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Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon is urging educators to do everything they can to remove obstacles such as higher loan rates that are keeping people from finishing college.  Simon is the state government's point person on education reform.  Last week, Simon was honored with the College Changes Everything Champion Award. The recognition is given out each year by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.  In accepting the award, Simon said lower student loan rates will help older part-time students finish college. 

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Community Early Childhood Councils in nine western Kentucky counties are among the fifty-eight across the Commonwealth that will receive almost $1.2 million in grants to promote school readiness.  Governor Steve Beshear announced the awards this week.  Calloway, Christian, Daviess, Graves, Marshall, Henderson, Hopkins, McCracken, and Muhlenberg will see a total of $160,000 in funding. 

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USEC's shutdown of operations at the Paducah gaseous diffusion plant is underway; layoffs are slated to begin next month. Paducah and McCracken County will see a loss of about 12 hundred jobs, many high-skilled and high-paying.  Organizations and agencies there are addressing the problem, but it's perhaps useful to also consider the experience of another community that underwent a similar economic reverse 20 years ago. 

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From NPR: California prisoners are on a hunger strike to protest excessive use of solitary confinement.

Kentucky: Attorney General Jack Conway is the Commonwealth's first elected official to sign on to speak at this year's Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County.

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A Christian County man has pleaded guilty to federal gun charges, including having an Iraqi machine gun.  U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell set sentencing for 45-year-old Lawrence Bussell for October 10th in Paducah. Bussell entered his guilty plea Wednesday to charges of possession of an unregistered firearm and possession of firearms by a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of violence.  In court, Bussell admitted having 13 firearms, including the Iraqi machine gun, which was of an unknown make and model. 

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Illinoisans can now use their smartphones or tablets to get information on emergency preparedness or where to get help in a disaster.  The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says it’s activated a new mobile version of its Ready Illinois website. The site has information about disasters, hazards, preparedness and recovery.  Jonathon Monken is IEMA director. He says the mobile website will be particularly helpful during disasters. He says it will allow people to get real-time updates about road closures, shelters and other critical information. 

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Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is the first statewide elected official to sign up to speak at this year's Fancy Farm picnic on August 3rd.  Conway is a potential 2015 gubernatorial candidate, and has been a regular in recent years at the picnic, which has historically been the place where Kentucky candidates kick off campaigns.  U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, have also been invited but haven't yet confirmed. 

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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says the state will seek to recover damages from Apple Incorporated after a federal judge found the company violated antitrust laws.  A U.S. District Court judge in New York ruled Wednesday that Apple conspired with book publishers to raise electronic book prices significantly in spring 2010.  Madigan says Apple and the publishers forced book buyers to pay millions more for e-books than they would have otherwise.  She says Illinois will be one of 33 states and territories trying to recover damages in a second trial.

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A former Fort Campbell inspector whose job was to investigate misconduct has been accused of stealing the identities of Army personnel, including a soldier killed in combat, in a scheme to obtain thousands of dollars in bank loans.  The indictment handed down Wednesday alleges 42-year-old James Robert Jones used his position as an assistant inspector general to obtain personal information on Army officers, some of whom were deployed to Afghanistan. 

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From NPR: Something as simple as a pair of shoes could help Oregon reduce health care costs.

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