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"An Evening Of Country Music" At The White House: Michelle Obama’s New ‘Do And Peter Orszag (PHOTOS)

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

WASHINGTON — The White House went a little bit country Tuesday.

“Now, I know folks think I’m a city boy, but I do appreciate listening to country music,” President Barack Obama said to guests gathered in the East Room for a performance by country musicians Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Brad Paisley and country music legend Charley Pride also entertained the audience, which included first lady Michelle Obama, Cabinet secretaries and lawmakers.

The president, whose hometown is Chicago, said the genre has helped to make Americans more hopeful. “It’s captured our restlessness and resilience, and told so much of our story in the process,” he said.

The performance, along with a morning workshop for students, was the second in a music series that Mrs. Obama launched last month to encourage arts and arts education. The first session was devoted to jazz. A classical music workshop is planned for the fall.

Earlier, Paisley, Krauss and Union Station taught 120 middle and high school music students from Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia about music and song writing.

Paisley and Krauss started their careers early. Krauss, who plays the fiddle, signed a record deal at 14; the guitar-playing Paisley was just 13 when he appeared on a country music show.

Krauss said she would listen to music all day but “I didn’t think I would … end up doing it as a career.”

Paisley’s grandfather, a country music lover, gave his grandson a guitar for Christmas when Paisley was 8. And the rest is country music history. “I’ve really not been good at much else,” Paisley said. “Thankfully I was able to do this for a living because, as I said, I did not have anything to fall back on, that’s for sure.”

Paisley and Krauss sat on stools in the State Dining Room in front of a large portrait of a pensive-looking President Abraham Lincoln. Krauss played one piece on her fiddle, and sang another. Paisley also sang. Both answered questions from the students.

One of the participants, Sal La Rosa, of Nashville, Tenn., who just finished the fourth grade, also performed a song he wrote as part of a music education program sponsored by the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Paisley and Krauss talked about the family support they’ve enjoyed along the way to country music stardom.

“Music is like being up at bat,” Paisley told the students. “It’s really very much like stepping up to the plate. And you can have all the support in the world but it’s up to you guys to really get where you want to go.”

___

Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.

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Phillies Give Cubs Chance to Measure Up

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Now that the weekend series with the Washington Nationals is over, Chicago Cubs baseball can resume major league play. But, like everything else that seems to enter the Cubs’ world, there’s a mixture of good and bad news.  Giving the worse first, the Cubs meet the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies,  a team as solid from top to bottom as there is in the National League. On the bright side, in playing the Phillies in a three-game set, there’s no better yardstick for the

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Board Of Education Approves Budget That Guts After-School, Gifted And Early Childhood Programs

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

CHICAGO (AP) — The Illinois Board of Education on Tuesday approved a budget that eliminates funding for after-school and gifted programs and cuts money for early childhood, reading and foreign language instruction by as much as half.

Speaking at an emergency meeting, chairman Jesse Ruiz said Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers had given the board no choice. They approved an overall education budget of nearly $7.3 billion for fiscal 2010, a 2 percent decrease from the $7.4 billion allocated the year before.

And while this year appears to be rough, Ruiz said, next year could be “catastrophic.” He urged people to demand answers from politicians soon headed to the campaign trail.

“We need to become very, very, very discriminating in our public officials,” Ruiz said. “Keep your dollars in your pocket. Give it to a school before you give it to a candidate.”

Education board members also voted Tuesday to severely reduce funding for arts, agricultural education, advanced placement classes, bilingual studies and teacher certification programs. Money for the rehabilitation of truant students and the visually impaired also was slashed.

Advocates who testified at the meeting warned of consequences as dire as more children on the streets. Officials agreed that, at the least, the cuts could hurt the quality and competitiveness of education in the state.

Of the overall education budget, the Legislature set general state aid – money allocated to school districts – at more than $4.7 billion for fiscal 2010, up 2.5 percent, or nearly $117 million, from the previous year. That amounts to about $160 more per pupil for the year.

While they passed the budget unanimously, board members said they felt broken-hearten and dejected.

“I do not envy you,” Gerald Brookhart, Peoria regional education superintendent, told them while testifying. He said the board was faced with the question of “which child are you going to throw away?”

-ASSOCIATED PRESS


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McDonald’s Sued After Hepatitis Outbreak

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

CHICAGO (AP) — An attorney who specializes in food safety filed a lawsuit Tuesday against McDonald’s following a hepatitis A outbreak in northwestern Illinois.

The lawsuit was filed in Rock Island County Circuit Court on behalf of Cody Patterson, 33, of Milan. The suit claims a McDonald’s in Milan allowed one or more employees to work while infected with the virus and that Patterson ate there during that time.

The complaint seeks class action status for other patrons who ate at the restaurant on certain dates and sought the preventive treatment recommended by county health officials. The suit also names Kevin Murphy, who owns the fast food franchise in Milan, as a defendant.

Patterson said he has receipts for meals at McDonald’s with his family on at least two dates when authorities say an infected worker may have contaminated food or beverages.

“If you eat at a restaurant, you should feel safe there,” Patterson told The Associated Press. He said he’s not interested in monetary damages.

“It’s finding out who’s at fault and making sure it doesn’t happen to others,” Patterson said. “That’s my biggest thing.”

Patterson said he was worried about his family and searching online for hepatitis information when he found a Web site for Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has handled numerous foodborne illness cases. He filled out a form on the site and, when contacted, agreed to take part in the lawsuit.

The suit, which seeks damages of at least $30,000 for Patterson, is a way to compensate people for the time, wage losses and expense of getting preventive treatment, Marler said.

Danya Proud, a spokeswoman for Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp., said health officials haven’t confirmed the source of the outbreak.

“In fact, they believe, based on the number of confirmed cases, that most likely there are multiple sources,” Proud said in an e-mail. She said commenting further would be inappropriate because “this is a pending legal matter.”

Murphy, who operates the Milan McDonald’s, has said the restaurant took immediate action once it learned from health officials on July 13 that a food handler had been diagnosed with hepatitis A. Murphy has said that no one who was sick knowingly worked at the restaurant after that notification.

Rock Island County Health Department spokeswoman Theresa Foes said other businesses in Milan were investigated during the outbreak, but no others were closed. The Milan McDonald’s was closed for three days last week at the direction of health officials and reopened Saturday.

Foes said 4,000 people were expected to receive treatment at a two-day vaccination clinic organized in response to the outbreak. The clinic held at the local high school ended Tuesday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said 21 confirmed cases of hepatitis A have been linked to Milan.

The hepatitis A virus can cause liver swelling but rarely causes lasting damage. Symptoms include fatigue, abdominal pain, vomiting and fever and can appear from 15 to 50 days after exposure.

-ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Anna Kelner: How the Subway to the Sea Could Change Los Angeles’ Culture

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

Last Monday, officials began drilling on Wilshire Boulevard to examine the possibility of constructing the long-anticipated Subway to the Sea. Such a subway could not only cleanse Los Angeles’ polluted air and clear its congested roads, but could also radically change the way Angelinos relate to one another.

The logistical and environmental problems stemming from Los Angeles’ reliance on motor transportation should be obvious. The city is plagued with epic traffic jams that discourage residents from leaving the areas in which we live and work. We have long held the dubious honor of being the Most Polluted City in the United States; the emissions from our cars can cause cancer, birth complications, and forest fires.

Just as our reliance on cars endangers the natural resources that Angelenos justifiably take pride in — the mountains that rear over the flatlands, the dense Chaparral forests, the celebrated coastline, and the stark desert that lies just outside city limits — so does it prevent the city from coalescing into a more mobile, unified whole. Los Angeles is infamous for its defiant rejection of all things “big city”; the verdant suburban streets in Brentwood, the sun-bleached, lit storefronts in Hollywood, and the mountainous twists of Mulholland Drive all lie within close proximity, but resist interaction.

The racial lines that divide the city’s east and west sides are intrinsic to the subway debate that has raged since 1985 when Henry Waxman, Representative to the 30th District, blocked the extension of the Redline Subway into Santa Monica. Although Waxman claimed that pockets of methane gas would prevent the subway’s construction, some suspected that his wealthy constituents’ resistance provided just as much impetus. Many believe that when the Westside’s homeowners wanted to prevent disadvantaged minorities from gaining easier access to their neighborhoods, the project halted.

Since then, Waxman has lifted his one-time funding ban and Antonio Villaraigosa, who some dubbed the “Subway Mayor,” has come to office. Despite repeated proposals, though, LA’s subway is still limited to East and South Central Los Angeles, thus splitting what should be a unified city in two.

Unlike comparable US cities like Chicago or New York, where public transportation is easily accessible and reliable, in Los Angeles, disadvantaged socioeconomic groups use the public buses and subway lines almost exclusively. On the Westside, the disparity between residents driving their air-conditioned cars and their employees who wait for buses that often run far behind schedule is so great that the bus lines have earned the name “the nanny bus.” The term is so ubiquitous that realtors use it to reassure potential buyers, and a film bearing its name is planned for release.

Certainly, racial and socioeconomic division plague all cities. In Los Angeles, though, I’ve found that those barriers are especially rigid. I attended a private high school on the Westside, where we were lucky enough to take annual trips whose focus varied from outdoor education to cultural immersion. One year, while some of my classmates journeyed to Mexico and Quebec for language study, about a third of my class and I opted to stay in the city to explore Downtown LA. Clearly, the school felt that Downtown — although only about twenty minutes away by freeway — was as foreign as Mexico City to many of its students.

On the trip, we shopped in Santee Alley, rolled sushi in Little Tokyo, and marveled at The Watt’s Towers’ whimsical heights, all the while taking rolls of slides as mementos of our cultural adventure. The trip did help my classmates and I recognize the unique character of our home. The Eastside has a vibrancy and diversity that much of the Westside lacks; it feels more like a “real city,” with its crowded streets, ethnic pockets, and government offices. While I commend my school’s efforts, encouraging students to explore their own city should not be necessary.

The subway to the sea would certainly not erase LA’s socioeconomic divisions. However, it would make the city much more accessible for Westsiders and Eastsiders alike, and would also provide a logical communal space for interaction. I now attend Columbia, where students often frequent neighborhood bars and restaurants, but where the subway also grants us easy access to the city’s attractions, forcing us to interact with New York’s diverse population in order to reach them.

Subway culture is central to the probing, intellectual sensibility that New York is known for. Presented with an opportunity to scrutinize, I have eavesdropped on Upper West Side mothers bemoaning their childrens’ scholarly failures, observed a group of flamboyant black men perform complex dance moves, and been flattened against the wall as devoted Rangers fans stormed the car. I use each person’s reading material, travel companion, and subway stop as basic evidence of their character, transforming the city into a living, breathing novel. Clearly, I am not the only one who feels similarly. In author David Yezzi’s “Subway Sketches”, he writes,

People jostle each other, make room for each other, secretly check each other out, ignore each other, read, coast, float. It’s a weird instance of privacy in public. For a few minutes out of their day, people aren’t multi-tasking, taking the bull by the horns, kickin’ ass and taking names; they are swaying with the movement of the tracks, thinking, staring blankly, listening to music, people-watching, taking it all in, working out the meaning of life, or not.

On the popular site Overheard in New York, anonymous posters often regale readers with hilarious, unselfconscious conversations pilfered from subway rides. By making such vulnerable moments public, New Yorkers find much-needed comedy in others’ tragedy and, more subtly, find a source of common humanity. At any moment on any subway ride, someone — whether they submit their observations to the site or not — could be finding humor, hatred, or empathy in your behavior. Whether it is positive or not, we all relate to each other.

Los Angeles will never be, should never be, New York. Its residents relish the opportunity to blare music within their sound-proof car windows, to recline in their backyards rather than the scarce public parks. It is less intense and less vibrant, but it is more relaxed and even-keeled. A subway would not eradicate LA’s unique character but would instead allow its residents to experience first-hand just how diverse that character is.

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Burr Oak Update: Cook County To Sue Cemetery Owners, Over 200 Bones Found

July 22nd, 2009 admin No comments

CHICAGO (AP) — The Cook County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to sue the owners of a historic black cemetery in suburban Chicago to recover the cost of an investigation of an alleged scheme to dig up graves and resell the plots.

The county board acted after Sheriff Tom Dart said the cost of overtime, materials and equipment poured into the investigation at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip was mounting quickly.

“About $350,000 has been expended on the investigation,” Dart said at a news conference. “I can’t turn over county assets without receiving compensation.”

Dart and Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, said 200 human bones have been found scattered in the cemetery. Those bones may never be identified, they said.

The sheriff described a chaotic situation in which headstones had been removed, some bodies may have been buried on top of each other and pieces of wood that might have been part of coffins were found scattered around the cemetery.

Although families are eager to get into Burr Oak to check on relatives’ graves, the cemetery remains closed while FBI agents and sheriff’s workers attempt to bring order to the situation.

“It makes no sense to further torture people by having them come out to the cemetery and wander around aimlessly,” Dart said.

Four former cemetery workers – Carolyn Towns, Keith Nicks, Terrence Nicks and Maurice Dailey – have been charged with dismembering a body and are being held the Cook County jail.

The cemetery is the final resting place of perhaps 100,000 people, including blues singers Dinah Washington and Willie Dixon, boxer Ezzard Charles, several Negro League baseball players, and Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager whose 1955 lynching in Mississippi helped spark the civil rights movement.

Officials said none of those graves have been disturbed.

-ASSOCIATED PRESS


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Quigley Endorses Giannoulias For Senate

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Democratic State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias continues to rack up endorsements in the race to replace Roland Burris in the U.S. Senate.

The latest is from freshman Congressman Mike Quigley, who earned a reputation as a reformer on the Cook County Board before winning the special election to replace Rahm Emanuel after Emanuel became President Obama’s chief of staff.

“We’re facing two wars and a recession while people are losing their jobs and their homes,” Quigley said in a release issued by the Giannoulias campaign. “Big problems demand big change, and Alexi gets it.”

Last week Giannoulias released a list of more than 60 elected officials who back his candidacy and reported raising nearly $2 million in campaign money already.

Giannoulias’ endorsement list is lengthy though far from definitive. Illinois’ senior Senator, Dick Durbin, has not backed a candidate and as Laura Washington noted in the Sun-Times, “Giannoulias has not corralled one black congressman, alderman or committeeman.” His potential primary foes, however, appear stuck in first gear.

Chicago Urban League President Cheryle Jackson continues to mull running, though she has yet to issue any formal statements, while Merchandise Mart boss Chris Kennedy has been quiet after a flurry of speculation that he was set to enter the race.

Read the full press release from Giannoulias’ campaign:

Giannoulias Endorsed By Mike Quigley

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David Ormsby: Pat Quinn’s Office Says 86% for Human Services in New Illinois Budget Is ‘Speculative’

July 21st, 2009 admin No comments

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said the widely reported 86 percent funding level for state human services in the new Illinois budget signed by Quinn is purely “speculative.”

Elizabeth Austin, the communications director at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said Friday the 86% figure — which is currently swirling and bobbing in the media — is only speculative because in addition to the $2.3 billion the legislature committed to human services, there is $1.2 billion available to the Quinn to spend at his “discretion.”

Moreover, Austin noted that agency directors were still preparing budget plans for submission to the governor’s office, so the funding level is unknown.

Austin refused to speculate on whether any of the $1.2 billion may be allocated to human services, only to repeat that the governor could spend that dough at his “discretion.”

That emphasis on “discretion” is enough of a signal, however, to human service lobbyists: start your engines boys and girls.

Additionally, Austin was unable to clarify whether and what portion the $1.1 billion in budget reserves — which House Democrat budget documents refer to as “mandated” reserves until new revenue materializes this year (cue the flying pigs) — are included in the estimated 86% human services funding level, except to reiterate that agency budget plans were in formation.

What Austin could confirm, however, is that the state — with a $3.9 billion bill backlog from last year — is now on six-month bill payment cycle. Submit a bill on July 17, 2009; expect payment on January 17, 2010. Ouch.

With those financial institutions formerly known as banks shrinking and shriveling credit lines, that six-month stretch will almost certainly drive many social service agencies into bankruptcy. Poof.

Of the new Illinois budget’s plan to push $3 billion in money owed to state service-provider payments into next year, one state human services association estimated that of that amount, $1.5 billion would be money owed to human-services providers. Austin was unable to confirm that number.

Whatever the human services spending percentage may be, Quinn’s real — and thankless — job is to cut the budget. A lot.

“The governor is expected to reduce spending by about $2 billion and the legislature granted him the authority,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan.

So, regardless of the $1.2 billion discretionary money given to Quinn, his bigger problem is developing budget plans that cut $2 billion from the budget in the next 10 days or so. And his biggest problem is bearing the bad news to Illinois voters.

Quinn himself acknowledged the personal political risk in comments made Friday in a Chicago Tribune story by Ray Long and Rick Pearson.

“I got the honor of cutting the budget by over a billion dollars. Most of the legislators didn’t want to attach their names to those cuts,” Quinn said. “That’s my job. I’ve got the jacket.”

Good luck, Governor.


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Up-and-Coming Singer-Songwriter Raman Sachdev Releases "Self-Revealed"

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Raman Sachdev, one very talented musician from Chicago, has just digitally released his brand new album, “Self-revealed”. He wrote all the music, performed all the instruments, sang all the vocals, AND recorded and produced the album himself!

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Gerald Bracey: Mayoral Control of Schools: The New Tyranny

July 20th, 2009 admin No comments

Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on a “listening tour” where he’s done most of the talking. He advocates, repeatedly, that mayors should take control of urban schools. Obviously he cannot take an honest look at his own accomplishments under this governance system or–he’d have to shut up.

The usual rationale a mayoral power grab is it brings more accountability and a clear line of authority. School boards are generally elected in off years and few people vote, allowing special interest groups (usually education unions, some claim) to essentially rig the elections. School boards are fractious and try to micromanage. They are amateurs and prisoners of deeply rooted school bureaucracies.

But do mayors do better? Depends on how you feel about democracy. The Spring 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools, said that, as Daley’s man, Duncan “has shown himself to be the central messenger, manager and staunch defender of corporate involvement in, and privatization of, public schools, closing schools in low-income neighborhoods of color with little community input, limiting local democratic control, undermining the teachers union and promoting competitive merit pay for teachers.”

The most important corporate involvement involves the 132-year-old Commercial Club of Chicago. Yet that organization recently published Still Left Behind, slamming Chicago’s public schools as awful and that the reforms they’ve endured were designed to make the adults running the schools look good, not improve the lives of children. You could say the Club stabbed Arne in the back except that they did it upfront in the open, without once mentioning Duncan’s name. The Club report backs up its case with many data.

If we look at the other most visible case of mayoral control, we see an even more autocratic system in place. When the New York legislature handed control of the schools in 2002 to Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his Chancellor, Joel Klein, it created the Panel for Educational Policy, attempting to establish a “balance of authority.” The group is universally referred to as the Panel of Educational Puppets. The panelists, “an investment banker, a lingerie store owner and an expert on electromagnetics among them–rarely engage in discussions with those who rise to address them. They do not debate the educational issues of the day, but spend most sessions applauding packaged presentations by staff. Some have barely uttered a public word during their tenures” (New York Times, April 23, 2009).

And if they do utter a public word, it damn well better be in support of Hizzoner or else they’re history. Said Bloomberg, “Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much. They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things I believe in.”

Both Bloomberg/Klein and Daley/Duncan have touted rising state test scores as proof of their success. But analysts in both cities have shown that the rises only show how easy it is to manipulate test scores. In New York, a narrow range of standards is tested and the content from year to year is highly predictable. In Illinois, the state made it easier for systems to meet the standards with new item formats and lower passing scores.

But if one looks at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), both cities look dreadful and show little progress. This is especially true for black students, the group most affected. Compared to kids nationally in math, for example, NYC’s black eighth-graders rank at the 26th percentile, while Chicago’s come in at the 18th percentile. In 2003, 9% of NYC’s black students were proficient or better in math and by 2007 the proportion had “jumped” to 10%. In 2003, 4% of Chicago’s black eighth-graders were proficient or better in math, and by 2007 the figure had risen to 6%. The black-white achievement gap shrank slightly in NYC, but grew in Chicago.

A June 2009 Chicago Tribune article noted that two thirds of all new Chicago teachers leave within 5 years and that half of the teachers in high poverty areas disappear after only three. Hard to have a turnaround with that kind of turnover.

Of course, some of the teachers got a push. Ron Huberman fired the faculty and staff of 16 schools in less than three months after replacing Duncan. If Duncan had worked the miracles his PR machine claimed, Huberman should have been able to spend most of the day smoking cigars, tweeting and embellishing his image on Facebook. Newsweek said the district “is mired in urban woes–and, in some cases, a sense of complacency.” Complacency? Daley has had control of Chicago’s schools for 13 years and Duncan was there for seven of them, but the test scores above are evidence that they didn’t do much to stir anything but the public relations pot.

Bloomberg’s authority expired in June, but about then collective insanity infected the Senate and the legislature adjourned for the summer without passing a new authorization. Bloomberg says he will ask the governor to call them back into session until he gets a bill, HIS bill. Checks and balances, anyone?


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