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Janesville Craig students record Christmas album


By the third time they’d worked through “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the seven Janesville Craig High School students who make up the upstart pop band A Street were starting to get into a holiday groove.

Craig’s auditorium was empty at the end of a mid-December school day last week, but when a few students heard the band’s amplified workup through the closed doors, they wandered in and sat down in the upper rows.

It was a small audience, but every white Christmas must start with the first few snowflakes.

A Street’s auditorium performance was the first time the band and its Jackson 5-style lineup of five vocalists had performed “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” live, even though it’s one of six songs the Craig students recorded over two weeks of sessions earlier this month at a Janesville music studio.

Just in the nick of time for Christmas, the students have finished up “Mistletones,” a collection of holiday pop music standards including “All I Want For Christmas is You,” “White Christmas” and “Feliz Navidad,” with a few traditional Christmastime standards added.

For the album, A Street recorded all of its instrumentals—including guitar, drums, piano and horns—along with all of the vocals based on its own arrangements.

The group, which is fronted vocally by Craig choir members, plans to sell up to 200 CD copies of “Mistletones” at school entrances this week. Members say they want to turn over all profits to the Janesville School District’s annual Bags of Hope charity food drive.

The idea for the album came from a group chat on social media between the students, who all have become friends through their involvements in the school’s music programs.

“It really was ‘We should put out a Christmas album, because, you know, that’s fun.’ How many high school students have done that?” said senior Isaiah Pharaoh, on of A Street’s singers. “Then we looked at the calendar. We had like three weeks.”

Along with Pharaoh, A Street features Craig students Annika Leverson, Isaac Hanna and Tejas Patel on vocals, Parker Rundquist on vocals and bass guitar, Zack Russell on vocals and guitar, and Rodrigo Villanueva on drums.

The students booked time in the first week of December at Gemini Music Studios in Janesville and began several sessions—a few which lasted until after midnight— to record their own arrangements of holiday hits.

Leverson, a sophomore, said only a few members of A Street had ever recorded in a studio, but their self-imposed challenge to record six holiday songs got more ambitious as they went. The band even enlisted a few other Craig students to lay down horn tracks to fill out the recordings.

All the while, people the students had told about the project were unaware of the steps the students were taking. Even as A Street began hanging up posters around the school announcing the album and its sale to benefit the school district’s annual food drive, they weren’t sure if others at school or at home knew they were making a serious run at an album.

“We just told people we were recording a Christmas album. I think parents, friends, other students ... they thought we were joking or something,” Leverson said.

They weren’t joking. As proof, a Gemini studio operator actually aired a few of A Street’s songs from the album on a local community radio station late last week.

“I never thought this was going to take place. Christmas was coming too soon. But Gemini, the studio, took us in and just said, ‘You guys tell us whatever you need to do, and we’ll do it. They were great,” Russell said.

Russell said A Street decided it will turn over proceeds from the album to Bags of Hope’s ongoing fund because it was the main charity of which the band was aware.

“It was the holiday, and we just figured we shouldn’t keep the money,” he said. “You give that back, because one day … well, you never know. You could be in a situation yourself someday.”

Patel, a junior, joked the next stop for A Street might be a holiday appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” He said the band hopes other Craig students will embrace the band’s impromptu holiday spirit once the album hits the hallways.

“Are people going to love it or hate it? Who cares?” Patel said. “It was so much fun for us. And I know that I did this with the people I love. That was the thing. It’s Christmas.”

Officials: Man scalded dog with boiling water


Local humane society and law enforcement officials say that Sunny, an 11-month-old golden retriever, so far has survived severe burns after a Beloit resident left the dog under a bathroom shower with the water’s heat turned up to boiling.

They also say the dog, a female, now faces months of surgeries and recovery before its body might heal from the mistreatment police said Cody Allan Sholes, 26, Beloit, inflicted on it earlier this month.

Sunny’s skin and tissue was so severely scalded by boiling water that, in spots, the burns reached into the muscle. About 20 percent of her surface skin was either gone or so damaged it has since been surgically removed, humane society officials said.

Sholes faces a felony charge of animal mistreatment for putting Sunny in a tub at an apartment at 1728 1/2 Porter Ave., Beloit, and leaving the dog under a shower that was spewing scalding water, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday at the Rock County District Attorney’s office.

The incident happened Dec. 8, after which Sholes said he had earlier turned the temperature of the apartment’s water heater up as hot as it would go because he said the apartment’s faucets would run only cold water, according to the complaint.

He told police he was cleaning the dog after it had urinated and defecated inside the apartment, and he hadn’t realized how hot the water was before he left Sunny unattended to care for a child in another room in the apartment.

A veterinarian for the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin told authorities that “in her three years as a veterinarian for the humane society, she had never seen such severe injuries caused by hot water on an animal.”

Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin Director Brett Frazier said Sunny already has undergone a set of surgeries to remove singed skin and fur from burns he said are considered “thermo-injury.” It means the skin was so heated that its cells were killed almost immediately.

Frazier said the dog could face more surgeries this week, and in the coming weeks, and that skin grafts might be needed to repair some of its deepest burns. He said in his five years with the humane society, he’s seen dogs with illness from severe neglect, but never had he known of a dog brought in with “acute injuries” as severe as Sunny’s.

“We are a long, long way from being out of the woods with Sunny,” Frazier said Sunday.

Frazier said a local veterinarian had stabilized the dog and brought it to the humane society for ongoing care Wednesday after Beloit police had taken the dog. The complaint said Sunny’s injuries had gone unattended for days before they were reported to police.

A woman who lives with Sholes had brought the dog to her sister’s home three days after the injury because she said she couldn’t afford a vet bill, according to the complaint.

Neither the woman or her sister initially were aware of the extent of the dog’s injuries, but Sholes eventually told them about the hot water. The sister reported the incident to police, and the woman who lives with Sholes told police Sholes had complained about a different dog she had brought home and that he had been trying to get rid of it.

Sholes later told Beloit police the shower’s water was so hot it burned his hand when he tried to shut it off. He said the dog was crying and trying to tear down the shower curtain to get out of the tub, which is how Sholes said he realized the water was so hot.

Police later reported they found no burns on Sholes’s hands. He told police he didn’t think the dog had serious injuries, claiming that, for a few days after the shower, he’d seen the dog “eating and playing.” The complaint said a veterinarian compared Sunny’s burns to “oil or engine burns.”

Frazier on Sunday said he hadn’t seen police reports or the complaint that detail how the dog was burned.

“I’m just not sure it matters to a humane society why something like this happened. What we know right now is that it happened, and it’s not acceptable,” he said.

Frazier said he’s confident Rock County authorities will handle the case appropriately.

“It’s now our job as a foster organization to help her recover and support her however we can to make sure Sunny is never exposed to anything like this again,” he said.

Because several days passed before police learned of her injuries, Sunny developed infections from the burns, including on her head. Police said when they found Sunny, the dog had large patches of fur and skin peeling away from burns with visible signs of infection.

Frazier said Sunny now is staying at the home of a Janesville veterinary technician and is being given antibiotics. The vet tech has handled volunteer foster care for the humane society in the past, he said.

Sunny will continue to be treated by the humane society’s veterinarian, and the dog was scheduled for another checkup Monday, and potentially more surgery, Frazier said.

Frazier said Sunny is being given pain medication and seems to be in less pain than she was in a few days ago. Earlier, the dog was in so much pain she wouldn’t allow people to touch her, he said.

Frazier said Sunny might bear scars for the rest of her life, but he said the humane society hopes it can continue to help the dog heal.

“She’s 11 months old. This is a trauma that for sure is as much emotionally damaging to a dog as it is physical,” he said. “But dogs will surprise the heck out of you and bounce back from things—a lot more so than people often can.

“Dogs can bounce back and trust again,” Frazier said. “That’s what we’re hoping for Sunny.”

GOP betting that its fix for US economy will defy warnings


The tax overhaul of 2017 amounts to a high-stakes gamble by Republicans in Congress: That slashing taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals will accelerate growth and assure greater prosperity for Americans for years to come.

The risks are considerable.

A wide range of economists and nonpartisan analysts have warned that the bill will likely escalate federal debt, intensify pressure to cut spending on social programs and further widen America’s troubling income inequality.

Congress is expected to vote this week on the bill, the most far-reaching rewrite of the U.S. tax code since 1986. It would shrink corporate taxes, prod companies to return trillions in profits they’ve kept overseas, cut taxes on wealthy estates and drop tax rates—but only temporarily—for individuals.

It puts its faith in the prospect that lower taxes will make corporate America turn more generous and spend more expansively.

“This is a bet on our country’s enterprising spirit, and that is a bet I am willing to make,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said Friday after dropping his previous opposition to higher deficits and throwing his support behind the bill.

In pushing the plan through a divided Congress—no Democrat in either the House or Senate backs it—Republicans have insisted that the economic virtues they envision from the tax-cut package outweigh the risks that many analysts are warning about.

“This is going to be one of the greatest gifts for the middle income people of this country that they’ve ever gotten for Christmas,” President Donald Trump said Saturday as he prepared to leave the White House for the weekend. “Jobs are going to come pouring back into this country.”

The legislation would add at least $1 trillion to federal deficits that were already sure to swell as baby boomers retire and draw on Social Security and Medicare. And the tax-cut’s gains are skewed toward wealthy taxpayers, who historically are less inclined to spend additional money than are households of more modest means. One likely result is that corporations and rich individuals will widen the economic gap between themselves and everyone else.

Even the political calculus for the Republicans looks questionable: A Quinnipiac University poll found that American voters, convinced that the benefits will flow mainly to corporations and the wealthy, oppose the plan 55 percent to 26 percent.

But Republicans have characterized the brew of tax cuts as an economic elixir. The job market appears healthy. But the pace of economic growth, though it’s perked up the past two quarters, has been underwhelming for years. From 2010 to 2016, U.S. growth averaged 2.1 percent a year, a pittance compared with the 3.2 percent average annual growth from 1948 through 2016.

Like its counterparts in Europe and Japan, the U.S. economy has been slowed by a slump in worker productivity, a vital ingredient for a robust economy. U.S. productivity—worker output per hour—trudged ahead at an average annual rate of just 0.6 percent a year from 2011 to 2016, down sharply from a post-World War II average of 2.1 percent.

The more productive that workers are, the more their employers can afford to pay them. And the more that workers are paid, the more they can propel consumer spending, the economy’s primary fuel.

Republicans say their corporate tax cuts offer a solution to the productivity slump. Their plan will cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Multinational corporations would receive a one-time tax break on profits they’ve kept overseas, thereby encouraging them to return the money to the United States. Companies could write off the full cost of new equipment.

The thinking is that these changes would induce companies to invest in equipment, software and plants that would make their workers more productive. As these workers became more efficient, the thinking goes, they would be rewarded with higher pay. An effusive White House predicted in October that the average American household would enjoy a $4,000 raise.

Rising wages could ease another big economic problem: a shortage of workers. The percentage of Americans who are either working or are looking for work has declined as the vast baby boom generation retires. To grow at a healthy pace, an economy steady needs a steady infusion of workers.

“To the extent this heats up the economy, that will help draw people back into the labor force,” says Phillip Swagel, a University of Maryland economist who served in President George W. Bush’s Treasury Department.

But it’s more than just an aging population: Even working-age Americans—ages 25 to 54—are less likely to work than they used to, in part because so many blue-collar jobs have disappeared.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, and other supporters of the tax plan don’t deny that the tax plan will elevate deficits. But they insist that it will be worthwhile. They argue that companies will use their windfalls to hire, expand, invest and raise pay—and thereby energize the economy.

“The calculation at one level is pretty simple,” Holtz-Eakin says. “We’re going to have larger deficits, and that is worth it for the growth we’re going to get.”

But most nonpartisan economists have expressed doubts that the plan will give the economy much of a jolt. They recall that wages actually fell after Congress cut the corporate tax rate in 1986.

What’s more, though the corporate tax cuts would be permanent, the tax cuts for individuals would expire after 2025. And a change in how the government accounts for inflation would lift many individuals into higher tax brackets over time. If Americans had to pay higher taxes, they would be less likely to spend and boost the economy.

Beyond everything else, the timing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 could work against it. Today’s economy doesn’t need much help. The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Many employers are already complaining that they can’t find enough qualified workers. And in a vote of confidence in the economy, the Federal Reserve has just raised short-term interest rates for the third time this year.

So a stimulus from a big tax cut could overheat the economy and potentially ignite inflation.


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