Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Top Obama Economic Adviser to Leave, Return to Chicago

Austan Goolsbee, a longtime adviser to President Barack Obama, will resign his post as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers this summer to return to teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the White House announced Monday.

Obama called him "one of America's great economic thinkers."

Goolsbee has been the face of the White House on economic news, and is a regular every first Friday of the month explaining the administration's take on the latest jobless numbers.

He brought a mix of levity and a teacher's sensibility to the job, using the White House blog, Facebook or YouTube to illustrate tax cuts, trade, or the auto industry resurgence on a dry-erase board with a dry wit and a gravel voice. He has been at Obama's side for years. He advised Obama during his 2004 Senate race and was senior economic policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign and has served on the three-member economic council since the start of the administration.

"Since I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers," Obama said. "Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs."

Goolsbee took over last September as council chairman, replacing Christina Romer, who left to return to a teaching position at the University of California, Berkley.

He had taught at the University of Chicago for 14 years. His university biography once described him as "insanely committed to his work," noting that Goolsbee was seen in the classroom, wearing a tuxedo, on the day of his wedding.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Business Owners, Former Elected Officials, Oppose Champaign Liquor Tax

Owners of Champaign liquor stores say it's unfair to target one type of business in order to save three positions at the city's police department.

During last night's informational meeting on the suggested 4-percent tax in package liquor sales, those who run stores like Colonial Pantry and Sun Singer say the tax will hurt business, and drive their customers elsewhere.

And Picadilly Beverage Shop owner Jack Troxell claims enacting the tax will force layoffs.

"We're not in a high-margin industry," Troxell said. "We're in a volume industry with low margins. And that's the way it works. If your business drops off, you don't need as many employees. And when that happens, they don't have the same hours, and you can't afford to pay them."

Kam's and Pia's owner Eric Meyer said the liquor tax unfairly singles out an entire sector of business for just one cause. Meyer, who's also the Vice President of the Illinois License Beverage Association, suggests a tax closer to one percent.

The city council tentatively backed the liquor tax last month in order to avoid losing jobs, and ending overnight hours at the police department's front desk. Former Mayors Jerry Schweighart and Dan McCullom criticized the quick manner in which the council proposed the liquor tax. McCullom labeled it 'seat of the pants' decision making without time for deliberating, and Schweighart said when the city council quickly gave the tax their initial support, members abandoned a budget process he'd been working on the council with for months

Mayor Don Gerard, who defeated Schweighart in April's election, said he will consider other revenue proposals, but his intent is saving jobs.

"As the agenda was lined up that night, it was both or neither (the liquor tax and police cuts)," Gerard said. "So we had no choice. Now we can table this until July if we want, and we'll continue to discuss it, but as far as the hullabaloo from the former mayors about the manner in which I do things, well, I just do it a little diffferently, I guess."

The tax is expected to bring in $700,000, well over the $200,000 necessary to restore the police positions. The funds could also go to restore overtime at fire station 4 on Champaign's west side. The liquor tax is the focus of a study session next Tuesday, while business owners suggest different revenue streams, including a hike in the overall sales tax.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Federal Grants Aimed at Spotting and Evaluating “Brownfields” in Danville, Decatur

The cities of Danville and Decatur have more money to hunt down properties that may have hazardous chemicals sitting underneath them. The land may have once held gas stations, dry cleaners or manufacturers.

Danville will use a $400,000 federal grant announced Monday to investigate past records and eventually test a few of the sites that may pose the most problems to health or redevelopment. Decatur has received an identical grant.

Danville planning and zoning manager Chris Milliken says there may be as many as 300 properties that have some sort of underground contamination. So, he says the city will have to decide which so-called brownfields receive tests. "That includes sites around Danville High School and some other prominent locations," Milliken said. "The main factor engaging the importance of sites we want to pursue is going to be visibility, and then also the potential for redevelopment -- for instance, sites that are along North Vermilion or other developable corridors already."

Milliken expects it will take about a year to identify new sites and conduct testing on about 20 to 40 of them. Danville officials can use those test results to plan cleanups when money becomes available -- those cleanups could range from removing buildings to removing the soil underneath.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Planned Parenthood: 7 Clinics Close if Law Stands

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The legal battle to restore funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana continued in an Indianapolis federal courtroom Monday morning.

Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are seeking an injunction to restore $3 million in federal Medicaid funding.

A recently enacted Indiana law prevents money going to agencies that perform abortion, including Planned Parenthood. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, approved by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels last month. Daniels contends women in Indiana have other options in seeking medical care other than Planned Parenthood. The law also bans abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy, unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana says it will close seven of its 28 Indiana health centers if it doesn't get a federal injunction blocking a new state law that cuts off much of its public funding.Indiana.

Betty Cockrum, the president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis that her organization would close clinics in Bedford, Hammond, Michigan City, New Albany, Terre Haute and two in Indianapolis.

Cockrum said the seven clinics served nearly 21,000 patients last year. Planned Parenthood also would lay off 24 employees. She said $96,000 in donations to keep serving Medicaid patients will run out June 20.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the state shouldn't be locked in a court battle with Planned Parenthood.

"The state's position is that any dispute over Indiana's Medicaid provider qualifications really belong between the federal government and the state of Indiana," Zoeller said following the hearing. "My office stands ready to defend Indiana's statute in the proper forum with the proper party."

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said she will rule on Planned Parenthood's injunction request by the end of the month.

The head of the federal Medicaid program, Donald Berwick, said last week that Indiana's law is illegal and, if it is not changed, the state could face penalties.

Planned Parenthood provides general health care services to 9,300 Medicaid patients in 28 centers around the state.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Blago: Emanuel Raised Issue of Congressional Seat

Rod Blagojevich says Rahm Emanuel raised the issue of having then-Gov. Blagojevich appoint a successor to Emanuel's congressional seat in 2008 when Emanuel became White House chief of staff.

Blagojevich says his staff told him the move would be unconstitutional. Normally, a special election is held for a congressional vacancy.

Blagojevich is testifying for a sixth day at his corruption retrial.

Prosecutor Reid Schar (shahr) introduced the issue of the congressional seat. He asked whether Emanuel had approached Blagojevich about making an appointment. Blagojevich agreed the purpose would be to give the appointee an advantage in a special election.

Blagojevich said he was told by his lawyers and political consultant that such an appointment would be unconstitutional.

A spokesperson for Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor, could not immediately be reached for comment.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Studies Find New Drugs Boost Skin Cancer Survival

They're not cures, but two novel drugs produced unprecedented gains in survival in separate studies of people with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doctors reported Sunday.

In one study, an experimental drug showed so much benefit so quickly in people with advanced disease that those getting a comparison drug were allowed to switch after just a few months.

The drug, vemurafenib, targets a gene mutation found in about half of all melanomas. The drug is being developed by Genentech, part of Swiss-based Roche, and Plexxikon Inc., part of the Daiichi Sankyo Group of Japan.

The second study tested Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Yervoy, a just-approved medicine for newly diagnosed melanoma patients, and found it nearly doubled the number who survived at least three years.

"Melanoma has just seen a renaissance of new agents," and more are being tested, said Dr. Allen Lichter, chief executive of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The new studies were presented Sunday at the oncology group's annual meeting in Chicago and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

"This is really an unprecedented time of celebration for our patients," said Dr. Lynn Schuchter, of the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center. The new drugs are not by themselves cures, but "the future is going to be to build upon the success" by testing combinations of these newer drugs, she said.

Melanoma is on the rise. There were 68,000 new cases and 8,700 deaths from it in the United States last year, the American Cancer Society estimates. Only two drugs had been approved to treat it, with limited effectiveness, until Yervoy, an immune-system therapy, won approval in March.

The experimental drug, vemurafenib, is aimed at a specific gene mutation, making it the first so-called targeted therapy for the disease. The drug got attention when a whopping 70 percent of those with the mutation responded to it in early safety testing.

The new study, led by Dr. Paul Chapman of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was the key test of its safety and effectiveness. It involved 675 patients around the world with inoperable, advanced melanoma and the gene mutation. They received vemurafenib pills twice a day or infusions every three weeks of the chemotherapy drug dacarbazine.

After six months, 84 percent of people on vemurafenib were alive versus 64 percent of the others.

Less than 10 percent on the drug suffered serious side effects - mostly skin rashes, joint pain, fatigue, diarrhea and hair loss. About 18 percent of patients developed a less serious form of skin cancer. More than a third needed their dose adjusted because of side effects.

The study is continuing, and many remain on the drug, including one of Schuchter's patients: Brian Frantz, a 50-year-old former firefighter from Springfield, Va.

Within a week or two of starting on the drug in September, "we noticed an improvement" and shrinkage in his many tumors, he said. "It was just a miracle."

Schuchter said that's typical of how patients have responded to the drug.

"Within 72 hours, their symptoms improve, pain medicines can be reduced," she said.

The study is a landmark and the results are "very impressive" in people who historically have not fared very well, said Dr. April Salama, a Duke University melanoma specialist.

The study was sponsored by the drug's makers, and many of the researchers consult or work for them. The companies are seeking approval to sell the drug and a companion test for the gene mutation in the U.S. and Europe. A Genentech spokeswoman said the price has not yet been determined.

The other new drug, Yervoy, is not a chemotherapy but a treatment to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. Dr. Jedd Wolchok of Memorial Sloan-Kettering led the first test of it in newly diagnosed melanoma patients.

About 502 of them received dacarbazine and half also got Yervoy. After one year, 47 percent of those on Yervoy were alive versus 36 percent of the others. At three years, survival was 21 percent with Yervoy versus 12 percent for chemotherapy alone.

Side effects included diarrhea, rash and fatigue. More than half on the new drug had major side effects versus one quarter of those on chemotherapy alone.

Bristol-Myers Squibb paid for the study and many researchers consult or work for the company. Treatment with Yervoy includes four infusions over three months and costs $30,000 per infusion.

___

Online:

Melanoma: http://bit.ly/mBR8XA

New England Journal of Medicine: http://www.nejm.org

Categories: Health, Science
Tags: health, science

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Gay Couples Seek Green Cards Despite Likely Denial

Faced with losing the life they've built together in the dusty California desert town of Cathedral City, Doug Gentry and Alex Benshimol are making a last-ditch effort to stave off the looming threat of deportation.

To a large degree, the couple is stuck. While the American information technology consultant and Venezuelan pet groomer wed at a romantic Connecticut ceremony last year, the federal government won't recognize the marriage between the two men - and as a result, won't approve their application for a green card.

But the couple, and others facing a similar predicament, are still trying. The men don't expect to actually obtain a green card any time soon and have already been shot down once but hope filing an application might convince an immigration judge to at least refrain from deporting Benshimol while the fiery legal debate over the country's same-sex marriage laws simmers.

"There have been so many ups and downs on this roller coaster. I really don't know what to expect," said Gentry, 53. "It can't hurt (to refile). All they can do is deny it again."

For years, immigration attorneys warned gay couples not to bother seeking a green card for their foreign spouses since there was no chance they'd get one. Now, in select cases, they're starting to rethink that advice.

In the wake of the federal government's announcement that it will no longer defend a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman and a court ruling raising questions about the law, some immigrant advocates have suggested that gay couples fighting deportation apply for a green card in a final effort to stay in the country.

Most couples, advocates say, should refrain from doing so to avoid drawing attention to their predicament if the foreign spouse is here illegally, and to avoid forking over cash for a benefit they won't get anytime soon if here on a legal visa.

But the small group of couples already facing deportation has little to lose by applying, and might see some gain.

In March, an immigration judge in New York halted deportation proceedings involving a lesbian couple until December. Last month, an immigration judge in New Jersey did the same for a Venezuelan salsa dancer married to an American graduate student after Attorney General Eric Holder asked an immigration appeals court to review another case involving a same-sex couple.

In a memo posted to its web site in March, the American Immigration Lawyers Association suggested that couples facing deportation consider filing for a green card in the hopes that it might win sympathy from an immigration judge willing to put the case on hold or bolster the immigrant spouse's case for an asylum petition.

"We are advising more people to do it - at least in the context of if the foreign partner, the foreign spouse is in deportation proceedings," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, an immigrant rights group focused on the gay and lesbian community. "At this point there is more of a feeling that the tide is turning on marriage in this country and it could be something that could be helpful."

U.S. immigration authorities are denying green cards for same-sex couples because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, said Chris Bentley, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. As of March, the agency had 10 or 20 such petitions pending, he said.

There are roughly 26,000 bi-national same-sex couples in the United States where one partner is a U.S. citizen. There's no estimate on how many have legally married, said Gary Gates, a UCLA professor and co-author of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas.

It's impossible to know how many couples filed green card petitions before last year, immigration authorities said.

Lavi Soloway, an immigration attorney in Los Angeles, said he started encouraging some clients to apply last year after a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled the 1996 Act is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state's right to define marriage. Soloway saw further encouragement this year when Holder said the executive branch would no longer defend the Act as constitutional and the immigration agency temporarily held off making a decision on same sex couples' cases.

"The forum in which we're testing the issue is immigration court," said Soloway, who represents a dozen couples including Gentry and Benshimol. "It is the best possible place for this discussion to be taking place because it involves parties that have broad discretion to address just the kinds of concerns we're talking about."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement - which is responsible for carrying out deportations - said the agency will continue to enforce the law unless it is repealed by Congress or shot down by the courts.

The issue has enflamed passions on both sides of the debate over gay marriage.

It has also raised questions for those seeking stricter limits on immigration. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said judges can exercise discretion on individual cases but shouldn't use that power to enact sweeping policy changes.

"They are in effect legislating and it's not their job. It's Congress' job," Krikorian said.

Benshimol came to the country 12 years ago and overstayed his tourist visa -an immigration violation that straight couples can remedy once married. Now, he says he can't safely return to Venezuela as an openly gay man and also can't stand the thought of being separated from his husband, or of forcing Gentry to leave behind his adult son and daughter who live in California.

Even so, Gentry and Benshimol say they are hopeful, simply because they have no other choice.

"You just never know. The analytical side of my head says, you know, DOMA exists and it's the law and they're going to deny it," Gentry said. "But then the hopeful side of your brain says, you know, there's a chance."

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Federal Prosecutors Rest in Mumbai Terror Trial

The federal government has rested its case in the trial of a Chicago businessman accused in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Prosecutors rested Monday after calling the last of eight total witnesses in the case against Tahawwur Rana. Rana has pleaded not guilty to providing a cover story for David Headley, an admitted Pakistani-American terrorist who conducted surveillance ahead of the attacks that killed more than 160.

Rana's defense attorneys now begin their case and say they'll call witnesses a including a computer expert. Rana isn't expected to testify.

Headley has pleaded guilty and was the government's star witness. He testified how he took orders from Pakistani intelligence and a militant group as he took video surveillance.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Quinn Calls Lawmakers Back to Springfield

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.

Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.

The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.

Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.

Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.

He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:

"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."

Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.

"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."

The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

US Sen. Kirk Calls for Action on Stem Cell Law

A Chicago-based scientist says he's grateful to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for siding with legislation that backs stem cell research.

Kirk on Monday called for congressional action to codify an executive order on the research issued by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Dr. John Kessler directs a stem cell research institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says Kirk is backing legislation that's "absolutely essential for the field'' because uncertainty over federal funding discourages young scientists from doing research on stem cells.

Kirk says stem cell research offers "the best promise'' to cure certain diseases. The Illinois Republican says, if senior Democratic senators choose not to move the stem cell legislation in this Congress, he will. He says court challenges to taxpayer-financed stem cell research make legislation necessary.


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