific white-sided dolphins in accredited North American aquariums and zoos, according to the aquarium's website.

“Pacific white-sided dolphin births have never been seen in the wild, so it’s a unique opportunity for Shedd to deepen our scientific knowledge of this species,” Takaki said.

The newborn’s gender has yet to be determined.

The aquarium said the dolphin’s tank has been temporarily closed to the public to give mom and baby privacy.

CORRECTION: This article previously stated that this was the first Pacific white-sided dolphin aquarium birth witnessed by humans. That is not the case.

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A Chicago Assault Victim Might Still Be Alive If Bystanders Had Cared Enough To Help

Thu, 2016-04-21 11:29

Bystanders ignored a Chicago assault victim lying lying on the street. Moments later, a taxi accidentally ran over his body and killed him.


Surveillance video released Wednesday and first obtained by the Chicago Tribune shows Marques Gaines, 32, getting into an argument with another man outside a 7-Eleven last February. Gaines is shown trying to leave the situation before the man, dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt, punches Gaines once, knocking him unconscious on the street.

Just seconds after his body hits the ground, two men run up to Gaines and appear to rifle through his pockets before leaving. 

While a store clerk dialed 911, a group of bystanders can be seen on video surrounding Gaines' body before ultimately walking away, leaving the helpless man on the road. Less than a minute later, a taxi turning the corner runs over his body. Gaines later died at the hospital.

"We as people, as humans, we should care for one another," the victim's cousin, Drexina Nelson, told the Tribune. "Who leaves a person in the street for that long? That's devastating to me -- the fact that he could have been saved. He could still be here with us." 

Gaines' family has levied a lawsuit against 7-Eleven, claiming staff failed to provide a properly trained security guard.

“The security guard they had on duty, you can see in the video, is doing absolutely nothing to dissipate the situation or help Marques even after he’s been hit,” attorney for the Gaines' family, Chris Hurley, told WGNTV.  “He’s remarkably unqualified for the job that he’s in. And he’s been placed there by a corporation who can afford somebody’s who’s properly trained.”

Gaines' attacker remains at large. 

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Immigration Case: Texas Concedes Most Important Points

Wed, 2016-04-20 23:07

On Monday, I witnessed a part of our democracy that not many people get to see: oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States.

And you know what? It reminded me of the importance of women's equality.

Let me explain. The case I witnessed was United States v. Texas, where the state of Texas first sued the United States to stop President Obama's executive actions on immigration from taking effect.

If the United States wins, an injunction will be lifted and immigrants with deep roots in this country will be able to come forward and pay for a rigorous background check. If approved, they would be allowed to stay and work legally for a period of years and they would have to reapply and be re-evaluated periodically in order to stay in the U.S.

The reason I say that this case taught me a lesson about the importance of women's equality is because the three women on the Supreme Court really understand this case and what it is all about.

These justices asked tough, insightful questions, and I have to say, it didn't sound like they were buying the arguments of the Texas Attorney General's team, nor the lawyer hired by House Republicans to attack the President.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and my fellow boricua -- of whom I am very proud -- Sonia Sotomayor, were all very forceful in poking holes in Texas and House Republicans' case, especially on the crucial point of whether the State of Texas has the right to sue the United States on this matter in the first place.

We will see what happens, but when I left the court I was more confident than ever that -- even with the court not at full strength -- this was going to be a lopsided victory for the United States and the president.

The crux of the argument that the State of Texas made is that they subsidize driver's licenses to such an extent that a driver's license in Texas from their point of view is a kind of welfare. Apparently, people in Texas do not pay full price for the cost of a license.

If the U.S. Department of Homeland Security vets people through a background check and categorizes these long-term residents as the lowest priority for deportation allowing them to stay, then the federal government, following its regular procedures that date back to the 1980s, will issue applicants a work permit for a temporary period of time so they can work legally and support themselves.

And if an individual now has a document issued by the federal government allowing them to stay and to work, they can usually apply for a driver's license.

And to the State of Texas, a driver's license is a form of state-subsidized welfare.

Note, the State of Texas did not argue that President Obama--or any president--lacks the power to grant temporary deferred action to groups of immigrants if each case is adjudicated separately.

That's right; the State of Texas has conceded what we already know: that the President is acting within the laws passed by Congress and the legal boundaries set by the Constitution, just as every President has done in modern times.

Instead Texas said that that the federal government is injuring Texas because Texas does not charge full price for driver's licenses.

So the key points of the oral argument went like this:

Um, hey Texas--and I am paraphrasing here--couldn't you charge more for the licenses?

Clearly, immigrants would pay more if that is what was needed to make Texas happy, and having more drivers on the books, buying insurance, and having accountability is much better for everyone than the current system where some immigrants cannot get licenses but drive anyway.

Texas said it had not really considered that option.

And, um, hey, Texas--paraphrasing again--couldn't you just refuse to issue the driver's licenses? Like Arizona did with DACA for DREAMers in 2012?

And Texas is all like, if we refused to issue driver's licenses to people with deferred action, we would get sued, and in that lawsuit, we might lose just as Arizona did.

Which begs the question, why were we here in the first place?

And then it became clear to everyone in the courtroom why Texas, Republican Governors, and Republican Congressmen had chosen this path.

They were making a political statement. They felt it was important to call the president lawless and a dictator and they used the Texas driver's licenses as their excuse.

And if you take a deeper look, Texas is really saying that people can stay and the President has the power to keep families together, but they just can't drive or work if Texas has its way.

Moms and dads would have to work in the underground economy, drive without licenses or insurance, not be fully covered by wage and safety laws, and always be subject to exploitation. That is the world Republicans in Texas envision.

Well, as Doctor King taught us, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice, and so it often is when it comes to the American courts.

When a judge is selected in Texas to hear a case because he has already denounced this President; and then the case is appealed to the most conservative, least friendly circuit in the nation; and then the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, eventually you get to a venue that looks and thinks and rules much more like America in all her rich diversity and modernism.

Monday, our highest court, led by its women, but likely to include another two or three justices in the majority, took a step towards justice. Now we wait until probably June to hear the outcome. And maybe, just maybe, the Senate will someday do its job and allow the ninth and final Justice to sit on the court.

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Policing the Police in Chicago

Wed, 2016-04-20 11:55
The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Report candidly states without reservation that decades of racism and systemic failure in the CPD 'validates' complaints that have consistently been made by the Black community.

There are two Chicago Police Departments - Officer Kinda Friendly and the Jason Van Dyke Fraternity. It's the Van Dyke cops that historically cause the problems. Why do they persistently exist? Because they operate above the law. These cops commit the same crimes as the perpetrators they arrest but typically don't receive the same punishment. They may be stripped of police powers but they're still receiving taxpayer subsidized salaries, benefits and pensions. Change will begin when law and culture no longer protect the chronically bad cop/department.

The task force recommendations were spot on, however our Coalition gave these 15 reform recommendations to Mayor Emanuel Monday with the historical insight that Jim Crow lynchings were no longer tolerated when the courts no longer winked but began prosecuting and punishing the lynchers to the full extent of the law - in other words we can no longer afford over a half-billion dollars (monetized winking) in police misconduct settlements - these 15 reform recommendations are about raising the law above the lawmen.

1. De-certification of bad police officers - Many bad police officers must not just be fired but they must not have the ability to move to other jurisdictions and police with the same bad habits and attitudes. It is akin to moving criminal behavior from one community to another without regard for the lasting effects for the citizens where the problem now resides.
We call on state legislators to move to bar habitual police offenders at ANY level; Local, County and State by decertifying them therefore disqualifying them of policing anywhere in the State of Illinois. If an attorney has to have license to represent me in court, A dentist to have a license work and give service to my teeth, a doctor to have a license to diagnose my health, there is no reason why a police officer who carries a badge to enforce the law and a gun and taser to back that up cannot be subject to same standard of behavior.
2. Changes to the City Code - The City Code currently does not allow the Mayor to unilaterally fire police officers for misconduct. It currently leaves that process to the Chicago Police Department with many protections provided by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City of Chicago and the FOP.
In cases of blatant obstruction of justice and outright lying by police officers as shown in the LaQuan McDonald murder, those officers should be immediately fired by the Mayor. As the CEO of our city, the Mayor whomever he or she may be should never have their hands tied in situations such as the McDonald Murder. In this specific case the CBA also needs to be changed to give the Mayor's office final say on bad police officers.
When other city personnel do not have the luxury of a delayed process because of union protection, public safety becomes the over-arching reason to change that process to allow the mayor of the city of Chicago to protect its citizens from brazen behaviors.
3. Mental Health Concerns - This is not just a one-way dead end street that ends up with incapable police officer making snap decisions. We applaud the policing task force to place a spotlight on this issue.
However, there has to be a spotlight on the mental health concerns of police officers as it relates to the issue of public safety. Many officers are operating with a multitude of stressors. Working in high crime areas where the number of shootings and murders are higher than war zones in the Middle East.
It would be wise for CPD to consider furloughs for officers as well as random psychological evaluations of police officers as a way to reduce stressors for those working high crime areas and to help re-inforce training that has been instituted. A mentally stressed police officer is a huge matter of public safety for the city of Chicago and its residents.
4. A Merit or Demerit System - There needs to be an annual "scorecard" instituted when police misconduct occurs. It should reflect a multi-level response to the level of infractions. Summarily there should be a developed response both by the city and CPD to get ahead of potential problems with rouge police. A demerit system protects everyone from police to the city to residents.
5. The Youth - We are asking that the CPD look to build long lasting relationship with the youth by investing dollars in Police-Youth Leagues to engage our youth. Currently there is NO plan to engage with our youth only as suspects, offenders and ex-offenders. These youth only know of police officers not as people. Sports and academic leagues need to be invested in the highest crime areas to help foster elements of trust. Developing that trust demands dollars and resources.
6. Dismantle IPRA - We need the immediate disbandment of IPRA and the establishment of a truly Independent Civilian Police Review Board, one that is independent of the mayor, with subpoena powers and one whose verdict has authority. This will enhance structural protections, powers and resources for investigating serious cases of police misconduct, even in the absence of sworn complaints.
7. Beat-Based Policing - We need a major investment in beat base policing. It's vital that police officers are perceived as a guardians of the community and not seen as occupying forces. The nature of being a beat officers requires that officers have relationships with the community in order for them to be effective. (Let's come up with some specific numbers and requests.)
8. An IG of Public Safety - Create a dedicated Inspector General for Public Safety which would independently audit and monitor CPD and the police oversight system, including for patterns of racial bias. They would also take away press and information responsibility from the FOP at crime scenes. They are not impartial to the police.
9. A Department of Diversity - Establish for the first time in Chicago a Deputy Chief of Diversity and Inclusion as well as a funded program to promote interest in the CPD to young people of color. Vested people of our community should have significant input in the selection process of this person.
10. Whistleblower Protection- Establish whistleblower protection for police officers who wish to report misconduct of others whether in the rank and file as well as in the administration. City of Chicago employees have that protection and it should be extended to police. Also any new CBA should include granting immunity to those officers who are willing to report abuse and rules violations of the police and administrators.
11. The Ability to Personally Sue for Loss - Many feel that giving citizens the ability to sue those officers who have created a loss for that family is paramount. Death, permanent injury whether mental or physical will give families a final determination regarding their loss outside what settlement the City of Chicago agrees to.
12. Citizen Mobile Phone Video in the evidentiary process- Grant citizens immunity for use of any mobile phone evidence that can be used to determine whether police abuse has occurred or not. This can be done with "cloud technology" to give protection to any who may have seen police abuse.
13. Create Social Time with the Community - It's almost impossible to break bread with a meal with anyone whom you do not like or trust. CPD should develop a social calendar strictly for community trust development purposes only. This should happen in every police district of the city of Chicago. Bar-B-ques, Carnival's, Citizen Awards Lunches or Dinners, Kiddie Fairs etc. should all be part of a social calendar to allow citizens to engage and know police personally and vice versa. Humanizing those whom you are policing can and will make it less likely for individual officers to abuse citizens.
14. Cultural Sensitivity Training - Chicago still ranks as one of the most segregated cities in America. Many officers with the rank and file may for the first time upon coming into the department may have never had a close relationship with someone of another race. This training should be ongoing and probably should be facilitated by NOBLE. (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement). This training should be part of every new training class...
15. Stop Shooting Suspects In The Back - We understand the tough job that police have in making snap judgements that could come back and potentially threaten their lives. However there have been many instances where individuals have been shot in the back, running away while being unarmed. This has to stop...

twitter: @gslivingston

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'Dreamgirls' at Porchlight Music Theatre

Tue, 2016-04-19 12:23
I almost skipped Dreamgirls at Porchlight. I've seen and enjoyed the movie, I saw a very decent (if emotionally neutered) touring production 6 years ago, I've watched Jennifer Holliday's landmark performance of the titular first act closer in gay bars and YouTubes galore.

I mean, I've *seen* Dreamgirls.

Or so I thought.

Following the first act of Porchlight's milestone production (now playing through May 22), I had the theatre tingles. My adrenaline was pumping. Gobsmacked. The weariness of a long workweek had evaporated - I already knew I had to see this a few more times.

Porchlight does good work. I've been an admirer of the scrappy and steadily rising group since I moved to the city 14 years ago. However, all their previous efforts didn't prepare me for this.

Every aspect -- from the cast to the cavalcade of costumes and wigs (by Bill Morey) to the fluid choreography (by Brenda Didier, who also directs) that keeps Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger's cinematic script and score pulsating forward -- kept me rapt.

But showy theatrics and sequins can only go so far. This intimate -- but by no means small! -- production hits you square in the gut because the performances demand such.

I'll start with Donica Lynn, an actress whom I've seen in other shows, but haven't been privy to her power or range until Friday night.

If would be an understatement to say that Lynn's Effie White surprised me. This isn't the dominating force that owns the stage from first entrance. Lynn's Effie is a softer, more sensitive creation, whose emotional core unravels, breaks and strengthens over the course of the evening. And when  her big moments come, such as "And I'm Telling You," it's fully earned. Additionally, Lynn, a three-time brain cancer survivor, plays these moments as if her life depends on it -- and, hoo boy, do you feel it. Quite simply, it's been years since I've seen a performance so raw and ego-less as this. I still get chills just thinking about it.

With such a strong center, it would be easy for a lesser-equipped cast to become overshadowed. But that's far from the case here -- every performance is fully drawn and powerfully sung. I was most impressed with Katherine Thomas's Lorrell, a role that's typically diminished given it's the "C" story line. But Thomas doesn't suffer fools and slays during her scene work in act two. Additionally, while Deena Jones is certainly the lead, Candace C. Jones brings an inner fire and huge voice that plays well against the softer "pop" sound she's been regulated to. Her Deena is very much a woman trapped by her own stardom.

The men in this show also score. Evan Tyrone Martin, who's done some stellar work in recent Porchlight productions, explores his dark, dominating side as producer Curtis Taylor Jr. Eric Lewis gets down and funky as soul singer James "Thunder" Early. And as Effie's brother and songwriter, Gilbert Domally effectively grapples with the sacrifices of success.

Ok - enough. Just get yourself down to Stage 773 and see this damn show. You won't regret it.

Donica Lynn and Gilbert Domally in Porchlight's "Dreamgirls"

"Dreamgirls" plays through May 22 at Stage 773. More info here >>

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Secrets to Building a Tribe with Facebook Groups

Tue, 2016-04-19 11:32
Imagine being a sought after thought leader sharing ideas with a community of raving fans who are thrilled to hear from you.

Facebook Groups is a powerful platform for creating a tribe and engaging with them online. If you haven't yet built a Facebook group for your business, it's time to consider adding that to your marketing mix and here's why.

While you have a Facebook page, The ever changing Facebook Algorithm makes it difficult for your followers to see your posts on your business Facebook page. A Facebook page is still an important visibility tool, but it may not provide the daily contact with your followers you need to build a solid relationship.

Facebook Groups on the other hand provide notifications to all members any time there is a new post or a new comment on the post in the group. This encourages deeper participation with your audience. What used to be a one way marketing conversation, now becomes a responsive conversation with your fan base.

Why Facebook Groups Are an Epic Relationship Building Tool

Groups create instant community. - Suddenly your fans now have a voice and a direct connection to you. This drives a whole new level of engagement. Now your followers can go "behind the scenes" with you. They can learn the inside scoop behind what's new. Instead of being marketed to, they are now part a part of your tribe.

Targeted Marketing. - The awesome thing about Facebook groups is that you can attract your ideal clients. They self select if your Facebook group is the right fit for them. When you write a clear description of who it's for what your group is about, and what they can expect, people will eagerly jump on for the chance to connect with like-minded individuals.

Market Insights. Every business owners dreams of being able to hear the conversation that customers have in their head. Facebook groups allow you to get real time insights into your customers challenges, joys, and opportunities for you to better serve them.

Get Instant Feedback. Facebook groups are like having a focus group for your business. You can directly ask your tribe what topics they are interested in, what titles they like best, what locations they'd like to attend events in, what formats they prefer. Find out which logo they prefer or which headshot they like best.

Builds Emotional Connection. An audience is more responsive when you build an emotional connection with them. Facebook groups allow you to sharing advice, direct communication, and regular contact with your Tribe. An engaged tribe believes in you, looks up to you, is excited to follow you.

It's let's the Fans Be the Star. Members get to be in the spotlight as they network, share their expertise, support one another, get instant feedback, ask for tips, tools, resources, and promote their "stuff" when allowed to. It's a thrill to be part of a thriving community where you build friendships and get support and motivation.

Facebook Groups Add value.
If you are looking to create more perceived value to your offerings, Facebook Groups are a way to do it. Offer a private Facebook group as an additional benefit of your coaching program. It's also an awesome way to let people who added your event to mix and mingle with you. Plus, a Facebook group gives participants a way to find an accountability buddy that strengthens the learning and implementation.

Tips for Running A Successful Facebook Group

As you may well know, a group without a leader and rules can quickly cause anarchy. Perhaps you have been a member of a group where people were slamming each other. Some people think a group is their invitation to spam and shamelessly promote their business. This can distract from the feeling that the group is a safe and fun place to be. So how do you build a happy peace loving tribe?

Set Boundaries and Rules. State the rules in your group description and post them in a pinned post that new members can see when they arrive. Let members know that there will be no blatant promotion. Ask them to be kind and respectful to other members with no slamming of others in the group. Lovingly reminder members to keep it clean with no foul language or indecent pictures. Sometimes people don't know they are breaking the rules.

Monitor your Facebook Group regularly to make sure members are playing by the rules. As your group grows, you may wish to appoint a couple of moderators to regularly review posts, delete inappropriate posts, enforce the rules and boot out unruly members as needed.

Create structured theme days that encourage people to participate. In addition to everyday posts, you can create special posts such as Mantra Monday, Twitter Tuesday, Freebie Friday. This gives members a way to share their thoughts, ideas, and business information and connect to each other.

Be Vulnerable. Transparency is very appealing to your tribe. Share what's really going on in your life and business. If you have a challenge, lean in on your tribe. Treat them like a trusted group of friends. Share your quirky habits. Show what's going on in your personal life. Don't be afraid to be silly. Give them sneak peaks as to what your working on. They want to know the real you, up close and personal.

Ready to Share the Love with Your Tribe with Facebook Groups

Facebook groups create a sacred place where you can truly engage with your fans, share your spirit, message, and inspire others to be a part of it.

Have you found Facebook groups to be powerful way to build your Tribe? How so? Are there any tips you'd like to add?

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Chicago's 'Improv Nerd' Wasn't Prepared for Grief

Mon, 2016-04-18 14:20

If you haven't met the world's funniest man, he lives in Chicago.

Jimmy Carrane made simply living funny with his long-running improv shows "I Am 27, I Still Live at Home and Sell Office Supplies" and "Living in a Dwarf's House."

Now in his 50's, this comedian, actor, and teacher created The Art of Slow Comedy, which teaches actors the importance of reacting honestly in the moment and trusting that something will come of that.

It works on stage, but what about in life? The death of Jimmy's father is forcing him to improvise in a whole new way.

He explains how losing his dad has been his most challenging scene.

"He was not my 'best friend,' and I cringe when other people say that, because for me it's an unbelievable concept. To say 'he raised me' would be generous. And I get annoyed when other people say, 'He just did the best he could.' It may be true, but it feels like bullshit.

But he was my Dad and I only had one. As a wise old friend said, there is a bond between a father and son. And this friend went on to say that even though his dad was abusive to him when he was growing up, it was still hard on him when he died. He missed his dad terribly. This is how I feel; though my Dad was not abusive, he was neglectful, which is a different side of the same coin.

I guess going through this is a rite of passage. My Dad's memorial is in a few days, and by the end of June, I will become a father. At 51, I am coming of age. This is either pretty sad or pretty humorous, but not surprising, since I am a late bloomer.

Grief is not one emotion, but an umbrella of many. I have felt sadness, anger, fear, and anxiety or a combination of them. They are unpredictable and intense.

The grief of my father is weighing over everything. It sticks to my ribs like Thanksgiving dinner, making me feel stuffed for days.

There are also long stretches of time I want to be alone. Returning a phone call or reading the paper seems impossible. Sometimes I want to be around people and sometimes I want to kill them.

There are short patches of time where I'm focused, like now, but most of the time, I am not on the same frequency as the rest of the world. I am tuned out, flaky and annoyed. It's been four weeks since he died, and I thought by this point I would be back to writing about improv, but as you can see, I'm not.

Some of my feelings don't come up as easily. They are trapped deep down there, like those coal miners from Chile who were waiting to be rescued.

Others, like anger, come right to the surface, like when I'm in traffic or in line with the slow cashier at the CVS. And still others need to be tricked to come up, like sadness by watching Titanic with my wife where we both cried and I got a new appreciation for James Cameron.

However they come up, I am glad when they do because I feel better for the time being.

The next piece I write will be my Dad's eulogy. Months ago, when I talked to him about speaking at his funeral, he asked that I be funny and not portray him as a saint. I believe I can do at least one of those things.

God speed, Dad. God speed. I miss you.
Love, your son."

Tammy Letherer is the author of one novel, 'Hello Loved Ones,' and a memoir, 'Real Time Wreck: A Crash Course in Betrayal and Divorce,' for which she is seeking agent representation. She is a writing coach who loves to help others find their voice, whether in a blog or in a book. She has also worked as an intuitive healer and uses her gifts of listening, insight, and vision to guide clients to write--and live--their best stories. Follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Guys, Gwyneth Paltrow Is in on the Joke

Mon, 2016-04-18 09:15
Is there a more convenient proverbial punching bag than Gwyneth Paltrow?

Paltrow has achieved more success in more fields than most of us could conjure in even our wildest dreams. She's an Oscar winner. She's at the helm of Goop, initially just a newsletter and now a successful and growing lifestyle brand. And she's published two best-selling cookbooks, with a third out this month.

And yet, despite all that success, Paltrow is rarely celebrated. She often ranks near the top of any ranking of "most-hated celebrities" that the internet churns out. For what?

Absolutely, she's said some... interesting things through the years, many of which have already been listicled to death. One of which -- yes, the "I'd rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a can" one -- has inspired an ironic greeting card and accompanying wall art on Etsy.

But something about the non-stop backlash has already struck me as a little... off, especially given how women tend to dominate these lists. The sexism inherent to arguments that celebrities like Paltrow or Anne Hathaway -- or, ahem, political candidates like the fictional Tracy Flick and the very-much-real Hillary Clinton -- "try too hard" is impossible to deny.

So I have a theory: Paltrow is no goop-head. She knows exactly what she's doing. And the more you hate it, the more she wins. Maybe we all could stand to embrace the overachieving Goopstress within.

If I'm being honest, I think it's pretty brilliant and her f*ck-the-haters-I'm-doing-me vibe can even border, occasionally, on inspiring.

Paltrow (right) along with Rogers and Gersh on the stage at the Chicago Ideas Week Curiosity Series event on April 14, 2016, at Venue SIX10. (Photo by Chicago Ideas Week)

Such was not, largely, the case last Thursday night as Paltrow spoke at a Chicago Ideas Week Curiosity Series event moderated by Johnson Publishing Company CEO Desiree Rogers, an incredibly accomplished and inspiring woman in her own right. Goop CEO Lisa Gersh accompanied Paltrow.

For most of the interview, Paltrow gamely answered the questions Rogers posed to her, though she rarely strayed from the sort of responses one would probably expect from someone who sells $1,200 serving spoons and whose recipes can, at times, ring up quite the grocery bill.

When prompted by Rogers to share what words she thought the general public would use to describe her, the only one she managed to verbalize was "multi-tasker," while admitting that she also had other, less positive ones in mind though she rarely read anything written about herself.

When she was then prompted to describe what she considers to be her "authentic" self, she described herself as hard-working and hard on herself, warm and loyal, impatient and a perfectionist.

She went on to speak with an air of seriousness of how the goal of Goop is to "add value to peoples' lives." She called the brand "the greatest accomplishment of my life" and urged women -- who made up probably 95 percent of the audience in attendance on Thursday -- to harness their inherent, incredible power and to not be apologetic as they strive for their goals in life.

These comments were received well, but perhaps the biggest stir from the audience came when Paltrow was posed a question from the audience: "Gwyneth, what do you think of steam-in-bag vegetables?"

For a moment, Paltrow stumbled before it was clear she did not know what the question was referring to. An audience member was invited to offer an explanation -- along the lines of "frozen vegetables you can put directly in the microwave and they're done" -- and Paltrow's immediate response zinged: "That sounds f*cking amazing!"

Paltrow waves on the red carpet at the Oscars on Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Clearly, if only for a moment, the veneer of seriousness had been pulled down and the audience loved it, even if they understood Paltrow probably wouldn't be running out after the talk to track down her own bag of some frozen, pre-cut, microwaveable carrots. This was a clear highlight of an otherwise somewhat generic conversation.

And in that moment, too, it seemed clear to me: Paltrow is well aware of how she is perceived. And she's using it, quite effectively, to her advantage.

The press tour for It's All Easy, Paltrow's new cookbook, has had other moments of levity which have, of course, been met with heavy critique -- and deservedly so. In a Goop Q&A last week, Paltrow stood by her infamous "crack" comment when asked about it, saying, "You know, crack might be extreme, but spray cheese is not my kind of party."

And then there's the bee-sting beauty treatment, which prompted Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams to dub Paltrow's brand "'Jackass' for rich women."

Sure, headlines like that are fun to write and even more fun, sometimes, to read. But is it us playing her. or is she playing us?

I'd argue it's all but certainly the latter.

Sure, a lot of this is pretentious nonsense. But it seems to be working for her. And I'm here for it.

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The Supreme Court Must Uphold the President's Lawful Immigration Actions

Mon, 2016-04-18 07:48
All across this country undocumented immigrants are living in fear of seeing their families torn apart because of our broken immigration system.

Many of those immigrants are children who were brought here at a young age through no fault of their own. They have gone to school and aspire to one day go to college, serve in the military, or build a business.

Their parents dream of providing a better life for their family, by working hard, paying their taxes and providing opportunity for their children.

They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, soldiers and students.

They are American in every way, except on a piece of paper. And that is why their lives can be torn apart at any time.

Kids live in fear that their parents won't be home when they get back from school or that their aunts and uncles will be rounded up leaving church. Parents worry that they will be detained at work and nobody will be there to care for their children when they get home.

This is why the president used his prosecutorial discretion to make lawful changes to the immigration law, just like the ten previous presidents before him had done.

The president took common sense actions to ensure that families were not ripped apart, people were brought out of the shadows and that the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents would be protected from deportation.

He acted by making narrow, limited changes to current immigration law. Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) allow undocumented children, who were brought to country through no fault of their own and undocumented parents of U.S. citizens, who have been in the country for five years, to get temporary protection from deportation.

Despite clear legal precedent dating back to the Eisenhower administration, Republicans continue their political vendetta against immigration reform. They sought out one of the most conservative judges in Texas in the most conservative Circuit Court District in the country where the state of Texas' flimsy court case could pass muster. This has always been politically motivated from the start.

The Supreme Court now has the opportunity to put an end to this political battle. The fact that House Republicans held an "extraordinary" vote on the floor for Members to register their positions on a Supreme Court case tells you all you need to know about the politics behind this whole court case.

I am very confident, that even though the court is not full due to Republican obstructionism, that it will rule decisively in favor of the President and his lawful immigration actions. This is why I joined with my colleagues in signing an amicus brief in support of the President's actions.

That is why Democrats and President Obama fought hard to pass immigration reform in Congress. We saw the heartbreak and the impact it had on our communities. We knew the system was broken and that the only way to truly fix our immigration systems once and for all was to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The president was right to take lawful action once it became clear that a comprehensive fix to the immigration system was unattainable. The policies he aims to implement are not comprehensive immigration reform and are no substitute for Congress doing its job by passing immigration reform. But it does use prosecutorial discretion to focus on wrongdoers, not those working, studying and contributing to their country.

These actions will keep families together instead of tearing them apart. The Supreme Court should clearly see that that the arguments against these actions are politically motivated and are not backed by legal standing.

It is vital that these lawful actions are allowed to stand and be implemented.

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Gov. Rauner's demolition politics are hurting Illinois

Fri, 2016-04-15 14:59
Governor Bruce Rauner's refusal to compromise and agree to a state budget is tearing at the fabric of our state's human service and higher education infrastructure. Families, children, students and seniors are suffering. They're collateral damage in Rauner's crusade to eliminate the unions through which working people have a voice, exercise their rights and raise their standard of living.

The governor is taking the same his-way-or-no-way approach to a new union contract for public service workers in state government. In January his administration broke off talks, walked away and has since refused to even meet with our union bargaining committee.

Learn more and take action at Keep Illinois Working.

Instead of negotiating, Rauner wants to force state workers to accept his demands. They include doubling health care costs, going four years without any pay increases and ending safeguards against irresponsible privatization deals.

If the state labor board paves the way for Rauner to impose these harsh terms, employees' only means of resistance would be to go out on strike. Everyone would feel the pain of a statewide shutdown: Who would protect children from abuse, care for veterans and people with disabilities, provide food stamps and Medicaid, or maintain state parks? Meanwhile, state employees on the picket line would be deprived of their livelihoods.

Unfortunately, this is the scenario Bruce Rauner promoted starting on the campaign trail when he promised to "shut down state government" in order to "re-do everybody's contract". State employees, on the other hand, want to do everything possible to avoid a strike. They're committed to the public services they provide and the citizens who depend on them.

With the governor's brand of demolition politics hurting Illinois, state employees can't just roll over to his damaging demands. With no protections against privatization, state services could be contracted out for private profit, without regard to quality, efficiency or jobs lost. And the ability of employees to bring home family-sustaining wages would be hit hard. Under Rauner's terms, every state and university employee would lose $10,000 over three years from paying double health insurance premiums.

That's not fair, it's not affordable for families, and it would have a profoundly harmful effect on local economies. Just in the greater Springfield area, Rauner's cuts would reduce families' income by more than $167 million. That's money that could no longer pay bills or support small businesses.

Instead of trying to cut the income of working people, harming their families and communities, Governor Rauner should stand up to the big corporations that get more than $2 billion in tax giveaways from the state of Illinois every year. He should support changing the state income-tax structure that now allows millionaires to pay a lower effective rate than average working families.

But since the governor persists in picking on the little guys (and gals) instead of standing up to the big boys, our legislators must act. House Bill 580, the fair arbitration bill, would provide every state employee with the same dispute resolution procedures that Illinois correctional officers, state troopers, firefighters and police officers already have. That's the ability to involve a neutral arbitrator, an independent third party, to help reach a contract settlement without a strike.

The fair arbitration bill passed the state Senate and House last summer. The governor vetoed it, vowing in writing to remain at the bargaining table and keep working toward a settlement. In January he broke that pledge, walking away from negotiations and setting out to unilaterally impose his own terms. That's why lawmakers passed the bill again this spring, and why every legislator -- regardless of political party -- should reject his heavy-handed tactics by overriding his expected veto of HB 580.

This column first appeared in the State Journal-Register.

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Thousands Of Protesters March For $15 Hourly Wages Across U.S.

Fri, 2016-04-15 04:13

Thousands of low-wage workers marched in New York, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities on Thursday calling for minimum pay of $15 an hour in a cause that has scored major legislative victories in California and New York state in recent weeks.

The union-backed "Fight for $15" campaign has expanded since its inception in 2012 from a movement mostly centered on the fast-food industry to encompass other low-wage sectors, such as home health care, retail outlets and hospitals.

Much of the attention in Thursday's rallies, in what some organizers called a national day of action, was on McDonald's Corp fast-food eateries, the world's biggest restaurant chain by revenue.

Demonstrators said they want to get to a $15 minimum in any they can, whether that happens at the state or city level or even via individual companies.

In New York City, demonstrators rallied in Times Square and later protested outside a Republican gala featuring the party's three candidates for the 2016 presidential race, while in Los Angeles protesters held aloft large balloons and marched behind a banner that read, "McJobs hurt us all."

Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke at the rally in Times Square, on a day that also saw Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders express support for the marchers.

On the West Coast, organizers said more than 2,000 people marched through downtown Los Angeles.

Anggie Godoy, 20, a cashier at a McDonald's in Los Angeles, said the campaign to raise wages must be national in scope.

"We know that it's not just New York and California struggling, but it's everyone in our nation," she said.

And even though California and New York have recently passed legislation to raise their state minimums to $15, protesters said those measures aren't enough because both states will take time to phase in the increases.

Similar demonstrations in dozens of other U.S. cities, including Chicago and Miami, drew thousands of workers to the streets, organizers said.

Protests were also held overseas, including at a McDonald's at Disneyland Paris and outside the headquarters for the South Korea division of the fast-food giant, organizers said.

Last year, McDonald's raised its employees' base pay at company-owned U.S. outlets by $1 over the locally mandated minimum wage. That measure does not affect the employees of the almost 90 percent of McDonald's restaurants run by franchisees.



McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa McComb also cited the company's participation in a program that helps employees earn a high school diploma and obtain tuition assistance for college.

Earlier this month, both California and New York enacted $15-an-hour minimum wage laws, going beyond the federally mandated $7.25-an-hour wage floor that has been in effect nationally since 2009.

Opponents have argued that raising the minimum wage puts an undue strain on businesses still struggling to rebound from a prolonged U.S. economic slump.

Supporters say such measures are necessary to help low-paid workers who have been slipping into poverty due to stagnant earnings and rising living expenses.

Kendall Fells, organizing director of "Fight for $15," said the movement combines a push to raise wages and unionize low-paid workers.

"Workers demand $15 and they want a union, they don't care how it happens," he said.

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Dennis Hastert Facing 'The Worst Of Both Worlds' Ahead Of Sentencing

Thu, 2016-04-14 20:42

CHICAGO -- The legal woes of once-powerful former House Speaker Dennis Hastert have gone from bad to worse.

A judge on Wednesday warned that false statements Hastert made to investigators last year will factor into his sentencing decision for a case that began as a white-collar crime probe and later unveiled claims of sexual abuse from decades ago.

"That's not conduct that's 40 years old, that conduct is ... a year old," U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said, noting that he considered the particular conduct a "big" aggravating factor.

In a damning 26-page filing from last Friday, prosecutors detailed how Hastert's lies inadvertently led investigators to five separate claims of sexual abuse or misconduct from individuals who where on the high school wrestling team Hastert coached more than 40 years ago.

Among them was Individual A, who claimed Hastert molested him in a motel room during a wrestling trip when he was 14, prosecutors said. 

Hastert had initially told federal investigators he withdrew cash in small enough amounts to avoid bank reporting rules (an illegal practice known as structuring) because he was being extorted by Individual A.

But after arranging to record Hastert demanding that Individual A end the extortion, investigators realized Hastert's claim of victimization didn't add up. Investigators found Individual A's response and tone to be "inconsistent" with that of an extortionist and noted he was even calm and understanding when Hastert said he couldn't get more money. In subsequent interviews, investigators learned from Individual A about the history of his relationship with Hastert.

Prosecutors said Individual A asked Hastert for $3.5 million in compensation for the alleged abuse and Hastert agreed, but refused suggestions they formalize the agreement with lawyers.

The judge's decision to flag Hastert's recent lie is "significant," said Patrick Collins, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago who prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's corruption trial. 

"That’s a pretty big deal — arguably, [Hastert's] calling the victim of his sexual misconduct an extortionist. It’s not exactly a way to curry favor with the government." 

Hastert faces sentencing on April 27 over charges he tried to evade banking rules about cash withdrawals and lied about it to federal investigators -- a crime for which the recommended sentence is zero to six months, though it carries a maximum of five years in prison. 

Hastert, who is now 74 and in poor health, admitted guilt in October as part of a plea bargain to avoid a highly public trial and even more public airings of the salacious abuse allegations. 

"It’s sort of the worst of both worlds for him: He pleads guilty to avoid the details of the misconduct going public, but now because of his denials, they’re going public anyway," said Hugh Mundy, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and former federal public defender.

Both Collins and Mundy said the tone of the prosecution's sentencing position filing -- and subsequent response by Hastert's defense team, which suggests Hastert's "groin rub" and massage of Individual A doesn't qualify as sexual misconduct -- indicate the two sides disagree on what is appropriate punishment.

From a sentencing perspective, if there was ever a case where the tail is wagging the dog, it’s this one.
Patrick Collins, former assistant U.S. attorney

Hastert's defense team has previously argued that he should be sentenced to just probation as the humiliation over the sexual misconduct allegations is punishment enough. 

"Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry," his legal team said in a recent statement. Hastert has not explicitly admitted to the specific sexual misconduct allegations against him. 

The lack of acknowledgment, Mundy said, will only make Hastert's sentencing day worse: One of his alleged victims and the sister of a now-deceased alleged victim are slated to testify at his hearing in two weeks.  

"[Hastert’s] denials give the government a real avenue to bring in testimony that would otherwise be irrelevant in the sentencing," Mundy said. Mundy said the mitigating factors of Hastert's age and failing health will now be measured against those testimonies. 

The statute of limitations for the alleged sexual abuse has long since lapsed, but Collins acknowledged it is undeniably compelling that prosecutors would want to see Hastert punished with more than what amounts to a probationary sentence.

"It’s almost like getting Al Capone on tax violations: Is it fair to sentence a man for things that happened 40 years ago that he can’t legally be charged for?" Collins said. 

“From a sentencing perspective, if there was ever a case where the tail is wagging the dog, it’s this one."

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