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DNC: First Lady Obama Seizes The Moment

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Firing up the faithful, reassuring the skeptics

By Chris Levister

Characterized by what California delegates Linnie Frank Bailey and James Dudley call a sea of diversity, thousands of Democrats gathered at the 2012 Democratic National Convention four years after then Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) became the first African-American in U.S. history to accept the party's nomination.

With the nation’s economy in tatters and the near rapturous adulation waning, the Democratic faithful gathered again, this time in support of national unity and a president who carries the power and the burden of incumbency. “Our mission is to convince Americans to stick with the president they know rather than gamble on someone new,” said Bailey, a challenging task given the backdrop of 8.3 percent unemployment and tepid economic growth.

“The main question we are being asked here is, ‘Are we better off than we were four years ago’,” said Dudley “the answer is absolutely yes.” Four years ago, America was bogged down in two costly and deadly wars, the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month, the stock market had crashed, Wall Street had to be rescued with a $700 billion bailout, the auto industry was on the verge of collapse, and color coded terror alerts reminded us of the lingering threat of Osama Bin Laden.

Under President Obama, we've ended the war in Iraq, created 4.5 million new jobs, doubled the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and generated record profits for the auto industry. And that's to say nothing of health care reform, financial reform, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and hundreds of other major accomplishments from this administration. “The way to get the president re-elected is by spreading the gospel of the truth,” declared the convention’s oldest delegate Elzena Johnson of Terry, Mississippi born in 1914.

“This is what America looks like, inclusive, open, transparent,” Dudley said of the 5,559 delegates and 407 alternates circulating the convention floor. Half of all the delegates are women, 27 percent are black, with a record number of 800 Latino delegates and 644 youth delegates. There were a lot of testimonials like Johnson’s, Dudley’s and Bailey’s, but it was First Lady Michelle Obama's show Tuesday night at the Convention, and she used it masterfully carrying a rapt crowd along with a narrative of family, hard work, and truth telling.

“President Barack Obama is just like you. He knows the American Dream because he's lived it,” the first lady told an enthusiastic and adoring crowd in an address intended to reassure voters that her husband shares their values hard work, perseverance and optimism.“He believes that when you've worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” Mrs. Obama never mentioned the president's Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who grew up in a world of privilege and wealth.

But the point was clear as she weaved a tapestry of their early years together, when money was tight and times were tough, when they were "so in love, and so in debt." She reminisced about the man who now occupies the Oval Office pulling his favorite coffee table out of the trash and wearing dress shoes that were a size too small. And she told stories about a president who still takes time to eat dinner with his daughters nearly every night, answering their questions about the news and strategizing about middle school friendships.

With a mix of personal anecdotes and policy talk, Mrs. Obama's speech was by far her most political yet. “Today, after so many struggles, triumphs and moments that have tested my husband in ways I never could have imagined, I have seen firsthand that being president doesn't change who you are it reveals who you are,” she said.

Mrs. Obama followed an electrifying speech by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, the first Latino to keynote a Democratic National Convention. His national debut put the Harvard educated Texan on the national map, recalling the way that Barack Obama's keynote did in 2004, when he was still a state legislator.

With a mixture of soft laughter and gentle scorn, Castro described Romney, one of the wealthiest men ever nominated for president, as “a good guy. He just has no idea how good he's had it.” “Their theory's been tested. It failed. Our economy failed under Republican policies. The middle class paid the price,” he said. “Mitt Romney just doesn't get it. But Barack Obama gets it.” Tuesday, Democrats ratified a party platform that echoes Obama's call for higher taxes on the wealthy and reflects his shift on gay marriage by supporting it explicitly. In a nod to dissenters on gay marriage, the platform expresses support for “the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.”

Convention speakers include, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, John Perez, Speaker of the California Assembly, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Representatives Judy Chu and Karen Bass.

On Wednesday night, former President Bill Clinton will deliver what is widely seen as the most important speech of the 2012 Democratic National Convention outside Mr. Obama's own, when Mr. Clinton will place Mr. Obama's name in nomination.

“He reminds the nation, and particularly independent and swing voters, that things were pretty prosperous in the 1990s because he rejected a lot of the Republican policies that are being advanced now,” said Mike McCurry, who was Mr. Clinton's press secretary for four years. “He instantly evokes the memories of when things were a little better for Americans, and can credential Obama as a guy who will make the tough choices.” President Obama's crucial Thursday night acceptance speech was moved indoors due to dire weather forecasts.

Convention watchers say the switch deprives Democrats of what they had considered a major opportunity to register thousands of new North Carolina voters in a crucial swing state.

TEST SCORES IMPROVING: ACHIEVEMENT GAP PERSISTS

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Inland students gain in English, math

By Chris Levister

Student performance on California’s achievement tests in almost every subject at almost every grade level by every ethnicity is on the rise — despite recent cutbacks to education funding, according to 2012 STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) results released by the California Department of Education.

But a substantial achievement gap persists between low-income and higher-income students, and between African American and Latino students and their white and Asian peers. Overall, 57 percent of the 4.7 million students tested proficient or advanced in English and 51 percent scored at least proficient in math — a substantial improvement since 2003, when the tests were first based on state standards and included in a school’s Academic Performance Index (API). In 2003, 35 percent tested proficient or better in both English and math. “In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

Inland school officials say test results indicate that although the region has far to go in improving results for disadvantaged and minority students, schools have made truly laudable gains with younger students, regardless of ethnic or economic category. Inland students performed better on the California Standards Tests in 2012 for the ninth consecutive year, according to results of the exams, which students took last spring. In Riverside County, an average of 56 percent of second through 11th graders scored proficient or above on the English language arts tests, compared to 57 percent statewide. In San Bernardino County, an average of 52 percent of students scored in proficient or advanced ranges, up 2.5 percent from 2011. In mathematics, the San Bernardino County average was 47 percent, a 1 percent increase from 2011.

County Superintendent Gary Thomas called the new results “impressive” pointing to the 3 percentage point growth in eighth-grade algebra proficiency. Ninth- and 11th-graders also each had 3 percentage points of growth.

“The fact that we had overall growth in all subject areas, including math, science and history-social sciences is obviously very positive.” “Students and teachers at our schools deserve praise for putting in the effort that goes into academic achievement. With both innovative and proven instruction from teachers, plus the support of parents and community members, students through hard work and imagination can exceed expectations. The entire community should be proud and inspired,” said San Bernardino City Unified School District board member Danny Tillman.

Statewide the percentage of students in second grade scoring proficient in mathematics dropped by two points, and overall achievement in the General Mathematics CST and the Summative High School Mathematics test remained the same as last year, with 54 percent scoring proficient or higher in the latter. But in every other subject and grade, there was improvement over 2011 scores. Substantially more African American and Latino students are taking Algebra I and succeeding in the course. But the achievement gap still remains between those students and their white and Asian peers, as does the gap between low-income and higher-income students.

In the most extreme example, 32 percent of economically disadvantaged African American students scored proficient or advanced on the mathematics test in 2012. That was exactly twice as many as in 2003. However, this year, 85 percent of higher-income Asian students scored proficient or advanced — a 53 percentage-point difference between them and their low-income, African American classmates. In 2003, the difference between the two groups was 55 percentage points.

The reasons for the persistent gap are many and complex. Critics argue that at least part of it has been caused by disparities in the allocation of school resources. Just a few years ago some in the state’s poorest school districts couldn't take the courses required to attend a four-year college — no matter how bright or hardworking they were — because their high schools didn't offer the courses. When there was a shortage of qualified math and science teachers, these schools, not the ones in more affluent areas, were assigned teachers who lacked credentials in the necessary subjects. The percentages of students scoring in the top two ranges will be used to determine whether schools and districts are making Adequate Yearly Progress for the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

CSU San Bernardino's new President ‘dances around’ Gov. Brown’s tax measure

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Meet And Greet a Mix of Praise And Politics

By Chris Levister

Newly arrived Cal State San Bernardino President Tomás Morales has wasted little time settling into the big shoes left by retired president Albert Karnig. Looking dapper in a black pinstriped suit Morales worked the crowd of more than 500 educators, elected officials and community leaders gathered at a welcome reception in his honor on Thursday night Sept 6.

He praised the adoring crowd calling them the “backbone” of an educated society. “It takes us all,” he said. Morales who most recently served as president of College of Staten Island in New York, said he’s committed to working with other educators in the region to improve high school graduation and college-going rates.

When a Fontana teacher questioned him about the budget challenges facing schools in California and the impact of more cuts if Prop. 30, a tax initiative designed to help schools, is voted down in November, the soft-spoken Morales sprung into action. As president, I can’t take a position on either Prop. 30 or Prop. 38, a separate tax initiative also designed to help public schools. But, I can work to educate students and the community about the issue,” he said.

“While other states are building up colleges and universities, we’ve seen a dismantling public education in California. California’s universities were once considered the gold standard. It’s time to recapture the luster. We’ve got to “turn up the fire”.” Paul Meckler, a Victorville parent and educator praised Morales for being willing to “run into the fire” at such a critical time for California’s public education system. Meckler asked Morales if he should vote for Prop 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s higher taxes. “What guarantees do we have that his proposal would stop the bleeding?” Morales responded, “I'm not supposed to tell you how to vote, but I'm going to push the envelope a little. I hope we are not faced with additional budget cuts.” Such cuts, he said, would make it even more difficult to “address the disparities we find in the Inland Empire.”

Addressing those disparities, he said, "is why I came to California. That's why I came to Cal State San Bernardino.

Prop. 30 is a measure backed by Gov. Brown that would raise $8 billion in annual revenue by increasing state sales tax by a quarter cent on the dollar and raising income tax rates on individuals making more than $250,000 and couples making over $500,000. If the initiative fails, Morales said, it will mean $8 million to $12 million in cuts for the San Bernardino campus coming on top of several years of reductions. The Cal State University system has endured annual budget cuts totaling nearly $1 billion since 2007-2008. During the reception many people asked questions about the tax measure, while others waited for an opportunity to mingle afterward. Several in the crowd said they didn't have a question to ask, they just wanted to welcome Morales to the university.

The free welcome reception was hosted by The Coalition of Inland Empire Latino Organizations (CIELO) and the Inland Empire Future Leaders program. Morales was appointed in May and is the first Latino to lead the campus, where 46 percent of students are Latino.

100+ Backpacks Given To Students

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“Awesome,” is what sixth grader Timothy Alagna said about his new backpack stuffed with crayons, pencils, pens, paper, and a binder. He did not have a backpack before. Now he has a way to carry all of his books and supplies. Starting Over Inc. and Riverside All of Us or NONE teamed up on Sept. 1, 2012 at Castle Park Amusement Park to ensure disadvantaged children have the school supplies they need to be successes in school.

They stuffed backpacks with everything from highlighters to memory sticks. More than 100 children received backpacks and each child who received a backpack also received a pass to enter Castle Park and a voucher to Chick-fil-A for lunch. “It's so much a blessing for us right now because things are hard,” said Kindergartner Joel Camargo's mom Sandra.

She appreciates what was done for them. The two grassroots organizations focused on children with parents in prison or that have been incarcerated. These children have extensive social barriers when compared to their peers. “We want these kids to know they are loved, that someone out there cares about them,” said Starting Over Inc. Cofounder Vonya Quarles. “They have been through so much and they deserve this.”

Quarles wanted to thank the community for helping support the backpack giveaway. Volunteers from Corona Community African Methodist Episcopal Church and helped with the giveaway. “It's just nice to give back to our community,” said Wells Fargo employee Linda Garcia of Fontana. There was also a voter registration drive. Some registered to vote for the very first time. “My job is sort of on the line,” said 40-year-old home health care worker Maria Gallardo of Riverside who registered for the first time. “I have to make sure I keep my job.”

Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market brings jobs, joy and more business

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New employees laud giant retailer’s commitment to job creation

By Chris Levister

Hurricane Isaac had just swallowed parts of the swamps of South News Orleans Tuesday and the storm delayed Republican National Convention was finally in a full throated roar, but you wouldn’t know it judging from the conversations outside this new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market located at 2045 Highland Avenue in San Bernardino. Less than 24 hours before the store’s Wednesday grand opening, this group of new Wal-Mart associates are preparing to attend a mandatory orientation and training meeting. Their chatter is more about the retailer’s trademark green shirt policy and the joys of finally landing a job in a down economy.

“This is a good day the Lord has made; I’m rejoicing and leaping for joy,” said cashier Meka Allen who has not held a steady job since 2009. Cashier Desteenie Simmons has been on the unemployment line since 2010. “People like to bash Wal-Mart but I think there’s a lesson here on who really cares for the working class in this country,” said Simmons. A lot of big businesses make elaborate promises about creating jobs but in reality they are steadily shipping jobs overseas, keeping wages low and boosting their own profits.”

“Some people claim they don’t treat their employees fairly – that’s just not true,” said former employee, Mavis Wesley. Wesley now a bank manager worked as a cashier and stocker at two Wal-Mart locations while attending college in Texas. “Those paychecks however small helped me get an education. In the process, I learned valuable lessons in finances, retail management, merchandising and customer service. Oh, and the associates and mangers are like family,” she added.

For Kevin D. who holds a college degree the Wal-Mart job offers a helping of dignity, a paycheck and a lesson in the art of tuning out “empty political rhetoric.” “So far, the political debate over jobs involves attacking the other guy, rather than advancing any real solution. Wal-Mart is not about blaming. They’re putting people like me to work,” he said sliding his earphones across his ears. “I just tune the political noise out.”

Wednesday, the world's largest retailer opened a new store in the former Highland Galleria that has been vacant for several years and like their new associates, many businesses around it couldn't be happier. They're hoping the new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will help revitalize the area bringing more customers in who are willing to spend money at their stores, too.

“You can already see the resurgence” said Jawanza Arief, who owns a carpet and flooring store nearby. “Businesses are sprucing up, getting ready for an influx of customers, said Arief after working out at the new Planet Fitness center next to the neighborhood market. “Staples and Joann’s Fabrics and Craft store moved out and left a big void. With vacant store fronts through the years it has been a challenge. It shouldn't be a problem anymore.” “I'm really happy to see Wal-Mart fill in more empty spaces here and it should mean more walk-ins for me. More business is going to be good,” said Jim Fuller who manages a fast food restaurant in the center. “I’ve seen this shopping center go from boom to bust. Looks like it treading upward again,” said Candice Duban. She manages a nearby hair salon. Wal-Mart first opened Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets in 1998, and now operates 200 stores across the country. The smaller store format is designed to provide quick and convenient shopping for groceries, pharmacy items and general merchandise. The 42,000-sq-foot San Bernardino store, which will be open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, will feature a self-serve deli, a self-serve bakery, including a cake case, a wide variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables, as well as meats, cheeses and prepared foods. In addition to the fresh produce and bakery items, the store will carry a full line of groceries, including frozen foods, meat and dairy products, gluten free and organic items.

Shoppers will also appreciate the convenience of the store’s pharmacy, along with a full selection of health-related products and a health and beauty area. Additional areas include baby supplies, household items, stationery, paper goods, pet products, hardware items and a Celebration Station, where customers can buy gift wrap and gift bags, greeting cards and party supplies. Customers can also print their own digital photos at the store.

“San Bernardino is proud to be the site of the 200th Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.  Wal-Mart is a valued member of our business community and the opening of another store here demonstrates the confidence this company has in our city and community,” said Mayor Pat Morris. “The new store will not only revitalize an existing shopping center, bringing added customers to nearby existing businesses, but will create approximately 65 new local jobs, generate critically needed sales tax revenue for the city and provide fresh, affordable groceries to many families for years to come.” All Wal-Mart stores and Neighborhood Markets participate in the Pay with Cash program. This allows customers to order online at HYPERLINK "http://www.walmart.com/" \t "_blank"www.walmart.com and pay for the items with cash at all stores in the U.S. Wal-Mart is the first major retailer to offer online purchases without the need for banking services or a credit, debit or prepaid card.

Community Groups Benefit from Grand-Opening Grants. As part of the grand-opening celebration, Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation will present several grants to local community groups. Two of the recipients are W and W Community Development for Education and the Central City Lutheran Mission for hunger relief. Additional funds will be available throughout the year for local organizations that serve the community and impact causes Wal-Mart customers care about. Interested groups can visit HYPERLINK "http://foundation.walmart.com"http://foundation.walmart.com for more information. The retailer is on track to open a second Inland region Neighborhood Market in Upland this fall. The store’s are among 14 scheduled to open in California by the end of the year, including 10 in the southern counties. None are planned for Riverside County.

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