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9/11 Just Claimed Another Life — The Firefighter Who Made Congress Care

WASHINGTON ? While New York City firefighter Ray Pfeifer was slowly dying of Sept. 11-related cancer, he always called himself the luckiest man alive.

Pfeifer, who died Sunday from that illness at the age of 59, would probably say his luck held.

If not for chance, Pfeifer would have died on Sept. 11, 2001, when 343 other city firefighters perished in the collapsing World Trade Center complex, including all the men on duty at Pfeifer?s Engine 40.

?9/11 happened, I?m supposed to work. I lived. Why? Because I switched my tour,? Pfeifer told HuffPost in March before laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of those who have fought and died for America, before and after terrorists struck the twin towers.

His eyes glistened at the memory. One of those who did not survive was the friend who took Ray?s tour, Steve Mercado.

?He lost everybody in his fire house,? his wife Caryn said. ?He was supposed to be working that day. So he does have that guilt.?

While Pfeifer didn?t know it in the wrenching months and years that followed, the Sept. 11 attack that killed the friends he tried to pull from the smoking rubble would ultimately claim Pfeifer?s life, too. Doctors believe the toxic clouds that boiled from the devastation are to blame for his cancer, and for the illnesses afflicting 40,000 other people who suffered exposure.

?So, then a couple of years later I get cancer. So what?? said Pfeifer as he rested in bed before his visit to the tomb at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. 

Since getting diagnosed in 2009 with the renal cancer that had spread to his bones, Pfeifer had parts of his legs, hips, ribs, shoulder and brain removed or replaced to slow the disease?s progress.

That?s where, in his mind, the luck came in. He made it almost 17 more years after Sept. 11.

?I had time with my kids, to watch my kids grow up,? said Pfeifer, who would live to see his daughter, Taylor, become a police officer and his son, Terence, follow in his footsteps to become a New York City firefighter. In 2001, his children were both in grade school.

Ray?s luck also turned out to be a boon for thousands of other Sept. 11 responders, and a lesson to a Washington political class that wasn?t especially concerned in 2014 and 2015 that the legislation that was helping people like Ray Pfeifer was about to expire.

With leaders in Congress making no effort to renew that law, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Pfeifer and plenty of others who were struggling with their own illnesses had to travel to Washington multiple times to finally secure a permanent replacement for the law in 2015.

It would be a lie to say that the first responders and civilians who sacrificed themselves to restore the nation after it suffered one of its worst terrorist attacks were not angry that their politicians no longer saw them as a priority. But Ray Pfeifer didn?t think the country needed more yelling or partisan political games.

?It was political, very political, believe me, and you know how political it got, but it was more not a Democratic thing, not a Republican thing, but an American thing,? Pfeifer said. ?That?s what we had to drag into it ? because these guys just didn?t get it, it was an American thing ? trying to let them know it happened to America, not to us.?

On one of his many trips to the Capitol in late 2015, Pfeifer was made aware of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) walking fast across the basement of the Capitol. Portman was one of a few holdout senators whose support could put the Zadroga Reauthorization Act over a veto-proof majority and yield immense pressure on leaders to bring it up for a vote. Pfeifer was riding in a motorized wheelchair donated by the widow of another one of Sept. 11?s fallen. Portman was headed quickly for an exit. The wheelchair had a speed dial. Pfeifer pinned it down, and cornered Portman for a 10-minute discussion that got the lawmaker to back the bill.

Pfeifer never enjoyed embarrassing the politicians, though. He felt he could reach their humanity instead. He was with former Daily Show host Jon Stewart when Stewart and a news crew ran down a hallway to confront Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

?There was this poor woman, deer in the headlights, trying to figure out what these guys are saying,? Pfeifer said. ?And here?s Jon Stewart saying ?I know you?re a patriot, but this is what you?ve gotta do.??

Pfeifer called her office the next day to apologize, and eventually won her over.

?We did good-cop/bad-cop,? Stewart recalled. ?But I didn?t know that?s how it was going to go. He?s just such a good guy that I was immediately the bad cop. And I was a bad cop. Ray was the most effective emissary.?

Stewart also traveled to Arlington in March. He was there when Pfeifer and Caryn laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

It was one of the things on Pfeifer?s bucket list. He had helped pass the Zadroga Act, won the key to the City of New York, and been feted at center ice of an Islanders game. He?d helped Joe Biden with his cancer ?moonshot? initiative, and was grand marshal for the fire department at the St. Patrick?s Day Parade in Manhattan. He was also living in hospice care. But still he wanted to make the tiring car trip from New York to Virginia to honor America?s soldiers.

John Feal, the founder of Sept. 11 advocacy group the FealGood Foundation, encouraged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to get Pfeifer that opportunity.

?The fact that he was willing to tell his story, and be heard, and fight for what he believed in ? our democracy only works when regular people stand up and demand action. Ray was willing to come here week after week, month after month, year after year,? Gillibrand said. ?He?s someone we all look up to. He inspires us. He?s someone who?s selfless, who?s given of himself his whole life. When he asked to lay this wreath, I said of course.?

He made it with a little over two months to spare.

?My fight is over,? Pfeifer said that day. ?I don?t think I have any more fight in me to be honest with you. We got the 75 years for the health [program], got the compensation. But I don?t know if I have any more left. I wanted to come down here, pay my respects to the military. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is an honor. I?ve had many things bestowed on me, but to do something like this is an honor.?

It was act of service and one more example that Pfeifer?s friends hope the country?s leaders understand and take to heart.

?Ray?s legacy, what he leaves behind is, hopefully ? we live in such a time when everyone screams and yells at each other, we point fingers ? maybe we could find some peace and tranquility, and a wave of calm,? Feal said. ?Because I think that?s what Ray would want. Because that?s the way Ray lived his life.?

Pfeifer will be mourned in a Friday funeral at the Holy Family Church in Hicksville, New York.

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Here’s How A Landmark Ruling On Trans Teens’ Rights Could Have A Colossal Impact On Schools

Texas legislators are at this moment considering a special session, and, as Zack Ford notes, that means the threat of a statewide transgender ?bathroom? amendment applying to public schools is still a very real. LT. Gov. Dan Patrick, who?d earlier in the year introduced a broader anti-trans bill, is the force behind getting a special session, since the legislative session ended on May 29, solely for the purpose of passing anti-trans legislation.

But a landmark ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday could complicate, diminish or thwart Patrick?s effort, or even eventually help roll back the law if it is passed and signed by Governor Greg Abbott. 

That?s because the big win out of the 7th Circuit could have ramifications nationwide, even before the issue of transgender students rights gets to the Supreme Court. Ashton ?Ash? Whitaker, a 17-year?old high school senior, sued his Wisconsin school district, which wouldn?t allow him to use the boys? restroom. The appeals court upheld a district court injunction and ruled that the school?s bathroom policy violated the 14th Amendment on equal protection and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The ruling comes after the Supreme Court recently punted on the case of Gavin Grimm, the Virginia teen whom the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled had the right to use the boys? room at his school. The high court, after first taking the case, vacated the lower court ruling after the Trump administration rescinded the affirmative guidelines to schools on transgender students, which were issued by the Obama administration. The 4th Circuit?s decision had relied in part on those federal guidelines. But the 7th Circuit Court handed down its ruling without relying on the guidelines. As HuffPost?s Christian Farias reports

That change in positions led the Supreme Court to duck the issue altogether, leaving plaintiffs like Whitaker and Grimm to argue that Title IX itself ? which doesn?t expressly cover gender identity ? nonetheless covers claims of ?sex? stereotyping against trans students.

The 7th Circuit embraced that approach in Tuesday?s ruling, suggesting that because ?a transgender individual does not conform to the sex?based stereotypes of the sex that he or she was assigned at birth,? it?s unlawful to stigmatize a student based those stereotypes.

The ruling not only opens the door for trans students? rights to get to the Supreme Court again, but it could influence other circuit courts around the country to rule similarly. It could have an impact on legislators like those in Texas, and on school districts in Texas ? which would be given the choice to allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity (or not) if the law is passed in a special session. Many of those districts, as well as many across the country, may be swayed to support equality now. 

?This is a big, big, big, huge, huge deal,? noted Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights about the ruling. ?This sends the strongest possible message on where the federal courts are heading on this issue. As a practical matter, this will probably motivate many school districts across the country to treat transgender students equally.?

Amidst a lot of terrible realities we?re facing on civil rights in the Trump era, that is very welcome great news.

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Map Of ‘America’s Most Misspelled Words’ Will Have You Shaking Your Head

Need help spelling Wisconsin? Maybe don?t ask someone who actually lives there.

A new spelling map released by Google this week shows each U.S. state?s most Googled word for its spelling, and yes, Wisconsin?s word is Wisconsin.

The map was released in honor of the 90th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, which began on Tuesday.

According to the map, which is based on data collected between January and April of this year, ?Beautiful? is the most commonly misspelled word across a number of states, frequently searched in California, Minnesota, Ohio and New York. 

Maine and Washington appeared to struggle with ?pneumonia,? while Arkansas and South Carolina pondered over ?Chihuahua,? Indiana and Delaware over ?hallelujah,? and Connecticut and West Virginia over ?supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, online reactions to the map involved a hefty amount of disbelief.

Fortunately, there were some Twitter users who were happy to offer tips on how to spell words like ?banana? and ?beautiful.? Others pitched words that they were surprised didn?t make the list.

– This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Poodle ‘In Good Health’ After Found Locked Inside Discarded Suitcase

A poodle is lucky to be alive after a good Samaritan found him locked inside a suitcase discarded off a road in Canada over the weekend, authorities said.

The tiny animal, since named Donut, was heard crying inside the blue, hard-shelled luggage on Sunday by a dog walker in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Richmond Animal Protection Society (RAPS) said Monday.

?I heard this noise coming through the undergrowth,? Graham Barrett told CTV News. ?I saw this suitcase. ? I knew it had to be an animal. I knew something was trapped inside.?

Barrett said he called police for help after an unsuccessful attempt to open the suitcase by himself.

By the time authorities were able to break the case open, they estimated the dog, who was found lying in his own urine and feces, had been trapped inside for a total of three to six hours.

RAPS President and CEO Eyal Lichtmann couldn?t hide his disgust over the animal?s mistreatment. 

?It?s just horrendous,? he told HuffPost. ?Who puts a dog into a suitcase and throws it into the woods??

Anyone who decides they can no longer take care of an animal is urged by RAPS to bring the pet to its shelter. ?RAPS will gladly take the animal, provide it care and re-home the animal,? the group?s website states.

Amazingly, Donut is said to be doing extremely well, as seen in the video below released by RAPS. He?s described by the group as ?active, happy and friendly,? and ?in good health despite the traumatizing incident.?

The dog, estimated to be about 6 years old, was found without a microchip or any other identifier. He had been recently groomed, RAPS said.

An investigation is underway by the Richmond Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a team with the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to try to find whoever placed the poodle inside the suitcase, The Vancouver Sun reported.

The culprit could face up to five years in prison, a $75,000 fine and a lifetime ban on owning animals, CTV reported.

Barrett, who has two dogs of his own, hopes his adult daughter will be able to adopt the pooch, who he?d like to name Lucky because of his incredible survival.

?I think this would be a good fit for their family, and also for us, to know that he?s in a safe place,? he said.

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So, Here’s Kathy Griffin Holding A Very Fake, Very Bloody Donald Trump Head

This feels like an ?America?s Next Top Model? challenge gone so horribly wrong. 

Kathy Griffin has made a career out of shocking her public by telling stories of Lindsay Lohan?s fire crotch and simulating oral sex with Anderson Cooper on CNN, but she took things to a whole new level with this controversial photo shoot.  

Shot by celebrity photographer and director Tyler Shields, the comedian stares the camera down in one photo, as she holds what resembles the bloody head of president Donald Trump.

?Kathy is all about pushing the limits and she went above and beyond on this one. Now lets just hope she stays out of jail,? a representative for Shields told HuffPost. 

In other (and considerably less gory) photos shot by Shields, Griffin poses by the pool in a revealing leather getup as a man holding a camera stands above her. 

According to New York Magazine writer Yashar Ali, Griffin claims that the image is an ?expression of art? inspired by Trump?s comments about former Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly having ?blood coming out of her eyes? and ?out of her ? wherever.?

We think it?s safe to say Griffin won?t be apologizing anytime soon. 

HuffPost has reached out to Griffin?s representatives and will update the post accordingly. This post was updated to include Ali?s tweets.

– This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.