Operation North Pole transforms Metra train into Christmas magic for critically ill children

Operation North Pole transforms Metra train into Christmas magic for critically ill children

DES PLAINES, Ill. (WLS) — A Metra train in the northwest suburbs was transformed into a magical Christmas ride for critically ill children and their families.

Metra unveiled this year’s new holiday-themed train wrap on Saturday.

Children and their families enjoyed a festive ride from Des Plaines to Crystal Lake and back again, thanks to “Operation North Pole.”

The trip included food, drinks, holiday activities and special appearances by Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It wrapped up with a holiday party.

Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Published at Sun, 15 Dec 2019 01:10:27 +0000

Illinois’ Black Hawk statue repairs are almost finished

Illinois’ Black Hawk statue repairs are almost finished

OREGON, Ill. — The restoration project for a northern Illinois landmark known as the Black Hawk statue is near completion after funding and weather-related delays.

The 108-year-old monument at Lowden State Park has spent most of the past five years beneath plastic covering to protect it from harsh weather.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

“So if you’re younger than 108 years old and you’ve driven by him or visited Lowden Park, you’re acquainted with Black Hawk. He has a mystique about him that captures people’s hearts,” said Jan Stilson, of the Black Hawk art, restoration and development committee.

Standing at 48 feet (576 inches) tall, the statue overlooks the Rock River in Oregon. It is one of the tallest concrete monolith statues in the world.

Lorado Taft, the sculptor who designed it, dedicated the statue as a tribute to Native Americans in 1911 and named it The Eternal Indian.

When the state finally made good on a matching state grant of $350,000 to fund the statue’s restoration last year, it opened the door for more private donations.

“It’s unbelievable. We still get checks everyday at the ICF for people to continue funding for restoration after the project is complete,” said Crystal Curfman, executive director of the Illinois Conservation Foundation.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

The statue’s arms had to be fully replaced, WLS-TV reported. The head needed to be repaired and most of the decayed exterior concrete has been chipped away and replaced with a new, less permeable concrete mix.

Stainless steel pins serve as markers for the statue’s skin, and the new mix is shaped by hand with trowels.

The project is expected to be completed at the end of December.

Published at Sat, 14 Dec 2019 16:08:00 +0000

How Streaming, Diversity, #MeToo Shaped TV’s Decade of Change

How Streaming, Diversity, #MeToo Shaped TV’s Decade of Change

“Game of Thrones” was both an unprecedented achievement and old-school role model in the TV decade that’s rolling its final credits.

Installments of the elaborately produced hit were doled out one at a time by an established outlet, premium cable channel HBO. That was standard TV operating procedure until, suddenly, it wasn’t. The new era arrived in 2013 when a full season’s worth of “House of Cards” popped up amid Netflix’s on-demand movies and old TV shows.

The drama’s unexpected home appeared simply to be an option to the 500-channel universe born in the 1990s. But “House of Cards” foreshadowed a streaming gold rush and volume of programming dubbed Peak TV in 2015 — and with no drop in altitude in sight.

The result: Nothing is the same, whether it’s how much television we consume; how and where we do it; who gets to make it, and the level of respect given the creatively emboldened small screen. We don’t just watch TV, we binge it until we’re bleary-eyed if not sated. We still change channels with a remote control, but more often we’re logging in to watch shows on our phones or other devices and on our schedules, not network-dictated appointment TV.

We’re couch potatoes and office and car and everywhere potatoes.

A comic strip, “Zits,” recently summed up the current reality in three panels. “What’s on?” a father asks his teenage son, who’s sitting cross-legged in front of a TV set and is bracketed by a smart phone on one side and a laptop on the other. “Everything ever videotaped, filmed, recorded, photographed or otherwise documented whenever I want to watch it,” the teen answers, nonchalantly tossing popcorn into his mouth.

“I miss television,” the downcast dad tells his wife.

All Hail Streaming

Generational nostalgia aside, consumers have embraced the change in their media world, said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture.

“This was the decade that streaming became for many, many people the dominant way in which they watch television,” said Thompson. It’s a rapid shift that bears little relation to the previous entertainment industry revolution, cable TV.

Only about a quarter of U.S. homes had cable in 1980 despite its availability since the mid-20th century. While growth finally exploded in the ‘80’s, it wasn’t until the tail end of the 1990s and the arrival of HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” that premium cable received critical praise and honors, Thompson said.

In contrast, it took less than a decade for leader Netflix to skyrocket from about 12 million U.S. subscribers at the decade’s start to 60 million this year and 158 million worldwide. The streamer reportedly lavished $15 billion on programming for 2019 alone, and earned buzz with series including “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” and “Orange is the New Black.”

Even major films, among them Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” are making themselves at home on Netflix while still in theaters.

Others in the fray include Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, although “streaming wars” became the aggressive phrase applied to the increasingly competitive marketplace. With newly emboldened (and sometimes mega-expanded) media companies intent on getting a piece of the streaming action, there was a growth surge that won’t abate in the new decade.

Apple TV Plus launched Nov. 1 with Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg among its first wave of producers, and was quickly followed by Disney Plus. The latter has a storehouse of Disney movies and TV shows to draw on, along with acquired properties from Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm and its “Star Wars” franchise.

Among the other services set for 2020: Peacock from NBCUniversal; Quibi, run by ex-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay head Meg Whitman, and HBO Max, is counting on HBO, TBS and the Warner Bros. studio assets acquired by parent company AT&T to lure subscribers.

While cord-cutting became a quest for viewers seeking to shed hefty cable bills, there is still a price tag for the gusher of riches, as much as $14.99 monthly for HBO Max alone.

A bonus for viewers as they sort through the competing options: More programming doesn’t just mean more of the same.

Variety Store

If retailers can provide every type of yogurt known to humanity, why can’t TV take the same eclectic approach? It has in the past 10 years, as the increasing demand for content and the growth of niche programming created opportunities for diverse and candid voices. Ongoing efforts by advocacy groups also contributed to the gradual but unmistakable shift.

Donald Glover illustrates the before and after. The future multi-hyphenate writer, musician, actor and director had a respectable run as a cast member on the network sitcom “Community.” Two years later, he was the creator and star of FX’s “Atlanta,” which drew raves for its innovative storytelling focused on African American characters.

Jill Soloway called on family experience to create the groundbreaking “Transparent,” about a trans woman and how her decision to be open has a ripple effect on her children and their circle.

Ryan Murphy, already established as a successful producer with “Nip/Tuck”and “Glee,” exercised his clout to make FX’s “Pose,” set in the LGBTQ ballroom culture scene of the 1980s and ‘90s. Its star, Billy Porter , became the first openly gay man to win the best actor Emmy. Credit RuPaul and his “Drag Race,” which arrived on the cusp of the previous decade and grew in popularity, for setting the table.

Even mainstream broadcasting expanded its field of vision, with ABC the first network in 20 years to air an Asian American family sitcom, “Fresh Off the Boat,” ending this season. Nahnatchka Khan was its executive producer, one of the women who gained prominence behind the camera in a sector long dominated by men.

As producers, directors and writers, women put complex female characters in the center of the frame — a switch from the male antiheroes of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and other turn-of-the-century hits. With women taking the reins as storytellers, female characters became as varied and complex as their male counterparts and began to encompass a fuller view of the modern experience.

Lena Dunham’s “Girls” presented more than cookie-cutter young women, both in body and spirit, and foreshadowed the rise of actresses whose talent demands more attention than their weight, including Aidy Bryant of “Saturday Night Live” and Chrissy Metz of “This Is Us.”‘

African American women took the spotlight in creator-star Issa Rae’s “Insecure,” while Jenji Kohan’s “Orange is the New Black,” featured characters notable for their ethnic, sexual and class diversity. Writer-actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” provided the decade’s big finish with its bold sexuality, earning six Emmys last fall including top comedy.

Some established female producers further cemented their success. Shonda Rhimes added “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” to her body of work, with the latter’s star, Viola Davis, becoming the first African American to win a best drama actress Emmy. Ava DuVernay, already a filmmaking force, spearheaded “When They See Us” and “Queen Sugar.’”

Reese Witherspoon, adding producing to her portfolio, made good on her vow to bring strong female characters to the screen with the hit series “Big Little Lies” and “The Morning Show.”

Statistics confirm the anecdotal evidence. Across all TV platforms in 2017-18, women accounted for a historic high of 31% of those working in key behind-the-scenes jobs including directors, writers and editors , according to research by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film.

Good, but not good enough, said Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of the advocacy group Women in Film, which joined with the Sundance Institute in 2017 to create and lead ReFrame, an initiative that works with companies and others to foster hiring of women across the media landscape.

“Our goal is to have the industry reflect the population of the United States,” Schaffer said, and that’s 51 percent female and 17 percent women of color.

While television moved toward better reflecting the world at large, it was forced to look inward as well.

#MeToo Fallout

Revelations of sexual misconduct hit the TV industry hard and with more lasting effect than any other sector of Hollywood, even compared to producer Harvey Weinstein’s fall from moviemaking heights.

Two of media’s top powerbrokers were brought down in the #MeToo era. Les Moonves was ousted in 2018 as CBS CEO after an outside investigation of abuse claims, with Moonves denying any non-consensual sexual relations. Roger Ailes, who built Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel into both a lucrative operation and major force in American politics, was forced out in the wake of sexual harassment claims.

Harassment claims also ended the Fox News career of host Bill O’Reilly, who called it a “hit job.”

Matt Lauer (“Today”), Charlie Rose (“CBS This Morning”) and PBS host Tavis Smiley were wiped away from TV screens for alleged misbehavior of varying types and their denials notwithstanding. “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager, a CBS News veteran, denied the misconduct claims that got him fired.

Top-tier actors and a famed comedian lost their jobs, including Jeffrey Tambor of “Transparent,” Kevin Spacey of “House of Cards” and Louis C.K., whose TV projects included “Louie,” which he starred in and produced. Tambor and Spacey rebutted the misconduct allegations, Louis C.K. apologized.

The reverberations continue. NBC repeatedly has been confronted by Ronan Farrow’s claim that he was prevented from breaking the Weinstein story on its airwaves, which the network denies, while CBS was criticized for renewing “Bull” despite actress Eliza Dushku’s claim that she was dropped for complaining that the show’s star, Michael Weatherly, made crude comments about her on set.

Dushku received a reported $9.5 million settlement under its then-CEO — Les Moonves.

Published at Wed, 11 Dec 2019 18:54:31 +0000

Facebook Rebuffs US AG Over Encrypted Messages

Facebook Rebuffs US AG Over Encrypted Messages

Facebook is rebuffing efforts by U.S. Attorney General William Barr to give authorities a way to read encrypted messages.

The heads of Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Messenger services told Barr and his U.K. and Australian counterparts that Facebook is moving forward with plans to enable end-to-end encryption on all of its messaging services. End-to-end encryption locks up messages so that not even Facebook can read their contents.

WhatsApp already uses end-to-end encryption. Facebook plans to extend that protection to Messenger and Instagram Direct.

Barr and other officials had asked the company in October to hold off. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, they insisted that precluding access by law enforcement could hinder efforts to prevent or investigate crimes. The letter repeatedly emphasized the dangers of child sexual exploitation to justify their stance.

Barr reiterated his concerns in a speech Tuesday, calling the encryption fight “one of our highest priorities” and describing “an increasing number of horror stories about how people are dying, or being molested or whatever, but we cannot get in.”

Law enforcement has long sought a way to read encrypted messages that’s analogous to wiretaps for phone calls. Security experts, however, say that giving police such access makes messaging insecure for everyone by creating vulnerabilities that others can exploit.

In Facebook’s response Monday to Barr and other authorities, Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, and Stan Chudnovsky, head of Messenger, said creating such a “backdoor” for law enforcement “would be a gift to criminals, hackers and repressive regimes, creating a way for them to enter our systems and leaving every person on our platforms more vulnerable to real life harm.”

Facebook has said that people have the right to private conversations online and that companies are already able to respond to government agencies when they receive valid legal requests. Facebook’s letter emphasized the many tools the company has built to try to detect criminal and other problematic activities using signals from unencrypted information.

Barr said at a Wall Street Journal event on Tuesday that there are benefits to encryption, such as to secure communications with a bank. But he said the growth of consumer apps with end-to-end encryption, like WhatsApp and Signal, have aided “terrorist organizations, drug cartels, child molesting rings and kiddie porn type rings.”

His comments came on the same day that executives from Facebook and Apple were testifying about encryption at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Apple’s director of user privacy, Erik Neuenschwander, told senators in prepared remarks Tuesday that encryption not only protects an iPhone user’s sensitive data, but is an important way of safeguarding financial and health data in an “increasingly interconnected future.”

“We do not know of a way to deploy encryption that provides access only for the good guys without making it easier for the bad guys to break in,” he said.

Apple resisted the government’s efforts to gain access to an iPhone belonging to a perpetrator of a 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, which killed 14 people. The company went to court to block an FBI demand for Apple to disable security measures that complicated efforts to guess the phone’s passcode. The FBI eventually relented after it found another way of getting into the phone, but a longstanding fight between the tech industry and Justice Department over finding workarounds has flared up again under Barr.

Published at Wed, 11 Dec 2019 18:59:35 +0000

Check, Please! visits Smith & Wollensky | Chicago Business Today

Check, Please! visits Smith & Wollensky | Chicago Business Today

As V.P. of Sales at Bowne & Co., Lori Stanovich takes clients to lunch every day. Her go-to spot: Smith & Wollensky, the riverside steakhouse. Ms. Stanovich doesn’t eat steak; she goes for the classy, intimate vibe (the “colossal” deserts don’t hurt).

Twitter Brings Back Election Labels for 2020 US Candidates

Twitter Brings Back Election Labels for 2020 US Candidates

Twitter is bringing back special labels to help users identify accounts and tweets from U.S. political candidates.

The company, which first used such labels for the midterms last year, said it is trying to provide users with original sources of information and prevent spoofed and fake accounts from fooling voters.

Many political candidates already have blue checkmarks to indicate that Twitter has checked that they are who they say they are.

The election labels go further and provide details such as what office a person is running for and where. They will also carry a small ballot box icon. The labels will appear on candidates’ accounts and tweets, even if they are retweeted by someone else.

Twitter hopes its efforts will help people know when candidates are behind the words attributed to them. This could prevent someone from creating an account pretending to be a politician, for instance, or attributing a tweet to a candidate who didn’t actually make the tweet.

Twitter, along with Facebook and other social media companies, has been under heavy scrutiny for allowing their services to be misused by malicious individuals and groups trying to influence elections around the world.

Facebook also verifies accounts for public figures and celebrities, while YouTube verifies official channels. But they don’t go as far as adding election labels.

Labels will be used only for general election candidates and will start appearing once candidates have won their parties’ primaries or have otherwise qualified for the general election ballot.

Twitter said it will apply the labels in House, Senate and gubernatorial races. Presidential candidates are not included in Twitter’s new policies. Twitter didn’t say why. Nor did it say whether it would extend labels to elections abroad.

Major presidential candidates already have blue checkmarks to indicate that Twitter has checked that they are who they say they are. Many candidates for House, Senate and gubernatorial races have them as well.

Twitter said Thursday it will verify additional accounts, even if candidates do not seek them, by working with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ballotpedia. Twitter said the verifications will happen on a rolling basis as candidates qualify for next year’s primaries.

Published at Fri, 13 Dec 2019 00:27:27 +0000

Clinton Portis, Correll Buckhalter among 10 former NFL players accused of defrauding health care program for retired players

Clinton Portis, Correll Buckhalter among 10 former NFL players accused of defrauding health care program for retired players

WASHINGTON — Ten former NFL players have been charged in an alleged scheme to defraud a health care benefit program for retired players, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

The players include Clinton Portis, 38, Correll Buckhalter, 41, Robert McCune, 40, John Eubanks, 36, Ceandris Brown, 36, Tamarick Vanover, 45, Carlos Rogers, 38, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, 35 and Etrick Pruitt, 38.

Prosecutors say the players were defrauding the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, established as part of the 2006 collective bargaining agreement. The plan provides tax-free reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by insurance for former players, their wives and dependents up to $350,000 per player.

More than $3.9 million in fraudulent claims were submitted to the plan, with the plan paying out $3.4 million of the claims between June 2017 and December 2018, according to the indictments.

The alleged fraud involved filing claims for expensive medical equipment, including hyperbaric oxygen chambers, cryotherapy machines and ultrasound machines that was never actually purchased, the indictments said.

Prosecutors said McCune, Eubanks, Vanover, Buckhalter, Rogers and others recruited players into the scheme by offering to submit the fraudulent claims in exchange for kickbacks.

“Ten former NFL players allegedly committed a brazen, multi-million dollar fraud on a health care plan meant to help their former teammates and other retired players pay legitimate, out-of-pocket medical expenses,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “Today’s indictments underscore that whoever you are, if you loot health care programs to line your own pockets, you will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

Charges were filed in two separate indictments filed in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

McCune was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud and nine counts of wire fraud and nine counts of health care fraud.

Eubanks, Vanover and Rogers were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, two counts of wire fraud and two counts of health care fraud.

Portis, Brown, Butler and Bennett were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of health care fraud.

Buckhalter and Pruitt were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and health care fraud.

Additionally, the Justice Department said it intends to file charges against Joe Horn, 47 and Donald “Reche” Caldwell, 40, with conspiracy to commit health care fraud in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Published at Thu, 12 Dec 2019 16:44:06 +0000

Burglar steals ashes of baby from Elmhurst house

Burglar steals ashes of baby from Elmhurst house

A burglar stole cremated remains and collector coins from a house on the 200 block of Melrose in Elmhurst, authorities said Wednesday.

Police said they believe the intruder broke a side window to gain entry to the home between 8 a.m. and 3:40 p.m. Tuesday.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Officers were called at 3:43 p.m.

The LaDeur family told ABC 7 the cremated remains that were stolen were of their son Billy, who died when he was just 10 days old.

“His ashes and the small memorial, that’s all we have,” said Sue LaDeur.

Police said they are reviewing neighborhood videos and ask that anyone with information call investigators at (630) 530-3050.

Published at Thu, 12 Dec 2019 04:27:55 +0000

Chance the Rapper lends hit ‘I Love You So Much’ to new video game — designed by CPS students

Chance the Rapper lends hit ‘I Love You So Much’ to new video game — designed by CPS students

Thanks to Chance the Rapper, there’s a new game in town.

On Monday, the Grammy-winning South Side native announced that “I Love You So Much,” his hit collaboration with DJ Khaled, is getting an official video game made by a group of Chicago Public School students. It’s reportedly the first time a platinum artist has ever attached an online game to a single instead of the traditional music video treatment.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

“I’m so proud of Chicago Public School students — for their creativity, their work in learning to code and the community that made this happen,” said Chance, via a prerecorded message broadcast during a launch party event held Monday morning at the South Shore Cultural Center. The party was attended by 400 CPS students from seven South Side elementary and junior high schools who worked on the game.

The video game, called SuperMe, is actually a stitched-together version of pieces of games coded by students in a special hands-on coding workshop using a platform called Scratch, a free block-based coding platform for kids.

In SuperMe, you choose your hero (all CPS student self-portraits) and fly through Chicago’s cityscape — collecting as many hearts as you can in 30 seconds.

SuperMe can be played for free on Google’s Computer Science Education Week website.

For the full story, click here.

Published at Mon, 09 Dec 2019 18:07:08 +0000

2 men die after shoot-out as 1 walked with son in Chicago

2 men die after shoot-out as 1 walked with son in Chicago

CHICAGO — Two men died after shooting one another in Chicago, as one of them was taking his son to school Monday morning, authorities said.

Police said a man, 31, was shot several times in the chest and torso on the city’s south side while walking with his son, who was unhurt and ran to get help. The man returned fire, striking the other man, 24, in both legs.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Both were later pronounced dead at hospitals. Investigators have not said what led to the shootings.

The boy’s elementary school was about two blocks away from the scene of the shootings, authorities said.

Published at Mon, 09 Dec 2019 21:03:00 +0000